Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

In vain did his victim yell for mercy. He showed him none, till at length wearying of the game, he dealt him such a kick that he also flew over the thwarts to join his fellow-bully in the water.

Then seeing how it had gone with his companions who, sorely damaged, swam to the farther side of the canal and vanished, the third man, he whom they had first met, sheathed his knife. With many bows and cringes he pulled up the pole and pushed the punt to the steps of the house over which the flag hung, where people were gathering, drawn by the clamour.

“Does Sir Geoffrey Carleon dwell here?” asked Hugh in a loud voice, whereon a gentleman with a pale face and a grizzled beard who appeared to be sick, for he was leaning on a staff, hobbled from out the porch, saying:

“Ay, ay, that is my name. Who are you that make this tumult at my gates? Another turbulent Englishman, I’ll be bound.”

“Ay, sir, an Englishman called Sir Hugh de Cressi, and his companion, Richard the Archer, whom these rogues have tried to rob and murder, messengers from his Grace King Edward.”

Now Sir Geoffrey changed his tone.

“Your pardon if I spoke roughly, Sir Hugh, but we poor Envoys have to do with many rufflers from our own land. Enter, I pray you. My servants will see to your gear and horses. But first, what is the trouble between you and these fellows?”

Hugh told him briefly.

“Ah!” he said, “a common trick with foreigners. Well for you that night had not fallen, since otherwise they might have rowed you up some back waterway and there done you to death. The canals of Venice hide the traces of many such foul deeds. Mother of Heaven!” he added, “why, this boatman is none other than Giuseppe, the noted bravo,” and he turned and in Italian bade his servants seize the man.

But Giuseppe had heard enough. Springing into the water he swam like a duck for the farther bank of the canal, and, gaining it, ran swiftly for some alley, where he vanished.

“He’s gone,” said Sir Geoffrey, “and as well hunt with a lantern for a rat in a sewer as for him. Well, we have his boat, which shall be sent to the magistrate with letters of complaint. Only, Sir Hugh, be careful to wear mail when you walk about at night, lest that villain and his mates should come to collect their fare with a stiletto. Now, enter and fear not for your goods. My folk are honest. God’s name! how fearful is this heat. None have known its like. Steward, give me your arm.”

An hour later and Hugh, clad in fresh garments of sweet linen, bathed and shaved, sat at table in a great, cool room with Sir Geoffrey and his lady, a middle-aged and anxious-faced woman, while Grey Dick ate at a lower board with certain of the Envoy’s household.

“I have read the letters which concern the business of his Grace the King,” said Sir Geoffrey, who was toying languidly with some Southern fruits, for he would touch no meat. “They have to do with moneys that his Grace owes to great bankers of this city but does not yet find it convenient to discharge. I have seen their like before, and to-morrow must deal with them as best I may—no pleasant business, for these usurers grow urgent,” and he sighed. “But,” he added, “the King says that you, Sir Hugh de Cressi, whom he names his ‘brave, trusty and most well beloved knight and companion in war,’ “and he bowed courteously to Hugh, “have another business which he commands me to forward by every means in my power, and that without fail. What is this business, Sir Hugh?”

“It is set out, Sir Geoffrey, in a letter from his Grace to the Doge of Venice, which I am to ask you to deliver. Here it is. Be pleased to read it, it is open.” The Envoy took the letter and read it, lifting his eyebrows as he did so.

“By St. Mark,—he’s the right saint to swear by in Venice”—he exclaimed when he had finished, “this is a strange affair. You have travelled hither to offer single combat to Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon and Seigneur of Cattrina. The Doge is urged by his friendship to the throne of England to bring about this combat to the death, seeing that de Noyon has broken his oath of homage, has plotted to overthrow King Edward, has fought against him and that therefore you are his Grace’s champion as well as the avenger of certain private wrongs which you will explain. That’s the letter. Well, I think the Doge will listen to it, because he scarce dare do otherwise who wishes no quarrel with our country just now when it is victorious. Also this de Noyon, whom we call Cattrina here, has allied himself with certain great men of the Republic, with whom he is connected by blood, who are secret enemies to the Doge. Through them he strives to stir up trouble between Venice and England, and to raise mercenaries to serve the flag of France, as did the Genoese, to their sorrow. Therefore I think that in the Doge you will find a friend. I think also that the matter, being brought forward with such authority, the Seigneur de Cattrina will scarcely care to refuse your challenge if you can show that you have good cause for quarrel against him, since in such affairs the Venetians are punctilious. But now tell me the tale that I may judge better.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider