Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

But Acour did not laugh. He ground his teeth and said into the ear of Nicholas:

“Register this vow for me, priest, that in payment for that jest I’ll sack and burn Dunwich when our army comes, and give its men and children to the sword and its women to the soldiers.”

“It shall be done, lord,” answered the chaplain, “and should your heart soften at the appointed time I’ll put you in memory of this solemn oath.”

At the great house of the Mayor of Dunwich Sir Edmund drew rein and demanded to see him. Presently this Mayor, a timid, uncertain-looking man, came in his robes of office and asked anxiously what might be the cause of this message and why an armed band halted at his gate.

“For no ill purpose, sir,” answered Acour, “though little of justice have I found at your hands, who, therefore, must seek it at the Court of my liege lord, King Edward. All I ask of you is that you will cause this letter to be delivered safely to the lady Eve Clavering, who lies in sanctuary at the Preceptory of St. Mary and St. John. It is one of farewell, since it seems that this lady who, by her own will and her father’s, was my affianced, wishes to break troth, and I am not a man who needs an unwilling bride. I’d deliver it myself only that old knave, half priest and half knight, but neither good—”

“You’d best speak no ill of Sir Andrew Arnold here,” said a voice in the crowd.

“Only the master of the Preceptory,” went on Acour, changing his tone somewhat, “might take fright and think I wished to violate his sanctuary if I came there with thirty spears at my back.”

“And no fool either,” said the voice, “seeing that they are French spears and his is an English sanctuary.”

“Therefore,” continued Acour, “I pray you, deliver the letter. Perchance when we meet again, Master Mayor,” he added with a venomous glance of his dark eyes, “you will have some boon to ask of me, and be sure I’ll grant it—if I can.”

Then without waiting for an answer, for the mob of sturdy fishermen, many of whom had served in the French wars, looked threatening, he and his following rode away through the Ipswich gate and out on to the moorlands beyond, which some of them knew but too well.

All the rest of that day they rode slowly, but when night came, having halted their horses at a farm and given it out that they meant to push on to Wood-bridge, they turned up a by-track on the lonely heath, and, unseen by any, made their way through the darkness to a certain empty house in the marshes not far from Beccles town. This house, called Frog Hall, was part of Acour’s estate, and because of the ague prevalent there in autumn, had been long untenanted. Nor did any visit it at this season of the year, when no cattle grazed upon these salt marshes.

Here, then, he and his people lay hid, cursing their fortunes, since, notwithstanding the provisions that they had conveyed thither in secret, the place was icy cold in the bitter, easterly winds which tore over it from the sea. So lonely was it, also, that the Frenchmen swore that their comrades slain by Grey Dick haunted them at nights, bidding them prepare to join the number of the dead. Indeed, had not Acour vowed that he would hang the first man who attempted to desert, some of them would have left him to make the best of their way back to France. For always as they crouched by the smoking hearth they dreamed of Grey Dick and his terrible arrows.

Sir Edmund Acour’s letter came safely into the hands of Eve, brought to her by the Mayor himself. It read thus:


You will no more of me, so however much you should live to ask it, I will have no more of you. I go hang your merchant lout, and afterward away to France, who wish to have done with your cold Suffolk, where you may buy my lands cheap if you will. Yet, should Master Hugh de Cressi chance to escape me, I counsel you to marry him, for I can wish you no worse fate, seeing what you will be, than to remember what you might have been. Meanwhile it is my duty as a Christian to tell you, in case you should desire to speak with him ere it be too late, that your father lies at the point of death from a sickness brought on by his grief at the slaying of his son and your cruel desertion of him, and calls for you in his ravings. May God forgive you, as I try to do, all the evil that you have wrought, which, perhaps, is-not done with yet. Unless Fate should bring us together again, as for aught I know it may, I bid you farewell forever. Would that I had never seen your face, but well are you named Red Eve, who, like the false Helen in a story you have never heard, were born to bring brave men to their deaths. Again farewell,

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider