Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

So Hugh told him all.

“A strange story and a good cause,” said Sir Geoffrey when he had done. “Only this Cattrina is dangerous. Had he known you came to Venice, mayhap you had never lived to reach my house. Go armed, young knight, especially after the sun sinks. I’ll away to write to the Doge, setting out the heads of the matter and asking audience. The messenger shall leave ere I sleep, if sleep I may in this heat. Bide you here and talk with my lady, if it so pleases you, for I would show you my letter ere we bid goodnight, and the thing is pressing. We must catch Cattrina before he gets wind of your presence in Venice.”

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Chapter XI

The Challenge

HOW long is it since you have seen England, Sir Hugh?” asked Dame Carleon languidly.

“Some eighteen months, lady, although in truth it seems more, for many things have happened to me in that time.”

“Eighteen months only! Why ’tis four long years since I looked upon the downs of Sussex, which are my home, the dear downs of Sussex, that I shall see never again.”

“Why say you so, lady, who should have many years of life before you?”

“Because they are done, Sir Hugh. Oh, in my heart I feel that they are done. That should not grieve me, since my only child is buried in this glittering, southern city whereof I hate the sounds and sights that men call so beautiful. Yet I would that I might have been laid at last in the kind earth of Sussex where for generations my forbears have been borne to rest,” and suddenly she began to weep.

“What ails you, lady? You are not well?”

“Oh, I know not. I think it is the heat or some presage of woe to come, not to me only, but to all men. Look, nature herself is sick,” and she led him to the broad balcony of the chamber and pointed to long lines of curious mist which in the bright moonlight they could see creeping toward Venice from the ocean, although what wind there was appeared to be off land.

“Those fogs are unnatural,” she went on. “At this season of the year there should be none, and these come, not from the lagoons, but up from the sea where no such vapours were ever known to rise. The physicians say that they foretell sickness, whereof terrible rumours have for some time past reached us from the East, though none know whether these be true or false.”

“The East is a large place, where there is always sickness, lady, or so I have heard.”

“Ay, ay, it is the home of Death, and I think that he travels to us thence. And not only I, not only I; half the folk in Venice think the same, though why, they cannot tell. Listen.”

As she spoke, the sound of solemn chanting broke upon Hugh’s ear. Nearer it grew, and nearer, till presently there emerged from a side street a procession of black monks who bore in front of them a crucifix of white ivory. Along the narrow margin which lay between the houses and the canal they marched, followed by a great multitude of silent people.

“It is a dirge for the dead that they sing,” said Dame Carleon, “and yet they bury no man. Oh! months ago I would have escaped from this city, and we had leave to go. But then came orders from the King that we must bide here because of his creditors. So here we bide for good and all. Hush! I hear my husband coming; say nothing of my talk, it angers him. Rest you well, Sir Hugh.”

“Truly that lady has a cheerful mind,” grumbled Grey Dick, when she had gone, leaving them alone upon the balcony. “Ten minutes more of her and I think I should go hang myself, or squat upon these stones and howl at the moon like a dog or those whimpering friars.”

Hugh made no answer, for he was thinking of his father’s tale of the prophecies of Sir Andrew Arnold, and how they grew sad in Dunwich also. In truth, like Lady Carleon, he found it in his heart to wish that he too were clear of Venice, which he had reached with so much toil.

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