Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“I think there’s a burying yonder,” he whispered, “at which all men gather.”

Hugh blanched, for might it not be Eve whom they buried? But Sir Andrew, noting it, said:

“Nay, nay, Sir John was sick. Come, let us look.”

The door of the chapel was open and they walked through it as quietly as they could, to find the place, which was not very large, filled with people. Of these they took no heed, for the last rays of the sunlight flowing through the western window, showed them a scene that held their eyes.

A priest stood before the lighted altar holding his hands in benediction over a pair who kneeled at its rail. One of these wore a red cloak down which her dark hair streamed. She leaned heavily against the rail, as a person might who is faint with sleep or with the ardour of her orisons. It was Red Eve, no other!

At her side, clad in gleaming mail, kneeled a knight. Close by Eve stood her father, looking at her with a troubled air, and behind the knight were other knights and men-at-arms. In the little nave were all the people of the manor and with them those that dwelt around, every one of them intently watching the pair before the altar.

The priest perceived them at first just as the last word of the blessing passed his lips.

“Why do armed strangers disturb God’s house?” he asked in a warning voice.

The knight at the altar rails sprang up and turned round. Hugh saw that it was Acour, but even then he noted that the woman at his side, she who wore Eve’s garment, never stirred from her knees.

Sir John Clavering glared down the chapel, and all the other people turned to look at them. Now Hugh and his company halted in the open space where the nave joined the chancel, and said, answering the priest:

“I come hither with my companions bearing the warrant of the King to seize Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, and convey him to London, there to stand his trial on a charge of high treason toward his liege lord, Edward of England. Yield you, Sir Edmund Acour.”

At these bold words the French knights and squires drew their swords and ringed themselves round their captain, whereon Hugh and his party also drew their swords.

“Stay,” cried old Sir Andrew in his ringing voice. “Let no blood be shed in the holy house of God. You men of Suffolk, know that you harbour a foul traitor in your bosoms, one who plots to deliver you to the French. Lift no hand on his behalf, lest on you also should fall the vengeance of the King, who has issued his commands to all his officers and people, to seize Acour living or dead.”

Now a silence fell upon the place, for none liked this talk of the King’s warrant, and in the midst of it Hugh asked:

“Do you yield, Sir Edmund Acour, or must we and the burgesses of Dunwich who gather without seize you and your people?”

Acour turned and began to talk rapidly with the priest Nicholas, while the congregation stared at each other. Then Sir John Clavering, who all this while had been listening like a man in a dream, suddenly stepped forward.

“Hugh de Cressi,” he said, “tell me, does the King’s writ run against John Clavering?”

“Nay,” answered Hugh, “I told his Grace that you were an honest man deceived by a knave.”

“Then what do you, slayer of my son, in my house? Know that I have just married my daughter to this knight whom you name traitor, and that here I defend him to the last who is now my kin. Begone and seek elsewhere, or stay and die.”

“How have you married her?” asked Hugh in a hollow voice. “Not of her own will, surely? Rise, Eve, and tell us the truth.”

Eve stirred. Resting her hands upon the altar rails, slowly she raised herself to her feet and turned her white face toward him.

“Who spoke?” she said. “Was it Hugh that Acour swore is dead? Oh! where am I? Hugh, Hugh, what passes?”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider