Contacter l'auteur de ce blog
OVER 300 GREAT BOOKS AND STILL GOING STRONG
PLUS DE 300 LIVRES ET CE N'EST QUE LE DÉBUT
<< Novembre >>
Ajouter read-on à vos favoris
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER V--"BLOODY AS THE HUNTER"
The lads lay quiet till the last footstep had melted on the wind.
Then they arose, and with many an ache, for they were weary with
constraint, clambered through the ruins, and recrossed the ditch
upon the rafter. Matcham had picked up the windac and went first,
Dick following stiffly, with his cross-bow on his arm.
"And now," said Matcham, "forth to Holywood."
"To Holywood!" cried Dick, "when good fellows stand shot? Not I!
I would see you hanged first, Jack!"
"Ye would leave me, would ye?" Matcham asked.
"Ay, by my sooth!" returned Dick. "An I be not in time to warn
these lads, I will go die with them. What! would ye have me leave
my own men that I have lived among. I trow not! Give me my
But there was nothing further from Matcham's mind.
"Dick," he said, "ye sware before the saints that ye would see me
safe to Holywood. Would ye be forsworn? Would you desert me--a
"Nay, I sware for the best," returned Dick. "I meant it too; but
now! But look ye, Jack, turn again with me. Let me but warn these
men, and, if needs must, stand shot with them; then shall all be
clear, and I will on again to Holywood and purge mine oath."
"Ye but deride me," answered Matcham. "These men ye go to succour
are the I same that hunt me to my ruin."
Dick scratched his head.
"I cannot help it, Jack," he said. "Here is no remedy. What would
ye? Ye run no great peril, man; and these are in the way of death.
Death!" he added. "Think of it! What a murrain do ye keep me here
for? Give me the windac. Saint George! shall they all die?"
"Richard Shelton," said Matcham, looking him squarely in the face,
"would ye, then, join party with Sir Daniel? Have ye not ears?
Heard ye not this Ellis, what he said? or have ye no heart for your
own kindly blood and the father that men slew? 'Harry Shelton,' he
said; and Sir Harry Shelton was your father, as the sun shines in
"What would ye?" Dick cried again. "Would ye have me credit
"Nay, I have heard it before now," returned Matcham. "The fame
goeth currently, it was Sir Daniel slew him. He slew him under
oath; in his own house he shed the innocent blood. Heaven wearies
for the avenging on't; and you--the man's son--ye go about to
comfort and defend the murderer!"
"Jack," cried the lad "I know not. It may be; what know I? But,
see here: This man hath bred me up and fostered me, and his men I
have hunted with and played among; and to leave them in the hour of
peril--O, man, if I did that, I were stark dead to honour! Nay,
Jack, ye would not ask it; ye would not wish me to be base."
"But your father, Dick?" said Matcham, somewhat wavering. "Your
father? and your oath to me? Ye took the saints to witness."
"My father?" cried Shelton. "Nay, he would have me go! If Sir
Daniel slew him, when the hour comes this hand shall slay Sir
Daniel; but neither him nor his will I desert in peril. And for
mine oath, good Jack, ye shall absolve me of it here. For the
lives' sake of many men that hurt you not, and for mine honour, ye
shall set me free."
"I, Dick? Never!" returned Matcham. "An ye leave me, y' are
forsworn, and so I shall declare it."
"My blood heats," said Dick. "Give me the windac! Give it me!"
"I'll not," said Matcham. "I'll save you in your teeth."
"Not?" cried Dick. "I'll make you!"
"Try it," said the other.
They stood, looking in each other's eyes, each ready for a spring.
Then Dick leaped; and though Matcham turned instantly and fled, in
two bounds he was over-taken, the windac was twisted from his
grasp, he was thrown roughly to the ground, and Dick stood across
him, flushed and menacing, with doubled fist. Matcham lay where he
had fallen, with his face in the grass, not thinking of resistance.
Dick bent his bow.
"I'll teach you!" he cried, fiercely. "Oath or no oath, ye may go
hang for me!"
And he turned and began to run. Matcham was on his feet at once,
and began running after him.
"What d'ye want?" cried Dick, stopping. "What make ye after me?
"Will follow an I please," said Matcham. "This wood is free to
back, by 'r Lady!" returned Dick, raising his bow.
"Ah, y' are a brave boy!" retorted Matcham. "Shoot!"
Dick lowered his weapon in some confusion.
"See here," he said. "Y' have done me ill enough. Go, then. Go
your way in fair wise; or, whether I will or not, I must even drive
you to it."
"Well," said Matcham, doggedly, "y' are the stronger. Do your
worst. I shall not leave to follow thee, Dick, unless thou makest
me," he added.
Dick was almost beside himself. It went against his heart to beat
a creature so defenceless; and, for the life of him, he knew no
other way to rid himself of this unwelcome and, as he began to
think, perhaps untrue companion.
"Y' are mad, I think," he cried. "Fool-fellow, I am hasting to
your foes; as fast as foot can carry me, go I thither."
"I care not, Dick," replied the lad. "If y' are bound to die,
Dick, I'll die too. I would liever go with you to prison than to
go free without you."
"Well," returned the other, "I may stand no longer prating. Follow
me, if ye must; but if ye play me false, it shall but little
advance you, mark ye that. Shalt have a quarrel in thine inwards,
So saying, Dick took once more to his heels, keeping in the margin
of the thicket and looking briskly about him as he went. At a good
pace he rattled out of the dell, and came again into the more open
quarters of the wood. To the left a little eminence appeared,
spotted with golden gorse, and crowned with a black tuft of firs.
"I shall see from there," he thought, and struck for it across a
He had gone but a few yards, when Matcham touched him on the arm,
and pointed. To the eastward of the summit there was a dip, and,
as it were, a valley passing to the other side; the heath was not
yet out; all the ground was rusty, like an unscoured buckler, and
dotted sparingly with yews; and there, one following another, Dick
saw half a score green jerkins mounting the ascent, and marching at
their head, conspicuous by his boar-spear, Ellis Duckworth in
person. One after another gained the top, showed for a moment
against the sky, and then dipped upon the further side, until the
last was gone.
Dick looked at Matcham with a kindlier eye.
"So y' are to be true to me, Jack?" he asked. "I thought ye were
of the other party."
Matcham began to sob.
"What cheer!" cried Dick. "Now the saints behold us! would ye
snivel for a word?"
"Ye hurt me," sobbed Matcham. "Ye hurt me when ye threw me down.
Y' are a coward to abuse your strength."
"Nay, that is fool's talk," said Dick, roughly. "Y' had no title
to my windac, Master John. I would 'a' done right to have well
basted you. If ye go with me, ye must obey me; and so, come."
Matcham had half a thought to stay behind; but, seeing that Dick
continued to scour full-tilt towards the eminence and not so much
as looked across his shoulder, he soon thought better of that, and
began to run in turn. But the ground was very difficult and steep;
Dick had already a long start, and had, at any rate, the lighter
heels, and he had long since come to the summit, crawled forward
through the firs, and ensconced himself in a thick tuft of gorse,
before Matcham, panting like a deer, rejoined him, and lay down in
silence by his side.
Below, in the bottom of a considerable valley, the short cut from
Tunstall hamlet wound downwards to the ferry. It was well beaten,
and the eye followed it easily from point to point. Here it was
bordered by open glades; there the forest closed upon it; every
hundred yards it ran beside an ambush. Far down the path, the sun
shone on seven steel salets, and from time to time, as the trees
opened, Selden and his men could be seen riding briskly, still bent
upon Sir Daniel's mission. The wind had somewhat fallen, but still
tussled merrily with the trees, and, perhaps, had Appleyard been
there, he would have drawn a warning from the troubled conduct of
"Now, mark," Dick whispered. "They be already well advanced into
the wood; their safety lieth rather in continuing forward. But see
ye where this wide glade runneth down before us, and in the midst
of it, these two score trees make like an island? There were their
safety. An they but come sound as far as that, I will make shift
to warn them. But my heart misgiveth me; they are but seven
against so many, and they but carry cross-bows. The long-bow,
Jack, will have the uppermost ever."
