Книга The Black Arrow. Содержание - CHAPTER VI — NIGHT IN THE WOODS (concluded): DICK AND JOAN

It appeared to Dick, in this extremity of his humiliation and repentance, that the young lady had laughed.

Raising his countenance, he found her looking down upon him, in the fire-light, with a somewhat peculiar but not unkind expression.

“Madam,” he cried, thinking the laughter to have been an illusion of his hearing, but still, from her changed looks, hoping to have touched her heart, “madam, will not this content you? I give up all to undo what I have done amiss; I make heaven certain for Lord Risingham. And all this upon the very day that I have won my spurs, and thought myself the happiest young gentleman on ground.”

“O boy,” she said — “good boy!”

And then, to the extreme surprise of Dick, she first very tenderly wiped the tears away from his cheeks, and then, as if yielding to a sudden impulse, threw both her arms about his neck, drew up his face, and kissed him. A pitiful bewilderment came over simple-minded Dick.

“But come,” she said, with great cheerfulness, “you that are a captain, ye must eat. Why sup ye not?”

“Dear Mistress Risingham,” replied Dick, “I did but wait first upon my prisoner; but, to say truth, penitence will no longer suffer me to endure the sight of food. I were better to fast, dear lady, and to pray.”

“Call me Alicia,” she said; “are we not old friends? And now, come, I will eat with you, bit for bit and sup for sup; so if ye eat not, neither will I; but if ye eat hearty, I will dine like a ploughman.”

So there and then she fell to; and Dick, who had an excellent stomach, proceeded to bear her company, at first with great reluctance, but gradually, as he entered into the spirit, with more and more vigour and devotion: until, at last, he forgot even to watch his model, and most heartily repaired the expenses of his day of labour and excitement.

“Lion-driver,” she said, at length, “ye do not admire a maid in a man’s jerkin?”

The moon was now up; and they were only waiting to repose the wearied horses. By the moon’s light, the still penitent but now well-fed Richard beheld her looking somewhat coquettishly down upon him.

“Madam” — he stammered, surprised at this new turn in her manners.

“Nay,” she interrupted, “it skills not to deny; Joanna hath told me, but come, Sir Lion-driver, look at me — am I so homely — come!”

And she made bright eyes at him.

“Ye are something smallish, indeed” — began Dick.

And here again she interrupted him, this time with a ringing peal of laughter that completed his confusion and surprise.

“Smallish!” she cried. “Nay, now, be honest as ye are bold; I am a dwarf, or little better; but for all that — come, tell me! — for all that, passably fair to look upon; is’t not so?”

“Nay, madam, exceedingly fair,” said the distressed knight, pitifully trying to seem easy.

“And a man would be right glad to wed me?” she pursued.

“O, madam, right glad!” agreed Dick.

“Call me Alicia,” said she.

“Alicia,” quoth Sir Richard.

“Well, then, lion-driver,” she continued, “sith that ye slew my kinsman, and left me without stay, ye owe me, in honour, every reparation; do ye not?”

“I do, madam,” said Dick. “Although, upon my heart, I do hold me but partially guilty of that brave knight’s blood.”

“Would ye evade me?” she cried.

“Madam, not so. I have told you; at your bidding, I will even turn me a monk,” said Richard.

“Then, in honour, ye belong to me?” she concluded.

“In honour, madam, I suppose” — began the young man.

“Go to!” she interrupted; “ye are too full of catches. In honour do ye belong to me, till ye have paid the evil?”

“In honour, I do,” said Dick.

“Hear, then,” she continued; “Ye would make but a sad friar, methinks; and since I am to dispose of you at pleasure, I will even take you for my husband. Nay, now, no words!” cried she. “They will avail you nothing. For see how just it is, that you who deprived me of one home, should supply me with another. And as for Joanna, she will be the first, believe me, to commend the change; for, after all, as we be dear friends, what matters it with which of us ye wed? Not one whit!”

“Madam,” said Dick, “I will go into a cloister, an ye please to bid me; but to wed with anyone in this big world besides Joanna Sedley is what I will consent to neither for man’s force nor yet for lady’s pleasure. Pardon me if I speak my plain thoughts plainly; but where a maid is very bold, a poor man must even be the bolder.”

“Dick,” she said, “ye sweet boy, ye must come and kiss me for that word. Nay, fear not, ye shall kiss me for Joanna; and when we meet, I shall give it back to her, and say I stole it. And as for what ye owe me, why, dear simpleton, methinks ye were not alone in that great battle; and even if York be on the throne, it was not you that set him there. But for a good, sweet, honest heart, Dick, y’ are all that; and if I could find it in my soul to envy your Joanna anything, I would even envy her your love.”


The horses had by this time finished the small store of provender, and fully breathed from their fatigues. At Dick’s command, the fire was smothered in snow; and while his men got once more wearily to saddle, he himself, remembering, somewhat late, true woodland caution, chose a tall oak and nimbly clambered to the topmost fork. Hence he could look far abroad on the moonlit and snow-paven forest. On the south-west, dark against the horizon, stood those upland, heathy quarters where he and Joanna had met with the terrifying misadventure of the leper. And there his eye was caught by a spot of ruddy brightness no bigger than a needle’s eye.

He blamed himself sharply for his previous neglect. Were that, as it appeared to be, the shining of Sir Daniel’s camp-fire, he should long ago have seen and marched for it; above all, he should, for no consideration, have announced his neighbourhood by lighting a fire of his own. But now he must no longer squander valuable hours. The direct way to the uplands was about two miles in length; but it was crossed by a very deep, precipitous dingle, impassable to mounted men; and for the sake of speed, it seemed to Dick advisable to desert the horses and attempt the adventure on foot.

Ten men were left to guard the horses; signals were agreed upon by which they could communicate in case of need; and Dick set forth at the head of the remainder, Alicia Risingham walking stoutly by his side.

The men had freed themselves of heavy armour, and left behind their lances; and they now marched with a very good spirit in the frozen snow, and under the exhilarating lustre of the moon. The descent into the dingle, where a stream strained sobbing through the snow and ice, was effected with silence and order; and on the further side, being then within a short half mile of where Dick had seen the glimmer of the fire, the party halted to breathe before the attack.

In the vast silence of the wood, the lightest sounds were audible from far; and Alicia, who was keen of hearing, held up her finger warningly and stooped to listen. All followed her example; but besides the groans of the choked brook in the dingle close behind, and the barking of a fox at a distance of many miles among the forest, to Dick’s acutest hearkening, not a breath was audible.

“But yet, for sure, I heard the clash of harness,” whispered Alicia.

“Madam,” returned Dick, who was more afraid of that young lady than of ten stout warriors, “I would not hint ye were mistaken; but it might well have come from either of the camps.”

“It came not thence. It came from westward,” she declared.

“It may be what it will,” returned Dick; “and it must be as heaven please. Reck we not a jot, but push on the livelier, and put it to the touch. Up, friends — enough breathed.”

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