Robert Louis Stevenson
THE BLACK ARROW A Tale of the TwoRoses
A Tale of the TwoRoses
Critic onthe Hearth:
No one butmyself knows what I have sufferednor what my bookshavegainedby your unsleeping watchfulness and admirablepertinacity. And now here is a volume that goes into the world andlacks yourIMPRIMATUR: a strange thing in our joint lives; and thereason ofit stranger still! I have watched with interestwithpainandat length with amusementyour unavailing attempts toperuse THEBLACK ARROW; and I think I should lack humour indeedifI let theoccasion slip and did not place your name in the fly-leafof theonly book of mine that you have never read - and never willread.
Thatothers may display more constancy is still my hope. The talewaswritten years ago for a particular audience and (I may say) inrivalrywith a particular author; I think I should do well to namehimMr.Alfred R. Phillips. It was not without its reward at thetime. I could notindeeddisplace Mr. Phillips from his well-wonpriority;but in the eyes of readers who thought less than nothingofTREASURE ISLANDTHE BLACK ARROW was supposed to mark a clearadvance. Those who read volumes and those who read story papersbelong todifferent worlds. The verdict on TREASURE ISLAND wasreversedin the other court; I wonderwill it be the same with itssuccessor?
R. L. S.
PROLOGUE -JOHN AMEND-ALL
On acertain afternoonin the late springtimethe bell uponTunstallMoat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour. Farand nearin the forest and in the fields along the riverpeoplebegan todesert their labours and hurry towards the sound; and inTunstallhamlet a group of poor country-folk stood wondering at thesummons.
Tunstallhamlet at that periodin the reign of old King Henry VI.wore muchthe same appearance as it wears to-day. A score or so ofhousesheavily framed with oakstood scattered in a long greenvalleyascending from the river. At the footthe road crossed abridgeand mounting on the other sidedisappeared into thefringes ofthe forest on its way to the Moat Houseand furtherforth toHolywood Abbey. Half-way up the villagethe church stoodamongyews. On every side the slopes were crowned and the viewbounded bythe green elms and greening oak-trees of the forest.
Hard bythe bridgethere was a stone cross upon a knolland herethe grouphad collected - half a dozen women and one tall fellow ina russetsmock - discussing what the bell betided. An express hadgonethrough the hamlet half an hour beforeand drunk a pot of alein thesaddlenot daring to dismount for the hurry of his errand;but he hadbeen ignorant himself of what was forwardand only boresealedletters from Sir Daniel Brackley to Sir Oliver Oatestheparsonwho kept the Moat House in the master's absence.
But nowthere was the noise of a horse; and soonout of the edgeof thewood and over the echoing bridgethere rode up young MasterRichardSheltonSir Daniel's ward. Heat the leastwould knowand theyhailed him and begged him to explain. He drew bridlewillinglyenough - a young fellow not yet eighteensun-browned andgrey-eyedin a jacket of deer's leatherwith a black velvetcollaragreen hood upon his headand a steel cross-bow at hisback. The expressit appearedhad brought great news. A battlewasimpending. Sir Daniel had sent for every man that could draw abow orcarry a bill to go post-haste to Kettleyunder pain of hisseveredispleasure; but for whom they were to fightor of wherethe battlewas expectedDick knew nothing. Sir Oliver would comeshortlyhimselfand Bennet Hatch was arming at that momentfor heit was whoshould lead the party.
"Itis the ruin of this kind land" a woman said. "If thebaronslive atwarploughfolk must eat roots."
"Nay"said Dick"every man that follows shall have sixpence adayandarchers twelve."
"Ifthey live" returned the woman"that may very well be; buthowif theydiemy master?"
"Theycannot better die than for their natural lord" said Dick.
"Nonatural lord of mine" said the man in the smock. "IfollowedtheWalsinghams; so we all did down Brierly waytill two yearsagocomeCandlemas. And now I must side with Brackley! It wasthe lawthat did it; call ye that natural? But nowwhat with SirDaniel andwhat with Sir Oliver - that knows more of law thanhonesty -I have no natural lord but poor King Harry the SixtGodbless him!- the poor innocent that cannot tell his right hand fromhis left."
"Yespeak with an ill tonguefriend" answered Dick"tomiscallyour goodmaster and my lord the king in the same libel. But KingHarry -praised be the saints! - has come again into his rightmindandwill have all things peaceably ordained. And as for SirDaniely'are very brave behind his back. But I will be no tale-bearer;and let that suffice."
"Isay no harm of youMaster Richard" returned the peasant. "Y'are a lad;but when ye come to a man's inchesye will find ye havean emptypocket. I say no more: the saints help Sir Daniel'sneighboursand the Blessed Maid protect his wards!"
"Clipsby"said Richard"you speak what I cannot hear with honour.Sir Danielis my good masterand my guardian."
"Comenowwill ye read me a riddle?" returned Clipsby. "Onwhoseside isSir Daniel?"
"Iknow not" said Dickcolouring a little; for his guardian hadchangedsides continually in the troubles of that periodand everychange hadbrought him some increase of fortune.
"Ay"returned Clipsby"younor no man. Forindeedhe is onethat goesto bed Lancaster and gets up York."
Just thenthe bridge rang under horse-shoe ironand the partyturned andsaw Bennet Hatch come galloping - a brown-facedgrizzledfellowheavy of hand and grim of mienarmed with swordand speara steel salet on his heada leather jack upon his body.He was agreat man in these parts; Sir Daniel's right hand in peaceand warand at that timeby his master's interestbailiff of thehundred.
"Clipsby"he shouted"off to the Moat Houseand send all otherlaggardsthe same gate. Bowyer will give you jack and salet. Wemust ridebefore curfew. Look to it: he that is last at the lych-gate SirDaniel shall reward. Look to it right well! I know youfor a manof naught. Nance" he addedto one of the women"isoldAppleyard up town?"
"I'llwarrant you" replied the woman. "In his fieldforsure."
So thegroup dispersedand while Clipsby walked leisurely over thebridgeBennet and young Shelton rode up the road togetherthroughthevillage and past the church.
"Yewill see the old shrew" said Bennet. "He will wastemore timegrumblingand prating of Harry the Fift than would serve a man toshoe ahorse. And all because he has been to the French wars!"
The houseto which they were bound was the last in the villagestandingalone among lilacs; and beyond iton three sidestherewas openmeadow rising towards the borders of the wood.
Hatchdismountedthrew his rein over the fenceand walked downthe fieldDick keeping close at his elbowto where the oldsoldierwas diggingknee-deep in his cabbagesand now and againin acracked voicesinging a snatch of song. He was all dressedinleatheronly his hood and tippet were of black friezeand tiedwithscarlet; his face was like a walnut-shellboth for colour andwrinkles;but his old grey eye was still clear enoughand hissightunabated. Perhaps he was deaf; perhaps he thought itunworthyof an old archer of Agincourt to pay any heed to suchdisturbances;but neither the surly notes of the alarm bellnorthe nearapproach of Bennet and the ladappeared at all to movehim; andhe continued obstinately diggingand piped upvery thinand shaky:
"Nowdear ladyif thy will beI pray youthat you will rue on me."
"NickAppleyard" said Hatch"Sir Oliver commends him to youandbids thatye shall come within this hour to the Moat Housethereto takecommand."
The oldfellow looked up.
"Saveyoumy masters!" he saidgrinning. "And where goethMasterHatch?"
"MasterHatch is off to Kettleywith every man that we can horse"returnedBennet. "There is a fight towardit seemsand my lordstays areinforcement."
"Ayverily" returned Appleyard. "And what will ye leaveme togarrisonwithal?"
"Ileave you six good menand Sir Oliver to boot" answered Hatch.
"It'llnot hold the place" said Appleyard; "the number sufficethnot. It would take two score to make it good."
"Whyit's for that we came to youold shrew!" replied the other."Whoelse is there but you that could do aught in such a house withsuch agarrison?"
"Ay!when the pinch comesye remember the old shoe" returnedNick. "There is not a man of you can back a horse or hold a bill;and as forarchery - St. Michael! if old Harry the Fift were backagainhewould stand and let ye shoot at him for a farthen ashoot!"
"NayNickthere's some can draw a good bow yet" said Bennet.
"Drawa good bow!" cried Appleyard. "Yes! But who'llshoot me agoodshoot? It's there the eye comes inand the head between yourshoulders. Nowwhat might you call a long shootBennet Hatch?"
"Well"said Bennetlooking about him"it would be a long shootfrom hereinto the forest."
"Ayit would be a longish shoot" said the old fellowturning tolook overhis shoulder; and then he put up his hand over his eyesand stoodstaring.
"Whywhat are you looking at?" asked Bennetwith a chuckle. "Doyou seeHarry the Fift?"
Theveteran continued looking up the hill in silence. The sunshonebroadly over the shelving meadows; a few white sheep wanderedbrowsing;all was still but the distant jangle of the bell.
"Whatis itAppleyard?" asked Dick.
"Whythe birds" said Appleyard.
Andsureenoughover the top of the forestwhere it ran down ina tongueamong the meadowsand ended in a pair of goodly greenelmsabout a bowshot from the field where they were standingaflight ofbirds was skimming to and froin evident disorder.
"Whatof the birds?" said Bennet.
"Ay!"returned Appleyard"y' are a wise man to go to warMasterBennet. Birds are a good sentry; in forest places they be thefirst lineof battle. Look younowif we lay here in camptheremight bearchers skulking down to get the wind of us; and herewould youbenone the wiser!"
"Whyold shrew" said Hatch"there be no men nearer us than SirDaniel'sat Kettley; y' are as safe as in London Tower; and yeraisescares upon a man for a few chaffinches and sparrows!"
"Hearhim!" grinned Appleyard. "How many a rogue would givehistwo cropears to have a shoot at either of us? Saint Michaelman!they hateus like two polecats!"
"Wellsooth it isthey hate Sir Daniel" answered Hatcha littlesobered.
"Aythey hate Sir Danieland they hate every man that serves withhim"said Appleyard; "and in the first order of hatingthey hateBennetHatch and old Nicholas the bowman. See ye here: if therewas astout fellow yonder in the wood-edgeand you and I stoodfair forhim - asby Saint Georgewe stand! - whichthink yewould hechoose?"
"Youfor a good wager" answered Hatch.
"Mysurcoat to a leather beltit would be you!" cried the oldarcher. "Ye burned GrimstoneBennet - they'll ne'er forgive youthatmymaster. And as for meI'll soon be in a good placeGodgrantandout of bow-shoot - ayand cannon-shoot - of all theirmalices. I am an old manand draw fast to homewardwhere the bedis ready. But for youBennety' are to remain behind here atyour ownperiland if ye come to my years unhangedthe old true-blueEnglish spirit will be dead."
"Y'are the shrewishest old dolt in Tunstall Forest" returnedHatchvisibly ruffled by these threats. "Get ye to your armsbefore SirOliver comeand leave prating for one good while. Anye hadtalked so much with Harry the Fifthis ears would ha' beenricherthan his pocket."
An arrowsang in the airlike a huge hornet; it struck oldAppleyardbetween the shoulder-bladesand pierced him cleanthroughand he fell forward on his face among the cabbages.Hatchwith a broken cryleapt into the air; thenstoopingdoubleheran for the cover of the house. And in the meanwhileDickShelton had dropped behind a lilacand had his crossbow bentandshoulderedcovering the point of the forest.
Not a leafstirred. The sheep were patiently browsing; the birdshadsettled. But there lay the old manwith a cloth-yard arrowstandingin his back; and there were Hatch holding to the gableand Dickcrouching and ready behind the lilac bush.
"D'yesee aught?" cried Hatch.
"Nota twig stirs" said Dick.
"Ithink shame to leave him lying" said Bennetcoming forwardonce morewith hesitating steps and a very pale countenance. "Keepa good eyeon the woodMaster Shelton - keep a clear eye on thewood. The saints assoil us! here was a good shoot!"
Bennetraised the old archer on his knee. He was not yet dead; hisfaceworkedand his eyes shut and opened like machineryand hehad a mosthorribleugly look of one in pain.
"Canye hearold Nick?" asked Hatch. "Have ye a last wishbeforeye wendold brother?"
"Pluckout the shaftand let me passa' Mary's name!" gaspedAppleyard. "I be done with Old England. Pluck it out!"
"MasterDick" said Bennet"come hitherand pull me a good pullupon thearrow. He would fain passthe poor sinner."
Dick laiddown his cross-bowand pulling hard upon the arrowdrewit forth. A gush of blood followed; the old archer scrambled halfupon hisfeetcalled once upon the name of Godand then felldead. Hatchupon his knees among the cabbagesprayed ferventlyfor thewelfare of the passing spirit. But even as he prayeditwas plainthat his mind was still dividedand he kept ever an eyeupon thecorner of the wood from which the shot had come. When hehad donehe got to his feet againdrew off one of his mailedgauntletsand wiped his pale facewhich was all wet with terror.
"Ay"he said"it'll be my turn next."
"Whohath done thisBennet?" Richard askedstill holding thearrow inhis hand.
"Naythe saints know" said Hatch. "Here are a good twoscoreChristiansouls that we have hunted out of house and holdingheand I. He has paid his shotpoor shrewnor will it be longmayhapere I pay mine. Sir Daniel driveth over-hard."
"Thisis a strange shaft" said the ladlooking at the arrow inhis hand.
"Ayby my faith!" cried Bennet. "Blackandblack-feathered.Here is anill-favoured shaftby my sooth! for blackthey saybodesburial. And here be words written. Wipe the blood away.What readye?"
"'APPULYAIRDFRO JON AMEND-ALL'" read Shelton. "What should thisbetoken?"
"NayI like it not" returned the retainershaking his head."JohnAmend-All! Here is a rogue's name for those that be up intheworld! But why stand we here to make a mark? Take him bythekneesgood Master Sheltonwhile I lift him by the shouldersandlet us layhim in his house. This will be a rare shog to poor SirOliver; hewill turn paper colour; he will pray like a windmill."
They tookup the old archerand carried him between them into hishousewhere he had dwelt alone. And there they laid him on theflooroutof regard for the mattressand soughtas best theymighttostraighten and compose his limbs.
Appleyard'shouse was clean and bare. There was a bedwith a bluecoveracupboarda great chesta pair of joint-stoolsa hingedtable inthe chimney cornerand hung upon the wall the oldsoldier'sarmoury of bows and defensive armour. Hatch began tolook abouthim curiously.
"Nickhad money" he said. "He may have had three scorepounds putby. I would I could light upon't! When ye lose an old friendMasterRichardthe best consolation is to heir him. Seenowthischest. I would go a mighty wager there is a bushel of goldtherein. He had a strong hand to getand a hard hand to keepwithalhad Appleyard the archer. Now may God rest his spirit!Neareighty year he was afoot and aboutand ever getting; but nowhe's onthe broad of his backpoor shrewand no more lacketh; andif hischattels came to a good friendhe would be merriermethinksin heaven."
"ComeHatch" said Dick"respect his stone-blind eyes. Would yerob theman before his body? Nayhe would walk!"
Hatch madeseveral signs of the cross; but by this time his naturalcomplexionhad returnedand he was not easily to be dashed fromanypurpose. It would have gone hard with the chest had not thegatesoundedand presently after the door of the house opened andadmitted atallportlyruddyblack-eyed man of near fiftyin asurpliceand black robe.
"Appleyard"- the newcomer was sayingas he entered; but hestoppeddead. "Ave Maria!" he cried. "Saints beour shield! Whatcheer isthis?"
"Coldcheer with Appleyardsir parson" answered Hatchwithperfectcheerfulness. "Shot at his own doorand alighteth evennow atpurgatory gates. Ay! thereif tales be truehe shall lackneithercoal nor candle."
Sir Olivergroped his way to a joint-stooland sat down upon itsick andwhite.
"Thisis a judgment! Oa great stroke!" he sobbedand rattledoff aleash of prayers.
Hatchmeanwhile reverently doffed his salet and knelt down.
"AyBennet" said the priestsomewhat recovering"and whatmaythis be? What enemy hath done this?"
"HereSir Oliveris the arrow. Seeit is written upon withwords"said Dick.
"Nay"cried the priest"this is a foul hearing! John Amend-All!A rightLollardy word. And black of hueas for an omen! Sirsthis knavearrow likes me not. But it importeth rather to takecounsel. Who should this be? Bethink youBennet. Of so manyblackill-willerswhich should he be that doth so hardily outfaceus? Simnel? I do much question it. The Walsinghams? Naytheyare notyet so broken; they still think to have the law over uswhen timeschange. There was Simon Malmesburytoo. How think yeBennet?"
"Whatthink yesir" returned Hatch"of Ellis Duckworth?"
"NayBennetnever. Naynot he" said the priest. "Therecomethnever anyrisingBennetfrom below - so all judicious chroniclersconcord intheir opinion; but rebellion travelleth ever downwardfromabove; and when DickTomand Harry take them to their billslook evernarrowly to see what lord is profited thereby. NowSirDanielhaving once more joined him to the Queen's partyis in illodour withthe Yorkist lords. ThenceBennetcomes the blow - bywhatprocuringI yet seek; but therein lies the nerve of thisdiscomfiture."
"An'tplease youSir Oliver" said Bennet"the axles are so hotin thiscountry that I have long been smelling fire. So did thispoorsinnerAppleyard. Andby your leavemen's spirits are sofoullyinclined to all of usthat it needs neither York norLancasterto spur them on. Hear my plain thoughts: Youthat area clerkand Sir Danielthat sails on any windye have taken manymen'sgoodsand beaten and hanged not a few. Y' are called tocount forthis; in the endI wot not howye have ever theuppermostat lawand ye think all patched. But give me leaveSirOliver: the man that ye have dispossessed and beaten is but theangrierand some daywhen the black devil is byhe will up withhis bowand clout me a yard of arrow through your inwards."
"NayBennety' are in the wrong. Bennetye should be glad to becorrected"said Sir Oliver. "Y' are a praterBenneta talkerababbler;your mouth is wider than your two ears. Mend itBennetmend it."
"NayI say no more. Have it as ye list" said the retainer.
The priestnow rose from the stooland from the writing-case thathung abouthis neck took forth wax and a taperand a flint andsteel. With these he sealed up the chest and the cupboard with SirDaniel'sarmsHatch looking on disconsolate; and then the wholepartyproceededsomewhat timorouslyto sally from the house andget tohorse.
"'Tistime we were on the roadSir Oliver" said Hatchas he heldthepriest's stirrup while he mounted.
"Ay;butBennetthings are changed" returned the parson. "Thereis now noAppleyard - rest his soul! - to keep the garrison. Ishall keepyouBennet. I must have a good man to rest me on inthis dayof black arrows. 'The arrow that flieth by day' saiththeevangel; I have no mind of the context; nayI am a sluggardpriestIam too deep in men's affairs. Welllet us ride forthMasterHatch. The jackmen should be at the church by now."
So theyrode forward down the roadwith the wind after themblowingthe tails of the parson's cloak; and behind themas theywentclouds began to arise and blot out the sinking sun. They hadpassedthree of the scattered houses that make up Tunstall hamletwhencoming to a turnthey saw the church before them. Ten or adozenhouses clustered immediately round it; but to the back thechurchyardwas next the meadows. At the lych-gatenear a score ofmen weregatheredsome in the saddlesome standing by theirhorses'heads. They were variously armed and mounted; some withspearssome with billssome with bowsand some bestridingplough-horsesstill splashed with the mire of the furrow; forthese werethe very dregs of the countryand all the better menand thefair equipments were already with Sir Daniel in the field.
"Wehave not done amisspraised be the cross of Holywood! SirDanielwill be right well content" observed the priestinwardlynumberingthe troop.
"Whogoes? Stand! if ye be true!" shouted Bennet. A manwas seenslippingthrough the churchyard among the yews; and at the sound ofthissummons he discarded all concealmentand fairly took to hisheels forthe forest. The men at the gatewho had been hithertounaware ofthe stranger's presencewoke and scattered. Those whohaddismounted began scrambling into the saddle; the rest rode inpursuit;but they had to make the circuit of the consecratedgroundand it was plain their quarry would escape them. Hatchroaring anoathput his horse at the hedgeto head him off; butthe beastrefusedand sent his rider sprawling in the dust. Andthough hewas up again in a momentand had caught the bridlethetime hadgone byand the fugitive had gained too great a lead forany hopeof capture.
The wisestof all had been Dick Shelton. Instead of starting in avainpursuithe had whipped his crossbow from his backbent itand set aquarrel to the string; and nowwhen the others haddesistedhe turned to Bennet and asked if he should shoot.
"Shoot!shoot!" cried the priestwith sanguinary violence.
"CoverhimMaster Dick" said Bennet. "Bring me him downlike aripeapple."
Thefugitive was now within but a few leaps of safety; but thislast partof the meadow ran very steeply uphill; and the man ranslower inproportion. What with the greyness of the falling nightand theuneven movements of the runnerit was no easy aim; and asDicklevelled his bowhe felt a kind of pityand a half desirethat hemight miss. The quarrel sped.
The manstumbled and felland a great cheer arose from Hatch andthepursuers. But they were counting their corn before theharvest. The man fell lightly; he was lightly afoot againturnedand wavedhis cap in a bravadoand was out of sight next moment inthe marginof the wood.
"Andthe plague go with him!" cried Bennet. "He hasthieves'heels; hecan runby St Banbury! But you touched himMasterShelton;he has stolen your quarrelmay he never have good Igrudge himless!"
"Naybut what made he by the church?" asked Sir Oliver. "Iamshrewdlyafeared there has been mischief here. Clipsbygoodfellowget ye down from your horseand search thoroughly amongthe yews."
Clipsbywas gone but a little while ere he returned carrying apaper.
"Thiswriting was pinned to the church door" he saidhanding itto theparson. "I found naught elsesir parson."
"Nowby the power of Mother Church" cried Sir Oliver"but thisruns hardon sacrilege! For the king's good pleasureor the lordof themanor - well! But that every run-the-hedge in a greenjerkinshould fasten papers to the chancel door - nayit runs hardonsacrilegehard; and men have burned for matters of less weight.But whathave we here? The light falls apace. Good MasterRichardy' have young eyes. Read meI praythis libel."
DickShelton took the paper in his hand and read it aloud. Itcontainedsome lines of very rugged doggerelhardly even rhymingwritten ina gross characterand most uncouthly spelt. With thespellingsomewhat betteredthis is how they ran:
"Ihad four blak arrows under my beltFourfor the greefs that I have feltFourfor the nomber of ill menneThathave opressid me now and then. One isgone; one is wele sped;OldApulyaird is ded. One isfor Maister Bennet HatchThatburned Grimstonewalls and thatch. One forSir Oliver OatesThatcut Sir Harry Shelton's throat. SirDanielye shull have the fourt;Weshall think it fair sport. Yeshull each have your own partA blakarrow in each blak heart.Get yeto your knees for to pray:Ye areded theevesby yea and nay! "JONAMEND-ALLof theGreen WoodAnd hisjolly fellaweship.
"Itemwe have mo arrowes and goode hempen cord for otheres of yourfollowing."
"Nowwell-a-day for charity and the Christian graces!" cried SirOliverlamentably. "Sirsthis is an ill worldand groweth dailyworse. I will swear upon the cross of Holywood I am as innocent ofthat goodknight's hurtwhether in act or purposeas the babeunchristened. Neither was his throat cut; for therein they areagain inerroras there still live credible witnesses to show."
"Itboots notsir parson" said Bennet. "Here isunseasonabletalk."
"NayMaster Bennetnot so. Keep ye in your due placegoodBennet"answered the priest. "I shall make mine innocence appear.I willupon no considerationlose my poor life in error. I takeall men towitness that I am clear of this matter. I was not evenin theMoat House. I was sent of an errand before nine upon theclock"-
"SirOliver" said Hatchinterrupting"since it please you nottostop thissermonI will take other means. Goffesound to horse."
And whilethe tucket was soundingBennet moved close to thebewilderedparsonand whispered violently in his ear.
DickShelton saw the priest's eye turned upon him for an instant ina startledglance. He had some cause for thought; for this SirHarryShelton was his own natural father. But he said never awordandkept his countenance unmoved.
Hatch andSir Oliver discussed together for a while their alteredsituation;ten menit was decided between themshould bereservednot only to garrison the Moat Housebut to escort thepriestacross the wood. In the meantimeas Bennet was to remainbehindthe command of the reinforcement was given to MasterShelton. Indeedthere was no choice; the men were loutishfellowsdull and unskilled in warwhile Dick was not onlypopularbut resolute and grave beyond his age. Although his youthhad beenspent in these roughcountry placesthe lad had beenwelltaught in letters by Sir Oliverand Hatch himself had shownhim themanagement of arms and the first principles of command.Bennet hadalways been kind and helpful; he was one of those whoare cruelas the grave to those they call their enemiesbutruggedlyfaithful and well willing to their friends; and nowwhileSir Oliverentered the next house to writein his swiftexquisitepenmanshipa memorandum of the last occurrences to his masterSirDanielBrackleyBennet came up to his pupil to wish him God-speedupon hisenterprise.
"Yemust go the long way aboutMaster Shelton" he said; "roundbythebridgefor your life! Keep a sure man fifty paces afore youto drawshots; and go softly till y' are past the wood. If theroguesfall upon youride for 't; ye will do naught by standing.And keepever forwardMaster Shelton; turn me not back againanye loveyour life; there is no help in Tunstallmind ye that. Andnowsinceye go to the great wars about the kingand I continueto dwellhere in extreme jeopardy of my lifeand the saints alonecancertify if we shall meet again belowI give you my lastcounselsnow at your riding. Keep an eye on Sir Daniel; he isunsure. Put not your trust in the jack-priest; he intendeth notamissbutdoth the will of others; it is a hand-gun for SirDaniel! Get your good lordship where ye go; make you strongfriends;look to it. And think ever a pater-noster-while on BennetHatch. There are worse rogues afoot than Bennet. SoGod-speed!"
"AndHeaven be with youBennet!" returned Dick. "Ye werea goodfriend tome-wardand so I shall say ever."
"Andlook yemaster" added Hatchwith a certain embarrassment"ifthis Amend-All should get a shaft into meye mightmayhaplay out agold mark or mayhap a pound for my poor soul; for it islike to gostiff with me in purgatory."
"Yeshall have your will of itBennet" answered Dick. "Butwhatcheerman! we shall meet againwhere ye shall have more need ofale thanmasses."
"Thesaints so grant itMaster Dick!" returned the other. "Buthere comesSir Oliver. An he were as quick with the long-bow aswith thepenhe would be a brave man-at-arms."
Sir Olivergave Dick a sealed packetwith this superscription:"Tomy ryght worchypful masterSir Daniel Brackleyknyghtbethysdelyvered in haste."
And Dickputting it in the bosom of his jacketgave the word andset forthwestward up the village.
BOOKI - THE TWO LADS
CHAPTER I- AT THE SIGN OF THE SUN IN KETTLEY
Sir Danieland his men lay in and about Kettley that nightwarmlyquarteredand well patrolled. But the Knight of Tunstall was onewho neverrested from money-getting; and even nowwhen he was onthe brinkof an adventure which should make or mar himhe was upan hourafter midnight to squeeze poor neighbours. He was one whotraffickedgreatly in disputed inheritances; it was his way to buyout themost unlikely claimantand thenby the favour he curriedwith greatlords about the kingprocure unjust decisions in hisfavour;orif that was too roundaboutto seize the disputed manorby forceof armsand rely on his influence and Sir Oliver'scunning inthe law to hold what he had snatched. Kettley was onesuchplace; it had come very lately into his clutches; he still metwithopposition from the tenants; and it was to overawe discontentthat hehad led his troops that way.
By two inthe morningSir Daniel sat in the inn roomclose by thefiresidefor it was cold at that hour among the fens of Kettley.By hiselbow stood a pottle of spiced ale. He had taken off hisvisoredheadpieceand sat with his bald head and thindark visageresting onone handwrapped warmly in a sanguine-coloured cloak.At thelower end of the room about a dozen of his men stood sentryover thedoor or lay asleep on benches; and somewhat nearer handayoung ladapparently of twelve or thirteenwas stretched in amantle onthe floor. The host of the Sun stood before the greatman.
"Nowmark memine host" Sir Daniel said"follow but mineordersand I shall be your good lord ever. I must have good menfor headboroughsand I will have Adam-a-More high constable; seeto itnarrowly. If other men be chosenit shall avail younothing;rather it shall be found to your sore cost. For thosethat havepaid rent to Walsingham I shall take good measure - youamong therestmine host."
"Goodknight" said the host"I will swear upon the cross ofHolywood Idid but pay to Walsingham upon compulsion. NaybullyknightIlove not the rogue Walsinghams; they were as poor asthievesbully knight. Give me a great lord like you. Nay; ask meamong theneighboursI am stout for Brackley."
"Itmay be" said Sir Danieldryly. "Ye shall then paytwice."
Theinnkeeper made a horrid grimace; but this was a piece of badluck thatmight readily befall a tenant in these unruly timesandhe wasperhaps glad to make his peace so easily.
"Bringup yon fellowSelden!" cried the knight.
And one ofhis retainers led up a poorcringing old manas paleas acandleand all shaking with the fen fever.
"Sirrah"said Sir Daniel"your name?"
"An'tplease your worship" replied the man"my name is Condall-Condall ofShorebyat your good worship's pleasure."
"Ihave heard you ill reported on" returned the knight. "Yedealintreasonrogue; ye trudge the country leasing; y' are heavilysuspicionedof the death of severals. Howfelloware ye so bold?But I willbring you down."
"Righthonourable and my reverend lord" the man cried"here issomehodge-podgesaving your good presence. I am but a poorprivatemanand have hurt none."
"Theunder-sheriff did report of you most vilely" said the knight."'Seizeme' saith he'that Tyndal of Shoreby.'"
"Condallmy good lord; Condall is my poor name" said theunfortunate.
"Condallor Tyndalit is all one" replied Sir Danielcoolly."Forby my soothy' are here and I do mightily suspect yourhonesty. If ye would save your neckwrite me swiftly anobligationfor twenty pound."
"Fortwenty poundmy good lord!" cried Condall. "Here ismidsummermadness! My whole estate amounteth not to seventyshillings."
"Condallor Tyndal" returned Sir Danielgrinning"I will run myperil ofthat loss. Write me down twentyand when I haverecoveredall I mayI will be good lord to youand pardon you therest."
"Alas!my good lordit may not be; I have no skill to write" saidCondall.
"Well-a-day!"returned the knight. "Herethenis no remedy. YetI wouldfain have spared youTyndalhad my conscience suffered.Seldentake me this old shrew softly to the nearest elmand hangme himtenderly by the neckwhere I may see him at my riding.Fare yewellgood Master Condalldear Master Tyndal; y' are post-haste forParadise; fare ye then well!"
"Naymy right pleasant lord" replied Condallforcing anobsequioussmile"an ye be so masterfulas doth right well becomeyouIwill evenwith all my poor skilldo your good bidding."
"Friend"quoth Sir Daniel"ye will now write two score. Go to!y' are toocunning for a livelihood of seventy shillings. Seldensee himwrite me this in good formand have it duly witnessed."
And SirDanielwho was a very merry knightnone merrier inEnglandtook a drink of his mulled aleand lay backsmiling.
Meanwhilethe boy upon the floor began to stirand presently satup andlooked about him with a scare.
"Hither"said Sir Daniel; and as the other rose at his command andcameslowly towards himhe leaned back and laughed outright. "Bythe rood!"he cried"a sturdy boy!"
The ladflushed crimson with angerand darted a look of hate outof hisdark eyes. Now that he was on his legsit was moredifficultto make certain of his age. His face looked somewhatolder inexpressionbut it was as smooth as a young child's; andin boneand body he was unusually slenderand somewhat awkward ofgait.
"Yehave called meSir Daniel" he said. "Was it tolaugh at mypoorplight?"
"Naynowlet laugh" said the knight. "Good shrewletlaughIpray you. An ye could see yourselfI warrant ye would laugh thefirst."
"Well"cried the ladflushing"ye shall answer this when yeanswer forthe other. Laugh while yet ye may!"
"Naynowgood cousin" replied Sir Danielwith some earnestness"thinknot that I mock at youexcept in mirthas between kinsfolkandsingular friends. I will make you a marriage of a thousandpoundsgoto! and cherish you exceedingly. I took youindeedroughlyas the time demanded; but from henceforth I shallungrudginglymaintain and cheerfully serve you. Ye shall be Mrs.Shelton -Lady Sheltonby my troth! for the lad promiseth bravely.Tut! yewill not shy for honest laughter; it purgeth melancholy.They areno rogues who laughgood cousin. Good mine hostlay mea meal nowfor my cousinMaster John. Sit ye downsweetheartand eat."
"Nay"said Master John"I will break no bread. Since ye forcemeto thissinI will fast for my soul's interest. Butgood minehostIpray you of courtesy give me a cup of fair water; I shallbe muchbeholden to your courtesy indeed."
"Yeshall have a dispensationgo to!" cried the knight. "Shalt bewellshrivenby my faith! Content youthenand eat."
But thelad was obstinatedrank a cup of waterandonce morewrappinghimself closely in his mantlesat in a far cornerbrooding.
In an houror twothere rose a stir in the village of sentrieschallengingand the clatter of arms and horses; and then a troopdrew up bythe inn doorand Richard Sheltonsplashed with mudpresentedhimself upon the threshold.
"SaveyouSir Daniel" he said.
"How! Dickie Shelton!" cried the knight; and at the mention ofDick'sname the other lad looked curiously across. "What makethBennetHatch?"
"Pleaseyousir knightto take cognisance of this packet from SirOliverwherein are all things fully stated" answered Richardpresentingthe priest's letter. "And please you fartherye werebest makeall speed to Risingham; for on the way hither weencounteredone riding furiously with lettersand by his reportmy Lord ofRisingham was sore bestedand lacked exceedingly yourpresence."
"Howsay you? Sore bested?" returned the knight. "Naythenwewill makespeed sitting downgood Richard. As the world goes inthis poorrealm of Englandhe that rides softliest rides surest.Delaythey saybegetteth peril; but it is rather this itch ofdoing thatundoes men; mark itDick. But let me seefirstwhatcattle yehave brought. Seldena link here at the door!"
And SirDaniel strode forth into the village streetandby thered glowof a torchinspected his new troops. He was an unpopularneighbourand an unpopular master; but as a leader in war he waswell-belovedby those who rode behind his pennant. His dashhisprovedcouragehis forethought for the soldiers' comforteven hisroughgibeswere all to the taste of the bold blades in jack andsalet.
"Nayby the rood!" he cried"what poor dogs are these? Here besome ascrooked as a bowand some as lean as a spear. Friendsyeshall ridein the front of the battle; I can spare youfriends.Mark methis old villain on the piebald! A two-year mutton ridingon a hogwould look more soldierly! Ha! Clipsbyare ye thereold rat? Y' are a man I could lose with a good heart; ye shall goin frontof allwith a bull's eye painted on your jackto be thebetterbutt for archery; sirrahye shall show me the way."
"Iwill show you any waySir Danielbut the way to change sides"returnedClipsbysturdily.
Sir Daniellaughed a guffaw.
"Whywell said!" he cried. "Hast a shrewd tongue in thymouthgoto! I will forgive you for that merry word. Seldensee them fedboth manand brute."
The knightre-entered the inn.
"Nowfriend Dick" he said"fall to. Here is good ale andbacon.Eatwhilethat I read."
Sir Danielopened the packetand as he read his brow darkened.When hehad done he sat a littlemusing. Then he looked sharplyat hisward.
"Dick"said he"Y' have seen this penny rhyme?"
The ladreplied in the affirmative.
"Itbears your father's name" continued the knight; "and ourpoorshrew of aparson isby some mad soulaccused of slaying him."
"Hedid most eagerly deny it" answered Dick.
"Hedid?" cried the knightvery sharply. "Heed him not. He has aloosetongue; he babbles like a jack-sparrow. Some daywhen I mayfind theleisureDickI will myself more fully inform you ofthesematters. There was one Duckworth shrewdly blamed for it; butthe timeswere troubledand there was no justice to be got."
"Itbefell at the Moat House?" Dick venturedwith a beating at hisheart.
"Itbefell between the Moat House and Holywood" replied SirDanielcalmly; but he shot a covert glanceblack with suspicionat Dick'sface. "And now" added the knight"speed youwith yourmeal; yeshall return to Tunstall with a line from me."
Dick'sface fell sorely.
"PritheeSir Daniel" he cried"send one of the villains! Ibeseechyou let me to the battle. I can strike a strokeI promiseyou."
"Imisdoubt it not" replied Sir Danielsitting down to write."ButhereDickis no honour to be won. I lie in Kettley till Ihave suretidings of the warand then ride to join me with theconqueror. Cry not on cowardice; it is but wisdomDick; for thispoor realmso tosseth with rebellionand the king's name andcustody sochangeth handsthat no man may be certain of themorrow. Toss-pot and Shuttle-wit run inbut my Lord Good-Counselsits o'one sidewaiting."
With thatSir Danielturning his back to Dickand quite at thefartherend of the long tablebegan to write his letterwith hismouth onone sidefor this business of the Black Arrow stucksorely inhis throat.
Meanwhileyoung Shelton was going on heartily enough with hisbreakfastwhen he felt a touch upon his armand a very soft voicewhisperingin his ear.
"Makenot a signI do beseech you" said the voice"but of yourcharitytell me the straight way to Holywood. Beseech younowgood boycomfort a poor soul in peril and extreme distressandset me sofar forth upon the way to my repose."
"Takethe path by the windmill" answered Dickin the same tone;"itwill bring you to Till Ferry; there inquire again."
Andwithout turning his headhe fell again to eating. But withthe tailof his eye he caught a glimpse of the young lad calledMasterJohn stealthily creeping from the room.
"Why"thought Dick"he is a young as I. 'Good boy' doth he callme? An I had knownI should have seen the varlet hanged ere I hadtold him. Wellif he goes through the fenI may come up with himand pullhis ears."
Half anhour laterSir Daniel gave Dick the letterand bade himspeed tothe Moat House. Andagainsome half an hour afterDick'sdeparturea messenger camein hot hastefrom my Lord ofRisingham.
"SirDaniel" the messenger said"ye lose great honourby mysooth! The fight began again this morning ere the dawnand wehavebeaten their van and scattered their right wing. Only themainbattle standeth fast. An we had your fresh menwe shouldtilt youthem all into the river. Whatsir knight! Will ye bethe last? It stands not with your good credit."
"Nay"cried the knight"I was but now upon the march. Seldensound methe tucket. SirI am with you on the instant. It is nottwo hourssince the more part of my command came insir messenger.What wouldye have? Spurring is good meatbut yet it killed thecharger. Bustleboys!"
By thistime the tucket was sounding cheerily in the morningandfrom allsides Sir Daniel's men poured into the main street andformedbefore the inn. They had slept upon their armswithchargerssaddledand in ten minutes five-score men-at-arms andarcherscleanly equipped and briskly disciplinedstood ranked andready. The chief part were in Sir Daniel's liverymurrey andbluewhich gave the greater show to their array. The best armedrodefirst; and away out of sightat the tail of the columncamethe sorryreinforcement of the night before. Sir Daniel lookedwith pridealong the line.
"Herebe the lads to serve you in a pinch" he said.
"Theyare pretty menindeed" replied the messenger. "Itbutaugmentsmy sorrow that ye had not marched the earlier."
"Well"said the knight"what would ye? The beginning of a feastand theend of a fraysir messenger;" and he mounted into hissaddle. "Why! how now!" he cried. "John! Joanna! Nayby thesacredrood! where is she? Hostwhere is that girl?"
"GirlSir Daniel?" cried the landlord. "NaysirI saw nogirl."
"Boythendotard!" cried the knight. "Could ye not see itwas awench? She in the murrey-coloured mantle - she that broke her fastwithwaterrogue - where is she?"
"Naythe saints bless us! Master Johnye called him" said thehost. "WellI thought none evil. He is gone. I saw him -her -I saw herin the stable a good hour agone; 'a was saddling a greyhorse."
"Nowby the rood!" cried Sir Daniel"the wench was worth fivehundredpound to me and more."
"Sirknight" observed the messengerwith bitterness"whilethatye arehereroaring for five hundred poundsthe realm of Englandiselsewhere being lost and won."
"Itis well said" replied Sir Daniel. "Seldenfall meout withsixcross-bowmen; hunt me her down. I care not what it cost; butat myreturninglet me find her at the Moat House. Be it uponyourhead. And nowsir messengerwe march."
And thetroop broke into a good trotand Selden and his six menwere leftbehind upon the street of Kettleywith the staringvillagers.
CHAPTER II- IN THE FEN
It wasnear six in the May morning when Dick began to ride downinto thefen upon his homeward way. The sky was all blue; thejolly windblew loud and steady; the windmill-sails were spinning;and thewillows over all the fen rippling and whitening like afield ofcorn. He had been all night in the saddlebut his heartwas goodand his body soundand he rode right merrily.
The pathwent down and down into the marshtill he lost sight ofall theneighbouring landmarks but Kettley windmill on the knollbehindhimand the extreme top of Tunstall Forest far before. Oneitherhand there were great fields of blowing reeds and willowspools ofwater shaking in the windand treacherous bogsas greenasemeraldto tempt and to betray the traveller. The path layalmoststraight through the morass. It was already very ancient;itsfoundation had been laid by Roman soldiery; in the lapse ofages muchof it had sunkand every here and therefor a fewhundredyardsit lay submerged below the stagnant waters of thefen.
About amile from KettleyDick came to one such break in the plainline ofcausewaywhere the reeds and willows grew dispersedly likelittleislands and confused the eye. The gapbesideswas morethanusually long; it was a place where any stranger might comereadily tomischief; and Dick bethought himwith something like apangofthe lad whom he had so imperfectly directed. As forhimselfone look backward to where the windmill sails were turningblackagainst the blue of heaven - one look forward to the highground ofTunstall Forestand he was sufficiently directed andheldstraight onthe water washing to his horse's kneesas safeas on ahighway.
Half-wayacrossand when he had already sighted the path risinghigh anddry upon the farther sidehe was aware of a greatsplashingon his rightand saw a grey horsesunk to its belly inthe mudand still spasmodically struggling. Instantlyas thoughit haddivined the neighbourhood of helpthe poor beast began toneigh mostpiercingly. It rolledmeanwhilea blood-shot eyeinsanewith terror; and as it sprawled wallowing in the quagclouds ofstinging insects rose and buzzed about it in the air.
"Alack!"thought Dick"can the poor lad have perished? There ishis horsefor certain - a brave grey! Naycomradeif thoucriest tome so piteouslyI will do all man can to help thee.Shalt notlie there to drown by inches!"
And hemade ready his crossbowand put a quarrel through thecreature'shead.
Dick rodeon after this act of rugged mercysomewhat sobered inspiritand looking closely about him for any sign of his lesshappypredecessor in the way. "I would I had dared to tell himfurther"he thought; "for I fear he has miscarried in the slough."
And justas he was so thinkinga voice cried upon his name fromthecauseway sideandlooking over his shoulderhe saw the lad'sfacepeering from a clump of reeds.
"Areye there?" he saidreining in. "Ye lay so closeamong thereeds thatI had passed you by. I saw your horse bemiredand puthim fromhis agony; whichby my sooth! an ye had been a moremercifulriderye had done yourself. But come forth out of yourhiding. Here be none to trouble you."
"Naygood boyI have no armsnor skill to use them if I had"repliedthe otherstepping forth upon the pathway.
"Whycall me 'boy'?" cried Dick. "Y' are notI trowtheelder ofus twain."
"GoodMaster Shelton" said the other"prithee forgive me. I havenone theleast intention to offend. Rather I would in every waybeseechyour gentleness and favourfor I am now worse bested thaneverhaving lost my waymy cloakand my poor horse. To have ariding-rodand spursand never a horse to sit upon! And beforeall"he addedlooking ruefully upon his clothes - "before alltobe sosorrily besmirched!"
"Tut!"cried Dick. "Would ye mind a ducking? Blood of woundordust oftravel - that's a man's adornment."
"NaythenI like him better plain" observed the lad. "Butpritheehow shall I do? Pritheegood Master Richardhelp mewith yourgood counsel. If I come not safe to HolywoodI amundone."
"Nay"said Dickdismounting"I will give more than counsel.Take myhorseand I will run awhileand when I am weary we shallchangeagainthat soriding and runningboth may go thespeedier."
So thechange was madeand they went forward as briskly as theydurst onthe uneven causewayDick with his hand upon the other'sknee.
"Howcall ye your name?" asked Dick.
"Callme John Matcham" replied the lad.
"Andwhat make ye to Holywood?" Dick continued.
"Iseek sanctuary from a man that would oppress me" was theanswer. "The good Abbot of Holywood is a strong pillar to theweak."
"Andhow came ye with Sir DanielMaster Matcham?" pursued Dick.
"Nay"cried the other"by the abuse of force! He hath taken mebyviolence from my own place; dressed me in these weeds; riddenwith metill my heart was sick; gibed me till I could 'a' wept; andwhencertain of my friends pursuedthinking to have me backclapsme in therear to stand their shot! I was even grazed in the rightfootandwalk but lamely. Naythere shall come a day between us;he shallsmart for all!"
"Wouldye shoot at the moon with a hand-gun?" said Dick. "'Tisavaliantknightand hath a hand of iron. An he guessed I had madeor meddledwith your flightit would go sore with me."
"Aypoor boy" returned the other"y' are his wardI know it.By thesame tokenso am Ior so he saith; or else he hath boughtmymarriage - I wot not rightly which; but it is some handle tooppress meby."
"Boyagain!" said Dick.
"Naythenshall I call you girlgood Richard?" asked Matcham.
"Nevera girl for me" returned Dick. "I do abjure the crewofthem!"
"Yespeak boyishly" said the other. "Ye think more ofthem thanyepretend."
"NotI" said Dickstoutly. "They come not in my mind. A plagueof themsay I! Give me to hunt and to fight and to feastand tolive withjolly foresters. I never heard of a maid yet that wasfor anyservicesave one only; and shepoor shrewwas burned fora witchand the wearing of men's clothes in spite of nature."
MasterMatcham crossed himself with fervourand appeared to pray.
"Whatmake ye?" Dick inquired.
"Ipray for her spirit" answered the otherwith a somewhattroubledvoice.
"Fora witch's spirit?" Dick cried. "But pray for heranye list;she wasthe best wench in Europewas this Joan of Arc. OldAppleyardthe archer ran from herhe saidas if she had beenMahoun. Nayshe was a brave wench."
"Wellbutgood Master Richard" resumed Matcham"an ye likemaids solittley' are no true natural man; for God made themtwain byintentionand brought true love into the worldto beman's hopeand woman's comfort."
"Faugh!"said Dick. "Y' are a milk-sopping babyso to harp onwomen. An ye think I be no true manget down upon the pathandwhether atfistsback-swordor bow and arrowI will prove mymanhood onyour body."
"NayI am no fighter" said Matchameagerly. "I mean notittleofoffence. I meant but pleasantry. And if I talk of womenit isbecause Iheard ye were to marry."
"I tomarry!" Dick exclaimed. "Wellit is the first I hearof it.And withwhom was I to marry?"
"OneJoan Sedley" replied Matchamcolouring. "It was SirDaniel'sdoing; he hath money to gain upon both sides; andindeedI haveheard the poor wench bemoaning herself pitifully of thematch. It seems she is of your mindor else distasted to thebridegroom."
"Well!marriage is like deathit comes to all" said Dickwithresignation. "And she bemoaned herself? I pray ye nowsee therehowshuttle-witted are these girls: to bemoan herself before thatshe hadseen me! Do I bemoan myself? Not I. An I be tomarryIwill marrydry-eyed! But if ye know herpritheeof what favouris she?fair or foul? And is she shrewish or pleasant?"
"Naywhat matters it?" said Matcham. "An y' are to marryye canbutmarry. What matters foul or fair? These be but toys. Y' arenomilksopMaster Richard; ye will wed with dry eyesanyhow."
"Itis well said" replied Shelton. "Little I reck."
"Yourlady wife is like to have a pleasant lord" said Matcham.
"Sheshall have the lord Heaven made her for" returned Dick. "Ittrow therebe worse as well as better."
"Ahthe poor wench!" cried the other.
"Andwhy so poor?" asked Dick.
"Towed a man of wood" replied his companion. "O mefora woodenhusband!"
"Ithink I be a man of woodindeed" said Dick"to trudgeafootthe whileyou ride my horse; but it is good woodI trow."
"GoodDickforgive me" cried the other. "Nayy' are thebestheart inEngland; I but laughed. Forgive me nowsweet Dick."
"Nayno fool words" returned Dicka little embarrassed by hiscompanion'swarmth. "No harm is done. I am not touchypraisethesaints."
And atthat moment the windwhich was blowing straight behind themas theywentbrought them the rough flourish of Sir Daniel'strumpeter.
"Hark!"said Dick"the tucket soundeth."
"Ay"said Matcham"they have found my flightand now I amunhorsed!"and he became pale as death.
"Naywhat cheer!" returned Dick. "Y' have a long startand weare nearthe ferry. And it is Imethinksthat am unhorsed."
"AlackI shall be taken!" cried the fugitive. "DickkindDickbeseech yehelp me but a little!"
"Whynowwhat aileth thee?" said Dick. "Methinks I helpyou verypatently. But my heart is sorry for so spiritless a fellow! Andsee yehereJohn Matcham - sith John Matcham is your name - IRichardSheltontide what betidethcome what maywill see yousafe inHolywood. The saints so do to me again if I default you.Comepickme up a good heartSir White-face. The way bettershere; spurme the horse. Go faster! faster! Naymind not for me;I can runlike a deer."
Sowiththe horse trotting hardand Dick running easilyalongsidethey crossed the remainder of the fenand came out uponthe banksof the river by the ferryman's hut.
CHAPTERIII - THE FEN FERRY
The riverTill was a widesluggishclayey wateroozing out offensandin this part of its course it strained among some scoreofwillow-coveredmarshy islets.
It was adingy stream; but upon this brightspirited morningeverythingwas become beautiful. The wind and the martens broke itup intoinnumerable dimples; and the reflection of the sky wasscatteredover all the surface in crumbs of smiling blue.
A creekran up to meet the pathand close under the bank theferryman'shut lay snugly. It was of wattle and clayand thegrass grewgreen upon the roof.
Dick wentto the door and opened it. Withinupon a foul oldrussetcloakthe ferryman lay stretched and shivering; a greathulk of amanbut lean and shaken by the country fever.
"HeyMaster Shelton" he said"be ye for the ferry? Illtimesilltimes! Look to yourself. There is a fellowship abroad. Yewerebetter turn round on your two heels and try the bridge."
"Nay;time's in the saddle" answered Dick. "Time willrideHughFerryman. I am hot in haste."
"Awilful man!" returned the ferrymanrising. "An yewin safe tothe MoatHousey' have done lucky; but I say no more." And thencatchingsight of Matcham"Who be this?" he askedas he pausedblinkingon the threshold of his cabin.
"Itis my kinsmanMaster Matcham" answered Dick.
"Giveye good daygood ferryman" said Matchamwho haddismountedand now came forwardleading the horse. "Launch meyour boatI prithee; we are sore in haste."
The gauntferryman continued staring.
"Bythe mass!" he cried at lengthand laughed with open throat.
Matchamcoloured to his neck and winced; and Dickwith an angrycountenanceput his hand on the lout's shoulder.
"Hownowchurl!" he cried. "Fall to thy businessandleavemockingthy betters."
HughFerryman grumblingly undid his boatand shoved it a littleforth intothe deep water. Then Dick led in the horseand Matchamfollowed.
"Yebe mortal small mademaster" said Hughwith a wide grin;"somethingo' the wrong modelbelike. NayMaster SheltonI amfor you"he addedgetting to his oars. "A cat may look at aking. I did but take a shot of the eye at Master Matcham."
"Sirrahno more words" said Dick. "Bend me your back."
They wereby that time at the mouth of the creekand the viewopened upand down the river. Everywhere it was enclosed withislands. Clay banks were falling inwillows noddingreedswavingmartens dipping and piping. There was no sign of man inthelabyrinth of waters.
"Mymaster" said the ferrymankeeping the boat steady with oneoar"Ihave a shrew guess that John-a-Fenne is on the island. Hebears me ablack grudge to all Sir Daniel's. How if I turned me upstream andlanded you an arrow-flight above the path? Ye were bestnot meddlewith John Fenne."
"Howthen? is he of this company?" asked Dick.
"Naymum is the word" said Hugh. "But I would go upwaterDick.How ifMaster Matcham came by an arrow?" and he laughed again.
"Beit soHugh" answered Dick.
"Lookyethen" pursued Hugh. "Sith it shall so beunsling meyourcross-bow - so: now make it ready - good; place me a quarrel.Aykeepit soand look upon me grimly."
"Whatmeaneth this?" asked Dick.
"Whymy masterif I steal you acrossit must be under force orfear"replied the ferryman; "for elseif John Fenne got wind ofithewere like to prove my most distressful neighbour."
"Dothese churls ride so roughly?" Dick inquired. "Dothey commandSirDaniel's own ferry?"
"Nay"whispered the ferrymanwinking. "Mark me! SirDanielshalldown. His time is out. He shall down. Mum!" And he bentover hisoars.
Theypulled a long way up the riverturned the tail of an islandand camesoftly down a narrow channel next the opposite bank. ThenHugh heldwater in midstream.
"Imust land you here among the willows" he said.
"Hereis no path but willow swamps and quagmires" answered Dick.
"MasterShelton" replied Hugh"I dare not take ye nearer downfor yourown sake now. He watcheth me the ferrylying on his bow.All thatgo by and owe Sir Daniel goodwillhe shooteth down likerabbits. I heard him swear it by the rood. An I had not known youof olddays - ayand from so high upward - I would 'a' let you goon; butfor old days' remembranceand because ye had this toy withyou that'snot fit for wounds or warfareI did risk my two poorears tohave you over whole. Content you; I can no moreon mysalvation!"
Hugh wasstill speakinglying on his oarswhen there came a greatshout fromamong the willows on the islandand sounds followed asof astrong man breasting roughly through the wood.
"Amurrain!" cried Hugh. "He was on the upper island allthewhile!" He pulled straight for shore. "Threat me with your bowgood Dick;threat me with it plain" he added. "I have tried tosave yourskinssave you mine!"
The boatran into a tough thicket of willows with a crash.Matchampalebut steady and alertat a sign from Dickran alongthethwarts and leaped ashore; Dicktaking the horse by thebridlesought to followbut what with the animal's bulkand whatwith thecloseness of the thicketboth stuck fast. The horseneighedand trampled; and the boatwhich was swinging in an eddycame onand off and pitched with violence.
"Itmay not beHugh; here is no landing" cried Dick; but he stillstruggledvaliantly with the obstinate thicket and the startledanimal.
A tall manappeared upon the shore of the islanda long-bow in hishand. Dick saw him for an instantwith the corner of his eyebendingthe bow with a great efforthis face crimson with hurry.
"Whogoes?" he shouted. "Hughwho goes?"
"'TisMaster SheltonJohn" replied the ferryman.
"StandDick Shelton!" bawled the man upon the island. "Yeshallhave nohurtupon the rood! Stand! Back outHugh Ferryman."
Dick crieda taunting answer.
"Naythenye shall go afoot" returned the man; and he let drivean arrow.
The horsestruck by the shaftlashed out in agony and terror; theboatcapsizedand the next moment all were struggling in theeddies ofthe river.
When Dickcame uphe was within a yard of the bank; and before hiseyes wereclearhis hand had closed on something firm and strongthatinstantly began to drag him forward. It was the riding-rodthatMatchamcrawling forth upon an overhanging willowhadopportunelythrust into his grasp.
"Bythe mass!" cried Dickas he was helped ashore"that makesalife I oweyou. I swim like a cannon-ball." And he turnedinstantlytowards the island.
MidwayoverHugh Ferryman was swimming with his upturned boatwhileJohn-a-Fennefurious at the ill-fortune of his shotbawledto him tohurry.
"ComeJack" said Shelton"run for it! Ere Hugh can halehisbargeacrossor the pair of 'em can get it rightedwe may be outof cry."
And addingexample to his wordshe began to rundodging among thewillowsand in marshy places leaping from tussock to tussock. Hehad notime to look for his direction; all he could do was to turnhis backupon the riverand put all his heart to running.
Presentlyhoweverthe ground began to risewhich showed him hewas stillin the right wayand soon after they came forth upon aslope ofsolid turfwhere elms began to mingle with the willows.
But hereMatchamwho had been dragging far into the rearthrewhimselffairly down.
"LeavemeDick!" he criedpantingly; "I can no more."
Dickturnedand came back to where his companion lay.
"NayJackleave thee!" he cried. "That were a knave'stricktobe surewhen ye risked a shot and a duckingayand a drowningtootosave my life. Drowningin sooth; for why I did not pullyou inalong with methe saints alone can tell!"
"Nay"said Matcham"I would 'a' saved us bothgood Dickfor Ican swim."
"Canye so?" cried Dickwith open eyes. It was the one manlyaccomplishmentof which he was himself incapable. In the order ofthe thingsthat he admirednext to having killed a man in singlefight cameswimming. "Well" he said"here is a lesson todespiseno man. I promised to care for you as far as Holywoodandby theroodJacky' are more capable to care for me."
"WellDickwe're friends now" said Matcham.
"NayI never was unfriends" answered Dick. "Y' are abrave ladin yourwayalbeit something of a milksoptoo. I never met yourlikebefore this day. Butpritheefetch back your breathandlet uson. Here is no place for chatter."
"Myfoot hurts shrewdly" said Matcham.
"NayI had forgot your foot" returned Dick. "Wellwemust gothegentlier. I would I knew rightly where we were. I havecleanlost thepath; yet that may be for the bettertoo. An they watchthe ferrythey watch the pathbelikeas well. I would SirDanielwere back with two score men; he would sweep me theserascals asthe wind sweeps leaves. ComeJacklean ye on myshoulderye poor shrew. Nayy' are not tall enough. What ageare yefor a wager? - twelve?"
"NayI am sixteen" said Matcham.
"Y'are poorly grown to heightthen" answered Dick. "Buttake myhand. We shall go softlynever fear. I owe you a life; I am agoodrepayerJackof good or evil."
They beganto go forward up the slope.
"Wemust hit the roadearly or late" continued Dick; "andthenfor afresh start. By the mass! but y' 'ave a rickety handJack.If I had ahand like thatI would think shame. I tell you" hewent onwith a sudden chuckle"I swear by the mass I believe HughFerrymantook you for a maid."
"Naynever!" cried the othercolouring high.
"A'didthoughfor a wager!" Dick exclaimed. "Smallblame tohim. Ye look liker maid than man; and I tell you more - y' are astrange-lookingrogue for a boy; but for a hussyJackye would beright fair- ye would. Ye would be well favoured for a wench."
"Well"said Matcham"ye know right well that I am none."
"NayI know that; I do but jest" said Dick. "Ye'll be amanbeforeyour motherJack. What cheermy bully! Ye shall strikeshrewdstrokes. NowwhichI marvelof you or meshall be firstknightedJack? for knighted I shall beor die for 't. 'SirRichardSheltonKnight': it soundeth bravely. But 'Sir JohnMatcham'soundeth not amiss."
"PritheeDickstop till I drink" said the otherpausing where alittleclear spring welled out of the slope into a gravelled basinno biggerthan a pocket. "And ODickif I might come by anythingto eat! -my very heart aches with hunger."
"Whyfooldid ye not eat at Kettley?" asked Dick.
"Ihad made a vow - it was a sin I had been led into" stammeredMatcham;"but nowif it were but dry breadI would eat itgreedily."
"Sityethenand eat" said Dick"while that I scout a littleforwardfor the road." And he took a wallet from his girdlewhereinwere bread and pieces of dry baconandwhile Matcham fellheartilytostruck farther forth among the trees.
A littlebeyond there was a dip in the groundwhere a streamletsoakedamong dead leaves; and beyond thatagainthe trees werebettergrown and stood widerand oak and beech began to take theplace ofwillow and elm. The continued tossing and pouring of thewind amongthe leaves sufficiently concealed the sounds of hisfootstepson the mast; it was for the ear what a moonless night isto theeye; but for all that Dick went cautiouslyslipping fromone bigtrunk to anotherand looking sharply about him as he went.Suddenly adoe passed like a shadow through the underwood in frontof himand he pauseddisgusted at the chance. This part of thewood hadbeen certainly desertedbut now that the poor deer hadrunshewas like a messenger he should have sent before him toannouncehis coming; and instead of pushing fartherhe turned himto thenearest well-grown treeand rapidly began to climb.
Luck hadserved him well. The oak on which he had mounted was oneof thetallest in that quarter of the woodand easily out-toppeditsneighbours by a fathom and a half; and when Dick had clamberedinto thetopmost fork and clung thereswinging dizzily in thegreatwindhe saw behind him the whole fenny plain as far asKettleyand the Till wandering among woody isletsand in front ofhimthewhite line of high-road winding through the forest. Theboat hadbeen righted - it was even now midway on the ferry.Beyondthat there was no sign of mannor aught moving but thewind. He was about to descendwhentaking a last viewhis eyelit upon astring of moving points about the middle of the fen.Plainly asmall troop was threading the causewayand that at agood pace;and this gave him some concern as he shinned vigorouslydown thetrunk and returned across the wood for his companion.
CHAPTER IV- A GREENWOOD COMPANY
Matchamwas well rested and revived; and the two ladswinged bywhat Dickhad seenhurried through the remainder of the outwoodcrossedthe road in safetyand began to mount into the high groundofTunstall Forest. The trees grew more and more in groveswithheathyplaces in betweensandygorsyand dotted with old yews.The groundbecame more and more unevenfull of pits and hillocks.And withevery step of the ascent the wind still blew the shrillerand thetrees bent before the gusts like fishing-rods.
They hadjust entered one of the clearingswhen Dick suddenlyclappeddown upon his face among the bramblesand began to crawlslowlybackward towards the shelter of the grove. Matchamingreatbewildermentfor he could see no reason for this flightstillimitated his companion's course; and it was not until theyhad gainedthe harbour of a thicket that he turned and begged himtoexplain.
For allreplyDick pointed with his finger.
At the farend of the clearinga fir grew high above theneighbouringwoodand planted its black shock of foliage clearagainstthe sky. For about fifty feet above the ground the trunkgrewstraight and solid like a column. At that levelit splitinto twomassive boughs; and in the forklike a mast-headedseamanthere stood a man in a green tabardspying far and wide.The sunglistened upon his hair; with one hand he shaded his eyesto lookabroadand he kept slowly rolling his head from side tosidewiththe regularity of a machine.
The ladsexchanged glances.
"Letus try to the left" said Dick. "We had near fallenfoullyJack."
Tenminutes afterwards they struck into a beaten path.
"Hereis a piece of forest that I know not" Dick remarked. "Wheregoeth methis track?"
"Letus even try" said Matcham.
A fewyards furtherthe path came to the top of a ridge and beganto go downabruptly into a cup-shaped hollow. At the footout ofa thickwood of flowering hawthorntwo or three roofless gablesblackenedas if by fireand a single tall chimney marked the ruinsof ahouse.
"Whatmay this be?" whispered Matcham.
"Nayby the massI know not" answered Dick. "I am all atsea.Let us gowarily."
Withbeating heartsthey descended through the hawthorns. Hereand therethey passed signs of recent cultivation; fruit trees andpot herbsran wild among the thicket; a sun-dial had fallen in thegrass; itseemed they were treading what once had been a garden.Yet alittle farther and they came forth before the ruins of thehouse.
It hadbeen a pleasant mansion and a strong. A dry ditch was dugdeep aboutit; but it was now choked with masonryand bridged by afallenrafter. The two farther walls still stoodthe sun shiningthroughtheir empty windows; but the remainder of the building hadcollapsedand now lay in a great cairn of ruingrimed with fire.Already inthe interior a few plants were springing green among thechinks.
"NowI bethink me" whispered Dick"this must be Grimstone. Itwas a holdof one Simon Malmesbury; Sir Daniel was his bane! 'TwasBennetHatch that burned itnow five years agone. In sooth'twaspityforit was a fair house."
Down inthe hollowwhere no wind blewit was both warm and still;andMatchamlaying one hand upon Dick's armheld up a warningfinger.
Then camea strange soundbreaking on the quiet. It was twicerepeatedere they recognised its nature. It was the sound of a bigmanclearing his throat; and just then a hoarseuntuneful voicebroke intosinging.
"Thenup and spake the masterthe king of the outlaws:'What makeye heremy merry menamong the greenwood shaws?'AndGamelyn made answer - he looked never adown:'Otheymust need to walk in wood that may not walk in town!'"
The singerpauseda faint clink of iron followedand thensilence.
The twolads stood looking at each other. Whoever he might betheirinvisible neighbour was just beyond the ruin. And suddenlythe colourcame into Matcham's faceand next moment he had crossedthe fallenrafterand was climbing cautiously on the huge pile oflumberthat filled the interior of the roofless house. Dick wouldhavewithheld himhad he been in time; as it washe was fain tofollow.
Right inthe corner of the ruintwo rafters had fallen crosswiseandprotected a clear space no larger than a pew in church. Intothis thelads silently lowered themselves. There they wereperfectlyconcealedand through an arrow-loophole commanded a viewupon thefarther side.
Peeringthrough thisthey were struck stiff with terror at theirpredicament. To retreat was impossible; they scarce dared tobreathe. Upon the very margin of the ditchnot thirty feet fromwhere theycrouchedan iron caldron bubbled and steamed above aglowingfire; and close byin an attitude of listeningas thoughhe hadcaught some sound of their clambering among the ruinsatallred-facedbattered-looking man stood poisedan iron spoonin hisright handa horn and a formidable dagger at his belt.Plainlythis was the singer; plainly he had been stirring thecaldronwhen some incautious step among the lumber had fallen uponhis ear. A little further offanother man lay slumberingrolledin a browncloakwith a butterfly hovering above his face. Allthis wasin a clearing white with daisies; and at the extremevergeabowa sheaf of arrowsand part of a deer's carcasehungupon aflowering hawthorn.
Presentlythe fellow relaxed from his attitude of attentionraisedthe spoonto his mouthtasted its contentsnoddedand then fellagain tostirring and singing.
"'Othey must need to walk in wood that may not walk in town'" hecroakedtaking up his song where he had left it.
"Osirwe walk not here at all an evil thing to do.But if wemeet with the good king's deer to shoot a shaft into."
Still ashe sanghe took from time to timeanother spoonful ofthe brothblew upon itand tasted itwith all the airs of anexperiencedcook. At lengthapparentlyhe judged the mess wasready; fortaking the horn from his girdlehe blew three modulatedcalls.
The otherfellow awokerolled overbrushed away the butterflyand lookedabout him.
"Hownowbrother?" he said. "Dinner?"
"Aysot" replied the cook"dinner it isand a dry dinnertoowithneither ale nor bread. But there is little pleasure in thegreenwoodnow; time was when a good fellow could live here like amitredabbotset aside the rain and the white frosts; he had hisheart'sdesire both of ale and wine. But now are men's spiritsdead; andthis John Amend-Allsave us and guard us! but a stuffedbooby toscare crows withal."
"Nay"returned the other"y' are too set on meat and drinkingLawless. Bide ye a bit; the good time cometh."
"Lookye" returned the cook"I have even waited for this goodtime siththat I was so high. I have been a grey friar; I havebeen aking's archer; I have been a shipmanand sailed the saltseas; andI have been in greenwood before thisforsooth! and shotthe king'sdeer. What cometh of it? Naught! I were better tohave bidedin the cloister. John Abbot availeth more than JohnAmend-All. By 'r Lady! here they come."
One afteranothertalllikely fellows began to stroll into thelawn. Each as he came produced a knife and a horn cuphelpedhimselffrom the caldronand sat down upon the grass to eat. Theywere veryvariously equipped and armed; some in rusty smocksandwithnothing but a knife and an old bow; others in the height offorestgallantryall in Lincoln greenboth hood and jerkinwithdaintypeacock arrows in their beltsa horn upon a baldrickand asword anddagger at their sides. They came in the silence ofhungerand scarce growled a salutationbut fell instantly tomeat.
Therewereperhapsa score of them already gatheredwhen a soundofsuppressed cheering arose close by among the hawthornsandimmediatelyafter five or six woodmen carrying a stretcherdebauchedupon the lawn. A talllusty fellowsomewhat grizzledand asbrown as a smoked hamwalked before them with an air ofsomeauthorityhis bow at his backa bright boar-spear in hishand.
"Lads!"he cried"good fellows alland my right merry friendsy'have sungthis while on a dry whistle and lived at little ease.But whatsaid I ever? Abide Fortune constantly; she turnethturnethswift. And lo! here is her little firstling - even thatgoodcreatureale!"
There wasa murmur of applause as the bearers set down thestretcherand displayed a goodly cask.
"Andnow haste yeboys" the man continued. "There isworktoward. A handful of archers are but now come to the ferry; murreyand blueis their wear; they are our butts - they shall all tastearrows -no man of them shall struggle through this wood. Forladsweare here some fifty strongeach man of us most foullywronged;for some they have lost landsand some friends; and somethey havebeen outlawed - all oppressed! Whothenhath done thisevil? Sir Danielby the rood! Shall he then profit? shall he sitsnug inour houses? shall he till our fields? shall he suck thebone herobbed us of? I trow not. He getteth him strength at law;he gainethcases; naythere is one case he shall not gain - I havea writhere at my belt thatplease the saintsshall conquer him."
Lawlessthe cook was by this time already at his second horn ofale. He raised itas if to pledge the speaker.
"MasterEllis" he said"y' are for vengeance - well it becomethyou! - butyour poor brother o' the greenwoodthat had never landsto losenor friends to think uponlooketh ratherfor his poorparttothe profit of the thing. He had liever a gold noble and apottle ofcanary wine than all the vengeances in purgatory."
"Lawless"replied the other"to reach the Moat HouseSir Danielmust passthe forest. We shall make that passage dearerpardythan anybattle. Thenwhen he hath got to earth with such raggedhandful asescapeth us - all his great friends fallen and fledawayandnone to give him aid - we shall beleaguer that old foxaboutandgreat shall be the fall of him. 'Tis a fat buck; hewill makea dinner for us all."
"Ay"returned Lawless"I have eaten many of these dinnersbeforehand;but the cooking of them is hot workgood Master Ellis.Andmeanwhile what do we? We make black arrowswe write rhymesand wedrink fair cold waterthat discomfortable drink."
"Y'are untrueWill Lawless. Ye still smell of the Grey Friars'buttery;greed is your undoing" answered Ellis. "We tooktwentypoundsfrom Appleyard. We took seven marks from the messenger lastnight. A day ago we had fifty from the merchant."
"Andto-day" said one of the men"I stopped a fat pardonerridingapace forHolywood. Here is his purse."
Elliscounted the contents.
"Fivescore shillings!" he grumbled. "Foolhe had more inhissandalorstitched into his tippet. Y' are but a childTomCuckow; yehave lost the fish."
Butforall thatEllis pocketed the purse with nonchalance. Hestoodleaning on his boar-spearand looked round upon the rest.Theyinvarious attitudestook greedily of the venison pottageandliberally washed it down with ale. This was a good day; theywere inluck; but business pressedand they were speedy in theireating. The first-comers had by this time even despatched theirdinner. Some lay down upon the grass and fell instantly asleeplikeboa-constrictors; others talked togetheror overhauled theirweapons: and onewhose humour was particularly gayholding forthanale-hornbegan to sing:
"Hereis no law in good green shawHere is nolack of meat;'Tis merryand quietwith deer for our dietIn summerwhen all is sweet.
Comewinter againwith wind and rain -Comewinterwith snow and sleetGet hometo your placeswith hoods on your facesAnd sit bythe fire and eat."
All thiswhile the two lads had listened and lain close; onlyRichardhad unslung his cross-bowand held ready in one hand thewindacorgrappling-iron that he used to bend it. Otherwise theyhad notdared to stir; and this scene of forest life had gone onbeforetheir eyes like a scene upon a theatre. But now there camea strangeinterruption. The tall chimney which over-topped theremainderof the ruins rose right above their hiding-place. Therecame awhistle in the airand then a sounding smackand thefragmentsof a broken arrow fell about their ears. Some one fromthe upperquarters of the woodperhaps the very sentinel they sawposted inthe firhad shot an arrow at the chimney-top.
Matchamcould not restrain a little crywhich he instantlystifledand even Dick started with surpriseand dropped thewindacfrom his fingers. But to the fellows on the lawnthisshaft wasan expected signal. They were all afoot togethertighteningtheir beltstesting their bow-stringsloosening swordand daggerin the sheath. Ellis held up his hand; his face hadsuddenlyassumed a look of savage energy; the white of his eyesshone inhis sun-brown face.
"Lads"he said"ye know your places. Let not one man's soulescapeyou. Appleyard was a whet before a meal; but now we go totable. I have three men whom I will bitterly avenge - HarrySheltonSimon Malmesburyand" - striking his broad bosom - "andEllisDuckworthby the mass!"
Anotherman camered with hurrythrough the thorns.
"'Tisnot Sir Daniel!" he panted. "They are but seven. Is thearrowgone?"
"Itstruck but now" replied Ellis.
"Amurrain!" cried the messenger. "Methought I heard itwhistle.And I godinnerless!"
In thespace of a minutesome runningsome walking sharplyaccordingas their stations were nearer or farther awaythe men ofthe BlackArrow had all disappeared from the neighbourhood of theruinedhouse; and the caldronand the firewhich was now burninglowandthe dead deer's carcase on the hawthornremained alone totestifythey had been there.
CHAPTER V- "BLOODY AS THE HUNTER"
The ladslay quiet till the last footstep had melted on the wind.Then theyaroseand with many an achefor they were weary withconstraintclambered through the ruinsand recrossed the ditchupon therafter. Matcham had picked up the windac and went firstDickfollowing stifflywith his cross-bow on his arm.
"Andnow" said Matcham"forth to Holywood."
"ToHolywood!" cried Dick"when good fellows stand shot? Not I!I wouldsee you hanged firstJack!"
"Yewould leave mewould ye?" Matcham asked.
"Ayby my sooth!" returned Dick. "An I be not in time towarntheseladsI will go die with them. What! would ye have me leavemy own menthat I have lived among. I trow not! Give me mywindac."
But therewas nothing further from Matcham's mind.
"Dick"he said"ye sware before the saints that ye would see mesafe toHolywood. Would ye be forsworn? Would you desert me - aperjurer?"
"NayI sware for the best" returned Dick. "I meant ittoo; butnow! But look yeJackturn again with me. Let me but warn thesemenandif needs muststand shot with them; then shall all beclearandI will on again to Holywood and purge mine oath."
"Yebut deride me" answered Matcham. "These men ye go tosuccourare the Isame that hunt me to my ruin."
Dickscratched his head.
"Icannot help itJack" he said. "Here is no remedy. What wouldye? Ye run no great perilman; and these are in the way of death.Death!"he added. "Think of it! What a murrain do ye keep meherefor? Give me the windac. Saint George! shall they all die?"
"RichardShelton" said Matchamlooking him squarely in the face"wouldyethenjoin party with Sir Daniel? Have ye not ears?Heard yenot this Elliswhat he said? or have ye no heart for yourown kindlyblood and the father that men slew? 'Harry Shelton' hesaid; andSir Harry Shelton was your fatheras the sun shines inheaven."
"Whatwould ye?" Dick cried again. "Would ye have me creditthieves?"
"NayI have heard it before now" returned Matcham. "Thefamegoethcurrentlyit was Sir Daniel slew him. He slew him underoath; inhis own house he shed the innocent blood. Heaven weariesfor theavenging on't; and you - the man's son - ye go about tocomfortand defend the murderer!"
"Jack"cried the lad "I know not. It may be; what know I? Butsee here: This man hath bred me up and fostered meand his men Ihavehunted with and played among; and to leave them in the hour ofperil - Omanif I did thatI were stark dead to honour! NayJackyewould not ask it; ye would not wish me to be base."
"Butyour fatherDick?" said Matchamsomewhat wavering. "Yourfather?and your oath to me? Ye took the saints to witness."
"Myfather?" cried Shelton. "Nayhe would have me go! If SirDanielslew himwhen the hour comes this hand shall slay SirDaniel;but neither him nor his will I desert in peril. And formine oathgood Jackye shall absolve me of it here. For thelives'sake of many men that hurt you notand for mine honouryeshall setme free."
"IDick? Never!" returned Matcham. "An ye leavemey' areforswornand so I shall declare it."
"Myblood heats" said Dick. "Give me the windac! Give it me!"
"I'llnot" said Matcham. "I'll save you in your teeth."
"Not?"cried Dick. "I'll make you!"
"Tryit" said the other.
Theystoodlooking in each other's eyeseach ready for a spring.Then Dickleaped; and though Matcham turned instantly and fledintwo boundshe was over-takenthe windac was twisted from hisgrasphewas thrown roughly to the groundand Dick stood acrosshimflushed and menacingwith doubled fist. Matcham lay where hehadfallenwith his face in the grassnot thinking of resistance.
Dick benthis bow.
"I'llteach you!" he criedfiercely. "Oath or no oathyemay gohang forme!"
And heturned and began to run. Matcham was on his feet at onceand beganrunning after him.
"Whatd'ye want?" cried Dickstopping. "What make ye afterme?Standoff!"
"Willfollow an I please" said Matcham. "This wood is freetome."
"Standbackby 'r Lady!" returned Dickraising his bow.
"Ahy' are a brave boy!" retorted Matcham. "Shoot!"
Dicklowered his weapon in some confusion.
"Seehere" he said. "Y' have done me ill enough. Gothen. Goyour wayin fair wise; orwhether I will or notI must even driveyou toit."
"Well"said Matchamdoggedly"y' are the stronger. Do yourworst. I shall not leave to follow theeDickunless thou makestme"he added.
Dick wasalmost beside himself. It went against his heart to beata creatureso defenceless; andfor the life of himhe knew noother wayto rid himself of this unwelcome andas he began tothinkperhaps untrue companion.
"Y'are madI think" he cried. "Fool-fellowI amhasting toyour foes;as fast as foot can carry mego I thither."
"Icare notDick" replied the lad. "If y' are bound todieDickI'lldie too. I would liever go with you to prison than togo freewithout you."
"Well"returned the other"I may stand no longer prating. Followmeif yemust; but if ye play me falseit shall but littleadvanceyoumark ye that. Shalt have a quarrel in thine inwardsboy."
So sayingDick took once more to his heelskeeping in the marginof thethicket and looking briskly about him as he went. At a goodpace herattled out of the delland came again into the more openquartersof the wood. To the left a little eminence appearedspottedwith golden gorseand crowned with a black tuft of firs.
"Ishall see from there" he thoughtand struck for it across aheathyclearing.
He hadgone but a few yardswhen Matcham touched him on the armandpointed. To the eastward of the summit there was a dipandas itwerea valley passing to the other side; the heath was notyet out;all the ground was rustylike an unscoured buckleranddottedsparingly with yews; and thereone following anotherDicksaw half ascore green jerkins mounting the ascentand marching attheirheadconspicuous by his boar-spearEllis Duckworth inperson. One after another gained the topshowed for a momentagainstthe skyand then dipped upon the further sideuntil thelast wasgone.
Dicklooked at Matcham with a kindlier eye.
"Soy' are to be true to meJack?" he asked. "I thoughtye wereof theother party."
Matchambegan to sob.
"Whatcheer!" cried Dick. "Now the saints behold us! wouldyesnivel fora word?"
"Yehurt me" sobbed Matcham. "Ye hurt me when ye threwme down.Y' are acoward to abuse your strength."
"Naythat is fool's talk" said Dickroughly. "Y' had notitleto mywindacMaster John. I would 'a' done right to have wellbastedyou. If ye go with meye must obey me; and socome."
Matchamhad half a thought to stay behind; butseeing that Dickcontinuedto scour full-tilt towards the eminence and not so muchas lookedacross his shoulderhe soon thought better of thatandbegan torun in turn. But the ground was very difficult and steep;Dick hadalready a long startand hadat any ratethe lighterheelsandhe had long since come to the summitcrawled forwardthroughthe firsand ensconced himself in a thick tuft of gorsebeforeMatchampanting like a deerrejoined himand lay down insilence byhis side.
Belowinthe bottom of a considerable valleythe short cut fromTunstallhamlet wound downwards to the ferry. It was well beatenand theeye followed it easily from point to point. Here it wasborderedby open glades; there the forest closed upon it; everyhundredyards it ran beside an ambush. Far down the paththe sunshone onseven steel saletsand from time to timeas the treesopenedSelden and his men could be seen riding brisklystill bentupon SirDaniel's mission. The wind had somewhat fallenbut stilltussledmerrily with the treesandperhapshad Appleyard beentherehewould have drawn a warning from the troubled conduct ofthe birds.
"Nowmark" Dick whispered. "They be already well advancedintothe wood;their safety lieth rather in continuing forward. But seeye wherethis wide glade runneth down before usand in the midstof itthese two score trees make like an island? There were theirsafety. An they but come sound as far as thatI will make shiftto warnthem. But my heart misgiveth me; they are but sevenagainst somanyand they but carry cross-bows. The long-bowJackwillhave the uppermost ever."
MeanwhileSelden and his men still wound up the pathignorant oftheirdangerand momently drew nearer hand. Onceindeedtheypauseddrew into a groupand seemed to point and listen. But itwassomething from far away across the plain that had arrestedtheirattention - a hollow growl of cannon that camefrom time totimeuponthe windand told of the great battle. It was worth athoughtto be sure; for if the voice of the big guns were thusbecomeaudible in Tunstall Forestthe fight must have rolled evereastwardand the dayby consequencegone sore against Sir Danieland thelords of the dark rose.
Butpresently the little troop began again to move forwardandcame nextto a very openheathy portion of the waywhere but asingletongue of forest ran down to join the road. They were butjustabreast of thiswhen an arrow shone flying. One of the menthrew uphis armshis horse rearedand both fell and struggledtogetherin a mass. Even from where the boys lay they could hearthe rumourof the men's voices crying out; they could see thestartledhorses prancingandpresentlyas the troop began torecoverfrom their first surpriseone fellow beginning todismount. A second arrow from somewhat farther off glanced in awide arch;a second rider bit the dust. The man who wasdismountinglost hold upon the reinand his horse fled gallopinganddragged him by the foot along the roadbumping from stone tostoneandbattered by the fleeing hoofs. The four who still keptthe saddleinstantly broke and scattered; one wheeled and rodeshriekingtowards the ferry; the other threewith loose rein andflyingraimentcame galloping up the road from Tunstall. Fromeveryclump they passed an arrow sped. Soon a horse fellbut theriderfound his feet and continued to pursue his comrades till asecondshot despatched him. Another man fell; then another horse;out of thewhole troop there was but one fellow leftand he onfoot;onlyin different directionsthe noise of the galloping ofthreeriderless horses was dying fast into the distance.
All thistime not one of the assailants had for a moment shownhimself. Here and there along the pathhorse or man rolledundespatchedin his agony; but no merciful enemy broke cover toput themfrom their pain.
Thesolitary survivor stood bewildered in the road beside hisfallencharger. He had come the length of that broad gladewiththe islandof timberpointed out by Dick. He was notperhapsfivehundred yards from where the boys lay hidden; and they couldsee himplainlylooking to and fro in deadly expectation. Butnothingcame; and the man began to pluck up his courageandsuddenlyunslung and bent his bow. At the same timeby somethingin hisactionDick recognised Selden.
At thisoffer of resistancefrom all about him in the covert ofthe woodsthere went up the sound of laughter. A score of menatleastforthis was the very thickest of the ambushjoined in thiscruel anduntimely mirth. Then an arrow glanced over Selden'sshoulder;and he leaped and ran a little back. Another dart struckquiveringat his heel. He made for the cover. A third shaftleaped outright in his faceand fell short in front of him. Andthen thelaughter was repeated loudlyrising and reechoing fromdifferentthickets.
It wasplain that his assailants were but baiting himas meninthosedaysbaited the poor bullor as the cat still trifles withthemouse. The skirmish was well over; farther down the roadafellow ingreen was already calmly gathering the arrows; and nowin theevil pleasure of their heartsthey gave themselves thespectacleof their poor fellow-sinner in his torture.
Seldenbegan to understand; he uttered a roar of angershoulderedhiscross-bowand sent a quarrel at a venture into the wood.Chancefavoured himfor a slight cry responded. Thenthrowingdown hisweaponSelden began to run before him up the gladeandalmost ina straight line for Dick and Matcham.
Thecompanions of the Black Arrow now began to shoot in earnest.But theywere properly served; their chance had past; most of themhad now toshoot against the sun; and Seldenas he ranboundedfrom sideto side to baffle and deceive their aim. Best of allbyturning upthe glade he had defeated their preparations; there werenomarksmen posted higher up than the one whom he had just killedorwounded; and the confusion of the foresters' counsels soonbecameapparent. A whistle sounded thriceand then again twice.It wasrepeated from another quarter. The woods on either sidebecamefull of the sound of people bursting through the underwood;and abewildered deer ran out into the openstood for a second onthreefeetwith nose in airand then plunged again into thethicket.
Seldenstill ranbounding; ever and again an arrow followed himbut stillwould miss. It began to appear as if he might escape.Dick hadhis bow armedready to support him; even Matchamforgetfulof his interesttook sides at heart for the poorfugitive;and both lads glowed and trembled in the ardour of theirhearts.
He waswithin fifty yards of themwhen an arrow struck him and hefell. He was up againindeedupon the instant; but now he ranstaggeringandlike a blind manturned aside from his direction.
Dickleaped to his feet and waved to him.
"Here!"he cried. "This way! here is help! Nayrunfellow-run!"
But justthen a second arrow struck Selden in the shoulderbetweenthe platesof his brigandineandpiercing through his jackbroughthimlike a stoneto earth.
"Othe poor heart!" cried Matchamwith clasped hands.
And Dickstood petrified upon the hilla mark for archery.
Ten to onehe had speedily been shot - for the foresters werefuriouswith themselvesand taken unawares by Dick's appearance inthe rearof their position - but instantlyout of a quarter of thewoodsurprisingly near to the two ladsa stentorian voice arosethe voiceof Ellis Duckworth.
"Hold!"it roared. "Shoot not! Take him alive! It isyoungShelton -Harry's son."
Andimmediately after a shrill whistle sounded several timesandwas againtaken up and repeated farther off. The whistleitappearedwas John Amend-All's battle trumpetby which hepublishedhis directions.
"Ahfoul fortune!" cried Dick. "We are undone. SwiftlyJackcomeswiftly!"
And thepair turned and ran back through the open pine clump thatcoveredthe summit of the hill.
CHAPTER VI- TO THE DAY'S END
It wasindeedhigh time for them to run. On every side thecompany ofthe Black Arrow was making for the hill. Somebeingbetterrunnersor having open ground to run uponhad faroutstrippedthe othersand were already close upon the goal; somefollowingvalleyshad spread out to right and leftand outflankedthe ladson either side.
Dickplunged into the nearest cover. It was a tall grove of oaksfirm underfoot and clear of underbrushand as it lay down hillthey madegood speed. There followed next a piece of openwhichDickavoidedholding to his left. Two minutes afterand the sameobstaclearisingthe lads followed the same course. Thus itfollowedthatwhile the ladsbending continually to the leftdrewnearer and nearer to the high road and the river which theyhadcrossed an hour or two beforethe great bulk of their pursuerswereleaning to the other handand running towards Tunstall.
The ladspaused to breathe. There was no sound of pursuit. Dickput hisear to the groundand still there was nothing; but thewindtobe surestill made a turmoil in the treesand it washard tomake certain.
"Onagain" said Dick; andtired as they wereand Matcham limpingwith hisinjured footthey pulled themselves togetherand oncemorepelted down the hill.
Threeminutes laterthey were breasting through a low thicket ofevergreen. High overheadthe tall trees made a continuous roof offoliage. It was a pillared groveas high as a cathedralandexcept forthe hollies among which the lads were strugglingopenandsmoothly swarded.
On theother sidepushing through the last fringe of evergreentheyblundered forth again into the open twilight of the grove.
"Stand!"cried a voice.
And therebetween the huge stemsnot fifty feet before themtheybeheld astout fellow in greensore blown with runningwhoinstantlydrew an arrow to the head and covered them. Matchamstoppedwith a cry; but Dickwithout a pauseran straight upontheforesterdrawing his dagger as he went. The otherwhether hewasstartled by the daring of the onslaughtor whether he washamperedby his ordersdid not shoot; he stood wavering; andbefore hehad time to come to himselfDick bounded at his throatand senthim sprawling backward on the turf. The arrow went oneway andthe bow another with a sounding twang. The disarmedforestergrappled his assailant; but the dagger shone and descendedtwice. Then came a couple of groansand then Dick rose to hisfeetagainand the man lay motionlessstabbed to the heart.
"On!"said Dick; and he once more pelted forwardMatcham trailingin therear. To say truththey made but poor speed of it by nowlabouringdismally as they ranand catching for their breath likefish. Matcham had a cruel stitchand his head swam; and as forDickhisknees were like lead. But they kept up the form ofrunningwith undiminished courage.
Presentlythey came to the end of the grove. It stopped abruptly;and therea few yards before themwas the high road fromRisinghamto Shorebylyingat this pointbetween two even wallsof forest.
At thesight Dick paused; and as soon as he stopped runninghebecameaware of a confused noisewhich rapidly grew louder. Itwas atfirst like the rush of a very high gust of windbut soon itbecamemore definiteand resolved itself into the galloping ofhorses;and thenin a flasha whole company of men-at-arms camedrivinground the cornerswept before the ladsand were goneagain uponthe instant. They rode as for their livesin completedisorder;some of them were wounded; riderless horses galloped attheir sidewith bloody saddles. They were plainly fugitives fromthe greatbattle.
The noiseof their passage had scarce begun to die away towardsShorebybefore fresh hoofs came echoing in their wakeand anotherdeserterclattered down the road; this time a single rider andbyhissplendid armoura man of high degree. Close after him therefollowedseveral baggage-waggonsfleeing at an ungainly canterthedrivers flailing at the horses as if for life. These must haverun earlyin the day; but their cowardice was not to save them.For justbefore they came abreast of where the lads stoodwonderinga man in hacked armourand seemingly beside himselfwith furyovertook the waggonsand with the truncheon of a swordbegan tocut the drivers down. Some leaped from their places andplungedinto the wood; the others he sabred as they satcursingthem thewhile for cowards in a voice that was scarce human.
All thistime the noise in the distance had continued to increase;the rumbleof cartsthe clatter of horsesthe cries of menagreatconfused rumourcame swelling on the wind; and it was plainthat therout of a whole army was pouringlike an inundationdownthe road.
Dick stoodsombre. He had meant to follow the highway till theturn forHolywoodand now he had to change his plan. But aboveallhehad recognised the colours of Earl Risinghamand he knewthat thebattle had gone finally against the rose of Lancaster.Had SirDaniel joinedand was he now a fugitive and ruined? or hadhedeserted to the side of Yorkand was he forfeit to honour? Itwas anugly choice.
"Come"he saidsternly; andturning on his heelhe began towalkforward through the grovewith Matcham limping in his rear.
For sometime they continued to thread the forest in silence. Itwas nowgrowing late; the sun was setting in the plain beyondKettley;the tree-tops overhead glowed golden; but the shadows hadbegun togrow darker and the chill of the night to fall.
"Ifthere were anything to eat!" cried Dicksuddenlypausing ashe spoke.
Matchamsat down and began to weep.
"Yecan weep for your own supperbut when it was to save men'slivesyour heart was hard enough" said Dickcontemptuously. "Y''ave sevendeaths upon your conscienceMaster John; I'll ne'erforgiveyou that."
"Conscience!"cried Matchamlooking fiercely up. "Mine! And yehave theman's red blood upon your dagger! And wherefore did yeslay himthe poor soul? He drew his arrowbut he let not fly; heheld youin his handand spared you! 'Tis as brave to kill akittenasa man that not defends himself."
Dick wasstruck dumb.
"Islew him fair. I ran me in upon his bow" he cried.
"Itwas a coward blow" returned Matcham. "Y' are but alout andbullyMaster Dick; ye but abuse advantages; let there come astrongerwe will see you truckle at his boot! Ye care not forvengeanceneither - for your father's death that goes unpaidandhis poorghost that clamoureth for justice. But if there come buta poorcreature in your hands that lacketh skill and strengthandwouldbefriend youdown she shall go!"
Dick wastoo furious to observe that "she."
"Marry!"he cried"and here is news! Of any two the one willstill bestronger. The better man throweth the worseand theworse iswell served. Ye deserve a beltingMaster Matchamforyourill-guidance and unthankfulness to meward; and what ye deserveye shallhave."
And Dickwhoeven in his angriest temperstill preserved theappearanceof composurebegan to unbuckle his belt.
"Hereshall be your supper" he saidgrimly. Matcham hadstoppedhis tears;he was as white as a sheetbut he looked Dick steadilyin thefaceand never moved. Dick took a stepswinging the belt.Then hepausedembarrassed by the large eyes and the thinwearyface ofhis companion. His courage began to subside.
"Sayye were in the wrongthen" he saidlamely.
"Nay"said Matcham"I was in the right. Comecruel! I belame;I beweary; I resist not; I ne'er did thee hurt; comebeat me -coward!"
Dickraised the belt at this last provocationbut Matcham wincedand drewhimself together with so cruel an apprehensionthat hisheartfailed him yet again. The strap fell by his sideand hestoodirresolutefeeling like a fool.
"Aplague upon theeshrew!" he said. "An ye be sofeeble of handye shouldkeep the closer guard upon your tongue. But I'll behangedbefore I beat you!" and he put on his belt again. "BeatyouI willnot" he continued; "but forgive you? - never. I knewyenot; yewere my master's enemy; I lent you my horse; my dinner yehaveeaten; y' 'ave called me a man o' wooda cowardand a bully.Naybythe mass! the measure is filledand runneth over. 'Tis agreatthing to be weakI trow: ye can do your worstyet shallnonepunish you; ye may steal a man's weapons in the hour of needyet maythe man not take his own again; - y' are weakforsooth!Naythenif one cometh charging at you with a lanceand criethhe isweakye must let him pierce your body through! Tut! foolwords!"
"Andyet ye beat me not" returned Matcham.
"Letbe" said Dick - "let be. I will instruct you. Y' 'ave beenill-nurturedmethinksand yet ye have the makings of some goodandbeyond all questionsaved me from the river. NayI hadforgottenit; I am as thankless as thyself. Butcomelet us on.An we befor Holywood this nightayor to-morrow earlywe hadbest setforward speedily."
But thoughDick had talked himself back into his usual good-humourMatchamhad forgiven him nothing. His violencethe recollectionof theforester whom he had slain - above allthe vision of theupraisedbeltwere things not easily to be forgotten.
"Iwill thank youfor the form's sake" said Matcham. "Butinsoothgood Master SheltonI had liever find my way alone. Hereis a widewood; pritheelet each choose his path; I owe you adinner anda lesson. Fare ye well!"
"Nay"cried Dick"if that be your tuneso be itand a plague bewith you!"
Eachturned asideand they began walking off severallywith nothought ofthe directionintent solely on their quarrel. But Dickhad notgone ten paces ere his name was calledand Matcham camerunningafter.
"Dick"he said"it were unmannerly to part so coldly. Here is myhandandmy heart with it. For all that wherein you have soexcellentlyserved and helped me - not for the formbut from theheartIthank you. Fare ye right well."
"Welllad" returned Dicktaking the hand which was offered him"goodspeed to youif speed you may. But I misdoubt it shrewdly.Y' are toodisputatious." So then they separated for the secondtime; andpresently it was Dick who was running after Matcham.
"Here"he said"take my cross-bow; shalt not go unarmed."
"Across-bow!" said Matcham. "NayboyI have neitherthestrengthto bend nor yet the skill to aim with it. It were no helpto megood boy. But yet I thank you."
The nighthad now fallenand under the trees they could no longerread eachother's face.
"Iwill go some little way with you" said Dick. "Thenight isdark. I would fain leave you on a pathat least. My mindmisgivethmey' are likely to be lost."
Withoutany more wordshe began to walk forwardand the otheronce morefollowed him. The blackness grew thicker and thicker.Only hereand therein open placesthey saw the skydotted withsmallstars. In the distancethe noise of the rout of theLancastrianarmy still continued to be faintly audible; but withevery stepthey left it farther in the rear.
At the endof half an hour of silent progress they came forth upona broadpatch of heathy open. It glimmered in the light of thestarsshaggy with fern and islanded with clumps of yew. And heretheypaused and looked upon each other.
"Y'are weary?" Dick said.
"NayI am so weary" answered Matcham"that methinks I couldliedown anddie."
"Ihear the chiding of a river" returned Dick. "Let usgo so farforthforI am sore athirst."
The groundsloped down gently; andsure enoughin the bottomthey founda little murmuring riverrunning among willows. Herethey threwthemselves down together by the brink; and putting theirmouths tothe level of a starry poolthey drank their fill.
"Dick"said Matcham"it may not be. I can no more."
"Isaw a pit as we came down" said Dick. "Let us liedown thereinandsleep."
"Naybut with all my heart!" cried Matcham.
The pitwas sandy and dry; a shock of brambles hung upon one hedgeand made apartial shelter; and there the two lads lay downkeepingclose together for the sake of warmththeir quarrel allforgotten. And soon sleep fell upon them like a cloudand underthe dewand stars they rested peacefully.
CHAPTERVII - THE HOODED FACE
They awokein the grey of the morning; the birds were not yet infull songbut twittered here and there among the woods; the sunwas notyet upbut the eastern sky was barred with solemn colours.Halfstarved and over-weary as they werethey lay without movingsunk in adelightful lassitude. And as they thus laythe clang ofa bellfell suddenly upon their ears.
"Abell!" said Dicksitting up. "Can we bethensonear toHolywood?"
A littleafterthe bell clanged againbut this time somewhatnearerhand; and from that time forthand still drawing nearer andneareritcontinued to sound brokenly abroad in the silence of themorning.
"Naywhat should this betoken?" said Dickwho was now broadawake.
"Itis some one walking" returned Matchamand "the belltollethever as hemoves."
"Isee that well" said Dick. "But wherefore? Whatmaketh he inTunstallWoods? Jack" he added"laugh at me an ye willbutIlike notthe hollow sound of it."
"Nay"said Matchamwith a shiver"it hath a doleful note. Anthe daywere not come" -
But justthen the bellquickening its pacebegan to ring thickandhurriedand then it gave a single hammering jangleand wassilent fora space.
"Itis as though the bearer had run for a pater-noster whileandthenleaped the river" Dick observed.
"Andnow beginneth he again to pace soberly forward" addedMatcham.
"Nay"returned Dick - "naynot so soberlyJack. 'Tis a manthatwalkethyou right speedily. 'Tis a man in some fear of his lifeor aboutsome hurried business. See ye not how swift the beatingdrawethnear?"
"Itis now close by" said Matcham.
They werenow on the edge of the pit; and as the pit itself was ona certaineminencethey commanded a view over the greaterproportionof the clearingup to the thick woods that closed itin.
Thedaylightwhich was very clear and greyshowed them a ribandof whitefootpath wandering among the gorse. It passed somehundredyards from the pitand ran the whole length of theclearingeast and west. By the line of its courseDick judged itshouldlead more or less directly to the Moat House.
Upon thispathstepping forth from the margin of the wooda whitefigure nowappeared. It paused a littleand seemed to look about;and thenat a slow paceand bent almost doubleit began to drawnearacross the heath. At every step the bell clanked. Faceithad none;a white hoodnot even pierced with eye-holesveiled thehead; andas the creature movedit seemed to feel its way with thetapping ofa stick. Fear fell upon the ladsas cold as death.
"Aleper!" said Dickhoarsely.
"Histouch is death" said Matcham. "Let us run."
"Notso" returned Dick. "See ye not? - he is stoneblind. Heguidethhim with a staff. Let us lie still; the wind blowethtowardsthe pathand he will go by and hurt us not. Alaspoorsoulandwe should rather pity him!"
"Iwill pity him when he is by" replied Matcham.
The blindleper was now about halfway towards themand just thenthe sunrose and shone full on his veiled face. He had been a tallman beforehe was bowed by his disgusting sicknessand even now hewalkedwith a vigorous step. The dismal beating of his bellthepatteringof the stickthe eyeless screen before his countenanceand theknowledge that he was not only doomed to death andsufferingbut shut out for ever from the touch of his fellow-menfilled thelads' bosoms with dismay; and at every step that broughthimnearertheir courage and strength seemed to desert them.
As he cameabout level with the pithe pausedand turned his facefull uponthe lads.
"Marybe my shield! He sees us!" said Matchamfaintly.
"Hush!"whispered Dick. "He doth but hearken. He is blindfool!"
The leperlooked or listenedwhichever he was really doingforsomeseconds. Then he began to move on againbut presently pausedonce moreand again turned and seemed to gaze upon the lads. EvenDickbecame dead-white and closed his eyesas if by the mere sighthe mightbecome infected. But soon the bell soundedand thistimewithout any farther hesitationthe leper crossed theremainderof the little heath and disappeared into the covert ofthe woods.
"Hesaw us" said Matcham. "I could swear it!"
"Tut!"returned Dickrecovering some sparks of courage. "He butheard us. He was in fearpoor soul! An ye were blindand walkedin aperpetual nightye would start yourselfif ever a twigrustled ora bird cried 'Peep.'"
"Dickgood Dickhe saw us" repeated Matcham. "When a manhearkenethhe doth not as this man; he doth otherwiseDick. Thiswasseeing; it was not hearing. He means foully. Harkelseifhis bellbe not stopped!"
Such wasthe case. The bell rang no longer.
"Nay"said Dick"I like not that. Nay" he cried again"Ilikethatlittle. What may this betoken? Let us goby the mass!"
"Hehath gone east" added Matcham. "Good Dicklet us gowestwardstraight;I shall not breathe till I have my back turned upon thatleper."
"Jacky' are too cowardly" replied Dick. "We shall go fairforHolywoodor as fairat leastas I can guide youand that willbe duenorth."
They wereafoot at oncepassed the stream upon some stepping-stonesand began to mount on the other sidewhich was steepertowardsthe margin of the wood. The ground became very unevenfull ofknolls and hollows; trees grew scattered or in clumps. itbecamedifficult to choose a pathand the lads somewhat wandered.They werewearybesideswith yesterday's exertions and the lackof foodand they moved but heavily and dragged their feet amongthe sand.
Presentlycoming to the top of a knollthey were aware of thelepersome hundred feet in front of themcrossing the line oftheirmarch by a hollow. His bell was silenthis staff no longertapped thegroundand he went before him with the swift andassuredfootsteps of a man who sees. Next moment he haddisappearedinto a little thicket.
The ladsat the first glimpsehad crouched behind a tuft ofgorse;there they layhorror-struck.
"Certainhe pursueth us" said Dick - "certain! He held theclapper ofhis bell in one handsaw ye? that it should not sound.Now maythe saints aid and guide usfor I have no strength tocombatpestilence!"
"Whatmaketh he?" cried Matcham. "What doth he want? Who everheard thelikethat a leperout of mere maliceshould pursueunfortunates? Hath he not his bell to that very endthat peoplemay avoidhim? Dickthere is below this something deeper."
"NayI care not" moaned Dick; "the strength is gone out of me;mylegs arelike water. The saints be mine assistance!"
"Wouldye lie there idle?" cried Matcham. "Let us back intotheopen. We have the better chance; he cannot steal upon usunawares."
"NotI" said Dick. "My time is comeand peradventure hemay passus by."
"Bendmethenyour bow!" cried the other. "What! will yebe aman?"
Dickcrossed himself. "Would ye have me shoot upon a leper?"hecried. "The hand would fail me. Naynow" he added - "naynowlet be! With sound men I will fightbut not with ghosts andlepers. Which this isI wot not. One or otherHeaven be ourprotection!"
"Now"said Matcham"if this be man's couragewhat a poor thingis man! But sith ye will do naughtlet us lie close."
Then camea singlebroken jangle on the bell.
"Hehath missed his hold upon the clapper" whispered Matcham."Saints!how near he is!"
But Dickanswered never a word; his teeth were near chattering.
Soon theysaw a piece of the white robe between some bushes; thentheleper's head was thrust forth from behind a trunkand heseemednarrowly to scan the neighbourhood before he once againwithdrew. To their stretched sensesthe whole bush appeared alivewithrustlings and the creak of twigs; and they heard the beatingof eachother's heart.
Suddenlywith a crythe leper sprang into the open close byandranstraight upon the lads. Theyshrieking aloudseparated andbegan torun different ways. But their horrible enemy fasteneduponMatchamran him swiftly downand had him almost instantly aprisoner. The lad gave one scream that echoed high and far overtheforesthe had one spasm of strugglingand then all his limbsrelaxedand he fell limp into his captor's arms.
Dick heardthe cry and turned. He saw Matcham fall; and on theinstanthis spirit and his strength revived; With a cry of pity andangerheunslung and bent his arblast. But ere he had time toshoottheleper held up his hand.
"Holdyour shotDickon!" cried a familiar voice. "Holdyour shotmad wag! Know ye not a friend?"
And thenlaying down Matcham on the turfhe undid the hood fromoff hisfaceand disclosed the features of Sir Daniel Brackley.
"SirDaniel!" cried Dick.
"Ayby the massSir Daniel!" returned the knight. "Wouldyeshoot uponyour guardianrogue? But here is this" - And there hebroke offand pointing to Matchamasked: "How call ye himDick?"
"Nay"said Dick"I call him Master Matcham. Know ye him not? Hesaid yeknew him!"
"Ay"replied Sir Daniel"I know the lad;" and he chuckled. "Buthe hasfainted; andby my soothhe might have had less to faintfor! HeyDick? Did I put the fear of death upon you?"
"IndeedSir Danielye did that" said Dickand sighed again atthe mererecollection. "Naysirsaving your respectI had aslief 'a'met the devil in person; and to speak truthI am yet alla-quake. But what made yesirin such a guise?"
SirDaniel's brow grew suddenly black with anger.
"Whatmade I?" he said. "Ye do well to mind me of it! What? Iskulkedfor my poor life in my own wood of TunstallDick. We wereill spedat the battle; we but got there to be swept among therout. Where be all my good men-at-arms? Dickby the massI knownot! We were swept down; the shot fell thick among us; I have notseen oneman in my own colours since I saw three fall. For myselfI camesound to Shorebyand being mindful of the Black Arrowgotme thisgown and belland came softly by the path for the MoatHouse. There is no disguise to be compared with it; the jingle ofthis bellwould scare me the stoutest outlaw in the forest; theywould allturn pale to hear it. At length I came by you andMatcham. I could see but evilly through this same hoodand wasnot sureof youbeing chieflyand for many a good causeastonishedat the finding you together. Moreoverin the openwhere Ihad to go slowly and tap with my staffI feared todisclosemyself. But see" he added"this poor shrew begins alittle torevive. A little good canary will comfort me the heartof it."
Theknightfrom under his long dressproduced a stout bottleandbegan torub the temples and wet the lips of the patientwhoreturnedgradually to consciousnessand began to roll dim eyesfrom oneto another.
"WhatcheerJack!" said Dick. "It was no leperafter all;it wasSirDaniel! See!"
"Swallowme a good draught of this" said the knight. "Thiswillgive youmanhood. ThereafterI will give you both a mealand weshall allthree on to Tunstall. ForDick" he continuedlayingforthbread and meat upon the grass"I will avow to youin allgoodconscienceit irks me sorely to be safe between four walls.Not sinceI backed a horse have I been pressed so hard; peril oflifejeopardy of land and livelihoodand to sum upall theselosels inthe wood to hunt me down. But I be not yet shent. Someof my ladswill pick me their way home. Hatch hath ten fellows;Seldenhehad six. Naywe shall soon be strong again; and if Ican butbuy my peace with my right fortunate and undeserving Lordof YorkwhyDickwe'll be a man again and go a-horseback!"
And sosayingthe knight filled himself a horn of canaryandpledgedhis ward in dumb show.
"Selden"Dick faltered - "Selden" - And he paused again.
Sir Danielput down the wine untasted.
"How!"he criedin a changed voice. "Selden? Speak! What ofSelden?"
Dickstammered forth the tale of the ambush and the massacre.
The knightheard in silence; but as he listenedhis countenancebecameconvulsed with rage and grief.
"Nowhere" he cried"on my right handI swear to avenge it! Ifthat Ifailif that I spill not ten men's souls for eachmay thishandwither from my body! I broke this Duckworth like a rush; Ibeggaredhim to his door; I burned the thatch above his head; Idrove himfrom this country; and nowcometh he back to beard me?NaybutDuckworththis time it shall go bitter hard!"
He wassilent for some timehis face working.
"Eat!"he criedsuddenly. "And you here" he added toMatcham"swearme an oath to follow straight to the Moat House."
"Iwill pledge mine honour" replied Matcham.
"Whatmake I with your honour?" cried the knight. "Swear meuponyourmother's welfare!"
Matchamgave the required oath; and Sir Daniel re-adjusted the hoodover hisfaceand prepared his bell and staff. To see him oncemore inthat appalling travesty somewhat revived the horror of histwocompanions. But the knight was soon upon his feet.
"Eatwith despatch" he said"and follow me yarely to minehouse."
And withthat he set forth again into the woods; and presentlyafter thebell began to soundnumbering his stepsand the twolads satby their untasted mealand heard it die slowly away uphill intothe distance.
"Andso ye go to Tunstall?" Dick inquired.
"Yeaverily" said Matcham"when needs must! I am braverbehindSirDaniel's back than to his face."
They atehastilyand set forth along the path through the airyupperlevels of the forestwhere great beeches stood apart amonggreenlawnsand the birds and squirrels made merry on the boughs.Two hourslaterthey began to descend upon the other sideandalreadyamong the tree-topssaw before them the red walls androofs ofTunstall House.
"Here"said Matchampausing"ye shall take your leave of yourfriendJackwhom y' are to see no more. ComeDickforgive himwhat hedid amissas hefor his partcheerfully and lovinglyforgivethyou."
"Andwherefore so?" asked Dick. "An we both go toTunstallIshall seeyou yet againI trowand that right often."
"Ye'llnever again see poor Jack Matcham" replied the other"thatwas sofearful and burthensomeand yet plucked you from the river;ye'll notsee him moreDickby mine honour!" He held his armsopenandthe lads embraced and kissed. "AndDick" continuedMatcham"my spirit bodeth ill. Y' are now to see a new SirDaniel;for heretofore hath all prospered in his hands exceedinglyandfortune followed him; but nowmethinkswhen his fate hathcome uponhimand he runs the adventure of his lifehe will provebut a foullord to both of us. He may be brave in battlebut hehath theliar's eye; there is fear in his eyeDickand fear is ascruel asthe wolf! We go down into that houseSaint Mary guide usforthagain!"
And sothey continued their descent in silenceand came out atlastbefore Sir Daniel's forest strongholdwhere it stoodlow andshadyflanked with round towers and stained with moss and lichenin thelilied waters of the moat. Even as they appearedthe doorswereopenedthe bridge loweredand Sir Daniel himselfwith Hatchand theparson at his sidestood ready to receive them.
BOOKII - THE MOAT HOUSE
CHAPTER I- DICK ASKS QUESTIONS
The MoatHouse stood not far from the rough forest road.Externallyit was a compact rectangle of red stoneflanked ateachcorner by a round towerpierced for archery and battlementedat thetop. Withinit enclosed a narrow court. The moat wasperhapstwelve feet widecrossed by a single drawbridge. It wassuppliedwith water by a trenchleading to a forest pool andcommandedthrough its whole lengthfrom the battlements of thetwosouthern towers. Except that one or two tall and thick treeshad beensuffered to remain within half a bowshot of the wallsthehouse wasin a good posture for defence.
In thecourtDick found a part of the garrisonbusy withpreparationsfor defenceand gloomily discussing the chances of asiege. Some were making arrowssome sharpening swords that hadlong beendisused; but even as they workedthey shook their heads.
Twelve ofSir Daniel's party had escaped the battlerun thegauntletthrough the woodand come alive to the Moat House. Butout ofthis dozenthree had been gravely wounded: two atRisinghamin the disorder of the routone by John Amend-All'smarksmenas he crossed the forest. This raised the force of thegarrisoncounting HatchSir Danieland young Sheltonto twenty-twoeffective men. And more might be continually expected toarrive. The danger lay not therefore in the lack of men.
It was theterror of the Black Arrow that oppressed the spirits ofthegarrison. For their open foes of the party of Yorkin thesemostchanging timesthey felt but a far-away concern. "Theworld"as people said in those days"might change again" beforeharmcame. But for their neighbours in the woodthey trembled.It was notSir Daniel alone who was a mark for hatred. His menconsciousof impunityhad carried themselves cruelly through allthecountry. Harsh commands had been harshly executed; and of thelittleband that now sat talking in the courtthere was not onebut hadbeen guilty of some act of oppression or barbarity. Andnowbythe fortune of warSir Daniel had become powerless toprotecthis instruments; nowby the issue of some hours of battleat whichmany of them had not been presentthey had all becomepunishabletraitors to the Stateoutside the buckler of the lawashrunkencompany in a poor fortress that was hardly tenableandexposedupon all sides to the just resentment of their victims.Nor hadthere been lacking grisly advertisements of what they mightexpect.
Atdifferent periods of the evening and the nightno fewer thansevenriderless horses had come neighing in terror to the gate.Two werefrom Selden's troop; five belonged to men who had riddenwith SirDaniel to the field. Lastlya little before dawnaspearmanhad come staggering to the moat sidepierced by threearrows;even as they carried him inhis spirit had departed; butby thewords that he uttered in his agonyhe must have been thelastsurvivor of a considerable company of men.
Hatchhimself showedunder his sun-brownthe pallour of anxiety;and whenhe had taken Dick aside and learned the fate of Seldenhefell on astone bench and fairly wept. The othersfrom where theysat onstools or doorsteps in the sunny angle of the courtlookedat himwith wonder and alarmbut none ventured to inquire thecause ofhis emotion.
"NayMaster Shelton" said Hatchat last - "naybut what saidI?We shallall go. Selden was a man of his hands; he was like abrother tome. Wellhe has gone second; wellwe shall allfollow! For what said their knave rhyme? - 'A black arrow in eachblackheart.' Was it not so it went? AppleyardSeldenSmitholdHumphrey gone; and there lieth poor John Cartercryingpoorsinnerfor the priest."
Dick gaveear. Out of a low windowhard by where they weretalkinggroans and murmurs came to his ear.
"Liethhe there?" he asked.
"Ayin the second porter's chamber" answered Hatch. "Wecouldnot bearhim furthersoul and body were so bitterly at odds. Atevery stepwe lifted himhe thought to wend. But nowmethinksit is thesoul that suffereth. Ever for the priest he criethandSirOliverI wot not whystill cometh not. 'Twill be a longshrift;but poor Appleyard and poor Seldenthey had none."
Dickstooped to the window and looked in. The little cell was lowand darkbut he could make out the wounded soldier lying moaningon hispallet.
"Carterpoor friendhow goeth it?" he asked.
"MasterShelton" returned the manin an excited whisper"for thedear lightof heavenbring the priest. AlackI am sped; I ambroughtvery low down; my hurt is to the death. Ye may do me nomoreservice; this shall be the last. Nowfor my poor soul'sinterestand as a loyal gentlemanbestir you; for I have thatmatter onmy conscience that shall drag me deep."
Hegroanedand Dick heard the grating of his teethwhether inpain orterror.
Just thenSir Daniel appeared upon the threshold of the hall. Hehad aletter in one hand.
"Lads"he said"we have had a shogwe have had a tumble;whereforethendeny it? Rather it imputeth to get speedily againtosaddle. This old Harry the Sixt has had the undermost. Washwethenour hands of him. I have a good friend that rideth nextthe dukethe Lord of Wensleydale. WellI have writ a letter tomy friendpraying his good lordshipand offering largesatisfactionfor the past and reasonable surety for the future.Doubt notbut he will lend a favourable ear. A prayer withoutgifts islike a song without music: I surfeit him with promisesboys - Ispare not to promise. Whatthenis lacking? Nayagreatthing - wherefore should I deceive you? - a great thing and adifficult: a messenger to bear it. The woods - y' are notignorantof that - lie thick with our ill-willers. Haste is mostneedful;but without sleight and caution all is naught. Whichthenofthis company will take me this letterbear me it to myLord ofWensleydaleand bring me the answer back?"
One maninstantly arose.
"Iwillan't like you" said he. "I will even risk mycarcase."
"NayDicky Bowyernot so" returned the knight. "It likesmenot. Y' are sly indeedbut not speedy. Ye were a laggard ever."
"An'tbe soSir Danielhere am I" cried another.
"Thesaints forfend!" said the knight. "Y' are speedybutnotsly. Ye would blunder me headforemost into John Amend-All's camp.I thankyou both for your good courage; butin soothit may notbe."
Then Hatchoffered himselfand he also was refused.
"Iwant you heregood Bennet; y' are my right handindeed"returnedthe knight; and then several coming forward in a groupSir Danielat length selected one and gave him the letter.
"Now"he said"upon your good speed and better discretion we doalldepend. Bring me a good answer backand before three weeksIwill havepurged my forest of these vagabonds that brave us to ourfaces. But mark it wellThrogmorton: the matter is not easy. Yemust stealforth under nightand go like a fox; and how ye are tocross TillI know notneither by the bridge nor ferry."
"Ican swim" returned Throgmorton. "I will comesoundlyfearnot."
"Wellfriendget ye to the buttery" replied Sir Daniel. "Yeshall swimfirst of all in nut-brown ale." And with that he turnedback intothe hall.
"SirDaniel hath a wise tongue" said Hatchasideto Dick. "Seenowwheremany a lesser man had glossed the matter overhespeakethit out plainly to his company. Here is a danger'asaithandhere difficulty; and jesteth in the very saying. Nayby SaintBarbaryhe is a born captain! Not a man but he is somedealheartened up! See how they fall again to work."
Thispraise of Sir Daniel put a thought in the lad's head.
"Bennet"he said"how came my father by his end?"
"Askme not that" replied Hatch. "I had no hand norknowledge init;furthermoreI will even be silentMaster Dick. For look youin a man'sown business there he may speak; but of hearsay mattersand ofcommon talknot so. Ask me Sir Oliver - ayor Carterifye will;not me."
And Hatchset off to make the roundsleaving Dick in a muse.
"Whereforewould he not tell me?" thought the lad. "Andwhereforenamed heCarter? Carter - naythen Carter had a hand in itperchance."
He enteredthe houseand passing some little way along a flaggedandvaulted passagecame to the door of the cell where the hurtman laygroaning. At his entrance Carter started eagerly.
"Haveye brought the priest?" he cried.
"Notyet awhile" returned Dick. "Y' 'ave a word to tellme first.How camemy fatherHarry Sheltonby his death?"
The man'sface altered instantly.
"Iknow not" he replieddoggedly.
"Nayye know well" returned Dick. "Seek not to put meby."
"Itell you I know not" repeated Carter.
"Then"said Dick"ye shall die unshriven. Here am Iand hereshallstay. There shall no priest come near yourest assured.For ofwhat avail is penitencean ye have no mind to right thosewrongs yehad a hand in? and without penitenceconfession is butmockery."
"Yesay what ye mean notMaster Dick" said Cartercomposedly."Itis ill threatening the dyingand becometh you (to speak truth)little. And for as little as it commends youit shall serve youless. Stayan ye please. Ye will condemn my soul - ye shalllearnnothing! There is my last word to you." And thewounded manturnedupon the other side.
NowDickto say truthhad spoken hastilyand was ashamed of histhreat. But he made one more effort.
"Carter"he said"mistake me not. I know ye were but aninstrumentin the hands of others; a churl must obey his lord; Iwould notbear heavily on such an one. But I begin to learn uponmany sidesthat this great duty lieth on my youth and ignorancetoavenge myfather. Pritheethengood Carterset aside the memoryof mythreateningsand in pure goodwill and honest penitence giveme a wordof help."
Thewounded man lay silent; norsay what Dick pleasedcould heextractanother word from him.
"Well"said Dick"I will go call the priest to you as ye desired;forhowsoever ye be in fault to me or mineI would not bewillinglyin fault to anyleast of all to one upon the lastchange."
Again theold soldier heard him without speech or motion; even hisgroans hehad suppressed; and as Dick turned and left the roomhewas filledwith admiration for that rugged fortitude.
"Andyet" he thought"of what use is courage without wit? Hadhis handsbeen cleanhe would have spoken; his silence did confessthe secretlouder than words. Nayupon all sidesproof flowethon me. Sir Danielhe or his menhath done this thing."
Dickpaused in the stone passage with a heavy heart. At that hourin the ebbof Sir Daniel's fortunewhen he was beleaguered by thearchers ofthe Black Arrow and proscribed by the victoriousYorkistswas Dickalsoto turn upon the man who had nourishedand taughthimwho had severely punishedindeedbut yetunwearyinglyprotected his youth? The necessityif it shouldprove tobe onewas cruel.
"PrayHeaven he be innocent!" he said.
And thensteps sounded on the flaggingand Sir Oliver came gravelytowardsthe lad.
"Oneseeketh you earnestly" said Dick.
"I amupon the waygood Richard" said the priest. "It isthispoorCarter. Alackhe is beyond cure."
"Andyet his soul is sicker than his body" answered Dick.
"Haveye seen him?" asked Sir Oliverwith a manifest start.
"I dobut come from him" replied Dick.
"Whatsaid he? what said he?" snapped the priestwithextraordinaryeagerness.
"Hebut cried for you the more piteouslySir Oliver. It were welldone to gothe fasterfor his hurt is grievous" returned the lad.
"I amstraight for him" was the reply. "Wellwe have alloursins. We must all come to our latter daygood Richard."
"Aysir; and it were well if we all came fairly" answered Dick.
The priestdropped his eyesand with an inaudible benedictionhurriedon.
"Hetoo!" thought Dick - "hethat taught me in piety! Naythenwhat aworld is thisif all that care for me be blood-guilty of myfather'sdeath? Vengeance! Alas! what a sore fate is mineif Imust beavenged upon my friends!"
Thethought put Matcham in his head. He smiled at the remembranceof hisstrange companionand then wondered where he was. Eversince theyhad come together to the doors of the Moat House theyoungerlad had disappearedand Dick began to weary for a wordwith him.
About anhour aftermass being somewhat hastily run through by SirOliverthe company gathered in the hall for dinner. It was alonglowapartmentstrewn with green rushesand the walls hungwith arrasin a design of savage men and questing bloodhounds; hereand therehung spears and bows and bucklers; a fire blazed in thebigchimney; there were arras-covered benches round the wallandin themidst the tablefairly spreadawaited the arrival of thediners. Neither Sir Daniel nor his lady made their appearance.Sir Oliverhimself was absentand here again there was no word ofMatcham. Dick began to grow alarmedto recall his companion'smelancholyforebodingsand to wonder to himself if any foul playhadbefallen him in that house.
Afterdinner he found Goody Hatchwho was hurrying to my LadyBrackley.
"Goody"he said"where is Master MatchamI prithee? I saw ye goin withhim when we arrived."
The oldwoman laughed aloud.
"AhMaster Dick" she said"y' have a famous bright eye inyourheadtobe sure!" and laughed again.
"Naybut where is heindeed?" persisted Dick.
"Yewill never see him more" she returned - "never. Itis sure."
"An Ido not" returned the lad"I will know the reason why. Hecame nothither of his full free will; such as I amI am his bestprotectorand I will see him justly used. There be too manymysteries;I do begin to weary of the game!"
But asDick was speakinga heavy hand fell on his shoulder. Itwas BennetHatch that had come unperceived behind him. With a jerkof histhumbthe retainer dismissed his wife.
"FriendDick" he saidas soon as they were alone"are ye a moon-strucknatural? An ye leave not certain things in peaceye werebetter inthe salt sea than here in Tunstall Moat House. Y' havequestionedme; y' have baited Carter; y' have frighted the Jack-priestwith hints. Bear ye more wiselyfool; and even nowwhenSir Danielcalleth youshow me a smooth face for the love ofwisdom. Y' are to be sharply questioned. Look to your answers."
"Hatch"returned Dick"in all this I smell a guilty conscience."
"Anye go not the wiserye will soon smell blood" replied Bennet."I dobut warn you. And here cometh one to call you."
Andindeedat that very momenta messenger came across the courtto summonDick into the presence of Sir Daniel.
CHAPTER II- THE TWO OATHS
Sir Danielwas in the hall; there he paced angrily before the fireawaitingDick's arrival. None was by except Sir Oliverand he satdiscreetlybackwardthumbing and muttering over his breviary.
"Y'have sent for meSir Daniel?" said young Shelton.
"Ihave sent for youindeed" replied the knight. "Forwhatcometh tomine ears? Have I been to you so heavy a guardian thatye makehaste to credit ill of me? Or sith that ye see mefor thenoncesome worsteddo ye think to quit my party? By the massyourfather was not so! Those he was nearthose he stood bycomewind orweather. But youDicky' are a fair-day frienditseemethand now seek to clear yourself of your allegiance."
"An'tplease youSir Danielnot so" returned Dickfirmly. "Iamgrateful and faithfulwhere gratitude and faith are due. Andbeforemore is saidI thank youand I thank Sir Oliver; y' havegreatclaims upon me both - none can have more; I were a hound if Iforgotthem."
"Itis well" said Sir Daniel; and thenrising into anger:"Gratitudeand faith are wordsDick Shelton" he continued; "but Ilook todeeds. In this hour of my perilwhen my name isattaintedwhen my lands are forfeitwhen this wood is full of menthathunger and thirst for my destructionwhat doth gratitude?what dothfaith? I have but a little company remaining; is itgratefulor faithful to poison me their hearts with your insidiouswhisperings? Save me from such gratitude! Butcomenowwhat isit yewish? Speak; we are here to answer. If ye have aughtagainstmestand forth and say it."
"Sir"replied Dick"my father fell when I was yet a child. Ithath cometo mine ears that he was foully done by. It hath come tomine ears- for I will not dissemble - that ye had a hand in hisundoing. And in all verityI shall not be at peace in mine ownmindnorvery clear to help youtill I have certain resolution ofthesedoubts."
Sir Danielsat down in a deep settle. He took his chin in his handand lookedat Dick fixedly.
"Andye think I would be guardian to the man's son that I hadmurdered?"he asked.
"Nay"said Dick"pardon me if I answer churlishly; but indeed yeknow rightwell a wardship is most profitable. All these yearshave yenot enjoyed my revenuesand led my men? Have ye not stillmymarriage? I wot not what it may be worth - it is worthsomething. Pardon me again; but if ye were base enough to slay aman undertrusthere wereperhapsreasons enough to move you tothe lesserbaseness."
"WhenI was lad of your years" returned Sir Danielsternly"mymind hadnot so turned upon suspicions. And Sir Oliver here" headded"why should hea priestbe guilty of this act?"
"NaySir Daniel" said Dick"but where the master biddeth therewill thedog go. It is well known this priest is but yourinstrument. I speak very freely; the time is not for courtesies.Even as Ispeakso would I be answered. And answer get I none!Ye but putmore questions. I rede ye be wareSir Daniel; for inthis wayye will but nourish and not satisfy my doubts."
"Iwill answer you fairlyMaster Richard" said the knight. "WereI topretend ye have not stirred my wrathI were no honest man.But I willbe just even in anger. Come to me with these words wheny' aregrown and come to man's estateand I am no longer yourguardianand so helpless to resent them. Come to me thenand Iwillanswer you as ye meritwith a buffet in the mouth. Till thenye havetwo courses: either swallow me down these insultskeep asilenttongueand fight in the meanwhile for the man that fed andfought foryour infancy; or else - the door standeth openthewoods arefull of mine enemies - go."
The spiritwith which these words were utteredthe looks withwhich theywere accompaniedstaggered Dick; and yet he could notbutobserve that he had got no answer.
"Idesire nothing more earnestlySir Danielthan to believe you"hereplied. "Assure me ye are free from this."
"Willye take my word of honourDick?" inquired the knight.
"Thatwould I" answered the lad.
"Igive it you" returned Sir Daniel. "Upon my word ofhonourupon theeternal welfare of my spiritand as I shall answer for mydeedshereafterI had no hand nor portion in your father's death."
Heextended his handand Dick took it eagerly. Neither of themobservedthe priestwhoat the pronunciation of that solemn andfalseoathhad half arisen from his seat in an agony of horror andremorse.
"Ah"cried Dick"ye must find it in your great-heartedness topardonme! I was a churlindeedto doubt of you. But ye havemyhand uponit; I will doubt no more."
"NayDick" replied Sir Daniel"y' are forgiven. Ye knownot theworld andits calumnious nature."
"Iwas the more to blame" added Dick"in that the roguespointednotdirectly at yourselfbut at Sir Oliver."
As hespokehe turned towards the priestand paused in the middleof thelast word. This tallruddycorpulenthigh-stepping manhadfallenyou might sayto pieces; his colour was gonehislimbs wererelaxedhis lips stammered prayers; and nowwhenDick'seyes were fixed upon him suddenlyhe cried out aloudlikesome wildanimaland buried his face in his hands.
Sir Danielwas by him in two stridesand shook him fiercely by theshoulder. At the same moment Dick's suspicions reawakened.
"Nay"he said"Sir Oliver may swear also. 'Twas him theyaccused."
"Heshall swear" said the knight.
Sir Oliverspeechlessly waved his arms.
"Ayby the mass! but ye shall swear" cried Sir Danielbesidehimselfwith fury. "Hereupon this bookye shall swear" hecontinuedpicking up the breviarywhich had fallen to the ground."What! Ye make me doubt you! SwearI say; swear!"
But thepriest was still incapable of speech. His terror of SirDanielhis terror of perjuryrisen to about an equal heightstrangledhim.
And justthenthrough the highstained-glass window of the halla blackarrow crashedand struckand stuck quiveringin themidst ofthe long table.
SirOliverwith a loud screamfell fainting on the rushes; whiletheknightfollowed by Dickdashed into the court and up thenearestcorkscrew stair to the battlements. The sentries were allon thealert. The sun shone quietly on green lawns dotted withtreesandon the wooded hills of the forest which enclosed theview. There was no sign of a besieger.
"Whencecame that shot?" asked the knight.
"Fromyonder clumpSir Daniel" returned a sentinel.
The knightstood a littlemusing. Then he turned to Dick."Dick"he said"keep me an eye upon these men; I leave you inchargehere. As for the priesthe shall clear himselfor I willknow thereason why. I do almost begin to share in yoursuspicions. He shall sweartrust meor we shall prove himguilty."
Dickanswered somewhat coldlyand the knightgiving him apiercingglancehurriedly returned to the hall. His first glancewas forthe arrow. It was the first of these missiles he had seenand as heturned it to and frothe dark hue of it touched him withsomefear. Again there was some writing: one word - "Earthed."
"Ay"he broke out"they know I am homethen. Earthed! Aybutthere isnot a dog among them fit to dig me out."
Sir Oliverhad come to himselfand now scrambled to his feet.
"AlackSir Daniel!" he moaned"y' 'ave sworn a dread oath; y' aredoomed tothe end of time."
"Ay"returned the knight"I have sworn an oathindeedthouchucklehead;but thyself shalt swear a greater. It shall be on theblessedcross of Holywood. Look to it; get the words ready. Itshall besworn to-night."
"Nowmay Heaven lighten you!" replied the priest; "may Heaveninclineyour heart from this iniquity!"
"Lookyoumy good father" said Sir Daniel"if y' are forpietyI say nomore; ye begin latethat is all. But if y' are in anysense bentupon wisdomhear me. This lad beginneth to irk me likea wasp. I have a need for himfor I would sell his marriage. ButI tellyouin all plainnessif that he continue to weary meheshall gojoin his father. I give orders now to change him to thechamberabove the chapel. If that ye can swear your innocency witha goodsolid oath and an assured countenanceit is well; the ladwill be atpeace a littleand I will spare him. If that yestammer orblenchor anyways boggle at the swearinghe will notbelieveyou; and by the masshe shall die. There is for yourthinkingon."
"Thechamber above the chapel!" gasped the priest.
"Thatsame" replied the knight. "So if ye desire to savehimsave him;and if ye desire notpritheego toand let me be atpeace! For an I had been a hasty manI would already have put myswordthrough youfor your intolerable cowardice and folly. Haveyechosen? Say!"
"Ihave chosen" said the priest. "Heaven pardon meIwill doevil forgood. I will swear for the lad's sake."
"Sois it best!" said Sir Daniel. "Send for himthenspeedily.Ye shallsee him alone. Yet I shall have an eye on you. I shallbe here inthe panel room."
The knightraised the arras and let it fall again behind him.There wasthe sound of a spring opening; then followed the creakingof trodstairs.
SirOliverleft alonecast a timorous glance upward at the arras-coveredwalland crossed himself with every appearance of terrorandcontrition.
"Nayif he is in the chapel room" the priest murmured"were itat mysoul's costI must save him."
Threeminutes laterDickwho had been summoned by anothermessengerfound Sir Oliver standing by the hall tableresoluteand pale.
"RichardShelton" he said"ye have required an oath from me. ImightcomplainI might deny you; but my heart is moved toward youfor thepastand I will even content you as ye choose. By thetrue crossof HolywoodI did not slay your father."
"SirOliver" returned Dick"when first we read JohnAmend-All'spaperIwas convinced of so much. But suffer me to put twoquestions. Ye did not slay him; granted. But had ye no hand init?"
"None"said Sir Oliver. And at the same time he began to contorthis faceand signal with his mouth and eyebrowslike one whodesired toconvey a warningyet dared not utter a sound.
Dickregarded him in wonder; then he turned and looked all abouthim at theempty hall.
"Whatmake ye?" he inquired.
"Whynaught" returned the priesthastily smoothing hiscountenance. "I make naught; I do but suffer; I am sick. I - I -pritheeDickI must begone. On the true cross of HolywoodI amcleaninnocent alike of violence or treachery. Content yegoodlad. Farewell!"
And hemade his escape from the apartment with unusual alacrity.
Dickremained rooted to the spothis eyes wandering about theroomhisface a changing picture of various emotionswonderdoubtsuspicionand amusement. Graduallyas his mind grewclearersuspicion took the upper handand was succeeded bycertaintyof the worst. He raised his headandas he did soviolentlystarted. High upon the wall there was the figure of asavagehunter woven in the tapestry. With one hand he held a hornto hismouth; in the other he brandished a stout spear. His facewas darkfor he was meant to represent an African.
Nowherewas what had startled Richard Shelton. The sun had movedaway fromthe hall windowsand at the same time the fire hadblazed uphigh on the wide hearthand shed a changeful glow uponthe roofand hangings. In this light the figure of the blackhunter hadwinked at him with a white eyelid.
Hecontinued staring at the eye. The light shone upon it like agem; itwas liquidit was alive. Again the white eyelid closedupon itfor a fraction of a secondand the next moment it wasgone.
Therecould be no mistake. The live eye that had been watching himthrough ahole in the tapestry was gone. The firelight no longershone on areflecting surface.
Andinstantly Dick awoke to the terrors of his position. Hatch'swarningthe mute signals of the priestthis eye that had observedhim fromthe wallran together in his mind. He saw he had beenput uponhis trialthat he had once more betrayed his suspicionsand thatshort of some miraclehe was lost.
"If Icannot get me forth out of this house" he thought"I am adead man! And this poor Matchamtoo - to what a cockatrice's nesthave I notled him!"
He wasstill so thinkingwhen there came one in hasteto bid himhelp inchanging his armshis clothingand his two or threebookstoa new chamber.
"Anew chamber?" he repeated. "Wherefore so? Whatchamber?"
"'Tisone above the chapel" answered the messenger.
"Ithath stood long empty" said Dickmusing. "Whatmanner ofroom isit?"
"Naya brave room" returned the man. "But yet" -lowering hisvoice -"they call it haunted."
"Haunted?"repeated Dickwith a chill. "I have not heard of it.Naythenand by whom?"
Themessenger looked about him; and thenin a low whisper"By thesacrist ofSt. John's" he said. "They had him there to sleeponenightandin the morning - whew! - he was gone. The devil hadtaken himthey said; the more betokenhe had drunk late the nightbefore."
Dickfollowed the man with black forebodings.
CHAPTERIII - THE ROOM OVER THE CHAPEL
From thebattlements nothing further was observed. The sunjourneyedwestwardand at last went down; butto the eyes of alltheseeager sentinelsno living thing appeared in theneighbourhoodof Tunstall House.
When thenight was at length fairly comeThrogmorton was led to aroomoverlooking an angle of the moat. Thence he was lowered witheveryprecaution; the ripple of his swimming was audible for abriefperiod; then a black figure was observed to land by thebranchesof a willow and crawl away among the grass. For some halfhour SirDaniel and Hatch stood eagerly giving ear; but allremainedquiet. The messenger had got away in safety.
SirDaniel's brow grew clearer. He turned to Hatch.
"Bennet"he said"this John Amend-All is no more than a manyesee. He sleepeth. We will make a good end of himgo to!"
All theafternoon and eveningDick had been ordered hither andthitherone command following anothertill he was bewildered withthe numberand the hurry of commissions. All that time he had seenno more ofSir Oliverand nothing of Matcham; and yet both thepriest andthe young lad ran continually in his mind. It was nowhis chiefpurpose to escape from Tunstall Moat House as speedily asmight be;and yetbefore he wenthe desired a word with both ofthese.
At lengthwith a lamp in one handhe mounted to his newapartment. It was largelowand somewhat dark. The windowlookedupon the moatand although it was so high upit washeavilybarred. The bed was luxuriouswith one pillow of down andone oflavenderand a red coverlet worked in a pattern of roses.All aboutthe walls were cupboardslocked and padlockedandconcealedfrom view by hangings of dark-coloured arras. Dick madethe roundlifting the arrassounding the panelsseeking vainlyto openthe cupboards. He assured himself that the door was strongand thebolt solid; then he set down his lamp upon a bracketandonce morelooked all around.
For whatreason had he been given this chamber? It was larger andfiner thanhis own. Could it conceal a snare? Was there a secretentrance? Was itindeedhaunted? His blood ran a little chillyin hisveins.
Immediatelyover him the heavy foot of a sentry trod the leads.Below himhe knewwas the arched roof of the chapel; and next tothe chapelwas the hall. Certainly there was a secret passage inthe hall;the eye that had watched him from the arras gave himproof ofthat. Was it not more than probable that the passageextendedto the chapelandif sothat it had an opening in hisroom?
To sleepin such a placehe feltwould be foolhardy. He made hisweaponsreadyand took his position in a corner of the room behindthe door. If ill was intendedhe would sell his life dear.
The soundof many feetthe challengeand the passwordsoundedoverheadalong the battlements; the watch was being changed.
And justthen there came a scratching at the door of the chamber;it grew alittle louder; then a whisper:
"DickDickit is I!"
Dick ranto the doordrew the boltand admitted Matcham. He wasvery paleand carried a lamp in one hand and a drawn dagger in theother.
"Shutme the door" he whispered. "SwiftDick! Thishouse isfull ofspies; I hear their feet follow me in the corridors; I hearthembreathe behind the arras."
"Wellcontent you" returned Dick"it is closed. We aresafe forthiswhileif there be safety anywhere within these walls. But myheart isglad to see you. By the massladI thought ye weresped! Where hid ye?"
"Itmatters not" returned Matcham. "Since we be metitmattersnot. ButDickare your eyes open? Have they told you of to-morrow'sdoings?"
"Notthey" replied Dick. "What make they to-morrow?"
"To-morrowor to-nightI know not" said the other"but one timeor otherDickthey do intend upon your life. I had the proof ofit; I haveheard them whisper; naythey as good as told me."
"Ay"returned Dick"is it so? I had thought as much."
And hetold him the day's occurrences at length.
When itwas doneMatcham arose and beganin turnto examine theapartment.
"No"he said"there is no entrance visible. Yet 'tis a purecertaintythere is one. DickI will stay by you. An y' are todieIwill die with you. And I can help - look! I have stolen adagger - Iwill do my best! And meanwhilean ye know of anyissueanysally-port we could get openedor any window that wemightdescend byI will most joyfully face any jeopardy to fleewith you."
"Jack"said Dick"by the massJacky' are the best soulandthetruestand the bravest in all England! Give me your handJack."
And hegrasped the other's hand in silence.
"Iwill tell you" he resumed. "There is a windowoutof whichthemessenger descended; the rope should still be in the chamber.'Tis ahope."
Both gaveear. There was a sound below the floor; then it pausedand thenbegan again.
"Someone walketh in the room below" whispered Matcham.
"Nay"returned Dick"there is no room below; we are above thechapel. It is my murderer in the secret passage. Welllet himcome; itshall go hard with him;" and he ground his teeth.
"Blowme the lights out" said the other. "Perchance hewillbetrayhimself."
They blewout both the lamps and lay still as death. The footfallsunderneathwere very softbut they were clearly audible. Severaltimes theycame and went; and then there was a loud jar of a keyturning ina lockfollowed by a considerable silence.
Presentlythe steps began againand thenall of a suddena chinkof lightappeared in the planking of the room in a far corner. Itwidened; atrap-door was being openedletting in a gush of light.They couldsee the strong hand pushing it up; and Dick raised hiscross-bowwaiting for the head to follow.
But nowthere came an interruption. From a distant corner of theMoat Houseshouts began to be heardand first one voiceand thenseveralcrying aloud upon a name. This noise had plainlydisconcertedthe murdererfor the trap-door was silently loweredto itsplaceand the steps hurriedly returnedpassed once moreclosebelow the ladsand died away in the distance.
Here was amoment's respite. Dick breathed deepand thenand nottill thenhe gave ear to the disturbance which had interrupted theattackand which was now rather increasing than diminishing. Allabout theMoat House feet were runningdoors were opening andslammingand still the voice of Sir Daniel towered above all thisbustleshouting for "Joanna."
"Joanna!"repeated Dick. "Whywho the murrain should this be?Here is noJoannanor ever hath been. What meaneth it?"
Matchamwas silent. He seemed to have drawn further away. Butonly alittle faint starlight entered by the windowand at the farend of theapartmentwhere the pair werethe darkness wascomplete.
"Jack"said Dick"I wot not where ye were all day. Saw ye thisJoanna?"
"Nay"returned Matcham"I saw her not."
"Norheard tell of her?" he pursued.
The stepsdrew nearer. Sir Daniel was still roaring the name ofJoannafrom the courtyard.
"Didye hear of her?" repeated Dick.
"Iheard of her" said Matcham.
"Howyour voice twitters! What aileth you?" said Dick. "Tis amostexcellent good fortunethis Joanna; it will take their mindsfrom us."
"Dick"cried Matcham"I am lost; we are both lost. Let us fleeif therebe yet time. They will not rest till they have found me.Orsee!let me go forth; when they have found meye may flee.Let meforthDick - good Dicklet me away!"
She wasgroping for the boltwhen Dick at last comprehended.
"Bythe mass!" he cried"y' are no Jack; y' are Joanna Sedley;y'are themaid that would not marry me!"
The girlpausedand stood silent and motionless. Dicktoowassilent fora little; then he spoke again.
"Joanna"he said"y' 'ave saved my lifeand I have saved yours;and wehave seen blood flowand been friends and enemies - ayandI took mybelt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were aboy. But now death has meand my time's outand before I die Imust saythis: Y' are the best maid and the bravest under heavenandifonly I could liveI would marry you blithely; andlive ordieIlove you."
"Come"he said"speak upJack. Comebe a good maidand say yelove me!"
"WhyDick" she cried"would I be here?"
"Wellsee ye here" continued Dick"an we but escape whole we'llmarry; andan we're to diewe dieand there's an end on't. Butnow that Ithinkhow found ye my chamber?"
"Iasked it of Dame Hatch" she answered.
"Wellthe dame's staunch" he answered; "she'll not tell uponyou.We havetime before us."
And justthenas if to contradict his wordsfeet came down thecorridorand a fist beat roughly on the door.
"Here!"cried a voice. "OpenMaster Dick; open!" Dickneithermoved noranswered.
"Itis all over" said the girl; and she put her arms about Dick'sneck.
One afteranothermen came trooping to the door. Then Sir Danielarrivedhimselfand there was a sudden cessation of the noise.
"Dick"cried the knight"be not an ass. The Seven Sleepers hadbeen awakeere now. We know she is within there. Openthenthedoorman."
Dick wasagain silent.
"Downwith it" said Sir Daniel. And immediately his followersfellsavagely upon the door with foot and fist. Solid as it wasandstrongly boltedit would soon have given way; but once morefortuneinterfered. Over the thunderstorm of blows the cry of asentinelwas heard; it was followed by another; shouts ran alongthebattlementsshouts answered out of the wood. In the firstmoment ofalarm it sounded as if the foresters were carrying theMoat Houseby assault. And Sir Daniel and his mendesistinginstantlyfrom their attack upon Dick's chamberhurried to defendthe walls.
"Now"cried Dick"we are saved."
He seizedthe great old bedstead with both handsand bent himselfin vain tomove it.
"HelpmeJack. For your life's sakehelp me stoutly!" hecried.
Betweenthemwith a huge effortthey dragged the big frame of oakacross theroomand thrust it endwise to the chamber door.
"Yedo but make things worse" said Joannasadly. "Hewill thenenter bythe trap."
"Notso" replied Dick. "He durst not tell his secret toso many.It is bythe trap that we shall flee. Hark! The attack is over.Nayitwas none!"
It hadindeedbeen no attack; it was the arrival of another partyofstragglers from the defeat of Risingham that had disturbed SirDaniel. They had run the gauntlet under cover of the darkness;they hadbeen admitted by the great gate; and nowwith a greatstampingof hoofs and jingle of accoutrements and armsthey weredismountingin the court.
"Hewill return anon" said Dick. "To the trap!"
He lighteda lampand they went together into the corner of theroom. The open chink through which some light still glittered waseasilydiscoveredandtaking a stout sword from his smallarmouryDick thrust it deep into the seamand weighed strenuouslyon thehilt. The trap movedgaped a littleand at length camewidelyopen. Seizing it with their handsthe two young folk threwit back. It disclosed a few steps descendingand at the foot ofthemwhere the would-be murderer had left ita burning lamp.
"Now"said Dick"go first and take the lamp. I will follow toclose thetrap."
So theydescended one after the otherand as Dick lowered thetraptheblows began once again to thunder on the panels of thedoor.
CHAPTER IV- THE PASSAGE
Thepassage in which Dick and Joanna now found themselves wasnarrowdirtyand short. At the other end of ita door stoodpartlyopen; the same doorwithout doubtthat they had heard themanunlocking. Heavy cobwebs hung from the roof; and the pavedflooringechoed hollow under the lightest tread.
Beyond thedoor there were two branchesat right angles. Dickchose oneof them at randomand the pair hurriedwith echoingfootstepsalong the hollow of the chapel roof. The top of thearchedceiling rose like a whale's back in the dim glimmer of thelamp. Here and there were spyholesconcealedon the other sideby thecarving of the cornice; and looking down through one oftheseDick saw the paved floor of the chapel - the altarwith itsburningtapers - and stretched before it on the stepsthe figureof SirOliver praying with uplifted hands.
At theother endthey descended a few steps. The passage grewnarrower;the wall upon one hand was now of wood; the noise ofpeopletalkingand a faint flickering of lightscame through theinterstices;and presently they came to a round hole about the sizeof a man'seyeand Dicklooking down through itbeheld theinteriorof the halland some half a dozen men sittingin theirjacksabout the tabledrinking deep and demolishing a venisonpie. These were certainly some of the late arrivals.
"Hereis no help" said Dick. "Let us try back."
"Nay"said Joanna; "maybe the passage goeth farther."
And shepushed on. But a few yards farther the passage ended atthe top ofa short flight of steps; and it became plain thataslong asthe soldiers occupied the hallescape was impossible uponthat side.
Theyretraced their steps with all imaginable speedand setforward toexplore the other branch. It was exceedingly narrowscarcewide enough for a large man; and it led them continually upand downby little break-neck stairsuntil even Dick had lost allnotion ofhis whereabouts.
At lengthit grew both narrower and lower; the stairs continued todescend;the walls on either hand became damp and slimy to thetouch; andfar in front of them they heard the squeaking andscuttlingof the rats.
"Wemust be in the dungeons" Dick remarked.
"Andstill there is no outlet" added Joanna.
"Naybut an outlet there must be!" Dick answered. Presentlysureenoughthey came to a sharp angleand then the passage ended in aflight ofsteps. On the top of that there was a solid flag ofstone byway of trapand to this they both set their backs. Itwasimmovable. "Some one holdeth it" suggested Joanna.
"Notso" said Dick; "for were a man strong as tenhe muststillyield alittle. But this resisteth like dead rock. There is aweightupon the trap. Here is no issue; andby my soothgoodJackweare here as fairly prisoners as though the gyves were onour anklebones. Sit ye then downand let us talk. After a whilewe shallreturnwhen perchance they shall be less carefully upontheirguard; andwho knoweth? we may break out and stand a chance.Butin mypoor opinionwe are as good as shent."
"Dick!"she cried"alas the day that ever ye should have seen me!For like amost unhappy and unthankful maidit is I have led youhither."
"Whatcheer!" returned Dick. "It was all writtenand thatwhichiswrittenwilly nillycometh still to pass. But tell me alittlewhat manner of a maid ye areand how ye came into SirDaniel'shands; that will do better than to bemoan yourselfwhetherfor your sake or mine."
"I aman orphanlike yourselfof father and mother" said Joanna;"andfor my great misfortuneDickand hitherto for yoursI am arichmarriage. My Lord Foxham had me to ward; yet it appears SirDanielbought the marriage of me from the kingand a right dearprice hepaid for it. So here was Ipoor babewith two great andrich menfighting which should marry meand I still at nurse!Wellthenthe world changedand there was a new chancellorandSir Danielbought the warding of me over the Lord Foxham's head.And thenthe world changed againand Lord Foxham bought mymarriageover Sir Daniel's; and from then to now it went on illbetwixtthe two of them. But still Lord Foxham kept me in hishandsandwas a good lord to me. And at last I was to be married- or soldif ye like it better. Five hundred pounds Lord Foxhamwas to getfor me. Hamley was the groom's nameand to-morrowDickofall days in the yearwas I to be betrothed. Had it notcome toSir DanielI had been weddedsure - and never seen theeDick -dear Dick!"
And hereshe took his handand kissed itwith the prettiestgrace; andDick drew her hand to him and did the like.
"Well"she went on"Sir Daniel took me unawares in the gardenand mademe dress in these men's clotheswhich is a deadly sin fora woman;andbesidesthey fit me not. He rode with me toKettleyas ye sawtelling me I was to marry you; but Iin myheartmade sure I would marry Hamley in his teeth."
"Ay!"cried Dick"and so ye loved this Hamley!"
"Nay"replied Joanna"not I. I did but hate Sir Daniel. AndthenDickye helped meand ye were right kindand very boldand myheart turned towards you in mine own despite; and nowif wecan in anyway compass itI would marry you with right goodwill.And ifbycruel destinyit may not bestill ye'll be dear to me.While myheart beatsit'll be true to you."
"AndI" said Dick"that never cared a straw for any manner ofwomanuntil nowI took to you when I thought ye were a boy. I hada pity toyouand knew not why. When I would have belted youthehandfailed me. But when ye owned ye were a maidJack - for stillI willcall you Jack - I made sure ye were the maid for me. Hark!"he saidbreaking off - "one cometh."
And indeeda heavy tread was now audible in the echoing passageand therats again fled in armies.
Dickreconnoitred his position. The sudden turn gave him a post ofvantage. He could thus shoot in safety from the cover of the wall.But it wasplain the light was too near himandrunning some wayforwardhe set down the lamp in the middle of the passageandthenreturned to watch.
Presentlyat the far end of the passageBennet hove in sight. Heseemed tobe aloneand he carried in his hand a burning torchwhich madehim the better mark.
"StandBennet!" cried Dick. "Another stepand y' are dead."
"Sohere ye are" returned Hatchpeering forward into thedarkness. "I see you not. Aha! y' 'ave done wiselyDick; y' 'aveput yourlamp before you. By my soothbutthough it was done toshoot myown knave bodyI do rejoice to see ye profit of mylessons! And nowwhat make ye? what seek ye here? Why would yeshoot uponan oldkind friend? And have ye the young gentlewomanthere?"
"NayBennetit is I should question and you answer" repliedDick. "Why am I in this jeopardy of my life? Why do men comeprivily toslay me in my bed? Why am I now fleeing in mine ownguardian'sstrong houseand from the friends that I have livedamong andnever injured?"
"MasterDickMaster Dick" said Bennet"what told I you? Y'arebravebutthe most uncrafty lad that I can think upon!"
"Well"returned Dick"I see ye know alland that I am doomedindeed. It is well. Herewhere I amI stay. Let Sir Daniel getme out ifhe be able!"
Hatch wassilent for a space.
"Harkye" he began"return to Sir Danielto tell him where yeareandhow posted; forin truthit was to that end he sent me.But youif ye are no foolhad best be gone ere I return."
"Begone!"repeated Dick. "I would be gone alreadyan' I wist how.I cannotmove the trap."
"Putme your hand into the cornerand see what ye find there"repliedBennet. "Throgmorton's rope is still in the brown chamber.Fare yewell."
And Hatchturning upon his heeldisappeared again into thewindingsof the passage.
Dickinstantly returned for his lampand proceeded to act upon thehint. At one corner of the trap there was a deep cavity in thewall. Pushing his arm into the apertureDick found an iron barwhich hethrust vigorously upwards. There followed a snappingnoiseandthe slab of stone instantly started in its bed.
They werefree of the passage. A little exercise of strengtheasilyraised the trap; and they came forth into a vaulted chamberopening onone hand upon the courtwhere one or two fellowswithbare armswere rubbing down the horses of the last arrivals. Atorch ortwoeach stuck in an iron ring against the wallchangefullylit up the scene.
CHAPTER V- HOW DICK CHANGED SIDES
Dickblowing out his lamp lest it should attract attentionledthe wayup-stairs and along the corridor. In the brown chamber therope hadbeen made fast to the frame of an exceeding heavy andancientbed. It had not been detachedand Dicktaking the coilto thewindowbegan to lower it slowly and cautiously into thedarknessof the night. Joan stood by; but as the rope lengthenedand stillDick continued to pay it outextreme fear began toconquerher resolution.
"Dick"she said"is it so deep? I may not essay it. I shouldinfalliblyfallgood Dick."
It wasjust at the delicate moment of the operations that shespoke. Dick started; the remainder of the coil slipped from hisgraspandthe end fell with a splash into the moat. Instantlyfrom thebattlement abovethe voice of a sentinel cried"Whogoes?"
"Amurrain!" cried Dick. "We are paid now! Downwith you - takethe rope."
"Icannot" she criedrecoiling.
"Anye cannotno more can I" said Shelton. "How can Iswim themoatwithout you? Do you desert methen?"
"Dick"she gasped"I cannot. The strength is gone from me."
"Bythe massthenwe are all shent!" he shoutedstamping withhis foot;and thenhearing stepshe ran to the room door andsought toclose it.
Before hecould shoot the boltstrong arms were thrusting it backupon himfrom the other side. He struggled for a second; thenfeelinghimself overpoweredran back to the window. The girl hadfallenagainst the wall in the embrasure of the window; she wasmore thanhalf insensible; and when he tried to raise her in hisarmsherbody was limp and unresponsive.
At thesame moment the men who had forced the door against him laidhold uponhim. The first he poinarded at a blowand the othersfallingback for a second in some disorderhe profited by thechancebestrode the window-sillseized the cord in both handsand lethis body slip.
The cordwas knottedwhich made it the easier to descend; but sofuriouswas Dick's hurryand so small his experience of suchgymnasticsthat he span round and round in mid-air like a criminalupon agibbetand now beat his headand now bruised his handsagainstthe rugged stonework of the wall. The air roared in hisears; hesaw the stars overheadand the reflected stars below himin themoatwhirling like dead leaves before the tempest. Andthen helost holdand felland soused head over ears into the icywater.
When hecame to the surface his hand encountered the ropewhichnewlylightened of his weightwas swinging wildly to and fro.There wasa red glow overheadand looking uphe sawby the lightof severaltorches and a cresset full of burning coalsthebattlementslined with faces. He saw the men's eyes turning hitherandthither in quest of him; but he was too far belowthe lightreachedhim notand they looked in vain.
And now heperceived that the rope was considerably too longandhe beganto struggle as well as he could towards the other side ofthe moatstill keeping his head above water. In this way he gotmuch morethan halfway over; indeed the bank was almost withinreachbefore the rope began to draw him back by its own weight.Taking hiscourage in both handshe left go and made a leap forthetrailing sprays of willow that had alreadythat same eveninghelped SirDaniel's messenger to land. He went downrose againsank asecond timeand then his hand caught a branchand with thespeed ofthought he had dragged himself into the thick of the treeand clungtheredripping and pantingand still half uncertain ofhisescape.
But allthis had not been done without a considerable splashingwhich hadso far indicated his position to the men along thebattlements. Arrows and quarrels fell thick around him in thedarknessthick like driving hail; and suddenly a torch was throwndown -flared through the air in its swift passage - stuck for amoment onthe edge of the bankwhere it burned high and lit up itswholesurroundings like a bonfire - and thenin a good hour forDickslipped offplumped into the moatand was instantlyextinguished.
It hadserved its purpose. The marksmen had had time to see thewillowand Dick ensconced among its boughs; and though the ladinstantlysprang higher up the bankand ran for his lifehe wasyet notquick enough to escape a shot. An arrow struck him in theshoulderanother grazed his head.
The painof his wounds lent him wings; and he had no sooner gotupon thelevel than he took to his heels and ran straight beforehim in thedarkwithout a thought for the direction of his flight.
For a fewsteps missiles followed himbut these soon ceased; andwhen atlength he came to a halt and looked behindhe was alreadya good wayfrom the Moat Housethough he could still see thetorchesmoving to and fro along its battlements.
He leanedagainst a treestreaming with blood and waterbruisedwoundedaloneand unarmed. For all thathe had saved his lifefor thatbout; and though Joanna remained behind in the power ofSirDanielhe neither blamed himself for an accident that it hadbeenbeyond his power to preventnor did he augur any fatalconsequencesto the girl herself. Sir Daniel was cruelbut he wasnot likelyto be cruel to a young gentlewoman who had otherprotectorswilling and able to bring him to account. It was moreprobablehe would make haste to marry her to some friend of hisown.
"Well"thought Dick"between then and now I will find me themeans tobring that traitor under; for I thinkby the massthat Ibe nowabsolved from any gratitude or obligation; and when war isopenthere is a fair chance for all."
In themeanwhilehere he was in a sore plight.
For somelittle way farther he struggled forward through theforest;but what with the pain of his woundsthe darkness of thenightandthe extreme uneasiness and confusion of his mindhesoonbecame equally unable to guide himself or to continue to pushthroughthe close undergrowthand he was fain at length to sitdown andlean his back against a tree.
When heawoke from something betwixt sleep and swooningthe greyof themorning had begun to take the place of night. A littlechillybreeze was bustling among the treesand as he still satstaringbefore himonly half awakehe became aware of somethingdark thatswung to and fro among the branchessome hundred yardsin frontof him. The progressive brightening of the day and thereturn ofhis own senses at last enabled him to recognise theobject. It was a man hanging from the bough of a tall oak. Hishead hadfallen forward on his breast; but at every stronger puffof windhis body span round and roundand his legs and armstossedlike some ridiculous plaything.
Dickclambered to his feetandstaggering and leaning on thetree-trunksas he wentdrew near to this grim object.
The boughwas perhaps twenty feet above the groundand the poorfellow hadbeen drawn up so high by his executioners that his bootsswungclear above Dick's reach; and as his hood had been drawn overhis faceit was impossible to recognise the man.
Dicklooked about him right and left; and at last he perceived thatthe otherend of the cord had been made fast to the trunk of alittlehawthorn which grewthick with blossomunder the loftyarcade ofthe oak. With his daggerwhich alone remained to him ofall hisarmsyoung Shelton severed the ropeand instantlywith adeadthumpthe corpse fell in a heap upon the ground.
Dickraised the hood; it was ThrogmortonSir Daniel's messenger.He had notgone far upon his errand. A paperwhich had apparentlyescapedthe notice of the men of the Black Arrowstuck from thebosom ofhis doubletand Dickpulling it forthfound it was SirDaniel'sletter to Lord Wensleydale.
"Come"thought he"if the world changes yet againI may havehere thewherewithal to shame Sir Daniel - nayand perchance tobring himto the block."
And he putthe paper in his own bosomsaid a prayer over the deadmanandset forth again through the woods.
Hisfatigue and weakness increased; his ears sanghis stepsfalteredhis mind at intervals failed himso low had he beenbrought byloss of blood. Doubtless he made many deviations fromhis truepathbut at last he came out upon the high-roadnot veryfar fromTunstall hamlet.
A roughvoice bid him stand.
"Stand?"repeated Dick. "By the massbut I am nearer falling."
And hesuited the action to the wordand fell all his length uponthe road.
Two mencame forth out of the thicketeach in green forest jerkineach withlong-bow and quiver and short sword.
"WhyLawless" said the younger of the two"it is youngShelton."
"Aythis will be as good as bread to John Amend-All" returned theother. "Thoughfaithhe hath been to the wars. Here is a tearin hisscalp that must 'a' cost him many a good ounce of blood."
"Andhere" added Greensheve"is a hole in his shoulder thatmusthavepricked him well. Who hath done thisthink ye? If it beoneof ourshe may all to prayer; Ellis will give him a short shriftand a longrope."
"Upwith the cub" said Lawless. "Clap him on my back."
And thenwhen Dick had been hoisted to his shouldersand he hadtaken thelad's arms about his neckand got a firm hold of himtheex-Grey Friar added:
"Keepye the postbrother Greensheve. I will on with him bymyself."
SoGreensheve returned to his ambush on the waysideand Lawlesstrudgeddown the hillwhistling as he wentwith Dickstill in adeadfaintcomfortably settled on his shoulders.
The sunrose as he came out of the skirts of the wood and sawTunstallhamlet straggling up the opposite hill. All seemed quietbut astrong post of some half a score of archers lay close by thebridge oneither side of the roadandas soon as they perceivedLawlesswith his burthenbegan to bestir themselves and set arrowto stringlike vigilant sentries.
"Whogoes?" cried the man in command.
"WillLawlessby the rood - ye know me as well as your own hand"returnedthe outlawcontemptuously.
"Givethe wordLawless" returned the other.
"NowHeaven lighten theethou great fool" replied Lawless. "DidI not tellit thee myself? But ye are all mad for this playing atsoldiers. When I am in the greenwoodgive me greenwood ways; andmy wordfor this tide is: 'A fig for all mock soldiery!'"
"Lawlessye but show an ill example; give us the wordfooljester"said the commander of the post.
"Andif I had forgotten it?" asked the other.
"Anye had forgotten it - as I know y' 'ave not - by the massIwould clapan arrow into your big body" returned the first.
"Nayan y' are so ill a jester" said Lawless"ye shall haveyourword forme. 'Duckworth and Shelton' is the word; and hereto theillustrationis Shelton on my shouldersand to Duckworth do Icarryhim."
"PassLawless" said the sentry.
"Andwhere is John?" asked the Grey Friar.
"Heholdeth a courtby the massand taketh rents as to the mannerborn!"cried another of the company.
So itproved. When Lawless got as far up the village as the littleinnhefound Ellis Duckworth surrounded by Sir Daniel's tenantsandbythe right of his good company of archerscoolly takingrentsandgiving written receipts in return for them. By thefaces ofthe tenantsit was plain how little this proceedingpleasedthem; for they argued very rightly that they would simplyhave topay them twice.
As soon ashe knew what had brought LawlessEllis dismissed theremainderof the tenantsandwith every mark of interest andapprehensionconducted Dick into an inner chamber of the inn.There thelad's hurts were looked to; and he was recalledbysimpleremediesto consciousness.
"Dearlad" said Ellispressing his hand"y' are in a friend'shands thatloved your fatherand loves you for his sake. Rest yea littlequietlyfor ye are somewhat out of case. Then shall yetell meyour storyand betwixt the two of us we shall find aremedy forall."
A littlelater in the dayand after Dick had awakened from acomfortableslumber to find himself still very weakbut clearer inmind andeasier in bodyEllis returnedand sitting down by thebedsidebegged himin the name of his fatherto relate thecircumstanceof his escape from Tunstall Moat House. There wassomethingin the strength of Duckworth's framein the honesty ofhis brownfacein the clearness and shrewdness of his eyesthatmoved Dickto obey him; and from first to last the lad told him thestory ofhis two days' adventures.
"Well"said Elliswhen he had done"see what the kind saintshave donefor youDick Sheltonnot alone to save your body in sonumerousand deadly perilsbut to bring you into my hands thathave nodearer wish than to assist your father's son. Be but trueto me -and I see y' are true - and betwixt you and mewe shallbring thatfalse-heart traitor to the death."
"Willye assault the house?" asked Dick.
"Iwere madindeedto think of it" returned Ellis. "Hehath toomuchpower; his men gather to him; those that gave me the slip lastnightandby the mass came in so handily for you -those have madehim safe. NayDickto the contrarythou and I and my bravebowmenwemust all slip from this forest speedilyand leave SirDanielfree."
"Mymind misgiveth me for Jack" said the lad.
"ForJack!" repeated Duckworth. "OI seefor the wench! NayDickIpromise youif there come talk of any marriage we shallact atonce; till thenor till the time is ripewe shall alldisappeareven like shadows at morning; Sir Daniel shall look eastand westand see none enemies; he shall thinkby the massthathe hathdreamed awhileand hath now awakened in his bed. But ourfour eyesDickshall follow him right closeand our four hands -so help usall the army of the saints! - shall bring that traitorlow!"
Two dayslater Sir Daniel's garrison had grown to such a strengththat heventured on a sallyand at the head of some two scorehorsemenpushed without opposition as far as Tunstall hamlet. Notan arrowflewnot a man stirred in the thicket; the bridge was nolongerguardedbut stood open to all corners; and as Sir Danielcrossedithe saw the villagers looking timidly from their doors.
Presentlyone of themtaking heart of gracecame forwardandwith thelowliest salutationspresented a letter to the knight.
His facedarkened as he read the contents. It ran thus:
To themost untrue and cruel gentylmanSir Daniel BrackleyKnyghtThese:
I fynde yewere untrue and unkynd fro the first. Ye have myfather'sblood upon your hands; let beit will not wasshe. Someday yeshall perish by my procurementso much I let you to wytte;and I letyou to wytte fartherthat if ye seek to wed to any otherthegentylwomanMistresse Joan Sedleywhom that I am bound upon agreat oathto wed myselfthe blow will be very swift. The firststeptherinne will be thy first step to the grave.
BOOKIII - MY LORD FOXHAM
CHAPTER I- THE HOUSE BY THE SHORE
Months hadpassed away since Richard Shelton made his escape fromthe handsof his guardian. These months had been eventful forEngland. The party of Lancasterwhich was then in the veryarticle ofdeathhad once more raised its head. The Yorkistsdefeatedand dispersedtheir leader butchered on the fielditseemed-for a very brief season in the winter following upon theeventsalready recordedas if the House of Lancaster had finallytriumphedover its foes.
The smalltown of Shoreby-on-the-Till was full of the Lancastriannobles ofthe neighbourhood. Earl Risingham was therewith threehundredmen-at-arms; Lord Shorebywith two hundred; Sir Danielhimselfhigh in favour and once more growing rich onconfiscationslay in a house of his ownon the main streetwiththree-scoremen. The world had changed indeed.
It was ablackbitter cold evening in the first week of Januarywith ahard frosta high windand every likelihood of snow beforethemorning.
In anobscure alehouse in a by-street near the harbourthree orfour mensat drinking ale and eating a hasty mess of eggs. Theywere alllikelylustyweather-beaten fellowshard of handboldof eye;and though they wore plain tabardslike country ploughmeneven adrunken soldier might have looked twice before he sought aquarrel insuch company.
A littleapart before the huge fire sat a younger manalmost aboydressed in much the same fashionthough it was easy to see byhis looksthat he was better bornand might have worn a swordhadthe timesuited.
"Nay"said one of the men at the table"I like it not. Ill willcome ofit. This is no place for jolly fellows. A jolly fellowlovethopen countrygood coverand scarce foes; but here we areshut in atowngirt about with enemies; andfor the bull's-eye ofmisfortunesee if it snow not ere the morning."
"'Tisfor Master Shelton there" said anothernodding his headtowardsthe lad before the fire.
"Iwill do much for Master Shelton" returned the first; "buttocome tothe gallows for any man - naybrothersnot that!"
The doorof the inn openedand another man entered hastily andapproachedthe youth before the fire.
"MasterShelton" he said"Sir Daniel goeth forth with a pair oflinks andfour archers."
Dick (forthis was our young friend) rose instantly to his feet.
"Lawless"he said"ye will take John Capper's watch. Greenshevefollowwith me. Capperlead forward. We will follow him thistimeanhe go to York."
The nextmoment they were outside in the dark streetand Capperthe manwho had just comepointed to where two torches flared inthe windat a little distance.
The townwas already sound asleep; no one moved upon the streetsand therewas nothing easier than to follow the party withoutobservation. The two link-bearers went first; next followed asinglemanwhose long cloak blew about him in the wind; and therear wasbrought up by the four archerseach with his bow upon hisarm. They moved at a brisk walkthreading the intricate lanes anddrawingnearer to the shore.
"Hehath gone each night in this direction?" asked Dickin awhisper.
"Thisis the third night runningMaster Shelton" returned Capper"andstill at the same hour and with the same small followingasthough hisend were secret."
Sir Danieland his six men were now come to the outskirts of thecountry. Shoreby was an open townand though the Lancastrianlords wholay there kept a strong guard on the main roadsit wasstillpossible to enter or depart unseen by any of the lesserstreets oracross the open country.
The lanewhich Sir Daniel had been following came to an abrupt end.Before himthere was a stretch of rough downand the noise of thesea-surfwas audible upon one hand. There were no guards in theneighbourhoodnor any light in that quarter of the town.
Dick andhis two outlaws drew a little closer to the object oftheirchaseand presentlyas they came forth from between thehouses andcould see a little farther upon either handthey wereaware ofanother torch drawing near from another direction.
"Hey"said Dick"I smell treason."
MeanwhileSir Daniel had come to a full halt. The torches werestuck intothe sandand the men lay downas if to await thearrival ofthe other party.
This drewnear at a good rate. It consisted of four men only - apair ofarchersa varlet with a linkand a cloaked gentlemanwalking intheir midst.
"Isit youmy lord?" cried Sir Daniel.
"Itis Iindeed; and if ever true knight gave proof I am thatman"replied the leader of the second troop; "for who would notratherface giantssorcerersor pagansthan this pinching cold?"
"Mylord" returned Sir Daniel"beauty will be the morebeholdenmisdoubtit not. But shall we forth? for the sooner ye have seenmymerchandisethe sooner shall we both get home."
"Butwhy keep ye her heregood knight?" inquired the other. "Anshe be soyoungand so fairand so wealthywhy do ye not bringher forthamong her mates? Ye would soon make her a good marriageand noneed to freeze your fingers and risk arrow-shots by goingabroad atsuch untimely seasons in the dark."
"Ihave told youmy lord" replied Sir Daniel"the reasonthereofconcernethme only. Neither do I purpose to explain it farther.Sufficeitthat if ye be weary of your old gossipDanielBrackleypublish it abroad that y' are to wed Joanna Sedleyand Igive youmy word ye will be quit of him right soon. Ye will findhim withan arrow in his back."
Meantimethe two gentlemen were walking briskly forward over thedown; thethree torches going before themstooping against thewind andscattering clouds of smoke and tufts of flameand therearbrought up by the six archers.
Close uponthe heels of theseDick followed. He hadof courseheard noword of this conversation; but he had recognised in thesecond ofthe speakers old Lord Shoreby himselfa man of aninfamousreputationwhom even Sir Daniel affectedin publictocondemn.
Presentlythey came close down upon the beach. The air smelt salt;the noiseof the surf increased; and herein a large walledgardenthere stood a small house of two storeyswith stables andotheroffices.
Theforemost torch-bearer unlocked a door in the walland afterthe wholeparty had passed into the gardenagain closed and lockedit on theother side.
Dick andhis men were thus excluded from any farther followingunlessthey should scale the wall and thus put their necks in atrap.
They satdown in a tuft of furze and waited. The red glow of thetorchesmoved up and down and to and fro within the enclosureasif thelink bearers steadily patrolled the garden.
Twentyminutes passedand then the whole party issued forth againupon thedown; and Sir Daniel and the baronafter an elaboratesalutationseparated and turned severally homewardeach with hisownfollowing of men and lights.
As soon asthe sound of their steps had been swallowed by the windDick gotto his feet as briskly as he was ablefor he was stiffand achingwith the cold.
"Capperye will give me a back up" he said.
Theyadvancedall threeto the wall; Capper stoopedand Dickgettingupon his shouldersclambered on to the cope-stone.
"NowGreensheve" whispered Dick"follow me up here; lie flatupon yourfacethat ye may be the less seen; and be ever ready togive me ahand if I fall foully on the other side."
And sosaying he dropped into the garden.
It was allpitch dark; there was no light in the house. The windwhistledshrill among the poor shrubsand the surf beat upon thebeach;there was no other sound. Cautiously Dick footed it forthstumblingamong bushesand groping with his hands; and presentlythe crispnoise of gravel underfoot told him that he had struckupon analley.
Here hepausedand taking his crossbow from where he kept itconcealedunder his long tabardhe prepared it for instant actionand wentforward once more with greater resolution and assurance.The pathled him straight to the group of buildings.
All seemedto be sorely dilapidated: the windows of the house weresecured bycrazy shutters; the stables were open and empty; therewas no hayin the hay-loftno corn in the corn-box. Any one wouldhavesupposed the place to be deserted. But Dick had good reasonto thinkotherwise. He continued his inspectionvisiting theofficestrying all the windows. At length he came round to thesea-sideof the houseand theresure enoughthere burned a palelight inone of the upper windows.
He steppedback a little waytill he thought he could see themovementof a shadow on the wall of the apartment. Then herememberedthatin the stablehis groping hand had rested for amoment ona ladderand he returned with all despatch to bring it.The ladderwas very shortbut yetby standing on the topmostroundhecould bring his hands as high as the iron bars of thewindow;and seizing thesehe raised his body by main force untilhis eyescommanded the interior of the room.
Twopersons were within; the first he readily knew to be DameHatch; theseconda tall and beautiful and grave young ladyin alongembroidered dress - could that be Joanna Sedley? his oldwood-companionJackwhom he had thought to punish with a belt?
He droppedback again to the top round of the ladder in a kind ofamazement. He had never thought of his sweetheart as of sosuperior abeingand he was instantly taken with a feeling ofdiffidence. But he had little opportunity for thought. A low"Hist!"sounded from close byand he hastened to descend theladder.
"Whogoes?" he whispered.
"Greensheve"came the replyin tones similarly guarded.
"Whatwant ye?" asked Dick.
"Thehouse is watchedMaster Shelton" returned the outlaw. "Weare notalone to watch it; for even as I lay on my belly on thewall I sawmen prowling in the darkand heard them whistle softlyone to theother."
"Bymy sooth" said Dick"but this is passing strange! Were theynot men ofSir Daniel's?"
"Naysirthat they were not" returned Greensheve; "for if Ihaveeyes in myheadevery man-Jack of them weareth me a white badge inhisbonnetsomething chequered with dark."
"Whitechequered with dark" repeated Dick. "Faith'tis abadgeI knownot. It is none of this country's badges. Wellan thatbesolet usslip as quietly forth from this garden as we may; forhere weare in an evil posture for defence. Beyond all questionthere aremen of Sir Daniel's in that houseand to be takenbetweentwo shots is a beggarman's position. Take me this ladder;I mustleave it where I found it."
Theyreturned the ladder to the stableand groped their way to theplacewhere they had entered.
Capper hadtaken Greensheve's position on the copeand now heleaneddown his handandfirst one and then the otherpulledthem up.
Cautiouslyand silentlythey dropped again upon the other side;nor didthey dare to speak until they had returned to their oldambush inthe gorse.
"NowJohn Capper" said Dick"back with you to Shorebyeven asfor yourlife. Bring me instantly what men ye can collect. Hereshall bethe rendezvous; or if the men be scattered and the day benear athand before they musterlet the place be something fartherbackandby the entering in of the town. Greensheve and I liehere towatch. Speed yeJohn Capperand the saints aid you todespatch. And nowGreensheve" he continuedas soon as Capperhaddeparted"let thou and I go round about the garden in a widecircuit. I would fain see whether thine eyes betrayed thee."
Keepingwell outwards from the walland profiting by every heightandhollowthey passed about two sidesbeholding nothing. On thethird sidethe garden wall was built close upon the beachand topreservethe distance necessary to their purposethey had to gosome waydown upon the sands. Although the tide was still prettyfar outthe surf was so highand the sands so flatthat at eachbreaker agreat sheet of froth and water came careering over theexpanseand Dick and Greensheve made this part of their inspectionwadingnow to the anklesand now as deep as to the kneesin thesalt andicy waters of the German Ocean.
Suddenlyagainst the comparative whiteness of the garden wallthefigure ofa man was seenlike a faint Chinese shadowviolentlysignallingwith both arms. As he dropped again to the earthanotherarose a little farther on and repeated the sameperformance. And solike a silent watch wordthesegesticulationsmade the round of the beleaguered garden.
"Theykeep good watch" Dick whispered.
"Letus back to landgood master" answered Greensheve. "Westandhere tooopen; forlook yewhen the seas break heavy and whiteout therebehind usthey shall see us plainly against the foam."
"Yespeak sooth" returned Dick. "Ashore with usrightspeedily."
CHAPTER II- A SKIRMISH IN THE DARK
Thoroughlydrenched and chilledthe two adventurers returned totheirposition in the gorse.
"Ipray Heaven that Capper make good speed!" said Dick. "Ivow acandle toSt. Mary of Shoreby if he come before the hour!"
"Y'are in a hurryMaster Dick?" asked Greensheve.
"Aygood fellow" answered Dick; "for in that house lieth myladywhom Iloveand who should these be that lie about her secretly bynight? Unfriendsfor sure!"
"Well"returned Greensheve"an John come speedilywe shall givea goodaccount of them. They are not two score at the outside - Ijudge soby the spacing of their sentries - andtaken where theyarelyingso widelyone score would scatter them like sparrows.And yetMaster Dickan she be in Sir Daniel's power alreadyitwilllittle hurt that she should change into another's. Who shouldthese be?"
"I dosuspect the Lord of Shoreby" Dick replied. "Whencamethey?"
"Theybegan to comeMaster Dick" said Greensheve"about thetimeye crossedthe wall. I had not lain there the space of a minuteere Imarked the first of the knaves crawling round the corner."
The lastlight had been already extinguished in the little housewhen theywere wading in the wash of the breakersand it wasimpossibleto predict at what moment the lurking men about thegardenwall might make their onslaught. Of two evilsDickpreferredthe least. He preferred that Joanna should remain undertheguardianship of Sir Daniel rather than pass into the clutchesof LordShoreby; and his mind was made upif the house should beassaultedto come at once to the relief of the besieged.
But thetime passedand still there was no movement. From quarterof an hourto quarter of an hour the same signal passed about thegardenwallas if the leader desired to assure himself of thevigilanceof his scattered followers; but in every other particulartheneighbourhood of the little house lay undisturbed.
PresentlyDick's reinforcements began to arrive. The night was notyet oldbefore nearly a score of men crouched beside him in thegorse.
Separatingthese into two bodieshe took the command of thesmallerhimselfand entrusted the larger to the leadership ofGreensheve.
"NowKit" said he to this last"take me your men to the nearangle ofthe garden wall upon the beach. Post them stronglyandwait tillthat ye hear me falling on upon the other side. It isthose uponthe sea front that I would fain make certain offorthere willbe the leader. The rest will run; even let them. Andnowladslet no man draw an arrow; ye will but hurt friends.Take tothe steeland keep to the steel; and if we have theuppermostI promise every man of you a gold noble when I come tomineestate."
Out of theodd collection of broken menthievesmurderersandruinedpeasantrywhom Duckworth had gathered together to serve thepurposesof his revengesome of the boldest and the mostexperiencedin war had volunteered to follow Richard Shelton. Theservice ofwatching Sir Daniel's movements in the town of Shorebyhad fromthe first been irksome to their temperand they had oflate begunto grumble loudly and threaten to disperse. Theprospectof a sharp encounter and possible spoils restored them togoodhumourand they joyfully prepared for battle.
Their longtabards thrown asidethey appearedsome in plain greenjerkinsand some in stout leathern jacks; under their hoods manyworebonnets strengthened by iron plates; andfor offensivearmourswordsdaggersa few stout boar-spearsand a dozen ofbrightbillsput them in a posture to engage even regular feudaltroops. The bowsquiversand tabards were concealed among thegorseandthe two bands set resolutely forward.
Dickwhenhe had reached the other side of the houseposted hissix men ina lineabout twenty yards from the garden wallandtookposition himself a few paces in front. Then they all shoutedwith onevoiceand closed upon the enemy.
Theselying widely scatteredstiff with coldand taken atunawaressprang stupidly to their feetand stood undecided.Beforethey had time to get their courage about themor even toform anidea of the number and mettle of their assailantsasimilarshout of onslaught sounded in their ears from the far sideof theenclosure. Thereupon they gave themselves up for lost andran.
In thisway the two small troops of the men of the Black Arrowclosedupon the sea front of the garden walland took a part ofthestrangersas it werebetween two fires; while the whole oftheremainder ran for their lives in different directionsand weresoonscattered in the darkness.
For allthatthe fight was but beginning. Dick's outlawsalthoughthey had the advantage of the surprisewere stillconsiderablyoutnumbered by the men they had surrounded. The tidehadflowedin the meanwhile; the beach was narrowed to a strip;and onthis wet fieldbetween the surf and the garden walltherebeganinthe darknessa doubtfulfuriousand deadly contest.
Thestrangers were well armed; they fell in silence upon theirassailants;and the affray became a series of single combats.Dickwhohad come first into the mellaywas engaged by three; thefirst hecut down at the first blowbut the other two coming uponhimhotlyhe was fain to give ground before their onset. One ofthese twowas a huge fellowalmost a giant for statureand armedwith atwo-handed swordwhich he brandished like a switch.Againstthis opponentwith his reach of arm and the length andweight ofhis weaponDick and his bill were quite defenceless; andhad theother continued to join vigorously in the attackthe ladmust haveindubitably fallen. This second manhoweverless instatureand slower in his movementspaused for a moment to peerabout himin the darknessand to give ear to the sounds of thebattle.
The giantstill pursued his advantageand still Dick fled beforehimspying for his chance. Then the huge blade flashed anddescendedand the ladleaping on one side and running inslashedsidewaysand upwards with his bill. A roar of agony respondedandbefore the wounded man could raise his formidable weaponDicktwice repeating his blowhad brought him to the ground.
The nextmoment he was engagedupon more equal termswith hissecondpursuer. Here there was no great difference in sizeandthough themanfighting with sword and dagger against a billandbeing waryand quick of fencehad a certain superiority of armsDick morethan made it up by his greater agility on foot. Neitherat firstgained any obvious advantage; but the older man was stillinsensiblyprofiting by the ardour of the younger to lead him wherehe would;and presently Dick found that they had crossed the wholewidth ofthe beachand were now fighting above the knees in thespume andbubble of the breakers. Here his own superior activitywasrendered useless; he found himself more or less at thediscretionof his foe; yet a littleand he had his back turnedupon hisown menand saw that this adroit and skilful adversarywas bentupon drawing him farther and farther away.
Dickground his teeth. He determined to decide the combatinstantly;and when the wash of the next wave had ebbed and leftthem dryhe rushed incaught a blow upon his billand leapedright atthe throat of his opponent. The man went down backwardswith Dickstill upon the top of him; and the next wavespeedilysucceedingto the lastburied him below a rush of water.
While hewas still submergedDick forced his dagger from hisgraspandrose to his feetvictorious.
"Yieldye!" he said. "I give you life."
"Iyield me" said the othergetting to his knees. "Yefightlike ayoung manignorantly and foolhardily; butby the array ofthesaintsye fight bravely!"
Dickturned to the beach. The combat was still raging doubtfullyin thenight; over the hoarse roar of the breakers steel clangeduponsteeland cries of pain and the shout of battle resounded.
"Leadme to your captainyouth" said the conquered knight. "Itis fitthis butchery should cease."
"Sir"replied Dick"so far as these brave fellows have a captainthe poorgentleman who here addresses you is he."
"Calloff your dogsthenand I will bid my villains hold"returnedthe other.
There wassomething noble both in the voice and manner of his lateopponentand Dick instantly dismissed all fears of treachery.
"Laydown your armsmen!" cried the stranger knight. "Ihaveyieldedmeupon promise of life."
The toneof the stranger was one of absolute commandand almostinstantlythe din and confusion of the mellay ceased.
"Lawless"cried Dick"are ye safe?"
"Ay"cried Lawless"safe and hearty."
"Lightme the lantern" said Dick.
"Isnot Sir Daniel here?" inquired the knight.
"SirDaniel?" echoed Dick. "Nowby the roodI pray not. Itwould goill with me if he were."
"Illwith YOUfair sir?" inquired the other. "Naythenif ye benot of SirDaniel's partyI profess I comprehend no longer.Whereforethenfell ye upon mine ambush? in what quarrelmyyoung andvery fiery friend? to what earthly purpose? andto makea clearend of questioningto what good gentleman have Isurrendered?"
But beforeDick could answera voice spoke in the darkness fromclose by. Dick could see the speaker's black and white badgeandtherespectful salute which he addressed to his superior.
"Mylord" said he"if these gentlemen be unfriends to SirDanielit ispityindeedwe should have been at blows with them; but itweretenfold greater that either they or we should linger here.Thewatchers in the house - unless they be all dead or deaf - haveheard ourhammering this quarter-hour agone; instantly they willhavesignalled to the town; and unless we be the livelier in ourdeparturewe are like to be takenboth of usby a fresh foe."
"Hawksleyis in the right" added the lord. "How please yesir?Whithershall we march?"
"Naymy lord" said Dick"go where ye will for me. I dobegin tosuspect wehave some ground of friendshipand ifindeedI beganouracquaintance somewhat ruggedlyI would not churlishlycontinue. Let usthenseparatemy lordyou laying your righthand inmine; and at the hour and place that ye shall namelet usencounterand agree."
"Y'are too trustfulboy" said the other; "but this time yourtrust isnot misplaced. I will meet you at the point of day at St.Bride'sCross. Comeladsfollow!"
Thestrangers disappeared from the scene with a rapidity thatseemedsuspicious; andwhile the outlaws fell to the congenialtask ofrifling the dead bodiesDick made once more the circuit ofthe gardenwall to examine the front of the house. In a littleupperloophole of the roof he beheld a light set; and as it wouldcertainlybe visible in town from the back windows of Sir Daniel'smansionhe doubted not that this was the signal feared byHawksleyand that ere long the lances of the Knight of Tunstallwouldarrive upon the scene.
He put hisear to the groundand it seemed to him as if he heard ajarringand hollow noise from townward. Back to the beach he wenthurrying. But the work was already done; the last body wasdisarmedand stripped to the skinand four fellows were alreadywadingseaward to commit it to the mercies of the deep.
A fewminutes laterwhen there debauched out of the nearest lanesof Shorebysome two score horsemenhastily arrayed and moving atthe gallopof their steedsthe neighbourhood of the house besidethe seawas entirely silent and deserted.
MeanwhileDick and his men had returned to the ale-house of theGoat andBagpipes to snatch some hours of sleep before the morningtryst.
CHAPTERIII - ST. BRIDE'S CROSS
St.Bride's cross stood a little way back from Shorebyon theskirts ofTunstall Forest. Two roads met: onefrom Holywoodacross theforest; onethat road from Risingham down which we sawthe wrecksof a Lancastrian army fleeing in disorder. Here the twojoinedissueand went on together down the hill to Shoreby; and alittleback from the point of junctionthe summit of a littleknoll wascrowned by the ancient and weather-beaten cross.
Herethenabout seven in the morningDick arrived. It was ascold asever; the earth was all grey and silver with the hoarfrostand theday began to break in the east with many colours of purpleandorange.
Dick sethim down upon the lowest step of the crosswrappedhimselfwell in his tabardand looked vigilantly upon all sides.He had notlong to wait. Down the road from Holywood a gentlemanin veryrich and bright armourand wearing over that a surcoat ofthe rarestfurscame pacing on a splendid charger. Twenty yardsbehind himfollowed a clump of lances; but these halted as soon asthey camein view of the trysting-placewhile the gentleman in thefursurcoat continued to advance alone.
His visorwas raisedand showed a countenance of great command anddignityanswerable to the richness of his attire and arms. And itwas withsome confusion of manner that Dick arose from the crossandstepped down the bank to meet his prisoner.
"Ithank youmy lordfor your exactitude" he saidlouting verylow. "Will it please your lordship to set foot to earth?"
"Areye here aloneyoung man?" inquired the other
"Iwas not so simple" answered Dick; "andto be plain withyourlordshipthe woods upon either hand of this cross lie full of minehonestfellows lying on their weapons."
"Y''ave done wisely" said the lord. "It pleaseth me therathersince lastnight ye fought foolhardilyand more like a salvageSaracenlunatic than any Christian warrior. But it becomes not metocomplain that had the undermost."
"Yehad the undermost indeedmy lordsince ye so fell" returnedDick; "buthad the waves not holpen meit was I that should havehad theworst. Ye were pleased to make me yours with severaldaggermarkswhich I still carry. And in finemy lordmethinksI had allthe dangeras well as all the profitof that littleblind-man'smellay on the beach."
"Y'are shrewd enough to make light of itI see" returned thestranger.
"Naymy lordnot shrewd" replied Dick"in that I shoot at noadvantageto myself. But whenby the light of this new dayI seehow stouta knight hath yieldednot to my arms alonebut tofortuneand the darknessand the surf - and how easily the battlehad goneotherwisewith a soldier so untried and rustic as myself- think itnot strangemy lordif I feel confounded with myvictory."
"Yespeak well" said the stranger. "Your name?"
"Mynamean't like youis Shelton" answered Dick.
"Mencall me the Lord Foxham" added the other.
"Thenmy lordand under your good favourye are guardian to thesweetestmaid in England" replied Dick; "and for your ransomandthe ransomof such as were taken with you on the beachthere willbe nouncertainty of terms. I pray youmy lordof your goodwillandcharityyield me the hand of my mistressJoan Sedley; andtake yeupon the other partyour libertythe liberty of theseyourfollowersand (if ye will have it) my gratitude and servicetill Idie."
"Butare ye not ward to Sir Daniel? Methoughtif y' are HarryShelton'ssonthat I had heard it so reported" said Lord Foxham.
"Willit please youmy lordto alight? I would fain tell youfully whoI amhow situateand why so bold in my demands.Beseechyoumy lordtake place upon these stepshear me to afull endand judge me with allowance."
And sosayingDick lent a hand to Lord Foxham to dismount; led himup theknoll to the cross; installed him in the place where he hadhimselfbeen sitting; and standing respectfully before his nobleprisonerrelated the story of his fortunes up to the events of theeveningbefore.
LordFoxham listened gravelyand when Dick had done"MasterShelton"he said"ye are a most fortunate-unfortunate younggentleman;but what fortune y' 'ave hadthat ye have amplymerited;and what unfortuneye have noways deserved. Be of a goodcheer; forye have made a friend who is devoid neither of power norfavour. For yourselfalthough it fits not for a person of yourbirth toherd with outlawsI must own ye are both brave andhonourable;very dangerous in battleright courteous in peace; ayouth ofexcellent disposition and brave bearing. For yourestatesye will never see them till the world shall change again;so long asLancaster hath the strong handso long shall Sir Danielenjoy themfor his own. For my wardit is another matter; I hadpromisedher before to a gentlemana kinsman of my houseoneHamley;the promise is old - "
"Aymy lordand now Sir Daniel hath promised her to my LordShoreby"interrupted Dick. "And his promisefor all it is butyoungisstill the likelier to be made good."
"'Tisthe plain truth" returned his lordship. "Andconsideringmoreoverthat I am your prisonerupon no better composition thanmy barelifeand over and above thatthat the maiden is unhappilyin otherhandsI will so far consent. Aid me with your goodfellows"-
"Mylord" cried Dick"they are these same outlaws that yeblameme forconsorting with."
"Letthem be what they willthey can fight" returned Lord Foxham."Helpmethen; and if between us we regain the maidupon myknightlyhonourshe shall marry you!"
Dick benthis knee before his prisoner; but heleaping up lightlyfrom thecrosscaught the lad up and embraced him like a son.
"Come"he said"an y' are to marry Joanwe must be earlyfriends."
CHAPTER IV- THE GOOD HOPE
An hourthereafterDick was back at the Goat and Bagpipesbreakinghis fastand receiving the report of his messengers andsentries. Duckworth was still absent from Shoreby; and this wasfrequentlythe casefor he played many parts in the worldsharedmanydifferent interestsand conducted many various affairs. Hehadfounded that fellowship of the Black Arrowas a ruined manlongingfor vengeance and money; and yet among those who knew himbesthewas thought to be the agent and emissary of the greatKing-makerof EnglandRichardEarl of Warwick.
In hisabsenceat any rateit fell upon Richard Shelton tocommandaffairs in Shoreby; andas he sat at meathis mind wasfull ofcareand his face heavy with consideration. It had beendeterminedbetween him and the Lord Foxhamto make one boldstrokethat eveningandby brute forceto set Joanna free. Theobstacleshoweverwere many; and as one after another of hisscoutsarrivedeach brought him more discomfortable news.
Sir Danielwas alarmed by the skirmish of the night before. He hadincreasedthe garrison of the house in the garden; but not contentwith thathe had stationed horsemen in all the neighbouring lanesso that hemight have instant word of any movement. Meanwhileinthe courtof his mansionsteeds stood saddledand the ridersarmed atevery pointawaited but the signal to ride.
Theadventure of the night appeared more and more difficult ofexecutiontill suddenly Dick's countenance lightened.
"Lawless!"he cried"you that were a shipmancan ye steal me aship?"
"MasterDick" replied Lawless"if ye would back meI would agreeto stealYork Minster."
Presentlyafterthese two set forth and descended to the harbour.It was aconsiderable basinlying among sand hillsand surroundedwithpatches of downancient ruinous lumberand tumble-down slumsof thetown. Many decked ships and many open boats either laythere atanchoror had been drawn up on the beach. A longdurationof bad weather had driven them from the high seas into theshelter ofthe port; and the great trooping of black cloudsandthe coldsqualls that followed one anothernow with a sprinklingof drysnownow in a mere swoop of windpromised no improvementbut ratherthreatened a more serious storm in the immediate future.
Theseamenin view of the cold and the windhad for the most partslunkashoreand were now roaring and singing in the shoresidetaverns. Many of the ships already rode unguarded at theiranchors;and as the day wore onand the weather offered noappearanceof improvementthe number was continually beingaugmented. It was to these deserted shipsandabove alltothose ofthem that lay far outthat Lawless directed hisattention;while Dickseated upon an anchor that was half embeddedin thesandand giving earnow to the rudepotentand bodingvoices ofthe galeand now to the hoarse singing of the shipmen inaneighbouring tavernsoon forgot his immediate surroundings andconcernsin the agreeable recollection of Lord Foxham's promise.
He wasdisturbed by a touch upon his shoulder. It was Lawlesspointingto a small ship that lay somewhat by itselfand withinbut alittle of the harbour mouthwhere it heaved regularly andsmoothlyon the entering swell. A pale gleam of winter sunshinefellatthat momenton the vessel's deckrelieving her against abank ofscowling cloud; and in this momentary glitter Dick couldsee acouple of men hauling the skiff alongside.
"Theresir" said Lawless"mark ye it well! There is theshipforto-night."
Presentlythe skiff put out from the vessel's sideand the twomenkeeping her head well to the windpulled lustily for shore.Lawlessturned to a loiterer.
"Howcall ye her?" he askedpointing to the little vessel.
"Theycall her the Good Hopeof Dartmouth" replied the loiterer."HercaptainArblaster by name. He pulleth the bow oar in yonskiff."
This wasall that Lawless wanted. Hurriedly thanking the manhemovedround the shore to a certain sandy creekfor which the skiffwasheading. There he took up his positionand as soon as theywerewithin earshotopened fire on the sailors of the Good Hope.
"What! Gossip Arblaster!" he cried. "Whyye be well met;naygossipyebe right well metupon the rood! And is that the GoodHope? AyI would know her among ten thousand! - a sweet shearasweetboat! But marry come upmy gossipwill ye drink? I havecome intomine estate which doubtless ye remember to have heard on.I am nowrich; I have left to sail upon the sea; I do sail nowforthe mostpartupon spiced ale. Comefellow; thy hand upon 't!Comedrink with an old shipfellow!"
SkipperArblastera long-facedelderlyweather-beaten manwitha knifehanging about his neck by a plaited cordand for all theworld likeany modern seaman in his gait and bearinghad hung backin obviousamazement and distrust. But the name of an estateanda certainair of tipsified simplicity and good-fellowship whichLawlessvery well affectedcombined to conquer his suspiciousjealousy;his countenance relaxedand he at once extended his openhand andsqueezed that of the outlaw in a formidable grasp.
"Nay"he said"I cannot mind you. But what o' that? Iwoulddrink withany mangossipand so would my man Tom. Man Tom" headdedaddressing his follower"here is my gossipwhose name Icannotmindbut no doubt a very good seaman. Let's go drink withhim andhis shore friend."
Lawlessled the wayand they were soon seated in an alehousewhichasit was very newand stood in an exposed and solitarystationwas less crowded than those nearer to the centre of theport. It was but a shed of timbermuch like a blockhouse in thebackwoodsof to-dayand was coarsely furnished with a press ortwoanumber of naked benchesand boards set upon barrels to playthe partof tables. In the middleand besieged by half a hundredviolentdraughtsa fire of wreck-wood blazed and vomited thicksmoke.
"Aynow" said Lawless"here is a shipman's joy - a good fireanda goodstiff cup ashorewith foul weather without and an off-seagalea-snoring in the roof ! Here's to the Good Hope! May sherideeasy!"
"Ay"said Skipper Arblaster"'tis good weather to be ashore inthat issooth. Man Tomhow say ye to that? Gossipye speakwellthough I can never think upon your name; but ye speak verywell. May the Good Hope ride easy! Amen!"
"FriendDickon" resumed Lawlessaddressing his commander"yehavecertain matters on handunless I err? Wellprithee be aboutthemincontinently. For here I be with the choice of all goodcompanytwo tough old shipmen; and till that ye return I will gowarrantthese brave fellows will bide here and drink me cup forcup. We are not like shore-menwe oldtough tarry-Johns!"
"Itis well meant" returned the skipper. "Ye can goboy; for Iwill keepyour good friend and my good gossip company till curfew -ayand bySt. Marytill the sun get up again! Forlook yewhena man hathbeen long enough at seathe salt getteth me into theclay uponhis bones; and let him drink a draw-wellhe will neverbequenched."
Thusencouraged upon all handsDick rosesaluted his companyandgoingforth again into the gusty afternoongot him as speedily ashe mightto the Goat and Bagpipes. Thence he sent word to my LordFoxhamthatso soon as ever the evening closedthey would have astout boatto keep the sea in. And then leading along with him acouple ofoutlaws who had some experience of the seahe returnedhimself tothe harbour and the little sandy creek.
The skiffof the Good Hope lay among many othersfrom which it waseasilydistinguished by its extreme smallness and fragility.Indeedwhen Dick and his two men had taken their placesand begunto putforth out of the creek into the open harbourthe littlecockledipped into the swell and staggered under every gust ofwindlikea thing upon the point of sinking.
The GoodHopeas we have saidwas anchored far outwhere theswell washeaviest. No other vessel lay nearer than severalcables'length; those that were the nearest were themselvesentirelydeserted; and as the skiff approacheda thick flurry ofsnow and asudden darkening of the weather further concealed themovementsof the outlaws from all possible espial. In a trice theyhad leapedupon the heaving deckand the skiff was dancing at thestern. The Good Hope was captured.
She was agood stout boatdecked in the bows and amidshipsbutopen inthe stern. She carried one mastand was rigged between afeluccaand a lugger. It would seem that Skipper Arblaster hadmade anexcellent venturefor the hold was full of pieces ofFrenchwine; and in the little cabinbesides the Virgin Mary inthebulkhead which proved the captain's pietythere were manylockfastchests and cupboardswhich showed him to be rich andcareful.
A dogwhowas the sole occupant of the vesselfuriously barkedand bitthe heels of the boarders; but he was soon kicked into thecabinandthe door shut upon his just resentment. A lamp was litand fixedin the shrouds to mark the vessel clearly from the shore;one of thewine pieces in the hold was broachedand a cup ofexcellentGascony emptied to the adventure of the evening; andthenwhile one of the outlaws began to get ready his bow andarrows andprepare to hold the ship against all comersthe otherhauled inthe skiff and got overboardwhere he held onwaitingfor Dick.
"WellJackkeep me a good watch" said the young commanderpreparingto follow his subordinate. "Ye will do right well."
"Why"returned Jack"I shall do excellent well indeedso long aswe liehere; but once we put the nose of this poor ship outside theharbour - Seethere she trembles! Naythe poor shrew heard thewordsandthe heart misgave her in her oak-tree ribs. But lookMasterDick! how black the weather gathers!"
Thedarkness ahead wasindeedastonishing. Great billows heavedup out ofthe blacknessone after another; and one after anotherthe GoodHope buoyantly climbedand giddily plunged upon thefurtherside. A thin sprinkle of snow and thin flakes of foam cameflyingand powdered the deck; and the wind harped dismally amongtherigging.
"Insoothit looketh evilly" said Dick. "But whatcheer! 'Tisbut asqualland presently it will blow over." Butin spite ofhis wordshe was depressingly affected by the bleak disorder ofthe skyand the wailing and fluting of the wind; and as he got overthe sideof the Good Hope and made once more for the landing-creekwith thebest speed of oarshe crossed himself devoutlyandrecommendedto Heaven the lives of all who should adventure on thesea.
At thelanding-creek there had already gathered about a dozen oftheoutlaws. To these the skiff was leftand they were biddenembarkwithout delay.
A littlefurther up the beach Dick found Lord Foxham hurrying inquest ofhimhis face concealed with a dark hoodand his brightarmourcovered by a long russet mantle of a poor appearance.
"YoungShelton" he said"are ye for seathentruly?"
"Mylord" replied Richard"they lie about the house withhorsemen;it may not be reached from the land side without alarum;and SirDaniel once advertised of our adventurewe can no morecarry itto a good end thansaving your presencewe could rideupon thewind. Nowin going round by seawe do run some peril bytheelements; butwhat much outweighteth allwe have a chance tomake goodour purpose and bear off the maid."
"Well"returned Lord Foxham"lead on. I willin some sortfollow youfor shame's sake; but I own I would I were in bed."
"Herethen" said Dick. "Hither we go to fetch our pilot."
And he ledthe way to the rude alehouse where he had givenrendezvousto a portion of his men. Some of these he foundlingeringround the door outside; others had pushed more boldly inandchoosing places as near as possible to where they saw theircomradegathered close about Lawless and the two shipmen. Theseto judgeby the distempered countenance and cloudy eyehad longsince gonebeyond the boundaries of moderation; and as Richardenteredclosely followed by Lord Foxhamthey were all threetuning upan oldpitiful sea-dittyto the chorus of the wailingof thegale.
The youngleader cast a rapid glance about the shed. The fire hadjust beenreplenishedand gave forth volumes of black smokesothat itwas difficult to see clearly in the further corners. Itwas plainhoweverthat the outlaws very largely outnumbered theremainderof the guests. Satisfied upon this pointin case of anyfailure inthe operation of his planDick strode up to the tableandresumed his place upon the bench.
"Hey?"cried the skippertipsily"who are yehey?"
"Iwant a word with you withoutMaster Arblaster" returned Dick;"andhere is what we shall talk of." And he showed him a goldnoble inthe glimmer of the firelight.
Theshipman's eyes burnedalthough he still failed to recogniseour hero.
"Ayboy" he said"I am with you. GossipI will be backanon.Drinkfairgossip;" andtaking Dick's arm to steady his unevenstepshewalked to the door of the alehouse.
As soon ashe was over the thresholdten strong arms had seizedand boundhim; and in two minutes morewith his limbs trussed onetoanotherand a good gag in his mouthhe had been tumbled neckand cropinto a neighbouring hay-barn. Presentlyhis man Tomsimilarlysecuredwas tossed beside himand the pair were left totheiruncouth reflections for the night.
And nowas the time for concealment had gone byLord Foxham'sfollowerswere summoned by a preconcerted signaland the partyboldlytaking possession of as many boats as their numbersrequiredpulled in a flotilla for the light in the rigging of theship. Long before the last man had climbed to the deck of the GoodHopethesound of furious shouting from the shore showed that apartatleastof the seamen had discovered the loss of theirskiffs.
But it wasnow too latewhether for recovery or revenge. Out ofsome fortyfighting men now mustered in the stolen shipeight hadbeen toseaand could play the part of mariners. With the aid oftheseaslice of sail was got upon her. The cable was cut.Lawlessvacillating on his feetand still shouting the chorus ofsea-balladstook the long tiller in his hands: and the Good Hopebegan toflit forward into the darkness of the nightand to facethe greatwaves beyond the harbour bar.
Richardtook his place beside the weather rigging. Except for theship's ownlanternand for some lights in Shoreby townthat werealreadyfading to leewardthe whole world of air was as black asin a pit. Only from time to timeas the Good Hope swooped dizzilydown intothe valley of the rollersa crest would break - a greatcataractof snowy foam would leap in one instant into being - andin aninstant morewould stream into the wake and vanish.
Many ofthe men lay holding on and praying aloud; many more weresickandhad crept into the bottomwhere they sprawled among thecargo. And what with the extreme violence of the motionand thecontinueddrunken bravado of Lawlessstill shouting and singing atthe helmthe stoutest heart on board may have nourished a shrewdmisgivingas to the result.
ButLawlessas if guided by an instinctsteered the ship acrossthebreakersstruck the lee of a great sandbankwhere they sailedfor awhilein smooth waterand presently after laid her alongsidea rudestone pierwhere she was hastily made fastand layduckingand grinding in the dark.
CHAPTER V- THE GOOD HOPE (continued)
The pierwas not far distant from the house in which Joanna lay; itnow onlyremained to get the men on shoreto surround the housewith astrong partyburst in the door and carry off the captive.They mightthen regard themselves as done with the Good Hope; ithad placedthem on the rear of their enemies; and the retreatwhetherthey should succeed or fail in the main enterprisewouldbedirected with a greater measure of hope in the direction of theforest andmy Lord Foxham's reserve.
To get themen on shorehoweverwas no easy task; many had beensickallwere pierced with cold; the promiscuity and disorder onboard hadshaken their discipline; the movement of the ship and thedarknessof the night had cowed their spirits. They made a rushupon thepier; my lordwith his sword drawn on his own retainersmust throwhimself in front; and this impulse of rabblement was notrestrainedwithout a certain clamour of voiceshighly to beregrettedin the case.
When somedegree of order had been restoredDickwith a fewchosenmenset forth in advance. The darkness on shorebycontrastwith the flashing of the surfappeared before him like asolidbody; and the howling and whistling of the gale drowned anylessernoise.
He hadscarce reached the end of the pierhoweverwhen there fella lull ofthe wind; and in this he seemed to hear on shore thehollowfooting of horses and the clash of arms. Checking hisimmediatefollowershe passed forward a step or two aloneevensettingfoot upon the down; and here he made sure he could detectthe shapeof men and horses moving. A strong discouragementassailedhim. If their enemies were really on the watchif theyhadbeleaguered the shoreward end of the pierhe and Lord Foxhamwere takenin a posture of very poor defencethe sea behindthemenjostled in the dark upon a narrow causeway. He gave a cautiouswhistlethe signal previously agreed upon.
It provedto be a signal far more than he desired. Instantly therefellthrough the black nighta shower of arrows sent at aventure;and so close were the men huddled on the pier that morethan onewas hitand the arrows were answered with cries of bothfear andpain. In this first dischargeLord Foxham was struckdown;Hawksley had him carried on board again at once; and his menduring thebrief remainder of the skirmishfought (when theyfought atall) without guidance. That was perhaps the chief causeof thedisaster which made haste to follow.
At theshore end of the pierfor perhaps a minuteDick held hisown with ahandful; one or two were wounded upon either side; steelcrossedsteel; nor had there been the least signal of advantagewhen inthe twinkling of an eye the tide turned against the partyfrom theship. Someone cried out that all was lost; the men werein thevery humour to lend an ear to a discomfortable counsel; thecry wastaken up. "On boardladsfor your lives!" criedanother.A thirdwith the true instinct of the cowardraised thatinevitablereport on all retreats: "We are betrayed!" Andin amoment thewhole mass of men went surging and jostling backwarddown thepierturning their defenceless backs on their pursuersandpiercing the night with craven outcry.
One cowardthrust off the ship's sternwhile another still heldher by thebows. The fugitives leapedscreamingand were hauledon boardor fell back and perished in the sea. Some were cut downupon thepier by the pursuers. Many were injured on the ship'sdeck inthe blind haste and terror of the momentone man leapinguponanotherand a third on both. At lastand whether by designoraccidentthe bows of the Good Hope were liberated; and theever-readyLawlesswho had maintained his place at the helmthroughall the hurly-burly by sheer strength of body and a liberaluse of thecold steelinstantly clapped her on the proper tack.The shipbegan to move once more forward on the stormy seaitsscuppersrunning bloodits deck heaped with fallen mensprawlingandstruggling in the dark.
ThereuponLawless sheathed his daggerand turning to his nextneighbour"I have left my mark on themgossip" said he"theyelpingcoward hounds."
Nowwhilethey were all leaping and struggling for their livesthe menhad not appeared to observe the rough shoves and cuttingstabs withwhich Lawless had held his post in the confusion. Butperhapsthey had already begun to understand somewhat more clearlyor perhapsanother ear had overheardthe helmsman's speech.
Panic-strickentroops recover slowlyand men who have justdisgracedthemselves by cowardiceas if to wipe out the memory oftheirfaultwill sometimes run straight into the opposite extremeofinsubordination. So it was now; and the same men who had thrownaway theirweapons and been hauledfeet foremostinto the GoodHopebegan to cry out upon their leadersand demand that someoneshould bepunished.
Thisgrowing ill-feeling turned upon Lawless.
In orderto get a proper offingthe old outlaw had put the head ofthe GoodHope to seaward.
"What!"bawled one of the grumblers"he carrieth us to seaward!"
"'Tissooth" cried another. "Naywe are betrayed forsure."
And theyall began to cry out in chorus that they were betrayedand inshrill tones and with abominable oaths bade Lawless goabout-shipand bring them speedily ashore. Lawlessgrinding histeethcontinued in silence to steer the true courseguiding theGood Hopeamong the formidable billows. To their empty terrorsasto theirdishonourable threatsbetween drink and dignity hescorned tomake reply. The malcontents drew together a littleabaft themastand it was plain they were like barnyard cocks"crowingfor courage." Presently they would be fit for anyextremityof injustice or ingratitude. Dick began to mount by theladdereager to interpose; but one of the outlawswho was alsosomethingof a seamangot beforehand.
"Lads"he began"y' are right wooden headsI think. For to getbackbythe masswe must have an offingmust we not? And thisoldLawless - "
Someonestruck the speaker on the mouthand the next momentas afiresprings among dry strawhe was felled upon the decktrampledunder thefeetand despatched by the daggers of his cowardlycompanions. At this the wrath of Lawless rose and broke.
"Steeryourselves" he bellowedwith a curse; andcareless of theresultheleft the helm.
The GoodHope wasat that momenttrembling on the summit of aswell. She subsidedwith sickening velocityupon the fartherside. A wavelike a great black bulwarkhove immediately infront ofher; andwith a staggering blowshe plunged headforemostthroughthat liquid hill. The green water passed right over herfrom stemto sternas high as a man's knees; the sprays ran higherthan themast; and she rose again upon the other sidewith anappallingtremulous indecisionlike a beast that has been deadlywounded.
Six orseven of the malcontents had been carried bodily overboard;and as forthe remainderwhen they found their tongues againitwas tobellow to the saints and wail upon Lawless to come back andtake thetiller.
Nor didLawless wait to be twice bidden. The terrible result ofhis flingof just resentment sobered him completely. He knewbetterthan any one on boardhow nearly the Good Hope had gonebodilydown below their feet; and he could tellby the lazinesswith whichshe met the seathat the peril was by no means over.
Dickwhohad been thrown down by the concussion and half drownedrosewading to his knees in the swamped well of the sternandcrept tothe old helmsman's side.
"Lawless"he said"we do all depend on you; y' are a bravesteadymanindeedand crafty in the management of ships; I shallput threesure men to watch upon your safety."
"Bootlessmy masterbootless" said the steersmanpeeringforwardthrough the dark. "We come every moment somewhat clearerof thesesandbanks; with every momentthenthe sea packeth uponusheavierand for all these whimperersthey will presently be ontheirbacks. Formy master'tis a right mysterybut truetherenever yetwas a bad man that was a good shipman. None but thehonest andthe bold can endure me this tossing of a ship."
"NayLawless" said Dicklaughing"that is a right shipman'sbywordand hath no more of sense than the whistle of the wind.Butpritheehow go we? Do we lie well? Are we in good case?"
"MasterShelton" replied Lawless"I have been a Grey Friar - Ipraisefortune - an archera thiefand a shipman. Of all thesecoatsIhad the best fancy to die in the Grey Friar'sas ye mayreadilyconceiveand the least fancy to die in John Shipman'starryjacket; and that for two excellent good reasons: firstthatthe deathmight take a man suddenly; and secondfor the horror ofthatgreatsalt smother and welter under my foot here" - andLawlessstamped with his foot. "Howbeit" he went on"anI dienot asailor's deathand that this nightI shall owe a tallcandle toour Lady."
"Isit so?" asked Dick.
"Itis right so" replied the outlaw. "Do ye not feel howheavyand dullshe moves upon the waves? Do ye not hear the waterwashing inher hold? She will scarce mind the rudder even now.Bide tillshe has settled a bit lower; and she will either go downbelow yourboots like a stone imageor drive ashore hereunderour leeand come all to pieces like a twist of string."
"Yespeak with a good courage" returned Dick. "Ye arenot thenappalled?"
"Whymaster" answered Lawless"if ever a man had an ill crewtocome toport withit is I - a renegade friara thiefand all thereston't. Wellye may wonderbut I keep a good hope in mywallet;and if that I be to drownI will drown with a bright eyeMasterSheltonand a steady hand."
Dickreturned no answer; but he was surprised to find the oldvagabondof so resolute a temperand fearing some fresh violenceortreacheryset forth upon his quest for three sure men. Thegreat bulkof the men had now deserted the deckwhich wascontinuallywetted with the flying spraysand where they layexposed tothe shrewdness of the winter wind. They had gatheredinsteadinto the hold of the merchandiseamong the butts of wineandlighted by two swinging lanterns.
Here a fewkept up the form of revelryand toasted each other deepinArblaster's Gascony wine. But as the Good Hope continued totearthrough the smoking wavesand toss her stem and sternalternatelyhigh in air and deep into white foamthe number ofthesejolly companions diminished with every moment and with everylurch. Many sat aparttending their hurtsbut the majority werealreadyprostrated with sicknessand lay moaning in the bilge.
GreensheveCuckowand a young fellow of Lord Foxham's whom Dickhadalready remarked for his intelligence and spiritwere stillhoweverboth fit to understand and willing to obey. These Dicksetas abody-guardabout the person of the steersmanand thenwith alast look at the black sky and seahe turned and went belowinto thecabinwhither Lord Foxham had been carried by hisservants.
CHAPTER VI- THE GOOD HOPE (concluded)
The moansof the wounded baron blended with the wailing of theship'sdog. The poor animalwhether he was merely sick at heartto beseparated from his friendsor whether he indeed recognisedsome perilin the labouring of the shipraised his crieslikeminute-gunsabove the roar of wave and weather; and the moresuperstitiousof the men heardin these soundsthe knell of theGood Hope.
LordFoxham had been laid in a berth upon a fur cloak. A littlelampburned dim before the Virgin in the bulkheadand by itsglimmerDick could see the pale countenance and hollow eyes of thehurt man.
"I amsore hurt" said he. "Come near to my sideyoungShelton;let therebe one by me whoat leastis gentle born; for afterhavinglived nobly and richly all the days of my lifethis is asad passthat I should get my hurt in a little ferreting skirmishand dieherein a foulcold ship upon the seaamong broken menandchurls."
"Naymy lord" said Dick"I pray rather to the saints that yewillrecover you of your hurtand come soon and sound ashore."
"How!"demanded his lordship. "Come sound ashore? There isthena questionof it?"
"Theship laboureth - the sea is grievous and contrary" repliedthe lad;"and by what I can learn of my fellow that steereth usweshall dowellindeedif we come dryshod to land."
"Ha!"said the barongloomily"thus shall every terror attendupon thepassage of my soul! Sirpray rather to live hardthat yemay dieeasythan to be fooled and fluted all through lifeas tothe pipeand taborandin the last hourbe plunged amongmisfortunes! HowbeitI have that upon my mind that must not bedelayed. We have no priest aboard?"
"Herethento my secular interests" resumed Lord Foxham: "yemust be asgood a friend to me deadas I found you a gallant enemywhen I wasliving. I fall in an evil hour for mefor Englandandfor themthat trusted me. My men are being brought by Hamley - hethat wasyour rival; they will rendezvous in the long holm atHolywood;this ring from off my finger will accredit you torepresentmine orders; and I shall writebesidestwo words uponthispaperbidding Hamley yield to you the damsel. Will he obey?I knownot."
"Butmy lordwhat orders?" inquired Dick.
"Ay"quoth the baron"ay - the orders;" and he looked upon Dickwithhesitation. "Are ye Lancaster or York?" he askedatlength.
"Ishame to say it" answered Dick"I can scarce clearlyanswer.But somuch I think is certain: since I serve with EllisDuckworthI serve the house of York. Wellif that be soIdeclarefor York."
"Itis well" returned the other; "it is exceeding well. Fortrulyhadye said LancasterI wot not for the world what I haddone. But sith ye are for Yorkfollow me. I came hither but towatchthese lords at Shorebywhile mine excellent young lordRichardof Gloucesterprepareth a sufficient force to fallupon andscatter them. I have made me notes of their strengthwhat watchthey keepand how they lie; and these I was to deliverto myyoung lord on Sundayan hour before noonat St. Bride'sCrossbeside the forest. This tryst I am not like to keepbut Ipray youof courtesyto keep it in my stead; and see that notpleasurenor paintempestwoundnor pestilence withhold youfrom thehour and placefor the welfare of England lieth upon thiscast."
"I dosoberly take this up on me" said Dick. "In so far asin meliethyour purpose shall be done."
"Itis good" said the wounded man. "My lord duke shall orderyoufartherand if ye obey him with spirit and good willthen is yourfortunemade. Give me the lamp a little nearer to mine eyestillthat Iwrite these words for you."
He wrote anote "to his worshipful kinsmanSir John Hamley;" andthen asecondwhich he-left without external superscripture.
"Thisis for the duke" he said. "The word is 'England andEdward'and the counter'England and York.'"
"AndJoannamy lord?" asked Dick.
"Nayye must get Joanna how ye can" replied the baron. "Ihavenamed youfor my choice in both these letters; but ye must get herforyourselfboy. I have triedas ye see here before youandhave lostmy life. More could no man do."
By thistime the wounded man began to be very weary; and Dickputtingthe precious papers in his bosombade him be of goodcheerandleft him to repose.
The daywas beginning to breakcold and bluewith flying squallsof snow. Close under the lee of the Good Hopethe coast lay inalternaterocky headlands and sandy bays; and further inland thewoodedhill-tops of Tunstall showed along the sky. Both the windand thesea had gone down; but the vessel wallowed deepand scarcerose uponthe waves.
Lawlesswas still fixed at the rudder; and by this time nearly allthe menhad crawled on deckand were now gazingwith blank facesupon theinhospitable coast.
"Arewe going ashore?" asked Dick.
"Ay"said Lawless"unless we get first to the bottom."
And justthen the ship rose so languidly to meet a seaand thewaterweltered so loudly in her holdthat Dick involuntarilyseized thesteersman by the arm.
"Bythe mass!" cried Dickas the bows of the Good Hope reappearedabove thefoam"I thought we had founderedindeed; my heart wasat mythroat."
In thewaistGreensheveHawksleyand the better men of bothcompanieswere busy breaking up the deck to build a raft; and tothese Dickjoined himselfworking the harder to drown the memoryof hispredicament. Buteven as he workedevery sea that struckthe poorshipand every one of her dull lurchesas she tumbledwallowingamong the wavesrecalled him with a horrid pang to theimmediateproximity of death.
Presentlylooking up from his workhe saw that they were close inbelow apromontory; a piece of ruinous cliffagainst the base ofwhich thesea broke white and heavyalmost overplumbed the deck;andabovethatagaina house appearedcrowning a down.
Inside thebay the seas ran gaylyraised the Good Hope upon theirfoam-fleckedshoulderscarried her beyond the control of thesteersmanand in a moment dropped herwith a great concussiononthe sandand began to break over her half-mast highand roll herto andfro. Another great wave followedraised her againandcarriedher yet farther in; and then a third succeededand lefther farinshore of the more dangerous breakerswedged upon a bank.
"Nowboys" cried Lawless"the saints have had a care of usindeed. The tide ebbs; let us but sit down and drink a cup ofwineandbefore half an hour ye may all march me ashore as safe ason abridge."
A barrelwas broachedandsitting in what shelter they could findfrom theflying snow and spraythe shipwrecked company handed thecuparoundand sought to warm their bodies and restore theirspirits.
Dickmeanwhilereturned to Lord Foxhamwho lay in greatperplexityand fearthe floor of his cabin washing knee-deep inwaterandthe lampwhich had been his only lightbroken andextinguishedby the violence of the blow.
"Mylord" said young Shelton"fear not at all; the saints areplainlyfor us; the seas have cast us high upon a shoaland assoon asthe tide hath somewhat ebbedwe may walk ashore upon ourfeet."
It wasnearly an hour before the vessel was sufficiently desertedby theebbing sea; and they could set forth for the landwhichappeareddimly before them through a veil of driving snow.
Upon ahillock on one side of their way a party of men lay huddledtogethersuspiciously observing the movements of the new arrivals.
"Theymight draw near and offer us some comfort" Dick remarked.
"Wellan' they come not to uslet us even turn aside to them"saidHawksley. "The sooner we come to a good fire and a dry bedthe betterfor my poor lord."
But theyhad not moved far in the direction of the hillockbeforethe menwith one consentrose suddenly to their feetand poureda flightof well-directed arrows on the shipwrecked company.
"Back!back!" cried his lordship. "Bewarein Heaven's namethatye replynot."
"Nay"cried Greenshevepulling an arrow from his leather jack."Weare in no posture to fightit is certainbeing drenching wetdog-wearyand three-parts frozen; butfor the love of oldEnglandwhat aileth them to shoot thus cruelly on their poorcountrypeople in distress?"
"Theytake us to be French pirates" answered Lord Foxham. "Inthese mosttroublesome and degenerate days we cannot keep our ownshores ofEngland; but our old enemieswhom we once chased on seaand landdo now range at pleasurerobbing and slaughtering andburning. It is the pity and reproach of this poor land."
The menupon the hillock layclosely observing themwhile theytrailedupward from the beach and wound inland among desolate sand-hills; fora mile or so they even hung upon the rear of the marchreadyata signto pour another volley on the weary anddispiritedfugitives; and it was only whenstriking at length upona firmhigh-roadDick began to call his men to some more martialorderthat these jealous guardians of the coast of Englandsilentlydisappeared among the snow. They had done what theydesired;they had protected their own homes and farmstheir ownfamiliesand cattle; and their private interest being thus secureditmattered not the weight of a straw to any one of themalthoughtheFrenchmen should carry blood and fire to every other parish inthe realmof England.
BOOKIV - THE DISGUISE
CHAPTER I- THE DEN
The placewhere Dick had struck the line of a high-road was not farfromHolywoodand within nine or ten miles of Shoreby-on-the-Till;and hereafter making sure that they were pursued no longerthetwo bodiesseparated. Lord Foxham's followers departedcarryingtheirwounded master towards the comfort and security of the greatabbey; andDickas he saw them wind away and disappear in thethickcurtain of the falling snowwas left alone with near upon adozenoutlawsthe last remainder of his troop of volunteers.
Some werewounded; one and all were furious at their ill-successand longexposure; and though they were now too cold and hungry todo morethey grumbled and cast sullen looks upon their leaders.Dickemptied his purse among themleaving himself nothing; thankedthem forthe courage they had displayedthough he could have foundit morereadily in his heart to rate them for poltroonery; andhavingthus somewhat softened the effect of his prolongedmisfortunedespatched them to find their wayeither severally orin pairsto Shoreby and the Goat and Bagpipes.
For hisown partinfluenced by what he had seen on board of theGood Hopehe chose Lawless to be his companion on the walk. Thesnow wasfallingwithout pause or variationin one evenblindingcloud; thewind had been strangledand now blew no longer; and thewholeworld was blotted out and sheeted down below that silentinundation. There was great danger of wandering by the way andperishingin drifts; and Lawlesskeeping half a step in front ofhiscompanionand holding his head forward like a hunting dog uponthe scentinquired his way of every treeand studied out theirpath asthough he were conning a ship among dangers.
About amile into the forest they came to a place where severalways metunder a grove of lofty and contorted oaks. Even in thenarrowhorizon of the falling snowit was a spot that could notfail to berecognised; and Lawless evidently recognised it withparticulardelight.
"NowMaster Richard" said he"an y' are not too proud to betheguest of aman who is neither a gentleman by birth nor so much as agoodChristianI can offer you a cup of wine and a good fire tomelt themarrow in your frozen bones."
"LeadonWill" answered Dick. "A cup of wine and a goodfire!NayIwould go a far way round to see them."
Lawlessturned aside under the bare branches of the groveandwalkingresolutely forward for some timecame to a steepish hollowor denthat had now drifted a quarter full of snow. On the vergea greatbeech-tree hungprecariously rooted; and here the oldoutlawpulling aside some bushy underwoodbodily disappeared intothe earth.
The beechhadin some violent galebeen half-uprootedand hadtorn up aconsiderable stretch of turf and it was under this thatoldLawless had dug out his forest hiding-place. The roots servedhim forraftersthe turf was his thatch; for walls and floor hehad hismother the earth. Rude as it wasthe hearth in onecornerblackened by fireand the presence in another of a largeoakenchest well fortified with ironshowed it at one glance to bethe den ofa manand not the burrow of a digging beast.
Though thesnow had drifted at the mouth and sifted in upon thefloor ofthis earth cavernyet was the air much warmer thanwithout;and when Lawless had struck a sparkand the dry furzebushes hadbegun to blaze and crackle on the hearththe placeassumedeven to the eyean air of comfort and of home.
With asigh of great contentmentLawless spread his broad handsbefore thefireand seemed to breathe the smoke.
"Herethen" he said"is this old Lawless's rabbit-hole; prayHeaventhere come no terrier! Far I have rolled hither andthitherand here and aboutsince that I was fourteen years ofmine ageand first ran away from mine abbeywith the sacrist'sgold chainand a mass-book that I sold for four marks. I have beenin Englandand France and Burgundyand in Spaintooon apilgrimagefor my poor soul; and upon the seawhich is no man'scountry. But here is my placeMaster Shelton. This is my nativelandthisburrow in the earth! Come rain or wind - and whetherit'sApriland the birds all singand the blossoms fall about mybed - orwhether it's winterand I sit alone with my good gossipthe fireand robin red breast twitters in the woods - hereis mychurch andmarketand my wife and child. It's here I come backtoandit's hereso please the saintsthat I would like to die."
"'Tisa warm cornerto be sure" replied Dick"and a pleasantand a wellhid."
"Ithad need to be" returned Lawless"for an they found itMasterSheltonit would break my heart. But here" he addedburrowingwith his stout fingers in the sandy floor"here is mywinecellar; and ye shall have a flask of excellent strong stingo."
Sureenoughafter but a little digginghe produced a big leathernbottle ofabout a gallonnearly three-parts full of a very headyand sweetwine; and when they had drunk to each other comradelyand thefire had been replenished and blazed up againthe pair layat fulllengththawing and steamingand divinely warm.
"MasterShelton" observed the outlaw"y' 'ave had two mischancesthis lastwhileand y' are like to lose the maid - do I take itaright?"
"Aright!"returned Dicknodding his head.
"Wellnow" continued Lawless"hear an old fool that hath beennigh-handeverythingand seen nigh-hand all! Ye go too much onotherpeople's errandsMaster Dick. Ye go on Ellis's; but hedesirethrather the death of Sir Daniel. Ye go on Lord Foxham's;well - thesaints preserve him! - doubtless he meaneth well. Butgo ye uponyour owngood Dick. Come right to the maid's side.Court herlest that she forget you. Be ready; and when the chanceshallcomeoff with her at the saddle-bow."
"AybutLawlessbeyond doubt she is now in Sir Daniel's ownmansion."answered Dick.
"Thitherthengo we" replied the outlaw.
Dickstared at him.
"NayI mean it" nodded Lawless. "And if y' are of solittlefaithandstumble at a wordsee here!"
And theoutlawtaking a key from about his neckopened the oakchestanddipping and groping deep among its contentsproducedfirst afriar's robeand next a girdle of rope; and then a hugerosary ofwoodheavy enough to be counted as a weapon.
"Here"he said"is for you. On with them!"
And thenwhen Dick had clothed himself in this clerical disguiseLawlessproduced some colours and a penciland proceededwith thegreatestcunningto disguise his face. The eyebrows he thickenedandproduced; to the moustachewhich was yet hardly visibleherendered alike service; whileby a few lines around the eyehechangedthe expression and increased the apparent age of this youngmonk.
"Now"he resumed"when I have done the likewe shall make asbonny apair of friars as the eye could wish. Boldly to SirDaniel'swe shall goand there be hospitably welcome for the loveof MotherChurch."
"Andhowdear Lawless" cried the lad"shall I repay you?"
"Tutbrother" replied the outlaw"I do naught but for mypleasure. Mind not for me. I am oneby the massthat mindethforhimself. When that I lackI have a long tongue and a voicelike themonastery bell - I do askmy son; and where askingfailethIdo most usually take."
The oldrogue made a humorous grimace; and although Dick wasdispleasedto lie under so great favours to so equivocal apersonagehe was yet unable to restrain his mirth.
With thatLawless returned to the big chestand was soonsimilarlydisguised; butbelow his gownDick wondered to observehimconceal a sheaf of black arrows.
"Whereforedo ye that?" asked the lad. "Wherefore arrowswhenyetake nobow?"
"Nay"replied Lawlesslightly"'tis like there will be headsbroke -not to say backs - ere you and I win sound from where we'regoing to;and if any fallI would our fellowship should come bythe crediton't. A black arrowMaster Dickis the seal of ourabbey; itshoweth you who writ the bill."
"Anye prepare so carefully" said Dick"I have here somepapersthatformine own sakeand the interest of those that trusted mewerebetter left behind than found upon my body. Where shall IconcealthemWill?"
"Nay"replied Lawless"I will go forth into the wood and whistleme threeverses of a song; meanwhiledo you bury them where yepleaseand smooth the sand upon the place."
"Never!"cried Richard. "I trust youman. I were base indeedifI nottrusted you."
"Brothery' are but a child" replied the old outlawpausing andturninghis face upon Dick from the threshold of the den. "I am akind oldChristianand no traitor to men's bloodand no sparer ofmine ownin a friend's jeopardy. ButfoolchildI am a thief bytrade andbirth and habit. If my bottle were empty and my mouthdryIwould rob youdear childas sure as I lovehonourandadmireyour parts and person! Can it be clearer spoken? No."
And hestumped forth through the bushes with a snap of his bigfingers.
Dickthusleft aloneafter a wondering thought upon theinconsistenciesof his companion's characterhastily producedreviewedand buried his papers. One only he reserved to carryalong withhimsince it in nowise compromised his friendsand yetmightserve himin a pinchagainst Sir Daniel. That was theknight'sown letter to Lord Wensleydalesent by Throgmortononthe morrowof the defeat at Risinghamand found next day by Dickupon thebody of the messenger.
Thentreading down the embers of the fireDick left the denandrejoinedthe old outlawwho stood awaiting him under the leaflessoaksandwas already beginning to be powdered by the falling snow.Eachlooked upon the otherand each laughedso thorough and sodroll wasthe disguise.
"YetI would it were but summer and a clear day" grumbled theoutlaw"that I might see myself in the mirror of a pool. There bemany ofSir Daniel's men that know me; and if we fell to berecognisedthere might be two words for youbrotherbut as formein apaternoster whileI should be kicking in a rope's-end."
Thus theyset forth together along the road to Shorebywhichinthis partof its coursekept near along the margin or the forestcomingforthfrom time to timein the open countryand passingbesidepoor folks' houses and small farms.
Presentlyat sight of one of theseLawless pulled up.
"BrotherMartin" he saidin a voice capitally disguisedandsuited tohis monkish robe"let us enter and seek alms from thesepoorsinners. PAX VOBISCUM! Ay" he addedin his ownvoice"'tisas I feared; I have somewhat lost the whine of it; and byyourleavegood Master Sheltonye must suffer me to practise inthesecountry placesbefore that I risk my fat neck by enteringSirDaniel's. But look ye a littlewhat an excellent thing it isto be aJack-of-all-trades! An I had not been a shipmanye hadinfalliblygone down in the Good Hope; an I had not been a thiefIcould nothave painted me your face; and but that I had been a GreyFriarandsung loud in the choirand ate hearty at the boardIcould nothave carried this disguisebut the very dogs would havespied usout and barked at us for shams."
He was bythis time close to the window of the farmand he rose onhistip-toes and peeped in.
"Nay"he cried"better and better. We shall here try our falsefaces witha vengeanceand have a merry jest on Brother Capper toboot."
And sosayinghe opened the door and led the way into the house.
Three oftheir own company sat at the tablegreedily eating.Theirdaggersstuck beside them in the boardand the black andmenacinglooks which they continued to shower upon the people ofthe houseproved that they owed their entertainment rather toforce thanfavour. On the two monkswho nowwith a sort ofhumbledignityentered the kitchen of the farmthey seemed toturn witha particular resentment; and one - it was John Capper inperson -who seemed to play the leading partinstantly and rudelyorderedthem away.
"Wewant no beggars here!" he cried.
Butanother - although he was as far from recognising Dick andLawless -inclined to more moderate counsels.
"Notso" he cried. "We be strong menand take; these beweakand crave;but in the latter end these shall be uppermost and webelow. Mind him notmy father; but comedrink of my cupandgive me abenediction."
"Y'are men of a light mindcarnaland accursed" said the monk."Nowmay the saints forbid that ever I should drink with suchcompanions! But herefor the pity I bear to sinnershere I doleave youa blessed relicthe whichfor your soul's interestIbid youkiss and cherish."
So farLawless thundered upon them like a preaching friar; but withthesewords he drew from under his robe a black arrowtossed it onthe boardin front of the three startled outlawsturned in thesameinstantandtaking Dick along with himwas out of the roomand out ofsight among the falling snow before they had time toutter aword or move a finger.
"So"he said"we have proved our false facesMaster Shelton. Iwill nowadventure my poor carcase where ye please."
"Good!"returned Richard. "It irks me to be doing. Set we onforShoreby!
CHAPTER II- "IN MINE ENEMIES' HOUSE"
SirDaniel's residence in Shoreby was a tallcommodiousplasteredmansionframed in carven oakand covered by a low-pitched roof ofthatch. To the back there stretched a gardenfull of fruit-treesalleysand thick arboursand overlooked from the far end by thetower ofthe abbey church.
The housemight containupon a pinchthe retinue of a greaterpersonthan Sir Daniel; but even now it was filled with hubbub.The courtrang with arms and horseshoe-iron; the kitchens roaredwithcookery like a bees'-hive; minstrelsand the players ofinstrumentsand the cries of tumblerssounded from the hall. SirDanielinhis profusionin the gaiety and gallantry of hisestablishmentrivalled with Lord Shorebyand eclipsed LordRisingham.
All guestswere made welcome. Minstrelstumblersplayers ofchessthesellers of relicsmedicinesperfumesandenchantmentsand along with these every sort of priestfriarorpilgrimwere made welcome to the lower tableand slept togetherin theample loftsor on the bare boards of the long dining-hall.
On theafternoon following the wreck of the Good Hopethe butterythekitchensthe stablesthe covered cartshed that surrounded twosides ofthe courtwere all crowded by idle peoplepartlybelongingto Sir Daniel's establishmentand attired in his liveryof murreyand bluepartly nondescript strangers attracted to thetown bygreedand received by the knight through policyandbecause itwas the fashion of the time.
The snowwhich still fell without interruptionthe extreme chillof theairand the approach of nightcombined to keep them undershelter. Winealeand money were all plentiful; many sprawledgamblingin the straw of the barnmany were still drunken from thenoontidemeal. To the eye of a modern it would have looked likethe sackof a city; to the eye of a contemporary it was like anyother richand noble household at a festive season.
Two monks- a young and an old - had arrived lateand were nowwarmingthemselves at a bonfire in a corner of the shed. A mixedcrowdsurrounded them - jugglersmountebanksand soldiers; andwith thesethe elder of the two had soon engaged so brisk aconversationand exchanged so many loud guffaws and countrywitticismsthat the group momentarily increased in number.
Theyounger companionin whom the reader has already recognisedDickSheltonsat from the first somewhat backwardand graduallydrewhimself away. He listenedindeedcloselybut he opened nothis mouth;and by the grave expression of his countenancehe madebut littleaccount of his companion's pleasantries.
At lasthis eyewhich travelled continually to and froand kept aguard uponall the entrances of the houselit upon a littleprocessionentering by the main gate and crossing the court in anobliquedirection. Two ladiesmuffled in thick fursled the wayand werefollowed by a pair of waiting-women and four stout men-at-arms. The next moment they had disappeared within the house; andDickslipping through the crowd of loiterers in the shedwasalreadygiving hot pursuit.
"Thetaller of these twain was Lady Brackley" he thought; "andwhere LadyBrackley isJoan will not be far."
At thedoor of the house the four men-at-arms had ceased to followand theladies were now mounting the stairway of polished oakunder nobetter escort than that of the two waiting-women. Dickfollowedclose behind. It was already the dusk of the day; and inthe housethe darkness of the night had almost come. On the stair-landingstorches flared in iron holders; down the longtapestriedcorridorsa lamp burned by every door. And where the door stoodopenDickcould look in upon arras-covered walls and rush-bescatteredfloorsglowing in the light of the wood fires.
Two floorswere passedand at every landing the younger andshorter ofthe two ladies had looked back keenly at the monk. Hekeepinghis eyes loweredand affecting the demure manners thatsuited hisdisguisehad but seen her onceand was unaware that hehadattracted her attention. And nowon the third floorthepartyseparatedthe younger lady continuing to ascend alonetheotherfollowed by the waiting-maidsdescending the corridor tothe right.
Dickmounted with a swift footand holding to the cornerthrustforth hishead and followed the three women with his eyes. Withoutturning orlooking behind themthey continued to descend thecorridor.
"Itis right well" thought Dick. "Let me but know myLadyBrackley'schamberand it will go hard an I find not Dame Hatchupon anerrand."
And justthen a hand was laid upon his shoulderandwith a boundand achoked cryhe turned to grapple his assailant.
He wassomewhat abashed to findin the person whom he had soroughlyseizedthe short young lady in the furs. Sheon herpartwasshocked and terrified beyond expressionand hungtremblingin his grasp.
"Madam"said Dickreleasing her"I cry you a thousand pardons;but I haveno eyes behindandby the massI could not tell yewere amaid."
The girlcontinued to look at himbutby this timeterror beganto besucceeded by surpriseand surprise by suspicion. Dickwhocould readthese changes on her facebecame alarmed for his ownsafety inthat hostile house.
"Fairmaid" he saidaffecting easiness"suffer me to kiss yourhandintoken ye forgive my roughnessand I will even go."
"Y'are a strange monkyoung sir" returned the young ladylookinghim both boldly and shrewdly in the face; "and now that myfirstastonishment hath somewhat passed awayI can spy the laymanin eachword you utter. What do ye here? Why are ye thussacrilegiouslytricked out? Come ye in peace or war? And why spyye afterLady Brackley like a thief?"
"Madam"quoth Dick"of one thing I pray you to be very sure: Iam nothief. And even if I come here in waras in some degree IdoI makeno war upon fair maidsand I hereby entreat them tocopy me sofarand to leave me be. Forindeedfair mistresscry out -if such be your pleasure - cry but onceand say what yehave seenand the poor gentleman before you is merely a dead man.I cannotthink ye would be cruel" added Dick; and taking thegirl'shand gently in both of hishe looked at her with courteousadmiration.
"Areyethena spy - a Yorkist?" asked the maid.
"Madam"he replied"I am indeed a Yorkistandin some sortaspy. But that which bringeth me into this housethe same whichwill winfor me the pity and interest of your kind heartisneither ofYork nor Lancaster. I will wholly put my life in yourdiscretion. I am a loverand my name - "
But herethe young lady clapped her hand suddenly upon Dick'smouthlooked hastily up and down and east and westandseeingthe coastclearbegan to drag the young manwith great strengthandvehemenceup-stairs.
"Hush!"she said"and come! Shalt talk hereafter."
SomewhatbewilderedDick suffered himself to be pulled up-stairsbustledalong a corridorand thrust suddenly into a chamberlitlike somany of the othersby a blazing log upon the hearth.
"Now"said the young ladyforcing him down upon a stool"sit yethere andattend my sovereign good pleasure. I have life and deathover youand I will not scruple to abuse my power. Look toyourself;y' 'ave cruelly mauled my arm. He knew not I was a maidquoth he! Had he known I was a maidhe had ta'en his belt to meforsooth!"
And withthese wordsshe whipped out of the room and left Dickgapingwith wonderand not very sure if he were dreaming or awake.
"Ta'enmy belt to her!" he repeated. "Ta'en my belt toher!" Andtherecollection of that evening in the forest flowed back upon hismindandhe once more saw Matcham's wincing body and beseechingeyes.
And thenhe was recalled to the dangers of the present. In thenext roomhe heard a stiras of a person moving; then followed asighwhich sounded strangely near; and then the rustle of skirtsand tap offeet once more began. As he stood hearkeninghe sawthe arraswave along the wall; there was the sound of a door beingopenedthe hangings dividedandlamp in handJoanna Sedleyenteredthe apartment.
She wasattired in costly stuffs of deep and warm colourssuch asbefit thewinter and the snow. Upon her headher hair had beengatheredtogether and became her as a crown. And shewho hadseemed solittle and so awkward in the attire of Matchamwas nowtall likea young willowand swam across the floor as though shescornedthe drudgery of walking.
Without astartwithout a tremorshe raised her lamp and lookedat theyoung monk.
"Whatmake ye heregood brother?" she inquired. "Ye aredoubtlessill-directed. Whom do ye require? And she set her lamp upon thebracket.
"Joanna"said Dick; and then his voice failed him. "Joanna"hebeganagain"ye said ye loved me; and the more fool Ibut Ibelievedit!"
"Dick!"she cried. "Dick!"
And thento the wonder of the ladthis beautiful and tall younglady madebut one step of itand threw her arms about his neck andgave him ahundred kisses all in one.
"Ohthe fool fellow!" she cried. "Ohdear Dick! Ohif ye couldseeyourself! Alack!" she addedpausing. "I havespoilt youDick! I have knocked some of the paint off. But that can bemended. What cannot be mendedDick - or I much fear it cannot! -is mymarriage with Lord Shoreby."
"Isit decidedthen?" asked the lad.
"To-morrowbefore noonDickin the abbey church" she answered"JohnMatcham and Joanna Sedley both shall come to a rightmiserableend. There is no help in tearsor I could weep mineeyes out. I have not spared myself to praybut Heaven frowns onmypetition. Anddear Dick - good Dick - but that ye can get meforth ofthis house before the morningwe must even kiss and saygood-bye."
"Nay"said Dick"not I; I will never say that word. 'Tis likedespair;but while there's lifeJoannathere is hope. Yet will Ihope. Ayby the massand triumph! Look yenowwhen ye werebut a nameto medid I not follow - did I not rouse good men - didI notstake my life upon the quarrel? And now that I have seen youfor whatye are - the fairest maid and stateliest of England -think ye Iwould turn? - if the deep sea were thereI wouldstraightthrough it; if the way were full of lionsI would scatterthem likemice."
"Ay"she saiddryly"ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!"
"NayJoan" protested Dick"'tis not alone the robe. Butlassye weredisguised. Here am I disguised; andto the proofdo Inot cut afigure of fun - a right fool's figure?"
"AyDickan' that ye do!" she answeredsmiling.
"Wellthen!" he returnedtriumphant. "So was it with youpoorMatchamin the forest. In soothye were a wench to laugh at.But now!"
So theyran onholding each other by both handsexchanging smilesand lovelylooksand melting minutes into seconds; and so theymight havecontinued all night long. But presently there was anoisebehind them; and they were aware of the short young ladywith herfinger on her lips.
"Saints!"she cried"but what a noise ye keep! Can ye not speakincompass? And nowJoannamy fair maid of the woodswhat willye giveyour gossip for bringing you your sweetheart?"
Joanna ranto herby way of answerand embraced her fierily.
"Andyousir" added the young lady"what do ye give me?"
"Madam"said Dick"I would fain offer to pay you in the samemoney."
"Comethen" said the lady"it is permitted you."
But Dickblushing like a peonyonly kissed her hand.
"Whatails ye at my facefair sir?" she inquiredcurtseying tothe veryground; and thenwhen Dick had at length and most tepidlyembracedher"Joanna" she added"your sweetheart is verybackwardunder your eyes; but I warrant youwhen first we met hewas moreready. I am all black and bluewench; trust me neverifI be notblack and blue! And now" she continued"have yesaidyoursayings? for I must speedily dismiss the paladin."
But atthis they both cried out that they had said nothingthatthe nightwas still very youngand that they would not beseparatedso early.
"Andsupper?" asked the young lady. "Must we not go downtosupper?"
"Nayto be sure!" cried Joan. "I had forgotten."
"Hidemethen" said Dick"put me behind the arrasshut me inachestorwhat ye willso that I may be here on your return.Indeedfair lady" he added"bear this in mindthat we are sorebestedand may never look upon each other's face from this nightforwardtill we die."
At thisthe young lady melted; and whena little afterthe bellsummonedSir Daniel's household to the boardDick was planted verystifflyagainst the wallat a place where a division in thetapestrypermitted him to breathe the more freelyand even to seeinto theroom.
He had notbeen long in this positionwhen he was somewhatstrangelydisturbed. The silencein that upper storey of thehousewasonly broken by the flickering of the flames and thehissing ofa green log in the chimney; but presentlyto Dick'sstrainedhearingthere came the sound of some one walking withextremeprecaution; and soon after the door openedand a littleblack-faceddwarfish fellowin Lord Shoreby's colourspushedfirst hisheadand then his crooked bodyinto the chamber. Hismouth wasopenas though to hear the better; and his eyeswhichwere verybrightflitted restlessly and swiftly to and fro. Hewent roundand round the roomstriking here and there upon thehangings;but Dickby a miracleescaped his notice. Then helookedbelow the furnitureand examined the lamp; andat lastwith anair of cruel disappointmentwas preparing to go away assilentlyas he had comewhen down he dropped upon his kneespicked upsomething from among the rushes on the floorexamineditandwith every signal of delightconcealed it in the walletat hisbelt.
Dick'sheart sankfor the object in question was a tassel from hisowngirdle; and it was plain to him that this dwarfish spywhotook amalign delight in his employmentwould lose no time inbearing itto his masterthe baron. He was half-tempted to throwaside thearrasfall upon the scoundrelandat the risk of hisliferemove the telltale token. And while he was stillhesitatinga new cause of concern was added. A voicehoarse andbroken bydrinkbegan to be audible from the stair; and presentlyafterunevenwanderingand heavy footsteps sounded without alongthepassage.
"Whatmake ye heremy merry menamong the greenwood shaws?" sangthevoice. "What make ye here? Hey! sotswhat make yehere?" itaddedwith a rattle of drunken laughter; and thenonce morebreakinginto song:
"Ifye should drink the clary wineFat FriarJohnye friend o' mine -If Ishould eatand ye should drinkWho shallsing the massd'ye think?"
Lawlessalas! rolling drunkwas wandering the houseseeking fora cornerwherein to slumber off the effect of his potations. Dickinwardlyraged. The spyat first terrifiedhad grown reassuredas hefound he had to deal with an intoxicated manand nowwith amovementof cat-like rapidityslipped from the chamberand wasgone fromRichard's eyes.
What wasto be done? If he lost touch of Lawless for the nighthewas leftimpotentwhether to plan or carry forth Joanna's rescue.Ifon theother handhe dared to address the drunken outlawthespy mightstill be lingering within sightand the most fatalconsequencesensue.
It wasneverthelessupon this last hazard that Dick decided.Slippingfrom behind the tapestryhe stood ready in the doorway ofthechamberwith a warning hand upraised. Lawlessflushedcrimsonwith his eyes injectedvacillating on his feetdrewstillunsteadily nearer. At last he hazily caught sight of hiscommanderandin despite of Dick's imperious signalshailed himinstantlyand loudly by his name.
Dickleaped upon and shook the drunkard furiously.
"Beast!"he hissed - "beast and no man! It is worse than treacheryto be sowitless. We may all be shent for thy sotting."
ButLawless only laughed and staggeredand tried to clap youngShelton onthe back.
And justthen Dick's quick ear caught a rapid brushing in thearras. He leaped towards the soundand the next moment a piece ofthewall-hanging had been torn downand Dick and the spy weresprawlingtogether in its folds. Over and over they rolledgrapplingfor each other's throatand still baffled by the arrasand stillsilent in their deadly fury. But Dick was by much thestrongerand soon the spy lay prostrate under his kneeandwitha singlestroke of the long poniardceased to breathe.
CHAPTERIII - THE DEAD SPY
Throughoutthis furious and rapid passageLawless had looked onhelplesslyand even when all was overand Dickalready re-arisento hisfeetwas listening with the most passionate attention tothedistant bustle in the lower storeys of the housethe oldoutlaw wasstill wavering on his legs like a shrub in a breeze ofwindandstill stupidly staring on the face of the dead man.
"Itis well" said Dickat length; "they have not heard uspraisethesaints! Butnowwhat shall I do with this poor spy? AtleastIwill take my tassel from his wallet."
So sayingDick opened the wallet; within he found a few pieces ofmoneythetasseland a letter addressed to Lord Wensleydaleandsealedwith my Lord Shoreby's seal. The name awoke Dick'srecollection;and he instantly broke the wax and read the contentsof theletter. It was shortbutto Dick's delightit gaveevidentproof that Lord Shoreby was treacherously correspondingwith theHouse of York.
The youngfellow usually carried his ink-horn and implements abouthimandso nowbending a knee beside the body of the dead spyhewas ableto write these words upon a corner of the paper:
My Lord ofShorebyye that writt the letterwot ye why your manis ded? But let me rede youmarry not.
He laidthis paper on the breast of the corpse; and then Lawlesswho hadbeen looking on upon these last manoeuvres with someflickeringreturns of intelligencesuddenly drew a black arrowfrom belowhis robeand therewith pinned the paper in its place.The sightof this disrespectoras it almost seemedcruelty tothe deaddrew a cry of horror from young Shelton; but the oldoutlawonly laughed.
"NayI will have the credit for mine order" he hiccupped. "Myjolly boysmust have the credit on't - the creditbrother;" andthenshutting his eyes tight and opening his mouth like aprecentorhe began to thunderin a formidable voice:
"Ifye should drink the clary wine" -
"Peacesot!" cried Dickand thrust him hard against the wall."Intwo words - if so be that such a man can understand me who hathmore winethan wit in him - in two wordsanda-Mary's namebegone outof this housewhereif ye continue to abideye willnot onlyhang yourselfbut me also! Faiththenup foot! beyareorby the massI may forget that I am in some sort yourcaptainand in some your debtor! Go!"
The shammonk was nowin some degreerecovering the use of hisintelligence;and the ring in Dick's voiceand the glitter inDick'seyestamped home the meaning of his words.
"Bythe mass" cried Lawless"an I be not wantedI can go;"andhe turnedtipsily along the corridor and proceeded to flounderdown-stairslurching against the wall.
So soon ashe was out of sightDick returned to his hiding-placeresolutelyfixed to see the matter out. Wisdomindeedmoved himto begone; but love and curiosity were stronger.
Timepassed slowly for the young manbolt upright behind thearras. The fire in the room began to die downand the lamp toburn lowand to smoke. And still there was no word of the returnof any oneto these upper quarters of the house; still the fainthum andclatter of the supper party sounded from far below; andstillunder the thick fall of the snowShoreby town lay silentupon everyside.
At lengthhoweverfeet and voices began to draw near upon thestair; andpresently after several of Sir Daniel's guests arrivedupon thelandingandturning down the corridorbeheld the tornarras andthe body of the spy.
Some ranforward and some backand all together began to cryaloud.
At thesound of their criesguestsmen-at-armsladiesservantsandin awordall the inhabitants of that great housecameflyingfrom every directionand began to join their voices to thetumult.
Soon a waywas clearedand Sir Daniel came forth in personfollowedby the bridegroom of the morrowmy Lord Shoreby.
"Mylord" said Sir Daniel"have I not told you of this knaveBlackArrow? To the proofbehold it! There it standsandbythe roodmy gossipin a man of yoursor one that stole yourcolours!"
"Ingood soothit was a man of mine" replied Lord Shorebyhangingback. "I would I had more such. He was keen as abeagleand secretas a mole."
"Aygossiptruly?" asked Sir Danielkeenly. "And whatcame hesmellingup so many stairs in my poor mansion? But he will smellno more."
"An'tplease youSir Daniel" said one"here is a paper writtenupon withsome matterpinned upon his breast."
"Giveit mearrow and all" said the knight. And when he hadtaken intohis hand the shafthe continued for some time to gazeupon it ina sullen musing. "Ay" he saidaddressing LordShoreby"here is a hate that followeth hard and close upon myheels. This black stickor its just likenessshall yet bring medown. Andgossipsuffer a plain knight to counsel you; and ifthesehounds begin to wind youflee! 'Tis like a sickness - itstillhangethhangeth upon the limbs. But let us see what theyhavewritten. It is as I thoughtmy lord; y' are markedlike anold oakby the woodman; to-morrow or next dayby will come theaxe. But what wrote ye in a letter?"
LordShoreby snatched the paper from the arrowread itcrumpledit betweenhis handsandovercoming the reluctance which hadhithertowithheld him from approachingthrew himself on his kneesbeside thebody and eagerly groped in the wallet.
He rose tohis feet with a somewhat unsettled countenance.
"Gossip"he said"I have indeed lost a letter here that muchimported;and could I lay my hand upon the knave that took itheshouldincontinently grace a halter. But let usfirst of allsecure theissues of the house. Here is enough harm alreadybySt.George!"
Sentinelswere posted close around the house and garden; a sentinelon everylanding of the staira whole troop in the main entrance-hall; andyet another about the bonfire in the shed. Sir Daniel'sfollowerswere supplemented by Lord Shoreby's; there was thus nolack ofmen or weapons to make the house secureor to entrap alurkingenemyshould one be there.
Meanwhilethe body of the spy was carried out through the fallingsnow anddeposited in the abbey church.
It was notuntil these dispositions had been takenand all hadreturnedto a decorous silencethat the two girls drew RichardSheltonfrom his place of concealmentand made a full report tohim ofwhat had passed. Heupon his siderecounted the visit ofthe spyhis dangerous discoveryand speedy end.
Joannaleaned back very faint against the curtained wall.
"Itwill avail but little" she said. "I shall be wedto-morrowin themorningafter all!"
"What!"cried her friend. "And here is our paladin that drivethlions likemice! Ye have little faithof a surety. But comefriendlion-drivergive us some comfort; speakand let us hearboldcounsels."
Dick wasconfounded to be thus outfaced with his own exaggeratedwords; butthough he colouredhe still spoke stoutly.
"Truly"said he"we are in straits. Yetcould I but win out ofthis housefor half an hourI do honestly tell myself that allmightstill go well; and for the marriageit should be prevented."
"Andfor the lions" mimicked the girl"they shall be driven."
"Icrave your excuse" said Dick. "I speak not now inany boastinghumourbut rather as one inquiring after help or counsel; for if Iget notforth of this house and through these sentinelsI can doless thannaught. Take meI pray yourightly."
"Whysaid ye he was rusticJoan?" the girl inquired. "Iwarranthe hath atongue in his head; readysoftand bold is his speechatpleasure. What would ye more?"
"Nay"sighed Joannawith a smile"they have changed me my friendDick'tissure enough. When I beheld himhe was rough indeed.But itmatters little; there is no help for my hard caseand Imust stillbe Lady Shoreby!"
"Naythen" said Dick"I will even make the adventure. Afriaris notmuch regarded; and if I found a good fairy to lead me upImay findanother belike to carry me down. How call they the nameof thisspy?"
"Rutter"said the young lady; "and an excellent good name to callhim by. But how mean yelion-driver? What is in your mind todo?"
"Tooffer boldly to go forth" returned Dick; "and if any stopmeto keep anunchanged countenanceand say I go to pray for Rutter.They willbe praying over his poor clay even now."
"Thedevice is somewhat simple" replied the girl"yet it mayhold."
"Nay"said young Shelton"it is no devicebut mere boldnesswhichserveth often better in great straits."
"Yesay true" she said. "Wellgoa-Mary's nameandmay Heavenspeedyou! Ye leave here a poor maid that loves you entirelyandanotherthat is most heartily your friend. Be waryfor theirsakesandmake not shipwreck of your safety."
"Ay"added Joanna"goDick. Ye run no more perilwhether yegoor stay. Go; ye take my heart with you; the saints defend you!"
Dickpassed the first sentry with so assured a countenance that thefellowmerely figeted and stared; but at the second landing the mancarriedhis spear across and bade him name his business.
"PAXVOBISCUM" answered Dick. "I go to pray over the bodyof thispoorRutter."
"Likeenough" returned the sentry; "but to go alone is notpermittedyou." He leaned over the oaken balusters and whistledshrill. "One cometh!" he cried; and then motioned Dick to pass.
At thefoot of the stair he found the guard afoot and awaiting hisarrival;and when he had once more repeated his storythecommanderof the post ordered four men out to accompany him to thechurch.
"Lethim not slipmy lads" he said. "Bring him to SirOliveronyourlives!"
The doorwas then opened; one of the men took Dick by either armanothermarched ahead with a linkand the fourthwith bent bowand thearrow on the stringbrought up the rear. In this ordertheyproceeded through the gardenunder the thick darkness of thenight andthe scattering snowand drew near to the dimly-illuminatedwindows of the abbey church.
At thewestern portal a picket of archers stoodtaking whatshelterthey could find in the hollow of the arched doorwaysandallpowdered with the snow; and it was not until Dick's conductorshadexchanged a word with thesethat they were suffered to passforth andenter the nave of the sacred edifice.
The churchwas doubtfully lighted by the tapers upon the greataltarandby a lamp or two that swung from the arched roof beforetheprivate chapels of illustrious families. In the midst of thechoir thedead spy layhis limbs piously composedupon a bier.
A hurriedmutter of prayer sounded along the arches; cowled figuresknelt inthe stalls of the choirand on the steps of the highaltar apriest in pontifical vestments celebrated mass.
Upon thisfresh entranceone of the cowled figures aroseandcomingdown the steps which elevated the level of the choir abovethat ofthe navedemanded from the leader of the four men whatbusinessbrought him to the church. Out of respect for the serviceand thedeadthey spoke in guarded tones; but the echoes of thathugeempty building caught up their wordsand hollowly repeatedandrepeated them along the aisles.
"Amonk!" returned Sir Oliver (for he it was)when he had heardthe reportof the archer. "My brotherI looked not for yourcoming"he addedturning to young Shelton. "In all civilitywhoare ye?and at whose instance do ye join your supplications toours?"
Dickkeeping his cowl about his facesigned to Sir Oliver to movea pace ortwo aside from the archers; andso soon as the priesthad doneso"I cannot hope to deceive yousir" he said. "Mylife is inyour hands."
Sir Oliverviolently started; his stout cheeks grew paleand for aspace hewas silent.
"Richard"he said"what brings you hereI know not; but I muchmisdoubtit to be evil. Neverthelessfor the kindness that wasIwould notwillingly deliver you to harm. Ye shall sit all nightbeside mein the stalls: ye shall sit there till my Lord ofShoreby bemarriedand the party gone safe home; and if all goethwellandye have planned no evilin the end ye shall go whitherye will. But if your purpose be bloodyit shall return upon yourhead. Amen!"
And thepriest devoutly crossed himselfand turned and louted tothe altar.
With thathe spoke a few words more to the soldiersand takingDick bythe handled him up to the choirand placed him in thestallbeside his ownwherefor mere decencythe lad hadinstantlyto kneel and appear to be busy with his devotions.
His mindand his eyeshoweverwere continually wandering. Threeof thesoldiershe observedinstead of returning to the househad gotthem quietly into a point of vantage in the aisle; and hecould notdoubt that they had done so by Sir Oliver's command.Herethenhe was trapped. Here he must spend the night in theghostlyglimmer and shadow of the churchand looking on the paleface ofhim he slew; and herein the morninghe must see hissweetheartmarried to another man before his eyes.
Butforall thathe obtained a command upon his mindand builthimself upin patience to await the issue.
CHAPTER IV- IN THE ABBEY CHURCH
In ShorebyAbbey Church the prayers were kept up all night withoutcessationnow with the singing of psalmsnow with a note or twoupon thebell.
Rutterthe spywas nobly waked. There he laymeanwhileas theyhadarranged himhis dead hands crossed upon his bosomhis deadeyesstaring on the roof; and hard byin the stallthe lad whohad slainhim waitedin sore disquietudethe coming of themorning.
Once onlyin the course of the hoursSir Oliver leaned across tohiscaptive.
"Richard"he whispered"my sonif ye mean me evilI willcertifyon my soul's welfareye design upon an innocent man.Sinful inthe eye of Heaven I do declare myself; but sinful asagainstyou I am notneither have been ever."
"Myfather" returned Dickin the same tone of voice"trustmeIdesignnothing; but as for your innocenceI may not forget that yeclearedyourself but lamely."
"Aman may be innocently guilty" replied the priest. "Hemay besetblindfolded upon a missionignorant of its true scope. So itwas withme. I did decoy your father to his death; but as Heavensees us inthis sacred placeI knew not what I did."
"Itmay be" returned Dick. "But see what a strange webye havewoventhat I should beat this hourat once your prisoner andyourjudge; that ye should both threaten my days and deprecate myanger. Methinksif ye had been all your life a true man and goodpriestyewould neither thus fear nor thus detest me. And now toyourprayers. I do obey yousince needs must; but I will not beburthenedwith your company."
The priestuttered a sigh so heavy that it had almost touched thelad intosome sentiment of pityand he bowed his head upon hishands likea man borne down below a weight of care. He joined nolonger inthe psalms; but Dick could hear the beads rattle throughhisfingers and the prayers a-pattering between his teeth.
Yet alittleand the grey of the morning began to struggle throughthepainted casements of the churchand to put to shame theglimmer ofthe tapers. The light slowly broadened and brightenedandpresently through the south-eastern clerestories a flush ofrosysunlight flickered on the walls. The storm was over; thegreatclouds had disburdened their snow and fled farther onandthe newday was breaking on a merry winter landscape sheathed inwhite.
A bustleof church officers followed; the bier was carried forth tothedeadhouseand the stains of blood were cleansed from off thetilesthat no such ill-omened spectacle should disgrace themarriageof Lord Shoreby. At the same timethe very ecclesiasticswho hadbeen so dismally engaged all night began to put on morningfacestodo honour to the merrier ceremony which was about tofollow. And further to announce the coming of the daythe piousof thetown began to assemble and fall to prayer before theirfavouriteshrinesor wait their turn at the confessionals.
Favouredby this stirit was of course easily possible for any manto avoidthe vigilance of Sir Daniel's sentries at the door; andpresentlyDicklooking about him wearilycaught the eye of noless aperson than Will Lawlessstill in his monk's habit.
Theoutlawat the same momentrecognised his leaderand privilysigned tohim with hand and eye.
NowDickwas far from having forgiven the old rogue his mostuntimelydrunkennessbut he had no desire to involve him in hisownpredicament; and he signalled back to himas plain as he wasabletobegone.
Lawlessas though he had understooddisappeared at once behind apillarand Dick breathed again.
Whatthenwas his dismay to feel himself plucked by the sleeveand tofind the old robber installed beside himupon the nextseatandto all appearanceplunged in his devotions!
InstantlySir Oliver arose from his placeandgliding behind thestallsmade for the soldiers in the aisle. If the priest'ssuspicionshad been so lightly wakenedthe harm was already doneandLawless a prisoner in the church.
"Movenot" whispered Dick. "We are in the plaguiest passthanksbefore allthingsto thy swinishness of yestereven. When ye sawme hereso strangely seated where I have neither right norinterestwhat a murrain I could ye not smell harm and get ye gonefromevil?"
"Nay"returned Lawless"I thought ye had heard from Ellisandwere hereon duty."
"Ellis!"echoed Dick. "Is Ellisthenreturned?
"Forsure" replied the outlaw. "He came last nightandbelted mesore forbeing in wine - so there ye are avengedmy master. Afuriousman is Ellis Duckworth! He hath ridden me hot-spur fromCraven toprevent this marriage; andMaster Dickye know the wayof him -do so he will!"
"Naythen" returned Dickwith composure"you and Imy poorbrotherare dead men; for I sit here a prisoner upon suspicionand myneck was to answer for this very marriage that he purposethto mar. I had a fair choiceby the rood! to lose my sweetheart orelse losemy life! Wellthe cast is thrown - it is to be mylife."
"Bythe mass" cried Lawlesshalf arising"I am gone!"
But Dickhad his hand at once upon his shoulder.
"FriendLawlesssit ye still" he said. "An ye have eyeslookyonder atthe corner by the chancel arch; see ye not thatevenupon themotion of your risingyon armed men are up and ready tointerceptyou? Yield yefriend. Ye were bold aboard shipwhenye thoughtto die a sea-death; be bold againnow that y' are todiepresently upon the gallows."
"MasterDick" gasped Lawless"the thing hath come upon mesomewhatof the suddenest. But give me a moment till I fetch mybreathagain; andby the massI will be as stout-hearted asyourself."
"Hereis my bold fellow!" returned Dick. "And yetLawlessitgoes hardagainst the grain with me to die; but where whiningmendethnothingwherefore whine?"
"Naythat indeed!" chimed Lawless. "And a fig for deathatworst! It has to be donemy mastersoon or late. And hanging ina goodquarrel is an easy deaththey saythough I could neverhear ofany that came back to say so."
And sosayingthe stout old rascal leaned back in his stallfolded hisarmsand began to look about him with the greatest airofinsolence and unconcern.
"Andfor the matter of that" Dick added"it is yet our bestchance tokeep quiet. We wot not yet what Duckworth purposes; andwhen allis saidand if the worst befallwe may yet clear ourfeet ofit."
Now thatthey ceased talkingthey were aware of a very distant andthinstrain of mirthful music which steadily drew nearerlouderandmerrier. The bells in the tower began to break forth into adoublingpealand a greater and greater concourse of people tocrowd intothe churchshuffling the snow from off their feetandclappingand blowing in their hands. The western door was flungwide openshowing a glimpse of sunlitsnowy streetand admittingin a greatgust the shrewd air of the morning; and in shortitbecameplain by every sign that Lord Shoreby desired to be marriedvery earlyin the dayand that the wedding-train was drawing near.
Some ofLord Shoreby's men now cleared a passage down the middleaisleforcing the people back with lance-stocks; and just thenoutsidethe portalthe secular musicians could be descried drawingnear overthe frozen snowthe fifers and trumpeters scarlet in theface withlusty blowingthe drummers and the cymbalists beating asfor awager.
Theseasthey drew near the door of the sacred buildingfiled offon eithersideandmarking time to their own vigorous musicstoodstamping in the snow. As they thus opened their rankstheleaders ofthis noble bridal train appeared behind and betweenthem; andsuch was the variety and gaiety of their attiresuch thedisplay ofsilks and velvetfur and satinembroidery and lacethat theprocession showed forth upon the snow like a flower-bed ina path ora painted window in a wall.
First camethe bridea sorry sightas pale as winterclinging toSirDaniel's armand attendedas brides-maidby the short younglady whohad befriended Dick the night before. Close behindinthe mostradiant toiletfollowed the bridegroomhalting on agoutyfoot; and as he passed the threshold of the sacred buildingand doffedhis hathis bald head was seen to be rosy with emotion.
And nowcame the hour of Ellis Duckworth.
Dickwhosat stunned among contrary emotionsgrasping the desk infront ofhimbeheld a movement in the crowdpeople jostlingbackwardand eyes and arms uplifted. Following these signshebeheldthree or four men with bent bows leaning from the clerestorygallery. At the same instant they delivered their dischargeandbefore theclamour and cries of the astounded populace had time toswellfully upon the earthey had flitted from their perch anddisappeared.
The navewas full of swaying heads and voices screaming; theecclesiasticsthronged in terror from their places; the musicceasedand though the bells overhead continued for some seconds toclang uponthe airsome wind of the disaster seemed to find itsway atlast even to the chamber where the ringers were leaping ontheirropesand they also desisted from their merry labours.
Right inthe midst of the nave the bridegroom lay stone-deadpierced bytwo black arrows. The bride had fainted. Sir Danielstoodtowering above the crowd in his surprise and angeraclothyardshaft quivering in his left forearmand his facestreamingblood from another which had grazed his brow.
Longbefore any search could be made for themthe authors of thistragicinterruption had clattered down a turnpike stair anddecampedby a postern door.
But Dickand Lawless still remained in pawn; they hadindeedarisen onthe first alarmand pushed manfully to gain the door;but whatwith the narrowness of the stalls and the crowding ofterrifiedpriests and choristersthe attempt had been in vainandthey hadstoically resumed their places.
And nowpale with horrorSir Oliver rose to his feet and calledupon SirDanielpointing with one hand to Dick.
"Here"he cried"is Richard Shelton - alas the hour! - bloodguilty! Seize him! - bid him be seized! For all our lives' sakestake himand bind him surely! He hath sworn our fall."
Sir Danielwas blinded by anger - blinded by the hot blood thatstillstreamed across his face.
"Where?"he bellowed. "Hale him forth! By the cross ofHolywoodbut heshall rue this hour!"
The crowdfell backand a party of archers invaded the choirlaidroughhands on Dickdragged him head-foremost from the stallandthrust himby the shoulders down the chancel steps. Lawlessonhis partsat as still as a mouse.
SirDanielbrushing the blood out of his eyesstared blinkinglyupon hiscaptive.
"Ay"he said"treacherous and insolentI have thee fast; and byall potentoathsfor every drop of blood that now trickles in mineeyesIwill wring a groan out of thy carcase. Away with him!" headded. "Here is no place! Off with him to my house. I willnumberevery joint of thy body with a torture."
But Dickputting off his captorsuplifted his voice.
"Sanctuary!"he shouted. "Sanctuary! Hotheremy fathers! Theywould dragme from the church!"
"Fromthe church thou hast defiled with murderboy" added a tallmanmagnificently dressed.
"Onwhat probation?" cried Dick. "They do accuse meindeedofsomecomplicitybut have not proved one tittle. I wasin trutha suitorfor this damsel's hand; and sheI will be bold to say itrepaid mysuit with favour. But what then? To love a maid is nooffenceItrow - naynor to gain her love. In all elseI standhere freefrom guiltiness."
There wasa murmur of approval among the bystandersso boldly Dickdeclaredhis innocence; but at the same time a throng of accusersarose uponthe other sidecrying how he had been found last nightin SirDaniel's househow he wore a sacrilegious disguise; and inthe midstof the babelSir Oliver indicated Lawlessboth by voiceandgestureas accomplice to the fact. Hein his turnwasdraggedfrom his seat and set beside his leader. The feelings ofthe crowdrose high on either sideand while some dragged theprisonersto and fro to favour their escapeothers cursed andstruckthem with their fists. Dick's ears rang and his brain swamdizzilylike a man struggling in the eddies of a furious river.
But thetall man who had already answered Dickby a prodigiousexerciseof voice restored silence and order in the mob.
"Searchthem" he said"for arms. We may so judge of theirintentions."
Upon Dickthey found no weapon but his poniardand this told inhisfavouruntil one man officiously drew it from its sheathandfound itstill uncleansed of the blood of Rutter. At this therewas agreat shout among Sir Daniel's followerswhich the tall mansuppressedby a gesture and an imperious glance. But when it cameto theturn of Lawlessthere was found under his gown a sheaf ofarrowsidentical with those that had been shot.
"Howsay ye now?" asked the tall manfrowninglyof Dick.
"Sir"replied Dick"I am here in sanctuaryis it not so? WellsirI seeby your bearing that ye are high in stationand I readin yourcountenance the marks of piety and justice. To youthenI willyield me prisonerand that blithelyforegoing theadvantageof this holy place. But rather than to be yielded intothediscretion of that man - whom I do here accuse with a loudvoice tobe the murderer of my natural father and the unjustretainerof my lands and revenues - rather than thatI wouldbeseechyouunder favourwith your own gentle handto despatchme on thespot. Your own ears have heard himhow before that Iwas provenguilty he did threaten me with torments. It standethnot withyour own honour to deliver me to my sworn enemy and oldoppressorbut to try me fairly by the way of lawandif that Ibe guiltyindeedto slay me mercifully."
"Mylord" cried Sir Daniel"ye will not hearken to this wolf?His bloodydagger reeks him the lie into his face."
"Naybut suffer megood knight" returned the tall stranger;"yourown vehemence doth somewhat tell against yourself."
And herethe bridewho had come to herself some minutes past andlookedwildly on upon this scenebroke loose from those that heldherandfell upon her knees before the last speaker.
"MyLord of Risingham" she cried"hear mein justice. I am herein thisman's custody by mere forcereft from mine own people.Since thatday I had never pitycountenancenor comfort from theface ofman - but from him only - Richard Shelton - whom they nowaccuse andlabour to undo. My lordif he was yesternight in SirDaniel'smansionit was I that brought him there; he came but atmy prayerand thought to do no hurt. While yet Sir Daniel was agood lordto himhe fought with them of the Black Arrow loyally;but whenhis foul guardian sought his life by practicesand hefled bynightfor his soul's sakeout of that bloody housewhitherwas he to turn - hehelpless and penniless? Or if he befallenamong ill companywhom should ye blame - the lad that wasunjustlyhandledor the guardian that did abuse his trust?"
And thenthe short young lady fell on her knees by Joanna's side.
"AndImy good lord and natural uncle" she added"I can beartestimonyon my conscience and before the face of allthat whatthismaiden saith is true. It was Iunworthythat did lead theyoung manin."
EarlRisingham had heard in silenceand when the voices ceasedhestillstood silent for a space. Then he gave Joanna his hand toarisethough it was to be observed that he did not offer the likecourtesyto her who had called herself his niece.
"SirDaniel" he said"here is a right intricate affairthewhichwith your good leaveit shall be mine to examine andadjust. Content yethen; your business is in careful hands;justiceshall be done you; and in the meanwhileget yeincontinentlyhomeand have your hurts attended. The air isshrewdand I would not ye took cold upon these scratches."
He made asign with his hand; it was passed down the nave byobsequiousservantswho waited there upon his smallest gesture.Instantlywithout the churcha tucket sounded shrilland throughthe openportal archers and men-at-armsuniformly arrayed in thecoloursand wearing the badge of Lord Risinghambegan to file intothechurchtook Dick and Lawless from those who still detainedthemandclosing their files about the prisonersmarched forthagain anddisappeared.
As theywere passingJoanna held both her hands to Dick and criedhim herfarewell; and the bridesmaidnothing downcast by heruncle'sevident displeasureblew him a kisswith a "Keep yourheart uplion-driver!" that for the first time since the accidentcalled upa smile to the faces of the crowd.
CHAPTER V- EARL RISINGHAM
EarlRisinghamalthough by far the most important person then inShorebywas poorly lodged in the house of a private gentleman upontheextreme outskirts of the town. Nothing but the armed men atthe doorsand the mounted messengers that kept arriving anddepartingannounced the temporary residence of a great lord.
Thus itwas thatfrom lack of spaceDick and Lawless were clappedinto thesame apartment.
"WellspokenMaster Richard" said the outlaw; "it wasexcellentlywellspokenandfor my partI thank you cordially. Here we arein goodhands; we shall be justly triedandsome time thiseveningdecently hanged on the same tree."
"Indeedmy poor friendI do believe it" answered Dick.
"Yethave we a string to our bow" returned Lawless. "EllisDuckworthis a man out of ten thousand; he holdeth you right nearhis heartboth for your own and for your father's sake; andknowingyou guiltless of this facthe will stir earth and heavento bearyou clear."
"Itmay not be" said Dick. "What can he do? Hehath but ahandful. Alackif it were but to-morrow - could I but keep acertaintryst an hour before noon to-morrow - all wereI thinkotherwise. But now there is no help."
"Well"concluded Lawless"an ye will stand to it for myinnocenceI will stand to it for yoursand that stoutly. Itshallnaught avail us; but an I be to hangit shall not be forlack ofswearing."
And thenwhile Dick gave himself over to his reflectionsthe oldroguecurled himself down into a cornerpulled his monkish hoodabout hisfaceand composed himself to sleep. Soon he was loudlysnoringso utterly had his long life of hardship and adventurebluntedthe sense of apprehension.
It waslong after noonand the day was already failingbefore thedoor wasopened and Dick taken forth and led up-stairs to whereina warmcabinetEarl Risingham sat musing over the fire.
On hiscaptive's entrance he looked up.
"Sir"he said"I knew your fatherwho was a man of honourandthisinclineth me to be the more lenient; but I may not hide fromyou thatheavy charges lie against your character. Ye do consortwithmurderers and robbers; upon a clear probation ye have carriedwaragainst the king's peace; ye are suspected to have piraticallyseizedupon a ship; ye are found skulking with a counterfeitpresentmentin your enemy's house; a man is slain that very evening- "
"Anit like youmy lord" Dick interposed"I will at onceavow myguiltsuch as it is. I slew this fellow Rutter; and to the proof"-searching in his bosom - "here is a letter from his wallet."
LordRisingham took the letterand opened and read it twice.
"Yehave read this?" he inquired.
"Ihave read it" answered Dick.
"Areye for York or Lancaster?" the earl demanded.
"Mylordit was but a little while back that I was asked thatquestionand knew not how to answer it" said Dick; "but havingansweredonceI will not vary. My lordI am for York."
The earlnodded approvingly.
"Honestlyreplied" he said. "But whereforethendeliver methisletter?"
"Naybut against traitorsmy lordare not all sides arrayed?"criedDick.
"Iwould they wereyoung gentleman" returned the earl; "andI doat leastapprove your saying. There is more youth than guile inyouI doperceive; and were not Sir Daniel a mighty man upon oursideIwere half-tempted to espouse your quarrel. For I haveinquiredand it appears ye have been hardly dealt withand havemuchexcuse. But look yesirI ambefore all elsea leader inthequeen's interest; and though by nature a just manas Ibelieveand leaning even to the excess of mercyyet must I ordermy goingsfor my party's interestandto keep Sir DanielI wouldgo farabout."
"Mylord" returned Dick"ye will think me very bold tocounselyou; butdo ye count upon Sir Daniel's faith? Methought he hadchangedsides intolerably often."
"Nayit is the way of England. What would ye have?" the earldemanded. "But ye are unjust to the knight of Tunstall; and asfaithgoesin this unfaithful generationhe hath of late beenhonourablytrue to us of Lancaster. Even in our last reverses hestoodfirm."
"Anit pleased youthen" said Dick"to cast your eye uponthisletteryemight somewhat change your thought of him;" and hehanded tothe earl Sir Daniel's letter to Lord Wensleydale.
The effectupon the earl's countenance was instant; he lowered likean angrylionand his handwith a sudden movementclutched athisdagger.
"Yehave read this also?" he asked.
"Evenso" said Dick. "It is your lordship's own estate heoffersto LordWensleydale?"
"Itis my own estateeven as ye say!" returned the earl. "Iamyourbedesman for this letter. It hath shown me a fox's hole.CommandmeMaster Shelton; I will not be backward in gratitudeand tobegin withYork or Lancastertrue man or thiefI do nowset you atfreedom. Goa Mary's name! But judge it right that Iretain andhang your fellowLawless. The crime hath been mostopenandit were fitting that some open punishment should follow."
"MylordI make it my first suit to you to spare him also"pleadedDick.
"Itis an oldcondemned roguethiefand vagabondMasterShelton"said the earl. "He hath been gallows-ripe this score ofyears. Andwhether for one thing or anotherwhether to-morrow orthe dayafterwhere is the great choice?"
"Yetmy lordit was through love to me that he came hither"answeredDick"and I were churlish and thankless to desert him."
"MasterSheltonye are troublesome" replied the earlseverely."Itis an evil way to prosper in this world. Howbeitand to bequit ofyour importunityI will once more humour you. Gothentogether;but go warilyand get swiftly out of Shoreby town. Forthis SirDaniel (whom may the saints confound!) thirsteth mostgreedilyto have your blood."
"MylordI do now offer you in words my gratitudetrusting atsome briefdate to pay you some of it in service" replied Dickashe turnedfrom the apartment.
CHAPTER VI- ARBLASTER AGAIN
When Dickand Lawless were suffered to stealby a back wayout ofthe housewhere Lord Risingham held his garrisonthe evening hadalreadycome.
Theypaused in shelter of the garden wall to consult on their bestcourse. The danger was extreme. If one of Sir Daniel's men caughtsight ofthem and raised the view-hallothey would be run down andbutcheredinstantly. And not only was the town of Shoreby a merenet ofperil for their livesbut to make for the open country wasto run therisk of the patrols.
A littleway offupon some open groundthey spied a windmillstanding;and hard by thata very large granary with open doors.
"Howif we lay there until the night fall?" Dick proposed.
AndLawless having no better suggestion to offerthey made astraightpush for the granary at a runand concealed themselvesbehind thedoor among some straw. The daylight rapidly departed;andpresently the moon was silvering the frozen snow. Now or neverwas theiropportunity to gain the Goat and Bagpipes unobserved andchangetheir tell-tale garments. Yet even then it was advisable togo roundby the outskirtsand not run the gauntlet of the market-placewherein the concourse of peoplethey stood the moreimminentperil to be recognised and slain.
Thiscourse was a long one. It took them not far from the house bythe beachnow lying dark and silentand brought them forth atlast bythe margin of the harbour. Many of the shipsas theycould seeby the clear moonshinehad weighed anchorandprofitingby the calm skyproceeded for more distant parts;answerablyto thisthe rude alehouses along the beach (although indefianceof the curfew lawthey still shone with fire and candle)were nolonger thronged with customersand no longer echoed to thechorus ofsea-songs.
Hastilyhalf-runningwith their monkish raiment kilted to thekneetheyplunged through the deep snow and threaded the labyrinthof marinelumber; and they were already more than half way roundtheharbour whenas they were passing close before an alehousethe doorsuddenly opened and let out a gush of light upon theirfleetingfigures.
Instantlythey stoppedand made believe to be engaged in earnestconversation.
Three menone after anothercame out of the ale-houseand thelastclosed the door behind him. All three were unsteady upontheirfeetas if they had passed the day in deep potationsandthey nowstood wavering in the moonlightlike men who knew notwhat theywould be after. The tallest of the three was talking ina loudlamentable voice.
"Sevenpieces of as good Gascony as ever a tapster broached" hewassaying"the best ship out o' the port o' Dartmoutha VirginMaryparcel-giltthirteen pounds of good gold money - "
"Ihave bad lossestoo" interrupted one of the others. "Ihavehad lossesof mine owngossip Arblaster. I was robbed atMartinmasof five shillings and a leather wallet well worthninepencefarthing."
Dick'sheart smote him at what he heard. Until that moment he hadnotperhaps thought twice of the poor skipper who had been ruinedby theloss of the Good Hope; so carelessin those dayswere menwho worearms of the goods and interests of their inferiors. Butthissudden encounter reminded him sharply of the high-handedmanner andill-ending of his enterprise; and both he and Lawlessturnedtheir heads the other wayto avoid the chance ofrecognition.
The ship'sdog hadhowevermade his escape from the wreck andfound hisway back again to Shoreby. He was now at Arblaster'sheelsandsuddenly sniffing and pricking his earshe dartedforwardand began to bark furiously at the two sham friars.
His masterunsteadily followed him.
"Heyshipmates!" he cried. "Have ye ever a penny pie for apooroldshipmanclean destroyed by pirates? I am a man that wouldhave paidfor you both o' Thursday morning; and now here I beo'Saturdaynightbegging for a flagon of ale! Ask my man Tomif yemisdoubtme. Seven pieces of good Gascon winea ship that wasmine ownand was my father's before mea Blessed Mary of plane-tree woodand parcel-giltand thirteen pounds in gold and silver.Hey! whatsay ye? A man that fought the Frenchtoo; for I havefought theFrench; I have cut more French throats upon the highseas thanever a man that sails out of Dartmouth. Comea pennypiece."
NeitherDick nor Lawless durst answer him a wordlest he shouldrecognisetheir voices; and they stood there as helpless as a shipashorenot knowing where to turn nor what to hope.
"Areye dumbboy?" inquired the skipper. "Mates" headdedwitha hiccup"they be dumb. I like not this manner of discourtesy;for an aman be dumbso be as he's courteoushe will still speakwhen hewas spoken tomethinks."
By thistime the sailorTomwho was a man of great personalstrengthseemed to have conceived some suspicion of these twospeechlessfigures; and being soberer than his captainsteppedsuddenlybefore himtook Lawless roughly by the shoulderandasked himwith an oathwhat ailed him that he held his tongue.To thisthe outlawthinking all was overmade answer by awrestlingfeint that stretched the sailor on the sandandcallingupon Dickto follow himtook to his heels among the lumber.
The affairpassed in a second. Before Dick could run at allArblasterhad him in his arms; Tomcrawling on his facehadcaught himby one footand the third man had a drawn cutlassbrandishingabove his head.
It was notso much the dangerit was not so much the annoyancethat nowbowed down the spirits of young Shelton; it was theprofoundhumiliation to have escaped Sir Danielconvinced LordRisinghamand now fall helpless in the hands of this olddrunkensailor;and not merely helplessbutas his conscience loudly toldhim whenit was too lateactually guilty - actually the bankruptdebtor ofthe man whose ship he had stolen and lost.
"Bringme him back into the alehousetill I see his face" saidArblaster.
"Naynay" returned Tom; "but let us first unload his walletlestthe otherlads cry share."
But thoughhe was searched from head to footnot a penny was foundupon him;nothing but Lord Foxham's signetwhich they pluckedsavagelyfrom his finger.
"Turnme him to the moon" said the skipper; and taking Dick by thechinhecruelly jerked his head into the air. "Blessed Virgin!"he cried"it is the pirate!"
"Bythe Virgin of Bordeauxit is the man himself!" repeatedArblaster. "Whatsea-thiefdo I hold you?" he cried. "Whereismy ship? Where is my wine? Hey! have I you in my hands? Tomgive meone end of a cord here; I will so truss me this sea-thiefhand andfoot togetherlike a basting turkey - marryI will sobind himup - and thereafter I will so beat - so beat him!"
And so heran onwinding the cord meanwhile about Dick's limbswith thedexterity peculiar to seamenand at every turn and crosssecuringit with a knotand tightening the whole fabric with asavagepull.
When hehad donethe lad was a mere package in his hands - ashelplessas the dead. The skipper held him at arm's lengthandlaughedaloud. Then he fetched him a stunning buffet on the ear;and thenturned him aboutand furiously kicked and kicked him.Anger roseup in Dick's bosom like a storm; anger strangled himand hethought to have died; but when the sailortired of thiscruelplaydropped him all his length upon the sand and turned toconsultwith his companionshe instantly regained command of histemper. Here was a momentary respite; ere they began again totorturehimhe might have found some method to escape from thisdegradingand fatal misadventure.
Presentlysure enoughand while his captors were still discussingwhat to dowith himhe took heart of graceandwith a prettysteadyvoiceaddressed them.
"Mymasters" he began"are ye gone clean foolish? HerehathHeaven putinto your hands as pretty an occasion to grow rich asevershipman had - such as ye might make thirty over-sea adventuresand notfind again - andby the mass I what do ye? Beat me? -nay; sowould an angry child! But for long-headed tarry-Johnsthat fearnot fire nor waterand that love gold as they love beefmethinksye are not wise."
"Ay"said Tom"now y' are trussed ye would cozen us."
"Cozenyou!" repeated Dick. "Nayif ye be foolsit wouldbeeasy. But if ye be shrewd fellowsas I trow ye areye can seeplainlywhere your interest lies. When I took your ship from youwe weremanywe were well clad and armed; but nowbethink you alittlewho mustered that array? One incontestably that hath muchgold. And if hebeing already richcontinueth to hunt after moreeven inthe face of storms - bethink you once more - shall therenot be atreasure somewhere hidden?"
"Whatmeaneth he?" asked one of the men.
"Whyif ye have lost an old skiff and a few jugs of vinegarywine"continued Dick"forget themfor the trash they are; and doye ratherbuckle to an adventure worth the namethat shallintwelvehoursmake or mar you for ever. But take me up from whereI lieandlet us go somewhere near at hand and talk across aflagonfor I am sore and frozenand my mouth is half among thesnow."
"Heseeks but to cozen us" said Tomcontemptuously.
"Cozen!cozen!" cried the third man. "I would I could see themanthat couldcozen me! He were a cozener indeed! NayI was notbornyesterday. I can see a church when it hath a steeple on it;and for mypartgossip Arblastermethinks there is some sense inthis youngman. Shall we go hear himindeed? Sayshall we gohear him?"
"Iwould look gladly on a pottle of strong alegood MasterPirret"returned Arblaster. "How say yeTom? But then thewallet isempty."
"Iwill pay" said the other - "I will pay. I would fainsee thismatterout; I do believeupon my consciencethere is gold in it."
"Nayif ye get again to drinkingall is lost!" cried Tom.
"GossipArblasterye suffer your fellow to have too much liberty"returnedMaster Pirret. "Would ye be led by a hired man? Fyfy!"
"Peacefellow!" said Arblasteraddressing Tom. "Will ye putyouroar in? Truly a fine passwhen the crew is to correct theskipper!"
"Wellthengo your way" said Tom; "I wash my hands of you."
"Sethimthenupon his feet" said Master Pirret. "Iknow aprivyplace where we may drink and discourse."
"If Iam to walkmy friendsye must set my feet at liberty" saidDickwhenhe had been once more planted upright like a post.
"Hesaith true" laughed Pirret. "Trulyhe could notwalkaccoutredas he is. Give it a slit - out with your knife and slititgossip."
EvenArblaster paused at this proposal; but as his companioncontinuedto insistand Dick had the sense to keep the merestwoodenindifference of expressionand only shrugged his shouldersover thedelaythe skipper consented at lastand cut the cordswhich tiedhis prisoner's feet and legs. Not only did this enableDick towalk; but the whole network of his bonds beingproportionatelyloosenedhe felt the arm behind his back begin tomove morefreelyand could hopewith time and troubletoentirelydisengage it. So much he owed already to the owlishsillinessand greed of Master Pirret.
Thatworthy now assumed the leadand conducted them to the verysame rudealehouse where Lawless had taken Arblaster on the day ofthe gale. It was now quite deserted; the fire was a pile of redembersradiating the most ardent heat; and when they had chosentheirplacesand the landlord had set before them a measure ofmulledaleboth Pirret and Arblaster stretched forth their legsandsquared their elbows like men bent upon a pleasant hour.
The tableat which they satlike all the others in the alehouseconsistedof a heavysquare boardset on a pair of barrels; andeach ofthe four curiously-assorted cronies sat at one side of thesquarePirret facing Arblasterand Dick opposite to the commonsailor.
"Andnowyoung man" said Pirret"to your tale. It dothappearindeedthat ye have somewhat abused our gossip Arblaster; but whatthen? Make it up to him - show him but this chance to becomewealthy -and I will go pledge he will forgive you."
So farDick had spoken pretty much at random; but it was nownecessaryunder the supervision of six eyesto invent and tellsomemarvellous storyandif it were possibleget back into hishands theall-important signet. To squander time was the firstnecessity. The longer his stay lastedthe more would his captorsdrinkandthe surer should he be when he attempted his escape.
WellDickwas not much of an inventorand what he told was prettymuch thetale of Ali Babawith Shoreby and Tunstall Forestsubstitutedfor the Eastand the treasures of the cavern ratherexaggeratedthan diminished. As the reader is awareit is anexcellentstoryand has but one drawback - that it is not true;and soasthese three simple shipmen now heard it for the firsttimetheir eyes stood out of their facesand their mouths gapedlikecodfish at a fishmonger's.
Prettysoon a second measure of mulled ale was called for; andwhile Dickwas still artfully spinning out the incidents a thirdfollowedthe second.
Here wasthe position of the parties towards the end: Arblasterthree-partsdrunk and one-half asleephung helpless on his stool.Even Tomhad been much delighted with the taleand his vigilancehad abatedin proportion. MeanwhileDick had gradually wormed hisright armclear of its bondsand was ready to risk all.
"Andso" said Pirret"y' are one of these?"
"Iwas made so" replied Dick"against my will; but an Icould butget a sackor two of gold coin to my shareI should be a foolindeed tocontinue dwelling in a filthy caveand standing shot andbuffetlike a soldier. Here be we four; good! Let usthengoforth intothe forest to-morrow ere the sun be up. Could we comehonestlyby a donkeyit were better; but an we cannotwe have ourfourstrong backsand I warrant me we shall come home staggering."
Pirretlicked his lips.
"Andthis magic" he said - "this passwordwhereby the cave isopened -how call ye itfriend?"
"Naynone know the word but the three chiefs" returned Dick; "buthere isyour great good fortunethaton this very eveningIshould bethe bearer of a spell to open it. It is a thing nottrustedtwice a year beyond the captain's wallet."
"Aspell!" said Arblasterhalf awakeningand squinting upon Dickwith oneeye. "Aroint thee! no spells! I be a good Christian.Ask my manTomelse."
"Naybut this is white magic" said Dick. "It doth naughtwiththe devil;only the powers of numbersherbsand planets."
"Ayay" said Pirret; "'tis but white magicgossip. There is nosinthereinI do assure you. But proceedgood youth. Thisspell- in whatshould it consist?"
"Naythat I will incontinently show you" answered Dick. "Haveyethere thering ye took from my finger? Good! Now hold it forthbefore youby the extreme finger-endsat the arm's-lengthandoveragainst the shining of these embers. 'Tis so exactly. Thusthenisthe spell."
With ahaggard glanceDick saw the coast was clear between him andthe door. He put up an internal prayer. Then whipping forth hisarmhemade but one snatch of the ringand at the same instantleveringup the tablehe sent it bodily over upon the seaman Tom.Hepoorsoulwent down bawling under the ruins; and beforeArblasterunderstood that anything was wrongor Pirret couldcollecthis dazzled witsDick had run to the door and escaped intothemoonlit night.
The moonwhich now rode in the mid-heavensand the extremewhitenessof the snowmade the open ground about the harbourbright asday; and young Shelton leapingwith kilted robeamongthelumberwas a conspicuous figure from afar.
Tom andPirret followed him with shouts; from every drinking-shopthey werejoined by others whom their cries aroused; and presentlya wholefleet of sailors was in full pursuit. But Jack ashore wasa badrunnereven in the fifteenth centuryand Dickbesideshada startwhich he rapidly improveduntilas he drew near theentranceof a narrow lanehe even paused and looked laughinglybehindhim.
Upon thewhite floor of snowall the shipmen of Shoreby cameclusteringin an inky massand tailing out rearward in isolatedclumps. Every man was shouting or screaming; every man wasgesticulatingwith both arms in air; some one was continuallyfalling;and to complete the picturewhen one fella dozen wouldfall uponthe top of him.
Theconfused mass of sound which they rolled up as high as to themoon waspartly comical and partly terrifying to the fugitive whomthey werehunting. In itselfit was impotentfor he made sure noseaman inthe port could run him down. But the mere volume ofnoiseinso far as it must awake all the sleepers in Shoreby andbring allthe skulking sentries to the streetdid really threatenhim withdanger in the front. Sospying a dark doorway at acornerhewhipped briskly into itand let the uncouth hunt go byhimstillshouting and gesticulatingand all red with hurry andwhite withtumbles in the snow.
It was along whileindeedbefore this great invasion of the townby theharbour came to an endand it was long before silence wasrestored. For longlost sailors were still to be heard poundingandshouting through the streets in all directions and in everyquarter ofthe town. Quarrels followedsometimes amongthemselvessometimes with the men of the patrols; knives weredrawnblows given and receivedand more than one dead bodyremainedbehind upon the snow.
Whenafull hour laterthe last seaman returned grumblingly totheharbour side and his particular tavernit may fairly bequestionedif he had ever known what manner of man he was pursuingbut it wasabsolutely sure that he had now forgotten. By nextmorningthere were many strange stories flying; and a little whileafterthelegend of the devil's nocturnal visit was an article offaith withall the lads of Shoreby.
But thereturn of the last seaman did noteven yetset free youngSheltonfrom his cold imprisonment in the doorway.
For sometime afterthere was a great activity of patrols; andspecialparties came forth to make the round of the place andreport toone or other of the great lordswhose slumbers had beenthusunusually broken.
The nightwas already well spent before Dick ventured from hishiding-placeand camesafe and soundbut aching with cold andbruisesto the door of the Goat and Bagpipes. As the lawrequiredthere was neither fire nor candle in the house; but hegroped hisway into a corner of the icy guest-roomfound an end ofa blanketwhich he hitched around his shouldersand creepingclose tothe nearest sleeperwas soon lost in slumber.
BOOKV - CROOKBACK
CHAPTER I- THE SHRILL TRUMPET
Very earlythe next morningbefore the first peep of the dayDickarosechanged his garmentsarmed himself once more like agentlemanand set forth for Lawless's den in the forest. Thereit will berememberedhe had left Lord Foxham's papers; and to getthese andbe back in time for the tryst with the young Duke ofGloucestercould only be managed by an early start and the mostvigorouswalking.
The frostwas more rigorous than ever; the air windless and dryandstinging to the nostril. The moon had gone downbut the starswere stillbright and numerousand the reflection from the snowwas clearand cheerful. There was no need for a lamp to walk by;norinthat still but ringing airthe least temptation to delay.
Dick hadcrossed the greater part of the open ground betweenShorebyand the forestand had reached the bottom of the littlehillsomehundred yards below the Cross of St. Bridewhenthroughthe stillness of the black mornthere rang forth the noteof atrumpetso shrillclearand piercingthat he thought hehad neverheard the match of it for audibility. It was blown onceand thenhurriedly a second time; and then the clash of steelsucceeded.
At thisyoung Shelton pricked his earsand drawing his swordranforward upthe hill.
Presentlyhe came in sight of the crossand was aware of a mostfierceencounter raging on the road before it. There were seven oreightassailantsand but one to keep head against them; but soactive anddexterous was this oneso desperately did he charge andscatterhis opponentsso deftly keep his footing on the icethatalreadybefore Dick could intervenehe had slain onewoundedanotherand kept the whole in check.
Stillitwas by a miracle that he continued his defenceand atanymomentany accidentthe least slip of foot or error of handhis lifewould be a forfeit.
"Holdye wellsir! Here is help!" cried Richard; and forgettingthat hewas aloneand that the cry was somewhat irregular"To theArrow! tothe Arrow!" he shoutedas he fell upon the rear of theassailants.
These werestout fellows alsofor they gave not an inch at thissurprisebut faced aboutand fell with astonishing fury uponDick. Four against onethe steel flashed about him in thestarlight;the sparks flew fiercely; one of the men opposed to himfell - inthe stir of the fight he hardly knew why; then he himselfwas struckacross the headand though the steel cap below his hoodprotectedhimthe blow beat him down upon one kneewith a brainwhirlinglike a windmill sail.
Meanwhilethe man whom he had come to rescueinstead of joining intheconflicthadon the first sign of interventionleaped abackand blownagainand yet more urgently and loudlyon that sameshrill-voicedtrumpet that began the alarm. Next momentindeedhis foeswere on himand he was once more charging and fleeingleapingstabbingdropping to his kneeand using indifferentlysword anddaggerfoot and handwith the same unshaken courage andfeverishenergy and speed.
But thatear-piercing summons had been heard at last. There was amuffledrushing in the snow; and in a good hour for Dickwho sawthesword-points glitter already at his throatthere poured forthout of thewood upon both sides a disorderly torrent of mountedmen-at-armseach cased in ironand with visor loweredeachbearinghis lance in restor his sword bared and raisedand eachcarryingso to speaka passengerin the shape of an archer orpagewholeaped one after another from their perchesand hadpresentlydoubled the array.
Theoriginal assailants; seeing themselves outnumbered andsurroundedthrew down their arms without a word.
"Seizeme these fellows!" said the hero of the trumpet; and whenhis orderhad been obeyedhe drew near to Dick and looked him inthe face.
Dickreturning this scrutinywas surprised to find in onewho haddisplayedsuch strengthskill and energya lad no older thanhimself -slightly deformedwith one shoulder higher than theotherandof a palepainfuland distorted countenance. Theeyeshoweverwere very clear and bold.
"Sir"said this lad"ye came in good time for meand none tooearly."
"Mylord" returned Dickwith a faint sense that he was in thepresenceof a great personage"ye are yourself so marvellous agoodswordsman that I believe ye had managed them single-handed.Howbeitit was certainly well for me that your men delayed nolongerthan they did."
"Howknew ye who I was?" demanded the stranger.
"Evennowmy lord" Dick answered"I am ignorant of whom Ispeakwith."
"Isit so?" asked the other. "And yet ye threw yourselfhead firstinto thisunequal battle."
"Isaw one man valiantly contending against many" replied Dick"andI had thought myself dishonoured not to bear him aid."
A singularsneer played about the young nobleman's mouth as he madeanswer:
"Theseare very brave words. But to the more essential - are yeLancasteror York?"
"MylordI make no secret; I am clear for York" Dick answered.
"Bythe mass!" replied the other"it is well for you."
And sosayinghe turned towards one of his followers.
"Letme see" he continuedin the same sneering and cruel tones -"letme see a clean end of these brave gentlemen. Truss me themup."
There werebut five survivors of the attacking party. Archersseizedthem by the arms; they were hurried to the borders of thewoodandeach placed below a tree of suitable dimension; the ropewasadjusted; an archercarrying the end of ithastily clamberedoverhead;and before a minute was overand without a word passinguponeither handthe five men were swinging by the neck.
"Andnow" cried the deformed leader"back to your postsandwhenI summonyou nextbe readier to attend."
"Mylord duke" said one man"beseech youtarry not herealone.Keep but ahandful of lances at your hand."
"Fellow"said the duke"I have forborne to chide you for yourslowness. Cross me nottherefore. I trust my hand and armforall that Ibe crooked. Ye were backward when the trumpet sounded;and ye arenow too forward with your counsels. But it is ever so;last withthe lance and first with tongue. Let it be reversed."
And with agesture that was not without a sort of dangerousnobilityhe waved them off.
Thefootmen climbed again to their seats behind the men-at-armsand thewhole party moved slowly away and disappeared in twentydifferentdirectionsunder the cover of the forest.
The daywas by this time beginning to breakand the stars to fade.The firstgrey glimmer of dawn shone upon the countenances of thetwo youngmenwho now turned once more to face each other.
"Here"said the duke"ye have seen my vengeancewhich islikemy bladeboth sharp and ready. But I would not have youfor allChristendomsuppose me thankless. You that came to my aid with agood swordand a better courage - unless that ye recoil from mymisshapenness- come to my heart."
And sosayingthe young leader held out his arms for an embrace.
In thebottom of his heart Dick already entertained a great terrorand somehatred for the man whom he had rescued; but the invitationwas soworded that it would not have been merely discourteousbutcrueltorefuse or hesitate; and he hastened to comply.
"Andnowmy lord duke" he saidwhen he had regained his freedom"do Isuppose aright? Are ye my Lord Duke of Gloucester?"
"I amRichard of Gloucester" returned the other. "And you- howcall theyyou?"
Dick toldhim his nameand presented Lord Foxham's signetwhichthe dukeimmediately recognised.
"Yecome too soon" he said; "but why should I complain? Ye arelike methat was here at watch two hours before the day. But thisis thefirst sally of mine arms; upon this adventureMasterSheltonshall I make or mar the quality of my renown. There liemineenemiesunder two oldskilled captains - Risingham andBrackley -well posted for strengthI do believebut yet upon twosideswithout retreatenclosed betwixt the seathe harbourandtheriver. MethinksSheltonhere were a great blow to bestrickenan we could strike it silently and suddenly."
"I dothink soindeed" cried Dickwarming.
"Haveye my Lord Foxham's notes?" inquired the duke.
And thenDickhaving explained how he was without them for themomentmade himself bold to offer information every jot as goodof his ownknowledge. "And for mine own partmy lord duke" headded"anye had men enoughI would fall on even at this present.Forlookyeat the peep of day the watches of the night are over;but by daythey keep neither watch nor ward - only scour theoutskirtswith horsemen. Nowthenwhen the night watch isalreadyunarmedand the rest are at their morning cup - now werethe timeto break them."
"Howmany do ye count?" asked Gloucester.
"Theynumber not two thousand" Dick replied.
"Ihave seven hundred in the woods behind us" said the duke;"sevenhundred follow from Kettleyand will be here anon; behindtheseandfurtherare four hundred more; and my Lord Foxham hathfivehundred half a day from hereat Holywood. Shall we attendtheircomingor fall on?"
"Mylord" said Dick"when ye hanged these five poor rogues yediddecide thequestion. Churls although they werein these uneasytimes theywill be lacked and looked forand the alarm be given.Thereforemy lordif ye do count upon the advantage of asurpriseye have notin my poor opinionone whole hour in frontof you."
"I dothink so indeed" returned Crookback. "Wellbeforean hourye shallbe in the thick on'twinning spurs. A swift man toHolywoodcarrying Lord Foxham's signet; another along the road tospeed mylaggards! NaySheltonby the roodit may be done!"
Therewithhe once more set his trumpet to his lips and blew.
This timehe was not long kept waiting. In a moment the open spaceabout thecross was filled with horse and foot. Richard ofGloucestertook his place upon the stepsand despatched messengeraftermessenger to hasten the concentration of the seven hundredmen thatlay hidden in the immediate neighbourhood among the woods;and beforea quarter of an hour had passedall his dispositionsbeingtakenhe put himself at their headand began to move downthe hilltowards Shoreby.
His planwas simple. He was to seize a quarter of the town ofShorebylying on the right hand of the high roadand make hispositiongood there in the narrow lanes until his reinforcementsfollowed.
If LordRisingham chose to retreatRichard would follow upon hisrearandtake him between two fires; orif he preferred to holdthe townhe would be shut in a trapthere to be graduallyoverwhelmedby force of numbers.
There wasbut one dangerbut that was imminent and great -Gloucester'sseven hundred might be rolled up and cut to pieces inthe firstencounterandto avoid thisit was needful to make thesurpriseof their arrival as complete as possible.
Thefootmenthereforewere all once more taken up behind theridersand Dick had the signal honour meted out to him of mountingbehindGloucester himself. For as far as there was any cover thetroopsmoved slowlyand when they came near the end of the treesthat linedthe highwaystopped to breathe and reconnoitre.
The sunwas now well upshining with a frosty brightness out of ayellowhaloand right over against the luminaryShorebya fieldof snowyroofs and ruddy gableswas rolling up its columns ofmorningsmoke. Gloucester turned round to Dick.
"Inthat poor place" he said"where people are cookingbreakfasteither youshall gain your spurs and I begin a life of mightyhonour andglory in the world's eyeor both of usas I conceiveitshallfall dead and be unheard of. Two Richards are we. WellthenRichard Sheltonthey shall be heard aboutthese two! Theirswordsshall not ring more loudly on men's helmets than their namesshall ringin people's ears."
Dick wasastonished at so great a hunger after fameexpressed withso greatvehemence of voice and languageand he answered verysensiblyand quietlythatfor his parthe promised he would dohis dutyand doubted not of victory if everyone did the like.
By thistime the horses were well breathedand the leader holdingup hissword and giving reinthe whole troop of chargers brokeinto thegallop and thunderedwith their double load of fightingmendownthe remainder of the hill and across the snow-coveredplain thatstill divided them from Shoreby.
CHAPTER II- THE BATTLE OF SHOREBY
The wholedistance to be crossed was not above a quarter of a mile.But theyhad no sooner debauched beyond the cover of the trees thanthey wereaware of people fleeing and screaming in the snowymeadowsupon either hand. Almost at the same moment a great rumourbegan toariseand spread and grow continually louder in the town;and theywere not yet halfway to the nearest house before the bellsbegan toring backward from the steeple.
The youngduke ground his teeth together. By these so earlysignals ofalarm he feared to find his enemies prepared; and if hefailed togain a footing in the townhe knew that his small partywould soonbe broken and exterminated in the open.
In thetownhoweverthe Lancastrians were far from being in sogood aposture. It was as Dick had said. The night-guard hadalreadydoffed their harness; the rest were still hanging -unlatchedunbracedall unprepared for battle - about theirquarters;and in the whole of Shoreby there were notperhapsfifty menfull armedor fifty chargers ready to be mounted.
Thebeating of the bellsthe terrifying summons of men who ranabout thestreets crying and beating upon the doorsaroused in anincrediblyshort space at least two score out of that half hundred.These gotspeedily to horseandthe alarm still flying wild andcontrarygalloped in different directions.
Thus itbefell thatwhen Richard of Gloucester reached the firsthouse ofShorebyhe was met in the mouth of the street by a merehandful oflanceswhom he swept before his onset as the stormchases thebark.
A hundredpaces into the townDick Shelton touched the duke's arm;the dukein answergathered his reinsput the shrill trumpet tohis mouthand blowing a concerted pointturned to the right handout of thedirect advance. Swerving like a single riderhis wholecommandturned after himandstill at the full gallop of thechargersswept up the narrow bye-street. Only the last score ofridersdrew rein and faced about in the entrance; the footmenwhomtheycarried behind themleapt at the same instant to the earthand begansome to bend their bowsand others to break into andsecure thehouses upon either hand.
Surprisedat this sudden change of directionand daunted by thefirm frontof the rear-guardthe few Lancastriansafter amomentaryconsultationturned and rode farther into town to seekforreinforcements.
Thequarter of the town upon whichby the advice of DickRichardofGloucester had now seizedconsisted of five small streets ofpoor andill-inhabited housesoccupying a very gentle eminenceand lyingopen towards the back.
The fivestreets being each secured by a good guardthe reservewould thusoccupy the centreout of shotand yet ready to carryaidwherever it was needed.
Such wasthe poorness of the neighbourhood that none of theLancastrianlordsand but few of their retainershad been lodgedtherein;and the inhabitantswith one accorddeserted theirhouses andfledsquallingalong the streets or over garden walls.
In thecentrewhere the five ways all meta somewhat ill-favouredalehousedisplayed the sign of the Chequers; and here the Duke ofGloucesterchose his headquarters for the day.
To Dick heassigned the guard of one of the five streets.
"Go"he said"win your spurs. Win glory for me: oneRichard foranother. I tell youif I riseye shall rise by the same ladder.Go"he addedshaking him by the hand.
Butassoon as Dick was gonehe turned to a little shabby archerat hiselbow.
"GoDuttonand that right speedily" he added. "Followthat lad.If ye findhim faithfulye answer for his safetya head for ahead. Woe unto youif ye return without him! But if he befaithless- orfor one instantye misdoubt him - stab him frombehind."
In themeanwhile Dick hastened to secure his post. The street hehad toguard was very narrowand closely lined with houseswhichprojectedand overhung the roadway; but narrow and dark as it wassince itopened upon the market-place of the townthe main issueof thebattle would probably fall to be decided on that spot.
Themarket-place was full of townspeople fleeing in disorder; butthere wasas yet no sign of any foeman ready to attackand Dickjudged hehad some time before him to make ready his defence.
The twohouses at the end stood desertedwith open doorsas theinhabitantshad left them in their flightand from these he hadthefurniture hastily tossed forth and piled into a barrier in theentry ofthe lane. A hundred men were placed at his disposalandof thesehe threw the more part into the houseswhere they mightlie inshelter and deliver their arrows from the windows. With therestunder his own immediate eyehe lined the barricade.
Meanwhilethe utmost uproar and confusion had continued to prevailthroughoutthe town; and what with the hurried clashing of bellsthesounding of trumpetsthe swift movement of bodies of horsethe criesof the commandersand the shrieks of womenthe noisewas almostdeafening to the ear. Presentlylittle by littlethetumultbegan to subside; and soon afterfiles of men in armour andbodies ofarchers began to assemble and form in line of battle inthemarket-place.
A largeportion of this body were in murrey and blueand in themountedknight who ordered their array Dick recognised Sir DanielBrackley.
Then therebefell a long pausewhich was followed by the almostsimultaneoussounding of four trumpets from four different quartersof thetown. A fifth rang in answer from the market-placeand atthe samemoment the files began to moveand a shower of arrowsrattledabout the barricadeand sounded like blows upon the wallsof the twoflanking houses.
The attackhad begunby a common signalon all the five issues ofthequarter. Gloucester was beleaguered upon every side; and Dickjudgedifhe would make good his posthe must rely entirely onthehundred men of his command.
Sevenvolleys of arrows followed one upon the otherand in thevery thickof the discharges Dick was touched from behind upon thearmandfound a page holding out to him a leathern jackstrengthenedwith bright plates of mail.
"Itis from my Lord of Gloucester" said the page. "HehathobservedSir Richardthat ye went unarmed."
Dickwitha glow at his heart at being so addressedgot to hisfeet andwith the assistance of the pagedonned the defensivecoat. Even as he did sotwo arrows rattled harmlessly upon theplatesand a third struck down the pagemortally woundedat hisfeet.
Meantimethe whole body of the enemy had been steadily drawingneareracross the market-place; and by this time were so close athand thatDick gave the order to return their shot. Immediatelyfrombehind the barrier and from the windows of the housesacounterblastof arrows spedcarrying death. But the Lancastriansas if theyhad but waited for a signalshouted loudly in answer;and beganto close at a run upon the barrierthe horsemen stillhangingbackwith visors lowered.
Thenfollowed an obstinate and deadly strugglehand to hand. Theassailantswielding their falchions with one handstrove with theother todrag down the structure of the barricade. On the othersidetheparts were reversed; and the defenders exposed themselveslikemadmen to protect their rampart. So for some minutes thecontestraged almost in silencefriend and foe falling one uponanother. But it is always the easier to destroy; and when a singlenote uponthe tucket recalled the attacking party from thisdesperateservicemuch of the barricade had been removedpiecemealand the whole fabric had sunk to half its heightandtotteredto a general fall.
And nowthe footmen in the market-place fell backat a runoneveryside. The horsemenwho had been standing in a line twodeepwheeled suddenlyand made their flank into their front; andas swiftas a striking adderthe longsteel-clad column waslaunchedupon the ruinous barricade.
Of thefirst two horsemenone fellrider and steedand wasriddendown by his companions. The second leaped clean upon thesummit ofthe ramparttranspiercing an archer with his lance.Almost inthe same instant he was dragged from the saddle and hishorsedespatched.
And thenthe full weight and impetus of the charge burst upon andscatteredthe defenders. The men-at-armssurmounting their fallencomradesand carried onward by the fury of their onslaughtdashedthroughDick's broken line and poured thundering up the lanebeyondasa stream bestrides and pours across a broken dam.
Yet wasthe fight not over. Stillin the narrow jaws of theentranceDick and a few survivors plied their bills like woodmen;andalreadyacross the width of the passagethere had been formeda seconda higherand a more effectual rampart of fallen men anddisembowelledhorseslashing in the agonies of death.
Baffled bythis fresh obstaclethe remainder of the cavalry fellback; andasat the sight of this movementthe flight of arrowsredoubledfrom the casements of the housestheir retreat hadfora momentalmost degenerated into flight.
Almost atthe same timethose who had crossed the barricade andchargedfarther up the streetbeing met before the door of theChequersby the formidable hunchback and the whole reserve of theYorkistsbegan to come scattering backwardin the excess ofdisarrayand terror.
Dick andhis fellows faced aboutfresh men poured out of thehouses; acruel blast of arrows met the fugitives full in the facewhileGloucester was already riding down their rear; in the insideof aminute and a half there was no living Lancastrian in thestreet.
Thenandnot till thendid Dick hold up his reeking blade andgive theword to cheer.
MeanwhileGloucester dismounted from his horse and came forward toinspectthe post. His face was as pale as linen; but his eyesshone inhis head like some strange jeweland his voicewhen hespokewashoarse and broken with the exultation of battle andsuccess. He looked at the rampartwhich neither friend nor foecould nowapproach without precautionso fiercely did the horsesstrugglein the throes of deathand at the sight of that greatcarnage hesmiled upon one side.
"Despatchthese horses" he said; "they keep you from your vantage.RichardShelton" he added"ye have pleased me. Kneel."
TheLancastrians had already resumed their archeryand the shaftsfell thickin the mouth of the street; but the dukeminding themnot atalldeliberately drew his sword and dubbed Richard a knightupon thespot.
"AndnowSir Richard" he continued"if that ye see LordRisinghamsend me an express upon the instant. Were it your lastmanletme hear of it incontinently. I had rather venture thepost thanlose my stroke at him. For mark meall of ye" headdedraising his voice"if Earl Risingham fall by another handthan mineI shall count this victory a defeat."
"Mylord duke" said one of his attendants"is your grace notweary ofexposing his dear life unneedfully? Why tarry we here?"
"Catesby"returned the duke"here is the battlenot elsewhere.The restare but feigned onslaughts. Here must we vanquish. Andfor theexposure - if ye were an ugly hunchbackand the childrengecked atyou upon the streetye would count your body cheaperand anhour of glory worth a life. Howbeitif ye willlet usride onand visit the other posts. Sir Richard heremy namesakehe shallstill hold this entrywhere he wadeth to the ankles inhotblood. Him can we trust. But mark itSir Richardye arenotyet done. The worst is yet to ward. Sleep not."
He cameright up to young Sheltonlooking him hard in the eyesand takinghis hand in both of hisgave it so extreme a squeezethat theblood had nearly spurted. Dick quailed before his eyes.The insaneexcitementthe courageand the cruelty that he readthereinfilled him with dismay about the future. This young duke'swas indeeda gallant spiritto ride foremost in the ranks of war;but afterthe battlein the days of peace and in the circle of histrustedfriendsthat mindit was to be dreadedwould continue tobringforth the fruits of death.
CHAPTERIII - THE BATTLE OF SHOREBY (Concluded)
Dickoncemore left to his own counselsbegan to look about him.Thearrow-shot had somewhat slackened. On all sides the enemy werefallingback; and the greater part of the market-place was now leftemptythesnow here trampled into orange mudthere splashed withgorescattered all over with dead men and horsesand bristlingthick withfeathered arrows.
On his ownside the loss had been cruel. The jaws of the littlestreet andthe ruins of the barricade were heaped with the dead anddying; andout of the hundred men with whom he had begun thebattlethere were not seventy left who could still stand to arms.
At thesame timethe day was passing. The first reinforcementsmight belooked for to arrive at any moment; and the Lancastriansalreadyshaken by the result of their desperate but unsuccessfulonslaughtwere in an ill temper to support a fresh invader.
There wasa dial in the wall of one of the two flanking houses; andthisinthe frosty winter sunshineindicated ten of the forenoon.
Dickturned to the man who was at his elbowa little insignificantarcherbinding a cut in his arm.
"Itwas well fought" he said"andby my sooththey will notcharge ustwice."
"Sir"said the little archer"ye have fought right well for Yorkand betterfor yourself. Never hath man in so brief spaceprevailedso greatly on the duke's affections. That he should haveentrustedsuch a post to one he knew not is a marvel. But look toyour headSir Richard! If ye be vanquished - ayif ye give wayone foot'sbreadth - axe or cord shall punish it; and I am set ifye doaught doubtfulI will tell you honestlyhere to stab youfrombehind."
Dicklooked at the little man in amaze.
"You!" he cried. "And from behind!"
"Itis right so" returned the archer; "and because I like nottheaffair Itell it you. Ye must make the post goodSir Richardatyourperil. Oour Crookback is a bold blade and a good warrior;butwhether in cold blood or in hothe will have all things doneexact tohis commandment. If any fail or hinderthey shall diethedeath."
"Nowby the saints!" cried Richard"is this so? And willmenfollowsuch a leader?"
"Naythey follow him gleefully" replied the other; "for if hebeexact topunishhe is most open-handed to reward. And if he sparenot theblood and sweat of othershe is ever liberal of his ownstill inthe first front of battlestill the last to sleep. Hewill gofarwill Crookback Dick o' Gloucester!"
The youngknightif he had before been brave and vigilantwas nowall themore inclined to watchfulness and courage. His suddenfavourhebegan to perceivehad brought perils in its train. Andhe turnedfrom the archerand once more scanned anxiously themarket-place. It lay empty as before.
"Ilike not this quietude" he said. "Doubtless theyprepare ussomesurprise."
Andas ifin answer to his remarkthe archers began once more toadvanceagainst the barricadeand the arrows to fall thick. Butthere wassomething hesitating in the attack. They came not onroundlybut seemed rather to await a further signal.
Dicklooked uneasily about himspying for a hidden danger. Andsureenoughabout half way up the little streeta door wassuddenlyopened from withinand the house continuedfor somesecondsand both by door and windowto disgorge a torrent ofLancastrianarchers. Theseas they leaped downhurriedly stoodto theirranksbent their bowsand proceeded to pour upon Dick'srear aflight of arrows.
At thesame timethe assailants in the market-place redoubledtheirshotand began to close in stoutly upon the barricade.
Dickcalled down his whole command out of the housesand facingthem bothwaysand encouraging their valour both by word andgesturereturned as best he could the double shower of shafts thatfell abouthis post.
Meanwhilehouse after house was opened in the streetand theLancastrianscontinued to pour out of the doors and leap down fromthewindowsshouting victoryuntil the number of enemies uponDick'srear was almost equal to the number in his face. It wasplain thathe could hold the post no longer; what was worseevenif hecould have held itit had now become useless; and the wholeYorkistarmy lay in a posture of helplessness upon the brink of acompletedisaster.
The menbehind him formed the vital flaw in the general defence;and it wasupon these that Dick turnedcharging at the head of hismen. So vigorous was the attackthat the Lancastrian archers gaveground andstaggeredandat lastbreaking their ranksbegan tocrowd backinto the houses from which they had so recently and sovaingloriouslysallied.
Meanwhilethe men from the market-place had swarmed across theundefendedbarricadeand fell on hotly upon the other side; andDick mustonce again face aboutand proceed to drive them back.Once againthe spirit of his men prevailed; they cleared the streetin atriumphant stylebut even as they did so the others issuedagain outof the housesand took thema third timeupon therear.
TheYorkists began to be scattered; several times Dick foundhimselfalone among his foes and plying his bright sword for life;severaltimes he was conscious of a hurt. And meanwhile the fightswayed toand fro in the street without determinate result.
SuddenlyDick was aware of a great trumpeting about the outskirtsof thetown. The war-cry of York began to be rolled up to heavenas by manyand triumphant voices. And at the same time the men infront ofhim began to give ground rapidlystreaming out of thestreet andback upon the market-place. Some one gave the word tofly. Trumpets were blown distractedlysome for a rallysome tocharge. It was plain that a great blow had been struckand theLancastrianswere thrownat least for the momentinto fulldisorderand some degree of panic.
And thenlike a theatre trickthere followed the last act ofShorebyBattle. The men in front of Richard turned taillike adog thathas been whistled homeand fled like the wind. At thesamemoment there came through the market-place a storm ofhorsemenfleeing and pursuingthe Lancastrians turning back tostrikewith the swordthe Yorkists riding them down at the pointof thelance.
Conspicuousin the mellayDick beheld the Crookback. He wasalreadygiving a foretaste of that furious valour and skill to cuthis wayacross the ranks of warwhichyears afterwards upon thefield ofBosworthand when he was stained with crimesalmostsufficedto change the fortunes of the day and the destiny of theEnglishthrone. Evadingstrikingriding downhe so forced andsomanoeuvred his strong horseso aptly defended himselfand soliberallyscattered death to his opponentsthat he was now farahead ofthe foremost of his knightshewing his waywith thetruncheonof a bloody swordto where Lord Risingham was rallyingthebravest. A moment more and they had met; the tallsplendidand famouswarrior against the deformed and sickly boy.
YetShelton had never a doubt of the result; and when the fightnextopened for a momentthe figure of the earl had disappeared;but stillin the first of the dangerCrookback Dick was launchinghis bighorse and plying the truncheon of his sword.
ThusbyShelton's courage in holding the mouth of the streetagainstthe first attackand by the opportune arrival of his sevenhundredreinforcementsthe ladwho was afterwards to be handeddown tothe execration of posterity under the name of Richard III.had wonhis first considerable fight.
CHAPTER IV- THE SACK OF SHOREBY
There wasnot a foe left within striking distance; and Dickas helookedruefully about him on the remainder of his gallant forcebegan tocount the cost of victory. He was himselfnow that thedanger wasendedso stiff and soreso bruised and cut and brokenandaboveallso utterly exhausted by his desperate andunremittinglabours in the fightthat he seemed incapable of anyfreshexertion.
But thiswas not yet the hour for repose. Shoreby had been takenbyassault; and though an open townand not in any manner to bechargedwith the resistanceit was plain that these rough fighterswould benot less rough now that the fight was overand that themorehorrid part of war would fall to be enacted. Richard ofGloucesterwas not the captain to protect the citizens from hisinfuriatedsoldiery; and even if he had the willit might bequestionedif he had the power.
It wasthereforeDick's business to find and to protect Joanna;and withthat end he looked about him at the faces of his men. Thethree orfour who seemed likeliest to be obedient and to keep soberhe drewaside; and promising them a rich reward and a specialrecommendationto the dukeled them across the market-placenowempty ofhorsemenand into the streets upon the further side.
Every hereand there small combats of from two to a dozen stillraged uponthe open street; here and there a house was beingbesiegedthe defenders throwing out stools and tables on the headsof theassailants. The snow was strewn with arms and corpses; butexcept forthese partial combats the streets were desertedand thehousessome standing openand some shuttered and barricadedhadfor themost part ceased to give out smoke.
Dickthreading the skirts of these skirmishersled his followersbriskly inthe direction of the abbey church; but when he came thelength ofthe main streeta cry of horror broke from his lips.SirDaniel's great house had been carried by assault. The gateshung insplinters from the hingesand a double throng kept pouringin and outthrough the entranceseeking and carrying booty.Meanwhilein the upper storeyssome resistance was still beingoffered tothe pillagers; for just as Dick came within eyeshot ofthebuildinga casement was burst open from withinand a poorwretch inmurrey and bluescreaming and resistingwas forcedthroughthe embrasure and tossed into the street below.
The mostsickening apprehension fell upon Dick. He ran forwardlike onepossessedforced his way into the house among theforemostand mounted without pause to the chamber on the thirdfloorwhere he had last parted from Joanna. It was a mere wreck;thefurniture had been overthrownthe cupboards broken openandin oneplace a trailing corner of the arras lay smouldering on theembers ofthe fire.
Dickalmost without thinkingtrod out the incipientconflagrationand then stood bewildered. Sir DanielSir OliverJoannaall were gone; but whether butchered in the rout or safeescapedfrom Shorebywho should say?
He caughta passing archer by the tabard.
"Fellow"he asked"were ye here when this house was taken?"
"Letbe" said the archer. "A murrain! let beor Istrike."
"Harkye" returned Richard"two can play at that. Standand beplain."
But themanflushed with drink and battlestruck Dick upon theshoulderwith one handwhile with the other he twitched away hisgarment. Thereupon the full wrath of the young leader burst fromhiscontrol. He seized the fellow in his strong embraceandcrushedhim on the plates of his mailed bosom like a child; thenholdinghim at arm's lengthhe bid him speak as he valued life.
"Ipray you mercy!" gasped the archer. "An I had thoughtye wereso angry Iwould 'a' been charier of crossing you. I was hereindeed."
"Knowye Sir Daniel?" pursued Dick.
"Welldo I know him" returned the man.
"Washe in the mansion?"
"Aysirhe was" answered the archer; "but even as we enteredbythe yardgate he rode forth by the garden."
"Hemay 'a' had a score of lances with him" said the man.
"Lances! No womenthen?" asked Shelton.
"TrothI saw not" said the archer. "But there were none inthehouseifthat be your quest."
"Ithank you" said Dick. "Here is a piece for yourpains." Butgroping inhis walletDick found nothing. "Inquire for me to-morrow"he added - "Richard Shelt - Sir Richard Shelton" hecorrected"and I will see you handsomely rewarded."
And thenan idea struck Dick. He hastily descended to thecourtyardran with all his might across the gardenand came tothe greatdoor of the church. It stood wide open; withineverycorner ofthe pavement was crowded with fugitive burgherssurroundedby their families and laden with the most precious oftheirpossessionswhileat the high altarpriests in fullcanonicalswere imploring the mercy of God. Even as Dick enteredthe loudchorus began to thunder in the vaulted roofs.
He hurriedthrough the groups of refugeesand came to the door ofthe stairthat led into the steeple. And here a tall churchmansteppedbefore him and arrested his advance.
"Whithermy son?" he askedseverely.
"Myfather" answered Dick"I am here upon an errand ofexpedition. Stay me not. I command here for my Lord ofGloucester."
"Formy Lord of Gloucester?" repeated the priest. "Haththenthebattlegone so sore?"
"Thebattlefatheris at an endLancaster clean spedmy Lord ofRisingham- Heaven rest him! - left upon the field. And nowwithyour goodleaveI follow mine affairs." And thrusting on one sidethepriestwho seemed stupefied at the newsDick pushed open thedoor andrattled up the stairs four at a boundand without pauseorstumbletill he stepped upon the open platform at the top.
ShorebyChurch tower not only commanded the townas in a mapbutlookedfaron both sidesover sea and land. It was now near uponnoon; theday exceeding brightthe snow dazzling. And as Dicklookedaround himhe could measure the consequences of the battle.
Aconfusedgrowling uproar reached him from the streetsand nowand thenbut very rarelythe clash of steel. Not a shipnot somuch as askiff remained in harbour; but the sea was dotted withsails androw-boats laden with fugitives. On shoretoothesurface ofthe snowy meadows was broken up with bands of horsemensomecutting their way towards the borders of the forestotherswho weredoubtless of the Yorkist sidestoutly interposing andbeatingthem back upon the town. Over all the open ground therelay aprodigious quantity of fallen men and horsesclearly definedupon thesnow.
Tocomplete the picturethose of the foot soldiers as had notfoundplace upon a ship still kept up an archery combat on theborders ofthe portand from the cover of the shoreside taverns.In thatquarteralsoone or two houses had been firedand thesmoketowered high in the frosty sunlightand blew off to sea involuminousfolds.
Alreadyclose upon the margin of the woodsand somewhat in theline ofHolywoodone particular clump of fleeing horsemen rivetedtheattention of the young watcher on the tower. It was fairlynumerous;in no other quarter of the field did so many Lancastriansstill holdtogether; thus they had left a widediscoloured wakeupon thesnowand Dick was able to trace them step by step fromwhere theyhad left the town.
While Dickstood watching themthey had gainedunopposedthefirstfringe of the leafless forestandturning a little fromtheirdirectionthe sun fell for a moment full on their arrayasit wasrelieved against the dusky wood.
"Murreyand blue!" cried Dick. "I swear it - murrey andblue!"
The nextmoment he was descending the stairway.
It was nowhis business to seek out the Duke of Gloucesterwhoaloneinthe disorder of the forcesmight be able to supply himwith asufficiency of men. The fighting in the main town was nowpracticallyat an end; and as Dick ran hither and thitherseekingthecommanderthe streets were thick with wandering soldierssomeladen withmore booty than they could well stagger underothersshoutingdrunk. None of themwhen questionedhad the leastnotion ofthe duke's whereabouts; andat lastit was by sheergoodfortune that Dick found himwhere he sat in the saddledirectingoperations to dislodge the archers from the harbour side.
"SirRichard Sheltonye are well found" he said. "I oweyou onething thatI value littlemy life; and one that I can never payyou forthis victory. Catesbyif I had ten such captains as SirRichardIwould march forthright on London. But nowsirclaimyourreward."
"Freelymy lord" said Dick"freely and loudly. One hathescapedto whom Iowe some grudgesand taken with him one whom I owe loveandservice. Give methenfifty lancesthat I may pursue; andfor anyobligation that your graciousness is pleased to allowitshall beclean discharged."
"Howcall ye him?" inquired the duke.
"SirDaniel Brackley" answered Richard.
"Outupon himdouble-face!" cried Gloucester. "Here is norewardSirRichard; here is fresh service offeredandif that ye bringhis headto mea fresh debt upon my conscience. Catesbyget himtheselances; and yousirbethink yein the meanwhilewhatpleasurehonouror profit it shall be mine to give you."
Just thenthe Yorkist skirmishers carried one of the shoresidetavernsswarming in upon it on three sidesand driving out ortaking itsdefenders. Crookback Dick was pleased to cheer theexploitand pushing his horse a little nearercalled to see theprisoners.
There werefour or five of them - two men of my Lord Shoreby's andone ofLord Risingham's among the numberand lastbut in Dick'seyes notleasta tallshamblinggrizzled old shipmanbetweendrunk andsoberand with a dog whimpering and jumping at hisheels.
The youngduke passed them for a moment under a severe review.
"Good"he said. "Hang them."
And heturned the other way to watch the progress of the fight.
"Mylord" said Dick"so please youI have found my reward.Grant methe life and liberty of yon old shipman."
Gloucesterturned and looked the speaker in the face.
"SirRichard" he said"I make not war with peacock's feathersbut steelshafts. Those that are mine enemies I slayand thatwithoutexcuse or favour. Forbethink yein this realm ofEnglandthat is so torn in piecesthere is not a man of mine buthath abrother or a friend upon the other party. IfthenI didbegin togrant these pardonsI might sheathe my sword."
"Itmay be somy lord; and yet I will be overboldand at the riskof yourdisfavourrecall your lordship's promise" replied Dick.
Richard ofGloucester flushed.
"Markit right well" he saidharshly. "I love not mercynor yetmercymongers. Ye have this day laid the foundations of highfortune. If ye oppose to me my wordwhich I have plightedI willyield. Butby the glory of heaventhere your favour dies!
"Mineis the loss" said Dick.
"Givehim his sailor" said the duke; and wheeling his horseheturned hisback upon young Shelton.
Dick wasnor glad nor sorry. He had seen too much of the youngduke toset great store on his affection; and the origin and growthof his ownfavour had been too flimsy and too rapid to inspire muchconfidence. One thing alone he feared - that the vindictive leadermightrevoke the offer of the lances. But here he did justiceneither toGloucester's honour (such as it was) norabove alltohisdecision. If he had once judged Dick to be the right man topursue SirDanielhe was not one to change; and he soon proved itbyshouting after Catesby to be speedyfor the paladin waswaiting.
In themeanwhileDick turned to the old shipmanwho had seemedequallyindifferent to his condemnation and to his subsequentrelease.
"Arblaster"said Dick"I have done you ill; but nowby the roodI think Ihave cleared the score."
But theold skipper only looked upon him dully and held his peace.
"Come"continued Dick"a life is a lifeold shrewand it ismore thanships or liquor. Say ye forgive me; for if your life beworthnothing to youit hath cost me the beginnings of my fortune.ComeIhave paid for it dearly; be not so churlish."
"An Ihad had my ship" said Arblaster"I would 'a' been forthandsafe onthe high seas - I and my man Tom. But ye took my shipgossipand I'm a beggar; and for my man Toma knave fellow inrussetshot him down. 'Murrain!' quoth heand spake never again.'Murrain'was the last of his wordsand the poor spirit of himpassed. 'A will never sail no morewill my Tom.'"
Dick wasseized with unavailing penitence and pity; he sought totake theskipper's handbut Arblaster avoided his touch.
"Nay"said he"let be. Y' have played the devil with meandletthatcontent you."
The wordsdied in Richard's throat. He sawthrough tearsthepoor oldmanbemused with liquor and sorrowgo shambling awaywith bowedheadacross the snowand the unnoticed dog whimperingat hisheelsand for the first time began to understand thedesperategame that we play in life; and how a thing once done isnot to bechanged or remediedby any penitence.
But therewas no time left to him for vain regret.
Catesbyhad now collected the horsemenand riding up to Dick hedismountedand offered him his own horse.
"Thismorning" he said"I was somewhat jealous of your favour;ithath notbeen of a long growth; and nowSir Richardit is with avery goodheart that I offer you this horse - to ride away with."
"Sufferme yet a moment" replied Dick. "This favour of mine-whereuponwas it founded?"
"Uponyour name" answered Catesby. "It is my lord's chiefsuperstition. Were my name RichardI should be an earl to-morrow."
"WellsirI thank you" returned Dick; "and since I am littlelikely tofollow these great fortunesI will even say farewell. Iwill notpretend I was displeased to think myself upon the road tofortune;but I will not pretendneitherthat I am over-sorry tobe donewith it. Command and richesthey are brave thingsto besure; buta word in your ear - yon duke of yourshe is a fearsomelad."
"Nay"said he"of a verity he that rides with Crooked Dick willridedeep. WellGod keep us all from evil! Speed ye well."
ThereuponDick put himself at the head of his menand giving theword ofcommandrode off.
He madestraight across the townfollowing what he supposed to bethe routeof Sir Danieland spying around for any signs that mightdecide ifhe were right.
Thestreets were strewn with the dead and the woundedwhose fatein thebitter frostwas far the more pitiable. Gangs of thevictorswent from house to housepillaging and stabbingandsometimessinging together as they went.
Fromdifferent quartersas he rode onthe sounds of violence andoutragecame to young Shelton's ears; now the blows of the sledge-hammer onsome barricaded doorand now the miserable shrieks ofwomen.
Dick'sheart had just been awakened. He had just seen the cruelconsequencesof his own behaviour; and the thought of the sum ofmiserythat was now acting in the whole of Shoreby filled him withdespair.
At lengthhe reached the outskirtsand theresure enoughhe sawstraightbefore him the same broadbeaten track across the snowthat hehad marked from the summit of the church. Herethenhewent thefaster on; but stillas he rodehe kept a bright eyeupon thefallen men and horses that lay beside the track. Many ofthesehewas relieved to seewore Sir Daniel's coloursand thefaces ofsomewho lay upon their backhe even recognised.
Abouthalf-way between the town and the forestthose whom he wasfollowinghad plainly been assailed by archers; for the corpses layprettyclosely scatteredeach pierced by an arrow. And here Dickspiedamong the rest the body of a very young ladwhose face wassomehowhauntingly familiar to him.
He haltedhis troopdismountedand raised the lad's head. As hedid sothe hood fell backand a profusion of long brown hairunrolleditself. At the same time the eyes opened.
"Ah!lion driver!" said a feeble voice. "She is fartheron. Ride- ridefast!"
And thenthe poor young lady fainted once again.
One ofDick's men carried a flask of some strong cordialand withthis Dicksucceeded in reviving consciousness. Then he tookJoanna'sfriend upon his saddlebowand once more pushed toward theforest.
"Whydo ye take me?" said the girl. "Ye but delay yourspeed."
"NayMistress Risingham" replied Dick. "Shoreby is fullof bloodanddrunkenness and riot. Here ye are safe; content ye."
"Iwill not be beholden to any of your faction" she cried; "setmedown."
"Madamye know not what ye say" returned Dick. "Y' arehurt" -
"I amnot" she said. "It was my horse was slain."
"Itmatters not one jot" replied Richard. "Ye are herein themidst ofopen snowand compassed about with enemies. Whether yewill ornotI carry you with me. Glad am I to have the occasion;for thusshall I repay some portion of our debt."
For alittle while she was silent. Thenvery suddenlyshe asked:
"MyLord Risingham?" returned Dick. "I would I had goodnews togive youmadam; but I have none. I saw him once in the battleand onceonly. Let us hope the best."
CHAPTER V- NIGHT IN THE WOODS: ALICIA RISINGHAM
It wasalmost certain that Sir Daniel had made for the Moat House;butconsidering the heavy snowthe lateness of the hourand thenecessityunder which he would lie of avoiding the few roads andstrikingacross the woodit was equally certain that he could nothope toreach it ere the morrow.
There weretwo courses open to Dick; either to continue to followin theknight's trailandif he were ableto fall upon him thatvery nightin campor to strike out a path of his ownand seek toplacehimself between Sir Daniel and his destination.
Eitherscheme was open to serious objectionand Dickwho fearedto exposeJoanna to the hazards of a fighthad not yet decidedbetweenthem when he reached the borders of the wood.
At thispoint Sir Daniel had turned a little to his leftand thenplungedstraight under a grove of very lofty timber. His party hadthenformed to a narrower frontin order to pass between thetreesandthe track was trod proportionally deeper in the snow.The eyefollowed it under the leafless tracery of the oaksrunningdirect andnarrow; the trees stood over itwith knotty joints andthe greatuplifted forest of their boughs; there was no soundwhether ofman or beast - not so much as the stirring of a robin;and overthe field of snow the winter sun lay golden among nettedshadows.
"Howsay ye" asked Dick of one of the men"to follow straightonor strikeacross for Tunstall?"
"SirRichard" replied the man-at-arms"I would follow the lineuntil theyscatter."
"Yearedoubtlessright" returned Dick; "but we came righthastilyupon the errandeven as the time commanded. Here are nohousesneither for food nor shelterand by the morrow's dawn weshall knowboth cold fingers and an empty belly. How say yelads?Will yestand a pinch for expedition's sakeor shall we turn byHolywoodand sup with Mother Church? The case being somewhatdoubtfulI will drive no man; yet if ye would suffer me to leadyouyewould choose the first."
The menansweredalmost with one voicethat they would follow SirRichardwhere he would.
And Dicksetting spur to his horsebegan once more to go forward.
The snowin the trail had been trodden very hardand the pursuershad thus agreat advantage over the pursued. They pushed onindeedata round trottwo hundred hoofs beating alternately onthe dullpavement of the snowand the jingle of weapons and thesnortingof horses raising a warlike noise along the arches of thesilentwood.
Presentlythe wide slot of the pursued came out upon the high roadfromHolywood; it was therefor a momentindistinguishable; andwhere itonce more plunged into the unbeaten snow upon the farthersideDickwas surprised to see it narrower and lighter trod.Plainlyprofiting by the roadSir Daniel had begun already toscatterhis command.
At allhazardsone chance being equal to anotherDick continuedto pursuethe straight trail; and thatafter an hour's ridinginwhich itled into the very depths of the forestsuddenly splitlike abursting shellinto two dozen othersleading to everypoint ofthe compass.
Dick drewbridle in despair. The short winter's day was near anend; thesuna dull red orangeshorn of raysswam low among theleaflessthickets; the shadows were a mile long upon the snow; thefrost bitcruelly at the finger-nails; and the breath and steam ofthe horsesmounted in a cloud.
"Wellwe are outwitted" Dick confessed. "Strike we forHolywoodafterall. It is still nearer us than Tunstall - or should be bythestation of the sun."
So theywheeled to their leftturning their backs on the redshield ofsunand made across country for the abbey. But nowtimes werechanged with them; they could no longer spank forthbriskly ona path beaten firm by the passage of their foesand fora goal towhich that path itself conducted them. Now they mustplough ata dull pace through the encumbering snowcontinuallypausing todecide their coursecontinually floundering in drifts.The sunsoon left them; the glow of the west decayed; and presentlythey werewandering in a shadow of blacknessunder frosty stars.
Presentlyindeedthe moon would clear the hilltopsand theymightresume their march. But till thenevery random step mightcarry themwider of their march. There was nothing for it but tocamp andwait.
Sentrieswere posted; a spot of ground was cleared of snowandafter somefailuresa good fire blazed in the midst. The men-at-arms satclose about this forest hearthsharing such provisions asthey hadand passing about the flask; and Dickhaving collectedthe mostdelicate of the rough and scanty farebrought it to LordRisingham'sniecewhere she sat apart from the soldiery against atree.
She satupon one horse-clothwrapped in anotherand staredstraightbefore her at the firelit scene. At the offer of food shestartedlike one wakened from a dreamand then silently refused.
"Madam"said Dick"let me beseech youpunish me not so cruelly.Wherein Ihave offended youI know not; I haveindeedcarriedyou awaybut with a friendly violence; I haveindeedexposed youto theinclemency of nightbut the hurry that lies upon me hathfor itsend the preservation of anotherwho is no less frail andno lessunfriended than yourself. At leastmadampunish notyourself;and eatif not for hungerthen for strength."
"Iwill eat nothing at the hands that slew my kinsman" shereplied.
"Dearmadam" Dick cried"I swear to you upon the rood I touchedhim not."
"Swearto me that he still lives" she returned.
"Iwill not palter with you" answered Dick. "Pity bidsme towoundyou. In my heart I do believe him dead."
"Andye ask me to eat!" she cried. "Ayand they call you'sir!'Y' havewon your spurs by my good kinsman's murder. And had I notbeen fooland traitor bothand saved you in your enemy's houseyeshouldhave died the deathand he - he that was worth twelve ofyou - wereliving."
"Idid but my man's besteven as your kinsman did upon the otherparty"answered Dick. "Were he still living - as I vow to HeavenI wish it!- he would praisenot blame me."
"SirDaniel hath told me" she replied. "He marked you atthebarricade. Upon youhe saiththeir party foundered; it was youthat wonthe battle. Wellthenit was you that killed my goodLordRisinghamas sure as though ye had strangled him. And yewould haveme eat with you - and your hands not washed fromkilling? But Sir Daniel hath sworn your downfall. He 'tis thatwillavenge me!"
Theunfortunate Dick was plunged in gloom. Old Arblaster returnedupon hismindand he groaned aloud.
"Doye hold me so guilty?" he said; "you that defended me - youthat areJoanna's friend?"
"Whatmade ye in the battle?" she retorted. "Y' are of noparty;y' are buta lad - but legs and bodywithout government of wit orcounsel! Wherefore did ye fight? For the love of hurtpardy!"
"Nay"cried Dick"I know not. But as the realm of England goesif that apoor gentleman fight not upon the one sideperforce hemust fightupon the other. He may not stand alone; 'tis not innature."
"Theythat have no judgment should not draw the sword" replied theyounglady. "Ye that fight but for a hazardwhat are ye but abutcher? War is but noble by the causeand y' have disgraced it."
"Madam"said the miserable Dick"I do partly see mine error. Ihave madetoo much haste; I have been busy before my time. AlreadyI stole aship - thinkingI do swear itto do well - and therebybroughtabout the death of many innocentand the grief and ruin ofa poor oldman whose face this very day hath stabbed me like adagger. And for this morningI did but design to do myselfcreditand get fame to marry withandbehold! I have broughtabout thedeath of your dear kinsman that was good to me. And whatbesidesIknow not. Foralas! I may have set York upon thethroneand that may be the worser causeand may do hurt toEngland. OmadamI do see my sin. I am unfit for life. I willforpenance sake and to avoid worse evilonce I have finished thisadventureget me to a cloister. I will forswear Joanna and thetrade ofarms. I will be a friarand pray for your good kinsman'sspirit allmy days."
Itappeared to Dickin this extremity of his humiliation andrepentancethat the young lady had laughed.
Raisinghis countenancehe found her looking down upon himin thefire-lightwith a somewhat peculiar but not unkind expression.
"Madam"he criedthinking the laughter to have been an illusionof hishearingbut stillfrom her changed lookshoping to havetouchedher heart"madamwill not this content you? I give upall toundo what I have done amiss; I make heaven certain for LordRisingham. And all this upon the very day that I have won myspursandthought myself the happiest young gentleman on ground."
"Oboy" she said - "good boy!"
And thento the extreme surprise of Dickshe first very tenderlywiped thetears away from his cheeksand thenas if yielding to asuddenimpulsethrew both her arms about his neckdrew up hisfaceandkissed him. A pitiful bewilderment came over simple-mindedDick.
"Butcome" she saidwith great cheerfulness"you that are acaptainye must eat. Why sup ye not?"
"DearMistress Risingham" replied Dick"I did but wait firstuponmyprisoner; butto say truthpenitence will no longer suffer meto endurethe sight of food. I were better to fastdear ladyandto pray."
"Callme Alicia" she said; "are we not old friends? AndnowcomeIwill eat with youbit for bit and sup for sup; so if yeeat notneither will I; but if ye eat heartyI will dine like aploughman."
So thereand then she fell to; and Dickwho had an excellentstomachproceeded to bear her companyat first with greatreluctancebut graduallyas he entered into the spiritwith moreand morevigour and devotion: untilat lasthe forgot even towatch hismodeland most heartily repaired the expenses of his dayof labourand excitement.
"Lion-driver"she saidat length"ye do not admire a maid in aman'sjerkin?"
The moonwas now up; and they were only waiting to repose theweariedhorses. By the moon's lightthe still penitent but nowwell-fedRichard beheld her looking somewhat coquettishly down uponhim.
"Madam"- he stammeredsurprised at this new turn in her manners.
"Nay"she interrupted"it skills not to deny; Joanna hath toldmebutcomeSir Lion-driverlook at me - am I so homely - come!"
And shemade bright eyes at him.
"Yeare something smallishindeed" - began Dick.
And hereagain she interrupted himthis time with a ringing pealoflaughter that completed his confusion and surprise.
"Smallish!"she cried. "Naynowbe honest as ye are bold; I am adwarforlittle better; but for all that - cometell me! - forall thatpassably fair to look upon; is't not so?"
"Naymadamexceedingly fair" said the distressed knightpitifullytrying to seem easy.
"Anda man would be right glad to wed me?" she pursued.
"Omadamright glad!" agreed Dick.
"Callme Alicia" said she.
"Alicia"quoth Sir Richard.
"Wellthenlion-driver" she continued"sith that ye slew mykinsmanand left me without stayye owe mein honoureveryreparation;do ye not?"
"Idomadam" said Dick. "Althoughupon my heartI dohold mebutpartially guilty of that brave knight's blood."
"Wouldye evade me?" she cried.
"Madamnot so. I have told you; at your biddingI will even turnme amonk" said Richard.
"Thenin honourye belong to me?" she concluded.
"InhonourmadamI suppose" - began the young man.
"Goto!" she interrupted; "ye are too full of catches. Inhonourdo yebelong to metill ye have paid the evil?"
"InhonourI do" said Dick.
"Hearthen" she continued; "Ye would make but a sad friarmethinks;and since I am to dispose of you at pleasureI will eventake youfor my husband. Naynowno words!" cried she. "Theywill availyou nothing. For see how just it isthat you whodeprivedme of one homeshould supply me with another. And as forJoannashe will be the firstbelieve meto commend the change;forafterallas we be dear friendswhat matters it with whichof us yewed? Not one whit!"
"Madam"said Dick"I will go into a cloisteran ye please to bidme; but towed with anyone in this big world besides Joanna Sedleyis what Iwill consent to neither for man's force nor yet forlady'spleasure. Pardon me if I speak my plain thoughts plainly;but wherea maid is very bolda poor man must even be the bolder."
"Dick"she said"ye sweet boyye must come and kiss me for thatword. Nayfear notye shall kiss me for Joanna; and when wemeetIshall give it back to herand say I stole it. And as forwhat yeowe mewhydear simpletonmethinks ye were not alone inthat greatbattle; and even if York be on the throneit was notyou thatset him there. But for a goodsweethonest heartDicky' are allthat; and if I could find it in my soul to envy yourJoannaanythingI would even envy her your love."
CHAPTER VI- NIGHT IN THE WOODS (concluded): DICK AND JOAN
The horseshad by this time finished the small store of provenderand fullybreathed from their fatigues. At Dick's commandthefire wassmothered in snow; and while his men got once more wearilyto saddlehe himselfrememberingsomewhat latetrue woodlandcautionchose a tall oak and nimbly clambered to the topmost fork.Hence hecould look far abroad on the moonlit and snow-pavenforest. On the south-westdark against the horizonstood thoseuplandheathy quarters where he and Joanna had met with theterrifyingmisadventure of the leper. And there his eye was caughtby a spotof ruddy brightness no bigger than a needle's eye.
He blamedhimself sharply for his previous neglect. Were thatasitappeared to bethe shining of Sir Daniel's camp-firehe shouldlong agohave seen and marched for it; above allhe shouldfor noconsiderationhave announced his neighbourhood by lighting a fireof hisown. But now he must no longer squander valuable hours.The directway to the uplands was about two miles in length; but itwascrossed by a very deepprecipitous dingleimpassable tomountedmen; and for the sake of speedit seemed to Dick advisableto desertthe horses and attempt the adventure on foot.
Ten menwere left to guard the horses; signals were agreed upon bywhich theycould communicate in case of need; and Dick set forth atthe headof the remainderAlicia Risingham walking stoutly by hisside.
The menhad freed themselves of heavy armourand left behind theirlances;and they now marched with a very good spirit in the frozensnowandunder the exhilarating lustre of the moon. The descentinto thedinglewhere a stream strained sobbing through the snowand icewas effected with silence and order; and on the furthersidebeing then within a short half mile of where Dick had seentheglimmer of the firethe party halted to breathe before theattack.
In thevast silence of the woodthe lightest sounds were audiblefrom far;and Aliciawho was keen of hearingheld up her fingerwarninglyand stooped to listen. All followed her example; butbesidesthe groans of the choked brook in the dingle close behindand thebarking of a fox at a distance of many miles among theforesttoDick's acutest hearkeningnot a breath was audible.
"Butyetfor sureI heard the clash of harness" whisperedAlicia.
"Madam"returned Dickwho was more afraid of that young lady thanof tenstout warriors"I would not hint ye were mistaken; but itmight wellhave come from either of the camps."
"Itcame not thence. It came from westward" she declared.
"Itmay be what it will" returned Dick; "and it must be asheavenplease. Reck we not a jotbut push on the livelierand put it tothetouch. Upfriends - enough breathed."
As theyadvancedthe snow became more and more trampled with hoof-marksandit was plain that they were drawing near to theencampmentof a considerable force of mounted men. Presently theycould seethe smoke pouring from among the treesruddily colouredon itslower edge and scattering bright sparks.
And herepursuant to Dick's ordershis men began to open outcreepingstealthily in the covertto surround on every side thecamp oftheir opponents. He himselfplacing Alicia in the shelterof a bulkyoakstole straight forth in the direction of the fire.
At lastthrough an opening of the woodhis eye embraced the sceneof theencampment. The fire had been built upon a heathy hummockof thegroundsurrounded on three sides by thicketand it nowburnedvery strongroaring aloud and brandishing flames. Aroundit theresat not quite a dozen peoplewarmly cloaked; but thoughtheneighbouring snow was trampled down as by a regimentDicklooked invain for any horse. He began to have a terriblemisgivingthat he was out-manoeuvred. At the same timein a tallman with asteel saletwho was spreading his hands before theblazeherecognised his old friend and still kindly enemyBennetHatch; andin two otherssitting a little backhe made outevenin theirmale disguiseJoanna Sedley and Sir Daniel's wife.
"Well"thought he to himself"even if I lose my horseslet meget myJoannaand why should I complain?"
And thenfrom the further side of the encampmentthere came alittlewhistleannouncing that his men had joinedand theinvestmentwas complete.
Bennetatthe soundstarted to his feet; but ere he had time tospringupon his armsDick hailed him.
"Bennet"he said - "Bennetold friendyield ye. Ye will butspillmen's lives in vainif ye resist."
"'TisMaster Sheltonby St. Barbary!" cried Hatch. "Yieldme? Yeask much. What force have ye?"
"Itell youBennetye are both outnumbered and begirt" saidDick. "Caesar and Charlemagne would cry for quarter. I have twoscore menat my whistleand with one shoot of arrows I couldanswer foryou all."
"MasterDick" said Bennet"it goes against my heart; but I mustdo myduty. The saints help you!" And therewith he raisedalittletucket to his mouth and wound a rousing call.
Thenfollowed a moment of confusion; for while Dickfearing fortheladiesstill hesitated to give the word to shootHatch'slittleband sprang to their weapons and formed back to back as fora fierceresistance. In the hurry of their change of placeJoannasprangfrom her seat and ran like an arrow to her lover's side.
"HereDick!" she criedas she clasped his hand in hers.
But Dickstill stood irresolute; he was yet young to the moredeplorablenecessities of warand the thought of old Lady Brackleycheckedthe command upon his tongue. His own men became restive.Some ofthem cried on him by name; othersof their own accordbegan toshoot; and at the first discharge poor Bennet bit thedust. Then Dick awoke.
"On!"he cried. "Shootboysand keep to cover. EnglandandYork!"
But justthen the dull beat of many horses on the snow suddenlyarose inthe hollow ear of the nightandwith incredibleswiftnessdrew nearer and swelled louder. At the same timeansweringtuckets repeated and repeated Hatch's call.
"Rallyrally!" cried Dick. "Rally upon me! Rally foryourlives!"
But hismen - afootscatteredtaken in the hour when they hadcounted onan easy triumph - began instead to give groundseverallyand either stood wavering or dispersed into thethickets. And when the first of the horsemen came charging throughthe openavenues and fiercely riding their steeds into theunderwooda few stragglers were overthrown or speared among thebrushbutthe bulk of Dick's command had simply melted at therumour oftheir coming.
Dick stoodfor a momentbitterly recognising the fruits of hisprecipitateand unwise valour. Sir Daniel had seen the fire; hehad movedout with his main forcewhether to attack his pursuersor to takethem in the rear if they should venture the assault.His hadbeen throughout the part of a sagacious captain; Dick's theconduct ofan eager boy. And here was the young knighthissweetheartindeedholding him tightly by the handbut otherwisealonehiswhole command of men and horses dispersed in the nightand thewide forestlike a paper of pins in a bay barn.
"Thesaints enlighten me!" he thought. "It is well I wasknightedfor thismorning's matter; this doth me little honour."
Andthereuponstill holding Joannahe began to run.
Thesilence of the night was now shattered by the shouts of the menofTunstallas they galloped hither and thitherhuntingfugitives;and Dick broke boldly through the underwood and ranstraightbefore him like a deer. The silver clearness of the moonupon theopen snow increasedby contrastthe obscurity of thethickets;and the extreme dispersion of the vanquished led thepursuersinto wildly divergent paths. Hencein but a littlewhileDick and Joanna pausedin a close covertand heard thesounds ofthe pursuitscattering abroadindeedin alldirectionsbut yet fainting already in the distance.
"An Ihad but kept a reserve of them together" Dick criedbitterly"I could have turned the tables yet! Wellwe live andlearn;next time it shall go betterby the rood."
"NayDick" said Joanna"what matters it? Here we aretogetheronceagain."
He lookedat herand there she was - John Matchamas of yoreinhose anddoublet. But now he knew her; noweven in that ungainlydressshesmiled upon himbright with love; and his heart wastransportedwith joy.
"Sweetheart"he said"if ye forgive this blundererwhat care I?Make wedirect for Holywood; there lieth your good guardian and mybetterfriendLord Foxham. There shall we be wed; and whetherpoor orwealthyfamous or unknownwhatmatters it? This daydear loveI won my spurs; I was commended by great men for myvalour; Ithought myself the goodliest man of war in all broadEngland. ThenfirstI fell out of my favour with the great; andnow have Ibeen well thrashedand clean lost my soldiers. Therewas adownfall for conceit! ButdearI care not - dearif yestill loveme and will wedI would have my knighthood done awayand mindit not a jot."
"MyDick!" she cried. "And did they knight you?"
"Aydearye are my lady now" he answeredfondly; "or yeshallere noonto-morrow - will ye not?"
"Thatwill IDickwith a glad heart" she answered.
"Aysir? Methought ye were to be a monk!" said a voice intheirears.
"Evenso" replied the young ladycoming forward. "Aliciawhomye leftfor deadand whom your lion-driver foundand brought tolifeagainandby my soothmade love toif ye want to know!"
"I'llnot believe it" cried Joanna. "Dick!"
"Dick!"mimicked Alicia. "Dickindeed! Ayfair sirand yedesertpoor damsels in distress" she continuedturning to theyoungknight. "Ye leave them planted behind oaks. But theysaytrue - theage of chivalry is dead."
"Madam"cried Dickin despair"upon my soul I had forgotten yououtright. Madamye must try to pardon me. Ye seeI had newfoundJoanna!"
"Idid not suppose that ye had done it o' purpose" she retorted."ButI will be cruelly avenged. I will tell a secret to my LadyShelton -she that is to be" she addedcurtseying. "Joanna"shecontinued"I believeupon my soulyour sweetheart is a boldfellow ina fightbut he islet me tell you plainlythe softest-heartedsimpleton in England. Go to - ye may do your pleasure withhim! And nowfool childrenfirst kiss meeither one of youforluck andkindness; and then kiss each other just one minute by theglassandnot one second longer; and then let us all three setforth forHolywood as fast as we can stir; for these woodsmethinksare full of peril and exceeding cold."
"Butdid my Dick make love to you?" asked Joannaclinging to hersweetheart'sside.
"Nayfool girl" returned Alicia; "it was I made love to him. Ioffered tomarry himindeed; but he bade me go marry with mylikes. These were his words. Naythat I will say: he is moreplain thanpleasant. But nowchildrenfor the sake of sensesetforward. Shall we go once more over the dingleor push straightforHolywood?"
"Why"said Dick"I would like dearly to get upon a horse; for Ihave beensore mauled and beatenone way and anotherthese lastdaysandmy poor body is one bruise. But how think ye? If themenuponthe alarm of the fightinghad fled awaywe should havegone aboutfor nothing. 'Tis but some three short miles toHolywooddirect; the bell hath not beat nine; the snow is prettyfirm towalk uponthe moon clear; how if we went even as we are?"
"Agreed"cried Alicia; but Joanna only pressed upon Dick's arm.
Forththenthey wentthrough open leafless groves and down snow-cladalleysunder the white face of the winter moon; Dick andJoannawalking hand in hand and in a heaven of pleasure; and theirlight-mindedcompanionher own bereavements heartily forgottenfollowed apace or two behindnow rallying them upon theirsilenceand now drawing happy pictures of their future and unitedlives.
Stillindeedin the distance of the woodthe riders of Tunstallmight beheard urging their pursuit; and from time to time cries orthe clashof steel announced the shock of enemies. But in theseyoungfolkbred among the alarms of warand fresh from such amultiplicityof dangersneither fear nor pity could be lightlywakened. Content to find the sounds still drawing farther andfartherawaythey gave up their hearts to the enjoyment of thehourwalking alreadyas Alicia put itin a wedding procession;andneither the rude solitude of the forestnor the cold of thefreezingnighthad any force to shadow or distract theirhappiness.
At lengthfrom a rising hillthey looked below them on the dellofHolywood. The great windows of the forest abbey shone withtorch andcandle; its high pinnacles and spires arose very clearandsilentand the gold rood upon the topmost summit glitteredbrightlyin the moon. All about itin the open gladecamp-fireswereburningand the ground was thick with huts; and across themidst ofthe picture the frozen river curved.
"Bythe mass" said Richard"there are Lord Foxham's fellowsstillencamped. The messenger hath certainly miscarried. Wellthensobetter. We have power at hand to face Sir Daniel."
But ifLord Foxham's men still lay encamped in the long holm atHolywoodit was from a different reason from the one supposed byDick. They had marchedindeedfor Shoreby; but ere they werehalf waythithera second messenger met themand bade them returnto theirmorning's campto bar the road against Lancastrianfugitivesand to be so much nearer to the main army of York. ForRichard ofGloucesterhaving finished the battle and stamped outhis foesin that districtwas already on the march to rejoin hisbrother;and not long after the return of my Lord Foxham'sretainersCrookback himself drew rein before the abbey door. Itwas inhonour of this august visitor that the windows shone withlights;and at the hour of Dick's arrival with his sweetheart andherfriendthe whole ducal party was being entertained in therefectorywith the splendour of that powerful and luxuriousmonastery.
Dicknotquite with his good willwas brought before them.Gloucestersick with fatiguesat leaning upon one hand his whiteandterrifying countenance; Lord Foxhamhalf recovered from hiswoundwasin a place of honour on his left.
"Howsir?" asked Richard. "Have ye brought me Sir Daniel'shead?"
"Mylord duke" replied Dickstoutly enoughbut with a qualm atheart"Ihave not even the good fortune to return with my command.I havebeenso please your gracewell beaten."
Gloucesterlooked upon him with a formidable frown.
"Igave you fifty lancessir" he said.
"Mylord dukeI had but fifty men-at-arms" replied the youngknight.
"Howis this?" said Gloucester. "He did ask me fiftylances."
"Mayit please your grace" replied Catesbysmoothly"for apursuit wegave him but the horsemen."
"Itis well" replied Richardadding"Sheltonye may go."
"Stay!"said Lord Foxham. "This young man likewise had a chargefrom me. It may be he hath better sped. SayMaster Sheltonhaveye foundthe maid?"
"Ipraise the saintsmy lord" said Dick"she is in thishouse."
"Isit even so? Wellthenmy lord the duke" resumed LordFoxham"with your good willto-morrowbefore the army marchIdo proposea marriage. This young squire - "
"Youngknight" interrupted Catesby.
"Sayye soSir William?" cried Lord Foxham.
"Idid myselfand for good servicedub him knight" saidGloucester. "He hath twice manfully served me. It is not valourof handsit is a man's mind of ironthat he lacks. He will notriseLordFoxham. 'Tis a fellow that will fight indeed bravely ina mellaybut hath a capon's heart. Howbeitif he is to marrymarry himin the name of Maryand be done!"
"Nayhe is a brave lad - I know it" said Lord Foxham. "ContentyethenSir Richard. I have compounded this affair with MasterHamleyand to-morrow ye shall wed."
WhereuponDick judged it prudent to withdraw; but he was not yetclear ofthe refectorywhen a manbut newly alighted at the gatecamerunning four stairs at a boundandbrushing through theabbeyservantsthrew himself on one knee before the duke.
"Victorymy lord" he cried.
And beforeDick had got to the chamber set apart for him as LordFoxham'sguestthe troops in the holm were cheering around theirfires; forupon that same daynot twenty miles awaya secondcrushingblow had been dealt to the power of Lancaster.
CHAPTERVII - DICK'S REVENGE
The nextmorning Dick was afoot before the sunand having dressedhimself tothe best advantage with the aid of the Lord Foxham'sbaggageand got good reports of Joanhe set forth on foot to walkaway hisimpatience.
For somewhile he made rounds among the soldierywho were gettingto arms inthe wintry twilight of the dawn and by the red glow oftorches;but gradually he strolled further afieldand at lengthpassedclean beyond the outpostsand walked alone in the frozenforestwaiting for the sun.
Histhoughts were both quiet and happy. His brief favour with theDuke hecould not find it in his heart to mourn; with Joan to wifeand myLord Foxham for a faithful patronhe looked most happilyupon thefuture; and in the past he found but little to regret.
As he thusstrolled and ponderedthe solemn light of the morninggrew moreclearthe east was already coloured by the sunand alittlescathing wind blew up the frozen snow. He turned to gohome; buteven as he turnedhis eye lit upon a figure behindatree.
"Stand!"he cried. "Who goes?"
The figurestepped forth and waved its hand like a dumb person. Itwasarrayed like a pilgrimthe hood lowered over the facebutDickinan instantrecognised Sir Daniel.
He strodeup to himdrawing his sword; and the knightputting hishand inhis bosomas if to seize a hidden weaponsteadfastlyawaitedhis approach.
"WellDickon" said Sir Daniel"how is it to be? Do yemake warupon thefallen?"
"Imade no war upon your life" replied the lad; "I was yourtruefrienduntil ye sought for mine; but ye have sought for itgreedily."
"Nay- self-defence" replied the knight. "And nowboythe newsof thisbattleand the presence of yon crooked devil here in mineown woodhave broken me beyond all help. I go to Holywood forsanctuary;thence overseaswith what I can carryand to beginlife againin Burgundy or France."
"Yemay not go to Holywood" said Dick.
"How! May not?" asked the knight.
"LookyeSir Danielthis is my marriage morn" said Dick; "andyon sunthat is to rise will make the brightest day that ever shonefor me. Your life is forfeit - doubly forfeitfor my father'sdeath andyour own practices to meward. But I myself have doneamiss; Ihave brought about men's deaths; and upon this glad day Iwill beneither judge nor hangman. An ye were the devilI wouldnot lay ahand on you. An ye were the devilye might go where yewill forme. Seek God's forgiveness; mine ye have freely. But togo on toHolywood is different. I carry arms for Yorkand I willsuffer nospy within their lines. Hold itthenfor certainifye set onefoot before anotherI will uplift my voice and call thenearestpost to seize you."
"Yemock me" said Sir Daniel. "I have no safety out ofHolywood."
"Icare no more" returned Richard. "I let you go eastwestorsouth;north I will not. Holywood is shut against you. Goandseek notto return. Foronce ye are goneI will warn every postabout thisarmyand there will be so shrewd a watch upon allpilgrimsthatonce againwere ye the very devilye would find itruin tomake the essay."
"Yedoom me" said Sir Danielgloomily.
"Idoom you not" returned Richard. "If it so please youto setyourvalour against minecome on; and though I fear it be disloyalto mypartyI will take the challenge openly and fullyfight youwith mineown single strengthand call for none to help me. Soshall Iavenge my fatherwith a perfect conscience."
"Ay"said Sir Daniel"y' have a long sword against my dagger."
"Irely upon Heaven only" answered Dickcasting his sword someway behindhim on the snow. "Nowif your ill-fate bids youcome;andunderthe pleasure of the AlmightyI make myself bold to feedyour bonesto foxes."
"Idid but try youDickon" returned the knightwith an uneasysemblanceof a laugh. "I would not spill your blood."
"Gothenere it be too late" replied Shelton. "In fiveminutesI willcall the post. I do perceive that I am too long-suffering.Had butour places been reversedI should have been bound hand andfoot someminutes past."
"WellDickonI will go" replied Sir Daniel. "When we nextmeetit shallrepent you that ye were so harsh."
And withthese wordsthe knight turned and began to move off underthetrees. Dick watched him with strangely-mingled feelingsas hewentswiftly and warilyand ever and again turning a wicked eyeupon thelad who had spared himand whom he still suspected.
There wasupon one side of where he went a thicketstrongly mattedwith greenivyandeven in its winter stateimpervious to theeye. Hereinall of a suddena bow sounded like a note of music.An arrowflewand with a greatchoked cry of agony and angertheKnight ofTunstall threw up his hands and fell forward in the snow.
Dickbounded to his side and raised him. His face desperatelyworked;his whole body was shaken by contorting spasms.
"Isthe arrow black?" he gasped.
"Itis black" replied Dickgravely.
And thenbefore he could add one worda desperate seizure of painshook thewounded man from head to footso that his body leaped inDick'ssupporting armsand with the extremity of that pang hisspiritfled in silence.
The youngman laid him back gently on the snow and prayed for thatunpreparedand guilty spiritand as he prayed the sun came up at aboundandthe robins began chirping in the ivy.
When herose to his feethe found another man upon his knees but afew stepsbehind himandstill with uncovered headhe waiteduntil thatprayer also should be over. It took long; the manwithhis headbowed and his face covered with his handsprayed like onein a greatdisorder or distress of mind; and by the bow that laybesidehimDick judged that he was no other than the archer whohad laidSir Daniel low.
At lengthhealsoroseand showed the countenance of EllisDuckworth.
"Richard"he saidvery gravely"I heard you. Ye took the betterpart andpardoned; I took the worseand there lies the clay ofmineenemy. Pray for me."
And hewrung him by the hand.
"Sir"said Richard"I will pray for youindeed; though how I mayprevail Iwot not. But if ye have so long pursued revengeandfind itnow of such a sorry flavourbethink yewere it not wellto pardonothers? Hatch - he is deadpoor shrew! I would havespared abetter; and for Sir Danielhere lies his body. But forthepriestif I might anywise prevailI would have you let himgo."
A flashcame into the eyes of Ellis Duckworth.
"Nay"he said"the devil is still strong within me. But be atrest; theBlack Arrow flieth nevermore - the fellowship is broken.They thatstill live shall come to their quiet and ripe endinHeaven'sgood timefor me; and for yourselfgo where your betterfortunecalls youand think no more of Ellis."
CHAPTERVIII - CONCLUSION
About ninein the morningLord Foxham was leading his wardoncemoredressed as befitted her sexand followed by Alicia Risinghamto thechurch of Holywoodwhen Richard Crookbackhis brow alreadyheavy withcarescrossed their path and paused.
"Isthis the maid?" he asked; and when Lord Foxham had replied intheaffirmative"Minion" he added"hold up your faceuntil I seeitsfavour."
He lookedupon her sourly for a little.
"Yeare fair" he said at last"andas they tell medowered.How if Ioffered you a brave marriageas became your face andparentage?"
"Mylord duke" replied Joanna"may it please your graceIhadrather wedwith Sir Richard."
"Howso?" he askedharshly. "Marry but the man I name toyouandhe shallbe my lordand you my ladybefore night. For SirRichardlet me tell you plainlyhe will die Sir Richard."
"Iask no more of Heavenmy lordthan but to die Sir Richard'swife"returned Joanna.
"Lookye at thatmy lord" said Gloucesterturning to LordFoxham. "Here be a pair for you. The ladwhen for good servicesI gave himhis choice of my favourchose but the grace of an olddrunkenshipman. I did warn him freelybut he was stout in hisbesottedness. 'Here dieth your favour' said I; and hemy lordwith amost assured impertinence'Mine be the loss' quoth he. Itshall besoby the rood!"
"Saidhe so?" cried Alicia. "Then well saidlion-driver!"
"Whois this?" asked the duke.
"Aprisoner of Sir Richard's" answered Lord Foxham; "MistressAliciaRisingham."
"Seethat she be married to a sure man" said the duke.
"Ihad thought of my kinsmanHamleyan it like your grace"returnedLord Foxham. "He hath well served the cause."
"Itlikes me well" said Richard. "Let them be weddedspeedily.Sayfairmaidwill you wed?"
"Mylord duke" said Alicia"so as the man is straight" -Andthereina perfect consternationthe voice died on her tongue.
"Heis straightmy mistress" replied Richardcalmly. "Iam theonlycrookback of my party; we are else passably well shapen.Ladiesand youmy lord" he addedwith a sudden change to gravecourtesy"judge me not too churlish if I leave you. A captaininthe timeof warhath not the ordering of his hours."
And with avery handsome salutation he passed onfollowed by hisofficers.
"Alack"cried Alicia"I am shent!"
"Yeknow him not" replied Lord Foxham. "It is but atrifle; hehathalready clean forgot your words."
"Heisthenthe very flower of knighthood" said Alicia.
"Nayhe but mindeth other things" returned Lord Foxham. "Tarrywe nomore."
In thechancel they found Dick waitingattended by a few youngmen; andthere were he and Joan united. When they came forthagainhappy and yet seriousinto the frosty air and sunlightthelong filesof the army were already winding forward up the road;alreadythe Duke of Gloucester's banner was unfolded and began tomove frombefore the abbey in a clump of spears; and behind itgirt bysteel-clad knightsthe boldblack-heartedand ambitioushunchbackmoved on towards his brief kingdom and his lastinginfamy. But the wedding party turned upon the other sideand satdownwithsober merrimentto breakfast. The father cellarerattendedon their wantsand sat with them at table. Hamleyalljealousyforgottenbegan to ply the nowise loth Alicia withcourtship. And thereamid the sounding of tuckets and the clashofarmoured soldiery and horses continually moving forthDick andJoan satside by sidetenderly held handsand lookedwith evergrowingaffectionin each other's eyes.
Thenceforththe dust and blood of that unruly epoch passed them by.They dweltapart from alarms in the green forest where their lovebegan.
Two oldmen in the meanwhile enjoyed pensions in great prosperityand peaceand with perhaps a superfluity of ale and wineinTunstallhamlet. One had been all his life a shipmanandcontinuedto the last to lament his man Tom. The otherwho hadbeen a bitof everythingturned in the end towards pietyand madea mostreligious death under the name of Brother Honestus in theneighbouringabbey. So Lawless had his willand died a friar.