Meanwhile, Selden and his men still wound up the path, ignorant of
their danger, and momently drew nearer hand. Once, indeed, they
paused, drew into a group, and seemed to point and listen. But it
was something from far away across the plain that had arrested
their attention--a hollow growl of cannon that came, from time to
time, upon the wind, and told of the great battle. It was worth a
thought, to be sure; for if the voice of the big guns were thus
become audible in Tunstall Forest, the fight must have rolled ever
eastward, and the day, by consequence, gone sore against Sir Daniel
and the lords of the dark rose.
But presently the little troop began again to move forward, and
came next to a very open, heathy portion of the way, where but a
single tongue of forest ran down to join the road. They were but
just abreast of this, when an arrow shone flying. One of the men
threw up his arms, his horse reared, and both fell and struggled
together in a mass. Even from where the boys lay they could hear
the rumour of the men's voices crying out; they could see the
startled horses prancing, and, presently, as the troop began to
recover from their first surprise, one fellow beginning to
dismount. A second arrow from somewhat farther off glanced in a
wide arch; a second rider bit the dust. The man who was
dismounting lost hold upon the rein, and his horse fled galloping,
and dragged him by the foot along the road, bumping from stone to
stone, and battered by the fleeing hoofs. The four who still kept
the saddle instantly broke and scattered; one wheeled and rode,
shrieking, towards the ferry; the other three, with loose rein and
flying raiment, came galloping up the road from Tunstall. From
every clump they passed an arrow sped. Soon a horse fell, but the
rider found his feet and continued to pursue his comrades till a
second shot despatched him. Another man fell; then another horse;
out of the whole troop there was but one fellow left, and he on
foot; only, in different directions, the noise of the galloping of
three riderless horses was dying fast into the distance.
All this time not one of the assailants had for a moment shown
himself. Here and there along the path, horse or man rolled,
undespatched, in his agony; but no merciful enemy broke cover to
put them from their pain.
The solitary survivor stood bewildered in the road beside his
fallen charger. He had come the length of that broad glade, with
the island of timber, pointed out by Dick. He was not, perhaps,
five hundred yards from where the boys lay hidden; and they could
see him plainly, looking to and fro in deadly expectation. But
nothing came; and the man began to pluck up his courage, and
suddenly unslung and bent his bow. At the same time, by something
in his action, Dick recognised Selden.
At this offer of resistance, from all about him in the covert of
the woods there went up the sound of laughter. A score of men, at
least, for this was the very thickest of the ambush, joined in this
cruel and untimely mirth. Then an arrow glanced over Selden's
shoulder; and he leaped and ran a little back. Another dart struck
quivering at his heel. He made for the cover. A third shaft
leaped out right in his face, and fell short in front of him. And
then the laughter was repeated loudly, rising and reechoing from
It was plain that his assailants were but baiting him, as men, in
those days, baited the poor bull, or as the cat still trifles with
the mouse. The skirmish was well over; farther down the road, a
fellow in green was already calmly gathering the arrows; and now,
in the evil pleasure of their hearts, they gave themselves the
spectacle of their poor fellow-sinner in his torture.
Selden began to understand; he uttered a roar of anger, shouldered
his cross-bow, and sent a quarrel at a venture into the wood.
Chance favoured him, for a slight cry responded. Then, throwing
down his weapon, Selden began to run before him up the glade, and
almost in a straight line for Dick and Matcham.
The companions of the Black Arrow now began to shoot in earnest.
But they were properly served; their chance had past; most of them
had now to shoot against the sun; and Selden, as he ran, bounded
from side to side to baffle and deceive their aim. Best of all, by
turning up the glade he had defeated their preparations; there were
no marksmen posted higher up than the one whom he had just killed
or wounded; and the confusion of the foresters' counsels soon
became apparent. A whistle sounded thrice, and then again twice.
It was repeated from another quarter. The woods on either side
became full of the sound of people bursting through the underwood;
and a bewildered deer ran out into the open, stood for a second on
three feet, with nose in air, and then plunged again into the
Selden still ran, bounding; ever and again an arrow followed him,
but still would miss. It began to appear as if he might escape.
Dick had his bow armed, ready to support him; even Matcham,
forgetful of his interest, took sides at heart for the poor
fugitive; and both lads glowed and trembled in the ardour of their
He was within fifty yards of them, when an arrow struck him and he
fell. He was up again, indeed, upon the instant; but now he ran
staggering, and, like a blind man, turned aside from his direction.
Dick leaped to his feet and waved to him.
"Here!" he cried. "This way! here is help! Nay, run, fellow--
But just then a second arrow struck Selden in the shoulder, between
the plates of his brigandine, and, piercing through his jack,
brought him, like a stone, to earth.
"O, the poor heart!" cried Matcham, with clasped hands.
And Dick stood petrified upon the hill, a mark for archery.
Ten to one he had speedily been shot--for the foresters were
furious with themselves, and taken unawares by Dick's appearance in
the rear of their position--but instantly, out of a quarter of the
wood surprisingly near to the two lads, a stentorian voice arose,
the voice of Ellis Duckworth.
"Hold!" it roared. "Shoot not! Take him alive! It is young
And immediately after a shrill whistle sounded several times, and
was again taken up and repeated farther off. The whistle, it
appeared, was John Amend-All's battle trumpet, by which he
published his directions.
"Ah, foul fortune!" cried Dick. "We are undone. Swiftly, Jack,
And the pair turned and ran back through the open pine clump that
covered the summit of the hill.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER IV--A GREENWOOD COMPANY
Matcham was well rested and revived; and the two lads, winged by
what Dick had seen, hurried through the remainder of the outwood,
crossed the road in safety, and began to mount into the high ground
of Tunstall Forest. The trees grew more and more in groves, with
heathy places in between, sandy, gorsy, and dotted with old yews.
The ground became more and more uneven, full of pits and hillocks.
And with every step of the ascent the wind still blew the shriller,
and the trees bent before the gusts like fishing-rods.
They had just entered one of the clearings, when Dick suddenly
clapped down upon his face among the brambles, and began to crawl
slowly backward towards the shelter of the grove. Matcham, in
great bewilderment, for he could see no reason for this flight,
still imitated his companion's course; and it was not until they
had gained the harbour of a thicket that he turned and begged him
For all reply, Dick pointed with his finger.
At the far end of the clearing, a fir grew high above the
neighbouring wood, and planted its black shock of foliage clear
against the sky. For about fifty feet above the ground the trunk
grew straight and solid like a column. At that level, it split
into two massive boughs; and in the fork, like a mast-headed
seaman, there stood a man in a green tabard, spying far and wide.
The sun glistened upon his hair; with one hand he shaded his eyes
to look abroad, and he kept slowly rolling his head from side to
side, with the regularity of a machine.
The lads exchanged glances.
"Let us try to the left," said Dick. "We had near fallen foully,
Ten minutes afterwards they struck into a beaten path.
"Here is a piece of forest that I know not," Dick remarked. "Where
goeth me this track?"
"Let us even try," said Matcham.
A few yards further, the path came to the top of a ridge and began
to go down abruptly into a cup-shaped hollow. At the foot, out of
a thick wood of flowering hawthorn, two or three roofless gables,
blackened as if by fire, and a single tall chimney marked the ruins
of a house.
"What may this be?" whispered Matcham.
"Nay, by the mass, I know not," answered Dick. "I am all at sea.
Let us go warily."
With beating hearts, they descended through the hawthorns. Here
and there, they passed signs of recent cultivation; fruit trees and
pot herbs ran wild among the thicket; a sun-dial had fallen in the
grass; it seemed they were treading what once had been a garden.
Yet a little farther and they came forth before the ruins of the
It had been a pleasant mansion and a strong. A dry ditch was dug
deep about it; but it was now choked with masonry, and bridged by a
fallen rafter. The two farther walls still stood, the sun shining
through their empty windows; but the remainder of the building had
collapsed, and now lay in a great cairn of ruin, grimed with fire.
Already in the interior a few plants were springing green among the
"Now I bethink me," whispered Dick, "this must be Grimstone. It
was a hold of one Simon Malmesbury; Sir Daniel was his bane! 'Twas
Bennet Hatch that burned it, now five years agone. In sooth, 'twas
pity, for it was a fair house."
Down in the hollow, where no wind blew, it was both warm and still;
and Matcham, laying one hand upon Dick's arm, held up a warning
"Hist!" he said.
Then came a strange sound, breaking on the quiet. It was twice
repeated ere they recognised its nature. It was the sound of a big
man clearing his throat; and just then a hoarse, untuneful voice
broke into singing.
"Then up and spake the master, the king of the outlaws:
'What make ye here, my merry men, among the greenwood shaws?'
And Gamelyn made answer--he looked never adown:
'O, they must need to walk in wood that may not walk in town!'"
The singer paused, a faint clink of iron followed, and then
The two lads stood looking at each other. Whoever he might be,
their invisible neighbour was just beyond the ruin. And suddenly
the colour came into Matcham's face, and next moment he had crossed
the fallen rafter, and was climbing cautiously on the huge pile of
lumber that filled the interior of the roofless house. Dick would
have withheld him, had he been in time; as it was, he was fain to
Right in the corner of the ruin, two rafters had fallen crosswise,
and protected a clear space no larger than a pew in church. Into
this the lads silently lowered themselves. There they were
perfectly concealed, and through an arrow-loophole commanded a view
upon the farther side.
Peering through this, they were struck stiff with terror at their
predicament. To retreat was impossible; they scarce dared to
breathe. Upon the very margin of the ditch, not thirty feet from
where they crouched, an iron caldron bubbled and steamed above a
glowing fire; and close by, in an attitude of listening, as though
he had caught some sound of their clambering among the ruins, a
tall, red-faced, battered-looking man stood poised, an iron spoon
in his right hand, a horn and a formidable dagger at his belt.
Plainly this was the singer; plainly he had been stirring the
caldron, when some incautious step among the lumber had fallen upon
his ear. A little further off, another man lay slumbering, rolled
in a brown cloak, with a butterfly hovering above his face. All
this was in a clearing white with daisies; and at the extreme
verge, a bow, a sheaf of arrows, and part of a deer's carcase, hung
upon a flowering hawthorn.
Presently the fellow relaxed from his attitude of attention, raised
the spoon to his mouth, tasted its contents, nodded, and then fell
again to stirring and singing.
"'O, they must need to walk in wood that may not walk in town,'" he
croaked, taking up his song where he had left it.
"O, sir, we walk not here at all an evil thing to do.
But if we meet with the good king's deer to shoot a shaft into."
Still as he sang, he took from time to time, another spoonful of
the broth, blew upon it, and tasted it, with all the airs of an
experienced cook. At length, apparently, he judged the mess was
ready; for taking the horn from his girdle, he blew three modulated
The other fellow awoke, rolled over, brushed away the butterfly,
and looked about him.
"How now, brother?" he said. "Dinner?"
"Ay, sot," replied the cook, "dinner it is, and a dry dinner, too,
with neither ale nor bread. But there is little pleasure in the
greenwood now; time was when a good fellow could live here like a
mitred abbot, set aside the rain and the white frosts; he had his
heart's desire both of ale and wine. But now are men's spirits
dead; and this John Amend-All, save us and guard us! but a stuffed
booby to scare crows withal."
"Nay," returned the other, "y' are too set on meat and drinking,
Lawless. Bide ye a bit; the good time cometh."
"Look ye," returned the cook, "I have even waited for this good
time sith that I was so high. I have been a grey friar; I have
been a king's archer; I have been a shipman, and sailed the salt
seas; and I have been in greenwood before this, forsooth! and shot
the king's deer. What cometh of it? Naught! I were better to
have bided in the cloister. John Abbot availeth more than John
Amend-All. By 'r Lady! here they come."
One after another, tall, likely fellows began to stroll into the
lawn. Each as he came produced a knife and a horn cup, helped
himself from the caldron, and sat down upon the grass to eat. They
were very variously equipped and armed; some in rusty smocks, and
with nothing but a knife and an old bow; others in the height of
forest gallantry, all in Lincoln green, both hood and jerkin, with
dainty peacock arrows in their belts, a horn upon a baldrick, and a
sword and dagger at their sides. They came in the silence of
hunger, and scarce growled a salutation, but fell instantly to
There were, perhaps, a score of them already gathered, when a sound
of suppressed cheering arose close by among the hawthorns, and
immediately after five or six woodmen carrying a stretcher
debauched upon the lawn. A tall, lusty fellow, somewhat grizzled,
and as brown as a smoked ham, walked before them with an air of
some authority, his bow at his back, a bright boar-spear in his
"Lads!" he cried, "good fellows all, and my right merry friends, y'
have sung this while on a dry whistle and lived at little ease.
But what said I ever? Abide Fortune constantly; she turneth,
turneth swift. And lo! here is her little firstling--even that
good creature, ale!"
There was a murmur of applause as the bearers set down the
stretcher and displayed a goodly cask.
"And now haste ye, boys," the man continued. "There is work
toward. A handful of archers are but now come to the ferry; murrey
and blue is their wear; they are our butts--they shall all taste
arrows--no man of them shall struggle through this wood. For,
lads, we are here some fifty strong, each man of us most foully
wronged; for some they have lost lands, and some friends; and some
they have been outlawed--all oppressed! Who, then, hath done this
evil? Sir Daniel, by the rood! Shall he then profit? shall he sit
snug in our houses? shall he till our fields? shall he suck the
bone he robbed us of? I trow not. He getteth him strength at law;
he gaineth cases; nay, there is one case he shall not gain--I have
a writ here at my belt that, please the saints, shall conquer him."
Lawless the cook was by this time already at his second horn of
ale. He raised it, as if to pledge the speaker.
"Master Ellis," he said, "y' are for vengeance--well it becometh
you!--but your poor brother o' the greenwood, that had never lands
to lose nor friends to think upon, looketh rather, for his poor
part, to the profit of the thing. He had liever a gold noble and a
pottle of canary wine than all the vengeances in purgatory."
"Lawless," replied the other, "to reach the Moat House, Sir Daniel
must pass the forest. We shall make that passage dearer, pardy,
than any battle. Then, when he hath got to earth with such ragged
handful as escapeth us--all his great friends fallen and fled away,
and none to give him aid--we shall beleaguer that old fox about,
and great shall be the fall of him. 'Tis a fat buck; he will make
a dinner for us all."
"Ay," returned Lawless, "I have eaten many of these dinners
beforehand; but the cooking of them is hot work, good Master Ellis.
And meanwhile what do we? We make black arrows, we write rhymes,
and we drink fair cold water, that discomfortable drink."
"Y' are untrue, Will Lawless. Ye still smell of the Grey Friars'
buttery; greed is your undoing," answered Ellis. "We took twenty
pounds from Appleyard. We took seven marks from the messenger last
night. A day ago we had fifty from the merchant."
"And to-day," said one of the men, "I stopped a fat pardoner riding
apace for Holywood. Here is his purse."
Ellis counted the contents.
"Five score shillings!" he grumbled. "Fool, he had more in his
sandal, or stitched into his tippet. Y' are but a child, Tom
Cuckow; ye have lost the fish."
But, for all that, Ellis pocketed the purse with nonchalance. He
stood leaning on his boar-spear, and looked round upon the rest.
They, in various attitudes, took greedily of the venison pottage,
and liberally washed it down with ale. This was a good day; they
were in luck; but business pressed, and they were speedy in their
eating. The first-comers had by this time even despatched their
dinner. Some lay down upon the grass and fell instantly asleep,
like boa-constrictors; others talked together, or overhauled their
weapons: and one, whose humour was particularly gay, holding forth
an ale-horn, began to sing:
"Here is no law in good green shaw,
Here is no lack of meat;
'Tis merry and quiet, with deer for our diet,
In summer, when all is sweet.
Come winter again, with wind and rain -
Come winter, with snow and sleet,
Get home to your places, with hoods on your faces,
And sit by the fire and eat."
All this while the two lads had listened and lain close; only
Richard had unslung his cross-bow, and held ready in one hand the
windac, or grappling-iron that he used to bend it. Otherwise they
had not dared to stir; and this scene of forest life had gone on
before their eyes like a scene upon a theatre. But now there came
a strange interruption. The tall chimney which over-topped the
remainder of the ruins rose right above their hiding-place. There
came a whistle in the air, and then a sounding smack, and the
fragments of a broken arrow fell about their ears. Some one from
the upper quarters of the wood, perhaps the very sentinel they saw
posted in the fir, had shot an arrow at the chimney-top.
Matcham could not restrain a little cry, which he instantly
stifled, and even Dick started with surprise, and dropped the
windac from his fingers. But to the fellows on the lawn, this
shaft was an expected signal. They were all afoot together,
tightening their belts, testing their bow-strings, loosening sword
and dagger in the sheath. Ellis held up his hand; his face had
suddenly assumed a look of savage energy; the white of his eyes
shone in his sun-brown face.
"Lads," he said, "ye know your places. Let not one man's soul
escape you. Appleyard was a whet before a meal; but now we go to
table. I have three men whom I will bitterly avenge--Harry
Shelton, Simon Malmesbury, and"--striking his broad bosom--"and
Ellis Duckworth, by the mass!"
Another man came, red with hurry, through the thorns.
"'Tis not Sir Daniel!" he panted. "They are but seven. Is the
"It struck but now," replied Ellis.
"A murrain!" cried the messenger. "Methought I heard it whistle.
And I go dinnerless!"
In the space of a minute, some running, some walking sharply,
according as their stations were nearer or farther away, the men of
the Black Arrow had all disappeared from the neighbourhood of the
ruined house; and the caldron, and the fire, which was now burning
low, and the dead deer's carcase on the hawthorn, remained alone to
testify they had been there.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER III--THE FEN FERRY
The river Till was a wide, sluggish, clayey water, oozing out of
fens, and in this part of its course it strained among some score
of willow-covered, marshy islets.
It was a dingy stream; but upon this bright, spirited morning
everything was become beautiful. The wind and the martens broke it
up into innumerable dimples; and the reflection of the sky was
scattered over all the surface in crumbs of smiling blue.
A creek ran up to meet the path, and close under the bank the
ferryman's hut lay snugly. It was of wattle and clay, and the
grass grew green upon the roof.
Dick went to the door and opened it. Within, upon a foul old
russet cloak, the ferryman lay stretched and shivering; a great
hulk of a man, but lean and shaken by the country fever.
"Hey, Master Shelton," he said, "be ye for the ferry? Ill times,
ill times! Look to yourself. There is a fellowship abroad. Ye
were better turn round on your two heels and try the bridge."
"Nay; time's in the saddle," answered Dick. "Time will ride, Hugh
Ferryman. I am hot in haste."
"A wilful man!" returned the ferryman, rising. "An ye win safe to
the Moat House, y' have done lucky; but I say no more." And then
catching sight of Matcham, "Who be this?" he asked, as he paused,
blinking, on the threshold of his cabin.
"It is my kinsman, Master Matcham," answered Dick.
"Give ye good day, good ferryman," said Matcham, who had
dismounted, and now came forward, leading the horse. "Launch me
your boat, I prithee; we are sore in haste."
The gaunt ferryman continued staring.
"By the mass!" he cried at length, and laughed with open throat.
Matcham coloured to his neck and winced; and Dick, with an angry
countenance, put his hand on the lout's shoulder.
"How now, churl!" he cried. "Fall to thy business, and leave
mocking thy betters."
Hugh Ferryman grumblingly undid his boat, and shoved it a little
forth into the deep water. Then Dick led in the horse, and Matcham
"Ye be mortal small made, master," said Hugh, with a wide grin;
"something o' the wrong model, belike. Nay, Master Shelton, I am
for you," he added, getting to his oars. "A cat may look at a
king. I did but take a shot of the eye at Master Matcham."
"Sirrah, no more words," said Dick. "Bend me your back."
They were by that time at the mouth of the creek, and the view
opened up and down the river. Everywhere it was enclosed with
islands. Clay banks were falling in, willows nodding, reeds
waving, martens dipping and piping. There was no sign of man in
the labyrinth of waters.
"My master," said the ferryman, keeping the boat steady with one
oar, "I have a shrew guess that John-a-Fenne is on the island. He
bears me a black grudge to all Sir Daniel's. How if I turned me up
stream and landed you an arrow-flight above the path? Ye were best
not meddle with John Fenne."
"How, then? is he of this company?" asked Dick.
"Nay, mum is the word," said Hugh. "But I would go up water, Dick.
How if Master Matcham came by an arrow?" and he laughed again.
"Be it so, Hugh," answered Dick.
"Look ye, then," pursued Hugh. "Sith it shall so be, unsling me
your cross-bow--so: now make it ready--good; place me a quarrel.
Ay, keep it so, and look upon me grimly."
"What meaneth this?" asked Dick.
"Why, my master, if I steal you across, it must be under force or
fear," replied the ferryman; "for else, if John Fenne got wind of
it, he were like to prove my most distressful neighbour."
"Do these churls ride so roughly?" Dick inquired. "Do they command
Sir Daniel's own ferry?"
"Nay," whispered the ferryman, winking. "Mark me! Sir Daniel
shall down. His time is out. He shall down. Mum!" And he bent
over his oars.
They pulled a long way up the river, turned the tail of an island,
and came softly down a narrow channel next the opposite bank. Then
Hugh held water in midstream.
"I must land you here among the willows," he said.
"Here is no path but willow swamps and quagmires," answered Dick.
"Master Shelton," replied Hugh, "I dare not take ye nearer down,
for your own sake now. He watcheth me the ferry, lying on his bow.
All that go by and owe Sir Daniel goodwill, he shooteth down like
rabbits. I heard him swear it by the rood. An I had not known you
of old days--ay, and from so high upward--I would 'a' let you go
on; but for old days' remembrance, and because ye had this toy with
you that's not fit for wounds or warfare, I did risk my two poor
ears to have you over whole. Content you; I can no more, on my
Hugh was still speaking, lying on his oars, when there came a great
shout from among the willows on the island, and sounds followed as
of a strong man breasting roughly through the wood.
"A murrain!" cried Hugh. "He was on the upper island all the
while!" He pulled straight for shore. "Threat me with your bow,
good Dick; threat me with it plain," he added. "I have tried to
save your skins, save you mine!"
The boat ran into a tough thicket of willows with a crash.
Matcham, pale, but steady and alert, at a sign from Dick, ran along
the thwarts and leaped ashore; Dick, taking the horse by the
bridle, sought to follow, but what with the animal's bulk, and what
with the closeness of the thicket, both stuck fast. The horse
neighed and trampled; and the boat, which was swinging in an eddy,
came on and off and pitched with violence.
"It may not be, Hugh; here is no landing," cried Dick; but he still
struggled valiantly with the obstinate thicket and the startled
A tall man appeared upon the shore of the island, a long-bow in his
hand. Dick saw him for an instant, with the corner of his eye,
bending the bow with a great effort, his face crimson with hurry.
"Who goes?" he shouted. "Hugh, who goes?"
"'Tis Master Shelton, John," replied the ferryman.
"Stand, Dick Shelton!" bawled the man upon the island. "Ye shall
have no hurt, upon the rood! Stand! Back out, Hugh Ferryman."
Dick cried a taunting answer.
"Nay, then, ye shall go afoot," returned the man; and he let drive
The horse, struck by the shaft, lashed out in agony and terror; the
boat capsized, and the next moment all were struggling in the
eddies of the river.
When Dick came up, he was within a yard of the bank; and before his
eyes were clear, his hand had closed on something firm and strong
that instantly began to drag him forward. It was the riding-rod,
that Matcham, crawling forth upon an overhanging willow, had
opportunely thrust into his grasp.
"By the mass!" cried Dick, as he was helped ashore, "that makes a
life I owe you. I swim like a cannon-ball." And he turned
instantly towards the island.
Midway over, Hugh Ferryman was swimming with his upturned boat,
while John-a-Fenne, furious at the ill-fortune of his shot, bawled
to him to hurry.
"Come, Jack," said Shelton, "run for it! Ere Hugh can hale his
barge across, or the pair of 'em can get it righted, we may be out
And adding example to his words, he began to run, dodging among the
willows, and in marshy places leaping from tussock to tussock. He
had no time to look for his direction; all he could do was to turn
his back upon the river, and put all his heart to running.
Presently, however, the ground began to rise, which showed him he
was still in the right way, and soon after they came forth upon a
slope of solid turf, where elms began to mingle with the willows.
But here Matcham, who had been dragging far into the rear, threw
himself fairly down.
"Leave me, Dick!" he cried, pantingly; "I can no more."
Dick turned, and came back to where his companion lay.
"Nay, Jack, leave thee!" he cried. "That were a knave's trick, to
be sure, when ye risked a shot and a ducking, ay, and a drowning
too, to save my life. Drowning, in sooth; for why I did not pull
you in along with me, the saints alone can tell!"
"Nay," said Matcham, "I would 'a' saved us both, good Dick, for I
"Can ye so?" cried Dick, with open eyes. It was the one manly
accomplishment of which he was himself incapable. In the order of
the things that he admired, next to having killed a man in single
fight came swimming. "Well," he said, "here is a lesson to despise
no man. I promised to care for you as far as Holywood, and, by the
rood, Jack, y' are more capable to care for me."
"Well, Dick, we're friends now," said Matcham.
"Nay, I never was unfriends," answered Dick. "Y' are a brave lad
in your way, albeit something of a milksop, too. I never met your
like before this day. But, prithee, fetch back your breath, and
let us on. Here is no place for chatter."
"My foot hurts shrewdly," said Matcham.
"Nay, I had forgot your foot," returned Dick. "Well, we must go
the gentlier. I would I knew rightly where we were. I have clean
lost the path; yet that may be for the better, too. An they watch
the ferry, they watch the path, belike, as well. I would Sir
Daniel were back with two score men; he would sweep me these
rascals as the wind sweeps leaves. Come, Jack, lean ye on my
shoulder, ye poor shrew. Nay, y' are not tall enough. What age
are ye, for a wager?--twelve?"
"Nay, I am sixteen," said Matcham.
"Y' are poorly grown to height, then," answered Dick. "But take my
hand. We shall go softly, never fear. I owe you a life; I am a
good repayer, Jack, of good or evil."
They began to go forward up the slope.
"We must hit the road, early or late," continued Dick; "and then
for a fresh start. By the mass! but y' 'ave a rickety hand, Jack.
If I had a hand like that, I would think shame. I tell you," he
went on, with a sudden chuckle, "I swear by the mass I believe Hugh
Ferryman took you for a maid."
"Nay, never!" cried the other, colouring high.
"A' did, though, for a wager!" Dick exclaimed. "Small blame to
him. Ye look liker maid than man; and I tell you more--y' are a
strange-looking rogue for a boy; but for a hussy, Jack, ye would be
right fair--ye would. Ye would be well favoured for a wench."
"Well," said Matcham, "ye know right well that I am none."
"Nay, I know that; I do but jest," said Dick. "Ye'll be a man
before your mother, Jack. What cheer, my bully! Ye shall strike
shrewd strokes. Now, which, I marvel, of you or me, shall be first
knighted, Jack? for knighted I shall be, or die for 't. 'Sir
Richard Shelton, Knight': it soundeth bravely. But 'Sir John
Matcham' soundeth not amiss."
"Prithee, Dick, stop till I drink," said the other, pausing where a
little clear spring welled out of the slope into a gravelled basin
no bigger than a pocket. "And O, Dick, if I might come by anything
to eat!--my very heart aches with hunger."
"Why, fool, did ye not eat at Kettley?" asked Dick.
"I had made a vow--it was a sin I had been led into," stammered
Matcham; "but now, if it were but dry bread, I would eat it
"Sit ye, then, and eat," said Dick, "while that I scout a little
forward for the road." And he took a wallet from his girdle,
wherein were bread and pieces of dry bacon, and, while Matcham fell
heartily to, struck farther forth among the trees.
A little beyond there was a dip in the ground, where a streamlet
soaked among dead leaves; and beyond that, again, the trees were
better grown and stood wider, and oak and beech began to take the
place of willow and elm. The continued tossing and pouring of the
wind among the leaves sufficiently concealed the sounds of his
footsteps on the mast; it was for the ear what a moonless night is
to the eye; but for all that Dick went cautiously, slipping from
one big trunk to another, and looking sharply about him as he went.
Suddenly a doe passed like a shadow through the underwood in front
of him, and he paused, disgusted at the chance. This part of the
wood had been certainly deserted, but now that the poor deer had
run, she was like a messenger he should have sent before him to
announce his coming; and instead of pushing farther, he turned him
to the nearest well-grown tree, and rapidly began to climb.
Luck had served him well. The oak on which he had mounted was one
of the tallest in that quarter of the wood, and easily out-topped
its neighbours by a fathom and a half; and when Dick had clambered
into the topmost fork and clung there, swinging dizzily in the
great wind, he saw behind him the whole fenny plain as far as
Kettley, and the Till wandering among woody islets, and in front of
him, the white line of high-road winding through the forest. The
boat had been righted--it was even now midway on the ferry. Beyond
that there was no sign of man, nor aught moving but the wind. He
was about to descend, when, taking a last view, his eye lit upon a
string of moving points about the middle of the fen. Plainly a
small troop was threading the causeway, and that at a good pace;
and this gave him some concern as he shinned vigorously down the
trunk and returned across the wood for his companion.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER II--IN THE FEN
It was near six in the May morning when Dick began to ride down
into the fen upon his homeward way. The sky was all blue; the
jolly wind blew loud and steady; the windmill-sails were spinning;
and the willows over all the fen rippling and whitening like a
field of corn. He had been all night in the saddle, but his heart
was good and his body sound, and he rode right merrily.
The path went down and down into the marsh, till he lost sight of
all the neighbouring landmarks but Kettley windmill on the knoll
behind him, and the extreme top of Tunstall Forest far before. On
either hand there were great fields of blowing reeds and willows,
pools of water shaking in the wind, and treacherous bogs, as green
as emerald, to tempt and to betray the traveller. The path lay
almost straight through the morass. It was already very ancient;
its foundation had been laid by Roman soldiery; in the lapse of
ages much of it had sunk, and every here and there, for a few
hundred yards, it lay submerged below the stagnant waters of the
About a mile from Kettley, Dick came to one such break in the plain
line of causeway, where the reeds and willows grew dispersedly like
little islands and confused the eye. The gap, besides, was more
than usually long; it was a place where any stranger might come
readily to mischief; and Dick bethought him, with something like a
pang, of the lad whom he had so imperfectly directed. As for
himself, one look backward to where the windmill sails were turning
black against the blue of heaven--one look forward to the high
ground of Tunstall Forest, and he was sufficiently directed and
held straight on, the water washing to his horse's knees, as safe
as on a highway.
Half-way across, and when he had already sighted the path rising
high and dry upon the farther side, he was aware of a great
splashing on his right, and saw a grey horse, sunk to its belly in
the mud, and still spasmodically struggling. Instantly, as though
it had divined the neighbourhood of help, the poor beast began to
neigh most piercingly. It rolled, meanwhile, a blood-shot eye,
insane with terror; and as it sprawled wallowing in the quag,
clouds of stinging insects rose and buzzed about it in the air.
"Alack!" thought Dick, "can the poor lad have perished? There is
his horse, for certain--a brave grey! Nay, comrade, if thou criest
to me so piteously, I will do all man can to help thee. Shalt not
lie there to drown by inches!"
And he made ready his crossbow, and put a quarrel through the
Dick rode on after this act of rugged mercy, somewhat sobered in
spirit, and looking closely about him for any sign of his less
happy predecessor in the way. "I would I had dared to tell him
further," he thought; "for I fear he has miscarried in the slough."
And just as he was so thinking, a voice cried upon his name from
the causeway side, and, looking over his shoulder, he saw the lad's
face peering from a clump of reeds.
"Are ye there?" he said, reining in. "Ye lay so close among the
reeds that I had passed you by. I saw your horse bemired, and put
him from his agony; which, by my sooth! an ye had been a more
merciful rider, ye had done yourself. But come forth out of your
hiding. Here be none to trouble you."
"Nay, good boy, I have no arms, nor skill to use them if I had,"
replied the other, stepping forth upon the pathway.
"Why call me 'boy'?" cried Dick. "Y' are not, I trow, the elder of
"Good Master Shelton," said the other, "prithee forgive me. I have
none the least intention to offend. Rather I would in every way
beseech your gentleness and favour, for I am now worse bested than
ever, having lost my way, my cloak, and my poor horse. To have a
riding-rod and spurs, and never a horse to sit upon! And before
all," he added, looking ruefully upon his clothes--"before all, to
be so sorrily besmirched!"
"Tut!" cried Dick. "Would ye mind a ducking? Blood of wound or
dust of travel--that's a man's adornment."
"Nay, then, I like him better plain," observed the lad. "But,
prithee, how shall I do? Prithee, good Master Richard, help me
with your good counsel. If I come not safe to Holywood, I am
"Nay," said Dick, dismounting, "I will give more than counsel.
Take my horse, and I will run awhile, and when I am weary we shall
change again, that so, riding and running, both may go the
So the change was made, and they went forward as briskly as they
durst on the uneven causeway, Dick with his hand upon the other's
"How call ye your name?" asked Dick.
"Call me John Matcham," replied the lad.
"And what make ye to Holywood?" Dick continued.
"I seek sanctuary from a man that would oppress me," was the
answer. "The good Abbot of Holywood is a strong pillar to the
"And how came ye with Sir Daniel, Master Matcham?" pursued Dick.
"Nay," cried the other, "by the abuse of force! He hath taken me
by violence from my own place; dressed me in these weeds; ridden
with me till my heart was sick; gibed me till I could 'a' wept; and
when certain of my friends pursued, thinking to have me back, claps
me in the rear to stand their shot! I was even grazed in the right
foot, and walk but lamely. Nay, there shall come a day between us;
he shall smart for all!"
"Would ye shoot at the moon with a hand-gun?" said Dick. "'Tis a
valiant knight, and hath a hand of iron. An he guessed I had made
or meddled with your flight, it would go sore with me."
"Ay, poor boy," returned the other, "y' are his ward, I know it.
By the same token, so am I, or so he saith; or else he hath bought
my marriage--I wot not rightly which; but it is some handle to
oppress me by."
"Boy again!" said Dick.
"Nay, then, shall I call you girl, good Richard?" asked Matcham.
"Never a girl for me," returned Dick. "I do abjure the crew of
"Ye speak boyishly," said the other. "Ye think more of them than
"Not I," said Dick, stoutly. "They come not in my mind. A plague
of them, say I! Give me to hunt and to fight and to feast, and to
live with jolly foresters. I never heard of a maid yet that was
for any service, save one only; and she, poor shrew, was burned for
a witch and the wearing of men's clothes in spite of nature."
Master Matcham crossed himself with fervour, and appeared to pray.
"What make ye?" Dick inquired.
"I pray for her spirit," answered the other, with a somewhat
"For a witch's spirit?" Dick cried. "But pray for her, an ye list;
she was the best wench in Europe, was this Joan of Arc. Old
Appleyard the archer ran from her, he said, as if she had been
Mahoun. Nay, she was a brave wench."
"Well, but, good Master Richard," resumed Matcham, "an ye like
maids so little, y' are no true natural man; for God made them
twain by intention, and brought true love into the world, to be
man's hope and woman's comfort."
"Faugh!" said Dick. "Y' are a milk-sopping baby, so to harp on
women. An ye think I be no true man, get down upon the path, and
whether at fists, back-sword, or bow and arrow, I will prove my
manhood on your body."
"Nay, I am no fighter," said Matcham, eagerly. "I mean no tittle
of offence. I meant but pleasantry. And if I talk of women, it is
because I heard ye were to marry."
"I to marry!" Dick exclaimed. "Well, it is the first I hear of it.
And with whom was I to marry?"
"One Joan Sedley," replied Matcham, colouring. "It was Sir
Daniel's doing; he hath money to gain upon both sides; and, indeed,
I have heard the poor wench bemoaning herself pitifully of the
match. It seems she is of your mind, or else distasted to the
"Well! marriage is like death, it comes to all," said Dick, with
resignation. "And she bemoaned herself? I pray ye now, see there
how shuttle-witted are these girls: to bemoan herself before that
she had seen me! Do I bemoan myself? Not I. An I be to marry, I
will marry dry-eyed! But if ye know her, prithee, of what favour
is she? fair or foul? And is she shrewish or pleasant?"
"Nay, what matters it?" said Matcham. "An y' are to marry, ye can
but marry. What matters foul or fair? These be but toys. Y' are
no milksop, Master Richard; ye will wed with dry eyes, anyhow."
"It is well said," replied Shelton. "Little I reck."
"Your lady wife is like to have a pleasant lord," said Matcham.
"She shall have the lord Heaven made her for," returned Dick. "It
trow there be worse as well as better."
"Ah, the poor wench!" cried the other.
"And why so poor?" asked Dick.
"To wed a man of wood," replied his companion. "O me, for a wooden
"I think I be a man of wood, indeed," said Dick, "to trudge afoot
the while you ride my horse; but it is good wood, I trow."
"Good Dick, forgive me," cried the other. "Nay, y' are the best
heart in England; I but laughed. Forgive me now, sweet Dick."
"Nay, no fool words," returned Dick, a little embarrassed by his
companion's warmth. "No harm is done. I am not touchy, praise the
And at that moment the wind, which was blowing straight behind them
as they went, brought them the rough flourish of Sir Daniel's
"Hark!" said Dick, "the tucket soundeth."
"Ay," said Matcham, "they have found my flight, and now I am
unhorsed!" and he became pale as death.
"Nay, what cheer!" returned Dick. "Y' have a long start, and we
are near the ferry. And it is I, methinks, that am unhorsed."
"Alack, I shall be taken!" cried the fugitive. "Dick, kind Dick,
beseech ye help me but a little!"
"Why, now, what aileth thee?" said Dick. "Methinks I help you very
patently. But my heart is sorry for so spiritless a fellow! And
see ye here, John Matcham--sith John Matcham is your name--I,
Richard Shelton, tide what betideth, come what may, will see you
safe in Holywood. The saints so do to me again if I default you.
Come, pick me up a good heart, Sir White-face. The way betters
here; spur me the horse. Go faster! faster! Nay, mind not for me;
I can run like a deer."
So, with the horse trotting hard, and Dick running easily
alongside, they crossed the remainder of the fen, and came out upon
the banks of the river by the ferryman's hut.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
BOOK I--THE TWO LADS
CHAPTER I--AT THE SIGN OF THE SUN IN KETTLEY
Sir Daniel and his men lay in and about Kettley that night, warmly
quartered and well patrolled. But the Knight of Tunstall was one
who never rested from money-getting; and even now, when he was on
the brink of an adventure which should make or mar him, he was up
an hour after midnight to squeeze poor neighbours. He was one who
trafficked greatly in disputed inheritances; it was his way to buy
out the most unlikely claimant, and then, by the favour he curried
with great lords about the king, procure unjust decisions in his
favour; or, if that was too roundabout, to seize the disputed manor
by force of arms, and rely on his influence and Sir Oliver's
cunning in the law to hold what he had snatched. Kettley was one
such place; it had come very lately into his clutches; he still met
with opposition from the tenants; and it was to overawe discontent
that he had led his troops that way.
By two in the morning, Sir Daniel sat in the inn room, close by the
fireside, for it was cold at that hour among the fens of Kettley.
By his elbow stood a pottle of spiced ale. He had taken off his
visored headpiece, and sat with his bald head and thin, dark visage
resting on one hand, wrapped warmly in a sanguine-coloured cloak.
At the lower end of the room about a dozen of his men stood sentry
over the door or lay asleep on benches; and somewhat nearer hand, a
young lad, apparently of twelve or thirteen, was stretched in a
mantle on the floor. The host of the Sun stood before the great
"Now, mark me, mine host," Sir Daniel said, "follow but mine
orders, and I shall be your good lord ever. I must have good men
for head boroughs, and I will have Adam-a-More high constable; see
to it narrowly. If other men be chosen, it shall avail you
nothing; rather it shall be found to your sore cost. For those
that have paid rent to Walsingham I shall take good measure--you
among the rest, mine host."
"Good knight," said the host, "I will swear upon the cross of
Holywood I did but pay to Walsingham upon compulsion. Nay, bully
knight, I love not the rogue Walsinghams; they were as poor as
thieves, bully knight. Give me a great lord like you. Nay; ask me
among the neighbours, I am stout for Brackley."
"It may be," said Sir Daniel, dryly. "Ye shall then pay twice."
The innkeeper made a horrid grimace; but this was a piece of bad
luck that might readily befall a tenant in these unruly times, and
he was perhaps glad to make his peace so easily.
"Bring up yon fellow, Selden!" cried the knight.
And one of his retainers led up a poor, cringing old man, as pale
as a candle, and all shaking with the fen fever.
"Sirrah," said Sir Daniel, "your name?"
"An't please your worship," replied the man, "my name is Condall--
Condall of Shoreby, at your good worship's pleasure."
"I have heard you ill reported on," returned the knight. "Ye deal
in treason, rogue; ye trudge the country leasing; y' are heavily
suspicioned of the death of severals. How, fellow, are ye so bold?
But I will bring you down."
"Right honourable and my reverend lord," the man cried, "here is
some hodge-podge, saving your good presence. I am but a poor
private man, and have hurt none."
"The under-sheriff did report of you most vilely," said the knight.
"'Seize me,' saith he, 'that Tyndal of Shoreby.'"
"Condall, my good lord; Condall is my poor name," said the
"Condall or Tyndal, it is all one," replied Sir Daniel, coolly.
"For, by my sooth, y' are here and I do mightily suspect your
honesty. If ye would save your neck, write me swiftly an
obligation for twenty pound."
"For twenty pound, my good lord!" cried Condall. "Here is
midsummer madness! My whole estate amounteth not to seventy
"Condall or Tyndal," returned Sir Daniel, grinning, "I will run my
peril of that loss. Write me down twenty, and when I have
recovered all I may, I will be good lord to you, and pardon you the
"Alas! my good lord, it may not be; I have no skill to write," said
"Well-a-day!" returned the knight. "Here, then, is no remedy. Yet
I would fain have spared you, Tyndal, had my conscience suffered.
Selden, take me this old shrew softly to the nearest elm, and hang
me him tenderly by the neck, where I may see him at my riding.
Fare ye well, good Master Condall, dear Master Tyndal; y' are post-
haste for Paradise; fare ye then well!"
"Nay, my right pleasant lord," replied Condall, forcing an
obsequious smile, "an ye be so masterful, as doth right well become
you, I will even, with all my poor skill, do your good bidding."
"Friend," quoth Sir Daniel, "ye will now write two score. Go to!
y' are too cunning for a livelihood of seventy shillings. Selden,
see him write me this in good form, and have it duly witnessed."
And Sir Daniel, who was a very merry knight, none merrier in
England, took a drink of his mulled ale, and lay back, smiling.
Meanwhile, the boy upon the floor began to stir, and presently sat
up and looked about him with a scare.
"Hither," said Sir Daniel; and as the other rose at his command and
came slowly towards him, he leaned back and laughed outright. "By
the rood!" he cried, "a sturdy boy!"
The lad flushed crimson with anger, and darted a look of hate out
of his dark eyes. Now that he was on his legs, it was more
difficult to make certain of his age. His face looked somewhat
older in expression, but it was as smooth as a young child's; and
in bone and body he was unusually slender, and somewhat awkward of
"Ye have called me, Sir Daniel," he said. "Was it to laugh at my
"Nay, now, let laugh," said the knight. "Good shrew, let laugh, I
pray you. An ye could see yourself, I warrant ye would laugh the
"Well," cried the lad, flushing, "ye shall answer this when ye
answer for the other. Laugh while yet ye may!"
"Nay, now, good cousin," replied Sir Daniel, with some earnestness,
"think not that I mock at you, except in mirth, as between kinsfolk
and singular friends. I will make you a marriage of a thousand
pounds, go to! and cherish you exceedingly. I took you, indeed,
roughly, as the time demanded; but from henceforth I shall
ungrudgingly maintain and cheerfully serve you. Ye shall be Mrs.
Shelton--Lady Shelton, by my troth! for the lad promiseth bravely.
Tut! ye will not shy for honest laughter; it purgeth melancholy.
They are no rogues who laugh, good cousin. Good mine host, lay me
a meal now for my cousin, Master John. Sit ye down, sweetheart,
"Nay," said Master John, "I will break no bread. Since ye force me
to this sin, I will fast for my soul's interest. But, good mine
host, I pray you of courtesy give me a cup of fair water; I shall
be much beholden to your courtesy indeed."
"Ye shall have a dispensation, go to!" cried the knight. "Shalt be
well shriven, by my faith! Content you, then, and eat."
But the lad was obstinate, drank a cup of water, and, once more
wrapping himself closely in his mantle, sat in a far corner,
In an hour or two, there rose a stir in the village of sentries
challenging and the clatter of arms and horses; and then a troop
drew up by the inn door, and Richard Shelton, splashed with mud,
presented himself upon the threshold.
"Save you, Sir Daniel," he said.
"How! Dickie Shelton!" cried the knight; and at the mention of
Dick's name the other lad looked curiously across. "What maketh
"Please you, sir knight, to take cognisance of this packet from Sir
Oliver, wherein are all things fully stated," answered Richard,
presenting the priest's letter. "And please you farther, ye were
best make all speed to Risingham; for on the way hither we
encountered one riding furiously with letters, and by his report,
my Lord of Risingham was sore bested, and lacked exceedingly your
"How say you? Sore bested?" returned the knight. "Nay, then, we
will make speed sitting down, good Richard. As the world goes in
this poor realm of England, he that rides softliest rides surest.
Delay, they say, begetteth peril; but it is rather this itch of
doing that undoes men; mark it, Dick. But let me see, first, what
cattle ye have brought. Selden, a link here at the door!"
And Sir Daniel strode forth into the village street, and, by the
red glow of a torch, inspected his new troops. He was an unpopular
neighbour and an unpopular master; but as a leader in war he was
well-beloved by those who rode behind his pennant. His dash, his
proved courage, his forethought for the soldiers' comfort, even his
rough gibes, were all to the taste of the bold blades in jack and
"Nay, by the rood!" he cried, "what poor dogs are these? Here be
some as crooked as a bow, and some as lean as a spear. Friends, ye
shall ride in the front of the battle; I can spare you, friends.
Mark me this old villain on the piebald! A two-year mutton riding
on a hog would look more soldierly! Ha! Clipsby, are ye there,
old rat? Y' are a man I could lose with a good heart; ye shall go
in front of all, with a bull's eye painted on your jack, to be the
better butt for archery; sirrah, ye shall show me the way."
"I will show you any way, Sir Daniel, but the way to change sides,"
returned Clipsby, sturdily.
Sir Daniel laughed a guffaw.
"Why, well said!" he cried. "Hast a shrewd tongue in thy mouth, go
to! I will forgive you for that merry word. Selden, see them fed,
both man and brute."
The knight re-entered the inn.
"Now, friend Dick," he said, "fall to. Here is good ale and bacon.
Eat, while that I read."
Sir Daniel opened the packet, and as he read his brow darkened.
When he had done he sat a little, musing. Then he looked sharply
at his ward.
"Dick," said he, "Y' have seen this penny rhyme?"
The lad replied in the affirmative.
"It bears your father's name," continued the knight; "and our poor
shrew of a parson is, by some mad soul, accused of slaying him."
"He did most eagerly deny it," answered Dick.
"He did?" cried the knight, very sharply. "Heed him not. He has a
loose tongue; he babbles like a jack-sparrow. Some day, when I may
find the leisure, Dick, I will myself more fully inform you of
these matters. There was one Duckworth shrewdly blamed for it; but
the times were troubled, and there was no justice to be got."
"It befell at the Moat House?" Dick ventured, with a beating at his
"It befell between the Moat House and Holywood," replied Sir
Daniel, calmly; but he shot a covert glance, black with suspicion,
at Dick's face. "And now," added the knight, "speed you with your
meal; ye shall return to Tunstall with a line from me."
Dick's face fell sorely.
"Prithee, Sir Daniel," he cried, "send one of the villains! I
beseech you let me to the battle. I can strike a stroke, I promise
"I misdoubt it not," replied Sir Daniel, sitting down to write.
"But here, Dick, is no honour to be won. I lie in Kettley till I
have sure tidings of the war, and then ride to join me with the
conqueror. Cry not on cowardice; it is but wisdom, Dick; for this
poor realm so tosseth with rebellion, and the king's name and
custody so changeth hands, that no man may be certain of the
morrow. Toss-pot and Shuttle-wit run in, but my Lord Good-Counsel
sits o' one side, waiting."
With that, Sir Daniel, turning his back to Dick, and quite at the
farther end of the long table, began to write his letter, with his
mouth on one side, for this business of the Black Arrow stuck
sorely in his throat.
Meanwhile, young Shelton was going on heartily enough with his
breakfast, when he felt a touch upon his arm, and a very soft voice
whispering in his ear.
"Make not a sign, I do beseech you," said the voice, "but of your
charity tell me the straight way to Holywood. Beseech you, now,
good boy, comfort a poor soul in peril and extreme distress, and
set me so far forth upon the way to my repose."
"Take the path by the windmill," answered Dick, in the same tone;
"it will bring you to Till Ferry; there inquire again."
And without turning his head, he fell again to eating. But with
the tail of his eye he caught a glimpse of the young lad called
Master John stealthily creeping from the room.
"Why," thought Dick, "he is a young as I. 'Good boy' doth he call
me? An I had known, I should have seen the varlet hanged ere I had
told him. Well, if he goes through the fen, I may come up with him
and pull his ears."
Half an hour later, Sir Daniel gave Dick the letter, and bade him
speed to the Moat House. And, again, some half an hour after
Dick's departure, a messenger came, in hot haste, from my Lord of
"Sir Daniel," the messenger said, "ye lose great honour, by my
sooth! The fight began again this morning ere the dawn, and we
have beaten their van and scattered their right wing. Only the
main battle standeth fast. An we had your fresh men, we should
tilt you them all into the river. What, sir knight! Will ye be
the last? It stands not with your good credit."
"Nay," cried the knight, "I was but now upon the march. Selden,
sound me the tucket. Sir, I am with you on the instant. It is not
two hours since the more part of my command came in, sir messenger.
What would ye have? Spurring is good meat, but yet it killed the
charger. Bustle, boys!"
By this time the tucket was sounding cheerily in the morning, and
from all sides Sir Daniel's men poured into the main street and
formed before the inn. They had slept upon their arms, with
chargers saddled, and in ten minutes five-score men-at-arms and
archers, cleanly equipped and briskly disciplined, stood ranked and
ready. The chief part were in Sir Daniel's livery, murrey and
blue, which gave the greater show to their array. The best armed
rode first; and away out of sight, at the tail of the column, came
the sorry reinforcement of the night before. Sir Daniel looked
with pride along the line.
"Here be the lads to serve you in a pinch," he said.
"They are pretty men, indeed," replied the messenger. "It but
augments my sorrow that ye had not marched the earlier."
"Well," said the knight, "what would ye? The beginning of a feast
and the end of a fray, sir messenger;" and he mounted into his
saddle. "Why! how now!" he cried. "John! Joanna! Nay, by the
sacred rood! where is she? Host, where is that girl?"
"Girl, Sir Daniel?" cried the landlord. "Nay, sir, I saw no girl."
"Boy, then, dotard!" cried the knight. "Could ye not see it was a
wench? She in the murrey-coloured mantle--she that broke her fast
with water, rogue--where is she?"
"Nay, the saints bless us! Master John, ye called him," said the
host. "Well, I thought none evil. He is gone. I saw him--her--I
saw her in the stable a good hour agone; 'a was saddling a grey
"Now, by the rood!" cried Sir Daniel, "the wench was worth five
hundred pound to me and more."
"Sir knight," observed the messenger, with bitterness, "while that
ye are here, roaring for five hundred pounds, the realm of England
is elsewhere being lost and won."
"It is well said," replied Sir Daniel. "Selden, fall me out with
six cross-bowmen; hunt me her down. I care not what it cost; but,
at my returning, let me find her at the Moat House. Be it upon
your head. And now, sir messenger, we march."
And the troop broke into a good trot, and Selden and his six men
were left behind upon the street of Kettley, with the staring
|<< <<< 1 | 2 | 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 >>> >>|