A few seconds later Basil lay dead upon the floor.
Grey Dick looked at him. Kneeling down, he thrust his hands into the man’s pockets, and took thence the gold that he had been hiding away when they came upon him, no small sum as it chanced.
“Our own come back with interest,” he said with one of his silent laughs, “and we shall need monies for our faring. Why, here’s a writing also which may tell those who can read it something.”
He cast it on the table, then turned to his master, who was awakening from his swoon.
Dick helped him to his feet.
“What has passed?” asked Hugh in a hollow voice.
“Murgh!” answered Dick, pointing to the dead man on the floor.
“Have you killed him, friend?”
“Ay, sure enough, as he strove to kill me,” and again he pointed, this time to the broken dagger.
Hugh made no answer, only seeing the writing on the table, took it up, and began to read like one who knows not what he does. Presently his eyes brightened and he said:
“What does this mean, I wonder. Hearken.”
“Rogue, you have cheated me as you cheat all men and now I follow her who is gone. Be sure, however, that you shall reap your reward in due season.
“I know not,” said Dick, “and the interpreter is silent,” and he kicked the body of Basil. “Perhaps I was a little over hasty who might have squeezed the truth out of him before the end.”
“‘Her who is gone,'” reflected Hugh aloud. “‘Tis Red Eve who is gone and de Noyon is scarcely the man to seek her among passed souls. Moreover, the Jews swear that he rode from Avignon two days ago. Come, Dick, let that carrion lie, and to the plague pit.”
An hour later and they stood on the edge of that dreadful place, hearing and seeing things which are best left untold. A priest came up to them, one of those good men who, caring nothing for themselves, still dared to celebrate the last rites of the Church above the poor departed.
“Friends,” he said, “you seem to be in trouble. Can I help you, for Jesus’ sake?”
“Perchance, holy Father,” answered Hugh. “Tell us, you who watch this dreadful place, was a woman wrapped in a red cloak thrown in here two or three days gone?”
“Alas, yes,” said the priest with a sigh, “for I read the Office over her and others. Nay, what are you about to do? By now she is two fathoms deep and burned away with lime so that none could know her. If you enter there the guards will not let you thence living. Moreover, it is useless. Pray to God to comfort you, poor man, as I will, who am sure it will not be denied.”
Then Dick led, or rather carried, Hugh from the brink of that awesome, common grave.
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IT WAS the last night of February, the bitterest night perhaps of all that sad winter, when at length Hugh de Cressi, Grey Dick, and David Day rode into the town of Dunwich. Only that morning they had landed at Yarmouth after a long, long journey whereof the perils and the horrors may be guessed but need not be written. France, through which they had passed, seemed to be but one vast grave over which the wail of those who still survived went up without cease to the cold, unpitying heavens.
Here in England the tale was still the same. Thus in the great seaport of Yarmouth scarcely enough people were left alive to inter the unshriven dead, nor of these would any stay to speak with them, fearing lest they had brought a fresh curse from overseas. Even the horses that they rode they took from a stable where they whinnied hungrily, none being there to feed them, leaving in their place a writing of the debt.
Betwixt Yarmouth and Dunwich they had travelled through smitten towns and villages, where a few wandered fearfully, distraught with sorrow or seeking food. In the streets the very dogs lay dead and in the fields they saw the carcasses of cattle dragged from the smokeless and deserted steadings and half hidden in a winding-sheet of snow. For the Black Plague spared neither man nor beast.
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