Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“As the ambassador of that King I protest,” broke in Sir Geoffrey. “It is an insult that such a word should be used before me.”

“I accept the protest of his Excellency, who forgot his noble presence,” replied Cattrina bowing back. “Seeing that his King, who is not a cut-throat”—here a titter of laughter went through the company, though it was evident from the frown upon his face that the Doge liked the jest ill—”has chosen to make a knight of this de Cressi. Or so he says, which will show you, friends all, how hard it must be to find gentlemen in England.”

Again the company tittered, though Dick’s grey face turned scarlet and he bit upon his pale lip until the blood ran.

“As you accept the challenge,” broke in the Doge shortly, “cease from gibes, my lord, which more befit an angry woman’s mouth than that of one whose life it about to be put to hazard, and take up the gage of his Grace of England.”

Cattrina looked round and bade a page who waited on his person obey the Doge’s command, saying:

“Your pardon, most Illustrious, if I do not touch that glove myself, as it seems somewhat foul. I think it must have served its owner in his useful labours at the dyer’s vat before his master made him noble.”

Now it was Hugh’s turn to colour, but when he understood the insult Grey Dick could contain himself no more.

“Ay, Sir Cheat and Traitor,” he said in his hissing voice. “The vat in which it has been dipped was that of the life-blood of your dupe, Sir Pierre de la Roche, and of many a nobler Norman. Oh, did we not stand where we do I’d thrust it down your false throat, and with it twist out your slanderous tongue.”

“Peace, peace!” cried the Doge, while those present who understood English translated Dick’s wild words to their neighbours, and Cattrina laughed mockingly at the success of his sneer. “Have I not said that such words are unseemly? Ah! I thought it; well, my lord, you have brought it on yourself.”

For while he spoke, the page, a mincing young man tied up with bows and ribbon like a woman, had lifted the glove. Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, he returned it to Hugh with a low, mock bow, being careful as he did so, as all might see, to tread upon Dick’s foot and hustle him. Next moment two things happened. The first was that, dropping his cased bow, Grey Dick seized that youth in his iron grip and hurled him into the air so that he fell heavily on the marble floor and lay there stunned, the blood running from his nose and mouth. The second was that, seizing his gauntlet, Hugh strode to where Cattrina stood and struck him with it across the face, saying:

“Let your lips kiss what your fingers are too fine to touch.” With an oath Cattrina drew his sword and out flashed Hugh’s in answer, as he cried:

“Ay, here and now if you will! Here and now!”

Then the Guard rushed in and forced them apart.

“Is this a place for brawling?” cried Dandolo in wrath, adding: “Yet I cannot blame the Englishmen overmuch, seeing that they were sore affronted, as I saw with my eyes and heard with my ears. Be silent, my lord of Cattrina. After your fashion you make trouble at my Court. And—hearken all—blood so hot had best be quickly cooled lest one or other of these knights should take a fever. Moreover, the noble Cattrina has but to-day asked my leave to ride from Venice to-morrow, having urgent business at Avignon at the Court of Pope Clement. So I decree that this combat à outrance shall take place in our presence on the Campo del Marte to-morrow, three hours before noon, ere the sun grows too hot. To all the details of the combat our heralds will attend forthwith. Officer, take soldiers and escort the Ambassador and the Champion of his Grace of England, together with this Captain of Archers, back to their own door. Set guards there and see that none molest them by word or deed under pain of fine and strait imprisonment. Sir Geoffrey Carleon, your requests are granted; be pleased to write it to the most puissant Edward, whom you serve, and for this time fare you well. Why, what is it, Captain Ambrosio?” he added irritably, addressing a raw-boned, lantern-jawed giant of a man clad in the splendid uniform of the Guard who stepped before his throne and saluted.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider