Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

So she spoke, and laughed recklessly.

Almost before she had finished her wild words the old man, who looked what he was, a knight arrayed in priestly robes, had run to a door at the end of the hall and was calling through it, “Mother Agnes! Mother Agnes!”

“Be not so hasty, Sir Andrew,” answered a shrill voice. “A posset must have time to boil. It is meet now that you wear a tonsure that you who are no longer a centurion should forget these ‘Come, and he cometh,’ ways. When the water’s hot—”

The rest of that speech was lost, for Father Arnold, muttering some word belonging to his “centurion” days, dived into the kitchen, to reappear presently dragging a little withered old woman after him who was dressed in a robe of conventual make.

“Peace, Mother Agnes, peace!” he said. “Take this lady, dry her, array her in your best gown, give her food, warm her, and bring her back to me. Short? What care I if the robe be short? Obey, or it will not be come, and he cometh, but go and she goeth, and then who will shelter one who talks so much?”

He thrust the pair of them through the kitchen door and, returning, led Hugh and Grey Dick up a broad oak stair to what had been the guest-hall of the Preceptory on its first floor.

It was a very great chamber where, before their Order was dispersed, all the Knights Templar had been wont to dine with those who visited them at times of festival. Tattered banners still hung among the cobwebs of the ancient roof, the shields of past masters with stately blazonings were carved in stone upon the walls. But of all this departed splendour but little could be seen, since the place was lit only by a single lamp of whale’s oil and a fire that burned upon the wide stone hearth, a great fire, since Father Arnold, who had spent many years of his life in the East, loved warmth.

“Now, Hugh de Cressi,” he said, “what have you done?”

“Slain my cousin, John of Clavering, Father, and perhaps another man.”

“In fair fight, very fair fight,” croaked Grey Dick.

“Who doubts it? Can a de Cressi be a murderer?” asked the priest. “And you, Richard the Archer, what have you done?”

“Shot a good horse and three bad men dead with arrows—at least they should be dead—and another through the hand, standing one against twenty.”

“A gallant—I mean—an evil deed,” broke in the old warrior priest, “though once it happened to me in a place called Damascus—but you both are wet, also. Come into my chamber; I can furnish you with garments of a sort. And, Richard, set that black bow of yours near the fire, but not too near. As you should know well, a damp string is ill to draw with. Nay, fear not to leave it; this is sanctuary, and to make sure I will lock the doors.”

Half an hour was gone by, and a very strange company had gathered round the big fire in the guest-chamber of the Temple, eating with appetite of such food as its scanty larder could provide for them. First there was Red Eve in a woollen garment, the Sunday wear of Mother Agnes for twenty years past and more, which reached but little below her knees, and was shaped like a sack. On her feet were no shoes, and for sole adornment her curling black hair fell about her shoulders, for so she had arranged it because the gown would not meet across her bosom. Yet, odd as it might be, in this costume Eve looked wonderfully beautiful, perhaps because it was so scant and the leathern strap about her waist caused it to cling close to her shapely form.

By her stood Hugh, wearing a splendid suit of chain armour. It had been Sir Andrew Arnold’s in his warlike years, and now he lent it to his godson Hugh because, as he said, he had nothing else. Also, it may have crossed the minds of both of them that such mail as this which the Saracens had forged, if somewhat out of fashion, could still turn swordcuts.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider