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Red Eve
by H. Rider Haggard
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"The fiend! The fiend! The fiend!" said the shout. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"

The figure looked up, the red light shone upon its stony face that seemed one blotch of white amidst its glow. Then it stooped down and lifted from the sand a knight's lance such as Cattrina had held. It raised the lance and with it pointed four times, east and west and north and south, holding it finally for a while in the direction of the tribune, where sat the Doge with all his noble company, and of Venice beyond. Lastly, with a quick and easy motion, it cast the lance toward the sky, whence it fell, remaining fixed point downward in the earth. Then a tongue of mist that had crept up from the sea enveloped it, and when that mist cleared away the shape was gone.

Now the red haze thinned, and for the first time that morning the sun shone out in a sickly fashion. Although their nerves were torn by the unnatural darkness and the apparition that followed it, which all saw, yet none quite believed that they had seen, the multitude shouted for the combat to proceed.

Once more Hugh laid his lance in rest, thinking that Cattrina was there, although he could not see him.

Then the third trumpet rang out—in that silence it sounded like the blast of doom—and Hugh spurred his horse forward a little way, but halted, for he could perceive no foe advancing against him. He stared about him, and at last in a rage threw his lance to a squire, and, turning his horse, galloped to the tribune. There he pulled it to his haunches and shouted out in a great voice:

"Where is Cattrina? Am I to be fooled, who appear here as the champion of the King of England? Where is Cattrina? Produce Cattrina that I may slay him or be slain, or, Chivalry of Venice, be forever shamed!"

The Doge rose, uttering swift commands, and heralds ran here and there. Knights and captains searched the pavilions and every other place where a mounted man might hide. But they never found Cattrina, and, returning at length, confessed as much with bowed heads.

The Doge, maddened by this ignominy, seized the great gold chain upon his beast and burst it in two.

"Cattrina has fled!" he shouted. "Or Satan himself has carried him away! At the least let his name be erased from the Golden Book of Venice, and until he prove himself innocent, let no noble of Venice stretch out to him the hand of fellowship. Men of Venice, for you Cattrina and his House are dead."

"Will none take up his cause and fight for him?" asked Hugh through Sir Geoffrey, and presently, at the Doge's command, the challenge was repeated thrice by the herald. But to it no answer came. Of this afterward Hugh was glad, since it was Cattrina's life he sought, not that of any other man. Then Hugh spoke again, saying:

"I claim, O Illustrious, that I be written down as victor in this combat to the death, bloodless through no fault of mine."

"It shall be so written, noble Hugh de Cressi," said the Doge. "Let all Venice take notice thereof."



As the words left his lips the solid earth began to heave and rock.

At the first heave Hugh leaped from his horse, which screamed aloud and fled away, and gripped hold of Grey Dick. At the second, the multitude broke out into wild cries, prayers and blasphemies, and rushed this way and that. At the third, which came quite slowly and was the greatest of them all, the long stand of timber bent its flags toward him as though in salute, then, with a slow, grinding crash, fell over, entangling all within it beneath its ruin. Also in the city beyond, houses, whole streets of them, gabled churches and tall towers, sank to the earth, while where they had been rose up wreathed columns of dust. To the south the sea became agitated. Spouts of foam appeared upon its smooth face; it drew back from the land, revealing the slime of ages and embedded therein long-forgotten wrecks. It heaped itself up like a mountain, then, with a swift and dreadful motion, advanced again in one vast wave.

In an instant all that multitude were in full flight.

Hugh and Dick fled like the rest, and with them David, though whither they went they knew not.

All they knew was that the ground leapt and quivered beneath their feet, while behind them came the horrible, seething hiss of water on the crest of which men were tossed up and down like bits of floating wood.



CHAPTER XV

THE DEATH AT WORK

Presently Hugh halted, taking shelter with his two companions behind the stone wall of a shed that the earthquake had shattered, for here they could not be trodden down by the mob of fugitives.

"The wave has spent itself," he said, pointing to the line of foam that now retreated toward the ocean, taking with it many drowned or drowning men. "Let us return and seek for Sir Geoffrey. It will be shameful if we leave him trapped yonder like a rat."

Dick nodded, and making a wide circuit to avoid the maddened crowd, they came safely to the wrecked stand where they had last seen Sir Geoffrey talking with the Doge. Every minute indeed the mob grew thinner, since the most of them had already passed, treading the life out of those who fell as they went.

From this stand more than three fourths of those who were seated there had already broken out, since it had not fallen utterly, and by good fortune was open on all sides. Some, however, tangled in the canvas roof, were still trying to escape. Other poor creatures had been crushed to death, or, broken-limbed, lay helpless, or, worse still, were held down beneath the fallen beams.

Several of these they freed, whereon those who were unharmed at once ran away without thanking them. But for a long while they could find no trace of Sir Geoffrey. Indeed, they were near to abandoning their search, for the sights and sounds were sickening even to men who were accustomed to those of battlefields, when Dick's quick ears caught the tones of an English voice calling for help. Apparently it came from the back of the Doge's tribune, where lay a heap of dead. Gaily dressed folk who had fallen in the flight and been crushed, not by the earthquake, but by the feet of their fellows. These blackened and disfigured men and women they dragged away with much toil, and at last, to their joy, beneath them all found Sir Geoffrey Carleon. In another few minutes he must have died, for he was almost suffocated.

Indeed he would certainly have perished with the others had he not been thrown under a fixed bench, whence one leg projected, which, as they could see at once, was crushed and broken. They drew him out as gently as they could and gave him water to drink, whereof, mercifully for them all, since by now they were utterly parched with thirst, they had discovered a large silver pitcher full, standing in the corner of a little ante-chamber to the tribune. It was half hidden with fragments of fine dresses and even jewels torn from the persons of the lords and ladies.

"I thank you, friends," he said faintly. "I prayed them to keep seated, but they went mad and would not listen. Those behind trod down those in front, till that doorway was choked and I was hurled beneath the bench. Oh, it was terrible to hear them dying about me and to know that soon I must follow! This, had it not been for you, I should have done, for my leg is crushed and there was no air."

Then, having drunk and drunk until even their raging thirst was satisfied, they found a plank. Laying Sir Geoffrey on it, they departed from that human shambles, whence the piteous cries of those still imprisoned there, whom they could not reach, pursued them horribly.

Thus, slowly enough, for there were but three of them, two hampered by their mail, they bore Sir Geoffrey across the Place of Arms. Save for the dead and dying, and some ghoul-like knaves who plundered them, by this time it was almost deserted.

Indeed, a large band of these wretches, who had emerged like wolves from their lairs in the lowest quarters of the great city, catching sight of the gold chain Sir Geoffrey wore, ran up with drawn daggers to kill and rob them.

Seeing them come Grey Dick slipped the black bow from its case and sent an arrow singing through the heart of the one-eyed villain who captained them. Thereon the rest left him where he fell and ran off to steal and slay elsewhere. Then without a word Dick unstrung the bow and once more laid hold of an end of the plank.

They came to the mouth of that street where the bravoes had waylaid them on the previous night, only to find that they could not pass this way. Here most of the houses were thrown down, and from their ruins rose smoke and the hideous screams of those who perished. It was this part of Venice, the home of the poorer folk, which suffered most from the earthquake, that had scarcely touched many of the finer quarters. Still, it was reckoned afterward that in all it took a toll of nearly ten thousand lives.

Turning from this street, they made their way to the banks of a great canal that here ran into the harbour, that on which they had been rowed to the Place of Arms. Here by good luck they found a small boat floating keep uppermost, for it had been overturned by the number of people who crowded into it. This boat they righted with much toil and discovered within it a drowned lady, also an oar caught beneath the seat. After this their dreadful journey was easy, at least by comparison. For now all the gloom had rolled away, the sun shone out and a fresh and pleasant wind blew from the sea toward the land.

So, at last, passing many sad and strange scenes that need not be described, they came safely to the steps of the ambassador's beautiful house which was quite uninjured. Here they found several of his servants wringing their hands and weeping, for word had been brought to them that he was dead. Also in the hall they were met by another woe, for there on a couch lay stretched the Lady Carleon smitten with some dread sickness which caused blood to flow from her mouth and ears. A physician was bending over her, for by good fortune one had been found.

Sir Geoffrey asked him what ailed his wife. He answered that he did not know, having never seen the like till that morning, when he had been called in to attend three such cases in houses far apart, whereof one died within ten minutes of being struck.

Just then Lady Carleon's senses returned, and opening her eyes she saw Sir Geoffrey, whom they had laid down upon another couch close to her.

"Oh, they told me that you were dead, husband," she said, "crushed or swallowed in the earthquake! But I thank God they lied. Yet what ails you, sweetheart, that you do not stand upon your feet?"

"Little, dear wife, little," he answered in a cheerful voice. "My foot is somewhat crushed, that is all. Still 'tis true that had it not been for this brave knight and his squire I must have lain where I was till I perished."

Now Lady Carleon raised herself slightly and looked at Hugh and Dick, who stood together, bewildered and overwhelmed.

"Heaven's blessings be on your heads," she exclaimed, "for these Venetians would surely have left him to his doom. Ah, I thought that it was you who must die to-day, but now I know it is I, and perchance my lord. Physician," she added after a pause, "trouble not with me, for my hour has come; I feel it at my heart. Tend my lord there, who, unless this foul sickness takes him also, may yet be saved."

So they carried them both to their own large sleeping chamber on the upper floor. There the surgeon set Sir Geoffrey's broken bone skilfully enough, though when he saw the state of the crushed limb, he shook his head and said it would be best to cut it off. This, however, Sir Geoffrey would not suffer to be done.

"It will kill me, I am sure, or if not, then the pest which that ship, Light of the East, has brought here from Cyprus, will do its work on me. But I care nothing, for since you say that my wife must die I would die with her and be at rest."

At sunset Lady Carleon died. Ere she passed away she sent for Hugh and Dick. Her bed by her command had been moved to an open window, for she seemed to crave air. By it was placed that of Sir Geoffrey so that the two of them could hold each other's hand.

"I would die looking toward England, Sir Hugh," she said, with a faint smile, "though alas! I may not sleep in that churchyard on the Sussex downs where I had hoped that I might lie at last. Now, Sir Hugh, I pray this of your Christian charity and by the English blood which runs in us, that you will swear to me that you and your squire will not leave my lord alone among these Southern folk, but that you will bide with him and nurse him till he recovers or dies, as God may will. Also that you will see me buried by the bones of my child—they will tell you where."

"Wife," broke in Sir Geoffrey, "this knight is not of our kin. Doubtless he has business elsewhere. How can he bide with me here, mayhap for weeks?"

But Lady Carleon, who could speak no more, only looked at Hugh, who answered:

"Fear nothing. Here we will stay until he recovers—unless," he added, "we ourselves should die."

She smiled at him gratefully, then turned her face toward Sir Geoffrey and pressed his hand. So presently she passed away, the tears running from her faded eyes.

When it was over and the women had covered her, Hugh and Dick left the room, for they could bear no more.

"I have seen sad sights," said Hugh, with something like a sob, "but never before one so sad."

"Ay," answered Dick, "that of the wounded dying on Crecy field was a May Day revel compared to this, though it is but one old woman who has gone. Oh, how heavily they parted who have dwelt together these forty years! And 'twas my careless tongue this morning that foretold it as a jest!"

In the hall they met the physician, who rushed wild-eyed through the doorway to ask how his patients fared.

"Ah!" he said to them in French when he knew. "Well, signors, that noble lady has not gone alone. I tell you that scores of whom I know are already dead in Venice, swept off by this swift and horrible plague. Death and all his angels stalk through the city. They say that he himself appeared last night, and this morning on the tilting ground by the quay, and by God's mercy—if He has any left for us—I can well believe it. The Doge and his Council but now have issued a decree that all who perish must be buried at once. See to it, signors, lest the officers come and bear her away to some common grave, from which her rank will not protect her."

Then he went to visit Sir Geoffrey. Returning presently, he gave them some directions as to his treatment, and rushed out as he had rushed in. They never saw him again. Two days later they learned that he himself was dead of the pest.

That night they buried Lady Carleon in her son's grave, which Dick had helped to prepare for her, since no sexton could be bribed to do the work. Indeed these were all busy enough attending to the interment of the great ones of Venice. In that churchyard alone they saw six buryings in progress. Also after the priest had read his hurried Office, as they left the gates, whence Lady Carleon's bearers had already fled affrighted, they met more melancholy processions heralded by a torch or two whereof the light fell upon some sheeted and uncoffined form.

"'Twixt earthquake and plague Murgh the Helper is helping very well," said Grey Dick grimly, and Hugh only groaned in answer.



Such was the beginning of the awful plague which travelled from the East to Venice and all Europe and afterward became known by the name of the Black Death. Day by day the number of its victims increased; the hundreds of yesterday were the thousands of the morrow. Soon the graveyards were full, the plague pits, long and deep, were full, and the dead were taken out to sea by shiploads and there cast into the ocean. At length even this could not be done, since none were forthcoming who would dare the task. For it became known that those who did so themselves would surely die.

So where folk fell, there they lay. In the houses were many of them; they cumbered and poisoned the streets and the very churches. Even the animals sickened and perished, until that great city was turned into an open tomb. The reek of it tainted the air for miles around, so that even those who passed it in ships far out to sea turned faint and presently themselves sickened and died. But ere they died they bore on the fatal gift to other lands.

Moreover, starvation fell upon the place. Though the houses were full of riches, these would scarce suffice to buy bread for those who remained alive. The Doge and some of his Council passed laws to lighten the misery of the people, but soon few heeded these laws which none were left to enforce. The vagabonds and evil-minded men who began by robbing the deserted houses of jewels, money and plate, ended by searching them for food and casting aside their treasures as worthless dross. It was even said that some of them did worse things, things not to be named, since in its extremities nature knows no shame. Only if bread and meat were scarce, wine remained in plenty. In the midst of death men—yes, and women—who perhaps had deserted their wives, their husbands or their children, fearing to take the evil from them, made the nights horrible by their drunken blasphemies and revellings, as sailors sometimes do upon a sinking ship. Knowing that they must die, they wished to die merry.



Sir Geoffrey Carleon lived a long while after the death of his wife. When he passed away at last, ten days or so later, it was painlessly of the mortification of his broken limb, not of the pest, which went by him as though it knew that he was already doomed.

All this time Hugh, Grey Dick, and David Day nursed him without ceasing. Indeed with the exception of a woman so ancient and shrivelled that nothing seemed able to harm her any more, no one else was left in the great palazzo, for all the rest of the household had perished or fled away. This woman, who was the grandmother of one of the servants, now dead of the plague, cooked their food. Of such provision fortunately there was much laid up in the storerooms for use in the winter, since Lady Carleon had been a good and provident housewife.

So those three did not starve, although Sir Geoffrey would touch little of the salted stuff. He existed on a few fruits when they could get them, and after these were gone, on wine mingled with water.

At length came the end. For two days he had lain senseless. One night, however, David, who was watching in his chamber, crept into the room where Hugh slept hard by and told them that Sir Geoffrey was awake and calling them. They rose and went to him. By the light of the moon which shone in at the open window, that same window through which Lady Carleon had looked toward England ere she passed away, they saw him lying quietly, a happy smile upon his face.

"Friends," he said in a weak voice, "by the mercy of God, I go out of this hell to heaven, or so I think. But, if indeed this be not the end of the world, I hope that you who have lived so long will continue to live, and I have sent for you to bless you and to thank you both. In yonder case are certain papers that have to do with the King's business. I pray you deliver them to his Grace if you can and with them my homage and my thanks for the trust that he has reposed in me. Tell him what I have not written in the letters"—and here he smiled faintly—"that I think that few of his creditors in Venice will trouble him at present, though afterward their heirs, if they have left any, may do so. Say, too, to the Doge, who, I believe, still lives, that I send him my good wishes and respects. Also that I grieve that I have not been able to hand him my letters of recall in person, since the King who summons me sends none.

"So much for business, but there are two things more: I have no relatives living save my wife's sister. Therefore, Sir Hugh and Captain Richard, I have made you my joint heirs with her; my testament duly signed and witnessed is in that case with the other papers. My wealth is not great. Still there are certain land and manors in England, a sum of money placed with a merchant in London, whose name you will find written in the testament, my plate and gold coin here, though the former you may not be able to move. Therefore I charge you to bury it and return for it later on, if you can. It is of value, since all my life I have collected such trinkets. I beg you to make provision also for this good lad, David, should he be spared."

He paused a while, for he was growing very weak, then added:

"Another thing is that I ask you, if it be possible, to row my body out to sea and there sink it in deep water, deep, clean water, far from this place of stench and pestilence, for I would not lie in the common pit at last. Now kneel down and pray for my passing soul, since there is no priest to give me absolution, and I must seek it straight from God. Nay, thank me not. I have done with the world and its affairs. Kneel down and pray, as I pray for you, that you may be spared on earth and that we may meet again in heaven, where my wife and others await me."

They obeyed, weeping, yes, even Grey Dick wept a little. Presently when they looked up they saw that Sir Geoffrey was dead, dead without pain or sorrow. Of the first he had suffered none for days, and the second was far from him who wished to die.

Leaving the ancient woman in charge of the house, which she barred and bolted, next morning they took a boat, and the three of them rowed the body of the old knight a league out into the quiet sea. There, after a brief prayer, they cast him into the deep, weighted with stones, so that he might never rise again.

Then they returned, not too soon, for they found thieves in the act of breaking into the house, probably in search of food. These miserable, half-starved men they spared, though they could have killed them easily enough. They even gave them a pouch full of biscuit and dried meat ere they dismissed them. This they did quickly, since one of them, as they could see, was already stricken by the plague and had not long to live. When they were gone, the old woman being out of the house, whence she had fled on hearing the robbers, they collected all Sir Geoffrey's and his lady's jewels and plate, of which there was much, for he lived in state in Venice, as became an ambassador. These they buried in three large iron boxes beneath the flagstones of the cellar, the safest place that they could find. Having thrown the excavated earth into the canal under cover of the dark, they replaced these stones and strewed dust over them.

Wondering whether it would ever be their lot to look upon these chests and their contents again, they left the cellar, to find the old woman knocking at the back door of the house, whither she had returned, frightened by the sights and sounds in the city. They bade her bring them food, which they needed much who had laboured so hard on that sorrowful day, and after they had eaten took counsel together.

"Seeing that all three of us are still in health, as if there is anything in the promises of Murgh we should remain, is it not time, master," asked Grey Dick, "that we left this accursed Venice? Now that Sir Geoffrey is gone, there is naught to keep us here."

"One thing I have to do first," answered Hugh, "and it is to learn whether Sir Edmund Acour, lord of Cattrina, is dead or living, and if living where he hides himself away. While Sir Geoffrey lay dying we could not leave him to make search, but now it is otherwise."

"Ay, master, though I think you'll find the task hard in this hive of pestilence and confusion."

"I have heard that the plague is at work in Cattrina's palace," broke in David, "but when I asked whether he were there or no, none could tell me. That is not a house where you'll be welcomed, Sir Hugh."

"Still I will make bold to knock at his doors to-morrow," answered Hugh. "Now let us seek what we all need—sleep."

So on the following morning shortly after sunrise Hugh and Grey Dick, guided by David, took boat and rowed through most fearful scenes and sounds to the Palazzo Cattrina, a splendid but somewhat dilapidated building situated in a part of the city that, like itself, had seen more prosperous times. The great doors of the place set in a marble archway stood half open. Over them were cut the cognizance of the floating swan, and beneath, in letters of faded gold, the titles of Acour, de Noyon, and Cattrina. No wonder they were open, since the porter's lodge was occupied only by a grisly corpse that lay rotting on the floor, a heavy key in its hand. The courtyard beyond was empty and so, save for a dead horse, were the stables to the right. Passing up the steps of the hall that also stood open, they entered.

Here the place was in confusion, as though those who dwelt there had left in haste. The mouldering remains of a meal lay on the broad oak table; a great dower-chest inlaid with ivory, but half filled with arms and armour, stood wide. A silver crucifix that had hung above was torn down and cast upon the floor, perchance by thieves who had found it too heavy to bear away. The earthquake had thrown over a carved cabinet and some bowls of glazed ware that stood upon it. These lay about shattered amidst shields and swords thrown from the walls, where pictures of saints or perchance of dead Cattrinas hung all awry. In short, if an army had sacked it this stately hall could scarce have seemed more ruined.

Hugh and Dick crossed it to a stairway of chestnut wood whereof every newel-post was surmounted by the crest of a swan, and searched the saloons above, where also there was wreck and ruin. Then, still mounting the stair, they came to the bed-chambers. From one of these they retreated hastily, since on entering it hundreds of flies buzzing in a corner advised them that something lay there which they did not wish to see.

"Let us be going. I grow sick," exclaimed Hugh.

But Dick, who had the ears of a fox, held up his hand and said:

"Hark! I hear a voice."

Following the sound, he led his master down two long corridors that ended in a chapel. There, lying before the altar, they found a man clad in a filthy priest's robe, a dying man who still had the strength to cry for help or mercy, although in truth he was wasted to a skeleton, since the plague which had taken him was of the most lingering sort. Indeed, little seemed to be left of him save his rolling eyes, prominent nose and high cheekbones covered with yellow parchment that had been skin, and a stubbly growth of unshaven hair.

Dick scanned him. Dick, who never forgot a face, then stepped forward and said:

"So once more we meet in a chapel, Father Nicholas. Say, how has it fared with you since you fled through the chancel door of that at Blythburgh Manor? No, I forgot, that was not the last time we met. A man in a yellow cap ripped off your mask in a by-street near the Place of Arms one night and said something which it did not please you to hear."

"Water!" moaned Nicholas. "For Christ's sake give me water!"

"Why should I give you water in payment for your midnight steel yonder in the narrow street? What kind of water was it that you gave Red Eve far away at Blythburgh town?" asked Dick in his hissing voice which sounded like that of an angry snake.

But Hugh, who could bear no more of it, ran down to the courtyard, where he had seen a pitcher standing by a well, and brought water.

"Thank God that you have come again," said the wretched priest, as he snatched at it, "for I cannot bear to die with this white-faced devil glaring at me," and he pointed to Grey Dick, who leaned against the chancel wall, his arms folded on his breast, smiling coldly.

Then he drank greedily, Hugh holding the pitcher to his lips, for his wasted arms could not bear its weight.

"Now," said Hugh, when his thirst was satisfied, "tell me, where is your master, Cattrina?"

"God or the fiend can say alone. When he found that I was smitten with the plague he left me to perish, as did the others."

"And as we shall do unless you tell me whither my enemy has gone," and Hugh made as though to leave the place.

The priest clutched at him with his filthy, claw-like hand.

"For Christ's sake do not desert me," he moaned. "Let one Christian soul be near me at the last ere the curse of that wizard with the yellow cap is fulfilled on me. For the sake of Jesus, stay! I'll tell all I know."

"Speak then, and be swift. You have no time to spare, I think."

"When the darkness fell there in the Place of Arms," began Nicholas, "while you knights were waiting for the third blast of the trumpet, Cattrina fled under cover it."

"As I thought, the accursed coward!" exclaimed Hugh bitterly.

"Nay, to be just, it was not all cowardice. The wizard in the yellow cap, he who showed himself to the people afterward and called down this Black Death on Venice, appeared to him in the darkness and said something to him that turned his heart to water. I think it was that if he stayed, within five short minutes he'd be dead, who otherwise, if he fled, had yet a breathing space of life. So he went."

"Ay. But whither, man? Whither?"

"Here to his house, where he disguised himself and bade me prepare to travel with him. Only then the sickness took me and I could not. So he went with some of his people, riding for Avignon."

"What to do at Avignon?"

"To obtain the confirmation of his marriage with the lady Eve Clavering. It has been promised to him by certain cardinals at Court who have the ear of his Holiness the Pope."

"Ah, I thought it! What more?"

"Only this: tidings reached him that the lady Clavering, with the old Templar, Sir Andrew Arnold, journeys to Avignon from England, there to obtain the dissolution of their marriage with Sir Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Lord of Cattrina. In Avignon, however the cause may go, Cattrina purposes to snare and make her his, which will be easy, for there he has many friends and she has none."

"Except God!" exclaimed Hugh, grinding his teeth.

"And Sir Andrew Arnold," broke in Dick, "who, like some others, is, I think, one of His ministers. Still, we had better be riding, master."

"Nay, nay," cried Nicholas in a hoarse scream. "Tarry a while and I'll tell you that which will force the Pope to void this marriage. Yes, it shall be set in writing and signed by me and witnessed ere I die. There is ink and parchment in yonder little room."

"That's a good thought," said Hugh. "Dick, fetch the tools, for if we try to move this fellow he will go farther than we can follow him."

Dick went and returned presently with an ink-horn, a roll of parchment, pens and a little table. Then Hugh sat himself down on the altar rail, placing the table in front of him and said:

"Say on. I'll write, since you cannot."

Now Nicholas, having before his glazing eyes the vision of imminent judgment, briefly but clearly told all the truth at last. He told how he had drugged Red Eve, giving the name of the bane which he mixed in the milk she drank. He told how when her mind was sleeping, though her body was awake, none knowing the wickedness that had been wrought save he and Acour, and least of all her father, they had led her to the altar like a lamb to the slaughter, and there married her to the man she hated. He told how, although he had fled from England to save his life, Acour had never ceased to desire her and to plot to get her into his power, any more than he had ceased to fear Hugh's vengeance. For this reason, he said, he had clad himself in the armour of another knight at Crecy, and in that guise accepted mercy at Hugh's hand, leaving de la Roche to die in his place beneath that same hand. For this reason also he had commanded him, Nicholas, to bring about the death of Hugh de Cressi and his squire beneath the daggers of assassins in the streets of Venice, a fate from which they had been saved only by the wizard in the yellow cap, whom no steel could harm.

"The black-hearted villain!" hissed Dick. "Well, for your comfort, holy priest, I'll tell you who that wizard is. He is Death himself, Death the Sword, Death the Fire, Death the Helper, and presently you'll meet him again."

"I knew it, I knew it," groaned the wretched man. "Oh! such is the end of sin whereof we think so little in our day of strength."

"Nay," broke in Hugh, "you'll meet, not the minister, but Him whom he serves and in His hand are mercies. Be silent, Dick, for this wretch makes confession and his time is short. Spare the tool and save your wrath for him who wielded it. Go now and fetch David Day that he may witness also."

So Dick went, and Nicholas continued his tale, throwing light into many a dark place, though there was little more that Hugh thought worthy of record.

Presently David came and started back in horror at the sight of that yellow tortured face set upon a living skeleton. Then the writing was read and Nicholas, held up by Dick, set his signature with a trembling hand to this his confession of the truth. This done they signed as witnesses, all three of them.

Now Hugh, whose pity was stirred, wished to move Nicholas and lay him on a bed in some chamber, and if they could, find someone to watch him till the end. But the priest refused this charity.

"Let me die before the altar," he said, "where I may set my eyes upon Him whom I have betrayed afresh," and he pointed to the carved ivory crucifix which hung above it. "Oh! be warned, be warned, my brethren," he went on in a wailing voice. "You are all of you still young; you may be led astray as I was by the desire for power, by the hope of wealth. You may sell yourselves to the wicked as I did, I who once was good and strove toward the right. If Satan tempts you thus, then remember Nicholas the priest, and his dreadful death, and see how he pays his servants. The plague has taken others, yet they have died at peace, but I, I die in hell before I see its fires."

"Not so," said Hugh, "you have repented, and I, against whom you have sinned perhaps more than all, forgive you, as I am sure my lady would, could she know."

"Then it is more than I do," muttered Grey Dick to himself. "Why should I forgive him because he rots alive, as many a better man has done, and goes to reap what he has sown, who if he had won his way would have sent us before him at the dagger's point? Yet who knows? Each of us sins in his own fashion, and perchance sin is born of the blood and not of the will. If ever I meet Murgh again I'll ask him. But perhaps he will not answer."

Thus reflected Dick, half to David, who feared and did not understand him, and half to himself. Ere ever he had finished with his thoughts, which were not such as Sir Andrew would have approved, Father Nicholas began to die.

It was not a pleasant sight this death of his, though of its physical part nothing shall be written. Let that be buried with other records of the great plague. Only in this case his mind triumphed for a while over the dissolution of his body. When there was little left of him save bone and sinew, still he found strength to cry out to God for mercy. Yes, and to raise himself and cast what had been arms about the ivory rood and kiss its feet with what had been lips, and in his last death struggle to drag it down and pant out his ultimate breath beneath its weight.

So there they left him, a horrible, huddled heap upon which gleamed the ivory crucifix, and went their way, gasping, into the air.



CHAPTER XVI

AT AVIGNON

Hard upon two months had gone by when at length these three, Hugh, Grey Dick, and David Day, set eyes upon the towers of stately Avignon standing red against the sunset and encircled by the blue waters of the Rhone. Terrible beyond imagination had been the journey of these men, who followed in the footsteps of Murgh. They saw him not, it is true, but always they saw his handiwork. Death, death, everywhere death, nothing but death!

One night they supped at an inn with the host, his family and servants, twelve folk in all, in seeming health. When they rose in the morning one old woman and a little child alone remained; the rest were dead or dying. One day they were surprised and taken by robbers, desperate outcasts of the mountains, who gave them twenty-four hours to "make their peace with heaven"—ere they hanged them because they had slain so many of the band before they were overpowered.

But when those twenty-four hours of grace had elapsed, it would have been easy for them to hang all who remained of those robbers themselves. So they took the best of their horses and their ill-gotten gold and rode on again, leaving the murderers murdered by a stronger power than man.

They went through desolate villages, where the crops rotted in the fields; they went through stricken towns whereof the moan and the stench rose in a foul incense to heaven; they crossed rivers where the very fish had died by thousands, poisoned of the dead that rolled seaward in their waters. The pleasant land had become a hell, and untouched, unharmed, they plodded onward through those deeps of hell. But a night or two before they had slept in a city whereof the population, or those who remained alive of them, seemed to have gone mad. In one place they danced and sang and made love in an open square. In another bands of naked creatures marched the streets singing hymns and flogging themselves till the blood ran down to their heels, while the passers-by prostrated themselves before them. These were the forerunners of the "Mad Dancers" of the following year.

In a field outside of this city they came upon even a more dreadful sight. Here forty or fifty frenzied people, most of them drunk, were engaged in burning a poor Jew, his wife and two children upon a great fire made of the staves of wine-casks, which they had plundered from some neighbouring cellars. When Hugh and his companions came upon the scene the Jew had already burned and this crowd of devils were preparing to cast his wife and children into the flames, which they had been forced to see devour their husband and father. Indeed, with yells of brutal laughter, they were thrusting the children into two great casks ere they rolled them into the heart of the fire, while the wretched mother stood by and shrieked.

"What do you, sirs?" asked Hugh, riding up to them.

"We burn wizards and their spawn, Sir Knight," answered the ringleader. "Know that these accursed Jews have poisoned the wells of our town—we have witnesses who saw them do it—and thus brought the plague upon us. Moreover, she," and he pointed to the woman—"was seen talking not fourteen days ago to the devil in a yellow cap, who appears everywhere before the Death begins. Now, roll them in, roll them in!"

Hugh drew his sword, for this sight was more than his English flesh and blood could bear. Dick also unsheathed the black bow, while young David produced a great knife which he carried.

"Free those children!" said Hugh to the man with whom he had spoken, a fat fellow, with rolling, bloodshot eyes.

"Get you to hell, stranger," he answered, "or we'll throw you on the fire also as a Jew in knight's dress."

"Free those children!" said Hugh again in a terrible voice, "or I send you before them. Be warned! I speak truth."

"Be you warned, stranger, for I speak truth also," replied the man, mimicking him. "Now friends," he added, "tuck up the devil's brats in their warm bed."

They were his last words, for Hugh thrust with his sword and down he went.

Now a furious clamour arose. The mob snatched up burning staves, bludgeons, knives or whatever they had at hand, and prepared to kill the three. Without waiting for orders, Dick began to shoot. David, a bold young man, rushed at one of the most violent and stabbed him, and Hugh, who had leapt from his horse, set himself back to back with the other two. Thrice Dick shot, and at the third deadly arrow these drunken fellows grew sober enough to understand that they wished no more of them.

Suddenly, acting on a common impulse, they fled away, every one, only leaving behind them those who had fallen beneath the arrows and the sword. But some who were so full of wine that they could not run, tumbled headlong and lay there helpless.

"Woman," said Hugh when they had departed, "your husband is lost, but you and your children are saved. Now go your ways and thank whatever God you worship for His small mercies."

"Alas! Sir Knight," the poor creature, a still young and not unhandsome Jewess, wailed in answer, "whither shall I go? If I return to that town those Christian men will surely murder me and my children as they have already murdered my husband. Kill us now by the sword or the bow—it will be a kindness—but leave us not here to be tortured by the Christian men according to their fashion with us poor Jews."

"Are you willing to go to Avignon?" asked Hugh, after thinking awhile.

"Ay, Sir Knight, or anywhere away from these Christians. Indeed, at Avignon I have a brother who perchance will protect us."

"Then mount my horse," said Hugh. "Dick and David, draw those two youngsters from the tubs and set them on your beasts; we can walk."

So the children, two comely little girls of eight and six years of age, or thereabout, were dragged out of their dreadful prisons and lifted to the saddle. The wretched widow, running to the bonfire, snatched from it her husband's burnt-off hand and hid it in the bosom of her filthy robe. Then she took some of the white ashes and threw them toward that city, muttering curses as she did so.

"What do you?" asked Hugh curiously.

"I pray, sir, to Jehovah, the God of the Jews, that for every grain of these ashes He may take a life in payment for that of my murdered husband, and I think that He will listen."

"Like enough," answered Hugh, crossing himself, "but, woman, can you wonder that we Christians hold you sorcerers when we hear such prayers from your lips?"

She turned with a tragic motion, and, pointing to the bones of her husband smouldering in the fire, answered:

"And can you wonder, sir, that we wretched creatures utter such prayers when you, our masters, do such deeds as this?"

"No," answered Hugh, "I cannot. Let us be going from this shambles."

So they went, a melancholy procession if ever there one was seen upon this earth. As the three Englishmen marched behind the horses with their weeping burdens Grey Dick reflected aloud after his fashion.

"Jew and Christian!" he said. "The Jews killed one Man who chanced to be a God, though they knew it not, and ever since the Christians have killed thousands of the Jews. Now, which is the most wicked, those Jews who killed the Man Who was a God, because He said He was a God, or those Christians who throw a man into a fire to burn before his wife's and children's eyes? A man who never said that he was a god, but who, they said, put poison into their wells, which he did not do, but which they believed he did because he was one of the race that thirteen hundred years ago killed their God? Ah, well! Jew and Christian, I think the same devil dwells in them all, but Murgh alone knows the truth of the matter. If ever we meet again, I'll ask him of it. Meanwhile, we go to Avignon in strange company, whereof all the holy priests yonder, if any of them still live, to say nothing of the people, may demand an account of us."

So spoke Dick as one who seeks an answer, but neither of his companions gave him any.

On they went through the ruined land unpursued, although they had just brought sundry men to their deaths. For now neither law nor justice was left and those killed who could and those died who must, unwept and unavenged. Only certain travellers, flying they knew not whither, flying from doom to doom, eyed them with hate and loathing because of their companions. Those who consorted with Jews must, they thought, be the enemies of every Christian soul.

Well was it for them perhaps that the early winter night was closing in when they reached the wonderful bridge of St. Benezet, now quite unguarded, since a worse foe reigned in Avignon than any that it could fear from without. They crossed it, unnoted, for here none lingered in the gloom and rain save one poor woman, who called out to them that all she loved were dead and that she went to seek them. Then, before they could interfere, she scrambled to the parapet of the bridge and with a wild cry leapt into the foaming waters that rushed beneath.

"God forgive and rest her!" muttered Hugh, crossing himself. The others only shrugged their shoulders. Such dreadful sights fed their eyes daily till they learned to take little note of them.

In a deserted place on the farther side of the bridge they halted, and Hugh said to the Jewish widow:

"Woman, here is Avignon, where you tell us there are those who will befriend you, so now let us part. We have done what we can for you and it is not safe either for you or for us that we should be seen together in this Christian city."

"Sir, you speak well," she answered. "Be pleased ere we separate, to meet no more perchance, to tell me your names that I may remember them and hand them down among my people from generation to generation."

So he told her, and thrust onto her a gift of money and the most of such food as remained to them. Then the poor woman lifted up her arms and said:

"I, Rebecca, daughter of Onias and wife of Nathan, call down on you, Hugh de Cressi, Richard Archer and David Day, and on your children forever, the blessings of Jehovah, because you have rescued the widow and her children from the fire and avenged the murder of the husband and the father. O God of my people, as Thou didst save Lot and his house from the flames of Sodom, so save these true-hearted and merciful men! Turn from them the sword of Thy wrath when it smites the sinful cities! Cast the cloak of Thy protection about them and all they love! Prosper their handiwork in peace and in war, fulfil their desire upon their enemies, and at last let them die full of years and honour and so be gathered into Thy eternal bosom! Thus prayeth Rebecca, the daughter of Onias, and thus shall it be."

Then, leading her children, she turned and vanished into the darkness.

"Now," said Dick when she had gone, "although they were spoken by a Jew whom men call accursed because their forefathers, fulfilling prophecy, or some few of them, wrought a great crime when the world was young and thereby brought about the salvation of mankind, as we believe, those are among the most comfortable words to which my ears have listened, especially such of them as dealt with the fulfilling of our desire upon our enemies in war. Well, they are spoke, and I doubt not registered in a book which will not be lost. So, master, let us seek a lodging in this city of Avignon, which, for my part, I do with a light heart."

Hugh nodded, and his heart also was lightened by those words of blessing and good omen. Mounting their horses, they took a street that led them past the great Roches des Doms, on the crest of which stood the mighty palace of the Popes, as yet unfinished, but still one of the vastest buildings they had ever seen. Here on the battlements and in front of the gateway burned great fires, lit by order of his Holiness to purify the air and protect him and his Court from the plague.

Leaving this place on their right they rode slowly along one of the principal streets of the town, seeking an inn. Soon they found one, a large place that had a sign on which three shepherds were painted, and turned to enter its gateway. But, when they saw them, out of that gateway rushed a mob of frantic people waving swords and cudgels, and saying that they would have no strangers there to bring the Death among them.

"Let us go on," said Hugh, "for here it seems we are not welcome."

So they went and tried three other inns in turn. At two of them they met with a like greeting, but the doors of the third were closed and the place was deserted. Then, for a crowd began to gather round them, wearily enough they turned up another street at hazard. Thus they wended their way back toward the great central rock, thinking that there they might find some more hospitable tavern.

Following this new street, they reached a less crowded suburb of the town, where large dwellings stood in their own gardens. One of these, they saw by the flare of some of those fires which burned all about the city in this time of pestilence, seemed to be a small castle. At least it had a moat round it and a drawbridge, which was down. Seeing that lamps burned in its windows, Hugh, who was worn out with their long journeyings, took a sudden resolution.

"Doubtless some knight dwells in this fine house," he said to his companions. "Let us go up and declare our names and degree and by virtue of them claim the hospitality which is our right."

"Be it so," grumbled Dick. "We cannot be worse treated there than we were at the inns, unless the owner adds arrows to the swords and cudgels."

They rode across the drawbridge to the gateway of the little castle, which was open, and finding no one there, through a small courtyard to the door, which also was open.

David dismounted and knocked on it, but none answered.

"An empty house belongs to no one," said Dick; "at any rate in these times. Let us enter."

They did so, and saw that the place was sumptuously appointed. Though ancient, it was not large, having, as they afterward discovered, been a fortification on an outer wall now demolished, which had been turned to the purposes of a dwelling. Leaving the hall out of which opened the refectory, they mounted a stone stair to the upper chambers, and entered one of them.

Here they saw a strange and piteous sight. On a bed, about which candles still burned, lay a young woman who had been very beautiful, arrayed in a bride's robe.

"Dead of the plague," said Hugh, "and deserted at her death. Well, she had better luck than many, since she was not left to die alone. Her dress and these candles show it."

"Ay," answered Dick, "but fear took the watchers at last and they are fled. Well, we will fill their place, and, if they do not return to-morrow, give her honourable burial in her own courtyard. Here be fine lodgings for us, master, so let us bide in them until the rightful owners cast us out. Come, David, and help me raise that drawbridge."

Fine lodgings these proved to be indeed, since, as they found, no house in Avignon was better furnished with all things needful. But, and this will show how dreadful were the times, during these days that they made this their home they never so much as learned the name of that poor lady arrayed in the bride's dress and laid out upon her marriage bed.

In the butteries and cellar were plentiful provisions of food. Having eaten of it with thankfulness, they chose out one of the bed-chambers and slept there quite undisturbed till the morning sun shone in at the window-places and awoke them. Then they arose, and, digging a shallow grave in the courtyard with some garden tools which they found in a shed, they bore out the poor bride, and, removing only her jewels, which were rich enough, buried her there in her wedding dress. This sad duty finished, they washed themselves with water from the well, and breakfasted. After they had eaten they consulted as to what they should do next.

"We came here to lay a certain cause before his Holiness," said Hugh. "Let us go up to the palace, declare our business and estate, and ask audience."

So, leaving David in charge of the house, which they named the Bride's Tower because of the dead lady and the little keep which rose above it, and of the horses that they had stalled in the stable, they went out and made their way to the great entrance of the Pope's palace. Here they found the gates shut and barred, with a huge fire burning behind them.

Still they knocked until some guards appeared armed with cross-bows, and asked their business. They said they desired to see his Holiness, or at least one of his secretaries, whereon the guards asked whence they came. They replied from Italy, and were told that if so they would find no entrance there, since the Death had come from Italy. Now Hugh gave his name and stated his business on hearing which the guards laughed at him.

"Annulment of a false marriage!" said their captain. "Go lay your petition before Death, who will do your business swiftly if he has not done it already. Get you gone, you English knight, with your white-faced squire. We want no English here at the best of times, and least of all if they hail from Italy."

"Come on, master," said Dick, "there are more ways into a house than by the front door—and we won't want to leave our brains to grease its hinges."

So they went away, wondering whither they should betake themselves or what they could do next. As it chanced, they had not long to wait for an answer. Presently a lantern-jawed notary in a frayed russet gown, who must have been watching their movements, approached them and asked them what had been their business at the Pope's palace. Hugh told him, whereon the lawyer, finding that he was a person of high degree, became deferential in his manner. Moreover, he announced that he was a notary named Basil of Tours and one of the legal secretaries of his Holiness, who just now was living without the gates of the palace by express command in order to attend to the affairs of suitors at the Papal Court during the Great Sickness. He added, however, that he was able to communicate with those within, and that doubtless it might be in his power to forward the cause of the noble knight, Sir Hugh de Cressi, in which already he took much interest.

"There would be a fee?" suggested Dick, looking at the man coldly.

Basil answered with a smirk that fees and legal affairs were inseparable; the latter naturally involved the former. Not that he cared for money, he remarked, especially in this time of general woe. Still, it would never do for a lawyer, however humble, to create a precedent which might be used against his craft in better days. Then he named a sum.

Hugh handed him double what he asked, whereon he began to manifest great zeal in his case. Indeed, he accompanied them to the fortified house that they had named the Bride's Tower, which he alleged, with or without truth, he had never seen before. There he wrote down all particulars of the suit.

"Sir Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Seigneur of Cattrina?" he said presently. "Why I think that a lord of those names had audience with his Holiness some while ago, just before the pest grew bad in Avignon and the gates of the palace were ordered to be shut. I know not what passed on the occasion, not having been retained in the cause, but I will find out and tell you to-morrow."

"Find out also, if it pleases you, learned Basil," said Hugh, "whether or no this knight with the three names is still in Avignon. If so, I have a word or two to say to him."

"I will, I will," answered the lantern-jawed notary. "Yet I think it most unlikely that any one who can buy or beg a horse to ride away on should stay in this old city just now, unless indeed, the laws of his order bind him to do so that he may minister to the afflicted. Well, if the pest spares me and you, to-morrow morning I will be back here at this hour to tell you all that I can gather."

"How did this sickness begin in Avignon?" asked Grey Dick.

"Noble Squire, none know for certain. In the autumn we had great rains, heavy mists and other things contrary to the usual course of nature, such as strange lights shining in the heavens, and so forth. Then after a day of much heat, one evening a man clad in a red and yellow cap, who wore a cloak of thick black furs and necklaces of black pearls, was seen standing in the market-place. Indeed, I saw him myself. There was something so strange and dreadful about the appearance of this man, although it is true that some say he was no more than a common mountebank arrayed thus to win pence, that the people set upon him. They hurled stones at him, they attacked him with swords and every other weapon, and thought that they had killed him, when suddenly he appeared outside the throng unhurt. Then he stretched out his white-gloved hand toward them and melted into the gloom.

"Only," added Basil nervously, "it was noted afterward that all those who had tried to injure the man were among the first to die of the pest. Thank God, I was not one of them. Indeed I did my best to hold them back, which, perhaps, is the reason why I am alive to-day."

"A strange story," said Hugh, "though I have heard something like it in other cities through which we have passed. Well, till to-morrow at this hour, friend Basil."

"We have learned two things, master," said Dick, when the lawyer had bowed himself out. "First, that Acour is, or has been, in Avignon, and secondly, that Murgh the Messenger, Murgh the Sword, has been or is in Avignon. Let us go seek for one of the other of them, since for my part I desire to meet them both."

So all that day they sought but found neither.

Next morning Basil reappeared, according to his promise, and informed them that their business was on foot. Also he said that it was likely to prove more difficult than he anticipated. Indeed, he understood that he who was named de Noyon and Cattrina, having friends among the cardinals, had already obtained some provisional ratification of his marriage with the lady Eve Clavering. This ratification it would now be costly and difficult to set aside.

Hugh answered that if only he could be granted an audience with his Holiness, he had evidence which would make the justice of his cause plain. What he sought was an audience.

The notary scratched his lantern jaws and asked how that could be brought about when every gate of the palace was shut because of the plague. Still, perhaps, it might be managed, he added, if a certain sum were forthcoming to bribe various janitors and persons in authority.

Hugh gave him the sum out of the store of gold they had taken from the robbers in the mountains, with something over for himself. So Basil departed, saying that he would return at the same hour on the morrow, if the plague spared him and them, his patrons, as he prayed the Saints that it might do.

Hugh watched him go, then turned to Dick and said:

"I mistrust me of that hungry wolf in sheep's clothing who talks so large and yet does nothing. Let us go out and search Avignon again. Perchance we may meet Acour, or at least gather some tidings of him."

So they went, leaving the Tower locked and barred, who perchance would have been wiser to follow Basil. A debased and fraudulent lawyer of no character at all, this man lived upon such fees as he could wring without authority from those who came to lay their suits before the Papal Court, playing upon their hopes and fears and pretending to a power which he did not possess. Had they done so, they might have seen him turn up a certain side street, and, when he was sure that none watched him, slip into the portal of an ancient house where visitors of rank were accustomed to lodge.

Mounting some stairs without meeting any one, for this house, like many others, seemed to be deserted in that time of pestilence, he knocked upon a door.

"Begone, whoever you are," growled a voice from within. "Here there are neither sick to be tended nor dead to be borne away."

Had they been there to hear it, Hugh and Dick might have found that voice familiar.

"Noble lord," he replied, "I am the notary, Basil, and come upon your business."

"Maybe," said the voice, "but how know I that you have not been near some case of foul sickness and will not bring it here?"

"Have no fear, lord; I have been waiting on the healthy, not on the sick—a task which I leave to others who have more taste that way."

Then the door was opened cautiously, and from the room beyond it came a pungent odour of aromatic essences. Basil passed in, shutting it quickly behind him. Before him at the further side of the table and near to a blazing fire stood Acour himself. He was clothed in a long robe and held a piece of linen that was soaked in some strong-smelling substance before his nose and mouth.

"Nay, come no nearer," he said to the clerk, "for this infection is most subtle, and—be so good as to cast off that filthy cloak of yours and leave it by the door."

Basil obeyed, revealing an undergarment that was still more foul. He was not one who wasted money on new apparel.

"Well, man," said Acour, surveying him with evident disgust and throwing a handful of dried herbs upon the fire, "what news now? Has my cause been laid before his Holiness? I trust so, for know that I grow weary of being cooped up here like a falcon in a cage with the dread of a loathsome death and a handful of frightened servants as companions who do nothing but drone out prayers all day long."

"Yes, lord, it has. I have it straight from Clement's own secretary, and the answer is that his Holiness will attend to the matter when the pest has passed away from Avignon, and not before. He adds also that when it does so, if ever, all the parties to the cause, by themselves or by their representatives, must appear before him. He will give no ex parte judgment upon an issue which, from letters that have reached him appears to be complicated and doubtful."

"Mother of Heaven!" exclaimed Acour, "what a fool am I to let you in to tell me such tidings. Well, if that is all you have to say the sooner I am out of this hateful city the better. I ride this afternoon, or, if need be, walk on foot."

"Indeed," said Basil. "Then you leave behind you some who are not so frightened of their health, but who bide here upon a very similar errand. Doubtless, as often happens to the bold, they will find a way to fulfil it."

"And who may these be, fellow?"

"A bold and warlike knight, a squire with hair like tow and a face that might be worn by Death himself, and a young English serving man."

Acour started up from the chair in which he had sat down.

"No need to tell me their names," he said, "but how, by hell's gate, came de Cressi and his familiar here."

"By the road, I imagine, lord, like others. At least, a few days ago they were seen travelling toward the bridge of St. Benezet in the company of certain Jews, whom, I am informed, they had rescued from the just reward of their witchcraft. I have a note of all the facts, which include the slaying of sundry good Christians on behalf of the said Jews."

"Jews? Why, that is enough to hang them in these times. But what do they here and where do they lodge?"

"Like your lordship they strive to see the Pope. They desire that an alleged marriage between one Sir Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon and Seigneur of Cattrina, and one lady Eve Clavering, an Englishwoman, may be declared null and void. As they have been so good as to honour me with their confidence and appoint me their agent, I am able to detail the facts. Therefore I will tell you at once that the case of this knight de Cressi appears to be excellent, since it includes the written confession of a certain Father Nicholas, of whom perhaps you have heard."

"The written confession of Nicholas! Have you seen it?"

"Not as yet. So far I have been trusted with no original documents. Is it your will that I should try to possess myself of these? Because, if so, I will do my best, provided——" and he looked at the pocket of Acour's robe.

"How much?" asked Acour. The man named a great sum, half to be paid down and half on the delivery of the papers.

"I'll double it," said Acour, "if you can bring it about that these insolent Englishmen die—of the pest."

"How can I do that, lord?" asked Basil with a sour smile. "Such tricks might work backward. I might die, or you. Still these men have committed crimes, and just now there is a prejudice against Jews."

"Ay," said Acour, "the Englishmen are sorcerers. I tell you that in Venice they were seen in the company of that fiend of the yellow cap and the fur robe who appears everywhere before the pest."

"Prove it," exclaimed Basil, "and the citizens of Avignon will rid you of their troubling."

Then they debated long together and the end of it was that Basil departed, saying that he would return again on the morrow and make report as to certain matters.



CHAPTER XVII

A MEETING

Hugh, Grey Dick, and David, trudged up and down through the streets of Avignon. All that long day they trudged seeking news and finding little. Again and again they asked at the inns whether a knight who bore the name of Acour, or de Noyon, or Cattrina, was or had been a guest there, but none whom they asked seemed to know anything of such a person.

They asked it of citizens, also of holy priests, good men who, careless of their own lives, followed biers or cartloads of dead destined to the plague pit or the river that they might pronounce over them the last blessings of the Church. They asked it of physicians, some few of whom still remained alive, as they hurried from house to house to administer to the sick or dying. But all of these either did not answer at all or else shrugged their shoulders and went on their melancholy business. Only one of them called back that he had no time to waste in replying to foolish questions, and that probably the knight they sought was dead long ago or had fled from the city.

Another man, an officer of customs, who seemed half dazed with misery and fear, said that he remembered the lord Cattrina entering Avignon with a good many followers, since he himself had levied the customary tolls on his company. As for how long it was ago he could not say, since his recollection failed him—so much had happened since. So he bade them farewell until they met in heaven, which, he added, doubtless would be soon.

The evening drew on. Wearily enough they had trudged round the great Roche des Doms, looking up at the huge palace of the Pope, where the fires burned night and day and the guards watched at the shut gates, that forbidden palace into which no man might enter. Leaving it, they struck down a street that was new to them, which led toward their borrowed dwelling of the Bride's Tower. This street was very empty save for a few miserable creatures, some of whom lay dead or dying in the gutters. Others lurked about in doorways or behind the pillars of gates, probably for no good purpose. They heard the footsteps of a man following them who seemed to keep in the shadow, but took no heed, since they set him down as some wretched thief who would never dare to attack three armed men. It did not occur to them that this was none other than the notary Basil, clad in a new robe, who for purposes of his own was spying upon their movements.

They came to a large, ruinous-looking house, of which the gateway attracted Grey Dick's sharp eyes.

"What does that entrance remind you of, master?" he asked.

Hugh looked at it carelessly and answered:

"Why, of the Preceptory at Dunwich. See, there are the same arms upon the stone shield. Doubtless once the Knights Templar dwelt there. Sir Andrew may have visited this place in his youth."

As the words left his lips two men came out of the gateway, one of them a physician to judge by the robe and the case of medicines which he carried; the other a very tall person wrapped in a long cloak. The physician was speaking.

"She may live or she may die," he said. "She seems strong. The pest, you say, has been on her for four days, which is longer than most endure it; she has no swellings, and has not bled from the lungs; though, on the other hand, she is now insensible, which often precedes the end. I can say no more; it is in the hands of God. Yes, I will ask you to pay me the fee now. Who knows if you will be alive to do so to-morrow? If she dies before then I recommend you to throw her into the river, which the Pope has blessed. It is cleaner burial than the plague pit. I presume she is your grand-daughter—a beautiful woman. Pity she should be wasted thus, but many others are in a like case. If she awakes give her good food, and if you cannot get that—wine, of which there is plenty. Five gold pieces—thank you," and he hurried away.

"Little have you told me, physician, that I did not know already," said the tall hooded figure, in a deep voice the sound of which thrilled Hugh to his marrow. "Yet you are right; it is in the hands of God. And to those hands I trust—not in vain, I think."

"Sir," said Hugh addressing him out of the shadow in which he stood, "be pleased to tell me, if you will, whether you have met in this town a knight of the name of Sir Edmund Acour, for of him I am in search?"

"Sir Edmund Acour?" answered the figure. "No, I have not met him in Avignon, though it is like enough that he is here. Yet I have known of this knight far away in England."

"Was it at Blythburgh, in Suffolk, perchance?" asked Hugh.

"Ay, at Blythburgh in Suffolk; but who are you that speak in English and know of Blythburgh in Suffolk?"

"Oh!" cried Hugh, "what do you here, Sir Andrew Arnold?"

The old man threw back his hood and stared at him.

"Hugh de Cressi, by Christ's holy Name!" he exclaimed. "Yes, and Richard the archer, also. The light is bad; I did not see your faces. Welcome, Hugh, thrice welcome," and he threw his arms about him and embraced him. "Come, enter my lodgings, I have much to say to you."

"One thing I desire to learn most of all, Father; the rest can wait. Who is the sick lady of whom you spoke to yonder physician—she that, he thought, was your grand-daughter?"

"Who could it be, Hugh, except Eve Clavering."

"Eve!" gasped Hugh. "Eve dying of the pest?"

"Nay, son: who said so? She is ill, not dying, who, I believe, will live for many years."

"You believe, Father, you believe! Why this foul plague scarce spares one in ten. Oh! why do you believe?"

"God teaches me to do so," answered the old knight solemnly. "I only sent for that physician because he has medicines which I lack. But it is not in him and his drugs that I put my trust. Come, let us go in and see her."

So they went up the stairs and turned down a long passage, into which the light flowed dimly through large open casements.

"Who is that?" asked Hugh suddenly. "I thought that one brushed past me, though I could see nothing."

"Ay," broke in the lad David, who was following, "and I felt a cold wind as though some one stirred the air."

Grey Dick also opened his lips to speak, then changed his mind and was silent, but Sir Andrew said impatiently:

"I saw no one, therefore there was no one to see. Enter!" and he opened the door.

Now they found themselves in a lighted room, beyond which lay another room.

"Bide you here, Richard, with your companion," said Sir Andrew. "Hugh, follow me, and let us learn whether I have trusted to God in vain."

Then very gently he opened the door, and they passed in together, closing it behind them.

This is what Hugh saw. At the far end of the room was a bed, near to which stood a lamp that showed, sitting up in the bed, a beautiful young woman, whose dark hair fell all about her. Her face was flushed but not wasted or made dreadful by the sickness, as happened to so many. There she sat staring before her with her large dark eyes and a smile upon her sweet lips, like one that muses on happy things.

"See," whispered Sir Andrew, "she is awakened from her swoon. I think I did not trust in vain, my son."

She caught the tones of his voice and spoke.

"Is that you, Father?" she asked dreamily. "Draw near, for I have such a strange story to tell you."

He obeyed, leaving Hugh in the shadow, and she went on:

"Just now I awoke from my sleep and saw a man standing by my bed."

"Yes, yes," Sir Andrew said, "the physician whom I sent for to see you."

"Do physicians in Avignon wear caps of red and yellow and robes of black fur and strings of great black pearls that, to tell truth, I coveted sorely?" she asked, laughing a little. "No, no. If this were a physician, he is of the sort that heals souls. Indeed, now that I think of it, when I asked him his name and business, he answered that the first was the Helper, and the second, to bring peace to those in trouble."

"Well, daughter, and what else did the man say?" asked Sir Andrew, soothingly.

"You think I wander," she said, interpreting the tone of his voice and not his words, "but indeed it is not so. Well, he said little; only that I had been very ill, near to death, in truth, much nearer than I thought, but that now I should recover and within a day or two be quite well and strong again. I asked him why he had come to tell me this. He replied, because he thought that I should like to know that he had met one whom I loved in the city of Venice in Italy; one who was named Hugh de Cressi. Yes, Father, he said Hugh de Cressi, who, with his squire, an archer, had befriended him there—and that this Hugh was well and would remain so, and that soon I should see him again. Also he added that he had met one whom I hated, who was named the lord of Cattrina, and that if this Cattrina threatened me I should do wisely to fly back to England, since there I should find peace and safety. Then, suddenly, just before you came in, he was gone."

"You have strange dreams, Eve," said Sir Andrew, "yet there is truth in their madness. Now be strong lest joy should kill you, as it has done by many a one before."

Then he turned to the shadow behind him and said, "Come." Next instant Hugh was kneeling at Eve's bedside and pressing his lips upon her hand.



Oh! they had much to say to each other, so much that the half of it remained unsaid. Still Hugh learned that she and Sir Andrew had come to Avignon upon the Pope's summons to lay this matter of her alleged marriage before him in person. When they reached the town they found it already in the grip of the great plague, and that to see his Holiness was almost impossible, since he had shut himself up in his palace and would admit no one. Yet an interview was promised through Sir Andrew's high-placed friends, only then the sickness struck Eve and she could not go, nor was Sir Andrew allowed to do so, since he was nursing one who lay ill.

Then Hugh began to tell his tale, to which Eve and Sir Andrew Arnold listened greedily. Of Murgh, for sundry reasons, he said nothing, and of the fight from which Acour had fled in Venice before the earthquake but little. He told them, however, that he had heard that this Acour had been or was in Avignon and that he had learned from a notary named Basil, whom he, Hugh, had retained, that Acour had won from the Pope a confirmation of his marriage.

"A lie!" interrupted Sir Andrew. "His Holiness caused me to be informed expressly that he would give no decision in this cause until all the case was before him."

As he said the words a disturbance arose in the outer room, and the harsh voice of Grey Dick was heard saying:

"Back, you dog! Would you thrust yourself into the chamber of the lady of Clavering? Back, or I will cast you through the window-place."

Sir Andrew went to see what was the matter, and Hugh, breaking off his tale, followed him, to find the notary, Basil, on his knees with Grey Dick gripping him by the collar of his robe.

"Sir Knight," said Basil, recognizing Hugh, "should I, your faithful agent, be treated thus by this fierce-faced squire of yours?"

"That depends on what you have done, Sir Lawyer," answered Hugh, motioning to Dick to loose the man.

"All I have done, Sir Knight, is to follow you into a house where I chanced to see you enter, in order to give you some good tidings. Then this fellow caught me by the throat and said that if I dared to break in upon the privacy of one whom he called Red Eve and Lady Clavering, he would kill me."

"He had his orders, lawyer."

"Then, Sir Knight, he might have executed them less roughly. Had he but told me that you were alone with some lady, I should have understand and withdrawn for a while, although to do so would have been to let precious moments slip," and the lean-faced knave leered horribly.

"Cease your foul talk and state your business," interrupted Sir Andrew, thrusting himself in front of Hugh, who he feared would strike the fellow.

"And pray, who may you be?" asked the lawyer, glancing up at the tall figure that towered above him.

Sir Andrew threw back his hood, revealing his aged, hawk-like countenance, his dark and flashing eyes and his snow-white hair and beard.

"If you would learn, man," he said, in his great voice, "in the world I was known as Sir Andrew Arnold, one of the priors of the Order of the Templars, which is a name that you may have heard. But now that I have laid aside all worldly pomp and greatness, I am but Father Andrew, of Dunwich, in England."

"Yes, yes, I have heard the name; who has not?" said the lawyer humbly; "also you are here as guardian to the lady Eve Clavering, are you not, to lay a certain cause before his Holiness? Oh! do not start, all these matters came to my knowledge who am concerned in every great business in Avignon as the chief agent and procurator of the Papal Court, though it is true that this tiding has reached me only within the last few minutes and from the lips of your own people. Holy Father, I pray your pardon for breaking in upon you, which I did only because the matter is very pressing. Sir Hugh de Cressi here has a cause to lay before the Pope with which you may be acquainted. Well, for two days I have striven to win him an audience, and now through my sole influence, behold! 'tis granted. See here," and he produced a parchment that purported to be signed by the Pope's secretary and countersigned by a cardinal, and read:

"'If the English knight, Sir Hugh de Cressi, and his squire, the captain Richard, will be in the chamber of audience at the palace at seven of the clock this evening' (that is, within something less than half an hour), 'his Holiness will be pleased to receive them as a most special boon, having learned that the said Sir Hugh is a knight much in favour with his Grace of England, who appointed him his champion in a combat that was lately to be fought at Venice.'"

"That's true enough, though I know not how the Pope heard of it," interrupted Hugh.

"Through me, Sir Knight, for I learn everything. None have so much power in Avignon as I, although it often pleases me to seem poor and of no account. But let that pass. Either you must take this opportunity or be content not to see his Holiness at all. Orders have been issued because of the increase of this pest in Avignon, that from to-night forward none shall be admitted to the palace upon any pretext whatsoever; no, not even a king."

"Then I had best go," said Hugh.

"Ay," answered Sir Andrew, "and return here with your tidings as soon as may be. Yet," he added in a low voice to Grey Dick, "I love not the look of this scurvy guide of yours. Could not your master have found a better attorney?"

"Perhaps," answered Dick, "that is if one is left alive in Avignon. Being in haste we took the first that came to hand, and it seems that he will serve our turn. At least, if he plays tricks, I promise it will be the worse for him," and he looked grimly at the rogue, who was talking to David Day and appeared to hear nothing.

So they went, and with them David, who had witnessed the confession of Father Nicholas. Therefore they thought it best that he should accompany them to testify to it if there were need.

"Bid my lady keep a good heart and say that I will be with her again ere long," said Hugh as they descended the stairs in haste.

Following the guidance of Basil, they turned first this way and then that, till soon in the gathering darkness they knew not where they were.

"What was the name of the street in which Sir Andrew had his lodging?" asked Hugh, halting.

"Rue St. Benezet," answered Basil. "Forward, we have no time to lose."

"Did you tell Sir Andrew where we dwelt, master?" said Dick presently, "for I did not."

"By my faith, Dick, no; it slipped my mind."

"Then it will be hard for him to find us if he has need, master, in this rabbit warren of a town. Still that can't be mended now. I wish we were clear of this business, for it seems to me that yon fellow is not leading us toward the palace. Almost am I minded——" and he looked at Basil, then checked himself.

Presently Dick wished it still more. Taking yet another turn they found themselves in an open square or garden that was surrounded by many mean houses. In this square great pest-fires burned, lighting it luridly. By the flare of them they saw that hundreds of people were gathered there listening to a mad-eyed friar who was preaching to them from the top of a wine-cart. As they drew near to the crowd through which Basil was leading them, Hugh heard the friar shouting:

"Men of Avignon, this pest which kills us is the work not of God, but of the Jew blasphemers and of the sorcerers who are in league with them. I tell you that two such sorcerers who pass as Englishmen are in your city now and have been consorting with the Jews, plotting your destruction. One looks like a young knight, but the other has the face of Death himself, and both of them wrought murders in a neighbouring town to protect the Jews. Until you kill the accursed Jews this plague will never pass. You will die, every one of you, with your wives and children if you do not kill the Jews and their familiars."

Just then the man, rolling his wild eyes about, caught sight of Hugh and Dick.

"See!" he screamed. "There are the wizards who in Venice were seen in the company of the Enemy of Mankind. That good Christian, Basil, has brought them face to face with you, as he promised me that he would."

As he heard these words Hugh drew his sword and leapt at Basil. But the rogue was watching. With a yell of fear he threw himself among the crowd and there vanished.

"Out weapons, and back to back!" cried Hugh, "for we are snared."

So the three of them ranged themselves together facing outward. In front of them gleamed Grey Dick's axe, Hugh's sword and David's great knife. In a moment the furious mob was surging round them like the sea, howling, "Down with the foreign wizards! Kill the friends of the Jews!" one solid wall of changing white faces.

A man struck at them with a halbert, but the blow fell short, for he was afraid to come too near. Grey Dick leapt forward, and in a moment was back again, leaving that man dead, smitten through from skull to chin. For a while there was silence, since this sudden death gave them pause, and in it Hugh cried out:

"Are blameless men to be murdered thus? Have we no friends in Avignon?"

"Some," answered a voice from the outer shadow, though who spoke they could not see.

"Save the protectors of the Jews!" cried the voice again.

Then came a rush and a counter-rush. Fighting began around them in which they took no share. When it had passed over them like a gust of wind, David Day was gone, killed or trodden down, as his companions thought.

"Now, master, we are alone," said Grey Dick. "Set your shoulders against mine and let us die a death that these dogs of Avignon will remember."

"Ay, ay!" answered Hugh. "But don't overreach, Dick, 'tis ever the archer's fault."

The mob closed in on them, then rolled back like water from a rock, leaving some behind. Again they closed in and again rolled back.

"Bring bows!" they cried, widening out. "Bring bows and shoot them down."

"Ah!" gasped Dick, "that is a game two can play, now that I have arm room."

Almost before the words had left his lips the great black bow he bore was out and strung. Next instant the shafts began to rush, piercing all before them, till at the third arrow those in front of him melted away, save such as would stir no more. Only now missiles began to come in answer from this side and from that, although as yet none struck them.

"Unstring your bow, Dick, and let us charge," said Hugh. "We have no other chance save flight. They'll pelt us under."

Dick did not seem to hear. At least he shot on as one who was not minded to die unavenged. An arrow whistled through Hugh's cap, lifting it from his head, and another glanced from the mail on his shoulder. He ground his teeth with rage, for now none would come within reach of his long sword.

"Good-bye, friend Dick," he said. "I die charging," and with a cry of "A Cressi! A Cressi!" he sprang forward.

One leap and Dick was at his side, who had only bided to sheath his bow. The mob in front melted away before the flash of the white sword and the gleam of the grey axe. Still they must have fallen, for their pursuers closed in behind them like hunting hounds when they view the quarry, and there were none to guard their backs. But once more the shrill voice cried:

"Help the friends of the Jews! Save those who saved Rebecca and her children!"

Then again there came a rush of dark-browed men, who hissed and whistled as they fought.

So fierce was the rush that those who followed them were cut off, and Dick, glancing back over his shoulder, saw the mad-eyed priest, their leader, go down like an ox beneath the blow of a leaded bludgeon. A score of strides and they were out of the range of the firelight; another score and they were hidden by the gloom in the mouth of one of the narrow streets.

"Which way now?" gasped Hugh, looking back at the square where in the flare of the great fires Christians and Jews, fighting furiously, looked like devils struggling in the mouth of hell.

As he spoke a shock-headed, half-clad lad darted up to them and Dick lifted his axe to cut him down.

"Friend," he said in a guttural voice, "not foe! I know where you dwell; trust and follow me, who am of the kin of Rebecca, wife of Nathan."

"Lead on then, kin of Rebecca," exclaimed Hugh, "but know that if you cheat us, you die."

"Swift, swift!" cried the lad, "lest those swine should reach your house before you," and, catching Hugh by the hand, he began to run like a hare.

Down the dark streets they went, past the great rock where the fires burned at the gates of the palace of the Pope, then along more streets and across an open place where thieves and night-birds peered at them curiously, but at the sight of their drawn steel, slunk away. At length their guide halted.

"See!" he said. "There is your dwelling. Enter now and up with the bridge. Hark! They come. Farewell."

He was gone. From down the street to their left rose shouts and the sound of many running feet, but there in front of them loomed the Tower against the black and rainy sky. They dashed across the little drawbridge that spanned the moat, and, seizing the cranks, wound furiously. Slowly, ah! how slowly it rose, for it was heavy, and they were but two tired men; also the chains and cogs were rusty with disuse. Yet it did rise, and as it came home at last, the fierce mob, thirsting for their blood and guessing where they would refuge, appeared in front of it and by the light of some torches which they bore, caught sight of them.

"Come in, friends," mocked Grey Dick as they ran up and down the edge of the moat howling with rage and disappointment. "Come in if you would sup on arrow-heads such as this," and he sent one of his deadly shafts through the breast of a red-headed fellow who waved a torch in one hand and a blacksmith's hammer in the other.

Then they drew back, taking the dead man with them, but as they went one cried:

"The Jews shall not save you again, wizards, for if we cannot come at you to kill you, we'll starve you till you die. Stay there and rot, or step forth and be torn to pieces, as it pleases you, English wizards."

Then they all slunk back and vanished, or seemed to vanish, down the mouths of the dark streets that ran into the open place in front of the dwelling which Hugh had named the Bride's Tower.

"Now," said Dick, wiping the sweat from his brow as they barred the massive door of the house, "we are safe for this night at least, and can eat and sleep in peace. See you, master, I have taken stock of this old place, which must have been built in rough times, for scarce a wall of it is less than five feet thick. The moat is deep all round. Fire cannot harm it, and it is loop-holed for arrows and not commanded by any other building, having the open place in front and below the wide fosse of the ancient wall, upon which it stands. Therefore, even with this poor garrison of two, it can be taken only by storm. This, while we have bows and arrows, will cost them something, seeing that we could hold the tower from stair to stair."

"Ay, Dick," answered Hugh sadly, "doubtless we can make a fight for it and take some with us to a quieter world, if they are foolish enough to give us a chance. But what did that fellow shout as to starving us out? How stand we for provisions?"

"Foreseeing something of the sort, I have reckoned that up, master. There's good water in the courtyard well and those who owned this tower, whoever they may have been, laid in great store, perchance for the marriage feast, or perchance when the plague began, knowing that it would bring scarcity. The cupboards and the butteries are filled with flour, dried flesh, wine, olives and oil for burning. Even if these should fail us there are the horses in the stable, which we can kill and cook, for of forage and fuel I have found enough."

"Then the Pope should not be more safe than we, Dick," said Hugh with a weary smile, "if any are safe in Avignon to-day. Well, let us go and eat of all this plenty, but oh! I wish I had told Sir Andrew where we dwelt, or could be sure in which of that maze of streets he and Red Eve are lodged. Dick, Dick, that knave Basil has fooled us finely."

"Ay, master," said Dick, setting his grim lips, "but let him pray his Saint that before all is done I do not fool him."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE PLAGUE PIT

Seven long days had gone by and still Hugh and Grey Dick held out in their Tower fortress. Though as yet unhurt, they were weary indeed, since they must watch all night and could only sleep by snatches in the daytime, one lying down to rest while the other kept guard.

As they had foreseen, except by direct assault, the place proved impregnable, its moat protecting it upon three sides and the sheer wall of the old city terminating in the deep fosse upon the fourth. In its little armoury, among other weapons they had found a great store of arrows and some good bows, whereof Hugh took the best and longest. Thus armed with these they placed themselves behind the loopholes of the embattled gateway, whence they could sweep the space before them. Or if danger threatened them elsewhere, there were embrasures whence they could command the bases of the walls. Lastly, also, there was the central tower, whereof they could hold each landing with the sword.

Thrice they had been attacked, since there seemed to be hundreds of folk in Avignon bent upon their destruction, but each time their bitter arrows, that rarely seemed to miss, had repulsed the foe with loss. Even when an onslaught was delivered on the main gateway at night, they had beaten their assailants by letting fall upon them through the machicoulis or overhanging apertures, great stones that had been piled up there, perhaps generations before, when the place was built.

Still the attacks did not slacken. Indeed the hate of the citizens of Avignon against these two bold Englishmen, whose courage and resource they attributed to help given to them by the powers of evil, seemed to grow from day to day, even as the plague grew in the streets of that sore-afflicted city. From their walls they could see friars preaching a kind of crusade against them. They pointed toward the tower with crucifixes, invoking their hearers to pull it stone from stone and slay the wizards within, the wizards who had conspired with the accursed Jews even beneath the eyes of his Holiness the Pope, to bring doom on Avignon.

The eighth morn broke at length, and its first red rays discovered Hugh and Dick kneeling side by side behind the battlements of the gateway. Each of them was making petition to heaven in his own fashion for forgiveness of his sins, since they were outworn and believed that this day would be their last.

"What did you pray for, Dick?" asked Hugh, glancing at his companion's fierce face, which in that half light looked deathlike and unearthly.

"What did I pray for? Well, for the first part let it be; that's betwixt me and whatever Power sent me out to do its business on the earth. But for the last—I'll tell you. It was that we may go hence with such a guard of dead French as never yet escorted two Englishmen from Avignon to heaven—or hell. Ay, and we will, master, for to-day, as they shouted to us, they'll storm this tower; but if our strength holds out there's many a one who'll never win its crest."

"Rather would I have died peacefully, Dick. Yet the blood of these hounds will not weigh upon my soul, seeing that they seek to murder us for no fault except that we saved a woman and two children from their cruel devilries. Oh! could I but know that Red Eve and Sir Andrew were safe away, I'd die a happy man."

"I think we shall know that and much more before to-morrow's dawn, master, or never know anything again. Look! they gather yonder. Now let us eat, for perhaps later we shall find no time."



The afternoon drew on toward evening and still these two lived. Of all the hundreds of missiles which were shot or hurled at them, although a few struck, not one of them had pierced their armour so as to do them hurt. The walls and battlements or some good Fate had protected them. Thrice had the French come on, and thrice they had retreated before those arrows that could not miss, and as yet bridge and doors were safe.

"Look," said Dick as he set down a cup of wine that he had drained, for his thirst was raging, "they send an embassy," and he pointed to a priest, the same mad-eyed fellow who preached in the square when the notary Basil led them into a trap, and to a man with him who bore a white cloth upon a lance. "Shall I shoot them?"

"Nay," answered Hugh; "why kill crazed folk who think that they serve God in their own fashion? We will hear what they have to say."

Presently the pair stood within speaking distance, and the priest called out:

"Hearken, you wizards. So far your master the devil has protected you, but now your hour has come. We have authority from those who rule this city and from the Church to summon you to surrender, and if you will not, then to slay you both."

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