“Though she were in Genoa itself, I would deliver her or die.”
“You will probably die, O Englishman, before you receive her answer; and that will be a pity—yes, a great pity. But you are free to go, you and your company—all but your son here, this King of Corsica that is to be, whom I keep as hostage, with his crown. Eh? Is this not a good bargain I offer you?”
“Be it good or bad, Princess,” my father answered, “to make a bargain takes two.”
“That is true,” said I, stepping forward with a laugh, and thrusting myself between the Corsicans, who had begun to press around with decided menace in their looks. “And therefore the Princess will accept me as the other party to the bargain, and as her hostage.”
Again at the sound of my laugh she shrunk a little; but presently frowned.
“Have you considered, cavalier,” she asked coldly, “that Giuseppe is not certain of recovery?”
“Still less certain is my friend,” answered I, and with a shrug of the shoulders walked away to Nat’s sick-couch. There, twenty minutes later, my father took leave of me, after giving some last instructions for the care of the invalid. In one hand he carried his musket, in the other his camp-stool.
“Say the word even now, lad,” he offered, “and we will abide till he recovers.”
But I shook my head.
Billy Priske carried an enormous wine-skin slung across his shoulders; Mr. Fett a sack of provender. Mr. Badcock had begged or borrowed or purchased an enormous gridiron.
“But what is that for? I asked him, as we shook hands.
“For cooking the wild goose,” he answered solemnly, “which in these parts, as I am given to understand, is an animal they call the mufflone. He partakes in some degree of the nature of a sheep. He will find me his match, sir.”
One by one, a little before the sun sank, they bade me farewell and passed—free men—down the path that dipped into the pine forest. On the edge of the dip each man turned and waved a hand to me. The princess, with Marc’antonio beside her, stood and watched them as they passed out of sight.
THE FOREST HUT.
“Then hooly, hooly
rase she up,
And hooly she came nigh him,
And when she drew the curtain by—
‘Young man, I think you’re dyin’.’”
Barbara Allan’s Cruelty.
Evening fell, of a sudden filling the great hollow with purple shadows. As the stars came out the Corsicans on the slope to my left lit a fire of brushwood and busied themselves around it, cooking their supper. They were no ordinary bandits, then; or at least had no fear to betray their whereabouts, since on the landward side on so clear a night the glow would be visible for many miles.