Robert Louis Stevenson - The Black Arrow (1888)
Early in life Stevenson wrote this story for a juvenile magazine, and it was well received. Later, in the height of his fame, he published it in book form. In the preface he wrote: "In the eyes of readers who thought less than nothing of Treasure Island, The Black Arrow was supposed to mark a clear advance. Those who read volumes and those who read story-papers belong to different worlds."
SIR DANIEL BRACKLEY, of Tunstall Moat House, was the wickedest, most faithless man in England. By his evil practises in the lawless days when the country was distracted by the strife between the houses of Lancaster and York, he was able to add land to land by judicious changes of allegiance, and even by betrayal of the party with which he appeared to be connected. It was a favorite device with him to secure the guardianship of a minor heir, boy or girl, and, after enjoying the usufruct of the estate during the heir's minority, sell the marriage to whoever would pay the guardian most for the privilege. It was whispered that he had even created such an heirship by procuring the murder of the owner of the very estate on which he lived. This was Sir Harry Shelton, and it was Sir Harry's son Richard that Sir Daniel had taken into his house and reared as if he were his own son, with the expectation of marrying him to an orphaned heiress whose condition was similar to his own. Such a woman he had found at Kettley in the person of Joanna Sedley, and, at the opening of the story, was preparing to bring her to Moat House, a project which she was vainly resisting with tears and even feminine defiance.
Ignorant of the purpose of his guardian's errand at Kettley, Dick Shelton, who was a strapping young squire of nineteen, remained at Tunstall Moat House as one of its garrison of six men. Nick Appleyard, an old bowman who had seen service at Agincourt, grumbled at the weakness of the defense.
"There's not a man of you can back a horse or hold a bill," he said to Bennet Hatch, man-at-arms, and Dick Shelton; "and as for archery, Saint Michael! if old Harry the Fifth were back again, he would stand and let you shoot at him for a farthen. And not one of the archers at Agincourt but could bring down his man as far as from here to yon wood that my lord thinks is beyond range."
As the old man looked toward the forest, he appeared to catch sight of something unusual, for he shaded his eyes with his hand and peered intently.
"What is it, Appleyard?" asked Dick.
"Why, the birds; see them flocking out of the wood as if frightened by men coming through it. And it would be just the quarter for archers to skulk down upon to get the wind of us."
"Nonsense, old shrew," said Hatch, "there is no company short of our own at Kettley. Why, you and I have crushed every man for a score of miles around who dared lift his head against Sir Daniel."
"And therefore there are many of their fellows who would give his ears to have a shot at either of us. It would only be a question of which to take first."
"I'll wager it would be you, old shrew—"
"No, my surcoat to a leather belt it would be you," said the old archer. "Ye burned Grimstone, Bennet — they'll ne'er forgive you that. 'Tis true I killed—"
An arrow sang in the air like a huge hornet. It pierced old Appleyard between the shoulder-blades—clean through. He fell face forward. Hatch, stooping double, ran for cover. Dick dropped behind a clump of lilacs, and covered the point of forest with his cross-bow.
Seeing this protection, Hatch crept forward and pulled Appleyard back into safety. "Pluck out the shaft and let me pass," gasped the stricken archer. Hatch held the old man tight while Dick drew forth the arrow. A gush of blood followed, and with a sigh of relief the archer fell back dead.
Hatch wiped the sweat of terror from his own pale face. " My turn next," he said.
Dick looked at the arrow. It was long and black, and on it was written: Appulyaird fro Jon Amend-ALL.
Shelton and Hatch carried the body of the archer into the chapel, where they found Sir Oliver Oates, the parson, who, being a clerk, was an indispensable party to all of Sir Daniel's schemes for seizing estates under cover of law. Sir Oliver trembled when he saw the arrow and read the inscription.
"Black of hue, as for an omen. And John Amend-All! A right Lollardy word. Who of our many black ill-willers would dare so hardily outface us? How think ye, Bennet?"
"Would it be Ellis Duckworth? He is a good archer," re-turned Hatch.
"No; he is low born. No rising cometh ever from below, say the wise men. When Dick, Tom, and Harry take their bills, look to see what lord is profited thereby. Now Sir Daniel, having once again returned to the true allegiance, is in ill odor with the Yorkist lords. Thence I am convinced comes the blow."
That night there was pinned with a black arrow on the church door a message that threw Sir Oliver into an ague of fear:
"I had four blak arrows under my belt,
" JON AMEND-ALL OF THE GREEN WOOD, AND HIS JOLLY FELLAWSHIF."
Young Shelton was standing by, with the man-at-arms, Bennet Hatch, when the scroll was read. Fearing that Dick would believe the accusation that his father had been murdered by Sir Oliver's hand, that priest burst forth into protestations of his innocence of the deed, of which, indeed, he had been only indirectly guilty.
"I swear on the cross of Holywood," he cried, "that I did not cut Sir Harry's throat. I was not even in the Moat House. Besides, his throat was not cut. He died by a—"
Here the priest paused, realizing that he was much too familiar with the manner of the assassination for an innocent man. But Dick said never a word, and kept his countenance unmoved. Until he knew beyond question who had procured his father's death he determined to remain quiet, doing his duty as he saw it to Sir Daniel Brackley, who had acted the part of a father toward him.
Although Sir Oliver now distrusted Dick, in the present dire need the boy was the only one that could be sent with safety to apprise Sir Daniel of the enemy that besieged Moat House, and would undoubtedly attack him on his return home. The archers of the Black Arrow were friends of Sir Harry Shelton, and would hardly shoot at his son, even when he was going upon a mission to their foe, although they would undoubtedly attempt to capture him. So Dick was chosen for the errand. While the garrison under Hatch made what in modern military parlance would be called a "demonstration" against the wood where the archers of the Black Arrow were concealed, young Shelton rode out from the other side of the house at full speed, bearing a letter to Sir Daniel from the priest. By a wide detour he reached Kettley and found Sir Daniel in the tavern, awaiting the result of an engagement hard by between the Lord of Risingham of the Lancastrian party and a body of Yorkists who had recently lifted head in that part of the country. The knight was greatly troubled by the message.
"Dick," said he, "ye've heard this penny rhyme?" "Yes, Sir Daniel."
"And noted how the mad soul who wrote it lays the death of your father to the poor parson, who grows sick at the sight of blood, even of a beast?"
"Sir Oliver did most eagerly deny it."
"Rightly, too. It was one Duckworth who was blamed for it, and he proved his guilt by fleeing the country. But some day, when I am more at leisure, I will more fully inform you of these matters. Now speed you with your meal. Ye shall re-turn to Moat House with a line from me."
While Dick was eating in the buttery he felt a touch on his arm and heard a soft, womanish voice whisper in his ear:
"Make no sign, I beseech you, but of your charity, good boy, tell me the way to Holywood."
"Take the path by the windmill," answered Dick in the same tone; "it will bring you to Till Ferry; there inquire again."
Without turning his head he went on munching. But with the tail of his eye he caught the glimpse of a lad whisking up the servants' stairway to the chambers above.
"Why," thought Dick, "he is as young as I. `Good boy,' doth he call me? Well, I shall overtake him on the fens and pull his ears for his impudence."
Half an hour after Dick set out for Moat House with Sir Daniel's letter, that knight received an express from the Lord of Risingham beseeching his aid to make certain the rout of the Yorkists, whom he had driven to a last desperate stand. "What hath detained you?" concluded the message. "It stands not with your good credit."
"Nay," said the knight, who was now decided which side to take, "I was but this instant upon the march. It is not two hours since the more part of my command came in, sir messenger. Bustle, boys!"
The men were soon in marching array. Then the knight called for his new ward, to place her in safekeeping awaiting his return. " Joanna! Host, where is that girl?"
"Sir Knight, my son bath even now been asking that same question. She bath stolen his best breeches, leaving her woman's gown in their place, and bath ridden off upon my own gray mare, that is worth five pound."
"Now, by the rood," cried Sir Daniel, "the wench was worth five hundred pound to me."
"Sir Knight," observed Lord Risingham's messenger bitterly, "while ye are here roaring for your paltry pounds, the crown of England is elsewhere being lost and won."
"It is well said," replied Sir Daniel. "Selden, fall out with six crossbowmen; hunt the girl down. Let me find her at Moat House when I return. The House is besieged by a party of forest outlaws, who have killed old Appleyard. Make your way through them in close formation with the Lady Joanna in your center. She will be your protection. Now, my men," he said to the main body of his troops, who were still in doubt as to their destination and even the side to which they belonged, "we march to the aid of Lord Risingham and the Queen. Ahoy for the Red Rose of Lancaster!"
