“You know well that I love you, to my sorrow and undoing,” she said, in a broken voice. “From childhood it has been so between us, and till the grave takes one or both it will be so, and for my part beyond it, if the priests speak true. For, whatever may be your case, I am not one to change my fancy. When I give, I give all, though it be of little worth. In truth, Hugh, if I could I would marry you to-night, though you are naught but a merchant’s son, or even—” And she paused, wiping her eyes with the back of her slim, strong hand.
“I thank you,” he answered, trembling with joy. “So it is with me. For you and no other woman I live and die; and though I am so humble I’ll be worthy of you yet. If God keeps me in breath you shall not blush for your man, Eve. Well, I am not great at words, so let us come to deeds. Will you away with me now? I think that Father Arnold would find you lodging for the night and an altar to be wed at, and to-morrow our ship sails for Flanders and for France.”
“Yes, but would your father give us passage in it, Hugh?”
“Why not? It could not deepen the feud between our Houses, which already has no bottom, and if he refused, we would take one, for the captain is my friend. And I have some little store set by; it came to me from my mother.”
“You ask much,” she said; “all a woman has, my life, perchance, as well. Yet there it is; I’ll go because I’m a fool, Hugh; and, as it chances, you are more to me than aught, and I hate this fine French lord. I tell you I sicken at his glance and shiver when he touches me. Why, if he came too near I should murder him and be hanged. I’ll go, though God alone knows the end of it.”
“Our purpose being honest, the end will be good, Eve, though perhaps before all is done we may often think it evil. And now let’s away, though I wish that you were dressed in another colour.”
“Red Eve they name me, and red is my badge, because it suits my dark face best. Cavil not at my robe, Hugh, for it is the only dowry you will get with Eve Clavering. How shall we go? By the Walberswick ferry? You have no horses.”
“Nay, but I have a skiff hidden in the reeds five furlongs off. We must keep to the heath above Walberswick, for there they might know your red cloak even after dark, and I would not have you seen till we are safe with Sir Arnold in the Preceptory. Mother of Heaven! what is that?”
“A peewit, no more,” she answered indifferently.
“Nay, it is my man Dick, calling like a peewit. That is his sign when trouble is afoot. Ah, here he comes.”
As he spoke a tall, gaunt man appeared, advancing toward them. His gait was a shambling trot that seemed slow, although, in truth, he was covering the ground with extraordinary swiftness. Moreover, he moved so silently that even on the frost-held soil his step could not be heard, and so carefully that not a reed stirred as he threaded in and out among their clumps like an otter, his head crouched down and his long bow pointed before him as though it were a spear. Half a minute more, and he was before them—a very strange man to see. His years were not so many, thirty perhaps, and yet his face looked quite old because of its lack of colouring, its thinness, and the hard lines that marked where the muscles ran down to the tight, straight mouth and up to the big forehead, over which hung hair so light that at a little distance he seemed ashen-grey. Only in this cold, rocky face, set very far apart, were two pale-blue eyes, which just now, when he chose to lift their lids that generally kept near together, as though he were half asleep, were full of fire and quick cunning.
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