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The story is set in 13th century England and concerns the fictional outlaw Norman of Torn, who purportedly harried the country during the power struggle between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort. Norman is the supposed son of the Frenchman de Vac, once the king's fencing master, who has a grudge against his former employer and raises the boy to be a simple, brutal killing machine with a hatred of all things English. His intentions are partially subverted by a priest who befriends Norman and teaches him his letters and chivalry towards women...
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Copyright © 2016 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Published by Perennial Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
HERE IS A STORY THAT has lain dormant for seven hundred years. At first it was suppressed by one of the Plantagenet kings of England. Later it was forgotten. I happened to dig it up by accident. The accident being the relationship of my wife’s cousin to a certain Father Superior in a very ancient monastery in Europe.
He let me pry about among a quantity of mildewed and musty manuscripts and I came across this. It is very interesting—partially since it is a bit of hitherto unrecorded history, but principally from the fact that it records the story of a most remarkable revenge and the adventurous life of its innocent victim—Richard, the lost prince of England.
In the retelling of it, I have left out most of the history. What interested me was the unique character about whom the tale revolves—the visored horseman who—but let us wait until we get to him.
It all happened in the thirteenth century, and while it was happening, it shook England from north to south and from east to west; and reached across the channel and shook France. It started, directly, in the London palace of Henry III, and was the result of a quarrel between the King and his powerful brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
Never mind the quarrel, that’s history, and you can read all about it at your leisure. But on this June day in the year of our Lord 1243, Henry so forgot himself as to very unjustly accuse De Montfort of treason in the presence of a number of the King’s gentlemen.
De Montfort paled. He was a tall, handsome man, and when he drew himself to his full height and turned those gray eyes on the victim of his wrath, as he did that day, he was very imposing. A power in England, second only to the King himself, and with the heart of a lion in him, he answered the King as no other man in all England would have dared answer him.
“My Lord King,” he cried, “that you be my Lord King alone prevents Simon de Montfort from demanding satisfaction for such a gross insult. That you take advantage of your kingship to say what you would never dare say were you not king, brands me not a traitor, though it does brand you a coward.”
Tense silence fell upon the little company of lords and courtiers as these awful words fell from the lips of a subject, addressed to his king. They were horrified, for De Montfort’s bold challenge was to them but little short of sacrilege.
Henry, flushing in mortification and anger, rose to advance upon De Montfort, but suddenly recollecting the power which he represented, he thought better of whatever action he contemplated and, with a haughty sneer, turned to his courtiers.
“Come, my gentlemen,” he said, “methought that we were to have a turn with the foils this morning. Already it waxeth late. Come, De Fulm! Come, Leybourn!” and the King left the apartment followed by his gentlemen, all of whom had drawn away from the Earl of Leicester when it became apparent that the royal displeasure was strong against him. As the arras fell behind the departing King, De Montfort shrugged his broad shoulders, and turning, left the apartment by another door.
When the King, with his gentlemen, entered the armory he was still smarting from the humiliation of De Montfort’s reproaches, and as he laid aside his surcoat and plumed hat to take the foils with De Fulm, his eyes alighted on the master of fence, Sir Jules de Vac, who was advancing with the King’s foil and helmet. Henry felt in no mood for fencing with De Fulm, who, like the other sycophants that surrounded him, always allowed the King easily to best him in every encounter.
De Vac he knew to be too jealous of his fame as a swordsman to permit himself to be overcome by aught but superior skill, and this day Henry felt that he could best the devil himself.
The armory was a great room on the main floor of the palace, off the guard room. It was built in a small wing of the building so that it had light from three sides. In charge of it was the lean, grizzled, leather-skinned Sir Jules de Vac, and it was he whom Henry commanded to face him in mimic combat with the foils, for the King wished to go with hammer and tongs at someone to vent his suppressed rage.
So he let De Vac assume to his mind’s eye the person of the hated De Montfort, and it followed that De Vac was nearly surprised into an early and mortifying defeat by the King’s sudden and clever attack.
Henry III had always been accounted a good swordsman, but that day he quite outdid himself and, in his imagination, was about to run the pseudo De Montfort through the heart, to the wild acclaim of his audience. For this fell purpose he had backed the astounded De Vac twice around the hall when, with a clever feint, and backward step, the master of fence drew the King into the position he wanted him, and with the suddenness of lightning, a little twist of his foil sent Henry’s weapon clanging across the floor of the armory.
For an instant, the King stood as tense and white as though the hand of death had reached out and touched his heart with its icy fingers. The episode meant more to him than being bested in play by the best swordsman in England—for that surely was no disgrace—to Henry it seemed prophetic of the outcome of a future struggle when he should stand face to face with the real De Montfort; and then, seeing in De Vac only the creature of his imagination with which he had vested the likeness of his powerful brother-in-law, Henry did what he should like to have done to the real Leicester. Drawing off his gauntlet he advanced close to De Vac.
“Dog!” he hissed, and struck the master of fence a stinging blow across the face, and spat upon him. Then he turned on his heel and strode from the armory.
De Vac had grown old in the service of the kings of England, but he hated all things English and all Englishmen. The dead King John, though hated by all others, he had loved, but with the dead King’s bones De Vac’s loyalty to the house he served had been buried in the Cathedral of Worcester.
During the years he had served as master of fence at the English Court, the sons of royalty had learned to thrust and parry and cut as only De Vac could teach the art, and he had been as conscientious in the discharge of his duties as he had been in his unswerving hatred and contempt for his pupils.
And now the English King had put upon him such an insult as might only be wiped out by blood.
As the blow fell, the wiry Frenchman clicked his heels together, and throwing down his foil, he stood erect and rigid as a marble statue before his master. White and livid was his tense drawn face, but he spoke no word.
He might have struck the King, but then there would have been left to him no alternative save death by his own hand; for a king may not fight with a lesser mortal, and he who strikes a king may not live—the king’s honor must be satisfied.
Had a French king struck him, De Vac would have struck back, and gloried in the fate which permitted him to die for the honor of France; but an English King—pooh! a dog; and who would die for a dog? No, De Vac would find other means of satisfying his wounded pride. He would revel in revenge against this man for whom he felt no loyalty. If possible, he would harm the whole of England if he could, but he would bide his time. He could afford to wait for his opportunity if, by waiting, he could encompass a more terrible revenge.
De Vac had been born in Paris, the son of a French officer reputed the best swordsman in France. The son had followed closely in the footsteps of his father until, on the latter’s death, he could easily claim the title of his sire. How he had left France and entered the service of John of England is not of this story. All the bearing that the life of Jules de Vac has upon the history of England hinges upon but two of his many attributes—his wonderful swordsmanship and his fearful hatred for his adopted country.
SOUTH OF THE ARMORY OF Westminster Palace lay the gardens, and here, on the third day following the King’s affront to De Vac, might have been a seen a black-haired woman gowned in a violet cyclas, richly embroidered with gold about the yoke and at the bottom of the loose-pointed sleeves, which reached almost to the similar bordering on the lower hem of the garment. A richly wrought leathern girdle, studded with precious stones, and held in place by a huge carved buckle of gold, clasped the garment about her waist so that the upper portion fell outward over the girdle after the manner of a blouse. In the girdle was a long dagger of beautiful workmanship. Dainty sandals encased her feet, while a wimple of violet silk bordered in gold fringe, lay becomingly over her head and shoulders.
By her side walked a handsome boy of about three, clad, like his companion, in gay colors. His tiny surcoat of scarlet velvet was rich with embroidery, while beneath was a close-fitting tunic of white silk. His doublet was of scarlet, while his long hose of white were cross-gartered with scarlet from his tiny sandals to his knees. On the back of his brown curls sat a flat-brimmed, round-crowned hat in which a single plume of white waved and nodded bravely at each move of the proud little head.
The child’s features were well molded, and his frank, bright eyes gave an expression of boyish generosity to a face which otherwise would have been too arrogant and haughty for such a mere baby. As he talked with his companion, little flashes of peremptory authority and dignity, which sat strangely upon one so tiny, caused the young woman at times to turn her head from him that he might not see the smiles which she could scarce repress.
Presently the boy took a ball from his tunic, and, pointing at a little bush near them, said, “Stand you there, Lady Maud, by yonder bush. I would play at toss.”
The young woman did as she was bid, and when she had taken her place and turned to face him the boy threw the ball to her. Thus they played beneath the windows of the armory, the boy running blithely after the ball when he missed it, and laughing and shouting in happy glee when he made a particularly good catch.
In one of the windows of the armory overlooking the garden stood a grim, gray, old man, leaning upon his folded arms, his brows drawn together in a malignant scowl, the corners of his mouth set in a stern, cold line.
He looked upon the garden and the playing child, and upon the lovely young woman beneath him, but with eyes which did not see, for De Vac was working out a great problem, the greatest of all his life.
For three days, the old man had brooded over his grievance, seeking for some means to be revenged upon the King for the insult which Henry had put upon him. Many schemes had presented themselves to his shrewd and cunning mind, but so far all had been rejected as unworthy of the terrible satisfaction which his wounded pride demanded.
His fancies had, for the most part, revolved about the unsettled political conditions of Henry’s reign, for from these he felt he might wrest that opportunity which could be turned to his own personal uses and to the harm, and possibly the undoing, of the King.
For years an inmate of the palace, and often a listener in the armory when the King played at sword with his friends and favorites, De Vac had heard much which passed between Henry III and his intimates that could well be turned to the King’s harm by a shrewd and resourceful enemy.
With all England, he knew the utter contempt in which Henry held the terms of the Magna Charta which he so often violated along with his kingly oath to maintain it. But what all England did not know, De Vac had gleaned from scraps of conversation dropped in the armory: that Henry was even now negotiating with the leaders of foreign mercenaries, and with Louis IX of France, for a sufficient force of knights and men-at-arms to wage a relentless war upon his own barons that he might effectively put a stop to all future interference by them with the royal prerogative of the Plantagenets to misrule England.
If he could but learn the details of this plan, thought De Vac: the point of landing of the foreign troops; their numbers; the first point of attack. Ah, would it not be sweet revenge indeed to balk the King in this venture so dear to his heart!
A word to De Clare, or De Montfort would bring the barons and their retainers forty thousand strong to overwhelm the King’s forces.
And he would let the King know to whom, and for what cause, he was beholden for his defeat and discomfiture. Possibly the barons would depose Henry, and place a new king upon England’s throne, and then De Vac would mock the Plantagenet to his face. Sweet, kind, delectable vengeance, indeed! And the old man licked his thin lips as though to taste the last sweet vestige of some dainty morsel.
And then Chance carried a little leather ball beneath the window where the old man stood; and as the child ran, laughing, to recover it, De Vac’s eyes fell upon him, and his former plan for revenge melted as the fog before the noonday sun; and in its stead there opened to him the whole hideous plot of fearsome vengeance as clearly as it were writ upon the leaves of a great book that had been thrown wide before him. And, in so far as he could direct, he varied not one jot from the details of that vividly conceived masterpiece of hellishness during the twenty years which followed.
The little boy who so innocently played in the garden of his royal father was Prince Richard, the three-year-old son of Henry III of England. No published history mentions this little lost prince; only the secret archives of the kings of England tell the story of his strange and adventurous life. His name has been blotted from the records of men; and the revenge of De Vac has passed from the eyes of the world; though in his time it was a real and terrible thing in the hearts of the English.
FOR NEARLY A MONTH, THE old man haunted the palace, and watched in the gardens for the little Prince until he knew the daily routine of his tiny life with his nurses and governesses.
He saw that when the Lady Maud accompanied him, they were wont to repair to the farthermost extremities of the palace grounds where, by a little postern gate, she admitted a certain officer of the Guards to whom the Queen had forbidden the privilege of the court.
There, in a secluded bower, the two lovers whispered their hopes and plans, unmindful of the royal charge playing neglected among the flowers and shrubbery of the garden.
Toward the middle of July De Vac had his plans well laid. He had managed to coax old Brus, the gardener, into letting him have the key to the little postern gate on the plea that he wished to indulge in a midnight escapade, hinting broadly of a fair lady who was to be the partner of his adventure, and, what was more to the point with Brus, at the same time slipping a couple of golden zecchins into the gardener’s palm.
