The Black Arrow

Page 40

"Nay," returned Dick, "there is no room below; we are above the chapel. It is my murderer in the secret passage. Well, let him come; it shall go hard with him;" and he ground his teeth.

"Blow me the lights out," said the other. "Perchance he will betray himself."

They blew out both the lamps and lay still as death. The footfalls underneath were very soft, but they were clearly audible. Several times they came and went; and then there was a loud jar of a key turning in a lock, followed by a considerable silence.

Presently the steps began again, and then, all of a sudden, a chink of light appeared in the planking of the room in a far corner. It widened; a trap-door was being opened, letting in a gush of light. They could see the strong hand pushing it up; and Dick raised his cross-bow, waiting for the head to follow.

But now there came an interruption. From a distant corner of the Moat House shouts began to be heard, and first one voice, and then several, crying aloud upon a name. This noise had plainly disconcerted the murderer, for the trap-door was silently lowered to its place, and the steps hurriedly returned, passed once more close below the lads, and died away in the distance.

Here was a moment's respite. Dick breathed deep, and then, and not till then, he gave ear to the disturbance which had interrupted the attack, and which was now rather increasing than diminishing. All about the Moat House feet were running, doors were opening and slamming, and still the voice of Sir Daniel towered above all this bustle, shouting for "Joanna."

"Joanna!" repeated Dick. "Why, who the murrain should this be? Here is no Joanna, nor ever hath been. What meaneth it?"

Matcham was silent. He seemed to have drawn further away. But only a little faint starlight entered by the window, and at the far end of the apartment, where the pair were, the darkness was complete.

"Jack," said Dick, "I wot not where ye were all day. Saw ye this Joanna?"

"Nay," returned Matcham, "I saw her not."

"Nor heard tell of her?" he pursued.

The steps drew nearer. Sir Daniel was still roaring the name of Joanna from the courtyard.

"Did ye hear of her?" repeated Dick.

"I heard of her," said Matcham.

"How your voice twitters! What aileth you?" said Dick. "'Tis a most excellent good fortune, this Joanna; it will take their minds from us."

"Dick," cried Matcham, "I am lost; we are both lost. Let us flee if there be yet time. They will not rest till they have found me. Or, see! let me go forth; when they have found me, ye may flee. Let me forth, Dick--good Dick, let me away!"

She was groping for the bolt, when Dick at last comprehended.

"By the mass!" he cried, "y' are no Jack; y' are Joanna Sedley; y' are the maid that would not marry me!"

The girl paused, and stood silent and motionless. Dick, too, was silent for a little; then he spoke again.

"Joanna," he said, "y' 'ave saved my life, and I have saved yours; and we have seen blood flow, and been friends and enemies--ay, and I took my belt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were a boy. But now death has me, and my time's out, and before I die I must say this: Y' are the best maid and the bravest under heaven, and, if only I could live, I would marry you blithely; and, live or die, I love you."

She answered nothing.

"Come," he said, "speak up, Jack. Come, be a good maid, and say ye love me!"

"Why, Dick," she cried, "would I be here?"

"Well, see ye here," continued Dick, "an we but escape whole we'll marry; and an we're to die, we die, and there's an end on't. But now that I think, how found ye my chamber?"

"I asked it of Dame Hatch," she answered.

"Well, the dame's staunch," he answered; "she'll not tell upon you. We have time before us."

And just then, as if to contradict his words, feet came down the corridor, and a fist beat roughly on the door.

"Here!" cried a voice. "Open, Master Dick; open!" Dick neither moved nor answered.

"It is all over," said the girl; and she put her arms about Dick's neck.

The Black Arrow Page 41

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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