"Good Master Shelton," said the other, "prithee forgive me. I have
none the least intention to offend. Rather I would in every way
beseech your gentleness and favour, for I am now worse bested than
ever, having lost my way, my cloak, and my poor horse. To have a
riding-rod and spurs, and never a horse to sit upon! And before
all," he added, looking ruefully upon his clothes - "before all, to
be so sorrily besmirched!"
"Tut!" cried Dick. "Would ye mind a ducking? Blood of wound or
dust of travel - that's a man's adornment."
"Nay, then, I like him better plain," observed the lad. "But,
prithee, how shall I do? Prithee, good Master Richard, help me
with your good counsel. If I come not safe to Holywood, I am
"Nay," said Dick, dismounting, "I will give more than counsel.
Take my horse, and I will run awhile, and when I am weary we shall
change again, that so, riding and running, both may go the
So the change was made, and they went forward as briskly as they
durst on the uneven causeway, Dick with his hand upon the other's
"How call ye your name?" asked Dick.
"Call me John Matcham," replied the lad.
"And what make ye to Holywood?" Dick continued.
"I seek sanctuary from a man that would oppress me," was the
answer. "The good Abbot of Holywood is a strong pillar to the
"And how came ye with Sir Daniel, Master Matcham?" pursued Dick.
"Nay," cried the other, "by the abuse of force! He hath taken me
by violence from my own place; dressed me in these weeds; ridden
with me till my heart was sick; gibed me till I could 'a' wept; and
when certain of my friends pursued, thinking to have me back, claps
me in the rear to stand their shot! I was even grazed in the right
foot, and walk but lamely. Nay, there shall come a day between us;
he shall smart for all!"
"Would ye shoot at the moon with a hand-gun?" said Dick. "'Tis a
valiant knight, and hath a hand of iron. An he guessed I had made
or meddled with your flight, it would go sore with me."
"Ay, poor boy," returned the other, "y' are his ward, I know it.
By the same token, so am I, or so he saith; or else he hath bought
my marriage - I wot not rightly which; but it is some handle to
oppress me by."
"Boy again!" said Dick.
"Nay, then, shall I call you girl, good Richard?" asked Matcham.
"Never a girl for me," returned Dick. "I do abjure the crew of
"Ye speak boyishly," said the other. "Ye think more of them than
"Not I," said Dick, stoutly. "They come not in my mind. A plague
of them, say I! Give me to hunt and to fight and to feast, and to
live with jolly foresters. I never heard of a maid yet that was
for any service, save one only; and she, poor shrew, was burned for
a witch and the wearing of men's clothes in spite of nature."
Master Matcham crossed himself with fervour, and appeared to pray.
"What make ye?" Dick inquired.
"I pray for her spirit," answered the other, with a somewhat
"For a witch's spirit?" Dick cried. "But pray for her, an ye list;
she was the best wench in Europe, was this Joan of Arc. Old
Appleyard the archer ran from her, he said, as if she had been
Mahoun. Nay, she was a brave wench."
"Well, but, good Master Richard," resumed Matcham, "an ye like
maids so little, y' are no true natural man; for God made them
twain by intention, and brought true love into the world, to be
man's hope and woman's comfort."
"Faugh!" said Dick. "Y' are a milk-sopping baby, so to harp on
women. An ye think I be no true man, get down upon the path, and
whether at fists, back-sword, or bow and arrow, I will prove my
manhood on your body."
"Nay, I am no fighter," said Matcham, eagerly. "I mean no tittle
of offence. I meant but pleasantry. And if I talk of women, it is
because I heard ye were to marry."
"I to marry!" Dick exclaimed. "Well, it is the first I hear of it.
And with whom was I to marry?"
"One Joan Sedley," replied Matcham, colouring. "It was Sir
Daniel's doing; he hath money to gain upon both sides; and, indeed,
I have heard the poor wench bemoaning herself pitifully of the
match. It seems she is of your mind, or else distasted to the
"Well! marriage is like death, it comes to all," said Dick, with
resignation. "And she bemoaned herself? I pray ye now, see there
how shuttle-witted are these girls: to bemoan herself before that
she had seen me! Do I bemoan myself? Not I. An I be to marry, I
will marry dry-eyed! But if ye know her, prithee, of what favour
is she? fair or foul? And is she shrewish or pleasant?"
"Nay, what matters it?" said Matcham. "An y' are to marry, ye can
but marry. What matters foul or fair? These be but toys. Y' are
no milksop, Master Richard; ye will wed with dry eyes, anyhow."
"It is well said," replied Shelton. "Little I reck."
"Your lady wife is like to have a pleasant lord," said Matcham.
"She shall have the lord Heaven made her for," returned Dick. "It
trow there be worse as well as better."
"Ah, the poor wench!" cried the other.
"And why so poor?" asked Dick.
"To wed a man of wood," replied his companion. "O me, for a wooden
"I think I be a man of wood, indeed," said Dick, "to trudge afoot
the while you ride my horse; but it is good wood, I trow."
"Good Dick, forgive me," cried the other. "Nay, y' are the best
heart in England; I but laughed. Forgive me now, sweet Dick."
"Nay, no fool words," returned Dick, a little embarrassed by his
companion's warmth. "No harm is done. I am not touchy, praise the
And at that moment the wind, which was blowing straight behind them
as they went, brought them the rough flourish of Sir Daniel's
"Hark!" said Dick, "the tucket soundeth."
"Ay," said Matcham, "they have found my flight, and now I am
unhorsed!" and he became pale as death.
"Nay, what cheer!" returned Dick. "Y' have a long start, and we
are near the ferry. And it is I, methinks, that am unhorsed."
"Alack, I shall be taken!" cried the fugitive. "Dick, kind Dick,
beseech ye help me but a little!"
"Why, now, what aileth thee?" said Dick. "Methinks I help you very
patently. But my heart is sorry for so spiritless a fellow! And
see ye here, John Matcham - sith John Matcham is your name - I,
Richard Shelton, tide what betideth, come what may, will see you
safe in Holywood. The saints so do to me again if I default you.
Come, pick me up a good heart, Sir White-face. The way betters
here; spur me the horse. Go faster! faster! Nay, mind not for me;
I can run like a deer."
So, with the horse trotting hard, and Dick running easily
alongside, they crossed the remainder of the fen, and came out upon
the banks of the river by the ferryman's hut.
CHAPTER III - THE FEN FERRY
The river Till was a wide, sluggish, clayey water, oozing out of
fens, and in this part of its course it strained among some score
of willow-covered, marshy islets.
It was a dingy stream; but upon this bright, spirited morning
everything was become beautiful. The wind and the martens broke it
up into innumerable dimples; and the reflection of the sky was
scattered over all the surface in crumbs of smiling blue.
A creek ran up to meet the path, and close under the bank the
ferryman's hut lay snugly. It was of wattle and clay, and the
grass grew green upon the roof.
Dick went to the door and opened it. Within, upon a foul old
russet cloak, the ferryman lay stretched and shivering; a great
hulk of a man, but lean and shaken by the country fever.
"Hey, Master Shelton," he said, "be ye for the ferry? Ill times,
ill times! Look to yourself. There is a fellowship abroad. Ye
were better turn round on your two heels and try the bridge."
"Nay; time's in the saddle," answered Dick. "Time will ride, Hugh
Ferryman. I am hot in haste."
"A wilful man!" returned the ferryman, rising. "An ye win safe to
the Moat House, y' have done lucky; but I say no more." And then
catching sight of Matcham, "Who be this?" he asked, as he paused,
blinking, on the threshold of his cabin.
"It is my kinsman, Master Matcham," answered Dick.
"Give ye good day, good ferryman," said Matcham, who had
dismounted, and now came forward, leading the horse. "Launch me
your boat, I prithee; we are sore in haste."
The gaunt ferryman continued staring.
"By the mass!" he cried at length, and laughed with open throat.
Matcham coloured to his neck and winced; and Dick, with an angry
countenance, put his hand on the lout's shoulder.
"How now, churl!" he cried. "Fall to thy business, and leave
mocking thy betters."
Hugh Ferryman grumblingly undid his boat, and shoved it a little
forth into the deep water. Then Dick led in the horse, and Matcham
"Ye be mortal small made, master," said Hugh, with a wide grin;
"something o' the wrong model, belike. Nay, Master Shelton, I am
for you," he added, getting to his oars. "A cat may look at a
king. I did but take a shot of the eye at Master Matcham."
"Sirrah, no more words," said Dick. "Bend me your back."
They were by that time at the mouth of the creek, and the view
opened up and down the river. Everywhere it was enclosed with
islands. Clay banks were falling in, willows nodding, reeds
waving, martens dipping and piping. There was no sign of man in
the labyrinth of waters.
"My master," said the ferryman, keeping the boat steady with one
oar, "I have a shrew guess that John-a-Fenne is on the island. He
bears me a black grudge to all Sir Daniel's. How if I turned me up
stream and landed you an arrow-flight above the path? Ye were best
not meddle with John Fenne."
"How, then? is he of this company?" asked Dick.
"Nay, mum is the word," said Hugh. "But I would go up water, Dick.
How if Master Matcham came by an arrow?" and he laughed again.
"Be it so, Hugh," answered Dick.
"Look ye, then," pursued Hugh. "Sith it shall so be, unsling me
your cross-bow - so: now make it ready - good; place me a quarrel.
Ay, keep it so, and look upon me grimly."
"What meaneth this?" asked Dick.
"Why, my master, if I steal you across, it must be under force or
fear," replied the ferryman; "for else, if John Fenne got wind of
it, he were like to prove my most distressful neighbour."
"Do these churls ride so roughly?" Dick inquired. "Do they command
Sir Daniel's own ferry?"
"Nay," whispered the ferryman, winking. "Mark me! Sir Daniel
shall down. His time is out. He shall down. Mum!" And he bent
over his oars.
They pulled a long way up the river, turned the tail of an island,
and came softly down a narrow channel next the opposite bank. Then
Hugh held water in midstream.
"I must land you here among the willows," he said.
"Here is no path but willow swamps and quagmires," answered Dick.
"Master Shelton," replied Hugh, "I dare not take ye nearer down,
for your own sake now. He watcheth me the ferry, lying on his bow.
All that go by and owe Sir Daniel goodwill, he shooteth down like
rabbits. I heard him swear it by the rood. An I had not known you
of old days - ay, and from so high upward - I would 'a' let you go
on; but for old days' remembrance, and because ye had this toy with
you that's not fit for wounds or warfare, I did risk my two poor
ears to have you over whole. Content you; I can no more, on my
Hugh was still speaking, lying on his oars, when there came a great
shout from among the willows on the island, and sounds followed as
of a strong man breasting roughly through the wood.
"A murrain!" cried Hugh. "He was on the upper island all the
while!" He pulled straight for shore. "Threat me with your bow,
good Dick; threat me with it plain," he added. "I have tried to
save your skins, save you mine!"
The boat ran into a tough thicket of willows with a crash.
Matcham, pale, but steady and alert, at a sign from Dick, ran along
the thwarts and leaped ashore; Dick, taking the horse by the
bridle, sought to follow, but what with the animal's bulk, and what
with the closeness of the thicket, both stuck fast. The horse
neighed and trampled; and the boat, which was swinging in an eddy,
came on and off and pitched with violence.
"It may not be, Hugh; here is no landing," cried Dick; but he still
struggled valiantly with the obstinate thicket and the startled
A tall man appeared upon the shore of the island, a long-bow in his
hand. Dick saw him for an instant, with the corner of his eye,
bending the bow with a great effort, his face crimson with hurry.
"Who goes?" he shouted. "Hugh, who goes?"
"'Tis Master Shelton, John," replied the ferryman.
"Stand, Dick Shelton!" bawled the man upon the island. "Ye shall
have no hurt, upon the rood! Stand! Back out, Hugh Ferryman."
Dick cried a taunting answer.
"Nay, then, ye shall go afoot," returned the man; and he let drive
The horse, struck by the shaft, lashed out in agony and terror; the
boat capsized, and the next moment all were struggling in the
eddies of the river.
When Dick came up, he was within a yard of the bank; and before his
eyes were clear, his hand had closed on something firm and strong
that instantly began to drag him forward. It was the riding-rod,
that Matcham, crawling forth upon an overhanging willow, had
opportunely thrust into his grasp.
"By the mass!" cried Dick, as he was helped ashore, "that makes a
life I owe you. I swim like a cannon-ball." And he turned
instantly towards the island.
Midway over, Hugh Ferryman was swimming with his upturned boat,
while John-a-Fenne, furious at the ill-fortune of his shot, bawled
to him to hurry.
"Come, Jack," said Shelton, "run for it! Ere Hugh can hale his
barge across, or the pair of 'em can get it righted, we may be out
And adding example to his words, he began to run, dodging among the
willows, and in marshy places leaping from tussock to tussock. He
had no time to look for his direction; all he could do was to turn
his back upon the river, and put all his heart to running.
Presently, however, the ground began to rise, which showed him he
was still in the right way, and soon after they came forth upon a
slope of solid turf, where elms began to mingle with the willows.
But here Matcham, who had been dragging far into the rear, threw
himself fairly down.
"Leave me, Dick!" he cried, pantingly; "I can no more."
Dick turned, and came back to where his companion lay.
"Nay, Jack, leave thee!" he cried. "That were a knave's trick, to
be sure, when ye risked a shot and a ducking, ay, and a drowning
too, to save my life. Drowning, in sooth; for why I did not pull
you in along with me, the saints alone can tell!"
"Nay," said Matcham, "I would 'a' saved us both, good Dick, for I
"Can ye so?" cried Dick, with open eyes. It was the one manly
accomplishment of which he was himself incapable. In the order of
the things that he admired, next to having killed a man in single
fight came swimming. "Well," he said, "here is a lesson to despise
no man. I promised to care for you as far as Holywood, and, by the
rood, Jack, y' are more capable to care for me."
"Well, Dick, we're friends now," said Matcham.
"Nay, I never was unfriends," answered Dick. "Y' are a brave lad
in your way, albeit something of a milksop, too. I never met your
like before this day. But, prithee, fetch back your breath, and
let us on. Here is no place for chatter."
"My foot hurts shrewdly," said Matcham.
"Nay, I had forgot your foot," returned Dick. "Well, we must go
the gentlier. I would I knew rightly where we were. I have clean
lost the path; yet that may be for the better, too. An they watch
the ferry, they watch the path, belike, as well. I would Sir
Daniel were back with two score men; he would sweep me these
rascals as the wind sweeps leaves. Come, Jack, lean ye on my
shoulder, ye poor shrew. Nay, y' are not tall enough. What age
are ye, for a wager? - twelve?"
"Nay, I am sixteen," said Matcham.
"Y' are poorly grown to height, then," answered Dick. "But take my
hand. We shall go softly, never fear. I owe you a life; I am a
good repayer, Jack, of good or evil."
They began to go forward up the slope.
"We must hit the road, early or late," continued Dick; "and then
for a fresh start. By the mass! but y' 'ave a rickety hand, Jack.
If I had a hand like that, I would think shame. I tell you," he
went on, with a sudden chuckle, "I swear by the mass I believe Hugh
Ferryman took you for a maid."
"Nay, never!" cried the other, colouring high.
"A' did, though, for a wager!" Dick exclaimed. "Small blame to
him. Ye look liker maid than man; and I tell you more - y' are a
strange-looking rogue for a boy; but for a hussy, Jack, ye would be
right fair - ye would. Ye would be well favoured for a wench."
"Well," said Matcham, "ye know right well that I am none."
"Nay, I know that; I do but jest," said Dick. "Ye'll be a man
before your mother, Jack. What cheer, my bully! Ye shall strike
shrewd strokes. Now, which, I marvel, of you or me, shall be first
knighted, Jack? for knighted I shall be, or die for 't. 'Sir
Richard Shelton, Knight': it soundeth bravely. But 'Sir John
Matcham' soundeth not amiss."
"Prithee, Dick, stop till I drink," said the other, pausing where a
little clear spring welled out of the slope into a gravelled basin
no bigger than a pocket. "And O, Dick, if I might come by anything
to eat! - my very heart aches with hunger."
"Why, fool, did ye not eat at Kettley?" asked Dick.
"I had made a vow - it was a sin I had been led into," stammered
Matcham; "but now, if it were but dry bread, I would eat it
"Sit ye, then, and eat," said Dick, "while that I scout a little
forward for the road." And he took a wallet from his girdle,
wherein were bread and pieces of dry bacon, and, while Matcham fell
heartily to, struck farther forth among the trees.
A little beyond there was a dip in the ground, where a streamlet
soaked among dead leaves; and beyond that, again, the trees were
better grown and stood wider, and oak and beech began to take the
place of willow and elm. The continued tossing and pouring of the
wind among the leaves sufficiently concealed the sounds of his
footsteps on the mast; it was for the ear what a moonless night is
to the eye; but for all that Dick went cautiously, slipping from
one big trunk to another, and looking sharply about him as he went.
Suddenly a doe passed like a shadow through the underwood in front
of him, and he paused, disgusted at the chance. This part of the
wood had been certainly deserted, but now that the poor deer had
run, she was like a messenger he should have sent before him to
announce his coming; and instead of pushing farther, he turned him
to the nearest well-grown tree, and rapidly began to climb.
Luck had served him well. The oak on which he had mounted was one
of the tallest in that quarter of the wood, and easily out-topped
its neighbours by a fathom and a half; and when Dick had clambered
into the topmost fork and clung there, swinging dizzily in the
great wind, he saw behind him the whole fenny plain as far as
Kettley, and the Till wandering among woody islets, and in front of
him, the white line of high-road winding through the forest. The
boat had been righted - it was even now midway on the ferry. Beyond
that there was no sign of man, nor aught moving but the wind. He
was about to descend, when, taking a last view, his eye lit upon a
string of moving points about the middle of the fen. Plainly a
small troop was threading the causeway, and that at a good pace;
and this gave him some concern as he shinned vigorously down the
trunk and returned across the wood for his companion.
CHAPTER IV - A GREENWOOD COMPANY
Matcham was well rested and revived; and the two lads, winged by
what Dick had seen, hurried through the remainder of the outwood,
crossed the road in safety, and began to mount into the high ground
of Tunstall Forest. The trees grew more and more in groves, with
heathy places in between, sandy, gorsy, and dotted with old yews.
The ground became more and more uneven, full of pits and hillocks.
And with every step of the ascent the wind still blew the shriller,
and the trees bent before the gusts like fishing-rods.
They had just entered one of the clearings, when Dick suddenly
clapped down upon his face among the brambles, and began to crawl
slowly backward towards the shelter of the grove. Matcham, in
great bewilderment, for he could see no reason for this flight,
still imitated his companion's course; and it was not until they
had gained the harbour of a thicket that he turned and begged him
For all reply, Dick pointed with his finger.
At the far end of the clearing, a fir grew high above the
neighbouring wood, and planted its black shock of foliage clear
against the sky. For about fifty feet above the ground the trunk
grew straight and solid like a column. At that level, it split
into two massive boughs; and in the fork, like a mast-headed
seaman, there stood a man in a green tabard, spying far and wide.
The sun glistened upon his hair; with one hand he shaded his eyes
to look abroad, and he kept slowly rolling his head from side to
side, with the regularity of a machine.
The lads exchanged glances.
"Let us try to the left," said Dick. "We had near fallen foully,
Ten minutes afterwards they struck into a beaten path.
"Here is a piece of forest that I know not," Dick remarked. "Where
goeth me this track?"
"Let us even try," said Matcham.
A few yards further, the path came to the top of a ridge and began
to go down abruptly into a cup-shaped hollow. At the foot, out of
a thick wood of flowering hawthorn, two or three roofless gables,
blackened as if by fire, and a single tall chimney marked the ruins
of a house.
"What may this be?" whispered Matcham.
"Nay, by the mass, I know not," answered Dick. "I am all at sea.
Let us go warily."
With beating hearts, they descended through the hawthorns. Here
and there, they passed signs of recent cultivation; fruit trees and
pot herbs ran wild among the thicket; a sun-dial had fallen in the
grass; it seemed they were treading what once had been a garden.
Yet a little farther and they came forth before the ruins of the
It had been a pleasant mansion and a strong. A dry ditch was dug
deep about it; but it was now choked with masonry, and bridged by a
fallen rafter. The two farther walls still stood, the sun shining
through their empty windows; but the remainder of the building had
collapsed, and now lay in a great cairn of ruin, grimed with fire.
Already in the interior a few plants were springing green among the
"Now I bethink me," whispered Dick, "this must be Grimstone. It
was a hold of one Simon Malmesbury; Sir Daniel was his bane! 'Twas
Bennet Hatch that burned it, now five years agone. In sooth, 'twas
pity, for it was a fair house."
Down in the hollow, where no wind blew, it was both warm and still;
and Matcham, laying one hand upon Dick's arm, held up a warning
"Hist!" he said.
Then came a strange sound, breaking on the quiet. It was twice
repeated ere they recognised its nature. It was the sound of a big
man clearing his throat; and just then a hoarse, untuneful voice
broke into singing.
"Then up and spake the master, the king of the outlaws:
'What make ye here, my merry men, among the greenwood shaws?'
And Gamelyn made answer - he looked never adown:
'O, they must need to walk in wood that may not walk in town!'"
The singer paused, a faint clink of iron followed, and then
The two lads stood looking at each other. Whoever he might be,
their invisible neighbour was just beyond the ruin. And suddenly
the colour came into Matcham's face, and next moment he had crossed
the fallen rafter, and was climbing cautiously on the huge pile of
lumber that filled the interior of the roofless house. Dick would
have withheld him, had he been in time; as it was, he was fain to
Right in the corner of the ruin, two rafters had fallen crosswise,
and protected a clear space no larger than a pew in church. Into
this the lads silently lowered themselves. There they were
perfectly concealed, and through an arrow-loophole commanded a view
upon the farther side.
Peering through this, they were struck stiff with terror at their
predicament. To retreat was impossible; they scarce dared to
breathe. Upon the very margin of the ditch, not thirty feet from