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
<< Septembre >>
Ajouter read-on à vos favoris
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER III--THE ROOM OVER THE CHAPEL
From the battlements nothing further was observed. The sun
journeyed westward, and at last went down; but, to the eyes of all
these eager sentinels, no living thing appeared in the
neighbourhood of Tunstall House.
When the night was at length fairly come, Throgmorton was led to a
room overlooking an angle of the moat. Thence he was lowered with
every precaution; the ripple of his swimming was audible for a
brief period; then a black figure was observed to land by the
branches of a willow and crawl away among the grass. For some half
hour Sir Daniel and Hatch stood eagerly giving ear; but all
remained quiet. The messenger had got away in safety.
Sir Daniel's brow grew clearer. He turned to Hatch.
"Bennet," he said, "this John Amend-All is no more than a man, ye
see. He sleepeth. We will make a good end of him, go to!"
All the afternoon and evening, Dick had been ordered hither and
thither, one command following another, till he was bewildered with
the number and the hurry of commissions. All that time he had seen
no more of Sir Oliver, and nothing of Matcham; and yet both the
priest and the young lad ran continually in his mind. It was now
his chief purpose to escape from Tunstall Moat House as speedily as
might be; and yet, before he went, he desired a word with both of
At length, with a lamp in one hand, he mounted to his new
apartment. It was large, low, and somewhat dark. The window
looked upon the moat, and although it was so high up, it was
heavily barred. The bed was luxurious, with one pillow of down and
one of lavender, and a red coverlet worked in a pattern of roses.
All about the walls were cupboards, locked and padlocked, and
concealed from view by hangings of dark-coloured arras. Dick made
the round, lifting the arras, sounding the panels, seeking vainly
to open the cupboards. He assured himself that the door was strong
and the bolt solid; then he set down his lamp upon a bracket, and
once more looked all around.
For what reason had he been given this chamber? It was larger and
finer than his own. Could it conceal a snare? Was there a secret
entrance? Was it, indeed, haunted? His blood ran a little chilly
in his veins.
Immediately over him the heavy foot of a sentry trod the leads.
Below him, he knew, was the arched roof of the chapel; and next to
the chapel was the hall. Certainly there was a secret passage in
the hall; the eye that had watched him from the arras gave him
proof of that. Was it not more than probable that the passage
extended to the chapel, and, if so, that it had an opening in his
To sleep in such a place, he felt, would be foolhardy. He made his
weapons ready, and took his position in a corner of the room behind
the door. If ill was intended, he would sell his life dear.
The sound of many feet, the challenge, and the password, sounded
overhead along the battlements; the watch was being changed.
And just then there came a scratching at the door of the chamber;
it grew a little louder; then a whisper:
"Dick, Dick, it is I!"
Dick ran to the door, drew the bolt, and admitted Matcham. He was
very pale, and carried a lamp in one hand and a drawn dagger in the
"Shut me the door," he whispered. "Swift, Dick! This house is
full of spies; I hear their feet follow me in the corridors; I hear
them breathe behind the arras."
"Well, content you," returned Dick, "it is closed. We are safe for
this while, if there be safety anywhere within these walls. But my
heart is glad to see you. By the mass, lad, I thought ye were
sped! Where hid ye?"
"It matters not," returned Matcham. "Since we be met, it matters
not. But, Dick, are your eyes open? Have they told you of to-
"Not they," replied Dick. "What make they to-morrow?"
"To-morrow, or to-night, I know not," said the other, "but one time
or other, Dick, they do intend upon your life. I had the proof of
it; I have heard them whisper; nay, they as good as told me."
"Ay," returned Dick, "is it so? I had thought as much."
And he told him the day's occurrences at length.
When it was done, Matcham arose and began, in turn, to examine the
"No," he said, "there is no entrance visible. Yet 'tis a pure
certainty there is one. Dick, I will stay by you. An y' are to
die, I will die with you. And I can help--look! I have stolen a
dagger--I will do my best! And meanwhile, an ye know of any issue,
any sally-port we could get opened, or any window that we might
descend by, I will most joyfully face any jeopardy to flee with
"Jack," said Dick, "by the mass, Jack, y' are the best soul, and
the truest, and the bravest in all England! Give me your hand,
And he grasped the other's hand in silence.
"I will tell you," he resumed. "There is a window, out of which
the messenger descended; the rope should still be in the chamber.
'Tis a hope."
"Hist!" said Matcham.
Both gave ear. There was a sound below the floor; then it paused,
and then began again.
"Some one walketh in the room below," whispered Matcham.
"Nay," returned Dick, "there is no room below; we are above the
chapel. It is my murderer in the secret passage. Well, let him
come; it shall go hard with him;" and he ground his teeth.
"Blow me the lights out," said the other. "Perchance he will
They blew out both the lamps and lay still as death. The footfalls
underneath were very soft, but they were clearly audible. Several
times they came and went; and then there was a loud jar of a key
turning in a lock, followed by a considerable silence.
Presently the steps began again, and then, all of a sudden, a chink
of light appeared in the planking of the room in a far corner. It
widened; a trap-door was being opened, letting in a gush of light.
They could see the strong hand pushing it up; and Dick raised his
cross-bow, waiting for the head to follow.
But now there came an interruption. From a distant corner of the
Moat House shouts began to be heard, and first one voice, and then
several, crying aloud upon a name. This noise had plainly
disconcerted the murderer, for the trap-door was silently lowered
to its place, and the steps hurriedly returned, passed once more
close below the lads, and died away in the distance.
Here was a moment's respite. Dick breathed deep, and then, and not
till then, he gave ear to the disturbance which had interrupted the
attack, and which was now rather increasing than diminishing. All
about the Moat House feet were running, doors were opening and
slamming, and still the voice of Sir Daniel towered above all this
bustle, shouting for "Joanna."
"Joanna!" repeated Dick. "Why, who the murrain should this be?
Here is no Joanna, nor ever hath been. What meaneth it?"
Matcham was silent. He seemed to have drawn further away. But
only a little faint starlight entered by the window, and at the far
end of the apartment, where the pair were, the darkness was
"Jack," said Dick, "I wot not where ye were all day. Saw ye this
"Nay," returned Matcham, "I saw her not."
"Nor heard tell of her?" he pursued.
The steps drew nearer. Sir Daniel was still roaring the name of
Joanna from the courtyard.
"Did ye hear of her?" repeated Dick.
"I heard of her," said Matcham.
"How your voice twitters! What aileth you?" said Dick. "'Tis a
most excellent good fortune, this Joanna; it will take their minds
"Dick," cried Matcham, "I am lost; we are both lost. Let us flee
if there be yet time. They will not rest till they have found me.
Or, see! let me go forth; when they have found me, ye may flee.
Let me forth, Dick--good Dick, let me away!"
She was groping for the bolt, when Dick at last comprehended.
"By the mass!" he cried, "y' are no Jack; y' are Joanna Sedley; y'
are the maid that would not marry me!"
The girl paused, and stood silent and motionless. Dick, too, was
silent for a little; then he spoke again.
"Joanna," he said, "y' 'ave saved my life, and I have saved yours;
and we have seen blood flow, and been friends and enemies--ay, and
I took my belt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were a
boy. But now death has me, and my time's out, and before I die I
must say this: Y' are the best maid and the bravest under heaven,
and, if only I could live, I would marry you blithely; and, live or
die, I love you."
She answered nothing.
"Come," he said, "speak up, Jack. Come, be a good maid, and say ye
"Why, Dick," she cried, "would I be here?"
"Well, see ye here," continued Dick, "an we but escape whole we'll
marry; and an we're to die, we die, and there's an end on't. But
now that I think, how found ye my chamber?"
"I asked it of Dame Hatch," she answered.
"Well, the dame's staunch," he answered; "she'll not tell upon you.
We have time before us."
And just then, as if to contradict his words, feet came down the
corridor, and a fist beat roughly on the door.
"Here!" cried a voice. "Open, Master Dick; open!" Dick neither
moved nor answered.
"It is all over," said the girl; and she put her arms about Dick's
One after another, men came trooping to the door. Then Sir Daniel
arrived himself, and there was a sudden cessation of the noise.
"Dick," cried the knight, "be not an ass. The Seven Sleepers had
been awake ere now. We know she is within there. Open, then, the
Dick was again silent.
"Down with it," said Sir Daniel. And immediately his followers
fell savagely upon the door with foot and fist. Solid as it was,
and strongly bolted, it would soon have given way; but once more
fortune interfered. Over the thunderstorm of blows the cry of a
sentinel was heard; it was followed by another; shouts ran along
the battlements, shouts answered out of the wood. In the first
moment of alarm it sounded as if the foresters were carrying the
Moat House by assault. And Sir Daniel and his men, desisting
instantly from their attack upon Dick's chamber, hurried to defend
"Now," cried Dick, "we are saved."
He seized the great old bedstead with both hands, and bent himself
in vain to move it.
"Help me, Jack. For your life's sake, help me stoutly!" he cried.
Between them, with a huge effort, they dragged the big frame of oak
across the room, and thrust it endwise to the chamber door.
"Ye do but make things worse," said Joanna, sadly. "He will then
enter by the trap."
"Not so," replied Dick. "He durst not tell his secret to so many.
It is by the trap that we shall flee. Hark! The attack is over.
Nay, it was none!"
It had, indeed, been no attack; it was the arrival of another party
of stragglers from the defeat of Risingham that had disturbed Sir
Daniel. They had run the gauntlet under cover of the darkness;
they had been admitted by the great gate; and now, with a great
stamping of hoofs and jingle of accoutrements and arms, they were
dismounting in the court.
"He will return anon," said Dick. "To the trap!"
He lighted a lamp, and they went together into the corner of the
room. The open chink through which some light still glittered was
easily discovered, and, taking a stout sword from his small
armoury, Dick thrust it deep into the seam, and weighed strenuously
on the hilt. The trap moved, gaped a little, and at length came
widely open. Seizing it with their hands, the two young folk threw
it back. It disclosed a few steps descending, and at the foot of
them, where the would-be murderer had left it, a burning lamp.
"Now," said Dick, "go first and take the lamp. I will follow to
close the trap."
So they descended one after the other, and as Dick lowered the
trap, the blows began once again to thunder on the panels of the
THE BLACK ARROW
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
"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
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
"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
"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,
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
Dick followed the man with black forebodings.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
BOOK II--THE MOAT HOUSE
CHAPTER I--DICK ASKS QUESTIONS
The Moat House stood not far from the rough forest road.
Externally, it was a compact rectangle of red stone, flanked at
each corner by a round tower, pierced for archery and battlemented
at the top. Within, it enclosed a narrow court. The moat was
perhaps twelve feet wide, crossed by a single drawbridge. It was
supplied with water by a trench, leading to a forest pool and
commanded, through its whole length, from the battlements of the
two southern towers. Except that one or two tall and thick trees
had been suffered to remain within half a bowshot of the walls, the
house was in a good posture for defence.
In the court, Dick found a part of the garrison, busy with
preparations for defence, and gloomily discussing the chances of a
siege. Some were making arrows, some sharpening swords that had
long been disused; but even as they worked, they shook their heads.
Twelve of Sir Daniel's party had escaped the battle, run the
gauntlet through the wood, and come alive to the Moat House. But
out of this dozen, three had been gravely wounded: two at
Risingham in the disorder of the rout, one by John Amend-All's
marksmen as he crossed the forest. This raised the force of the
garrison, counting Hatch, Sir Daniel, and young Shelton, to twenty-
two effective men. And more might be continually expected to
arrive. The danger lay not therefore in the lack of men.
It was the terror of the Black Arrow that oppressed the spirits of
the garrison. For their open foes of the party of York, in these
most changing times, they felt but a far-away concern. "The
world," as people said in those days, "might change again" before
harm came. But for their neighbours in the wood, they trembled.
It was not Sir Daniel alone who was a mark for hatred. His men,
conscious of impunity, had carried themselves cruelly through all
the country. Harsh commands had been harshly executed; and of the
little band that now sat talking in the court, there was not one
but had been guilty of some act of oppression or barbarity. And
now, by the fortune of war, Sir Daniel had become powerless to
protect his instruments; now, by the issue of some hours of battle,
at which many of them had not been present, they had all become
punishable traitors to the State, outside the buckler of the law, a
shrunken company in a poor fortress that was hardly tenable, and
exposed upon all sides to the just resentment of their victims.
Nor had there been lacking grisly advertisements of what they might
At different periods of the evening and the night, no fewer than
seven riderless horses had come neighing in terror to the gate.
Two were from Selden's troop; five belonged to men who had ridden
with Sir Daniel to the field. Lastly, a little before dawn, a
spearman had come staggering to the moat side, pierced by three
arrows; even as they carried him in, his spirit had departed; but
by the words that he uttered in his agony, he must have been the
last survivor of a considerable company of men.
Hatch himself showed, under his sun-brown, the pallour of anxiety;
and when he had taken Dick aside and learned the fate of Selden, he
fell on a stone bench and fairly wept. The others, from where they
sat on stools or doorsteps in the sunny angle of the court, looked
at him with wonder and alarm, but none ventured to inquire the
cause of his emotion.
"Nay, Master Shelton," said Hatch, at last--"nay, but what said I?
We shall all go. Selden was a man of his hands; he was like a
brother to me. Well, he has gone second; well, we shall all
follow! For what said their knave rhyme?--'A black arrow in each
black heart.' Was it not so it went? Appleyard, Selden, Smith,
old Humphrey gone; and there lieth poor John Carter, crying, poor
sinner, for the priest."
Dick gave ear. Out of a low window, hard by where they were
talking, groans and murmurs came to his ear.
"Lieth he there?" he asked.
"Ay, in the second porter's chamber," answered Hatch. "We could
not bear him further, soul and body were so bitterly at odds. At
every step we lifted him, he thought to wend. But now, methinks,
it is the soul that suffereth. Ever for the priest he crieth, and
Sir Oliver, I wot not why, still cometh not. 'Twill be a long
shrift; but poor Appleyard and poor Selden, they had none."
Dick stooped to the window and looked in. The little cell was low
and dark, but he could make out the wounded soldier lying moaning
on his pallet.
"Carter, poor friend, how goeth it?" he asked.
"Master Shelton," returned the man, in an excited whisper, "for the
dear light of heaven, bring the priest. Alack, I am sped; I am
brought very low down; my hurt is to the death. Ye may do me no
more service; this shall be the last. Now, for my poor soul's
interest, and as a loyal gentleman, bestir you; for I have that
matter on my conscience that shall drag me deep."
He groaned, and Dick heard the grating of his teeth, whether in
pain or terror.
Just then Sir Daniel appeared upon the threshold of the hall. He
had a letter in one hand.
"Lads," he said, "we have had a shog, we have had a tumble;
wherefore, then, deny it? Rather it imputeth to get speedily again
to saddle. This old Harry the Sixt has had the undermost. Wash
we, then, our hands of him. I have a good friend that rideth next
the duke, the Lord of Wensleydale. Well, I have writ a letter to
my friend, praying his good lordship, and offering large
satisfaction for the past and reasonable surety for the future.
Doubt not but he will lend a favourable ear. A prayer without
gifts is like a song without music: I surfeit him with promises,
boys--I spare not to promise. What, then, is lacking? Nay, a
great thing--wherefore should I deceive you?--a great thing and a
difficult: a messenger to bear it. The woods--y' are not ignorant
of that--lie thick with our ill-willers. Haste is most needful;
but without sleight and caution all is naught. Which, then, of
this company will take me this letter, bear me it to my Lord of
Wensleydale, and bring me the answer back?"
One man instantly arose.
"I will, an't like you," said he. "I will even risk my carcase."
"Nay, Dicky Bowyer, not so," returned the knight. "It likes me
not. Y' are sly indeed, but not speedy. Ye were a laggard ever."
"An't be so, Sir Daniel, here am I," cried another.
"The saints forfend!" said the knight. "Y' are speedy, but not
sly. Ye would blunder me headforemost into John Amend-All's camp.
I thank you both for your good courage; but, in sooth, it may not
Then Hatch offered himself, and he also was refused.
"I want you here, good Bennet; y' are my right hand, indeed,"
returned the knight; and then several coming forward in a group,
Sir Daniel at length selected one and gave him the letter.
"Now," he said, "upon your good speed and better discretion we do
all depend. Bring me a good answer back, and before three weeks, I
will have purged my forest of these vagabonds that brave us to our
faces. But mark it well, Throgmorton: the matter is not easy. Ye
must steal forth under night, and go like a fox; and how ye are to
cross Till I know not, neither by the bridge nor ferry."
"I can swim," returned Throgmorton. "I will come soundly, fear
"Well, friend, get ye to the buttery," replied Sir Daniel. "Ye
shall swim first of all in nut-brown ale." And with that he turned
back into the hall.
"Sir Daniel hath a wise tongue," said Hatch, aside, to Dick. "See,
now, where many a lesser man had glossed the matter over, he
speaketh it out plainly to his company. Here is a danger, 'a
saith, and here difficulty; and jesteth in the very saying. Nay,
by Saint Barbary, he is a born captain! Not a man but he is some
deal heartened up! See how they fall again to work."
This praise of Sir Daniel put a thought in the lad's head.
"Bennet," he said, "how came my father by his end?"
"Ask me not that," replied Hatch. "I had no hand nor knowledge in
it; furthermore, I will even be silent, Master Dick. For look you,
in a man's own business there he may speak; but of hearsay matters
and of common talk, not so. Ask me Sir Oliver--ay, or Carter, if
ye will; not me."
And Hatch set off to make the rounds, leaving Dick in a muse.
"Wherefore would he not tell me?" thought the lad. "And wherefore
named he Carter? Carter--nay, then Carter had a hand in it,
He entered the house, and passing some little way along a flagged
and vaulted passage, came to the door of the cell where the hurt
man lay groaning. At his entrance Carter started eagerly.
"Have ye brought the priest?" he cried.
"Not yet awhile," returned Dick. "Y' 'ave a word to tell me first.
How came my father, Harry Shelton, by his death?"
The man's face altered instantly.
"I know not," he replied, doggedly.
"Nay, ye know well," returned Dick. "Seek not to put me by."
"I tell you I know not," repeated Carter.
"Then," said Dick, "ye shall die unshriven. Here am I, and here
shall stay. There shall no priest come near you, rest assured.
For of what avail is penitence, an ye have no mind to right those
wrongs ye had a hand in? and without penitence, confession is but
"Ye say what ye mean not, Master Dick," said Carter, composedly.
"It is ill threatening the dying, and becometh you (to speak truth)
little. And for as little as it commends you, it shall serve you
less. Stay, an ye please. Ye will condemn my soul--ye shall learn
nothing! There is my last word to you." And the wounded man
turned upon the other side.
Now, Dick, to say truth, had spoken hastily, and was ashamed of his
threat. But he made one more effort.
"Carter," he said, "mistake me not. I know ye were but an
instrument in the hands of others; a churl must obey his lord; I
would not bear heavily on such an one. But I begin to learn upon
many sides that this great duty lieth on my youth and ignorance, to
avenge my father. Prithee, then, good Carter, set aside the memory
of my threatenings, and in pure goodwill and honest penitence give
me a word of help."
The wounded man lay silent; nor, say what Dick pleased, could he
extract another word from him.
"Well," said Dick, "I will go call the priest to you as ye desired;
for howsoever ye be in fault to me or mine, I would not be
willingly in fault to any, least of all to one upon the last
Again the old soldier heard him without speech or motion; even his
groans he had suppressed; and as Dick turned and left the room, he
was filled with admiration for that rugged fortitude.
"And yet," he thought, "of what use is courage without wit? Had
his hands been clean, he would have spoken; his silence did confess
the secret louder than words. Nay, upon all sides, proof floweth
on me. Sir Daniel, he or his men, hath done this thing."
Dick paused in the stone passage with a heavy heart. At that hour,
in the ebb of Sir Daniel's fortune, when he was beleaguered by the
archers of the Black Arrow and proscribed by the victorious
Yorkists, was Dick, also, to turn upon the man who had nourished
and taught him, who had severely punished, indeed, but yet
unwearyingly protected his youth? The necessity, if it should
prove to be one, was cruel.
"Pray Heaven he be innocent!" he said.
And then steps sounded on the flagging, and Sir Oliver came gravely
towards the lad.
"One seeketh you earnestly," said Dick.
"I am upon the way, good Richard," said the priest. "It is this
poor Carter. Alack, he is beyond cure."
"And yet his soul is sicker than his body," answered Dick.
"Have ye seen him?" asked Sir Oliver, with a manifest start.
"I do but come from him," replied Dick.
"What said he? what said he?" snapped the priest, with
"He but cried for you the more piteously, Sir Oliver. It were well
done to go the faster, for his hurt is grievous," returned the lad.
"I am straight for him," was the reply. "Well, we have all our
sins. We must all come to our latter day, good Richard."
"Ay, sir; and it were well if we all came fairly," answered Dick.
The priest dropped his eyes, and with an inaudible benediction
"He, too!" thought Dick--"he, that taught me in piety! Nay, then,
what a world is this, if all that care for me be blood-guilty of my
father's death? Vengeance! Alas! what a sore fate is mine, if I
must be avenged upon my friends!"
The thought put Matcham in his head. He smiled at the remembrance
of his strange companion, and then wondered where he was. Ever
since they had come together to the doors of the Moat House the
younger lad had disappeared, and Dick began to weary for a word
About an hour after, mass being somewhat hastily run through by Sir
Oliver, the company gathered in the hall for dinner. It was a
long, low apartment, strewn with green rushes, and the walls hung
with arras in a design of savage men and questing bloodhounds; here
and there hung spears and bows and bucklers; a fire blazed in the
big chimney; there were arras-covered benches round the wall, and
in the midst the table, fairly spread, awaited the arrival of the
diners. Neither Sir Daniel nor his lady made their appearance.
Sir Oliver himself was absent, and here again there was no word of
Matcham. Dick began to grow alarmed, to recall his companion's
melancholy forebodings, and to wonder to himself if any foul play
had befallen him in that house.
After dinner he found Goody Hatch, who was hurrying to my Lady
"Goody," he said, "where is Master Matcham, I prithee? I saw ye go
in with him when we arrived."
The old woman laughed aloud.
"Ah, Master Dick," she said, "y' have a famous bright eye in your
head, to be sure!" and laughed again.
"Nay, but where is he, indeed?" persisted Dick.
"Ye will never see him more," she returned--"never. It is sure."
"An I do not," returned the lad, "I will know the reason why. He
came not hither of his full free will; such as I am, I am his best
protector, and I will see him justly used. There be too many
mysteries; I do begin to weary of the game!"
But as Dick was speaking, a heavy hand fell on his shoulder. It
was Bennet Hatch that had come unperceived behind him. With a jerk
of his thumb, the retainer dismissed his wife.
"Friend Dick," he said, as soon as they were alone, "are ye a moon-
struck natural? An ye leave not certain things in peace, ye were
better in the salt sea than here in Tunstall Moat House. Y' have
questioned me; y' have baited Carter; y' have frighted the Jack-
priest with hints. Bear ye more wisely, fool; and even now, when
Sir Daniel calleth you, show me a smooth face for the love of
wisdom. Y' are to be sharply questioned. Look to your answers."
"Hatch," returned Dick, "in all this I smell a guilty conscience."
"An ye go not the wiser, ye will soon smell blood," replied Bennet.
"I do but warn you. And here cometh one to call you."
And indeed, at that very moment, a messenger came across the court
to summon Dick into the presence of Sir Daniel.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER VII--THE HOODED FACE
They awoke in the grey of the morning; the birds were not yet in
full song, but twittered here and there among the woods; the sun
was not yet up, but the eastern sky was barred with solemn colours.
Half starved and over-weary as they were, they lay without moving,
sunk in a delightful lassitude. And as they thus lay, the clang of
a bell fell suddenly upon their ears.
"A bell!" said Dick, sitting up. "Can we be, then, so near to
A little after, the bell clanged again, but this time somewhat
nearer hand; and from that time forth, and still drawing nearer and
nearer, it continued to sound brokenly abroad in the silence of the
"Nay, what should this betoken?" said Dick, who was now broad
"It is some one walking," returned Matcham, and "the bell tolleth
ever as he moves."
"I see that well," said Dick. "But wherefore? What maketh he in
Tunstall Woods? Jack," he added, "laugh at me an ye will, but I
like not the hollow sound of it."
"Nay," said Matcham, with a shiver, "it hath a doleful note. An
the day were not come" -
But just then the bell, quickening its pace, began to ring thick
and hurried, and then it gave a single hammering jangle, and was
silent for a space.
"It is as though the bearer had run for a pater-noster while, and
then leaped the river," Dick observed.
"And now beginneth he again to pace soberly forward," added
"Nay," returned Dick--"nay, not so soberly, Jack. 'Tis a man that
walketh you right speedily. 'Tis a man in some fear of his life,
or about some hurried business. See ye not how swift the beating
"It is now close by," said Matcham.
They were now on the edge of the pit; and as the pit itself was on
a certain eminence, they commanded a view over the greater
proportion of the clearing, up to the thick woods that closed it
The daylight, which was very clear and grey, showed them a riband
of white footpath wandering among the gorse. It passed some
hundred yards from the pit, and ran the whole length of the
clearing, east and west. By the line of its course, Dick judged it
should lead more or less directly to the Moat House.
Upon this path, stepping forth from the margin of the wood, a white
figure now appeared. It paused a little, and seemed to look about;
and then, at a slow pace, and bent almost double, it began to draw
near across the heath. At every step the bell clanked. Face, it
had none; a white hood, not even pierced with eye-holes, veiled the
head; and as the creature moved, it seemed to feel its way with the
tapping of a stick. Fear fell upon the lads, as cold as death.
"A leper!" said Dick, hoarsely.
"His touch is death," said Matcham. "Let us run."
"Not so," returned Dick. "See ye not?--he is stone blind. He
guideth him with a staff. Let us lie still; the wind bloweth
towards the path, and he will go by and hurt us not. Alas, poor
soul, and we should rather pity him!"
"I will pity him when he is by," replied Matcham.
The blind leper was now about halfway towards them, and just then
the sun rose and shone full on his veiled face. He had been a tall
man before he was bowed by his disgusting sickness, and even now he
walked with a vigorous step. The dismal beating of his bell, the
pattering of the stick, the eyeless screen before his countenance,
and the knowledge that he was not only doomed to death and
suffering, but shut out for ever from the touch of his fellow-men,
filled the lads' bosoms with dismay; and at every step that brought
him nearer, their courage and strength seemed to desert them.
As he came about level with the pit, he paused, and turned his face
full upon the lads.
"Mary be my shield! He sees us!" said Matcham, faintly.
"Hush!" whispered Dick. "He doth but hearken. He is blind, fool!"
The leper looked or listened, whichever he was really doing, for
some seconds. Then he began to move on again, but presently paused
once more, and again turned and seemed to gaze upon the lads. Even
Dick became dead-white and closed his eyes, as if by the mere sight
he might become infected. But soon the bell sounded, and this
time, without any farther hesitation, the leper crossed the
remainder of the little heath and disappeared into the covert of
"He saw us," said Matcham. "I could swear it!"
"Tut!" returned Dick, recovering some sparks of courage. "He but
heard us. He was in fear, poor soul! An ye were blind, and walked
in a perpetual night, ye would start yourself, if ever a twig
rustled or a bird cried 'Peep.'"
"Dick, good Dick, he saw us," repeated Matcham. "When a man
hearkeneth, he doth not as this man; he doth otherwise, Dick. This
was seeing; it was not hearing. He means foully. Hark, else, if
his bell be not stopped!"
Such was the case. The bell rang no longer.
"Nay," said Dick, "I like not that. Nay," he cried again, "I like
that little. What may this betoken? Let us go, by the mass!"
"He hath gone east," added Matcham. "Good Dick, let us go westward
straight; I shall not breathe till I have my back turned upon that
"Jack, y' are too cowardly," replied Dick. "We shall go fair for
Holywood, or as fair, at least, as I can guide you, and that will
be due north."
They were afoot at once, passed the stream upon some stepping-
stones, and began to mount on the other side, which was steeper,
towards the margin of the wood. The ground became very uneven,
full of knolls and hollows; trees grew scattered or in clumps. it
became difficult to choose a path, and the lads somewhat wandered.
They were weary, besides, with yesterday's exertions and the lack
of food, and they moved but heavily and dragged their feet among
Presently, coming to the top of a knoll, they were aware of the
leper, some hundred feet in front of them, crossing the line of
their march by a hollow. His bell was silent, his staff no longer
tapped the ground, and he went before him with the swift and
assured footsteps of a man who sees. Next moment he had
disappeared into a little thicket.
The lads, at the first glimpse, had crouched behind a tuft of
gorse; there they lay, horror-struck.
"Certain, he pursueth us," said Dick--"certain! He held the
clapper of his bell in one hand, saw ye? that it should not sound.
Now may the saints aid and guide us, for I have no strength to
"What maketh he?" cried Matcham. "What doth he want? Who ever
heard the like, that a leper, out of mere malice, should pursue
unfortunates? Hath he not his bell to that very end, that people
may avoid him? Dick, there is below this something deeper."
"Nay, I care not," moaned Dick; "the strength is gone out of me; my
legs are like water. The saints be mine assistance!"
"Would ye lie there idle?" cried Matcham. "Let us back into the
open. We have the better chance; he cannot steal upon us
"Not I," said Dick. "My time is come, and peradventure he may pass
"Bend me, then, your bow!" cried the other. "What! will ye be a
Dick crossed himself. "Would ye have me shoot upon a leper?" he
cried. "The hand would fail me. Nay, now," he added--"nay, now,
let be! With sound men I will fight, but not with ghosts and
lepers. Which this is, I wot not. One or other, Heaven be our
"Now," said Matcham, "if this be man's courage, what a poor thing
is man! But sith ye will do naught, let us lie close."
Then came a single, broken jangle on the bell.
"He hath missed his hold upon the clapper," whispered Matcham.
