'O fool and coward, fool and coward!' he said bitterly; 'can you forget your fetters? You did not know that I was fettered, Nance?' he asked, again addressing her.
But Nance was somewhat sore. 'I know you keep talking,' she said, and, turning half away from him, began to wring out a sheet across her shoulder. 'I wonder you are not wearied of your voice. When the hands lie abed the tongue takes a walk.'
Mr. Archer laughed unpleasantly, rose and moved to the water's edge. In this part the body of the river poured across a little narrow fell, ran some ten feet very smoothly over a bed of pebbles, then getting wind, as it were, of another shelf of rock which barred the channel, began, by imperceptible degrees, to separate towards either shore in dancing currents, and to leave the middle clear and stagnant. The set towards either side was nearly equal; about one half of the whole water plunged on the side of the castle, through a narrow gullet; about one half ran ripping past the margin of the green and slipped across a babbling rapid.
'Here,' said Mr. Archer, after he had looked for some time at the fine and shifting demarcation of these currents, 'come here and see me try my fortune.'
'I am not like a man,' said Nance; 'I have no time to waste.'
'Come here,' he said again. 'I ask you seriously, Nance. We are not always childish when we seem so.'
She drew a little nearer.
'Now,' said he, 'you see these two channels--choose one.'
'I'll choose the nearest, to save time,' said Nance.
'Well, that shall be for action,' returned Mr. Archer. 'And since I wish to have the odds against me, not only the other channel but yon stagnant water in the midst shall be for lying still. You see this?' he continued, pulling up a withered rush. 'I break it in three. I shall put each separately at the top of the upper fall, and according as they go by your way or by the other I shall guide my life.'
'This is very silly,' said Nance, with a movement of her shoulders.
'I do not think it so,' said Mr. Archer.
'And then,' she resumed, 'if you are to try your fortune, why not evenly?'
'Nay,' returned Mr. Archer with a smile, 'no man can put complete reliance in blind fate; he must still cog the dice.'
By this time he had got upon the rock beside the upper fall, and, bidding her look out, dropped a piece of rush into the middle of the intake. The rusty fragment was sucked at once over the fall, came up again far on the right hand, leaned ever more and more in the same direction, and disappeared under the hanging grasses on the castle side.
'One,' said Mr. Archer, 'one for standing still.'
But the next launch had a different fate, and after hanging for a while about the edge of the stagnant water, steadily approached the bleaching-green and danced down the rapid under Nance's eyes.
'One for me,' she cried with some exultation; and then she observed that Mr. Archer had grown pale, and was kneeling on the rock, with his hand raised like a person petrified. 'Why,' said she, 'you do not mind it, do you?'
'Does a man not mind a throw of dice by which a fortune hangs?' said Mr. Archer, rather hoarsely. 'And this is more than fortune. Nance, if you have any kindness for my fate, put up a prayer before I launch the next one.'
'A prayer,' she cried, 'about a game like this? I would not be so heathen.'
'Well,' said he, 'then without,' and he closed his eyes and dropped the piece of rush. This time there was no doubt. It went for the rapid as straight as any arrow.
'Action then!' said Mr. Archer, getting to his feet; 'and then God forgive us,' he added, almost to himself.
'God forgive us, indeed,' cried Nance, 'for wasting the good daylight! But come, Mr. Archer, if I see you look so serious I shall begin to think you was in earnest.'
'Nay,' he said, turning upon her suddenly, with a full smile; 'but is not this good advice? I have consulted God and demigod; the nymph of the river, and what I far more admire and trust, my blue- eyed Minerva.