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H. Rider Haggard - Haggard Anthology Vol 14

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H. Rider Haggard - Haggard Anthology Vol 14

    Haggard Anthology

    Vol 14 ????

    by

    ????

    H. Rider Haggard ????

    ????

    ????

    ????

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    Book Index ???? ???? ????Red Eve (1911) ???? ????The Mahatma and the Hare (1911) ???? ????The Wanderer's Necklace (1914) ???? ????Love Eternal (1918) ???? ???? ???? ????

Red Eve

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    First Published 1911

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    Dedication

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    ????Ditchingham, May 27, 1911.

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    ????My dear Jehu:

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

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

    ????Your friend and colleague,

    ????H. Rider Haggard.

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    ????To Dr. Jehu, F.G.S.,

    ????St. Andrews, N.B.

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    Contents

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    ??? Murgh the Death

    ????I. The Trysting-Place

    ????II. The Fight By the River

    ????III. Father Andrew

    ????IV. The Penance

    ????V. Grey Dick Shows His Archery

    ????VI. The Snare

    ????VII. The Love Philtre

????VIII. Too Late

    ????IX. Crecy Field

    ????X. The King's Champion

    ????XI. The Challenge

    ????XII. The Man From the East

    ????XIII. Murgh's Arrow

    ????XIV. At the Place of Arms

    ????XV. The Death at Work

    ????XVI. At Avignon

    ????XVII. A Meeting

    ????XVIII. The Plague Pit

    ????XIX. The Doom

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    MURGH THE DEATH

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

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

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

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

    ????Between them, touched of neither, went a man, naked save for a red girdle and a long redcloak that was fastened round his throat and hung down from his broad shoulders. There wasnothing strange about this man, unless it were perhaps the strength that seemed to flow fromhim and the glance of his icy eyes. He was just a burly yellow man, whose age none could tell,for the hood of the red cloak hid his hair; one who seemed to be far removed from youth, andyet untouched by time. He walked on steadily, intently, his face immovable, taking no heed.

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

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

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

    ????"Here the work is done. Now I, the Eating Fire, I the Messenger, get me to the West. Amongyou for a while I cease to burn; yet remember me, for I shall come again."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    I. THE TRYSTING-PLACE

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

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

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

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

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

    ????This pair stood looking at each other.

    ????"Well, Cousin Eve Clavering," said the man, in his clear voice, "why did your message bidme meet you in this cold place?"

    ????"Because I had a word to say to you, Cousin Hugh de Cressi," she answered boldly; "and themarsh being so cold and so lonesome I thought it suited to my purpose. Does Grey Dick watchyonder?"

    ????"Ay, behind those willows, arrow on string, and God help him on whom Dick draws! But whatwas that word, Eve?"

    ????"One easy to understand," she replied, looking him in the eyes—"Farewell!"

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

    ????"An ill birthday greeting, yet I feared it," he muttered huskily, "but why more now than atany other time?"

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

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

    ????"Much, Hugh, as you should know who have been bred to trade," and she glanced at hismerchant's dress. "Between de Cressi and Clavering there has been rivalry and feud for three

    long generations. When we were children it abated for a while, since your father lent money tomine, and that is why they suffered us to grow up side by side. But then they quarrelled aboutthe ferry that we had set in pawn, and your father asked his gold back again, and, not gettingit, took the ferry, which I have always held a foolish and strife-breeding deed, since fromthat day forward the war was open. Therefore, Hugh, if we meet at all it must be in thesefrozen reeds or behind the cover of a thicket, like a village slut and her man."

    ????"I know that well enough, Eve, who have spoken with you but twice in nine months." And hedevoured her beautiful face with hungry eyes. "But of that word, 'Farewell'——"

    ????"Of that ill word, this, Hugh: I have a new suitor up yonder, a fine French suitor, a verygreat lord indeed, whose wealth, I am told, none can number. From his mother he has the Valleyof the Waveney up to Bungay town—ay, and beyond—and from his father, a whole county inNormandy. Five French knights ride behind his banner, and with them ten squires and I know nothow many men-at-arms. There is feasting yonder at the manor, I can tell you. Ere his trainleaves us our winter provender will be done, and we'll have to drink small beer till the wineships come from France in spring."

    ????"And what is this lord's name?"

    ????"God's truth, he has several," she answered. "Sir Edmund Acour in England, and in Francethe high and puissant Count of Noyon, and in Italy, near to the city of Venice—for there, too,he has possessions which came to him through his grandmother—the Seigneur of Cattrina."

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

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

    ????"And do you want him, Eve?"

    ????"Ay, I want him as far as the sun is from the moon or the world from either. I want him inheaven or beneath the earth, or anywhere away from me."

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

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

    ????She looked him up and down; then answered:

    ????"I think so, though he is no weakling; but not for him and the five knights and the tensquires, and my noble father, and my brother, and the rest. Oh, Hugh, Hugh!" she addedbitterly, "cannot you understand that you are but a merchant's lad, though your blood be asnoble as any in this realm—a merchant's lad, the last of five brothers? Why were you not bornthe first of them if you wished for Eve Clavering, for then your red gold might have boughtme."

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

    ????"No," she answered, "I think I shall take some marrying against my wish. Moreover, I amDunwich born."

    ????"What of that, Eve?"

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

    ????"What said this writing, Eve?"

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

    ????"But will it hold to-day?"

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

    ????"Then, sweet, you are safe!" exclaimed Hugh, with a sigh of relief.

    ????"Ay, so safe that to-morrow Father Nicholas, the French chaplain in his train, has beenwarned to wed me to my lord Acour—that is, if I'm there to wed."

    ????"And if this Acour is here, I'll seek him out to-night and challenge him, Eve," and Hughlaid hand upon his sword.

    ????"Doubtless," she replied sarcastically, "Sir Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon, Seigneur ofCattrina, will find it honour to accept the challenge of Hugh de Cressi, the merchant'syoungest son. Oh, Hugh, Hugh! are your wits frozen like this winter marsh? Not thus can yousave me."

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

    ????"How much do you love me, Eve?"

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

    ????"You know well that I love you, to my sorrow and undoing," she said, in a broken voice."From childhood it has been so between us, and till the grave takes one or both it will be so,and for my part beyond it, if the priests speak true. For, whatever may be your case, I am notone to change my fancy. When I give, I give all, though it be of little worth. In truth, Hugh,if I could I would marry you to-night, though you are naught but a merchant's son, or even——"And she paused, wiping her eyes with the back of her slim, strong hand.

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

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

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

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

    ????"Our purpose being honest, the end will be good, Eve, though perhaps before all is done wemay often think it evil. And now let's away, though I wish that you were dressed in anothercolour."

    ????"Red Eve they name me, and red is my badge, because it suits my dark face best. Cavil notat my robe, Hugh, for it is the only dowry you will get with Eve Clavering. How shall we go? Bythe Walberswick ferry? You have no horses."

    ????"Nay, but I have a skiff hidden in the reeds five miles furlongs off. We must keep to theheath above Walberswick, for there they might know your red cloak even after dark, and I wouldnot have you seen till we are safe with Sir Arnold in the Preceptory. Mother of Heaven! what isthat?"

????"A peewit, no more," she answered indifferently.

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

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

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

    ????"They're coming, master! You and your mistress must to earth unless you mean to face themin the open," and the pale eyes glittered as he tapped his great black bow.

    ????"Who are coming, Dick? Be plain, man!"

    ????"Sir John Clavering, my lady's father; young John, my lady's brother; the fine French lordwho wears a white swan for a crest; three of the nights, his companions; and six—noseven—men-at-arms. Also from the other side of the grieve, Thomas of Kessland, and with himhis marsh men and verderers."

    ????"And what are they coming for?" he asked again. "Have they hounds, and hawk on wrist?"

    ????"Nay, but they have swords and knife on thigh," and he let his pale eyes fall on Eve.

    ????"Oh, have done!" she broke in. "They come to take me, and I'll not be taken! They come tokill you, and I'll not see you slain and live. I had words with my father this morning aboutthe Frenchman and, I fear, let out the truth. He told me then that ere the Dunwich rosesbloomed again she who loved you would have naught but bones to kiss. Dick, you know the fen;where can we hide till nightfall?"

    ????"Follow me," said the man, "and keep low!"

    ????Plunging into the dense brake of reeds, through which he glided like a polecat, Dick ledthem over ground whereon, save in times of hard frost, no man could tread, heading toward theriver bank. For two hundred paces or more they went thus, till, quite near to the lip of thestream, they came to a patch of reeds higher and thicker than the rest, in the centre of whichwas a little mound hid in a tangle of scrub and rushes. Once, perhaps a hundred or a thousandyears before, some old marsh dweller had lived upon this mound, or been buried in it. At anyrate, on its southern side, hidden by reeds and a withered willow, was a cavity of which themouth could not be seen that might have been a chamber for the living or the dead.

    ????Thrusting aside the growths that masked it, Dick bade them enter and lie still.

    ????"None will find us here," he said as he lifted up the reeds behind them, "unless theychance to have hounds, which I did not see. Hist! be still; they come!"

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    II. THE FIGHT BY THE RIVER

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    ????For a while Hugh and Eve heard nothing, but Grey Dick's ears were sharper than theirs,quick as these might be. About half a minute later, however, they caught the sound of horses'hoofs ringing on the hard earth, followed by that of voices and the crackle of breaking reeds.

    ????Two of the speakers appeared and pulled up their horses near by in a dry hollow that laybetween them and the river bank. Peeping between the reeds that grew about the mouth of theearth-dwelling, Eve saw them.

    ????"My father and the Frenchman," she whispered. "Look!" And she slid back a little so thatHugh might see.

    ????Peering through the stems of the undergrowth, set as it were in a little frame against thered and ominous sky, the eyes of Hugh de Cressi fell upon Sir Edmund Acour, a gallant, even asplendid-looking knight—that was his first impression of him. Broad shouldered, graceful, inage neither young nor old, clean featured, quick eyed, with a mobile mouth and a little,square-cut beard, soft and languid voiced, black haired, richly dressed in a fur robe, andmounted on a fine black horse, such was the man.

    ????Staring at Acour, and remembering that he, too, loved Red Eve, Hugh grew suddenly ashamed.How could a mere merchant compare himself with this magnificent lord, this high-bred, many-titled favourite of courts and of fortune? How could he rival him, he who had never yettravelled a hundred miles from the place where he was born, save once, when he sailed on atrading voyage to Calais? As well might a hooded crow try to match a peregrine that swooped tosnatch away the dove from beneath its claws. Yes, he, Hugh, was the grey crow, Eve was the dovewhom he had captured, and yonder shifty-eyed Count was the fleet, fierce peregrine who soonwould tear out his heart and bear the quarry far away. Hugh shivered a little as the thoughtstruck him, not with fear for himself, but at the dread of that great and close bereavement.

    ????The girl at his side felt the shiver, and her mind, quickened by love and peril, guessedits purport. She said nothing, for words were dangerous; only turning her beautiful face shepressed her lips upon her lover's hand. It was her message to him; thereby, as he knew well,humble as he might be, she acknowledged him her lord forever. I am with you, said that kiss.Have no fear; in life or in death none shall divide us. He looked at her with grateful eyes,and would have spoken had she not placed her hand upon his mouth and pointed.

    ????Acour was speaking in English, which he used with a strong French accent.

    ????"Well, we do not find your beautiful runaway, Sir John," he said, in a clear and cultivatedvoice; "and although I am not vain, for my part I cannot believe that she has come to such aplace as this to meet a merchant's clerk, she who should company with kings."

    ????"Yet I fear it is so, Sir Edmund," answered Sir John Clavering, a stout, dark man of middleage. "This girl of mine is very heady, as I give warning you will find out when she is yourwife. For years she has set her fancy upon Hugh de Cressi; yes, since they were boy and girltogether, as I think, and while he lives I doubt she'll never change it."

    ????"While he lives—then why should he continue to live, Sir John?" asked the Countindifferently. "Surely the world will not miss a chapman's son!"

    ????"The de Cressis are my kin, although I hate them, Sir Edmund. Also they are rich andpowerful, and have many friends in high places. If this young man died by my command it wouldstart a blood feud of which none can tell the end, for, after all, he is nobly born."

    ????"Then, Sir John, he shall die by mine. No, not at my own hands, since I do not fight withtraders. But I have those about me who are pretty swordsmen and know how to pick a quarrel.Before a week is out there will be a funeral in Dunwich."

    ????"I know nothing of your men, and do not want to hear of their quarrels, past or future,"said Sir John testily.

    ????"Of course not," answered the Count. "I pray you, forget my words. Name of God! what anaccursed and ill-omened spot is this. I feel as though I were standing by my own grave—it came

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