Part 4 out of 5
perils under their true colors than to affect to belong to any other
nationality. On their way they passed through Padua, and there stopped a
few days. Cuthbert could but feel, in looking at the splendor of this
Italian city, the courteous manner of its people, and the university,
which was even then famous, how far in advance were those stately cities
of Italy to Western Europe. His followers were as much surprised as
himself at the splendors of the city. Here they experienced no trouble
or annoyance whatever, for to the cities of Italy knights of all
nations resorted, learned men came to study, philosophers to dispute,
and as these brought their attendants with them, you might in the
streets of Padua and its sister cities hear every language in Europe
From Padua they journeyed to Verona, marveling greatly at the richness
of the country. The footmen, however, grumbled at the flatness of the
plain, and said that it was as bad as marching in the Holy Land. On
their right, however, the slopes of the Alps, thickly clad with forests,
reached down nearly to the road, and Cuthbert assured them that they
would have plenty of climbing before they had done. At Verona they
tarried again, and wondered much at the great amphitheater, then almost
perfect. Cuthbert related to Cnut and the archers how men had there been
set to fight while the great stone benches round were thronged with men
and women looking on at their death struggles, and said that not
unfrequently British captives were brought hither and made to contend in
the arena. The honest fellows were full of indignation and horror at the
thought of men killing themselves to give sport to others. They were
used to hard knocks, and thought but little of their life, and would
have betaken themselves to their bows and bills without hesitation in
case of a quarrel. But to fight in cold blood for amusement seemed to
them very terrible.
Cuthbert would then have traveled on to Milan, at that time next to Rome
the richest city in Europe, but he longed to be back in England, and was
the more anxious as he knew that King Richard would be passing through
great dangers, and he hoped to meet him at the court of Saxony. His
money, too, was fast running out, and he found that it would be beyond
his slender means to extend his journey so far. At Verona, then, they
turned their back on the broad plains of Lombardy, and entered the
valley of the Trent.
So far no observation whatever had been excited by the passage of the
English knight. So many Crusaders were upon their way home, many in
grievous plight, that the somewhat shabby retinue passed unnoticed. But
they were now leaving Italy, and entering a country where German was
spoken. Trent, in those days an important city, was then, and is still,
the meeting place of Italy and Germany. Both tongues are here spoken;
but while the Italian perhaps preponderates, the customs, manners, and
mode of thought of the people belong to those of the mountaineers of the
Tyrol rather than of the dwellers on the plains.
"You are choosing a stormy time," the landlord of the hostelry where
they put up said to Cuthbert. "The winter is now at hand, and storms
sweep across the passes with terrible violence. You had better, at the
last village you come to in the valley, obtain the services of a guide,
for should a snowstorm come on when you are crossing, the path will be
lost, and nothing will remain but a miserable death. By daylight the
road is good. It has been cut with much trouble, and loaded mules can
pass over without difficulty. Poles have been erected at short distances
to mark the way when the snow covers it. But when the snowstorms sweep
across the mountains it is impossible to see ten paces before you, and
if the traveler leaves the path he is lost."
"But I suppose," Cuthbert said, "that even in winter travelers pass
"They do," the host said. "The road is as open in winter as in summer,
although, of course, the dangers are greater. Still, there is nothing to
prevent vigorous men from crossing over when the storms come on. Now,
too, with the snow already lying in the upper forests, the wolves are
abroad, and should you be attacked by one of those herds, you will find
it hard work to defend your lives. Much has been done to render the
road safe. At the distance of every league stone houses have been
erected, where travelers can find shelter either from the storm or from
the attacks of wolves or bears, for these, too, abound in the forests,
and in summer there is fine hunting among them. You are, as I see,
returning from the Holy Land, an are therefore used to heat rather than
cold, so I should advise you before you leave this city to buy some
rough cloaks to shield you from the cold. You can obtain them for your
followers very cheaply, made of the mountain goat or of sheepskins, and
even those of bearskin well dressed are by no means dear."
Obtaining the address of a merchant who kept these things, Cuthbert
proceeded thither; and purchased five cloaks of goatskin with hoods to
pull over their heads for his followers while for himself he obtained
one of rather finer material.
Another two days' journey brought them to the foot of the steep ascent,
and here they hired the services of a guide. The ascent was long and
difficult, and in spite of the praises which the host had bestowed upon
the road, it was so steep that Cuthbert was, for the most part, obliged
to walk, leading his steed, whose feet slipped on the smooth rock, and
as in many places a false step would have thrown them down many hundreds
of feet into the valley below, Cuthbert judged it safer to trust himself
to his own feet. He disincumbered himself of his helmet and gorget, and
placed these upon the horse's back. At nightfall they had attained a
very considerable height, and stopped at one of the small refuges of
which the landlord had spoken.
"I like not the look of the weather," the guide said in the morning--at
least that was what Cuthbert judged him to say, for he could speak no
word of the man's language. His actions, however, as he looked toward
the sky, and shook his head, spoke for themselves, and Cuthbert, feeling
his own powerlessness in a situation so novel to him, felt serious
misgivings at the prospect.
The scenery was now very wild. On all sides crags and mountain tops
covered with snow glistened in the sun. The woods near the path were
free of snow; but higher up they rose black above the white ground. The
wind blew keenly, and all rejoiced in the warm cloaks which they had
obtained; for even with the protection of these they had found the cold
bitter during the night.
"I like not this country," Cnut said. "We grumbled at the heat of
Palestine, but I had rather march across the sand there than in this
inhospitable frozen region. The woods look as if they might contain
specters. There is a silence which seems to be unnatural, and my
courage, like the warmth of my body, is methinks oozing out from my
"I have no doubt that your courage would come again much quicker than
the warmth, Cnut, if there were any occasion for it. A brisk walk will
set you all right again, and banish these uneasy fancies. To-night we
shall be at the highest point, and to-morrow begin to descend toward
All day the men kept steadily on. The guide from time to time looked
apprehensively at the sky; and although in the earlier part of the day
Cuthbert's inexperienced eye saw nothing to cause the slightest
uneasiness, toward the afternoon the scene changed. Light clouds began
to gather on the top of all the hills and to shut the mountain peaks
entirely from view. The wind moaned between the gorges and occasionally
swept along in such sudden gusts that they could with difficulty retain
their feet. The sky became gradually overcast, and frequently light
specks of snow, so small as to be scarcely perceptible, were driven
along on the blast, making their faces smart by the force with which
they struck them.
"It scarcely needs our guide's face," Cuthbert said, "to tell us that a
storm is at hand, and that our position is a dangerous one. As for me, I
own that I feel better pleased now that the wind is blowing, and the
silence is broken, than at the dead stillness which prevailed this
morning. After all, methinks that a snowstorm cannot be more dreaded
than a sandstorm, and we have faced those before now."
Faster and faster the snow came down, until at last the whole air seemed
full of it, and it was with difficulty that they could stagger forward.
Where the path led across open places the wind swept away the snow as
fast as it fell, but in the hollows the track was already covered; and
feeling the difficulty of facing the blinding gale, Cuthbert now
understood the urgency with which his host had insisted upon the danger
of losing the track. Not a word was spoken among the party as they
plodded along. The guide kept ahead, using the greatest caution wherever
the path was obliterated by the snow, sometimes even sounding with his
iron-shod staff to be sure that they were upon the level rock. In spite
of his warm cloak Cuthbert felt that he was becoming chilled to the
bone. His horse could with difficulty keep his feet; and Cnut and the
archers lagged behind.
"You must keep together, lads," he shouted. "I have heard that in these
mountains when sleepiness overpowers the traveler, death is at hand.
Therefore, come what may, we must struggle on."
Many times the gale was so violent that they were obliged to pause and
take shelter under the side of a rock or precipice until the fury of the
blast had passed; and Cuthbert eagerly looked out for the next refuge.
At last they reached it, and the guide at once entered. It was not that
in which he had intended to pass the night, for this lay still higher;
but it would have been madness to attempt to go further in the face of
such a gale. He signed to Cuthbert that it was necessary at once to
collect firewood, and he himself proceeded to light some brands which
had been left by previous travelers. Cuthbert gave directions to Cnut
and the archers; and these, feeling that life depended upon a good fire
being kept up, set to with a will, cutting down shrubs and branches
growing in the vicinity of the hut. In half an hour a huge fire blazed
in the refuge; and as the warmth thawed their limbs, their tongues were
unloosened, and a feeling of comfort again prevailed.
"If this be mountaineering, my lord," Cnut said, "I trust that never
again may it be my fortune to venture among the hills. How long, I
wonder, do the storms last here? I was grumbling all the way up the hill
at the load of provisions which the guide insisted that each of us
should bring with him. As it was to be but a three days' journey before
we reached a village on the other side, I wondered why he insisted upon
our taking food enough to last us at least for a week. But I understand
now, and thank him for his foresight; for if this storm goes on we are
assuredly prisoners here for so long as it may continue."
The horse had to be brought into the hut, for it would have been death
for it to have remained outside.
"What is that?" Cnut said presently, as a distant howl was heard between
the lulls of the storm. The guide muttered some word which Cuthbert did
not understand. But he said to Cnut, "I doubt not that it is wolves.
Thank God that we are safe within this refuge, for here not even the
most ravenous beasts could make their way."
"Pooh!" Cnut said contemptuously. "Wolves are no bigger than dogs. I
have heard my grandfather say that he shot one in the forest, and that
it was no bigger than a hound. We should make short work of them."
"I know not," Cuthbert said. "I have heard tales of these animals which
show that they must be formidable opponents. They hunt in great packs,
and are so furious that they will attack parties of travelers; many of
these have perished miserably, horses and men, and nothing but their
swords and portions of their saddles have remained to tell where the
battle was fought."
SENTENCED TO DEATH.
Just before arriving at the refuge they had passed along a very steep
and dangerous path. On one side the rock rose precipitously, ten feet
above their heads. On the other was a fall into the valley below. The
road at this point was far wider than usual.
Presently the howl of a wolf was heard near, and soon the solitary call
was succeeded by the howling of great numbers of animals. These speedily
surrounded the hut, and so fierce were their cries that Cnut changed his
opinion as to the ease with which they could be defeated, and allowed
that he would rather face an army of Saracens than a troop of these
ill-conditioned animals. The horse trembled in every limb at the sound
of the howling of the wolves; and cold as was the night, in spite of the
great fire that blazed on the hearth, his coat became covered with the
lather of fear. Even upon the roof above the trampling of the animals
could be heard; and through the open slits of the windows which some
travelers before them had stuffed with straw, they could hear the fierce
breathing and snorting of the savage beasts, who scratched and tore to
make an entrance.
"Methinks," Cuthbert said, "that we might launch a few arrows through
these loopholes. The roof appears not to be over strong; and should some
of them force an entrance, the whole pack might follow."
Dark as was the night, the black bodies were visible against the white
snow, and the archers shot several arrows forth, each stretching a wolf
dead on the ground. Those killed were at once pounced upon by their
comrades and torn to pieces; and this mark of savageness added to the
horror which those within felt of the ferocious animals. Suddenly there
was a pause in the howling around the hut, and then Cnut, looking forth
from the loophole, declared that the whole body had gone off at full
speed along the path by which they had reached the refuge. Almost
immediately afterward a loud shout for help was heard, followed by the
renewed howling and yelping of the wolves.
