Acour sprang to his feet and his face went white as ashes. Thrice he strove to speak but could not. Then with a curse he turned and left the chamber.
“The hunt’s up,” said Father Nicholas when he had heard all this tale a little later, “and now, lord, I think that you had better away to France, unless you desire to stop without companions in the church yonder.”
“Ay, priest, I’ll away, but by God’s blood, I’ll take that Red Eve with me! For one thing she knows too much to leave her behind. For a second I mean to pay her back, and for a third, although you may think it strange, I’m mad for her. I tell you she looked wondrous standing with her back against that wall, her marble face never wincing when I told her all the lie about young de Cressi’s death—which will be holy truth when I get a chance at him—watching me out of those great, dark eyes of hers.”
“Doubtless, lord, but how did she look when she called you knave and traitor? I think you said those were her wicked words. Oh!” he added with a ring of earnestness in his smooth voice, “let this Red Eve be. At bed or board she’s no mate for you. Something fights at her side, be it angel or devil, or just raw chance. At the least she’ll prove your ruin unless you let her be.”
“Then I’ll be ruined, Nicholas, for I’ll not leave her, for a while, at any rate. What! de Noyon, whom they call Danger of Dames, beaten by a country girl who has never seen London or Paris! I’d sooner die.”
“As well may chance if the country lad and the country archer come back with Edward’s warrant in their pouch,” answered the priest, shrugging his lean shoulders. “Well, lord, what is your plan?”
“To carry her off. Can’t we manage nine stone of womanhood between us?”
“If she were dead it might be done, though hardly—over these Suffolk roads. But being very much alive with a voice to scream with, hands to fight with, a brain to think with and friends who know her from here to Yarmouth, or to Hull, and Monsieur Grey Dick’s arrows pricking us behind perchance—well, I don’t know.”
“Friend,” said Acour, tapping him on the shoulder meaningly, “there must be some way; there are always ways, and I pray you to hunt them out. Come, find me one, or stay here alone to explain affairs, first to this Dick whom you have so much upon the brain, and afterward to Edward of England or his officers.”
Father Nicholas looked at the great Count’s face. Then he looked at the ground, and, having studied it a while without result, turned his beady eyes to the heavens, where it would seem that he found inspiration.
“I am a stranger to love, thank the Saints,” he said, “but, as you know, lord, I am a master leech, and amongst other things have studied certain medicines which breed that passion in the human animal.”
“Love philtres?” queried Acour doubtfully.
“Yes, that kind of thing. One dose, and those who hate become enamoured, and those who are enamoured hate.”
“Then in God’s or Satan’s name, give her one.
Only be careful it is the right sort, for if you made a mistake so that she hated me any more than she does at present, I know not what would happen. Also if you kill her I’ll dig a sword point through you. How would the stuff work?”
“She’ll seem somewhat stupid for a while, perhaps not speak, but only smile kindly. That will last twelve hours or so, plenty of time for you to be married, and afterward, when the grosser part of the potion passes off leaving only its divine essence, why, afterward she’ll love you furiously.”
“A powerful medicine, truly, that can change the nature of woman. Moreover, I’d rather that she loved me—well, as happy brides do. Still I will put up with the fury provided it be of the good kind. And now how is it to be done?”
“Leave that to me, lord,” said Nicholas, with a cunning smile. “Give me a purse of gold, not less than ten pieces, for some is needed to melt in the mixture, and more to bribe that woman and others. For the rest, hold yourself ready to become a husband before sunset to-morrow. Go see Sir John and tell him that the lady softens. Send men on to King’s Lynn also to bid them have our ship prepared to sail the minute we appear, which with good fortune should be within forty-eight hours from now. Above all, lord, forget not that I run great risk to soul and body for your sake and that there are abbeys vacant in Normandy. Now, farewell, I must to my work, for this medicine takes much skill such as no other leech has save myself. Ay, and much prayer also, that naught may hinder its powerful working.”
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