Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Your honour, it seems, Eve. They say you are married to this traitor.”

“I married, and in this red robe! Why, that betokens blood, as blood there must be if I am wed to any man save you,” and she laughed, a dreadful laugh.

“In the name of Christ,” thundered old Sir Andrew, “tell me, John Clavering, what means this play? Yonder woman is no willing wife. She’s drugged or mad. Man, have you doctored your own daughter?”

“Doctored my daughter? I! I! Were you not a priest I’d tear out your tongue for those words. She’s married and of her own will. Else would she have stood silent at this altar?”

“It shall be inquired of later,” Hugh answered coldly. “Now yield you, Sir Edmund Acour, the King’s business comes first.”

“Nay,” shouted Clavering, springing forward and drawing his sword; “in my house my business comes first. Acour is my daughter’s husband and so shall stay till death or the Pope part them. Out of this, Hugh de Cressi, with all your accursed chap-man tribe.”

Hugh walked toward Acour, taking no heed. Then suddenly Sir John lifted his sword and smote with all his strength. The blow caught Hugh on the skull and down he fell, his mail clattering on the stones, and lay still. With a whine of rage Grey Dick leapt at Clavering, drawing from his side the archer’s axe he always wore. But old Sir Andrew caught and held him in his arms.

“Vengeance is God’s, not ours,” he said. “Look!”

As he spoke Sir John began to sway to and fro. He let fall his murdering sword, he pressed his hands upon his heart, he threw them high. Then suddenly his knees gave beneath him; he sank to the floor a huddled heap and sat there, resting against the altar rail over which his head hung backward, open mouthed and eyed.

The last light of the sky went out, only that of the tapers remained. Eve, awake at last, sent up shriek after shriek; Sir Andrew bending over the two fallen men, the murderer and the murdered, began to shrive them swiftly ere the last beat of life should have left their pulses. His father, brothers and Grey Dick clustered round Hugh and lifted him. The fox-faced priest, Nicholas, whispered quick words into the ears of Acour and his knights. Acour nodded and took a step toward Eve, who just then fell swooning and was grasped by Grey Dick with his left hand, for in his right he still held the axe.

“No, no,” hissed Nicholas, dragging Sir Edmund back, “life is more than any woman.” Then some one overset the tapers, so that the place was plunged in gloom, and through it none saw Acour and his train creep out by the chancel door and hurry to their horses, which waited saddled in the inner yard.

The frightened congregation fled from the nave with white faces, each seeking his own place, or any other that was far from Blythburgh Manor. For did not their dead master’s guilt cling to them, and would they not also be held guilty of the murder of the King’s officer, and swing for it from the gallows? So it came about that when at last lights were brought Hugh’s people found themselves alone.

“The Frenchmen have fled!” cried Grey Dick. “Follow me, men,” and with most of them he ran out and began to search the manor, till at length they found a woman who told them that thirty minutes gone Acour and all his following had ridden through the back gates and vanished at full gallop into the darkness of the woods.

With these tidings Dick returned to the chapel.

“Master de Cressi,” said Sir Andrew when he had heard it, “back with some of your people to Dunwich and raise the burgesses, warning them that the King’s wrath will be great if these traitors escape the land. Send swift messengers to all the ports; discover where Acour rides and follow him in force and if you come up with him, take him dead or living. Stop not to talk, man, begone! Nay, bide here, Richard, and those who rode with you to London, for Acour may return again and some must be left to guard the lady Eve and your master, quick or dead.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider