Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

The articles, which were lengthy, had been read, and the breakfast, or so much as they could eat of it, consumed. At last Hugh, accompanied by a Venetian squire of high birth sent by the Doge to bear his casque and other armour, stood in the vestibule waiting for the ambassador’s barge of state. With him was Grey Dick, accompanied by no one and carrying the mail shirt in which he was to fight, like a housewife’s parcel beneath his arm, although he wore bow on back, axe and dagger at side and iron cap upon his head.

Presently, while they lingered thus, out from a side-door appeared Lady Carleon, clothed in a white garment such as women wear when their dressing is half done, down which her grey hair hung dishevelled.

“I am come thus unkempt, Sir Hugh,” she said, “for, not feeling well, I could not rise early, to bid you good-bye, since I am sure that we shall not meet again. However much that black-browed Doge may press it, I cannot go down yonder to see my countrymen butchered in this heat. Oh! oh!” and she pressed her hand upon her heart.

“What’s the matter, madam?” asked Hugh anxiously.

“A pain in my breast, that is all, as though some one drove a dagger through me. There, there, ’tis gone.”

“I thank you for your goodness, Lady Carleon,” said Hugh when she was herself again; then paused, for he knew not what to add.

“Not so, Sir Hugh, not so; ’tis for your sakes in truth since you remember you never told me what you would wish done—afterward. Your possessions also—where are they to be sent? Doubtless you have money and other things of value. Be sure that they shall be sealed up. I’ll see to it myself, but-how shall I dispose of them?”

“Madame, I will tell you when I return,” said Hugh shortly.

“Nay, nay, Sir Hugh; pray do not return. Those who are gone had best keep gone, I think, who always have had a loathing of ghosts. Therefore, I beg you, tell me now, but do not come back shining like a saint and gibbering like a monkey at dead of night, because if you do I am sure I shall not understand, and if there is an error, who will set it straight?”

Hugh leaned against a marble pillar in the hall and looked at his hostess helplessly, while Sir Geoffrey, catching her drift at length, broke in:

“Cease such ill-omened talk, wife. Think you that it is of a kind to give brave men a stomach in a fight to the end?”

“I know not, Geoffrey, but surely ’tis better to have these matters settled, for, as you often say, death is always near us.”

“Ay, madam,” broke in Grey Dick, who could bear no more of it, “death is always near to all of us, and especially so in Venice just now. Therefore, I pray you tell me—in case we should live and you should die, you and all about you—whether you have any commands to give as to what should be done with your gold and articles of value, or any messages to leave for friends in England.”

Then, having uttered this grim jest, Dick took his master by the arm and drew him through the door.

Afterward, for a reason that shall be told, he was sorry that it had ever passed his lips. Still in the boat Sir Geoffrey applauded him, saying that his lady’s melancholy had grown beyond all bearing, and that she did little but prate to him about his will and what colour of marble he desired for his tomb.

After a journey that seemed long to Hugh, who wished to have this business over, they came to the Place of Arms. Their route there, however, was not the same which they had followed on the previous night. Leaving the short way through the low part of the town untraversed, they rowed from one of the canals into the harbour itself, where they were joined by many other boats which waited for them and so on to the quay. Hugh saw at once that the death ship, Light of the East, was gone, and incautiously said as much to Sir Geoffrey.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider