should fasten papers to the chancel door - nay, it runs hard on
sacrilege, hard; and men have burned for matters of less weight.
But what have we here? The light falls apace. Good Master
Richard, y' have young eyes. Read me, I pray, this libel."
Dick Shelton took the paper in his hand and read it aloud. It
contained some lines of very rugged doggerel, hardly even rhyming,
written in a gross character, and most uncouthly spelt. With the
spelling somewhat bettered, this is how they ran:
"I had four blak arrows under my belt,
Four for the greefs that I have felt,
Four for the nomber of ill menne
That have opressid me now and then.
One is gone; one is wele sped;
Old Apulyaird is ded.
One is for Maister Bennet Hatch,
That burned Grimstone, walls and thatch.
One for Sir Oliver Oates,
That cut Sir Harry Shelton's throat.
Sir Daniel, ye shull have the fourt;
We shall think it fair sport.
Ye shull each have your own part,
A blak arrow in each blak heart.
Get ye to your knees for to pray:
Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!
of the Green Wood,
And his jolly fellaweship.
"Item, we have mo arrowes and goode hempen cord for otheres of your
"Now, well-a-day for charity and the Christian graces!" cried Sir
Oliver, lamentably. "Sirs, this is an ill world, and groweth daily
worse. I will swear upon the cross of Holywood I am as innocent of
that good knight's hurt, whether in act or purpose, as the babe
unchristened. Neither was his throat cut; for therein they are
again in error, as there still live credible witnesses to show."
"It boots not, sir parson," said Bennet. "Here is unseasonable
"Nay, Master Bennet, not so. Keep ye in your due place, good
Bennet," answered the priest. "I shall make mine innocence appear.
I will, upon no consideration, lose my poor life in error. I take
all men to witness that I am clear of this matter. I was not even
in the Moat House. I was sent of an errand before nine upon the
"Sir Oliver," said Hatch, interrupting, "since it please you not to
stop this sermon, I will take other means. Goffe, sound to horse."
And while the tucket was sounding, Bennet moved close to the
bewildered parson, and whispered violently in his ear.
Dick Shelton saw the priest's eye turned upon him for an instant in
a startled glance. He had some cause for thought; for this Sir
Harry Shelton was his own natural father. But he said never a
word, and kept his countenance unmoved.
Hatch and Sir Oliver discussed together for a while their altered
situation; ten men, it was decided between them, should be
reserved, not only to garrison the Moat House, but to escort the
priest across the wood. In the meantime, as Bennet was to remain
behind, the command of the reinforcement was given to Master
Shelton. Indeed, there was no choice; the men were loutish
fellows, dull and unskilled in war, while Dick was not only
popular, but resolute and grave beyond his age. Although his youth
had been spent in these rough, country places, the lad had been
well taught in letters by Sir Oliver, and Hatch himself had shown
him the management of arms and the first principles of command.
Bennet had always been kind and helpful; he was one of those who
are cruel as the grave to those they call their enemies, but
ruggedly faithful and well willing to their friends; and now, while
Sir Oliver entered the next house to write, in his swift, exquisite
penmanship, a memorandum of the last occurrences to his master, Sir
Daniel Brackley, Bennet came up to his pupil to wish him God-speed
upon his enterprise.
"Ye must go the long way about, Master Shelton," he said; "round by
the bridge, for your life! Keep a sure man fifty paces afore you,
to draw shots; and go softly till y' are past the wood. If the
rogues fall upon you, ride for 't; ye will do naught by standing.
And keep ever forward, Master Shelton; turn me not back again, an
ye love your life; there is no help in Tunstall, mind ye that. And
now, since ye go to the great wars about the king, and I continue
to dwell here in extreme jeopardy of my life, and the saints alone
can certify if we shall meet again below, I give you my last
counsels now at your riding. Keep an eye on Sir Daniel; he is
unsure. Put not your trust in the jack-priest; he intendeth not
amiss, but doth the will of others; it is a hand-gun for Sir
Daniel! Get your good lordship where ye go; make you strong
friends; look to it. And think ever a pater-noster-while on Bennet
Hatch. There are worse rogues afoot than Bennet. So, God-speed!"
"And Heaven be with you, Bennet!" returned Dick. "Ye were a good
friend to me-ward, and so I shall say ever."
"And, look ye, master," added Hatch, with a certain embarrassment,
"if this Amend-All should get a shaft into me, ye might, mayhap,
lay out a gold mark or mayhap a pound for my poor soul; for it is
like to go stiff with me in purgatory."
"Ye shall have your will of it, Bennet," answered Dick. "But, what
cheer, man! we shall meet again, where ye shall have more need of
ale than masses."
"The saints so grant it, Master Dick!" returned the other. "But
here comes Sir Oliver. An he were as quick with the long-bow as
with the pen, he would be a brave man-at-arms."
Sir Oliver gave Dick a sealed packet, with this superscription:
"To my ryght worchypful master, Sir Daniel Brackley, knyght, be
thys delyvered in haste."
And Dick, putting it in the bosom of his jacket, gave the word and
set forth westward up the village.
BOOK I - THE TWO LADS
CHAPTER I - AT THE SIGN OF THE SUN IN KETTLEY
Sir Daniel and his men lay in and about Kettley that night, warmly
quartered and well patrolled. But the Knight of Tunstall was one
who never rested from money-getting; and even now, when he was on
the brink of an adventure which should make or mar him, he was up
an hour after midnight to squeeze poor neighbours. He was one who
trafficked greatly in disputed inheritances; it was his way to buy
out the most unlikely claimant, and then, by the favour he curried
with great lords about the king, procure unjust decisions in his
favour; or, if that was too roundabout, to seize the disputed manor
by force of arms, and rely on his influence and Sir Oliver's
cunning in the law to hold what he had snatched. Kettley was one
such place; it had come very lately into his clutches; he still met
with opposition from the tenants; and it was to overawe discontent
that he had led his troops that way.
By two in the morning, Sir Daniel sat in the inn room, close by the
fireside, for it was cold at that hour among the fens of Kettley.
By his elbow stood a pottle of spiced ale. He had taken off his
visored headpiece, and sat with his bald head and thin, dark visage
resting on one hand, wrapped warmly in a sanguine-coloured cloak.
At the lower end of the room about a dozen of his men stood sentry
over the door or lay asleep on benches; and somewhat nearer hand, a
young lad, apparently of twelve or thirteen, was stretched in a
mantle on the floor. The host of the Sun stood before the great
"Now, mark me, mine host," Sir Daniel said, "follow but mine
orders, and I shall be your good lord ever. I must have good men
for head boroughs, and I will have Adam-a-More high constable; see
to it narrowly. If other men be chosen, it shall avail you
nothing; rather it shall be found to your sore cost. For those
that have paid rent to Walsingham I shall take good measure - you
among the rest, mine host."
"Good knight," said the host, "I will swear upon the cross of
Holywood I did but pay to Walsingham upon compulsion. Nay, bully
knight, I love not the rogue Walsinghams; they were as poor as
thieves, bully knight. Give me a great lord like you. Nay; ask me
among the neighbours, I am stout for Brackley."
"It may be," said Sir Daniel, dryly. "Ye shall then pay twice."
The innkeeper made a horrid grimace; but this was a piece of bad
luck that might readily befall a tenant in these unruly times, and
he was perhaps glad to make his peace so easily.
"Bring up yon fellow, Selden!" cried the knight.
And one of his retainers led up a poor, cringing old man, as pale
as a candle, and all shaking with the fen fever.
"Sirrah," said Sir Daniel, "your name?"
"An't please your worship," replied the man, "my name is Condall -
Condall of Shoreby, at your good worship's pleasure."
"I have heard you ill reported on," returned the knight. "Ye deal
in treason, rogue; ye trudge the country leasing; y' are heavily
suspicioned of the death of severals. How, fellow, are ye so bold?
But I will bring you down."
"Right honourable and my reverend lord," the man cried, "here is
some hodge-podge, saving your good presence. I am but a poor
private man, and have hurt none."
"The under-sheriff did report of you most vilely," said the knight.
"'Seize me,' saith he, 'that Tyndal of Shoreby.'"
"Condall, my good lord; Condall is my poor name," said the
"Condall or Tyndal, it is all one," replied Sir Daniel, coolly.
"For, by my sooth, y' are here and I do mightily suspect your
honesty. If ye would save your neck, write me swiftly an
obligation for twenty pound."
"For twenty pound, my good lord!" cried Condall. "Here is
midsummer madness! My whole estate amounteth not to seventy
"Condall or Tyndal," returned Sir Daniel, grinning, "I will run my
peril of that loss. Write me down twenty, and when I have
recovered all I may, I will be good lord to you, and pardon you the
"Alas! my good lord, it may not be; I have no skill to write," said
"Well-a-day!" returned the knight. "Here, then, is no remedy. Yet
I would fain have spared you, Tyndal, had my conscience suffered.
Selden, take me this old shrew softly to the nearest elm, and hang
me him tenderly by the neck, where I may see him at my riding.
Fare ye well, good Master Condall, dear Master Tyndal; y' are post-
haste for Paradise; fare ye then well!"
"Nay, my right pleasant lord," replied Condall, forcing an
obsequious smile, "an ye be so masterful, as doth right well become
you, I will even, with all my poor skill, do your good bidding."
"Friend," quoth Sir Daniel, "ye will now write two score. Go to!
y' are too cunning for a livelihood of seventy shillings. Selden,
see him write me this in good form, and have it duly witnessed."
And Sir Daniel, who was a very merry knight, none merrier in
England, took a drink of his mulled ale, and lay back, smiling.
Meanwhile, the boy upon the floor began to stir, and presently sat
up and looked about him with a scare.
"Hither," said Sir Daniel; and as the other rose at his command and
came slowly towards him, he leaned back and laughed outright. "By
the rood!" he cried, "a sturdy boy!"
The lad flushed crimson with anger, and darted a look of hate out
of his dark eyes. Now that he was on his legs, it was more
difficult to make certain of his age. His face looked somewhat
older in expression, but it was as smooth as a young child's; and
in bone and body he was unusually slender, and somewhat awkward of
"Ye have called me, Sir Daniel," he said. "Was it to laugh at my
"Nay, now, let laugh," said the knight. "Good shrew, let laugh, I
pray you. An ye could see yourself, I warrant ye would laugh the
"Well," cried the lad, flushing, "ye shall answer this when ye
answer for the other. Laugh while yet ye may!"
"Nay, now, good cousin," replied Sir Daniel, with some earnestness,
"think not that I mock at you, except in mirth, as between kinsfolk
and singular friends. I will make you a marriage of a thousand
pounds, go to! and cherish you exceedingly. I took you, indeed,
roughly, as the time demanded; but from henceforth I shall
ungrudgingly maintain and cheerfully serve you. Ye shall be Mrs.
Shelton - Lady Shelton, by my troth! for the lad promiseth bravely.
Tut! ye will not shy for honest laughter; it purgeth melancholy.
They are no rogues who laugh, good cousin. Good mine host, lay me
a meal now for my cousin, Master John. Sit ye down, sweetheart,
"Nay," said Master John, "I will break no bread. Since ye force me
to this sin, I will fast for my soul's interest. But, good mine
host, I pray you of courtesy give me a cup of fair water; I shall
be much beholden to your courtesy indeed."
"Ye shall have a dispensation, go to!" cried the knight. "Shalt be
well shriven, by my faith! Content you, then, and eat."
But the lad was obstinate, drank a cup of water, and, once more
wrapping himself closely in his mantle, sat in a far corner,
In an hour or two, there rose a stir in the village of sentries
challenging and the clatter of arms and horses; and then a troop
drew up by the inn door, and Richard Shelton, splashed with mud,
presented himself upon the threshold.
"Save you, Sir Daniel," he said.
"How! Dickie Shelton!" cried the knight; and at the mention of
Dick's name the other lad looked curiously across. "What maketh
"Please you, sir knight, to take cognisance of this packet from Sir
Oliver, wherein are all things fully stated," answered Richard,
presenting the priest's letter. "And please you farther, ye were
best make all speed to Risingham; for on the way hither we
encountered one riding furiously with letters, and by his report,
my Lord of Risingham was sore bested, and lacked exceedingly your
"How say you? Sore bested?" returned the knight. "Nay, then, we
will make speed sitting down, good Richard. As the world goes in
this poor realm of England, he that rides softliest rides surest.
Delay, they say, begetteth peril; but it is rather this itch of
doing that undoes men; mark it, Dick. But let me see, first, what
cattle ye have brought. Selden, a link here at the door!"
And Sir Daniel strode forth into the village street, and, by the
red glow of a torch, inspected his new troops. He was an unpopular
neighbour and an unpopular master; but as a leader in war he was
well-beloved by those who rode behind his pennant. His dash, his
proved courage, his forethought for the soldiers' comfort, even his
rough gibes, were all to the taste of the bold blades in jack and
"Nay, by the rood!" he cried, "what poor dogs are these? Here be
some as crooked as a bow, and some as lean as a spear. Friends, ye
shall ride in the front of the battle; I can spare you, friends.
Mark me this old villain on the piebald! A two-year mutton riding
on a hog would look more soldierly! Ha! Clipsby, are ye there,
old rat? Y' are a man I could lose with a good heart; ye shall go
in front of all, with a bull's eye painted on your jack, to be the
better butt for archery; sirrah, ye shall show me the way."
"I will show you any way, Sir Daniel, but the way to change sides,"
returned Clipsby, sturdily.
Sir Daniel laughed a guffaw.
"Why, well said!" he cried. "Hast a shrewd tongue in thy mouth, go
to! I will forgive you for that merry word. Selden, see them fed,
both man and brute."
The knight re-entered the inn.
"Now, friend Dick," he said, "fall to. Here is good ale and bacon.
Eat, while that I read."
Sir Daniel opened the packet, and as he read his brow darkened.
When he had done he sat a little, musing. Then he looked sharply
at his ward.
"Dick," said he, "Y' have seen this penny rhyme?"
The lad replied in the affirmative.
"It bears your father's name," continued the knight; "and our poor
shrew of a parson is, by some mad soul, accused of slaying him."
"He did most eagerly deny it," answered Dick.
"He did?" cried the knight, very sharply. "Heed him not. He has a
loose tongue; he babbles like a jack-sparrow. Some day, when I may
find the leisure, Dick, I will myself more fully inform you of
these matters. There was one Duckworth shrewdly blamed for it; but
the times were troubled, and there was no justice to be got."
"It befell at the Moat House?" Dick ventured, with a beating at his
"It befell between the Moat House and Holywood," replied Sir
Daniel, calmly; but he shot a covert glance, black with suspicion,
at Dick's face. "And now," added the knight, "speed you with your
meal; ye shall return to Tunstall with a line from me."
Dick's face fell sorely.
"Prithee, Sir Daniel," he cried, "send one of the villains! I
beseech you let me to the battle. I can strike a stroke, I promise
"I misdoubt it not," replied Sir Daniel, sitting down to write.
"But here, Dick, is no honour to be won. I lie in Kettley till I
have sure tidings of the war, and then ride to join me with the
conqueror. Cry not on cowardice; it is but wisdom, Dick; for this
poor realm so tosseth with rebellion, and the king's name and
custody so changeth hands, that no man may be certain of the
morrow. Toss-pot and Shuttle-wit run in, but my Lord Good-Counsel
sits o' one side, waiting."
With that, Sir Daniel, turning his back to Dick, and quite at the
farther end of the long table, began to write his letter, with his
mouth on one side, for this business of the Black Arrow stuck
sorely in his throat.
Meanwhile, young Shelton was going on heartily enough with his
breakfast, when he felt a touch upon his arm, and a very soft voice
whispering in his ear.
"Make not a sign, I do beseech you," said the voice, "but of your
charity tell me the straight way to Holywood. Beseech you, now,
good boy, comfort a poor soul in peril and extreme distress, and
set me so far forth upon the way to my repose."
"Take the path by the windmill," answered Dick, in the same tone;
"it will bring you to Till Ferry; there inquire again."
And without turning his head, he fell again to eating. But with
the tail of his eye he caught a glimpse of the young lad called
Master John stealthily creeping from the room.
"Why," thought Dick, "he is a young as I. 'Good boy' doth he call
me? An I had known, I should have seen the varlet hanged ere I had
told him. Well, if he goes through the fen, I may come up with him
and pull his ears."
Half an hour later, Sir Daniel gave Dick the letter, and bade him
speed to the Moat House. And, again, some half an hour after
Dick's departure, a messenger came, in hot haste, from my Lord of
"Sir Daniel," the messenger said, "ye lose great honour, by my
sooth! The fight began again this morning ere the dawn, and we
have beaten their van and scattered their right wing. Only the
main battle standeth fast. An we had your fresh men, we should
tilt you them all into the river. What, sir knight! Will ye be
the last? It stands not with your good credit."
"Nay," cried the knight, "I was but now upon the march. Selden,
sound me the tucket. Sir, I am with you on the instant. It is not
two hours since the more part of my command came in, sir messenger.
What would ye have? Spurring is good meat, but yet it killed the
charger. Bustle, boys!"
By this time the tucket was sounding cheerily in the morning, and
from all sides Sir Daniel's men poured into the main street and
formed before the inn. They had slept upon their arms, with
chargers saddled, and in ten minutes five-score men-at-arms and
archers, cleanly equipped and briskly disciplined, stood ranked and
ready. The chief part were in Sir Daniel's livery, murrey and
blue, which gave the greater show to their array. The best armed
rode first; and away out of sight, at the tail of the column, came
the sorry reinforcement of the night before. Sir Daniel looked
with pride along the line.
"Here be the lads to serve you in a pinch," he said.
"They are pretty men, indeed," replied the messenger. "It but
augments my sorrow that ye had not marched the earlier."
"Well," said the knight, "what would ye? The beginning of a feast
and the end of a fray, sir messenger;" and he mounted into his
saddle. "Why! how now!" he cried. "John! Joanna! Nay, by the
sacred rood! where is she? Host, where is that girl?"
"Girl, Sir Daniel?" cried the landlord. "Nay, sir, I saw no girl."
"Boy, then, dotard!" cried the knight. "Could ye not see it was a
wench? She in the murrey-coloured mantle - she that broke her fast
with water, rogue - where is she?"
"Nay, the saints bless us! Master John, ye called him," said the
host. "Well, I thought none evil. He is gone. I saw him - her - I
saw her in the stable a good hour agone; 'a was saddling a grey
"Now, by the rood!" cried Sir Daniel, "the wench was worth five
hundred pound to me and more."
"Sir knight," observed the messenger, with bitterness, "while that
ye are here, roaring for five hundred pounds, the realm of England
is elsewhere being lost and won."
"It is well said," replied Sir Daniel. "Selden, fall me out with
six cross-bowmen; hunt me her down. I care not what it cost; but,
at my returning, let me find her at the Moat House. Be it upon
your head. And now, sir messenger, we march."
And the troop broke into a good trot, and Selden and his six men
were left behind upon the street of Kettley, with the staring
CHAPTER II - IN THE FEN
It was near six in the May morning when Dick began to ride down
into the fen upon his homeward way. The sky was all blue; the
jolly wind blew loud and steady; the windmill-sails were spinning;
and the willows over all the fen rippling and whitening like a
field of corn. He had been all night in the saddle, but his heart
was good and his body sound, and he rode right merrily.
The path went down and down into the marsh, till he lost sight of
all the neighbouring landmarks but Kettley windmill on the knoll
behind him, and the extreme top of Tunstall Forest far before. On
either hand there were great fields of blowing reeds and willows,
pools of water shaking in the wind, and treacherous bogs, as green
as emerald, to tempt and to betray the traveller. The path lay
almost straight through the morass. It was already very ancient;
its foundation had been laid by Roman soldiery; in the lapse of
ages much of it had sunk, and every here and there, for a few
hundred yards, it lay submerged below the stagnant waters of the
About a mile from Kettley, Dick came to one such break in the plain
line of causeway, where the reeds and willows grew dispersedly like
little islands and confused the eye. The gap, besides, was more
than usually long; it was a place where any stranger might come
readily to mischief; and Dick bethought him, with something like a
pang, of the lad whom he had so imperfectly directed. As for
himself, one look backward to where the windmill sails were turning
black against the blue of heaven - one look forward to the high
ground of Tunstall Forest, and he was sufficiently directed and
held straight on, the water washing to his horse's knees, as safe
as on a highway.
Half-way across, and when he had already sighted the path rising
high and dry upon the farther side, he was aware of a great
splashing on his right, and saw a grey horse, sunk to its belly in
the mud, and still spasmodically struggling. Instantly, as though
it had divined the neighbourhood of help, the poor beast began to
neigh most piercingly. It rolled, meanwhile, a blood-shot eye,
insane with terror; and as it sprawled wallowing in the quag,
clouds of stinging insects rose and buzzed about it in the air.
"Alack!" thought Dick, "can the poor lad have perished? There is
his horse, for certain - a brave grey! Nay, comrade, if thou criest
to me so piteously, I will do all man can to help thee. Shalt not
lie there to drown by inches!"
And he made ready his crossbow, and put a quarrel through the
Dick rode on after this act of rugged mercy, somewhat sobered in
spirit, and looking closely about him for any sign of his less
happy predecessor in the way. "I would I had dared to tell him
further," he thought; "for I fear he has miscarried in the slough."
And just as he was so thinking, a voice cried upon his name from
the causeway side, and, looking over his shoulder, he saw the lad's
face peering from a clump of reeds.
"Are ye there?" he said, reining in. "Ye lay so close among the
reeds that I had passed you by. I saw your horse bemired, and put
him from his agony; which, by my sooth! an ye had been a more
merciful rider, ye had done yourself. But come forth out of your
hiding. Here be none to trouble you."
"Nay, good boy, I have no arms, nor skill to use them if I had,"
replied the other, stepping forth upon the pathway.
"Why call me 'boy'?" cried Dick. "Y' are not, I trow, the elder of