“Yes,” I answered, flinging him off so that he staggered; “yes —yes! I—who fought for her once, and am willing—most willing, to do so again, now or at any other time, for, though I hold no hope of winning her—ever—yet I can serve her still, and protect her from the pollution of your presence,” and I clenched my fists.
He stood poised as though about to spring at me, and I saw his knuckles gleam whiter than the laces above them, but, all at once, he laughed lightly, easily as ever.
“A very perfect, gentle knight!” he murmured, “sans peur et sans reproche—though somewhat grimy and in a leather apron. Chivalry kneeling amid hammers and horseshoes, worshiping Her with a reverence distant and lowly! How like you, worthy cousin, how very like yon, and how affecting! But”—and here his nostrils quivered again—” but I tell you—she is mine—mine, and always has been, and no man living shall come between us—no, by God!”
“That,” said I, “that remains to be seen!”
“Though, indeed, I think she is safe from you while I live.”
“But then, Cousin Peter, life is a very uncertain thing at best,” he returned, glancing at me beneath his drooping lids.
“Yes,” I nodded, “it is sometimes a blessing to remember that.”
Sir Maurice strolled to the door, and, being there, paused, and looked back over his shoulder.
“I go to find Charmian,” said he, “and I shall find her—sooner or later, and, when I do, should you take it upon yourself to —come between us again, or presume to interfere again, I shall —kill you, worthy cousin, without the least compunction. If you think this sufficient warning—act upon it, if not—” He shrugged his shoulders significantly. “Farewell, good and worthy Cousin Peter, farewell!—or shall we say—’au revoir’?”
HOW I WENT DOWN INTO THE SHADOWS
“Peter,” said George, one evening, turning to me with the troubled look I had seen so often on his face of late, “what be wrong wi’ you, my chap? You be growing paler everyday. Oh, Peter! you be like a man as is dyin’ by inches—if ‘tis any o’ my doin’—”
“Nonsense, George!” I broke in with sudden asperity, “I am well enough!”
“Yet I’ve seen your ’ands fall a-trembling sometimes, Peter—all at once. An’ you missed your stroke yesterday—come square down on th’ anvil—you can’t ha’ forgot?”
“I remember,” I muttered; “I remember.”
“An’ twice again to-day. An’ you be silent, Peter, an’ don’t seem to ‘ear when spoke to, an’ short in your temper—oh, you bean’t the man you was. I’ve see it a-comin’ on you more an’ more. Oh, man, Peter!” he cried, turning his back upon me suddenly, “you as I’d let walk over me—you as I’d be cut in pieces for—if it be me as done it—”
“No, no, George—it wasn’t you—of course not. If I am a little strange it is probably due to lack of sleep, nothing more.”