“You are right; that knave shoots well,” said the Count to Sir John, who made no answer.
Now again all fell back, so that Hugh might have run for it if he would. But his blood was up, and he did not stir.
“John Clavering,” he said, addressing the young man, “just now, when I lay hid in yonder hole, I heard you say that if you had five minutes with me alone you’d beat me to a pulp and hang what was left of me on the nearest tree. Well, here I stand, and there’s a tree. Having first tried to burn me and your sister, you have struck me in the face. Will you make good your words, or shall I strike you in the face and go my way? Nay, keep your dogs off me! Grey Dick yonder has more arrows.”
Now a tumult arose, some saying one thing and some another, but all keeping an eye upon Grey Dick and his bent bow. At last Sir Edmund Acour rode forward, and in his polished, stately way said to John:
“Young sir, this merchant is in the right, and whatever his trade may be, his blood is as good as your own. After your brave words, either you should fight him or take back the blow you gave.”
Then he leaned down and whispered into John’s ear:
“Your sword is longer than his. Make an end of him and of all his trouble, lest men should laugh at you as an empty boaster.”
Now John, who was brave and needed but little urging, turned to his father and said:
“Have I your leave to whip this fellow, sir?”
“You should have asked that before you struck him in the face,” replied the knight. “You are a man grown. Do as best pleases you. Only if you take the blow, begone from Blythburgh.”
Then Eve, who all this time had been listening, called out from where she stood above the river.
“Brother John, if you fight your cousin Hugh, who is my affianced husband, and fall, on your own head be it, for know, your blood shall not stand between him and me, since it was you who struck him, and not he you. Be warned, John, and let him go, lest he should send you farther than you wish to travel. And to you, Hugh, I say, though it is much to ask, if he throws down his sword, forget that unknightly blow and come thither.”
“You hear,” said Hugh shortly to John. “Now, because she is your sister, if it’s your will I’ll begone in peace.”
“Ay,” answered John, setting his thin lips, “because you are a coward, woman-thief, and seek to live that you may bring shame upon our House. Well, that will pass when you die presently!”
“John, John, boast not,” cried Eve. “Who has shown you where you will sleep to-night?”
“Whether I shall live or die, God knows alone,” said Hugh solemnly. “But what I seek to know is, should it chance to be your lot to die, whether your people or these Frenchmen will set on me, or raise a blood-feud against me. Tell me now, Sir John Clavering.”
“If you kill my son in combat a outrance, he being the challenger,” answered the knight, “none shall lift hand against you for that deed if I can hold them back. But know that I have other cause of quarrel against you”—and he pointed to his daughter—”and that if you meddle more with her, who is not for you, certainly you shall die.”
“And, young sir,” broke in Sir Edmund, “I pray you to understand that this Lady Eve to-morrow becomes my wife with the will of her father and her kin; and that if you try to stand between us, although I may not fight you, seeing what I am and what you are, I’ll kill you like a rat when and where I get the chance! Yes,” he added, in a savage snarl, “I pledge my knightly honour that I will kill you like a rat, if I must follow you across the world to do so!”
“You will not have need to travel far if I have my will,” answered the young man sternly, “since Red Eve is mine, not yours, and, living or dead, mine she will remain. As for your fine knightly honour, Sir Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Seigneur of Cattrina, what has a traitor to his King to do with honour, one who is here as a spy of Philip of France, as the poor merchant’s lad knows well? Oh, take your hand from your sword, of which you say I am not worthy, and, since you say also that I have so many enemies, let me begin with a squire of my own degree.”
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