Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

So they carried them both to their own large sleeping chamber on the upper floor. There the surgeon set Sir Geoffrey’s broken bone skilfully enough, though when he saw the state of the crushed limb, he shook his head and said it would be best to cut it off. This, however, Sir Geoffrey would not suffer to be done.

“It will kill me, I am sure, or if not, then the pest which that ship, Light of the East, has brought here from Cyprus, will do its work on me. But I care nothing, for since you say that my wife must die I would die with her and be at rest.”

At sunset Lady Carleon died. Ere she passed away she sent for Hugh and Dick. Her bed by her command had been moved to an open window, for she seemed to crave air. By it was placed that of Sir Geoffrey, so that the two of them could hold each other’s hand.

“I would die looking toward England, Sir Hugh,” she said, with a faint smile, “though alas! I may not sleep in that churchyard on the Sussex downs where I had hoped that I might lie at last. Now, Sir Hugh, I pray this of your Christian charity and by the English blood which runs in us, that you will swear to me that you and your squire will not leave my lord alone among these Southern folk, but that you will bide with him and nurse him till he recovers or dies, as God may will. Also that you will see me buried by the bones of my child-they will tell you where.”

“Wife,” broke in Sir Geoffrey, “this knight is not of our kin. Doubtless he has business elsewhere. How can he bide with me, mayhap for weeks?”

But Lady Carleon, who could speak no more, only looked at Hugh, who answered:

“Fear nothing. Here we will stay until he recovers—unless,” he added, “we ourselves should die.”

She smiled at him gratefully, then turned her face toward Sir Geoffrey and pressed his hand. So presently she passed away, the tears running from her faded eyes.

When it was over and the women had covered her, Hugh and Dick left the room, for they could bear no more.

“I have seen sad sights,” said Hugh, with something like a sob, “but never before one so sad. ”

“Ay,” answered Dick, “that of the wounded dying on Crecy field was a May Day revel compared to this, though it is but one old woman who has gone. Oh, how heavily they parted who have dwelt together these forty years! And ’twas my careless tongue this morning that foretold it as a jest!”

In the hall they met the physician, who rushed wild-eyed through the doorway to ask how his patients fared.

“Ah!” he said to them in French when he knew. “Well, signors, that noble lady has not gone alone. I tell you that scores of whom I know are already dead in Venice, swept off by this swift and horrible plague. Death and all his angels stalk through the city. They say that he himself appeared last night, and this morning on the tilting ground by the quay, and by God’s mercy—if He has any left for us—I can well believe it. The Doge and his Council but now have issued a decree that all who perish must be buried at once. See to it, signors, lest the officers come and bear her away to some common grave, from which her rank will not protect her.”

Then he went to visit Sir Geoffrey. Returning presently, he gave them some directions as to his treatment, and rushed out as he had rushed in. They never saw him again. Two days later they learned that he himself was dead of the pest.

That night they buried Lady Carleon in her son’s grave, which Dick had helped to prepare for her, since no sexton could be bribed to do the work. Indeed these were all busy enough attending to the interment of the great ones of Venice. In that churchyard alone they saw six buryings in progress. Also after the priest had read his hurried Office, as they left the gates, whence Lady Carleon’s bearers had already fled affrighted, they met more melancholy processions heralded by a torch or two whereof the light fell upon some sheeted and uncoffined form.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider