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Black Tor: A Tale of the Reign of James the First, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  "Father can't be pleased," thought the lad, as he hurried in through aheavy oaken door, strengthened by the twisted and scrolled iron bands ofthe huge hinges, and studded with great-headed nails. This yieldedheavily, as, seizing a ring which moved a lever, he raised the heavylatch, and for a moment, as he passed through, he hesitated aboutclosing the door again upon the group below. But as he glanced at theparty, he hesitated no longer. Their appearance begat no confidence,and the great latch clicked directly.

  The next minute, he was hurrying along a dark stone passage, to springup a few more stairs, leading into a corridor with a polished oakenfloor, and mullioned windows looking down upon the courtyard; and as hereached the second, a bright, handsome girl, whose features proclaimedsisterhood, started out to meet him.

  "Oh Ralph," she said, "who are those dreadful-looking men you havebrought up?"

  "Don't stop me, Min," he said hastily. "Old soldiers who want to seefather. Where is he?"

  "In his room."

  The lad hurried on, and entered through a door way on his left, towhere, in an oaken-panelled room, a stern, slightly grey,military-looking man sat poring over an old book, but looked up directlythe lad entered.

  "Ah, Ralph, boy," he said; "been out?"

  "Only on the cliff, father," cried the lad hastily. "Visitors."

  "Visitors? Nonsense! I expect no visitors. Who are they?"

  "Captain Purlrose and his men."

  "Purlrose!" cried Sir Morton, with a look of angry disgust. "Here?"

  "Yes, father," said Ralph, watching keenly the impression made by hiswords. "Waiting at the foot of the steps."

  "Bah! I thought the drunken, bullying scoundrel was dead and gone yearsago. Hung or shot, for he deserved either."

  "Hah!" ejaculated the lad, with a sigh of relief. "Then you are notglad to see him, father?"

  "Glad to see him? Are you mad, boy?"

  "No, father," said the lad, with a merry laugh. "I hope not; but hesaid you would be, and that you were old brothers-in-arms, and that helonged to grip you by the hand; and he tried to hug me, and shed tears,and flattered me, and said all sorts of things."

  "Pah! the same as of old; but you said--and his men."

  "Yes, about a dozen like him; ruffianly-looking, rag-bags of fellows,all armed, and looking like a gang of bullies and robbers."

  Sir Morton frowned, rose from his seat, and walked to the side of theroom, where his sword and belt lay in front of a bookcase.

  "Well, I suppose I must see the fellow. He served under me, years ago,Ralph, and I suppose he has come begging, unless he sees a chance tosteal."

  "Then I was not unjust, father, in thinking ill of the man and dislikinghim."

  "Unjust? Pah! The fellow was a disgrace to the name of soldier; andnow, I suppose, that there is no war on the way, he has been dischargedfrom the king's service, with a pack of his companions."

  "He said he had saved your life, father."

  Sir Morton laughed contemptuously. "I have no recollection of the fact,Ralph, boy, and I don't think I should have forgotten so important amatter; but I do recollect saving his, by interceding when he was aboutto be shot for plundering some helpless people. There; let him and acouple of his men come in. The poor wretch is in a bad state, Isuppose, and I will give him something to help him on his road."

  Ralph went to the door, but turned back, hesitating.

  "Well, my boy?" said his father.

  "Had I not better tell some of the men to arm, and be ready?" asked thelad.

  "What! Nonsense, boy! I know my man. He would not dare to beinsolent."

  "But he has a dangerous-looking gang of fellows with him."

  "Of the same kind as himself, Ralph. Have no fear of that. If therewere real danger, we could soon summon a dozen stout men to deal withhim and his party. But, as I said, let him only bring in two or threewith him."

  Ralph hurried out, and found the captain and his men forming apicturesque group about the stone steps; and as soon as he appeared, theformer swung himself round, and threw his cloak over his shoulder, witha swaggering gesture.

  "Hallo, my young eagle," he cried. "What saith the parent bird, thegallant lord of the castle?"

  "My father will see you, sir," replied Ralph. "This way."

  "Aha! I knew he would," cried the man, giving his steel cap a cock overon one side, and displaying a large pink patch of his bald head. "Comeon, brave boys."

  "Stop!" cried Ralph quickly. "Three of you, only, are to accompany yourleader."

  "Eh? What?" cried the captain fiercely, as a low murmur arose.

  "That is what my father said, sir."

  "What does this mean?" cried the man theatrically. "Separate me from mybrave companions-in-arms? Does this mean treachery, young sir?"

  "Treachery? Why should it mean that?" cried Ralph stoutly, as the man'swords endorsed the character so lately given of him. "If," argued Ralphto himself, "the fellow were the honest, brave soldier, why should hefear treachery from the brother-officer with whom he said he had oftenshared danger?"

  "The world is full of wickedness, boy," replied the captain; "and I haveoften been misjudged. But there; a brave man never knows fear. Youthree come with me, and if in half an hour I do not come back, boys, youknow what to do."

  There was a shout at this, and hands struck sword-hilts with a loudclang.

  "Right, brave boys, and don't leave one stone upon another until youhave found your captain."

  Ralph burst out into a fit of laughter, and then felt annoyed withhimself, as the man turned round scowling.

  "What do you mean by that, boy?"

  "That your men would have their work cut out, sir," said Ralph sharply."This way, please."

  The captain uttered a low growl, signed to three of his men, and theparty followed the lad, who, to his annoyance, once more came across hissister, hurrying along the passage.

  "Salute, brave boys, salute," cried the captain. "Youth and beauty infront--the worship of the gallant soldiers of the king."

  He struck an attitude, which was roughly imitated by the men.

  "A sister, on my life," cried the captain.

  "This way," said Ralph shortly, and with the colour coming into hischeeks, as he felt indignant with the man for daring to notice hissister, and angry with her for being there.

  The door of Sir Morton's room was thrown open, and the captain strodein, followed by his men; and, as he saw the knight, standing with hisback to the fireplace, he struck a fresh attitude.

  "Ah! at last!" he cried. "My old brave companion-in-arms! Well met,once more."

  He stretched out his hands, and swaggered forward to grasp Sir Morton's.

  "Halt!" cried that gentleman sharply, without stirring from hisposition. "Now, Captain Purlrose, what is your business with me?"

  "Business with you? Is this my reception, after long years of absence?Ah, I see! The war-worn soldier forgotten once again. Ah, Sir MortonDarley, why humble me before my gallant men?"

  "I have not forgotten you, Captain Purlrose. I remember you perfectly,and you are not changed in the least. Now, if you please, be brief, andexplain your business."

  "My business! I thought I was coming to an old friend and brother."

  "No, sir; you thought nothing of the kind. Come, you know I understandyou thoroughly. State your business, if you please."

  The three men laughed aloud, and Sir Morton, who had not before noticedthem, turned upon them sharply, with the result that the laughter diedout, and they looked uncomfortable.

  "And this before my men! Humbled thus! Have I fallen so low?"

  "You are wasting words, Captain Purlrose; and, as you have found where Ilived, and have evidently journeyed long, tell me at once why you havecome."

  "I will," cried the captain, resuming his swaggering air. "I, as an oldsoldier, sir, came to ask favours of no man."

"Then why have you come, sir, if not to ask a favour?"

  "I was passing this way, and, as an old brother-in-arms lived here, Ithought I would call."

  "You were not passing this way, sir; no brother-in-arms lived here, butan officer, under whom you once served; and you had some object in viewto make you cross our desolate moors," said Sir Morton, sternly. "Ifyou want help, speak out."

  "I am no beggar, Sir Morton Darley," said the man, in blustering tones.

  "I am glad to hear it. Now, then, what is it?"

  "Well, sir, you boast of knowing me thoroughly. Let me tell you that Iknow you, and your position here."

  "And find it is in every respect a strong one, sir. Well?"

  "You live here, close at hand to an enemy who covets your lands, andwith whom you have fought again and again. You and your ancestors werealways enemies with the Edens."

  "Quite right, sir. Well, what is that to you?"

  "This, Sir Morton Darley. The war is over. I and my brave fellows areidle, our swords rusting in their sheaths."

  "More shame to the brave fellows who do not keep their weapons bright.Well, this is a long preamble to tell me that you have all beendismissed from the king's service. Go on."

  The captain stared and scowled, but he could not fully meet thesearching eyes which looked him down.

  "Well," he said, rather blunderingly now, "knowing what I did of my oldofficer's state--"

  "`Old officer' is better, Captain Purlrose. Go on, sir."

  "I said, here am I, a brave soldier, with a handful of stout followers,eager to do good, honest work; why should I not go and offer my sword toSir Morton Darley? He is sorely pressed."

  "Wrong," said Sir Morton.

  "He would be glad of our help," continued the man, without heeding theinterruption; "we could garrison his castle and help him to drive hisenemy from the field. Twelve of them, all well-tried soldiers, who canmake him king of the country round. That, sir, is why I have come, toconfer a favour more than ask one. Now, sir, what do you say? Such achance for you may never occur again."

  "Hah!" ejaculated Sir Morton; "and all this out of pure goodfellowship!"

  "Of course; save that a retainer who risks his life in his chief'sservice is worthy of his hire."

  "Naturally, sir. So that is your meaning--your object in coming?"

  "That is it, Sir Morton. We can put your castle in a state of defence,make raids, and harass the enemy, fetch in stores from the surroundingcountry, and make you a great man. Think of how you can humble theEdens."

  Sir Morton frowned as he looked back at the past, and then from thenceup to his present position, one in which he felt that he played a humblepart in presence of his stronger enemy; and Ralph watched him, read inhis face that he was about to accept his visitor's proposal, and with afeeling of horror at the thought of such a gang being hired to occupy apart of the castle, and brought, as it were, into a kind of intimacy, heturned quickly to his father, laid his hand upon his arm, and whisperedeagerly:

  "Father, pray, pray don't do this. They are a terribly villainous setof ruffians."

  The captain twitched his big ears in his efforts to catch what was said;but he could only hear enough to make out that the son was opposing theplans, and he scowled fiercely at the lad.

  "Wait, wait," said Sir Morton.

  "But do go out and look at the rest of the men, father," whisperedRalph.

  "There is no need."

  "Then you will not agree, father?"

  "Most certainly not, my boy."

  Purlrose could not catch all this, but he scowled again.

  "Look here, young cockerel," he cried, "don't you try and set my oldofficer against me."

  "No need," said Sir Morton hotly.

  "Ah, that's because hard times have made me and my poor gallant fellowslook a little shabby."

  "Not that, sir. Your old character stands in your way."

  "Oh, this is hard--this is hard. You rich, and with everythingcomfortable, while I am poor, and unrewarded for all my labour and riskby an ungrateful Scot."

  "Don't insult your sovereign, sir!" cried Sir Morton.

  "Oh, this is hard--this is hard."

  "Look here, Michael Purlrose, if you had been an officer and a gentlemanin distress, I would have helped you."

  "Do you mean to say that I am not an officer, and a gentleman indistress, sir?" cried the captain, clapping his hand to the hilt of hissword, a movement imitated by Ralph, angrily. But Sir Morton stoodback, unmoved.

  "Let your sword alone, boy," he said sternly. "You, Michael Purlrose,knowing you as I do of old, for a mouthing, cowardly bully, do you thinkthat I am going to be frightened by your swagger? Yes, I tell you thatyou are no gentleman."

  "Oh, this is too much," cried the visitor. "It is enough to make mecall in my men."

  "Indeed!" said Sir Morton coolly. "Why call them in to hear merecapitulate your disgrace? As to your appeals to me for help, and yourclaim, which you profess to have upon me, let me remind you that youwere engaged as a soldier of fortune, and well paid for your services,though you and yours disgraced the royal army by your robberies andoutrages. All you gained you wasted in riot and drunkenness, and nowthat you are suffering for your follies, you come and make claims uponme."

  "Oh, this is too hard upon a poor soldier who has bled in his country'sservice. Did I not once save your life, when you were at your lastgasp?"

  "No, sir; it was the other way on. I saved yours, and when I wassurrounded, and would have been glad of your help, you ran away."

  "Ha-ha-ha!" cried Ralph, bursting into a roar of laughter.

  "Ah-h-ah!" cried the captain fiercely, as he half drew his sword; but hedrove it back with a loud clang into its sheath directly. "Stay there,brave blade, my only true and trusted friend. He is the son of my oldcompanion-in-arms, and I cannot draw upon a boy."

  Ralph laughed aloud again, and the captain scowled, and rolled his eyesfiercely; but he did not startle the lad in the least, and after a long,fierce stare, the man turned to Sir Morton.

  "Don't be hard upon an old brother-soldier, Morton Darley," he said.

  "No, I will not," said Sir Morton quietly. "You and your men canrefresh yourselves in the hall, and when you start on your way, I willgive you a pound or two to help you."

  "Oh, as if I were a common wayside beggar. Comrade, this is too hard.Can you not see that my beard is getting grizzled and grey?"

  "Yes; but I do not see what that has to do with it."

  "Think again, old comrade. Twelve brave and true men have I with me.Take us as your gentlemen and men at arms to protect you and yoursagainst those who are unfriendly. You must have enemies."

  Sir Morton started and glanced at his son, for these words touched aspring in his breast. With thirteen fighting men to increase his littleforce, what might he not do? The Edens' stronghold, with its regularlycoming-in wealth, must fall before him; and, once in possession, SirEdward Eden might petition and complain; but possession was nine pointsof the law, and the king had enough to do without sending a force intotheir wild out-of-the-way part of the world to interfere. Once he hadhold of the Black Tor, he could laugh at the law, and see the old enemyof his house completely humbled.

  Sir Morton hesitated and turned his head, to find his son watching himkeenly, while Captain Purlrose stood with his left hand resting on thehilt of his sword, making the scabbard cock out behind, and lift up theback of his ragged cloak, as with his right he twisted up and pointedone side of his rusty-grey fierce moustache.

  The man was watching Sir Morton keenly, and his big ears twitched, as hetried to catch the whispered words which passed between father and son.

  "What do you say, Ralph, lad? With the help of these men I could easilymake Eden bite the dust. Then the Black Tor would be mine, andafterwards yours; with all the rich revenue to be drawn from thelead-mine. It is very tempting, boy."

  "Yes, father," said the boy hotly, and his face flushed as he spoke;
"but that's what it is--a miserable temptation. We'll humble the Edens,and have the Black Tor and the lead-mine; but we'll win all with ourswords like gentlemen, or fail. We could not go and take the place witha set of ruffians like those outside, and helped by such a man as yonderbully. You couldn't do it, father. Say no."

  "Hah! More insults," cried Purlrose, who had caught a word here andthere. "But no; lie still, good sword: he is a beardless boy, and theson of the brave comrade I always honoured, whate'er my faults."

  Ralph turned upon him angrily; but his father laid a hand upon the boy'sshoulder, and pressed it hard.

  "Right, Ralph, lad," he said warmly, and he looked proudly in the boy'seyes. "I could not do it in that way."

  "Hah!" ejaculated the lad, with a sigh of content.

  "No, Purlrose," continued Sir Morton. "I shall not avail myself of yourservices. Go into the hall and refresh yourself and your men. Come tome afterward, and I will help you as I said."

  "With a mouthful of bread, and a few pence, and after all this wearyjourney across these wild moors. But I see: it is all through the wordsof this beardless boy. Suppose I tell you that, now I have come, I meanto stay?" he added threateningly.

  "Shall I get the men together, father?" said Ralph quickly.

  "No, boy, there is no need," said Sir Morton firmly. "I am not afraidof Michael Purlrose's threats."

  "What!" cried the man. "You do not know me yet."

  "Better than you know yourself, sir," said Sir Morton, rising. "That isthe way to the hall. Have the goodness to go first."

  The captain threw his cloak back over his right shoulder, slapped hisright hand heavily upon his rusty breast-plate, and then, with aflourish, caught at the hilt of his sword, and again half drew it fromits sheath, to stand scowling at Ralph, the intentness of his gazeseeming to affect his eyes, so that they began to lean towards eachother, as if for help, till his look became a villainous squint. Then,as neither father nor son quailed before him, he uttered a loud "Hah!"thrust back his sword, and strode with a series of stamps to the door,his high, buff-leather boots rustling and creaking the while.

  There he faced round.

  "I give you one more chance, Morton Darley," he cried. "Yes or no?"

  "No," said Sir Morton firmly.

  "One moment before it is too late. Are we to be friends or foes?"

  "Neither," shouted Ralph quickly.

  "Yes, boy, one or the other. You, Morton Darley, will you take me intoyour service, or do you drive me into going straight to your rival andenemy, who will jump at my offer, and pay me better than I could expectof you?"

  "Go where you please, sir," said Sir Morton.

  "Ah, you drive me to it, when I would have been your friend. There, itmust be so; but don't blame me when you are humbled in the dust."

  "Why, if you go there," cried Ralph, "Sir Edward Eden will make his mendisarm your crew of ragged Jacks, and set you all to work in his mine."

  "What! Never. Now, Darley, once more--friends or foes?"

  "Neither, I tell you, man. Now leave my place at once, you and yours.I will neither help you nor have any further dealings with you. Go."

  "What!" roared Purlrose; and this time he drew his sword fully, andRalph's bright blade followed suit, glittering, while the captain'slooked rusty and dull.

  "Pooh! put up your sword, Ralph," said Sir Morton, advancing towardtheir visitor, who began to shrink back. "Sheathe your blade, sir," hesaid sternly, and without paying the least attention to the man'sbullying looks, he threw open the door, and pointed to the entrance.

  He passed out, giving the door behind him a heavy slam, and marched outto the group standing about the broad steps and road, where father andson could hear him haranguing his men, who immediately burst into anangry yell, and for the most part turned menacingly toward the house.