Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Let us go on,” said Hugh, “for here it seems we are not welcome.”

So they went and tried three other inns in turn. At two of them they met with a like greeting, but the doors of the third were closed and the place was deserted. Then, for a crowd began to gather round them, wearily enough they turned up another street at hazard. Thus they wended their way back toward the great central rock, thinking that there they might find some more hospitable tavern.

Following this new street, they reached a less crowded suburb of the town, where large dwellings stood in their own gardens. One of these, they saw by the flare of some of those fires which burned all about the city in this time of pestilence, seemed to be a small castle. At least it had a moat round it and a drawbridge, which was down. Seeing that lamps burned in its windows, Hugh, who was worn out with their long journeyings, took a sudden resolution.

“Doubtless some knight dwells in this fine house,” he said to his companions. “Let us go up and declare our names and degree and by virtue of them claim the hospitality which is our right.”

“Be it so,” grumbled Dick. “We cannot be worse treated there than we were at the inns, unless the owner adds arrows to the swords and cudgels.”

They rode across the drawbridge to the gateway of the little castle, which was open, and, finding no one there, through a small courtyard to the door, which also was open.

David dismounted and knocked on it, but none answered.

“An empty house belongs to no one,” said Dick; “at any rate in these times. Let us enter.”

They did so, and saw that the place was sumptuously appointed. Though ancient, it was not large, having, as they afterward discovered, been a fortification on an outer wall now demolished, which had been turned to the purposes of a dwelling. Leaving the hall out of which opened the refectory, they mounted a stone stair to the upper chambers, and entered one of them.

Here they saw a strange and piteous sight. On a bed, about which candles still burned, lay a young woman who had been very beautiful, arrayed in a bride’s robe.

“Dead of the plague,” said Hugh, “and deserted at her death. Well, she had better luck than many, since she was not left to die alone. Her dress and these candles show it.”

“Ay,” answered Dick, “but fear took the watchers at last and they are fled. Well, we will fill their place, and, if they do not return to-morrow, give her honourable burial in her own courtyard. Here be fine lodgings for us, master, so let us bide in them until the rightful owners cast us out. Come, David, and help me raise that drawbridge.”

Fine lodgings these proved to be indeed, since, as they found, no house in Avignon was better furnished with all things needful. But, and this will show how dreadful were the times, during these days that they made this their home they never so much as learned the name of that poor lady arrayed in the bride’s dress and laid out upon her marriage bed.

In the butteries and cellar were plentiful provisions of food. Having eaten of it with thankfulness, they chose out one of the bed-chambers and slept there quite undisturbed till the morning sun shone in at the window-places and awoke them. Then they arose, and, digging a shallow grave in the courtyard with some garden tools which they found in a shed, they bore out the poor bride, and, removing only her jewels, which were rich enough, buried her there in her wedding dress. This sad duty finished, they washed themselves with water from the well, and breakfasted. After they had eaten they consulted as to what they should do next.

“We came here to lay a certain cause before his Holiness,” said Hugh. “Let us go up to the palace, declare our business and estate, and ask audience.”

So, leaving David in charge of the house, which they named the Bride’s Tower because of the dead lady and the little keep which rose above it, and of the horses that they had stalled in the stable, they went out and made their way to the great entrance of the Pope’s palace. Here they found the gates shut and barred, with a huge fire burning behind them.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider