Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Now Eve, who had come expecting to find her father at the point of death and was prepared to plead with him, at these violent words took fire as was her nature.

“You know well that you speak what is not true,” she said. “You and your Frenchmen strove to burn us out of Middle Marsh; my brother John struck Hugh de Cressi as though he were a dog and used words toward him that no knave would bear, let alone one better born that we are. Moreover, afterward once he spared his life, and Grey Dick, standing alone against a crowd, did but use his skill to save us. Is it murder, then to protect our honour and to save ourselves from death? And am I wrong to refuse to marry a fine French knave when I chance to love an honest man?”

“And, pray, am I your father, girl, that you dare to scold at me thus?” shouted Sir John, growing purple with wrath. “If I choose a husband for you, by what right do you refuse him, saying that you love a Dunwich shop-boy? Down on your knees and beg my pardon, or you shall have the whipping you have earned.”

Now Eve’s black eyes glittered dangerously.

“I’ll would it go with any man who dared to lay a hand upon me,” she said, drawing herself up and grasping the dagger in her girdle. “Yes, very ill, even though he were my own father. Look at me and say am I one to threaten? Ay, and before you answer bear in mind that there are those at my call who can strike hard, and that among them I think you’ll find the King of England.”

She paused.

“What hellish plot is this that you hatch against me?” asked Sir John, with some note of doubt in his voice. “What have I to fear from my liege lord, the King of England?”

“Only, sir, that you consort with and would wed me to one who, although you may not know it, has, I am told, much to fear from him, so much that I wonder that he has ridden to seek his Grace’s presence. Well, you are ill and I am angered and together we are but as steel and flint, from the meeting of which comes fire that may burn us both. Therefore, since being better than I thought, you need me not and have only cruel words for greeting, I’ll bid you farewell and get me back to those who are kindlier. God be with you, and give you your health again.”

“Ah!” said or rather snarled Sir John, “I thought as much and am ready for the trick. You’d win back to sanctuary, would you, and the company of that old wizard, Andrew Arnold, thence to make a mock of me? Well, not one step do you take upon that road while I live,” and pushing past her he opened the door and shouted aloud.

Apparently the men and woman whom Eve had met in the passage were still waiting there, for instantly they all reappeared.

“Now, fellows,” said Sir John, “and you, Jane Mell, take this rebellious girl of mine to the chamber in the prisoners’ tower, whence I think she’ll find it hard to fly to sanctuary. There lock her fast, feeding her with the bread and water of affliction to tame her proud spirit, and suffering none to go near her save this woman, Jane Mell. Stay, give me that bodkin which she wears lest she, who has learned bloody ways of late, should do some of you or herself a mischief.”

As he spoke one of the men deftly snatched the dagger from Eve’s girdle and handed it to Sir John who threw it into the farthest corner of the room. Then he turned and said:

“Now, girl, will you go, or must you be dragged?”

She raised her head slowly and looked him in the eyes. Mad as he was with passion there was something in her face that frightened him.

“Can you be my father?” she said in a strained, quiet voice. “Oh! glad am I that my mother did not live to see this hour.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider