Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“When I looked up again the chair was no longer empty. Hugh, a man sat in it, of whom I thought at first only one thing—that he must be very strong, though not bigger than other men. Strength seemed to flow from him. I should not have wondered if he had placed his hands upon the massive sides of that stone chair and torn it asunder.”

“What was he like, Father? Samson or Goliath?”

“I never saw either, son, so cannot say. But what was he like? Oh, I cannot say that either, although still I see him in my heart. My mortal lips will not tell the likeness of that man, perhaps because he seemed to be like all men, and yet different from all. He had an iron brow, beneath which shone deep, cold eyes. He was clean-shaven, or perchance his face grew no hair. His lips were thick and still and his features did not change like those of other men. He looked as though he could not change; as though he had been thus for infinite ages, and yet remained neither young nor old. As for his dress, he wore a cloak of flaming red, such a cloak as your Eve loves to wear, and white sandals on his feet. There was no covering on his shaven head, which gleamed like a skull. His breast was naked, but across it hung one row of black jewels. From the sheen of them I think they must have been pearls, which are sometimes found of that colour in the East. He had no weapon nor staff, and his hands hung down on either side of the chair.

“For a long while I watched him, but if he saw me he took no note. As I watched I perceived that birds were coming to and leaving him in countless numbers, and thought that it must be their wings which made the constant soughing sound that filled all the still and dreadful air.”

“What kind of birds were they, Father?”

“I am not sure, but I think doves; at least, their flight was straight and swift like to that of doves. Yet of this I am not sure either, since I saw each of them for but a second. As they reached the man they appeared out of nothingness, and as they left the man they disappeared into nothingness. They were of two colours, snow-white and coal-black. The white appeared upon his right side, the black upon his left side. Each bird in those never-ceasing streams hovered for an instant by his head, the white over his right shoulder, the black over his left shoulder, as though they whispered a message to his ear, and having whispered were gone upon their errand.”

“What was that errand, Father?”

“How can I know, as no one ever told me? Yet I will hazard a guess that it had to do with the mystery of life and death. Souls that were born into the world, and souls departing from the world, perchance, making report to one of God’s great ministers clothed in flesh. But who can say? At least I watched those magic fowls till my eyes grew dizzy, and a sort of slumber began to creep to my brain.

“How long I stayed thus I do not remember, for I had lost all sense of time. In the end, however, I was awakened by a cold, soft voice, the sound of which seemed to flow through my veins like ice, that addressed me in our own rough English tongue, spoken as you and I learned it at our nurses’ knees.

“‘To what god were you praying just now, Andrew Arnold?’

“‘Oh, sir,’ I answered, ‘how do you, who dwell in Cathay, where I am a stranger, know my language and my name?’

“He lifted his cold eyes and looked at me, and I felt them pierce into the depths of my soul. In the same way that I know your heart,’ he said. ‘But do not ask questions. Answer them, that I may learn whether you are a true man or a liar.’

“‘I was praying to Christ,’ I faltered, ‘the Saviour of us all.’

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider