Part 5 out of 6
still imprisoned there, whom they could not reach, pursued them
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
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
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
"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
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
"'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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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. Bénézet, 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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Noble lord," he replied, "I am the notary, Basil, and come upon your
"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. Bénézet 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
"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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"Well, daughter, and what else did the man say?" asked Sir Andrew,
"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
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
"Cease your foul talk and state your business," interrupted Sir
Andrew, thrusting himself in front of Hugh, who he feared would strike
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Ay, ay!" answered Hugh. "But don't overreach, Dick, 'tis ever the
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
"Ah!" gasped Dick, "that is a game two can play, now that I have arm
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
"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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
"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
"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."
"That, you shameless friar," answered Hugh, "you have been striving to
do these many days. Yet it is not we who have been slain, although we
stand but two men against a multitude. But if we surrender, what
"Then you shall be put upon your trial, wizards, and, if found guilty,
burned; if innocent, set free."
"Put upon our trial before our executioners! Why, I think those fires
are alight already. Nay, nay, mad priest, go back and tell those whom
you have fooled that if they want us they can come and take us, which
they'll not do living."
Then the furious friar began to curse them, hurling at them the
anathemas of the Church, till at length Dick called to him to begone
or he would send an arrow to help him on the road.
So they went, and presently the sun sank.
"Now let us beware," said Dick. "The moon is near her full and will
rise soon. They'll attack between times when we cannot see to shoot."
"Ay," answered Hugh, "moreover, now this gateway is no place for us.
Of arrows there are few left, nor could we see to use them in the
dark. The stones too are all spent and therefore they can bridge the
moat and batter down the doors unharmed."
"What then?" asked Dick. "As we cannot fly, where shall we die?"
"On the roof of the old tower, I think, whence we can hurl ourselves
at last and so perhaps escape being taken alive, and torment. Look
you, Dick, that tower is mounted by three straight flights of steps.
The first two of these we'll hold with such arrows as remain to us--
there are three and twenty, as I think--and the last with axe and
sword. Listen! They come! Take a brand from the hall hearth and let us
go light the flambeaux."
So they went and set fire to the great torches of wood and tallow that
were set in their iron holders to light the steps of the tower. Ere
the last of them was burning they heard their enemies ravening
"Listen!" said Hugh as they descended to the head of the first flight
of stairs. "They are across the moat."
As he spoke the massive doors crashed in beneath the blows of a baulk
"Now," said Hugh, as they strung their bows, "six arrows apiece here,
if we can get off so many, and the odd eleven at our next stand. Ah,
The mob rushed into the hall below, waving torches and swords and
hunting it as dogs hunt a covert.
"The English wizards have hid themselves away," cried a voice. "Let us
burn the place, for so we are sure to catch them."
"Nay, nay," answered another voice, that of the mad friar. "We must
have them beneath the torture, that we may learn how to lift the curse
from Avignon, and the names of their accomplices on earth and in hell.
Search, search, search!"
"Little need to search," said Grey Dick, stepping out on to the
landing. "Devil, go join your fellow-devils in that hell you talk of,"
and he sent an arrow through his heart.
For a moment there followed the silence of consternation while the mob
stood staring at their fallen leader. Then with a yell of rage they
charged the stair and that fray began which was told of in Avignon for
generations. Hugh and Dick shot their arrows, nor could they miss,
seeing what was their target; indeed some of those from the great
black bow pinned foe to foe beneath them. But so crowded were the
assailants on the narrow stair that they could not shoot back. They
advanced helpless, thrust to their doom by the weight of those who
Now they were near, the dead, still on their feet, being borne forward
by the living, to whom they served as shields. Hugh and Dick ran to
the head of the second flight and thence shot off the arrows that
Dick loosed the last of them, and of this fearful shaft it was said
that it slew three men, piercing through the body of one, the throat
of the second and burying its barb in the skull of the third on the
lowest step. Now Dick unstrung his bow, and thrust it into its case on
his shoulder, for he was minded that they should go together at the
"Shafts have sung their song," he said, with a fierce laugh; "now it
is the turn of the axe and sword to make another music."
Then he gripped Sir Hugh by the hand, saying:
"Farewell, master. Oh, I hold this a merry death, such as the Saints
grant to few. Ay, and so would you were you as free as I am. Well,
doubtless your lady has gone before. Or at worst soon she will follow
after and greet you in the Gate of Death, where Murgh sits and keeps
his count of passing souls."
"Farewell, friend," answered Hugh, "be she quick or dead, thus Red Eve
would wish that I should die. /A Cressi! A Cressi!/" he cried and
drove his sword through the throat of a soldier who rushed at him.
They fought a very good fight, as doubtless the dead were telling each
other while they passed from that red stair to such rest as they had
won. They had fought a very good fight and it was hard to say which
had done the best, Hugh's white sword or Dick's grey axe. And now,
unwounded still save for a bruise or two, they stood there in the
moonlight upon the stark edge of the tall tower, the foe in front and
black space beneath. There they stood leaning on axe and sword and
drawing their breath in great sobs, those two great harvestmen who
that day had toiled so hard in the rich fields of death.
For a while the ever-gathering crowd of their assailants remained
still staring at them. Then the leaders began to whisper to each
other, for they scarcely seemed to dare to talk aloud.
"What shall we do?" asked one. "These are not men. No men could have
fought as they have fought us for seven days and at last have slain us
like sparrows in a net and themselves remained unhurt."
"No," answered another, "and no mortal archer could send his shaft
through the bodies of three. Still it is finished now unless they find
wings and fly away. So let us take them."
"Yes, yes," broke in Grey Dick with his hissing laugh, "come and take
us, you curs of Avignon. Having our breath again, we are ready to be
taken," and he lifted his axe and shook it.
"Seize them," shouted the leader of the French. "Seize them!" echoed
those who poured up the stairs behind.
But there the matter ended, since none could find stomach to face that
axe and sword. So at length they took another counsel.
"Bring bows and shoot them through the legs. Thus we shall bring them
living to their trial," commanded the captain of the men of Avignon.
He was their fourth captain on that one day, for the other three lay
upon the stairs or in the hall.
Now Hugh and Dick spoke together, few words and swift, as to whether
they should charge or leap from the wall and have done with it. While
they spoke a little cloud floated over the face of the moon, so that
until it had gone the French could not see to shoot.
"It's too risky," said Hugh. "If they capture us we must die a death
to which I have no mind. Let us hurl our weapons at them, then leap."
"So be it," whispered Dick. "Do you aim at the captain on the left and
I will take the other. Ready now! I think one creeps near to us."
"I think so, too," Hugh whispered back, "I felt the touch of his
garments. Only he seemed to pass us from behind, which cannot be."
The cloud passed, and once again they were bathed in silver light. It
showed the men of Avignon already bending their bows; it showed Hugh
and Grey Dick lifting axe and sword to hurl them. But between them and
their mark it showed also a figure that they knew well, a stern and
terrible figure, wearing a strange cap of red and yellow and a cape of
rich, black fur.
"O God of Heaven! 'tis Murgh the Helper," gasped Hugh.
"Ay, Murgh the Fire, Murgh the Sword," said Dick, adding quietly, "it
is true I was wondering whether he would prove as good as his word.
Look now, look! they see him also!"
See him they did, indeed, and for a moment there was silence on that
crowded tower top where stood at least a score of men, while their
fellows packed the hall and stair below by hundreds. All stared at
Murgh, and Murgh stared back at them with his cold eyes. Then a voice
"Satan! Satan come from hell to guard his own! Death himself is with
you! Fly, men of Avignon, fly!"
Small need was there for this command. Already, casting down their
bows, those on the tower top were rushing to the mouth of the stair,
and, since it was blocked with men, using their swords upon them to
hew a road. Now those below, thinking that it was the English wizards
who slew them, struck back.
Presently all that stair and the crowded hall below, black as the
mouth of the pit, for such lights as still burned soon were swept
away, rang with the screams and curses and stifled groans of the
trodden down or dying. In the pitchy darkness brother smote brother,
friend trampled out the life of friend, till the steep steps were
piled high and the doorways blocked with dead. So hideous were the
sounds indeed, that Hugh and Grey Dick crossed themselves, thinking
that hell had come to Avignon, or Avignon sunk down to hell. But Murgh
only folded his white-gloved hands upon his breast and smiled.
At length, save for the moaning of those hurt men who still lived, the
dreadful tumult sank to silence. Then Murgh turned and spoke in his
slow and icy voice:
"You were about to seek me in the fosse of this high tower, were you
not, Hugh de Cressi and Richard Archer? A foolish thought, in truth,
and a sinful, so sinful that it would have served you well if I had
let you come. But your strait was sore and your faith was weak, and I
had no such command. Therefore I have come to others whose names were
written in my book. Ay, and being half human after all--for does not
your creed tell you that I was born of Sin? I rejoice that it is given
to me to protect those who would have protected /me/ when /I/ seemed
to stand helpless in the hands of cruel men. Nay, thank me not. What
need have I of your thanks, which are due to God alone! And question
me not, for why should I answer your questions, even if I know those
answers? Only do my bidding. This night seek whom you will in Avignon,
but to-morrow ere the dawn ride away, for we three must meet again at
a place appointed before this winter's snows are passed."
"O dread lord of Death, one thing, only one," began Hugh.
But Murgh held up his white-gloved hand and replied:
"Have I not said that I answer no questions? Now go forth and follow
the promptings of your heart till we meet again."
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