“That it is as good as another, or as bad,” she answered indifferently. “Let’s bide where we are and do what we must when we must. Nay, waste no more breath, Hugh. I’ll not yield and go home like a naughty child to be married. It was you who snatched away Grey Dick’s shaft, not I; and now I’ll save myself.”
“Red Eve!—that’s Red Eve!” muttered the henchman, with a dry chuckle of admiration. “The dead trouble neither man nor woman. Ah, she knows, she knows!”
After this there was silence for a while, save for the roar of the fire that ever drew more near.
Eve held her cloak pressed against her mouth to filter the smoke, which grew thick.
“It is time to move,” said Hugh, coughing as he spoke. “By Heaven’s grace, we are too late! Look!”
As he spoke, suddenly in the broad belt of reeds which lay between them and the river bank fire appeared in several places, caused doubtless by the flaming flakes which the strong wind had carried from behind the mound. Moreover, these new fires, burning up briskly and joining themselves together, began to advance toward the three in the hole.
“The wind has turned,” said Dick. “Now it is fire, or water if you can get there. How do you choose to die?” and as he spoke he unstrung his bow and slipped it into its leathern case.
“Neither one way nor the other,” answered Eve. “Some may die to-night, but we shall not.”
Hugh leapt up and took command.
“Cover your faces to the eyes, and run for it,” he said. “I’ll go first, then you, Eve, and Dick behind. Make for the point and leap—the water is deep there.”
They sprang to their feet and forward into the reeds. When they were almost at the edge of the fire a shout told them that they had been seen. Eve, the swift of foot, outpaced Hugh, and was the first to leap into that circle of tall flames. She was through it! They were all through it, scorched but unharmed. Thirty paces away was the little point of land where nothing grew, for the spring tides washed it, that jutted out into the waters of the Blythe, and, perhaps a hundred to their right, the Claverings poured down on them, foot and horse together.
Hugh caught his foot in a willow root and fell Eve and Grey Dick sped onward unknowing. They reached the point above the water, turned, and saw. Dick slipped his bow from its case, strung it, and set an arrow on the string. Hugh had gained his feet, but a man who had come up, sprang, and cast his arms about him. Hugh threw him to the ground, for he was very strong, and shook himself free. Then he drew the short and heavy sword that he wore, and, shouting out, “Make way!” to those who stood between him and the little promontory, started to run again.
These opened to right and left to let him pass, for they feared the look in his eyes and the steel in his hand. Only young John Clavering, who had leapt from his horse, would not budge. As Hugh tried to push past him, he struck him in the face, calling out:
“We have caught the de Cressi thief! Take him and hang him!”
At the insult of the blow and words, Hugh stopped dead and turned quite white, whereupon the men, thinking that he was afraid, closed in upon him. Then in the silence the harsh, croaking voice of Grey Dick was heard saying:
“Sir John of Clavering, bid your people let my master go, or I will send an arrow through your heart!” and he lifted the long bow and drew it.
Sir John muttered something, thinking that this was a poor way to die, and again the men fell back, except one French knight, who, perhaps, did not catch or understand his words.
This man stretched out his hand to seize Hugh, but before ever it fell upon his shoulder the bow twanged and Acour’s retainer was seen whirling round and round, cursing with pain. In the palm of his hand was an arrow that had sunk through it to the feathers.
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