Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“How did you learn Italian in the farthest East?” asked another.

Then for the second time, like hounds closing in on a stag at bay, they sprang toward him with their poised knives.

Again he lifted his hand, again the semi-circle halted as though it must, and again he spoke.

“Are there none here who will befriend a stranger in a strange land? None who are ashamed to see a poor, unarmed stranger from the East done to death by these wolves who call themselves children of the white Christ of Mercy?”

Now Hugh touched Dick upon the shoulder.

“Rise and come,” he said, “it is our fate”; and Dick obeyed.

Only after he had translated the Man’s words, David fell down flat upon the quay and lay there.

They stepped to the yellow-capped Man and stood on each side of him, Hugh drawing his sword and Dick the battle-axe that he carried beneath his robe of silk.

“We will,” said Hugh shortly, in English.

“Now there are three of us,” went on the Man. “The stranger from the East has found defenders from the West. On, defenders, for I do not fight thus,” and he folded his arms across his broad breast and smiled with the awful eyes.

Hugh and Dick knew no Italian, yet they both of them understood, and with a shout leaped forward toward those hungry knives. But their holders never waited for them. Some sudden panic seized them all, so that they turned and ran—ran straight across the wide Place of Arms and vanished into the network of narrow streets by which it was surrounded.

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Chapter XIII

Murgh’s Arrow

HUGH and Dick came back. Something seemed to call them back, although no blow had been struck. The Man stood where they had left him, staring at nothing in particular. Apparently he was engaged in meditation.

“Thanking his gods because they have saved him from sudden death,” muttered Grey Dick. “If he’s got any gods!” he added doubtfully.

Now the three, or rather the four of them, for David Day had recovered, and once more stood upon his feet from time to time glancing at the stranger’s costume with a frightened eye, were left alone upon the great place with no company save the shipful of dead behind them and the wild, white moon above. The silence that, save for the soughing sound for which they could not account, was intense, oppressed them, as also did the heat.

Grey Dick coughed, but the Man took no notice. Then he dropped his axe with a clatter on the marble flooring of the quay and picked it up again, but still the Man took no notice. Evidently his Eastern imperturbability was not to be disturbed by such trifles. What was worse, or so thought Dick, his master Hugh had fallen into a very similar mood. He stood there staring at the Man, while the Man stared over or through him—at nothing in particular.

Grey Dick felt aggrieved. An arrow had burst to pieces unaccountably in his bow, numbing his arm and wounding him on the chin, and now he was outpaced at his own game of cold silence. He grew angry and dug David in the ribs with his elbow.

“Tell that foreigner,” he said, “that my master and I have saved his life. Those Italian cut-throats have run away, and if he is a gentleman he should say ‘thank you.'”

David hesitated, whereon Dick gave him another dig, harder than the first, and asked if he heard what he said. Then David obeyed, addressing the Man as “Most Illustrious” as though he were the Doge, and ending his speech with a humble apology in case he should have interrupted his pious thanksgiving.

The Man seemed to awake. Taking no notice of Day, he addressed himself to Dick, speaking in English and using just that dialect of it to which he, Dick, had been accustomed from his childhood in the neighbourhood of Dunwich. Not even the familiar Suffolk whine was forgotten.

“You and your master have saved my life, have you?” he said. “Well, neighbour, why did you try to save my life by shooting at me with that great black bow of yours, which I see is made of Eastern woods?” He stared at the case in which it was now again hidden as though tanned leather were no obstacle to his sight; then went on: “Do not answer: I will tell you why. You shot at me because you were afraid of me, and fear is ever cruel, is it not? Only something happened to your arrow, something that has never happened to any arrow of yours before. Oh, yes, you have saved me from the Italian cut-throats, and being a gentleman I thank you very much. Only why did the arrow burst in your bow?” and he smiled with those dreadful eyes of his.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider