Part 6 out of 6
Then gliding to the head of the stair he vanished in the shadow.
"Say, what shall we do?" asked Hugh in amazed voice.
"It matters little what we do or leave undone, master, seeing that we
are fore-fated men whom, as I think, none can harm until a day that
will not dawn to-morrow nor yet awhile. Therefore let us wash
ourselves and eat and borrow new garments, if we can find any that are
not soiled, and then, if the horses are still unharmed, mount and ride
from this accursed Avignon for England."
"Nay, Dick, since first we must learn whether or no we leave friends
behind us here."
"Ay, master, if you will. But since yonder Murgh said nothing of them,
it was in my mind that they are either dead or fled."
"Not dead, I pray, Dick. Oh, I am sure, not dead, and I left living!
When Red Eve and I met, Murgh had been with her and promised that she
would recover and be strong," answered Hugh bravely, although there
was a note of terror in his voice.
"Red Eve has other foes in Avignon besides the pest," muttered Grey
Dick, adding: "still, let us have faith; it is a good friend to man.
Did not yonder Helper chide us for our lack of it?"
They forced a way down the dead-cumbered tower stair, crawling through
the darkness over the bodies of the fallen. They crossed the hall that
also was full of dead, and of wounded whose pitiful groans echoed from
the vaulted roof, and climbed another stair to their chamber in the
gateway tower. Here from a spark of fire that still smouldered on the
hearth, they lit the lamps of olive-oil and by the light of them
washed off the stains of battle, and refreshed themselves with food
and wine. These things done, Dick returned to the hall and presently
brought thence two suits of armour and some cloaks which he had taken
either from the walls or from off the slain. In these they disguised
themselves as best they could, as de Noyon had disguised himself at
Then, having collected a store of arrows whereof many lay about, they
departed by the back entrance. The great front doorway was so choked
with corpses that they could not pass it, since here had raged the
last fearful struggle to escape. Going to the little stable-yard,
where they found their horses unharmed in the stalls, although
frightened by the tumult and stiff from lack of exercise, they fed and
saddled them and led them out. So presently they looked their last
upon the Bride's Tower that had sheltered them so well.
"It has served our turn," said Hugh, glancing back at it from the
other side of the deserted square, "but oh, I pray heaven that we may
never see that charnel-house again!"
As he spoke a figure appeared from the shadow of a doorway, and ran
toward them. Thinking it was that of some foe, Dick lifted his axe to
cut him down, whereon a voice cried in English:
"Hold! I am David!"
"David!" exclaimed Hugh. "Then thanks be to God, for know, we thought
you dead these many days."
"Ay, sir," answered the young man, "as I thought you. The rumour
reached the Jews, among whom I have been hiding while I recovered of
my hurts, that the Mad Monk and his fellows had stormed the tower and
killed you both. Therefore I crept out to learn for myself. Now I have
found you by your voices, who never again hoped to look upon you
living," and he began to sob in his relief and joy.
"Come on, lad," said Grey Dick kindly, "this is no place for
"Whither go you, sir?" asked David as he walked forward alongside of
"To seek that house where we saw Sir Andrew Arnold and the lady Eve,"
answered Hugh, "if by any chance it can be found."
"That is easy, sir," said David. "As it happens, I passed it not much
more than an hour ago and knew it again."
"Did you see any one there?" asked Hugh eagerly.
"Nay, the windows were dark. Also the Jew guiding me said he had heard
that all who dwelt in that house were dead of the plague. Still of
this matter he knew nothing for certain."
Hugh groaned, but only answered:
As they went David told them his story. It seemed that when he was
struck down in the square where the crazy friar preached, and like to
be stabbed and trampled to death, some of the Jews dragged him into
the shadow and rescued him. Afterward they took him to a horrid and
squalid quarter called La Juiverie, into which no Christian dare
enter. Here he lay sick of his hurts and unable to get out until that
very afternoon; the widow Rebecca, whom they had saved, nursing him
all the while.
"Did you hear aught of us?" asked Dick.
"Ay, at first that you were holding Dead Bride's Tower bravely. So as
soon as I might, I came to join you there if I could win in and you
still lived. But they told me that you had fallen at last."
"Ah!" said Dick, "well, as it chances it was not we who fell, but that
tale is long. Still, David, you are a brave lad who would have come to
die with us, and my master will thank you when he can give his mind to
such things. Say, did you hear aught else?"
"Ay, Dick; I heard two days ago that the French lord, Cattrina, whom
Sir Hugh was to have fought at Venice, had left Avignon, none knew why
or whither he went."
"Doubtless because of the plague and he wished to go where there was
none," answered Dick.
But Hugh groaned again, thinking to himself that Acour would scarcely
have left Avignon if Eve were still alive within its walls.
After this they went on in silence, meeting very few and speaking with
none, for the part of the great city through which they passed seemed
to be almost deserted. Indeed in this quarter the pest was so fearful
that all who remained alive and could do so had fled elsewhere,
leaving behind them only the sick and those who plundered houses.
"One thing I forgot to say," said David presently. "The Jews told me
that they had certain information that the notary knave Basil was paid
by the lord Cattrina to lead us to that square where the fires burned
in order that we might be murdered there. Further, our death was to be
the signal for the massacre of all the Jews, only, as it chanced,
their plan went awry."
"As will Basil's neck if ever I meet him again," muttered Grey Dick
beneath his breath. "Lord! what fools we were to trust that man. Well,
we've paid the price and, please God, so shall he."
They turned the corner and rode down another street, till presently
"Halt! yonder is the house. See the cognizance above the gateway!"
Hugh and Dick leapt from their horses, the latter bidding David lead
them into the courtyard and hold them there. Then they entered the
house, of which the door was ajar, and by the shine of the moon that
struggled through the window-places, crept up the stairs and passages
till they reached those rooms where Sir Andrew and Eve had lodged.
"Hist!" said Dick, and he pointed to a line of light that showed
beneath the closed door.
Hugh pushed it gently and it opened a little. They looked through the
crack, and within saw a man in a dark robe who was seated at a table
counting out gold by the light of a lamp. Just then he lifted his
head, having felt the draught of air from the open door. It was the
Without a word they entered the room, closing and bolting the door
behind them. Then Dick leapt on Basil as a wolf leaps, and held him
fat, while Hugh ran past him and threw wide the door of that chamber
in which Eve had lain sick. It was empty. Back he came again and in a
terrible voice, said:
"Now, Sir Notary, where are the lady Eve and Sir Andrew her guardian?"
"Alas, Sir Knight," began the knave in a quavering voice, "both of
them are dead."
"What!" cried Hugh supporting himself against the wall, for at this
terrible news his knees trembled beneath him, "have you or your patron
Cattrina murdered them?"
"Murdered them, Sir Knight! I do murder? I, a Christian and a man of
peace! Never! And the noble lord of Cattrina, Count de Noyon! Why, he
wished to marry the lady, not to murder her. indeed he swore that she
was his wife."
"So you know all these things, do you, villain?" said Grey Dick,
shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat.
"Sir Knight," went on the frightened fellow, "blame me not for the
acts of God. He slew these noble persons, not I; I myself saw the
lovely lady carried from this house wrapped in a red cloak."
"So you were in the house, were you?" said Grey Dick, shaking him
again. "Well, whither did they carry her, thief of the night?"
"To the plague pit, good sir; where else in these times?"
Now Hugh groaned aloud, his eyes closed, and he seemed as though he
were about to fall. Grey Dick, noting it, for a moment let go of the
notary and turned as though to help his master. Like a flash Basil
drew a dagger from under his dirty robe and struck at Dick's back. The
blow was well aimed, nor could an unprotected man on whom it fell have
escaped death. But although Basil did not see it because of Dick's
long cloak, beneath this cloak he wore the best of mail, and on that
mail the slender dagger broke, its point falling harmless to the
ground. Next instant Dick had him again in his iron grip. Paying no
further heed to Hugh, who had sunk to the floor a huddled heap, he
began to speak into the lawyer's ear in his slow, hissing voice.
"Devil," he said, "whether or no you murdered Red Eve and Sir Andrew
Arnold the saint, I cannot say for certain, though doubtless I shall
learn in time. At least a while ago you who had taken our money,
strove to murder both of us, or cause us to be torn in pieces upon
yonder square where the fires burned. Now, too, you have striven to
murder me with that bodkin of yours, not knowing, fool, that I am safe
from all men. Well, say your prayers, since you too journey to the
plague pit, for so the gatherers of the dead will think you died."
"Sir," gasped the terrified wretch, "spare me and I will speak----"
"More lies," hissed Dick into his ear. "Nay, go tell them to the
father of lies, for I have no time to waste in hearkening to them.
Take your pay, traitor!"
A few seconds later Basil lay dead upon the floor.
Grey Dick looked at him. Kneeling down, he thrust his hands into the
man's pockets, and took thence the gold that he had been hiding away
when they came upon him, no small sum as it chanced.
"Our own come back with interest," he said with one of his silent
laughs, "and we shall need monies for our faring. Why, here's a
writing also which may tell those who can read it something."
He cast it on the table, then turned to his master, who was awakening
from his swoon.
Dick helped him to his feet.
"What has passed?" asked Hugh in a hollow voice.
"Murgh!" answered Dick, pointing to the dead man on the floor.
"Have you killed him, friend?"
"Ay, sure enough, as he strove to kill me," and again he pointed, this
time to the broken dagger.
Hugh made no answer, only seeing the writing on the table, took it up,
and began to read like one who knows not what he does. Presently his
eyes brightened and he said:
"What does this mean, I wonder. Hearken."
"Rogue, you have cheated me as you cheat all men and now I follow
her who has gone. Be sure, however, that you shall reap your
reward in due season.
"I know not," said Dick, "and the interpreter is silent," and he
kicked the body of Basil. "Perhaps I was a little over hasty who might
have squeezed the truth out of him before the end."
"'Her who is gone,'" reflected Hugh aloud. "'Tis Red Eve who is gone
and de Noyon is scarcely the man to seek her among passed souls.
Moreover, the Jews swear that he rode from Avignon two days ago. Come,
Dick, let that carrion lie, and to the plague pit."
An hour later and they stood on the edge of that dreadful place,
hearing and seeing things which are best left untold. A priest came up
to them, one of those good men who, caring nothing for themselves,
still dared to celebrate the last rites of the Church above the poor
"Friends," he said, "you seem to be in trouble. Can I help you, for
"Perchance, holy Father," answered Hugh. "Tell us, you who watch this
dreadful place, was a woman wrapped in a red cloak thrown in here two
or three days gone?"
"Alas, yes," said the priest with a sigh, "for I read the Office over
her and others. Nay, what are you about to do? By now she is two
fathoms deep and burned away with lime so that none could know her. If
you enter there the guards will not let you thence living. Moreover,
it is useless. Pray to God to comfort you, poor man, as I will, who am
sure it will not be denied."
Then Dick led, or rather carried, Hugh from the brink of that awesome,
It was the last night of February, the bitterest night perhaps of all
that sad winter, when at length Hugh de Cressi, Grey Dick, and David
Day rode into the town of Dunwich. Only that morning they had landed
at Yarmouth after a long, long journey whereof the perils and the
horrors may be guessed but need not be written. France, through which
they had passed, seemed to be but one vast grave over which the wail
of those who still survived went up without cease to the cold,
Here in England the tale was still the same. Thus in the great seaport
of Yarmouth scarcely enough people were left alive to inter the
unshriven dead, nor of these would any stay to speak with them,
fearing lest they had brought a fresh curse from overseas. Even the
horses that they rode they took from a stable where they whinnied
hungrily, none being there to feed them, leaving in their place a
writing of the debt.
Betwixt Yarmouth and Dunwich they had travelled through smitten towns
and villages, where a few wandered fearfully, distraught with sorrow
or seeking food. In the streets the very dogs lay dead and in the
fields they saw the carcasses of cattle dragged from the smokeless and
deserted steadings and half hidden in a winding-sheet of snow. For the
Black Plague spared neither man nor beast.
At the little port of Lowestoft they met a sullen sailorman who stood
staring at the beach whereon his fishing boat lay overturned and awash
for lack of hands to drag it out of reach of the angry sea. They asked
him if he knew of how it fared with Dunwich.
By way of answer he cursed them, adding:
"Must I be forever pestered as to Dunwich? This is the third time of
late that I have heard of Dunwich from wandering folk. Begone thither
and gather tidings for yourselves, which I hope will please you as
well as they do me."
"Now, if I were not in haste I would stay a while to teach you
manners, you foul-mouthed churl," muttered Grey Dick between his
"Let the fellow be," said Hugh wearily; "the men of Lowestoft have
ever hated those of Dunwich, and it seems that a common woe does not
soften hearts. Soon enough we shall learn the truth."
"Ay, you'll learn it soon enough," shouted the brute after them.
"Dunwich boats won't steel Lowestoft herrings for many a year!"
So they rode on through Kessland, which they reached as night was
closing in, through Benacre and Wrentham, also past houses in which
none seemed to dwell.
"Murgh has been here before us, I think," said Dick at length.
"Then I hope that we may overtake him," answered Hugh with a smile,
"for I need his tidings--or his rest. Oh! Dick, Dick," he added, "I
wonder has ever man borne a heavier burden for all this weary while?
If I were sure, it would not be so bad, for when earthly hope is done
we may turn to other comfort. But I'm not sure; Basil may have lied.
The priest by the pit could only swear to the red cloak, of which
there are many, though few be buried in them. And, Dick, there are
worse things than that. Perchance Acour got her after all."
"And perchance he didn't," answered Dick. "Well, fret on if you will;
the thing does not trouble me who for my part am sure enough."
"Of what, man, of what?"
"Of seeing the lady Eve ere long."
"In this world or the next, Dick?"
"In this. I don't reckon of the next, mayhap there we shall be blind
and not see. Besides, of what use is that world to you where it is
written that they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as
the angels? You'll make no good angel, I'm thinking, while as for the
lady Eve, she's too human for it as yet."
"Why do you think we shall see her on earth?" asked Hugh, ignoring
"Because he who is called the Helper said as much, and whatever he may
be he is no liar. Do you not remember what Red Eve told you when she
awoke from that dream of hers, which was no dream? And do you not
remember what Sir Andrew told you as to a certain meeting in the snow
--pest upon it!" and he wiped some of the driving flakes from his face
--"Sir Andrew, who is a saint, and, therefore, like Murgh, can be no
"If you think thus," said Hugh in a new voice, "why did you not say so
"Because I love not argument, master, and if I had, you would ever
have reasoned with me from Avignon to Yarmouth town and spoilt my
sleep of nights. Oh! where is your faith?"
"What is faith, Dick?"
"The gift of belief, master. A very great gift, seeing what a man
believes is and will be true for him, however false it may prove for
others. He who believes nothing, sows nothing, and therefore reaps
nothing, good or ill."
"Who taught you these things, Dick?"
"One whom I am not likely to forget, or you, either. One who is my
master at archery and whose words, like his arrows, though they be
few, yet strike the heart of hidden truth. Oh, fear not, doubtless
sorrow waits you yonder," and he pointed toward Dunwich. "Yet it comes
to my lips that there's joy beyond the sorrows, the joy of battle and
of love--for those who care for love, which I think foolishness. There
stands a farm, and the farmer is a friend of mine, or used to be. Let
us go thither and feed these poor beasts and ourselves, or I think we
will never come to Dunwich through this cold and snow. Moreover," he
added thoughtfully, "joy or sorrow or both of them are best met by
full men, and I wish to look to your harness and my own, for sword and
axe are rusted with the sea. Who knows but that we may need them in
Dunwich, or beyond, when we meet with Murgh, as he promised that we
So they rode up to the house and found Dick's friend, the farmer,
lying dead there in his own yard, whither his family had dragged him
ere they determined to fly the place. Still, there was fodder in the
stable and they lit a fire in the kitchen hearth and drank of the wine
which they had brought with them from the ship, and ate of the bacon
which still hung from the rafters. This done, they lay down to sleep a
while. About one in the morning, however, Hugh roused Dick and David,
saying that he could rest no more and that something in his heart bade
him push on to Dunwich.
"Then let us follow your heart, master," said Dick, yawning. "Yet I
wish it had waited till dawn to move you. Yes, let us follow your
heart to good or evil. David, go you out and saddle up those nags."
For Dick had worked late at their mail and weapons, which now were
bright and sharp again, and was very weary.
It was after three in the morning when at length, leaving the heath,
they rode up to Dunwich Middlegate, expecting to find it shut against
them at such an hour. But it stood open, nor did any challenge them
from the guardhouse.
"They keep an ill watch in Dunwich now-a-days," grumbled Dick. "Well,
perchance there is one here to whom they can trust that business."
Hugh made no answer, only pressed on down the narrow street, that was
deep and dumb with snow, till at length they drew reign before the
door of his father's house, in the market-place, the great house where
he was born. He looked at the windows and noted that, although they
were unshuttered, no friendly light shone in them. He called aloud,
but echo was his only answer, echo and the moan of the bitter wind and
the sullen roar of the sea.
"Doubtless all men are asleep," he said. "Why should it be otherwise
at such an hour? Let us enter and waken them."
"Yes, yes," answered Dick as he dismounted and threw the reins of his
horse to David. "They are like the rest of Dunwich--asleep."
So they entered and began to search the house by the dim light of the
moon. First they searched the lower chambers, then those where Hugh's
father and his brothers had slept, and lastly the attics. Here they
found the pallets of the serving-folk upon the floor, but none at rest
"The house is deserted," said Hugh heavily.
"Yes, yes," answered Dick again, in a cheerful voice; "doubtless
Master de Cressi and your brothers have moved away to escape the
"Pray God they have escaped it!" muttered Hugh. "This place stifles
me," he added. "Let us out."
"Whither shall we go, master?"
"To Blythburgh Manor," he answered, "for there I may win tidings.
David, bide you here, and if you can learn aught follow us across the
moor. The manor cannot be missed."
So once more Hugh and Dick mounted their horses and rode away through
the town, stopping now and again before some house they knew and
calling to its inmates. But though they called loudly none answered.
Soon they grew sure that this was because there were none to answer,
since of those houses many of the doors stood open. Only one living
creature did they see in Dunwich. As they turned the corner near to
the Blythburgh Gate they met a grey-haired man wrapped up in tattered
blankets which were tied about him with haybands. He carried in his
hand a beautiful flagon of silver. Doubtless he had stolen it from
Seeing them, he cast this flagon into the snow and began to whimper
like a dog.
"Mad Tom," said Dick, recognizing the poor fellow. "Tell us, Thomas,
where are the folk of Dunwich?"
"Dead, dead; all dead!" he wailed, and fled away.
"Stay! What of Master de Cressi?" called Hugh. But the tower of the
church round which he had vanished only echoed back across the snow,
"What of Master de Cressi?"
Then at last Hugh understood the awful truth.
It was that, save those who had fled, the people of Dunwich were slain
with the Sword of Pestilence, and all his kin among them.
They were on the Blythburgh Marshes, travelling thither by the
shortest road. The moon was down and the darkness dense, for the snow-
clouds hid the stars.
"Let us bide here a while," said Grey Dick as their horses blundered
through the thick reeds. "It will soon be sunrise, and if we go on in
this gloom we shall fall into some boghole or into the river, which I
hear running on our left."
So they halted their weary horses and sat still, for in his
wretchedness Hugh cared not what he did.
At length the east began to lighten, turning the sky to a smoky red.
Then the rim of the sun rising out of the white-flecked ocean, threw
athwart the desolate marsh a fierce ray that lay upon the snows like a
sword of blood. They were standing on the crest of a little mound, and
Dick, looking about him, knew the place.
"See," he said, pointing toward the river that ran near by, "it is
just here that you killed young Clavering this day two years ago.
Yonder also I shot the French knights, and Red Eve and you leapt into
the Blythe and swam it."
"Ay," said Hugh, looking up idly, "but did you say two years, Dick?
Nay, surely 'tis a score. Why," he added in a changed voice, "who may
that be in the hollow?" and he pointed to a tall figure which stood
beneath them at a distance, half-hidden by the dank snow-mists.
"Let us go and see," said Dick, speaking almost in a whisper, for
there was that about this figure which sent the blood to his throat
He drove the spurs into his tired horse's sides, causing it to leap
Half a minute later they had ridden down the slope of the hollow. A
puff of wind that came with the sun drove away the mist. Dick uttered
a choking cry and leapt from his saddle. For there, calm, terrible,
mighty, clothed in his red and yellow cap and robe of ebon furs, stood
he who was named Murgh the Fire, Murgh the Sword, Murgh the Helper,
Murgh, Gateway of the Gods!
They knelt before him in the snow, while, screaming in their fright,
the horses fled away.
"Knight and Archer," said Murgh, in his icy voice, counting with the
thumb of his white-gloved right hand upon the hidden fingers of his
left. "Friends, you keep your tryst, but there are more to come. Have
patience, there are more to come."
Then he became quiet, nor dared they ask him any questions. Only at a
motion of his arm they rose from their knees and stood before him.
A long while they stood thus in silence, till under Murgh's dreadful
gaze Hugh's brain began to swim. He looked about him, seeking some
natural thing to feed his eyes. Lo! yonder was that which he might
watch, a hare crouching in its form not ten paces distant. See, out of
the reeds crept a great red fox. The hare smelt or saw, and leaped
away. The fox sprang at it, too late, for the white fangs closed
emptily behind its scut. Then with a little snarl of hungry rage it
turned and vanished into the brake.
The hare and the fox, the dead reeds, the rising sun, the snow--oh,
who had told him of these things?
Ah! he remembered now, and that memory set the blood pulsing in his
veins. For where these creatures were should be more besides Grey Dick
and himself and the Man of many names.
He looked toward Murgh to see that he had bent himself and with his
gloved hand was drawing lines upon the snow. Those lines when they
were done enclosed the shape of a grave!
"Archer," said Murgh, "unsheath your axe and dig."
As though he understood, Dick obeyed, and began to hollow out a grave
in the soft and boggy soil.
Hugh watched him like one who dreams, wondering who was destined to
fill that grave. Presently a sound behind caused him to turn his head.
Oh! certainly he was mad, for there over the rise not a dozen yards
away came the beautiful ghost of Eve Clavering, clad in her red cloak.
With her was another ghost, that of old Sir Andrew Arnold, blood
running down the armour beneath his robe and in his hand the hilt of a
Hugh tried to speak, but his lips were dumb, nor did these ghosts take
any heed of him, for their eyes were fixed elsewhere. To Murgh they
went and stood before him silent. For a while he looked at them, then
asked in his cold voice:
"Who am I, Eve Clavering?"
"The Man who came to visit me in my dream at Avignon and told me that
I should live," she answered slowly.
"And who say you that I am, Andrew Arnold, priest of Christ the God?"
"He whom I visited in my youth in far Cathay," answered the old knight
in an awed whisper. "He who sat beside the pool behind the dragon-
guarded doors and was named Gateway of the Gods. He who showed to me
that we should meet again in such a place and hour as this."
"Whence come you now, priest and woman, and why?"
"We come from Avignon. We fled thence from one who would have done
this maiden grievous wrong. He followed us. Not an hour gone he
overtook us with his knaves. He set them on to seize this woman,
hanging back himself. Old as I am I slew them both and got my death in
it," and he touched the great wound in his side with the hilt of the
broken sword. "Our horses were the better; we fled across the swamp
for Blythburgh, he hunting us and seeking my life and her honour. Thus
we found you as it was appointed."
Murgh turned his eyes. Following their glance, for the first time they
saw Hugh de Cressi and near him Grey Dick labouring at the grave. Eve
stretched out her arms and so stood with head thrown back, the light
of the daybreak shining in her lovely eyes and on her outspread hair.
Hugh opened his lips to speak but Murgh lifted his hand and pointed
They turned and there, not twenty paces from them, clad in armour and
seated on a horse was Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Seigneur of
He saw, then wheeled round to fly.
"Archer, to your work!" said Murgh, "you know it."
Ere the words had left his lips the great black bow was bent and ere
the echoes died away the horse, struck in its side by the keen arrow,
sank dying to the ground.
Then Murgh beckoned to the rider and he came as a man who must. But,
throwing down the bow, Grey Dick once more began to labour at the
grave like one who takes no further heed of aught save his allotted
Acour stood before Murgh like a criminal before his judge.
"Man," said the awful figure addressing him, "where have you been and
what have you done since last we spoke together in the midday dark at
Now, dragged word by slow word from his unwilling lips, came the
answer of the traitor's heart.
"I fled from the field at Venice because I feared this knight, and
you, O Spirit of Death. I journeyed to Avignon, in France, and there
strove to possess myself of yonder woman whom here in England, with
the help of one Nicholas, I had wed, when she was foully drugged. I
strove to possess myself of her by fraud and by violence. But some
fate was against me. She and that aged priest bribed the knave whom I
trusted. He caused a dead man and woman dressed in their garments to
be borne from their lodging to the plague pit while they fled from
Here for a moment Grey Dick paused from his labours at the grave and
looked up at Hugh. Then he fell to them again, throwing out the peaty
soil with both hands.
"My enemy and his familiar, for man he can scarcely be," went on
Acour, pointing first to Hugh and then to Dick, "survived all my plans
to kill them and instead killed those whom I had sent after them. I
learned that the woman and the priest were not dead, but fled, and
followed them, and after me came my enemy and his familiar. Twice we
passed each other on the road, once we slept in the same house. I knew
them but they knew me not and the Fate which blinded me from them,
saved them also from all my plots to bring them to their doom. The
woman and the priest took ship to England, and I followed in another
ship, being made mad with desire and with jealous rage, for there I
knew my enemy would find and win her. In the darkness before this very
dawn I overtook the woman and the priest at last and set my fellows on
to kill the man. Myself I would strike no blow, fearing lest my death
should come upon me, and so I should be robbed of her. But God fought
with His aged servant who in his youth was the first of knights. He
slew my men, then fled on with the woman, Eve of Clavering. I
followed, knowing that he was sore wounded and must die, and that then
the beauty which has lured me to shame and ruin would be mine, if only
for an hour. I followed, and here at this place of evil omen, where
first I saw my foe, I found /you/, O Incarnate Sword of Vengeance."
Murgh unfolded his bare arms and lifted his head, which was sunk upon
"Your pardon," he said gently, "my name is Hand of Fate and not Sword
of Vengeance. There is no vengeance save that which men work upon
themselves. What fate may be and vengeance may be I know not fully,
and none will ever know until they have passed the Gateway of the
Gods. Archer the grave is deep enough. Come forth now and let us learn
who it is decreed shall fill it. Knights, the hour is at hand for you
to finish that which you began at Crecy and at Venice."
Hugh heard and drew his sword. Acour drew his sword also, then cried
out, pointing to Grey Dick:
"Here be two against one. If I conquer he will shoot me with his bow."
"Have no fear, Sir Thief and Liar," hissed Grey Dick, "for that shaft
will not be needed. Slay the master if you can and go safe from the
squire," and he unstrung his black bow and hid it in its case.
Now Hugh stepped to where Red Eve stood, the wounded Sir Andrew
leaning on her shoulder. Bending down he kissed her on the lips,
"Soon, very soon, my sweet, whom I have lost and found again, you will
be mine on earth, or I shall be yours in heaven. This, then, in
greeting or farewell."
"In greeting, beloved, not in farewell," she answered as she kissed
him back, "for if you die, know that I follow hard upon your road. Yet
I say that yonder grave was not dug for you."
"Nay, not for you, son, not for you," said Sir Andrew lifting his
faint head. "One fights for you whom you do not see, and against Him
Satan and his servant cannot stand," and letting fall the sword hilt
he stretched out his thin hand and blessed him.
Now when Acour saw that embrace his jealous fury prevailed against his
fears. With a curse upon his lips he leapt at Hugh and smote, thinking
to take him unawares. But Hugh was watching, and sprang back, and then
the fray began, if fray it can be called.
A wild joy shining in his eyes, Hugh grasped his long sword with both
hands and struck. So great was that blow that it bit through Acour's
armour, beneath his right arm, deep into the flesh and sent him
staggering back. Again he struck and wounded him in the shoulder; a
third time and clove his helm so that the blood poured down into his
eyes and blinded him.
Back reeled Acour, back to the very edge of the grave, and stood there
swaying to and fro. At the sight of his helplessness Hugh's fury
seemed to leave him. His lifted sword sank downward.
"Let God deal with you, knave," he said, "for I cannot."
For a while there was silence. There they stood and stared at the
smitten man waiting the end, whatever it might be. They all stared
save Murgh, who fixed his stony eyes upon the sky.
Presently it came. The sword, falling from Acour's hand into the
grave, rested there point upward. With a last effort he drew his
dagger. Dashing the blood from his eyes, he hurled it with all his
dying strength, not at Hugh, but at Red Eve. Past her ear it hissed,
severing a little tress of her long hair, which floated down on to the
Then Acour threw his arms wide and fell backward--fell backward and
vanished in the grave.
Dick ran to look. There he lay dead, pierced through back and bosom by
the point of his own sword.
For one brief flash of time a black dove-shaped bird was seen hovering
round the head of Murgh.
"Finished!" said Dick straightening himself. "Well, I had hoped to see
a better fight, but cowards die as cowards live."
Leaning on Red Eve's shoulder Sir Andrew limped to the side of the
grave. They both looked down on that which lay therein.
"Daughter," said the old man, "through many dangers it has come about
as I foretold. The bond that in your drugged sleep bound you to this
highborn knave is severed by God's sword of death. Christ have pity on
his sinful soul. Now, Sir Hugh de Cressi, come hither and be swift,
for my time is short."
Hugh obeyed, and at a sign took Eve by the hand. Then, speaking very
low and as quickly as he might for all his life was draining from him
through the red wound in his side, the old priest spoke the hallowed
words that bound these two together till death should part them. Yes,
there by the graveside, over the body of the dead Acour, there in the
red light of the morning, amidst the lonely snows, was celebrated the
strangest marriage the world has ever seen. In nature's church it was
celebrated, with the grim, grey Archer for a clerk, and Death's own
fearful minister for congregation.
It was done and with uplifted, trembling hands Sir Andrew blessed them
both--them and the fruit of their bodies which was to be. He blessed
them in the name of the all-seeing God he served. He bade them put
aside their grief for those whom they had lost. Soon, he said, their
short day done, the lost would be found again, made glorious, and with
them himself, who, loving them both on earth, would love them through
Then, while their eyes grew blind with tears, and even the fierce
archer turned aside his face, Sir Andrew staggered to where he stood
who in the Land of Sunrise had been called Gateway of the Gods. Before
him he bent his grey and ancient head.
"O thou who dwellest here below to do the will of heaven, to thee I
come as once thou badest me," he said, and was silent.
Murgh let his eyes rest on him. Then stretching out his hand, he
touched him very gently on the breast, and as he touched him smiled a
sweet and wondrous smile.
"Good and faithful servant," he said, "thy work is done on earth. Now
I, whom all men fear, though I be their friend and helper, am bidden
by the Lord of life and death to call thee home. Look up and pass!"
The old priest obeyed. It seemed to those who watched that the
radiance on the face of Murgh had fallen upon him also. He smiled, he
stretched his arms upward as though to clasp what they might not see.
Then down he sank gently, as though upon a bed, and lay white and
still in the white, still snow.
The Helper turned to the three who remained alive.
"Farewell for a little time," he said. "I must be gone. But when we
meet again, as meet we shall, then fear me not, for have you not seen
that to those who love me I am gentle?"
Hugh de Cressi and Red Eve made no answer, for they knew not what to
say. But Grey Dick spoke out boldly.
"Sir Lord, or Sir Spirit," he said, "save once at the beginning, when
the arrow burst upon my string, I never feared you. Nor do I fear your
gifts," and he pointed to the grave and to dead Sir Andrew, "which of
late have been plentiful throughout the world, as we of Dunwich know.
Therefore I dare to ask you one question ere we part for a while. Why
do you take one and leave another? Is it because you must, or because
every shaft does not hit its mark?"
Now Murgh looked him up and down with his sunken eyes, then answered:
"Come hither, archer, and I will lay my hand upon your heart also and
you shall learn."
"Nay," cried Grey Dick, "for now I have the answer to the riddle,
since I know you cannot lie. When we die we still live and know;
therefore I'm content to wait."
Again that smile swept across Murgh's awful face though that smile was
cold as the winter dawn. Then he turned and slowly walked away toward
They watched him go till he became but a blot of fantastic colour that
soon vanished on the moorland.
Hugh spoke to Red Eve and said:
"Wife, let us away from this haunted place and take what joy we can.
Who knows when Murgh may return again and make us as are all the
others whom we love!"
"Ay, husband won at last," she answered, "who knows? Yet, after so
much fear and sorrow, first I would rest a while with you."
So hand in hand they went till they, too, grew small and vanished on
the snowy marsh.
But Grey Dick stayed there alone with the dead, and presently spoke
aloud for company.
"The woman has him heart and soul," he said, "as is fitting, and
where's the room between the two for an archer-churl to lodge? Mayhap,
after all, I should have done well to take yonder Murgh for lord when
I had the chance. Man, or god, or ghost, he's a fellow to my liking,
and once he had led me through the Gates no woman would have dared to
come to part us. Well, good-bye, Hugh de Cressi, till you are sick of
kisses and the long shafts begin to fly again, for then you will
bethink you of a certain bow and of him who alone can bend it."
Having spoken thus in his hissing voice, whereof the sound resembled
that of an arrow in its flight, Grey Dick descended into the grave and
trod the earth over Acour's false and handsome face, hiding it from
the sight of men forever.
Then he lifted up the dead Sir Andrew in his strong arms and slowly
bore him thence to burial.