Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Speak not so, father,” answered Hugh, who was moved almost to tears. “Mayhap it is I who shall die, while you live on to a green old age. At least know that I am not forgetful of your love and kindness, seeing that after Eve you are dearer to me than any on the earth.”

“Ay, ay, after Eve and Eve’s children. Still you’ll have a kind thought for me now and then, the old merchant who so often thwarted you when you were a wayward lad—for your own good, as he held. For what more can a father hope? But let us not weep before all these stranger men. Farewell, son Hugh, of whom I am so proud. Farewell, son Hugh,” and he embraced him and went across the gangway, for the sailors were already singing their chanty at the anchor.

“I never had a father that I can mind,” said Grey Dick aloud to himself, after his fashion, “yet now I wish I had, for I’d like to think on his last words when there was nothing else to do. It’s an ugly world as I see it, but there’s beauty in such love as this. The man for the maid and the maid for the man—pish! they want each other. But the father and the mother—they give all and take nothing. Oh, there’s beauty in such love as this, so perhaps God made it. Only, then, how did He also make Crecy Field, and Calais seige, and my black bow, and me the death who draws it?”

The voyage to Genoa was very long, for at this season of the year the winds were light and for the most part contrary. At length, however, Hugh and Dick came there safe and sound. Having landed and bid farewell to the captain and crew of the ship, they waited on the head of a great trading house with which Master de Cressi had dealings.

This signor, who could speak French, gave them lodging and welcomed them well, both for the sake of Hugh’s father and because they came as messengers from the King of England. On the morrow of their arrival he took them to a great lord in authority, who was called a Duke. This Duke, when he learned that one was a knight and the other a captain archer of the English army and that they both had fought at Crecy, where so many of his countrymen—the Genoese bowmen—had been slain, looked on them somewhat sourly.

Had he known all the part they played in that battle, in truth his welcome would have been rough. But Hugh, with the guile of the serpent, told him that the brave Genoese had been slain, not by the English arrows, for which even with their wet strings they were quite a match (here Dick, who was standing to one side grinned faintly and stroked the case of his black bow, as though to bid it keep its memories to itself), but by the cowardly French, their allies. Indeed Hugh’s tale of that horrible and treacherous slaughter was so moving that the Duke burst into tears and swore that he would cut the throat of every Frenchman on whom he could lay hands.

After this he began to extol the merits of the crossbow as against the long arm of the English, and Hugh agreed that there was much in what he said. But Grey Dick, who was no courtier, did not agree. Indeed, of a sudden he broke in, offering in his bad French to fight any cross-bow man in Genoa at six score yards, so that the Duke might learn which was the better weapon. But Hugh trod on his foot and explained that he meant something quite different, being no master of the French tongue. So that cloud passed by.

The end of it was that this Duke, or Doge, whose name they learned was Simon Boccanera, gave them safe conduct through all his dominion, with an order for relays of horses. Also he made use of them to take a letter to the Doge of Venice, between which town and Genoa, although they hated each other bitterly, there was at the moment some kind of hollow truce. So having drunk a cup of wine with him they bade him farewell.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider