Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Indeed? Then I should like to see him shoot—at somebody else,” answered Acour, for in those days such skill was of interest to all soldiers. “Kill Hugh de Cressi if you will, friend, but spare Grey Dick; he might be useful.”

“Ay, Sir Edmund,” broke in the young man furiously, “I’ll kill him if I can catch him, the dog who dares to bring scandal on my sister’s name. Let the Saints but give me five minutes face to face with him alone, with none to help either of us, and I’ll beat him to a pulp, and hang what’s left of him upon the nearest tree to be a warning to all such puppies.”

“I note the challenge,” said Sir Edmund, “and should the chance come my way will keep the lists for you with pleasure, since whatever this Hugh may be I doubt that from his blood he’ll prove no coward. But, young sir, you must catch your puppy ere you hang him, and if he is in this marsh he must have gone to ground.”

“I think so, too, Sir Edmund; but, if so, we’ll soon start the badger. Look yonder.” And he pointed to smoke rising at several spots half a mile or more away.

“What have you done, son?” asked Sir John anxiously.

“Fired the reeds,” he said with a savage laugh, “and set men to watch that the game does not break back. Oh, have no fear, father! Red Eve will take no harm. The girl ever loved fire. Moreover, if she is there she will run to the water before it, and be caught.”

“Fool,” thundered Sir John, “do you know your sister so little? As like as not she’ll stay and burn, and then I’ll lose my girl, who, when all is said, is worth ten of you! Well, what is done cannot be undone, but if death comes of this mad trick it is on your head, not mine! To the bank, and watch with me, Sir Edmund, for we can do no more.”

Ten minutes later, and the fugitives in the mound, peeping out from their hole, saw clouds of smoke floating above them.

“You should have let me shoot, Master Hugh,” said Grey Dick, in his hard, dry whisper. “I’d have had these three, at least, and they’d have been good company on the road to hell, which now we must walk alone.”

“Nay,” answered Hugh sternly, “I’ll murder none, though they strive to murder us, and these least of all,” and he glanced at Eve, who sat staring out of the mouth of the hole, her chin resting on her hand. “You had best give in, sweetheart,” he said hoarsely. “Fire is worse than foes, and it draws near.”

“I fear it less,” she answered. “Moreover, marriage is worse than either—sometimes.”

Hugh took counsel with Grey Dick.

“This place will burn like tinder,” he said, pointing to the dry reeds which grew thickly all about them, and to the masses of brushwood and other rubbish that had drifted against the side of the little mound in times of flood. “If the fire reaches us we must perish of flame, or smoke, or both.”

“Ay,” answered Dick, “like old witch Sarah when they burned her in her house. She screeched a lot, though some say it was her cat that screeched and she died mum.”

“If we could get into the water now, Dick?” He shook his ash-hued head.

“The pools are frozen. Moreover, as well die of heat as cold; I love not ice-water.”

“What counsel, then, Dick?”

“You’ll not take the best, master—to loose my bow upon them. That fine fellow did well to be afraid, for had you not knocked up my hand there’d be an arrow sticking in his throat by now. He was right, Death walked near to him.”

“It must not be, Dick, unless they strike first. What else?”

“Perchance, when the smoke begins to trouble them, which it must soon, they’ll move. Then we will run for the river; ’tis but fifty yards. The lady Eve can swim like a duck, and so can you. The tide has turned, and will bear you to the point, and I’ll hold the bank against any who try to follow, and take my chance. What say you of that plan, lady?”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider