MoboReader> Literature > A March on London

   Chapter 5 A RESCUE

A March on London By G. A. Henty Characters: 34417

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Perhaps, boys, you could hardly have been introduced at Court better than by myself," the knight said, as they returned to the lodgings. "There are men much more highly placed, many more influential than I am, but for that very reason I can be friends with all. The king's mother is always most courteous to me, because I was the friend of the Black Prince, her husband; and she has taught her son that, whatever might come, he could rely upon my fidelity to his person. On the other hand, no one has reason either to dislike or fear me. I am a simple knight, longing most to be at home, and at the Court as seldom as may be; besides, I hold myself aloof from both parties in the state, for you must know that the Court is composed of two factions.

"The one is that of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle of the king. He is greatly ambitious; some men even say that he would fain himself be king, but this I believe not; yet I am sure that he would like to rule in the name of the king. He has a powerful party, having with him the Duke of Gloucester, his brother, and other great nobles. On the other hand, he is ill-liked by the people, and they say at Canterbury the rioters made every man they met swear to obey the king and commons-by which they meant themselves-never to accept a king bearing the name of John, and to oppose Lancaster and Gloucester.

"The king's mother has surrounded him with a number of men who, being for the most part of obscure birth, have no sympathy with John of Gaunt's faction, and oppose it in every way.

"Doubtless the majority of these are well fitted for the office that they hold, but unfortunately there are some amongst them, for the most part young and with pleasant manners and handsome faces, whom the king makes his favourites. This again is well-nigh as bad as that John of Gaunt should have all the power in his own hands, for the people love not king's favourites, and although the rabble at present talk much of all men being equal, and rail against the nobles, yet at bottom the English people are inclined towards those of good birth, and a king's favourite is all the more detested if he lacks this quality. England, however, would not fare badly were John of Gaunt its master; he is a great warrior, and well-nigh equal in bravery to the Black Prince. It is true that he is haughty and arrogant; but upon the other hand, he is prudent and sagacious, and although he might rule England harshly, he would rule it wisely.

"However, I hold myself aloof altogether from state matters, and I trust that you will strive to do so. I would fain see the king take all power into his own hands as soon as he gets somewhat older; but if he must be ruled, I would prefer that it was by a great Englishman of royal blood rather than by favourites, whose only merits are a fair face, a gallant manner, and a smooth tongue, and who are sure not only to become unpopular themselves, but to render the king himself unpopular. It is for this reason that I journey so seldom to London, and desire that you should also hold yourself aloof from the Court. I could not be here without taking one side or the other. It cannot be long, however, before the king becomes impatient of his tutelage by the dukes, and we shall then see how matters go.

"It will be time enough then for you to frequent the Court, though it were better even then that you should do as I did, and leave such matters to those whom it concerns and content yourself with doing service to England in the field. From my friendship for the Black Prince I, of course, know John of Gaunt well, and should there be, as seems likely, fierce fighting in France or in Spain-for, as you know, the duke has a claim to the crown of Castile-I will cross the water with you and present you to the duke, and place you in the train of some of his knights, comrades of mine, but who are still young enough to keep the field, while I shall only take up arms again in the event of the king leading another great army into France."

The two friends spent much of their time in wandering about the streets of London. To them all seemed peaceable and orderly; indeed, they kept in the main thoroughfares where the better class of citizens were to be seen, and knew little of those who lived in the lower haunts, issuing out seldom in the daylight, but making the streets a danger for peaceable folks after nightfall.

Upon one occasion, however, they took boat at Westminster and were rowed to Richmond. They had ill-chosen the occasion, knowing nothing of the hours of the tide, and so returned against it. It was therefore eight o'clock when they reached the Stairs, and already growing dark. They knew that orders had been given that the gates were to be closed to all at eight, lest some of the great bodies of rioters should approach suddenly and enter the city.

The watermen, wearied by their long row, refused to carry them any further. There was nothing for it but to walk round the walls and so return to their lodging. The moon was shining brightly, and it seemed to them as they started that it would be a pleasant walk. They followed the Strand, where on the right stood many houses of the nobles, and the great palace of John of Gaunt at the Savoy, in which, after the battle of Poictiers, the captive king of France had been lodged.

Turning off to the left some short distance before they reached the city wall, they held their way round the north side of the city. London had already overflowed its boundary, and although in some places fields still stretched up to the foot of the walls, in others, especially where the roads led from the gates, a large population had established themselves. These were principally of a poorer class, who not only saved rent from being outside the boundary of the city, but were free from the somewhat strict surveillance exercised by its authorities.

They were just crossing the road leading north from Aldersgate when they heard a scream and a clashing of swords a short distance away.

"Come, Albert, some evil deed is being done!" Edgar exclaimed, and, drawing his sword, ran at the top of his speed in the direction of the sound, accompanied by Albert. They soon arrived at the top of a street leading off the main road. A short distance down it a number of men were engaged in conflict; two of these, hearing the footsteps, turned round, and with a savage oath, seeing that the new-comers were but lads, fell upon them, thinking to cut them down without difficulty. Their over-confidence proved their ruin. Edgar caught the descending blow on his sword, close up to the hilt, and as his opponent raised his arm to repeat the stroke, ran him through the body.

"Do you want help, Albert?" Edgar cried, as the man fell.

"No, I think that I can manage him," Albert said, quietly, and a moment later slashed his opponent deeply across the cheek. The fellow turned and took to his heels, roaring lustily. One of the other men, who was stooping over a prostrate figure, with his dagger raised, paused for a moment to look round on hearing the howl of his comrade, and as he did so Edgar's sword fell on his wrist with such force that hand and dagger both fell to the ground. The remaining ruffian, who was roughly endeavouring to stifle the shrieks of a young girl, seeing himself alone with two adversaries, also darted off and plunged into a narrow alley a few yards away.

Edgar paid no more attention to them, but exclaimed to the girl: "Cease your cries, I pray you, maiden, and help me to see what has happened to your companion. I trust that he is unharmed, and that we have arrived in time to prevent those villains from carrying out their intentions." He stooped over the fallen man. "Are you hurt badly, sir?" he asked. The answer was an effort on the part of the person he addressed to rise.

"I am hurt, but I think not sorely." He was unable for the moment to rise, for the man whom Edgar last struck lay across him. Edgar at once hauled the moaning wretch off him, and held out his hand to the other, who grasped it with more heartiness than he had expected, and rose without difficulty to his feet.

"Where is my daughter?" he exclaimed.

[Illustration: "IN A MOMENT EDGAR'S SWORD FELL ON THE RUFFIAN'S WRIST."]

"She is here and unhurt, I trust," Albert replied. "The villain released her and ran off, and I saw her figure sway, and ran forward just in time to save her from falling. I think she has but swooned."

"Thanks be to the saints!" the stranger exclaimed. "Gentlemen, I cannot thank you at present for the service that you have rendered me, but of that I will speak later. Know you any place where you can take my child?"

"We are strangers, sir; but there should surely be some hostelry near where travellers could put up outside the walls."

The noise of the combat had aroused some of the neighbours, and on inquiry Edgar ascertained that there was an inn but a short distance away.

"Let me carry the maid, Albert. Her weight would be naught to me."

Albert gladly relinquished his charge, whose dead weight hanging on his arms was already trying him. Edgar raised her across his shoulder.

"Albert," he said, "I know you have a piece of thin cord in your pocket. I pray you twist it round that man's arm as hard as you can pull it, and fasten it tightly. I have shorn off his hand, and he would very speedily bleed to death. If you staunch the wound he may last till his comrades come back, as they doubtless will after we have left; they will carry him away and maybe save his life. He is a villainous ruffian, no doubt, but 'tis enough for me that I have one death on my hands to-night."

"He is dead already," Albert said, as he leant over the man and placed his hand on his heart. "He must have been wounded by the traveller before we came up."

"Well, it cannot be helped," Edgar replied, as he walked on with his burden.

"Did you see aught, kind sirs," their companion said, "of a servitor with three horses?"

"Nothing whatever," Albert answered, "though methought I heard horses' hoofs going down the road as we ran along; but I paid small attention to them, thinking only of arriving in time to save someone from being maltreated."

"I believe that he was in league with the robbers," the man said. "But," and his voice faltered, "give me your arm, I pray you. My wound is deeper than I thought, and my head swims."

Albert with difficulty assisted the man to the entrance of the hostelry, for at each step he leant more heavily upon him. The door was shut, but the light from the casement showed that those within had not yet retired to bed. Edgar struck on the door loudly with the handle of his dagger.

"Who is it that knocks?"

"Gentlemen, with a wounded man, who, with his daughter, have been beset by knaves within a hundred yards of your door."

Some bolts were undrawn after some little delay, and a man appeared, having a sword in his hand, with two servitors behind him similarly armed.

"We are quiet people, my host," Edgar said. "Stand not on questioning. Suffice that there is a wounded man who is spent from loss of blood, and a young maid who has swooned from terror."

There was a tone of command in Edgar's voice, and the host, seeing that he had to do with persons of quality, murmured excuses on the ground that the neighbourhood was a rough one.

"You need hardly have told us that," Edgar said. "Our plight speaks for itself. Call your wife, I pray you, or female servants; they will know what to do to bring the young maid to herself. But tell her to let the girl know as soon as she opens her eyes that her father is alive, and is, I trust, not seriously wounded."

The landlord called, and a buxom woman came out from a room behind. Her husband hastily told her what was required.

"Carry her in here, sir, I pray you," the woman said. "I will speedily bring her round."

Edgar followed her into the room that she had left, which was a kitchen, and laid her down on a settle. Two maids who were standing there uttered exclamations of surprise and pity as the girl was carried in.

"Hold your tongues, wenches, and do not make a noise! Margaret, fetch me cold water, and do you, Elizabeth, help me to unlace the young lady's bodice," for the light in the kitchen enabled her to see at once that the girl was well dressed.

As soon as Edgar had laid her down, he hurried out of the kitchen, moving his arm uneasily as he did so, having discovered to his surprise that the weight of an insensible girl, though but some fourteen years old, was much more than he had dreamt of. In a parlour in front he found Albert and the landlord cutting off the doublet of the wounded man, so as to get at his shoulder, where a great patch of blood showed the location of the wound. He was some forty years old; his dress was quiet but of good quality, and Edgar judged him to be a London trader. His face was very white, but he was perfectly sensible. One of the servitors ran in with a cup of wine. The wounded man was able to lift it to his lips and to empty it at a draught.

"That is better!" he murmured, and then he did not speak again until the landlord, with considerable skill, bandaged up the shoulder.

"You have had a narrow escape," he said. "There is a sword-thrust just below your collar-bone. An inch or two lower and it would have gone hard with you; a little more to the left and it would have pierced your throat."

"It was a dagger wound," the man said. "I was knocked down by a blow from a sword which fell full on my head, but luckily I had iron hoops in my cap. One man knelt upon me, and endeavoured to strike me through the throat. I fought so hard that one of his comrades came to his assistance, and I thought that the end had come, when he sprung suddenly up. The other attempted more furiously than before to finish me, but striking almost blindly he twice missed me altogether, and the third time, by a sudden twist, I took a blow on my shoulder that would otherwise have pierced my throat. When he raised his dagger again something flashed. I saw his hand with the dagger he held in it drop off, and then the man himself fell on me, and I was like to be stifled with his weight, when my preserver hauled him off me."

"It were best not to talk further," the landlord said. "I have rooms fortunately vacant, and it were well that you retired at once."

"I will do that as soon as you have given me something to eat, landlord. Anything will do, but I am grievously hungry."

"I have a cold capon in the house," the landlord said.

"You will have to cater for three, for doubtless these gentlemen need supper as much as I do."

"I thank you, sir, but we are very late already, and our friends will have become alarmed; therefore, with your leave, we will, as soon as we hear that your daughter has recovered, go on our way."

"That I can tell you at once," the landlady said, entering. "Your daughter has recovered, sir, and would come to you, but I begged her to wait until my husband had done dressing your wound."

"Then we will say good-night, sir. We will call to-morrow morning to see how you are getting on," and without waiting for further words, they at once went out and continued their way at a brisk pace.

"Let me congratulate you, Albert," Edgar said, warmly. "In good faith no old soldier could have been cooler than you were. You spoke as quietly as if it were a lesson that you had to finish before starting for home, instead of a villainous cut-throat to put an end to. What did you to him?"

"I but laid his cheek open, Edgar, and that at once let out his blood and his courage, and he ran off bellowing like a bull. He knew naught of swordsmanship, as I felt directly our blades crossed. I knew that I had but to guard a sweeping blow or two, and that I should then find an opening; but you of course did much better, for you killed two of the villains."

"I did it hastily and with scarce a thought," Edgar said. "My eye caught the flash of the dagger, and I knew that if the man was to be saved at all there was not a moment to lose; I therefore parried the first blow he dealt me, and ran him through with my return. Then I had just time to chop the other villain's hand off as he was about to repeat his stroke. The ruffian you wounded caused the other to look round and pause for a moment. Had it been otherwise the traveller would have been a dead man before I had time to strike. I wonder who the wounded man is? He looked like a London trader. I wonder how he got into so sore a plight? But, doubtless, we shall hear in the morning."

The episode had taken only a few minutes, but it was nigh half-past nine before they reached home.

"What freak is this?" Sir Ralph said, angrily, when they entered. "Your mother has been anxious about you for the last two hours, and I myself was beginning to think that some ill must have befallen you. Why, what has happened to you, Albert, there is blood on your doublet?"

"'Tis not my own, sir," the lad said, quietly. "I regret that we are so late, but it was scarcely our fault. You told us that we could t

ake boat at Westminster and row to Richmond. This we did, but the tide was against us coming back, and though the men rowed hard, the Abbey bell was striking eight as we landed at Westminster; therefore, knowing that the city gates would be shut, we had to make a tour round the walls."

"Then, as you say, Albert, you were not to blame in the matter. But what about the blood with which, as I see, Edgar is even more deeply stained than you are? Have you been in a brawl?"

"We have, sir; but here, I am sure, you will not blame us when you know the circumstances. As we crossed the road running from Aldersgate Street to the north we heard screams and the clashing of swords; deeming, and as it turned out rightly, that some traveller like ourselves was being attacked by cut-throats, we ran on, and presently came up to the spot where four ruffians were attacking a single man who had with him a young girl, whose screams had first called our attention, Edgar ran one through the body, smote off the hand of another who was endeavouring to stab the fallen traveller, and the other ran away."

"And what was your share of it?" his father asked, sternly.

"His share was an excellent one, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "Two of the ruffians ran at us as we came up. One, who attacked me, was but a poor swordsman, and I ran him through at the first thrust. I then paused a moment to ask Albert if he required aid, and he answered, as quietly as he is now speaking, 'No, I think that I can manage him.' I had no time to say more, for I saw that a moment's delay would endanger the life of the traveller. Just as I reached him I heard a yell of pain, and knew that Albert had done his work. That howl saved the traveller's life. The man who was kneeling on him looked round for a moment before delivering his blow, which gave me time to smite him across the wrist. The blood you see was caused by dragging him off the traveller."

"By our lady!" Sir Ralph exclaimed, "but you have begun well, lads. That you would do so, Edgar, was a matter beyond doubt, but that Albert should stand up so well and so coolly in his first fight surprises me indeed. I had no doubt of your courage, lad. 'Tis rare indeed for one of good blood to lack courage, but had you been nervous and flurried the first time you were called upon to play the part of a man, it would have seemed to me but natural; now it gladdens me indeed to know that even in your first essay you should have thus shown that you possess nerve and coolness as well as courage. Anyone can rush into a fight and deal blows right and left, but it is far more rare to find one who, in his very first trial at arms, can keep his head clear, and be able to reply to a question, as Edgar says you did, in a calm and even voice. Now, tell me, who was this man to whose aid you arrived just at the nick of time?"

"He looked like a London trader, father, and was some forty years old; but it was hard to tell, for by the time we got him to the hostelry he was well-nigh spent and scarce able to crawl along, even with my help."

"He was wounded, then?"

"Stabbed with a dagger, father, just under the collar-bone. He must have made a stout resistance, for we heard the clashing of swords for some time as we ran, and when he was struck down he struggled so hard that in spite of the efforts of two of his assailants they failed to slay him. As soon as his wounds were bandaged we left him to the care of the landlord, and hurried off without thinking to ask his name, or of giving him ours, but we promised to return to see him to-morrow morning."

"And what became of the daughter?"

"She swooned, sir, when all was over, and Edgar carried her to the hostelry."

"'Tis good. You have both entered well upon the profession of arms, and have achieved an adventure worthy of knights. Now to bed. Your mother retired long ago, but I know that she will not sleep until she has heard of your safe return and of this adventure that you have gone through."

Highly gratified at the knight's commendation, the lads went up to their room.

"Putting aside the saving of life," Albert said, "I am right glad that we have gone through this adventure. 'Tis true that I had decided upon yielding to my father's wishes and taking up the career of arms, but I had grievous doubts as to whether I should not shame myself and him in my first encounter. I thought of that as I ran forward with you, but as soon as the ruffian advanced against me, I felt with joy that my hand was as steady as when I stood opposite you. It was a good cause in which I was to fight, and as soon as our swords crossed I felt how different it was to standing up against you, and that the ruffian knew little of sword-play. Twice I saw an opening for a straight thrust, but I had no desire to kill him, and waited until I could slash him across the face, and it needed but a few passes before I saw the opportunity."

When Dame Agatha came down in the morning she tenderly kissed Albert.

"My boy," she said, "I never said aught at the time, when it seemed that you were never like to grow strong enough to lay lance in rest or wield battle-axe, to show you that I regretted that you were not able to follow the profession of arms, as those of your race have ever done. I felt that it was hard enough for you, and therefore tried my best to reconcile you to the thought of becoming a priest; but now that all that has changed, and you have shown that you will be a brave and gallant knight, I can tell you that it gives me as great a joy as it does your father. The Church is a high and holy profession, but at present, as the preaching of Wickliffe has made manifest to all-although I do not hold with all he says, and deem that he carries it too far-I feel that until many of these abuses are rectified 'tis not a profession that I should, had I the choice, wish my son to enter. I am glad, Albert, too, that your sword should have been drawn for the first time on behalf of persons attacked by cut-throats, and in saving life. God bless you, my boy, and give you strength ever so to draw it in defence of the oppressed, and for the honour of your country."

Aline was exuberant in her pleasure. She was fondly attached to her brother, and that he would be lost to her as a priest had been a source of sorrow ever since she had been old enough to understand that it would be so.

As soon as the morning meal was over, the two lads started for the scene of the previous evening's fight. The road from Aldersgate, with cars rolling in with loads of flour and other provisions, and with many travellers and foot passengers of all sorts passing along, presented a very different appearance to that which it had worn on the evening before. People were going in and out of the hostelries for their morning draught of ale, and all looked bright and cheerful. The day was fine, and the air brisk. On entering, the landlord at once came up to them.

"Your friend is in the room where we dressed his wounds, sirs. He is doing well, and methinks will make a good cure. His daughter is with him. They have but lately risen, and are breaking their fast. He will be glad to see you, and was mightily vexed last night that we let you leave without asking your names."

"He was not in a condition for talking last night, what with the loss of blood and the smart of his wound and the suddenness of the affray. 'Tis not strange that he should not have thought of it; and indeed we ourselves did not ask his name, for we were pressed for time, and had to hurry away."

It was evident, indeed, as they entered, that things were going well with the wounded man, who was talking merrily to his daughter.

"Ah, sirs," he said, rising at once to his feet, "glad indeed am I that you have come, and that I can now thank you for the great service you rendered last night to myself and my daughter. First let me know to whom I am indebted for our lives?"

"This gentleman," Edgar said, "is Albert, son of Sir Ralph De Courcy. My name is Edgar Ormskirk. I pray you, speak not of gratitude. We are glad, indeed, to have been able to render service to you and to your daughter. We hope some day to become knights, and it is a real pleasure to us to have been able to draw a sword in earnest for the first time, in so good a cause. But, indeed, there is little occasion for glorification, seeing that the fellows were but rough cut-throats, more accustomed, I fancy, to the use of the dagger than of the sword."

"Do not belittle the action, Master Ormskirk," the other said, courteously. "It was a brave deed, for, if I may say so, you are but little more than boys, to pit yourselves against four rascals of this kind. There are few in your place would have ventured upon it. The landlord tells me that two dead bodies were found this morning, and they are those of well-known cut-throats and law-breakers, who would have long since been brought to justice, had it not been that there was no means of proving they were responsible for the many murders that have been committed during the last few months on peaceful travellers and others. A search has already been made of their haunts, and as it is found that two others who generally consorted with them are missing, and as much blood was found in the hovel they occupied, no doubt one of them was severely wounded."

"His cheek was laid open by my friend," Edgar said. "He could have slain him had he so chosen, but being as yet unused to strife and gentler hearted than I am, he contented himself by slashing his face."

"And did the other two fall to your sword, Mr. Ormskirk?"

"Yes; I saw that you were in sore peril, and so ran one through at the first thrust; and then seeing that my friend was well able to hold his own, came on to your aid. Before I reached you, Albert had struck his blow, and the howl that the villain gave did more towards the saving of your life than my sword, for your assailant paused in the very act of striking to see what had befallen his comrade, and therefore gave me time to deliver a blow on his wrist."

"As yet, gentlemen, you do not know my name. I am Robert Gaiton, and belong to the Guild of Mercers. I carry on trade with Venice and Genoa in silk and Eastern goods. This is my daughter Ursula."

The friends bowed, and the girl made a deep reverence. "Ah, sirs," she said, "I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your succour. When you came running up it appeared to me that Heaven had sent two angels to help us, when it seemed that naught could save our lives."

"It was your scream, even more than the clashing of swords, that brought us to your aid, Madame Ursula."

"Ursula, without the madame," her father said. "She is the daughter of a plain citizen, and all unused to titles, save from my apprentice boys."

"I cannot think why the ruffian who held her," Edgar said, "did not stop her screams with a dagger-thrust. He must have been of a much milder sort than his comrades."

"It may have been that," the trader said, "but it seems to me more likely that they intended to carry her off and hold her to ransom. I dare say that you are surprised at my being abroad with my daughter so late, but I believe now that it was a preconcerted plot. It was but ten days before I left London, three weeks since, that I hired a new man. He had papers which showed that he came from Chelmsford, was an honest fellow, and accustomed to the care of horses. I doubt not his credentials were stolen. However, I engaged him, seeing that he appeared just the man I wanted. We journeyed down to Norwich without adventure. There I settled my business with some traders whom I supply with goods, and then journeyed back, stopping always at towns and always before nightfall, as I had a considerable amount of money in my saddle-bags.

"All went well until we started for town yesterday morning. I was detained somewhat late on business, and then instead of finding the horses ready as I had ordered, it was nigh half an hour before they were brought round. We had not ridden very far when my horse fell dead lame, and I had to mount my servant's horse and let him lead the other, and it took us two hours to go five miles into St. Albans. As we went, I thought that, putting the first delay with the horse falling lame, this might be a plot to keep me from reaching London before the gates were shut, and while the horse's shoe was being taken off I slipped the bags of gold into my pouch, and going into the hostelry to get refreshments for Ursula and myself, I handed them to the host, and begged him to hold them for me until I sent for them. I further asked him to give me other bags of the same size, for I doubted not that my servant was in alliance with these thieves. He had doubtless observed me take the bags out, and I was the more confirmed in my suspicions as I noticed how he watched me when I mounted again.

"'What ailed the horse?' I asked the farrier.

"'Either the horse has picked up a nail on the road, master, or belike some knave has driven one in.'

"Then we rode on. I still hoped to pass the gates before they were closed, but the horse went lamely, and we were three miles away when I heard the city bells strike the hour. Still I hoped that they might open the gate for me when I gave my name, which is indifferently well known in the city, but the men at the gate were ignorant of it, and said that without an order from the lord mayor or one of the sheriffs they could open the gate to no man, for that since the country troubles had began, the orders were most strict. It happened that I had not been out through Aldersgate for two years past, but I had heard that an hostelry had been built for the accommodation of travellers who had arrived too late to pass the gates, or others who preferred to sojourn outside the walls. I knew not its position, and asking my knave where it was he said that he knew not.

"We then rode back. Presently I saw two men standing at the corner of that street where we were attacked. I said to them, 'Where is the King's Head hostelry?' ''Tis but a house or two down here,' one of them said. 'The stables are a short way along this road. My comrade will show your man the way.' 'We may as well alight here, Ursula,' I said. It had been a long ride for her, and she was tired with sitting so long on the pillion behind me. ''Tis but three houses down; we may as well walk that distance. Reuben, do you bring round the valises when you have seen the horses stabled and attended to.' I jumped down and lifted Ursula off the horse, and went down the street. I had gone but a short distance when I saw that the locality was scarcely one where a man of sense would build a hostelry.

"'Which is the house?' I asked, sharply. 'The very next door,' the man said. I had stupidly forgotten the suspicions that had been roused at the commencement of the day, and I stepped on. 'This is no hostelry,' I said, when I got to the house. In reply he gave a short whistle, and three fellows, who had been hiding in the shadow of a doorway opposite, ran out, sword in hand. Seeing that I had been trapped, I pushed Ursula into the doorway and stood on my guard. For a short time I kept them at bay, Ursula screaming wildly the while. Then two of them rushed together at me. One struck down my guard, and then smote me on the head, and with such force, that, although the steel lining to my bonnet saved me from being killed, it brought me to the ground. Then, as I told you, one of the fellows threw himself upon me and tried to stab me, but, although confused with the blow, I had still my senses, and struggled with him fiercely, grasping his wrist.

"Then the second one came to his aid, and with a blow from the pommel of his sword numbed my hand, and forced me to quit my hold. Then the other made three stabs at me, a third wounded me slightly, and together they would have finished me had you not come up. My horses were found on the road this morning, with the valises cut open. It must have been a rare disappointment to the rascals, for, save a suit of mine and some garments of my daughter's, there was naught in them. I should like to have seen the villain's face when he opened the money bags and found the trick that I had played him. He had best never show his face in London, for if I catch him he will dance at the end of a rope. And now, sirs, with your permission, I will repair to my home, for my wound smarts sorely, and I must have it dressed by a leech, who will pour in some unguents to allay the pain. My wife, too, will be growing anxious, for I had written to her that we should return last night, and it is not often that I do not keep tryst. I pray you, gentlemen, do me the honour of calling at my house to-morrow at noon and partaking of a meal with us. I shall, of course, as soon as the leech gives me permission, wait upon Sir Ralph De Courcy to thank him for the service you have rendered me. I pray you to give me his address."

The invitation was cordially accepted, and, having given him directions by which their lodgings could be found, the two friends took their leave and returned home.

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