The Algona Republican from Algona, Iowa on June 19, 1895 · Page 2
Get access to this page with a Free Trial
Click to view larger version

The Algona Republican from Algona, Iowa · Page 2

Publication:
Location:
Algona, Iowa
Issue Date:
Wednesday, June 19, 1895
Page:
Page 2
Cancel
Start Free Trial

Page 2 article text (OCR)

THE STORY OF FRANCIS CLliDDE, BY STANLEY d. WEYtVlAN. . '. AH rljrhts J-"S(M-vi-tl.l ishinw Co CHAPTER XIII. Only to feel that we were moving was a relief "though our march was very slow. Master Bortio carried the child slung in a cloak before him, nnd thus burdened could not well go beyond a smooth amble, while the guides, who were on foot, and the pack" horses found this pace as much as they could manage. A little while, and the exhilaration o£ tho start died away. The fine morning w.'is followed by a wet evening, and be-fore wo had left Emmerich threy miles behind us Master Bertio nnd I had como to look at ono another meaning- ly. Wo wero moving in a dreary, silent procession through heavy rnin, with the prospect of the night closing in early. The road, too, grow more heavy with each furlong and presently began to bn covered with pools of water. We tried to avoid this inconvenience by resorting to the hill slopes on our loft, but found tho attempt a waste of time, as a deep stream or backwater, bordered by marshes, intervened. Tho narrow road, raised but little abovo tho level of the swiftly flowing river on our right turned out to be our only possible path, and when Master Bortio discerned this his face grow more and moro grave. Wo soon found indeed as wo plodded along that a shoot of water, which palely reflected the evening light, was taking the place of tho road, and through this wo hod to plash and plash at a snail's pace, ono of the guides on a pack horso leading tho way and Master Bertie in charge of his wife coming nest; then, at somo distance, for her horse did not take kindly to the water, tho younger woman followed in my euro. Tho other guide brought up the rear. In this way, stopped constantly by tho fonrs of tho horses, which wero scared by the expanse of flood before them, we crept wearily on until tho moon rose. It brought, alas! an access of light, but no comfort. The water seemed continually to grow deeper, tho current on our right swifter, and each moment I dreaded tho announcement that farther advance was impossible. It seemed to have como to that at last, for I saw tho duchess and her husband stop and stand waiting for me, their dark shadows projected far over the moonlit surface. "'What is to be done?" Master Bertio called out as wo moved up to them. "The cuide tells me that there is a broken piece of road in front which will be impassable •with this depth of water." I had expected to hear this, yet I was so -duinfounded—for, this being true, we were lost indeed—that for a time I could not answer. No ono had uttered a word of reproach, but I knew what they must bo thinking. I had brought them to this. It was my foolish insistence had dono it. 'Tho poor beast under me shivered. I .struck him with my heels. "Wo must go iorwardl" I said desperately. '^Or what? What do you think? Go back?" "Steady, steady, Master Knight Errant!" tho duchess cried in her calm, _j^ wrt ^,^.. % ,^^(i '._> T.. nnvnr b-rmw, y T > n; i3O.. bad.fl™ 'counselor before!" •'It is my fault that you aro here, 1 said, looking dismally around. "Perhaps tho other road is as bad, Master Bertio replied. "At any rate, that is past arid gone. Tho question is, What are wo to do now? To remain hero is to flio of cold and misery. To go back may bo to run into tho enemy's arms. To go forward"— "Will bo to bo drowned!" Mistress Anno cried, with a pitiful sob. I could not blame her. A moro gloomy outlook than ours, as wo sat on our jaded horses in the-middle of this wasto o£ waters, which appeared in tho moonlight, to be boundless, could scarcely be imagined. Tho night was eoid for tho time of year, and the keen wind pierced our garments and benumbed our limbs. At any moment the rain might begin afresh and the moon be overcast. Of ourselves, wo could not take a step without danger, ami our guides had manifestly lost their heads and longed only to return. ••Yet I am for going forward," the duchess urged. "If there bo but this ono bad place, we may pass it with care." "Wo may," her husband assented dubiously. "But suppose when wo have passed it wo can go no farther. Suppose the"— "It is no good supposing!" sho retorted, with somo sharpness. "Let us cross this place first, Richard, and wo will deal with tho other when wo como to it " Wo nodded assent, and wo moved slowly forward, compelling tho guides to go first. In tins ijrdei' wo waded somo hundred yards through water which grow deeper with each step, until it rose nearly to our girths. Then tho lads stopped. "Aro wo over:-" said the duchess eagerly. For answer one of them pointed to tho flood before him, and peering forward I mailu out a curront, sweeping silently and swiftly across our path—a current with an ominous rush and swirl. * ''Over 1 '" grunted Master Bertio. "!NO; this i.-i tlje piiicn. Hoe, the road lias given way, and tho stream is pouring through from the river. I expect it is getting worse every minuto p.s tho banks crumble." Wo all craned forward, looking at it. It was impossible to say how deep tho water was, ur how far tho deep part might extend, and we had with us a child and two women. •'Wo must go back!" said Master Bertie resolutely. "There is no doubt tibt-ul; it. The flood is rising. If wo do not mko oaro, wo sh»H bo out oB and bo able to go neither backward nor forward.. ! cannot see a foot of dry land, as it is, before or behind us." Ho was right. Fur and wide, wherever our eyes could reach, the moonlight was reflected in a sheet at water. Wo vrero nearly up to our girths in water. On one sido was tho hurrying river; on the other yvero the treacherous d^'pUn of tho backwater. 1 askod tho guHIo as well as I could whether tho ruiul was goul beyond. He answered that ho did not know. Ho and hifa companion were co ui'Hfied that wo only kept them bi-sido us by threats. "I trur we must go back," I said, as oJntlng sorrowl'ull> ICven tho ruwlie.™ ugretd, and wo wero Agents may apply with WABfcBIi In the act of turning to retrace our steps with What spirit we might when a distant sound brought us all to a standstil. again. The wind was blowing from the quarter whence Wo had come—from Emmerich—and it brought to us the sound of voices. We all stopped to listen. Yes; they wore Voices Wo heard—loud, strident tones, mingled now with the sullen plash of horses tramping through the water. I looked at tho duchess. He* face was pale, but her courage did not fail her. She understood in a trice that the danger wo had so much dreaded was upon us; that we wero followed, and the followers were at our heels, and she turned her horse round again. Without a word she spurred It bock toward tho deep part. I seized Anne's rein and followed, notwithstanding that the poor girl in her terror would have resisted. Letting the guides go as they pleased, we four In a moment found ourselves abreast again, our horses craning over the stream, while we, with whip and spur, urged them on. In cold blood we should scarcely have dono it. Indeed, for a minute, as our steeds stumbled and recovered themselves and slid forward, only to draw back trembling—as the water rose above our boots or was flung by our fellows In our eyes, and all was flogging and scrambling and splashing—it seemed as if we were to be caught In a trap despite our resolve. But at last Master Bertie's horse took the plunge. His wife's followed, and both, partly floundering and partly swimming, set forward, snorting tho while In fear. To my joy I saw them emerge safely not ten yards away, and shaking themselves stand comparatively high out of tho water. "Come!" cried my lady imperatively as sho turned in her saddle with a gesture of defiance. "Come! It Is all right." Come Indeed! I wanted nothing better, for I was beside myself with passion. But, flog as I'might, I could not get Anne's brute to take tho plunge. Tho girl herself could give me no aid. Clinging to her saddle, pale and half fainting, sho could only bog-mo to leave her, cry ing out again and again in a terrified voice that sho would be drowned. With her cry there suddenly mingled another—tho hall of our pursuers as they sighted us. I could hear them drawing nearer, and I grow desperate. Luckily they could not make any speed in water so deep, and time was given mo for ono last furious effort. It succeeded. My horso literally fell into the stream. It dragged Anne's after it. How wo kept our seats, how they their footing, I never understood, but somehow, splashing and stumbling and blinded by the water dashed in our faces, we came out on the other side, where tho duchess and her husband, too faithful to us to save themselves, had watched tho struggle in an agony of suspense. I did but fling the girl's rein to Master Bertie, and then I wheeled my horse to tho stream again. I had made up my mind what I must do. "Go on!" I cried, waving my hand with a gesture of farewell. "Goon! I'can keep them here for awhile." "Nonsense!" I hoard tho duchess cry, her voice high and shrill. "It is"— "Go on!" I cried. "Go on! Do not loso a moment, or it will bo useless." Master Bortio hesitated, but he, too, saw that this was the only chance. The Spaniards were on tho brink of the stream now and must, if they passed it, overtake us easily. Ho hesitated, I have said, for a moment. Then he seized his wife's rein and drew her on, and I heard tho three horses go splashing .away through the flood. I thjMSE-n ffWnee «$ the™ £_ver r».y sBoulclerT bethinking me that I had not told tho duchess my story, and that Sir Anthony and Pctronilla would never— but, pish! What was I thinking of? That was a thought for a woman. I had only to harden my heart now and set my teeth together. My task was very simple indeed. I had just to keep these men—there were four—here as long as I could and if possible to stop Clarence's pursuit altogether. For I had made no mistake. Tho first man to como up was Clarence—Clarence himself. Ho let fall a savngo word as his horse stopped suddenly with its fore feet spread out on tho edge of tho stream, nnd his dark face grew darker as he saw tho swirling eddies and mo standing fronting him in the moonlight with my sword out. Ho discerned at once, I think, the strength of my position. Where I stood the water was scarcely over my horse's fetlocks. Whero ho stood it was over his horsc^i knees, and between us It flowed ncafTy four feet deep. Ho held a hasty parley with his companions, and then ho hailed me. "Will you surrender?" ho cried in English. "Wo will give you quarter." "Surrender? To whom?" I said. "And W hy—why should I surrender? Aro you robbers and cutpurses?" ••Surrender in tho namoof the emperor, you fool!" he answered stonily and roughly. "I know nothing about tho emperor!" I retorted. "What emperor?" "lu tho queen's name, then!" "Tho Duko of Cloves is queon here!" I cried, "and ns tho flood Is rising," I added scornfully, "I would advise you to go homo again." "You would advise, would you? Who aro you?" ho replied in a kind of wrathful curiosity. I gave him no answer. I have often since reflected, with a fuller knowledge of certain facts, that no stranger Interview ever took place-than this short colloquy between us; that no stranger fight ever was fought than that which wo contemplated as wo stood there bathed in the May moonlight, with tho water all round us and the cold sky above. A strange fight indeed it would have been between him and mo had it ever como to the sword's point! But this was what happened. His last words had scarcely rung out when my horse began to quiver under mo and sway backward and forward. I had just time to take the alarm when the poor beast sank down and rolled gently over, leaving mo bestriding its body, my i'eeb in tho water. Whatever the cause of this, I had to disentangle myself, and that quickly, fgr the four men opposite mo, seeing mo dismounted, plunged with a cry of triumph into the water and began to flounder across. Without moro ado I stopped forward to keep tho ford. The foremost and nearest to mo was Clarence, whoso horso began, half way across, to swim. It was svill scrambling to regain its footing when it came within my reatJb'; and I slashed it cruelly across the nostrils. It turned in an instant on, its sido. I saw the rider's face gleam white In the water. His stirrup shone a moment as tho bor&o rolled over; then ill a second tho two wero gone down tfee stream. Jt was d,ouv so easily, so qujokjy, it amazed me. Ono gone, hurrah! J turned quickly to tho others, who were about landing My blood was fired, and my yell of victory, as I dashed at them., scared baok two of the horses. Despite their riders' urging, they turned the bhest from me. He got aerosa indeed, yet, he was the most unlucky of all, fof his horse stumbled on landing, came down heavily on Its head and flung him at my It was no time for quarter—I had to think of my friends—and while With one hand I seized the flying rein as the horse scrambled, trembling, to its feet, with the other 1 lunged twice at the tider as he half tried to rise, half tried to grasp at me. The second time 1 ran him through, and he screamed shrilly. In those days I was young and hotheaded, and I answered only by a shout of defiance as I flung myself Into the saddle nnd dashed away through tho water after my friends. Vo3 vlctisl I had done enough to check the pursuit and yet escaped myself. If I could join the others again, What a triumph it would be! I had no guide, but neither had those in front of me, and luckily at this point n row of pollard willows defined the line between the road nnd tho river. Keeping this oil my right, 1 made good way. Tho horse seemed strong under me, the water was shallow and appeared to be growing more so, and presently across the waste of flood I dis- I slashed It cruelly across the nostrils. corned before mo a dark, solitary tower, tho tower seemingly of a church, for it was topped by a stumpy spire, which daylight would probably have shown to be of wood. , There was a little dry ground round tho church, a mere patch in a sea of water, but my horse rang its hoofs on it with every sign of joy and arched its neck as it trotted up to tho neighborhood of tho church, whinnying with pleasure. From tho back of tho building, I was not surprised, came an answering neigh. As I pulled up a man, his weapon in his hand, came from the porch, and a woman followed him. I called to them gayly. "I fancied you would bo here tho moment I saw the church!" I said, sliding to tho "Thank heaven you aro safe!" tho duchess answoied, and to my astonishment she flung her arms round my neck and kissed me. "What has happened?" she asked, looking in my eyes, her own full of tears. "I think I have stopped them," I answered, turning suddenly shy, though, boyliko, I had been longing a few minutes before to talk of my victory. "They tried to cross, and"— I had not sheathed my sword. Master Bertio caught? my wrist, and lifting the blade looked at it. "So, so!" ho said nodding. ''Aro you hurt?" '•Not touched!" I answered. Before more was said he compelled his wife to go back into tho porch. The wind blew keenly across the open ground, and wo wero all wot and shivering. When we had fastened up tho horses, wo followed her.; The door of tbo church was locked, it seemed, and the porch afforded tbo West shelter to bo had Its Upper part was of open woodwork and freely admitted tho wind, but wide eaves projected over these openings and over tho door, so that at least it was dry within. By huddling together on'tho floor against the windward sido wo got somo protection. I hastily told what had happened. "So Clarence is gone!" My lady's voice as she said tho words trembled, but not in sorrow or pity, as I judged—rather in relief. Her dread and hatred of tho man were strange and terrible, and so seemed to me then. Afterward I learned that something had passe'd between them which made almost natural such feelings on her part and made natural also a bitter resentment on his. But of that no more. "You aro quite sure," she said, pressing mo anxiously for confirmation, "that it was he!" "Yes, but I am not sure that ho is dead," I oxplaine'd. "You seem to boar a charmed life yourself," sho said. "Hush!" cried her husband quickly. "Do not say that to tho lad. It is unlucky. But do you think." he continued —tho porch was in darkness, nnd we could' scarcely make out ono another's faces— "that there is any further chance of pursuit?" ••Not by that party -tonight," I said grimly. "Nor I think tomorrow." "Good," he answered, "for i can see nothing but water abend, and it would bo madness to go on by night without a guide. We must stay here until morning, whatever tho risk." Ho spoko gloomily, and with reason. Our position was a miserable, almost a desperato ono, even on tho supposition that pursuit had ceased. Wo had Josfc all our baggage, food, wraps. Wo had no guides, and wo were in the midst of a flooded country, with two tender women and a baby, our only shelter tho porch of God's house. Mistress Anno, who was crouching in tho darkest corner nest the church, seemed to have collapsed entirely. I remembered afterward that I did not once hear her speak that night. Thoduch.-' ess tried to maintain our spirits and her own, but in tho fane of cold, damp and hunger she could do little. Master Bertie and I took it by turns to keep a kind of watch, b«t by morning—it was a long night, and a bitter one—we wero worn out and sjept despite our misery. We should have been surprised and captured without a blow if the enemy had come upon us then. I awoke with a start to find the gray light of a raw, misty morning falling upon and showing up our wretched group- The duchess' bead was hidden in her cloak, her husband's had sunk on his breast, but Mistress Anne—J looked flt her and shuddered. Had she sat sg all night—sat staring with that stony face of pain and those tearless eyes on the moonlight, on the darkness which had been before the .dawn, on the cold first rays of morning? Stared on all alike and seen none? I shuddered a nd peered at her, alarmed; doubtful, wondering, asking myself what this was that had happened to hey. JJad fear and gold killed her or turned her brain? "Anno!" I said ' ly. "Anne!" She did not answer nor turn, nor the flxed gaze of her eyes waver. * "-" gbe did wot hes,?- "A* 1 * 1 ^' * ®-*- - -• 90 Jo\jd,ly t&Jll the duchess stirred girl shpwo<J Ji9 gjgn, pf consciousness, • ouj »«y Iwirt ftod touched her. a& froze me, while a Violent shtidcle* convulsed her whole frame. Afterward fihe seemed unable to withdraw he* eyes from me but sat in the same attitude, gazing at me with a fixed look of horror, as one might gaze at ft serpent, while tremor after ti-amo* shook her. . . ... 1 wiu frightened and puzzled and was still stnrihg at her, wondering What I had done, When a footstep on the foftd outside called aWaymy attention. I turned from her to sco a man's figure looming dark in tho doorway. Ho looked at us-~I suppose ho had found tho horses outside—gazing in surprise at tho queer, gtoup. I bade him good morning in Dutch, and ho an^ swercd as well as his astonishment Would let him. He Was a short, stout fellow, with a big face, capable of expressing a good deal of astonishment. He seemed to be a peasant or farmer. "What do you here?" ho continued, his guttural phrases tolerably intelligible to me. I explained as clearly as I could that Wo Were oh tho way to Wesel. Then I awoke tho duchess and her husband, and stretching our chilled and aching limbs We went outside, tho man still gazing at Us Alas! the day Was not much better than the night. We could sec but a very little way, a couple of hundred yards round us only. The rest was mist—all mist. SVo appealed to tho man for food and =heltcr, and bo nodded, and obeying his signs rather than his words we kicked up our starved beasts and plodded out Into tho fog by his sido. Anne mounted silently and without objection, bub It was plain something strange had happened to her. Her condition was unnatural. The duchess gazed at her very anxiously, and getting no answers or very scanty ones to her questions shook her head gravely. But wo wero on tho verge of ono pleasure at least. When we reached tho hospitable kitchen of tho farmhouse, it was ioy indeed to stand before the great turf fire and feel tho heat stealing Into our half frozen bodies, to turn and warm back and front, while tho good wife set bread and hot milk before us. How differently we three felt in half an hour! How tho ducn- ess' eyes shone once more! How easily roso tho laugh to our lips! Joy had indeed como with tho morning. To bo warm and dry and well fed after being cold and wet and hungry—what a thing this is! But on ono neither food nor warmth seemed to have any effect. Mistress Anno did indeed, in obedience to my lady a sharp words, raise her bowl to her lips, but sho sot It down quickly and sat looking in dull apathy at tho glowing peat. What had como over her? Master Bertie went out with tho farmer to attend to tho horses, and when he came back ho had news. "There is a lad here," ho said in some excitement, "who has just seen threo foreigners ride past on the road, along with two Germans on pack horses—five in all. They must bo'three of the party who toi- lowed us yesterday." I whistled. "Then Clarence got himself out," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "Well, well!" -I expect that is so," Master Bertio answered, the duchess remaining silent. "Tho question arises again, What is to be done?" he continued. "Wo may follow them to Wesel, but tho good man says the floods aro deep between here and tho town, and we shall have Clarence and his party before us all tho way—shall perhaps, run straight into their arms." . "But what else can we do?" I said. . it- is-impossible to go back." . ••.,•: Wo held a Ion goon for once, and by much questioning of-.our-Jiosd learned that half a league away was a ferryboat, which could"carry as many as two horses over tho river at a time. On tho farther side wo might hit a road leading to Santon, three leagues distant. Should wo go to Santon after all? Tho farmer thought the roads on that side of the river might not bo flooded. We should then be in touch once moro with our Dutch friends and might profit by Master Lindstrom's advice, on which I, for one, was now inclined to set a higher value. "Tho river is bank full. Are you sure , the forrvboat can cross?" I asked. Our host was not certain, and thereupon an unexpected voice struck in. "Oh dear, do not let us run anymore risks!" it said. It was Mistress Anne's. Sho was herself again, trembling, excited, bright eyed, as different as possible from tho \niio of a few minutes before. A great change had come over her. Perhaps tho warmth had done it. ' A third course was suggested—to stay quietly where wo were. Tho farmhouse stood at some little distance from tho road, and though it was rough—it was very rough, consisting only of two roojns,in ono of which a cow was stalled—still it could ftui'msh food and shelter. Why not stay there? But tho duchess wisely, I think, decided against this. "It is unpleasant to go wandering again," she said with a shiver, But I shall not rest until wo are within tho walls of a town. Master Lindstrom laid so much stress on that. And I fancy that tho party who overtook us last night aro not tho juain body. Others will have ROUO to Wesel by boat perhaps or along the other bank. There they will moot, and learning wo have not arrived they will probably return this way nnd search for us.'' 'Clarence"— ••Yes, if wo have Clarence to deal with, Master Bertio assented- gravely, "wo cannot afford to loso a point. Wo will try the L it was something gained to start dr'y and worm, but the women's pale faces-, for little by little the fatigue, the want of rest, tho fear, were telling even on the duchess—were sod to see, I was sore and stiff'myself. The wound I had received so mysteriously had Wed afresh, probably during last night's fight, We needed all our courage to put a bravo lace on the matter and bear up and go out again into the air, which for the first week in May was coliVand nipping. Suspense .and anxiety had told in various ways on all of us. While J felt o fierce anger against those who-wero driving us to those straits, Mastor Bertio was nerv,pi}9 and excited, ftlarmpd for ''his wife nnd child and inclined to see «n enemy in every bush. However, we cheered, ijp a little when wo reached tho ferry and found the boat could cross without much risk. \\e had to go over in two detachments, imd it was nearly an hour past noon before we all stood on tho farther bank and bade farewell tp tho honest soul whose help had been of so much importance to us. H.O told U3wo had three leagues to go, and we 'hoped to bo at rest |n gallon by 4 o'gloek. The throe leagues turned, out to be 109*0 nearly five, while the Jpadwas_ so, founder- ous that we hadagain and aga, n, to quit it. The ovewing pftuxo on, pe, light W 8W, U we leye feeling 0B? Kay. SQ to ..„.. jjhp woi«e» tive4 aod p» the yejpge v. tears, me wen m$f to f'WJS' f nv J ago ausj iTOP&tteBt. tt W, 8 s eip.<% ftftfi - f ' - as well upon us p,Qfoj,e we o,&Uj at euch epeed as ou* hotses eotilA compass. , . ,. , , "Do you go on!" the duchess adjuted as. "Anne and 1 will bo safe enough behind jou. Lot me take the fihlld and do you fhio oh. Wo cannot pass the night in the fields." the impottaneo of securittf? admission was so gfreat that Mastef Bertie aiid I agreed and cantered on, soon outstripping our companions, %nd almost, In the gloom, losing sight of them. Dark masses of Woods, the last remnants apparently of a forest, lay about the road we had to traverse. Wo we*e passing one of these, scarcely 800 paces short of the town, and I was turning in the saddle to see that the ladies were following safely, when I heard Master Bertie, who Was a bowshot in front of me, give a sudden cry. - 1 wheeled round hastily to learn tho tea- eon and was jUst in time to see three horsemen sweep into tho road before him from tho cover of tho trees. They Were so close to him—and they filled the road—that his horse carried him among them almost before he could check it, or so it seemed to me. I heard their loud challenge, saw his arm wave and guessed that his sWord was out. 1 spurred desperately to join him, giving n wild shout of encouragement as I did so. But before I could como up, or indeed cross half the distance, the scuffle was over. One mail fell headlong from his saddle, one horse fled riderless clown the road, and at sight of this, or perhaps of me, tho others turned tail Without moro ado and made off, leaving Master Bertio in possession of thofleld. Tho whole thing had passed in the shadow of tho wood in loss than half a minute. When I drew rein by him, he was sheathing his sword. "Is it Clarence?" I cried eagerly. "No, no, I did not see him. I think not," ho answered. Ho was breathing hard and was very much excited. "They wero poor swordsmen, for Spaniards, he added—"very poor, I thought." I jumped off my horse, and kneeling beside tho man turned him over. Ho was badly hurt, if not dying, cut across tho nock. Wo' looked hard at him by such light as there was and did not recognize him as ono of our assailants of tho night before. I do not think ho is a Spaniard," I said slowly. Then n certain suspicion occurred to my mind, and I stooped lower over him. "Not a Spaniard?" Master Bertie said stupidly. "How is that?" Before I answered I raised tho man in my arms, and carrying him carefully to tho side of tho road set him with his back to a tree. Then I got quickly on my Ijorso, Tho women wore just coming up. "Master Bertie,"! snid in n low voice as I looked this way and that to see if the alarm had spread, "I am afraid there is a mistake. But say nothing to them. It is one of tho town guard you have killed! "One of tho town guard!"'he cried, a light bursting in on him, and tho reins dropping from bis hand. "What shall wo do? Wo are lost, man!" I CHAPTER XIV. What was to bo done? That was tho question, and a terrible question it was. Behind us we had the inhospitable country, dark and dreary, tho night.wind sweeping over it. In front,-where the lights twinkled and tho smoke of the town wont up, we were like to meet with a savage reception. And it was no time for weighing'altornativos. The choice had to be made-imado in a moment. .1 marvel to thisldny at the quickness with which I made it for good or ill. "Wo must get into the town!" I cried imperatively, "and before the alarm is given. It is hopeless to fly, Master Bertie, and wo cannot spend another night In the fields. Quick, madam!" I continued to the duchess as she came up. I did not wait to hear his opinion, for I saw he was stunned by the catastrophe. "Wo have hurt ono of the town guard through i\ mistake. Wo must get through the gate before it is discovered!" I seized her rein and flogged up her horso and gave her no time to ask questions, but urged on tho party at a hard gallop until tho gate was reached. The attempt, I knew, was desperate, for tho two men who had escaped had ridden straight for tho town, but I saw no other resource, and it seemed to me to bo better to surrender peaceably, if that wero possible, than to expose tho women to another night of such cold and hunger as the 'last. And fortune so far favored us that when we reached tho gate it was open. Probably, tho patrol having ridden .through'to got help, no one had thought fit to close it, and, no ono withstanding us, wo spurred our sobbing horses under tho archway and entered the street. It was a curious entry, and a curious scone we came upon. I remember now how strange it all looked. The houses, loaning forward In a dozen quaint forms, clear cut against the palo evening sky, caused n darkness ns of a cavern in tho narrow street below. Here and there in the midst of this darkness hung a lantern, which, making the gloom away from it seem deeper, lit up the things about it, throwing into flaring prominence some barred window with a soared face peering from it, somo corner with n puddle, a slinking dog, a broken flight of steps Just within thogato stood a brazier full of glowing coal, and beside It n halbert rested against the wall. I divined that the watchman had run into tho town with tho riders, and I drew rein in doubt, listening, and looking. I think if we had ridden straight on then all might have been well, or *** least we might have been allowed to give ourselves up But wo hesitated a moment and were lost. No doubt, though we saw but one there were » score of people watching us, who took us for four men, Master Bertio and I being in front, and these, judging from the boldness of our entry that there wore more behind, concluded that this was a foray upon tho town. At any rate, they took instant advantage of our pause. With a swift whir OP H'°n pot ea,me hjjr- tling past mo, ana missing the duchess by a hand's breadth went clanking under the gatehouse.' That served for a signal, In, a moment an alow of hostile cries rose all rpund us. An arrow whi??ed between niv horse's feet! Half A dozen odd jais- sifes, snatched UP by hasty hands, oaroe, raining in. on us out of the gloom. The town seemed to be rising as ono man, A boil began to ring, end a hundred yards in front, where the street branched off to right and left, the way seemed suddenly alive from wall .to wajl with Ugftfe a.fld yoipes mid brandished a W«s> W$ SlWW ef steel aivd'tiie babej of 9 fij.rjn.us .prwdTra .pre^d i»8feins 4ow» toward ufWiw a purpose we needed < no Qe.rpw W'l»wr« PJIBj. , ' ', It was a jtrnfiWe wpigefit, to »OJ§ *y »*..».»». f, . „_,, fjj^jujy r 1 had fisflietl Though 1 did not knott that the man W6 had struck down was s btidegtonm, and that there Weto those in the c*owi in whoso cars the young Wifo'| piercing scream still rang, I yet quailed before their tells and curse*. As 1 glanced round for a place of refuge my eyes lit on an open doorway close to mo, and close also to the brazier and hal- bert. It was a low stone doorway, beetle broWed, with a coat of arms carved ovet It. 1 saw in ftii instant that it must lead to the towet above us—the gatehouse-j- ond 1 sprang from my horse, a fresh yell from tho houses hailing the act. I saw that-, if Wo were to gain a moment for parleying, we must take refuge there. I do hot know how 1 did It, but somehow I made myself understood by the others aiid got the Women off theii horses and dragged Mistress Anne inside, Where at once Wo both fell in the darkness over the lower steps of a spiral staircase. This hindered the duchess, Who was following, and I heard a scuffle taking place behind us. But In that confined space—the staircase was very narrow—I could give ho help. 1 could only stumble upward, dragging the fainting girl after me, until wo emerged through ah open doorway at the top into a room. What kind of room I did not notice then, Only that it Was empty. Notice! It Was no time for taking notice. The bell was clanging louder and louder outside. The mob were, yelling like hounds In sight of their quarry. The shouts, tho confused cries and threats and questions deafened mo. < I turned to learn what was happening behind me. Hie other two had not como up. I felt my way down again,- one hand on the central pillar, my shoulder against tho outside wall. The stair foot was faintly lit by tho glow from outside, and on tho bottom step I came on some one, hurt or dead, just a dark mass at my feet. It was Master Bertie. I gave a cry and leaped over his body. Tho duchess, bravo wife, was standing before him, the halbert which she had snatched up presented at tho doorway, and tho howling mob outside. Fortunately tho crowd had not yet learned how few wo were, ,nor saw, I think, that it was but a woman who confronted them. To rush into tho low doorway nnd storm tho narrow winding staircase in the face of unknown numbers Was a task from which the bravest veterans might have flinched, and the townsfolk, furious as they were, hung back. I took advantage of tho pause. I grasped tho halbert myself and pushed the duchess back. "Drag him up~j" I muttered. "It you cannot manage it,'call Aniiel" But grief and hard necessity gave her strength, and despite tho noise in front of mo I heard her toil panting up with her burden. When I judged sho had reached the room above, I, too, turned and ran up after her, posting myself in the last angle just 'belOw the room: •' There'Twos sheltered-from missiles by tho turn in the staircase and was further protected by the darkness. Now I could hold tho way with little risk, for only one could come up at a time, and ho would be a bravo man who should storm tho stairs in my teeth. All this, I remember, was done in a kind of desperate frenzy in haste and confusion, with no plan or final purpose, but simply out of tho instinct of self preservation, which led mo to do,.from moment to moment, what I could to save our lives. I did not know whether there was another staircase to the tower, nor whether there wero enemies above us, whether indeed enemies miaht hot swarm Iii on us from a dozen entrances. I had no time to think of more than just this—that my staircase, of which I did know, must be held. I think I had stood there about a minute, breathing hard and listening to the din outside, which came to my ears a little soft-wned by the thick walls round me —so much softened, at least, that I could hear my heart boating in the midst of it— when tho duchess came back to tho door above. I could see her, there being a certain amount of light in the room behind her, but she could not see mo. "What can I do?" sho asked softly. I answered by a question. ' Is he alive?" I muttered, "Yea, but huf't," sho answered, struggling with a sob, with a fluttering of the woman's heart sho hud repressed so bravt- ly. "Much hurt, I fear! Oh, why, why did wo come bore?" Sho did not mean it as a reproach, but 1 took it as ono and braced my sol f moro firmly to meet this crisis—to save her at least if it should be any way possible. When she asked again, "Can I do anything?" 1 'vulc her take my pike and stand where IY for ri moment. Since no enemy had •• ^ made hfs appearance above the strength of our position seemed to hold out some hope, and It was the moro essential that I should understand it and know, exactly what our chances were. 1 sprang up the stairs into the room and looked round, my oyes seeming to take in everything at onco. It was a big bare room, with signs of habitation only in one corner. On the sido toward the town was a long, low window, through which—a score of tho diamond panes wore broken already—the flare of tho besiegers' torches fell luridly on the walls and vaulted roof, By the dull embers of a wood'fire, over which hung a huge black pot, Master Bertie was lying on the boards, breathing loudly and painfully, his head pillowed on the duchess' korohlof. Beside him sat Mistress Anne, her face hidden, the child wailing in her lap. A glance round assured mo that there was po other staircase, and that on the sido toward tho country the wall was pierced with no window bigger than ft loophole or an arrow slit, with no opening which even a boy could enter. ' *or tap ,, present, therefore, unless the top of WWv» tower should be esoaladed from the adj«^,^ cent houses-rand I could do nothing to pVQ i JS vide against that—we had nothing to &».>•% except from the staircase and the window 4 ^ haW mentioned- Every moment, WOF,V; ever, a missile or a ghst crashed thyor the latter, Adding the shiver of fall slags to the general .din, $o wonder .,,, ^ h - " - wailed and the gir) sank pvej it itt> _, j) terror, Those wrap-yril* mi? h ^ well make jj woman btonph. They 9WJ| jpore few «»a dread to m.y heart paw c real danger of our ppsltioi mult withpvt and witbii), en by my side svflg I ti?

Get full access with a Free Trial

Start Free Trial

What members have found on this page