The little spy, his importance all gone, did as the burly innkeeper bade him, and Hugo and Humphrey were left alone in the kitchen with the servants.
"What do we?" asked Humphrey, in a low tone. "Flee?"
"Nay," replied Hugo. "That were to invite pursuit."
"This innkeeper is a knave," said Humphrey.
"The more reason for caution," answered Hugo.
"I have heard that some priests be great sleepers and great eaters," said Humphrey a few moments later.
"Some priests be," agreed Hugo.
"Then I be one of them. I do now drowse in my chair, and naught but the call to supper shall awake me. And then will I play so busily with my food that no words can escape me save pax vobiscum. This rascal innkeeper learns naught of me."
Presently back came the innkeeper with Walter Skinner in his turn playing scullion. "Here, sir priest," cried the innkeeper. "Here is he who shall serve thee at thy meal."
But there was no response. The priest's head was sunk on his breast, and he seemed asleep. His novice also appeared to sleep.
The innkeeper, emboldened, now gazed openly and curiously at the two. "They have not come far," he said to himself. "Their garments be not travel-stained enough for that. They be some dullards of small wit on their first journey, for the groom did say they knew not that this was Dunstable."
His observations were here cut short by the appearance of three other travellers; but their entrance failed to arouse the priest and his novice, who remained, as before, apparently asleep.
"Yea, verily," thought the innkeeper, as he slowly advanced to meet the newcomers, "they be but two dullards. There is neither game nor gain to be made of them as there is of this Walter Skinner, from whom I will take his horse before I let him go. I will e'en bid priest and novice pack to make room for these newcomers, from whom I may win something, and to save room for others who may come."
Accordingly he set to work, but it was with great difficulty that he roused the two. "Pax vobiscum," murmured Humphrey, sleepily. "Is the supper ready?"
"Yea, but at some other inn," returned the innkeeper. "Here be three worthy people just come in. There is not room for them and ye. The groom bringeth your horses, and ye must go." Without a word of objection Hugo and Humphrey rose to do the innkeeper's bidding and depart. But they walked like men half awake, and followed the innkeeper stumblingly; and mounted their horses clumsily, to the great merriment of the groom. It was now dark, and they knew not which way to turn. "I choose not another inn," said Humphrey, "though we bide supperless in the streets."
"Then choose I," returned Hugo. And he rode off down the street with Humphrey close beside him.
"Lad, lad!" cried the serving-man, "thou must not lead. It will betray us."
At once Hugo fell behind, and the two rode on until, at a little inn called the Blue Bell, the boy bade the serving-man stop. The two alighted, gave their horses to the groom, went in, were promptly served a good supper, and, in due time, were shown to their beds.
"There be dangers on the Watling Street as well as in the fen," said Humphrey.
In the meanwhile the keeper of the Shorn Lamb was having his enjoyment at the expense of Walter Skinner. He bade him serve the three strangers and fear nothing, as no one would recognize him in the guise of a scullion.
"Why, here didst thou come strutting it finely," said the innkeeper, in a mocking tone. "And dost thou strut now? Nay, verily; but thou art as meek as any whipped cock. And since it was by thy strut that men did recognize thee, how shall they make thee out when thy fine strut is gone? Wherefore serve the strangers, and be not afraid."
In spite of this exhortation the manner of Walter Skinner still betrayed doubt, and even timidity. And at last he made the innkeeper understand that it was he whom he feared and not the strangers.
The innkeeper laughed. "Dost fear me?" he said. "Why, thou needst not— that is, thou needst not if thou observest my conditions. Thou hast a horse that thou needest not, since thou hast legs of thine own. Somewhat short they be, and somewhat stiff in the joints, being more made to strut with than for the common gait of mankind. Still I doubt not they will carry thee whither thou wouldst go after I have dismissed thee. Serve the strangers, therefore, and afterward thou shalt sup."
In great meekness Walter Skinner obeyed, and the innkeeper, observing him, sat down later with satisfaction to his own meal.
Now it chanced that the strangers had ordered liquor, and Walter Skinner paused in the bringing of it long enough to take a drink of it and fill up the measure again with water. And in a few moments his fears were gone. He surreptitiously drank again, and yet again, for the strangers were convivial. And, by the time they were served and his task done, he had forgotten his danger and remembered only the injustice of the innkeeper.
"What!" he said to himself. "Here be a degradation! Here be a putting of fine metal to base uses! I who have been servant to the king am made a scullion to traveling strangers who be drunken, moreover, and fit only to be served by this rascal innkeeper who hath made a scullion of me. And shall he have my horse also? Nay, he shall not. I will away to the stables this moment and set out and gain my liberty."
Nobody noticed him as he went out the kitchen door, and nobody saw him as he entered the stable and prepared his horse for the journey. And, still unnoticed, he mounted, after many a crazy lurch, and set off down the street. In due time he came to the gate, and the watchman challenged him.
"Dost stop me, sirrah!" demanded the half-drunken Walter Skinner. "I be the servant of the king; and, moreover, I be but just come from the inn of the Shorn Lamb. Pass me outside the walls."
The watchman, at the mention of the Shorn Lamb, made haste to lead the horse through the narrow side gate, for he and the innkeeper were confederates in villany; and away went Walter Skinner at a great pace toward London.
Knowing nothing of the escape of their old enemy, Hugo and Humphrey arose the next morning and, after paying their reckoning, departed without having incurred the suspicion of any one in the town.
"This cometh of leaving the inn of the Shorn Lamb in good season," observed Humphrey, with satisfaction.
"I did think we were put out of the inn," said Hugo, demurely.
"Ay, lad," agreed Humphrey; "thou art right. If all who go to the Shorn Lamb were thus put out, and so did leave in good season, there would be fewer lambs abroad without their fleece. Didst see Walter Skinner in the guise of the scullion?"
"Yea," answered Hugo.
"If I be so good a priest as he is a scullion, I fear detection from no man. Why, he doth look to be a good scullion, whereas when he is clad as the king's spy, he looketh a very poor spy; and he doth act the part moreover very lamentably. We had come badly off had he been as good a spy as he is a scullion."
"Ay, and had he been less drunken," said Hugo.
"Thou hast well said, lad," agreed Humphrey. "Let a man that would have ill success in what he undertaketh but befuddle his wit with drink, and ill success he will have, and that in good measure. And the scorn and contempt of his fellows, moreover, even as hath this little spy."
"And yet," observed Hugo, thoughtfully, "it were hard to find a man who is not at some time drunken."
"Hadst thou that from thine uncle, the prior?" asked Humphrey, quickly. "Or didst thou gain it from thine own very ancient experience?"
"Now I have angered thee," said Hugo, frankly.
"Yea, lad, thou hast. This is a time of great drinking, that I know; but never have I seen my lord drunken. And never hath any man seen me drunken, nor my father, nor my grandsire. There be ever enough sober ones in the worst of times to keep the world right side uppermost. And that thou wilt find when thou hast lived to be forty years old. But thou art but fourteen, and I am foolish to be angered with thee for what is, after all, but lack of experience. How soon come we to this St. Albans?"
"Why, it is but thirteen miles from Dunstable," answered Hugo, pleasantly.
"Then may we pass it by without stopping," cried Humphrey, joyfully. "And how much farther on lieth London?"
"Twenty miles," replied Hugo.
"Then do we rest in London to-night, if we may," said Humphrey. "Our horses be not of the best, but neither are they of the worst; and it were an ill beast that could not go thirty-three miles before sunset on the Watling Street."
"Ay," agreed Hugo. "But we may not ride too fast, else shall we arouse wonder."
Humphrey sighed. "Thou art right, lad," he said. "And wonder might lead to questions, and questions to a stopping of our journey. For how know I what answer to make to questions that I be not looking for? I will therefore go more slowly."
The road was now by no means empty of passengers. Trains of packhorses were going down to London. And just as they reached St. Albans came a nobleman with his retinue, going down to his town house in London. "So might my lord ride, but for the wicked king," said Humphrey, in a low tone, as they stood aside. Then passing into the city of St. Albans, they at once sought an inn and made the early hour suit them for dinner that so they might journey on the sooner.
They had entered St. Albans in the rear of the nobleman's party. They passed out of it an hour later unnoticed in a throng of people. "And now," said Humphrey, looking back at the town on the slope, "let the priest at Oundle play us false if he like; we be safely through the town."
"It was near here that the Saxon pope, Adrian IV, was born," observed Hugo.
"Ay, lad," answered Humphrey, indifferently. "But I be nearing the place where I be a priest no longer. If we may not make too much haste, let us turn aside in the wood and find a hut where they will take us in for the night, and where, perchance, I may get a dream. 'Tis a mighty place, this London, and I would fain see what 'twere best to do."
Hugo made no objection, and when they were within ten miles of the great city they turned their horses to the left and sought shelter in Epping Forest.
"I like the wood," observed Humphrey, with satisfaction. "It seemeth a safer place than the Watling Street; for who knoweth what rascals ride thereon, and who be no more what they seem than we be ourselves?"
"Why, so they be no worse than we, we need not fear," returned Hugo, with a smile.
But Humphrey was not to be convinced. "I be forty years old," he said, "and what be safer than a tree but many trees? And the grass is under foot, and the sky above, and naught worse than robbers and wardens to be feared in the wood."
Hugo laughed. "And what worse than robbers on the Watling Street?" he asked.
"King's men, lad, king's men. A good honest robber of the woods will take but thy purse or other goods; but the king's man will take thee, and the king will take, perchance, thy life. I like not the Watling Street, nor care to see it more."
They were now going slowly through the wood in a bridle-path, one behind the other. Presently they came out into a glade, and across it, peeping from amid the trees, they descried a hut. "That be our inn for the night, if they will take us," said Humphrey, decisively. And, crossing the glade, he rode boldly up to the door and knocked.
The hut was very small and was made of wattle and daub. A faint line of smoke was coming from a hole in the roof. The knock with the end of Humphrey's stick was a vigorous one. Nevertheless it went so long without answer that he knocked again, and this time with better success. The door opened slowly a little way, and through the aperture thus made an old and withered face looked out.
"What wilt thou?" asked a cracked, high voice.
"Entrance and shelter for the night," replied Humphrey, promptly and concisely.
The door opened a little wider and the man within stepping outside, his person was revealed. He was of medium height and spare, and he wore a long gray tunic of wool reaching to his knees. Beneath this garment his lean legs were bare, while on his feet he wore shoes of skin which reached to the ankle, and which were secured by thongs. Such as he Hugo and Humphrey had often seen, but never before a face like his, in which craftiness and credulity were strangely mingled. For several minutes he stood there, first scrutinizing Humphrey and then Hugo.
At last Humphrey grew impatient. "Do we come in, or do we stay out?" he demanded.
"Why, that I hardly know," was the slow answer. "There be many rogues about; some in priests' robes and some not."
"Yea, verily," responded Humphrey, fervently; "but we be not of the number. Pax vobiscum," he added, hastily. "I had well nigh forgot that," he said in an aside to Hugo.
But the old man's ears were keen, and he caught the aside meant for Hugo's ears alone. "Thou be but a sorry priest to forget thy pax vobiscum," he said with a crafty look. "Perchance thou art no priest," he added, coming closer and peering into Humphrey's face.
He looked so long that Humphrey again grew impatient. "What seest thou on my face?" he asked.
"Why, I do see a mole on thy nose. It is a very small one, and of scant size, but because thou hast it thou mayest come down from thy horse, thou and the lad with thee, and I will give thee lodging for the night."
Instinctively Humphrey raised his hand and touched a tiny mole on the side and near the end of his nose. The man of the hut watched him. "I see thou knowest that a mole near the end of the nose is lucky," he said.
"Not I," declared Humphrey. "I had not before heard of such a thing."
The man of the hut regarded him pityingly. Then he said: "Come down from thy horse, thou unwitting lucky one, and come thou and the lad within while I do hide thy horses in a thick, for I would share thy luck. Dost not know that to show kindness to a lucky one is to share his fortune? Thou hadst not come within the hut but for thy mole, I warrant thee. For I do know that thou art the false priest and the young lord from Oundle that stopped not at St. Albans as ye were bid."
Hugo and Humphrey looked at each other. Then Humphrey said, "I know not, after all, whether to come in or not."
"Come in! come in!" cried the old man, eagerly. "I must share thy luck, and that could I not do if I played thee false. Come in!"
Still hesitating, Humphrey glanced about him. He knew not who might be on his track. And then he decided to go in.
"No matter who knocketh while I be gone," said the old man, earnestly, "give heed to none. Only when I come and knock four times: one for thee, one time for the lad, and two times for the two horses, which signifieth that I know ye; listen close. And when I say 'mole,' open the door softly and not over wide."
Humphrey, who with Hugo was now within the hut, promised to obey, and the old man, closing the door after him, departed with the horses.
At once Humphrey put out the smoking embers of the fire burning on the earthen floor in the centre of the hut. "If any knock and see the smoke and hear no answer, will they not break in the door?" he said.
The old man had been gone but a short time when a tramp of horses was heard. The riders paused before the door of the hut as Humphrey had done, and one of them knocked heavily upon it with his stick. But there was no answer. Again there came a knock and a cry, "Open, old Bartlemy!"
Meanwhile, old Bartlemy had come creeping cautiously back, and from behind a screen of vines which hung from an oak beheld them. "Ay, ye may knock and cry," he muttered craftily; "but which one of ye hath a mole near the end of his nose? Not one of ye. Therefore I will have none of ye. And ye may be gone."
"The old rascal groweth deaf," said one of the riders.
"Nay," answered the second. "There cometh no smoke out of the roof. He is doubtless from home for the night."
Old Bartlemy hastily glanced toward the roof of the hut. He had left a smouldering fire, and now no fire was there. "The false priest hath put it out," he said joyfully. "Now know I that he hath luck with him, and I will serve him faithfully. Ay, knock!" he continued. "Knock thy fill. I did but now hear thee call me 'old rascal,' though I have helped thee to thy desires many times, for which thou didst pay me by ever threatening to bring the ranger upon me for the game I take to keep me alive. Thou wantest naught of old Bartlemy but to further thine own schemes."
There was silence a moment, and then the first speaker said, "The priest of Oundle hath cheaply bought his altar cloth if we find not these two. We know they be between St. Albans and London. And we do know they be, for the present, gone from the Watling Street, for the carter from London whom we did meet did tell us that he had met them not on the way. Therefore go thou to London by way of the Ermine Street, while I go down by the Watling Street. They may be now straying about in the wood, but we shall have them on one road or the other as they go into the city. The false priest rideth a gray, and the young lord a black. We shall have them without Bartlemy's aid, fear not."
Then the riders withdrew, each going his way, and Bartlemy a few moments later knocked on the door of the hut and was admitted by Humphrey. At once the old man made up the fire in the centre of the hut again.
"What doest thou?" demanded Humphrey. "Wouldst have other visitors?"
"Do not thou fear," responded Bartlemy. "Am I not here? And can I not hide thee and the lad beneath yon heap of rushes if a stranger come? No man will look for thee here. They that seek thee think that Bartlemy will aid them; and so he would but for thy mole. I be an old man, and never yet hath fortune come my way, and all because I did not before meet thee. For it hath been foretold me that a man having a mole near the end of his nose would bring me fortune. Wherefore I cleave to thee, and will protect thee with my life, if need be." So saying, he threw another fagot on the fire and, from a hidden cupboard, brought out a substantial meal of venison and bread. When the meal was finished he commanded: "Lie down and rest now, thou and the lad, while I keep watch. Thou wilt need thy wits on the morrow."
Humphrey reflected. Then he turned to Hugo. "Lie down, lad," he said kindly. "The old man is crazed when he talketh of moles, but he is right when he saith we have need of our wits on the morrow. And that meaneth we must rest in faith to-night."
The old man smiled triumphantly. "I be not so crazed as thou thinkest, neither," he said. "Thy mole is not only thy good fortune, but mine also." With that he put the remains of the meal back in the cupboard, shut the door, and replenished the fire. He then threw himself down on the earthen floor beside it, and lay there grinning and grimacing at the flames till Hugo and Humphrey fell asleep. A dozen times before dawn old Bartlemy rose to bend over the two, grinning and grimacing as he did so, and clasping his hands in ecstasy. But when the two awoke he was gone.
Humphrey, when he discovered Bartlemy's absence, started up in alarm. "I did get no dream, lad," he said to Hugo, whom his movements had aroused; "and the old man is gone. I know not what to do."
An hour went by and still old Bartlemy did not come; an hour of silence broken only by occasional whispers between Hugo and Humphrey.
Then the old man softly opened the door and stood smiling before them.
"Thou didst think me false, is it not so?" he said, addressing Humphrey and casting an affectionate glance as he did so on the small mole near the end of the Saxon's nose.
Great as was his anxiety, Hugo could but laugh to see how the serving-man was placed before himself, and all on account of an unfortunate blemish on his countenance. And his enjoyment was heightened by the embarrassment and half-concealed irritation it occasioned Humphrey.
But old Bartlemy paid no attention to Hugo and his merry mood. He proceeded with despatch to set out the morning meal from the hidden cupboard. "Eat well and heartily," he exhorted both his guests; "for so shall ye be able to set your enemies at defiance. A full stomach giveth a man courage and taketh him through many dangers. But why," he continued, addressing Humphrey solicitously, "why shouldest thou have many dangers? Why dost thou not let the young lord ride forth alone?"
Humphrey's answer was a look so full of indignation that the old man ventured to say nothing more, except, "I see that thou art not to be persuaded, and I will e'en help ye both."
So saying, he went outside and brought in a bundle or pack which he had, on his return to the hut, secreted in a convenient hiding-place. "I have been to a spot I wot of," he began, "and there did I borrow this raiment. I did borrow it, I say, and ye must put it on. When ye have no further need of it, then I will return it to its owner."
Humphrey gazed at him in astonishment. At last he said, "Thou knowest that we journey hence this morn and shall see thee no more. What meanest thou?"
"Why, this," was the response. "I go with thee."
"Thou goest with me!" repeated Humphrey.
"Ay," was the stubborn answer. "Thinkest thou I will lightly part with him who is decreed to make my fortune? Thou art the man the fortune-teller spake to me of. 'Cleave to him that hath a mole near the end of his nose,' saith the fortune-teller, and I will of a surety do so. But tell me truly, should the young lord be captured, would thy ability to make my fortune be diminished?"
"Yea, verily," answered Humphrey, positively. "Were my dear lad captured, I could do nothing for thee."
"Thou needst say no more," said the old man, for the first time that morning looking full at Hugo. "He seemeth a good lad. I will protect him also with my life, if need be. For what will a man not do if he may thereby escape the marring of his fortune?"
Old Bartlemy now ceased speaking and devoted all his energies to hastily undoing the bundle he had brought in, and sorting out a portion of what it contained.
"What hast thou there?" asked Humphrey, contemptuously, as he pointed to a woman's robe, tunic, and hood of green. "Here be no fine ladies."
"Nay, speak not so fast," replied old Bartlemy, stubbornly. "Thy young lord will don these things, and then shalt thou see a fair lady on a journey bent."
Hugo flushed. "I wear no woman's dress," he said with determination.
"Why, how now?" demanded old Bartlemy. "Art thou better than Longchamp, bishop of Ely? When he did flee he fled as a woman, and in a green tunic and hood, moreover. When thou art as old as thou now art young, thou wilt welcome the means that helpeth thee safely on." The old man's manner was so changed from that of the night before, and he displayed so much energy, foresight, and knowledge, that Hugo and Humphrey looked at each other in wonder. He was still old, but he was no longer senile.
"Knowest thou not," he continued, "that the king's men look for thee either as the young lord or as the false priest's novice? Dally no longer, but put on this woman's garb."
"Yea, lad," counselled Humphrey, "put it on. It will suit thee better than the king's dungeon."
Thus urged, Hugo obeyed, and presently was stepping about the hut most discontentedly in the guise of a woman. "Stride not so manfully or we be undone," cried old Bartlemy. "Canst thou not mince thy gait? There! That hath a more seemly look."
The pack he had brought in was very large, and from it he now took the garments and armor of an esquire, which he handed to Humphrey. "When thou shalt don these," he said, "it will come to pass that thou hast been sent to bring thy young lady safe to London town."
With alacrity Humphrey tossed aside his priest's robe and clad himself in what old Bartlemy offered him. "Now may I forget my pax vobiscum and no harm be done," he exclaimed joyfully.
Hugo could but smile at the pride and pleasure of Humphrey's manner as he arrayed himself. "Ah, my good Humphrey!" he cried; "I have found thee out. Thou wouldst be an esquire, even as I would be a knight."
Humphrey sighed. "Yea, lad," he confessed, "but I am but a Saxon serving-man."
Like a hawk the little old man was watching both. "And I have found thee out," he said, turning to Hugo. "The mole on his nose doth signify the good fortune thou wilt bring him, even as it signifieth what he will do for me. Be sure, gentle lady, I shall serve thee well."
Hugo laughed and, in his character of lady, inclined his head courteously.
Humphrey, who could not for a moment forget the business in hand, ignored this pleasantry and inquired curtly: "But how goest thou with us, Bartlemy? Will not the men who were here last night know thee?"
"Nay, verily," replied Bartlemy. "I have a friend to my counsel that they know not of. 'Tis he who did lend these disguises, and did instruct me, moreover, in many matters. He did bid me overcome the young lord's objections to wearing woman's dress by naming Longchamp and his green tunic and hood. And many other matters he hath helped me to, even the whole conduct of the journey, as thou shalt presently see." With one last look at Humphrey's nose he backed out of the hut and made off in a surprisingly agile manner for one of his age.
"Now a plague upon his foolishness!" exclaimed Humphrey. "I had all but forgotten my nose, but he will be ever bringing it to my mind. Yet, if the mole on it take us safely through London, I complain not. And I do hope he forget not his instructions and become again upon our hands the witless old man of last night." He advanced to the door and glanced out. "But here come two horses and a mule," he continued. "Whose they be, I know not, nor what hath been done with ours."
Hugo at this also looked out the door. "In size and in gait these horses be ours," he said.
"Yea, lad; but what should be thy black is a rusty brown with a star in his forehead and one white foot. And what should be my gray is that same rusty brown with two white feet and a patch on his side. And the tails of both be bobbed, and the manes cropped, and the saddles and housings be different. This is more of Bartlemy's 'friend to his counsel,' perchance. And I hope his friend be not the Evil One." He paused a moment. "Seest thou the old woman on the mule that leadeth the horses?" he continued.
"That is Bartlemy," replied Hugo.
"Ay," agreed Humphrey. "But we had not known it had we not been made ready for mysteries. He looketh like an ancient crone, and will be thy old nurse, no doubt, going with thee on thy journey. Well, they be wise men that would know the five of us."
"Five?" questioned Hugo.
"Ay, lad. Thou and Bartlemy and I and the two horses. Perchance the mule is honest and what he seemeth to be."
Bartlemy, having tied the animals, now came up to the door of the hut in great exultation. "What thinkest thou of these strange horses, Humphrey?" he asked.
"I do think they lack their tails," answered Humphrey, gravely, "which is a sad lack in summer."
The old man grinned. "And what more thinkest thou?" he asked.
"I do think they have need of manes also," was the reply.
With an air of pride the old man, clad in his woman's dress, consisting of a long, loose, blue robe surmounted by a long, red head-rail which reached to his knees, walked back to the horses. "Come hither," he said to Humphrey. "It were not well to cut off what one may need before it grow again. Seest thou how only the outside of the tail is cut so as to bush out over what is braided fine in many strands and caught up cunningly beneath? And come hither. Seest thou how the mane is cunningly looped and gummed, so that it seemeth to be short, when a dip in the stream will make it long again? And this brown is but a stain, and the white patches a bleach that will last but till the horse sheds again."
"This is the work of thy friend?" inquired Humphrey, gravely.
"Yea," answered old Bartlemy, jubilantly.
"And he is an honest man?"
Old Bartlemy frowned. "He is my friend. And he hath served thee well, if he hath kept thee and the lad from the hands of the king. Ask no more. He had not done so much, but that I did tell him it was to make my fortune. And now mount, my esquire! mount, my gentle lady! and I, thy nurse, will mount. And we will all away to London town." "By which road?" asked Humphrey, reining in his stained and bleached horse.
"By the Watling Street," was the confident answer.
Humphrey seemed dissatisfied. Seeing which the old man said: "Why, we must e'en go by the Watling Street or the Ermine Street, since we have the young lady here in charge. Such is the custom of travellers to go by one or the other."
"I like not the Watling Street," objected Humphrey.
"Didst hear the men at the door of my hut?" asked old Bartlemy, earnestly.
"Yea," replied Humphrey, briefly.
"Didst note how he who watcheth for us on the Watling Street did tell his plans in a voice that all might hear?"
"Therefore I go by the Watling Street and not by the Ermine Street," said old Bartlemy, with determination. "He that hath so little discretion that he telleth his plans in the ears of all who may listen is less to be feared than he that sayeth little. He that watcheth for us on the Ermine Street hath keen eyes and a silent tongue. Therefore go we by the Watling Street and, moreover, the friend to my counsel hath bid me so to do. I warrant thee more than one priest will be stopped there, while the esquire and the young lady and the nurse escape notice."
"Mayhap thou art right," agreed Humphrey, after some reflection.
Bartlemy did not wait to answer, but, giving his mule a slap with the reins, set forward, and in a moment all three were crossing the glade, whence they followed the same bridle-path by which Hugo and Humphrey had come the day before, and so gained the Watling Street. Many people were upon it, and Bartlemy, following the instructions of him who had planned for him, managed to ride near enough to a merchant's party to be mistaken as members of it by an unthinking observer.
In his garb of esquire Humphrey was more at home than in that of the priest, and he looked boldly about him. "Here be a strange thing, lad," he said. "As we did come upon this road I did see a priest with his novice pass by. Seest thou that other near at hand? And looking back I see yet another. He that watcheth for us is like to have his hands full."
"Many priests be abroad," replied Hugo, with a smile. "It was to that the Canon Thurstan trusted when he sent us forth."
"He should, then, not have sent us to that rascally one at Oundle," growled Humphrey. "Speak not o'er much with the lady," cautioned old Bartlemy, riding up. "It is not seemly. Let her stay by me, her nurse. So hath the friend to my counsel instructed me."
At once Hugo fell back, reining his horse alongside the mule and a half pace in advance; whereat old Bartlemy smiled in approbation.
"Where go we in London?" asked Hugo, curiously.
"Thou shalt see in good time," answered Bartlemy. "It may be one place, it may be another. I can tell when we have passed him who watcheth for us. I know many places."
The old man, turning his face away, Hugo saw that he did not wish to talk further, so he contented himself by seeing as much as he could with his keen young eyes of what went on before him, old Bartlemy having previously cautioned him against gazing about over much.
As they drew nearer the city the crowd became more dense, being swelled by those who were coming out of it on their way north. A little party of knights, esquires, pages, and ladies travelling at a faster pace overtook them, and so they were still better protected from observation than before, as the new party were now obliged, by the throng, to go forward slowly. So on they went till they came to the church of St. Andrew, and the Fleet River, and, crossing the bridge, found themselves, as old Bartlemy said, not far from the New Gate, through which they must enter the city. They had no sooner entered than old Bartlemy said to Hugo,
"Thou didst not see the man at the hut?"
"Nay," answered Hugo, with a nervous start.
"Yon at the entrance to the meat market opposite the Grey Friars is he. Seem not to notice him, but mark him well. He hath a bailiff to his help, and it will go hard with somebody."
"He stoppeth not that priest and his novice," observed Hugo.
"That is because the bailiff knoweth both and hath instructed him," answered Bartlemy. "Look downward now right modestly till we be safely past, for thou hast a speaking eye. Thou art not lucky like the good Humphrey, to have a dull eye, which seeth much and seemeth to see naught."
Hugo glanced down as he was bid, and soon they were past in safety. But Humphrey, half turning in his saddle and gazing back, saw a priest and his novice stopped. "And the priest rideth a gray and the novice a black," mused Humphrey, "which is a wonderful thing, and not to be accounted for except by chance."
The pace at which Walter Skinner had left Dunstable for London he kept up for some two miles, when he slackened his rein at the bidding of his half-drunken fancy.
"I be for London town," he said to himself with a serious look. "And other men than I have been there before now. Yea, verily, and have got them safe home again into the bargain. But not so will I do. For in London will I bide, either till the king make a duke of me or till I become the Lord Mayor. For I be resolved to rise in the world. And the first step toward it is to be resolved; yea, and to be determined; and to look Dame Fortune full in the face and to say to her, 'Play no tricks on me.'"
By this time he was come up with a belated carrier who, since his cart was empty and he upon his return journey, dared to be upon the road at night. There was no moon, and in the starlight Walter Skinner could see but imperfectly. "And who art thou?" he demanded loftily, "that thou shouldest creak and rumble along over the road and block the way of a rising man? The sun doth rise, and why not I? Only the sun riseth not in the middle of the night, and neither will I. Nay, verily, but I will wait to rise till I be come to London town. And so I bid thee, whoever thou art, make place for me that I may pass thee upon the road."
The carter, wondering much who this drunken madman might be, made no answer but drove his creaking vehicle forward slowly as before, and in the middle of the highway. Behind him, and at the tail of the cart, followed Walter Skinner with equal slowness. For some moments he said nothing more as, with closed eyes and heavily nodding head, he rode along. Then he roused himself. "Stop!" he called fiercely. "Stop, I say. I will go to bed in thy wagon or cart or whatever it may be, which I cannot see for want of light."
"I carry not passengers for naught," observed the carter, civilly.
"Yea, but thou wilt carry me," retorted Walter Skinner. "I tell thee I serve the king. Why, the prior of St. Edmund's did give me a horse when mine own was gone, and wilt thou refuse me a bed? It shall go hard with thee, varlet that thou art, if thou dost. I be ready to sink from weariness. Lend me a hand down and into thy cart; lead thou my horse, and so shall we proceed, I at rest as becometh the king's man, and thou serving me, thy proper master."
The carter was slow of wit, and, as most men did, he trembled at the mention of the king. He therefore did as he was requested, and Walter Skinner was soon bumping along the road, oblivious to all his surroundings. In the cart he might have remained until he reached St. Albans, but that, just at dawn, he had a frightful dream. He was again at Dunstable, and the landlord of the Shorn Lamb was about to deliver him to the king who stood, in his dream, a hideous monster with horns upon his head. In a shiver of dread he awoke. The cart was standing still, and, at the side of the road, reposed the carter overcome by sleep. By his side lay his drinking-horn. With trembling limbs Walter Skinner climbed down from the cart. Then, seizing the carter's horn, he untied his horse, which was fastened to the tail of the cart, and mounted; took from the horn a long drink, and once more set out at a furious pace which shortly became once more a slow one. Pausing only long enough at St. Albans to procure breakfast for himself and a feed for his horse, he continued on to London which he reached late in the afternoon. But he did not go in at New Gate, for, making a sharp turn at St. Andrew's, he went south till he came to Fleet street, when, turning to the left, he entered the city through Lud Gate. Clad in his scullion's garb, and with his face flushed from drink he presented a strange appearance as he permitted his horse to carry him whither he would through the narrow streets.
"Here be people enough," he said to himself, "and yea, verily, here be noise enough. But I will stop all that when I be Lord Mayor. What! shall mine ears ring with vile din? If so be I would speak to my horse could he hear me? Nay, that he could not. When I be Lord Mayor no smith shall strike on anvil in my presence. And when I pass by, let the carpenters cease to drive their nails; let all the armorers cease their hammering; let the coopers forbear to hoop their casks; and then can I gather my wits together, which is more than I can now do." He was right as to the din; for here in these narrow lanes the craftsmen lived and worked. Each one had his tenement of one room above and one below. In the one below he worked, or in the street, and in the room above he dwelt with his family.
As he went uncertainly up one of these narrow lanes and down another, leading north or south out of Cheapside, as the case might be, the rabble began to gather about him and to bait him with jeers of various sorts.
"Why, how now!" he exclaimed, when he had once more come into Cheapside. And he put on his fiercest air, which sat strangely enough on one clad as a scullion. "Do ye gibe and jeer at me who am servant to the king? What know ye of young runaway lords and Saxon serving-men? And the perils of a long way, and the keeper of the Shorn Lamb? I could open your eyes for ye, if I thought it worth my while. But ye be all base-born knaves—"
The last words were but out of his mouth when a strong hand jerked him to the ground. And, not seeing what he did, as he struck fiercely out, his clenched fist landed on the chest of the warden who was passing, and Walter Skinner was promptly seized and about to be haled off to punishment.
Cheapside was the principal market-place of London. It was broad, and bordered on each side by booths or sheds for the sale of merchandise. A sudden disturbance attracted the attention of the bailiff who held Walter Skinner. And, even as he turned his head to look, the very man that had dragged Walter Skinner from his horse detached the little man from the grasp of the careless officer, and bade him flee. "Flee away, thou half-drunken scullion," said his liberator. "Thou dost lack thy wits, and so I would not have thee also lack thy liberty."
Now Walter Skinner was in that condition when, although he could not walk straight, he could run. And away he went, his first impetus carrying him well down into Bow Lane, which opened from Cheapside to the south, where he speedily brought up against a curb post and fell into the gutter. His appearance was not improved when he rose, but he started again, and took this time, not the curb post, but a stout farmer. The farmer instinctively bracing himself to meet the shock of Walter Skinner's fall against him, no harm was done; but he whirled round, grasped the little terrified rascal by the shoulder, and hurried him into the adjacent inn yard. "Had I been an old woman or a young child I might have been sprawling in the gutter," he began severely, "and all because of thee. What account givest thou of thyself?"
"Thou art but a yeoman," returned Walter Skinner, disdainfully. "And dost thou ask me to account to thee? Account thou to me, sirrah. What didst thou in the street standing there like a gutter post to obstruct the way of passengers in haste? But for thee I had been well sped on my way."
The farmer heard him in amazement. Then he said: "I do perceive that thou art a fool; and with fools I never meddle." And seizing him once more by the shoulder, he thrust him into the street. "Speed on thy way, little braggart," he said, "even till thou comest to thy master, who must be the Evil One himself."
Walter Skinner sped away, by degrees slacking his pace till, after much wandering, he came to a low public house on Thames Street, where he slipped in, hid himself in a corner, and went fast asleep. It was noon of the next day before he was discovered and routed out by a tapster. "This be no place for a scullion," said the tapster. "Get to thy duties."
"I be no scullion," retorted Walter Skinner, indignantly. "Till now I was the king's man with good hope to be a duke or the mayor of London."
"I go to tell master of thee," returned the tapster. "And he will set thee to scour knives in a trice."
The tapster was as good as his word, and Walter Skinner, much against his will, was soon at work. "Here be another degradation," he muttered over his knife blades, "and I stand it not. I be not so mean-spirited as to labor, nor to do the bidding of other men who should do mine." So saying, he stole from the kitchen and the house into the streets, where he became a vagabond, and so remained, along with thousands of others like unto him.
Meanwhile Hugo and Humphrey and old Bartlemy were having troubles of their own. The places in London suitable for them to stop at which old Bartlemy knew proved to be known to him by report only. And, lacking the present help of him whom Humphrey was pleased to call Bartlemy's "friend to his counsel," the whole party soon knew not where to go; for the old man had lost the energy with which he had escorted them to London, and seemed to have sunk back into the semi-helpless mixture of shrewdness and credulity which he appeared when Hugo and Humphrey had first met him. One thing, and one only, seemed to engross most of his attention, and that was Humphrey's mole. And he was ever prating of the fortune it was sure to bring him.
"Lad," said Humphrey at last, when they had been two days in the town, "if we are to come safely off we must be rid of him. The gumming up of the horses' manes and the braiding of their tails have already made the innkeeper look strangely at us. Had he not set it down as the trick of some malicious groom, it had been worse for us. And I do fear the old man's babbling tongue. I will sound him to see how much will content him, and perchance from thy pouch and mine the sum may be made up."
Old Bartlemy was growing weary of his woman's dress, and weary of hovering around Hugo in the assumed capacity of his nurse. He was not in his apartment when Humphrey went to seek him, and further search revealed the fact that he was not in the house. So, somewhat disturbed, Humphrey went forth to find him, taking with him in his bosom Hugo's pouch as well as his own. The inn where they were now stopping was the White Horse in Lombard Street, and as Humphrey issued forth into the street he knew not which way to turn. "The old nurse did go south toward the waterside," volunteered a groom, who observed Humphrey's hesitation. "She seemeth like one that lacketh wit, and so I did keep a watch upon her till she went beyond my sight."
Humphrey flung the groom a penny and went south himself at a good gait. "If he be not at some public house I shall find him at a cock-fighting, no doubt," said Humphrey to himself. It was now the second day of July and clear and warm. The streets were full of hucksters having for sale, besides their usual wares, summer fruits and vegetables. But to all their cries Humphrey turned a deaf ear as he pushed impatiently on, keeping a sharp lookout for old Bartlemy. And what was his amazement to come upon him at last at the river side clad, not as the nurse, but in his own proper character.
"How now!" exclaimed Humphrey, with a frown. "Where is thy woman's garb? And what meanest thou to cast it aside in this manner?"
The old man peered up at him with a sly look on his face. "Ay, thou mayest storm," he said; "but if I be tired of woman's garb, what is that to thee?"
"Why, this," returned Humphrey. "Thou dost endanger our heads by this change."
The old man shook his head and smiled a silly smile. "Nay," he made answer. "I would not endanger thy head, for that would endanger the mole upon thy nose, and so my fortune. Thou doest me wrong."
Humphrey looked at him attentively and saw that a temporary weakness of mind due to his age had overtaken him. So he said in a soothing tone: "Where didst thou leave thy nurse's garb? I pray thee put it on again."
Again there came the sly look over the old man's withered face. "I do know where I did leave it," he said; "but I put it not on again. The friend I have to my counsel did bid me put it on, and I did obey him, for he is a magician. But I like it not, and I will wear it no more. Why, look thou," he continued earnestly. "When I wear it I must remain with the young lord, and be not free to consort with other men, and see and hear all that goeth on. Wherefore I will wear it no more."
Humphrey looked at him in despair. Then he said with assumed cheerfulness: "I will now make thy fortune for thee. So mayest thou return to the wood while we journey on."
Old Bartlemy, as he listened, smiled with the delight of a child. "Said not the fortune-teller truly?" he cried. "And how much is my fortune that thou wilt make?"
"Why, that I hardly can tell," returned Humphrey. "What callest thou a fortune?"
Old Bartlemy looked at him craftily. "The friend to my counsel did say one hundred and fifty gold pieces, and that will pay for the disguises."
"No less?" asked Humphrey.
"Nay," returned old Bartlemy. "If thou dost leave me, I may never see the mole upon thy nose again. Therefore pay to me the one hundred and fifty gold pieces before I ask thee more. For the friend to my counsel did say, 'Take no less, and as much more as thou canst get.'"
"Thou art hard to content," said Humphrey. "But come thou to the nearest reputable inn, where we may be unwatched, and I will pay to thee the one hundred and fifty gold pieces which thou dost require. Should they of the street see thee receive it, thou wouldst not keep it long."
The old man, with a crafty shake of the head, followed along in Humphrey's wake. "I have the wit to keep my fortune," he said. "No man may wrest it from me."
Without further words Humphrey led the way, his mind full of anxious thoughts as to how he was to get himself, Hugo, and the horses away from the White Horse in Lombard Street without rousing suspicion when the mule of old Bartlemy was left behind and the old man himself in his character of nurse was missing. He was still busily thinking when they came to a respectable little inn called the Hart. Turning to old Bartlemy, who was following close behind, he said, "Here do we stop till I pay thee what thou hast asked."
Old Bartlemy said nothing, but he rubbed his hands together in delight, and kept so close to Humphrey that he almost trod on his heels.
"Now," said Humphrey, when they were alone and the old man had been paid, "I ask thee this grace, Bartlemy. Wilt thou not once more put on the nurse's garb and come back with me to the White Horse till I can pay the reckoning and get away? After that thou mayest cast it aside and wear it no more."
"Nay," replied old Bartlemy, jingling the gold pieces and looking at them with gloating eyes. "Nay, I will put on woman's dress no more."
"Not if I pay thee to do so?"
"Nay. I have here my fortune. What have I need of more?" And he sat down obstinately and became at once absorbed in counting over his gold pieces.
Humphrey, seeing that nothing was to be gained, and anxious for Hugo's welfare, at once left the room and the house and set out for the White Horse.
Through the same crowded streets, and entirely unmindful of the people who jostled him, Humphrey mechanically pushed his way on his return journey. How should he and Hugo get away from the White Horse? He knew very little of the world, but this much he knew, that for them to attempt to leave with the old nurse missing would be to thoroughly arouse the suspicion which, so far, was half dormant.
"I will pay the reckoning now," he said to himself as he entered the inn yard. "And then we must do as we can to give them the slip. I know not why, but dreams be slow to come in this town. I would we were safely out of it."
He had but just paid it, and the innkeeper was about to inquire concerning his departure, when a great excitement arose. One of the frequent fires, for which the London of that day was noted, had broken out.
"A fire, sayest thou?" cried Humphrey.
"Yea," answered a groom, bursting into the bar. "A fire, master! a fire!"
Away ran the groom followed by the master. And Hugo coming down at this moment, Humphrey hurried to him. "Make haste, lad!" he cried. "Come with me to the stables. We must e'en serve ourselves and get out the horses and be off, ere the fire abate and the innkeeper and the grooms come back."
Hugo wondered, but said nothing, for he saw that Humphrey was greatly excited. And with despatch the horses were saddled and led out. "I would not that people lose their homes unless they must," said Humphrey, when they were safely away; "but the fire hath saved us, and I warrant thee we pay not one hundred and fifty gold pieces for the saving neither."
"Didst pay so much?" asked Hugo.
"Yea, lad," answered Humphrey. "It seemeth the 'friend to his counsel' did set the price he was to ask, and nothing less would content him. He did even hint at more."
"And how much remaineth?" asked Hugo.
"But fifty gold pieces, lad. We be now near our journey's end. Mayhap they be enough."
"Yea," replied Hugo, thoughtfully. "I must not go to the priory of the Holy Trinity unless I have great need. So said my uncle to me."
"And where is that, lad?"
"Here in London. It is a powerful and wealthy priory, but my uncle did say it is as well to pass it by if I can."
"Mind thou thine uncle, lad. But whither go we now?"
"To Dover. Then do we take ship to France."
They had now come to the new London bridge which was of stone. Over it they went, and had just started on their journey from its southern end when, in haste, old Bartlemy, clad as the nurse, arrived at the White Horse. He had slowly and laboriously counted his gold pieces three times before it occurred to him that one hundred and fifty of these treasures was no great sum. And that, if he did as Humphrey had requested, he would be able to add other gold pieces to his store. Thus thinking, he had repaired to the hiding-place of his disguise, put it on, and set out.
At the same moment of his arrival the innkeeper came back, and a little later the grooms began to straggle in.
Old Bartlemy, however, paid no attention to who came in or who went out. His sole concern was to find Humphrey. Not succeeding, he appealed to the innkeeper to know what was become of him.
"Why, that I know not," replied the innkeeper, indifferently. "Most like he hath not yet returned from the fire."
Impatiently old Bartlemy, forgetting that he was a woman, and nurse to a young lady of the better sort, sat down in the inn yard upon a bench. And ever and anon as no Humphrey appeared he got up and mingled with the knots of other men standing about, only to return to his seat. Finally he could restrain himself no longer, but eagerly began to inquire of all newcomers as to the whereabouts of Humphrey. Now while his were questions which no man could answer, they were put in such a manner as to make men stare curiously upon him. For they were such questions as one man would ask of another, and not the timid inquiries of an ignorant old woman. Finally, one of the bystanders more daring than the rest advanced, and boldly turned back the hood of the head-rail, letting it hang down over his shoulders, and the head of an old man was revealed. A murmur of surprise and expectation now ran through the crowd, and the same bold hand bodily removed the head-rail and the robe beneath it; and there stood old Bartlemy in his gray woollen tunic, his legs bare from the knees down, and his feet encased in skin shoes reaching to his ankles.
"Well done, mother!" cried the bold revealer of his identity. "And now do thou tell us speedily who is this esquire Humphrey whom thou seekest. Mayhap he is as little an esquire as thou art an old woman."
Bartlemy looked from face to face, but he answered nothing.
At this moment a groom came running from the stables. "Master! master!" he cried, addressing the innkeeper, "the horse of the esquire Humphrey be gone."
"Gone, sirrah!" repeated the innkeeper. "And whither is he gone?"
"Why, that I know not, master. I only know that the horse of the young lady did bear him company. But the mule of the nurse is still there, wherefore there is no thievery, since he did take but his own."
The bystanders now crowded more closely around Bartlemy, with the innkeeper at the front as questioner. "Tell us truly, old man," said the innkeeper, threateningly; "who is this esquire Humphrey, and who is the young lady that beareth him company? Make haste with thine answer, or it shall be worse for thee."
"Why," replied old Bartlemy, slowly, as his gaze wandered from face to face, "the esquire is the false priest from Oundle, and the young lady is his novice."
At this reply a man from the rear elbowed his way to the side of the innkeeper. "I know not how it may please thee," he said, "but, on the Watling Street by the meat market two days and more agone, a man with a bailiff to his help did stop a priest and his novice. And he did act like a madman when he did discover that he had stopped the wrong persons, and prated of a reward from the king which he must lose."
Old Bartlemy grinned as he listened. Seeing which the innkeeper pounced upon him. "Were these the priest and his novice?" he asked fiercely.
"Yea, verily," answered old Bartlemy, proudly. "And they would have been caught but for me. And now I know not whither they be gone," he added disconsolately. "And perchance I shall see them no more; nor shall I see the mole on the nose of the good Humphrey more; and so, farewell to the fortune it might bring me."
"And who is the young lady?" said the innkeeper, with a fierce look.
"Why, she be a fine lad," replied old Bartlemy.
