Icy Cloak & Silvery Lantern ~III~
The voices were burly and rough. The chairs were squeaking across the floor. Plates clattered and water was being poured. The heavy collapsing of men into chairs threatened the floor.
Agitation twitched in their voices; fury rose in their tones. Adelaide could distinguish six different voices. One was bawling over the rest in a thick voice.
“Ye bring me that cloth speedily!” he growled. “My shoulder thanks me not for that blow I received.”
“And I am sure the heads of our three fellows, neither,” said another, stamping his foot upon the floor. “Those two will be found; and when they are…”
“Hush Wilbert!” said a third man with a sly, thin voice. “Your voice is ne’er guarded.”
There was silence. Adelaide could feel Lawrence put his hand on her arm. She took his hand and squeezed it. They both knew what kind of men lingered above.
The baby had stopped crying and could be heard whimpering. The woman was hustling about. One sound from below would be heard above. Adelaide and Lawrence hardly breathed and moved not.
Conversation was full of whispers between the six men. Their names were mentioned, however, and Adelaide was able to place name with voice after a time. The names were Lamond, Wilbert, Saber, Neville, Wyatt, and the leader Benoit. After the six had eaten their fill, two of the men left the cabin.
“Bring me a cloth,” Saber ordered the woman.
“Your thigh is sore with the blow of that lad, is it not?” inquired Neville.
“Aye. That lad gave me a quick twist when I had grabbed his wrists, and he kicked me with strength of a grown man.”
“None worse than how I fared, gave me a black eye and now no sight can I withdraw from it,” replied Neville.
“Aye, and no one will thank that traitor, Charles,” said Saber. “He gave Benoit a broken rib. Who knows where he abides now.”
Benoit gave no word. The door was being opened. The two men who had left now entered the cabin once again. Adelaide could hear stirrings and groaning. The bed was creaking above her head. Someone was being placed thereon. There was more shuffling and the two again left the cabin again. They returned shortly after and there was a sharp yell. The other bed that Adelaide had been asleep on was creaking.
It was night; the midnight was without star, the air without breeze, and the river without moonlight. All was silent.
Adelaide slept on the floor. She was weary and deeply in slumber. Lawrence also had fallen asleep, and his head had fallen backward against the dirt wall. But on the floor above them all was not in slumber.
The man who had been laid above their heads was stirring. His injury of a broken thigh had not entirely disabled him. He had heard movement below him while lyingawake.
His foot was upon the floor and then his injured leg. Sliding to the floor cautiously, he put his ear to the floorboards. No sound came to his ears.
Of a sudden, Adelaide awoke with a little gasp. Her dreams had shaken her to awareness. When she sat up, her head hit the low ceiling, and she collapsed on the floor unconscious. Lawrence awoke to the sound of the thump, but he dared not move.
The man heard this. His ears had not deceived him; it was not just rats scurrying below the floor. Yet he also dared not move immediately.
A few minutes passed. Lawrence heard nothing stir. Cautiously, he bent over Adelaide and lifted her by the shoulders gently supporting her head and laying her on his coat. As he felt her head, his fingers touched the dampness of blood. Lawrence quickly and deftly ripped a small section of his coat that Adelaide was laying on and pressed it against her head gently.
The man slid himself silently over the floor over to Benoit and softly touched his shoulder. Benoit awoke and looked up. The man whispered something in his ear as quietly as stifled breath. Benoit gave a call like an owl and all the men that lay asleep awoke and started to stir. Two went outside. Two others went to the two windows and stood in front of them. The other four were lifting the bed quietly and placing it aside. Benoit rolled away the rug and beheld the trap door, but realized it was bolted and locked. He gave a whispered command to Lamond to search the house for the key.
Lamond nodded. He took hold of pitchers that were on the fireplace and shook them, he looked inside the basket of wool, and he swept his hand over the walls and felt the floorboard and mattresses. After this, he went over to Benoit. They would have to break open the door and risk the waking of the owners. Wyatt and Saber bent down and started to hammer at the bolt and floorboards. Benoit and Lamond stood beneath the loft that was almost directly above. The ladder had been pulled up by the sleepers.
At the sound of hammering above Lawrence tried to awaken Adelaide. She made no response. Never had they been this close to being caught; never had he been fearful of these men that hunted them. Now they were only a foot away, a few inches from them. His brow was dripping with sweat.
The floorboards were ripping up with great difficulty and the bolt was not giving way. The baby started to cry from above and the man and lady awoke with fright. They came to the edge of the loft and beheld what took place below them. In horror, they backed slowly away.
The lady snatched up the baby and gently cooed him to sleep and placed him in the cradle; then she took a shawl and thick cape and boots and slid them on. This done, she opened the window that was in the loft and took hold of the window sill with her hands and let herself down with agility that would amaze any man. Her feet stepped on clefts which had been cut out of the side of the house, and she dropped to the ground completely silent. Then, fleeing across the field behind the house, she took hold of a horn on the wall of the stable and blew such a blast that the air throbbed and the entire field awoke to its notes. At that same moment one of the last floodboards was ripped up, the sound of hoof-beats approached, and a man from inside the stable stepped out into the dawn-awaiting field.