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Black Tor: A Tale of the Reign of James the First

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Black Tor, by George Manville Fenn,A Tale of the Reign of James the First.


  As always with this author there is plenty of action in this book. Twoteenage boys of about the same age come from families which have beenin intense rivalry for centuries. Each of them lives in a castle setamong the wild and desolate hills of Derbyshire, an almost mountainousarea in the Midlands of England, known generally as the Peak District.

  The boys know each other but as enemies. Yet events occur which drawthem together as allies, but they dare not call themselves friends. Aroguish band of ex-soldiers have arrived in the district, and set upcamp out on the moors, from whence they descend to steal from, rob andloot the houses of the poorer folk.

  The boys privately form an alliance using the men working on theirfathers' land as a private army, to attack and rid the land of thesedesperadoes. Their first attack results in dreadful failure. But thenthey revise their ideas of what they can use for weaponry, and arefinally successful.

  Yet another excellent book from the prolific pen of this great author.NH_______________________________________________________________________




  About as rugged, fierce-looking a gang of men as a lad could set eyeson, as they struggled up the steep cliff road leading to the castle,which frowned at the summit, where the flashing waters of the Gleameswept round three sides of its foot, half hidden by the beeches andbirches, which overhung the limpid stream. The late spring was at itsbrightest and best, but there had been no rain; and as the men who hadwaded the river lower down, climbed the steep cliff road, they kicked upthe white limestone dust, and caked their wet high boots, which, inseveral instances, had opened holes in which toes could be seen, lookinglike curious reptiles deep in gnarled and crumpled shells.

  "Beggars! What a gang!" said Ralph Darley, a dark, swarthy lad ofperhaps seventeen, but looking older, from having an appearance ofsomething downy beginning to come up that spring about his chin, and acouple of streaks, like eyebrows out of place, upon his upper lip. Hewas well dressed, in the fashion of Solomon King James's day; and hewore a sword, as he sat half up the rugged slope, on a huge block oflimestone, which had fallen perhaps a hundred years before, from thecliff above, and was mossy now, and half hidden by the ivy which coveredits side.

  "Beggars," he said again; "and what a savage looking lot."

  As they came on, it began to dawn upon him that they could not bebeggars, for if so, they would have been the most truculent-lookingparty that ever asked for the contributions of the charitable. One, whoseemed to be their leader, was a fierce, grizzled, red-nosed fellow,wearing a rusty morion, in which, for want of a feather, a tuft ofheather was stuck; he wore a long cloak, as rusty-looking as his helmet;and that he carried a sword was plain enough, for the well-worn scabbardhad found a very convenient hole in the cloak, through which it hadthrust itself in the most obtrusive manner, and looked like a tail witha vicious sting, for the cap of the leathern scabbard had been lost, andabout three inches of steel blade and point were visible.

  Ralph Darley was quick at observation, and took in quickly the fact thatall the men were armed, and looked shabbier than their leader, thoughnot so stout; for he was rubicund and portly, where he ought not to havebeen, for activity, though in a barrel a tubby space does indicatestrength. Neither were the noses of the other men so red as theirleader's, albeit they were a villainous-looking lot.

  "Not beggars, but soldiers," thought Ralph; "and they've been in thewars."

  He was quite right, but he did not stop to think that there had been nowars for some years. Still, as aforesaid, he was right, but the war theparty had been in was with poverty.

  "What in the world do they want in this out-of-the-way place--on theroad to nowhere?" thought Ralph. "If they're not beggars, they havelost their way."

  He pushed back the hilt of his sword, and drew up one leg, covered withits high, buff-leather boot, beneath him, holding it as he waited forthe party to come slowly up; and as they did, they halted where he sat,at the side of the road, and the leader, puffing and panting, took offhis rusty morion with his left hand, and wiped his pink, bald head,covered with drops of perspiration, with his right, as he rolled hiseyes at the lad.

  "Hallo, young springald!" he cried, in a blustering manner. "Why don'tyou jump up and salute your officer?"

  "Because I can't see him," cried the lad sharply.

  "What? And you carry a toasting-iron, like a rat's tail, by your side.Here, who made this cursed road, where it ought to have been a ladder?"

  "I don't know," said Ralph angrily. "Who are you? What do you want?This road does not lead anywhere."

  "That's a lie, my young cock-a-hoop; if it did not lead somewhere, itwould not have been made."

  The man's companions burst into a hoarse fit of laughter, and the boyflushed angrily.

  "Well," he said haughtily, "it leads up to Cliff Castle, and nofarther."

  "That's far enough for us, my game chicken. Is that heap of blocks ofstone on the top there the castle?"

  "Yes! What do you want?"

  The man looked the lad up and down, rolled one of his eyes, which lookedsomething like that of a lobster, and then winked the lid over theinflated orb, and said:

  "Gentlemen on an ambassage don't read their despatches to everyspringald they see by the roadside. Here, jump up, and show us the way,and I'll ask Sir Morton Darley to give you a stoup of wine for yourtrouble, or milk and water."

  "You ask Sir Morton to give you wine!" cried the lad angrily. "Why, whoare you, to dare such a thing?"

  "What!" roared the man. "Dare? Who talks to Captain Purlrose, hisHighness's trusted soldier, about dare?" and he put on a tremendouslyfierce look, blew out his cheeks, drew his brows over his eyes, andslapped his sword-hilt heavily, as if to keep it in its sheath, for fearit should leap out and kill the lad, adding, directly after, in a hoarsewhisper: "Lie still, good sword, lie still."

  All this theatrical display was evidently meant to awe the lad, butinstead of doing so, it made him angry, for he flushed up, and saidquickly:

  "I dare," and the men laughed.

  "You dare!" cried the leader; "and pray, who may you be, my bully boy?"

  "I don't tell my name to every ragged fellow I meet in the road," saidthe boy haughtily.

  "What!" roared the man, clapping his hand upon the hilt of his blade, anaction imitated by his followers.

  "Keep your sword in its scabbard," said Ralph, without wincing in theleast. "If you have business with my father, this way."

  He sprang to his feet now, and gazed fiercely at the stranger.

  "What?" cried the man, in a voice full of exuberant friendliness, whichmade the lad shrink in disgust, "you the son of Sir Morton Darley?"

  "Yes: what of it?"

  "The son of my beloved old companion-in-arms? Boy, let me embracethee."

  To Ralph's horror, the man took a step forward, and would have thrownhis arms about his neck; but by a quick movement the lad stepped back,and the men laughed to see their leader grasp the wind.

  "Don't do that," said Ralph sternly. "Do you mean to say that you wantto speak to my father?"

  "Speak to him? Yes, to fly to the hand of him whom I many a time savedfrom death. And so you are the son of Morton Darley? And abrave-looking, manly fellow too. Why, I might have known. Eye, nose,curled-up lip. Yes:
all there. You are his very reflection, that Iought to have seen in the looking-glass of memory. Excuse this weakmoisture of the eyes, boy. The sight of my old friend's son brings upthe happy companionship of the past. Time flies fast, my brave lad.Your father and I were hand and glove then. Never separate. We foughttogether, bled together, and ah! how fate is partial in the way shespreads her favours! Your father dresses his son in velvet; while I,poor soldier of fortune--I mean misfortune--am growing rusty; sword,morion, breast-plate, body battered, and face scarred by time."

  "Aren't we going to have something to eat and drink, captain?" growledone of the men, with an ugly scowl.

  "Ay, brave boys, and soon," cried the leader.

  "Then, leave off preaching, captain, till we've got our legs under atable."

  "Ah, yes. Poor boys, they are footsore and weary with the walk acrossyour hilly moors. Excuse this emotion, young sir, and lead me to my oldbrother's side."

  There was something comic in the boy's look of perplexity and disgust,as, after a few moments' hesitation, he began to lead the way toward thehalf castle, half manor-house, which crowned the great limestone cliff.

  "Surely," he thought, "my father cannot wish to see such a ragamuffin asthis, with his coarse, bloated features, and disgraceful rags and dirt."

  But the next minute his thoughts took a different turn.

  "If what the man says be true, father will be only too glad to help anold brother-officer in misfortune, and be sorry to see him in such aplight."

  With the frank generosity of youth, then, he softened his manner towardhis companion, as they slowly climbed upward, the great beeches whichgrew out of the huge cracks and faults of the cliff shading them fromthe sun.

  "So this is the way?" cried the man.

  "Yes: the castle is up there," and Ralph pointed.

  "What! in ruins?" cried the captain.

  "Ruins? No!" cried Ralph. "Those stones are natural; the top of thecliff. Our place is behind them. They do look like ruins, though."

  "Hah! But what an eagle's nest. No wonder I find an eaglet on my way."

  Ralph winced, for the man clapped a dirty hand upon his shoulder, andgripped him fast, turning the lad into a walking-staff to help him onhis road.

  "Have you come far this morning?" said Ralph, to conceal his disgust.

  "Ay, miles and miles, over stones and streams, and in and out amongmines and holes. We were benighted, too, up yonder on the mountain."

  "Hill," said Ralph; "we have no mountains here."

  "Hills when you're fresh, lad; mountains when you're footsore and weary.But we stumbled upon a niche, in a bit of a slope near the top, andturned out the bats and foxes, and slept there."

  "Where?" cried Ralph quickly. "Was there a little stream runningthere--warm water?"

  "To be sure there was. Hard stones, and warm water: those were our bedand beverage last night."

  "I know the place. Darch Scarr."

  "Fine scar, too, lad. Been better if it had been healed up, with a doorto keep out the cold wind. Oh! so this is where my old comrade lives,"he added, as he came in sight of an arched gateway, with embattled topand turrets, while through the entry, a tree-shaded courtyard could beseen. "And a right good dwelling too. Come on, brave boys. Here'srest and breakfast at last."

  "And I hope you'll go directly after," thought Ralph, as he led the wayinto the courtyard, and paused at a second entrance, at the top of aflight of stone steps, well commanded by loopholes on either side. Thenaloud:

  "Will you wait here a minute, while I go and tell my father?"

  "Yes: tell him his old brother-officer is here."

  "I did not catch your name when you spoke before," said Ralph. "CaptainPearl Ross?"

  "Nay, nay, boy; Purlrose. He'll know directly you speak. Tell him, I'mwaiting to grasp him by the hand."

  Ralph nodded, and sprang up the stone flight, while the visitor'scompanions threw themselves down upon the steps to rest, their leaderremaining standing, and placing himself by the mounting stone on oneside, hand upon sword-hilt, and arranging his ragged cloak in folds withas much care as if it had been of newest velvet.