“The black-hearted villain!” hissed Dick. “Well, for your comfort, holy priest, I’ll tell you who that wizard is. He is Death himself, Death the Sword, Death the Fire, Death the Helper, and presently you’ll meet him again.”
“I knew it, I knew it,” groaned the wretched man. “Oh! such is the end of sin whereof we think so little in our day of strength.”
“Nay,” broke in Hugh, “you’ll meet, not the minister, but Him whom he serves and in His hand are mercies. Be silent, Dick, for this wretch makes confession and his time is short. Spare the tool and save your wrath for him who wielded it. Go now and fetch David Day that he may witness also.”
So Dick went, and Nicholas continued his tale, throwing light into many a dark place, though there was little more that Hugh thought worthy of record.
Presently David came and started back in horror at the sight of that yellow tortured face set upon a living skeleton. Then the writing was read and Nicholas, held up by Dick, set his signature with a trembling hand to this his confession of the truth. This done they signed as witnesses, all three of them.
Now Hugh, whose pity was stirred, wished to move Nicholas and lay him on a bed in some chamber, and if they could, find some one to watch him till the end. But the priest refused this charity.
“Let me die before the altar,” he said, “where I may set my eyes upon Him whom I have betrayed afresh,” and he pointed to the carved ivory crucifix which hung above it. “Oh! be warned, be warned, my brethren,” he went on in a wailing voice. “You are all of you still young; you may be led astray as I was by the desire for power, by the hope of wealth. You may sell yourselves to the wicked as I did, I who once was good and strove toward the right. If Satan tempts you thus, then remember Nicholas the priest, and his dreadful death, and see how he pays his servants. The plague has taken others, yet they have died at peace, but I, I die in hell before I see its fires.”
“Not so,” said Hugh, “you have repented, and I, against whom you have sinned perhaps more than all, forgive you, as I am sure my lady would; could she know.”
“Then it is more than I do,” muttered Grey Dick to himself. “Why should I forgive him because he rots alive, as many a better man has done, and goes to reap what he has sown, who if he had won his way would have sent us before him at the dagger’s point? Yet who knows? Each of us sins in his own fashion, and perchance sin is born of the blood and not of the will. If ever I meet Murgh again I’ll ask him. But perhaps he will not answer. ”
Thus reflected Dick, half to David, who feared and did not understand him, and half to himself. Ere ever he had finished with his thoughts, which were not such as Sir Andrew would have approved, Father Nicholas began to die.
It was not a pleasant sight this death of his, though of its physical part nothing shall be written. Let that be buried with other records of the great plague. Only in this case his mind triumphed for a while over the dissolution of his body. When there was little left of him save bone and sinew, still he found strength to cry out to God for mercy. Yes, and to raise himself and cast what had been arms about the ivory rood and kiss its feet with what had been lips, and in his last death struggle to drag it down and pant out his ultimate breath beneath its weight.
So there they left him, a horrible, huddled heap upon which gleamed the ivory crucifix, and went their ways, gasping, into the air.
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HARD upon two months had gone by when at length these three, Hugh, Grey Dick, and David Day, set eyes upon the towers of stately Avignon standing red against the sunset and encircled by the blue waters of the Rhone. Terrible beyond imagination had been the journey of these men, who followed in the footsteps of Murgh. They saw him not, it is true, but always they saw his handiwork. Death, death, everywhere death, nothing but death!
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