“Watch them, Sir Karl! Note the road they take! If they go by the right, we shall take the left. We must reach Peronne Castle before the duke. Death itself hangs upon the issue, Sir Karl.”
I watched till the duke and all his people had left the inn; then I followed till I saw them take the road leading down the right bank of the Somme. When I returned to the inn, I paid the score, and gave each member of our little party a boule of bread to be eaten as we rode; and within five minutes after the duke’s departure we were fording the Somme to take the left bank for Peronne.
A RACE WITH THE DUKE
Neither road clung to the river in all its windings, but at too frequent intervals both touched the stream at the same points. At places the roads hugged the Somme, separated only by its width—perhaps two hundred yards. These would be our danger points. I did not know them, and Yolanda’s knowledge of the road was imperfect.
Soon after leaving Cinq Voies, the road on the right bank—the one taken by the duke—gained a mile over the road on the left by cutting across a great bend in the river around which we had to travel. We therefore lost the duke’s cavalcade at the outset.
Hoping to pass the duke before the roads came again within sight of each other, we urged our horses to full speed. But the duke also was travelling rapidly, as we learned when we reached the first point of contact. Should the duke’s men see us they would certainly hail. Four men in armor and two ladies, travelling the road to Peronne would not be allowed to pass unchallenged. Fortunately, just before the danger point, a clump of trees and underbushes grew between our road and the river. Max, who was riding a hundred yards in advance, suddenly stopped and held up his hand warningly. We halted immediately, and Max turned back to us, guiding his horse to the roadside to avoid raising a dust-cloud.
We listened in silence, and I beckoned the squires to our sides. The men of our little party all dismounted and stood by their horses’ heads, ready to strike the noses of the animals should they offer to salute the horses across the river with a neigh. Had not our danger been so great it would have been amusing to see each man, with uplifted hand, watching the eyes of his horse as intently as though they were the eyes of his lady-love. Yolanda laughed despite the danger, but covered her mouth with her hand when I frowned warningly.
Presently we heard the tramping of horses and the voices of men across the river, and soon the duke approached at a canter. I could not help speculating on the consequences should His Grace know that Yolanda was watching him—if Yolanda were his daughter.
That “if” would surely be the death of me.
When the duke had passed a little way down the road, I peered through the bushes and saw the dust-cloud ahead of us.