"Good heavens!" Cuthbert exclaimed. "Some traveler coming after us is
attacked by these horrible beasts. Let us sally out, Cnut. We cannot
hear a Christian torn to pieces by these beasts, without lending him a
In spite of the angry shouts and entreaties of the guide, the door was
thrust open, and the party, armed with their axes and bows, at once
rushed out into the night. The storm had for the moment abated and they
had no difficulty in making their way along the track. In fifty yards
they came to a bend of the path, and saw, a little distance before them,
a black mass of animals covering the road, and congregated round a
figure who stood with his back to the rock. With a shout of
encouragement they sprang forward, and in a few moments were in the
midst of the savage animals, who turned their rage against them at once.
They had fired two or three arrows apiece, as they approached, into
them; and now throwing down their bows, the archers betook themselves to
their swords, while Cuthbert with his heavy battle-axe hewed and cut at
the wolves as they sprang toward him. In a minute they had cleared their
way to the figure, which was that of a knight in complete armor. He
leaned against the rock completely exhausted, could only mutter a word
of thanks through his closed visor. At a short distance off a number of
the wolves were gathered, rending and tearing the horse of the knight;
but the rest, soon recovering from their surprise, attacked with fury
the little party. The thick cloaks of the archers stood them in good
stead against the animal's teeth, and standing in a group with their
backs to the rock, they hewed and cut vigorously at their assailants.
The numbers of these, however, appeared almost innumerable, and fresh
stragglers continued to come along the road, and swell their body. As
fast as those in front fell, their heads cleft with the axes of the
party, fresh ones sprang forward; and Cuthbert saw that in spite of the
valor and strength of his men, the situation was well-nigh desperate. He
himself had been saved from injury by his harness, for he still had on
his greaves and leg pieces.
"Keep together," he shouted to his men, "and each lend aid to the other
if he sees him pulled down. Strike lustily for life, and hurry not your
blows, but let each toll." This latter order he gave perceiving that
some of the archers, terrified by this furious army of assailants with
gaping mouths and glistening teeth, were striking wildly, and losing
their presence of mind.
The combat, although it might have been prolonged, could yet have had
but one termination, and the whole party would have fallen. At this
moment, however, a gust of wind, more furious than any which they had
before experienced, swept along the gorge, and the very wolves had to
crouch on their stomachs to prevent themselves being hurled by its fury
into the ravine below. Then even above the storm a deep roar was heard.
It grew louder and louder. The wolves, as if struck with terror, leaped
to their feet, and scattered on either way along the path at full
"What sound can this be?" Cnut exclaimed in an awe-struck voice. "It
sounds like thunder; but it is regular and unbroken; and, my lord,
surely the earth quakes under our feet!"
Louder and louder grew the roar.
"Throw yourselves down against the wall of rock," Cuthbert shouted,
himself setting the example.
A moment afterward, from above a mighty mass of rock and snow poured
over like a cascade, with a roar and sound which nigh stunned them. For
minutes--it seemed for hours to them--the deluge of snow and rock
continued. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ceased, and a silence
as of death reigned over the place.
"Arise," Cuthbert said; "the danger, methinks, is past. It was what men
call an avalanche--a torrent of snow slipping down from the higher
peaks. We have had a narrow escape indeed."
By this time the knight whom they had rescued was able to speak, and
raising his visor, he returned his deepest thanks to those who had come
so opportunely to his aid.
"I was well-nigh exhausted," he said, "and it was only my armor which
saved me from being torn to pieces. A score of them had hold of me; but
fortunately my mail was of Milan proof, and even the jaws and teeth of
these enormous beasts were unable to pierce it."
"The refuge is near at hand," Cuthbert said. "It is but a few yards
round yonder point. It is well that we heard your voice. I fear that
your horse has fallen a victim."
Assisting the knight, who in spite of his armor was sorely bruised and
exhausted, they made their way back to the refuge. Cnut and the archers
were all bleeding freely from various wounds inflicted upon them in the
struggle, breathless and exhausted from their exertions, and thoroughly
awe-struck by the tremendous phenomenon of which they had been
witnesses, and which they had only escaped from their good fortune in
happening to be in a place so formed that the force of the avalanche had
swept over their heads. The whole of the road, with the exception of a
narrow piece four feet in width, had been carried away. Looking upward,
they saw that the forest had been swept clear, not a tree remaining in a
wide track as far as they could see up the hill. The great bowlders
which had strewn the hillside, and many of which were as large as
houses, had been swept away like straws before the rush of snow, and for
a moment they feared that the refuge had also been carried away. Turning
the corner, however, they saw to their delight that the limits of the
avalanche had not extended so far, the refuges, as they afterward
learned, being so placed as to be sheltered by overhanging cliffs from
any catastrophe of this kind.
They found the guide upon his knees, muttering his prayers before a
cross, which he had formed of two sticks laid crosswise on the ground
before him; and he could scarce believe his eyes when they entered, so
certain had he considered it that they were lost. There were no longer
any signs of the wolves. The greater portion, indeed, of the pack had
been overwhelmed by the avalanche, and the rest, frightened and scared,
had fled to their fastnesses in the woods.
The knight now removed his helmet, and discovered a handsome young man
of some twenty-four or twenty-five years old.
"I am," he said, "Baron Ernest of Kornstein. To whom do I owe my life?"
"In spite of my red cross," Cuthbert said, "I am English. My name is Sir
Cuthbert, and I am Earl of Evesham. I am on my return from the Holy Land
with my followers; and as we are passing through countries where many
of the people are hostile to England, we have thought it as well for a
time to drop our nationality. But to you I do not hesitate to tell the
"You do well," the young knight said, "for, truth to say, the people of
these parts bear but little love to your countrymen. You have saved my
life when I was in the sorest danger. I had given myself up for lost,
for even my armor could not have saved me long from these wretches; and
my sword and life are at your disposal. You are young indeed," he said,
looking with surprise at Cuthbert, who had now thrown back the hood of
his cloak, "to have gained the honor of knighthood. You scarce look
eighteen years of age, although, doubtless, you are older."
"I am scarce seventeen," Cuthbert said; "but I have had the good fortune
to attract the notice of King Richard, and to have received the
knighthood from his sword."
"None more worthy," said the young knight, "for although King Richard
may be fierce and proud, he is the worthiest knight in Christendom, and
resembles the heroes of romance rather than a Christian king."
"He is my lord and master," Cuthbert said, "and I love him beyond all
men, and would give my life for his. He is the kindest and best of
masters; and although it be true that he brooks no opposition, yet is it
only because his own bravery and eagerness render hateful to him the
indolence and cowardice of others."
They now took their seats round the fire. The archers, by the advice of
the guide, rubbed their wounds with snow, and then applied bandages to
them. The wallets were opened, and a hearty supper eaten; and all,
wrapping themselves in their fur cloaks, were soon asleep.
For four days the gale continued, keeping the party prisoners in the
hut. On the fifth the force of the wind abated, and the snow ceased to
fall. They were forced to take the door off its hinges to open it, for
the snow had piled up so high that the chimney alone of the hut remained
above its surface. With great difficulty and labor they cleared a way
out, and then the guide again placing himself at their head, they
proceeded on their way. The air was still and cold, and the sky of a
deep, dark blue, which seemed even darker in contrast with the whiteness
of the snow. At times they had great difficulty in struggling through
the deep drifts; but for the most part the wind had swept the path
clear. Where it was deepest, the tops of the posts still showed above
the snow, and enabled the guide to direct their footsteps. They were,
however, obliged to travel slowly, and it was three days before they
gained the village on the northern slope of the mountains, having slept
at refuges by the road.
"What are your plans?" the knight asked Sir Cuthbert that night, as they
sat by the fire of the hostelry. "I would warn you that the town which
you will first arrive at is specially hostile to your people, for the
baron, its master, is a relation of Conrad of Montferat, who is said to
have been killed by order of your king."
"It is false," Cuthbert said. "King Richard had appointed him King of
Jerusalem; and, though he liked him not, thought him the fittest of
those there to exercise sovereignty. He was the last man who would have
had an enemy assassinated; for so open is he of disposition that he
would have fought hand to hand with the meanest soldier of his army had
he desired to kill him."
"I doubt not that it is so, since you tell me," the knight said
courteously. "But the people here have taken that idea into their minds,
and it will be hard to disabuse them. You must therefore keep up your
disguise as a French knight while passing through this neighborhood.
Another week's journeying, and you will reach the confines of Saxony,
and there you will, as you anticipate, be safe. But I would not answer
for your life were you discovered here to be of English birth. And now
tell me if there is aught that I can do for you. I will myself accompany
you into the town, and will introduce you as a French knight, so that no
suspicion is likely to lie upon you, and will, further, ride with you to
the borders of Saxony. I am well known, and trust that my company will
avert all suspicion from you. You have told me that your purse is
ill-supplied; you must suffer me to replenish it. One knight need not
fear to borrow of another; and I know that when you have returned to
your home you will bestow the sum which I now give you upon some holy
shrine in my name, and thus settle matters between us."
Cuthbert without hesitation accepted the offer, and was well pleased at
finding his purse replenished, for its emptiness had caused him serious
trouble. Cuthbert's steed was led by one of the archers, and he himself
walked gayly alongside of Sir Ernest, followed by his retainers. Another
long day's march brought them down to Innsbruck, where they remained
quietly for a week. Then they journeyed on until they emerged from the
mountains, crossed the Bavarian frontier, and arrived at Fussen, a
strong city, with well-built walls and defenses.
They at once proceeded to the principal hostelry, where the young baron
was well known, and where great interest was excited by the news of the
narrow escape which he had had from the attack of the wolves. A journey
across the Alps was in those days regarded as a very perilous enterprise
in the winter season, and the fact that he should have been rescued from
such a strait appeared almost miraculous. They stayed for two days
quietly in the city, Cuthbert declining the invitation of the young
noble to accompany him to the houses of his friends, as he did not wish
that any suspicion should be excited as to his nationality, and
preferred remaining quiet to having forced upon him the necessity of
making false statements. As to his followers, there was no fear of the
people among whom they mixed detecting that they were English. To the
Bavarian inhabitants, all languages, save their native German, were
alike unintelligible; and even had French been commonly spoken, the
dialects of that tongue, such as would naturally be spoken by archers
and men-at-arms, would have been a Greek to those accustomed only to
Upon the third day, however, an incident occurred which upset Cuthbert's
calculations, and nearly involved the whole party in ruin. The town was,
as the young baron had said, governed by a noble who was a near relation
of Conrad of Montferat, and who was the bitter enemy of the English. A
great _fete_ had been given in honor of the marriage of his daughter,
and upon this day the young pair were to ride in triumph through the
city. Great preparations had been made; masks and pageants of various
kinds manufactured; and the whole townspeople, dressed in their holiday
attire, were gathered in the streets. Cuthbert had gone out, followed by
his little band of retainers, and taken their station to see the passing
show. First came a large body of knights and men-at-arms, with gay
banners and trappings. Then rode the bridegroom, with the bride carried
in a litter by his side. After this came several allegorical
representations. Among these was the figure of a knight bearing the arms
of Austria. Underneath his feet, on the car, lay a figure clad in a
royal robe, across whom was thrown a banner with the leopards of
England. The knight stood with his foot on this figure.
This representation of the dishonor of England at the hands of Austria
elicited great acclamations from the crowd. Cuthbert clinched his teeth
and grasped his sword angrily, but had the sense to see the folly of
taking any notice of the insult. Not so with Cnut. Furious it the insult
offered to the standard of his royal master, Cnut, with a bound, burst
through the ranks of the crowd, leaped on to the car, and with a buffet
smote the figure representing Austria into the road, and lifted the flag
of England from the ground. A yell of indignation and rage was heard.
The infuriated crowd rushed forward. Cnut, with a bound, sprang from the
car, and, joining his comrades, burst through those who attempted to
impede them, and darted down a by-street.
Cuthbert, for the moment amazed at the action of his follower, had on
the instant drawn his sword and joined the archers. In the crowd,
however, he was for a second separated from them; and before he could
tear himself from the hands of the citizens who had seized him, the
men-at-arms accompanying the procession surrounded him, and he was led
away by them to the castle, the guards with difficulty protecting him
from the enraged populace. Even at this moment Cuthbert experienced a
deep sense of satisfaction at the thought that his followers had
escaped. But he feared that alone, and unacquainted with the language of
the country, they would find it difficult indeed to escape the search
which would be made for them, and to manage to find their way back to
their country. For himself, he had little hopes of liberty, and scarcely
more of life. The hatred of the baron toward the English would now be
heightened by the daring act of insult to the arms of Austria, and this
would give a pretext for any deed of violence which might be wrought.
Cuthbert was, after a short confinement, brought before the lord baron
of the place, in the great hall of the castle.
"Who art thou, sir," the noble exclaimed, "who darest to disturb the
marriage procession of my daughter, and to insult the standard of the
emperor my master?"
"I am Sir Cuthbert, Earl of Evesham, a baron of England," Cuthbert said
fearlessly, "and am traveling homeward from the Holy Land. My garb as a
Crusader should protect me from all interruption; and the heedless
conduct of my retainer was amply justified by the insult offered to the
arms of England. There is not one of the knights assembled round you who
would not in like manner have avenged an insult offered to those of
Austria; and I am ready to do battle in the lists with any who choose to
say that the deed was a foul or improper one. In the Holy Land Austrians
and English fought side by side; and it is strange indeed to me that on
my return, journeying through the country of the emperor, I should find
myself treated as an enemy, and see the arms of King Richard exposed to
insult and derision by the burghers of this city."
As Cuthbert had spoken he threw down his mailed glove, and several of
the knights present stepped forward to pick it up. The baron, however,
waved them back.
"It is no question," he said, "of honorable fight. This is a follower of
the murderer of my good cousin of Montferat, who died under the hands of
assassins set upon him by Richard of England."
"It is false!" Cuthbert shouted. "I denounce it as a foul lie, and will
maintain it with my life."
"Your life is already forfeited," the baron said, "both by your past
connection with Richard of England and as the insulter of the arms of
Austria. You die, and to-morrow at noon your head shall be struck off in
the great square before my castle."
Without another word Cuthbert was hurried off to his cell, and there
remained, thinking moodily over the events of the day, until nightfall.
He had no doubt that his sentence would be carried out, and his anxiety
was rather for his followers than for himself. He feared that they would
make some effort on his behalf, and would sacrifice their own lives in
doing so, without the possibility of assisting him.
The next morning he was led out to the square before the castle. It was
a large flagged courtyard. Upon one side was the entrance to the castle,
one of whose wings also formed a second side to the square. The side
facing this was formed by the wall of the city, and the fourth opened
upon a street of the town. This side of the square was densely filled
with citizens, while the men-at-arms of the baron and a large number of
knights were gathered behind a scaffold erected in the center. Upon this
was a block, and by the side stood a headsman. As Cuthbert was led
forward a thrill of pleasure ran through him at perceiving no signs of
his followers, who he greatly feared might have been captured in the
night, and brought there to share his fate.
As he was led forward the young noble whose life he had saved advanced
to the baron, and dropping on one knee before him, craved the life of
Cuthbert, relating the event by which he had saved his life in the
passage of the mountains. The baron frowned heavily.
"Though he had saved the life of every noble in Bavaria," he said, "he
should die. I have sworn an oath that every Englishman who fell into my
hands should expiate the murder of my kinsman; and this fellow is,
moreover, guilty of an outrage to the arms of Austria."
The young Sir Ernest drew himself up haughtily.
"My lord baron," he said, "henceforth I renounce all allegiance to you,
and I will lay the case before the emperor, our common master, and will
cry before him at the outrage which has thus been passed upon a noble
gentleman. He has thrown down the glove, and challenged any of your
knights, and I myself am equally ready to do battle in his cause."
The baron grew red with passion, and he would have ordered the instant
arrest of the young man, but as Sir Ernest was connected by blood with
many present, and was indeed one of the most popular among the nobles of
the province, the baron simply waved him aside, and ordered Cuthbert to
be led to the block. The young Englishman was by the executioner
divested of his armor and helmet, and stood in the simple attire worn by
men of rank at that time. He looked around, and holding up his hand,
conveying alike a farewell and a command to his followers to remain in
concealment, he gazed round the crowd, thinking that he might see among
them in some disguise or other the features of Cnut, whose tall figure
would have rendered him conspicuous in a crowd. He failed, however, to
see any signs of him, and turning to the executioner, signified by a
gesture that he was ready.
At this instant an arrow from the wall above pierced the brain of the
man, and he fell dead in his tracks. A roar of astonishment burst from
the crowd. Upon the city wall at this point was a small turret, and on
this were five figures. The wall around was deserted, and for the moment
these men were masters of the position.
"Seize those insolent varlets!" the baron shouted, shaking his sword
with a gesture of fury at them.
His words, however, were arrested, for at the moment another arrow
struck him in the throat, and he fell back into the arms of those around
Quickly now the arrows of the English archers flew into the courtyard.
The confusion which reigned there was indescribable. The citizens with
shouts of alarm took to their heels. The men-at-arms were powerless
against this rain of missiles, and the knights, hastily closing their
visors, shouted contradictory orders, which no one obeyed.
In the confusion no one noticed the prisoner. Seizing a moment when the
attention of all was fixed upon the wall, he leaped from the platform,
and making his way unnoticed through the excited crowd of men-at-arms,
darted down a narrow lane that divided the castle from the wall. He ran
along until, one hundred yards further, he came to a staircase by which
access to the battlements was obtained. Running lightly up this, he kept
along the wall until he reached the turret.
"Thanks, my noble Cnut!" he exclaimed, "and you, my brave fellows. But I
fear you have forfeited your lives. There is no escape. In a minute the
whole force of the place will recover from their confusion, and be down
upon us from both sides."
"We have prepared for that," Cnut said. "Here is a rope hanging down
into the moat."
Glancing over, Cuthbert saw that the moat was dry; and after a final
discharge of arrows into the crowd, the six men slid one after another
down the rope and made their way at full speed across the country.
It was some ten minutes before the men-at-arms rallied sufficiently from
their surprise to obey orders. Two bodies were then drawn up, and
proceeded at a rapid pace toward the staircases leading to the wall, one
on each side of the turret in which they believed that the little body
of audacious assailants were still lying. Having reached the wall, the
soldiers advanced, covering themselves with their shields, for they had
learned the force with which an English clothyard shaft drawn by a
strong hand flies. Many had been killed by these missiles passing
through and through the cuirass and backpiece. No reply being obtained
to the summons to surrender, they proceeded to break in with their
battle-axes the door of the little turret. Rushing in with ax and pike,
they were astonished to find the place empty. A glance over the wall
showed the rope still hanging, and the manner of the escape became
manifest. The fugitives were already out of sight, and the knights,
furious at the escape of the men who had bearded them in the heart of
the city with such audacity, and had slain the lord baron and several of
his knights, gave orders that an instant pursuit should be organized. It
was, however, a full half hour before the city gates were thrown open,
and a strong troop of knights and mounted men issued out.
Cuthbert had been certain that an instant pursuit would be set on foot,
and the moment that he was out of sight of the battlements he changed
the direction in which he had started, and turning at right angles,
swept round the city, still keeping at a distance, until he reached the
side next the mountains, and then plunged into the woods on the lower
slopes of the hills.
"They will," he said, as they halted breathless from their run, "follow
the road toward the south, and scour the country for awhile before it
occurs to their thick German skulls that we have doubled back on our
tracks. Why, what is it, Cnut?"
This exclamation was provoked by the forester throwing himself on his
knees before Sir Cuthbert, and imploring his pardon for the dire strait
into which his imprudence had drawn him.
"It was a dire strait, certainly, Cnut. But if you got me into it, at
least you have extricated me; and never say more about it, for I myself
was near committing the imprudence to which you gave way, and I can well
understand that your English blood boiled at the sight of the outrage to
the flag of England. Now, let us waste no time in talk, but, keeping to
the foot of this mountain, make along as far as we can to the west. We
must cling to the hills for many days' march before we venture again to
try to cross the plains. If possible, we will keep on this way until we
reach the confines of the country of the Swiss, who will assuredly give
us hospitality, and who will care little for any threats of these German
barons, should they hear that we have reached their asylum."
By nightfall they had already traveled many leagues, and making a fire
in the wood, Cuthbert asked Cnut for an account of what had taken place
on the previous day.
"We ran for life, Sir Cuthbert, and had not noticed that you had been
drawn into the fray. Had we done so, we would have remained, and sold
our lives with yours; but hoping that you had passed unnoticed in the
crowd, and that you would find some means to rejoin us we kept upon our
way. After running down three streets we passed a place where a
courtyard with stables ranged round it was open. There were none about,
and we entered, and taking refuge in a loft hid ourselves beneath some
provender. There we remained all night, and then borrowing some apparel
which some of the stablemen had hung upon the walls, we issued into the
town. As we neared the great square we saw some men employed in erecting
a platform in the midst, and a suspicion that all might not be right,
and that you might have fallen into the hands of these German dogs,
beset our minds. After much consultation we determined to see what the
affair meant, and making our way on to the walls which, indeed, were
entirely deserted, we took refuge in that turret where you saw us.
Seeing the crowd gather, and being still more convinced that some
misfortune was about to occur, I again went back to the stables, where I
had noticed a long rope used by the carters for fastening their loads to
the wagons. With this I returned, for it was clear that if we had to
mingle in this business it would be necessary to have a mode of escape.
Of the rest you are aware. We saw the knights coming out of the castle,
with that portly baron, their lord, at their head. We saw the block and
the headsman upon the platform, and were scarcely surprised when you
were led out, a prisoner, from the gates. We judged that what did happen
would ensue. Seeing that the confusion wrought by a sudden attack from
men perched up aloft as we were, commanding the courtyard, and being
each of us able to hit a silver mark at the distance of one hundred
yards, would be great indeed, we judged that you might be able to slip
away unobserved, and were sure that your quick wit would seize any
opportunity which might offer. Had you not been able to join us, we
should have remained in the turret and sold our lives to the last, as,
putting aside the question that we could never return to our homes,
having let our dear lord die here, we should not, in our ignorance of
the language and customs of the country, have ever been able to make our
way across it. We knew, however, that before this turret was carried we
could show these Germans how five Englishmen, when brought to bay, can
sell their lives."
They had not much difficulty in obtaining food in the forest, for game
abounded, and they could kill as many deer as seemed fit to them. As
Cnut said, it was difficult to believe that they were not back again in
the forest near Evesham, so similar was their life to that which they
had led three years before. To Cnut and the archers, indeed, it was a
pleasanter time than any which they had passed since they had left the
shores of England, and they blithely marched along, fearing little any
pursuit which might be set on foot, and, indeed, hearing nothing of
their enemies. After six days' travel they came upon a rude village, and
here Cuthbert learned from the people--with much difficulty, however,
and pantomime, for neither could understand a word spoken by the
other--that they were now in one of the Swiss cantons, and therefore
secure from all pursuit by the Germans. Without much difficulty Cuthbert
engaged one of the young men of the village to act as their guide to
Basle, and here, after four days' traveling, they arrived safely. Asking
for the residence of the burgomaster, Cuthbert at once proceeded
thither, and stated that he was an English knight on the return from the
Crusades; that he had been foully entreated by the Lord of Fussen, who
had been killed in a fray by his followers; and that he besought
hospitality and refuge from the authorities of Basle.
"We care little," the burgomaster said, "what quarrel you may have had
with your neighbors. All who come hither are free to come and go as they
list, and you, as a knight on the return from the Holy Land, have a
claim beyond that of an ordinary traveler."
The burgomaster was himself able to speak French, and summoning several
of the councilors of the town, he requested Cuthbert to give a narrative
of his adventures; which he did. The councilors agreed with the
burgomaster that Cuthbert must be received hospitably; but the latter
saw that there was among many of them considerable doubt as to the
expediency of quarreling with a powerful neighbor. He therefore said to
"I have no intention, honorable sir, of taking up any prolonged
residence here. I only ask to be furnished with a charger and arms, and
in payment of these I will leave this gold chain, the gift of King
Richard himself, as a gage, and will on my return to my country forward
to you the value of the arms and horse, trusting that you will return
the chain to me."
The burgomaster, however, said that the city of Basle was not so poor
that it need take the gage of an honorable knight, but that the arms and
charger he required should be given him in a few hours, and that he
might pay the value in London to a Jew merchant there who had relations
with one at Basle. Full instructions were given to him, and he resolved
to travel down upon the left bank of the Rhine, until he reached
Lorraine, and thence to cross into Saxony. The same afternoon the
promised horse and arms were provided, and Cuthbert, delighted again to
be in harness, and thanking courteously the burgomaster and council for
their kindness, started with his followers on his journey north. These
latter had been provided with doublets and other garments suitable to
the retinue of a knight, and made a better show than they had done since
they first left England.
Leaving Basle, they traveled along the left side of the Rhine by easy
stages. The country was much disturbed, owing to the return and
disbandment of so many of the troops employed in the Crusades. These,
their occupation being gone, scattered over the country, and France and
Germany alike were harassed by bands of military robbers. The wild
country between the borders of Switzerland and Lorraine was specially
vexed, as the mountains of the Vosges afforded shelter, into which the
freebooters could not be followed by the troops of the duke.
Upon the evening of the third day they reached a small inn standing in a
lonely position near the foot of the mountains.
"I like not the look of this place," Cuthbert said; "but as we hear that
there is no other within a distance of another ten miles, we must e'en
make the best of it."
The host received them with extreme and even fawning civility, which by
no means raised him in the estimation of Cuthbert or Cnut. A rough meal
was taken, and they then ascended to the rude accommodation which had
been provided. It was one large room barely furnished. Upon one side
straw was thickly littered down--for in those days beds among the common
people were unknown. In a sort of alcove at the end was a couch with a
rough mattress and coverlet. This Cuthbert took possession of, while his
followers stretched themselves upon the straw.
"Methinks," Cnut said, "that it were well that one should keep watch at
the door. I like not the look of our host, and we are near the spot
where the bands of the robbers are said to be busy."
Toward morning the archer on guard reported that he could hear the sound
of many approaching footsteps. All at once sprang to their feet, and
betook themselves to their arms. Looking from the window they saw a
large party of rough men, whose appearance at once betokened that they
were disbanded soldiers--a title almost synonymous in those days with
that of robber. With the united strength of the party the truckle bed
was carried from the alcove and placed against the door. Cuthbert then
threw open the window, and asked in French what they wanted. One of the
party, who appeared to be the leader, said that the party had better
surrender immediately. He promised them good treatment, and said that
the knight would be put to ransom, should it be found that the valuables
upon his person were not sufficient to pay the worshipful company
present for the trouble which they had taken in waiting upon him. This
sally was received with shouts of laughter. Cuthbert replied quietly
that he had no valuables upon his person; that if they took him there
were none would pay as much as a silver mark for the ransom of them all;
and that the only things that they had to give were sharp arrows and
"You talk bravely, young sir," the man said. "But you have to do with
men versed in fight, and caring but little either for knocks or for
arrows. We have gone through the Crusades, and are therefore held to be
absolved from all sin, even that so great as would be incurred in the
cutting of your knightly throat."
"But we have gone through the Crusades also," Cuthbert said, "and our
persons are sacred. The sin of slitting our weazands, which you speak
of, would therefore be so great that even the absolution on which you
rely would barely extend to it."
"We know most of those who have served in the Holy Land," the man said
more respectfully than he had yet spoken, "and would fain know with whom
"I am an Englishman, and a follower of King Richard," Cuthbert said,
"and am known as Sir Cuthbert of Evesham. As I was the youngest among
the knights who fought for the holy sepulcher, it may be that my
appearance is known to you?"
"Ah," the other said, "you are he whom they called the Boy Knight, and
who was often in the thick of the fray, near to Richard himself. How
comes it, Sir Cuthbert, that you are here?"
"The fleet was scattered on its return," Cuthbert replied, "and I landed
with my followers, well-nigh penniless, at Zara, and have since made my
way across the Tyrol. I have, then, as you may well suppose, neither
silver nor gold about my person; and assuredly neither Philip of France
nor John of Austria would give a noble for my ransom; and it would be
long, methinks, to wait ere John of England would care to ransom one of
King Richard's followers."
The brigands spoke for awhile among themselves, and then the leader
"You speak frankly and fairly, Sir Knight, and as you have proved
yourself indeed a doughty giver of hard blows, and as I doubt not that
the archers with you can shoot as straight and as fast as the rest of
the Saxon breed, we will e'en let you go on your way, for your position
is but little better than ours, and dog should not rob dog."
"Thanks, good fellow," Cuthbert said. "We trust that in any case we
might have made a strong defense against you; but it would be hard if
those who have fought together in the Holy Land should slay each other
in this lonely corner of Lorraine."
"Are you seeking adventures or employment, Sir Knight? For if so,
myself and comrades here would gladly take service with you; and it may
be that with a clump of spears you might obtain engagement, either under
the Duke of Lorraine or he of Cleves."
"Thanks for your offer," Cuthbert replied; "but at present my face is
turned toward England. King Richard needs all his friends; and there is
so little chance of sack or spoil, even should we have--which God
forfend--civil war, that I fear I could ill reward the services which
you offer me."
The leader and his men shouted an adieu to Cuthbert and departed for the
mountains, leaving the latter well pleased with his escape from a fight
of which the result was doubtful.
Journeying on without further adventure, they came to Nancy, and were
there kindly received by the duke, who was not at that time upon good
terms with Philip of France, and was therefore well disposed toward the
English. Cuthbert inquired from him whether any news had been heard of
King Richard? but received as a reply that the duke had heard nothing of
him since he sailed from Palestine.
"This is strange," Cuthbert said, "for I myself have journeyed but
slowly, and have met with many delays. King Richard should long ere this
have reached Saxony; and I fear much that some foul treatment has
befallen him. On our way we found how bitter was the feeling among those
related to Conrad of Montferat against him; and the Archduke John is
still smarting from the blow which King Richard struck him at Ascalon.
But surely they would not be so unknightly as to hinder so great a
champion of Christendom as King Richard on his homeward way?"
"The Archduke John is crafty and treacherous," the duke said; "and the
emperor himself would, I think, be not sorry to lay hand upon the King
of England, were it only to do pleasure to Philip of France. Assuredly,
however the anger and indignation of all Christendom will be aroused
should the king's passage be interrupted, for it were indeed a gross
breach of hospitality to seize upon a man who has the double claim of
being a champion of Christendom and a shipwrecked man. However, it is
early yet to be uneasy, and it may be that in a few days we may have
news of the arrival of the king in Saxony. He may have encountered
difficulties similar to those which you yourself have met with. The
country is everywhere disturbed, and it is not only in my forests that
bands of outlawed men are to be met with. At present there is peace in
Europe. It may last indeed but a short time. But so long as it
continues, so long must the mountains and woods be full of desperate
men. Were war declared between any two princes these would flock to the
banners of him who would pay them highest, and a war which could end in
the entire destruction of the armies of both combatants would be a
blessing to Europe."
After entertaining Cuthbert courteously for three days, the Duke of
Lorraine bade him adieu, and gave him an escort of men-at-arms to the
borders of the Rhine, where he would find the way open to the domains of
the Duke of Saxony. Without adventure Cuthbert and his followers arrived
at Dresden, and he immediately presented himself at the castle of the
duke. The instant that he sent in his name as Sir Cuthbert of Evesham, a
knight of King Richard, he was conducted to the presence of the duke and
of his wife, the sister of King Richard.
"Are you bearer of news of my brother Richard?" the duke said, advancing
a step to meet the young knight as he entered the hall.
"Alas! my lord duke, I am not," Cuthbert said; "but had hoped to gain
tidings from you."
"From me?" the duke said in surprise. "What should lead you to believe
that I have any news of King Richard later than that which others have
received? The last I heard of him was upon the day of his departure from
the Holy Land, before the storm arose which scattered his fleet, and I
am ignorant whether he has foundered at sea, or whether, as some
suppose, his vessel may have been taken captive by the Moors."
"I bear you later tidings," Cuthbert said, "than those you have
received. I was on board the ship with King Richard. We were wrecked
upon the Island of Corfu and there hiring a small ship, we proceeded to
Zara. King Richard determined to make his way across the Tyrol to this
place; but he thought that it would attract attention to him were he
accompanied by so large a party. Therefore he, with Sir Baldwin of
Bethune, and a few followers, started north, while I with my men kept
west through the north of Italy, and then crossed by the pass over
"How long is it since you left my brother?" the duchess asked anxiously.
"It is now over a month since I bade him adieu," Cuthbert answered.
"Then he should have been heard of long since," the duchess said. "What
fate can have befallen him?"
"Judging from my own experience," Cuthbert said, "I fear that he may
have come to harm at the hands of the friends of Conrad of Montferat,
who falsely allege that the death of their kinsman was caused by King
Richard. The Archduke John, too, owes him no good-will; and even the
emperor is evilly disposed toward him. The king traveled under an
assumed name; but it might well be that he would be recognized upon the
way. His face was known to all who fought in the East; and his lordly
manner and majestic stature could ill be concealed beneath a merchant's
garb. Still, lady, as I have been so long in making my way across, it
may be that King Richard has been similarly delayed without danger
befalling him, and it could hardly be that so important a man as the
King of England would be detained, or come to any misfortune, without
the news being bruited abroad."
In spite of Cuthbert's reassuring words, the duke and duchess were
greatly alarmed at the news of King Richard's disappearance, although
indeed consoled to find that their previous fears, that he had been
drowned in the storm or captured by the Moorish corsairs, were
They now requested from Cuthbert the story of what had befallen him
since he left the king; and this he related at some length. The duke was
greatly interested, and begged Cuthbert at least to remain at his court
until some news might arrive of King Richard.
For a month Cuthbert tarried at the castle of the Duke of Saxony, where
he was nobly entertained, and treated as a guest of much honor. Cnut and
the archers were delighted at the treatment they received, for never in
their lives had they been so royally entertained. Their Saxon tongue was
nigh enough akin to the language spoken here to be understood; and their
tales of adventure in the Holy Land rendered them as popular among the
retainers of the duke as their master became with the duke and duchess.
UNDER THE GREENWOOD.
At the end of a month, news came from England that Sir Baldwin of
Bethune had returned there, bearing the news that the king had been
arrested at Gortz, only two days' journey north of the Adriatic--that he
had been recognized, and at once captured. He had offered no resistance,
finding indeed that it would be hopeless so to do. Sir Baldwin had been
permitted to depart without molestation. He believed that the folk into
whose hands he had fallen were retainers of the Archduke John. This
news, although sad in itself, was yet in some degree reassuring to the
duke and his wife; for they felt that while the followers of Conrad of
Montferat would not hesitate to put King Richard to death should he fall
into their hands, the Archduke John would not dare to bring upon himself
the indignation of Europe by such treatment of his royal captive.
Cuthbert at once determined to return to England to see Sir Baldwin, and
to ascertain what steps were being taken for the discovery of the prison
in which King Richard was confined, and for his release therefrom; and
also to establish himself in his new dignity as Earl of Evesham.
Therefore, bidding adieu to the duke and duchess, he started north. The
duke furnished him with letters of introduction to the princes through
whose countries he would travel; and again crossing the Rhine, he
journeyed through the territories of the Dukes of Cleves and Brabant,
and reached the mouth of Scheldt without interruption. There taking
ship, he sailed for London.
It was a long and stormy passage between the mouth of the Scheldt and
London. The vessel in which Cuthbert had shipped was old and somewhat
unseaworthy, and several times in the force of the gale all on board
gave up hope for their lives. At last, however, they reached the mouth
of the Thames, and dropping up with the tide, reached London eight days
after their embarkation. The noble charger which the King of Saxony had
presented to Cuthbert had suffered greatly, and he feared at one time
that the poor animal would succumb to the effects of the tempest.
However, after entering into smooth water it recovered itself, and on
landing near the Tower he found that it was able to support his weight.
Cnut and the archers were, like Cuthbert, delighted to have their feet
again upon English soil; and although London did not now strike them
with the same wonder which it would have done had they first visited it
before starting on their journey--for in many respects it was greatly
behind some of the continental cities--yet the feeling of home, and the
pleasure of being able to understand the conversation of those around
them, made the poor fellows almost beside themselves with joy. Beyond
the main political incidents Cuthbert had heard little of what had
passed in England since his departure; and putting up at a hostelry, he
inquired of the host whether Sir Baldwin of Bethune was in London, or
whether he was away on his estates. The landlord did not know. There
were, he said, but few nobles at court, and London was never so dull as
at present. As Cuthbert did not wish his coming home to be known to John
until he had learned something of the position of affairs, he dispatched
Cnut to the Tower to inquire privately of some of the officials about
the place whether Sir Baldwin was there. Cnut soon returned with the
news that he had not been at the court since his return from the Holy
Land, and that he was living at his castle down in Dorsetshire. After
some hesitation Cuthbert resolved to set out to see his friend, and
after six days' travel he arrived at the castle of the knight.
Sir Baldwin received him with immense joy. He had not heard of him since
they parted at Zara, and he feared that a fate similar to that which had
befallen King Richard had overtaken Cuthbert, even if he were still
"Have you seen aught of the king, our master?" the good knight inquired.
"Nothing," Cuthbert said. "I know no more than yourself. Indeed, I hoped
to have learned something from you as to the king."
"I was separated from him at Gortz, and while he was taken a prisoner to
the archduke, I was allowed to pursue my way. I had many difficulties
and dangers, and was some weeks in finding my way back. Nothing was
known of the king when I returned. Indeed, I was the first bearer of any
definite news concerning him since the day when he sailed from Acre.
Three weeks ago, as you may have learned, the news came that he is now
detained in captivity by the emperor, who demanded his delivery by the
Archduke John, into whose hands he first fell. But where he is no one
exactly knows. The news has created an immense excitement in the
kingdom, and all are resolved to sacrifice any of their treasures which
may be demanded in order to satisfy the ransom which the recreant
emperor has placed upon the king. Shame is it indeed that a Christian
sovereign should hold another in captivity. Still more, when that other
was returning through his dominions as a Crusader coming from the Holy
Land, when his person should be safe, even to his deadliest enemy. It
has long been suspected that he was in the hands either of the emperor
or of the archduke, and throughout Europe the feeling of indignation has
been strong; and I doubt not, now that the truth is known, this feeling
will be stronger than ever."
"But now that it is known," Cuthbert said, "I suppose there will be no
delay in ransoming the king."
"There will be no delay in raising the ransom," Sir Baldwin said. "But
the kingdom is very impoverished by war, by the exactions of Prince
John, and by those of Langley, who held it for King Richard. He was a
loyal servant of the king, but an exacting and rapacious prelate.
However, I doubt not that the rents of the English nobles will soon be
charged with sums sufficient for the ransom; and if this avail not, not
one of them will grudge their silver flagons and vessels to melt down to
make the total required. But we must not flatter ourselves that he will
obtain his liberty so soon as the money is raised. Prince John has long
been yearning for sovereignty. He has long exercised the real, if not
the nominal, power, and he has been intriguing with the pope and Philip
of France for their support for his seizing the crown. He will throw
every obstacle in the way, as, we may be sure, will Philip of France,
Richard's deadly enemy. And now about yourself, Sir Cuthbert; tell me
what has befallen you since we last met."
Cuthbert related the adventures which had befallen him, and heard those
of Sir Baldwin.
"You have not, I suppose," the latter remarked, "as yet seen Prince
"No," Cuthbert replied, "I thought it better to come down to ask you to
advise me on the position of affairs before I attempted to see him."
"You did well," Sir Baldwin said. "When I arrived, I found that the
proper officials had, according to King Richard's instructions, draw up
the patent conferring upon you the lands and title of Earl of Evesham,
before leaving Acre, and had received the king's signature to it. This
was attested by several of the nobles who were with us and who returned
safely to England. Prince John, however, declared that he should not
give any heed to the document; that King Richard's power over this realm
had ceased before he made it; and that he should bestow the earldom upon
whomsoever he chose. As a matter of fact, it has been given to Sir
Rudolph Fleming, a Norman knight and a creature of the prince. The king
has also, I hear, promised to him the hand of the young Lady Margaret,
when she shall become of marriageable age. At present she is placed in a
convent in Worcester. The abbess is, I believe, a friend of the late
earl, and the girl had been with her for some time previously. Indeed
she went there, I think, when her father left England. This lady was
ordered to give up her charge to the guardianship of Sir Rudolph; but
she refused to do so, saying that it would not be convenable for a young
lady to be under the guardianship of a bachelor knight having no lady at
the head of his establishment, and that therefore she should retain her,
in spite of the orders of the prince. Prince John, I hear, flew into a
fury at this; but he did not dare to provoke the anger of the whole of
the clergy by ordering the convent to be violated. And indeed, not only
would the clergy have been indignant, but many of the great nobles would
also have taken their part, for there can be no doubt that the
contention of the abbess was reasonable; and there is among all the
friends of King Richard a very strong feeling of anger at your having
been deprived of the earldom. This, however, has so far not found much
vent in words, for as it was uncertain whether you would ever return to
claim your rights, it was worth no one's while to embroil himself
unnecessarily with the prince on such a subject. God knows that there
are subjects enough of dispute between John Lackland and the English
barons without any fresh ones arising. The kingdom is in a state of
disturbance. There have been several risings against Prince John's
authority; but those have been, so far, suppressed. Now that we know
where King Richard is, and hope for his return ere very long, it is
probable that peace will be maintained; but should treachery prevail,
and King Richard's return be prevented, you may be sure that John will
not be permitted to mount the throne without the determined resistance
of a large number of the nobles."
"But," Cuthbert said, "John is not the successor to the throne. Prince
Arthur of Brittany was named by King Richard from the first as his
successor. He is so by blood and by right, and John can have no pretense
to the throne so long as he lives."
"That is so," Sir Baldwin said. "But unhappily in England at present
might makes right, and you may be sure that at King Richard's death, be
it when it may, Prince John will make a bold throw for the throne, and,
aided as he will be by the pope and by Philip of France, methinks that
his chances are better than those of the young prince. A man's power, in
warlike times, is more than a boy's. He can intrigue and promise and
threaten, while a boy must be in the hands of partisans. I fear that
Prince Arthur will have troubled times indeed before he mounts the
throne of England. Should Richard survive until he becomes of age to
take the field himself and head armies, he may succeed, for all speak
well of him as a boy of singular sweetness of disposition, while Prince
John is detested by all save those who flatter and live by him. But
enough for the present of politics, Cuthbert; let us now to table. It is
long since we two feasted together; and, indeed, such meals as we took
in the Holy Land could scarcely have been called feasts. A boar's head
and a good roasted capon are worthy all the strange dishes that we had
there. I always misdoubted the meat, which seemed to me to smack in
flavor of the Saracens, and I never could bring myself to inquire whence
that strange food was obtained. A stoup of English ale, too, is worth
all the Cyprus wines, especially when the Cyprus wines are half-full of
the sand of the desert. Pah! it makes my throat dry to think of those
horrible meals. So you have brought Cnut and your four archers safely
back with you?"
"Yes," Cuthbert said, smiling. "But they were, I can assure you, a heavy
weight on me, in spite of their faithfulness and fidelity. Their
ignorance of the language brought most of my troubles upon me, and Cnut
had something of the nature of a bull in him. There are certain things
which he cannot stomach, and when he seeth them he rageth like a wild
beast, regardless altogether of safety or convenience."
In the evening the two knights again talked over the course which
Cuthbert should adopt. The elder knight's opinion was that his young
friend had best formally claim the title by writing to the king-at-arms,
and should also announce his return to Prince John, signing himself "Sir
Cuthbert, Earl of Evesham;" but that, in the present state of things, it
would be unwise for him to attempt to regain his position, should, as
was certain to be the case, Prince John refuse to recognize him.
"You are very young yet," Sir Baldwin said, "not eighteen, I think, and
can afford to wait, at any rate, to see whether King Richard returns.
Should he come back, he will see all these wrongs are righted; and one
of his first cares would assuredly be to cast this usurper out of his
stolen dignities. How old is the Lady Margaret?"
"She is fifteen," Cuthbert said. "She was three years younger than I."
"I wish she had been younger," Sir Baldwin said. "At fifteen she is not
by custom fairly marriageable; but men can strain these points when they
choose; and I fear that the news of your coming will hasten both the
prince and Sir Rudolph in their determination to strengthen the claim of
this usurper by marriage with the heiress of Evesham. The Lady Margaret
and her friends can of course claim that she is a royal ward, and that
as such the king alone can dispose of her person and estates. But
unfortunately force overrides argument."
"But surely," Cuthbert said, "they will never venture to take her by
force from the convent?"
"They venture a great many strange things in England now," Sir Baldwin
said; "and Worcester is perilously near to Evesham. With a clump of
twenty spears, Sir Rudolph might break into the convent and carry off
the young lady, and marry her by force; and although the Church might
cry out, crying would be of little avail when the deed was done; and a
handsome present on the part of Sir Rudolph might go far to shut the
mouths of many of the complainants, especially as he will be able to say
that he has the king's sanction for what he did."
"Methinks," Cuthbert said, "that if such be the case it would be
perilous indeed to wait for King Richard's return. Assuredly Sir Rudolph
would not tarry until she attained the age of seventeen, and it may well
be that two years may yet pass before King Richard comes back. It seems
to me the wiser part will be that I should give Prince John no notice
that I am in England. As you say, such notice would be of no avail in
recovering my lands and title, but it would put the prince upon his
guard; and assuredly he and his minions would press forward their
measures to obtain possession of the person of the Lady Margaret;
while, on the other hand, no harm can come of my maintaining silence."
"I think that you are right, Sir Cuthbert. It were indeed best that your
enemies should suppose you either dead or in some dungeon in the Tyrol.
What would you then do?"
"I would return to my old home," Cuthbert said. "My lady mother is, I
trust, still alive. But I will not appear at her house, but will take
refuge in the forest there. Cnut, and the archers with him, were all at
one time outlaws living there, and I doubt not that there are many good
men and true still to be found in the woods. Others will assuredly join
when they learn that Cnut is there, and that they are wanted to strike a
blow for my rights. I shall then bide my time. I will keep a strict
watch over the castle and over the convent. As the abbess is a friend
and relative of Lady Margaret's, I may obtain an interview with her, and
warn her of the dangers that await her, and ask if she be willing to
fulfill the promise of her father and King Richard's will, in accepting
me as her husband when due time shall arrive, and whether she will be
willing that I should take such steps as I may to deliver her from the
persecution of Sir Rudolph. If, as I trust, she assents to this, I will
keep a watch over the convent as well as the castle, and can then either
attack the latter or carry her off from the former, as the occasion may
appear to warrant. There are plenty of snug cottages round the forest,
where she can remain in concealment in the care of some good farmer's
wife for months, and we shall be close at hand to watch over her. With
the aid of the forest men, Sir Walter took the castle of Sir John of
Wortham; and although Evesham is a far grander pile than that, yet
methinks it could be carried by a sudden assault; and we know more of
war now than we did then. Prince John may deny me the right of being
the Earl of Evesham; but methinks before many months I can, if I choose,
become its master."
"Be not too hasty in that matter," Sir Baldwin said. "You might capture
the castle with the aid of your outlaws; but you could scarcely hold it.
The prince has, ere now, with the aid of those faithful to him and his
foreign mercenaries, captured stronger holds than that of Evesham; and
if you turn his favorite out, you would have a swarm of hornets around
you such as the walls of Evesham could not keep out. It would therefore
be worse than useless for you to attempt what would be something like an
act of rebellion against Prince John's authority, and would give him
what now he has no excuse for, a ground for putting a price upon your
head--and cutting it off if he got the opportunity. You might now
present yourself boldly at court, and although he might refuse to
recognize your title of earl, yet, as a knight and a Crusader who has
distinguished himself greatly in the Holy Land, he dare not interfere
with your person, for this would be resented by the whole of the
chivalry of England. Still, I agree with you that your best course is to
keep your return a secret. You will then be unwatched and unnoticed, and
your enemies will take their time in carrying their designs into
Two days later Cuthbert, attended by his faithful retainers, left Sir
Baldwin's castle, and traveled by easy stages through Wiltshire and the
confines of Gloucestershire up to Worcester. He had been supplied by Sir
Baldwin with suitable attire for himself and his followers, and now rode
as a simple knight, without arms or cognizance, journeying from one part
to another. All the crosses and other crusading signs were laid aside,
and there was nothing to attract any attention to him upon his passage.
Cuthbert had at first thought of going direct to the convent of
Worcester, and asking for an interview with Lady Margaret; but he
reflected that it might be possible that some of the myrmidons of Sir
Rudolph might be keeping a watch over that building to see that Lady
Margaret was not secretly removed to some other place of refuge, and
that the appearance of a knight before its doors would excite comment
and suspicion. He therefore avoided the town, and journeyed straight to
the forest, where he had so often roamed with Cnut and the outlaws.
Here he found that matters had but little changed since he was last
there. Many of those who had fought with him in the Holy Land, and who
had returned by sea, had again taken to the forest, joined by many new
men whom the exactions of Sir Rudolph had already goaded into revolt.
Cnut was received with enthusiasm, and when he presented Cuthbert to
them as the rightful heir of Evesham and the well-known friend of the
foresters, their enthusiasm knew no bounds. They at once accepted him as
their lord and master, and promised to obey his orders, and to lay down
their lives, if necessary, in his cause, as they knew that it was he who
had formerly obtained the pardon of the forest band, and who had fought
with them in their attack on Wortham Castle.
To Cuthbert's great delight he heard that his mother was in good health,
although she had for some months been grievously fretting over his
disappearance and supposed death. Cuthbert hesitated whether he should
proceed at once to see her; but he feared that the shock of his
appearance might be too much for her, and that her expressions of joy
might make the retainers and others aware of his arrival, and the news
might in some way reach the ears of those at the castle. He therefore
dispatched Cnut to see her, and break the news to her cautiously, and to
request her to arrange for a time when she would either see Cuthbert at
some place at a distance from the house, or would so arrange that the
domestics should be absent and that he would have an interview with her
Cnut was absent some hours, and on his return told Cuthbert that he had
seen Dame Editha, and that her joy on hearing of her son's safe arrival
had caused her no harm, but rather the reverse. The news that King
Richard had bestowed upon him the title and lands of Evesham was new to
her, and she was astonished indeed to hear of his elevation. Having
heard much of the character of the pretending earl, she had great fears
for the safety of Cuthbert, should his residence in the neighborhood get
to his ears; and although sure of the fidelity of all her retainers, she
feared that in their joy at their young master's return they might let
slip some incautious word which would come to the ears of some of those
at the castle. She therefore determined to meet him at a distance. She
had arranged that upon the following day she would give out that she
intended to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Dunstan, which lay at
the edge of the forest, to thank him for her recovery from illness, and
to pray for the safety of her son. She would be carried thither in a
litter, and her journey would excite no comment whatever. She would take
with her four of her most trusted retainers, and would on her arrival at
the shrine send them to a distance, in order to pay her devotions
undisturbed. Cuthbert was to be near, and the moment he saw them depart,
This arrangement was carried out, and the joy of Dame Editha at again
meeting her son was deep indeed. He had left her a lad of fifteen. He
now returned a youth of nearly eighteen, stout and strong beyond his
age, and looking far older than he was, from the effect of the hot sun
of Syria and of the hardships through which he had gone. That he should
win his spurs upon the first opportunity the earl had promised her, and
she doubted not that he would soon attain the rank which his father had
held. But that he should return to her a belted earl was beyond her
wildest thoughts. This, however, was but little in her mind then. It was
her son, and not the Earl of Evesham, whom she clasped in her arms.
As the interview must necessarily be a short one, Cuthbert gave her but
a slight outline of what had happened since they parted, and the
conversation then turned upon the present position, and upon the steps
which had best be taken.
"Your peril is, I fear, as great here as when you were fighting the
infidels in the Holy Land," she said. "Sir Rudolph has not been here
long; but he has proved himself a cruel and ruthless master. He has
driven forth many of the old tenants and bestowed their lands upon his
own servants and retainers. The forest laws he carries out to the
fullest severity, and has hung several men who were caught infringing
them. He has laid such heavy burdens on all the tenants that remain that
they are fairly ruined, and if he stay here long he will rule over a
desert. Did he dream of your presence here, he would carry fire and
sword through the forest. It is sad indeed to think that so worthless a
knave as this should be a favorite of the ruler of England. But all men
say that he is so. Thus were you to attack him, even did you conquer and
kill him, you would have the enmity of Prince John to contend with; and
he spareth none, man or woman, who stand in his way. It will be a bad
day indeed for England should our good King Richard not return. I will,
as you wish me, write to my good cousin, the Lady Abbess of St. Anne's,
and will ask that you may have an interview with the Lady Margaret, to
hear her wishes and opinions concerning the future, and will pray her to
do all that she can to aid your suit with the fair young lady, and to
keep her at all events safe from the clutches of the tyrant of Evesham."
Three days later a boy employed as a messenger by Dame Editha brought a
note to Cuthbert, saying that she had heard from the Abbess of St.
Anne's, who would be glad to receive a visit from Cuthbert. The abbess
had asked his mother to accompany him; but this she left for him to
decide. Cuthbert sent back a message in reply that he thought it would
be dangerous for her to accompany him, as any spy watching would report
her appearance, and inquiries were sure to be set on foot as to her
companion. He said that he himself would call at the convent on the
following evening after nightfall, and begged her to send word to the
abbess to that effect, in order that he might, when he presented
himself, be admitted at once.
THE ATTEMPT ON THE CONVENT.
Upon the following evening Cuthbert proceeded to Worcester. He left his
horse some little distance outside the town, and entered on foot. Having
no apprehension of an attack, he had left all his pieces of armor
behind, and was in the quiet garb of a citizen. Cnut attended him--for
that worthy follower considered himself as responsible that no harm of
any sort should befall his young master. The consequences of his own
imprudence in the Tyrol were ever before his mind, and he determined
that from henceforth there should be no want of care on his part. He
accompanied Cuthbert to within a short distance of the convent, and took
up his position in the shade of a house, whence he could watch should
any one appear to be observing Cuthbert's entrance.
Upon ringing the bell Cuthbert told the porteress, as had been arranged,
that he had called on a message from Dame Editha, and he was immediately
ushered into the parlor of the convent, where, a minute or two later, he
was joined by the lady abbess. He had when young been frequently to the
convent, and had always been kindly received.
"I am indeed glad to see you, Sir Cuthbert," she said, "though I
certainly should not have recognized the lad who used to come here with
my cousin in the stalwart young knight I see before me. You are indeed
changed and improved. Who would think that my gossip Editha's son would
come to be the Earl of Evesham! The Lady Margaret is eager to see you;
but I think that you exaggerate the dangers of her residence here. I
cannot think that even a minion of Prince John would dare to violate the
sanctity of a convent."
"I fear, good mother," Cuthbert said, "that when ambition and greed are
in one scale, reverence for the holy church will not weigh much in the
other. Had King Richard been killed upon his way home, or so long as
nothing was heard of him, Sir Rudolph might have been content to allow
matters to remain as they were, until at least Lady Margaret attained an
age which would justify him in demanding that the espousal should be
carried out. But the news which has now positively been ascertained,
that the king is in the hands of the emperor, and the knowledge that
sooner or later his freedom will be obtained, will hasten the friends of
the usurper to make the most of their advantage. He knows that the king
would at once upon his return annul the nomination of Sir Rudolph to the
earldom which had previously been bestowed upon me. But he may well
think that if before that time he can secure in marriage the person of
the late earl's daughter, no small share of the domains may be allotted
to him as her dowry, even if he be obliged to lay by his borrowed
honors. You will, unless I am greatly mistaken, hear from him before
The abbess looked grave.
"There is much in what you say, Sir Cuthbert; and indeed a certain
confirmation is given to it by the fact that only yesterday I received a
letter from Sir Rudolph, urging that now the Lady Margaret is past the
age of fifteen, and may therefore be considered marriageable, the will
of the prince should be carried into effect, and that she should for the
present be committed to the charge of the Lady Clara Boulger, who is
the wife of a friend and associate of Sir Rudolph. He says that he
should not wish to press the marriage until she attains the age of
sixteen, but that it were well that his future wife should become
accustomed to the outside world, so as to take her place as Castellan of
Evesham with a dignity befitting the position. I wrote at once to him
saying that in another year it would, in my poor judgment, be quite time
to think about such worldly matters; that at the present the Lady
Margaret was receiving an education suitable to her rank; that she was
happy here; and that unless constrained by force--of which, I said, I
could not suppose that any possibility existed--I should not surrender
the Lady Margaret into any hands whatsoever, unless, indeed, I received
the commands of her lawful guardian, King Richard."
"You said well, holy mother," Sir Cuthbert said. "But you see the hawks
scent the danger from afar, and are moving uneasily already. Whether
they consider it so pressing that they will dare to profane the convent,
I know not. But I am sure that should they do so, they will not hesitate
a moment at the thought of the anger of the church. Prince John has
already shown that he is ready, if need be, to oppose the authority of
the holy father, and he may well, therefore, despise any local wrath
that might be excited by an action which he can himself disavow, and for
which, even at the worst, he need only inflict some nominal punishment
upon his vassal. Bethink thee, lady, whether it would not be safer to
send the Lady Margaret to the care of some person, where she may be
concealed from the search of Sir Rudolph."
"I would gladly do so," the abbess said, "did I know of such a person or
such a place. But it is difficult indeed, for a young lady of rank to be
concealed from such sharp searchers as Sir Rudolph would be certain to
place upon her track. Your proposal that she should take refuge in the
house of some small franklin near the forest, I cannot agree to. In the
first place, it would demean her to be so placed; and in the second, we
could never be sure that the report of her residence there might not
reach the ears of Sir Rudolph. As a last resource, of course, such a
step would be justifiable, but not until at least overt outrages have
been attempted. Now I will call Lady Margaret in."
The young girl entered with an air of frank gladness, but was startled
at the alteration which had taken place in her former playfellow, and
paused and looked at the abbess, as if inquiring whether this could be
really the Cuthbert she had known. Lady Margaret was fifteen in years;
but she looked much younger. The quiet seclusion in which she had lived
in the convent had kept her from approaching that maturity which as an
earl's daughter, brought up in the stir and bustle of a castle, she
would doubtless have attained.
"This is indeed Sir Cuthbert," the abbess said, "your old playfellow,
and the husband destined for you by your father and by the will of the
Struck with a new timidity, the girl advanced, and, according to the
custom of the times, held up her cheek to be kissed. Cuthbert was almost
as timid as herself.
"I feel, Lady Margaret," he said, "a deep sense of my own unworthiness
of the kindness and honor which the dear lord your father bestowed upon
me; and were it not that many dangers threaten, and that it were
difficult under the circumstances to find one more worthy of you, I
would gladly resign you into the hands of such a one were it for your
happiness. But believe me that the recollection of your face has
animated me in many of the scenes of danger in which I have been placed;
and although even in fancy my thoughts scarcely ventured to rise so
high, yet I felt as a true knight might feel for the lady of his love."
"I always liked you, Sir Cuthbert," the girl said frankly, "better than
any one else next to my father, and gladly submit myself to his will. My
own inclinations indeed, so far as is maidenly, go with his. These are
troubled times," she said anxiously, "and our holy mother tells me that
you fear some danger is overhanging me."
"I trust that the danger may not be imminent," Cuthbert answered. "But
knowing the unscrupulous nature of the false Earl of Evesham, I fear
that the news that King Richard is found will bestir him to early
action. But you can rely, dear lady, on a careful watch being kept over
you night and day; and should any attempt be made to carry you away, or
to put force upon you, be assured that assistance will be at hand. Even
should any attempt succeed, do not lose heart, for rescue will certainly
be attempted; and I must be dead, and my faithful followers crushed,
before you can become the bride of Sir Rudolph."
Then turning to other subjects, he talked to her of the life he had led
since he last saw her. He told her of the last moments of her father,
and of the gallant deeds he had done in the Holy Land.
After waiting for two hours, the abbess judged that the time for
separation had arrived; and Cuthbert, taking a respectful adieu of his
young mistress, and receiving the benediction of the abbess, departed.
He found Cnut on guard at the point where he had left him.
"Have you seen aught to give rise to suspicion?" Cuthbert asked.
"Yes," Cnut said, "the place is undoubtedly watched. Just after you had
entered a man came from that house yonder and went up to the gate, as if
he would fain learn by staring at its iron adornments the nature of him
who had passed in. Then he re-entered his house, and if I mistake not is
still on the watch at that casement. If we stand here for a minute or
two, perchance he may come out to see what delays you in this dark
corner, in which case I may well give him a clout with my ax which will
settle his prying."
"Better not," Cuthbert said. "We can retire round this corner and so
avoid his observation; and were his body found slain here, suspicion
would be at once excited in the mind of his employer. At present he can
have no ground for any report which may make the knight uneasy, for he
can but know that a gentleman has entered, and remained for two hours at
the convent, and he will in no way connect my visit with the Lady
They had just turned the corner which Cuthbert indicated, when a man
came up rapidly behind them and almost brushed them as he passed,
half-turning round and trying to gaze into their faces. Cnut at once
assumed the aspect of an intoxicated person, and stretching forth his
foot, with a dexterous shove pushed the stranger into the gutter. The
latter rose with a fierce cry of anger; but Cnut with a blow of his
heavy fist again stretched him on the ground, this time to remain quiet
until they had walked on and passed out of sight.
"A meddling fool," Cnut grumbled. "He will not, methinks, have much to
report to Sir Rudolph this time. Had I thought that he had seen your
face, I would have cleft his skull with no more hesitation than I send
an arrow into the brain of a stag in the forest."
As they journeyed along Cuthbert informed Cnut of what the abbess had
told him; and the latter agreed that a watch must be placed on the
convent, and that a force must be kept as near as possible at hand so
as to defeat any attempt which might be made.
The next day one of the forest men who had been a peaceable citizen, but
who had been charged with using false weights and had been condemned to
lose his ears, repaired to Worcester. His person was unknown there, as
he had before lived at Gloucester. He hired a house in the square in
which the convent was situated, giving out that he desired to open a
house of business for the sale of silks, and for articles from the Low
Countries. As he paid down earnest-money for the rent no suspicion
whatever was excited. He at once took up his abode there, having with
him two stout serving-men, and a 'prentice boy; and from that time two
sets of watchers observed without ceasing what passed at the Convent of
At a distance of half a mile from the road leading between Worcester and
Evesham stood a grange, which had for some time been disused, the ground
belonging to it having been sequestrated and given to the lord of an
adjoining estate, who did not care to have the grange occupied. In this
ten men, headed by Cnut, took up their residence, blocking up the window
of the hall with hangings, so that the light of the fire kindled within
would not be observed.
Two months passed on without any incident of importance. The feeling
between the outlaws in the forest and the retainers of the false Earl of
Evesham was becoming much imbittered. Several times the foresters of the
latter, attempting pursuit of men charged with breaking the game laws,
were roughly handled. These on making their report were sent back again,
supported by a force of footmen; but these, too, were driven back, and
the authority of Sir Rudolph was openly defied.
Gradually it came to his ears that the outlaws were commanded by a man
who had been their leader in times gone by, but who had been pardoned,
and had, with a large number of his band, taken service in the army of
the Crusaders; also, that there was present a stranger, whose manner and
the deference paid to him by Cnut proclaimed him to be of gentle blood.
This news awakened grave uneasiness on the part of Sir Rudolph. The
knight caused inquiries to be made, and ascertained that Cnut had been
especially attached to the young Cuthbert, and that he had fought under
the Earl of Evesham's banner. It seemed possible then that with him had
returned the claimant for the earldom; and in that case Sir Rudolph felt
that danger menaced him, for the bravery of the Earl of Evesham's
adopted son had been widely spoken of by those who had returned from the
Sir Rudolph was a man of forty, tall and dark, with Norman features. He
held the Saxons in utter contempt, and treated them as beings solely
created to till the land for the benefit of their Norman lords. He was
brave and fearless, and altogether free from the superstition of the
times. Even the threats of the pope, which although Prince John defied
them yet terrified him at heart, were derided by his follower, who
feared no one thing in the world, save, perhaps, the return of King
Richard from captivity.
No sooner had the suspicion that his rival was in the neighborhood
possessed him than he determined that one of two things must be carried
out: either Sir Cuthbert must be killed, or the Lady Margaret must be
carried off and forced to accept him as her husband. First he endeavored
to force Sir Cuthbert to declare himself and to trust to his own arm to
put an end to his rival. To that end he caused a proclamation to be
written, and to be affixed to the door of the village church at the fair
Cnut and several of his followers were there, all quietly dressed as
yeomen. Seeing a crowd round the door of the church, he pressed forward.
Being himself unable to read writing, he asked one of the burgesses what
was written upon the paper which caused such excitement.
"It is," the burgess said, "in the nature of a cartel or challenge from
our present lord, Sir Rudolph. He says that it having come to his ears
that a Saxon serf, calling himself Sir Cuthbert, Earl of Evesham, is
lurking in the woods and consorting with outlaws and robbers, he
challenges him to appear, saying that he will himself, grievously
although he would demean himself by so doing, yet condescend to meet him
in the lists with sword and battle-ax, and to prove upon his body the
falseness of his averments. Men marvel much," the burgess continued, "at
this condescension on the earl's part. We have heard indeed that King
Richard, before he sailed for England, did, at the death of the late
good earl, bestow his rank and the domains of Evesham upon Sir Cuthbert,
the son of the Dame Editha. Whether it be true or not, we cannot say;
but it seems strange that such honor should have been bestowed upon one
so young. In birth indeed he might aspire to the rank, since his father,
Sir Walter, was a brave knight, and the mother, Dame Editha, was of good
Saxon blood, and descended from those who held Evesham before the
arrival of the Normans."
Cnut's first impulse was to stride forward and to tear down the
proclamation. But the remembrance of his solemn determination not in
future to act rashly came across him, and he decided to take no steps
until he had reported the facts to his master, and taken his counsel
Cuthbert received the news with much indignation.
"There is naught that I should like better," he said, "than to try my
strength against that of this false traitor. But although I have proved
my arm against the Saracens, I think not that it is yet strong enough to
cope against a man who, whatsoever be his faults, is said to be a
valiant knight. But that would not deter me from attempting the task. It
is craftily done on the part of Sir Rudolph. He reckons that if I appear
he will kill me; that if I do not appear, I shall be branded as a
coward, and my claims brought into disrepute. It may be, too, that it is
a mere ruse to discover if I be in the neighborhood. Some rumors thereof
may have reached him, and he has taken this course to determine upon
their truth. He has gone too far, and honest men will see in the cartel
itself a sign that he misdoubts him that my claims are just; for were I,
as he says, a Saxon serf, be sure that he would not condescend to meet
me in the lists as he proposes. I trust that the time will come when I
may do so. But at present I will submit to his insult rather than
imperil the success of our plans, and, what is of far greater
importance, the safety and happiness of the Lady Margaret, who, did
aught befall me, would assuredly fall into his hands."
After some thought, however, Cuthbert drew up an answer to the knight's
proclamation. He did not in this speak in his own name, but wrote as if
the document were the work of Cnut. It was worded as follows: "I, Cnut,
a free Saxon and a leader of bowmen under King Richard in the Holy Land,
do hereby pronounce and declare the statements of Sir Rudolph, miscalled
the Earl of Evesham, to be false and calumnious. The earldom was, as
Rudolph well knows, and as can be proved by many nobles and gentlemen of
repute who were present with King Richard, granted to Sir Cuthbert, King
Richard's true and faithful follower. When the time shall come Sir
Cuthbert will doubtless be ready to prove his rights. But at present
right has no force in England, and until the coming of our good King
Richard must remain in abeyance. Until then, I support the title of Sir
Cuthbert, and do hereby declare Sir Rudolph a false and perjured knight;
and warn him that if he falls into my hands it will fare but badly with
him, as I know it will fare but badly with me should I come into his."
At nightfall the cartel of Sir Rudolph was torn down from the church and
that of Cnut affixed in its place. The reading thereof caused great
astonishment in Evesham, and the rage of Sir Rudolph, when the news came
to his ears, was very great. Cuthbert was sure that this affair would
quicken the intentions of Sir Rudolph with regard to the Lady Margaret,
and he received confirmation of this in a letter which the abbess sent
him, saying that she had received another missive from Sir Rudolph,
authoritatively demanding in the king's name the instant surrender of
Lady Margaret to him. That night forty archers stole, one by one,
quietly into Worcester, entering the town before the gates were shut,
and so mingling with the citizens that they were unobserved. When it was
quite dark they quietly took their way, one by one, to the square in
which stood the convent, and were admitted into the shop of Master
Nicholas, the silk mercer.
