Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - CHAPTER V — “BLOODY AS THE HUNTER”

“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 arrow gone?”

“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 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 windac.”

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 perjurer?”

“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 heaven.”

“What would ye?” Dick cried again. “Would ye have me credit thieves?”

“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? Stand off!”

“Will follow an I please,” said Matcham. “This wood is free to me.”

“Stand back, by ’r Lady!” returned Dick, raising his bow.

“Ah, y’ are a brave boy!” retorted Matcham. “Shoot!”

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