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Black Tor: A Tale of the Reign of James the First, Page 3

George Manville Fenn



  "Shall I fasten the door, father?" cried Ralph excitedly.

  "No," said Sir Morton firmly. "I know my man of old."

  Ralph looked on and listened, as a low growl arose; but, bully andcoward or no, it was evident that Captain Purlrose was master of hismen, who stood listening and nodding their heads, one or two slappingthe hilts of their swords menacingly, and at last the leader of theragged crew turned and shook his fist threateningly at the house, andended by striding jauntily away through the embattled gateway, followedby his gang.

  "Will they come back, father, at night?" said Ralph, after uttering asigh of relief.

  "No, my boy; I judge the men by their leader. Michael Purlrose alwayshad a wholesome love of keeping his skin sound; his men have, withoutdoubt, the same. He will execute his threat, though, of going toEden's."

  "And if Sir Edward takes them into his service, it will be awkward forus, father."

  "Yes, _if_, my boy; but I do not think that Eden will. We shall hear nomore of the vagabonds, unless Purlrose comes back to beg."

  "I'll go and watch them, father," cried Ralph eagerly.

  "Yes; but you will not go near, so as to run any risk? If they foundyou alone, they would attack and strip you of everything of value youhave."

  "I'll take care," cried the lad. "I can get up to the side of thecliff, and watch them right away. I can see the path to the Black Torfrom there."

  "Yes; go," said Sir Morton, and the boy hurried out, crossed the littlecourt, and passing through a small side-door, reached the slope of thecliff upon which the old castle was built, and then by a narrow pathway,clambered a couple of hundred feet higher, starting the jackdaws fromtheir resting-places, making them fly off, uttering angry cries of_tah_! _tah_! Then throwing himself down behind a great block oflimestone, which had fallen from above, and which looked as if a thrustwould send it hurtling down some hundred feet, into the river below, hewaited till, as he fully expected, he saw the party of men appear downbelow in the track; and then he followed their course, seeing themdisappear behind the trees, appear again, and after making divers shortcuts, as if their leader were well acquainted with the place, make offfor the ford. Then he watched them as they straggled across the river,and struck into the narrow cliff path which led to the great dark-huedcliff known as the Black Tor, where the Edens' impregnable strongholdstood, perched upon a narrow ledge of rock which rose up like amonstrous tongue from the earth, connected on one side by a narrownatural bridge with the main cliff, the castellated building beingprotected on all sides by a huge rift fully a couple of hundred feetdeep, the tongue being merely a portion of the cliff split away duringsome convulsion of nature; or perhaps gradually separated by subsidence,the top affording sufficient space for the building, and its courtyards.

  Ralph watched the men until the last had disappeared; and then, knowingfrom the configuration of the place as he had seen it from another pointof view, that he would probably not see them again for an hour or two,perhaps not again that day, if Sir Edward Eden received the proposals ofCaptain Purlrose favourably, he began slowly and thoughtfully todescend. For he knew that it would be a serious matter for his fatherif Sir Edward Eden seized upon the opportunity for strengthening hisretainers and attacking his rival.

  The feud between the two families had lasted for generations, beginningso far back that the origin was lost in the mists of time. All thatRalph Darley knew was, that in the days of Henry the Eighth, an Eden haddone a Darley deadly injury that could never be forgiven, and ever sincethe wrong had been handed down from father to son as a kind ofunpleasant faith by which it was the duty of all Darleys to be preparedto exterminate all Edens; and if they could not exterminate them andseize upon their possessions, to do them all the injury they could.

  There was another version of the story, as Ralph well knew, and it wasprecisely the same, saving for the following exception: that in thebeginning it was a Darley who did the deadly wrong to an Eden. But onething was certain--the two families had carried on their petty warfarein the most determined way. Edens had fallen by the sword; so hadDarleys. There was a grim legend, too, of an Eden having been takenprisoner, and starved to death in one of the dungeons of Cliffe Castle,in Queen Mary's time; and Ralph had often gone down below to look at theplace, and the staple ring and chain in the gloomy place, shuddering atthe horror of the prisoner's fate.

  For this the Edens had waited their time, and surprised the castle onenight, driving the occupants from place to place, till they took refugein the central tower, from which they could not be dislodged; so theEdens contented themselves by the following reprisal: they set fire tothe castle in a dozen places before they retired, the flames raging tillthere was no more woodwork to destroy, and nothing was left but thestrong central tower and the sturdy walls. The place was restored,though, soon after, and the Sir Ralph Darley of Elizabeth's time made anexpedition one night to give tit-for-tat, but only to find out that itwas impossible to get across the stoutly-defended natural bridge atBlack Tor, and that it was waste of time to keep on shooting arrows,bearing burning rags soaked in pitch, on to the roofs of the towers andin at the loopholes. So he retreated, with a very sore head, caused bya stone thrown from above, dinting in his helmet, and with half his mencarrying the other half, wounded or dead.

  His successor had tried again and again to master the Edens and seizetheir possessions. Amongst these was the Black Tor lead-mine,approached by steps in the side of the cliff; its galleries honeycombedthe place, running right under the earth, and into natural caverns ofthe large opposite cliffs of limestone, where the jackdaws built theirnests.

  Ralph Darley, living as he did that day in the days of King James,pondered on all those old legends as he descended to give his father theinformation he had acquired; and as he stepped down, he knit his browsand began to think that it was quite time this feud had an end, and thatit must be his duty to finish it all off, in spite of the addition tothe strength at Black Tor, by waiting his opportunity, and meeting, andin fair fight slaying, young Mark Eden, who was about his own age,seventeen, and just back home from one of the great grammar-schools.This done, he would make a scheme for seizing the Black Tor, putting SirEdward Eden and his mercenaries to the sword, but sparing the men whowere miners, so that they might go on working for the Darleys. By thismeans he would end the feud, secure peace, and make his father a richand happy man, having proved himself a thoroughly good and chivalrousson.

  Ralph felt very brave, and proud, and happy, when he had reached thispoint, which was just as he opened the door of his father's room, whichcontained a very small library--books being rare and precious in thosedays--plenty of handsome armour and war-like weapons of offence, and acorner set apart for alchemy and the study of minerals; for, in adesultory way, Sir Morton Darley, bitten by the desire to have a mine ofhis own to produce him as good an income as that of his enemy neighbour,had been given to searching without success for a good lode of lead.

  Sir Morton was reading an old tome as his son entered the room, hot,eager, and excited.

  "Well, boy," he said, looking up dreamily; "what is it?"

  "They've gone straight to Black Tor, father."

  "The Edens? Have they? I did not know they had been away."

  "No, no, father; that captain fellow and his men."

  "Oh, of course. I had almost forgotten them. Tut, tut, tut! It willbe very awkward for us, Ralph, if Sir Edward listens to that scoundrel'sproposals. But there, it cannot be helped. There never was an Eden yetwho was a gentlemen, and all we have to do is to be well prepared. Theold tower is stronger than ever, and if they come we'll fight them fromthe outer gate to the wall, from the wall to the inner wall, and if theydrive us from that, there is the tower, where we can set them atdefiance."

  "As old Sir Ralph did, father," cried the boy, flushing with pride.

  "Exactly, my boy; and I do not feel much fear of Captain Purlrose andhis men.

  "No, father; I suppose he will keep on half-drawing his sword, andthrusting it back with a clang."

  "Exactly, Ralph, boy," cried Sir Morton, laughing. "Just that one actshows the man's character to a T. Bluster, and then retreat. Butsuppose it should come to fighting, my boy. Hadn't you better go backto school, and stay till the trouble's over?"

  "What!" cried Ralph fiercely.

  "You surely don't want to fight, boy?"

  "No, father, I don't want to fight; but if you are obliged to--Oh,father, you will not send me away?"

  Sir Morton looked searchingly at the flushed countenance before him forsome moments before speaking.

  "If you wish to stay, Ralph, certainly I shall not send you away. Ionly gave you the opportunity to go if you wished. However, perhaps weshall hear no more of the matter. Eden may not listen to thatscoundrel. If he does, we may set to work and furbish up our arms, layin stores of provisions, and be prepared for our defence."

  "Then I hope he will engage the men, father," cried Ralph.

  "Eh? And pray why, boy?" exclaimed Sir Morton.

  "Because, father," said the lad, speaking in a deeply-moved tone ofvoice, his eyes flashing and his cheeks flushed. "You have done nothinglately to show how deeply you resent all the old wrongs; and if theEdens hire these men, it will be a good opportunity for fighting our oldfoes, beating them and taking possession, and ending the feud."

  "Yes," said Sir Morton, smiling, "a good opportunity, boy; but we mightlose the day."

  "We will not lose the day, father," cried the lad hotly. "Those men whofight for pay are cowards at heart, and they will lead the Edens totheir destruction."

  "But suppose that, after all, the Darleys were the ones to blame?"

  "Oh, father, we can't stop to think of that. We do know that they havecommitted outrage after outrage against our family, and you have alwaystaught me that it was our duty to punish the Edens."

  "Yes, my boy, I have, as my father and my grandfather taught me; but Ihave often wished the wretched business were at an end. I want to be atpeace."

  "And you shall be, father, and soon, too, now," cried Ralph excitedly."But you will begin at once?"

  "What, making peace?"

  "No, father, war," cried the lad eagerly.

  "Yes," said Sir Morton sternly, "if the Edens do."

  "Oh, father, how calmly you take it all. I should have thought youwould be ready to begin at once."

  "Yes, Ralph, because you are young, and have never seen what even thepettiest war means, not even the bright side, with its chivalry andpanoply, and gay show. I have seen that, and the other side too."

  "But you would fight, father?" cried the lad, looking astonished.

  "Yes," said Sir Morton, with his face turning hard and stern, "if theneed arises, boy, and to the death."