by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saranac Lake, April 8, 1888.
Note: Look up difficult words at The Free Dictionary.
Earl Risingham, although by far the most important person then in Shoreby, was poorly lodged in the house of a private gentleman upon the extreme outskirts of the town. Nothing but the armed men at the doors, and the mounted messengers that kept arriving and departing, announced the temporary residence of a great lord.
So it was that, from lack of space, Dick and Lawless were clapped into the same apartment.
“Well spoken, Master Richard,” said the outlaw; “it was excellently well spoken, and, for my part, I thank you cordially. Here we are in good hands; we shall be justly tried, and, some time this evening, decently hanged on the same 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 man out of ten thousand; he holds you right near his heart, both for your own and for your father’s sake; and knowing you guiltless of this fact, he will stir earth and heaven to prove you innocent.”
“It may not be,” said Dick. “What can he do? He has but a handful. Alas, if it were but to-morrow—could I but keep a certain meeting an hour before noon to-morrow—all were, I think, otherwise. But now there is no help.”
“Well,” concluded Lawless, “if you will stand to it for my innocence, I will stand to it for yours, and that stoutly. It shall not avail us; but if I be to hang, it shall not be for lack of swearing.”
And then, while Dick gave himself over to his reflections, the old rogue curled himself down into a corner, pulled his monkish hood about his face, and composed himself to sleep. Soon he was loudly snoring, so utterly had his long life of hardship and adventure blunted the sense of apprehension.
It was long after noon, and the day was already failing, before the door was opened and Dick taken out 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 this inclines me to be the more lenient; but I may not hide from you that heavy charges lie against your character. You do consort with murderers and robbers; upon a clear probation you have carried war against the king’s peace; you are suspected to have piratically seized upon a ship; you are found skulking with a counterfeit presentment in your enemy’s house; a man is slain that very evening—”
“If 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 his bosom—“here is a letter from his wallet.”
Lord Risingham took the letter, and opened and read it twice.
“You have read this?” he inquired.
“I have read it,” answered Dick.
“Are you for York or Lancaster?” the earl demanded.
“My lord, it was but a little while back that I was asked that question, and knew not how to answer it,” said Dick; “but having answered once, I will not vary. My lord, I am for York.”
The earl nodded approvingly.
“Honestly replied,” he said. “But why, then, deliver this letter?”
“No, 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 least approve your saying. There is more youth than guile in you, I do perceive; and were not Sir Daniel a mighty man upon our side, I were half-tempted to espouse your quarrel. For I have inquired, and it appears you have been hardly dealt with, and have much excuse. But look, sir, I am, before all else, a leader in the queen’s interest; and though by nature a just man, as I believe, and leaning even to the excess of mercy, yet must I order my goings for my party’s interest, and, to keep Sir Daniel, I would go far about.”
“My lord,” returned Dick, “you will think me very bold to counsel you; but do you count upon Sir Daniel’s faith? I thought he had changed sides intolerably often.”
“It is the way of England. What would you have?” the earl demanded. “But you are unjust to the knight of Tunstall; and as faith goes, in this unfaithful generation, he has of late been honourably true to us of Lancaster. Even in our last reverses he stood firm.”
“If it pleased you, then,” said Dick, “to cast your eye upon this letter, you might somewhat change your thought of him;” and he handed to the earl Sir Daniel’s letter to Lord Wensleydale.
The effect upon the earl’s countenance was instant; he lowered like an angry lion, and his hand, with a sudden movement, clutched at his dagger.
“You have read this also?” he asked.
“Even so,” said Dick. “It is your lordship’s own estate he offers to Lord Wensleydale?”
“It is my own estate, even as you say!” returned the earl. “I am your protector for this letter. It has shown me a fox’s hole. Command me, Master Shelton; I will not be backward in gratitude, and to begin with, York or Lancaster, true man or thief, I do now set you at freedom. Go, a Mary’s name! But judge it right that I retain and hang your fellow, Lawless. The crime has been most open, 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 the earl. “He has been gallows-ripe this score of years. And, whether for one thing or another, whether to-morrow or the day after, where is the great choice?”
“Yet, my lord, it was through love to me that he came here,” answered Dick, “and I were churlish and thankless to desert him.”
“Master Shelton, you are troublesome,” replied the earl, severely. “It is an evil way to prosper in this world. However, and to be finished of your importunity, 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 saints confound!) thirsts greedily for your blood.”
“My lord, I do now offer you in words my gratitude, trusting at some brief date to pay you some of it in service,” replied Dick, as he turned from the apartment.