While debating the question of resistance or surrender, the rector descried Bess Whitaker coming towards him from the opposite direction—a circumstance that greatly rejoiced him; for, aware of her strength and courage, he felt sure he could place as much dependence upon her in this emergency as on any man in the county. Bess was riding a stout, rough-looking nag, apparently well able to sustain her weight, and carried the redoubtable horsewhip with her.
On the other hand, Holden had been recognised by Bess, who came up just as he was overtaken and seized by his assailants, one of whom caught hold of his cassock, and tore it from his back, while the other, seizing hold of his bridle, endeavoured, in spite of his efforts to the contrary, to turn his horse round. Many oaths, threats, and blows were exchanged during the scuffle, which no doubt would have terminated in the rector’s defeat, and his compulsory return to Rough Lee, had it not been for the opportune arrival of Bess, who, swearing as lustily as the serving-men, and brandishing the horsewhip, dashed into the scene of action, and, with a few well-applied cuts, liberated the divine. Enraged at her interference, and smarting from the application of the whip, Blackadder drew a petronel from his girdle, and levelled it at her head; but, ere he could discharge it, the weapon was stricken from his grasp, and a second blow on the head from the but-end of the whip felled him from his horse. Seeing the fate of his companion, the other serving-man fled, leaving Bess mistress of the field.
The rector thanked her heartily for the service she had rendered him, and complimented her on her prowess.
“Ey’n neaw dun mitch to boast on i’ leatherin’ them two seawr-feaced rapscallions,” said Bess, with becoming modesty. “Simon Blackadder an ey ha’ had mony a tussle together efore this, fo he’s a feaw tempert felly, an canna drink abowt fightin’, boh he has awlus found me more nor his match. Boh save us, your reverence, what were the ill-favort gullions ridin’ after ye for? Firrups tak ’em! they didna mean to rob ye, surely?”
“Their object was to make me prisoner, and carry me back to Rough Lee, Bess,” replied Holden. “They wished to prevent my going to Whalley, whither I am bound, to procure help from Sir Ralph Assheton to liberate Master Roger Nowell and his attorney, who are forcibly detained by Mistress Nutter.”
“Yo may spare yer horse an yersel the jorney, then, reverend sir,” replied Bess; “for yo’n foind Sir Tummus Metcawfe, wi’ some twanty or throtty followers, armed wi’ bills, hawberts, petronels, and calivers, at Goldshaw, an they win go wi’ ye at wanst, ey’m sartin. Ey heerd sum o’ t’ chaps say os ow Sir Tummus is goin’ to tak’ possession o’ Mistress Robinson’s house, Raydale Ha’, i’ Wensley Dale, boh nah doubt he’n go furst wi’ yer rev’rence, ’specially as he bears Mistress Nutter a grudge.”
“At all events, I will ask him,” said Holden. “Are he and his followers lodged at your house, Bess?”