Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“I cannot, Dick; the parchments are not written out, and his Grace is bent upon this pleasure match. Moreover, man, all these archers here—yes, and their betters also—would say that you had fled because you were an empty boaster who dared not face the trial.”

“They’d say that, would they?” snarled Grey Dick. “Yes, they’d say that, which would be bitter hearing for you and me. Well, they shall not say it. Yet I tell you, master,” he added in a burst of words, “although I know not why, I’d rather bear their scorn and be away on the road to Dunwich.”

“It may not be, Dick,” replied Hugh, shaking his head doubtfully. “See, here they come to fetch us.”

In a glade of the forest of Windsor situate near to the castle and measuring some twenty-five score yards of open level ground, stood Grey Dick, a strange, uncouth figure, at whom the archers of the guard laughed, nudging each other. In his bony hand however, he held that at which they did not laugh, namely, the great black bow, six feet six inches long, which he said had come to him “from the sea,” and was fashioned, not of yew, but of some heavy, close-grained wood, grown perhaps in Southern or even in far Eastern lands. Still, one of them, who had tried to draw this bow to his ear and could not, said aloud that “the Suffolk man would do naught with that clumsy pole.” Whereat, Grey Dick, who heard him, grinned, showing his white teeth like an angry dog.

Near by, on horseback and on foot, were the King, the young Prince Edward, and many knights and ladies; while on the other side stood scores of soldiers and other folk from the castle, who came to see this ugly fellow well beaten at his own game.

“Dick,” whispered Hugh, “shoot now as you never shot before. Teach them a lesson for the honour of Suffolk.”

“Let me be, master,” he grumbled. “I told you I would do my best.”

Then he sat himself down on the grass and began to examine his arrows one by one, to all appearance taking no heed of anything else.

Presently came the first test. At a distance of five score yards was set a little “clout,” or target, of white wood, not more than two feet square. This clout had a red mark, or eye, three inches across, painted in its centre, and stood not very high above the sward.

“Now, Richard,” said the King, “three of the best archers that we have about us have been chosen to shoot against you and each other by their fellows. Say, will you draw first or last?”

“Last, Sire,” he answered, “that I may know their mettle.”

Then a man stepped forward, a strong and gallant looking fellow, and loosed his three arrows. The first missed the clout, the second pierced the white wood, and the third hit the red eye.

The clout having been changed, and the old one brought to the King with the arrows in it, the second man took his turn. This time all three of the arrows hit the mark, one of them being in the red. Again it was changed, and forth came the great archer of the guard, a tall and clear-eyed man who was known as Jack Green, and whom, it was said, none had ever beaten. He drew, and the arrow went home in the red on its left edge. He drew again, and the arrow went home in the red on its right edge. He drew a third time, and the arrow went home straight in the very centre of the red, where was a little black spot.

Now a great laugh went up, since clearly the Suffolk man was beaten ere ever he began.

“Your Dick may do as well; he can do no better,” said the King, when the target was brought to him.

Grey Dick looked at it.

“A boon, your Grace,” said Dick. “Grant that this clout may be set up again with the arrows fast. Any may know them from mine since they are grey, whereas those I make are black, for I am a fletcher in my spare hours, and love my own handiwork.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider