I do homage to your Grace. This written with my hand from Blythburgh, in Suffolk, on the twentieth day of February, 1346.
EDMUND OF NOYON.
Father Arnold ceased reading, and Hugh gasped out:
“What a fool is this knave-Count!”
“Most men are, my son, in this way or in that, and the few wise profit by their folly. Thus this letter, which he thought so safe, will save England to Edward and his race, you from many dangers, your betrothed from a marriage which she hates—that is, if you can get safe away with it from Dunwich.”
“Where to, Father?”
“To King Edward in London, with another that I will write for you ere the dawn.”
“But is it safe, Father, to trust so precious a thing to me, who have bitter enemies awaiting me, and may as like as not be crow’s meat by to-morrow?”
Father Arnold looked at him with his soft and dreamy eyes, then said:
“I think the crow’s not hatched that will pick your bones, Hugh, though at the last there be crows, or worms, for all of us.”
“Why not, Father? Doubtless, this morning young John of Clavering thought as much, and now he is in the stake-nets, or food for fishes.”
“Would you like to hear, Hugh, and will you keep it to yourself, even from Eve?”
“Ay, that I would and will.”
“He’ll think me mad!” muttered the old priest to himself, then went on aloud as one who takes a sudden resolution: “Well, I’ll tell you, leaving you to make what you will of a story that till now has been heard by no living man.
“Far in the East is the great country that we call Cathay, though in truth it has many other names, and I alone of all who breathe in England have visited that land.”
“How did you get there?” asked Hugh, amazed, for though he knew dimly that Father Arnold had travelled much in his youth, he never dreamed that he had reached the mystic territories of Cathay, or indeed that such a place really was except in fable.
“It would take from now till morning to tell, son, nor even then would you understand the road. It is enough to say that I went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where our blessed Saviour died. That was the beginning. Thence I travelled with Arabs to the Red Sea, where wild men made a slave of me, and we were blown across the Indian Ocean to a beauteous island named Ceylon, in which all the folk are black.
“From this place I escaped in a vessel called a junk, that brought me to the town of Singapore. Thence at last, following my star, I came to Cathay after two years of journeyings. There I dwelt in honour for three more years, moving from place to place, since never before had its inhabitants seen a Western man, and they made much of me, always sending me forward to new cities. So at length I reached the greatest of them all, which is called Kambaluc, or Peking, and there was the guest of its Emperor, Timur.
“All the story of my life and adventures yonder I have written down, and any who will may read it after I am dead. But of these I have no time to speak, nor have they anything to do with you. Whilst I dwelt in Kambaluc as the guest of the Emperor Timur, I made study of the religion of this mighty people, who, I was told, worshipped gods in the shape of men. I visited a shrine called the Temple of Heaven, hoping that there I should see such a god who was named Tien, but found in it nothing but splendid emptiness.
“Then I asked if there was no god that I could see with my eyes, whereon the Emperor laughed at me and said there was such a god, but he counselled me not to visit him. I prayed him to suffer me to do so, since I, who worshipped the only true God, feared no other. Whereon, growing angry, he commanded some of his servants to ‘take this fool to the house of Murgh and let him see whether his God could protect him against Murgh.’ Having said this he bade me farewell, adding that though every man must meet Murgh once, few met him twice, and therefore he did not think that he should see me again.
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