by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saranac Lake, April 8, 1888.
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The place where Dick had struck the line of a high-road was not far from Holywood, and within nine or ten miles of Shoreby-on-the-Till; and here, after making sure that they were pursued no longer, the two bodies separated. Lord Foxham’s followers departed, carrying their wounded master towards the comfort and security of the great abbey; and Dick, as he saw them wind away and disappear in the thick curtain of the falling snow, was left alone with near upon a dozen outlaws, the last remainder of his troop of volunteers.
Some were wounded; one and all were furious at their ill-success and long exposure; and though they were now too cold and hungry to do more, they grumbled and cast sullen looks upon their leaders. Dick emptied his purse among them, leaving himself nothing; thanked them for the courage they had displayed, though he could have found it more readily in his heart to criticize them for cowardice; and having thus somewhat softened the effect of his prolonged misfortune, despatched them to find their way, either individually or in pairs, to Shoreby and the Goat and Bagpipes.
For his own part, influenced by what he had seen on board of the Good Hope, he chose Lawless to be his companion on the walk. The snow was falling, without pause or variation, in one even, blinding cloud; the wind had been strangled, and now blew no longer; and the whole world was blotted out and sheeted down below that silent inundation. There was great danger of wandering by the way and perishing in drifts; and Lawless, keeping half a step in front of his companion, and holding his head forward like a hunting dog upon the scent, inquired his way of every tree, and studied out their path as though he were conning a ship among dangers.
About a mile into the forest they came to a place where several ways met, under a grove of lofty and contorted oaks. Even in the narrow horizon of the falling snow, it was a spot that could not fail to be recognized; and Lawless evidently recognized it with particular delight.
“Now, Master Richard,” said he, “if you are not too proud to be the guest of a man who is neither a gentleman by birth nor so much as a good Christian, I can offer you a cup of wine and a good fire to melt the marrow in your frozen bones.”
“Lead on, Will,” answered Dick. “A cup of wine and a good fire! Yes, I would go a far way round to see them.”
Lawless turned aside under the bare branches of the grove, and, walking resolutely forward for some time, came to a steepish hollow or den, that had now drifted a quarter full of snow. On the verge, a great beech-tree hung, precariously rooted; and here the old outlaw, pulling aside some bushy underwood, bodily disappeared into the earth.
The beech had, in some violent gale, been half-uprooted, and had torn up a considerable stretch of turf and it was under this that old Lawless had dug out his forest hiding-place. The roots served him for rafters, the turf was his thatch; for walls and floor he had his mother the earth. Rude as it was, the hearth in one corner, blackened by fire, and the presence in another of a large oaken chest well fortified with iron, showed it at one glance to be the den of a man, and not the burrow of a digging beast.
Though the snow had drifted at the mouth and sifted in upon the floor of this earth cavern, yet was the air much warmer than without; and when Lawless had struck a spark, and the dry gorse bushes had begun to blaze and crackle on the hearth, the place assumed, even to the eye, an air of comfort and of home.
With a sigh of great contentment, Lawless spread his broad hands before the fire, and seemed to breathe the smoke.
“Here, then,” he said, “is this old Lawless’s rabbit-hole; pray Heaven there come no terrier! Far I have rolled hither and thither, and here and about, since that I was fourteen years of age and first ran away from my abbey, with the sacrist’s gold chain and a mass-book that I sold for four marks. I have been in England and France and Burgundy, and in Spain, too, on a pilgrimage for my poor soul; and upon the sea, which is no man’s country. But here is my place, Master Shelton. This is my native land, this burrow in the earth! Come rain or wind—and whether it’s April, and the birds all sing, and the blossoms fall about my bed—or whether it’s winter, and I sit alone with my good friend the fire, and robin red breast twitters in the woods—here, is my church and market, and my wife and child. It’s here I come back to, and it’s here, so please the saints, that I would like to die.”
“It is a warm corner, to be sure,” replied Dick, “and a pleasant, and a well hid.”
“It had need to be,” returned Lawless, “for if they found it, Master Shelton, it would break my heart. But here,” he added, burrowing with his stout fingers in the sandy floor, “here is my wine cellar; and you shall have a flask of excellent strong stingo.”
Sure enough, after but a little digging, he produced a big leathern bottle of about a gallon, nearly three-parts full of a very heady and sweet wine; and when they had drunk to each other comradely, and the fire had been replenished and blazed up again, the pair lay at full length, thawing and steaming, and divinely warm.
“Master Shelton,” observed the outlaw, “you have had two mischances this last while, and you are like to lose the maid—do I take it aright?”
“Aright!” returned Dick, nodding his head.
“Well, now,” continued Lawless, “hear an old fool that has been nigh-hand everything, and seen nigh-hand all! You go too much on other people’s errands, Master Dick. You go on Ellis’s; but he desires rather the death of Sir Daniel. You go on Lord Foxham’s; well—the saints preserve him!—doubtless he means well. But go upon your own, good Dick. Come right to the maid’s side. Court her, lest she forget you. Be ready; and when the chance shall come, off with her at the saddle-bow.”
“Yes, but, Lawless, beyond doubt she is now in Sir Daniel’s own mansion.” answered Dick.
“Thither, then, go we,” replied the outlaw.
Dick stared at him.
“No, I mean it,” nodded Lawless. “And if you are of so little faith, and stumble at a word, see here!”
And the outlaw, taking a key from about his neck, opened the oak chest, and dipping and groping deep among its contents, produced first a friar’s robe, and next a girdle of rope; and then a huge rosary of wood, heavy enough to be counted as a weapon.
“These,” he said, “are for you. On with them!”
And then, when Dick had clothed himself in this clerical disguise, Lawless produced some colours and a pencil, and proceeded, with the greatest cunning, to disguise his face. The eyebrows he thickened and produced; to the moustache, which was yet hardly visible, he rendered a like service; while, by a few lines around the eye, he changed the expression and increased the apparent age of this young monk.
“Now,” he resumed, “when I have done the like, we shall make as fair a pair of friars as the eye could wish. Boldly to Sir Daniel’s we shall go, and there be hospitably welcome for the love of Mother Church.”
“And how, dear Lawless,” cried the lad, “shall I repay you?”
“Tut, brother,” replied the outlaw, “I do nothing but for my pleasure. Mind not for me. I am one, by the mass, that minds for himself. When that I lack, I have a long tongue and a voice like the monastery bell—I do ask, my son; and where asking fails, I do most usually take.”
The old rogue made a humorous grimace; and although Dick was displeased to lie under so great favours to so equivocal a personage, he was yet unable to restrain his mirth.
With that, Lawless returned to the big chest, and was soon similarly disguised; but, below his gown, Dick observed him conceal a sheaf of black arrows.
“Why are you doing that?” asked the lad. “Why arrows, when you take no bow?”
“It is likely,” replied Lawless, lightly, “there will be heads broke—not to say backs—before you and I return from where we’re going to; and if any fall, I would our fellowship should come by the credit of it. A black arrow, Master Dick, is the seal of our abbey; it shows you who writ the bill.”
“If you prepare so carefully,” said Dick, “I have here some papers that, for mine own sake, and the interest of those that trusted me, were better left behind than found upon my body. Where shall I conceal them, Will?”
“No,” replied Lawless, “I will go out into the wood and whistle me three verses of a song; meanwhile, you bury them where you please, and smooth the sand upon the place.”
“Never!” cried Richard. “I trust you, man. I were base indeed if I trusted you not.”
“Brother, you are but a child,” replied the old outlaw, pausing and turning his face upon Dick from the threshold of the den. “I am a kind old Christian, and no traitor to men’s blood, and no sparer of mine own in a friend’s jeopardy. But, fool, child, I am a thief by trade and birth and habit. If my bottle were empty and my mouth dry, I would rob you, dear child, as sure as I love, honour, and admire your parts and person! Can it be clearer spoken? No.”
And he stumped forth through the bushes with a snap of his big fingers.
Dick, thus left alone, after a wondering thought upon the inconsistencies of his companion’s character, hastily produced, reviewed, and buried his papers. One only he reserved to carry along with him, since it in nowise compromised his friends, and yet might serve him, in a pinch, against Sir Daniel. That was the knight’s own letter to Lord Wensleydale, sent by Throgmorton, on the morrow of the defeat at Risingham, and found next day by Dick upon the body of the messenger.
Then, treading down the embers of the fire, Dick left the den, and rejoined the old outlaw, who stood awaiting him under the leafless oaks, and was already beginning to be powdered by the falling snow. Each looked upon the other, and each laughed, so thorough and so droll was the disguise.
“Yet I would it were but summer and a clear day,” grumbled the outlaw, “that I might see myself in the mirror of a pool. There be many of Sir Daniel’s men that know me; and if we fell to be recognized, there might be two words for you, brother, but as for me, in a paternoster while, I should be kicking in a rope’s-end.”
Thus they set forth together along the road to Shoreby, which, in this part of its course, kept near along the margin or the forest, coming forth, from time to time, in the open country, and passing beside poor folks’ houses and small farms.
Presently at sight of one of these, Lawless pulled up.
“Brother Martin,” he said, in a voice capitally disguised, and suited to his monkish robe, “let us enter and seek alms from these poor sinners. Pax vobiscum! Yes,” he added, in his own voice, “it is is as I feared; I have somewhat lost the whine of it; and by your leave, good Master Shelton, you must suffer me to practice in these country places, before I risk my fat neck by entering Sir Daniel’s. What an excellent thing it is to be a Jack-of-all-trades! If I had not been a shipman, you had infallibly gone down in the Good Hope; if I had not been a thief, I could not have painted your face; and but that I had been a Grey Friar, and sung loud in the choir, and ate hearty at the board, I could not have carried this disguise, but the very dogs would have spied us out and barked at us for shams.”
He was by this time close to the window of the farm, and he rose on his tip-toes and peeped in.
“Yes,” he cried, “better and better. We shall here try our false faces with a vengeance, and have a merry jest on Brother Capper to boot.”
And so saying, he opened the door and led the way into the house.
Three of their own company sat at the table, greedily eating. Their daggers, stuck beside them in the board, and the black and menacing looks which they continued to shower upon the people of the house, proved that they owed their entertainment rather to force than favour. On the two monks, who now, with a sort of humble dignity, entered the kitchen of the farm, they seemed to turn with a particular resentment; and one—it was John Capper in person—who seemed to play the leading part, instantly and rudely ordered them away.
“We want no beggars here!” he cried.
But another—although he was as far from recognizing Dick and Lawless—inclined to more moderate counsels.
“Not so,” he cried. “We be strong men, and take; these be weak, and crave; but in the latter end these shall be uppermost and we below. Mind him not, my father; but come, drink of my cup, and give me a benediction.”
“You are men of a light mind, carnal, and accursed,” said the monk. “Now, may the saints forbid that ever I should drink with such companions! But here, for the pity I bear to sinners, here I do leave you a blessed relic, the which, for your soul’s interest, I bid you kiss and cherish.”
So far Lawless thundered upon them like a preaching friar; but with these words he drew from under his robe a black arrow, tossed it on the board in front of the three startled outlaws, turned in the same instant, and, taking Dick along with him, was out of the room and out of sight among the falling snow before they had time to utter a word or move a finger.
“So,” he said, “we have proved our false faces, Master Shelton. I will now adventure my poor carcase where you please.”
“Good!” returned Richard. “Delay irks me. On for Shoreby!”