“Spy out the King’s power in these parts, I suppose.”
“More than that”—and he dropped his voice to a whisper—”spy out a safe landing-place for fifty thousand Normans upon our Suffolk coast. They are to sail hither this coming summer and set the crown of England upon their. Duke John, who will hold it as vassal to his sire, Philip of France.”
“God’s name! Is that true?”
“Ay, though in such a devil’s business that Name is best left out, Look you, lad, I had warning from overseas, where, although I am now nothing but a poor old priest of a broken Order, I still have friends in high places. Therefore I watched and found that messengers were passing between Acour and France. One of these messengers, a priest, came a week ago to Dunwich, and spent the night in a tavern waiting for his ship to sail in the morning. The good wife who keeps that tavern—ask not her name—would go far to serve me. That night this priest slept sound, and while he slept a letter was cut from the lining of his cassock, and another without writing sewn there in place of it, so that he’ll never know the difference till he reaches John of Normandy, and then not where he lost it. Stay, you shall see,” and he went to the wall and from some secret place behind the hangings produced a writing, which he handed to Hugh, who looked at it, then gave it back to him, saying:
“Read it to me, Father. English I can spell out, but this French puzzles my eyes.”
So he read, Hugh listening eagerly to every word:
MY LORD DUKE:
This by a faithful hand that you know to tell you all goes well with your Grace’s business, and with that of your royal father. While pretending to hunt or hawk I have found three places along this seaboard at any one of which the army can land next summer with little resistance to fear, for though the land is rich in cattle and corn, the people are few.
These places of which I have made survey have deep water up to the beach. I will tell you of them more particularly when I return. Meanwhile I linger here for sundry reasons, which you know, hoping to draw those of whom you spoke to me to your cause, which, God aiding me, I shall do, since he of England has wronged one of them and slighted the others, so that they are bitter against him, and ready to listen to the promises which I make in your name.
As an excuse for my long stay that has caused doubts in some quarters, I speak of my Suffolk lands which need my care. Also I court the daughter of my host here, the Knight of Clavering, a stubborn Englishman who cannot be won, but a man of great power and repute. This courtship, which began in jest, has ended in earnest, since the girl is very haughty and beautiful, and as she will not be played with I propose, with your good leave, to make her my wife. Her father accepts my suit, and when he and the brother are out of the way, as doubtless may happen after your army comes, she will have great possessions.
I thank your Grace for the promise of the wide English lands of which I spoke to you, and the title that goes with them. These I will do my best to earn, nor will I ask for them till I kneel before you when you are crowned King of England at Westminster, as I doubt not God will bring about before this year is out. I have made a map of the road by which your army should march on London after landing, and of the towns to be sacked upon the way thither. This, however, I keep, since although not one in ten thousand of these English swine can read French, or any other tongue, should it chance to be lost, all can understand a map. Not that there is any fear of loss, for who will meddle with a priest who carries credentials signed by his Holiness himself.
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