Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Only,” added Basil nervously, “it was noted afterward that all those who had tried to injure the man were among the first to die of the pest. Thank God, I was not one of them. Indeed I did my best to hold them back, which, perhaps, is the reason why I am alive to-day.”

“A strange story,” said Hugh, “though I have heard something like if in other cities through which we have passed. Well, till to-morrow at this hour, friend Basil.”

“We have learned two things, master,” said Dick, when the lawyer had bowed himself out. “First, that Acour is, or has been, in Avignon, and secondly, that Murgh the Messenger, Murgh the Sword, has been or is in Avignon. Let us go seek for one or the other of them, since for my part I desire to meet them both.”

So all that day they sought but found neither.

Next morning Basil reappeared, according to his promise, and informed them that their business was on foot. Also he said that it was likely to prove more difficult than he anticipated. Indeed, he understood that he who was named de Noyon and Cattrina, having friends among the cardinals, had already obtained some provisional ratification of his marriage with the lady Eve Clavering. This ratification it would now be costly and difficult to set aside.

Hugh answered that if only he could be granted an audience with his Holiness, he had evidence which would make the justice of his cause plain. What he sought was an audience.

The notary scratched his lantern jaws and asked how that could be brought about when every gate of the palace was shut because of the plague. Still, perhaps, it might be managed, he added, if a certain sum were forthcoming to bribe various janitors and persons in authority.

Hugh gave him the sum out of the store of gold they had taken from the robbers in the mountains, with something over for himself. So Basil departed, saying that he would return at the same hour on the morrow, if the plague spared him and them, his patrons, as he prayed the Saints that it might do.

Hugh watched him go, then turned to Dick and said:

“I mistrust me of that hungry wolf in sheep’s clothing who talks so large and yet does nothing. Let us go out and search Avignon again. Perchance we may meet Acour, or at least gather some tidings of him.”

So they went, leaving the Tower locked and barred, who perchance would have been wiser to follow Basil. A debased and fraudulent lawyer of no character at all, this man lived upon such fees as he could wring without authority from those who came to lay their suits before the Papal Court, playing upon their hopes and fears and pretending to a power which he did not possess. Had they done so, they might have seen him turn up a certain side street, and, when he was sure that none watched him, slip into the portal of an ancient house where visitors of rank were accustomed to lodge.

Mounting some stairs without meeting any one, for this house, like many others, seemed to be deserted in that time of pestilence, he knocked upon a door.

“Begone, whoever you are,” growled a voice from within. “Here there are neither sick to be tended nor dead to be borne away.”

Had they been there to hear it, Hugh and Dick might have found that voice familiar.

“Noble lord,” he replied, “I am the notary, Basil, and come upon your business.”

“Maybe,” said the voice, “but how know I that you have not been near some case of foul sickness and will not bring it here?”

“Have no fear, lord; I have been waiting on the healthy, not on the sick—a task which I leave to others who have more taste that way.”

Then the door was opened cautiously, and from the room beyond it came a pungent odour of aromatic essences. Basil passed in, shutting it quickly behind him. Before him at the further side of the table and near to a blazing fire stood Acour himself. He was clothed in a long robe and held a piece of linen that was soaked in some strong-smelling substance before his nose and mouth.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider