'Tis a great thing to be weak, I trow: ye can do your worst, yet shall none punish you; ye may steal a man's weapons in the hour of need, yet may the man not take his own again;--y' are weak, forsooth! Nay, then, if one cometh charging at you with a lance, and crieth he is weak, ye must let him pierce your body through! Tut! fool words!"
"And yet ye beat me not," returned Matcham.
"Let be," said Dick--"let be. I will instruct you. Y' 'ave been ill-nurtured, methinks, and yet ye have the makings of some good, and, beyond all question, saved me from the river. Nay, I had forgotten it; I am as thankless as thyself. But, come, let us on. An we be for Holywood this night, ay, or to-morrow early, we had best set forward speedily."
But though Dick had talked himself back into his usual good-humour, Matcham had forgiven him nothing. His violence, the recollection of the forester whom he had slain--above all, the vision of the upraised belt, were things not easily to be forgotten.
"I will thank you, for the form's sake," said Matcham. "But, in sooth, good Master Shelton, I had liever find my way alone. Here is a wide wood; prithee, let each choose his path; I owe you a dinner and a lesson. Fare ye well!"
"Nay," cried Dick, "if that be your tune, so be it, and a plague be with you!"
Each turned aside, and they began walking off severally, with no thought of the direction, intent solely on their quarrel. But Dick had not gone ten paces ere his name was called, and Matcham came running after.
"Dick," he said, "it were unmannerly to part so coldly. Here is my hand, and my heart with it. For all that wherein you have so excellently served and helped me--not for the form, but from the heart, I thank you. Fare ye right well."
"Well, lad," returned Dick, taking the hand which was offered him, "good speed to you, if speed you may. But I misdoubt it shrewdly. Y' are too disputatious." So then they separated for the second time; and presently it was Dick who was running after Matcham.
"Here," he said, "take my cross-bow; shalt not go unarmed."
"A cross-bow!" said Matcham. "Nay, boy, I have neither the strength to bend nor yet the skill to aim with it. It were no help to me, good boy. But yet I thank you."
The night had now fallen, and under the trees they could no longer read each other's face.
"I will go some little way with you," said Dick. "The night is dark. I would fain leave you on a path, at least. My mind misgiveth me, y' are likely to be lost."
Without any more words, he began to walk forward, and the other once more followed him. The blackness grew thicker and thicker. Only here and there, in open places, they saw the sky, dotted with small stars. In the distance, the noise of the rout of the Lancastrian army still continued to be faintly audible; but with every step they left it farther in the rear.
At the end of half an hour of silent progress they came forth upon a broad patch of heathy open. It glimmered in the light of the stars, shaggy with fern and islanded with clumps of yew. And here they paused and looked upon each other.
"Y' are weary?" Dick said.
"Nay, I am so weary," answered Matcham, "that methinks I could lie down and die."
"I hear the chiding of a river," returned Dick. "Let us go so far forth, for I am sore athirst."
The ground sloped down gently; and, sure enough, in the bottom, they found a little murmuring river, running among willows. Here they threw themselves down together by the brink; and putting their mouths to the level of a starry pool, they drank their fill.
"Dick," said Matcham, "it may not be. I can no more."
"I saw a pit as we came down," said Dick. "Let us lie down therein and sleep."
"Nay, but with all my heart!" cried Matcham.
The pit was sandy and dry; a shock of brambles hung upon one hedge, and made a partial shelter; and there the two lads lay down, keeping close together for the sake of warmth, their quarrel all forgotten. And soon sleep fell upon them like a cloud, and under the dew and stars they rested peacefully.