"Nay," said Dick, "pardon me if I answer churlishly; but indeed ye know right well a wardship is most profitable. All these years have ye not enjoyed my revenues, and led my men? Have ye not still my marriage? I wot not what it may be worth--it is worth something. Pardon me again; but if ye were base enough to slay a man under trust, here were, perhaps, reasons enough to move you to the lesser baseness."
"When I was lad of your years," returned Sir Daniel, sternly, "my mind had not so turned upon suspicions. And Sir Oliver here," he added, "why should he, a priest, be guilty of this act?"
"Nay, Sir Daniel," said Dick, "but where the master biddeth there will the dog go. It is well known this priest is but your instrument. I speak very freely; the time is not for courtesies. Even as I speak, so would I be answered. And answer get I none! Ye but put more questions. I rede ye be ware, Sir Daniel; for in this way ye will but nourish and not satisfy my doubts."
"I will answer you fairly, Master Richard," said the knight. "Were I to pretend ye have not stirred my wrath, I were no honest man. But I will be just even in anger. Come to me with these words when y' are grown and come to man's estate, and I am no longer your guardian, and so helpless to resent them. Come to me then, and I will answer you as ye merit, with a buffet in the mouth. Till then ye have two courses: either swallow me down these insults, keep a silent tongue, and fight in the meanwhile for the man that fed and fought for your infancy; or else--the door standeth open, the woods are full of mine enemies--go."
The spirit with which these words were uttered, the looks with which they were accompanied, staggered Dick; and yet he could not but observe that he had got no answer.
"I desire nothing more earnestly, Sir Daniel, than to believe you," he replied. "Assure me ye are free from this."
"Will ye take my word of honour, Dick?" inquired the knight.
"That would I," answered the lad.
"I give it you," returned Sir Daniel. "Upon my word of honour, upon the eternal welfare of my spirit, and as I shall answer for my deeds hereafter, I had no hand nor portion in your father's death."
He extended his hand, and Dick took it eagerly. Neither of them observed the priest, who, at the pronunciation of that solemn and false oath, had half arisen from his seat in an agony of horror and remorse.
"Ah," cried Dick, "ye must find it in your great-heartedness to pardon me! I was a churl, indeed, to doubt of you. But ye have my hand upon it; I will doubt no more."
"Nay, Dick," replied Sir Daniel, "y' are forgiven. Ye know not the world and its calumnious nature."
"I was the more to blame," added Dick, "in that the rogues pointed, not directly at yourself, but at Sir Oliver."
As he spoke, he turned towards the priest, and paused in the middle of the last word. This tall, ruddy, corpulent, high-stepping man had fallen, you might say, to pieces; his colour was gone, his limbs were relaxed, his lips stammered prayers; and now, when Dick's eyes were fixed upon him suddenly, he cried out aloud, like some wild animal, and buried his face in his hands.
Sir Daniel was by him in two strides, and shook him fiercely by the shoulder. At the same moment Dick's suspicions reawakened.
"Nay," he said, "Sir Oliver may swear also. 'Twas him they accused."
"He shall swear," said the knight.
Sir Oliver speechlessly waved his arms.
"Ay, by the mass! but ye shall swear," cried Sir Daniel, beside himself with fury. "Here, upon this book, ye shall swear," he continued, picking up the breviary, which had fallen to the ground. "What! Ye make me doubt you! Swear, I say; swear!"
But the priest was still incapable of speech. His terror of Sir Daniel, his terror of perjury, risen to about an equal height, strangled him.
And just then, through the high, stained-glass window of the hall, a black arrow crashed, and struck, and stuck quivering, in the midst of the long table.
Sir Oliver, with a loud scream, fell fainting on the rushes; while the knight, followed by Dick, dashed into the court and up the nearest corkscrew stair to the battlements.