by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saranac Lake, April 8, 1888.
Note: Look up difficult words at The Free Dictionary.
Throughout this furious and rapid passage, Lawless had looked on helplessly, and even when all was over, and Dick, already re-arisen to his feet, was listening with the most passionate attention to the distant bustle in the lower storeys of the house, the old outlaw was still wavering on his legs like a shrub in a breeze of wind, and still stupidly staring on the face of the dead man.
“It is well,” said Dick, at length; “they have not heard us, praise the saints! But, now, what shall I do with this poor spy? At least, I will take my tassel from his wallet.”
So saying, Dick opened the wallet; within he found a few pieces of money, the tassel, and a letter addressed to Lord Wensleydale, and sealed with my Lord Shoreby’s seal. The name awoke Dick’s recollection; and he instantly broke the wax and read the contents of the letter. It was short, but, to Dick’s delight, it gave evident proof that Lord Shoreby was treacherously corresponding with the House of York.
The young fellow usually carried his ink-horn and implements about him, and so now, bending a knee beside the body of the dead spy, he was able to write these words upon a corner of the paper:
My Lord of Shoreby, you that wrote the letter, do you know why your man is dead? But let me warn you, marry not.
He laid this paper on the breast of the corpse; and then Lawless, who had been looking on upon these last manoeuvres with some flickering returns of intelligence, suddenly drew a black arrow from below his robe, and therewith pinned the paper in its place. The sight of this disrespect, or, as it almost seemed, cruelty to the dead, drew a cry of horror from young Shelton; but the old outlaw only laughed.
“No, I will have the credit for mine order,” he hiccupped. “My jolly boys must have the credit of it—the credit, brother;” and then, shutting his eyes tight and opening his mouth like a precentor, he began to thunder, in a formidable voice:
“If you should drink the clary wine”—
“Peace, drunkard!” cried Dick, and thrust him hard against the wall. “In two words—if so be that such a man can understand me who has more wine than wit in him—in two words, and, a-Mary’s name, begone out of this house, where, if you continue to abide, you will not only hang yourself, but me also! Faith, then, up foot! beware, or, by the mass, I may forget that I am in some sort your captain and in some your debtor! Go!”
The sham monk was now, in some degree, recovering the use of his intelligence; and the ring in Dick’s voice, and the glitter in Dick’s eye, stamped home the meaning of his words.
“By the mass,” cried Lawless, “if I be not wanted, I can go;” and he turned tipsily along the corridor and proceeded to flounder down-stairs, lurching against the wall.
So soon as he was out of sight, Dick returned to his hiding-place, resolutely fixed to see the matter out. Wisdom, indeed, moved him to be gone; but love and curiosity were stronger.
Time passed slowly for the young man, bolt upright behind the arras. The fire in the room began to die down, and the lamp to burn low and to smoke. And still there was no word of the return of any one to these upper quarters of the house; still the faint hum and clatter of the supper party sounded from far below; and still, under the thick fall of the snow, Shoreby town lay silent upon every side.
At length, however, feet and voices began to draw near upon the stair; and presently after several of Sir Daniel’s guests arrived upon the landing, and, turning down the corridor, beheld the torn arras and the body of the spy.
Some ran forward and some back, and all together began to cry aloud.
At the sound of their cries, guests, men-at-arms, ladies, servants, and, in a word, all the inhabitants of that great house, came flying from every direction, and began to join their voices to the tumult.
Soon a way was cleared, and Sir Daniel came forth in person, followed by the bridegroom of the morrow, my Lord Shoreby.
“My lord,” said Sir Daniel, “have I not told you of this knave Black Arrow? To the proof, behold it! There it stands, and, by the rood, my friend, in a man of yours, or one that stole your colours!”
“In truth, it was a man of mine,” replied Lord Shoreby, hanging back. “I would I had more such. He was keen as a beagle and secret as a mole.”
“Yes, friend, truly?” asked Sir Daniel, keenly. “And what came he smelling up so many stairs in my poor mansion? But he will smell no more.”
“If it please you, Sir Daniel,” said one, “here is a paper written upon with some matter, pinned upon his breast.”
“Give it to me, arrow and all,” said the knight. And when he had taken into his hand the shaft, he continued for some time to gaze upon it in a sullen musing. “Yes,” he said, addressing Lord Shoreby, “here is a hate that follows hard and close upon my heels. This black stick, or its just likeness, shall yet bring me down. And, friend, suffer a plain knight to counsel you; and if these hounds begin to wind you, flee! It is like a sickness—it still hangs, hangs upon the limbs. But let us see what they have written. It is as I thought, my lord; you are marked, like an old oak, by the woodman; to-morrow or next day, will come the axe. But what wrote you in a letter?”
Lord Shoreby snatched the paper from the arrow, read it, crumpled it between his hands, and, overcoming the reluctance which had hitherto withheld him from approaching, threw himself on his knees beside the body and eagerly groped in the wallet.
He rose to his feet with a somewhat unsettled countenance.
“Friend,” he said, “I have indeed lost a letter here that was very important; and could I lay my hand upon the knave that took it, he should incontinently grace a halter. But let us, first of all, secure the issues of the house. Here is enough harm already, by St. George!”
Sentinels were posted close around the house and garden; a sentinel on every landing of the stair, a whole troop in the main entrance-hall; and yet another about the bonfire in the shed. Sir Daniel’s followers were supplemented by Lord Shoreby’s; there was thus no lack of men or weapons to make the house secure, or to entrap a lurking enemy, should one be there.
Meanwhile, the body of the spy was carried out through the falling snow and deposited in the abbey church.
It was not until these dispositions had been taken, and all had returned to a decorous silence, that the two girls drew Richard Shelton from his place of concealment, and made a full report to him of what had passed. He, upon his side, recounted the visit of the spy, his dangerous discovery, and speedy end.
Joanna leaned back very faint against the curtained wall.
“It will avail but little,” she said. “I shall be wed to-morrow, in the morning, after all!”
“What!” cried her friend. “And here is our champion that drives lions like mice! You have little faith, of a surety. But come, friend lion-driver, give us some comfort; speak, and let us hear bold counsels.”
Dick was confounded to be thus outfaced with his own exaggerated words; but though he coloured, he still spoke stoutly.
“Truly,” said he, “we are in difficult circumstances. Yet, could I but win out of this house for half an hour, I do honestly tell myself that all might still go well; and for the marriage, it should be prevented.”
“And for the lions,” mimicked the girl, “they shall be driven.”
“I crave your excuse,” said Dick. “I speak not now in any boasting humour, but rather as one inquiring after help or counsel; for if I get not out of this house and through these sentinels, I can do less than nothing. Take me, I pray you, rightly.”
“Why do you say he was rustic, Joan?” the girl inquired. “I bet he has a tongue in his head; ready, soft, and bold is his speech at pleasure. What more would you want?”
“No,” sighed Joanna, with a smile, “they have changed me my friend Dick, it is sure enough. When I beheld him, he was rough indeed. But it matters little; there is no help for my hard case, and I must still be Lady Shoreby!”
“No, then,” said Dick, “I will even make the adventure. A friar is not much regarded; and if I found a good fairy to lead me up, I may find another like her to carry me down. What is the name of this spy?”
“Rutter,” said the young lady; “and an excellent good name to call him by. But do you mean, lion-driver? What is in your mind to do?”
“To offer boldly to go out,” returned Dick; “and if any stop me, to keep an unchanged countenance, and say I go to pray for Rutter. They will be praying over his poor clay even now.”
“The device is somewhat simple,” replied the girl, “yet it may hold.”
“No,” said young Shelton, “it is no device, but mere boldness, which serves often better in great trouble.”
“What you say is true,” she said. “Well, go, and may Heaven speed you! You leave here a poor maid that loves you entirely, and another that is most heartily your friend. Be wary, for their sakes, and make not shipwreck of your safety.”
“Yes,” added Joanna, “go, Dick. You run no more peril, whether you go or stay. Go; you take my heart with you; the saints defend you!”
Dick passed the first sentry with so assured a countenance that the fellow merely figeted and stared; but at the second landing the man carried his spear across and bade him name his business.
“Pax vobiscum,” answered Dick. “I go to pray over the body of this poor Rutter.”
“Like enough,” returned the sentry; “but to go alone is not permitted you.” He leaned over the oaken balusters and whistled shrill. “One comes!” he cried; and then motioned Dick to pass.
At the foot of the stair he found the guard afoot and awaiting his arrival; and when he had once more repeated his story, the commander of the post ordered four men out to accompany him to the church.
“Let him not slip, my lads,” he said. “Bring him to Sir Oliver, on your lives!”
The door was then opened; one of the men took Dick by either arm, another marched ahead with a link, and the fourth, with bent bow and the arrow on the string, brought up the rear. In this order they proceeded through the garden, under the thick darkness of the night and the scattering snow, and drew near to the dimly-illuminated windows of the abbey church.
At the western portal a picket of archers stood, taking what shelter they could find in the hollow of the arched doorways, and all powdered with the snow; and it was not until Dick’s conductors had exchanged a word with these, that they were suffered to pass and enter the nave of the sacred edifice.
The church was doubtfully lighted by the tapers upon the great altar, and by a lamp or two that swung from the arched roof before the private chapels of illustrious families. In the midst of the choir the dead spy lay, his limbs piously composed, upon a bier.
A hurried mutter of prayer sounded along the arches; cowled figures knelt in the stalls of the choir, and on the steps of the high altar a priest in pontifical vestments celebrated mass.
Upon this fresh entrance, one of the cowled figures arose, and, coming down the steps which elevated the level of the choir above that of the nave, demanded from the leader of the four men what business brought him to the church. Out of respect for the service and the dead, they spoke in guarded tones; but the echoes of that huge, empty building caught up their words, and hollowly repeated and repeated them along the aisles.
“A monk!” returned Sir Oliver (for he it was), when he had heard the report of the archer.
“My brother, I looked not for your coming,” he added, turning to young Shelton. “In all civility, who are you? and at whose instance do you join your supplications to ours?”
Dick, keeping his cowl about his face, signed to Sir Oliver to move a pace or two aside from the archers; and, so soon as the priest had done so, “I cannot hope to deceive you, sir,” he said. “My life is in your hands.”
Sir Oliver violently started; his stout cheeks grew pale, and for a space he was silent.
“Richard,” he said, “what brings you here, I know not; but I don’t doubt it to be evil. Nevertheless, for the kindness that was, I would not willingly deliver you to harm. You shall sit all night beside me in the stalls: you shall sit there till my Lord of Shoreby be married, and the party gone safe home; and if all goes well, and you have planned no evil, in the end you shall go where you will. But if your purpose be bloody, it shall return upon your head. Amen!”
And the priest devoutly crossed himself, and turned and louted to the altar.
With that, he spoke a few words more to the soldiers, and taking Dick by the hand, led him up to the choir, and placed him in the stall beside his own, where, for mere decency, the lad had instantly to kneel and appear to be busy with his devotions.
His mind and his eyes, however, were continually wandering. Three of the soldiers, he observed, instead of returning to the house, had got them quietly into a point of vantage in the aisle; and he could not doubt that they had done so by Sir Oliver’s command. Here, then, he was trapped. Here he must spend the night in the ghostly glimmer and shadow of the church, and looking on the pale face of him he slew; and here, in the morning, he must see his sweetheart married to another man before his eyes.
But, for all that, he obtained a command upon his mind, and built himself up in patience to await what would happen.