Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Am I omnipotent, lord, that I should be held able to read the minds of men in far countries and to follow their footsteps?” asked the aggrieved Nicholas. “Still it might have been guessed that this bulldog of a Briton would hang to your heels till you kick out his brains or he pulls you down. Bah! the sight of that archer, who cannot miss, always gives me a cold pain in the stomach, as though an arrow-point were working through my vitals. I pity yonder poor fool of a Swiss to-morrow, for what chance has he against a fish-eyed wizard?”

“Ten thousand curses on the Swiss!” said Acour. “He thrust himself into the affair and will deserve all he gets. I pity myself. You know I am no coward, as not a few have learned before to-day, but I have little luck against this Englishman. I tell you that there at Crecy I went down before him like a ninepin, and he spared my life. My God! he spared my life, being a fool like all his breed. And now the tale is known against me and that of the changed armour, too. Why could not de la Roche die without speaking, the faithless hound whom I had fed so well! So, so, regrets are vain; de Cressi is here, and must be faced or I be shamed.”

“You may be killed as well as shamed,” Nicholas suggested unpleasantly. “It is certain that either you or that Englishman must die to-morrow, since he’s set for no fancy tilting with waving of ladies’ kerchiefs and tinsel crowns of victory, and so forth. Merchant bred or not, he is a sturdy fighter, as we all learned in France. Moreover, his heart is fierce with wrong, and the man whose quarrel is just is always to be feared.”

“A pest on you!” snarled Cattrina. “Have you the evil eye that you then croak disaster in my ears? Look you, priest, I must come through this game unharmed. Death is a companion I do not seek just yet, who have too much to live for—power and wealth and high renown, if my plans succeed; and as you should know, they are well laid. Moreover, there is that English girl, Red Eve, my wife, from whose sweet side you made me flee. I tell you, Nicholas, I burn for her and had rather taste her hate than the love of any other woman on the earth. Now, too, the Pope has summoned me to Avignon, and her also, to lay our causes before him. Being bold, mayhap she will come, for his Holiness has sent her safe-conduct under his own hand. Nor has he mentioned—for I saw a copy of the brief—that the same business will take me to Avignon about this time. Well, if she comes she will not go away again alone; the French roads are too rough for ladies to travel unescorted. And if she does not come, at least our marriage shall be declared valid and I’ll take her when and where I can, and her wealth with her, which will be useful.”

“Only then, lord, you must not die, nor even be wounded, to-morrow. It is the Englishman who should die, for whatever the Pope may decree I think that while de Cressi lives the slumbrous eyes of that Eve of yours will find a way to charm you to a sleep that has no wakening. She is not a fair-haired toy that weeps, forgets and at last grows happy in her babe. She’s a woman to make men or break them. Oh, when her sense came back to her, for a flash she looked me cold yonder in that English chapel, and it seemed to me that God’s curse was in her stare.”

“You’ve caught the terror, Nicholas, like so many just now in Venice. Why, to-day I’ve not met a man or woman who is not afraid of something, they know not what—save the Englishman and his death’s-head. I think ’tis the unwholesome air of this strange season, and all the signs and omens we hear of on every side that conjure vapours to the brain.”

“Yes, I’ve the terror,” said Nicholas with something like a groan. “Every sin I ever did—and most of them have been for you, lord—seems to haunt my sleep. Yes, and to walk with me when I wake, preaching woe at me with fiery tongues that repentance or absolution cannot quench or still.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider