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Chapter 14 IN WHICH WE SEEK A LOST LADY

  • BESIDE the minister and myself, nothing human moved in the crimson woods. Blu_aze was there, and the steady drift of colored leaves, and the sunshin_reely falling through bared limbs, but no man or woman. The fallen leave_ustled as the deer passed, the squirrels chattered and the foxes barked, bu_e heard no sweet laughter or ringing song.
  • We found a bank of moss, and lying upon it a chaplet of red-brown oak leaves; further on, the mint beside a crystal streamlet had been trodden underfoot; then, flung down upon the brown earth beneath some pines, we came upon a lon_railer of scarlet vine. Beyond was a fairy hollow, a cuplike depression, curtained from the world by the red vines that hung from the trees upon it_rim, and carpeted with the gold of a great maple; and here Fear became _iant with whom it was vain to wrestle.
  • There had been a struggle in the hollow. The curtain of vines was torn, th_oughs of a sumach bent and broken, the fallen leaves groun underfoot. In on_lace there was blood upon the leaves.
  • The forest seemed suddenly very quiet,—quite soundless save for the beating o_ur hearts. On every side opened red and yellow ways, sunny glades, labyrinthine paths, long aisles, all dim with the blue haze like the cloud_ncense in stone cathedrals, but nothing moved in them save the creatures o_he forest. Without the hollow there was no sign. The leaves looke_ndisturbed, or others, drifting down, had hidden any marks there might hav_een; no footprints, no broken branches, no token of those who had left th_ollow. Down which of the painted ways had they gone, and where were they now?
  • Sparrow and I sat our horses, and stared now down this alley, now down that, into the blue that closed each vista.
  • "The Santa Teresa is just off the big spring," he said at last. "She must hav_ropped down there in order to take in water quietly."
  • "The man that came upon her is still in town,—or was an hour agone," _eplied.
  • "Then she has n't sailed yet," he said.
  • In the distance something grew out of the blue mist. I had not lived thirtee_ears in the woodland to be dim of sight or dull of hearing.
  • "Some one is coming," I announced. "Back your horse into this clump o_umach."
  • The sumach grew thick, and was draped, moreover, with some broad-leafed vine.
  • Within its covert we could see with small danger of being seen, unless th_pproaching figure should prove to be that of an Indian. It was not an Indian; it was my Lord Carnal. He came on slowly, glancing from side to side, an_ausing now and then as if to listen. He was so little of a woodsman that h_ever looked underfoot.
  • Sparrow touched my arm and pointed down a glade at right angles with the pat_y lord was pursuing. Up this glade there was coming toward us anothe_igure,—a small black figure that moved swiftly, looking neither to the righ_or to the left.
  • Black Lamoral stood like a stone; the brown mare, too, had learned what mean_ certain touch upon her shoulder. Sparrow and I, with small shame for ou_avesdropping, bent to our saddlebows and looked sideways through tiny gaps i_he crimson foliage.
  • My lord descended one side of the hollow, his heavy foot bringing down th_ead leaves and loose earth; the Italian glided down the opposite side, disturbing the economy of the forest as little as a snake would have done.
  • "I thought I should never meet you," growled my lord. "I thought I had los_ou and her and myself. This d-d red forest and this blue haze are enoug_o"—He broke off with an oath.
  • "I came as fast as I could," said the other. His voice was strange, thin an_reamy, matching his filmy eyes and his eternal, very faint smile. "Your poo_hysician congratulates your lordship upon the success that still attends you.
  • Yours is a fortunate star, my lord."
  • "Then you have her safe?" cried my lord.
  • "Three miles from here, on the river bank, is a ring of pines, in which th_rees grow so thick that it is always twilight. Ten years ago a man wa_urdered there, and Sir Thomas Dale chained the murderer to the tree beneat_hich his victim was buried, and left him to perish of hunger and thirst. Tha_s the tale they tell at Jamestown. The wood is said to be haunted by murdere_nd murderer, and no one enters it or comes nearer to it than he can avoid: which makes it an excellent resort for those whom the dead cannot scare. Th_ady is there, my lord, with your four knaves to guard her. They do not kno_hat the gloom and quiet of the place are due to more than nature."
  • My lord began to laugh. Either he had been drinking, or the success of hi_illainy had served for wine. "You are a man in a thousand, Nicolo!" he said.
  • "How far above or below the ship is this fortunate wood?"
  • "Just opposite, my lord."
  • "Can a boat land easily?"
  • "A creek runs through the wood to the river. There needs but the appointe_ignal from the bank, and a boat from the Santa Teresa can be rowed up th_tream to the very tree beneath which the lady sits."
  • My lord's laughter rang out again. "You're a man in ten thousand, Nicolo!
  • Nicolo, the bridegroom's in town."
  • "Back so soon?" said the Italian. "Then we must change your lordship's plan.
  • With him on the ground, you can no longer wait until nightfall to ro_ownstream to the lady and the Santa Teresa. He'll come to look for her."
  • "Ay he'll come to look for her, curse him!" echoed my lord.
  • "Do you think the dead will scare him?" continued the Italian.
  • "No, I don't!" answered my lord, with an oath. "I would he were among them! A_ could have killed him before I went"—
  • "I had devised a way to do it long ago, had not your lordship's conscienc_een so tender. And yet, before now, our enemies—yours and mine, my lord—hav_et with sudden and mysterious death. Men stared, but they ended by calling i_ dispensation of Providence." He broke off to laugh with silent, hatefu_aughter, as mirthful as the grin of a death's-head.
  • "I know, I know!" said my lord impatiently. "We are not overnice, Nicolo. Bu_etween me and those who then stood in my way there had passed no challenge.
  • This is my mortal foe, through whose heart I would drive my sword. I woul_ive my ruby to know whether he's in the town or in the forest."
  • "He's in the forest," I said.
  • Black Lamoral and the brown mare were beside them before either moved hand o_oot, or did aught but stare and stare, as though men and horses had rise_rom the dead. All the color was gone from my lord's face,—it looked white, drawn, and pinched; as for his companion, his countenance did no_hange,—never changed, I believe,—but the trembling of the feather in his ha_as not caused by the wind.
  • Jeremy Sparrow bent down from his saddle, seized the Italian under th_rmpits, and swung him clean from the ground up to the brown mare's neck.
  • "Divinity and medicine," he said genially, "soul healer and body poisoner, we'll ride double for a time," and proceeded to bind the doctor's hands wit_is own scarf. The creature of venom before him writhed and struggled, but th_inister's strength was as the strength of ten, and the minister's hand hel_im down. By this I was off Black Lamoral and facing my lord. The color ha_ome back to his lip and cheek, and the flash to his eye. His hand went to hi_word hilt.
  • "I shall not draw mine, my lord," I told him. "I keep troth."
  • He stared at me with a frown that suddenly changed into a laugh, forced an_nnatural enough. "Then go thy ways, and let me go mine!" he cried. "B_omplaisant, worthy captain of trainbands and Burgess from a dozen huts! Th_ing and I will make it worth your while."
  • "I will not draw my sword upon you," I replied, "but I will try a fall wit_ou," and I seized him by the wrist.
  • He was a good wrestler as he was a good swordsman, but, with bitter anger i_y heart and a vision of the haunted wood before my eyes, I think I could hav_restled with Hercules and won. Presently I threw him, and, pinning him dow_ith my knee upon his breast, cried to Sparrow to cut the bridle reins fro_lack Lamoral and throw them to me. Though he had the Italian upon his hands, he managed to obey. With my free hand and my teeth I drew a thong about m_ord's arms and bound them to his sides; then took my knee from his chest an_y hand from his throat, and rose to my feet. He rose too with one spring. H_as very white, and there was foam on his lips.
  • "What next, captain?" he demanded thickly. "Your score is mounting up rathe_apidly. What next?"
  • "This," I replied, and with the other thong fastened him, despite hi_truggles, to the young maple beneath which we had wrestled. When the task wa_one, I first drew his sword from its jeweled scabbard and laid it on th_round at his feet, and then cut the leather which restrained his arms, leaving him only tied to the tree. "I am not Sir Thomas Dale," I said, "an_herefore I shall not gag you and leave you bound for an indefinite length o_ime, to contemplate a grave that you thought to dig. One haunted wood i_nough for one county. Your lordship will observe that I have knotted you_onds in easy reach of your hands, the use of which I have just restored t_ou. The knot is a peculiar one; an Indian taught it to me. If you set to wor_t once, you will get it untied before nightfall. That you may not think i_he Gordian knot and treat it as such, I have put your sword where you can ge_t only when you have worked for it. Your familiar, my lord, may prove of us_o us; therefore we will take him with us to the haunted wood. I have th_onor to wish your lordship a very good day."
  • I bowed low, swung myself into my saddle, and turned my back upon his glarin_yes and bared teeth. Sparrow, his prize flung across his saddlebow, turne_ith me. A minute more saw us out of the hollow, and entered upon the glade u_hich had come the Italian. When we had gone a short distance, I turned in m_addle and looked back. The tiny hollow had vanished; all the forest looke_evel, dreamy and still, barren of humanity, given over to its own sh_hildren, nothing moving save the slow-falling leaves. But from beyond a grea_lump of sumach, set like a torch in the vaporous blue, came a steady strea_f words, happily rendered indistinguishable by distance, and I knew that th_ing's minion was cursing the Italian, the Governor, the Santa Teresa, the Du_eturn, the minister, the forest, the haunted wood, his sword, the knot that _ad tied, and myself.
  • I admit that the sound was music in mine ears.