Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“He waved his arms and the black doves and the white doves ceased to appear and disappear, and the eternal soughing of their wings was silent. He pointed to the water at his feet and I saw, not a picture, but a scene so real that I could have sworn it was alive about me. Yes, those who took part in it stood in front of me as though the pool were solid ground that their feet pressed. You were one of them, son, you were one of them,” and the old knight paused, supporting himself against the mantel-shelf as though that recollection overcame him.

“What did you see?” whispered Hugh.

“By God’s holy name, son, I saw the Blythburgh Marshes deep in snow that was red, blood-red with the light of sunrise. Oh! I could not be mistook, there ran the wintry river, there the church tower soared, there were the frowning, tree-clad banks. There was the rough moorland over which the east wind piped, for the dead bracken bent before it, and not twenty paces from me leaped a hare, disturbed suddenly from its form by a hungry fox, whose red head peeped through the reeds. Yes, yes, I saw the brute’s white teeth gleam as it licked its disappointed lips, and I felt glad that its prey had beaten it! When you look upon that scene, Hugh, as one day you shall, remember the hare and the head of the hungry fox, and by these judge my truth.”

“A fox and a hare!” broke in Hugh. “I’d show you such to-morrow; was there no more?”

“Ay, much. For instance, a hollow in the Marsh, an open grave, and an axe; yes, an axe that had delved it where the bog was soft beneath the snow. Grey Dick held the axe in one hand and his black bow in the other, while Red Eve, your Eve, stood at its edge and stared into it like one in a dream. Then at the head of the grave an old, old man clad in mail beneath his priestly robes, and that man myself, Hugh, grown very ancient, but still myself, and no other.

“And at the foot of the grave you, Hugh de Cressi, you and no other, wayworn and fierce, but also clad in mail, and wearing a knight’s crest upon your shield. You with drawn sword in hand, and facing you, also with drawn sword, rage and despair on his dark face, a stately, foreign-looking man, whom mine eyes have never seen, but whom I should know again midst a million, a man who, I think, was doomed to fill the grave.

“Lastly, standing on a little mound near to the bank of the swirling river, where jagged sheets of ice ground against each other like the teeth of the wicked in hell, strangely capped and clad in black, his arms crossed upon his breast and a light smile in his cold eyes, he who was called Murgh in Cathay, he who named himself Gateway of the Gods!

“For a moment I saw, then all was gone, and I found myself—I know not why—walking toward the mighty arch whereon sat the iron dragons. In its shadow I turned and looked back. There at the head of the pool the man was seated in his chair, and to right and to left of him came the black doves and the white doves in countless multitudes, all the thousands of them that had been stayed in their flight pouring down upon him at once—or so I thought. They wheeled about his head, they hid his face from me, and I—I departed into the shadow of the arch, and I saw him and them no more.”

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Chapter IV

The Penance

THE tale was done, and these two stood staring at one another from each side of the glowing hearth, whose red light illumined their faces. At length the heavy silence was broken by Sir Andrew.

“I read your heart, Hugh,” he said, “as Murgh read mine, for I think that he gave me not only strength, but something of his wisdom also, whereby I was able to win safe back to England and to this hour to walk unharmed by many a pit. I read your heart, and in its book is written that you think me mad, one who pleases his old age with tales of marvel that others told him, or which his own brain fashioned.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider