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Chapter 13


CHAPTER V - HOW DICK CHANGED SIDES


Dick, blowing out his lamp lest it should attract attention, led
the way up-stairs and along the corridor.  In the brown chamber the
rope had been made fast to the frame of an exceeding heavy and
ancient bed.  It had not been detached, and Dick, taking the coil
to the window, began to lower it slowly and cautiously into the
darkness of the night.  Joan stood by; but as the rope lengthened,
and still Dick continued to pay it out, extreme fear began to
conquer her resolution.

"Dick," she said, "is it so deep?  I may not essay it. I should
infallibly fall, good Dick."

It was just at the delicate moment of the operations that she
spoke.  Dick started; the remainder of the coil slipped from his
grasp, and the end fell with a splash into the moat.  Instantly,
from the battlement above, the voice of a sentinel cried, "Who
goes?"

"A murrain!" cried Dick.  "We are paid now!  Down with you - take
the rope."

"I cannot," she cried, recoiling.

"An ye cannot, no more can I," said Shelton.  "How can I swim the
moat without you?  Do you desert me, then?"

"Dick," she gasped, "I cannot.  The strength is gone from me."

"By the mass, then, we are all shent!" he shouted, stamping with
his foot; and then, hearing steps, he ran to the room door and
sought to close it.

Before he could shoot the bolt, strong arms were thrusting it back
upon him from the other side.  He struggled for a second; then,
feeling himself overpowered, ran back to the window.  The girl had
fallen against the wall in the embrasure of the window; she was
more than half insensible; and when he tried to raise her in his
arms, her body was limp and unresponsive.

At the same moment the men who had forced the door against him laid
hold upon him.  The first he poinarded at a blow, and the others
falling back for a second in some disorder, he profited by the
chance, bestrode the window-sill, seized the cord in both hands,
and let his body slip.

The cord was knotted, which made it the easier to descend; but so
furious was Dick's hurry, and so small his experience of such
gymnastics, that he span round and round in mid-air like a criminal
upon a gibbet, and now beat his head, and now bruised his hands,
against the rugged stonework of the wall.  The air roared in his
ears; he saw the stars overhead, and the reflected stars below him
in the moat, whirling like dead leaves before the tempest.  And
then he lost hold, and fell, and soused head over ears into the icy
water.

When he came to the surface his hand encountered the rope, which,
newly lightened of his weight, was swinging wildly to and fro.
There was a red glow overhead, and looking up, he saw, by the light
of several torches and a cresset full of burning coals, the
battlements lined with faces.  He saw the men's eyes turning hither
and thither in quest of him; but he was too far below, the light
reached him not, and they looked in vain.

And now he perceived that the rope was considerably too long, and
he began to struggle as well as he could towards the other side of
the moat, still keeping his head above water.  In this way he got
much more than halfway over; indeed the bank was almost within
reach, before the rope began to draw him back by its own weight.
Taking his courage in both hands, he left go and made a leap for
the trailing sprays of willow that had already, that same evening,
helped Sir Daniel's messenger to land.  He went down, rose again,
sank a second time, and then his hand caught a branch, and with the
speed of thought he had dragged himself into the thick of the tree
and clung there, dripping and panting, and still half uncertain of
his escape.

But all this had not been done without a considerable splashing,
which had so far indicated his position to the men along the
battlements.  Arrows and quarrels fell thick around him in the
darkness, thick like driving hail; and suddenly a torch was thrown
down - flared through the air in its swift passage - stuck for a
moment on the edge of the bank, where it burned high and lit up its
whole surroundings like a bonfire - and then, in a good hour for
Dick, slipped off, plumped into the moat, and was instantly
extinguished.

It had served its purpose.  The marksmen had had time to see the
willow, and Dick ensconced among its boughs; and though the lad
instantly sprang higher up the bank, and ran for his life, he was
yet not quick enough to escape a shot.  An arrow struck him in the
shoulder, another grazed his head.

The pain of his wounds lent him wings; and he had no sooner got
upon the level than he took to his heels and ran straight before
him in the dark, without a thought for the direction of his flight.

For a few steps missiles followed him, but these soon ceased; and
when at length he came to a halt and looked behind, he was already
a good way from the Moat House, though he could still see the
torches moving to and fro along its battlements.

He leaned against a tree, streaming with blood and water, bruised,
wounded, alone, and unarmed.  For all that, he had saved his life
for that bout; and though Joanna remained behind in the power of
Sir Daniel, he neither blamed himself for an accident that it had
been beyond his power to prevent, nor did he augur any fatal
consequences to the girl herself.  Sir Daniel was cruel, but he was
not likely to be cruel to a young gentlewoman who had other
protectors, willing and able to bring him to account.  It was more
probable he would make haste to marry her to some friend of his
own.

"Well," thought Dick, "between then and now I will find me the
means to bring that traitor under; for I think, by the mass, that I
be now absolved from any gratitude or obligation; and when war is
open, there is a fair chance for all."

In the meanwhile, here he was in a sore plight.

For some little way farther he struggled forward through the
forest; but what with the pain of his wounds, the darkness of the
night, and the extreme uneasiness and confusion of his mind, he
soon became equally unable to guide himself or to continue to push
through the close undergrowth, and he was fain at length to sit
down and lean his back against a tree.

When he awoke from something betwixt sleep and swooning, the grey
of the morning had begun to take the place of night.  A little
chilly breeze was bustling among the trees, and as he still sat
staring before him, only half awake, he became aware of something
dark that swung to and fro among the branches, some hundred yards
in front of him.  The progressive brightening of the day and the
return of his own senses at last enabled him to recognise the
object.  It was a man hanging from the bough of a tall oak.  His
head had fallen forward on his breast; but at every stronger puff
of wind his body span round and round, and his legs and arms
tossed, like some ridiculous plaything.

Dick clambered to his feet, and, staggering and leaning on the
tree-trunks as he went, drew near to this grim object.

The bough was perhaps twenty feet above the ground, and the poor
fellow had been drawn up so high by his executioners that his boots
swung clear above Dick's reach; and as his hood had been drawn over
his face, it was impossible to recognise the man.

Dick looked about him right and left; and at last he perceived that
the other end of the cord had been made fast to the trunk of a
little hawthorn which grew, thick with blossom, under the lofty
arcade of the oak.  With his dagger, which alone remained to him of
all his arms, young Shelton severed the rope, and instantly, with a
dead thump, the corpse fell in a heap upon the ground.

Dick raised the hood; it was Throgmorton, Sir Daniel's messenger.
He had not gone far upon his errand.  A paper, which had apparently
escaped the notice of the men of the Black Arrow, stuck from the
bosom of his doublet, and Dick, pulling it forth, found it was Sir
Daniel's letter to Lord Wensleydale.

"Come," thought he, "if the world changes yet again, I may have
here the wherewithal to shame Sir Daniel - nay, and perchance to
bring him to the block."

And he put the paper in his own bosom, said a prayer over the dead
man, and set forth again through the woods.

His fatigue and weakness increased; his ears sang, his steps
faltered, his mind at intervals failed him, so low had he been
brought by loss of blood.  Doubtless he made many deviations from
his true path, but at last he came out upon the high-road, not very
far from Tunstall hamlet.

A rough voice bid him stand.

"Stand?" repeated Dick.  "By the mass, but I am nearer falling."

And he suited the action to the word, and fell all his length upon
the road.

Two men came forth out of the thicket, each in green forest jerkin,
each with long-bow and quiver and short sword.

"Why, Lawless," said the younger of the two, "it is young Shelton."

"Ay, this will be as good as bread to John Amend-All," returned the
other.  "Though, faith, he hath been to the wars.  Here is a tear
in his scalp that must 'a' cost him many a good ounce of blood."

"And here," added Greensheve, "is a hole in his shoulder that must
have pricked him well.  Who hath done this, think ye?  If it be one
of ours, he may all to prayer; Ellis will give him a short shrift
and a long rope."

"Up with the cub," said Lawless.  "Clap him on my back."

And then, when Dick had been hoisted to his shoulders, and he had
taken the lad's arms about his neck, and got a firm hold of him,
the ex-Grey Friar added:

"Keep ye the post, brother Greensheve.  I will on with him by
myself."

So Greensheve returned to his ambush on the wayside, and Lawless
trudged down the hill, whistling as he went, with Dick, still in a
dead faint, comfortably settled on his shoulders.

The sun rose as he came out of the skirts of the wood and saw
Tunstall hamlet straggling up the opposite hill.  All seemed quiet,
but a strong post of some half a score of archers lay close by the
bridge on either side of the road, and, as soon as they perceived
Lawless with his burthen, began to bestir themselves and set arrow
to string like vigilant sentries.

"Who goes?" cried the man in command.

"Will Lawless, by the rood - ye know me as well as your own hand,"
returned the outlaw, contemptuously.

"Give the word, Lawless," returned the other.

"Now, Heaven lighten thee, thou great fool," replied Lawless.  "Did
I not tell it thee myself?  But ye are all mad for this playing at
soldiers.  When I am in the greenwood, give me greenwood ways; and
my word for this tide is:  'A fig for all mock soldiery!'"

"Lawless, ye but show an ill example; give us the word, fool
jester," said the commander of the post.

"And if I had forgotten it?" asked the other.

"An ye had forgotten it - as I know y' 'ave not - by the mass, I
would clap an arrow into your big body," returned the first.

"Nay, an y' are so ill a jester," said Lawless, "ye shall have your
word for me.  'Duckworth and Shelton' is the word; and here, to the
illustration, is Shelton on my shoulders, and to Duckworth do I
carry him."

"Pass, Lawless," said the sentry.

"And where is John?" asked the Grey Friar.

"He holdeth a court, by the mass, and taketh rents as to the manner
born!" cried another of the company.

So it proved.  When Lawless got as far up the village as the little
inn, he found Ellis Duckworth surrounded by Sir Daniel's tenants,
and, by the right of his good company of archers, coolly taking
rents, and giving written receipts in return for them.  By the
faces of the tenants, it was plain how little this proceeding
pleased them; for they argued very rightly that they would simply
have to pay them twice.

As soon as he knew what had brought Lawless, Ellis dismissed the
remainder of the tenants, and, with every mark of interest and
apprehension, conducted Dick into an inner chamber of the inn.
There the lad's hurts were looked to; and he was recalled, by
simple remedies, to consciousness.

"Dear lad," said Ellis, pressing his hand, "y' are in a friend's
hands that loved your father, and loves you for his sake.  Rest ye
a little quietly, for ye are somewhat out of case.  Then shall ye
tell me your story, and betwixt the two of us we shall find a
remedy for all."

A little later in the day, and after Dick had awakened from a
comfortable slumber to find himself still very weak, but clearer in
mind and easier in body, Ellis returned, and sitting down by the
bedside, begged him, in the name of his father, to relate the
circumstance of his escape from Tunstall Moat House.  There was
something in the strength of Duckworth's frame, in the honesty of
his brown face, in the clearness and shrewdness of his eyes, that
moved Dick to obey him; and from first to last the lad told him the
story of his two days' adventures.

"Well," said Ellis, when he had done, "see what the kind saints
have done for you, Dick Shelton, not alone to save your body in so
numerous and deadly perils, but to bring you into my hands that
have no dearer wish than to assist your father's son.  Be but true
to me - and I see y' are true - and betwixt you and me, we shall
bring that false-heart traitor to the death."

"Will ye assault the house?" asked Dick.

"I were mad, indeed, to think of it," returned Ellis.  "He hath too
much power; his men gather to him; those that gave me the slip last
night, and by the mass came in so handily for you -those have made
him safe.  Nay, Dick, to the contrary, thou and I and my brave
bowmen, we must all slip from this forest speedily, and leave Sir
Daniel free."

"My mind misgiveth me for Jack," said the lad.

"For Jack!" repeated Duckworth.  "O, I see, for the wench!  Nay,
Dick, I promise you, if there come talk of any marriage we shall
act at once; till then, or till the time is ripe, we shall all
disappear, even like shadows at morning; Sir Daniel shall look east
and west, and see none enemies; he shall think, by the mass, that
he hath dreamed awhile, and hath now awakened in his bed.  But our
four eyes, Dick, shall follow him right close, and our four hands -
so help us all the army of the saints! - shall bring that traitor
low!"

Two days later Sir Daniel's garrison had grown to such a strength
that he ventured on a sally, and at the head of some two score
horsemen, pushed without opposition as far as Tunstall hamlet.  Not
an arrow flew, not a man stirred in the thicket; the bridge was no
longer guarded, but stood open to all corners; and as Sir Daniel
crossed it, he saw the villagers looking timidly from their doors.

Presently one of them, taking heart of grace, came forward, and
with the lowliest salutations, presented a letter to the knight.

His face darkened as he read the contents.  It ran thus:


To the most untrue and cruel gentylman, Sir Daniel Brackley,
Knyght, These:

I fynde ye were untrue and unkynd fro the first.  Ye have my
father's blood upon your hands; let be, it will not wasshe.  Some
day ye shall perish by my procurement, so much I let you to wytte;
and I let you to wytte farther, that if ye seek to wed to any other
the gentylwoman, Mistresse Joan Sedley, whom that I am bound upon a
great oath to wed myself, the blow will be very swift.  The first
step therinne will be thy first step to the grave.

RIC. SHELTON.

Robert Louis Stevenson