The girl at his side felt the shiver, and her mind, quickened by love and peril, guessed its purport. She said nothing, for words were dangerous; only turning her beautiful face she pressed her lips upon her lover’s hand. It was her message to him; thereby, as he knew well, humble as he might be, she acknowledged him her lord forever. I am with you, said that kiss. Have no fear; in life or in death none shall divide us. He looked at her with grateful eyes, and would have spoken had she not placed her hand upon his mouth and pointed.
Acour was speaking in English, which he used with a strong French accent.
“Well, we do not find your beautiful runaway, Sir John,” he said, in a clear and cultivated voice; “and although I am not vain, for my part I cannot believe that she has come to such a place as this to meet a merchant’s clerk, she who should company with kings.”
“Yet I fear it is so, Sir Edmund,” answered Sir John Clavering, a stout, dark man of middle age. “This girl of mine is very heady, as I give warning you will find out when she is your wife. For years she has set her fancy upon Hugh de Cressi; yes, since they were boy and girl together, as I think, and while he lives I doubt she’ll never change it.”
“While he lives—then why should he continue to live, Sir John?” asked the Count indifferently. “Surely the world will not miss a chapman’s son!”
“The de Cressis are my kin, although I hate them, Sir Edmund. Also they are rich and powerful, and have many friends in high places. If this young man died by my command it would start a blood feud of which none can tell the end, for, after all, he is nobly born.”
“Then, Sir John, he shall die by mine. No, not at my own hands, since I do not fight with traders. But I have those about me who are pretty swordsmen and know how to pick a quarrel. Before a week is out there will be a funeral in Dunwich.”
“I know nothing of your men, and do not want to hear of their quarrels, past or future,” said Sir John testily.
“Of course not,” answered the Count. “I pray you, forget my words. Name of God! what an accursed and ill-omened spot is this. I feel as though I were standing by my own grave—it came upon me suddenly.” And he shivered and turned pale.
Dick lifted his bow, but Hugh knocked the arrow aside ere he could loose it.
“To those who talk of death, death often draws near,” replied Clavering, crossing himself, “though I find the place well enough, seeing the hour and season.”
“Do you—do you, Sir John? Look at that sky; look at the river beneath which has turned to blood. Hark to the howl of the wind in the reeds and the cry of the birds we cannot see. Ay, and look at our shadows on the snow. Mine lies flat by a great hole, and yours rising against yonder bank is that of a hooded man with hollow eyes—Death himself as I should limn him! There, it is gone! What a fool am I, or how strong is that wine of yours! Shall we be going also?”
“Nay, here comes my son with tidings. Well, Jack, have you found your sister?” he added, addressing a dark and somewhat saturnine young man who now rode up to them from over the crest of the hollow.
“No, sir, though we have beat the marsh through and through, so that scarce an otter could have escaped us. And yet she’s here, for Thomas of Kessland caught sight of her red cloak among the reeds, and what’s more, Hugh de Cressi is with her, and Grey Dick too, for both were seen.”
“I am glad there’s a third,” said Sir John drily, “though God save me from his arrows! This Grey Dick,” he added to the Count, “is a wild, homeless half-wit whom they call Hugh de Cressi’s shadow, but the finest archer in Suffolk, with Norfolk thrown in; one who can put a shaft through every button on your doublet at fifty spaces—ay, and bring down wild geese on the wing twice out of four times, for I have seen him do it with that black bow of his.”
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