1st Outlaw: Stand, sir, and throw us that you have about you;
If not, we'll make you sit, and rifle you.
Speed: Sir, we are undone! these are the villains
That all the travellers do fear so much.
Val: My friends, —
1st Out: That's not so, sir, we are your enemies.
2d Out: Peace! we'll hear him.
3d Out: Ay, by my beard, will we;
For he's a proper man.
— Two Gentlemen of Verona
The nocturnal adventures of Gurth were not yet concluded; indeed he himself became partly of that mind, when, after passing one or two straggling houses which stood in the outskirts of the village, he found himself in a deep lane, running between two banks overgrown with hazel and holly, while here and there a dwarf oak flung its arms altogether across the path. The lane was moreover much rutted and broken up by the carriages which had recently transported articles of various kinds to the tournament; and it was dark, for the banks and bushes intercepted the light of the harvest moon.
From the village were heard the distant sounds of revelry, mixed occasionally with loud laughter, sometimes broken by screams, and sometimes by wild strains of distant music. All these sounds, intimating the disorderly state of the town, crowded with military nobles and their dissolute attendants, gave Gurth some uneasiness. "The Jewess was right," he said to himself. "By heaven and St Dunstan, I would I were safe at my journey's end with all this treasure! Here are such numbers, I will not say of arrant thieves, but of errant knights and errant squires, errant monks and errant minstrels, errant jugglers and errant jesters, that a man with a single merk would be in danger, much more a poor swineherd with a whole bagful of zecchins. Would I were out of the shade of these infernal bushes, that I might at least see any of St Nicholas's clerks before they spring on my shoulders."
Gurth accordingly hastened his pace, in order to gain the open common to which the lane led, but was not so fortunate as to accomplish his object. Just as he had attained the upper end of the lane, where the underwood was thickest, four men sprung upon him, even as his fears anticipated, two from each side of the road, and seized him so fast, that resistance, if at first practicable, would have been now too late. — "Surrender your charge," said one of them; "we are the deliverers of the commonwealth, who ease every man of his burden."
"You should not ease me of mine so lightly," muttered Gurth, whose surly honesty could not be tamed even by the pressure of immediate violence, — "had I it but in my power to give three strokes in its defence."
"We shall see that presently," said the robber; and, speaking to his companions, he added, "bring along the knave. I see he would have his head broken, as well as his purse cut, and so be let blood in two veins at once."
Gurth was hurried along agreeably to this mandate, and having been dragged somewhat roughly over the bank, on the left-hand side of the lane, found himself in a straggling thicket, which lay betwixt it and the open common. He was compelled to follow his rough conductors into the very depth of this cover, where they stopt unexpectedly in an irregular open space, free in a great measure from trees, and on which, therefore, the beams of the moon fell without much interruption from boughs and leaves. Here his captors were joined by two other persons, apparently belonging to the gang. They had short swords by their sides, and quarter-staves in their hands, and Gurth could now observe that all six wore visors, which rendered their occupation a matter of no question, even had their former proceedings left it in doubt.
"What money hast thou, churl?" said one of the thieves.
"Thirty zecchins of my own property," answered Gurth, doggedly.
"A forfeit — a forfeit," shouted the robbers; "a Saxon hath thirty zecchins, and returns sober from a village! An undeniable and unredeemable forfeit of all he hath about him."
"I hoarded it to purchase my freedom," said Gurth.
"Thou art an ass," replied one of the thieves "three quarts of double ale had rendered thee as free as thy master, ay, and freer too, if he be a Saxon like thyself."
"A sad truth," replied Gurth; "but if these same thirty zecchins will buy my freedom from you, unloose my hands, and I will pay them to you."
"Hold," said one who seemed to exercise some authority over the others; "this bag which thou bearest, as I can feel through thy cloak, contains more coin than thou hast told us of."
"It is the good knight my master's," answered Gurth, "of which, assuredly, I would not have spoken a word, had you been satisfied with working your will upon mine own property."
"Thou art an honest fellow," replied the robber, "I warrant thee; and we worship not St Nicholas so devoutly but what thy thirty zecchins may yet escape, if thou deal uprightly with us. Meantime render up thy trust for a time." So saying, he took from Gurth's breast the large leathern pouch, in which the purse given him by Rebecca was enclosed, as well as the rest of the zecchins, and then continued his interrogation. — "Who is thy master?"
"The Disinherited Knight," said Gurth.
"Whose good lance," replied the robber, "won the prize in to-day's tourney? What is his name and lineage?"
"It is his pleasure," answered Gurth, "that they be concealed; and from me, assuredly, you will learn nought of them."
"What is thine own name and lineage?"
"To tell that," said Gurth, "might reveal my master's."
"Thou art a saucy groom," said the robber, "but of that anon. How comes thy master by this gold? is it of his inheritance, or by what means hath it accrued to him?"
"By his good lance," answered Gurth. — "These bags contain the ransom of four good horses, and four good suits of armour."
"How much is there?" demanded the robber.
"Two hundred zecchins."
"Only two hundred zecchins!" said the bandit; "your master hath dealt liberally by the vanquished, and put them to a cheap ransom. Name those who paid the gold."
Gurth did so.
"The armour and horse of the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert, at what ransom were they held? — Thou seest thou canst not deceive me."
"My master," replied Gurth, "will take nought from the Templar save his life's-blood. They are on terms of mortal defiance, and cannot hold courteous intercourse together."
"Indeed!" — repeated the robber, and paused after he had said the word. "And what wert thou now doing at Ashby with such a charge in thy custody?"
"I went thither to render to Isaac the Jew of York," replied Gurth, "the price of a suit of armour with which he fitted my master for this tournament."
"And how much didst thou pay to Isaac? — Methinks, to judge by weight, there is still two hundred zecchins in this pouch."