The house was a large one, with its floors overhanging each the one
beneath it, as was the custom of the time, and with large casements
running the whole width of the house.
The mercer had laid by a goodly store of provisions, and for three days
the troop, large as it was, was accommodated there. Cuthbert himself was
with them, Cnut remaining at the grange with the ten men originally sent
On the third day Sir Rudolph, with a number of knights and men-at-arms,
arrived in the town, giving out that he was passing northward, but he
would abide that night at the hostelry. A great many of his men-at-arms
did, as those on the watch observed, enter one by one into the town. The
people of Worcester were somewhat surprised at this large accompaniment
of the earl, but thought no harm. The Abbess of St. Anne's, however, was
greatly terrified, as she feared that some evil design might be intended
against her. She was, however, reassured in the evening by a message
brought by a boy, to the effect that succor would be near, whatsoever
At midnight a sudden uproar was heard in the streets of Worcester.
A party of men fell upon the burgesses guarding the gate of the town,
disarmed them, and took possession of it. At the same time those who had
put up at the hostelry with Sir Rudolph suddenly mounted their horses,
and with a great clatter rode down the streets to the convent of St.
Anne. Numbers of men on foot also joined, and some sixty in all suddenly
appeared before the great gate of the convent. With a thundering noise
they knocked at the door, and upon the grating being opened Sir Rudolph
himself told the porteress who looked through it that she was to go at
once to the abbess and order her to surrender the body of the Lady
Margaret to him, in accordance with the order of Prince John; adding,
that if within the space of five minutes the order was not complied
with, he would burst in the gates of the convent and take her for
himself. In another minute a casement opened above, and the abbess
"Rash man," she said to Sir Rudolph, "I warn you against committing the
sin of sacrilege. Neither the orders of Prince John nor of any other
potentate can override the rights of the holy church; and should you
venture to lay the hand of force upon this convent you will be placed
under the anathema of the church, and its spiritual terrors will be
directed against you."
"I am prepared to risk that, holy mother," Sir Rudolph said, with a
laugh. "So long as I am obeying the orders of my prince, I care naught
for those of any foreign potentate, be he pope or be he emperor. Three
minutes of the time I gave you have elapsed, and unless within two more
the Lady Margaret appears at the gate I will batter it down; and you may
think yourself lucky if I do not order my men to set light to it and to
smoke you out of your hole."
The abbess closed the window, and as she did so the long row of
casements in the house of Master Nicholas were opened from top to
bottom, and a volley of sixty clothyard arrows was poured into the group
closely standing round the gate. Many fell, killed outright, and shouts
of rage and pain were heard arising.
Furious at this unexpected attack, Sir Rudolph turned and commanded
those with him to attack the house whence this volley of missiles had
come. But even while he spoke another flight of arrows, even more deadly
than the last, was poured forth. One of the knights standing by the side
of Sir Rudolph fell, shot through the brain. Very many of the common
men, undefended by harness, fell shot through and through; and an arrow
piercing the joint of the armor of Sir Rudolph wounded him in the
shoulder. In vain the knight stormed and raged and ordered his men to
advance. The suddenness of the attack seemed to his superstitious
followers a direct answer from heaven to the words of the abbess. Their
number was already seriously lessened, and those who were in case to do
so at once took flight and scattered through the city, making for the
gate, which had already been seized by Sir Rudolph's men.
Finding himself alone with only a few of his knights and principal
men-at-arms remaining, while the storm of arrows continued unabated, Sir
Rudolph was forced to order his men to retreat with many fierce threats
of the vengeance which he would hereafter take.
A DASTARDLY STRATAGEM.
The return of Sir Rudolph's party to Evesham was not unmarked by
incident, for as they passed along the road, from an ambush in a wood
other archers, whose numbers they could not discover, shot hard upon
them, and many fell there who had escaped from the square at Worcester.
When the list was called upon the arrival at the castle, it was found
that no less than thirty of those who had set out were missing, while
many others were grievously wounded.
The noise of the tumult in the square of the convent aroused the whole
town of Worcester. Alarm bells were rung; and the burgesses, hastily
arming themselves, poured into the streets. Directed by the sound, they
made their way to the square, and were astonished at finding it entirely
deserted, save for some twenty men, lying dead or dying in front of the
gate of the convent, pierced with long arrows. They speedily found that
Sir Rudolph and his troop had departed; and further inquiry revealed the
fact that the burgher guard at one of the gates had been overpowered and
were prisoners in the watchroom. These could only say that they were
suddenly seized, all being asleep save the one absolutely on guard. They
knew nothing more than that a few minutes later there was a great
clatter of horsemen and men on foot leaving the city. Unable to find any
solution to this singular circumstance, but satisfied that Sir Rudolph
had departed, and that no more disturbance was likely to arise that
night, the burgesses again betook themselves to their beds, having
closed the gates and placed a strong guard over them, determining next
morning to sift the affair to the bottom.
In the morning the leading burgesses met in council, and finding none
who could give them any information, the mayor and two of the councilors
repaired to the convent, where they asked for an interview with the lady
abbess. Mightily indignant were they at hearing that Sir Rudolph had
attempted to break into the convent, and to carry off a boarder residing
there. But the abbess herself could give them no further news. She said
that after she retired from the window she heard great shouts and cries,
and that almost immediately afterward the whole of the party in front
That Sir Rudolph had been attacked by a party of archers was evident;
but whence they had shot, or how they had come upon the spot at the
time, or whither they had gone, were mysteries that could not be solved.
In the search which the authorities made, however, it was discovered
that the house of the draper, Master Nicholas, was closed. Finding that
summonses to open were unanswered, the door was broken in, and the
premises were found in confusion. No goods of any kind were discovered
there, but many bales filled with dried leaves, bark of trees, and other
worthless matters. Such goods as had been displayed in the window had
clearly been carried away. Searching the house, they found signs that a
considerable number of men had been concealed there, and although not
knowing whence the body of archers could have come, they concluded that
those who defeated the attempt of Sir Rudolph must have been hidden in
the draper's house. The singularity of this incident gave rise to great
excitement; but the indignation against Sir Rudolph was in no way
lessened by the fact that his attempt had been defeated, not by the
townsmen themselves, but by some unknown force.
After much consultation on the part of the council, it was resolved that
a deputation, consisting of the mayor and the five senior councilors,
should resort to London, and there demand from the prince redress for
the injury put upon their town by Sir Rudolph. These worthy merchants
betook themselves to London by easy stages, and upon their arrival there
were kept for some days before they could obtain an interview with King
John. When they appeared before him and commenced telling their story
the prince fell into sudden rage.
"I have heard of this matter before," he said, "and am mightily angry
with the people of Worcester, inasmuch as they have dared to interfere
to prevent the carrying out of my commands. The Earl of Evesham has
written to me, that thinking to scare the abbess of St. Anne's into a
compliance with the commands which I had laid upon her, and to secure
the delivery of a contumacious ward of the crown, he had pretended to
use force, having, however, no idea of carrying his threats into effect.
When, as he doubted not, the abbess was on the point of yielding up the
ward, the good knight was suddenly set upon by the rascals of the town,
who slew some of his companions and followers, and did grievously
ill-treat the remainder. This," said the prince, "you now pretend was
done by a party of men of whose presence in the town you had no
cognizance. Your good sense must be small, if you think that I should
believe such a tale as this. It is your rascaldom at Worcester which
interfered to prevent my will being carried out, and I have a goodly
mind to order the troop of Sir Charles Everest, which is now marching
toward Evesham, to sack the town, as a punishment for its rebellion. As,
however, I am willing to believe that you and the better class of
burgesses were in ignorance of the doings of the rougher kind, I will
extend mercy toward the city, and will merely inflict a fine of three
thousand golden marks upon it."
The mayor attempted humbly to explain and to entreat; but the prince was
seized with a sudden passion, and threatened if he said more he would at
once cast him and his fellows into durance. Therefore, sadly crestfallen
at the result of their mission, the mayor and councilors returned to
Worcester, where their report caused great consternation. This was
heightened by the fact that upon the following day Sir Charles Everest,
with five hundred mercenaries of the prince, together with Sir Rudolph
and his following, and several other barons favorable to the cause of
the prince, were heard to be approaching the town.
Worcester was capable of making a stout defense, but seeing that no help
was likely to be forthcoming, and fearing the utter ruin of the town
should it be taken by storm, the council, after sitting many hours in
deliberation, determined to raise the money required to pay the fine
inflicted by the prince. The bolder sort were greatly averse to this
decision, especially as a letter had been received, signed "Cuthbert,
Earl of Evesham," offering, should the townspeople decide to resist the
unjust demands of Prince John, to enter the town with one hundred and
fifty archers to take part in its defense. With this force, as the more
ardent spirits urged, the defeat of any attempt to carry it by storm
would be assured. But the graver men argued that even if defeated for
the first time further attempts would be made, and as it was likely that
King Richard would not return for a long time, and that Prince John
might become sovereign of England, sooner or later the town must be
taken, and, in any case, its trade would for a long time be destroyed,
and great suffering inflicted upon all; therefore, that it was better to
pay the fine now than to risk all these evils, and perhaps the
infliction of a heavier impost upon them.
The abbess was kept informed by friends in the council of the course of
the proceedings. She had in the meantime had another interview with Sir
Cuthbert and had determined, seeing that Prince John openly supported
the doings of his minion, it would be better to remove the Lady Margaret
to some other place, as no one could say how the affair might terminate;
and with five hundred mercenaries at his back, Sir Rudolph would be so
completely master of the city that he would be able in broad daylight,
did he choose, to force the gates of the convent and carry off the
Accordingly, two days before the arrival of the force before the walls
of Worcester, Lady Margaret left the convent by a postern gate in the
rear, late in the evening. She was attended by two of the sisters, both
of whom, as well as herself, were dressed as country women. Mules were
in readiness outside the city gates, and here Sir Cuthbert, with an
escort of archers, was ready to attend them. They traveled all night,
and arrived in the morning at a small convent situated five miles from
the city of Hereford. The abbess here was a cousin of the Superior of
St. Anne's, and had already consented to receive Lady Margaret. Leaving
her at the door, and promising that, as far as possible, he would keep
watch over her, and that even in the worst she need never despair, Sir
Cuthbert left her and returned to the forest.
The band there assembled varied considerably in numbers, for provisions
could not be found continually for a large body of men. The forest was
indeed very extensive, and the number of deer therein large. Still, for
the feeding of one hundred and fifty men many animals are required, and
other food. The franklins in the neighborhood were all hostile to Sir
Rudolph, whom they regarded as a cruel tyrant, and did their utmost in
the way of supplies for those in the forest. Their resources, however,
were limited, and it was found necessary to scatter the force, and for a
number of them to take up their residence in places a short distance
away, forty only remaining permanently on guard.
Sir Rudolph and his friends entered Worcester, and there received with
great hauteur the apologies of the mayor and council, and the assurance
that the townspeople were in nowise concerned in the attack made upon
him. To this he pretended disbelief. The fine demanded was paid, the
principal portion in gold, the rest in bills signed by the leading
merchants of the place; for after every effort it had been found
impossible to collect such a sum within the city.
The day after he arrived he again renewed his demand to the abbess for
the surrender of the Lady Margaret; this time, however, coming to her
attended only by two squires, and by a pursuivant bearing the king's
order for the delivery of the damsel. The abbess met him at the gate,
and informed him that the Lady Margaret was no longer in her charge.
"Finding," she said in a fearless tone, "that the holy walls of this
convent were insufficient to restrain lawless men, and fearing that
these might be tempted to acts of sacrilege, which might bring down upon
them the wrath of the church and the destruction of their souls, I have