Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“No devil, girl, but a desire for your own good, and,” he added with a burst of truth, “for the greatness of my House after I am gone, which will be soon. For your old wizard spoke rightly when he said that I stand near to death.”

“Will marrying me to a man I hate be for my good and make your House great? I tell you, sir, it would kill me and bring the Claverings to an end. Do you desire also that your broad lands should go to patch a spendthrift Frenchman’s cloak? But what matters your desire seeing that I’ll not do it, who love another man worth a score of him; one, too, who will sit higher than any Count of Noyon ever stood.”

“Pish!” he said. “‘Tis but a girl’s whim. You speak folly, being young and headstrong. Now, to have done with all this mummer’s talk, will you swear to me by our Saviour and on the welfare of your soul to break with Hugh de Cressi once and forever? For if so I’ll let you free, to leave me if you will, and dwell where it pleases you.”

She opened her lips to answer but he held up his hand, saying:

“Wait ere you speak, I have not done. If you take my offer I’ll not even press Sir Edmund Acour on you; that matter shall stand the chance of time and tide. Only while you live you must have no more to do with the man who slew your brother. Now will you swear?”

“Not I,” she answered. “How can I who but a few days ago before God’s altar and His priest vowed myself to this same Hugh de Cressi for all his life?”‘

Sir John rose from the stool and walked, or, rather, tottered to the door.

“Then stay here till you rot,” he said quite quietly, “for I’ll give you no burial. As for this Hugh, I would have spared him, but you have signed his death-warrant.”

He was gone. The heavy door shut, the bars clanged into their sockets. Thus these two parted, for when they met once more no word passed between them; and although she knew not how these things would end, Eve felt that parting to be dreadful. Turning her face to the wall, for a while she wept, then, when the woman Mell came with her bread and water, wiped away her tears and faced her calmly. After all, she could have answered no otherwise; her soul was pure of sin, and, for the rest, God must rule it. At least she would die clean and honest.

That night she was wakened from her sleep by the clatter of horses’ hoofs on the courtyard stones. She could hear no more because a wind blew that drowned all sound of voices. For a while a wild hope had filled her that Hugh had come, or perchance Sir Andrew, with the Dunwich folk, but presently she remembered that this was foolish, since these would never have been admitted within the moat. So sighing sadly she turned to rest again, thinking to herself that doubtless her father had called in some of his vassal tenants from the outlying lands to guard the manor in case it should be attacked.

Next morning the, woman Jane Mell brought her better garments to wear, of her best indeed, and, though she wondered why they were sent, for the lack of anything else to do she arrayed herself in them, and braided her hair with the help of a silver mirror that was among the garments. A little later this woman appeared again, bearing not bread and water, but good food and a cup of wine. The food she ate with thankfulness, but the wine she would not drink, because she knew that it was French and had heard Acour praise it.

The morning wore away to noon, and again the door opened and there stood before her—Sir Edmund Acour himself, gallantly dressed, as she noticed vaguely, in close-fitting tunic of velvet, long shoes that turned up at the toes and a cap in which was set a single nodding plume. She rose from her stool and set her back against the wall with a prayer to God in her heart, but no word upon her lips, for she felt that her best refuge was silence. He drew the cap from his head, and began to speak.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider