Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - CHAPTER II — A SKIRMISH IN THE DARK
They sat down in a tuft of furze and waited. The red glow of the torches moved up and down and to and fro within the enclosure, as if the link bearers steadily patrolled the garden.
Twenty minutes passed, and then the whole party issued forth again upon the down; and Sir Daniel and the baron, after an elaborate salutation, separated and turned severally homeward, each with his own following of men and lights.
As soon as the sound of their steps had been swallowed by the wind, Dick got to his feet as briskly as he was able, for he was stiff and aching with the cold.
“Capper, ye will give me a back up,” he said.
They advanced, all three, to the wall; Capper stooped, and Dick, getting upon his shoulders, clambered on to the cope-stone.
“Now, Greensheve,” whispered Dick, “follow me up here; lie flat upon your face, that ye may be the less seen; and be ever ready to give me a hand if I fall foully on the other side.”
And so saying he dropped into the garden.
It was all pitch dark; there was no light in the house. The wind whistled shrill among the poor shrubs, and the surf beat upon the beach; there was no other sound. Cautiously Dick footed it forth, stumbling among bushes, and groping with his hands; and presently the crisp noise of gravel underfoot told him that he had struck upon an alley.
Here he paused, and taking his crossbow from where he kept it concealed under his long tabard, he prepared it for instant action, and went forward once more with greater resolution and assurance. The path led him straight to the group of buildings.
All seemed to be sorely dilapidated: the windows of the house were secured by crazy shutters; the stables were open and empty; there was no hay in the hay-loft, no corn in the corn-box. Any one would have supposed the place to be deserted. But Dick had good reason to think otherwise. He continued his inspection, visiting the offices, trying all the windows. At length he came round to the sea-side of the house, and there, sure enough, there burned a pale light in one of the upper windows.
He stepped back a little way, till he thought he could see the movement of a shadow on the wall of the apartment. Then he remembered that, in the stable, his groping hand had rested for a moment on a ladder, and he returned with all despatch to bring it. The ladder was very short, but yet, by standing on the topmost round, he could bring his hands as high as the iron bars of the window; and seizing these, he raised his body by main force until his eyes commanded the interior of the room.
Two persons were within; the first he readily knew to be Dame Hatch; the second, a tall and beautiful and grave young lady, in a long, embroidered dress — could that be Joanna Sedley? his old wood-companion, Jack, whom he had thought to punish with a belt?
He dropped back again to the top round of the ladder in a kind of amazement. He had never thought of his sweetheart as of so superior a being, and he was instantly taken with a feeling of diffidence. But he had little opportunity for thought. A low “Hist!” sounded from close by, and he hastened to descend the ladder.
“Who goes?” he whispered.
“Greensheve,” came the reply, in tones similarly guarded.
“What want ye?” asked Dick.
“The house is watched, Master Shelton,” returned the outlaw. “We are not alone to watch it; for even as I lay on my belly on the wall I saw men prowling in the dark, and heard them whistle softly one to the other.”
“By my sooth,” said Dick, “but this is passing strange! Were they not men of Sir Daniel’s?”
“Nay, sir, that they were not,” returned Greensheve; “for if I have eyes in my head, every man-Jack of them weareth me a white badge in his bonnet, something chequered with dark.”
“White, chequered with dark,” repeated Dick. “Faith, ’tis a badge I know not. It is none of this country’s badges. Well, an that be so, let us slip as quietly forth from this garden as we may; for here we are in an evil posture for defence. Beyond all question there are men of Sir Daniel’s in that house, and to be taken between two shots is a beggarman’s position. Take me this ladder; I must leave it where I found it.”
They returned the ladder to the stable, and groped their way to the place where they had entered.
Capper had taken Greensheve’s position on the cope, and now he leaned down his hand, and, first one and then the other, pulled them up.
Cautiously and silently, they dropped again upon the other side; nor did they dare to speak until they had returned to their old ambush in the gorse.
“Now, John Capper,” said Dick, “back with you to Shoreby, even as for your life. Bring me instantly what men ye can collect. Here shall be the rendezvous; or if the men be scattered and the day be near at hand before they muster, let the place be something farther back, and by the entering in of the town. Greensheve and I lie here to watch. Speed ye, John Capper, and the saints aid you to despatch. And now, Greensheve,” he continued, as soon as Capper had departed, “let thou and I go round about the garden in a wide circuit. I would fain see whether thine eyes betrayed thee.”
Keeping well outwards from the wall, and profiting by every height and hollow, they passed about two sides, beholding nothing. On the third side the garden wall was built close upon the beach, and to preserve the distance necessary to their purpose, they had to go some way down upon the sands. Although the tide was still pretty far out, the surf was so high, and the sands so flat, that at each breaker a great sheet of froth and water came careering over the expanse, and Dick and Greensheve made this part of their inspection wading, now to the ankles, and now as deep as to the knees, in the salt and icy waters of the German Ocean.
Suddenly, against the comparative whiteness of the garden wall, the figure of a man was seen, like a faint Chinese shadow, violently signalling with both arms. As he dropped again to the earth, another arose a little farther on and repeated the same performance. And so, like a silent watch word, these gesticulations made the round of the beleaguered garden.
“They keep good watch,” Dick whispered.
“Let us back to land, good master,” answered Greensheve. “We stand here too open; for, look ye, when the seas break heavy and white out there behind us, they shall see us plainly against the foam.”
“Ye speak sooth,” returned Dick. “Ashore with us, right speedily.”
CHAPTER II — A SKIRMISH IN THE DARK
Thoroughly drenched and chilled, the two adventurers returned to their position in the gorse.
“I pray Heaven that Capper make good speed!” said Dick. “I vow a candle to St. Mary of Shoreby if he come before the hour!”
“Y’ are in a hurry, Master Dick?” asked Greensheve.
“Ay, good fellow,” answered Dick; “for in that house lieth my lady, whom I love, and who should these be that lie about her secretly by night? Unfriends, for sure!”
“Well,” returned Greensheve, “an John come speedily, we shall give a good account of them. They are not two score at the outside — I judge so by the spacing of their sentries — and, taken where they are, lying so widely, one score would scatter them like sparrows. And yet, Master Dick, an she be in Sir Daniel’s power already, it will little hurt that she should change into another’s. Who should these be?”
“I do suspect the Lord of Shoreby,” Dick replied. “When came they?”
“They began to come, Master Dick,” said Greensheve, “about the time ye crossed the wall. I had not lain there the space of a minute ere I marked the first of the knaves crawling round the corner.”
The last light had been already extinguished in the little house when they were wading in the wash of the breakers, and it was impossible to predict at what moment the lurking men about the garden wall might make their onslaught. Of two evils, Dick preferred the least. He preferred that Joanna should remain under the guardianship of Sir Daniel rather than pass into the clutches of Lord Shoreby; and his mind was made up, if the house should be assaulted, to come at once to the relief of the besieged.