Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XVII: A ROBBER'S DEN
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 “What mean you by knocking thus furiously?” the landlord of the little inn asked angrily. “What mean you by keeping your door shut in the face of travellers on such a night as this?” Hector replied, even more loudly. “Are honest men to be kept waiting in the rain while you are taking no steps to let them in?”
“How could I tell that you are honest men?” the landlord retorted.
“Because if we had not been honest men we should long before this have battered your door down, as indeed I was just going to do when you opened it.”
“Well, come in,” the landlord said with an evil smile. “Maybe you would have done better to have passed on.”
He showed them into the taproom, where two or three rough men were sitting.
“What did these fellows mean by knocking so loudly?” one of them asked angrily.
“It means,” Hector replied, “that travellers have a right to claim shelter of an inn; and indeed, inn or no inn, no one would refuse shelter to travellers on such a night as this is going to be.” And his words were emphasized by a crash of thunder overhead.
“You crow pretty loud, young fellow,” the man growled.
“I speak loud because I have right on my side. I desire to quarrel with no man; but one need indeed be a saint to keep one's temper when one is kept standing outside a door with the rain coming down in great drops, and threatening in another minute to come in bucketfuls. It is all the worse when, as you see, one has a sick comrade with one.”
The man spoke in a low voice to the three others seated at the table with him. “May I ask whither you were journeying when thus caught in the storm?” he asked in a more civil tone than he had hitherto used.
“Certainly you may. We were in haste to get on to Gunzenhausen by morning, as a friend of ours has work ready for us there. We did not expect this storm when we left Eichstadt just before the gates closed, and as the nights are short we thought we would push straight through.”
“You are woodmen, I see.”
“Ay, woodmen and charcoal burners.”
“You are not from this part, at least, judging from your tongue.”
“Nor, I fancy, are you,” Hector replied.
“No,” the other said. “In times like these every one is liable to be driven from home either because the troops of one army or another have plundered and destroyed everything, or perhaps because he has been forced into the ranks.”
“That is just our case, and you will understand that in times like these, as you say, no one cares to answer questions on the part of strangers. But we have no particular cause of concealment. We have both been in the army, and, as you see, have left it, and have our reasons for wishing to travel at night, when there is no chance of falling in with troops whose officers might ask inconvenient questions. As, thanks to our host and you, we are nearly wet through, we will thank him to get ready as quick as may be two flagons of hot beer, and if he has got a couple of eggs to beat up in each of them, so much the better.”
The landlord left the room, and a minute or two later the man who had spoken to Hector got up and went out.
“These men are up to no good,” Hector whispered to Paolo as they sat down on a bench at a table some little distance from that at which the other men were seated. “I am sorry now that I asked for the liquor, it was necessary to order something. I should not be surprised if they drug it. Do you put yours to your lips, and then groan as if it hurt you too much to try to swallow, and leave it standing in front of you. I will pretend to drink mine, and will manage to pour it away on the floor. Presently do you lean forward on to the table and appear to fall asleep. As I am in the corner, I will lean back and seem to go off also. Unless I am greatly mistaken this is a regular thieves' den. Keep one hand on the butt of a pistol. We will both keep awake for a time, and if nothing comes of it we will then watch by turns. It is clear that they suspect that we are not what we seem.”
The men at the other table were talking together in low voices, and, listening intently, Hector could hear a murmur of voices in the room behind him.
“There were more than two voices there,” he whispered presently to Paolo. The latter nodded, for he too had been listening. Presently the landlord returned with the two flagons of hot beer, which were set down on the table before them. The room was lighted only by a torch stuck in a cresset on the wall, and Hector had purposely seated himself as far from this as possible. Paolo took up his mug, raised it to his lips, and then set it down again with a sudden cry.
“I am afraid that you will not be able to take it,” Hector said aloud.
“What is the matter with your comrade?” the landlord asked.
“He has a terrible abscess in his jaw, and is unable to speak or to swallow.”
The landlord took the torch from its place and walked over and looked at Paolo's cheek. “There is no mistake about that,” he said. “It is indeed a terrible swelling, and the cheek looks almost raw.”
“He has put liniments on it,” Hector said, “but they seem to have done him harm rather than good. However, he is not so bad as he was, and I hope that the abscess will break ere long.”
The landlord fastened the torch up again, and said in a low tone to the other men: “There is no doubt about his face being bad.” As he turned away from the table he stood between Hector and the other men, and the former seized the opportunity of pouring the contents of his mug against the wall by his knee, knowing that as the floor was of earth it would soak it up at once. From time to time he lifted the mug to his lips, until he apparently drained it. Then half closing his eyes he leant up against the corner. Paolo had already laid his head down on the table, and after a time both breathed heavily and regularly. Half an hour later one of the men rose noiselessly and left the room. Two or three minutes afterwards he returned with the host, the man who had gone out before, and two others.
“Seven against two,” Hector thought to himself. “However, we shall have the advantage of a surprise.” He touched Paolo with his foot to assure himself that he had not really gone off to sleep, but the responsive movement showed that he also was on his guard. The man who had first left the room and one of the others drew their long knives and stepped quietly forward, while the others, also with bared weapons, prepared to support them if necessary. Hector waited until the two leaders were close, then he exclaimed sharply, “Now!” at the same moment throwing forward his hand with the pistol. Two reports rang out at the same moment, and the men pitched heavily forward. A yell of surprise and fury broke from the others, but ere they could step over their fallen comrades, Hector and his companion stood erect with their second pistols in their right hands and their axes ready for action in their left.
Hector's second shot took effect on the landlord, Paolo's apparently missed, for the other four rushed forward. Hector dashed the table aside, and he and Paolo, poising their heavy axes, rushed forward to meet their assailants.
“Mind the beams,” Hector shouted, as with a sweeping side blow he clove in the head of one opponent. But the warning came too late. Paolo struck a downward blow, the axe caught the low beams of the ceiling, and it flew from his hand. His opponent sprang upon him. Paolo caught the man's right wrist as he struck at him with his knife, and drew his own from his girdle. His assailant threw his other arm round him, and, grappling, they fell on to the ground. Hector could do nothing to assist him, for the other two men were trying to circle round him, keeping beyond the swing of his axe but watching for an opportunity to spring upon him. Keeping his back against the wall he made feints against them. Presently one of the men passed between him and the two antagonists struggling on the ground. Suddenly they rolled over and over, coming in contact with him from behind and almost throwing him over. Before he could recover from the shock Hector's axe struck him below the ear.
The other man would have turned and made for the door, but Hector knew that it was important that he should not escape and carry the news to others of his party, who might be in the forest. He therefore sprang after him, and before the wretch could open the door struck him between the shoulders with his long knife. As he did so Paolo sprung up with a shout.
“Thank God that you are alive, Paolo! I was afraid that he might have killed you.”
“No, no, master. I had him by the wrist too firmly for that, and my knife did its work almost directly. But with those two fellows hovering round I should have been at their mercy had I tried to get on my feet. So I kept on struggling until I saw my opportunity, and then as that fellow's back was turned I rolled over against him, and so gave you the chance that you were waiting for. Well, master, it has been a sharp business.”
“It has indeed. Now the first thing is to see if there is anyone else in the house, and the next to look about for some clothes for you to put on, for those you wear are covered with blood. Then we must be off, and put as many miles between us and this place before morning as we can.”
A brief search showed that the place was empty, save for the dead in the taproom. An old doublet belonging to the landlord was found hanging up in the loft where he slept. Taking off his outer garments, Paolo put this on.
“It is lucky I kept my breeches on under the others,” he said, “for I certainly could not have gone into a town with these stained things on. I suppose there is some money hidden somewhere, but we have not time to look. You may be sure that many a traveller has been murdered here.”
“I quite agree with you, but we have certainly no time to spare to hunt for it. Let us be off at once.”
Reloading their pistols and carefully wiping their axes they went out by a door at the back of the house, for neither cared to re-enter the scene of the slaughter. Before doing so, however, they took a long draught from the landlord's beer barrel, to make up for the drink of which they had deprived themselves. The storm had passed, and the stars were shining brightly. They met nobody on their way until within two or three miles of Gunzenhausen; it was found that the haft of Paolo's axe was deeply stained with blood; and he threw it away on issuing from the wood, as it did not accord well with his present attire, which was rather that of a discharged soldier or a worker in cities than of a countryman. Soon after eight o'clock they approached the town. They were now greatly fatigued, for they had done two long days' marches without any sleep between them, and turning off from the road they made their way to a little clump of trees, and there threw themselves down in the shade and slept until late in the afternoon.
“I think that after our experience of last night, Paolo,” Hector said, as they walked towards the town, “we had better wait until we can join some party going to Hall before we leave this place. From what I hear, the road is a great deal more infested with bands of lawless men than that along which we have come.”
“Then, master, I think we had certainly better wait, for I don't want anything worse than we had yesterday.”
They went to a small inn, had supper, and then lay down on some straw in an outhouse and slept soundly until morning. Then they breakfasted, and as there was no one else in the room Paolo was able to eat freely. Presently the landlord came in, and Hector entered into conversation with him.
“We want to go on to Hall,” he said. “We have friends there, and we are obliged to leave home because we should be taken for the army.”
“Well, I don't think that you will find yourself better off at Hall than here. They are catching up every ablebodied young fellow and putting him into the ranks, and as you both look strong and active, except for your comrade's face, you are both likely to be seized as soon as you enter Hall, especially if you have no papers to show.”
“We are not thinking of entering Hall, landlord. Our friends live a few miles away, and they will hide us till the army moves away from these parts.”
“That will be before long, thank the saints! There is news that a great French army marched from Spires three days ago, and there is like to be a great fight before long; and if the French are beaten Merci will chase them back to the Rhine, recapture all the towns that they have taken, and perhaps enter Alsace.”
“Which way do they say that the French are marching?”
“They took the road to Weisloch. Some think that they will come through Wimpfen, and then by Weinsberg here, unless Merci bars the way. Others again think that they will make their way down through Stuttgart. Five hundred men march from here tomorrow to Hall, whence they go on to Heilbronn to strengthen the garrison there. All the waggons in the town and country round have been fetched in to carry their stores and baggage and a convoy of ammunition. I should say that you could not do better than go on with the waggons. No one is likely to ask you any questions, for it will be thought that you are drivers.”
“Thank you very much,” Hector said; “that would certainly be a capital plan. We were afraid of going through the forests alone.”
“Yes, and you were right. They are full of marauders. A party of troopers arrived here from Eichstadt yesterday evening. They stopped to get a drink at a cabaret in the forest, and on entering found seven men lying dead, and no one living to say how they got there. That some, if not all, were robbers was evident from the fact that, on the bodies being searched, articles evidently plundered from travellers were found upon all of them. An examination was made of the house, and considerable quantities of plunder found hidden. Searching in the forest behind, several mounds of earth, evidently graves, were discovered. The landlord himself was among the killed, for one of the troopers, who had before stopped at the house, recognized him. It was supposed that the brigands were killed by some other party with whom they had quarrelled. Three of them were shot and two killed by tremendous blows from an axe, and as neither pistols nor axes were found in the room it is clear that those within had been killed by some other band.”
The next morning, when the column started, Hector and Paolo fell in among the carts, and rendered good service on the road by helping to move them when the wheels of the waggons stuck fast at spots where the road crossed marshy valleys. So bad was the journey that it occupied two days. Then the waggons were parked outside the walls of Hall, a guard being placed round them to prevent desertion. The troops slept inside the town. At daybreak the next morning their march was arrested by an officer riding out from the town, saying that news had arrived on the previous evening that the French were marching upon Heilbronn, that General Merci was concentrating his army there to oppose the passage of the river, and that the troops were to push on with all speed, leaving their baggage train at Hall. Hector at once decided that, with the Bavarian army gathering in front, it would be madness to endeavour to push on, and that indeed it would be far better to fall back until the direction of the French march was fully determined, when they could make a detour and come down upon their flank without having to pass through the Bavarian army. He did not, however, care about remaining in Hall, which might be occupied by the Bavarians if they fell back, and they therefore, after entering the town with the waggons, purchased a store of provisions, and, going out again, established themselves in a small farmhouse, whose occupants had deserted it and fled into the town upon hearing that the French were but some thirty miles distant.
Every day Hector went into the place ............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved