Chapter 3. ST. BRIDE’S CROSS
St. Bride’s cross stood a little way back from Shoreby, on the skirts of Tunstall Forest. Two roads met: one, from Holywood across the forest; one, that road from Risingham down which we saw the wrecks of a Lancastrian army fleeing in disorder. Here the two joined issue, and went on together down the hill to Shoreby; and a little back from the point of junction, the summit of a little knoll was crowned by the ancient and weather-beaten cross.
Here, then, about seven in the morning, Dick arrived. It was as cold as ever; the earth was all grey and silver with the hoarfrost, and the day began to break in the east with many colours of purple and orange.
Dick set him down upon the lowest step of the cross, wrapped himself well in his tabard, and looked vigilantly upon all sides. He had not long to wait. Down the road from Holywood a gentleman in very rich and bright armour, and wearing over that a surcoat of the rarest furs, came pacing on a splendid charger. Twenty yards behind him followed a clump of lances; but these halted as soon as they came in view of the trysting-place, while the gentleman in the fur surcoat continued to advance alone.
His visor was raised, and showed a countenance of great command and dignity, answerable to the richness of his attire and arms. And it was with some confusion of manner that Dick arose from the cross and stepped down the bank to meet his prisoner.
“I thank you, my lord, for your exactitude,” he said, louting very low. “Will it please your lordship to set foot to earth?”
“Are ye here alone, young man?” inquired the other.
“I was not so simple,” answered Dick; “and, to be plain with your lordship, the woods upon either hand of this cross lie full of mine honest fellows lying on their weapons.”
“Y’ ’ave done wisely,” said the lord. “It pleaseth me the rather, since last night ye fought foolhardily, and more like a salvage Saracen lunatic than any Christian warrior. But it becomes not me to complain that had the undermost.”
“Ye had the undermost indeed, my lord, since ye so fell,” returned Dick; “but had the waves not holpen me, it was I that should have had the worst. Ye were pleased to make me yours with several dagger marks, which I still carry. And in fine, my lord, methinks I had all the danger, as well as all the profit, of that little blind-man’s mellay on the beach.”
“Y’ are shrewd enough to make light of it, I see,” returned the stranger.
“Nay, my lord, not shrewd,” replied Dick, “in that I shoot at no advantage to myself. But when, by the light of this new day, I see how stout a knight hath yielded, not to my arms alone, but to fortune, and the darkness, and the surf—and how easily the battle had gone otherwise, with a soldier so untried and rustic as myself—think it not strange, my lord, if I feel confounded with my victory.”
“Ye speak well,” said the stranger. “Your name?”
“My name, an’t like you, is Shelton,” answered Dick.
“Men call me the Lord Foxham,” added the other.
“Then, my lord, and under your good favour, ye are guardian to the sweetest maid in England,” replied Dick; “and for your ransom, and the ransom of such as were taken with you on the beach, there will be no uncertainty of terms. I pray you, my lord, of your goodwill and charity, yield me the hand of my mistress, Joan Sedley; and take ye, upon the other part, your liberty, the liberty of these your followers, and (if ye will have it) my gratitude and service till I die.”
“But are ye not ward to Sir Daniel? Methought, if y’ are Harry Shelton’s son, that I had heard it so reported,” said Lord Foxham.
“Will it please you, my lord, to alight? I would fain tell you fully who I am, how situate, and why so bold in my demands. Beseech you, my lord, take place upon these steps, hear me to a full end, and judge me with allowance.”
And so saying, Dick lent a hand to Lord Foxham to dismount; led him up the knoll to the cross; installed him in the place where he had himself been sitting; and standing respectfully before his noble prisoner, related the story of his fortunes up to the events of the evening before.
Lord Foxham listened gravely, and when Dick had done, “Master Shelton,” he said, “ye are a most fortunate-unfortunate young gentleman; but what fortune y’ ’ave had, that ye have amply merited; and what unfortune, ye have noways deserved. Be of a good cheer; for ye have made a friend who is devoid neither of power nor favour. For yourself, although it fits not for a person of your birth to herd with outlaws, I must own ye are both brave and honourable; very dangerous in battle, right courteous in peace; a youth of excellent disposition and brave bearing. For your estates, ye will never see them till the world shall change again; so long as Lancaster hath the strong hand, so long shall Sir Daniel enjoy them for his own. For my ward, it is another matter; I had promised her before to a gentleman, a kinsman of my house, one Hamley; the promise is old—”
“Ay, my lord, and now Sir Daniel hath promised her to my Lord Shoreby,” interrupted Dick. “And his promise, for all it is but young, is still the likelier to be made good.”
“’Tis the plain truth,” returned his lordship. “And considering, moreover, that I am your prisoner, upon no better composition than my bare life, and over and above that, that the maiden is unhappily in other hands, I will so far consent. Aid me with your good fellows”—
“My lord,” cried Dick, “they are these same outlaws that ye blame me for consorting with.”
“Let them be what they will, they can fight,” returned Lord Foxham. “Help me, then; and if between us we regain the maid, upon my knightly honour, she shall marry you!”
Dick bent his knee before his prisoner; but he, leaping up lightly from the cross, caught the lad up and embraced him like a son.
“Come,” he said, “an y’ are to marry Joan, we must be early friends.”