Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Nay, come no nearer,” he said to the clerk, “for this infection is most subtle, and—be so good as to cast off that filthy cloak of yours and leave it by the door.”

Basil obeyed, revealing an undergarment that was still more foul. He was not one who wasted money upon new apparel.

“Well, man,” said Acour, surveying him with evident disgust and throwing a handful of dried herbs upon the fire, “what news now? Has my cause been laid before his Holiness? I trust so, for know that I grow weary of being cooped up here like a falcon in a cage with the dread of a loathsome death and a handful of frightened servants as companions who do nothing but drone out prayers all day long.”

“Yes, lord, it has. I have it straight from Clement’s own secretary, and the answer is that his Holiness will attend to the matter when the pest has passed away from Avignon, and not before. He adds also that when it does so, if ever, all the parties to the cause, by themselves or by their representatives, must appear before him. He will give no ex parte judgment upon an issue which, from letters that have reached him appears to be complicated and doubtful.”

“Mother of Heaven!” exclaimed Acour, “what a fool am I to let you in to tell me such tidings. Well, if that is all you have to say the sooner I am out of this hateful city the better. I ride this afternoon, or, if need be, walk on foot.”

“Indeed,” said Basil. “Then you leave behind you some who are not so frightened of their health, but who bide here upon a very similar errand. Doubtless, as often happens to the bold, they will find a way to fulfil it.”

“And who may these be, fellow?”

“A bold and warlike knight, a squire with hair like tow and a face that might be worn by Death himself, and a young English serving man.” Acour started up from the chair in which he had sat down.

“No need to tell me their names,” he said, “but how, by hell’s gate, came de Cressi and his familiar here.”

“By the road, I imagine, lord, like others. At least, a few days ago they were seen travelling toward the bridge of St. Benezet in the company of certain Jews, whom, I am informed, they had rescued from the just reward of their witchcraft. I have a note of all the facts, which include the slaying of sundry good Christians on behalf of the said Jews.”

“Jews? Why, that is enough to hang them in these times. But what do they here and where do they lodge?”

“Like your lordship they strive to see the Pope. They desire that an alleged marriage between one Sir Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon and Seigneur of Cattrina, and one lady Eve Clavering, an Englishwoman, may be declared null and void. As they have been so good as to honour me with their confidence and appoint me their agent, I am able to detail the facts. Therefore I will tell you at once that the case of this knight de Cressi appears to be excellent, since it includes the written confession of a certain Father Nicholas, of whom perhaps you have heard.”

“The written confession of Nicholas! Have you seen it?”

“Not as yet. So far I have been trusted with no original documents. Is it your will that I should try to possess myself of these? Because, if so, I will do my best, provided—” and he looked at the pocket of Acour’s robe.

“How much?” asked Acour. The man named a great sum, half to be paid down and half on the delivery of the papers.

“I’ll double it,” said Acour, “if you can bring it about that these insolent Englishmen die—of the pest.”

“How can I do that, lord?” asked Basil with a sour smile. “Such tricks might work backward. I might die, or you. Still these men have committed crimes, and just now there is a prejudice against Jews.”

“Ay,” said Acour, “the Englishmen are sorcerers. I tell you that in Venice they were seen in the company of that fiend of the yellow cap and the fur robe who appears everywhere before the pest.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider