Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

So they rode up to the house and found Dick’s friend, the farmer, lying dead there in his own yard, whither his family had dragged him ere they determined to fly the place. Still, there was fodder in the stable and they lit a fire on the kitchen hearth and drank of the wine which they had brought with them from the ship, and ate of the bacon which still hung from the rafters. This done, they lay down to sleep a while. About one in the morning, however, Hugh roused Dick and David, saying that he could rest no more and that something in his heart bade him push on to Dunwich.

“Then let us follow your heart, master,” said Dick, yawning. “Yet I wish it had waited till dawn to move you. Yes, let us follow your heart to good or ill. David, go you out and saddle up those nags.”

For Dick had worked late at their mail and weapons, which now were bright and sharp again, and was very weary.

It was after three in the morning when at length, leaving the heath, they rode up to Dunwich Middlegate, expecting to find it shut against them at such an hour. But it stood open, nor did any challenge them from the guardhouse.

“They keep an ill watch in Dunwich now-a-days,” grumbled Dick. “Well, perchance there is one here to whom they can trust that business.”

Hugh made no answer, only pressed on down the narrow street, that was deep and dumb with snow, till at length they drew rein before the door of his father’s house, in the market-place, the great house where he was born. He looked at the windows and noted that, although they were unshuttered, no friendly light shone in them. He called aloud, but echo was his only answer, echo and the moan of the bitter wind and the sullen roar of the sea.

“Doubtless all men are asleep,” he said. “Why should it be otherwise at such an hour? Let us enter and waken them.”

“Yes, yes,” answered Dick as he dismounted and threw the reins of his horse to David. “They are like the rest of Dunwich—asleep.”

So they entered and began to search the house by the dim light of the moon. First they searched the lower chambers, then those where Hugh’s father and his brothers had slept, and lastly the attics. Here they found the pallets of the serving-folk upon the floor, but none at rest upon them.

“The house is deserted,” said Hugh heavily.

“Yes, yes,” answered Dick again, in a cheerful voice; “doubtless Master de Cressi and your brothers have moved away to escape the pest.”

“Pray God they have escaped it!” muttered Hugh. “This place stifles me,” he added. “Let us out.”

“Whither shall we go, master?”

“To Blythburgh Manor,” he answered, “for there I may win tidings. David, bide you here, and if you can learn aught follow us across the moor. The manor cannot be missed.”

So once more Hugh and Dick mounted their horses and rode away through the town, stopping now and again before some house they knew and calling to its inmates. But though they called loudly none answered. Soon they grew sure that this was because there were none to answer, since of those houses many of the doors stood open. Only one living creature did they see in Dunwich. As they turned the corner near to the Blythburgh Gate they met a grey-haired man wrapped up in tattered blankets which were tied about him with haybands. He carried in his hand a beautiful flagon of silver. Doubtless he had stolen it from some church.

Seeing them, he cast this flagon into the snow and began to whimper like a dog.

“Mad Tom,” said Dick, recognizing the poor fellow. “Tell us, Thomas, where are the folk of Dunwich?”

“Dead, dead; all dead!” he wailed, and fled away.

“Stay! What of Master de Cressi?” called Hugh. But the tower of the church round which he had vanished only echoed back across the snow, “What of Master de Cressi?”

Then at last Hugh understood the awful truth.

It was that, save those who had fled, the people of Dunwich were slain with the Sword of Pestilence, and all his kin among them.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider