THE BLACK ARROW - A TALE OF THE TWO ROSES
Critic on the Hearth
No one but myself knows what I have suffered, nor what my books
have gained, by your unsleeping watchfulness and admirable
pertinacity. And now here is a volume that goes into the world and
lacks your imprimatur: a strange thing in our joint lives; and the
reason of it stranger still! I have watched with interest, with
pain, and at length with amusement, your unavailing attempts to
peruse The Black Arrow; and I think I should lack humour indeed, if
I let the occasion slip and did not place your name in the fly-leaf
of the only book of mine that you have never read - and never will
That others may display more constancy is still my hope. The tale
was written years ago for a particular audience and (I may say) in
rivalry with a particular author; I think I should do well to name
him, Mr. Alfred R. Phillips. It was not without its reward at the
time. I could not, indeed, displace Mr. Phillips from his well-won
priority; but 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. The verdict on Treasure Island was
reversed in the other court; I wonder, will it be the same with its
R. L. S.
SARANAC LAKE, April 8, 1888.
PROLOGUE - JOHN AMEND-ALL
On a certain afternoon, in the late springtime, the bell upon
Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour. Far
and near, in the forest and in the fields along the river, people
began to desert their labours and hurry towards the sound; and in
Tunstall hamlet a group of poor country-folk stood wondering at the
Tunstall hamlet at that period, in the reign of old King Henry VI.,
wore much the same appearance as it wears to-day. A score or so of
houses, heavily framed with oak, stood scattered in a long green
valley ascending from the river. At the foot, the road crossed a
bridge, and mounting on the other side, disappeared into the
fringes of the forest on its way to the Moat House, and further
forth to Holywood Abbey. Half-way up the village, the church stood
among yews. On every side the slopes were crowned and the view
bounded by the green elms and greening oak-trees of the forest.
Hard by the bridge, there was a stone cross upon a knoll, and here
the group had collected - half a dozen women and one tall fellow in
a russet smock - discussing what the bell betided. An express had
gone through the hamlet half an hour before, and drunk a pot of ale
in the saddle, not daring to dismount for the hurry of his errand;
but he had been ignorant himself of what was forward, and only bore
sealed letters from Sir Daniel Brackley to Sir Oliver Oates, the
parson, who kept the Moat House in the master's absence.
But now there was the noise of a horse; and soon, out of the edge
of the wood and over the echoing bridge, there rode up young Master
Richard Shelton, Sir Daniel's ward. He, at the least, would know,
and they hailed him and begged him to explain. He drew bridle
willingly enough - a young fellow not yet eighteen, sun-browned and
grey-eyed, in a jacket of deer's leather, with a black velvet
collar, a green hood upon his head, and a steel cross-bow at his
back. The express, it appeared, had brought great news. A battle
was impending. Sir Daniel had sent for every man that could draw a
bow or carry a bill to go post-haste to Kettley, under pain of his
severe displeasure; but for whom they were to fight, or of where
the battle was expected, Dick knew nothing. Sir Oliver would come
shortly himself, and Bennet Hatch was arming at that moment, for he
it was who should lead the party.
"It is the ruin of this kind land," a woman said. "If the barons
live at war, ploughfolk must eat roots."
"Nay," said Dick, "every man that follows shall have sixpence a
day, and archers twelve."
"If they live," returned the woman, "that may very well be; but how
if they die, my master?"
"They cannot better die than for their natural lord," said Dick.
"No natural lord of mine," said the man in the smock. "I followed
the Walsinghams; so we all did down Brierly way, till two years
ago, come Candlemas. And now I must side with Brackley! It was
the law that did it; call ye that natural? But now, what with Sir
Daniel and what with Sir Oliver - that knows more of law than
honesty - I have no natural lord but poor King Harry the Sixt, God
bless him! - the poor innocent that cannot tell his right hand from
"Ye speak with an ill tongue, friend," answered Dick, "to miscall
your good master and my lord the king in the same libel. But King
Harry - praised be the saints! - has come again into his right mind,
and will have all things peaceably ordained. And as for Sir
Daniel, y' are very brave behind his back. But I will be no tale-
bearer; and let that suffice."
"I say no harm of you, Master Richard," returned the peasant. "Y'
are a lad; but when ye come to a man's inches, ye will find ye have
an empty pocket. I say no more: the saints help Sir Daniel's
neighbours, and the Blessed Maid protect his wards!"
"Clipsby," said Richard, "you speak what I cannot hear with honour.
Sir Daniel is my good master, and my guardian."
"Come, now, will ye read me a riddle?" returned Clipsby. "On whose
side is Sir Daniel?"
"I know not," said Dick, colouring a little; for his guardian had
changed sides continually in the troubles of that period, and every
change had brought him some increase of fortune.
"Ay," returned Clipsby, "you, nor no man. For, indeed, he is one
that goes to bed Lancaster and gets up York."
Just then the bridge rang under horse-shoe iron, and the party
turned and saw Bennet Hatch come galloping - a brown-faced, grizzled
fellow, heavy of hand and grim of mien, armed with sword and spear,
a steel salet on his head, a leather jack upon his body. He was a
great man in these parts; Sir Daniel's right hand in peace and war,
and at that time, by his master's interest, bailiff of the hundred.
"Clipsby," he shouted, "off to the Moat House, and send all other
laggards the same gate. Bowyer will give you jack and salet. We
must ride before curfew. Look to it: he that is last at the lych-
gate Sir Daniel shall reward. Look to it right well! I know you
for a man of naught. Nance," he added, to one of the women, "is
old Appleyard up town?"
"I'll warrant you," replied the woman. "In his field, for sure."
So the group dispersed, and while Clipsby walked leisurely over the
bridge, Bennet and young Shelton rode up the road together, through
the village and past the church.
"Ye will see the old shrew," said Bennet. "He will waste more time
grumbling and prating of Harry the Fift than would serve a man to
shoe a horse. And all because he has been to the French wars!"
The house to which they were bound was the last in the village,
standing alone among lilacs; and beyond it, on three sides, there
was open meadow rising towards the borders of the wood.
Hatch dismounted, threw his rein over the fence, and walked down
the field, Dick keeping close at his elbow, to where the old
soldier was digging, knee-deep in his cabbages, and now and again,
in a cracked voice, singing a snatch of song. He was all dressed
in leather, only his hood and tippet were of black frieze, and tied
with scarlet; his face was like a walnut-shell, both for colour and
wrinkles; but his old grey eye was still clear enough, and his
sight unabated. Perhaps he was deaf; perhaps he thought it
unworthy of an old archer of Agincourt to pay any heed to such
disturbances; but neither the surly notes of the alarm bell, nor
the near approach of Bennet and the lad, appeared at all to move
him; and he continued obstinately digging, and piped up, very thin
"Now, dear lady, if thy will be,
I pray you that you will rue on me."
"Nick Appleyard," said Hatch, "Sir Oliver commends him to you, and
bids that ye shall come within this hour to the Moat House, there
to take command."
The old fellow looked up.
"Save you, my masters!" he said, grinning. "And where goeth Master
"Master Hatch is off to Kettley, with every man that we can horse,"
returned Bennet. "There is a fight toward, it seems, and my lord
stays a reinforcement."
"Ay, verily," returned Appleyard. "And what will ye leave me to
"I leave you six good men, and Sir Oliver to boot," answered Hatch.
"It'll not hold the place," said Appleyard; "the number sufficeth
not. It would take two score to make it good."
"Why, it's for that we came to you, old shrew!" replied the other.
"Who else is there but you that could do aught in such a house with
such a garrison?"
"Ay! when the pinch comes, ye remember the old shoe," returned
Nick. "There is not a man of you can back a horse or hold a bill;
and as for archery - St. Michael! if old Harry the Fift were back
again, he would stand and let ye shoot at him for a farthen a
"Nay, Nick, there's some can draw a good bow yet," said Bennet.
"Draw a good bow!" cried Appleyard. "Yes! But who'll shoot me a
good shoot? It's there the eye comes in, and the head between your
shoulders. Now, what might you call a long shoot, Bennet Hatch?"
"Well," said Bennet, looking about him, "it would be a long shoot
from here into the forest."
"Ay, it would be a longish shoot," said the old fellow, turning to
look over his shoulder; and then he put up his hand over his eyes,
and stood staring.
"Why, what are you looking at?" asked Bennet, with a chuckle. "Do,
you see Harry the Fift?"
The veteran continued looking up the hill in silence. The sun
shone broadly over the shelving meadows; a few white sheep wandered
browsing; all was still but the distant jangle of the bell.
"What is it, Appleyard?" asked Dick.
"Why, the birds," said Appleyard.
And, sure enough, over the top of the forest, where it ran down in
a tongue among the meadows, and ended in a pair of goodly green
elms, about a bowshot from the field where they were standing, a
flight of birds was skimming to and fro, in evident disorder.
"What of the birds?" said Bennet.
"Ay!" returned Appleyard, "y' are a wise man to go to war, Master
Bennet. Birds are a good sentry; in forest places they be the
first line of battle. Look you, now, if we lay here in camp, there
might be archers skulking down to get the wind of us; and here
would you be, none the wiser!"
"Why, old shrew," said Hatch, "there be no men nearer us than Sir
Daniel's, at Kettley; y' are as safe as in London Tower; and ye
raise scares upon a man for a few chaffinches and sparrows!"
"Hear him!" grinned Appleyard. "How many a rogue would give his
two crop ears to have a shoot at either of us? Saint Michael, man!
they hate us like two polecats!"
"Well, sooth it is, they hate Sir Daniel," answered Hatch, a little
"Ay, they hate Sir Daniel, and they hate every man that serves with
him," said Appleyard; "and in the first order of hating, they hate
Bennet Hatch and old Nicholas the bowman. See ye here: if there
was a stout fellow yonder in the wood-edge, and you and I stood
fair for him - as, by Saint George, we stand! - which, think ye,
would he choose?"
"You, for a good wager," answered Hatch.
"My surcoat to a leather belt, it would be you!" cried the old
archer. "Ye burned Grimstone, Bennet - they'll ne'er forgive you
that, my master. And as for me, I'll soon be in a good place, God
grant, and out of bow-shoot - ay, and cannon-shoot - of all their
malices. I am an old man, and draw fast to homeward, where the bed
is ready. But for you, Bennet, y' are to remain behind here at
your own peril, and if ye come to my years unhanged, the old true-
blue English spirit will be dead."
"Y' are the shrewishest old dolt in Tunstall Forest," returned
Hatch, visibly ruffled by these threats. "Get ye to your arms
before Sir Oliver come, and leave prating for one good while. An
ye had talked so much with Harry the Fift, his ears would ha' been
richer than his pocket."
An arrow sang in the air, like a huge hornet; it struck old
Appleyard between the shoulder-blades, and pierced him clean
through, and he fell forward on his face among the cabbages.
Hatch, with a broken cry, leapt into the air; then, stooping
double, he ran for the cover of the house. And in the meanwhile
Dick Shelton had dropped behind a lilac, and had his crossbow bent
and shouldered, covering the point of the forest.
Not a leaf stirred. The sheep were patiently browsing; the birds
had settled. But there lay the old man, with a cloth-yard arrow
standing in his back; and there were Hatch holding to the gable,
and Dick crouching and ready behind the lilac bush.
"D'ye see aught?" cried Hatch.
"Not a twig stirs," said Dick.
"I think shame to leave him lying," said Bennet, coming forward
once more with hesitating steps and a very pale countenance. "Keep
a good eye on the wood, Master Shelton - keep a clear eye on the
wood. The saints assoil us! here was a good shoot!"
Bennet raised the old archer on his knee. He was not yet dead; his
face worked, and his eyes shut and opened like machinery, and he
had a most horrible, ugly look of one in pain.
"Can ye hear, old Nick?" asked Hatch. "Have ye a last wish before
ye wend, old brother?"
"Pluck out the shaft, and let me pass, a' Mary's name!" gasped
Appleyard. "I be done with Old England. Pluck it out!"
"Master Dick," said Bennet, "come hither, and pull me a good pull
upon the arrow. He would fain pass, the poor sinner."
Dick laid down his cross-bow, and pulling hard upon the arrow, drew
it forth. A gush of blood followed; the old archer scrambled half
upon his feet, called once upon the name of God, and then fell
dead. Hatch, upon his knees among the cabbages, prayed fervently
for the welfare of the passing spirit. But even as he prayed, it
was plain that his mind was still divided, and he kept ever an eye
upon the corner of the wood from which the shot had come. When he
had done, he got to his feet again, drew off one of his mailed
gauntlets, and wiped his pale face, which was all wet with terror.
"Ay," he said, "it'll be my turn next."
"Who hath done this, Bennet?" Richard asked, still holding the
arrow in his hand.
"Nay, the saints know," said Hatch. "Here are a good two score
Christian souls that we have hunted out of house and holding, he
and I. He has paid his shot, poor shrew, nor will it be long,
mayhap, ere I pay mine. Sir Daniel driveth over-hard."
"This is a strange shaft," said the lad, looking at the arrow in
"Ay, by my faith!" cried Bennet. "Black, and black-feathered.
