“Have I caught you at last, you coward?”
The danger in which the chevalier stood awoke in him a flickering energy, a feverish courage, and he crossed blades with his assailant. A strange combat ensued, of which the result was quite uncertain, depending entirely on chance; for no science was of any avail on a ground so rough that the combatants stumbled at every step, or struck against immovable masses, which were one moment clearly lit up, and the next in shadow. Steel clashed on steel, the feet of the adversaries touched each other, several times the cloak of one was pierced by the sword of the other, more than once the words “Die then!” rang out. But each time the seemingly vanquished combatant sprang up unwounded, as agile and as lithe and as quick as ever, while he in his turn pressed the enemy home. There was neither truce nor pause, no clever feints nor fencer’s tricks could be employed on either side; it was a mortal combat, but chance, not skill, would deal the death-blow. Sometimes a rapid pass encountered only empty air; sometimes blade crossed blade above the wielders’ heads; sometimes the fencers lunged at each other’s breast, and yet the blows glanced aside at the last moment and the blades met in air once more. At last, however, one of the two, making a pass to the right which left his breast unguarded, received a deep wound. Uttering a loud cry, he recoiled a step or two, but, exhausted by the effort, tripped and fell backward over a large stone, and lay there motionless, his arms extended in the form of a cross.
The other turned and fled.
“Hark, de Jars!” said Jeannin, stopping, “There’s fighting going on hereabouts; I hear the clash of swords.”
Both listened intently.
“I hear nothing now.”
“Hush! there it goes again. It’s by the church.”
“What a dreadful cry!”
They ran at full speed towards the place whence it seemed to come, but found only solitude, darkness, and silence. They looked in every direction.
“I can’t see a living soul,” said Jeannin, “and I very much fear that the poor devil who gave that yell has mumbled his last prayer,”
“I don’t know why I tremble so,” replied de Jars; “that heart-rending cry made me shiver from head to foot. Was it not something like the chevalier’s voice?”
“The chevalier is with La Guerchi, and even if he had left her this would not have been his way to rejoin us. Let us go on and leave the dead in peace.”
“Look, Jeannin! what is that in front of us?”
“On that stone? A man who has fallen!”
“Yes, and bathed in blood,” exclaimed de Jars, who had darted to his side. “Ah! it’s he! it’s he! Look, his eyes are closed, his hands cold! My child he does not hear me! Oh, who has murdered him?”
He fell on his knees, and threw himself on the body with every mark of the most violent despair.