"Saints! how near he is!"
But Dick answered never a word; his teeth were near chattering.
Soon they saw a piece of the white robe between some bushes; then
the leper's head was thrust forth from behind a trunk, and he
seemed narrowly to scan the neighbourhood before he once again
withdrew. To their stretched senses, the whole bush appeared alive
with rustlings and the creak of twigs; and they heard the beating
of each other's heart.
Suddenly, with a cry, the leper sprang into the open close by, and
ran straight upon the lads. They, shrieking aloud, separated and
began to run different ways. But their horrible enemy fastened
upon Matcham, ran him swiftly down, and had him almost instantly a
prisoner. The lad gave one scream that echoed high and far over
the forest, he had one spasm of struggling, and then all his limbs
relaxed, and he fell limp into his captor's arms.
Dick heard the cry and turned. He saw Matcham fall; and on the
instant his spirit and his strength revived; With a cry of pity and
anger, he unslung and bent his arblast. But ere he had time to
shoot, the leper held up his hand.
"Hold your shot, Dickon!" cried a familiar voice. "Hold your shot,
mad wag! Know ye not a friend?"
And then laying down Matcham on the turf, he undid the hood from
off his face, and disclosed the features of Sir Daniel Brackley.
"Sir Daniel!" cried Dick.
"Ay, by the mass, Sir Daniel!" returned the knight. "Would ye
shoot upon your guardian, rogue? But here is this"--And there he
broke off, and pointing to Matcham, asked: "How call ye him,
"Nay," said Dick, "I call him Master Matcham. Know ye him not? He
said ye knew him!"
"Ay," replied Sir Daniel, "I know the lad;" and he chuckled. "But
he has fainted; and, by my sooth, he might have had less to faint
for! Hey, Dick? Did I put the fear of death upon you?"
"Indeed, Sir Daniel, ye did that," said Dick, and sighed again at
the mere recollection. "Nay, sir, saving your respect, I had as
lief 'a' met the devil in person; and to speak truth, I am yet all
a-quake. But what made ye, sir, in such a guise?"
Sir Daniel's brow grew suddenly black with anger.
"What made I?" he said. "Ye do well to mind me of it! What? I
skulked for my poor life in my own wood of Tunstall, Dick. We were
ill sped at the battle; we but got there to be swept among the
rout. Where be all my good men-at-arms? Dick, by the mass, I know
not! We were swept down; the shot fell thick among us; I have not
seen one man in my own colours since I saw three fall. For myself,
I came sound to Shoreby, and being mindful of the Black Arrow, got
me this gown and bell, and came softly by the path for the Moat
House. There is no disguise to be compared with it; the jingle of
this bell would scare me the stoutest outlaw in the forest; they
would all turn pale to hear it. At length I came by you and
Matcham. I could see but evilly through this same hood, and was
not sure of you, being chiefly, and for many a good cause,
astonished at the finding you together. Moreover, in the open,
where I had to go slowly and tap with my staff, I feared to
disclose myself. But see," he added, "this poor shrew begins a
little to revive. A little good canary will comfort me the heart
The knight, from under his long dress, produced a stout bottle, and
began to rub the temples and wet the lips of the patient, who
returned gradually to consciousness, and began to roll dim eyes
from one to another.
"What cheer, Jack!" said Dick. "It was no leper, after all; it was
Sir Daniel! See!"
"Swallow me a good draught of this," said the knight. "This will
give you manhood. Thereafter, I will give you both a meal, and we
shall all three on to Tunstall. For, Dick," he continued, laying
forth bread and meat upon the grass, "I will avow to you, in all
good conscience, it irks me sorely to be safe between four walls.
Not since I backed a horse have I been pressed so hard; peril of
life, jeopardy of land and livelihood, and to sum up, all these
losels in the wood to hunt me down. But I be not yet shent. Some
of my lads will pick me their way home. Hatch hath ten fellows;
Selden, he had six. Nay, we shall soon be strong again; and if I
can but buy my peace with my right fortunate and undeserving Lord
of York, why, Dick, we'll be a man again and go a-horseback!"
And so saying, the knight filled himself a horn of canary, and
pledged his ward in dumb show.
"Selden," Dick faltered--"Selden"-- And he paused again.
Sir Daniel put down the wine untasted.
"How!" he cried, in a changed voice. "Selden? Speak! What of
Dick stammered forth the tale of the ambush and the massacre.
The knight heard in silence; but as he listened, his countenance
became convulsed with rage and grief.
"Now here," he cried, "on my right hand, I swear to avenge it! If
that I fail, if that I spill not ten men's souls for each, may this
hand wither from my body! I broke this Duckworth like a rush; I
beggared him to his door; I burned the thatch above his head; I
drove him from this country; and now, cometh he back to beard me?
Nay, but, Duckworth, this time it shall go bitter hard!"
He was silent for some time, his face working.
"Eat!" he cried, suddenly. "And you here," he added to Matcham,
"swear me an oath to follow straight to the Moat House."
"I will pledge mine honour," replied Matcham.
"What make I with your honour?" cried the knight. "Swear me upon
your mother's welfare!"
Matcham gave the required oath; and Sir Daniel re-adjusted the hood
over his face, and prepared his bell and staff. To see him once
more in that appalling travesty somewhat revived the horror of his
two companions. But the knight was soon upon his feet.
"Eat with despatch," he said, "and follow me yarely to mine house."
And with that he set forth again into the woods; and presently
after the bell began to sound, numbering his steps, and the two
lads sat by their untasted meal, and heard it die slowly away up
hill into the distance.
"And so ye go to Tunstall?" Dick inquired.
"Yea, verily," said Matcham, "when needs must! I am braver behind
Sir Daniel's back than to his face."
They ate hastily, and set forth along the path through the airy
upper levels of the forest, where great beeches stood apart among
green lawns, and the birds and squirrels made merry on the boughs.
Two hours later, they began to descend upon the other side, and
already, among the tree-tops, saw before them the red walls and
roofs of Tunstall House.
"Here," said Matcham, pausing, "ye shall take your leave of your
friend Jack, whom y' are to see no more. Come, Dick, forgive him
what he did amiss, as he, for his part, cheerfully and lovingly
"And wherefore so?" asked Dick. "An we both go to Tunstall, I
shall see you yet again, I trow, and that right often."
"Ye'll never again see poor Jack Matcham," replied the other, "that
was so fearful and burthensome, and yet plucked you from the river;
ye'll not see him more, Dick, by mine honour!" He held his arms
open, and the lads embraced and kissed. "And, Dick," continued
Matcham, "my spirit bodeth ill. Y' are now to see a new Sir
Daniel; for heretofore hath all prospered in his hands exceedingly,
and fortune followed him; but now, methinks, when his fate hath
come upon him, and he runs the adventure of his life, he will prove
but a foul lord to both of us. He may be brave in battle, but he
hath the liar's eye; there is fear in his eye, Dick, and fear is as
cruel as the wolf! We go down into that house, Saint Mary guide us
And so they continued their descent in silence, and came out at
last before Sir Daniel's forest stronghold, where it stood, low and
shady, flanked with round towers and stained with moss and lichen,
in the lilied waters of the moat. Even as they appeared, the doors
were opened, the bridge lowered, and Sir Daniel himself, with Hatch
and the parson at his side, stood ready to receive them.
THE BLACK ARROW
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
CHAPTER VI--TO THE DAY'S END
It was, indeed, high time for them to run. On every side the
company of the Black Arrow was making for the hill. Some, being
better runners, or having open ground to run upon, had far
outstripped the others, and were already close upon the goal; some,
following valleys, had spread out to right and left, and outflanked
the lads on either side.
Dick plunged into the nearest cover. It was a tall grove of oaks,
firm under foot and clear of underbrush, and as it lay down hill,
they made good speed. There followed next a piece of open, which
Dick avoided, holding to his left. Two minutes after, and the same
obstacle arising, the lads followed the same course. Thus it
followed that, while the lads, bending continually to the left,
drew nearer and nearer to the high road and the river which they
had crossed an hour or two before, the great bulk of their pursuers
were leaning to the other hand, and running towards Tunstall.
The lads paused to breathe. There was no sound of pursuit. Dick
put his ear to the ground, and still there was nothing; but the
wind, to be sure, still made a turmoil in the trees, and it was
hard to make certain.
"On again," said Dick; and, tired as they were, and Matcham limping
with his injured foot, they pulled themselves together, and once
more pelted down the hill.
Three minutes later, they were breasting through a low thicket of
evergreen. High overhead, the tall trees made a continuous roof of
foliage. It was a pillared grove, as high as a cathedral, and
except for the hollies among which the lads were struggling, open
and smoothly swarded.
On the other side, pushing through the last fringe of evergreen,
they blundered forth again into the open twilight of the grove.
"Stand!" cried a voice.
And there, between the huge stems, not fifty feet before them, they
beheld a stout fellow in green, sore blown with running, who
instantly drew an arrow to the head and covered them. Matcham
stopped with a cry; but Dick, without a pause, ran straight upon
the forester, drawing his dagger as he went. The other, whether he
was startled by the daring of the onslaught, or whether he was
hampered by his orders, did not shoot; he stood wavering; and
before he had time to come to himself, Dick bounded at his throat,
and sent him sprawling backward on the turf. The arrow went one
way and the bow another with a sounding twang. The disarmed
forester grappled his assailant; but the dagger shone and descended
twice. Then came a couple of groans, and then Dick rose to his
feet again, and the man lay motionless, stabbed to the heart.
"On!" said Dick; and he once more pelted forward, Matcham trailing
in the rear. To say truth, they made but poor speed of it by now,
labouring dismally as they ran, and catching for their breath like
fish. Matcham had a cruel stitch, and his head swam; and as for
Dick, his knees were like lead. But they kept up the form of
running with undiminished courage.
Presently they came to the end of the grove. It stopped abruptly;
and there, a few yards before them, was the high road from
Risingham to Shoreby, lying, at this point, between two even walls
At the sight Dick paused; and as soon as he stopped running, he
became aware of a confused noise, which rapidly grew louder. It
was at first like the rush of a very high gust of wind, but soon it
became more definite, and resolved itself into the galloping of
horses; and then, in a flash, a whole company of men-at-arms came
driving round the corner, swept before the lads, and were gone
again upon the instant. They rode as for their lives, in complete
disorder; some of them were wounded; riderless horses galloped at
their side with bloody saddles. They were plainly fugitives from
the great battle.
The noise of their passage had scarce begun to die away towards
Shoreby, before fresh hoofs came echoing in their wake, and another
deserter clattered down the road; this time a single rider and, by
his splendid armour, a man of high degree. Close after him there
followed several baggage-waggons, fleeing at an ungainly canter,
the drivers flailing at the horses as if for life. These must have
run early in the day; but their cowardice was not to save them.
For just before they came abreast of where the lads stood
wondering, a man in hacked armour, and seemingly beside himself
with fury, overtook the waggons, and with the truncheon of a sword,
began to cut the drivers down. Some leaped from their places and
plunged into the wood; the others he sabred as they sat, cursing
them the while for cowards in a voice that was scarce human.
All this time the noise in the distance had continued to increase;
the rumble of carts, the clatter of horses, the cries of men, a
great, confused rumour, came swelling on the wind; and it was plain
that the rout of a whole army was pouring, like an inundation, down
Dick stood sombre. He had meant to follow the highway till the
turn for Holywood, and now he had to change his plan. But above
all, he had recognised the colours of Earl Risingham, and he knew
that the battle had gone finally against the rose of Lancaster.
Had Sir Daniel joined, and was he now a fugitive and ruined? or had
he deserted to the side of York, and was he forfeit to honour? It
was an ugly choice.
"Come," he said, sternly; and, turning on his heel, he began to
walk forward through the grove, with Matcham limping in his rear.
For some time they continued to thread the forest in silence. It
was now growing late; the sun was setting in the plain beyond
Kettley; the tree-tops overhead glowed golden; but the shadows had
begun to grow darker and the chill of the night to fall.
"If there were anything to eat!" cried Dick, suddenly, pausing as
Matcham sat down and began to weep.
"Ye can weep for your own supper, but when it was to save men's
lives, your heart was hard enough," said Dick, contemptuously. "Y'
'ave seven deaths upon your conscience, Master John; I'll ne'er
forgive you that."
"Conscience!" cried Matcham, looking fiercely up. "Mine! And ye
have the man's red blood upon your dagger! And wherefore did ye
slay him, the poor soul? He drew his arrow, but he let not fly; he
held you in his hand, and spared you! 'Tis as brave to kill a
kitten, as a man that not defends himself."
Dick was struck dumb.
"I slew him fair. I ran me in upon his bow," he cried.
"It was a coward blow," returned Matcham. "Y' are but a lout and
bully, Master Dick; ye but abuse advantages; let there come a
stronger, we will see you truckle at his boot! Ye care not for
vengeance, neither--for your father's death that goes unpaid, and
his poor ghost that clamoureth for justice. But if there come but
a poor creature in your hands that lacketh skill and strength, and
would befriend you, down she shall go!"
Dick was too furious to observe that "she."
"Marry!" he cried, "and here is news! Of any two the one will
still be stronger. The better man throweth the worse, and the
worse is well served. Ye deserve a belting, Master Matcham, for
your ill-guidance and unthankfulness to meward; and what ye deserve
ye shall have."
And Dick, who, even in his angriest temper, still preserved the
appearance of composure, began to unbuckle his belt.
"Here shall be your supper," he said, grimly. Matcham had stopped
his tears; he was as white as a sheet, but he looked Dick steadily
in the face, and never moved. Dick took a step, swinging the belt.
Then he paused, embarrassed by the large eyes and the thin, weary
face of his companion. His courage began to subside.
"Say ye were in the wrong, then," he said, lamely.
"Nay," said Matcham, "I was in the right. Come, cruel! I be lame;
I be weary; I resist not; I ne'er did thee hurt; come, beat me--
Dick raised the belt at this last provocation, but Matcham winced
and drew himself together with so cruel an apprehension, that his
heart failed him yet again. The strap fell by his side, and he
stood irresolute, feeling like a fool.
"A plague upon thee, shrew!" he said. "An ye be so feeble of hand,
ye should keep the closer guard upon your tongue. But I'll be
hanged before I beat you!" and he put on his belt again. "Beat you
I will not," he continued; "but forgive you?--never. I knew ye
not; ye were my master's enemy; I lent you my horse; my dinner ye
have eaten; y' 'ave called me a man o' wood, a coward, and a bully.
Nay, by the mass! the measure is filled, and runneth over. 'Tis a
great thing to be weak, I trow: ye can do your worst, yet shall
none punish you; ye may steal a man's weapons in the hour of need,
yet may the man not take his own again;--y' are weak, forsooth!
Nay, then, if one cometh charging at you with a lance, and crieth
he is weak, ye must let him pierce your body through! Tut! fool
"And yet ye beat me not," returned Matcham.
"Let be," said Dick--"let be. I will instruct you. Y' 'ave been
ill-nurtured, methinks, and yet ye have the makings of some good,
and, beyond all question, saved me from the river. Nay, I had
forgotten it; I am as thankless as thyself. But, come, let us on.
An we be for Holywood this night, ay, or to-morrow early, we had
best set forward speedily."
But though Dick had talked himself back into his usual good-humour,
Matcham had forgiven him nothing. His violence, the recollection
of the forester whom he had slain--above all, the vision of the
upraised belt, were things not easily to be forgotten.
"I will thank you, for the form's sake," said Matcham. "But, in
sooth, good Master Shelton, I had liever find my way alone. Here
is a wide wood; prithee, let each choose his path; I owe you a
dinner and a lesson. Fare ye well!"
"Nay," cried Dick, "if that be your tune, so be it, and a plague be
Each turned aside, and they began walking off severally, with no
thought of the direction, intent solely on their quarrel. But Dick
had not gone ten paces ere his name was called, and Matcham came
"Dick," he said, "it were unmannerly to part so coldly. Here is my
hand, and my heart with it. For all that wherein you have so
excellently served and helped me--not for the form, but from the
heart, I thank you. Fare ye right well."
"Well, lad," returned Dick, taking the hand which was offered him,
"good speed to you, if speed you may. But I misdoubt it shrewdly.
Y' are too disputatious." So then they separated for the second
time; and presently it was Dick who was running after Matcham.
"Here," he said, "take my cross-bow; shalt not go unarmed."
"A cross-bow!" said Matcham. "Nay, boy, I have neither the
strength to bend nor yet the skill to aim with it. It were no help
to me, good boy. But yet I thank you."
The night had now fallen, and under the trees they could no longer
read each other's face.
"I will go some little way with you," said Dick. "The night is
dark. I would fain leave you on a path, at least. My mind
misgiveth me, y' are likely to be lost."
Without any more words, he began to walk forward, and the other
once more followed him. The blackness grew thicker and thicker.
Only here and there, in open places, they saw the sky, dotted with
small stars. In the distance, the noise of the rout of the
Lancastrian army still continued to be faintly audible; but with
every step they left it farther in the rear.
At the end of half an hour of silent progress they came forth upon
a broad patch of heathy open. It glimmered in the light of the
stars, shaggy with fern and islanded with clumps of yew. And here
they paused and looked upon each other.
"Y' are weary?" Dick said.
"Nay, I am so weary," answered Matcham, "that methinks I could lie
down and die."
"I hear the chiding of a river," returned Dick. "Let us go so far
forth, for I am sore athirst."
The ground sloped down gently; and, sure enough, in the bottom,
they found a little murmuring river, running among willows. Here
they threw themselves down together by the brink; and putting their
mouths to the level of a starry pool, they drank their fill.
"Dick," said Matcham, "it may not be. I can no more."
"I saw a pit as we came down," said Dick. "Let us lie down therein
"Nay, but with all my heart!" cried Matcham.
The pit was sandy and dry; a shock of brambles hung upon one hedge,
and made a partial shelter; and there the two lads lay down,
keeping close together for the sake of warmth, their quarrel all
forgotten. And soon sleep fell upon them like a cloud, and under
the dew and stars they rested peacefully.
|<< | 1 | 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 >>> >>|