Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Then at length John Clavering rushed in and thrust. Hugh sprang back before his point. Again he rushed and thrust and again Hugh sprang back. A third time and Hugh fairly ran, whereon a shout went up from the Claverings.

“The chapman’s afraid!” cried one. “Give him a yard measure,” shouted another; “he cannot handle steel!”

Eve turned her face, and her very eyes were sick with doubt.

“Is it true?” she gasped.

“Ay,” answered Dick the Archer, “it’s true that he draws him to the river bank! Those who wait will learn why. Oh, the swan! He sees not the swan!”

As he spoke, Hugh, in his retreat before another of John Clavering’s rushes, struck his foot against the great dead bird, and staggered. John leapt upon him, and he went down.

“Is he pierced?” muttered Eve.

“Nay, missed,” answered Dick, “by half an inch. Ah, I thought so!”

As the words left his lips Clavering fell sprawling on his back, for Hugh had caught his leg with his left arm and thrown him, so that they lay both together on the ground.

There they closed, rolling over each other, but too close to stab.

“Now good-night, John,” said Dick, with his hoarse chuckle. “Throat him, master—throat him!”

The flurry in the snow was at an end. John lay on his back, de Cressi knelt on him and lifted his short sword.

“Do you yield?” men heard him say.

“Nay,” answered Clavering. Then suddenly Hugh rose and suffered his adversary to do likewise.

“I’ll not stick you like a hog!” he said, and some cried, “Well done!” for the act seemed noble. Only Acour muttered, “Fool!”

Next instant they were at it again, but this time it was Hugh who attacked and John who gave back right to the river’s edge, for skill and courage seemed to fail him at once.

“Turn your head, lady,” said Dick, “for now one must die.” But Eve could not.

The swords flashed for the last time in the red light, then that of de Cressi vanished. Clavering threw his arms wide, and fell backward. A splash as of a great stone thrown into water, and all was done.

Hugh stood a moment on the river’s bank, staring at the stream beneath; then he turned and began to walk slowly toward the dead swan.

Ere ever he reached it Sir John Clavering fell from his horse in a swoon, and a shout of rage went up from all his people.

“Kill him!” they yelled, and leapt forward.

Now Hugh understood, and ran for the point of land. One man, a Frenchman, got in front of him. He cut him down, and sped on.

“What now?” said Eve, as he joined them. He did not answer, only pointed first to the Clavering folk and next to the water, showing that she must choose between the two.

“Swim for it!” growled Grey Dick. “I’ll hold them back a while and then join you,” and as he spoke his bow twanged.

For an instant Eve paused, then threw off her scarlet cloak.

“Remember, I slew your brother!” said Hugh hoarsely.

“I remember that he would have slain you,” she answered; and leapt straight from the point into the icy flood, beneath which her head sank.

When it rose again there was another head beside it, that of dead John, who appeared for one moment, to be seen no more for ever, since ere morning, the ocean had him.

Now Hugh leapt after her, and presently the pair of them were swimming side by side to the river’s further shore. Then, as now, it was but a narrow stream. Yet they did not reach it easily, for, cumbered as they were with clothes, and numbed by the ice-cold water, the fierce tide caught them and carried them beyond the bend. There they were lost in the gathering darkness, so that most of those who watched believed that they had sunk and drowned. But it was not so, for after a long struggle they came safe to shore near to a clump of willows, and clambered over the frozen mud to the heath beyond.

“First fire, then water,” said Hugh, in a mazed voice.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider