Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

On such an eve, with snow threatening, the great marsh was utterly desolate, and this was why these two had chosen it for their meeting place.

To look on they were a goodly pair—the girl, who was clothed in the red she always wore, tall, dark, well shaped, with large black eyes and a determined face, a one who would make a very stately woman; the man broad shouldered, with grey eyes that were quick and almost fierce, long limbed, hard, agile, and healthy, one who had never known sickness, who looked as though the world were his own to master. He was young, but three-and-twenty that day, and his simple dress, a tunic of thick wool fastened round him with a leathern belt, to which hung a short sword, showed that his degree was modest.

The girl, although she seemed his elder, in fact was only in her twentieth year. Yet from her who had been reared in the hard school of that cruel age childhood had long departed, leaving her a ripened woman before her time.

This pair stood looking at each other.

“Well, Cousin Eve Clavering,” said the man, in his clear voice, “why did your message bid me meet you in this cold place?”

“Because I had a word to say to you, Cousin Hugh de Cressi,” she answered boldly; “and the marsh being so cold and so lonesome I thought it suited to my purpose. Does Grey Dick watch yonder?”

“Ay, behind those willows, arrow on string, and God help him on whom Dick draws! But what was that word, Eve?”

“One easy to understand,” she replied, looking him in the eyes—”‘Farewell!”‘

He shivered as though with the cold, and his face changed.

“An ill birthday greeting, yet I feared it,” he muttered huskily, “but why more now than at any other time?”

“Would you know, Hugh? Well, the story is short, so I’ll set it out. Our great-grandmother, the heiress of the de Cheneys, married twice, did she not, and from the first husband came the de Cressis, and from the second the Claverings. But in this way or in that we Claverings got the lands, or most of them, and you de Cressis, the nobler stock, took to merchandise. Now since those days you have grown rich with your fishing fleets, your wool mart, and your ferry dues at Walberswick and Southwold. We, too, are rich in manors and in land, counting our acres by the thousand, but yet poor, lacking your gold, though yonder manor”—and she pointed to some towers which rose far away above the trees upon the high land—”has many mouths to feed. Also the sea has robbed us at Dunwich, where I was born, taking our great house and sundry streets that paid us rent, and your market of Southwold has starved out ours at Blythburgh.”

“Well, what has all this to do with you and me, Eve?”

“Much, Hugh, as you should know who have been bred to trade,” and she glanced at his merchant’s dress. “Between de Cressi and Clavering there has been rivalry and feud for three long generations. When we were children it abated for a while, since your father lent money to mine, and that is why they suffered us to grow up side by side. But then they quarrelled about the ferry that we had set in pawn, and your father asked his gold back again, and, not getting it, took the ferry, which I have always held a foolish and strife-breeding deed, since from that day forward the war was open. Therefore, Hugh, if we meet at all it must be in these frozen reeds or behind the cover of a thicket, like a village slut and her man.”

“I know that well enough, Eve, who have spoken with you but twice in nine months.” And he devoured her beautiful face with hungry eyes. “But of that word, ‘Farewell’—”

“Of that ill word, this, Hugh: I have a new suitor up yonder, a fine French suitor, a very great lord indeed, whose wealth, I am told, none can number. From his mother he has the Valley of the Waveney up to Bungay town—ay, and beyond—and from his father, a whole county in Normandy. Five French knights ride behind his banner, and with them ten squires and I know not how many men-at-arms. There is feasting yonder at the manor, I can tell you. Ere his train leaves us our winter provender will be done, and we’ll have to drink small beer till the wine ships come from France in spring.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider