For a while Hugh and Eve heard nothing, but Grey Dick's ears
were sharper than theirs, quick as these might be. About half a
minute later, however, they caught the sound of horses' hoofs
ringing on the hard earth, followed by that of voices and the
crackle of breaking reeds.
Two of the speakers appeared and pulled up their horses near by
in a dry hollow that lay between them and the river bank. Peeping
between the reeds that grew about the mouth of the earth-dwelling,
Eve saw them.
"My father and the Frenchman," she whispered. "Look!" And she
slid back a little so that Hugh might see.
Peering through the stems of the undergrowth, set as it were in
a little frame against the red and ominous sky, the eyes of Hugh de
Cressi fell upon Sir Edmund Acour, a gallant, even a
splendid-looking knight—that was his first impression of him. Broad
shouldered, graceful, in age neither young nor old, clean featured,
quick eyed, with a mobile mouth and a little, square-cut beard,
soft and languid voiced, black haired, richly dressed in a fur
robe, and mounted on a fine black horse, such was the man.
Staring at Acour, and remembering that he, too, loved Red Eve,
Hugh grew suddenly ashamed. How could a mere merchant compare
himself with this magnificent lord, this high-bred, many-titled
favourite of courts and of fortune? How could he rival him, he who
had never yet travelled a hundred miles from the place where he was
born, save once, when he sailed on a trading voyage to Calais? As
well might a hooded crow try to match a peregrine that swooped to
snatch away the dove from beneath its claws. Yes, he, Hugh, was the
grey crow, Eve was the dove whom he had captured, and yonder
shifty-eyed Count was the fleet, fierce peregrine who soon would
tear out his heart and bear the quarry far away. Hugh shivered a
little as the thought struck him, not with fear for himself, but at
the dread of that great and close bereavement.
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
Acour was speaking in English, which he used with a strong
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 paces—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
"Indeed? Then I should like to see him shoot—at somebody else,"
answered Acour, for in those days such skill was of interest to all
soldiers. "Kill Hugh de Cressi if you will, friend, but spare Grey
Dick; he might be useful."
"Ay, Sir Edmund," broke in the young man furiously, "I'll kill
him if I can catch him, the dog who dares to bring scandal on my
sister's name. Let the Saints but give me five minutes face to face
with him alone, with none to help either of us, and I'll beat him
to a pulp, and hang what's left of him upon the nearest tree to be
a warning to all such puppies."
"I note the challenge," said Sir Edmund, "and should the chance
come my way will keep the lists for you with pleasure, since
whatever this Hugh may be I doubt that from his blood he'll prove
no coward. But, young sir, you must catch your puppy ere you hang
him, and if he is in this marsh he must have gone to ground."
"I think so, too, Sir Edmund; but, if so, we'll soon start the
badger. Look yonder." And he pointed to smoke rising at several
spots half a mile or more away.
"What have you done, son?" asked Sir John anxiously.
"Fired the reeds," he said with a savage laugh, "and set men to
watch that the game does not break back. Oh, have no fear, father!
Red Eve will take no harm. The girl ever loved fire. Moreover, if
she is there she will run to the water before it, and be
"Fool," thundered Sir John, "do you know your sister so little?
As like as not she'll stay and burn, and then I'll lose my girl,
who, when all is said, is worth ten of you! Well, what is done
cannot be undone, but if death comes of this mad trick it is on
your head, not mine! To the bank, and watch with me, Sir Edmund,
for we can do no more."
Ten minutes later, and the fugitives in the mound, peeping out
from their hole, saw clouds of smoke floating above them.
"You should have let me shoot, Master Hugh," said Grey Dick, in
his hard, dry whisper. "I'd have had these three, at least, and
they'd have been good company on the road to hell, which now we
must walk alone."
"Nay," answered Hugh sternly, "I'll murder none, though they
strive to murder us, and these least of all," and he glanced at
Eve, who sat staring out of the mouth of the hole, her chin resting
on her hand. "You had best give in, sweetheart," he said hoarsely.
"Fire is worse than foes, and it draws near."
"I fear it less," she answered. "Moreover, marriage is worse
Hugh took counsel with Grey Dick.
"This place will burn like tinder," he said, pointing to the dry
reeds which grew thickly all about them, and to the masses of
brushwood and other rubbish that had drifted against the side of
the little mound in times of flood. "If the fire reaches us we must
perish of flame, or smoke, or both."
"Ay," answered Dick, "like old witch Sarah when they burned her
in her house. She screeched a lot, though some say it was her cat
that screeched and she died mum."
"If we could get into the water now, Dick?"
He shook his ash-hued head.
"The pools are frozen. Moreover, as well die of heat as cold; I
love not ice-water."
"What counsel, then, Dick?"
"You'll not take the best, master—to loose my bow upon them.
That fine fellow did well to be afraid, for had you not knocked up
my hand there'd be an arrow sticking in his throat by now. He was
right, Death walked near to him."
"It must not be, Dick, unless they strike first. What else?"
"Perchance, when the smoke begins to trouble them, which it must
soon, they'll move. Then we will run for the river; 'tis but fifty
yards. The Lady Eve can swim like a duck, and so can you. The tide
has turned, and will bear you to the point, and I'll hold the bank
against any who try to follow, and take my chance. What say you of
that plan, lady?"
"That it is 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 the 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
"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.
"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 rose, 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
"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
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 this Frenchman will set on me,
or raise a blood-feud against me. Tell me now, Sir John
"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
"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
"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 you 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."
Now at these bold words arose a clamour of voices speaking in
French and English.
"What say you to this, Sir Edmund?" shouted Sir John Clavering
above them all. "You are a great lord and a wealthy, beloved by me
also as the affianced of my daughter, but I am a loyal Englishman
who have no truck with traitors to my King."
"What say I?" asked Sir Edmund calmly. "I say that if this
fellow can fight as well as he can lie, your son has but a poor
chance with him. As you know well, I came hither from France to
visit my estates, not to learn what strength his Grace of England,
my liege lord, gathers for the new war with Philip."
"Enough," said Sir John; "though this is the first I have heard
of such a war, for it would seem that you know more of King
Edward's mind than I do. The light begins to fail, there is no time
for talk. Stand clear, all men, and let these two settle it."
"Ay," croaked Grey Dick, "stand clear, all men, while my master
cuts the throat of his cousin Clavering, since he who stands not
clear shall presently lie straight!" and he tapped his terrible bow
with his right hand, then instantly seized the string again.
The two were face to face. Round them on horse and on foot, at a
distance perhaps of twenty paces, were gathered the Clavering men
and the French Count's troop; for now all had come up from the far
parts of the marsh. Only toward the river side the ring was open,
whether because those who made it feared Grey Dick's arrows, or in
order that he and Red Eve might see everything that chanced.
The pair were well matched, for though Hugh was the taller,
John, his senior by a year, was thicker set and better trained in
arms. But the sword of John was longer by a hand's breadth than
that Hugh carried as a merchant, which was heavy, of such a make as
the ancient Romans used, and sharpened on either edge. Neither of
them wore armour, since Hugh had no right to do so, and John had
not come out to fight.
They stood still for a moment in the midst of a breathless
silence, the red light of the stormy sunset striking across them
both. Everything was red, the smoke-clouds rising from the sullen,
burning marsh, into which the fire was still eating far away; the
waters of the Blythe brimful with the tide that had just turned
toward the sea, the snow and ice itself. Even the triangle of wild
swans brought by the hard weather from the northern lands looked
red as they pursued their heavy and majestic flight toward the
south, heedless of man and his affairs beneath.
Not long did these remain heedless, however, since, either to
show his skill or for some other purpose of his own, Grey Dick
lifted his bow and loosed an arrow, almost, it seemed, at hazard.
Yet that arrow pierced the leader of the flock, so that down it
came in wide circles, and in a last struggle hovered for a moment
over the group of men, then fell among them with a thud, the blood
from its pierced breast bespattering Sir Edmund Acour and John
Clavering's black hair.
"An ill omen for those two, and especially for him who wears a
white swan for a crest," said a voice. But at the moment none took
much notice, except Grey Dick, who chuckled at the success of his
shot, since all were intent on greater matters—namely, which of
those two young men should die.
Sir John, the father, rode forward and addressed them.
"To the death without mercy to the fallen," he said grimly.
They bent their heads in answer.
"Now!" he cried, and reined back his horse.
"The first home thrust wins," whispered Acour to him, as he
wiped the blood of the swan off his sleeve. "Thank God, your son's
sword is the longer!"
Perhaps the pair heard this whisper, or, perhaps, being without
mail, they knew that it was so. At least for a while they circled
round and round each other, but out of reach.
Then at length John Clavering rushed in and thrust. Hugh sprang
back before his point. Again he rushed and thrust and again Hugh
sprang back. A third time and Hugh fairly ran, whereon a shout went
up from the Claverings.
"The chapman's afraid!" cried one. "Give him a yard measure,"
shouted another; "he cannot handle steel!"
Eve turned her face, and her very eyes were sick with doubt.
"Is it true?" she gasped.
"Ay," answered Dick the Archer, "it's true that he draws him to
the river bank! Those who wait will learn why. Oh, the swan! He
sees not the swan!"
As he spoke, Hugh, in his retreat before another of John
Clavering's rushes, struck his foot against the great dead bird,
and staggered. John leapt upon him, and he went down.
"Is he pierced?" muttered Eve.
"Nay, missed," answered Dick, "by half an inch. Ah, I thought
As the words left his lips Clavering fell sprawling on his back,
for Hugh had caught his leg with his left arm and thrown him, so
that they lay both together on the ground.
There they closed, rolling over each other, but too close to
"Now good-night, John," said Dick, with his hoarse chuckle.
"Throat him, master—throat him!"
The flurry in the snow was at an end. John lay on his back, de
Cressi knelt on him and lifted his short sword.
"Do you yield?" men heard him say.
"Nay," answered Clavering. Then suddenly Hugh rose and suffered
his adversary to do likewise.
"I'll not stick you like a hog!" he said, and some cried, "Well
done!" for the act seemed noble. Only Acour muttered, "Fool!"
Next instant they were at it again, but this time it was Hugh
who attacked and John who gave back right to the river's edge, for
skill and courage seemed to fail him at once.
"Turn your head, lady," said Dick, "for now one must die." But
Eve could not.
The swords flashed for the last time in the red light, then that
of de Cressi vanished. Clavering threw his arms wide, and fell
backward. A splash as of a great stone thrown into water, and all
Hugh stood a moment on the river's bank, staring at the stream
beneath; then he turned and began to walk slowly toward the dead
Ere ever he reached it Sir John Clavering fell from his horse in
a swoon, and a shout of rage went up from all his people.
"Kill him!" they yelled, and leapt forward.
Now Hugh understood, and ran for the point of land. One man, a
Frenchman, got in front of him. He cut him down, and sped on.
"What now?" said Eve, as he joined them.
He did not answer, only pointed first to the Clavering folk and
next to the water, showing that she must choose between the
"Swim for it!" growled Grey Dick. "I'll hold them back a while
and then join you," and as he spoke his bow twanged.
For an instant Eve paused, then threw off her scarlet cloak.
"Remember, I slew your brother!" said Hugh hoarsely.
"I remember that he would have slain you," she answered; and
leapt straight from the point into the icy flood, beneath which her
When it rose again there was another head beside it, that of
dead John, who appeared for one moment, to be seen no more for
ever, since ere morning the ocean had him.
Now Hugh leapt after her, and presently the pair of them were
swimming side by side to the river's further shore. Then, as now,
it was but a narrow stream. Yet they did not reach it easily, for,
cumbered as they were with clothes, and numbed by the ice-cold
water, the fierce tide caught them and carried them beyond the
bend. There they were lost in the gathering darkness, so that most
of those who watched believed that they had sunk and drowned. But
it was not so, for after a long struggle they came safe to shore
near to a clump of willows, and clambered over the frozen mud to
the heath beyond.
"First fire, then water," said Hugh, in a mazed voice.
"You have missed out love and death," answered the girl—"a full
feast for a day that is not done. But whither now?"
"To take sanctuary at the Preceptory and raise my kin. Forward,
Eve, ere you freeze."
"I think there is that in me which will not freeze," she
answered; and broke into a run.
Now night closed in, and the snow which had been threatening all
day began to fall, making their path over the heath difficult.
"We need Grey Dick to guide us; but alack, I fear he is dead!"
"I think others will be dead, not Dick," she answered.
Just then they heard a footstep behind them.
Hugh wheeled round and drew his sword, but almost before it had
left the scabbard a long figure glided out of the snow, and
"More to the left, master, more to the left, unless you would
make your peace on Blythburgh bridge, where some would be glad to
"How went it?" asked Hugh shortly.
"Not well. I shot thrice and slew three men, two of the French
knights, and Thomas of Kessland, against whom I had a score that
now is settled. But the fourth time I missed."
"Who?" asked Eve between her teeth as she ran beside him.
"The Frenchman who means to marry you. When the others fell back
he came at me on his horse as I was setting a fresh arrow, thinking
to get me. I had to shoot quick, and aimed low for his heart,
because in that light I could not make certain of his face. He saw,
and jerked up the horses head, so that the shaft took it in the
throat and killed the beast without hurting its rider. He was off
in an instant and at me, with others, before I could draw again. So
I thought it time to go, which I did, backward, as he thrust.
Perhaps he thinks he killed me, as I meant he should, only when he
looks at his sword he'll find it clean. That's all."
And again Grey Dick chuckled.