The road to Till Ferry, upon which Dick was following after Joanna, was of old a Roman causeway over the fens. Through the lapse of ages it had sunk beneath the water in places, and only an experienced rider could safely make his way over these fords in the bottomless morass. By the side of one of them Dick found a gray horse, sunk to his belly in the mud, and still spasmodically struggling, not so much to get to solid land as to drive away a cloud of stinging insects that were torturing him. When the poor beast saw Dick and his horse, he neighed most piteously. In reply Dick raised his crossbow and mercifully shot a quarrel through the head of the hopelessly bemired animal.
Dick's compassion now turned upon the horse's rider, and he reflected with remorse upon his scanty directions. "I wish I had warned him," he thought. "I fear he has miscarried in the slough."
As he was so thinking, the voice that had accosted him in the inn hailed him from the roadside, and a boyish figure, parting a clump of reeds, emerged into view.
"Thank you, good boy, for an act of mercy that I had not a weapon to perform."
"Why call me ,'boy'?" said Dick, his old indignation re-turning. "Ye are not the elder of us twain, and, certes, ye do not now present the more manly figure."
"Forgive me, Master — prithee, tell me your name, that I may not offend you again in address, and also may remember you in my prayers when I win to Holywood."
"Shelton, plain Dick Shelton. And your name?" "Shelton!" gasped the lad as if confounded, and then quickly added: "You may call me John Matcham."
"And what make ye to Holywood?" asked Dick.
"I seek sanctuary of the good Abbot there from a man who would oppress me."
"Hadst thou told me this at the inn, I would have spoken in your behalf to my lord, Sir Daniel Brackley."
"Brackley! why, he is the oppressor whom I flee. He hath bought my marriage, and would sell me to one in his train, whom I have not—that is, had not seen."
"Pooh! and why should ye fear to marry? It is something to which all men but priests must come. And what if you have not seen the chosen one? Take as I do, indifferently, what fate offers. Sir Daniel hath hinted that he will shortly bring me a wife—a wench, he saith, with a spirit that will require taming. What sort of monster do ye object to?"
"A spiritless creature, or, as I begin to suspect, a stupid innocent who hath a greater cause than I to hate Sir Daniel, but who meekly doeth his will—even as ye do."
"Then when you wed her, she will even do your will. It is the way of all maids. I never heard of but one that had a man's spirit, and she, poor shrew, was burned for a witch and the wearing of men's clothes in spite of nature."
Master Matcham crossed himself, shuddering.
"This Maid of Orleans was indeed a brave wench," continued Dick. "I would I could meet with a Joan of her quality."
"I have heard that ye were to wed with a Joan—Joan Sedley. That is, belike, the match of which Sir Daniel hinted to thee."
"Do ye know the wench? Is she fair or foul?" asked Dick somewhat eagerly.
"Nay, what matters it? All maids are alike to thee." "It is well said," replied Shelton. "Little I reck." "Ah, the poor maid! To wed a man of wood!"
"Ah, happy maid that you flee!" retorted Dick, "to 'scape wedding a man of—mud and water."
Both lads laughed at this hit at Matcham's sorry appearance. But Matcham's merriment was soon changed to terror, for over the fens was borne to their ears the sound of a trumpet at Kettley.
"They have discovered my flight!" said the fugitive.
"Fear not, Sir White-face," said Dick, dismounting. "I will see you safe in Holywood. Get up on my horse's back! Nay, mind not me; I can run like a deer."
When they reached the ferry over the Till the ferryman was on the other side with the boat. Dick hailed him by name, for he was an adherent of Sir Daniel's, and he crossed over and took the lads and the horse aboard. When they were in midstream an archer in green appeared on the farther bank, and called out to Richard Shelton to surrender to John Amend-All. In reply Dick let fly a quarrel from his crossbow, which the man avoided by leaping quickly to one side. Then the outlaw shot, driving his shaft, a long black arrow, through the body of Dick's horse. In its death-struggles the animal overturned the boat. The ferryman swam back in terror to the shore behind, while Matcham clung to the flat bottom of the boat. Dick had been knocked, by the horse that he was attempting to aid, into the stream, where, dazed by the blow and encumbered by his cross-bow, he was like to drown. Seeing this, Matcham plunged after the great sweep, which was floating away, and, seizing it, guided it by sturdy kicks within Dick's grasp. The boys were carried by the current far down-stream, and against the farther bank, where they made a landing in that very part of Tunstall forest which Dick recognized as the haunt of the outlaws.
Indeed, as they cautiously advanced through the wood, they came upon a clearing wherein were the ruins of Grimstone, the homestead of Ellis Duckworth, whom both Sir Daniel Brackley and Bennet Hatch surmised to be John Amend-All himself.
As the lads were looking at the, mass of fallen and charred rafters within the stone foundations, they heard two men approaching through the forest, singing a song of outlawry:
"Oh, they must need to walk in wood that may not walk in town!"
Shelton and Matcham leaped down within the ruins and hid underneath some rafters leaning against the wall. Through an arrow-loophole in the wall they beheld the outlaws throw down a deer they bore between them and proceed to establish a camp in the clearing.
They cut up the deer, kindled a fire, put on a pot filled with pieces of the venison, and then, awaiting the time when the dinner should be done, entered into conversation. The outlaw that seemed to be captain of the company said to his mate:
"Lawless, to reach the Moat House, Sir Daniel must pass this forest. We shall make the passage dearer, pardy, than any battle. Then, when he hath got to earth with such ragged handful as escapeth us, we shall beleaguer that old fox about until, driven by hunger, he dashes forth and dies on our points. So shall Sir Harry Shelton and my other good friends whom he murdered be avenged."
"And meanwhile what do we?" retorted Lawless. "We make black arrows, we write rhymes, and we drink fair cold water, that discomfortable drink. Master Ellis, y'are for vengeance—as well ye may be because of this ruined house and your forfeited lands, and the murder of your friends—but your poor brother of the greenwood, who hath nor gear nor kin, looketh rather to the profit of the thing. To him a pottle of canary wine is worth all the red blood that ever flowed."
"Y'are untrue, Will Lawless. Ye still smell of the Grey Friars' buttery; greed is your undoing. But hark, here cometh the watch at the ford."
An archer entered the clearing, but breathless as if he had spent himself in running. When he had somewhat recovered he told the story of the disaster to the ferryboat, and, in addition, reported the fording of the river shortly afterward by the detachment under Selden. Ellis at once sounded his horn, and soon his men began to emerge one by one from the wood until a company of twenty were assembled. Then they all set off in the direction of Moat House, evidently to intercept the party under Selden.
"Now," said Matcham, "forth to Holywood."
"To Holywood!" cried Dick, "when good fellows stand shot? Not I! An I be not in time to warn these lads, I will go die with them."
"Dick, ye sware before the saints that ye would see me safe to Holywood. Would ye be a perjurer?"
"Look ye, Jack. Let me warn these men, and, if needs must, stand shot with them. Then I will on to Holywood with you."
"But these men ye go to succor are the same that hunt me to my ruin. Would ye, then, join party with Sir Daniel, who, as ye have e'en now heard, murdered your father?"
" Jack, this may be, but these men I have hunted with, ay, and fought with, and to leave them in their hour of peril—oh, man, if I did that, I were stark dead to honor!"
Matcham's reply was to seize the crossbow. Dick tore it from his grasp, with such force that Jack was hurled upon the ground.
"Oath or no oath," said Dick, "ye may go hang for me!" and he set off toward the forest.
Jack arose and made after him. "If y'are bound to die, Dick, I'll die too."
"Then ye must run for it," and Dick set off at a rapid pace, hoping thus to shake off his unwelcome companion. Jack came panting behind. Dick heard him sobbing, and slowed his pace.
"What, sniveling like a girl at a harsh word?" he exclaimed. "Ye hurt me," sobbed Matcham, "when ye threw me down. Ye're a coward to abuse your strength."
"Ye had no title to my crossbow. I would 'a' done right to have well basted you. But come on. We'll go slowly now. Here is the edge of the wood."
Dick advanced to the tip of a tongue of the forest that protruded into the open. Peeping forth, he called to Jack behind him that Selden's little troop was emerging near by from the wood, coming toward them on the way to Moat House. At that instant the outlaws let fly their arrows from the surrounding thickets. Four soldiers fell, and the remaining three spurred forward into the open country. Selden was in the lead. His two followers were picked off in a second flight of arrows, and Selden's horse was shot, tumbling the rider headlong. He arose and faced his enemies with his crossbow, whereat jeering cries resounded from the woods. One arrow after another struck at his feet, causing him to leap as if dancing. Roars of laughter were now heard, and the outlaws came running out to surround him and continue their baiting near at hand. Seeing this, Selden threw down his bow and ran in quick, zigzag dashes for the tongue of wood in which stood Shelton and Matcham. Thereat Dick ran forward to his assistance. It was too late; an arrow pierced Selden between the shoulders, and he pitched forward and fell dead. Dick turned, and by the sufferance of the outlaws regained his covert. The two lads plunged into the forest and were shortly beyond reach of the outlaws, who, indeed, did not pursue, but remained to plunder the dead.
All day the boys lay quiet in a copse by the highroad, awaiting nightfall to proceed to Holywood. Suddenly down the road swept a disorderly rout of soldiers. Dick recognized them as Sir Daniel's troops, and knew that the battle had gone against the Lancastrians. But where was Sir Daniel? Was he killed, or had he deserted to the other side?
At dusk down the road came a ghostly figure, enveloped from head to foot in a hooded white robe. From the girdle depended a bell, which tinkled at every step. Dick was frightened at what he deemed a ghost, but Jack said:
"It is only a poor, blind leper. Let us ask him news of the battle." So Jack stood forth from the copse and hailed the passer-by. He turned at the voice, and suddenly springing for-ward, seized the lad. Upon this Dick stepped into the road, and leveling his crossbow, demanded of the leper that he release Jack.
"Hold your shot, Dickon," said a familiar voice. "Know ye not a friend?"
And undoing his hood, the leper disclosed the features of Sir Daniel Brackley.
He explained that he had adopted this disguise after his defeat to get to Moat House, where, with Hatch's and Selden's detachments, lie hoped to disperse the outlaws, and make terms with the victorious Yorkists.
He was aghast when Dick told him of the annihilation of Selden and his troop, and swore to be terribly revenged on Duck-worth.
Sir Daniel then ordered Matcham to precede him on the way to Moat Hall. Hereat Dick interposed, and, telling Sir Daniel of his oath to conduct Jack safe to Holywood, again swore he would do so. But Matcham was strangely willing, and even anxious, to go to Moat House now, so the three went forward, the pretended leper in advance with warning bell.
They reached Moat House in safety, but not without the full knowledge of the outlaws; for the next day a black arrow was shot through the window of the hall, bearing the single word, "Earthed."
Soon after this, when Dick was on guard in the watch-tower, another arrow fell at his feet bearing a scroll addressed to himself. It read:
"Shame on you for a coward and an unworthy son. Ye aid the murderers of your father, who enjoy his estates. Ye are of age. Demand of them thine own."
That night Dick sought a conference with Sir Daniel and Sir Oliver. He told them of the charges that had been made against them, and demanded that they swear their innocence upon Holywood cross. This Sir Daniel readily did, but Sir Oliver, with blanching face, refused to do. Dick then demanded his estates of Sir Daniel. The knight swore that his ward was not of age, but refused to produce the record of Dick's birth. Again Dick demanded to know of the marriage that had been arranged for him, and insolently the knight replied that he had made a better bargain for the girl, naming a rich old lord of in-famous reputation. Turning on Dick, Sir Daniel peremptorily required that he give him unquestioning obedience.
Shelton, now convinced of the truth of the outlaws' charges, resolved to escape to their side and lead them into Moat House by a secret passage that he knew. Matcham he had not seen since their return. Dick searched for him, and found him kept a prisoner in his chamber. They held a conference through the door, the end of which was that Matcham confessed that he was Joan Sedley.
"What! y'are the maid that ran away to 'scape marrying me?"
"Yes, for I knew you not, dear Dick, and now I am promised -to a hoary caitiff as a price of Sir Daniel's peace with the House of York. Oh, save me from him, as ye did from your-self, and I will never run from you again, sweet Dick."
" Joanna," replied Shelton, "y'ave saved my life, and I yours. We have seen blood flow and been friends and enemies —ay, I knocked you down; and all that time I thought ye were a boy. Now I go perhaps to my death, and I must say this: Y'are the best maid and the bravest, and if I live I will return and rescue you and marry you; and, live or die, I love you.,,
Dick escaped to the outlaws and led them in a surprise upon Moat House. In the fight that followed in its halls, the three black arrows of John Amend-All found their targets in the black hearts of Hatch, Sir Oliver, and Sir Daniel.
Joanna Sedley was rescued, and Dick at last performed his vow by taking her to Holywood, not for sanctuary, but to be married to him by the good old Abbot. Dick then went to the wars with Duckworth and his company, and fought valiantly for the House of York. At the battle of Shoreby Richard of Gloucester knighted him with bloody sword. When Edward IV was seated on his throne Shelton was offered a place at court. Refusing this, he returned to Joanna at Tunstall Moat House, where they lived happily ever afterward, in the midst of the green forest where their love began.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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