Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 135

The Escape from Carlisle

Terrible was the din in the town now, for trumpets blew, church-bells were rung backward, women bewailed their dead in the streets, and over all resounded the clash of arms, as the fighting drew nigh the gate. When the gatehouse came in sight the outlaws were fighting desperately, with diminishing strength, but the thought of safety outside the walls gave them force to make one last stand. With backs to the gate and faces to the foe, Adam and Clym and William made a valiant onslaught on the townsfolk, who fled in terror, leaving a breathing-space in which Adam Bell turned the key, flung open the great ponderous gate, and flung it to again, when the three had passed through.

The fight at the gate

Adam and the Keys

As Adam locked the door they could hear inside [Pg 239] the town the hurrying footsteps of the rallying citizens, whose furious attack on the great iron-studded door came too late. The door was locked, and the three friends stood in safety outside, with their pleasant forest home within easy reach. The change of feeling was so intense that Adam Bell, always the man to seize the humorous point of a situation, laughed lightly. He called through the barred wicket:

“Here are your keys. I resign my office as warder—one half-day’s work is enough for me; and as I have resigned, and the former gate-ward is somewhat damaged and has disappeared, I advise you to find a new one. Take your keys, and much good may you get from them. Next time I advise you not to stop an honest yeoman from coming to see his own wife and have a chat with her.”

Thereupon he flung the keys over the gate on the heads of the crowd, and the three brethren slipped away into the forest to their own haunts, where they found fresh bows and arrows in such abundance that they longed to be back in fair Carlisle with their foes before them.

William of Cloudeslee and his Wife Meet

While they were yet discussing all the details of the rescue they heard a woman’s pitiful lament and the crying of little children. “Hark!” said Cloudeslee, and they all heard in the silence the words she said. It was William’s wife, and she cried: “Alas! why did I not die before this day? Woe is me that my dear husband is slain! He is dead, and I have no friend to lament with me. If only I could see his comrades and tell what has befallen him my heart would be eased of some of its pain.”

William, as he listened, was deeply touched, and [Pg 240] walked gently to fair Alice, as she hid her face in her hands and wept. “Welcome, wife, to the greenwood!” quoth he. “By heaven, I never thought to see you again when I lay in bonds last night.” Dame Alice sprang up most joyously. “Oh, all is well with me now you are here; I have no care or woe.” “For that you must thank my dear brethren, Adam and Clym,” said he; and Alice began to load them with her thanks, but Adam cut short the expression of her gratitude. “No need to talk about a little matter like that,” he said gruffly. “If we want any supper we had better kill something, for the meat we must eat is yet running wild.”