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.