Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Hugh tried to speak, but his lips were dumb, nor did these ghosts take any heed of him, for their eyes were fixed elsewhere. To Murgh they went and stood before him silent. For a while he looked at them, then asked in his cold voice:

“Who am I, Eve Clavering?”

“The Man who came to visit me in my dream at Avignon and told me that I should live,” she answered slowly.

“And who say you that I am, Andrew Arnold, priest of Christ the God?”

“He whom I visited in my youth in far Cathay,” answered the old knight in an awed whisper. “He who sat beside the pool behind the dragon-guarded doors and was named Gateway of the Gods. He who showed to me that we should meet again in such a place and hour as this.”

“Whence come you now, priest and woman, and why?”

“We come from Avignon. We fled thence from one who would have done this maiden grievous wrong. He followed us. Not an hour gone he overtook us with his knaves. He set them on to seize this woman, hanging back himself. Old as I am I slew them both and got my death in it,” and he touched the great wound in his side with the hilt of the broken sword. “Our horses were the better; we fled across the swamp for Blythburgh, he hunting us and seeking my life and her honour. Thus we found you as it was appointed.”

Murgh turned his eyes. Following their glance, for the first time they saw Hugh de Cressi and near him Grey Dick labouring at the grave. Eve stretched out her arms and so stood with head thrown back, the light of the daybreak shining in her lovely eyes and on her outspread hair. Hugh opened his lips to speak but Murgh lifted his hand and pointed behind them.

They turned and there, not twenty paces from them, clad in armour and seated on a horse was Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Seigneur of Cattrina.

He saw, then wheeled round to fly.

“Archer, to your work!” said Murgh, “you know it.”

Ere the words had left his lips the great black bow was bent and ere the echoes died away the horse, struck in its stride by the keen arrow, sank dying to the ground.

Then Murgh beckoned to the rider and he came as a man who must. But, throwing down the bow, Grey Dick once more began to labour at the grave like one who takes no further heed of aught save his allotted task.

Acour stood before Murgh like a criminal before his judge.

“Man,” said the awful figure addressing him, “where have you been and what have you done since last we spoke together in the midday dark at Venice?”

Now, dragged word by slow word from his unwilling lips, came the answer of the traitor’s heart.

“I fled from the field at Venice because I feared this knight, and you, O Spirit of Death. I journeyed to Avignon, in France, and there strove to possess myself of yonder woman whom here in England, with the help of one Nicholas, I had wed, when she was foully drugged. I strove to possess myself of her by fraud and by violence. But some fate was against me. She and that aged priest bribed the knave whom I trusted. He caused a dead man and woman dressed in their garments to be borne from their lodging to the plague pit while they fled from Avignon disguised.”

Here for a moment Grey Dick paused from his labours at the grave and looked up at Hugh. Then he fell to them again, throwing out the peaty soil with both hands.

“My enemy and his familiar, for man he can scarcely be,” went on Acour, pointing first to Hugh and then to Dick, “survived all my plans to kill them and instead killed those whom I had sent after them. I learned that the woman and the priest were not dead, but fled, and followed them, and after me came my enemy and his familiar. Twice we passed each other on the road, once we slept in the same house. I knew them but they knew me not and the Fate which blinded me from them, saved them also from all my plots to bring them to their doom. The woman and the priest took ship to England, and I followed in another ship, being made mad with desire and with jealous rage, for there I knew my enemy would find and win her. In the darkness before this very dawn I overtook the woman and the priest at last and set my fellows on to kill the man. Myself I would strike no blow, fearing lest my death should come upon me, and so I should be robbed of her. But God fought with His aged servant who in his youth was the first of knights. He slew my men, then fled on with the woman, Eve of Clavering. I followed, knowing that he was sore wounded and must die, and that then the beauty which has lured me to shame and ruin would be mine, if only for an hour. I followed, and here at this place of evil omen, where first I saw my foe, I found you, O Incarnate Sword of Vengeance.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider