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To Have and To Hold
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XXIX. In Which I Keep Tryst
THE sun dropped below the forest, blood red, dyeing the river its own color.
There were no clouds in the sky, - only a great suffusion of crimson climbing to
the zenith; against it the woods were as black as war paint. The color faded and
the night set in, a night of no wind and of numberless stars. On the hearth burned
a fire. I left the window and sat beside it, and in the hollows between the red
embers made pictures, as I used to make them when I was a boy.
I sat there long. It grew late, and all sounds in the town were hushed; only now
and then the "All's well!" of the watch came faintly to my ears. Diccon lodged with
me; he lay in his clothes upon a pallet in the far corner of the room, but whether
he slept or not I did not ask. He and I had never wasted words; since chance had
thrown us together again we spoke only when occasion required.
The fire was nigh out, and it must have been ten of the clock when, with
somewhat more of caution and less of noise than usual, the key grated in the
lock; the door opened, and the gaoler entered, closing it noiselessly behind him.
There was no reason why he should intrude himself upon me after nightfall, and I
regarded him with a frown and an impatience that presently turned to curiosity.
He began to move about the room, making pretense of seeing that there was
water in the pitcher beside my pallet, that the straw beneath the coverlet was
fresh, that the bars of the window were firm, and ended by approaching the fire
and heaping pine upon it. It flamed up brilliantly, and in the strong red light he
half opened a clenched hand and showed me two gold pieces, and beneath them
a folded paper. I looked at his furtive eyes and brutal, doltish face, but he kept
them blank as a wall. The hand closed again over the treasure within it, and he
turned away as if to leave the room. I drew a noble - one of a small store of gold
pieces conveyed to me by Rolfe - from my pocket, and stooping made it spin
upon the hearth in the red firelight. The gaoler looked at it askance, but continued
his progress toward the door. I drew out its fellow, set it too to spinning, then
leaned back against the table. "They hunt in couples," I said. "There will be no
He had his foot upon them before they had done spinning. The next moment they
had kissed the two pieces already in his possession, and he had transferred all
four to his pocket. I held out my hand for the paper, and he gave it to me
grudgingly, with a spiteful slowness of movement. He would have stayed beside
me as I read it, but I sternly bade him keep his distance; then kneeling before the
fire to get the light, I opened the paper. It was written upon in a delicate, woman's
hand, and it ran thus: -
An you hold me dear, come to me at once. Come without tarrying to the
deserted hut on the neck of land, nearest to the forest. As you love me, as you
are my knight, keep this tryst.
In distress and peril, THY WIFE.
Folded with it was a line in the commander's hand and with his signature: "The
bearer may pass without the palisade at his pleasure."