‘What the devil’s up with you, back there!’ At the noise, I heard two or three of the midmost troopers rein up.
‘Right! All right!’ I called forward to them, catching the horse’s bridle and at the same time stooping over the poor fool—to gag him, if need were. He lay as he had fallen. I hope I have not his death to my account, and for certain no corpse lay in the road when I passed along it a few hours later.
‘Right!’ I called sturdily, deepening my voice to imitate that of my victim as nearly as I could match it—
‘Crop-headed Puritans, tow-row-row!’
Still shouting the chorus, I mastered the reluctant horse, swung myself into saddle, and edged up towards my comrades.
‘Carey! Shackell!’ I called softly, overtaking them.
At the sound of my voice, they came near to letting out a cry that had spoilt all. Masters, indeed, started a yell: but Small Owens (whose bands I had fortunately cut the first) reached out a hand and clapped it over his mouth.
‘How many be they?’ I asked as we rode.
‘Twenty-two,’ answered Randles, chafing his wrists, ’and all drunk as lords.’
‘If we had arms,’ said Carey, ‘we might drive the whole lot.’
‘But since you have not,’ said I, ’we must pitch our attempt lower. In three minutes we shall reach the high-road; and then strike spurs all to the right for Farnham!’
But our luck proved better than we hoped. For as we drew near the exit of the lane, I heard a voice challenge. The chorus, which had lasted us all the way, ceased on a sudden, and was taken up by a pistol-shot. At once I guessed that here must be help, and, feeling for my trumpet, found it and blew the call. Naked of weapons as my comrades were, we charged down on the rear, broke it, and flung it upon the darkness, where by this time we could hear the voice of Wilkins, our sergeant-major, bellowing above the tumult.
Within five minutes this double charge settled all. The pack-horses were ours again, with twenty-one inebriate prisoners. My mare, galloping home with the third pack-horse at her heels, had alarmed the picket, and Wilkins, with twenty men, had turned out to scour the Alton road.
So, while we secured our drunkards to the last man, I had leisure to bless my fortune.
By this time dawn had begun to grow in the sky behind us. I handed over the prisoners to Wilkins and Carey, and gave Wyld and Masters leave to return with them to Farnham: ‘for,’ said I, ’they seem the weariest, and Shackell and Small Owens will serve well enough for escort by daylight.’
Wilkins stared. ‘You are not telling me,’ said he, that you intend going forward with that silly wine, and you in such plight!’