Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - CHAPTER I — AT THE SIGN OF THE SUN IN KETTLEY
“Nay, but what made he by the church?” asked Sir Oliver. “I am shrewdly afeared there has been mischief here. Clipsby, good fellow, get ye down from your horse, and search thoroughly among the yews.”
Clipsby was gone but a little while ere he returned carrying a paper.
“This writing was pinned to the church door,” he said, handing it to the parson. “I found naught else, sir parson.”
“Now, by the power of Mother Church,” cried Sir Oliver, “but this runs hard on sacrilege! For the king’s good pleasure, or the lord of the manor — well! But that every run-the-hedge in a green jerkin should fasten papers to the chancel door — nay, it runs hard on sacrilege, hard; and men have burned for matters of less weight. But what have we here? The light falls apace. Good Master Richard, y’ have young eyes. Read me, I pray, this libel.”
Dick Shelton took the paper in his hand and read it aloud. It contained some lines of very rugged doggerel, hardly even rhyming, written in a gross character, and most uncouthly spelt. With the spelling somewhat bettered, this is how they ran:
of the Green Wood,
And his jolly fellaweship.
“Item, we have mo arrowes and goode hempen cord for otheres of your following.”
“Now, well-a-day for charity and the Christian graces!” cried Sir Oliver, lamentably. “Sirs, this is an ill world, and groweth daily worse. I will swear upon the cross of Holywood I am as innocent of that good knight’s hurt, whether in act or purpose, as the babe unchristened. Neither was his throat cut; for therein they are again in error, as there still live credible witnesses to show.”
“It boots not, sir parson,” said Bennet. “Here is unseasonable talk.”
“Nay, Master Bennet, not so. Keep ye in your due place, good Bennet,” answered the priest. “I shall make mine innocence appear. I will, upon no consideration, lose my poor life in error. I take all men to witness that I am clear of this matter. I was not even in the Moat House. I was sent of an errand before nine upon the clock” -
“Sir Oliver,” said Hatch, interrupting, “since it please you not to stop this sermon, I will take other means. Goffe, sound to horse.”
And while the tucket was sounding, Bennet moved close to the bewildered parson, and whispered violently in his ear.
Dick Shelton saw the priest’s eye turned upon him for an instant in a startled glance. He had some cause for thought; for this Sir Harry Shelton was his own natural father. But he said never a word, and kept his countenance unmoved.
Hatch and Sir Oliver discussed together for a while their altered situation; ten men, it was decided between them, should be reserved, not only to garrison the Moat House, but to escort the priest across the wood. In the meantime, as Bennet was to remain behind, the command of the reinforcement was given to Master Shelton. Indeed, there was no choice; the men were loutish fellows, dull and unskilled in war, while Dick was not only popular, but resolute and grave beyond his age. Although his youth had been spent in these rough, country places, the lad had been well taught in letters by Sir Oliver, and Hatch himself had shown him the management of arms and the first principles of command. Bennet had always been kind and helpful; he was one of those who are cruel as the grave to those they call their enemies, but ruggedly faithful and well willing to their friends; and now, while Sir Oliver entered the next house to write, in his swift, exquisite penmanship, a memorandum of the last occurrences to his master, Sir Daniel Brackley, Bennet came up to his pupil to wish him God-speed upon his enterprise.
“Ye must go the long way about, Master Shelton,” he said; “round by the bridge, for your life! Keep a sure man fifty paces afore you, to draw shots; and go softly till y’ are past the wood. If the rogues fall upon you, ride for ’t; ye will do naught by standing. And keep ever forward, Master Shelton; turn me not back again, an ye love your life; there is no help in Tunstall, mind ye that. And now, since ye go to the great wars about the king, and I continue to dwell here in extreme jeopardy of my life, and the saints alone can certify if we shall meet again below, I give you my last counsels now at your riding. Keep an eye on Sir Daniel; he is unsure. Put not your trust in the jack-priest; he intendeth not amiss, but doth the will of others; it is a hand-gun for Sir Daniel! Get your good lordship where ye go; make you strong friends; look to it. And think ever a pater-noster-while on Bennet Hatch. There are worse rogues afoot than Bennet. So, God-speed!”
“And Heaven be with you, Bennet!” returned Dick. “Ye were a good friend to me-ward, and so I shall say ever.”
“And, look ye, master,” added Hatch, with a certain embarrassment, “if this Amend-All should get a shaft into me, ye might, mayhap, lay out a gold mark or mayhap a pound for my poor soul; for it is like to go stiff with me in purgatory.”
“Ye shall have your will of it, Bennet,” answered Dick. “But, what cheer, man! we shall meet again, where ye shall have more need of ale than masses.”
“The saints so grant it, Master Dick!” returned the other. “But here comes Sir Oliver. An he were as quick with the long-bow as with the pen, he would be a brave man-at-arms.”
Sir Oliver gave Dick a sealed packet, with this superscription: “To my ryght worchypful master, Sir Daniel Brackley, knyght, be thys delyvered in haste.”
And Dick, putting it in the bosom of his jacket, gave the word and set forth westward up the village.
BOOK I — THE TWO LADS
CHAPTER I — AT THE SIGN OF THE SUN IN KETTLEY
Sir Daniel and his men lay in and about Kettley that night, warmly quartered and well patrolled. But the Knight of Tunstall was one who never rested from money-getting; and even now, when he was on the brink of an adventure which should make or mar him, he was up an hour after midnight to squeeze poor neighbours. He was one who trafficked greatly in disputed inheritances; it was his way to buy out the most unlikely claimant, and then, by the favour he curried with great lords about the king, procure unjust decisions in his favour; or, if that was too roundabout, to seize the disputed manor by force of arms, and rely on his influence and Sir Oliver’s cunning in the law to hold what he had snatched. Kettley was one such place; it had come very lately into his clutches; he still met with opposition from the tenants; and it was to overawe discontent that he had led his troops that way.
By two in the morning, Sir Daniel sat in the inn room, close by the fireside, for it was cold at that hour among the fens of Kettley. By his elbow stood a pottle of spiced ale. He had taken off his visored headpiece, and sat with his bald head and thin, dark visage resting on one hand, wrapped warmly in a sanguine-coloured cloak. At the lower end of the room about a dozen of his men stood sentry over the door or lay asleep on benches; and somewhat nearer hand, a young lad, apparently of twelve or thirteen, was stretched in a mantle on the floor. The host of the Sun stood before the great man.