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THE BLACK ARROW

BY

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON





CHAPTER II--THE TWO OATHS



Sir Daniel was in the hall; there he paced angrily before the fire,
awaiting Dick's arrival. None was by except Sir Oliver, and he sat
discreetly backward, thumbing and muttering over his breviary.

"Y' have sent for me, Sir Daniel?" said young Shelton.

"I have sent for you, indeed," replied the knight. "For what
cometh to mine ears? Have I been to you so heavy a guardian that
ye make haste to credit ill of me? Or sith that ye see me, for the
nonce, some worsted, do ye think to quit my party? By the mass,
your father was not so! Those he was near, those he stood by, come
wind or weather. But you, Dick, y' are a fair-day friend, it
seemeth, and now seek to clear yourself of your allegiance."

"An't please you, Sir Daniel, not so," returned Dick, firmly. "I
am grateful and faithful, where gratitude and faith are due. And
before more is said, I thank you, and I thank Sir Oliver; y' have
great claims upon me both--none can have more; I were a hound if I
forgot them."

"It is well," said Sir Daniel; and then, rising into anger:
"Gratitude and faith are words, Dick Shelton," he continued; "but I
look to deeds. In this hour of my peril, when my name is
attainted, when my lands are forfeit, when this wood is full of men
that hunger and thirst for my destruction, what doth gratitude?
what doth faith? I have but a little company remaining; is it
grateful or faithful to poison me their hearts with your insidious
whisperings? Save me from such gratitude! But, come, now, what is
it ye wish? Speak; we are here to answer. If ye have aught
against me, stand forth and say it."

"Sir," replied Dick, "my father fell when I was yet a child. It
hath come to mine ears that he was foully done by. It hath come to
mine ears--for I will not dissemble--that ye had a hand in his
undoing. And in all verity, I shall not be at peace in mine own
mind, nor very clear to help you, till I have certain resolution of
these doubts."

Sir Daniel sat down in a deep settle. He took his chin in his hand
and looked at Dick fixedly.

"And ye think I would be guardian to the man's son that I had
murdered?" he asked.

"Nay," said Dick, "pardon me if I answer churlishly; but indeed ye
know right well a wardship is most profitable. All these years
have ye not enjoyed my revenues, and led my men? Have ye not still
my marriage? I wot not what it may be worth--it is worth
something. Pardon me again; but if ye were base enough to slay a
man under trust, here were, perhaps, reasons enough to move you to
the lesser baseness."

"When I was lad of your years," returned Sir Daniel, sternly, "my
mind had not so turned upon suspicions. And Sir Oliver here," he
added, "why should he, a priest, be guilty of this act?"

"Nay, Sir Daniel," said Dick, "but where the master biddeth there
will the dog go. It is well known this priest is but your
instrument. I speak very freely; the time is not for courtesies.
Even as I speak, so would I be answered. And answer get I none!
Ye but put more questions. I rede ye be ware, Sir Daniel; for in
this way ye will but nourish and not satisfy my doubts."

"I will answer you fairly, Master Richard," said the knight. "Were
I to pretend ye have not stirred my wrath, I were no honest man.
But I will be just even in anger. Come to me with these words when
y' are grown and come to man's estate, and I am no longer your
guardian, and so helpless to resent them. Come to me then, and I
will answer you as ye merit, with a buffet in the mouth. Till then
ye have two courses: either swallow me down these insults, keep a
silent tongue, and fight in the meanwhile for the man that fed and
fought for your infancy; or else--the door standeth open, the woods
are full of mine enemies--go."

The spirit with which these words were uttered, the looks with
which they were accompanied, staggered Dick; and yet he could not
but observe that he had got no answer.

"I desire nothing more earnestly, Sir Daniel, than to believe you,"
he replied. "Assure me ye are free from this."

"Will ye take my word of honour, Dick?" inquired the knight.

"That would I," answered the lad.

"I give it you," returned Sir Daniel. "Upon my word of honour,
upon the eternal welfare of my spirit, and as I shall answer for my
deeds hereafter, I had no hand nor portion in your father's death."

He extended his hand, and Dick took it eagerly. Neither of them
observed the priest, who, at the pronunciation of that solemn and
false oath, had half arisen from his seat in an agony of horror and
remorse.

"Ah," cried Dick, "ye must find it in your great-heartedness to
pardon me! I was a churl, indeed, to doubt of you. But ye have my
hand upon it; I will doubt no more."

"Nay, Dick," replied Sir Daniel, "y' are forgiven. Ye know not the
world and its calumnious nature."

"I was the more to blame," added Dick, "in that the rogues pointed,
not directly at yourself, but at Sir Oliver."

As he spoke, he turned towards the priest, and paused in the middle
of the last word. This tall, ruddy, corpulent, high-stepping man
had fallen, you might say, to pieces; his colour was gone, his
limbs were relaxed, his lips stammered prayers; and now, when
Dick's eyes were fixed upon him suddenly, he cried out aloud, like
some wild animal, and buried his face in his hands.

Sir Daniel was by him in two strides, and shook him fiercely by the
shoulder. At the same moment Dick's suspicions reawakened.

"Nay," he said, "Sir Oliver may swear also. 'Twas him they
accused."

"He shall swear," said the knight.

Sir Oliver speechlessly waved his arms.

"Ay, by the mass! but ye shall swear," cried Sir Daniel, beside
himself with fury. "Here, upon this book, ye shall swear," he
continued, picking up the breviary, which had fallen to the ground.
"What! Ye make me doubt you! Swear, I say; swear!"

But the priest was still incapable of speech. His terror of Sir
Daniel, his terror of perjury, risen to about an equal height,
strangled him.

And just then, through the high, stained-glass window of the hall,
a black arrow crashed, and struck, and stuck quivering, in the
midst of the long table.

Sir Oliver, with a loud scream, fell fainting on the rushes; while
the knight, followed by Dick, dashed into the court and up the
nearest corkscrew stair to the battlements. The sentries were all
on the alert. The sun shone quietly on green lawns dotted with
trees, and on the wooded hills of the forest which enclosed the
view. There was no sign of a besieger.

"Whence came that shot?" asked the knight.

"From yonder clump, Sir Daniel," returned a sentinel.

The knight stood a little, musing. Then he turned to Dick.
"Dick," he said, "keep me an eye upon these men; I leave you in
charge here. As for the priest, he shall clear himself, or I will
know the reason why. I do almost begin to share in your
suspicions. He shall swear, trust me, or we shall prove him
guilty."

Dick answered somewhat coldly, and the knight, giving him a
piercing glance, hurriedly returned to the hall. His first glance
was for the arrow. It was the first of these missiles he had seen,
and as he turned it to and fro, the dark hue of it touched him with
some fear. Again there was some writing: one word--"Earthed."

"Ay," he broke out, "they know I am home, then. Earthed! Ay, but
there is not a dog among them fit to dig me out."

Sir Oliver had come to himself, and now scrambled to his feet.

"Alack, Sir Daniel!" he moaned, "y' 'ave sworn a dread oath; y' are
doomed to the end of time."

"Ay," returned the knight, "I have sworn an oath, indeed, thou
chucklehead; but thyself shalt swear a greater. It shall be on the
blessed cross of Holywood. Look to it; get the words ready. It
shall be sworn to-night."

"Now, may Heaven lighten you!" replied the priest; "may Heaven
incline your heart from this iniquity!"

"Look you, my good father," said Sir Daniel, "if y' are for piety,
I say no more; ye begin late, that is all. But if y' are in any
sense bent upon wisdom, hear me. This lad beginneth to irk me like
a wasp. I have a need for him, for I would sell his marriage. But
I tell you, in all plainness, if that he continue to weary me, he
shall go join his father. I give orders now to change him to the
chamber above the chapel. If that ye can swear your innocency with
a good, solid oath and an assured countenance, it is well; the lad
will be at peace a little, and I will spare him. If that ye
stammer or blench, or anyways boggle at the swearing, he will not
believe you; and by the mass, he shall die. There is for your
thinking on."

"The chamber above the chapel!" gasped the priest.

"That same," replied the knight. "So if ye desire to save him,
save him; and if ye desire not, prithee, go to, and let me be at
peace! For an I had been a hasty man, I would already have put my
sword through you, for your intolerable cowardice and folly. Have
ye chosen? Say!"

"I have chosen," said the priest. "Heaven pardon me, I will do
evil for good. I will swear for the lad's sake."

"So is it best!" said Sir Daniel. "Send for him, then, speedily.
Ye shall see him alone. Yet I shall have an eye on you. I shall
be here in the panel room."

The knight raised the arras and let it fall again behind him.
There was the sound of a spring opening; then followed the creaking
of trod stairs.

Sir Oliver, left alone, cast a timorous glance upward at the arras-
covered wall, and crossed himself with every appearance of terror
and contrition.

"Nay, if he is in the chapel room," the priest murmured, "were it
at my soul's cost, I must save him."

Three minutes later, Dick, who had been summoned by another
messenger, found Sir Oliver standing by the hall table, resolute
and pale.

"Richard Shelton," he said, "ye have required an oath from me. I
might complain, I might deny you; but my heart is moved toward you
for the past, and I will even content you as ye choose. By the
true cross of Holywood, I did not slay your father."

"Sir Oliver," returned Dick, "when first we read John Amend-All's
paper, I was convinced of so much. But suffer me to put two
questions. Ye did not slay him; granted. But had ye no hand in
it?"

"None," said Sir Oliver. And at the same time he began to contort
his face, and signal with his mouth and eyebrows, like one who
desired to convey a warning, yet dared not utter a sound.

Dick regarded him in wonder; then he turned and looked all about
him at the empty hall.

"What make ye?" he inquired.

"Why, naught," returned the priest, hastily smoothing his
countenance. "I make naught; I do but suffer; I am sick. I--I--
prithee, Dick, I must begone. On the true cross of Holywood, I am
clean innocent alike of violence or treachery. Content ye, good
lad. Farewell!"

And he made his escape from the apartment with unusual alacrity.

Dick remained rooted to the spot, his eyes wandering about the
room, his face a changing picture of various emotions, wonder,
doubt, suspicion, and amusement. Gradually, as his mind grew
clearer, suspicion took the upper hand, and was succeeded by
certainty of the worst. He raised his head, and, as he did so,
violently started. High upon the wall there was the figure of a
savage hunter woven in the tapestry. With one hand he held a horn
to his mouth; in the other he brandished a stout spear. His face
was dark, for he was meant to represent an African.

Now, here was what had startled Richard Shelton. The sun had moved
away from the hall windows, and at the same time the fire had
blazed up high on the wide hearth, and shed a changeful glow upon
the roof and hangings. In this light the figure of the black
hunter had winked at him with a white eyelid.

He continued staring at the eye. The light shone upon it like a
gem; it was liquid, it was alive. Again the white eyelid closed
upon it for a fraction of a second, and the next moment it was
gone.

There could be no mistake. The live eye that had been watching him
through a hole in the tapestry was gone. The firelight no longer
shone on a reflecting surface.

And instantly Dick awoke to the terrors of his position. Hatch's
warning, the mute signals of the priest, this eye that had observed
him from the wall, ran together in his mind. He saw he had been
put upon his trial, that he had once more betrayed his suspicions,
and that, short of some miracle, he was lost.

"If I cannot get me forth out of this house," he thought, "I am a
dead man! And this poor Matcham, too--to what a cockatrice's nest
have I not led him!"

He was still so thinking, when there came one in haste, to bid him
help in changing his arms, his clothing, and his two or three
books, to a new chamber.

"A new chamber?" he repeated. "Wherefore so? What chamber?"

"'Tis one above the chapel," answered the messenger.

"It hath stood long empty," said Dick, musing. "What manner of
room is it?"

"Nay, a brave room," returned the man. "But yet"--lowering his
voice--"they call it haunted."

"Haunted?" repeated Dick, with a chill. "I have not heard of it.
Nay, then, and by whom?"

The messenger looked about him; and then, in a low whisper, "By the
sacrist of St. John's," he said. "They had him there to sleep one
night, and in the morning--whew!--he was gone. The devil had taken
him, they said; the more betoken, he had drunk late the night
before."

Dick followed the man with black forebodings.

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