Brus, like the other palace servants, considered De Vac a loyal retainer of the house of Plantagenet. Whatever else of mischief De Vac might be up to, Brus was quite sure that in so far as the King was concerned, the key to the postern gate was as safe in De Vac’s hands as though Henry himself had it.
The old fellow wondered a little that the morose old master of fence should, at his time in life, indulge in frivolous escapades more befitting the younger sprigs of gentility, but, then, what concern was it of his? Did he not have enough to think about to keep the gardens so that his royal master and mistress might find pleasure in the shaded walks, the well-kept sward, and the gorgeous beds of foliage plants and blooming flowers which he set with such wondrous precision in the formal garden?
Further, two gold zecchins were not often come by so easily as this; and if the dear Lord Jesus saw fit, in his infinite wisdom, to take this means of rewarding his poor servant, it ill became such a worm as he to ignore the divine favor. So Brus took the gold zecchins and De Vac the key, and the little prince played happily among the flowers of his royal father’s garden, and all were satisfied; which was as it should have been.
That night, De Vac took the key to a locksmith on the far side of London; one who could not possibly know him or recognize the key as belonging to the palace. Here he had a duplicate made, waiting impatiently while the old man fashioned it with the crude instruments of his time.
From this little shop, De Vac threaded his way through the dirty lanes and alleys of ancient London, lighted at far intervals by an occasional smoky lantern, until he came to a squalid tenement but a short distance from the palace.
A narrow alley ran past the building, ending abruptly at the bank of the Thames in a moldering wooden dock, beneath which the inky waters of the river rose and fell, lapping the decaying piles and surging far beneath the dock to the remote fastnesses inhabited by the great fierce dock rats and their fiercer human antitypes.
Several times De Vac paced the length of this black alley in search of the little doorway of the building he sought. At length he came upon it, and, after repeated pounding with the pommel of his sword, it was opened by a slatternly old hag.
“What would ye of a decent woman at such an ungodly hour?” she grumbled. “Ah, ‘tis ye, my lord?” she added, hastily, as the flickering rays of the candle she bore lighted up De Vac’s face. “Welcome, my Lord, thrice welcome. The daughter of the devil welcomes her brother.”
“Silence, old hag,” cried De Vac. “Is it not enough that you leech me of good marks of such a quantity that you may ever after wear mantles of villosa and feast on simnel bread and malmsey, that you must needs burden me still further with the affliction of thy vile tongue?
“Hast thou the clothes ready bundled and the key, also, to this gate to perdition? And the room: didst set to rights the furnishings I had delivered here, and sweep the century-old accumulation of filth and cobwebs from the floor and rafters? Why, the very air reeked of the dead Romans who builded London twelve hundred years ago. Methinks, too, from the stink, they must have been Roman swineherd who habited this sty with their herds, an’ I venture that thou, old sow, hast never touched broom to the place for fear of disturbing the ancient relics of thy kin.”
“Cease thy babbling, Lord Satan,” cried the woman. “I would rather hear thy money talk than thou, for though it come accursed and tainted from thy rogue hand, yet it speaks with the same sweet and commanding voice as it were fresh from the coffers of the holy church.
“The bundle is ready,” she continued, closing the door after De Vac, who had now entered, “and here be the key; but first let us have a payment. I know not what thy foul work may be, but foul it is I know from the secrecy which you have demanded, an’ I dare say there will be some who would pay well to learn the whereabouts of the old woman and the child, thy sister and her son you tell me they be, who you are so anxious to hide away in old Til’s garret. So it be well for you, my Lord, to pay old Til well and add a few guilders for the peace of her tongue if you would that your prisoner find peace in old Til’s house.”
“Fetch me the bundle, hag,” replied De Vac, “and you shall have gold against a final settlement; more even than we bargained for if all goes well and thou holdest thy vile tongue.”
But the old woman’s threats had already caused De Vac a feeling of uneasiness, which would have been reflected to an exaggerated degree in the old woman had she known the determination her words had caused in the mind of the old master of fence.
His venture was far too serious, and the results of exposure too fraught with danger, to permit of his taking any chances with a disloyal fellow-conspirator. True, he had not even hinted at the enormity of the plot in which he was involving the old woman, but, as she had said, his stern commands for secrecy had told enough to arouse her suspicions, and with them her curiosity and cupidity. So it was that old Til might well have quailed in her tattered sandals had she but even vaguely guessed the thoughts which passed in De Vac’s mind; but the extra gold pieces he dropped into her withered palm as she delivered the bundle to him, together with the promise of more, quite effectually won her loyalty and her silence for the time being.
Slipping the key into the pocket of his tunic and covering the bundle with his long surcoat, De Vac stepped out into the darkness of the alley and hastened toward the dock.
Beneath the planks he found a skiff which he had moored there earlier in the evening, and underneath one of the thwarts he hid the bundle. Then, casting off, he rowed slowly up the Thames until, below the palace walls, he moored near to the little postern gate which let into the lower end of the garden.
Hiding the skiff as best he could in some tangled bushes which grew to the water’s edge, set there by order of the King to add to the beauty of the aspect from the river side, De Vac crept warily to the postern and, unchallenged, entered and sought his apartments in the palace.
The next day, he returned the original key to Brus, telling the old man that he had not used it after all, since mature reflection had convinced him of the folly of his contemplated adventure, especially in one whose youth was past, and in whose joints the night damp of the Thames might find lodgement for rheumatism.
“Ha, Sir Jules,” laughed the old gardener, “Virtue and Vice be twin sisters who come running to do the bidding of the same father, Desire. Were there no desire there would be no virtue, and because one man desires what another does not, who shall say whether the child of his desire be vice or virtue? Or on the other hand if my friend desires his own wife and if that be virtue, then if I also desire his wife, is not that likewise virtue, since we desire the same thing? But if to obtain our desire it be necessary to expose our joints to the Thames’ fog, then it were virtue to remain at home.”
“Right you sound, old mole,” said De Vac, smiling, “would that I might learn to reason by your wondrous logic; methinks it might stand me in good stead before I be much older.”
“The best sword arm in all Christendom needs no other logic than the sword, I should think,” said Brus, returning to his work.
That afternoon, De Vac stood in a window of the armory looking out upon the beautiful garden which spread before him to the river wall two hundred yards away. In the foreground were box-bordered walks, smooth, sleek lawns, and formal beds of gorgeous flowering plants, while here and there marble statues of wood nymph and satyr gleamed, sparkling in the brilliant sunlight, or, half shaded by an overhanging bush, took on a semblance of life from the riotous play of light and shadow as the leaves above them moved to and fro in the faint breeze. Farther in the distance, the river wall was hidden by more closely massed bushes, and the formal, geometric precision of the nearer view was relieved by a background of vine-colored bowers, and a profusion of small trees and flowering shrubs arranged in studied disorder.
Through this seeming jungle ran tortuous paths, and the carved stone benches of the open garden gave place to rustic seats, and swings suspended from the branches of fruit trees.
Toward this enchanting spot slowly were walking the Lady Maud and her little charge, Prince Richard; all ignorant of the malicious watcher in the window behind them.
A great peacock strutted proudly across the walk before them, and, as Richard ran, childlike, after it, Lady Maud hastened on to the little postern gate which she quickly unlocked, admitting her lover, who had been waiting without. Relocking the gate the two strolled arm in arm to the little bower which was their trysting place.
As the lovers talked, all self-engrossed, the little Prince played happily about among the trees and flowers, and none saw the stern, determined face which peered through the foliage at a little distance from the playing boy.
Richard was devoting his royal energies to chasing an elusive butterfly which fate led nearer and nearer to the cold, hard watcher in the bushes. Closer and closer came the little Prince, and in another moment, he had burst through the flowering shrubs, and stood facing the implacable master of fence.
“Your Highness,” said De Vac, bowing to the little fellow, “let old DeVac help you catch the pretty insect.”
Richard, having often seen De Vac, did not fear him, and so together they started in pursuit of the butterfly which by now had passed out of sight. De Vac turned their steps toward the little postern gate, but when he would have passed through with the tiny Prince, the latter rebelled.
“Come, My Lord Prince,” urged De Vac, “methinks the butterfly did but alight without the wall, we can have it and return within the garden in an instant.”
“Go thyself and fetch it,” replied the Prince; “the King, my father, has forbid me stepping without the palace grounds.”
“Come,” commanded De Vac, more sternly, “no harm can come to you.”
But the child hung back and would not go with him so that De Vac was forced to grasp him roughly by the arm. There was a cry of rage and alarm from the royal child.
“Unhand me, sirrah,” screamed the boy. “How dare you lay hands on a prince of England?”
De Vac clapped his hand over the child’s mouth to still his cries, but it was too late. The Lady Maud and her lover had heard and, in an instant, they were rushing toward the postern gate, the officer drawing his sword as he ran.
When they reached the wall, De Vac and the Prince were upon the outside, and the Frenchman had closed and was endeavoring to lock the gate. But, handicapped by the struggling boy, he had not time to turn the key before the officer threw himself against the panels and burst out before the master of fence, closely followed by the Lady Maud.
De Vac dropped the key and, still grasping the now thoroughly affrightened Prince with his left hand, drew his sword and confronted the officer.
There were no words, there was no need of words; De Vac’s intentions were too plain to necessitate any parley, so the two fell upon each other with grim fury; the brave officer facing the best swordsman that France had ever produced in a futile attempt to rescue his young prince.
In a moment, De Vac had disarmed him, but, contrary to the laws of chivalry, he did not lower his point until it had first plunged through the heart of his brave antagonist. Then, with a bound, he leaped between Lady Maud and the gate, so that she could not retreat into the garden and give the alarm.
Still grasping the trembling child in his iron grip, he stood facing the lady in waiting, his back against the door.
“Mon Dieu, Sir Jules,” she cried, “hast thou gone mad?”
“No, My Lady,” he answered, “but I had not thought to do the work which now lies before me. Why didst thou not keep a still tongue in thy head and let his patron saint look after the welfare of this princeling? Your rashness has brought you to a pretty pass, for it must be either you or I, My Lady, and it cannot be I. Say thy prayers and compose thyself for death.”
Henry III, King of England, sat in his council chamber surrounded by the great lords and nobles who composed his suit. He awaited Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, whom he had summoned that he might heap still further indignities upon him with the intention of degrading and humiliating him that he might leave England forever. The King feared this mighty kinsman who so boldly advised him against the weak follies which were bringing his kingdom to a condition of revolution.
What the outcome of this audience would have been none may say, for Leicester had but just entered and saluted his sovereign when there came an interruption which drowned the petty wrangles of king and courtier in a common affliction that touched the hearts of all.
There was a commotion at one side of the room, the arras parted, and Eleanor, Queen of England, staggered toward the throne, tears streaming down her pale cheeks.
“Oh, My Lord! My Lord!” she cried, “Richard, our son, has been assassinated and thrown into the Thames.”
In an instant, all was confusion and turmoil, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the King finally obtained a coherent statement from his queen.
It seemed that when the Lady Maud had not returned to the palace with Prince Richard at the proper time, the Queen had been notified and an immediate search had been instituted—a search which did not end for over twenty years; but the first fruits of it turned the hearts of the court to stone, for there beside the open postern gate lay the dead bodies of Lady Maud and a certain officer of the Guards, but nowhere was there a sign or trace of Prince Richard, second son of Henry III of England, and at that time the youngest prince of the realm.
It was two days before the absence of De Vac was noted, and then it was that one of the lords in waiting to the King reminded his majesty of the episode of the fencing bout, and a motive for the abduction of the King’s little son became apparent.
An edict was issued requiring the examination of every child in England, for on the left breast of the little Prince was a birthmark which closely resembled a lily and, when after a year no child was found bearing such a mark and no trace of De Vac uncovered, the search was carried into France, nor was it ever wholly relinquished at any time for more than twenty years.
The first theory, of assassination, was quickly abandoned when it was subjected to the light of reason, for it was evident that an assassin could have dispatched the little Prince at the same time that he killed the Lady Maud and her lover, had such been his desire.
The most eager factor in the search for Prince Richard was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, whose affection for his royal nephew had always been so marked as to have been commented upon by the members of the King’s household.
Thus for a time the rupture between De Montfort and his king was healed, and although the great nobleman was divested of his authority in Gascony, he suffered little further oppression at the hands of his royal master.
AS DE VAC DREW HIS sword from the heart of the Lady Maud, he winced, for, merciless though he was, he had shrunk from this cruel task. Too far he had gone, however, to back down now, and, had he left the Lady Maud alive, the whole of the palace guard and all the city of London would have been on his heels in ten minutes; there would have been no escape.
The little Prince was now so terrified that he could but tremble and whimper in his fright. So fearful was he of the terrible De Vac that a threat of death easily stilled his tongue, and so the grim, old man led him to the boat hidden deep in the dense bushes.
De Vac did not dare remain in this retreat until dark, as he had first intended. Instead, he drew a dingy, ragged dress from the bundle beneath the thwart and in this disguised himself as an old woman, drawing a cotton wimple low over his head and forehead to hide his short hair. Concealing the child beneath the other articles of clothing, he pushed off from the bank, and, rowing close to the shore, hastened down the Thames toward the old dock where, the previous night, he had concealed his skiff. He reached his destination unnoticed, and, running in beneath the dock, worked the boat far into the dark recess of the cave-like retreat.
Here he determined to hide until darkness had fallen, for he knew that the search would be on for the little lost Prince at any moment, and that none might traverse the streets of London without being subject to the closest scrutiny.
Taking advantage of the forced wait, De Vac undressed the Prince and clothed him in other garments, which had been wrapped in the bundle hidden beneath the thwart; a little red cotton tunic with hose to match, a black doublet and a tiny leather jerkin and leather cap.
The discarded clothing of the Prince he wrapped about a huge stone torn from the disintegrating masonry of the river wall, and consigned the bundle to the voiceless river.
The Prince had by now regained some of his former assurance and, finding that De Vac seemed not to intend harming him, the little fellow commenced questioning his grim companion, his childish wonder at this strange adventure getting the better of his former apprehension.
“What do we here, Sir Jules?” he asked. “Take me back to the King’s, my father’s palace. I like not this dark hole nor the strange garments you have placed upon me.”
“Silence, boy!” commanded the old man. “Sir Jules be dead, nor are you a king’s son. Remember these two things well, nor ever again let me hear you speak the name Sir Jules, or call yourself a prince.”
The boy went silent, again cowed by the fierce tone of his captor. Presently he began to whimper, for he was tired and hungry and frightened—just a poor little baby, helpless and hopeless in the hands of this cruel enemy—all his royalty as nothing, all gone with the silken finery which lay in the thick mud at the bottom of the Thames, and presently he dropped into a fitful sleep in the bottom of the skiff.
When darkness had settled, De Vac pushed the skiff outward to the side of the dock and, gathering the sleeping child in his arms, stood listening, preparatory to mounting to the alley which led to old Til’s place.
As he stood thus, a faint sound of clanking armor came to his attentive ears; louder and louder it grew until there could be no doubt but that a number of men were approaching.
De Vac resumed his place in the skiff, and again drew it far beneath the dock. Scarcely had he done so ere a party of armored knights and men-at-arms clanked out upon the planks above him from the mouth of the dark alley. Here they stopped as though for consultation and plainly could the listener below hear every word of their conversation.
“De Montfort,” said one, “what thinkest thou of it? Can it be that the Queen is right and that Richard lies dead beneath these black waters?”
“No, De Clare,” replied a deep voice, which De Vac recognized as that of the Earl of Leicester. “The hand that could steal the Prince from out of the very gardens of his sire without the knowledge of Lady Maud or her companion, which must evidently have been the case, could more easily and safely have dispatched him within the gardens had that been the object of this strange attack. I think, My Lord, that presently we shall hear from some bold adventurer who holds the little Prince for ransom. God give that such may be the case, for of all the winsome and affectionate little fellows I have ever seen, not even excepting mine own dear son, the little Richard was the most to be beloved. Would that I might get my hands upon the foul devil who has done this horrid deed.”
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