Sir Gilles half stood, half sat upon the table, while the nun faced him, cold and proud and disdainful, the gleaming dagger clutched to her quick-heaving bosom; and Sir Gilles, assured and confident, laughed softly as he leaned so lazily, yet ever he watched that gleaming steel, waiting his chance to spring. Now as they stood fronting each other thus, the nun stirred beneath his close regard, turned her head, and on the instant Beltane knew that she had seen him; knew by the sudden tremor of her lips, the widening of her dark eyes, wherein he seemed to read wonder, joy, and a passionate entreaty; then, even as he thrilled to meet that look, down swept languorous lid and curling lash, and, sighing, she laid the dagger on the table. For a moment Sir Gilles stared in blank amaze, then laughed his lazy laugh.
“Ah, proud beauty! ’Tis surrender then?” said he, and speaking, reached for the dagger; but even as he did so, the nun seized the heavy table and thrust with sudden strength, so that Sir Gilles, taken unawares, staggered back and back—to the window. Then Beltane reached up into the room and, from behind, caught Sir Gilles by the throat and gripped him with iron fingers, strangling all outcry, and so, drawing himself over the sill and into the room, dragged Sir Gilles to the floor and choked him there until his eyes rolled upward and he lay like one dead. Then swiftly Beltane took off the belt of Sir Gilles and buckled it tight about the wrists and arms of Sir Gilles, and, rending strips from Sir Gilles’ mantle that lay near, therewith fast gagged and bound him. Now it chanced that as he knelt thus, he espied the dagger where it lay, and taking it up, glanced from it to Sir Gilles lying motionless in his bonds. But as he hesitated, there came a sudden knocking on the door and a voice spake without:
“My lord! my lord—’tis I—’tis Lupo. My lord, our men be few and wearied, as ye know. Must I set a guard beyond the ford, think you, or will the four watch-fires suffice?”
Now, glancing up, scarce breathing, Beltane beheld the nun who crouched down against the wall, her staring eyes turned towards the door, her cheeks ashen, her lips a-quiver with deadly fear. Yet, even so, she spake. But that ’twas she indeed who uttered the words he scarce could credit, so soft and sweetly slumberous was her voice:
“My lord is a-weary and sleepeth. Hush you, and come again with the dawn.” Now was a moment’s breathless silence and thereafter an evil chuckle, and, so chuckling, the man Lupo went down the rickety stair without.
And when his step was died away, Beltane drew a deep breath, and together they arose, and so, speaking no word, they looked upon each other across the prostrate body of Sir Gilles of Brandonmere.
CONCERNING THE EYES OF A NUN
Eyes long, thick-lashed and darkly blue that looked up awhile into his and anon were hid ’neath languorous-drooping lids; a nose tenderly aquiline; lips, red and full, that parted but to meet again in sweet and luscious curves; a chin white, and round, and dimpled.