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 don’t want to leave our brains to grease its hinges.”
So they went away, wondering whither they should betake themselves or what they could do next. As it chanced, they had not long to wait for an answer. Presently a lantern-jawed notary in a frayed russet gown, who must have been watching their movements, approached them and asked them what had been their business at the Pope’s palace. Hugh told him, whereon the lawyer, finding that he was a person of high degree, became deferential in his manner. Moreover, he announced that he was a notary named Basil of Tours and one of the legal secretaries of his Holiness, who just now was living without the gates of the palace by express command in order to attend to the affairs of suitors at the Papal Court during the Great Sickness. He added, however, that he was able to communicate with those within, and that doubtless it might be in his power to forward the cause of the noble knight, Sir Hugh de Cressi, in which already he took much interest.
“There would be a fee?” suggested Dick, looking at the man coldly.
Basil answered with a smirk that fees and legal affairs were inseparable; the latter naturally involved the former. Not that he cared for money, he remarked, especially in this time of general woe. Still, it would never do for a lawyer, however humble, to create a precedent which might be used against his craft in better days. Then he named a sum.
Hugh handed him double what he asked, whereon he began to manifest great zeal in his case. Indeed, he accompanied them to the fortified house that they had named the Bride’s Tower, which he alleged, with or without truth, he had never seen before. There he wrote down all particulars of the suit.
“Sir Edmund Acour, Count de Noyon, Seigneur of Cattrina?” he said presently. “Why I think that a lord of those names had audience with his Holiness some while ago, just before the pest grew bad in Avignon and the gates of the palace were ordered to be shut. I know not what passed on the occasion, not having been retained in the cause, but I will find out and tell you to-morrow.”
“Find out also, if it pleases you, learned Basil,” said Hugh, “whether or no this knight with the three names is still in Avignon. If so, I have a word or two to say to him.”
“I will, I will,” answered the lantern-jawed notary. “Yet I think it most unlikely that any one who can buy or beg a horse to ride away on should stay in this old city just now, unless indeed, the laws of his order bind him to do so that he may minister to the afflicted. Well, if the pest spares me and you, to-morrow morning I will be back here at this hour to tell you all that I can gather.”
“How did this sickness begin in Avignon?” asked Grey Dick.
“Noble Squire, none know for certain. In the autumn we had great rains, heavy mists and other things contrary to the usual course of nature, such as strange lights shining in the heavens, and so forth. Then after a day of much heat, one evening a man clad in a red and yellow cap, who wore a cloak of thick black furs and necklaces of black pearls, was seen standing in the market-place. Indeed, I saw him myself. There was something so strange and dreadful about the appearance of this man, although it is true that some say he was no more than a common mountebank arrayed thus to win pence, that the people set upon him. They hurled stones at him, they attacked him with swords and every other weapon, and thought that they had killed him, when sudddenly he appeared outside the throng unhurt. Then he stretched out his white-gloved hand toward them and melted into the gloom.
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