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Winning His Spurs by George Alfred Henty

Part 4 out of 5

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like the warmth of my body, is methinks oozing out from my fingers."

Cuthbert laughed.

"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 towards Germany."

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, towards 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 traveller, 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 travellers. 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 travellers; 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."



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
travellers 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 afterwards a loud shout for help was heard, followed by the
renewed howling and yelping of the wolves.

"Good heavens!" Cuthbert exclaimed. "Some traveller 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 hand."

In spite of the angry shouts and entreaties of the guide, the door 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 towards him. In a minute they had cleared their way to the figure,
which was that of a knight in complete armour. He leant against the rock
completely exhausted, and 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 animals'
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 valour 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 tell." 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 speed.

"What sound can this be?" Cnut exclaimed in an awestruck 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 afterwards, 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 armour 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 armour, 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
upwards, 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 hill-side, 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 afterwards 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 yoking man
of some four-or-five-and-twenty 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 truth."

"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 armour 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 honour 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 labour 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 neighbourhood.
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 gaily 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 defences.

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 as Greek to those accustomed only to
Norman French.

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 honour 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; masques 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 dishonour of England at the hands of Austria
elicited great acclamations from the crowd. Cuthbert clenched 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 at 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 towards 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 travelling 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 honourable 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
connexion 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 centre. 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 armour 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 him.

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, 100 yards farther, 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 towards 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
learnt 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 axe 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 towards 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 travelled 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 up on 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 waggons.
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 100 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 learnt 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' travelling, 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 neighbours. 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 traveller."

The Burgomaster was himself able to speak French, and summoning several
of the councillors of the town, he requested Cuthbert to give a narrative
of his adventures; which he did. The councillors 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 quarrelling with a powerful neighbour. He therefore said to the

"I have no intention, honourable 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 honourable 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 travelled 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."

Towards 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 heavy blows.

"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
we speak."

"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 sepulchre, 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 said,--

"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 defence 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 towards 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 Phillip of France, and was therefore well disposed towards 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 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 towards him. The king travelled 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 unfounded.

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 honour. 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.



At the end of a month, news came from England that Sir Baldwin of B,thune
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 the 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 embarcation. 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 B,thune 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
learnt something of the position of affairs, he despatched 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 alive.

"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 learnt 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 learnt, 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 Phillip of
France for their support for his seizing the crown. He will throw every
obstacle in the way, as, we may be sure, will Phillip 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 John?"

"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, drawn 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
upon 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 whole kingdom is in a state of disturbance. There have been
several risings against Prince John's authority; but these 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 pretence
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 Phillip 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 flavour 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 fulfil
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 favourite 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 effect."

Two days later Cuthbert, attended by his faithful retainers, left Sir
Baldwin's castle, and travelled 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 formally 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
despatched 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
there unobserved.

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 neighbourhood 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, to enter.

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 favourite 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.



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 armour
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 parlour 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 honours. You
will, unless I am greatly mistaken, hear from him before long."

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 king."

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 honour 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 axe 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 St. Anne.

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 embittered. 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
Holy Land.

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

No sooner had the suspicion that his rival was in the neighbourhood
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 endeavoured
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
of Evesham.

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 Rudolf. 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-axe, 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 honour 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 thereon.

Cuthbert received the news with much indignation.

"There is nought 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 neighbourhood. Some rumours 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 there.

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 northwards, 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 succour
would be near, whatsoever happened.

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 herself appeared.

"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 over-ride 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 nought
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 armour 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.



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 councillors
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 afterwards the whole of the party in front
hastily retired.

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 councillors,
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 towards 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 towards the city, and
will merely inflict a fine of 3000 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 councillors returned to
Worcester, where their report caused great consternation. This was
heightened by the fact that upon the following day Sir Charles Everest,
with 500 mercenaries of the prince, together with Sir Rudolph and his
following, and several other barons favourable to the cause of the
prince, were heard to be approaching the town.

Worcester was capable of making a stout defence, 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 150 archers to
take part in its defence. 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 500 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 king's ward.

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 countrywomen. Mules were in
readiness outside the city gates, and here Sir Cuthbert, with an escort
of archers, was ready to attend them. They travelled 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 150 men many animals are required and other food. The
franklins in the neighbourhood 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 sent
her away."

"Whither has she gone?" Sir Rudolph demanded, half mad with passion.

"That I decline to say," the lady abbess replied. "She is in good
hands; and when King Richard returns, his ward shall be delivered to
him at once."

"Will you take oath upon the Bible that she is not within these walls?"
Sir Rudolph exclaimed.

"My word is sufficient," the lady abbess replied calmly. "But should it
be necessary, I should be ready to swear upon the relics that she is
not here."

A few hours later Sir Rudolph, attended by his own party and by 100 of
Sir Charles Everest's mercenaries, returned to his castle.

Three days afterwards, as Cuthbert was sitting at a rude but hearty meal
in the forest, surrounded by Cnut and his followers, a hind entered
breathless. Cuthbert at once recognized him as one of the servitors of
his mother.

"What is it?" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet.

"Terrible news, Master Cuthbert, terrible news!" exclaimed the man. "The
wicked earl came down this morning, with fifty of his men, set fire to
the house, and all its buildings and stacks, and has carried off the
lady, your mother, a prisoner to the castle, on a charge, as he said, of
harbouring traitors."

A cry of fury broke from Cnut and his men.

"The false traitor shall bitterly regret this outrage," Cuthbert

He had in the first excitement seized his arms, and his followers
snatched up their bows, as if for instant warfare. A few moments'
reflection, however, showed to Cuthbert the impossibility of his
attacking a fortress like Evesham, garrisoned by a strong body of
well-armed men, with only the archers of the forest, without implements
necessary for such an assault.

"Send at once, Cnut," he said, "and call in all the band. We cannot take
the castle; but we will carry fire and sword round its walls. We will cut
off all communication from within or from without. If attacked by large
forces, we will retire upon the wood, returning to our posts without the
walls as soon as the force is withdrawn. These heavily armed men can move
but slowly; while we can run at full speed. There cannot be more than
some twenty horsemen in the castle; and methinks with our arrows and
pikes we can drive these back if they attempt to fall upon us."

Cnut at once sent off swift-footed messengers to carry out Cuthbert's
orders, and on the following day the whole of the band were again
assembled in the woods. Just as Cuthbert was setting them in motion, a
distant blast of a horn was heard.

"It is," Cuthbert exclaimed, "the note calling for a parley. Do you,
Cnut, go forward, and see what is demanded. It is probably a messenger
from Sir Rudolph."

After half-an-hour's absence, Cnut returned, bringing with him a
pursuivant or herald. The latter advanced at once towards Cuthbert, who,
now in his full knightly armour, was evidently the leader of the party.

"I bear to you, Sir Cuthbert, falsely calling yourself Earl of Evesham, a
message from Sir Rudolph. He bids me tell you that the traitress, Dame
Editha, your mother, is in his hands, and that she has been found guilty
of aiding and abetting you in your war against Prince John, the Regent of
this kingdom. For that offence she has been condemned to die."

Here he was interrupted by a cry of rage which broke from the assembled
foresters. Continuing unmoved, he said,--

"Sir Rudolph, being unwilling to take the life of a woman, however justly
forfeited by the law, commands me to say, that if you will deliver
yourself up to him by to-morrow at twelve, the Dame Editha shall be
allowed to go free. But that if by the time the dial points to noon you
have not delivered yourself up, he will hang her over the battlements of
the castle."

Cuthbert was very pale, and he waved his hand to restrain the fury which
animated the outlaws.

"This man," he said to them, "is a herald, and, as such, is protected by
all the laws of chivalry. Whatsoever his message, it is none of his. He
is merely the mouthpiece of him who sent him." Then, turning to the
herald, he said, "Tell the false knight, your master, on my part, that he
is a foul ruffian, perjured to all the vows of knighthood; that this act
of visiting upon a woman the enmity he bears her son, will bring upon him
the execration of all men; and that the offer which he makes me is as
foul and villainous as himself. Nevertheless, knowing his character, and
believing that he is capable of keeping his word, tell him that by
to-morrow at noon I will be there; that the lady, my mother, is to leave
the castle gates as I enter them; and that though by his foul device he
may encompass my death, yet that the curse of every good man will light
upon him, that he will be shunned as the dog he is, and that assuredly
heaven will not suffer that deeds so foul should bring with them the
prize he seeks to gain."

The herald bowed, and, escorted by two archers to the edge of the forest,
returned to Evesham Castle.

After his departure, an animated council took place. Cnut and the
outlaws, burning with indignation, were ready to attempt anything. They
would, had Cuthbert given the word, have attacked the castle that very
night. But Cuthbert pointed out the absolute impossibility of their
carrying so strong a place by such an assault, unprovided with engines
for battering down the gates. He said that surprise would be impossible,
as the knight would be sure to take every precaution against it; and that
in the event of such an attack being attempted, he would possibly carry
his threat into execution, and murder Dame Editha before their eyes. Cnut
was like a madman, so transported with fury was he; and the archers were
also beside themselves. Cuthbert alone retained his calmness. Retiring
apart from the others, he paced slowly backwards and forwards among the
trees, deliberating upon the best course to be pursued. The archers
gathered round the fire and passed the night in long and angry talk, each
man agreeing that in the event of their beloved leader being sacrificed
by Sir Rudolph, they would one and all give their lives to avenge him by
slaying the oppressor whensoever he ventured beyond the castle gates.

After a time, Cuthbert called Cnut to him, and the two talked long and
earnestly. Cnut returned to his comrades with a face less despairing than
that he had before worn, and sent off at once a messenger with all speed
to a franklin near the forest to borrow a stout rope some fifty feet in
length, and without telling his comrades what the plans of Sir Cuthbert
were, bade them cheer up, for that desperate as the position was, all
hope was not yet lost.

"Sir Cuthbert," he said, "has been in grievous straits before now, and
has gone through them. Sir Rudolph does not know the nature of the man
with whom he has to deal, and we may trick him yet."

At eleven o'clock the next day, from the walls of Evesham Castle a body
of archers 150 strong were seen advancing in solid array.

"Think you, Sir Rudolph," one of his friends, Sir Hubert of Gloucester,
said to him, "that these varlets think of attacking the castle?"

"They might as well think of scaling heaven," Sir Rudolph said. "Evesham
could resist a month's siege by a force well equipped for the purpose;
and were it not that good men are wanted for the king's service, and
that these villains shoot straight and hard, I would open the gates of
the castle and launch our force against them. We are two to one as
strong as they, and our knights and mounted men-at-arms could alone
scatter that rabble."

Conspicuous upon the battlements a gallows had been erected.

The archers stopped at a distance of a few hundred yards from the castle,
and Sir Cuthbert advanced alone to the edge of the moat.

"Sir Rudolph of Eresby, false knight and perjured gentleman," he shouted
in a loud voice, "I, Sir Cuthbert of Evesham, do denounce you as
foresworn and dishonoured, and do challenge you to meet me here before
the castle in sight of your men and mine, and decide our quarrel as
heaven may judge with sword and battle-axe."

Sir Rudolph leant over the battlements, and said,--

"It is too late, varlet. I condescended to challenge you before, and you
refused. You cannot now claim what you then feared to accept. The sun on
the dial approaches noon, and unless you surrender yourself before it
reaches the mark, I will keep my word, and the traitress, your mother,
shall swing from that beam."

Making a sign to two men-at-arms, these brought forward Dame Editha and
so placed her on the battlements that she could be seen from below. Dame
Editha was still a very fair woman, although nigh forty years had rolled
over her head. No sign of fear appeared upon her face, and in a firm
voice she cried to her son,--

"Cuthbert, I beg--nay, I order you to retire. If this unknightly lord
venture to carry out his foul threats against me, let him do so.
England will ring with the dastardly deed, and he will never dare show
his face again where Englishmen congregate. Let him do his worst. I am
prepared to die."

A murmur rose from the knights and men-at-arms standing round Sir

Several of his companions had from the first, wild and reckless as they
were, protested against Sir Rudolph's course, and it was only upon his
solemn assurance that he intended but to frighten Sir Cuthbert into
surrender, and had no intention of carrying his threats against the lady
into effect, that they had consented to take part in the transaction.
Even now, at the fearless words of the Saxon lady several of them
hesitated, and Sir Hubert of Gloucester stepped forward to Sir Rudolph.

"Sir knight," he said, "you know that I am your true comrade and the
faithful servant of Prince John. Yet in faith would I not that my name
should be mixed up in so foul a deed. I repent me that I have for a

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