Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Next morning the horses arrived, and with them two led beasts to carry their baggage, in charge of a Genoese guide. So they departed on their long ride of something over two hundred English miles, which they hoped to cover in about a week. In fact, it took them ten days, for the roads were very rough and the pack-beasts slow. Once, too, after they had entered the territory of Venice, they were set on in a defile by four thieves, and might have met their end had not Grey Dick’s eyes been so sharp. As it was he saw them coming, and, having his bow at hand, for he did not like the look of the country or its inhabitants, leaped to earth and shot two of them with as many arrows, whereon the other two ran away. Before they went, however, they shot also and killed a pack-beast, so that the Englishmen were obliged to throw away some of their gear and go on with the one that remained.

At length, on the eleventh afternoon, they saw the lovely city of Venice, sparkling like a cluster of jewels, set upon its many islands amid the blue waters of the Adriatic. Having crossed some two miles of open water by a ferry which plied for the convenience of travellers, they entered the town through the western gate, and inquired as best they could (for now they had no guide, the Genoese having left them long before) for the house of Sir Geoffrey Carleon, the English Envoy. For a long while they could make no one understand. Indeed, the whole place seemed to be asleep, perhaps because of the dreadful heat, which lay over it like a cloud and seemed to burn them to the very bones.

Perplexed and outworn, at last Hugh produced a piece of gold and held it before a number of men who were watching them idly, again explaining in French that he wished to be led to the house of the English ambassador. The sight of the money seemed to wake their wits, for two or three of the fellows ran forward quarrelling with each other, till one of them getting the mastery, seized Hugh’s tired horse by the bridle and dragged it down a side street to the banks of a broad canal.

Here he called something aloud, and presently two men appeared rowing a large, flat-bottomed punt from a dock where it was hidden. Into this boat the horses and pack-beast were driven, much against their will. Hugh and Dick having followed them, the three Italians began to punt them along the canal, which was bordered with tall houses. A mile or so farther on it entered another canal, where the houses were much finer and built in a style of which they had never seen the like, with beautiful and fantastic arches supported upon pillars.

At length to their great joy they came opposite to a house over the gateway of which, stirless in the still air, hung a flag whereon were blazoned the leopards of England. Here the boatmen, pulling in their poles, save one to which they made the punt fast in mid-stream, showed by their gestures that they desired to be paid. Hugh handed the piece of gold to the man who had led them to the boat, whereon he was seized with a fit of uncontrollable fury. He swore, he raved, he took the piece of gold and cast it down on to the bilge-boards, he spat on it and his two companions did likewise.

“Surely they are mad,” said Hugh.

“Mad or no, I like not the looks of them,” answered Dick. “Have a care, they are drawing their knives,” and as he spoke one of the rogues struck him in the face; while another strove to snatch away the pouch that hung at his side.

Now Grey Dick awoke, as it were, To the man who had tried to take his pouch he dealt such a buffet that he plunged into the canal. But him who had struck him he seized by the arm and twisted it till the knife fell from his hand. Then gripping his neck in an iron grasp he forced him downward and rubbed his nose backward and forward upon the rough edge of the boat, for the Italian was but as a child to him when he put out his strength.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider