1st Outlaw: Stand, sir, and throw us that you have about you;
If not, we'll make you sit, and rifle you.
Speed: Sir, we are undone! these are the villains
That all the travellers do fear so much.
Val: My friends,---
1st Out: That's not so, sir, we are your enemies.
2d Out: Peace! we'll hear him.
3d Out: Ay, by my beard, will we;
For he's a proper man.
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The nocturnal adventures of Gurth were not yet concluded; indeed
he himself became partly of that mind, when, after passing one or
two straggling houses which stood in the outskirts of the
village, he found himself in a deep lane, running between two
banks overgrown with hazel and holly, while here and there a
dwarf oak flung its arms altogether across the path. The lane
was moreover much rutted and broken up by the carriages which had
recently transported articles of various kinds to the tournament;
and it was dark, for the banks and bushes intercepted the light
of the harvest moon.
From the village were heard the distant sounds of revelry, mixed
occasionally with loud laughter, sometimes broken by screams, and
sometimes by wild strains of distant music. All these sounds,
intimating the disorderly state of the town, crowded with
military nobles and their dissolute attendants, gave Gurth some
uneasiness. "The Jewess was right," he said to himself. "By
heaven and St Dunstan, I would I were safe at my journey's end
with all this treasure! Here are such numbers, I will not say of
arrant thieves, but of errant knights and errant squires, errant
monks and errant minstrels, errant jugglers and errant jesters,
that a man with a single merk would be in danger, much more a
poor swineherd with a whole bagful of zecchins. Would I were out
of the shade of these infernal bushes, that I might at least see
any of St Nicholas's clerks before they spring on my shoulders."
Gurth accordingly hastened his pace, in order to gain the open
common to which the lane led, but was not so fortunate as to
accomplish his object. Just as he had attained the upper end of
the lane, where the underwood was thickest, four men sprung upon
him, even as his fears anticipated, two from each side of the
road, and seized him so fast, that resistance, if at first
practicable, would have been now too late.---"Surrender your
charge," said one of them; "we are the deliverers of the
commonwealth, who ease every man of his burden."
"You should not ease me of mine so lightly," muttered Gurth,
whose surly honesty could not be tamed even by the pressure of
immediate violence,---"had I it but in my power to give three
strokes in its defence."
"We shall see that presently," said the robber; and, speaking to
his companions, he added, "bring along the knave. I see he would
have his head broken, as well as his purse cut, and so be let
blood in two veins at once."
Gurth was hurried along agreeably to this mandate, and having
been dragged somewhat roughly over the bank, on the left-hand
side of the lane, found himself in a straggling thicket, which
lay betwixt it and the open common. He was compelled to follow
his rough conductors into the very depth of this cover, where
they stopt unexpectedly in an irregular open space, free in a
great measure from trees, and on which, therefore, the beams of
the moon fell without much interruption from boughs and leaves.
Here his captors were joined by two other persons, apparently
belonging to the gang. They had short swords by their sides, and
quarter-staves in their hands, and Gurth could now observe that
all six wore visors, which rendered their occupation a matter of
no question, even had their former proceedings left it in doubt.
"What money hast thou, churl?" said one of the thieves.
"Thirty zecchins of my own property," answered Gurth, doggedly.
"A forfeit---a forfeit," shouted the robbers; "a Saxon hath
thirty zecchins, and returns sober from a village! An undeniable
and unredeemable forfeit of all he hath about him."
"I hoarded it to purchase my freedom," said Gurth.
"Thou art an ass," replied one of the thieves "three quarts of
double ale had rendered thee as free as thy master, ay, and freer
too, if he be a Saxon like thyself."
"A sad truth," replied Gurth; "but if these same thirty zecchins
will buy my freedom from you, unloose my hands, and I will pay
them to you."
"Hold," said one who seemed to exercise some authority over the
others; "this bag which thou bearest, as I can feel through thy
cloak, contains more coin than thou hast told us of."
"It is the good knight my master's," answered Gurth, "of which,
assuredly, I would not have spoken a word, had you been satisfied
with working your will upon mine own property."
"Thou art an honest fellow," replied the robber, "I warrant thee;
and we worship not St Nicholas so devoutly but what thy thirty
zecchins may yet escape, if thou deal uprightly with us.
Meantime render up thy trust for a time." So saying, he took
from Gurth's breast the large leathern pouch, in which the purse
given him by Rebecca was enclosed, as well as the rest of the
zecchins, and then continued his interrogation.---"Who is thy
"The Disinherited Knight," said Gurth.
"Whose good lance," replied the robber, "won the prize in
to-day's tourney? What is his name and lineage?"
"It is his pleasure," answered Gurth, "that they be concealed;
and from me, assuredly, you will learn nought of them."
"What is thine own name and lineage?"
"To tell that," said Gurth, "might reveal my master's."
"Thou art a saucy groom," said the robber, "but of that anon.
How comes thy master by this gold? is it of his inheritance, or
by what means hath it accrued to him?"
"By his good lance," answered Gurth.---"These bags contain the
ransom of four good horses, and four good suits of armour."
"How much is there?" demanded the robber.
"Two hundred zecchins."
"Only two hundred zecchins!" said the bandit; "your master hath
dealt liberally by the vanquished, and put them to a cheap
ransom. Name those who paid the gold."
Gurth did so.
"The armour and horse of the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert, at
what ransom were they held?---Thou seest thou canst not deceive
"My master," replied Gurth, "will take nought from the Templar
save his life's-blood. They are on terms of mortal defiance, and
cannot hold courteous intercourse together."
"Indeed!"---repeated the robber, and paused after he had said the
word. "And what wert thou now doing at Ashby with such a charge
in thy custody?"
"I went thither to render to Isaac the Jew of York," replied
Gurth, "the price of a suit of armour with which he fitted my
master for this tournament."
"And how much didst thou pay to Isaac?---Methinks, to judge by
weight, there is still two hundred zecchins in this pouch."
"I paid to Isaac," said the Saxon, "eighty zecchins, and he
restored me a hundred in lieu thereof."
"How! what!" exclaimed all the robbers at once; "darest thou
trifle with us, that thou tellest such improbable lies?"
"What I tell you," said Gurth, "is as true as the moon is in
heaven. You will find the just sum in a silken purse within
the leathern pouch, and separate from the rest of the gold."
"Bethink thee, man," said the Captain, "thou speakest of a Jew
---of an Israelite,---as unapt to restore gold, as the dry sand
of his deserts to return the cup of water which the pilgrim
spills upon them."
"There is no more mercy in them," said another of the banditti,
"than in an unbribed sheriffs officer."
"It is, however, as I say," said Gurth.
"Strike a light instantly," said the Captain; "I will examine
this said purse; and if it be as this fellow says, the Jew's
bounty is little less miraculous than the stream which relieved
his fathers in the wilderness."
A light was procured accordingly, and the robber proceeded to
examine the purse. The others crowded around him, and even two
who had hold of Gurth relaxed their grasp while they stretched
their necks to see the issue of the search. Availing himself of
their negligence, by a sudden exertion of strength and activity,
Gurth shook himself free of their hold, and might have escaped,
could he have resolved to leave his master's property behind him.
But such was no part of his intention. He wrenched a
quarter-staff from one of the fellows, struck down the Captain,
who was altogether unaware of his purpose, and had well-nigh
repossessed himself of the pouch and treasure. The thieves,
however, were too nimble for him, and again secured both the bag
and the trusty Gurth.
"Knave!" said the Captain, getting up, "thou hast broken my head;
and with other men of our sort thou wouldst fare the worse for
thy insolence. But thou shalt know thy fate instantly. First
let us speak of thy master; the knight's matters must go before
the squire's, according to the due order of chivalry. Stand thou
fast in the meantime---if thou stir again, thou shalt have that
will make thee quiet for thy life---Comrades!" he then said,
addressing his gang, "this purse is embroidered with Hebrew
characters, and I well believe the yeoman's tale is true. The
errant knight, his master, must needs pass us toll-free. He is
too like ourselves for us to make booty of him, since dogs should
not worry dogs where wolves and foxes are to be found in
"Like us?" answered one of the gang; "I should like to hear how
that is made good."
"Why, thou fool," answered the Captain, "is he not poor and
disinherited as we are?---Doth he not win his substance at the
sword's point as we do?---Hath he not beaten Front-de-Boeuf and
Malvoisin, even as we would beat them if we could? Is he not the
enemy to life and death of Brian de Bois-Guilbert, whom we have
so much reason to fear? And were all this otherwise, wouldst
thou have us show a worse conscience than an unbeliever, a Hebrew
"Nay, that were a shame," muttered the other fellow; "and yet,
when I served in the band of stout old Gandelyn, we had no such
scruples of conscience. And this insolent peasant,---he too, I
warrant me, is to be dismissed scatheless?"
"Not if THOU canst scathe him," replied the Captain.---"Here,
fellow," continued he, addressing Gurth, "canst thou use the
staff, that thou starts to it so readily?"
"I think," said Gurth, "thou shouldst be best able to reply to
"Nay, by my troth, thou gavest me a round knock," replied the
Captain; "do as much for this fellow, and thou shalt pass
scot-free; and if thou dost not---why, by my faith, as thou art
such a sturdy knave, I think I must pay thy ransom myself.---Take
thy staff, Miller," he added, "and keep thy head; and do you
others let the fellow go, and give him a staff---there is light
enough to lay on load by."
The two champions being alike armed with quarter-staves, stepped
forward into the centre of the open space, in order to have the
full benefit of the moonlight; the thieves in the meantime
laughing, and crying to their comrade, "Miller! beware thy
toll-dish." The Miller, on the other hand, holding his
quarter-staff by the middle, and making it flourish round his
head after the fashion which the French call "faire le moulinet",
exclaimed boastfully, "Come on, churl, an thou darest: thou shalt
feel the strength of a miller's thumb!"
"If thou be'st a miller," answered Gurth, undauntedly, making his
weapon play around his head with equal dexterity, "thou art
doubly a thief, and I, as a true man, bid thee defiance."
So saying, the two champions closed together, and for a few
minutes they displayed great equality in strength, courage, and
skill, intercepting and returning the blows of their adversary
with the most rapid dexterity, while, from the continued clatter
of their weapons, a person at a distance might have supposed that
there were at least six persons engaged on each side. Less
obstinate, and even less dangerous combats, have been described
in good heroic verse; but that of Gurth and the Miller must
remain unsung, for want of a sacred poet to do justice to its
eventful progress. Yet, though quarter-staff play be out of
date, what we can in prose we will do for these bold champions.
Long they fought equally, until the Miller began to lose temper
at finding himself so stoutly opposed, and at hearing the
laughter of his companions, who, as usual in such cases, enjoyed
his vexation. This was not a state of mind favourable to the
noble game of quarter-staff, in which, as in ordinary
cudgel-playing, the utmost coolness is requisite; and it gave
Gurth, whose temper was steady, though surly, the opportunity of
acquiring a decided advantage, in availing himself of which he
displayed great mastery.
The Miller pressed furiously forward, dealing blows with either
end of his weapon alternately, and striving to come to half-staff
distance, while Gurth defended himself against the attack,
keeping his hands about a yard asunder, and covering himself by
shifting his weapon with great celerity, so as to protect his
head and body. Thus did he maintain the defensive, making his
eye, foot, and hand keep true time, until, observing his
antagonist to lose wind, he darted the staff at his face with his
left hand; and, as the Miller endeavoured to parry the thrust, he
slid his right hand down to his left, and with the full swing of
the weapon struck his opponent on the left side of the head, who
instantly measured his length upon the green sward.
"Well and yeomanly done!" shouted the robbers; "fair play and Old
England for ever! The Saxon hath saved both his purse and his
hide, and the Miller has met his match."
"Thou mayst go thy ways, my friend," said the Captain, addressing
Gurth, in special confirmation of the general voice, "and I will
cause two of my comrades to guide thee by the best way to thy
master's pavilion, and to guard thee from night-walkers that
might have less tender consciences than ours; for there is many
one of them upon the amble in such a night as this. Take heed,
however," he added sternly; "remember thou hast refused to tell
thy name---ask not after ours, nor endeavour to discover who or
what we are; for, if thou makest such an attempt, thou wilt come
by worse fortune than has yet befallen thee."
Gurth thanked the Captain for his courtesy, and promised to
attend to his recommendation. Two of the outlaws, taking up
their quarter-staves, and desiring Gurth to follow close in the
rear, walked roundly forward along a by-path, which traversed the
thicket and the broken ground adjacent to it. On the very verge
of the thicket two men spoke to his conductors, and receiving an
answer in a whisper, withdrew into the wood, and suffered them to
pass unmolested. This circumstance induced Gurth to believe both
that the gang was strong in numbers, and that they kept regular
guards around their place of rendezvous.
When they arrived on the open heath, where Gurth might have had
some trouble in finding his road, the thieves guided him straight
forward to the top of a little eminence, whence he could see,
spread beneath him in the moonlight, the palisades of the lists,
the glimmering pavilions pitched at either end, with the pennons
which adorned them fluttering in the moonbeams, and from which
could be heard the hum of the song with which the sentinels were
beguiling their night-watch.
Here the thieves stopt.
"We go with you no farther," said they; "it were not safe that we
should do so.---Remember the warning you have received---keep
secret what has this night befallen you, and you will have no
room to repent it---neglect what is now told you, and the Tower
of London shall not protect you against our revenge."
"Good night to you, kind sirs," said Gurth; "I shall remember
your orders, and trust that there is no offence in wishing you a
safer and an honester trade."
Thus they parted, the outlaws returning in the direction from
whence they had come, and Gurth proceeding to the tent of his
master, to whom, notwithstanding the injunction he had
received, he communicated the whole adventures of the evening.
The Disinherited Knight was filled with astonishment, no less at
the generosity of Rebecca, by which, however, he resolved he
would not profit, than that of the robbers, to whose profession
such a quality seemed totally foreign. His course of reflections
upon these singular circumstances was, however, interrupted by
the necessity for taking repose, which the fatigue of the
preceding day, and the propriety of refreshing himself for the
morrow's encounter, rendered alike indispensable.
The knight, therefore, stretched himself for repose upon a rich
couch with which the tent was provided; and the faithful Gurth,
extending his hardy limbs upon a bear-skin which formed a sort
of carpet to the pavilion, laid himself across the opening of the
tent, so that no one could enter without awakening him.