Sir Daniel was in the hall; there he paced angrily before the fire, awaitin_ick’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 min_ars? Have I been to you so heavy a guardian that ye make haste to credit il_f me? Or sith that ye see me, for the nonce, some worsted, do ye think t_uit my party? By the mass, your father was not so! Those he was near, thos_e stood by, come wind or weather. But you, Dick, y’ are a fair-day friend, i_eemeth, and now seek to clear yourself of your allegiance.”
“An’t please you, Sir Daniel, not so,” returned Dick, firmly. “I am gratefu_nd faithful, where gratitude and faith are due. And before more is said, _hank you, and I thank Sir Oliver; y’ have great claims upon me both - non_an have more; I were a hound if I forgot them.”
“It is well,” said Sir Daniel; and then, rising into anger: “Gratitude an_aith are words, Dick Shelton,” he continued; “but I look to deeds. In thi_our of my peril, when my name is attainted, when my lands are forfeit, whe_his wood is full of men that hunger and thirst for my destruction, what dot_ratitude? what doth faith? I have but a little company remaining; is i_rateful or faithful to poison me their hearts with your insidiou_hisperings? 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 sa_t.”
“Sir,” replied Dick, “my father fell when I was yet a child. It hath come t_ine ears that he was foully done by. It hath come to mine ears - for I wil_ot dissemble - that ye had a hand in his undoing. And in all verity, I shal_ot be at peace in mine own mind, nor very clear to help you, till I hav_ertain resolution of these doubts.”
Sir Daniel sat down in a deep settle. He took his chin in his hand and looke_t Dick fixedly.
“And ye think I would be guardian to the man’s son that I had murdered?” h_sked.
“Nay,” said Dick, “pardon me if I answer churlishly; but indeed ye know righ_ell a wardship is most profitable. All these years have ye not enjoyed m_evenues, and led my men? Have ye not still my marriage? I wot not what it ma_e worth - it is worth something. Pardon me again; but if ye were base enoug_o slay a man under trust, here were, perhaps, reasons enough to move you t_he lesser baseness.”
“When I was lad of your years,” returned Sir Daniel, sternly, “my mind had no_o turned upon suspicions. And Sir Oliver here,” he added, “why should he, _riest, be guilty of this act?”
“Nay, Sir Daniel,” said Dick, “but where the master biddeth there will the do_o. 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. An_nswer 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 t_retend ye have not stirred my wrath, I were no honest man. But I will be jus_ven in anger. Come to me with these words when y’ are grown and come to man’_state, and I am no longer your guardian, and so helpless to resent them. Com_o 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 _ilent tongue, and fight in the meanwhile for the man that fed and fought fo_our infancy; or else - the door standeth open, the woods are full of min_nemies - go.”
The spirit with which these words were uttered, the looks with which they wer_ccompanied, staggered Dick; and yet he could not but observe that he had go_o answer.
“I desire nothing more earnestly, Sir Daniel, than to believe you,” h_eplied. “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 th_ternal welfare of my spirit, and as I shall answer for my deeds hereafter, _ad no hand nor portion in your father’s death.”
He extended his hand, and Dick took it eagerly. Neither of them observed th_riest, who, at the pronunciation of that solemn and false oath, had hal_risen from his seat in an agony of horror and remorse.
“Ah,” cried Dick, “ye must find it in your great-heartedness to pardon me! _as a churl, indeed, to doubt of you. But ye have my hand upon it; I wil_oubt no more.”
“Nay, Dick,” replied Sir Daniel, “y’ are forgiven. Ye know not the world an_ts calumnious nature.”
“I was the more to blame,” added Dick, “in that the rogues pointed, no_irectly at yourself, but at Sir Oliver.”
As he spoke, he turned towards the priest, and paused in the middle of th_ast word. This tall, ruddy, corpulent, high-stepping man had fallen, yo_ight say, to pieces; his colour was gone, his limbs were relaxed, his lip_tammered prayers; and now, when Dick’s eyes were fixed upon him suddenly, h_ried 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 wit_ury. “Here, upon this book, ye shall swear,” he continued, picking up th_reviary, 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, hi_error of perjury, risen to about an equal height, strangled him.
And just then, through the high, stained-glass window of the hall, a blac_rrow crashed, and struck, and stuck quivering, in the midst of the lon_able.
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 t_he battlements. The sentries were all on the alert. The sun shone quietly o_reen lawns dotted with trees, and on the wooded hills of the forest whic_nclosed 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 t_hare in your suspicions. He shall swear, trust me, or we shall prove hi_uilty.”
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 th_irst of these missiles he had seen, and as he turned it to and fro, the dar_ue 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 no_ 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 t_he 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 o_olywood. Look to it; get the words ready. It shall be sworn to-night.”
“Now, may Heaven lighten you!” replied the priest; “may Heaven incline you_eart from this iniquity!”
“Look you, my good father,” said Sir Daniel, “if y’ are for piety, I say n_ore; ye begin late, that is all. But if y’ are in any sense bent upon wisdom, hear me. This lad beginneth to irk me like a wasp. I have a need for him, fo_ would sell his marriage. But I tell you, in all plainness, if that h_ontinue to weary me, he shall go join his father. I give orders now to chang_im to the chamber above the chapel. If that ye can swear your innocency wit_ good, solid oath and an assured countenance, it is well; the lad will be a_eace a little, and I will spare him. If that ye stammer or blench, or anyway_oggle at the swearing, he will not believe you; and by the mass, he shal_ie. There is for your thinking on.”
“The chamber above the chapel!” gasped the priest.
“That same,” replied the knight. “So if ye desire to save him, save him; an_f ye desire not, prithee, go to, and let me be at peace! For an I had been _asty man, I would already have put my sword through you, for your intolerabl_owardice and folly. Have ye chosen? Say!”
“I have chosen,” said the priest. “Heaven pardon me, I will do evil for good.
I will swear for the lad’s sake.”
“So is it best!” said Sir Daniel. “Send for him, then, speedily. Ye shall se_im alone. Yet I shall have an eye on you. I shall be here in the panel room.”
The knight raised the arras and let it fall again behind him. There was th_ound of a spring opening; then followed the creaking of trod stairs.
Sir Oliver, left alone, cast a timorous glance upward at the arras-covere_all, and crossed himself with every appearance of terror and contrition.
“Nay, if he is in the chapel room,” the priest murmured, “were it at my soul’_ost, I must save him.”
Three minutes later, Dick, who had been summoned by another messenger, foun_ir Oliver standing by the hall table, resolute and pale.
“Richard Shelton,” he said, “ye have required an oath from me. I migh_omplain, I might deny you; but my heart is moved toward you for the past, an_ will even content you as ye choose. By the true cross of Holywood, I did no_lay your father.”
“Sir Oliver,” returned Dick, “when first we read John Amend-All’s paper, I wa_onvinced of so much. But suffer me to put two questions. Ye did not slay him; granted. But had ye no hand in it?”
“None,” said Sir Oliver. And at the same time he began to contort his face, and signal with his mouth and eyebrows, like one who desired to convey _arning, yet dared not utter a sound.
Dick regarded him in wonder; then he turned and looked all about him at th_mpty hall.
“What make ye?” he inquired.
“Why, naught,” returned the priest, hastily smoothing his countenance. “I mak_aught; I do but suffer; I am sick. I - I - prithee, Dick, I must begone. O_he true cross of Holywood, I am clean innocent alike of violence o_reachery. Content ye, good lad. Farewell!”
And he made his escape from the apartment with unusual alacrity.
Dick remained rooted to the spot, his eyes wandering about the room, his fac_ changing picture of various emotions, wonder, doubt, suspicion, an_musement. Gradually, as his mind grew clearer, suspicion took the upper hand, and was succeeded by certainty of the worst. He raised his head, and, as h_id so, violently started. High upon the wall there was the figure of a savag_unter woven in the tapestry. With one hand he held a horn to his mouth; i_he other he brandished a stout spear. His face was dark, for he was meant t_epresent an African.
Now, here was what had startled Richard Shelton. The sun had moved away fro_he hall windows, and at the same time the fire had blazed up high on the wid_earth, and shed a changeful glow upon the roof and hangings. In this ligh_he figure of the black hunter had winked at him with a white eyelid.
He continued staring at the eye. The light shone upon it like a gem; it wa_iquid, it was alive. Again the white eyelid closed upon it for a fraction o_ second, and the next moment it was gone.
There could be no mistake. The live eye that had been watching him through _ole in the tapestry was gone. The firelight no longer shone on a reflectin_urface.
And instantly Dick awoke to the terrors of his position. Hatch’s warning, th_ute signals of the priest, this eye that had observed him from the wall, ra_ogether in his mind. He saw he had been put upon his trial, that he had onc_ore betrayed his suspicions, and that, short of some miracle, he was lost.
“If I cannot get me forth out of this house,” he thought, “I am a dead man!
And this poor Matcham, too - to what a cockatrice’s nest have I not led him!”
He was still so thinking, when there came one in haste, to bid him help i_hanging his arms, his clothing, and his two or three books, to a new chamber.
“A new chamber?” he repeated. “Wherefore so? What chamber?”
“’Tis one above the chapel,” answered the messenger.
“It hath stood long empty,” said Dick, musing. “What manner of room is it?”
“Nay, a brave room,” returned the man. “But yet” - lowering his voice - “the_all it haunted.”
“Haunted?” repeated Dick, with a chill. “I have not heard of it. Nay, then, and by whom?”
The messenger looked about him; and then, in a low whisper, “By the sacrist o_t. John’s,” he said. “They had him there to sleep one night, and in th_orning - whew! - he was gone. The devil had taken him, they said; the mor_etoken, he had drunk late the night before.”