Earl Risingham, although by far the most important person then in Shoreby, wa_oorly lodged in the house of a private gentleman upon the extreme outskirt_f the town. Nothing but the armed men at the doors, and the mounte_essengers that kept arriving and departing, announced the temporary residenc_f a great lord.
Thus it was that, from lack of space, Dick and Lawless were clapped into th_ame apartment.
“Well spoken, Master Richard,” said the outlaw; “it was excellently wel_poken, and, for my part, I thank you cordially. Here we are in good hands; w_hall be justly tried, and, some time this evening, decently hanged on th_ame tree.”
“Indeed, my poor friend, I do believe it,” answered Dick.
“Yet have we a string to our bow,” returned Lawless. “Ellis Duckworth is a ma_ut of ten thousand; he holdeth you right near his heart, both for your ow_nd for your father’s sake; and knowing you guiltless of this fact, he wil_tir earth and heaven to bear you clear.”
“It may not be,” said Dick. “What can he do? He hath but a handful. Alack, i_t were but to-morrow - could I but keep a certain tryst an hour before noo_o-morrow - all were, I think, otherwise. But now there is no help.”
“Well,” concluded Lawless, “an ye will stand to it for my innocence, I wil_tand to it for yours, and that stoutly. It shall naught avail us; but an I b_o hang, it shall not be for lack of swearing.”
And then, while Dick gave himself over to his reflections, the old rogu_urled himself down into a corner, pulled his monkish hood about his face, an_omposed himself to sleep. Soon he was loudly snoring, so utterly had his lon_ife of hardship and adventure blunted the sense of apprehension.
It was long after noon, and the day was already failing, before the door wa_pened and Dick taken forth and led up-stairs to where, in a warm cabinet,
Earl Risingham sat musing over the fire.
On his captive’s entrance he looked up.
“Sir,” he said, “I knew your father, who was a man of honour, and thi_nclineth me to be the more lenient; but I may not hide from you that heav_harges lie against your character. Ye do consort with murderers and robbers;
upon a clear probation ye have carried war against the king’s peace; ye ar_uspected to have piratically seized upon a ship; ye are found skulking with _ounterfeit presentment in your enemy’s house; a man is slain that ver_vening - ”
“An it like you, my lord,” Dick interposed, “I will at once avow my guilt,
such as it is. I slew this fellow Rutter; and to the proof” - searching in hi_osom - “here is a letter from his wallet.”
Lord Risingham took the letter, and opened and read it twice.
“Ye have read this?” he inquired.
“I have read it,” answered Dick.
“Are ye for York or Lancaster?” the earl demanded.
“My lord, it was but a little while back that I was asked that question, an_new not how to answer it,” said Dick; “but having answered once, I will no_ary. My lord, I am for York.”
The earl nodded approvingly.
“Honestly replied,” he said. “But wherefore, then, deliver me this letter?”
“Nay, but against traitors, my lord, are not all sides arrayed?” cried Dick.
“I would they were, young gentleman,” returned the earl; “and I do at leas_pprove your saying. There is more youth than guile in you, I do perceive; an_ere not Sir Daniel a mighty man upon our side, I were half-tempted to espous_our quarrel. For I have inquired, and it appears ye have been hardly deal_ith, and have much excuse. But look ye, sir, I am, before all else, a leade_n the queen’s interest; and though by nature a just man, as I believe, an_eaning even to the excess of mercy, yet must I order my goings for my party’_nterest, and, to keep Sir Daniel, I would go far about.”
“My lord,” returned Dick, “ye will think me very bold to counsel you; but d_e count upon Sir Daniel’s faith? Methought he had changed sides intolerabl_ften.”
“Nay, it is the way of England. What would ye have?” the earl demanded. “Bu_e are unjust to the knight of Tunstall; and as faith goes, in this unfaithfu_eneration, he hath of late been honourably true to us of Lancaster. Even i_ur last reverses he stood firm.”
“An it pleased you, then,” said Dick, “to cast your eye upon this letter, y_ight somewhat change your thought of him;” and he handed to the earl Si_aniel’s letter to Lord Wensleydale.
The effect upon the earl’s countenance was instant; he lowered like an angr_ion, and his hand, with a sudden movement, clutched at his dagger.
“Ye have read this also?” he asked.
“Even so,” said Dick. “It is your lordship’s own estate he offers to Lor_ensleydale?”
“It is my own estate, even as ye say!” returned the earl. “I am your bedesma_or this letter. It hath shown me a fox’s hole. Command me, Master Shelton; _ill not be backward in gratitude, and to begin with, York or Lancaster, tru_an or thief, I do now set you at freedom. Go, a Mary’s name! But judge i_ight that I retain and hang your fellow, Lawless. The crime hath been mos_pen, and it were fitting that some open punishment should follow.”
“My lord, I make it my first suit to you to spare him also,” pleaded Dick.
“It is an old, condemned rogue, thief, and vagabond, Master Shelton,” said th_arl. “He hath been gallows-ripe this score of years. And, whether for on_hing or another, whether to-morrow or the day after, where is the grea_hoice?”
“Yet, my lord, it was through love to me that he came hither,” answered Dick,
“and I were churlish and thankless to desert him.”
“Master Shelton, ye are troublesome,” replied the earl, severely. “It is a_vil way to prosper in this world. Howbeit, and to be quit of you_mportunity, I will once more humour you. Go, then, together; but go warily,
and get swiftly out of Shoreby town. For this Sir Daniel (whom may the saint_onfound!) thirsteth most greedily to have your blood.”
“My lord, I do now offer you in words my gratitude, trusting at some brie_ate to pay you some of it in service,” replied Dick, as he turned from th_partment.