I held my breath as he drew near. Margery’s eyes were on the King; but she must needs recognise her brother when he came abreast of us.
And so it was. She gave him an idle glance, and with that she let out a short choking cry, and leapt down from the hedge right in his path, dragging me after her by the sleeve.
“Mark!” she cried.
He swerved his horse round with a curse. But she caught at the bridle and pointed towards the gap through which, though hidden from us by the angle, pointed the muzzles of the rebel artillery. “You must! Oh, if you fear, I will run with you and die with you—I your sister! There is no other way. You must, Mark!”
He pushed past her sullenly, moving towards the group where the King stood.
“Mark, if you do not, the King shall know! Redeem, brother; or I swear—and when did I break word?—here and now the King shall know who lost him the rebel horse.”
She spoke it fast and low, with a dead-white face. We were close now to the royal group; close enough to hear the King’s words.
“I must needs,” he was saying, “envy her Majesty, Captain Brett. Under your leading her troop has done that which my own can only envy.”
He turned at what seemed at first a murmur among his own men, and no doubt was framing a compliment from them too. But their murmur grew to a growl of mere astonishment as a thud of hoofs drew all eyes after my brother riding at full gallop for the gap.
“But what is the madman after?” began the King, and broke off with a sharp exclamation as his eyes fell on Margery, who had picked up her skirts and was running after Mark. She was perhaps a hundred yards behind him when the cannon roared and, almost in the entrance of the gap, he flung up both arms, and horse and rider rolled over together. A moment later she too staggered and fell sideways—stunned by the wind of a round-shot.
The firing ceased as suddenly as it began. I heard a voice saying as if it continued a discussion—“And Lantine of all men! I’d have picked him for the levellest-headed man in the troop. By the way, he comes from these parts, I’ve heard say.”
And with that I ran to my sister’s side.
Two days later by the earthwork where we had played as children his Majesty received the surrender of the rebel foot; while, on the slope below, the house which should have been Mark’s heritage blazed merrily, fired by the last shot of the campaign.
“God! of whom music
And song and blood are pure,
The day is never darkened
That had thee here obscure.”