SHARING We encourage sharing--forward to a friend!
Chapter XX: How Will Stutely Was Rescued (Cont'd)
'Twas the work of but a few moments more to open the gates, let down the bridge, and admit the rest of the band; and they lot inside the town so quietly that none knew of their coming. Fortune also favored them in the fact that just at this moment the prison doors had been opened for the march of the condemned man, and every soldier and idle lout in the market-lace had trooped thither to see him pass along.
Presently out came Will Stutely with firm step but dejected air. He looked eagerly to the right hand and to the left, but saw none of the band. And though more than one curious face betrayed friendship in it, he knew there could be no aid from such source.
Will's hands were tied behind his back. He marched between rows of soldiery, and the Sheriff and the Bishop brought up the rear on horses, looking mightily puffed up and important over the whole proceeding. He would show these sturdy rebels—would the Sheriff—whose word was law! He knew that the gates were tightly fastened; and further he believed that the outlaws would hardly venture again within the walls, even if the gates were open. And as he looked around at the fivescore archers and pikemen who lined the way to the gallows, he smiled with grim satisfaction.
Seeing that no help was nigh, the prisoner paused at the foot of the scaffold and spoke in a firm tone to the Sheriff.
"My lord Sheriff," quoth he, "since I must needs die, grant me one boon; for my noble master ne'er yet had a man that was hanged on a tree:
Give me a sword all in my hand, And let me be unbound, And with thee and thy men will I fight Till I lie dead on the ground."
But the Sheriff would by no means listen to his request; but swore that he should be hanged a shameful death, and not die by the sword valiantly.
"O no, no, no," the Sheriff said, "Thou shalt on the gallows die, Aye, and so shall they master too, If ever it in me lie."
"O dastard coward!" Stutely cried, "Faint-hearted peasant slave! If ever my master do thee meet, Thou shalt thy payment have!"
"My noble master thee doth scorn, And all thy cowardly crew, Such silly imps unable are Bold Robin to subdue."
This brave speech was not calculated to soothe the Sheriff. "To the gallows with him!" he roared, giving a sign to the hangman; and Stutely was pushed into the rude cart which was to bear him under the gallows until his neck was leashed. Then the cart would be drawn roughly away and the unhappy man would swing out over the tail of it into another world.
But at this moment came a slight interruption. A boyish-looking palmer stepped forth, and said:
"Your Excellency, let me at least shrive this poor wretch's soul ere it be hurled into eternity."
"No!" shouted the Sheriff, "let him die a dog's death!"
"Then his damnation will rest upon you," said the monk firmly. "You, my lord Bishop, cannot stand by and see this wrong done."
The Bishop hesitated. Like the Sheriff, he wanted no delay; but the people were beginning to mutter among themselves and move about uneasily. He said a few words to the Sheriff, and the latter nodded to the monk ungraciously.