Red Eve - H. Rider Haggard - ebook

Red Eve ebook

H. Rider Haggard

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Opis

Haggard wrote the story „Red Eve” in six months. In it, we meet Sir Hugh de Cressi, the son of a merchant who is in love with Eve. She, too, is in love with him, but a traitor knight Sir Edmund Acour is caring for her. He realizes that he cannot conquer her feelings and gives her a potion. The result is that she did marry him. But how long will this potion act? Unlike other stories, where events are developing in Africa, here readers will be able to travel around Europe.

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Contents

Dedication

Murgh The Death

Chapter 1. The Trysting-Place

Chapter 2. The Fight By The River

Chapter 3. Father Andrew

Chapter 4. The Penance

Chapter 5. Grey Dick Shows His Archery

Chapter 6. The Snare

Chapter 7. The Love Philtre

Chapter 8. Too Late

Chapter 9. Crecy Field

Chapter 10. The King’s Champion

Chapter 11. The Challenge

Chapter 12. The Man From The East

Chapter 13. Murgh’s Arrow

Chapter 14. At The Place Of Arms

Chapter 15. The Death At Work

Chapter 16. At Avignon

Chapter 17. A Meeting

Chapter 18. The Plague Pit

Chapter 19. The Doom

DEDICATION

TO DR. JEHU, F.G.S., ST. ANDREWS, N.B.

Ditchingham, May 27, 1911.

My dear Jehu:

For five long but not unhappy years, seated or journeying side by side, we have striven as Royal Commissioners to find a means whereby our coasts may be protected from “the outrageous flowing surges of the sea” (I quote the jurists of centuries ago), the idle swamps turned to fertility and the barren hills clothed with forest; also, with small success, how “foreshore” may be best defined!

What will result from all these labours I do not know, nor whether grave geologists ever read romance save that which the pen of Time inscribes upon the rocks. Still, in memory of our fellowship in them I offer to you this story, written in their intervals, of Red Eve, the dauntless, and of Murgh, Gateway of the Gods, whose dreadful galley still sails from East to West and from West to East, yes, and evermore shall sail.

Your friend and colleague,

H. Rider Haggard.

MURGH THE DEATH

They knew nothing of it in England or all the Western countries in those days before Crecy was fought, when the third Edward sat upon the throne. There was none to tell them of the doom that the East, whence come light and life, death and the decrees of God, had loosed upon the world. Not one in a multitude in Europe had ever even heard of those vast lands of far Cathay peopled with hundreds of millions of cold-faced yellow men, lands which had grown very old before our own familiar states and empires were carved out of mountain, of forest, and of savage-haunted plain. Yet if their eyes had been open so that they could see, well might they have trembled. King, prince, priest, merchant, captain, citizen and poor labouring hind, well might they all have trembled when the East sent forth her gifts!

Look across the world beyond that curtain of thick darkness. Behold! A vast city of fantastic houses half buried in winter snows and reddened by the lurid sunset breaking through a saw-toothed canopy of cloud. Everywhere upon the temple squares and open spaces great fires burning a strange fuel– the bodies of thousands of mankind. Pestilence was king of that city, a pestilence hitherto unknown. Innumerable hordes had died and were dying, yet innumerable hordes remained. All the patient East bore forth those still shapes that had been theirs to love or hate, and, their task done, turned to the banks of the mighty river and watched.

Down the broad street which ran between the fantastic houses advanced a procession toward the brown, ice-flecked river. First marched a company of priests clad in black robes, and carrying on poles lanterns of black paper, lighted, although the sun still shone. Behind marched another company of priests clad in white robes, and bearing white lanterns, also lighted. But at these none looked, nor did they listen to the dirges that they sang, for all eyes were fixed upon him who filled the centre space and upon his two companions.

The first companion was a lovely woman, jewel-hung, wearing false flowers in her streaming hair, and beneath her bared breasts a kirtle of white silk. Life and love embodied in radiance and beauty, she danced in front, looking about her with alluring eyes, and scattering petals of dead roses from a basket which she bore. Different was the second companion, who stalked behind; so thin, so sexless that none could say if the shape were that of man or woman. Dry, streaming locks of iron-grey, an ashen countenance, deep-set, hollow eyes, a beetling, parchment-covered brow; lean shanks half hidden with a rotting rag, claw-like hands which clutched miserably at the air. Such was its awful fashion, that of new death in all its terrors.

Between them, touched of neither, went a man, naked save for a red girdle and a long red cloak that was fastened round his throat and hung down from his broad shoulders. There was nothing strange about this man, unless it were perhaps the strength that seemed to flow from him and the glance of his icy eyes. He was just a burly yellow man, whose age none could tell, for the hood of the red cloak hid his hair; one who seemed to be far removed from youth, and yet untouched by time. He walked on steadily, intently, his face immovable, taking no heed.

Only now and again he turned those long eyes of his upon one of the multitude who watched him pass crouched upon their knees in solemn silence, always upon one, whether it were man, woman, or child, with a glance meant for that one and no other. And ever the one upon whom it fell rose from the knee, made obeisance, and departed as though filled with some inspired purpose.

Down to the quay went the black priests, the white priests, and the red- cloaked man, preceded by rose life, followed by ashen death. Through the funeral fires they wended, and the lurid sunset shone upon them all.

To the pillars of this quay was fastened a strange, high-pooped ship with crimson sails set upon her masts. The white priests and the black priests formed lines upon either side of the broad gangway of that ship and bowed as the red-cloaked man walked over it between them quite alone, for now she with the dead roses and she of the ashen countenance had fallen back. As the sun sank, standing on the lofty stern, he cried aloud:

“Here the work is done. Now I, the Eating Fire, I the Messenger, get me to the West. Among you for a while I cease to burn; yet remember me, for I shall come again.”

As he spoke the ropes of the ship were loosened, the wind caught her crimson sails, and she departed into the night, one blood-red spot against its blackness.

The multitude watched until they could see her no longer. Then they flamed up with mingled joy and rage. They laughed madly. They cursed him who had departed.

“We live, we live, we live!” they cried. “Murgh is gone! Murgh is gone! Kill his priests! Make sacrifice of his Shadows. Murgh is gone bearing the curse of the East into the bosom of the West. Look, it follows him!” and they pointed to a cloud of smoke or vapour, in which terrible shapes seemed to move dimly, that trailed after the departing, red-sailed ship.

The black priests and the white priests heard. Without struggle, without complaint, as though they were but taking part in some set ceremony, they kneeled down in lines upon the snow. Naked from the waist up, executioners with great swords appeared. They advanced upon the kneeling lines without haste, without wrath, and, letting fall the heavy swords upon the patient, outstretched necks, did their grim office till all were dead. Then they turned to find her of the flowers who had danced before, and her of the tattered weeds who had followed after, purposing to cast them to the funeral flames. But these were gone, though none had seen them go. Only out of the gathering darkness from some temple or pagoda-top a voice spoke like a moaning wind.

“Fools,” wailed the voice, “still with you is Murgh, the second Thing created; Murgh, who was made to be man’s minister. Murgh the Messenger shall reappear from beyond the setting sun. Ye cannot kill, ye cannot spare. Those priests you seemed to slay he had summoned to be his officers afar. Fools! Ye do but serve as serves Murgh, Gateway of the Gods. Life and death are not in your hands or in his. They are in the hands of the Master of Murgh, Helper of man, of that Lord whom no eye hath seen, but whose behests all who are born obey–yes, even the mighty Murgh, Looser of burdens, whom in your foolishness ye fear.”

So spoke this voice out of the darkness, and that night the sword of the great pestilence was lifted from the Eastern land, and there the funeral fires flared no more.

CHAPTER 1

THE TRYSTING-PLACE

On the very day when Murgh the Messenger sailed forth into that uttermost sea, a young man and a maiden met together at the Blythburgh marshes, near to Dunwich, on the eastern coast of England. In this, the month of February of the year 1346, hard and bitter frost held Suffolk in its grip. The muddy stream of Blyth, it is true, was frozen only in places, since the tide, flowing up from the Southwold harbour, where it runs into the sea between that ancient town and the hamlet of Walberswick, had broken up the ice. But all else was set hard and fast, and now toward sunset the cold was bitter.

Stark and naked stood the tall, dry reeds. The blackbirds and starlings perched upon the willows seemed swollen into feathery balls, the fur started on the backs of hares, and a four-horse wain could travel in safety over swamps where at any other time a schoolboy dared not set his foot.

On such an eve, with snow threatening, the great marsh was utterly desolate, and this was why these two had chosen it for their meeting place.

To look on they were a goodly pair–the girl, who was clothed in the red she always wore, tall, dark, well shaped, with large black eyes and a determined face, one who would make a very stately woman; the man broad shouldered, with grey eyes that were quick and almost fierce, long limbed, hard, agile, and healthy, one who had never known sickness, who looked as though the world were his own to master. He was young, but three-and-twenty that day, and his simple dress, a tunic of thick wool fastened round him with a leathern belt, to which hung a short sword, showed that his degree was modest.

The girl, although she seemed his elder, in fact was only in her twentieth year. Yet from her who had been reared in the hard school of that cruel age childhood had long departed, leaving her a ripened woman before her time.

This pair stood looking at each other.

“Well, Cousin Eve Clavering,” said the man, in his clear voice, “why did your message bid me meet you in this cold place?”

“Because I had a word to say to you, Cousin Hugh de Cressi,” she answered boldly; “and the marsh being so cold and so lonesome I thought it suited to my purpose. Does Grey Dick watch yonder?”

“Ay, behind those willows, arrow on string, and God help him on whom Dick draws! But what was that word, Eve?”

“One easy to understand,” she replied, looking him in the eyes –”Farewell!”

He shivered as though with the cold, and his face changed.

“An ill birthday greeting, yet I feared it,” he muttered huskily, “but why more now than at any other time?”

“Would you know, Hugh? Well, the story is short, so I’ll let it out. Our great-grandmother, the heiress of the de Cheneys, married twice, did she not, and from the first husband came the de Cressis, and from the second the Claverings. But in this way or in that we Claverings got the lands, or most of them, and you de Cressis, the nobler stock, took to merchandise. Now since those days you have grown rich with your fishing fleets, your wool mart, and your ferry dues at Walberswick and Southwold. We, too, are rich in manors and land, counting our acres by the thousand, but yet poor, lacking your gold, though yonder manor”–and she pointed to some towers which rose far away above the trees upon the high land–”has many mouths to feed. Also the sea has robbed us at Dunwich, where I was born, taking our great house and sundry streets that paid us rent, and your market of Southwold has starved out ours at Blythburgh.”

“Well, what has all this to do with you and me, Eve?”

“Much, Hugh, as you should know who have been bred to trade,” and she glanced at his merchant’s dress. “Between de Cressi and Clavering there has been rivalry and feud for three long generations. When we were children it abated for a while, since your father lent money to mine, and that is why they suffered us to grow up side by side. But then they quarrelled about the ferry that we had set in pawn, and your father asked his gold back again, and, not getting it, took the ferry, which I have always held a foolish and strife- breeding deed, since from that day forward the war was open. Therefore, Hugh, if we meet at all it must be in these frozen reeds or behind the cover of a thicket, like a village slut and her man.”

“I know that well enough, Eve, who have spoken with you but twice in nine months.” And he devoured her beautiful face with hungry eyes. “But of that word, ‘Farewell’–”

“Of that ill word, this, Hugh: I have a new suitor up yonder, a fine French suitor, a very great lord indeed, whose wealth, I am told, none can number. From his mother he has the Valley of the Waveney up to Bungay town –ay, and beyond–and from his father, a whole county in Normandy. Five French knights ride behind his banner, and with them ten squires and I know not how many men-at-arms. There is feasting yonder at the manor, I can tell you. Ere his train leaves us our winter provender will be done, and we’ll have to drink small beer till the wine ships come from France in spring.”

“And what is this lord’s name?”

“God’s truth, he has several,” she answered. “Sir Edmund Acour in England, and in France the high and puissant Count of Noyon, and in Italy, near to the city of Venice–for there, too, he has possessions which came to him through his grandmother–the Seigneur of Cattrina.”

“And having so much, does he want you, too, as I have heard, Eve? And if so, why?”

“So he swears,” she answered slowly; “and as for the reason, why, I suppose you must seek it in my face, which by ill-fortune has pleased his lordship since first he saw it a month ago. At the least he has asked me in marriage of my father, who jumped at him like a winter pike, and so I’m betrothed.”

“And do you want him, Eve?”

“Ay, I want him as far as the sun is from the moon or the world from either. I want him in heaven or beneath the earth, or anywhere away from me.”

At these words a light shone in Hugh’s keen grey eyes.

“I’m glad of that, Eve, for I’ve been told much of this fine fellow –amongst other things that he is a traitor come here to spy on England. But should I be a match for him, man to man, Eve?” he asked after a little pause.

She looked him up and down; then answered:

“I think so, though he is no weakling; but not for him and the five knights and the ten squires, and my noble father, and my brother, and the rest. Oh, Hugh, Hugh!” she added bitterly, “cannot you understand that you are but a merchant’s lad, though your blood be as noble as any in this realm–a merchant’s lad, the last of five brothers? Why were you not born the first of them if you wished for Eve Clavering, for then your red gold might have bought me.”

“Ask that of those who begot me,” said Hugh. “Come now, what’s in your mind? You’re not one to be sold like a heifer at a faring and go whimpering to the altar, and I am not one to see you led there while I stand upon my feet. We are made of a clay too stiff for a French lord’s fingers, Eve, though it is true that they may drag you whither you would not walk.”

“No,” she answered, “I think I shall take some marrying against my wish. Moreover, I am Dunwich born.”

“What of that, Eve?”

“Go ask your godsire and my friend, Sir Andrew Arnold, the old priest. In the library of the Temple there he showed me an ancient roll, a copy of the charter granted by John and other kings of England to the citizens of Dunwich.”

“What said this writing, Eve?”

“It said, among other things, that no man or maid of Dunwich can be forced to marry against their will, even in the lifetime of their parents.”

“But will it hold to-day?”

“Ay, I think so. I think that is why the holy Sir Andrew showed it to me, knowing something of our case, for he is my confessor when I can get to him.”

“Then, sweet, you are safe!” exclaimed Hugh, with a sigh of relief.

“Ay, so safe that to-morrow Father Nicholas, the French chaplain in his train, has been warned to wed me to my lord Acour–that is, if I’m there to wed.”

“And if this Acour is here, I’ll seek him out to-night and challenge him, Eve,” and Hugh laid hand upon his sword.

“Doubtless,” she replied sarcastically, “Sir Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon, Seigneur of Cattrina, will find it honour to accept the challenge of Hugh de Cressi, the merchant’s youngest son. Oh, Hugh, Hugh! are your wits frozen like this winter marsh? Not thus can you save me.”

The young man thought a while, staring at the ground and biting his lips. Then he looked up suddenly and said:

“How much do you love me, Eve?”

With a slow smile, she opened her arms, and next moment they were kissing each other as heartily as ever man and maid have kissed since the world began, so heartily, indeed, that when at length she pushed him from her, her lovely face was as red as the cloak she wore.

“You know well that I love you, to my sorrow and undoing,” she said, in a broken voice. “From childhood it has been so between us, and till the grave takes one or both it will be so, and for my part beyond it, if the priests speak true. For, whatever may be your case, I am not one to change my fancy. When I give, I give all, though it be of little worth. In truth, Hugh, if I could I would marry you to-night, though you are naught but a merchant’s son, or even–” And she paused, wiping her eyes with the back of her slim, strong hand.

“I thank you,” he answered, trembling with joy. “So it is with me. For you and no other woman I live and die; and though I am so humble I’ll be worthy of you yet. If God keeps me in breath you shall not blush for your man, Eve. Well, I am not great at words, so let us come to deeds. Will you away with me now? I think that Father Arnold would find you lodging for the night and an altar to be wed at, and to-morrow our ship sails for Flanders and for France.”

“Yes, but would your father give us passage in it, Hugh?”

“Why not? It could not deepen the feud between our Houses, which already has no bottom, and if he refused, we would take one, for the captain is my friend. And I have some little store set by; it came to me from my mother.”

“You ask much,” she said; “all a woman has, my life, perchance, as well. Yet there it is; I’ll go because I’m a fool, Hugh; and, as it chances, you are more to me than aught, and I hate this fine French lord. I tell you I sicken at his glance and shiver when he touches me. Why, if he came too near I should murder him and be hanged. I’ll go, though God alone knows the end of it.”

“Our purpose being honest, the end will be good, Eve, though perhaps before all is done we may often think it evil. And now let’s away, though I wish that you were dressed in another colour.”

“Red Eve they name me, and red is my badge, because it suits my dark face best. Cavil not at my robe, Hugh, for it is the only dowry you will get with Eve Clavering. How shall we go? By the Walberswick ferry? You have no horses.”

“Nay, but I have a skiff hidden in the reeds five miles furlongs off. We must keep to the heath above Walberswick, for there they might know your red cloak even after dark, and I would not have you seen till we are safe with Sir Arnold in the Preceptory. Mother of Heaven! what is that?”

“A peewit, no more,” she answered indifferently.

“Nay, it is my man Dick, calling like a peewit. That is his sign when trouble is afoot. Ah, here he comes.”

As he spoke a tall, gaunt man appeared, advancing towards them. His gait was a shambling trot that seemed slow, although, in truth, he was covering the ground with extraordinary swiftness. Moreover, he moved so silently that even on the frost-held soil his step could not be heard, and so carefully that not a reed stirred as he threaded in and out among their clumps like an otter, his head crouched down and his long bow pointed before him as though it were a spear. Half a minute more, and he was before them–a very strange man to see. His years were not so many, thirty perhaps, and yet his face looked quite old because of its lack of colouring, its thinness, and the hard lines that marked where the muscles ran down to the tight, straight mouth and up to the big forehead, over which hung hair so light that at a little distance he seemed ashen-grey. Only in this cold, rocky face, set very far apart, were two pale-blue eyes, which just now, when he chose to lift their lids that generally kept near together, as though he were half asleep, were full of fire and quick cunning.

Reaching the pair, this strange fellow dropped to his knee and raised his cap to Eve, the great lady of the Claverings–Red Eve, as they called her through that country-side. Then he spoke, in a low, husky voice:

“They’re coming, master! You and your mistress must to earth unless you mean to face them in the open,” and the pale eyes glittered as he tapped his great black bow.

“Who are coming, Dick? Be plain, man!”

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