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   Chapter 2 -Of the Arrest and Escape of Increase Joyce

A Lad of Grit: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea in Restoration Times By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 15200

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When I came to, the first vague impressions of consciousness were the excited chatterings of what seemed to me a multitude of people. Then I saw the flashing of the light of a log fire lightening the dark oak beams of a room. I lay still, my temples throbbing like to burst, and my head swimming till I felt ready to vomit. Trying to collect my thoughts, I realized that I was in the kitchen of our own house. Then in an instant the whole scene of the tragedy in the pine-shrouded lane burst upon me in all its horror, and I raised myself on one elbow and feebly articulated: "Father, say it is but a dream!"

Gentle hands firmly put my head back upon a pillow, and a voice, which I recognized as that of Master Salesbury, the chirurgeon, said: "The lad will surely recover. No more letting of blood or cupping is needful. A hot posset will not come amiss, good Mistress Heatherington, ere I take my leave, for 'tis cold abroad."

"Thou art right, Master Salesbury," replied another, Sir George Lee, who, I afterwards found out, had been summoned as a Justice of the Peace to take down such evidence as could be obtained. "And as for you, sir, I must ask you to accompany me as my guest till this unfortunate matter can fully be gone into."

"Right gladly would I, worthy sir, but I ride hot-foot on affairs of State. By ten of the clock I must deliver a sealed packet into the hands of Master Jack Tippets, the Mayor of Portsmouth."

I started, and strove again to rise; the voice seemed but too familiar to my ears; but once more I was soothed into repose.

"To Portsmouth, say you? Then why, may I ask, were you so far from the highway?"

"I had also to summon the Squire of Trotton----"

"Trotton, say you? Then why didst take this road, seeing that the turning at Milland is the right and proper one?" demanded Sir George sternly.

"I must have missed the right road, and, hearing shots, I suspected some foul crime, and rode hither----"

In an instant I connected that voice with that of the murderer, Increase Joyce, and with what strength yet remained I shouted: "Seize him; he is my father's murderer!"

Immediately all was commotion. Women shrieked--men shouted. Sir George Lee sprang to his feet and whipped out his sword. "Arrest him," he ordered. Two men, who were attendants at the Court Leet, placed their hands on Joyce's shoulder.

"Unhand me, men!" he exclaimed; "'tis a mistake--a grave mistake. Would ye pay heed to the ravings of a light-headed child?"

A wave of indecision swept over the people present; but, in spite of extreme physical pain, I had raised myself on my elbow, and in reply I repudiated the Roundhead's taunt. "I am not light-headed nor is it a mistake. That man shot my father with a petronel not a furlong from this house."

But Joyce doggedly followed up his line of argument. "Look, worthy sir," he reiterated, "the lad is still wandering. Why, when I came upon them, the boy was stretched senseless on the roadway. I pray you, order your men to release me. I journey on the business of the Commonwealth."

The two men released their hold, but Sir George turned on them with a rage quite unusual to him. "Were ye told to unhand him, dolts?" he shouted. "A messenger of the Commonwealth or no messenger, I take the responsibility. Bind him, and away to Midhurst with him at once."

With an oath the scoundrel shook off his two captors and threw himself bodily on Sir George. Taken unawares, the knight could ill defend himself, and before the bystanders could interfere, a knife flashed in the firelight and was buried in his body. Then the two henchmen grappled with the Roundhead, and all three rolled in a heap on the floor. It was not until the miscreant was stunned by a blow from a milking stool that he was finally secured, and attention could be given to Sir George Lee.

The knight was leaning against the wall, his head slightly bent, while a deadly pallor overspread his face, on which, however, lurked a peculiarly grim smile.

"Art hurt, Sir George?" asked Master Salesbury.

"Nay, Doctor, 'tis not a case for your hands this time, thanks to Lawyer Whitehead; I am but winded."

"To Lawyer Whitehead! How?"

"Ay, to Lawyer Whitehead! 'Tis the first time in twenty-nine years that I have been well served by a lawyer, and even this once it was not as a deliberate act of kindness." And, drawing from his pocket a thick bundle of parchment, partly cut through by the villain's knife, he held it up for inspection.

At that moment the door opened and a sturdy countryman entered, pulling his forelock as a mark of respect to Sir George, and handed him a petronel which I recognized only too well.

"Zure, sir, I did find 'e but d'ree paces from t' road where they killed Maister Wentworth."

Under guard, the villain, now in a half-dazed condition, was removed in a cart to the jail at Midhurst. Most of those present dispersed, and, faint and tired, I fell into a troubled sleep.

A week passed ere I had sufficient strength to be able to sit up. Under the careful nursing of Mistress Heatherington my bodily hurts were healed, though the mental anguish of that terrible night still gripped me in a relentless grasp.

It was on a Tuesday morning when Sir George came to the cottage to enquire how I progressed, and to tell me that he was taking me to the courthouse at Midhurst on the following Monday morning, should I be well enough to bear the journey.

"Lad," he exclaimed, "I would I could fathom this mystery! Thy father's slayer is no mean reaver or cutpurse; yet, though we have him safe by the heels, manacled and leg-ironed, and threaten him with the thumbscrews, never a word can be wrung from him. Was there ever a feud 'twixt thy sire and him?"

I told the knight of the event that took place at the sign of the "Flying Bull", and of the meeting with the villain in the moonlit lane. Sir George listened attentively, and, proud of being privileged to talk to so exalted a personage as the wealthiest man for miles around Rake, I let my tongue run wild for the space of nigh on an hour.

When I had finished, Sir George, who had never ceased to stroke his beard and play a tattoo with his fingers on the table, remained silent for a few minutes; then suddenly he exclaimed:

"Holwick! Captain Slingsby of Monk's Regiment of Horse! 'Tis passing strange, yet----"

His remarks were cut short by the thunder of a horse's hoofs, and a man suddenly burst in through the door and exclaimed breathlessly: "Oh, Sir George! Sir George!"

"Well, sirrah?"

But the man could only stammer out: "Oh, Sir George!"

This was more than the choleric old knight could stand. "Don't stand there babbling like a drunken mummer at Martinmas fair!" he shouted, with a round oath. "Deliver thy message, dolt!"

"Oh, Sir George! The murderer Joyce hath escaped!"

With another furious outburst the knight rushed out of the room, mounted his horse, and, followed by his two servants and the messenger of ill-tidings, rode furiously down the road to Midhurst, the noise of the horses' hoofs clattering on the frosty road testifying to the speed at which they were urged.

News travels apace, and in less than an hour it was all over our village that Joyce had by some means obtained a file, cut through his fetters, and, after a murderous attack on his jailer, had broken out of Midhurst Jail, and was last seen making his way towards the bleak Sussex Downs.

My father had already been laid to rest in the quiet little churchyard of Trotton, and on making an examination of the little h

ouse where we dwelt, his will was discovered. The reading of this will, though of little interest to me (on account, I now suppose, of my youth), was the occasion of an assembly of many of the friends of my father, the number surprising me; for, though highly respected, he was not one who was fond of associating with our neighbours.

There were present, besides Sir George Lee, who appeared to take a great interest in me, Lawyer Whitehead, Howard Hobbs and Jack Alexander of Iping, both of whom had seen service under Prince Rupert; Arthur Conolly, an Irish veteran who had served in the Low Countries, and who had come over from Chichester for the occasion; Arthur Lewis, a gentleman of Bramshott; Percy Young, an officer of the navy, who in his earlier days had lost a leg in the action of La Rochelle; Herbert Collings, a master mariner of Gosport, who used to be a frequent visitor at our house, and who greatly interested me with the account of his adventures off the coast of Barbary; and Giles Perrin, the landlord of the "Flying Bull", who modestly seated himself on a stool in a remote corner of the room. There were also several others whose names I forget.

Lawyer Whitehead, whose name did not belie his appearance, adjusted his horn spectacles, and, unfolding a parchment, read the will, which is as follows:--

"In the Name of God, Amen, I, Owen Wentworth, late of Holwick in the countie of Yorks" [here followed some word that had been erased and "yeoman" written above] "being whole of bodie and perfect of mynde, do ordaine and make this my last will and testament in manner and forme followinge: First, I commend my soule into the handes of Almightie God my Creator, and my bodie to be buried in the churchyarde at Trotton. Item, I give to the poor of the parish of Rake ten pounds to be divided amongst them by the discretion of my Executors. Item, I give to Sir George Lee, knight, in token of friendship, my horse, alsoe a box and contents now deposited with Master Whitehead, Lawyer of Midhurst. Item, to my sister Margaret, now wedded to George Anderson, Clerk of Ye Survey at the Dockyarde neare Portesmouth, One hundred Pounds. Item, to the said George Anderson the sum of Twenty and five Pounds yearly, provided that the said George Anderson doth fulfil to the letter the instructions set forth by me and intrusted to the keeping of the aforesaid Master Whitehead, Lawyer of Midhurst.

"Item, to all persons hereinafter named" [here followed a long list of names, embracing all present and many besides], "provided that they pay me the last respects due to me, I give XX*s*. Item, to John Alexander and Arthur Lewis, my welbeloved friends and Executors, I give Five Pounds apiece.

"Item, to my deerly beloved sonne Aubrey I give the residue of my estate, to be held in trust by the aforesaid George Anderson till my sonne attain the age of XXI yeares, if he doe so long live.

"It is my will alsoe that my sonne Aubrey shall take charge and have and hold the metal box that I do always carry attached to my belt, suffering not the same to go out of hys possession, so that it will help in a small matter whereof he knoweth not yet.

"Item, it is my will if the above named Aubrey my sonne doth dye without heires or before he come to the age of XXI years, the residue shall remain to my sister Margaret Anderson and her heires forever."

There was a buzz of suppressed excitement when Master Whitehead had ended the reading of this lengthy will. Clearly my father was a far richer man than most people had wot of; moreover, there was a cloud of mystery hanging over the will--that was evident by the darkly worded passage about keeping the instructions.

But before there was time for discussion the lawyer brought out another bulky packet, fastened with a large red seal. This he broke and withdrew the contents, revealing yet another sealed missive and a sheet of vellum written in my father's hand. The missive was addressed: "In trust for my sonne Aubrey Wentworth. To Master George Anderson, dwelling in St. Thomas Street in Ye Burrough of Portesmouth. Not to be opened under paine of my displeasure till my sonne attaine the age of XXI years."

The letter gave instructions for me to be sent to my uncle's at Portsmouth, to be provided for until I could choose for myself what I should be, at the same time exhorting me to serve faithfully His Majesty King Charles II or his lawful successor, and to abstain from vain or idle longings to break the seals of the enclosed package till the stipulated time limit had expired.

This the lawyer gravely handed to me, expressing his satisfaction at the prospect before me--a statement that left me more bewildered than before.

Then Sir George Lee spoke, enquiring where was the small metal box that my father had mentioned.

Here was another mystery. No one knew or had seen the box. Mistress Heatherington and both the servants, Giles and William, who had brought home the body of my murdered sire, had been ignorant of its existence, and, at the request of Lawyer Whitehead, the clothes my father wore at the time of his death were produced. There was the belt--a highly ornamented broad band of Spanish leather. The lawyer took and examined it, then passed it on to Sir George, who also looked at it closely, even bending and shaking it in the hope that the missing box might be hidden between the layers of leather.

"Ah, what has been here?" exclaimed the knight, pointing to a series of minute holes round a patch of leather that was not quite so discoloured as the rest.

Clearly the mysterious box was missing, and it was evident that it had been forced away from the leathern belt. Then arose the question, how could it have been detached, and who was the miscreant who had taken it?

The debate lasted for a long while, but all present were agreed that the villain Joyce must have annexed it for some particular motive, though 'twas evident that robbery was not intended, the box being of some worthless metal.

Master Whitehead then gave to Sir George an oaken box which my father had mentioned in his will. The knight opened it, disclosing a lace handkerchief marked with a deep brown stain, to which was fastened a piece of parchment inscribed: "Stained with y^e blood of y^e Martyr His M^tie King Charles", the jewelled hilt of a sword, a ring, and several papers.

The knight reverently pressed his lips to the royal relic, then proceeded to peruse the various papers. The first he looked at intently for some moments, then read aloud the following words:--

"To Beverley Gate on fir trees that wall keeping from y^e 11J feete come to of mine directions in desires I sonne having."

Again he read these unmeaning words, his brows knitting in undisguised perplexity; then he handed the paper to the lawyer, who, after several vain attempts to produce a proper sentence, turned it over in his hand. Something was written on the back; but without saying a word he returned the paper to Sir George, first tapping the writing with his forefinger and clearly indicating that the knight should likewise keep silence.

My sharp wits clearly told me that Sir George by his manner was angry with himself for having read the paper aloud. Hastily thrusting it back into the box, he slammed to the lid and prepared to take his departure.

The rest of the assembled company followed his example, and, with an arm aching with the result of vigorous handshakes, I was left alone with Mistress Heatherington.

It was the last I saw of kind Sir George Lee for many a long year.

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