Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Then one by one they swore to be secret as the grave; and Eve swore also, though of her he had sought no promise. When this was finished Sir Andrew asked if any of his brothers accompanied Hugh, saying that if so they must arm.

“No,” answered Master de Cressi, “one of the family is enough to risk as well as four of our best servants. My sons bide here with me, who may need their help, though they are not trained to arms.”

“Perhaps it is as well,” said Sir Andrew drily, “though were I their age—well, let that be. Now, son Hugh, before you eat do you and Eve come with me into the church.”

At these words Hugh flushed red with joy, and opened his lips to speak.

“Nay, nay,” broke in Sir Andrew, with a frown; “for a different purpose to that which is in your mind. Man, is this a time for marrying and giving in marriage? And if it were, could I marry you who are stained with new-shed blood? ‘Tis that you both may be absolved from the guilt of that blood and learn the penance which God decrees to you through the mouth of me, His unworthy minister, in payment of its shedding. Thus you, son, may go forth upon your great adventure with a clean heart, and you, daughter, may await what shall befall with a quiet mind. Say, are you willing?”

Now they bowed their heads and answered that they were, though Eve whispered to Hugh that she misdoubted her of this talk of penance.

“So do I,” he replied, beneath his breath, “but he is a merciful confessor and loves us. From some it might be harder.”

They passed down the stairs, followed by Master de Cressi and his other sons, into the entrance hall, where Grey Dick stood watching by the door.

“Whither go they?” he asked of Sir Andrew, “for their road is mine.”

“To confession at God’s altar,” answered the old priest. “Do you come also, Richard?”

“Oh!” he replied, “I hoped it had been to breakfast. As for confession I have naught upon my soul save that I shot too low at the Frenchman.”

“Bide where you are, O man of blood,” said Sir Andrew sternly: “and pray that a better mood be given to you before it is too late.”

“Ay, Father,” he answered unabashed. “I’ll pray, and it is as well that one should wait to watch the door lest you should all presently become men of blood against your will.”

Turning to the right, Sir Andrew led them down steps to a passage underground that joined the Temple to the Church of the Holy Virgin and St. John. It was but short, and at the end of it they found a massive door which he unbolted, and, passing this door, entered the great building, whereof the silence and the icy cold struck them like blows. They had but two lanterns between them, one of which Master de Cressi and his elder sons took with them to the nave of the church. Bearing the other, Sir Andrew departed into the vestry, leaving Hugh and Eve seated together in the darkness of the chancel stalls.

Presently his light reappeared in the confessional, where he sat robed, and thither at his summons went first Hugh and then Eve. When their tales were told, those who watched in the nave of the splendid building—which, reared by the Knights Templar, was already following that great Order to decay and ruin—saw the star of light he bore ascend to the high altar. Here he set it down, and, advancing to the rail, addressed the two shadowy figures that knelt before him.

“Son and daughter,” he said, “you have made confession with contrite hearts, and the Church has given you absolution for your sins. Yet penance remains, and because those sins, though grievous in themselves, were not altogether of your own making, it shall be light. Hugh de Cressi and Eve Clavering, who are bound together by lawful love between man and woman and the solemn oath of betrothal which you here renew before God, this is the penance that I lay upon you by virtue of the authority in me vested as a priest of Christ: Because between you runs the blood of John Clavering, the cousin of one of you and the brother of the other, slain by you, Hugh de Cressi, in mortal combat but yester eve, I decree and enjoin that for a full year from this day you shall not be bound together as man and wife in the holy bonds of matrimony, nor converse after the fashion of affianced lovers. If you obey this her command, faithfully, then by my mouth the Church declares that after the year has gone by you may lawfully be wed where and when you will. Moreover, she pronounces her solemn blessing on you both and her dreadful curse upon any and upon all who shall dare to sunder you against your desires, and of this blessing and this curse let all the congregation take notice.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider