Книга The Black Arrow. Страница 19
CHAPTER II — THE TWO OATHS
Sir Daniel was in the hall; there he paced angrily before the fire, awaiting Dick’s arrival. None was by except Sir Oliver, and he sat discreetly backward, thumbing and muttering over his breviary.
“Y’ have sent for me, Sir Daniel?” said young Shelton.
“I have sent for you, indeed,” replied the knight. “For what cometh to mine ears? Have I been to you so heavy a guardian that ye make haste to credit ill of me? Or sith that ye see me, for the nonce, some worsted, do ye think to quit my party? By the mass, your father was not so! Those he was near, those he stood by, come wind or weather. But you, Dick, y’ are a fair-day friend, it seemeth, and now seek to clear yourself of your allegiance.”
“An’t please you, Sir Daniel, not so,” returned Dick, firmly. “I am grateful and faithful, where gratitude and faith are due. And before more is said, I thank you, and I thank Sir Oliver; y’ have great claims upon me both — none can have more; I were a hound if I forgot them.”
“It is well,” said Sir Daniel; and then, rising into anger: “Gratitude and faith are words, Dick Shelton,” he continued; “but I look to deeds. In this hour of my peril, when my name is attainted, when my lands are forfeit, when this wood is full of men that hunger and thirst for my destruction, what doth gratitude? what doth faith? I have but a little company remaining; is it grateful or faithful to poison me their hearts with your insidious whisperings? Save me from such gratitude! But, come, now, what is it ye wish? Speak; we are here to answer. If ye have aught against me, stand forth and say it.”
“Sir,” replied Dick, “my father fell when I was yet a child. It hath come to mine ears that he was foully done by. It hath come to mine ears — for I will not dissemble — that ye had a hand in his undoing. And in all verity, I shall not be at peace in mine own mind, nor very clear to help you, till I have certain resolution of these doubts.”
Sir Daniel sat down in a deep settle. He took his chin in his hand and looked at Dick fixedly.
“And ye think I would be guardian to the man’s son that I had murdered?” he asked.
“Nay,” said Dick, “pardon me if I answer churlishly; but indeed ye know right well a wardship is most profitable. All these years have ye not enjoyed my revenues, and led my men? Have ye not still my marriage? I wot not what it may be worth — it is worth something. Pardon me again; but if ye were base enough to slay a man under trust, here were, perhaps, reasons enough to move you to the lesser baseness.”
“When I was lad of your years,” returned Sir Daniel, sternly, “my mind had not so turned upon suspicions. And Sir Oliver here,” he added, “why should he, a priest, be guilty of this act?”
“Nay, Sir Daniel,” said Dick, “but where the master biddeth there will the dog go. It is well known this priest is but your instrument. I speak very freely; the time is not for courtesies. Even as I speak, so would I be answered. And answer get I none! Ye but put more questions. I rede ye be ware, Sir Daniel; for in this way ye will but nourish and not satisfy my doubts.”
“I will answer you fairly, Master Richard,” said the knight. “Were I to pretend ye have not stirred my wrath, I were no honest man. But I will be just even in anger. Come to me with these words when y’ are grown and come to man’s estate, and I am no longer your guardian, and so helpless to resent them. Come to me then, and I will answer you as ye merit, with a buffet in the mouth. Till then ye have two courses: either swallow me down these insults, keep a silent tongue, and fight in the meanwhile for the man that fed and fought for your infancy; or else — the door standeth open, the woods are full of mine enemies — go.”
The spirit with which these words were uttered, the looks with which they were accompanied, staggered Dick; and yet he could not but observe that he had got no answer.
“I desire nothing more earnestly, Sir Daniel, than to believe you,” he replied. “Assure me ye are free from this.”
“Will ye take my word of honour, Dick?” inquired the knight.
“That would I,” answered the lad.
“I give it you,” returned Sir Daniel. “Upon my word of honour, upon the eternal welfare of my spirit, and as I shall answer for my deeds hereafter, I had no hand nor portion in your father’s death.”
He extended his hand, and Dick took it eagerly. Neither of them observed the priest, who, at the pronunciation of that solemn and false oath, had half arisen from his seat in an agony of horror and remorse.
“Ah,” cried Dick, “ye must find it in your great-heartedness to pardon me! I was a churl, indeed, to doubt of you. But ye have my hand upon it; I will doubt no more.”
“Nay, Dick,” replied Sir Daniel, “y’ are forgiven. Ye know not the world and its calumnious nature.”
“I was the more to blame,” added Dick, “in that the rogues pointed, not directly at yourself, but at Sir Oliver.”
As he spoke, he turned towards the priest, and paused in the middle of the last word. This tall, ruddy, corpulent, high-stepping man had fallen, you might say, to pieces; his colour was gone, his limbs were relaxed, his lips stammered prayers; and now, when Dick’s eyes were fixed upon him suddenly, he cried out aloud, like some wild animal, and buried his face in his hands.
Sir Daniel was by him in two strides, and shook him fiercely by the shoulder. At the same moment Dick’s suspicions reawakened.
“Nay,” he said, “Sir Oliver may swear also. ’Twas him they accused.”
“He shall swear,” said the knight.
Sir Oliver speechlessly waved his arms.
“Ay, by the mass! but ye shall swear,” cried Sir Daniel, beside himself with fury. “Here, upon this book, ye shall swear,” he continued, picking up the breviary, which had fallen to the ground. “What! Ye make me doubt you! Swear, I say; swear!”
But the priest was still incapable of speech. His terror of Sir Daniel, his terror of perjury, risen to about an equal height, strangled him.
And just then, through the high, stained-glass window of the hall, a black arrow crashed, and struck, and stuck quivering, in the midst of the long table.
Sir Oliver, with a loud scream, fell fainting on the rushes; while the knight, followed by Dick, dashed into the court and up the nearest corkscrew stair to the battlements. The sentries were all on the alert. The sun shone quietly on green lawns dotted with trees, and on the wooded hills of the forest which enclosed the view. There was no sign of a besieger.
“Whence came that shot?” asked the knight.
“From yonder clump, Sir Daniel,” returned a sentinel.
The knight stood a little, musing. Then he turned to Dick. “Dick,” he said, “keep me an eye upon these men; I leave you in charge here. As for the priest, he shall clear himself, or I will know the reason why. I do almost begin to share in your suspicions. He shall swear, trust me, or we shall prove him guilty.”
Dick answered somewhat coldly, and the knight, giving him a piercing glance, hurriedly returned to the hall. His first glance was for the arrow. It was the first of these missiles he had seen, and as he turned it to and fro, the dark hue of it touched him with some fear. Again there was some writing: one word — “Earthed.”
“Ay,” he broke out, “they know I am home, then. Earthed! Ay, but there is not a dog among them fit to dig me out.”
Sir Oliver had come to himself, and now scrambled to his feet.
“Alack, Sir Daniel!” he moaned, “y’ ’ave sworn a dread oath; y’ are doomed to the end of time.”
“Ay,” returned the knight, “I have sworn an oath, indeed, thou chucklehead; but thyself shalt swear a greater. It shall be on the blessed cross of Holywood. Look to it; get the words ready. It shall be sworn to-night.”
“Now, may Heaven lighten you!” replied the priest; “may Heaven incline your heart from this iniquity!”