by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saranac Lake, April 8, 1888.
Note: Look up difficult words at The Free Dictionary.
The next morning Dick was up before the sun, and having dressed himself to the best advantage with the aid of the Lord Foxham’s baggage, and got good reports of Joan, he set forth on foot to walk away his impatience.
For some while he made rounds among the soldiery, who were getting to arms in the wintry twilight of the dawn and by the red glow of torches; but gradually he strolled further afield, and at length passed clean beyond the outposts, and walked alone in the frozen forest, waiting for the sun.
His thoughts were both quiet and happy. His brief favour with the Duke he could not find it in his heart to mourn; with Joan to wife, and my Lord Foxham for a faithful patron, he looked most happily upon the future; and in the past he found but little to regret.
As he thus strolled and pondered, the solemn light of the morning grew more clear, the east was already coloured by the sun, and a little scathing wind blew up the frozen snow. He turned to go home; but even as he turned, his eye lit upon a figure behind, a tree.
“Stand!” he cried. “Who goes?”
The figure stepped forth and waved its hand like a dumb person. It was arrayed like a pilgrim, the hood lowered over the face, but Dick, in an instant, recognized Sir Daniel.
He strode up to him, drawing his sword; and the knight, putting his hand in his bosom, as if to seize a hidden weapon, steadfastly awaited his approach.
“Well, Dickon,” said Sir Daniel, “how is it to be? Do you make war upon the fallen?”
“I made no war upon your life,” replied the lad; “I was your true friend until you sought for mine; but you have sought for it greedily.”
“No—self-defense,” replied the knight. “And now, boy, the news of this battle, and the presence of yonder crooked devil here in mine own wood, have broken me beyond all help. I go to Holywood for sanctuary; thence overseas, with what I can carry, and to begin life again in Burgundy or France.”
“You may not go to Holywood,” said Dick.
“How! May not?” asked the knight.
“Look, Sir Daniel, this is my marriage morn,” said Dick; “and yonder sun that is to rise will make the brightest day that ever shone for me. Your life is forfeit—doubly forfeit, for my father’s death and your own practices to towards me. But I myself have done amiss; I have brought about men’s deaths; and upon this glad day I will be neither judge nor hangman. If you were the devil, I would not lay a hand on you. If you were the devil, you might go where you will for me. Seek God’s forgiveness; mine you have freely. But to go on to Holywood is different. I carry arms for York, and I will suffer no spy within their lines. Know, then, for certain, if you set one foot before another, I will uplift my voice and call the nearest post to seize you.”
“You mock me,” said Sir Daniel. “I have no safety out of Holywood.”
“I care no more,” returned Richard. “I let you go east, west, or south; north I will not. Holywood is shut against you. Go, and seek not to return. For, once you are gone, I will warn every post about this army, and there will be so shrewd a watch upon all pilgrims that, once again, were you the very devil, you would find it ruin to try to trick them in disguise.”
“You doom me,” said Sir Daniel, gloomily.
“I doom you not,” returned Richard. “If it so please you to set your valour against mine, come on; and though I fear it be disloyal to my party, I will take the challenge openly and fully, fight you with mine own single strength, and call for none to help me. So shall I avenge my father, with a perfect conscience.”
“Yes,” said Sir Daniel, “you have a long sword against my dagger.”
“I rely upon Heaven only,” answered Dick, casting his sword some way behind him on the snow. “Now, if your ill-fate bids you, come; and, under the pleasure of the Almighty, I make myself bold to feed your bones to foxes.”
“I did but try you, Dick,” returned the knight, with an uneasy semblance of a laugh. “I would not spill your blood.”
“Go, then, before it be too late,” replied Shelton. “In five minutes I will call the post. I do perceive that I am too long-suffering. Had but our places been reversed, I should have been bound hand and foot some minutes past.”
“Well, Dick, I will go,” replied Sir Daniel. “When we next meet, you will be sorry you were so harsh.”
And with these words, the knight turned and began to move off under the trees. Dick watched him with strangely-mingled feelings, as he went, swiftly and warily, and ever and again turning a wicked eye upon the lad who had spared him, and whom he still suspected.
There was upon one side of where he went a thicket, strongly matted with green ivy, and, even in its winter state, impervious to the eye. In it, all of a sudden, a bow sounded like a note of music. An arrow flew, and with a great, choked cry of agony and anger, the Knight of Tunstall threw up his hands and fell forward in the snow.
Dick bounded to his side and raised him. His face desperately worked; his whole body was shaken by contorting spasms.
“Is the arrow black?” he gasped.
“It is black,” replied Dick, gravely.
And then, before he could add one word, a desperate seizure of pain shook the wounded man from head to foot, so that his body leaped in Dick’s supporting arms, and with the extremity of that pang his spirit fled in silence.
The young man laid him back gently on the snow and prayed for that unprepared and guilty spirit, and as he prayed the sun came up at a bound, and the robins began chirping in the ivy.
When he rose to his feet, he found another man upon his knees but a few steps behind him, and, still with uncovered head, he waited until that prayer also should be over. It took long; the man, with his head bowed and his face covered with his hands, prayed like one in a great disorder or distress of mind; and by the bow that lay beside him, Dick judged that he was no other than the archer who had laid Sir Daniel low.
At length he, also, rose, and showed the countenance of Ellis Duckworth.
“Richard,” he said, very gravely, “I heard you. You took the better part and pardoned; I took the worse, and there lies the clay of mine enemy. Pray for me.”
And he wrung him by the hand.
“Sir,” said Richard, “I will pray for you, indeed; though how I may prevail I know not. But if you have so long pursued revenge, and find it now of such a sorry flavour, I think, were it not well to pardon others? Hatch—he is dead, poor shrew! I would have spared a better; and for Sir Daniel, here lies his body. But for the priest, if I might anywise prevail, I would have you let him go.”
A flash came into the eyes of Ellis Duckworth.
“No,” he said, “the devil is still strong within me. But be at rest; the Black Arrow flies no more—the fellowship is broken. They that still live shall come to their quiet and ripe end, in Heaven’s good time, for me; and for yourself, go where your better fortune calls you, and think no more of Ellis.”