Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 134

Cloudeslee, who has long deserved death.”

Now Clym saw that matters were becoming desperate, and time was passing too quickly, so he adopted a more violent tone. “Ah, rascal, scoundrel, madman!” quoth he. “If we be delayed here any longer thou shalt be hanged for a false thief! To keep the king’s messengers waiting thus! Canst thou not see the king’s seal? Canst thou not read the address of the royal letter? Ah, blockhead, thou shalt dearly abide this delay when my lord knows thereof.”

Thus speaking, he flourished the forged letter, with its false seal, in the porter’s face; and the man, seeing the seal and the writing, believed what was told him. Reverently he took off his hood and bent the knee to the king’s messengers, for whom he opened wide the gates, and they entered, walking warily.

[Pg 236]

They Keep the Gates

“At last we are within Carlisle walls, and glad thereof are we,” said Adam Bell, “but when and how we shall go out again Christ only knows, who harrowed Hell and brought out its prisoners.”

“Now if we had the keys ourselves we should have a good chance of life,” said Clym, “for then we could go in and out at our own will.” “Let us call the warder,” said Adam. When he came running at their call both the yeomen sprang upon him, flung him to the ground, bound him hand and foot, and cast him into a dark cell, taking his bunch of keys from his girdle. Adam laughed and shook the heavy keys. “Now I am gate-ward of merry Carlisle. See, here are my keys. I think I shall be the worst warder they have had for three hundred years. Let us bend our bows and hold our arrows ready, and walk into the town to deliver our brother.”

The Fight in the Market-place

When they came to the market-place they found a dense crowd of sympathizers watching pityingly the hangman’s cart, in which lay William of Cloudeslee, bound hand and foot, with a rope round his neck. The sheriff and the justice stood near the gallows, and Cloudeslee would have been hanged already, but that the sheriff was hiring a man to measure the outlaw for his grave. “You shall have the dead man’s clothes, good fellow, if you make his grave,” said he.

Cloudeslee’s courage was still undaunted. “I have seen as great a marvel ere now,” quoth he, “as that a man who digs a grave for another may lie in it himself, in as short a time as from now to prime.”

“You speak proudly, my fine fellow, but hanged you [Pg 237] shall be, if I do it with my own hand,” retorted the sheriff furiously.

Now the cart moved a little nearer to the scaffold, and William was raised up to be ready for execution. As he looked round the dense mass of faces his keen sight soon made him aware of his friends. Adam Bell and Clym of the Cleugh stood at one corner of the market-place with arrow on string, and their deadly aim bent at the sheriff and justice, whose horses raised them high above the murmuring throng. Cloudeslee showed no surprise, but said aloud: “Lo! I see comfort, and hope to fare well in my journey. Yet if I might have my hands free I would care little what else befell me.”

The Rescue

Now Adam said quietly to Clym: “Brother, do you take the justice, and I will shoot the sheriff. Let us both loose at once and leave them dying. It is an easy shot, though a long one.”

Thus, while the sheriff yet waited for William to be measured for his grave, suddenly men heard the twang of bowstrings and the whistling flight of arrows through the air, and at the same moment both sheriff and justice fell writhing from their steeds, with the grey goose feathers standing in their breasts. All the bystanders fled from the dangerous neighbourhood, and left the gallows, the fatal cart, and the mortally wounded officials alone. The two bold outlaws rushed to release their comrade, cut his bonds, and lifted him to his feet. William seized an axe from a soldier and pursued the fleeing guard, while his two friends with their deadly arrows slew a man at each shot.

The Mayor of Carlisle

When the arrows were all used Adam Bell and Clym [Pg 238] of the Cleugh threw away their bows and took to sword and buckler. The fight continued till midday for in the narrow streets the three comrades protected each other, and drew gradually towards the gate. Adam Bell still carried the keys at his girdle, and they could pass out easily if they could but once reach the gateway. By this time the whole town was in a commotion; again the hue and cry had been raised against the outlaws, and the Mayor of Carlisle came in person with a mighty troop of armed citizens, angered now at the fighting in the streets of the town.

The three yeomen retreated as steadily as they could towards the gate, but the mayor followed valiantly armed with a pole-axe, with which he clove Cloudeslee’s shield in two. He soon perceived the object of the outlaws, and bade his men guard the gates well, so that the three should not escape.