Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Then divesting himself of the long robe which he had borrowed from the lad, he handed it to Hugh, and, taking the oars, rowed away clad in his rich, fantastic garb which now, as at first, could be seen by all. He rowed away, and for a while the three whom he had left behind heard the soughing of the innumerable wings that went ever with him, after which came silence.

Silence, but not for long, for presently from the borders of the great canal into which his skiff must enter, rose shouts of fear and rage, near by at first, then farther and farther off, till these too were lost in silence.

“Oh! Sir Hugh!” sobbed poor David Day, “who and what is that dreadful man?”

“I think his name is Death,” answered Hugh solemnly, while Dick nodded his head but said nothing

“Then we must die,” went on David in his terror, “and I am not fit to die.”

“I think not,” said Hugh again. “Be comforted. Death has passed us by. Only be warned also and, as he bade you, say nothing of all that you have heard and seen.”

“By Death himself, I’ll say nothing for my life’s sake,” he replied faintly, for he was shaking in every limb.

Then they walked up the street to the yard door. As they went Hugh asked Dick what it was that he had in his mind as a mark for the arrow that Murgh had shot, that arrow which to his charmed sight had seemed to rush over Venice like a flake of fire.

“I’ll not tell you, master,” answered Dick, “lest you should think me madder than I am, which tonight would be very mad indeed. Stay, though, I’ll tell David here, that he may be a witness to my folly,” and he called the young man to him and spoke with him apart.

Then they unlocked the courtyard gate and entered the house by the kitchen door, as it chanced quite unobserved, for now all the servants were abed. Indeed, of that household none ever knew that they had been outside its walls this night, since no one saw them go or return, and Sir Geoffrey and his lady thought that they had retired to their chamber.

They came to the door of their room, David still with them, for the place where he slept was at the end of this same passage.

“Bide here a while,” said Dick to him. “My master and I may have a word to say to you presently.”

Then they lit tapers from a little Roman lamp that burned all night in the passage and entered the room. Dick walked at once to the window-place, looked and laughed a little.

“The arrow has missed,” he said, “or rather,” he added doubtfully, “the target is gone.”

“What target?” asked Hugh wearily, for now he desired sleep more than he had ever done in all his life. Then he turned, the taper in his hand, and started back suddenly, pointing to something which hung upon his bed-post that stood opposite to the window.

“Who nails his helm upon my bed?” he said. “Is this a challenge from some knight of Venice?”

Dick stepped forward and looked.

“An omen, not a challenge, I think. Come and see for yourself,” he said.

This was what Hugh saw: Fixed to the post by a shaft which pierced it and the carved olivewood from side to side, was the helm that they had stripped from the body of Sir Pierre de la Roche; the helm of Sir Edmund Acour, which Sir Pierre had worn at Crecy and Dick had tumbled out of his sack in the presence of the Doge before Cattrina’s face. On his return to the house of Sir Geoffrey Carleon he had set it down in the centre of the open window-place and left it there when they went out to survey the ground where they must fight upon the morrow.

Having studied it for a moment, Dick went to the door and called to David.

“Friend,” he said, standing between him and the bed, so that he could see nothing, “what was it that just now I told you was in my mind when yonder Murgh asked me at what target he should shoot with my bow on the Place of Arms?”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider