The place where Dick had struck the line of a high-road was not far from Holywood, and within nine or ten miles of Shoreby-on-the–Till; and here, after making sure that they were pursued no longer, the two bodies separated. Lord Foxham’s followers departed, carrying their wounded master towards the comfort and security of the great abbey; and Dick, as he saw them wind away and disappear in the thick curtain of the falling snow, was left alone with near upon a dozen outlaws, the last remainder of his troop of volunteers.
Some were wounded; one and all were furious at their ill-success and long exposure; and though they were now too cold and hungry to do more, they grumbled and cast sullen looks upon their leaders. Dick emptied his purse among them, leaving himself nothing; thanked them for the courage they had displayed, though he could have found it more readily in his heart to rate them for poltroonery; and having thus somewhat softened the effect of his prolonged misfortune, despatched them to find their way, either severally or in pairs, to Shoreby and the Goat and Bagpipes.
For his own part, influenced by what he had seen on board of the Good Hope, he chose Lawless to be his companion on the walk. The snow was falling, without pause or variation, in one even, blinding cloud; the wind had been strangled, and now blew no longer; and the whole world was blotted out and sheeted down below that silent inundation. There was great danger of wandering by the way and perishing in drifts; and Lawless, keeping half a step in front of his companion, and holding his head forward like a hunting dog upon the scent, inquired his way of every tree, and studied out their path as though he were conning a ship among dangers.
About a mile into the forest they came to a place where several ways met, under a grove of lofty and contorted oaks. Even in the narrow horizon of the falling snow, it was a spot that could not fail to be recognised; and Lawless evidently recognised it with particular delight.
“Now, Master Richard,” said he, “an y’ are not too proud to be the guest of a man who is neither a gentleman by birth nor so much as a good Christian, I can offer you a cup of wine and a good fire to melt the marrow in your frozen bones.”
“Lead on, Will,” answered Dick. “A cup of wine and a good fire! Nay, I would go a far way round to see them.”
Lawless turned aside under the bare branches of the grove, and, walking resolutely forward for some time, came to a steepish hollow or den, that had now drifted a quarter full of snow. On the verge, a great beech-tree hung, precariously rooted; and here the old outlaw, pulling aside some bushy underwood, bodily disappeared into the earth.
The beech had, in some violent gale, been half-uprooted, and had torn up a considerable stretch of turf and it was under this that old Lawless had dug out his forest hiding-place. The roots served him for rafters, the turf was his thatch; for walls and floor he had his mother the earth. Rude as it was, the hearth in one corner, blackened by fire, and the presence in another of a large oaken chest well fortified with iron, showed it at one glance to be the den of a man, and not the burrow of a digging beast.
Though the snow had drifted at the mouth and sifted in upon the floor of this earth cavern, yet was the air much warmer than without; and when Lawless had struck a spark, and the dry furze bushes had begun to blaze and crackle on the hearth, the place assumed, even to the eye, an air of comfort and of home.
With a sigh of great contentment, Lawless spread his broad hands before the fire, and seemed to breathe the smoke.
“Here, then,” he said, “is this old Lawless’s rabbit-hole; pray Heaven there come no terrier! Far I have rolled hither and thither, and here and about, since that I was fourteen years of mine age and first ran away from mine abbey, with the sacrist’s gold chain and a mass-book that I sold for four marks. I have been in England and France and Burgundy, and in Spain, too, on a pilgrimage for my poor soul; and upon the sea, which is no man’s country. But here is my place, Master Shelton. This is my native land, this burrow in the earth! Come rain or wind — and whether it’s April, and the birds all sing, and the blossoms fall about my bed — or whether it’s winter, and I sit alone with my good gossip the fire, and robin red breast twitters in the woods — here, is my church and market, and my wife and child. It’s here I come back to, and it’s here, so please the saints, that I would like to die.”
“’Tis a warm corner, to be sure,” replied Dick, “and a pleasant, and a well hid.”
“It had need to be,” returned Lawless, “for an they found it, Master Shelton, it would break my heart. But here,” he added, burrowing with his stout fingers in the sandy floor, “here is my wine cellar; and ye shall have a flask of excellent strong stingo.”
Sure enough, after but a little digging, he produced a big leathern bottle of about a gallon, nearly three-parts full of a very heady and sweet wine; and when they had drunk to each other comradely, and the fire had been replenished and blazed up again, the pair lay at full length, thawing and steaming, and divinely warm.
“Master Shelton,” observed the outlaw, “y’ ’ave had two mischances this last while, and y’ are like to lose the maid — do I take it aright?”
“Aright!” returned Dick, nodding his head.
“Well, now,” continued Lawless, “hear an old fool that hath been nigh-hand everything, and seen nigh-hand all! Ye go too much on other people’s errands, Master Dick. Ye go on Ellis’s; but he desireth rather the death of Sir Daniel. Ye go on Lord Foxham’s; well — the saints preserve him! — doubtless he meaneth well. But go ye upon your own, good Dick. Come right to the maid’s side. Court her, lest that she forget you. Be ready; and when the chance shall come, off with her at the saddle-bow.”
“Ay, but, Lawless, beyond doubt she is now in Sir Daniel’s own mansion.” answered Dick.
“Thither, then, go we,” replied the outlaw.
Dick stared at him.
“Nay, I mean it,” nodded Lawless. “And if y’ are of so little faith, and stumble at a word, see here!”
And the outlaw, taking a key from about his neck, opened the oak chest, and dipping and groping deep among its contents, produced first a friar’s robe, and next a girdle of rope; and then a huge rosary of wood, heavy enough to be counted as a weapon.
“Here,” he said, “is for you. On with them!”
And then, when Dick had clothed himself in this clerical disguise, Lawless produced some colours and a pencil, and proceeded, with the greatest cunning, to disguise his face. The eyebrows he thickened and produced; to the moustache, which was yet hardly visible, he rendered a like service; while, by a few lines around the eye, he changed the expression and increased the apparent age of this young monk.
“Now,” he resumed, “when I have done the like, we shall make as bonny a pair of friars as the eye could wish. Boldly to Sir Daniel’s we shall go, and there be hospitably welcome for the love of Mother Church.”
“And how, dear Lawless,” cried the lad, “shall I repay you?”
“Tut, brother,” replied the outlaw, “I do naught but for my pleasure. Mind not for me. I am one, by the mass, that mindeth for himself. When that I lack, I have a long tongue and a voice like the monastery bell — I do ask, my son; and where asking faileth, I do most usually take.”
The old rogue made a humorous grimace; and although Dick was displeased to lie under so great favours to so equivocal a personage, he was yet unable to restrain his mirth.
With that, Lawless returned to the big chest, and was soon similarly disguised; but, below his gown, Dick wondered to observe him conceal a sheaf of black arrows.
“Wherefore do ye that?” asked the lad. “Wherefore arrows, when ye take no bow?”
“Nay,” replied Lawless, lightly, “’tis like there will be heads broke — not to say backs — ere you and I win sound from where we’re going to; and if any fall, I would our fellowship should come by the credit on’t. A black arrow, Master Dick, is the seal of our abbey; it showeth you who writ the bill.”
“An ye prepare so carefully,” said Dick, “I have here some papers that, for mine own sake, and the interest of those that trusted me, were better left behind than found upon my body. Where shall I conceal them, Will?”
“Nay,” replied Lawless, “I will go forth into the wood and whistle me three verses of a song; meanwhile, do you bury them where ye please, and smooth the sand upon the place.”
“Never!” cried Richard. “I trust you, man. I were base indeed if I not trusted you.”
“Brother, y’ are but a child,” replied the old outlaw, pausing and turning his face upon Dick from the threshold of the den. “I am a kind old Christian, and no traitor to men’s blood, and no sparer of mine own in a friend’s jeopardy. But, fool, child, I am a thief by trade and birth and habit. If my bottle were empty and my mouth dry, I would rob you, dear child, as sure as I love, honour, and admire your parts and person! Can it be clearer spoken? No.”
And he stumped forth through the bushes with a snap of his big fingers.
Dick, thus left alone, after a wondering thought upon the inconsistencies of his companion’s character, hastily produced, reviewed, and buried his papers. One only he reserved to carry along with him, since it in nowise compromised his friends, and yet might serve him, in a pinch, against Sir Daniel. That was the knight’s own letter to Lord Wensleydale, sent by Throgmorton, on the morrow of the defeat at Risingham, and found next day by Dick upon the body of the messenger.
Then, treading down the embers of the fire, Dick left the den, and rejoined the old outlaw, who stood awaiting him under the leafless oaks, and was already beginning to be powdered by the falling snow. Each looked upon the other, and each laughed, so thorough and so droll was the disguise.
“Yet I would it were but summer and a clear day,” grumbled the outlaw, “that I might see myself in the mirror of a pool. There be many of Sir Daniel’s men that know me; and if we fell to be recognised, there might be two words for you, brother, but as for me, in a paternoster while, I should be kicking in a rope’s-end.”
Thus they set forth together along the road to Shoreby, which, in this part of its course, kept near along the margin or the forest, coming forth, from time to time, in the open country, and passing beside poor folks’ houses and small farms.
Presently at sight of one of these, Lawless pulled up.
“Brother Martin,” he said, in a voice capitally disguised, and suited to his monkish robe, “let us enter and seek alms from these poor sinners. Pax vobiscum! Ay,” he added, in his own voice, “’tis as I feared; I have somewhat lost the whine of it; and by your leave, good Master Shelton, ye must suffer me to practise in these country places, before that I risk my fat neck by entering Sir Daniel’s. But look ye a little, what an excellent thing it is to be a Jack-of-all-trades! An I had not been a shipman, ye had infallibly gone down in the Good Hope; an I had not been a thief, I could not have painted me your face; and but that I had been a Grey Friar, and sung loud in the choir, and ate hearty at the board, I could not have carried this disguise, but the very dogs would have spied us out and barked at us for shams.”
He was by this time close to the window of the farm, and he rose on his tip-toes and peeped in.
“Nay,” he cried, “better and better. We shall here try our false faces with a vengeance, and have a merry jest on Brother Capper to boot.”
And so saying, he opened the door and led the way into the house.
Three of their own company sat at the table, greedily eating. Their daggers, stuck beside them in the board, and the black and menacing looks which they continued to shower upon the people of the house, proved that they owed their entertainment rather to force than favour. On the two monks, who now, with a sort of humble dignity, entered the kitchen of the farm, they seemed to turn with a particular resentment; and one — it was John Capper in person — who seemed to play the leading part, instantly and rudely ordered them away.
“We want no beggars here!” he cried.
But another — although he was as far from recognising Dick and Lawless — inclined to more moderate counsels.
“Not so,” he cried. “We be strong men, and take; these be weak, and crave; but in the latter end these shall be uppermost and we below. Mind him not, my father; but come, drink of my cup, and give me a benediction.”
“Y’ are men of a light mind, carnal, and accursed,” said the monk. “Now, may the saints forbid that ever I should drink with such companions! But here, for the pity I bear to sinners, here I do leave you a blessed relic, the which, for your soul’s interest, I bid you kiss and cherish.”
So far Lawless thundered upon them like a preaching friar; but with these words he drew from under his robe a black arrow, tossed it on the board in front of the three startled outlaws, turned in the same instant, and, taking Dick along with him, was out of the room and out of sight among the falling snow before they had time to utter a word or move a finger.
“So,” he said, “we have proved our false faces, Master Shelton. I will now adventure my poor carcase where ye please.”
“Good!” returned Richard. “It irks me to be doing. Set we on for Shoreby!
Sir Daniel’s residence in Shoreby was a tall, commodious, plastered mansion, framed in carven oak, and covered by a low-pitched roof of thatch. To the back there stretched a garden, full of fruit-trees, alleys, and thick arbours, and overlooked from the far end by the tower of the abbey church.
The house might contain, upon a pinch, the retinue of a greater person than Sir Daniel; but even now it was filled with hubbub. The court rang with arms and horseshoe-iron; the kitchens roared with cookery like a bees’-hive; minstrels, and the players of instruments, and the cries of tumblers, sounded from the hall. Sir Daniel, in his profusion, in the gaiety and gallantry of his establishment, rivalled with Lord Shoreby, and eclipsed Lord Risingham.
All guests were made welcome. Minstrels, tumblers, players of chess, the sellers of relics, medicines, perfumes, and enchantments, and along with these every sort of priest, friar, or pilgrim, were made welcome to the lower table, and slept together in the ample lofts, or on the bare boards of the long dining-hall.
On the afternoon following the wreck of the Good Hope, the buttery, the kitchens, the stables, the covered cartshed that surrounded two sides of the court, were all crowded by idle people, partly belonging to Sir Daniel’s establishment, and attired in his livery of murrey and blue, partly nondescript strangers attracted to the town by greed, and received by the knight through policy, and because it was the fashion of the time.
The snow, which still fell without interruption, the extreme chill of the air, and the approach of night, combined to keep them under shelter. Wine, ale, and money were all plentiful; many sprawled gambling in the straw of the barn, many were still drunken from the noontide meal. To the eye of a modern it would have looked like the sack of a city; to the eye of a contemporary it was like any other rich and noble household at a festive season.
Two monks — a young and an old — had arrived late, and were now warming themselves at a bonfire in a corner of the shed. A mixed crowd surrounded them — jugglers, mountebanks, and soldiers; and with these the elder of the two had soon engaged so brisk a conversation, and exchanged so many loud guffaws and country witticisms, that the group momentarily increased in number.
The younger companion, in whom the reader has already recognised Dick Shelton, sat from the first somewhat backward, and gradually drew himself away. He listened, indeed, closely, but he opened not his mouth; and by the grave expression of his countenance, he made but little account of his companion’s pleasantries.
At last his eye, which travelled continually to and fro, and kept a guard upon all the entrances of the house, lit upon a little procession entering by the main gate and crossing the court in an oblique direction. Two ladies, muffled in thick furs, led the way, and were followed by a pair of waiting-women and four stout men-at-arms. The next moment they had disappeared within the house; and Dick, slipping through the crowd of loiterers in the shed, was already giving hot pursuit.
“The taller of these twain was Lady Brackley,” he thought; “and where Lady Brackley is, Joan will not be far.”
At the door of the house the four men-at-arms had ceased to follow, and the ladies were now mounting the stairway of polished oak, under no better escort than that of the two waiting-women. Dick followed close behind. It was already the dusk of the day; and in the house the darkness of the night had almost come. On the stair-landings, torches flared in iron holders; down the long, tapestried corridors, a lamp burned by every door. And where the door stood open, Dick could look in upon arras-covered walls and rush-bescattered floors, glowing in the light of the wood fires.
Two floors were passed, and at every landing the younger and shorter of the two ladies had looked back keenly at the monk. He, keeping his eyes lowered, and affecting the demure manners that suited his disguise, had but seen her once, and was unaware that he had attracted her attention. And now, on the third floor, the party separated, the younger lady continuing to ascend alone, the other, followed by the waiting-maids, descending the corridor to the right.
Dick mounted with a swift foot, and holding to the corner, thrust forth his head and followed the three women with his eyes. Without turning or looking behind them, they continued to descend the corridor.
“It is right well,” thought Dick. “Let me but know my Lady Brackley’s chamber, and it will go hard an I find not Dame Hatch upon an errand.”
And just then a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and, with a bound and a choked cry, he turned to grapple his assailant.
He was somewhat abashed to find, in the person whom he had so roughly seized, the short young lady in the furs. She, on her part, was shocked and terrified beyond expression, and hung trembling in his grasp.
“Madam,” said Dick, releasing her, “I cry you a thousand pardons; but I have no eyes behind, and, by the mass, I could not tell ye were a maid.”
The girl continued to look at him, but, by this time, terror began to be succeeded by surprise, and surprise by suspicion. Dick, who could read these changes on her face, became alarmed for his own safety in that hostile house.
“Fair maid,” he said, affecting easiness, “suffer me to kiss your hand, in token ye forgive my roughness, and I will even go.”
“Y’ are a strange monk, young sir,” returned the young lady, looking him both boldly and shrewdly in the face; “and now that my first astonishment hath somewhat passed away, I can spy the layman in each word you utter. What do ye here? Why are ye thus sacrilegiously tricked out? Come ye in peace or war? And why spy ye after Lady Brackley like a thief?”
“Madam,” quoth Dick, “of one thing I pray you to be very sure: I am no thief. And even if I come here in war, as in some degree I do, I make no war upon fair maids, and I hereby entreat them to copy me so far, and to leave me be. For, indeed, fair mistress, cry out — if such be your pleasure — cry but once, and say what ye have seen, and the poor gentleman before you is merely a dead man. I cannot think ye would be cruel,” added Dick; and taking the girl’s hand gently in both of his, he looked at her with courteous admiration.
“Are ye, then, a spy — a Yorkist?” asked the maid.
“Madam,” he replied, “I am indeed a Yorkist, and, in some sort, a spy. But that which bringeth me into this house, the same which will win for me the pity and interest of your kind heart, is neither of York nor Lancaster. I will wholly put my life in your discretion. I am a lover, and my name —”
But here the young lady clapped her hand suddenly upon Dick’s mouth, looked hastily up and down and east and west, and, seeing the coast clear, began to drag the young man, with great strength and vehemence, up-stairs.
“Hush!” she said, “and come! Shalt talk hereafter.”
Somewhat bewildered, Dick suffered himself to be pulled up-stairs, bustled along a corridor, and thrust suddenly into a chamber, lit, like so many of the others, by a blazing log upon the hearth.
“Now,” said the young lady, forcing him down upon a stool, “sit ye there and attend my sovereign good pleasure. I have life and death over you, and I will not scruple to abuse my power. Look to yourself; y’ ’ave cruelly mauled my arm. He knew not I was a maid, quoth he! Had he known I was a maid, he had ta’en his belt to me, forsooth!”
And with these words, she whipped out of the room and left Dick gaping with wonder, and not very sure if he were dreaming or awake.
“Ta’en my belt to her!” he repeated. “Ta’en my belt to her!” And the recollection of that evening in the forest flowed back upon his mind, and he once more saw Matcham’s wincing body and beseeching eyes.
And then he was recalled to the dangers of the present. In the next room he heard a stir, as of a person moving; then followed a sigh, which sounded strangely near; and then the rustle of skirts and tap of feet once more began. As he stood hearkening, he saw the arras wave along the wall; there was the sound of a door being opened, the hangings divided, and, lamp in hand, Joanna Sedley entered the apartment.
She was attired in costly stuffs of deep and warm colours, such as befit the winter and the snow. Upon her head, her hair had been gathered together and became her as a crown. And she, who had seemed so little and so awkward in the attire of Matcham, was now tall like a young willow, and swam across the floor as though she scorned the drudgery of walking.
Without a start, without a tremor, she raised her lamp and looked at the young monk.
“What make ye here, good brother?” she inquired. “Ye are doubtless ill-directed. Whom do ye require? And she set her lamp upon the bracket.
“Joanna,” said Dick; and then his voice failed him. “Joanna,” he began again, “ye said ye loved me; and the more fool I, but I believed it!”
“Dick!” she cried. “Dick!”
And then, to the wonder of the lad, this beautiful and tall young lady made but one step of it, and threw her arms about his neck and gave him a hundred kisses all in one.
“Oh, the fool fellow!” she cried. “Oh, dear Dick! Oh, if ye could see yourself! Alack!” she added, pausing. “I have spoilt you, Dick! I have knocked some of the paint off. But that can be mended. What cannot be mended, Dick — or I much fear it cannot! — is my marriage with Lord Shoreby.”
“Is it decided, then?” asked the lad.
“To-morrow, before noon, Dick, in the abbey church,” she answered, “John Matcham and Joanna Sedley both shall come to a right miserable end. There is no help in tears, or I could weep mine eyes out. I have not spared myself to pray, but Heaven frowns on my petition. And, dear Dick — good Dick — but that ye can get me forth of this house before the morning, we must even kiss and say good-bye.”
“Nay,” said Dick, “not I; I will never say that word. ’Tis like despair; but while there’s life, Joanna, there is hope. Yet will I hope. Ay, by the mass, and triumph! Look ye, now, when ye were but a name to me, did I not follow — did I not rouse good men — did I not stake my life upon the quarrel? And now that I have seen you for what ye are — the fairest maid and stateliest of England — think ye I would turn? — if the deep sea were there, I would straight through it; if the way were full of lions, I would scatter them like mice.”
“Ay,” she said, dryly, “ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!”
“Nay, Joan,” protested Dick, “’tis not alone the robe. But, lass, ye were disguised. Here am I disguised; and, to the proof, do I not cut a figure of fun — a right fool’s figure?”
“Ay, Dick, an’ that ye do!” she answered, smiling.
“Well, then!” he returned, triumphant. “So was it with you, poor Matcham, in the forest. In sooth, ye were a wench to laugh at. But now!”
So they ran on, holding each other by both hands, exchanging smiles and lovely looks, and melting minutes into seconds; and so they might have continued all night long. But presently there was a noise behind them; and they were aware of the short young lady, with her finger on her lips.
“Saints!” she cried, “but what a noise ye keep! Can ye not speak in compass? And now, Joanna, my fair maid of the woods, what will ye give your gossip for bringing you your sweetheart?”
Joanna ran to her, by way of answer, and embraced her fierily.
“And you, sir,” added the young lady, “what do ye give me?”
“Madam,” said Dick, “I would fain offer to pay you in the same money.”
“Come, then,” said the lady, “it is permitted you.”
But Dick, blushing like a peony, only kissed her hand.
“What ails ye at my face, fair sir?” she inquired, curtseying to the very ground; and then, when Dick had at length and most tepidly embraced her, “Joanna,” she added, “your sweetheart is very backward under your eyes; but I warrant you, when first we met he was more ready. I am all black and blue, wench; trust me never, if I be not black and blue! And now,” she continued, “have ye said your sayings? for I must speedily dismiss the paladin.”
But at this they both cried out that they had said nothing, that the night was still very young, and that they would not be separated so early.
“And supper?” asked the young lady. “Must we not go down to supper?”
“Nay, to be sure!” cried Joan. “I had forgotten.”
“Hide me, then,” said Dick, “put me behind the arras, shut me in a chest, or what ye will, so that I may be here on your return. Indeed, fair lady,” he added, “bear this in mind, that we are sore bested, and may never look upon each other’s face from this night forward till we die.”
At this the young lady melted; and when, a little after, the bell summoned Sir Daniel’s household to the board, Dick was planted very stiffly against the wall, at a place where a division in the tapestry permitted him to breathe the more freely, and even to see into the room.
He had not been long in this position, when he was somewhat strangely disturbed. The silence, in that upper storey of the house, was only broken by the flickering of the flames and the hissing of a green log in the chimney; but presently, to Dick’s strained hearing, there came the sound of some one walking with extreme precaution; and soon after the door opened, and a little black-faced, dwarfish fellow, in Lord Shoreby’s colours, pushed first his head, and then his crooked body, into the chamber. His mouth was open, as though to hear the better; and his eyes, which were very bright, flitted restlessly and swiftly to and fro. He went round and round the room, striking here and there upon the hangings; but Dick, by a miracle, escaped his notice. Then he looked below the furniture, and examined the lamp; and, at last, with an air of cruel disappointment, was preparing to go away as silently as he had come, when down he dropped upon his knees, picked up something from among the rushes on the floor, examined it, and, with every signal of delight, concealed it in the wallet at his belt.
Dick’s heart sank, for the object in question was a tassel from his own girdle; and it was plain to him that this dwarfish spy, who took a malign delight in his employment, would lose no time in bearing it to his master, the baron. He was half-tempted to throw aside the arras, fall upon the scoundrel, and, at the risk of his life, remove the telltale token. And while he was still hesitating, a new cause of concern was added. A voice, hoarse and broken by drink, began to be audible from the stair; and presently after, uneven, wandering, and heavy footsteps sounded without along the passage.
“What make ye here, my merry men, among the greenwood shaws?” sang the voice. “What make ye here? Hey! sots, what make ye here?” it added, with a rattle of drunken laughter; and then, once more breaking into song:
“If ye should drink the clary wine,
Fat Friar John, ye friend o’ mine —
If I should eat, and ye should drink,
Who shall sing the mass, d’ye think?”
Lawless, alas! rolling drunk, was wandering the house, seeking for a corner wherein to slumber off the effect of his potations. Dick inwardly raged. The spy, at first terrified, had grown reassured as he found he had to deal with an intoxicated man, and now, with a movement of cat-like rapidity, slipped from the chamber, and was gone from Richard’s eyes.
What was to be done? If he lost touch of Lawless for the night, he was left impotent, whether to plan or carry forth Joanna’s rescue. If, on the other hand, he dared to address the drunken outlaw, the spy might still be lingering within sight, and the most fatal consequences ensue.
It was, nevertheless, upon this last hazard that Dick decided. Slipping from behind the tapestry, he stood ready in the doorway of the chamber, with a warning hand upraised. Lawless, flushed crimson, with his eyes injected, vacillating on his feet, drew still unsteadily nearer. At last he hazily caught sight of his commander, and, in despite of Dick’s imperious signals, hailed him instantly and loudly by his name.
Dick leaped upon and shook the drunkard furiously.
“Beast!” he hissed —“beast and no man! It is worse than treachery to be so witless. We may all be shent for thy sotting.”
But Lawless only laughed and staggered, and tried to clap young Shelton on the back.
And just then Dick’s quick ear caught a rapid brushing in the arras. He leaped towards the sound, and the next moment a piece of the wall-hanging had been torn down, and Dick and the spy were sprawling together in its folds. Over and over they rolled, grappling for each other’s throat, and still baffled by the arras, and still silent in their deadly fury. But Dick was by much the stronger, and soon the spy lay prostrate under his knee, and, with a single stroke of the long poniard, ceased to breathe.
Throughout this furious and rapid passage, Lawless had looked on helplessly, and even when all was over, and Dick, already re-arisen to his feet, was listening with the most passionate attention to the distant bustle in the lower storeys of the house, the old outlaw was still wavering on his legs like a shrub in a breeze of wind, and still stupidly staring on the face of the dead man.
“It is well,” said Dick, at length; “they have not heard us, praise the saints! But, now, what shall I do with this poor spy? At least, I will take my tassel from his wallet.”
So saying, Dick opened the wallet; within he found a few pieces of money, the tassel, and a letter addressed to Lord Wensleydale, and sealed with my Lord Shoreby’s seal. The name awoke Dick’s recollection; and he instantly broke the wax and read the contents of the letter. It was short, but, to Dick’s delight, it gave evident proof that Lord Shoreby was treacherously corresponding with the House of York.
The young fellow usually carried his ink-horn and implements about him, and so now, bending a knee beside the body of the dead spy, he was able to write these words upon a corner of the paper:
My Lord of Shoreby, ye that writt the letter, wot ye why your man is ded? But let me rede you, marry not.
He laid this paper on the breast of the corpse; and then Lawless, who had been looking on upon these last manoeuvres with some flickering returns of intelligence, suddenly drew a black arrow from below his robe, and therewith pinned the paper in its place. The sight of this disrespect, or, as it almost seemed, cruelty to the dead, drew a cry of horror from young Shelton; but the old outlaw only laughed.
“Nay, I will have the credit for mine order,” he hiccupped. “My jolly boys must have the credit on’t — the credit, brother;” and then, shutting his eyes tight and opening his mouth like a precentor, he began to thunder, in a formidable voice:
“If ye should drink the clary wine”—
“Peace, sot!” cried Dick, and thrust him hard against the wall. “In two words — if so be that such a man can understand me who hath more wine than wit in him — in two words, and, a–Mary’s name, begone out of this house, where, if ye continue to abide, ye will not only hang yourself, but me also! Faith, then, up foot! be yare, or, by the mass, I may forget that I am in some sort your captain and in some your debtor! Go!”
The sham monk was now, in some degree, recovering the use of his intelligence; and the ring in Dick’s voice, and the glitter in Dick’s eye, stamped home the meaning of his words.
“By the mass,” cried Lawless, “an I be not wanted, I can go;” and he turned tipsily along the corridor and proceeded to flounder down-stairs, lurching against the wall.
So soon as he was out of sight, Dick returned to his hiding-place, resolutely fixed to see the matter out. Wisdom, indeed, moved him to be gone; but love and curiosity were stronger.
Time passed slowly for the young man, bolt upright behind the arras. The fire in the room began to die down, and the lamp to burn low and to smoke. And still there was no word of the return of any one to these upper quarters of the house; still the faint hum and clatter of the supper party sounded from far below; and still, under the thick fall of the snow, Shoreby town lay silent upon every side.
At length, however, feet and voices began to draw near upon the stair; and presently after several of Sir Daniel’s guests arrived upon the landing, and, turning down the corridor, beheld the torn arras and the body of the spy.
Some ran forward and some back, and all together began to cry aloud.
At the sound of their cries, guests, men-at-arms, ladies, servants, and, in a word, all the inhabitants of that great house, came flying from every direction, and began to join their voices to the tumult.
Soon a way was cleared, and Sir Daniel came forth in person, followed by the bridegroom of the morrow, my Lord Shoreby.
“My lord,” said Sir Daniel, “have I not told you of this knave Black Arrow? To the proof, behold it! There it stands, and, by the rood, my gossip, in a man of yours, or one that stole your colours!”
“In good sooth, it was a man of mine,” replied Lord Shoreby, hanging back. “I would I had more such. He was keen as a beagle and secret as a mole.”
“Ay, gossip, truly?” asked Sir Daniel, keenly. “And what came he smelling up so many stairs in my poor mansion? But he will smell no more.”
“An’t please you, Sir Daniel,” said one, “here is a paper written upon with some matter, pinned upon his breast.”
“Give it me, arrow and all,” said the knight. And when he had taken into his hand the shaft, he continued for some time to gaze upon it in a sullen musing. “Ay,” he said, addressing Lord Shoreby, “here is a hate that followeth hard and close upon my heels. This black stick, or its just likeness, shall yet bring me down. And, gossip, suffer a plain knight to counsel you; and if these hounds begin to wind you, flee! ’Tis like a sickness — it still hangeth, hangeth upon the limbs. But let us see what they have written. It is as I thought, my lord; y’ are marked, like an old oak, by the woodman; to-morrow or next day, by will come the axe. But what wrote ye in a letter?”
Lord Shoreby snatched the paper from the arrow, read it, crumpled it between his hands, and, overcoming the reluctance which had hitherto withheld him from approaching, threw himself on his knees beside the body and eagerly groped in the wallet.
He rose to his feet with a somewhat unsettled countenance.
“Gossip,” he said, “I have indeed lost a letter here that much imported; and could I lay my hand upon the knave that took it, he should incontinently grace a halter. But let us, first of all, secure the issues of the house. Here is enough harm already, by St. George!”
Sentinels were posted close around the house and garden; a sentinel on every landing of the stair, a whole troop in the main entrance-hall; and yet another about the bonfire in the shed. Sir Daniel’s followers were supplemented by Lord Shoreby’s; there was thus no lack of men or weapons to make the house secure, or to entrap a lurking enemy, should one be there.
Meanwhile, the body of the spy was carried out through the falling snow and deposited in the abbey church.
It was not until these dispositions had been taken, and all had returned to a decorous silence, that the two girls drew Richard Shelton from his place of concealment, and made a full report to him of what had passed. He, upon his side, recounted the visit of the spy, his dangerous discovery, and speedy end.
Joanna leaned back very faint against the curtained wall.
“It will avail but little,” she said. “I shall be wed to-morrow, in the morning, after all!”
“What!” cried her friend. “And here is our paladin that driveth lions like mice! Ye have little faith, of a surety. But come, friend lion-driver, give us some comfort; speak, and let us hear bold counsels.”
Dick was confounded to be thus outfaced with his own exaggerated words; but though he coloured, he still spoke stoutly.
“Truly,” said he, “we are in straits. Yet, could I but win out of this house for half an hour, I do honestly tell myself that all might still go well; and for the marriage, it should be prevented.”
“And for the lions,” mimicked the girl, “they shall be driven.”
“I crave your excuse,” said Dick. “I speak not now in any boasting humour, but rather as one inquiring after help or counsel; for if I get not forth of this house and through these sentinels, I can do less than naught. Take me, I pray you, rightly.”
“Why said ye he was rustic, Joan?” the girl inquired. “I warrant he hath a tongue in his head; ready, soft, and bold is his speech at pleasure. What would ye more?”
“Nay,” sighed Joanna, with a smile, “they have changed me my friend Dick, ’tis sure enough. When I beheld him, he was rough indeed. But it matters little; there is no help for my hard case, and I must still be Lady Shoreby!”
“Nay, then,” said Dick, “I will even make the adventure. A friar is not much regarded; and if I found a good fairy to lead me up, I may find another belike to carry me down. How call they the name of this spy?”
“Rutter,” said the young lady; “and an excellent good name to call him by. But how mean ye, lion-driver? What is in your mind to do?”
“To offer boldly to go forth,” returned Dick; “and if any stop me, to keep an unchanged countenance, and say I go to pray for Rutter. They will be praying over his poor clay even now.”
“The device is somewhat simple,” replied the girl, “yet it may hold.”
“Nay,” said young Shelton, “it is no device, but mere boldness, which serveth often better in great straits.”
“Ye say true,” she said. “Well, go, a–Mary’s name, and may Heaven speed you! Ye leave here a poor maid that loves you entirely, and another that is most heartily your friend. Be wary, for their sakes, and make not shipwreck of your safety.”
“Ay,” added Joanna, “go, Dick. Ye run no more peril, whether ye go or stay. Go; ye take my heart with you; the saints defend you!”
Dick passed the first sentry with so assured a countenance that the fellow merely figeted and stared; but at the second landing the man carried his spear across and bade him name his business.
“Pax vobiscum,” answered Dick. “I go to pray over the body of this poor Rutter.”
“Like enough,” returned the sentry; “but to go alone is not permitted you.” He leaned over the oaken balusters and whistled shrill. “One cometh!” he cried; and then motioned Dick to pass.
At the foot of the stair he found the guard afoot and awaiting his arrival; and when he had once more repeated his story, the commander of the post ordered four men out to accompany him to the church.
“Let him not slip, my lads,” he said. “Bring him to Sir Oliver, on your lives!”
The door was then opened; one of the men took Dick by either arm, another marched ahead with a link, and the fourth, with bent bow and the arrow on the string, brought up the rear. In this order they proceeded through the garden, under the thick darkness of the night and the scattering snow, and drew near to the dimly-illuminated windows of the abbey church.
At the western portal a picket of archers stood, taking what shelter they could find in the hollow of the arched doorways, and all powdered with the snow; and it was not until Dick’s conductors had exchanged a word with these, that they were suffered to pass forth and enter the nave of the sacred edifice.
The church was doubtfully lighted by the tapers upon the great altar, and by a lamp or two that swung from the arched roof before the private chapels of illustrious families. In the midst of the choir the dead spy lay, his limbs piously composed, upon a bier.
A hurried mutter of prayer sounded along the arches; cowled figures knelt in the stalls of the choir, and on the steps of the high altar a priest in pontifical vestments celebrated mass.
Upon this fresh entrance, one of the cowled figures arose, and, coming down the steps which elevated the level of the choir above that of the nave, demanded from the leader of the four men what business brought him to the church. Out of respect for the service and the dead, they spoke in guarded tones; but the echoes of that huge, empty building caught up their words, and hollowly repeated and repeated them along the aisles.
“A monk!” returned Sir Oliver (for he it was), when he had heard the report of the archer. “My brother, I looked not for your coming,” he added, turning to young Shelton. “In all civility, who are ye? and at whose instance do ye join your supplications to ours?”
Dick, keeping his cowl about his face, signed to Sir Oliver to move a pace or two aside from the archers; and, so soon as the priest had done so, “I cannot hope to deceive you, sir,” he said. “My life is in your hands.”
Sir Oliver violently started; his stout cheeks grew pale, and for a space he was silent.
“Richard,” he said, “what brings you here, I know not; but I much misdoubt it to be evil. Nevertheless, for the kindness that was, I would not willingly deliver you to harm. Ye shall sit all night beside me in the stalls: ye shall sit there till my Lord of Shoreby be married, and the party gone safe home; and if all goeth well, and ye have planned no evil, in the end ye shall go whither ye will. But if your purpose be bloody, it shall return upon your head. Amen!”
And the priest devoutly crossed himself, and turned and louted to the altar.
With that, he spoke a few words more to the soldiers, and taking Dick by the hand, led him up to the choir, and placed him in the stall beside his own, where, for mere decency, the lad had instantly to kneel and appear to be busy with his devotions.
His mind and his eyes, however, were continually wandering. Three of the soldiers, he observed, instead of returning to the house, had got them quietly into a point of vantage in the aisle; and he could not doubt that they had done so by Sir Oliver’s command. Here, then, he was trapped. Here he must spend the night in the ghostly glimmer and shadow of the church, and looking on the pale face of him he slew; and here, in the morning, he must see his sweetheart married to another man before his eyes.
But, for all that, he obtained a command upon his mind, and built himself up in patience to await the issue.
In Shoreby Abbey Church the prayers were kept up all night without cessation, now with the singing of psalms, now with a note or two upon the bell.
Rutter, the spy, was nobly waked. There he lay, meanwhile, as they had arranged him, his dead hands crossed upon his bosom, his dead eyes staring on the roof; and hard by, in the stall, the lad who had slain him waited, in sore disquietude, the coming of the morning.
Once only, in the course of the hours, Sir Oliver leaned across to his captive.
“Richard,” he whispered, “my son, if ye mean me evil, I will certify, on my soul’s welfare, ye design upon an innocent man. Sinful in the eye of Heaven I do declare myself; but sinful as against you I am not, neither have been ever.”
“My father,” returned Dick, in the same tone of voice, “trust me, I design nothing; but as for your innocence, I may not forget that ye cleared yourself but lamely.”
“A man may be innocently guilty,” replied the priest. “He may be set blindfolded upon a mission, ignorant of its true scope. So it was with me. I did decoy your father to his death; but as Heaven sees us in this sacred place, I knew not what I did.”
“It may be,” returned Dick. “But see what a strange web ye have woven, that I should be, at this hour, at once your prisoner and your judge; that ye should both threaten my days and deprecate my anger. Methinks, if ye had been all your life a true man and good priest, ye would neither thus fear nor thus detest me. And now to your prayers. I do obey you, since needs must; but I will not be burthened with your company.”
The priest uttered a sigh so heavy that it had almost touched the lad into some sentiment of pity, and he bowed his head upon his hands like a man borne down below a weight of care. He joined no longer in the psalms; but Dick could hear the beads rattle through his fingers and the prayers a-pattering between his teeth.
Yet a little, and the grey of the morning began to struggle through the painted casements of the church, and to put to shame the glimmer of the tapers. The light slowly broadened and brightened, and presently through the south-eastern clerestories a flush of rosy sunlight flickered on the walls. The storm was over; the great clouds had disburdened their snow and fled farther on, and the new day was breaking on a merry winter landscape sheathed in white.
A bustle of church officers followed; the bier was carried forth to the deadhouse, and the stains of blood were cleansed from off the tiles, that no such ill-omened spectacle should disgrace the marriage of Lord Shoreby. At the same time, the very ecclesiastics who had been so dismally engaged all night began to put on morning faces, to do honour to the merrier ceremony which was about to follow. And further to announce the coming of the day, the pious of the town began to assemble and fall to prayer before their favourite shrines, or wait their turn at the confessionals.
Favoured by this stir, it was of course easily possible for any man to avoid the vigilance of Sir Daniel’s sentries at the door; and presently Dick, looking about him wearily, caught the eye of no less a person than Will Lawless, still in his monk’s habit.
The outlaw, at the same moment, recognised his leader, and privily signed to him with hand and eye.
Now, Dick was far from having forgiven the old rogue his most untimely drunkenness, but he had no desire to involve him in his own predicament; and he signalled back to him, as plain as he was able, to begone.
Lawless, as though he had understood, disappeared at once behind a pillar, and Dick breathed again.
What, then, was his dismay to feel himself plucked by the sleeve and to find the old robber installed beside him, upon the next seat, and, to all appearance, plunged in his devotions!
Instantly Sir Oliver arose from his place, and, gliding behind the stalls, made for the soldiers in the aisle. If the priest’s suspicions had been so lightly wakened, the harm was already done, and Lawless a prisoner in the church.
“Move not,” whispered Dick. “We are in the plaguiest pass, thanks, before all things, to thy swinishness of yestereven. When ye saw me here, so strangely seated where I have neither right nor interest, what a murrain I could ye not smell harm and get ye gone from evil?”
“Nay,” returned Lawless, “I thought ye had heard from Ellis, and were here on duty.”
“Ellis!” echoed Dick. “Is Ellis, then, returned?
“For sure,” replied the outlaw. “He came last night, and belted me sore for being in wine — so there ye are avenged, my master. A furious man is Ellis Duckworth! He hath ridden me hot-spur from Craven to prevent this marriage; and, Master Dick, ye know the way of him — do so he will!”
“Nay, then,” returned Dick, with composure, “you and I, my poor brother, are dead men; for I sit here a prisoner upon suspicion, and my neck was to answer for this very marriage that he purposeth to mar. I had a fair choice, by the rood! to lose my sweetheart or else lose my life! Well, the cast is thrown — it is to be my life.”
“By the mass,” cried Lawless, half arising, “I am gone!”
But Dick had his hand at once upon his shoulder.
“Friend Lawless, sit ye still,” he said. “An ye have eyes, look yonder at the corner by the chancel arch; see ye not that, even upon the motion of your rising, yon armed men are up and ready to intercept you? Yield ye, friend. Ye were bold aboard ship, when ye thought to die a sea-death; be bold again, now that y’ are to die presently upon the gallows.”
“Master Dick,” gasped Lawless, “the thing hath come upon me somewhat of the suddenest. But give me a moment till I fetch my breath again; and, by the mass, I will be as stout-hearted as yourself.”
“Here is my bold fellow!” returned Dick. “And yet, Lawless, it goes hard against the grain with me to die; but where whining mendeth nothing, wherefore whine?”
“Nay, that indeed!” chimed Lawless. “And a fig for death, at worst! It has to be done, my master, soon or late. And hanging in a good quarrel is an easy death, they say, though I could never hear of any that came back to say so.”
And so saying, the stout old rascal leaned back in his stall, folded his arms, and began to look about him with the greatest air of insolence and unconcern.
“And for the matter of that,” Dick added, “it is yet our best chance to keep quiet. We wot not yet what Duckworth purposes; and when all is said, and if the worst befall, we may yet clear our feet of it.”
Now that they ceased talking, they were aware of a very distant and thin strain of mirthful music which steadily drew nearer, louder, and merrier. The bells in the tower began to break forth into a doubling peal, and a greater and greater concourse of people to crowd into the church, shuffling the snow from off their feet, and clapping and blowing in their hands. The western door was flung wide open, showing a glimpse of sunlit, snowy street, and admitting in a great gust the shrewd air of the morning; and in short, it became plain by every sign that Lord Shoreby desired to be married very early in the day, and that the wedding-train was drawing near.
Some of Lord Shoreby’s men now cleared a passage down the middle aisle, forcing the people back with lance-stocks; and just then, outside the portal, the secular musicians could be descried drawing near over the frozen snow, the fifers and trumpeters scarlet in the face with lusty blowing, the drummers and the cymbalists beating as for a wager.
These, as they drew near the door of the sacred building, filed off on either side, and, marking time to their own vigorous music, stood stamping in the snow. As they thus opened their ranks, the leaders of this noble bridal train appeared behind and between them; and such was the variety and gaiety of their attire, such the display of silks and velvet, fur and satin, embroidery and lace, that the procession showed forth upon the snow like a flower-bed in a path or a painted window in a wall.
First came the bride, a sorry sight, as pale as winter, clinging to Sir Daniel’s arm, and attended, as brides-maid, by the short young lady who had befriended Dick the night before. Close behind, in the most radiant toilet, followed the bridegroom, halting on a gouty foot; and as he passed the threshold of the sacred building and doffed his hat, his bald head was seen to be rosy with emotion.
And now came the hour of Ellis Duckworth.
Dick, who sat stunned among contrary emotions, grasping the desk in front of him, beheld a movement in the crowd, people jostling backward, and eyes and arms uplifted. Following these signs, he beheld three or four men with bent bows leaning from the clerestory gallery. At the same instant they delivered their discharge, and before the clamour and cries of the astounded populace had time to swell fully upon the ear, they had flitted from their perch and disappeared.
The nave was full of swaying heads and voices screaming; the ecclesiastics thronged in terror from their places; the music ceased, and though the bells overhead continued for some seconds to clang upon the air, some wind of the disaster seemed to find its way at last even to the chamber where the ringers were leaping on their ropes, and they also desisted from their merry labours.
Right in the midst of the nave the bridegroom lay stone-dead, pierced by two black arrows. The bride had fainted. Sir Daniel stood, towering above the crowd in his surprise and anger, a clothyard shaft quivering in his left forearm, and his face streaming blood from another which had grazed his brow.
Long before any search could be made for them, the authors of this tragic interruption had clattered down a turnpike stair and decamped by a postern door.
But Dick and Lawless still remained in pawn; they had, indeed, arisen on the first alarm, and pushed manfully to gain the door; but what with the narrowness of the stalls and the crowding of terrified priests and choristers, the attempt had been in vain, and they had stoically resumed their places.
And now, pale with horror, Sir Oliver rose to his feet and called upon Sir Daniel, pointing with one hand to Dick.
“Here,” he cried, “is Richard Shelton — alas the hour! — blood guilty! Seize him! — bid him be seized! For all our lives’ sakes, take him and bind him surely! He hath sworn our fall.”
Sir Daniel was blinded by anger — blinded by the hot blood that still streamed across his face.
“Where?” he bellowed. “Hale him forth! By the cross of Holywood, but he shall rue this hour!”
The crowd fell back, and a party of archers invaded the choir, laid rough hands on Dick, dragged him head-foremost from the stall, and thrust him by the shoulders down the chancel steps. Lawless, on his part, sat as still as a mouse.
Sir Daniel, brushing the blood out of his eyes, stared blinkingly upon his captive.
“Ay,” he said, “treacherous and insolent, I have thee fast; and by all potent oaths, for every drop of blood that now trickles in mine eyes, I will wring a groan out of thy carcase. Away with him!” he added. “Here is no place! Off with him to my house. I will number every joint of thy body with a torture.”
But Dick, putting off his captors, uplifted his voice.
“Sanctuary!” he shouted. “Sanctuary! Ho, there, my fathers! They would drag me from the church!”
“From the church thou hast defiled with murder, boy,” added a tall man, magnificently dressed.
“On what probation?” cried Dick. “They do accuse me, indeed, of some complicity, but have not proved one tittle. I was, in truth, a suitor for this damsel’s hand; and she, I will be bold to say it, repaid my suit with favour. But what then? To love a maid is no offence, I trow — nay, nor to gain her love. In all else, I stand here free from guiltiness.”
There was a murmur of approval among the bystanders, so boldly Dick declared his innocence; but at the same time a throng of accusers arose upon the other side, crying how he had been found last night in Sir Daniel’s house, how he wore a sacrilegious disguise; and in the midst of the babel, Sir Oliver indicated Lawless, both by voice and gesture, as accomplice to the fact. He, in his turn, was dragged from his seat and set beside his leader. The feelings of the crowd rose high on either side, and while some dragged the prisoners to and fro to favour their escape, others cursed and struck them with their fists. Dick’s ears rang and his brain swam dizzily, like a man struggling in the eddies of a furious river.
But the tall man who had already answered Dick, by a prodigious exercise of voice restored silence and order in the mob.
“Search them,” he said, “for arms. We may so judge of their intentions.”
Upon Dick they found no weapon but his poniard, and this told in his favour, until one man officiously drew it from its sheath, and found it still uncleansed of the blood of Rutter. At this there was a great shout among Sir Daniel’s followers, which the tall man suppressed by a gesture and an imperious glance. But when it came to the turn of Lawless, there was found under his gown a sheaf of arrows identical with those that had been shot.
“How say ye now?” asked the tall man, frowningly, of Dick.
“Sir,” replied Dick, “I am here in sanctuary, is it not so? Well, sir, I see by your bearing that ye are high in station, and I read in your countenance the marks of piety and justice. To you, then, I will yield me prisoner, and that blithely, foregoing the advantage of this holy place. But rather than to be yielded into the discretion of that man — whom I do here accuse with a loud voice to be the murderer of my natural father and the unjust retainer of my lands and revenues — rather than that, I would beseech you, under favour, with your own gentle hand, to despatch me on the spot. Your own ears have heard him, how before that I was proven guilty he did threaten me with torments. It standeth not with your own honour to deliver me to my sworn enemy and old oppressor, but to try me fairly by the way of law, and, if that I be guilty indeed, to slay me mercifully.”
“My lord,” cried Sir Daniel, “ye will not hearken to this wolf? His bloody dagger reeks him the lie into his face.”
“Nay, but suffer me, good knight,” returned the tall stranger; “your own vehemence doth somewhat tell against yourself.”
And here the bride, who had come to herself some minutes past and looked wildly on upon this scene, broke loose from those that held her, and fell upon her knees before the last speaker.
“My Lord of Risingham,” she cried, “hear me, in justice. I am here in this man’s custody by mere force, reft from mine own people. Since that day I had never pity, countenance, nor comfort from the face of man — but from him only — Richard Shelton — whom they now accuse and labour to undo. My lord, if he was yesternight in Sir Daniel’s mansion, it was I that brought him there; he came but at my prayer, and thought to do no hurt. While yet Sir Daniel was a good lord to him, he fought with them of the Black Arrow loyally; but when his foul guardian sought his life by practices, and he fled by night, for his soul’s sake, out of that bloody house, whither was he to turn — he, helpless and penniless? Or if he be fallen among ill company, whom should ye blame — the lad that was unjustly handled, or the guardian that did abuse his trust?”
And then the short young lady fell on her knees by Joanna’s side.
“And I, my good lord and natural uncle,” she added, “I can bear testimony, on my conscience and before the face of all, that what this maiden saith is true. It was I, unworthy, that did lead the young man in.”
Earl Risingham had heard in silence, and when the voices ceased, he still stood silent for a space. Then he gave Joanna his hand to arise, though it was to be observed that he did not offer the like courtesy to her who had called herself his niece.
“Sir Daniel,” he said, “here is a right intricate affair, the which, with your good leave, it shall be mine to examine and adjust. Content ye, then; your business is in careful hands; justice shall be done you; and in the meanwhile, get ye incontinently home, and have your hurts attended. The air is shrewd, and I would not ye took cold upon these scratches.”
He made a sign with his hand; it was passed down the nave by obsequious servants, who waited there upon his smallest gesture. Instantly, without the church, a tucket sounded shrill, and through the open portal archers and men-at-arms, uniformly arrayed in the colours and wearing the badge of Lord Risingham, began to file into the church, took Dick and Lawless from those who still detained them, and, closing their files about the prisoners, marched forth again and disappeared.
As they were passing, Joanna held both her hands to Dick and cried him her farewell; and the bridesmaid, nothing downcast by her uncle’s evident displeasure, blew him a kiss, with a “Keep your heart up, lion-driver!” that for the first time since the accident called up a smile to the faces of the crowd.
Earl Risingham, although by far the most important person then in Shoreby, was poorly lodged in the house of a private gentleman upon the extreme outskirts of the town. Nothing but the armed men at the doors, and the mounted messengers that kept arriving and departing, announced the temporary residence of a great lord.
Thus it was that, from lack of space, Dick and Lawless were clapped into the same apartment.
“Well spoken, Master Richard,” said the outlaw; “it was excellently well spoken, and, for my part, I thank you cordially. Here we are in good hands; we shall be justly tried, and, some time this evening, decently hanged on the same tree.”
“Indeed, my poor friend, I do believe it,” answered Dick.
“Yet have we a string to our bow,” returned Lawless. “Ellis Duckworth is a man out of ten thousand; he holdeth you right near his heart, both for your own and for your father’s sake; and knowing you guiltless of this fact, he will stir earth and heaven to bear you clear.”
“It may not be,” said Dick. “What can he do? He hath but a handful. Alack, if it were but to-morrow — could I but keep a certain tryst an hour before noon to-morrow — all were, I think, otherwise. But now there is no help.”
“Well,” concluded Lawless, “an ye will stand to it for my innocence, I will stand to it for yours, and that stoutly. It shall naught avail us; but an I be to hang, it shall not be for lack of swearing.”
And then, while Dick gave himself over to his reflections, the old rogue curled himself down into a corner, pulled his monkish hood about his face, and composed himself to sleep. Soon he was loudly snoring, so utterly had his long life of hardship and adventure blunted the sense of apprehension.
It was long after noon, and the day was already failing, before the door was opened and Dick taken forth and led up-stairs to where, in a warm cabinet, Earl Risingham sat musing over the fire.
On his captive’s entrance he looked up.
“Sir,” he said, “I knew your father, who was a man of honour, and this inclineth me to be the more lenient; but I may not hide from you that heavy charges lie against your character. Ye do consort with murderers and robbers; upon a clear probation ye have carried war against the king’s peace; ye are suspected to have piratically seized upon a ship; ye are found skulking with a counterfeit presentment in your enemy’s house; a man is slain that very evening —”
“An it like you, my lord,” Dick interposed, “I will at once avow my guilt, such as it is. I slew this fellow Rutter; and to the proof”— searching in his bosom —“here is a letter from his wallet.”
Lord Risingham took the letter, and opened and read it twice.
“Ye have read this?” he inquired.
“I have read it,” answered Dick.
“Are ye for York or Lancaster?” the earl demanded.
“My lord, it was but a little while back that I was asked that question, and knew not how to answer it,” said Dick; “but having answered once, I will not vary. My lord, I am for York.”
The earl nodded approvingly.
“Honestly replied,” he said. “But wherefore, then, deliver me this letter?”
“Nay, but against traitors, my lord, are not all sides arrayed?” cried Dick.
“I would they were, young gentleman,” returned the earl; “and I do at least approve your saying. There is more youth than guile in you, I do perceive; and were not Sir Daniel a mighty man upon our side, I were half-tempted to espouse your quarrel. For I have inquired, and it appears ye have been hardly dealt with, and have much excuse. But look ye, sir, I am, before all else, a leader in the queen’s interest; and though by nature a just man, as I believe, and leaning even to the excess of mercy, yet must I order my goings for my party’s interest, and, to keep Sir Daniel, I would go far about.”
“My lord,” returned Dick, “ye will think me very bold to counsel you; but do ye count upon Sir Daniel’s faith? Methought he had changed sides intolerably often.”
“Nay, it is the way of England. What would ye have?” the earl demanded. “But ye are unjust to the knight of Tunstall; and as faith goes, in this unfaithful generation, he hath of late been honourably true to us of Lancaster. Even in our last reverses he stood firm.”
“An it pleased you, then,” said Dick, “to cast your eye upon this letter, ye might somewhat change your thought of him;” and he handed to the earl Sir Daniel’s letter to Lord Wensleydale.
The effect upon the earl’s countenance was instant; he lowered like an angry lion, and his hand, with a sudden movement, clutched at his dagger.
“Ye have read this also?” he asked.
“Even so,” said Dick. “It is your lordship’s own estate he offers to Lord Wensleydale?”
“It is my own estate, even as ye say!” returned the earl. “I am your bedesman for this letter. It hath shown me a fox’s hole. Command me, Master Shelton; I will not be backward in gratitude, and to begin with, York or Lancaster, true man or thief, I do now set you at freedom. Go, a Mary’s name! But judge it right that I retain and hang your fellow, Lawless. The crime hath been most open, and it were fitting that some open punishment should follow.”
“My lord, I make it my first suit to you to spare him also,” pleaded Dick.
“It is an old, condemned rogue, thief, and vagabond, Master Shelton,” said the earl. “He hath been gallows-ripe this score of years. And, whether for one thing or another, whether to-morrow or the day after, where is the great choice?”
“Yet, my lord, it was through love to me that he came hither,” answered Dick, “and I were churlish and thankless to desert him.”
“Master Shelton, ye are troublesome,” replied the earl, severely. “It is an evil way to prosper in this world. Howbeit, and to be quit of your importunity, I will once more humour you. Go, then, together; but go warily, and get swiftly out of Shoreby town. For this Sir Daniel (whom may the saints confound!) thirsteth most greedily to have your blood.”
“My lord, I do now offer you in words my gratitude, trusting at some brief date to pay you some of it in service,” replied Dick, as he turned from the apartment.
When Dick and Lawless were suffered to steal, by a back way, out of the house where Lord Risingham held his garrison, the evening had already come.
They paused in shelter of the garden wall to consult on their best course. The danger was extreme. If one of Sir Daniel’s men caught sight of them and raised the view-hallo, they would be run down and butchered instantly. And not only was the town of Shoreby a mere net of peril for their lives, but to make for the open country was to run the risk of the patrols.
A little way off, upon some open ground, they spied a windmill standing; and hard by that, a very large granary with open doors.
“How if we lay there until the night fall?” Dick proposed.
And Lawless having no better suggestion to offer, they made a straight push for the granary at a run, and concealed themselves behind the door among some straw. The daylight rapidly departed; and presently the moon was silvering the frozen snow. Now or never was their opportunity to gain the Goat and Bagpipes unobserved and change their tell-tale garments. Yet even then it was advisable to go round by the outskirts, and not run the gauntlet of the market-place, where, in the concourse of people, they stood the more imminent peril to be recognised and slain.
This course was a long one. It took them not far from the house by the beach, now lying dark and silent, and brought them forth at last by the margin of the harbour. Many of the ships, as they could see by the clear moonshine, had weighed anchor, and, profiting by the calm sky, proceeded for more distant parts; answerably to this, the rude alehouses along the beach (although in defiance of the curfew law, they still shone with fire and candle) were no longer thronged with customers, and no longer echoed to the chorus of sea-songs.
Hastily, half-running, with their monkish raiment kilted to the knee, they plunged through the deep snow and threaded the labyrinth of marine lumber; and they were already more than half way round the harbour when, as they were passing close before an alehouse, the door suddenly opened and let out a gush of light upon their fleeting figures.
Instantly they stopped, and made believe to be engaged in earnest conversation.
Three men, one after another, came out of the ale-house, and the last closed the door behind him. All three were unsteady upon their feet, as if they had passed the day in deep potations, and they now stood wavering in the moonlight, like men who knew not what they would be after. The tallest of the three was talking in a loud, lamentable voice.
“Seven pieces of as good Gascony as ever a tapster broached,” he was saying, “the best ship out o’ the port o’ Dartmouth, a Virgin Mary parcel-gilt, thirteen pounds of good gold money —”
“I have bad losses, too,” interrupted one of the others. “I have had losses of mine own, gossip Arblaster. I was robbed at Martinmas of five shillings and a leather wallet well worth ninepence farthing.”
Dick’s heart smote him at what he heard. Until that moment he had not perhaps thought twice of the poor skipper who had been ruined by the loss of the Good Hope; so careless, in those days, were men who wore arms of the goods and interests of their inferiors. But this sudden encounter reminded him sharply of the high-handed manner and ill-ending of his enterprise; and both he and Lawless turned their heads the other way, to avoid the chance of recognition.
The ship’s dog had, however, made his escape from the wreck and found his way back again to Shoreby. He was now at Arblaster’s heels, and suddenly sniffing and pricking his ears, he darted forward and began to bark furiously at the two sham friars.
His master unsteadily followed him.
“Hey, shipmates!” he cried. “Have ye ever a penny pie for a poor old shipman, clean destroyed by pirates? I am a man that would have paid for you both o’ Thursday morning; and now here I be, o’ Saturday night, begging for a flagon of ale! Ask my man Tom, if ye misdoubt me. Seven pieces of good Gascon wine, a ship that was mine own, and was my father’s before me, a Blessed Mary of plane-tree wood and parcel-gilt, and thirteen pounds in gold and silver. Hey! what say ye? A man that fought the French, too; for I have fought the French; I have cut more French throats upon the high seas than ever a man that sails out of Dartmouth. Come, a penny piece.”
Neither Dick nor Lawless durst answer him a word, lest he should recognise their voices; and they stood there as helpless as a ship ashore, not knowing where to turn nor what to hope.
“Are ye dumb, boy?” inquired the skipper. “Mates,” he added, with a hiccup, “they be dumb. I like not this manner of discourtesy; for an a man be dumb, so be as he’s courteous, he will still speak when he was spoken to, methinks.”
By this time the sailor, Tom, who was a man of great personal strength, seemed to have conceived some suspicion of these two speechless figures; and being soberer than his captain, stepped suddenly before him, took Lawless roughly by the shoulder, and asked him, with an oath, what ailed him that he held his tongue. To this the outlaw, thinking all was over, made answer by a wrestling feint that stretched the sailor on the sand, and, calling upon Dick to follow him, took to his heels among the lumber.
The affair passed in a second. Before Dick could run at all, Arblaster had him in his arms; Tom, crawling on his face, had caught him by one foot, and the third man had a drawn cutlass brandishing above his head.
It was not so much the danger, it was not so much the annoyance, that now bowed down the spirits of young Shelton; it was the profound humiliation to have escaped Sir Daniel, convinced Lord Risingham, and now fall helpless in the hands of this old, drunken sailor; and not merely helpless, but, as his conscience loudly told him when it was too late, actually guilty — actually the bankrupt debtor of the man whose ship he had stolen and lost.
“Bring me him back into the alehouse, till I see his face,” said Arblaster.
“Nay, nay,” returned Tom; “but let us first unload his wallet, lest the other lads cry share.”
But though he was searched from head to foot, not a penny was found upon him; nothing but Lord Foxham’s signet, which they plucked savagely from his finger.
“Turn me him to the moon,” said the skipper; and taking Dick by the chin, he cruelly jerked his head into the air. “Blessed Virgin!” he cried, “it is the pirate!”
“Hey!” cried Tom.
“By the Virgin of Bordeaux, it is the man himself!” repeated Arblaster. “What, sea-thief, do I hold you?” he cried. “Where is my ship? Where is my wine? Hey! have I you in my hands? Tom, give me one end of a cord here; I will so truss me this sea-thief, hand and foot together, like a basting turkey — marry, I will so bind him up — and thereafter I will so beat — so beat him!”
And so he ran on, winding the cord meanwhile about Dick’s limbs with the dexterity peculiar to seamen, and at every turn and cross securing it with a knot, and tightening the whole fabric with a savage pull.
When he had done, the lad was a mere package in his hands — as helpless as the dead. The skipper held him at arm’s length, and laughed aloud. Then he fetched him a stunning buffet on the ear; and then turned him about, and furiously kicked and kicked him. Anger rose up in Dick’s bosom like a storm; anger strangled him, and he thought to have died; but when the sailor, tired of this cruel play, dropped him all his length upon the sand and turned to consult with his companions, he instantly regained command of his temper. Here was a momentary respite; ere they began again to torture him, he might have found some method to escape from this degrading and fatal misadventure.
Presently, sure enough, and while his captors were still discussing what to do with him, he took heart of grace, and, with a pretty steady voice, addressed them.
“My masters,” he began, “are ye gone clean foolish? Here hath Heaven put into your hands as pretty an occasion to grow rich as ever shipman had — such as ye might make thirty over-sea adventures and not find again — and, by the mass I what do ye? Beat me? — nay; so would an angry child! But for long-headed tarry–Johns, that fear not fire nor water, and that love gold as they love beef, methinks ye are not wise.”
“Ay,” said Tom, “now y’ are trussed ye would cozen us.”
“Cozen you!” repeated Dick. “Nay, if ye be fools, it would be easy. But if ye be shrewd fellows, as I trow ye are, ye can see plainly where your interest lies. When I took your ship from you, we were many, we were well clad and armed; but now, bethink you a little, who mustered that array? One incontestably that hath much gold. And if he, being already rich, continueth to hunt after more even in the face of storms — bethink you once more — shall there not be a treasure somewhere hidden?”
“What meaneth he?” asked one of the men.
“Why, if ye have lost an old skiff and a few jugs of vinegary wine,” continued Dick, “forget them, for the trash they are; and do ye rather buckle to an adventure worth the name, that shall, in twelve hours, make or mar you for ever. But take me up from where I lie, and let us go somewhere near at hand and talk across a flagon, for I am sore and frozen, and my mouth is half among the snow.”
“He seeks but to cozen us,” said Tom, contemptuously.
“Cozen! cozen!” cried the third man. “I would I could see the man that could cozen me! He were a cozener indeed! Nay, I was not born yesterday. I can see a church when it hath a steeple on it; and for my part, gossip Arblaster, methinks there is some sense in this young man. Shall we go hear him, indeed? Say, shall we go hear him?”
“I would look gladly on a pottle of strong ale, good Master Pirret,” returned Arblaster. “How say ye, Tom? But then the wallet is empty.”
“I will pay,” said the other —“I will pay. I would fain see this matter out; I do believe, upon my conscience, there is gold in it.”
“Nay, if ye get again to drinking, all is lost!” cried Tom.
“Gossip Arblaster, ye suffer your fellow to have too much liberty,” returned Master Pirret. “Would ye be led by a hired man? Fy, fy!”
“Peace, fellow!” said Arblaster, addressing Tom. “Will ye put your oar in? Truly a fine pass, when the crew is to correct the skipper!”
“Well, then, go your way,” said Tom; “I wash my hands of you.”
“Set him, then, upon his feet,” said Master Pirret. “I know a privy place where we may drink and discourse.”
“If I am to walk, my friends, ye must set my feet at liberty,” said Dick, when he had been once more planted upright like a post.
“He saith true,” laughed Pirret. “Truly, he could not walk accoutred as he is. Give it a slit — out with your knife and slit it, gossip.”
Even Arblaster paused at this proposal; but as his companion continued to insist, and Dick had the sense to keep the merest wooden indifference of expression, and only shrugged his shoulders over the delay, the skipper consented at last, and cut the cords which tied his prisoner’s feet and legs. Not only did this enable Dick to walk; but the whole network of his bonds being proportionately loosened, he felt the arm behind his back begin to move more freely, and could hope, with time and trouble, to entirely disengage it. So much he owed already to the owlish silliness and greed of Master Pirret.
That worthy now assumed the lead, and conducted them to the very same rude alehouse where Lawless had taken Arblaster on the day of the gale. It was now quite deserted; the fire was a pile of red embers, radiating the most ardent heat; and when they had chosen their places, and the landlord had set before them a measure of mulled ale, both Pirret and Arblaster stretched forth their legs and squared their elbows like men bent upon a pleasant hour.
The table at which they sat, like all the others in the alehouse, consisted of a heavy, square board, set on a pair of barrels; and each of the four curiously-assorted cronies sat at one side of the square, Pirret facing Arblaster, and Dick opposite to the common sailor.
“And now, young man,” said Pirret, “to your tale. It doth appear, indeed, that ye have somewhat abused our gossip Arblaster; but what then? Make it up to him — show him but this chance to become wealthy — and I will go pledge he will forgive you.”
So far Dick had spoken pretty much at random; but it was now necessary, under the supervision of six eyes, to invent and tell some marvellous story, and, if it were possible, get back into his hands the all-important signet. To squander time was the first necessity. The longer his stay lasted, the more would his captors drink, and the surer should he be when he attempted his escape.
Well, Dick was not much of an inventor, and what he told was pretty much the tale of Ali Baba, with Shoreby and Tunstall Forest substituted for the East, and the treasures of the cavern rather exaggerated than diminished. As the reader is aware, it is an excellent story, and has but one drawback — that it is not true; and so, as these three simple shipmen now heard it for the first time, their eyes stood out of their faces, and their mouths gaped like codfish at a fishmonger’s.
Pretty soon a second measure of mulled ale was called for; and while Dick was still artfully spinning out the incidents a third followed the second.
Here was the position of the parties towards the end: Arblaster, three-parts drunk and one-half asleep, hung helpless on his stool. Even Tom had been much delighted with the tale, and his vigilance had abated in proportion. Meanwhile, Dick had gradually wormed his right arm clear of its bonds, and was ready to risk all.
“And so,” said Pirret, “y’ are one of these?”
“I was made so,” replied Dick, “against my will; but an I could but get a sack or two of gold coin to my share, I should be a fool indeed to continue dwelling in a filthy cave, and standing shot and buffet like a soldier. Here be we four; good! Let us, then, go forth into the forest to-morrow ere the sun be up. Could we come honestly by a donkey, it were better; but an we cannot, we have our four strong backs, and I warrant me we shall come home staggering.”
Pirret licked his lips.
“And this magic,” he said —“this password, whereby the cave is opened — how call ye it, friend?”
“Nay, none know the word but the three chiefs,” returned Dick; “but here is your great good fortune, that, on this very evening, I should be the bearer of a spell to open it. It is a thing not trusted twice a year beyond the captain’s wallet.”
“A spell!” said Arblaster, half awakening, and squinting upon Dick with one eye. “Aroint thee! no spells! I be a good Christian. Ask my man Tom, else.”
“Nay, but this is white magic,” said Dick. “It doth naught with the devil; only the powers of numbers, herbs, and planets.”
“Ay, ay,” said Pirret; “’tis but white magic, gossip. There is no sin therein, I do assure you. But proceed, good youth. This spell — in what should it consist?”
“Nay, that I will incontinently show you,” answered Dick. “Have ye there the ring ye took from my finger? Good! Now hold it forth before you by the extreme finger-ends, at the arm’s-length, and over against the shining of these embers. ’Tis so exactly. Thus, then, is the spell.”
With a haggard glance, Dick saw the coast was clear between him and the door. He put up an internal prayer. Then whipping forth his arm, he made but one snatch of the ring, and at the same instant, levering up the table, he sent it bodily over upon the seaman Tom. He, poor soul, went down bawling under the ruins; and before Arblaster understood that anything was wrong, or Pirret could collect his dazzled wits, Dick had run to the door and escaped into the moonlit night.
The moon, which now rode in the mid-heavens, and the extreme whiteness of the snow, made the open ground about the harbour bright as day; and young Shelton leaping, with kilted robe, among the lumber, was a conspicuous figure from afar.
Tom and Pirret followed him with shouts; from every drinking-shop they were joined by others whom their cries aroused; and presently a whole fleet of sailors was in full pursuit. But Jack ashore was a bad runner, even in the fifteenth century, and Dick, besides, had a start, which he rapidly improved, until, as he drew near the entrance of a narrow lane, he even paused and looked laughingly behind him.
Upon the white floor of snow, all the shipmen of Shoreby came clustering in an inky mass, and tailing out rearward in isolated clumps. Every man was shouting or screaming; every man was gesticulating with both arms in air; some one was continually falling; and to complete the picture, when one fell, a dozen would fall upon the top of him.
The confused mass of sound which they rolled up as high as to the moon was partly comical and partly terrifying to the fugitive whom they were hunting. In itself, it was impotent, for he made sure no seaman in the port could run him down. But the mere volume of noise, in so far as it must awake all the sleepers in Shoreby and bring all the skulking sentries to the street, did really threaten him with danger in the front. So, spying a dark doorway at a corner, he whipped briskly into it, and let the uncouth hunt go by him, still shouting and gesticulating, and all red with hurry and white with tumbles in the snow.
It was a long while, indeed, before this great invasion of the town by the harbour came to an end, and it was long before silence was restored. For long, lost sailors were still to be heard pounding and shouting through the streets in all directions and in every quarter of the town. Quarrels followed, sometimes among themselves, sometimes with the men of the patrols; knives were drawn, blows given and received, and more than one dead body remained behind upon the snow.
When, a full hour later, the last seaman returned grumblingly to the harbour side and his particular tavern, it may fairly be questioned if he had ever known what manner of man he was pursuing, but it was absolutely sure that he had now forgotten. By next morning there were many strange stories flying; and a little while after, the legend of the devil’s nocturnal visit was an article of faith with all the lads of Shoreby.
But the return of the last seaman did not, even yet, set free young Shelton from his cold imprisonment in the doorway.
For some time after, there was a great activity of patrols; and special parties came forth to make the round of the place and report to one or other of the great lords, whose slumbers had been thus unusually broken.
The night was already well spent before Dick ventured from his hiding-place and came, safe and sound, but aching with cold and bruises, to the door of the Goat and Bagpipes. As the law required, there was neither fire nor candle in the house; but he groped his way into a corner of the icy guest-room, found an end of a blanket, which he hitched around his shoulders, and creeping close to the nearest sleeper, was soon lost in slumber.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55