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but, as he bowed his head in mock humility and withdrew, there came over his face the same set, vicious look that had possessed it a while ago.

So, for the first time, those two were alone together. It could scarcely be of ransom, or such solemn matters, that they were speaking in those low murmurs-broken by gaps of silence, more and more prolonged. Their heads drew so perilously close together, that the redgold tresses almost touched the crisp brown curls; and the lady's round white arm leaned against, if it did not actually press, the puissant shoulder of her companion. The turmoil in Brakespeare's blood waxed hotter and hotter. He had never in all his life before been proved by stronger temptation than may be found in light and facile amours: furthermore, he had almost forgotten the sound of a high-born woman's voice; and such an one would have carried dangerous music even had it spoken commonplaces; his senses had not been so blunted by rough camp-life, as to be unable to appreciate keenly the appliances of luxury around him; he cared not to resist. the delicious languor stealing over him, and half closed his eyes, as though the vaporous incense drowsed them. When he opened them again, they met other eyes glancing downward, with a challenge that the veriest novice could scarce have misunderstood, or the sternest saint resisted, even had his last draught been pressed from nenuphar instead of purple Cyprus grapes. Nearer and lower the lovely witchface bowed itself, till fragrant breath was warm on his cheek; nearer and nearer yet-till moist crimson lips were laid on his own, and clung there thirstingly.

The caress was scarce begun, when from the farther side of the chamber there came a rustle, as of arras violently torn aside; and, though Brakespeare sprang to his feet with the dexterity of one. familiar with sudden danger, he was only just in time. With one bound René D'Andelot cleared the space between the secret door by which he had found entrance and the estrade, and struck full at the Free Companion's broad breast with a long poignard; but, swift as was the onset, Ralph yet had time to ward the blow, and caught the thin keen blade in his left fore-arm, which it pierced from side to side. The next second, without the semblance of a wrestle, the page was down under his enemy's knee.

Brakespeare's countenance could be stern and menacing enough at times; but seldom, even in heat of battle, had it expressed actual ferocity; and surely never had it been so possessed by such a murderous

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The Countess looked sharply at her page, as she took it.

"Didst thou not hear me aright, when I said Sir Ralph Brakespeare would pledge me? Wherefore hast thou not poured for him also ?"

Réné D'Andelot rose hastily and answered-looking not at his mistress, but full at the Free Companion

"Very noble dame, as you said rightly to-night, I am your sworn servitor, in matters small or great, for life or for death; but to this Englishman owe I neither service nor homage. Let him pour for himself, an he list. He shall die of drought ere I aid him to slake his thirst."

Never, since he went near to beard his own father in his own hall, had Ralph Brakespeare endured insolence of word, look, or gesture, from any man; and of late he had been so accustomed to see others bow themselves to his will, that for an instant or two he felt more surprised than angry. But he checked his rising choler-remembering from whom the provocation came: the ridicule of a serious quarrel with that slender stripling struck him at once; and he even tried to avert the storm gathering on the châtelaine's brow.

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'Nay, chafe not, gentlest lady, nor hold yourself accountable for your menial's discourtesy. If I war not with women, I brawl not with boys. Perchance yon springald will learn better inanners ere we part company; but 'tis not in your presence I would give the lesson. The Cyprus wine will not lose its savour, or I pledge you with less good will, if I be mine own cup-bearer."

The wrath of the beautiful tyrant was not so easily appeased: it was strange to see how the melting hazel eyes roused themselves from languor, and froze into cruelty, as they were riveted on their victim.

"I am partly to blame”—she said—" for not having before chastised thy malapert humours. But this shall be speedily amended, and by sharp schooling. Begone now; and presume not to appear again in my presence, till thou hast learned to comport thyself as beseems thy station. And ye, too, Jeanne and Mathilde, may retire. I would confer with this knight touching ransom, and other grave matters, alone. Ye may wait my coming in my tiring-chamber."

The last words were spoken carelessly; yet with a kind of defiance. It was evident, that anger had only made her more recklessly bent on the accomplishing of her wayward will. Once again Réné D'Andelot seemed tempted to open revolt, and once again his nerve failed him;

but, as he bowed his head in mock humility and withdrew, there came over his face the same set, vicious look that had possessed it a while ago.

So, for the first time, those two were alone together. It could scarcely be of ransom, or such solemn matters, that they were speaking in those low murmurs-broken by gaps of silence, more and more prolonged. Their heads drew so perilously close together, that the redgold tresses almost touched the crisp brown curls; and the lady's round white arm leaned against, if it did not actually press, the puissant shoulder of her companion. The turmoil in Brakespeare's blood waxed hotter and hotter. He had never in all his life before been proved by stronger temptation than may be found in light and facile amours: furthermore, he had almost forgotten the sound of a high-born woman's voice; and such an one would have carried dangerous music even had it spoken commonplaces; his senses had not been so blunted by rough camp-life, as to be unable to appreciate keenly the appliances of luxury around him; he cared not to resist. the delicious languor stealing over him, and half closed his eyes, as though the vaporous incense drowsed them. When he opened them again, they met other eyes glancing downward, with a challenge that the veriest novice could scarce have misunderstood, or the sternest saint resisted, even had his last draught been pressed from nenuphar instead of purple Cyprus grapes. Nearer and lower the lovely witchface bowed itself, till fragrant breath was warm on his cheek; nearer and nearer yet-till moist crimson lips were laid on his own, and clung there thirstingly.

The caress was scarce begun, when from the farther side of the chamber there came a rustle, as of arras violently torn aside; and, though Brakespeare sprang to his feet with the dexterity of one familiar with sudden danger, he was only just in time. With one bound René D'Andelot cleared the space between the secret door by which he had found entrance and the estrade, and struck full at the Free Companion's broad breast with a long poignard; but, swift as was the onset, Ralph yet had time to ward the blow, and caught the thin keen blade in his left fore-arm, which it pierced from side to side. The next second, without the semblance of a wrestle, the page was down under his enemy's knee.

Brakespeare's countenance could be stern and menacing enough at times; but seldom, even in heat of battle, had it expressed actual ferocity; and surely never had it been so possessed by such a murderous

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devil as now, when, pressing his knee firmer on the writhing figure beneath him, and setting his teeth-more in wrath than in pain-he drew the dagger slowly out of the wound. Not much blood followed; for it was chiefly a cordage of muscles that the steel had penetrated; and the limb, for the moment at least, was not disabled; for the page was caught up like an infant in the other's mighty grasp, and as the Free Companion strode towards the oriel window, he muttered aloud

"Thou gay hornet, we will be troubled no more with thy stinging, and thou shalt have thy lesson for once and aye."

And all this while Bertha de La Roche D'Agon bore herself thus: she frowned slightly at the first rustle of the arras-partly, perhaps, chafing at the untimely intrusion; partly vexed at her own imprudence in having forgotten to draw the bolt of the masked door-but she never shrieked, or trembled, or shrank during the brief struggle-only her lips parted eagerly, and the pupils of her great hazel eyes dilated, like those of some beautiful tigress, who, from under the shadow of a date-palm, watches the yellow sand flying up round the death-duel that is to decide which of the two tawny rivals shall be her mate. Neither did she disturb the indolent grace of her attitude-much less interfere by word or gesture-though she guessed at Brakespeare's fell purpose before he tore open the casement with his left hand.

And René D'Andelot guessed at his doom. He had looked forth from that window often enough to have measured the depth of the hideous chasm: he could remember, too, what a shapeless, battered corpse was lifted from the boulders, when Charlot was seized with a dizzy fit, and fell where the gorge was shallower than here. As he lay pressed back against the window-ledge, his face was lashed by the driving rain; and, glancing sidelong, he caught glimpses of the black billows of tossing pine-boughs, tossed hither and thither by the raving wind. No marvel that he struggled with a strength and obstinacy surprising in one so delicate of frame-striving to strangle his enemytwining his slender fingers round his adversary's throat, and twisting them in his doublet-collar when his grasp was loosened. Even the spasms of despair could not struggle long against such awful odds of weight and strength: in a few seconds, Brakespeare had wrenched himself loose; and one long swing of his brawny arms launched the unhappy page sheer into the air, like a stone from a petrary.

Up to this instant, Réné D'Andelot had fought as mute as a wild cat; but now there went up through the darkness a single long shriek

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7 Page 498. IN A VERY FEW SECONDS, BRAKESPEARE HAD WRENCHED HIMSELF LOOSE, AND ONE LONG SWING OF HIS BRAWNY ARMS LAUNCHED THE UNHAPPY PAGE SHEER INTO THE AIR

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