The lads lay quiet till the last footstep had melted on the wind. Then the_rose, and with many an ache, for they were weary with constraint, clambere_hrough the ruins, and recrossed the ditch upon the rafter. Matcham had picke_p the windac and went first, Dick following stiffly, with his cross-bow o_is arm.
“And now,” said Matcham, “forth to Holywood.”
“To Holywood!” cried Dick, “when good fellows stand shot? Not I! I would se_ou hanged first, Jack!”
“Ye would leave me, would ye?” Matcham asked.
“Ay, by my sooth!” returned Dick. “An I be not in time to warn these lads, _ill go die with them. What! would ye have me leave my own men that I hav_ived among. I trow not! Give me my windac.”
But there was nothing further from Matcham’s mind.
“Dick,” he said, “ye sware before the saints that ye would see me safe t_olywood. Would ye be forsworn? Would you desert me - a perjurer?”
“Nay, I sware for the best,” returned Dick. “I meant it too; but now! But loo_e, Jack, turn again with me. Let me but warn these men, and, if needs must, stand shot with them; then shall all be clear, and I will on again to Holywoo_nd purge mine oath.”
“Ye but deride me,” answered Matcham. “These men ye go to succour are the _ame that hunt me to my ruin.”
Dick scratched his head.
“I cannot help it, Jack,” he said. “Here is no remedy. What would ye? Ye ru_o great peril, man; and these are in the way of death. Death!” he added.
“Think of it! What a murrain do ye keep me here for? Give me the windac. Sain_eorge! shall they all die?”
“Richard Shelton,” said Matcham, looking him squarely in the face, “would ye, then, join party with Sir Daniel? Have ye not ears? Heard ye not this Ellis, what he said? or have ye no heart for your own kindly blood and the fathe_hat men slew? ‘Harry Shelton,’ he said; and Sir Harry Shelton was you_ather, as the sun shines in heaven.”
“What would ye?” Dick cried again. “Would ye have me credit thieves?”
“Nay, I have heard it before now,” returned Matcham. “The fame goet_urrently, it was Sir Daniel slew him. He slew him under oath; in his ow_ouse he shed the innocent blood. Heaven wearies for the avenging on’t; an_ou - the man’s son - ye go about to comfort and defend the murderer!”
“Jack,” cried the lad “I know not. It may be; what know I? But, see here: Thi_an hath bred me up and fostered me, and his men I have hunted with and playe_mong; and to leave them in the hour of peril - O, man, if I did that, I wer_tark dead to honour! Nay, Jack, ye would not ask it; ye would not wish me t_e base.”
“But your father, Dick?” said Matcham, somewhat wavering. “Your father? an_our oath to me? Ye took the saints to witness.”
“My father?” cried Shelton. “Nay, he would have me go! If Sir Daniel slew him, when the hour comes this hand shall slay Sir Daniel; but neither him nor hi_ill I desert in peril. And for mine oath, good Jack, ye shall absolve me o_t here. For the lives’ sake of many men that hurt you not, and for min_onour, ye shall set me free.”
“I, Dick? Never!” returned Matcham. “An ye leave me, y’ are forsworn, and so _hall declare it.”
“My blood heats,” said Dick. “Give me the windac! Give it me!”
“I’ll not,” said Matcham. “I’ll save you in your teeth.”
“Not?” cried Dick. “I’ll make you!”
“Try it,” said the other.
They stood, looking in each other’s eyes, each ready for a spring. Then Dic_eaped; and though Matcham turned instantly and fled, in two bounds he wa_ver-taken, the windac was twisted from his grasp, he was thrown roughly t_he ground, and Dick stood across him, flushed and menacing, with double_ist. Matcham lay where he had fallen, with his face in the grass, no_hinking of resistance.
Dick bent his bow.
“I’ll teach you!” he cried, fiercely. “Oath or no oath, ye may go hang fo_e!”
And he turned and began to run. Matcham was on his feet at once, and bega_unning after him.
“What d’ye want?” cried Dick, stopping. “What make ye after me? Stand off!”
“Will follow an I please,” said Matcham. “This wood is free to me.”
“Stand back, by ’r Lady!” returned Dick, raising his bow.
“Ah, y’ are a brave boy!” retorted Matcham. “Shoot!”
Dick lowered his weapon in some confusion.
“See here,” he said. “Y’ have done me ill enough. Go, then. Go your way i_air wise; or, whether I will or not, I must even drive you to it.”
“Well,” said Matcham, doggedly, “y’ are the stronger. Do your worst. I shal_ot leave to follow thee, Dick, unless thou makest me,” he added.
Dick was almost beside himself. It went against his heart to beat a creatur_o defenceless; and, for the life of him, he knew no other way to rid himsel_f this unwelcome and, as he began to think, perhaps untrue companion.
“Y’ are mad, I think,” he cried. “Fool-fellow, I am hasting to your foes; a_ast as foot can carry me, go I thither.”
“I care not, Dick,” replied the lad. “If y’ are bound to die, Dick, I’ll di_oo. I would liever go with you to prison than to go free without you.”
“Well,” returned the other, “I may stand no longer prating. Follow me, if y_ust; but if ye play me false, it shall but little advance you, mark ye that.
Shalt have a quarrel in thine inwards, boy.”
So saying, Dick took once more to his heels, keeping in the margin of th_hicket and looking briskly about him as he went. At a good pace he rattle_ut of the dell, and came again into the more open quarters of the wood. T_he left a little eminence appeared, spotted with golden gorse, and crowne_ith a black tuft of firs.
“I shall see from there,” he thought, and struck for it across a heath_learing.
He had gone but a few yards, when Matcham touched him on the arm, and pointed.
To the eastward of the summit there was a dip, and, as it were, a valle_assing to the other side; the heath was not yet out; all the ground wa_usty, like an unscoured buckler, and dotted sparingly with yews; and there, one following another, Dick saw half a score green jerkins mounting th_scent, and marching at their head, conspicuous by his boar-spear, Elli_uckworth in person. One after another gained the top, showed for a momen_gainst the sky, and then dipped upon the further side, until the last wa_one.
Dick looked at Matcham with a kindlier eye.
“So y’ are to be true to me, Jack?” he asked. “I thought ye were of the othe_arty.”
Matcham began to sob.
“What cheer!” cried Dick. “Now the saints behold us! would ye snivel for _ord?”
“Ye hurt me,” sobbed Matcham. “Ye hurt me when ye threw me down. Y’ are _oward to abuse your strength.”
“Nay, that is fool’s talk,” said Dick, roughly. “Y’ had no title to my windac, Master John. I would ‘a’ done right to have well basted you. If ye go with me, ye must obey me; and so, come.”
Matcham had half a thought to stay behind; but, seeing that Dick continued t_cour full-tilt towards the eminence and not so much as looked across hi_houlder, he soon thought better of that, and began to run in turn. But th_round was very difficult and steep; Dick had already a long start, and had, at any rate, the lighter heels, and he had long since come to the summit, crawled forward through the firs, and ensconced himself in a thick tuft o_orse, before Matcham, panting like a deer, rejoined him, and lay down i_ilence by his side.
Below, in the bottom of a considerable valley, the short cut from Tunstal_amlet wound downwards to the ferry. It was well beaten, and the eye followe_t easily from point to point. Here it was bordered by open glades; there th_orest closed upon it; every hundred yards it ran beside an ambush. Far dow_he path, the sun shone on seven steel salets, and from time to time, as th_rees opened, Selden and his men could be seen riding briskly, still bent upo_ir Daniel’s mission. The wind had somewhat fallen, but still tussled merril_ith the trees, and, perhaps, had Appleyard been there, he would have drawn _arning from the troubled conduct of the birds.
“Now, mark,” Dick whispered. “They be already well advanced into the wood; their safety lieth rather in continuing forward. But see ye where this wid_lade runneth down before us, and in the midst of it, these two score tree_ake like an island? There were their safety. An they but come sound as far a_hat, I will make shift to warn them. But my heart misgiveth me; they are bu_even against so many, and they but carry cross-bows. The long-bow, Jack, wil_ave the uppermost ever.”
Meanwhile, Selden and his men still wound up the path, ignorant of thei_anger, and momently drew nearer hand. Once, indeed, they paused, drew into _roup, and seemed to point and listen. But it was something from far awa_cross the plain that had arrested their attention - a hollow growl of canno_hat came, from time to time, upon the wind, and told of the great battle. I_as worth a thought, to be sure; for if the voice of the big guns were thu_ecome audible in Tunstall Forest, the fight must have rolled ever eastward, and the day, by consequence, gone sore against Sir Daniel and the lords of th_ark rose.
But presently the little troop began again to move forward, and came next to _ery open, heathy portion of the way, where but a single tongue of forest ra_own to join the road. They were but just abreast of this, when an arrow shon_lying. One of the men threw up his arms, his horse reared, and both fell an_truggled together in a mass. Even from where the boys lay they could hear th_umour of the men’s voices crying out; they could see the startled horse_rancing, and, presently, as the troop began to recover from their firs_urprise, one fellow beginning to dismount. A second arrow from somewha_arther off glanced in a wide arch; a second rider bit the dust. The man wh_as dismounting lost hold upon the rein, and his horse fled galloping, an_ragged him by the foot along the road, bumping from stone to stone, an_attered by the fleeing hoofs. The four who still kept the saddle instantl_roke and scattered; one wheeled and rode, shrieking, towards the ferry; th_ther three, with loose rein and flying raiment, came galloping up the roa_rom Tunstall. From every clump they passed an arrow sped. Soon a horse fell, but the rider found his feet and continued to pursue his comrades till _econd shot despatched him. Another man fell; then another horse; out of th_hole troop there was but one fellow left, and he on foot; only, in differen_irections, the noise of the galloping of three riderless horses was dyin_ast into the distance.
All this time not one of the assailants had for a moment shown himself. Her_nd there along the path, horse or man rolled, undespatched, in his agony; bu_o merciful enemy broke cover to put them from their pain.
The solitary survivor stood bewildered in the road beside his fallen charger.
He had come the length of that broad glade, with the island of timber, pointe_ut by Dick. He was not, perhaps, five hundred yards from where the boys la_idden; and they could see him plainly, looking to and fro in deadl_xpectation. But nothing came; and the man began to pluck up his courage, an_uddenly unslung and bent his bow. At the same time, by something in hi_ction, Dick recognised Selden.
At this offer of resistance, from all about him in the covert of the wood_here went up the sound of laughter. A score of men, at least, for this wa_he very thickest of the ambush, joined in this cruel and untimely mirth. The_n arrow glanced over Selden’s shoulder; and he leaped and ran a little back.
Another dart struck quivering at his heel. He made for the cover. A thir_haft leaped out right in his face, and fell short in front of him. And the_he laughter was repeated loudly, rising and reechoing from differen_hickets.
It was plain that his assailants were but baiting him, as men, in those days, baited the poor bull, or as the cat still trifles with the mouse. The skirmis_as well over; farther down the road, a fellow in green was already calml_athering the arrows; and now, in the evil pleasure of their hearts, they gav_hemselves the spectacle of their poor fellow-sinner in his torture.
Selden began to understand; he uttered a roar of anger, shouldered his cross- bow, and sent a quarrel at a venture into the wood. Chance favoured him, for _light cry responded. Then, throwing down his weapon, Selden began to ru_efore him up the glade, and almost in a straight line for Dick and Matcham.
The companions of the Black Arrow now began to shoot in earnest. But they wer_roperly served; their chance had past; most of them had now to shoot agains_he sun; and Selden, as he ran, bounded from side to side to baffle an_eceive their aim. Best of all, by turning up the glade he had defeated thei_reparations; there were no marksmen posted higher up than the one whom he ha_ust killed or wounded; and the confusion of the foresters’ counsels soo_ecame apparent. A whistle sounded thrice, and then again twice. It wa_epeated from another quarter. The woods on either side became full of th_ound of people bursting through the underwood; and a bewildered deer ran ou_nto the open, stood for a second on three feet, with nose in air, and the_lunged again into the thicket.
Selden still ran, bounding; ever and again an arrow followed him, but stil_ould miss. It began to appear as if he might escape. Dick had his bow armed, ready to support him; even Matcham, forgetful of his interest, took sides a_eart for the poor fugitive; and both lads glowed and trembled in the ardou_f their hearts.
He was within fifty yards of them, when an arrow struck him and he fell. H_as up again, indeed, upon the instant; but now he ran staggering, and, like _lind man, turned aside from his direction.
Dick leaped to his feet and waved to him.
“Here!” he cried. “This way! here is help! Nay, run, fellow - run!”
But just then a second arrow struck Selden in the shoulder, between the plate_f his brigandine, and, piercing through his jack, brought him, like a stone, to earth.
“O, the poor heart!” cried Matcham, with clasped hands.
And Dick stood petrified upon the hill, a mark for archery.
Ten to one he had speedily been shot - for the foresters were furious wit_hemselves, and taken unawares by Dick’s appearance in the rear of thei_osition - but instantly, out of a quarter of the wood surprisingly near t_he two lads, a stentorian voice arose, the voice of Ellis Duckworth.
“Hold!” it roared. “Shoot not! Take him alive! It is young Shelton - Harry’_on.”
And immediately after a shrill whistle sounded several times, and was agai_aken up and repeated farther off. The whistle, it appeared, was John Amend- All’s battle trumpet, by which he published his directions.
“Ah, foul fortune!” cried Dick. “We are undone. Swiftly, Jack, come swiftly!”
And the pair turned and ran back through the open pine clump that covered th_ummit of the hill.