Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Hugh obeyed, and at a sign took Eve by the hand. Then, speaking very low and as quickly as he might for his life was draining from him through the red wound in his side, the old priest spoke the hallowed words that bound these two together till death should part them. Yes, there by the graveside, over the body of the dead Acour, there in the red light of the morning, amidst the lonely snows, was celebrated the strangest marriage the world has ever seen. In nature’s church it was celebrated, with the grim, grey Archer for a clerk, and Death’s own fearful minister for congregation.

It was done and with uplifted, trembling hands Sir Andrew blessed them both—them and the fruit of their bodies which was to be. He blessed them in the name of the all-seeing God he served. He bade them put aside their grief for those whom they had lost. Soon, he said, their short day done, the lost would be found again, made glorious, and with them himself, who, loving them both on earth, would love them through eternity.

Then, while their eyes grew blind with tears, and even the fierce archer turned aside his face, Sir Andrew Arnold staggered to where he stood who in the Land of Sunrise had been called Gateway of the Gods. Before him he bent his grey and ancient head.

“O thou who dwellest here below to do the will of heaven, to thee I come as once thou badest me,” he said, and was silent.

Murgh let his eyes rest on him. Then stretching out his hand, he touched him very gently on the breast, and as he touched him smiled a sweet and wondrous smile.

“Good and faithful servant,” he said, “thy work is done on earth. Now I, whom all men fear, though I be their friend and helper, am bidden by the Lord of life and death to call thee home. Look up and pass!”

The old priest obeyed. It seemed to those who watched that the radiance on the face of Murgh had fallen upon him also. He smiled, he stretched his arms upward as though to clasp what they might not see. Then down he sank gently, as though upon a bed, and lay white and still in the white, still snow.

The Helper turned to the three who remained alive.

“Farewell for a little time,” he said. “I must be gone. But when we meet again, as meet we shall, then fear me not, for have you not seen that to those who love me I am gentle?”

Hugh de Cressi and Red Eve made no answer, for they knew not what to say. But Grey Dick spoke out boldly.

“Sir Lord, or Sir Spirit,” he said, “save once at the beginning, when the arrow burst upon my string, I never feared you. Nor do I fear your gifts,” and he pointed to the grave and to dead Sir Andrew, “which of late have been plentiful throughout the world, as we of Dunwich know. Therefore I dare to ask you one question ere we part for a while. Why do you take one and leave another? Is it because you must, or because every shaft does not hit its mark?”

Now Murgh looked him up and down with his sunken eyes, then answered:

“Come hither, archer, and I will lay my hand upon your heart also and you shall learn.”

“Nay,” cried Grey Dick, “for now I have the answer to the riddle, since I know you cannot lie. When we die we still live and know; therefore I’m content to wait.”

Again a smile swept across Murgh’s awful face though that smile was cold as the winter dawn. Then he turned and slowly walked away toward the west. They watched him go till he became but a blot of fantastic colour that soon vanished on the moorland.

Hugh spoke to Red Eve and said:

“Wife, let us away from this haunted place and take what joy we can. Who knows when Murgh may return again and make us as are all the others whom we love!”

“Ay, husband won at last,” she answered, “who knows? Yet, after so much fear and sorrow, first I would rest a while with you.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider