Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Without doubt it will, and that ere long, Richard, for know you that soon we sail again for France, whence the tempest held us back, and it is my pleasure that you sail with us. Therefore I name you one of our fletchers, with place about our person in our bodyguard of archers. Jack Green will show you your quarters, and instruct you in your duties, and soon you shall match your skill against his again, but next time with Frenchmen for your targets.”

“Sire,” said Dick, very slowly, “take back your arrow, for I cannot do as you will.”

“Why, man? Are you a Frenchman?” asked the King, angrily, for he was not wont to have his favours thus refused.

“My mother never told me so, Sire, although I don’t know for certain who my father may have been. Still, I think not, since I hate the sight of that breed as a farmer’s dog hates rats. But, Sire, I have a good master, and do not wish to change him for one who, saving your presence, may prove a worse, since King’s favour on Monday has been known to mean King’s halter on Tuesday. Did you not promise to whip me round your walls last night unless I shot as well as I thought I could, and now do you not change your face and give me golden arrows?”

At these bold words a roar of laughter went up from all who heard them, in which the King himself joined heartily enough.

“Silence!” he cried presently. “This yeoman’s tongue is as sharp as his shafts. I am pierced. Let us hear whom he will hit next.”

“You again, Sire, I think,” went on Dick, “because, after the fashion of kings, you are unjust. You praise me for my shooting, whereas you should praise God, seeing that it is no merit of mine, but a gift He gave me at my birth in place of much which He withheld. Moreover, my master there,” and he pointed to Hugh, “who has just done you better service than hitting a clout in the red and a dow beneath the wing, you forget altogether, though I tell you he can shoot almost as well as I, for I taught him.”

“Dick, Dick!” broke in Hugh in an agony of shame. Taking no heed, Dick went on imperturbably: “And is the best man with a sword in Suffolk, as the ghost of John Clavering knows to-day. Lastly, Sire, you send this master of mine upon a certain business where straight arrows may be wanted as well as sharp swords, and yet you’d keep me here whittling them out of ashwood, who, if I could have had my will, would have been on the road these two hours gone. Is that a king’s wisdom?”

“By St. George!” exclaimed Edward, “I think that I should make you councillor as well as fletcher, since without doubt, man, you have a bitter wit, and, what is more rare, do not fear to speak the truth as you see it. Moreover, in this matter, you see it well. Go with Hugh de Cressi on the business which I have given him to do, and, when it is finished, should both or either of you live, neglect not our command to rejoin us here, or—if we have crossed the sea—in France. Edward of England needs the service of such a sword and such a bow.”

“You shall have them both, Sire,” broke in Hugh, “for what they are worth. Moreover, I pray your Grace be not angry with Grey Dick’s words, for if God gave him a quick eye, He also gave him a rough tongue.”

“Not I, Hugh de Cressi, for know, we love what is rough if it be also honest. It is smooth, false words of treachery that we hate, such words as are ever on the lips of one whom we send you forth to bring to his account. Now to your duty. Farewell till we meet again, whether it be here or where all men, true or traitors, must foot their bill at last.”

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Chapter VI

The Snare

ABOUT noon of the day on which Hugh and his company had ridden for London, another company entered Dunwich—namely, Sir John Clavering and many of his folk, though with him were neither Sir Edmund Acour nor any of his French train. Sir John’s temper had never been of the best, for he was a man who, whatever his prosperity, found life hard and made it harder for all those about him. But seldom had he been angrier than he was this day, when his rage was mingled with real sorrow for the loss of his only son, slain in a fight brought about by the daughter of one of them and the sister of the other and urged for honour’s sake by himself, the father of them both.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider