Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Most Illustrious,” said Ambrosio, in bad, guttural Italian, “my mother was a Swiss.”

“Then congratulations to the Swiss, Ambrosio, but what of it?”

“Very Illustrious,” replied the captain in his hollow voice, “the Swiss are brave and do not swallow insults. That lad whom the Englishman kicked, or smote, or tossed like a bull,” and he pointed to the poor page, who, still senseless, was being carried from the hall, “is my youngest brother, who resembles our Venetian father somewhat more than I do.”

“We see it, we see it. Indeed are you sure that the father was—” and the Doge checked himself. “The point, captain; we would dine.”

“Illustrious, I would avenge my brother and myself on the Englishman, whom I will beat to a jelly,” said the giant. “I crave leave to fight him to-morrow when the lord Cattrina fights his master,” and advancing toward Grey Dick he made as though he would pull his nose.

“What is it he wants?” asked Grey Dick, staring up at the great fellow with a look in his eyes that caused Ambrosio to cease flourishing his fists.

The challenge was translated to him, and its reason. “Oh,” said Dick, “tell him I am much obliged and that I will fight him with the bow or with the axe and dagger, or with all three. Then we will see whether he beats me to a jelly or whether I cut him into collops, who, as I think, needs shortening.”

Now the Captain Ambrosio consulted with his friends, who with much earnestness prayed him have nothing to do with arrows. They pointed out that there his bulk would put him at a disadvantage, especially in dealing with an English archer who had an eye like a snake and a face like that of death itself.

In short, one and all they recommended the battleaxe and the dagger as his most appropriate weapons-since his adversary refused swords. The battle-axe with which to knock him down, as he could easily do, being so strong, and the dagger with which to finish him.

When this was explained to Grey Dick he assented to the proposal with a kind of unholy joy that was almost alarming to those who saw it. Moreover, as neither of them had gauntlets to throw down or pick up, he stretched out his hand to seal the bargain, which, incautiously enough, the huge, half-breed Swiss accepted.

Dick’s grasp, indeed, was so firm and long that presently the giant was observed first to move uneasily, secondly to begin to dance and thirdly to shout out with pain.

“What is the matter?” asked his friends.

“The matter is,” he groaned, as Dick let go, “that this son of Satan has a blacksmith’s vise in place of a hand,” and he showed his great fingers, from beneath the nails of which the blood was oozing.

His Venetian companions of the Guard looked at them, then they looked at Grey Dick and gave him a wide berth. Also Ambrosio said something about having offered to fight a man and not a fiend. But it was too late to retract, for the Doge, taking, as was natural, no share in this small matter, had already left his throne.

Then, escorted by Sir Geoffrey and the city Guards, Hugh and Grey Dick passed through that splendid company away home to dinner, Dick carrying his bow-case in one hand and the sack of armour which de Noyon had not thought fit to claim in the other.

In the midst of dead silence, they departed, for now no one seemed to find either of them a fit subject for jest. Indeed there were some who said, as they watched the pair pass the door, that Cattrina and the giant would do well to consult a lawyer and a priest that night.

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Chapter XII

The Man from the East

IN A great, cool room of his splendid Venetian palace, Sir Edmund Acour, Seigneur of Cattrina sat in consultation with the priest Nicholas. Clearly he was ill at ease; his face and his quick, impatient movements showed it.

“You arrange badly,” he said in a voice quite devoid of its ordinary melodious tones. “Everything goes wrong. How is it you did not know that this accursed Englishman and his Death’s-head were coming here? What is the use of a spy who never spies? Man, they should have been met upon the road, for who can be held answerable for what brigands do? Or, at the least, I might have started for Avignon two days earlier.”

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