Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - BOOK III — MY LORD FOXHAM
Two days later Sir Daniel’s garrison had grown to such a strength that he ventured on a sally, and at the head of some two score horsemen, pushed without opposition as far as Tunstall hamlet. Not an arrow flew, not a man stirred in the thicket; the bridge was no longer guarded, but stood open to all corners; and as Sir Daniel crossed it, he saw the villagers looking timidly from their doors.
Presently one of them, taking heart of grace, came forward, and with the lowliest salutations, presented a letter to the knight.
His face darkened as he read the contents. It ran thus:
To the most untrue and cruel gentylman, Sir Daniel Brackley, Knyght, These:
I fynde ye were untrue and unkynd fro the first. Ye have my father’s blood upon your hands; let be, it will not wasshe. Some day ye shall perish by my procurement, so much I let you to wytte; and I let you to wytte farther, that if ye seek to wed to any other the gentylwoman, Mistresse Joan Sedley, whom that I am bound upon a great oath to wed myself, the blow will be very swift. The first step therinne will be thy first step to the grave.
BOOK III — MY LORD FOXHAM
CHAPTER I — THE HOUSE BY THE SHORE
Months had passed away since Richard Shelton made his escape from the hands of his guardian. These months had been eventful for England. The party of Lancaster, which was then in the very article of death, had once more raised its head. The Yorkists defeated and dispersed, their leader butchered on the field, it seemed, — for a very brief season in the winter following upon the events already recorded, as if the House of Lancaster had finally triumphed over its foes.
The small town of Shoreby-on-the-Till was full of the Lancastrian nobles of the neighbourhood. Earl Risingham was there, with three hundred men-at-arms; Lord Shoreby, with two hundred; Sir Daniel himself, high in favour and once more growing rich on confiscations, lay in a house of his own, on the main street, with three-score men. The world had changed indeed.
It was a black, bitter cold evening in the first week of January, with a hard frost, a high wind, and every likelihood of snow before the morning.
In an obscure alehouse in a by-street near the harbour, three or four men sat drinking ale and eating a hasty mess of eggs. They were all likely, lusty, weather-beaten fellows, hard of hand, bold of eye; and though they wore plain tabards, like country ploughmen, even a drunken soldier might have looked twice before he sought a quarrel in such company.
A little apart before the huge fire sat a younger man, almost a boy, dressed in much the same fashion, though it was easy to see by his looks that he was better born, and might have worn a sword, had the time suited.
“Nay,” said one of the men at the table, “I like it not. Ill will come of it. This is no place for jolly fellows. A jolly fellow loveth open country, good cover, and scarce foes; but here we are shut in a town, girt about with enemies; and, for the bull’s-eye of misfortune, see if it snow not ere the morning.”
“’Tis for Master Shelton there,” said another, nodding his head towards the lad before the fire.
“I will do much for Master Shelton,” returned the first; “but to come to the gallows for any man — nay, brothers, not that!”
The door of the inn opened, and another man entered hastily and approached the youth before the fire.
“Master Shelton,” he said, “Sir Daniel goeth forth with a pair of links and four archers.”
Dick (for this was our young friend) rose instantly to his feet.
“Lawless,” he said, “ye will take John Capper’s watch. Greensheve, follow with me. Capper, lead forward. We will follow him this time, an he go to York.”
The next moment they were outside in the dark street, and Capper, the man who had just come, pointed to where two torches flared in the wind at a little distance.
The town was already sound asleep; no one moved upon the streets, and there was nothing easier than to follow the party without observation. The two link-bearers went first; next followed a single man, whose long cloak blew about him in the wind; and the rear was brought up by the four archers, each with his bow upon his arm. They moved at a brisk walk, threading the intricate lanes and drawing nearer to the shore.
“He hath gone each night in this direction?” asked Dick, in a whisper.
“This is the third night running, Master Shelton,” returned Capper, “and still at the same hour and with the same small following, as though his end were secret.”
Sir Daniel and his six men were now come to the outskirts of the country. Shoreby was an open town, and though the Lancastrian lords who lay there kept a strong guard on the main roads, it was still possible to enter or depart unseen by any of the lesser streets or across the open country.
The lane which Sir Daniel had been following came to an abrupt end. Before him there was a stretch of rough down, and the noise of the sea-surf was audible upon one hand. There were no guards in the neighbourhood, nor any light in that quarter of the town.
Dick and his two outlaws drew a little closer to the object of their chase, and presently, as they came forth from between the houses and could see a little farther upon either hand, they were aware of another torch drawing near from another direction.
“Hey,” said Dick, “I smell treason.”
Meanwhile, Sir Daniel had come to a full halt. The torches were stuck into the sand, and the men lay down, as if to await the arrival of the other party.
This drew near at a good rate. It consisted of four men only — a pair of archers, a varlet with a link, and a cloaked gentleman walking in their midst.
“Is it you, my lord?” cried Sir Daniel.
“It is I, indeed; and if ever true knight gave proof I am that man,” replied the leader of the second troop; “for who would not rather face giants, sorcerers, or pagans, than this pinching cold?”
“My lord,” returned Sir Daniel, “beauty will be the more beholden, misdoubt it not. But shall we forth? for the sooner ye have seen my merchandise, the sooner shall we both get home.”
“But why keep ye her here, good knight?” inquired the other. “An she be so young, and so fair, and so wealthy, why do ye not bring her forth among her mates? Ye would soon make her a good marriage, and no need to freeze your fingers and risk arrow-shots by going abroad at such untimely seasons in the dark.”
“I have told you, my lord,” replied Sir Daniel, “the reason thereof concerneth me only. Neither do I purpose to explain it farther. Suffice it, that if ye be weary of your old gossip, Daniel Brackley, publish it abroad that y’ are to wed Joanna Sedley, and I give you my word ye will be quit of him right soon. Ye will find him with an arrow in his back.”
Meantime the two gentlemen were walking briskly forward over the down; the three torches going before them, stooping against the wind and scattering clouds of smoke and tufts of flame, and the rear brought up by the six archers.
Close upon the heels of these, Dick followed. He had, of course, heard no word of this conversation; but he had recognised in the second of the speakers old Lord Shoreby himself, a man of an infamous reputation, whom even Sir Daniel affected, in public, to condemn.
Presently they came close down upon the beach. The air smelt salt; the noise of the surf increased; and here, in a large walled garden, there stood a small house of two storeys, with stables and other offices.
The foremost torch-bearer unlocked a door in the wall, and after the whole party had passed into the garden, again closed and locked it on the other side.
Dick and his men were thus excluded from any farther following, unless they should scale the wall and thus put their necks in a trap.