The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 22

The effect was so sudden and magical, that the shooter himself was stupefied for an instant. Then he hailed his companions to join him in effecting the capture, and himself set off up the hill; but, ere he had got half way, up rose the figure of Martin Wittenhaagen with a bent bow in his hand. Eric Wouverman no sooner saw him in this attitude, than he darted behind a tree, and made himself as small as possible. Martin’s skill with that weapon was well known, and the slain dog was a keen reminder of it.

Wouverman peered round the bark cautiously: there was the arrow’s point still aimed at him. He saw it shine. He dared not move from his shelter.

When he had been at peep-ho some minutes, his companions came up in great force.

Then, with a scornful laugh, Martin vanished, and presently was heard to ride off on the mule.

All the men ran up together. The high ground commanded a view of a narrow but almost interminable glade.

They saw Gerard and Margaret running along at a prodigious distance; they looked like gnats; and Martin galloping after them ventre a terre.

The hunters were outwitted as well as outrun. A few words will explain Martin’s conduct. We arrive at causes by noting coincidences; yet, now and then, coincidences are deceitful. As we have all seen a hare tumble over a briar just as the gun went off, and so raise expectations, then dash them to earth by scudding away untouched, so the burgomaster’s mule put her foot in a rabbit-hole at or about the time the crossbow bolt whizzed innocuous over her head: she fell and threw both her riders. Gerard caught Margaret, but was carried down by her weight and impetus; and, behold, the soil was strewed with dramatis personae.

The docile mule was up again directly, and stood trembling. Martin was next, and looking round saw there was but one in pursuit; on this he made the young lovers fly on foot, while he checked the enemy as I have recorded.

He now galloped after his companions, and when after a long race he caught them, he instantly put Gerard and Margaret on the mule, and ran by their side till his breath failed, then took his turn to ride, and so in rotation. Thus the runner was always fresh, and long ere they relaxed their speed all sound and trace of them was hopelessly lost to Dierich and his men. These latter went crestfallen back to look after their chief and their winged bloodhound.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33