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Chapter 2 The Two Oaths

  • 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.”
  • Dick followed the man with black forebodings.