The innkeeper reflected amid a low hum of comment. Then he turned on the man who had told him of the priest and his novice. "Thou sayest the king hath a reward for this priest and his novice?" he asked.
"And who be they?" asked the innkeeper.
"They are like to be as little priest and his novice as they be esquire and young lady. Who be they, I say?"
"I had speech later with the bailiff, and he did say that the priest was a Saxon serving-man, and the novice was the young lord, Josceline De Aldithely, escaping to his father."
"After them! after them!" cried the innkeeper, furiously. "They be a prize!"
In the hurly-burly and din that now arose old Bartlemy slipped out to the stables, got possession of his mule, and rode off unnoticed.
There were in the London of this time many great town houses of the nobles. And that of Lord De Launay was situated in Lombard Street, not far from the White Horse. To it he went riding, at this moment, with a small retinue in livery. He looked in surprise at the commotion before the White Horse, and beckoning a retainer he said, "Find me the meaning of this uproar." Then he rode slowly on to his home.
He had but entered the great square courtyard when the retainer came in on a gallop. "Your lordship, it be this," he said. "They have but just struck the trail of the young Lord De Aldithely and will presently run him to earth, hoping for the reward offered by the king. He rideth now disguised as a lady, and the serving-man rideth as his esquire."
Now Lord De Launay was he who in the guise of a scullion had set Walter Skinner free, and all for the friendship he bore Josceline's father. So calling up twenty of his men-at-arms he sent them in pursuit. "No doubt they ride to Dover," he said. "Make haste to come up with them. Bid the young lord cast aside his woman's garb, and stay ye by them as an escort on the road. Leave them not till they be safely aboard ship and off to France."
The men-at-arms of Lord De Launay were of the best of that time, being both bold and faithful, and their master stood but little in awe of the king. Not that he openly flouted the king's authority, but that, at all times, he dared to pursue the course that seemed to him best. And this he could do for two reasons; he pursued it quietly, and the king felt a little fear of him. Moreover, the king did not discover how much he owed to him for the thwarting of his plans. Else, powerful noble though he was, Lord De Launay would have been punished.
Meanwhile, Hugo and Humphrey were making the best of their way, and stopping not to look to the right hand nor to the left. After them galloped the men-at-arms, and not many miles out of the city they overtook them.
Upon their approach the fugitives gave themselves up as lost. "Lad," said Humphrey, despairingly, "we have done our best, and we be taken at last. No doubt these be the king's men-at-arms that ride so swiftly upon our track. See how they be armed, and how their horses stride!"
Hugo looked over his shoulder, and his face was pale. But there was no regret in his heart for the attempt he had made to save Josceline, even though the king's dungeon seemed now to open before him. He said nothing, and a moment later the men-at-arms swept up and surrounded them, their leader saluting Hugo, much to the boy's surprise. "My lord bids thee cast aside thy woman's dress," said he, "and ride in thine own character."
"And who art thou? And who is thy lord? And wherefore art thou come?" demanded Humphrey, bravely, as he spurred his horse between Hugo and the man-at-arms who had spoken.
The man-at-arms laughed. "I see thou hast cause to dread pursuit," he said. "And, in truth, we did pass some vile knaves riding fast to overtake ye. One and all they do hope for the king's reward, for the old man at the White Horse hath betrayed ye."
Closer to Hugo's side Humphrey reined his horse, and the captain of the men-at-arms laughed louder than before. "Why, what couldst thou do for the lad against us?" he said. "And yet, thou art brave to try. But put away thy fears. Lord De Launay is, as thou shouldst know, the sworn friend of Lord De Aldithely, and he hath sent us to overtake ye and to carry ye safe to the ship at Dover. So let us on and set a merry pace for these knaves that would follow us. But first, off with that woman's robe, my young lord Josceline."
"Willingly!" cried Hugo, who did not even now betray the secret that he was not Josceline, not knowing what might come of it. And he threw off hood, cloak, and robe while Humphrey looked from the captain to the boy and back again. But without a word to the faithful serving-man, the captain gave the command to the troop, and immediately all were in swift motion.
A mile was left behind them,—two miles,—and now Humphrey looked at Hugo amazed. Among these men-at-arms who treated him with a respect which was like an elixir to him, the boy sat transformed. He held himself proudly, and seemed, as he sat, a part of his horse. His handsome eyes shone, and a genial smile parted his lips.
"Who art thou, dear lad?" thought Humphrey. "And though that I cannot tell, yet this I know, thou art the equal of any De Aldithely." And then Hugo's eyes fell upon him, and they filled with a most kindly light.
Meanwhile the motley crowd that had started in pursuit from the White Horse had become appreciably thinned upon the road. For one was no rider, and was promptly pitched over his horse's head. Another, in his haste, had but imperfectly saddled his horse, so that he was speedily at the side of the road with his horse gone. Others had chosen poor mounts that could go but slowly, being waggoners' horses and not accustomed to any but a slow motion.
All these, with disappointment, saw the hope of the king's reward slipping from them, and looked with envy upon the few who passed them and vanished from their sight, with determination written on their faces. Yet even these were destined to failure and, before Rochester was reached, were fain to turn back, having seen nothing of those whom they sought.
But the troop of men-at-arms with Hugo and Humphrey still sped, halting for the night in a safe spot, and rising betimes in the morning to hurry on, until, their duty done, and the two safely aboard, they turned back at their leisure.
And all this time, upon the sea going down from Scotland was a ship which bore Lady De Aldithely and Josceline. Even in the wilds of Scotland she could not rest, knowing that no spot would remain unsearched if it should be discovered that it was Hugo Aungerville and not Josceline who had fled to France. So she and her son had embarked, and, two days before Hugo and Humphrey, they reached Lord De Aldithely. And there they found William Lorimer and his men-at-arms, but, to Lady De Aldithely's distress, no Hugo nor tidings of him.
"What lad is this thou speakest of?" asked Lord De Aldithely.
And then Lady De Aldithely told him all. "And his name," she ended, "is Hugo Aungerville. Knowest thou aught of him?"
"I should," replied Lord De Aldithely. "Though I have never seen him, I do know he must be the son of my cousin, Eleanor De Aldithely; for he hath her brave spirit, and her husband was Hugo Aungerville. And the lad shall be knighted or ever he arrive. For if he elude the king successfully and on such an errand, risking his own life to save that of another, he hath won his spurs."
Thus it was that when Hugo came welcome was waiting for him in the warm hearts of his kinsfolk. And when he had received his spurs, and Lord De Aldithely asked him what reward he could give him for saving Josceline from the king's hands, the boy smiled archly upon the faithful Humphrey who stood by. "I do ask thee," he said, "that Humphrey may be my esquire."
And from that day Humphrey, a serving-man no longer, followed his dear lad, not only in France, but later in England, when Magna Charta had been signed, and it was safe for them all to return.