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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 245 pages of information about Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts.

Into this knot the conference had locked itself when I rode up and—­the crowd making way for me—­addressed the strangers in the lingua Franca, explaining that my Master of Pengersick was a magistrate and would be forward to help them either with hospitality or in lending aid to get their ship afloat; further that they need have no apprehension of the crowd, which had opposed them in fear, not in churlishness; yet it might be wise for the main body to stay and keep guard over the cargo while their spokesman went with me to Pengersick.

To this their leader at once consented; and we presently set forth together, he walking by my horse with an agile step and that graceful bearing which I had not seen since my days of travel:  a bearded swarthy man, extraordinarily handsome in Moorish fashion and distinguished from his crew not only by authority as patron of the ship, but by a natural dignity.  I judged him about forty.  Me he treated with courtesy, yet with a reticence which seemed to say he reserved his speech for my Master.  Of the wreck he said nothing except that his ship had been by many degrees out of her bearings:  and knowing that the Moorish disasters in Spain had thrown many of their chiefs into the trade of piracy I was contented to smoke such an adventurer in this man, and set him down for one better at fighting than at navigation.

With no more suspicion than this I reached Pengersick and, bestowing the stranger in the hall, went off to seek my Master.  For the change that came over my dear lord’s face as he heard my errand I was in no way prepared.  It was terrible.

“Paschal,” he cried, sinking into a chair and spreading both hands helplessly on the table before him, “it is he! Her time is come, and mine!”

It was in vain that I reasoned, protesting (as I believed) that the stranger was but a chance pirate cast ashore by misadventure; and as vain that, his fears infecting me, I promised to go down and get rid of the fellow on some pretence.

“No,” he insisted, “the hour is come.  I must face it:  and what is more, Paschal, I shall win.  Another time I shall be no better prepared.  Bring him to my room and then go and tell my lady that I wish to speak with her.”

I did so.  On ushering in the stranger I saw no more than the bow with which the two men faced each other:  for at once my Master signalled me to run on my further errand.  Having delivered my message at my lady’s door, I went down to the hall, and lingering there, saw her pass along the high gallery above the dais towards my lord’s room, with the hound at her heels.

Thence I climbed the stair to my own room:  locked the door and anon unlocked it, to be ready at sudden need.  And there I paced hour after hour, without food, listening.  From the courtyard came the noise of the grooms chattering and splashing:  but from the left wing, where lay my Master’s rooms, no sound at all.  Twice I stole out along the corridors and hung about the stair head:  but could hear nothing, and crept back in fear to be caught eavesdropping.

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