Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 129

The Old Woman’s Treachery

“Now that I am here, let us make merry,” quoth William. “No man has seen me enter, and I would fain enjoy my short stay with you and my children, for I must be back in the forest by prime to-morrow. Can you not give a hungry outlaw food and drink?”

Then Dame Alice bustled about and prepared the best she had for her husband; and when all was ready a very happy little family sat down to the meal, husband and wife talking cheerily together, while the children watched in wondering silence the father who had been away so long and came to them so seldom.

There was one inmate of the house who saw in William’s return a means of making shameful profit. She was an old bedridden woman, apparently paralysed, whom he had rescued from utter poverty seven years before. During all that time she had lain on a bed near the fire, had shared all the life of the family, and had never once moved from her couch. Now, while husband and wife talked together and the darkness deepened in the room, this old impostor slipped from her bed and glided stealthily out of the house.

[Pg 229]

News Brought to the Sheriff

It happened that the king’s assize was being held just then in Carlisle, and the sheriff and his staunch ally the justice were sitting together in the Justice Hall. Thither this treacherous old woman hurried with all speed and pushed into the hall, forcing her way through the crowd till she came near the sheriff. “Ha! what would you, good woman?” asked he, surprised. “Sir, I bring tidings of great value.” “Tell your tidings, and I shall see if they be of value or no. If they are I will reward you handsomely.” “Sir, this night William of Cloudeslee has come into Carlisle, and is even now in his wife’s house. He is all alone, and you can take him easily. Now what will you pay me, for I am sure this news is much to you?” “You say truth, good woman. That bold outlaw is the worst of all who kill the king’s deer in his forest of Englewood, and if I could but catch him I should be well content. Dame, you shall not go without a recompense for your journey here and for your loyalty.” The sheriff then bade his men give the old woman a piece of scarlet cloth, dyed in grain, enough for a gown, and the treacherous hag hid the gift under her cloak, hastened away to Alice’s house, and slipped unperceived into her place again, hiding the scarlet cloth under the bed-coverings.

The Hue and Cry

Immediately he had heard of Cloudeslee’s presence in Carlisle the sheriff sent out the hue and cry, and with all speed raised the whole town, for though none hated the outlaws men dared not refuse to obey the king’s officer. The justice, too, joined the sheriff in the congenial task of capturing an outlaw whose [Pg 230] condemnation was already pronounced. With all the forces at their disposal, sheriff and justice took their way towards the house where William and Alice unconscious of the danger besetting them, still talked lovingly together.