Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

It was a melancholy scene. The nave of the great church, lighted only with the torches borne by the six monks of the black Augustines from the neighbouring priory of St. Osyth; the candles, little stars of light, burning far away upon the altar; the bearers of the household of the Claverings and the uncoffined corpses lying on their biers by the edge of the yawning graves; the mourners in their mail; the low voice of the celebrating priest, a Frenchman, Father Nicholas, chaplain to Acour, who hurried through the Latin service as though he wished to be done with it; the deep shadows of the groined roof whereon the rain pattered—such were the features of this interment. It was done at last, and the poor dead, but a few days before so full of vigour and of passion, were left to their last sleep in the unremembered grave. Then the mourners marched back to the manor across the Middle Marsh and sought their beds in a sad silence.

Shortly after daybreak they were called from them again by the news that those who had followed Hugh de Cressi had returned. Quickly they rose, thinking that these came back with tidings of accomplished vengeance, to find themselves face to face with seven starved and miserable men who, all their horses being dead, had walked hither from Dunwich.

The wretched story was learned at length, and then followed that violent scene, which has been told already, when Acour cursed his followers as cowards, and Clavering, sobered perhaps by the sadness of the midnight burial or by the memory of Arnold’s words, reproved him. Lastly, stung by the taunts that were heaped upon them, Sir Pierre de la Roche gave Hugh’s message—that if they lifted hand against his love or his House he would kill them like ravening wolves, “which I think he certainly will do, for none can conquer him and his henchman,” he added shortly.

Then Sir John’s rage flared up again like fire when fresh fuel is thrown on ashes. He cursed Hugh and Grey Dick; he cursed his daughter; he even cursed Acour and asked for the second time how it came about that he who had brought all this trouble on him was given the evil name of traitor.

“I know not,” answered Sir Edmund fiercely, and laying his hand upon his sword, “but this I know, that you or any man will do well not to repeat it if you value life.”

“Do you threaten me?” asked Sir John. “Because, if so, you will do well to begone out of this house of shame and woe lest you be borne out feet first. Nay, nay, I forgot,” he added slowly, clasping his head in his hands, “you are my daughter’s affianced, are you not, and will give her high place and many famous titles, and her son shall be called Clavering, that the old name may not die but be great in England, in France, and in Italy. You must bide to marry her, lest that cuckoo, Hugh de Cressi, that cuckoo with the sharp bill, should creep into my nest. I’ll not be worsted by a stripling clad in merchant’s cloth who slew my only son. Take not my words ill, noble Noyon, for I am overdone with grief for the past and fear for the future. You must bide to marry her by fair means or by foul. Draw her from the sanctuary and marry her whether she say you yea or nay. You have my leave, noble Noyon,” and so speaking he swayed and fell prone upon the floor.

At first they thought that he was dead. But the chaplain, Nicholas, who was a leech, bled him, and he came to himself again, although he still wandered in his talk and lay abed.

Then Acour and Nicholas took counsel together.

“What is to be done?” said Sir Edmund, “for I am on fire for this maid, and all her scorn and hate do but fan my flame. Moreover, she is now very rich, for that old hot-head cannot live long. His violent humours will kill him, and, as you know, Father, although I have great possessions, my costs are large and I have still greater debts. Lastly, shall de Noyon and his knights be worsted by a wool-merchant’s younger son, a mere prentice lad, and his henchman, a common archer of the fens? Show me how to get her, Nicholas, and I’ll make an abbot of you yet. This sanctuary, now? will it hold? If we stormed the place and took her, would the Holy Father give us absolution, do you think?”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider