Seeing folk gathered there as he entered he laid hand on sword, not his own with which he had killed his cousin, but a long and knightly weapon that Sir Andrew had given him with the armour. Drawing it, he advanced boldly, for he thought that his enemies might have found him out, and that his best safety lay in courage. Thus he appeared in the ring of the lamplight clad in gleaming steel and with raised weapon.
“What, son!” asked a testy voice which he knew for that of his own father, “is it not enough to have killed your cousin? Would you fall on your brothers and me also, that you come at us clad in mail and with bare steel in hand?”
Hearing these words Hugh sheathed the sword, and, advancing toward the speaker, a handsome, portly man, who wore a merchant’s robe lined with rich fur, sank to his knee before him.
“Your pardon, my father,” he said. “Sir Andrew here will have told you the story; also that I am not to blame for this blood-shedding.”
“I think you need to ask it,” replied Master de Cressi, “and if you and that lean henchman of yours are not to blame, then say who is?”
Now a tall, slim figure glided up to them. It was Eve, clothed in her own robe again, and beautiful as ever after her short rest.
“Sir, I am to blame,” she said in her full, low voice. “My need was sore and I sent a messenger to Hugh bidding him meet me in the Blythburgh Marsh. There we were set on, and there John Clavering, my brother, smote Hugh in the face. Would you, a de Cressi, have had him take the blow and yield me up to the Frenchman?”
“By God and my forefathers, no! least of all from one of your stock—saving your presence,” answered the merchant. “In truth, had he done so, dead or living from that day I would have called him no son of mine. Yet, Red Eve, you and he and your love-makings have brought much trouble on me and my House. Look now what it means. A feud to the death between our families of which no man can foresee the end. Moreover, how can you marry, seeing that a brother’s blood runs between you?”
“It is on John’s head,” she answered sadly, “not on Hugh’s hand. I warned him, and Hugh spared him once. What more could we do?”
“I know not, Eve; I only know what you have done, you and Hugh and Grey Dick. Four dead and two wounded, that’s the bill I must discharge as best I may. Doubtless too soon there will be’ more to follow, whether they be Claverings or de Cressis. Well, we must take things as God sends them, and leave Him to balance the account.
“But there is no time to lose if Hugh’s neck is to escape a halter. Speak you, Father Andrew, who are wise and old, and have this matter in hand. Oh! Hugh, Hugh, you were born a fighter, not a merchant like your brethren,” and he pointed to three young men who all this while had stood silently behind him looking upon their youngest brother with grave disapproval. “Yes, the old Norman blood comes out in you, and the Norman mail suits you well,” he added with a flash of pride, “and so there’s an end—or a beginning. Now, Sir Andrew, speak.”
“Master de Cressi,” said the old priest, “your son Hugh rides to London on an errand of mine which I think will save his neck from that halter whereof you spoke but now. Are those four mounted men that you promised me ready to companion him?”
“They will be within an hour, Father, but not before, since six good horses cannot be laid hands on in the dead of night, being stabled without the gates. But what is this message of yours, and to whom does Hugh go?”
“To his Grace Edward the King, none less, Geoffrey de Cressi, with that which shall earn pardon for him and Dick the Archer, or so I believe. As for what it is I may not tell you or any man. It has to do with great matters of State that are for the King’s ear alone; and I charge you, every one, on your honour and your safety, to make no mention of this mission without these walls. Do you swear, Geoffrey de Cressi, and you, his sons?”
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