I have three men whom I will bitterly avenge--Harry Shelton, Simon Malmesbury, and"--striking his broad bosom--"and Ellis Duckworth, by the mass!"
Another man came, red with hurry, through the thorns.
"'Tis not Sir Daniel!" he panted. "They are but seven. Is the arrow gone?"
"It struck but now," replied Ellis.
"A murrain!" cried the messenger. "Methought I heard it whistle. And I go dinnerless!"
In the space of a minute, some running, some walking sharply, according as their stations were nearer or farther away, the men of the Black Arrow had all disappeared from the neighbourhood of the ruined house; and the caldron, and the fire, which was now burning low, and the dead deer's carcase on the hawthorn, remained alone to testify they had been there.
CHAPTER V--"BLOODY AS THE HUNTER"
The lads lay quiet till the last footstep had melted on the wind. Then they arose, and with many an ache, for they were weary with constraint, clambered through the ruins, and recrossed the ditch upon the rafter. Matcham had picked up the windac and went first, Dick following stiffly, with his cross-bow on his arm.
"And now," said Matcham, "forth to Holywood."
"To Holywood!" cried Dick, "when good fellows stand shot? Not I! I would see you 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, I will go die with them. What! would ye have me leave my own men that I have lived 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 to Holywood. 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 look ye, 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 Holywood and purge mine oath."
"Ye but deride me," answered Matcham. "These men ye go to succour are the I same 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 run no 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. Saint George! 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 father that men slew? 'Harry Shelton,' he said; and Sir Harry Shelton was your father, 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 goeth currently, it was Sir Daniel slew him. He slew him under oath; in his own house he shed the innocent blood. Heaven wearies for the avenging on't; and you--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: This man hath bred me up and fostered me, and his men I have hunted with and played among; and to leave them in the hour of peril--O, man, if I did that, I were stark dead to honour! Nay, Jack, ye would not ask it; ye would not wish me to be base."
"But your father, Dick?" said Matcham, somewhat wavering. "Your father? and your 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 his will I desert in peril. And for mine oath, good Jack, ye shall absolve me of it here. For the lives' sake of many men that hurt you not, and for mine honour, ye shall set me free."
"I, Dick? Never!" returned Matcham. "An ye leave me, y' are forsworn, and so I shall declare it."
"My blood heats," said Dick.