Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - CHAPTER V — EARL RISINGHAM
“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.
CHAPTER V — EARL RISINGHAM
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.”