Ye may do me no more service; this shall be the last. Now, for my poor soul's interest, and as a loyal gentleman, bestir you; for I have that matter on my conscience that shall drag me deep."
He groaned, and Dick heard the grating of his teeth, whether in pain or terror.
Just then Sir Daniel appeared upon the threshold of the hall. He had a letter in one hand.
"Lads," he said, "we have had a shog, we have had a tumble; wherefore, then, deny it? Rather it imputeth to get speedily again to saddle. This old Harry the Sixt has had the undermost. Wash we, then, our hands of him. I have a good friend that rideth next the duke, the Lord of Wensleydale. Well, I have writ a letter to my friend, praying his good lordship, and offering large satisfaction for the past and reasonable surety for the future. Doubt not but he will lend a favourable ear. A prayer without gifts is like a song without music: I surfeit him with promises, boys--I spare not to promise. What, then, is lacking? Nay, a great thing--wherefore should I deceive you?--a great thing and a difficult: a messenger to bear it. The woods--y' are not ignorant of that--lie thick with our ill-willers. Haste is most needful; but without sleight and caution all is naught. Which, then, of this company will take me this letter, bear me it to my Lord of Wensleydale, and bring me the answer back?"
One man instantly arose.
"I will, an't like you," said he. "I will even risk my carcase."
"Nay, Dicky Bowyer, not so," returned the knight. "It likes me not. Y' are sly indeed, but not speedy. Ye were a laggard ever."
"An't be so, Sir Daniel, here am I," cried another.
"The saints forfend!" said the knight. "Y' are speedy, but not sly. Ye would blunder me headforemost into John Amend-All's camp. I thank you both for your good courage; but, in sooth, it may not be."
Then Hatch offered himself, and he also was refused.
"I want you here, good Bennet; y' are my right hand, indeed," returned the knight; and then several coming forward in a group, Sir Daniel at length selected one and gave him the letter.
"Now," he said, "upon your good speed and better discretion we do all depend. Bring me a good answer back, and before three weeks, I will have purged my forest of these vagabonds that brave us to our faces. But mark it well, Throgmorton: the matter is not easy. Ye must steal forth under night, and go like a fox; and how ye are to cross Till I know not, neither by the bridge nor ferry."
"I can swim," returned Throgmorton. "I will come soundly, fear not."
"Well, friend, get ye to the buttery," replied Sir Daniel. "Ye shall swim first of all in nut-brown ale." And with that he turned back into the hall.
"Sir Daniel hath a wise tongue," said Hatch, aside, to Dick. "See, now, where many a lesser man had glossed the matter over, he speaketh it out plainly to his company. Here is a danger, 'a saith, and here difficulty; and jesteth in the very saying. Nay, by Saint Barbary, he is a born captain! Not a man but he is some deal heartened up! See how they fall again to work."
This praise of Sir Daniel put a thought in the lad's head.
"Bennet," he said, "how came my father by his end?"
"Ask me not that," replied Hatch. "I had no hand nor knowledge in it; furthermore, I will even be silent, Master Dick. For look you, in a man's own business there he may speak; but of hearsay matters and of common talk, not so. Ask me Sir Oliver--ay, or Carter, if ye will; not me."
And Hatch set off to make the rounds, leaving Dick in a muse.
"Wherefore would he not tell me?" thought the lad. "And wherefore named he Carter? Carter--nay, then Carter had a hand in it, perchance."
He entered the house, and passing some little way along a flagged and vaulted passage, came to the door of the cell where the hurt man lay groaning. At his entrance Carter started eagerly.
"Have ye brought the priest?" he cried.
"Not yet awhile," returned Dick. "Y' 'ave a word to tell me first. How came my father, Harry Shelton, by his death?"
The man's face altered instantly.