Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Outlaw of Torn online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Outlaw of Torn → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Judith Boss


By Edgar Rice Burroughs

To My Friend



Here is a story that has lain dormant for seven hundred years. At first
it was suppressed by one of the Plantagenet kings of England. Later it
was forgotten. I happened to dig it up by accident. The accident being
the relationship of my wife's cousin to a certain Father Superior in a
very ancient monastery in Europe.

He let me pry about among a quantity of mildewed and musty manuscripts
and I came across this. It is very interesting - partially since it is a
bit of hitherto unrecorded history, but principally from the fact that
it records the story of a most remarkable revenge and the adventurous
life of its innocent victim - Richard, the lost prince of England.

In the retelling of it, I have left out most of the history. What
interested me was the unique character about whom the tale revolves - the
visored horseman who - but let us wait until we get to him.

It all happened in the thirteenth century, and while it was happening,
it shook England from north to south and from east to west; and reached
across the channel and shook France. It started, directly, in the London
palace of Henry III, and was the result of a quarrel between the King
and his powerful brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.

Never mind the quarrel, that's history, and you can read all about it at
your leisure. But on this June day in the year of our Lord 1243, Henry
so forgot himself as to very unjustly accuse De Montfort of treason in
the presence of a number of the King's gentlemen.

De Montfort paled. He was a tall, handsome man, and when he drew himself
to his full height and turned those gray eyes on the victim of his
wrath, as he did that day, he was very imposing. A power in England,
second only to the King himself, and with the heart of a lion in him, he
answered the King as no other man in all England would have dared answer

"My Lord King," he cried, "that you be my Lord King alone prevents Simon
de Montfort from demanding satisfaction for such a gross insult. That
you take advantage of your kingship to say what you would never dare say
were you not king, brands me not a traitor, though it does brand you a

Tense silence fell upon the little company of lords and courtiers as
these awful words fell from the lips of a subject, addressed to his
king. They were horrified, for De Montfort's bold challenge was to them
but little short of sacrilege.

Henry, flushing in mortification and anger, rose to advance upon De
Montfort, but suddenly recollecting the power which he represented, he
thought better of whatever action he contemplated and, with a haughty
sneer, turned to his courtiers.

"Come, my gentlemen," he said, "methought that we were to have a turn
with the foils this morning. Already it waxeth late. Come, De Fulm! Come,
Leybourn!" and the King left the apartment followed by his gentlemen,
all of whom had drawn away from the Earl of Leicester when it became
apparent that the royal displeasure was strong against him. As the
arras fell behind the departing King, De Montfort shrugged his broad
shoulders, and turning, left the apartment by another door.

When the King, with his gentlemen, entered the armory he was still
smarting from the humiliation of De Montfort's reproaches, and as he
laid aside his surcoat and plumed hat to take the foils with De Fulm,
his eyes alighted on the master of fence, Sir Jules de Vac, who was
advancing with the King's foil and helmet. Henry felt in no mood for
fencing with De Fulm, who, like the other sycophants that surrounded
him, always allowed the King easily to best him in every encounter.

De Vac he knew to be too jealous of his fame as a swordsman to permit
himself to be overcome by aught but superior skill, and this day Henry
felt that he could best the devil himself.

The armory was a great room on the main floor of the palace, off the
guard room. It was built in a small wing of the building so that it
had light from three sides. In charge of it was the lean, grizzled,
leather-skinned Sir Jules de Vac, and it was he whom Henry commanded to
face him in mimic combat with the foils, for the King wished to go with
hammer and tongs at someone to vent his suppressed rage.

So he let De Vac assume to his mind's eye the person of the hated De
Montfort, and it followed that De Vac was nearly surprised into an early
and mortifying defeat by the King's sudden and clever attack.

Henry III had always been accounted a good swordsman, but that day
he quite outdid himself and, in his imagination, was about to run
the pseudo De Montfort through the heart, to the wild acclaim of his
audience. For this fell purpose he had backed the astounded De Vac twice
around the hall when, with a clever feint, and backward step, the master
of fence drew the King into the position he wanted him, and with the
suddenness of lightning, a little twist of his foil sent Henry's weapon
clanging across the floor of the armory.

For an instant, the King stood as tense and white as though the hand of
death had reached out and touched his heart with its icy fingers.
The episode meant more to him than being bested in play by the best
swordsman in England - for that surely was no disgrace - to Henry it
seemed prophetic of the outcome of a future struggle when he should
stand face to face with the real De Montfort; and then, seeing in De
Vac only the creature of his imagination with which he had vested the
likeness of his powerful brother-in-law, Henry did what he should like
to have done to the real Leicester. Drawing off his gauntlet he advanced
close to De Vac.

"Dog!" he hissed, and struck the master of fence a stinging blow across
the face, and spat upon him. Then he turned on his heel and strode from
the armory.

De Vac had grown old in the service of the kings of England, but he
hated all things English and all Englishmen. The dead King John, though
hated by all others, he had loved, but with the dead King's bones De
Vac's loyalty to the house he served had been buried in the Cathedral of

During the years he had served as master of fence at the English Court,
the sons of royalty had learned to thrust and parry and cut as only
De Vac could teach the art, and he had been as conscientious in the
discharge of his duties as he had been in his unswerving hatred and
contempt for his pupils.

And now the English King had put upon him such an insult as might only
be wiped out by blood.

As the blow fell, the wiry Frenchman clicked his heels together, and
throwing down his foil, he stood erect and rigid as a marble statue
before his master. White and livid was his tense drawn face, but he
spoke no word.

He might have struck the King, but then there would have been left to
him no alternative save death by his own hand; for a king may not fight
with a lesser mortal, and he who strikes a king may not live - the king's
honor must be satisfied.

Had a French king struck him, De Vac would have struck back, and gloried
in the fate which permitted him to die for the honor of France; but an
English King - pooh! a dog; and who would die for a dog? No, De Vac would
find other means of satisfying his wounded pride. He would revel in
revenge against this man for whom he felt no loyalty. If possible, he
would harm the whole of England if he could, but he would bide his time.
He could afford to wait for his opportunity if, by waiting, he could
encompass a more terrible revenge.

De Vac had been born in Paris, the son of a French officer reputed the
best swordsman in France. The son had followed closely in the footsteps
of his father until, on the latter's death, he could easily claim the
title of his sire. How he had left France and entered the service of
John of England is not of this story. All the bearing that the life of
Jules de Vac has upon the history of England hinges upon but two of his
many attributes - his wonderful swordsmanship and his fearful hatred for
his adopted country.


South of the armory of Westminster Palace lay the gardens, and here, on
the third day following the King's affront to De Vac, might have been a
seen a black-haired woman gowned in a violet cyclas, richly embroidered
with gold about the yoke and at the bottom of the loose-pointed sleeves,
which reached almost to the similar bordering on the lower hem of the
garment. A richly wrought leathern girdle, studded with precious stones,
and held in place by a huge carved buckle of gold, clasped the garment
about her waist so that the upper portion fell outward over the girdle
after the manner of a blouse. In the girdle was a long dagger of
beautiful workmanship. Dainty sandals encased her feet, while a wimple
of violet silk bordered in gold fringe, lay becomingly over her head and

By her side walked a handsome boy of about three, clad, like his
companion, in gay colors. His tiny surcoat of scarlet velvet was rich
with embroidery, while beneath was a close-fitting tunic of white
silk. His doublet was of scarlet, while his long hose of white were
cross-gartered with scarlet from his tiny sandals to his knees. On the
back of his brown curls sat a flat-brimmed, round-crowned hat in which a
single plume of white waved and nodded bravely at each move of the proud
little head.

The child's features were well molded, and his frank, bright eyes gave
an expression of boyish generosity to a face which otherwise would have
been too arrogant and haughty for such a mere baby. As he talked with
his companion, little flashes of peremptory authority and dignity, which
sat strangely upon one so tiny, caused the young woman at times to
turn her head from him that he might not see the smiles which she could
scarce repress.

Presently the boy took a ball from his tunic, and, pointing at a little
bush near them, said, "Stand you there, Lady Maud, by yonder bush. I
would play at toss."

The young woman did as she was bid, and when she had taken her place
and turned to face him the boy threw the ball to her. Thus they played
beneath the windows of the armory, the boy running blithely after the
ball when he missed it, and laughing and shouting in happy glee when he
made a particularly good catch.

In one of the windows of the armory overlooking the garden stood a grim,
gray, old man, leaning upon his folded arms, his brows drawn together in
a malignant scowl, the corners of his mouth set in a stern, cold line.

He looked upon the garden and the playing child, and upon the lovely
young woman beneath him, but with eyes which did not see, for De Vac was
working out a great problem, the greatest of all his life.

For three days, the old man had brooded over his grievance, seeking for
some means to be revenged upon the King for the insult which Henry had
put upon him. Many schemes had presented themselves to his shrewd
and cunning mind, but so far all had been rejected as unworthy of the
terrible satisfaction which his wounded pride demanded.

His fancies had, for the most part, revolved about the unsettled
political conditions of Henry's reign, for from these he felt he might
wrest that opportunity which could be turned to his own personal uses
and to the harm, and possibly the undoing, of the King.

For years an inmate of the palace, and often a listener in the armory
when the King played at sword with his friends and favorites, De Vac had
heard much which passed between Henry III and his intimates that could
well be turned to the King's harm by a shrewd and resourceful enemy.

With all England, he knew the utter contempt in which Henry held the
terms of the Magna Charta which he so often violated along with his
kingly oath to maintain it. But what all England did not know, De Vac
had gleaned from scraps of conversation dropped in the armory: that
Henry was even now negotiating with the leaders of foreign mercenaries,
and with Louis IX of France, for a sufficient force of knights and
men-at-arms to wage a relentless war upon his own barons that he might
effectively put a stop to all future interference by them with the royal
prerogative of the Plantagenets to misrule England.

If he could but learn the details of this plan, thought De Vac: the
point of landing of the foreign troops; their numbers; the first point
of attack. Ah, would it not be sweet revenge indeed to balk the King in
this venture so dear to his heart!

A word to De Clare, or De Montfort would bring the barons and their
retainers forty thousand strong to overwhelm the King's forces.

And he would let the King know to whom, and for what cause, he was
beholden for his defeat and discomfiture. Possibly the barons would
depose Henry, and place a new king upon England's throne, and then De
Vac would mock the Plantagenet to his face. Sweet, kind, delectable
vengeance, indeed! And the old man licked his thin lips as though to
taste the last sweet vestige of some dainty morsel.

And then Chance carried a little leather ball beneath the window where
the old man stood; and as the child ran, laughing, to recover it, De
Vac's eyes fell upon him, and his former plan for revenge melted as the
fog before the noonday sun; and in its stead there opened to him the
whole hideous plot of fearsome vengeance as clearly as it were writ upon
the leaves of a great book that had been thrown wide before him. And,
in so far as he could direct, he varied not one jot from the details
of that vividly conceived masterpiece of hellishness during the twenty
years which followed.

The little boy who so innocently played in the garden of his royal
father was Prince Richard, the three-year-old son of Henry III of
England. No published history mentions this little lost prince; only the
secret archives of the kings of England tell the story of his strange
and adventurous life. His name has been blotted from the records of men;
and the revenge of De Vac has passed from the eyes of the world; though
in his time it was a real and terrible thing in the hearts of the


For nearly a month, the old man haunted the palace, and watched in the
gardens for the little Prince until he knew the daily routine of his
tiny life with his nurses and governesses.

He saw that when the Lady Maud accompanied him, they were wont to repair
to the farthermost extremities of the palace grounds where, by a little
postern gate, she admitted a certain officer of the Guards to whom the
Queen had forbidden the privilege of the court.

There, in a secluded bower, the two lovers whispered their hopes and
plans, unmindful of the royal charge playing neglected among the flowers
and shrubbery of the garden.

Toward the middle of July De Vac had his plans well laid. He had managed
to coax old Brus, the gardener, into letting him have the key to the
little postern gate on the plea that he wished to indulge in a midnight
escapade, hinting broadly of a fair lady who was to be the partner of
his adventure, and, what was more to the point with Brus, at the same
time slipping a couple of golden zecchins into the gardener's palm.

Brus, like the other palace servants, considered De Vac a loyal retainer
of the house of Plantagenet. Whatever else of mischief De Vac might be
up to, Brus was quite sure that in so far as the King was concerned, the
key to the postern gate was as safe in De Vac's hands as though Henry
himself had it.

The old fellow wondered a little that the morose old master of fence
should, at his time in life, indulge in frivolous escapades more
befitting the younger sprigs of gentility, but, then, what concern was
it of his? Did he not have enough to think about to keep the gardens
so that his royal master and mistress might find pleasure in the shaded
walks, the well-kept sward, and the gorgeous beds of foliage plants and
blooming flowers which he set with such wondrous precision in the formal

Further, two gold zecchins were not often come by so easily as this;
and if the dear Lord Jesus saw fit, in his infinite wisdom, to take this
means of rewarding his poor servant, it ill became such a worm as he to
ignore the divine favor. So Brus took the gold zecchins and De Vac the
key, and the little prince played happily among the flowers of his royal
father's garden, and all were satisfied; which was as it should have

That night, De Vac took the key to a locksmith on the far side of
London; one who could not possibly know him or recognize the key
as belonging to the palace. Here he had a duplicate made, waiting
impatiently while the old man fashioned it with the crude instruments of
his time.

From this little shop, De Vac threaded his way through the dirty lanes
and alleys of ancient London, lighted at far intervals by an occasional
smoky lantern, until he came to a squalid tenement but a short distance
from the palace.

A narrow alley ran past the building, ending abruptly at the bank of the
Thames in a moldering wooden dock, beneath which the inky waters of the
river rose and fell, lapping the decaying piles and surging far beneath
the dock to the remote fastnesses inhabited by the great fierce dock
rats and their fiercer human antitypes.

Several times De Vac paced the length of this black alley in search of
the little doorway of the building he sought. At length he came upon it,
and, after repeated pounding with the pommel of his sword, it was opened
by a slatternly old hag.

"What would ye of a decent woman at such an ungodly hour?" she grumbled.
"Ah, 'tis ye, my lord?" she added, hastily, as the flickering rays of
the candle she bore lighted up De Vac's face. "Welcome, my Lord, thrice
welcome. The daughter of the devil welcomes her brother."

"Silence, old hag," cried De Vac. "Is it not enough that you leech me
of good marks of such a quantity that you may ever after wear mantles
of villosa and feast on simnel bread and malmsey, that you must needs
burden me still further with the affliction of thy vile tongue?

"Hast thou the clothes ready bundled and the key, also, to this gate
to perdition? And the room: didst set to rights the furnishings I had
delivered here, and sweep the century-old accumulation of filth and
cobwebs from the floor and rafters? Why, the very air reeked of the dead
Romans who builded London twelve hundred years ago. Methinks, too, from
the stink, they must have been Roman swineherd who habited this sty with
their herds, an' I venture that thou, old sow, hast never touched broom
to the place for fear of disturbing the ancient relics of thy kin."

"Cease thy babbling, Lord Satan," cried the woman. "I would rather hear
thy money talk than thou, for though it come accursed and tainted from
thy rogue hand, yet it speaks with the same sweet and commanding voice
as it were fresh from the coffers of the holy church.

"The bundle is ready," she continued, closing the door after De Vac, who
had now entered, "and here be the key; but first let us have a payment.
I know not what thy foul work may be, but foul it is I know from the
secrecy which you have demanded, an' I dare say there will be some who
would pay well to learn the whereabouts of the old woman and the child,
thy sister and her son you tell me they be, who you are so anxious to
hide away in old Til's garret. So it be well for you, my Lord, to pay
old Til well and add a few guilders for the peace of her tongue if you
would that your prisoner find peace in old Til's house."

"Fetch me the bundle, hag," replied De Vac, "and you shall have gold
against a final settlement; more even than we bargained for if all goes
well and thou holdest thy vile tongue."

But the old woman's threats had already caused De Vac a feeling of
uneasiness, which would have been reflected to an exaggerated degree in
the old woman had she known the determination her words had caused in
the mind of the old master of fence.

His venture was far too serious, and the results of exposure too
fraught with danger, to permit of his taking any chances with a disloyal
fellow-conspirator. True, he had not even hinted at the enormity of the
plot in which he was involving the old woman, but, as she had said, his
stern commands for secrecy had told enough to arouse her suspicions, and
with them her curiosity and cupidity. So it was that old Til might well
have quailed in her tattered sandals had she but even vaguely guessed
the thoughts which passed in De Vac's mind; but the extra gold pieces
he dropped into her withered palm as she delivered the bundle to him,
together with the promise of more, quite effectually won her loyalty and
her silence for the time being.

Slipping the key into the pocket of his tunic and covering the bundle
with his long surcoat, De Vac stepped out into the darkness of the alley
and hastened toward the dock.

Beneath the planks he found a skiff which he had moored there earlier
in the evening, and underneath one of the thwarts he hid the bundle.
Then, casting off, he rowed slowly up the Thames until, below the palace
walls, he moored near to the little postern gate which let into the
lower end of the garden.

Hiding the skiff as best he could in some tangled bushes which grew to
the water's edge, set there by order of the King to add to the beauty of
the aspect from the river side, De Vac crept warily to the postern and,
unchallenged, entered and sought his apartments in the palace.

The next day, he returned the original key to Brus, telling the old man
that he had not used it after all, since mature reflection had convinced
him of the folly of his contemplated adventure, especially in one whose
youth was past, and in whose joints the night damp of the Thames might
find lodgement for rheumatism.

"Ha, Sir Jules," laughed the old gardener, "Virtue and Vice be twin
sisters who come running to do the bidding of the same father, Desire.
Were there no desire there would be no virtue, and because one man
desires what another does not, who shall say whether the child of his
desire be vice or virtue? Or on the other hand if my friend desires his
own wife and if that be virtue, then if I also desire his wife, is not
that likewise virtue, since we desire the same thing? But if to obtain
our desire it be necessary to expose our joints to the Thames' fog, then
it were virtue to remain at home."

"Right you sound, old mole," said De Vac, smiling, "would that I might
learn to reason by your wondrous logic; methinks it might stand me in
good stead before I be much older."

"The best sword arm in all Christendom needs no other logic than the
sword, I should think," said Brus, returning to his work.

That afternoon, De Vac stood in a window of the armory looking out
upon the beautiful garden which spread before him to the river wall two
hundred yards away. In the foreground were box-bordered walks, smooth,
sleek lawns, and formal beds of gorgeous flowering plants, while here
and there marble statues of wood nymph and satyr gleamed, sparkling in
the brilliant sunlight, or, half shaded by an overhanging bush, took
on a semblance of life from the riotous play of light and shadow as the
leaves above them moved to and fro in the faint breeze. Farther in the
distance, the river wall was hidden by more closely massed bushes, and
the formal, geometric precision of the nearer view was relieved by a
background of vine-colored bowers, and a profusion of small trees and
flowering shrubs arranged in studied disorder.

Through this seeming jungle ran tortuous paths, and the carved stone
benches of the open garden gave place to rustic seats, and swings
suspended from the branches of fruit trees.

Toward this enchanting spot slowly were walking the Lady Maud and her
little charge, Prince Richard; all ignorant of the malicious watcher in
the window behind them.

A great peacock strutted proudly across the walk before them, and, as
Richard ran, childlike, after it, Lady Maud hastened on to the little
postern gate which she quickly unlocked, admitting her lover, who had
been waiting without. Relocking the gate the two strolled arm in arm to
the little bower which was their trysting place.

As the lovers talked, all self-engrossed, the little Prince played
happily about among the trees and flowers, and none saw the stern,
determined face which peered through the foliage at a little distance
from the playing boy.

Richard was devoting his royal energies to chasing an elusive butterfly
which fate led nearer and nearer to the cold, hard watcher in the
bushes. Closer and closer came the little Prince, and in another

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Outlaw of Torn → online text (page 1 of 15)