It was on the fourth afternoon, and while yet the sun stood a good way above the pines, that the Princess Camilla deigned to revisit us. I had carried Nat forth into the glade before the hut, where the sun might fall on him temperately, after a torrid day—torrid, that is to say, on the heights, but in our hollow, pight about with the trees, the air had clung heavily.
Marc’antonio, an hour earlier than usual, came down the track with a bundle of linen under his left arm. I did not see that any one followed him until Nat pulled himself up, clutching at my elbow.
“Princess! Princess!” he cried, and his voice rang shrill towards her under the boughs. “Help her . . . I cannot—”
His voice choked on that last word as she came forward and stood regarding him carelessly, coldly, while I wiped the blood and then the bloody froth from his lips.
“Your friend looks to be in an ill case,” she said.
“You have killed him,” said I, and looked up at her stonily, as Nat’s head fell back, with a weight I could not mistake, on my arms.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE.
“The remedye agayns
Ire is a vertu that men clepen Mansuetude,
that is Debonairetee; and eek another vertu, that men callen
Patience or Suffrance. . . . This vertu disconfiteth thyn
enemy. And therefore seith the wyse man, `If thou wolt
venquisse thyn enemy, lerne to suffre.’”—
CHAUCER, Parson’s Tale.
“You have killed him.” I lowered Nat’s head, stood up and accused her fiercely.
She confronted me, contemptuous yet pale. Even in my wrath I could see that her pallor had nothing to do with fear.
“Say that I have, what then?” She very deliberately unhitched the gun from her bandolier, and, after examining the lock, laid it on the turf midway between us. “As my hostage you may claim vendetta; take your shot then, and afterwards Marc’antonio shall take his.”
“No, no, Englishman!” Marc’antonio ran between us while yet I stared at her without comprehending, and there was anguish in his cry. “The Princess lies to you. It was I that fired the shot—I that killed your friend!”
The girl shrugged her shoulders indifferently. “Ah, well then, Marc’antonio, since you will have it so, give me my gun again and hand yours to the cavalier. Do as I tell you, please,” she commanded, as the man turned to her with a dropping jaw.
“Princess, I implore you—”
“You are a coward, Marc’antonio.”
“Have it so,” he answered sullenly. “It is God’s truth, at all events, that I am afraid.”
“For me? But I have this.” She tapped the barrel of her gun as she took it from him. “And afterwards—if that is in your mind— afterwards I shall still have Stephanu.”