Here is an ill-favoured shaft, by my sooth! for black, they say,
bodes burial. And here be words written. Wipe the blood away.
What read ye?"
"'Appulyaird fro Jon Amend-All,'" read Shelton. "What should this
"Nay, I like it not," returned the retainer, shaking his head.
"John Amend-All! Here is a rogue's name for those that be up in
the world! But why stand we here to make a mark? Take him by the
knees, good Master Shelton, while I lift him by the shoulders, and
let us lay him in his house. This will be a rare shog to poor Sir
Oliver; he will turn paper colour; he will pray like a windmill."
They took up the old archer, and carried him between them into his
house, where he had dwelt alone. And there they laid him on the
floor, out of regard for the mattress, and sought, as best they
might, to straighten and compose his limbs.
Appleyard's house was clean and bare. There was a bed, with a blue
cover, a cupboard, a great chest, a pair of joint-stools, a hinged
table in the chimney corner, and hung upon the wall the old
soldier's armoury of bows and defensive armour. Hatch began to
look about him curiously.
"Nick had money," he said. "He may have had three score pounds put
by. I would I could light upon't! When ye lose an old friend,
Master Richard, the best consolation is to heir him. See, now,
this chest. I would go a mighty wager there is a bushel of gold
therein. He had a strong hand to get, and a hard hand to keep
withal, had Appleyard the archer. Now may God rest his spirit!
Near eighty year he was afoot and about, and ever getting; but now
he's on the broad of his back, poor shrew, and no more lacketh; and
if his chattels came to a good friend, he would be merrier,
methinks, in heaven."
"Come, Hatch," said Dick, "respect his stone-blind eyes. Would ye
rob the man before his body? Nay, he would walk!"
Hatch made several signs of the cross; but by this time his natural
complexion had returned, and he was not easily to be dashed from
any purpose. It would have gone hard with the chest had not the
gate sounded, and presently after the door of the house opened and
admitted a tall, portly, ruddy, black-eyed man of near fifty, in a
surplice and black robe.
"Appleyard" - the newcomer was saying, as he entered; but he stopped
dead. "Ave Maria!" he cried. "Saints be our shield! What cheer
"Cold cheer with Appleyard, sir parson," answered Hatch, with
perfect cheerfulness. "Shot at his own door, and alighteth even
now at purgatory gates. Ay! there, if tales be true, he shall lack
neither coal nor candle."
Sir Oliver groped his way to a joint-stool, and sat down upon it,
sick and white.
"This is a judgment! O, a great stroke!" he sobbed, and rattled
off a leash of prayers.
Hatch meanwhile reverently doffed his salet and knelt down.
"Ay, Bennet," said the priest, somewhat recovering, "and what may
this be? What enemy hath done this?"
"Here, Sir Oliver, is the arrow. See, it is written upon with
words," said Dick.
"Nay," cried the priest, "this is a foul hearing! John Amend-All!
A right Lollardy word. And black of hue, as for an omen! Sirs,
this knave arrow likes me not. But it importeth rather to take
counsel. Who should this be? Bethink you, Bennet. Of so many
black ill-willers, which should he be that doth so hardily outface
us? Simnel? I do much question it. The Walsinghams? Nay, they
are not yet so broken; they still think to have the law over us,
when times change. There was Simon Malmesbury, too. How think ye,
"What think ye, sir," returned Hatch, "of Ellis Duckworth?"
"Nay, Bennet, never. Nay, not he," said the priest. "There cometh
never any rising, Bennet, from below - so all judicious chroniclers
concord in their opinion; but rebellion travelleth ever downward
from above; and when Dick, Tom, and Harry take them to their bills,
look ever narrowly to see what lord is profited thereby. Now, Sir
Daniel, having once more joined him to the Queen's party, is in ill
odour with the Yorkist lords. Thence, Bennet, comes the blow - by
what procuring, I yet seek; but therein lies the nerve of this
"An't please you, Sir Oliver," said Bennet, "the axles are so hot
in this country that I have long been smelling fire. So did this
poor sinner, Appleyard. And, by your leave, men's spirits are so
foully inclined to all of us, that it needs neither York nor
Lancaster to spur them on. Hear my plain thoughts: You, that are
a clerk, and Sir Daniel, that sails on any wind, ye have taken many
men's goods, and beaten and hanged not a few. Y' are called to
count for this; in the end, I wot not how, ye have ever the
uppermost at law, and ye think all patched. But give me leave, Sir
Oliver: the man that ye have dispossessed and beaten is but the
angrier, and some day, when the black devil is by, he will up with
his bow and clout me a yard of arrow through your inwards."
"Nay, Bennet, y' are in the wrong. Bennet, ye should be glad to be
corrected," said Sir Oliver. "Y' are a prater, Bennet, a talker, a
babbler; your mouth is wider than your two ears. Mend it, Bennet,
"Nay, I say no more. Have it as ye list," said the retainer.
The priest now rose from the stool, and from the writing-case that
hung about his neck took forth wax and a taper, and a flint and
steel. With these he sealed up the chest and the cupboard with Sir
Daniel's arms, Hatch looking on disconsolate; and then the whole
party proceeded, somewhat timorously, to sally from the house and
get to horse.
"'Tis time we were on the road, Sir Oliver," said Hatch, as he held
the priest's stirrup while he mounted.
"Ay; but, Bennet, things are changed," returned the parson. "There
is now no Appleyard - rest his soul! - to keep the garrison. I shall
keep you, Bennet. I must have a good man to rest me on in this day
of black arrows. 'The arrow that flieth by day,' saith the
evangel; I have no mind of the context; nay, I am a sluggard
priest, I am too deep in men's affairs. Well, let us ride forth,
Master Hatch. The jackmen should be at the church by now."
So they rode forward down the road, with the wind after them,
blowing the tails of the parson's cloak; and behind them, as they
went, clouds began to arise and blot out the sinking sun. They had
passed three of the scattered houses that make up Tunstall hamlet,
when, coming to a turn, they saw the church before them. Ten or a
dozen houses clustered immediately round it; but to the back the
churchyard was next the meadows. At the lych-gate, near a score of
men were gathered, some in the saddle, some standing by their
horses' heads. They were variously armed and mounted; some with
spears, some with bills, some with bows, and some bestriding
plough-horses, still splashed with the mire of the furrow; for
these were the very dregs of the country, and all the better men
and the fair equipments were already with Sir Daniel in the field.
"We have not done amiss, praised be the cross of Holywood! Sir
Daniel will be right well content," observed the priest, inwardly
numbering the troop.
"Who goes? Stand! if ye be true!" shouted Bennet. A man was seen
slipping through the churchyard among the yews; and at the sound of
this summons he discarded all concealment, and fairly took to his
heels for the forest. The men at the gate, who had been hitherto
unaware of the stranger's presence, woke and scattered. Those who
had dismounted began scrambling into the saddle; the rest rode in
pursuit; but they had to make the circuit of the consecrated
ground, and it was plain their quarry would escape them. Hatch,
roaring an oath, put his horse at the hedge, to head him off; but
the beast refused, and sent his rider sprawling in the dust. And
though he was up again in a moment, and had caught the bridle, the
time had gone by, and the fugitive had gained too great a lead for
any hope of capture.
The wisest of all had been Dick Shelton. Instead of starting in a
vain pursuit, he had whipped his crossbow from his back, bent it,
and set a quarrel to the string; and now, when the others had
desisted, he turned to Bennet and asked if he should shoot.
"Shoot! shoot!" cried the priest, with sanguinary violence.
"Cover him, Master Dick," said Bennet. "Bring me him down like a
The fugitive was now within but a few leaps of safety; but this
last part of the meadow ran very steeply uphill; and the man ran
slower in proportion. What with the greyness of the falling night,
and the uneven movements of the runner, it was no easy aim; and as
Dick levelled his bow, he felt a kind of pity, and a half desire
that he might miss. The quarrel sped.
The man stumbled and fell, and a great cheer arose from Hatch and
the pursuers. But they were counting their corn before the
harvest. The man fell lightly; he was lightly afoot again, turned
and waved his cap in a bravado, and was out of sight next moment in
the margin of the wood.
"And the plague go with him!" cried Bennet. "He has thieves'
heels; he can run, by St Banbury! But you touched him, Master
Shelton; he has stolen your quarrel, may he never have good I
grudge him less!"
"Nay, but what made he by the church?" asked Sir Oliver. "I am
shrewdly afeared there has been mischief here. Clipsby, good
fellow, get ye down from your horse, and search thoroughly among
Clipsby was gone but a little while ere he returned carrying a
"This writing was pinned to the church door," he said, handing it
to the parson. "I found naught else, sir parson."
"Now, by the power of Mother Church," cried Sir Oliver, "but this
runs hard on sacrilege! For the king's good pleasure, or the lord
of the manor - well! But that every run-the-hedge in a green jerkin