It is doubtful if Hugh heard these pungent and practical remarks, for ere Dick had finished speaking them, he was off his horse, and hammering at the Preceptory door. Some while passed before any answer came, for Sir Andrew was walking in the garden beyond the church, in no happy mind because of certain rumours that had reached him, and the old nun Agnes, spying armed men and not knowing who they were, was afraid to open. So it came about that fifteen minutes or more went by before at length Hugh and his godsire stood face to face.
“How is Eve and where? Why is she not with you, Father?” he burst out.
“One question at a time, son, for whose safe return I thank God. I know not how she is, and she is not with me because she is not here. She has returned to her father at Blythburgh.”
“Why?” gasped Hugh. “You swore to keep her safe.”
“Peace, and you shall learn,” and as shortly as he could he told him.
“Is that all?” asked Hugh doubtfully, for he saw trouble in Sir Andrew’s face.
“Not quite, son. Only to-day I have learned that Acour and his folk never went to London, and are back again at Blythburgh Manor.”
“So much the better, Father, for now I have the King’s warrant addressed to the Mayor and all his Grace’s subjects in Dunwich, to take these Frenchmen, living or dead.”
“Ah! But I have learned also that her father holds Eve a prisoner, suffering her to speak with none, and—one lamb among those wolves—Oh! God! why didst Thou suffer my wisdom to fail me? Doubtless for some good purpose—where is my faith? Yet we must act. Hie, you there,” he called to one of the men-at-arms. “go to Master de Cressi’s house and bid him meet us by the market-cross mounted and armed, with all his sons and people. And, you, get out my horse. Mother Agnes, bring my armour, since I have no other squire! We’ll go to the Mayor. Now, while I don my harness, tell me all that’s passed, wasting no words.”
Another half-hour almost had gone by before Hugh met his father, two of his brothers and some men riding into the market-place. They greeted in haste but thankfulness, and something of the tale was told while they passed on to the house of the Mayor, who, as they thought, had already been warned of their coming by messengers. But here disappointment awaited them, for this officer, a man of wealth and honour, was, as it chanced, absent on a visit to Norwich, whence it was said that he would not return for three full days.
“Now what shall we do?” asked Sir Andrew, his face falling. “It is certain that the burgesses of Dunwich will not draw sword in an unknown quarrel, except upon the direct order of their chief, for there is no time to collect them and publish the King’s warrant. It would seem that we must wait till to-morrow and prepare to-night.”
“Not I,” answered Hugh. “The warrant is to me as well as to the Mayor. I’ll leave it with his clerk, which is good delivery, and away to Blythburgh Manor on the instant with any who will follow me, or without them. Come, Dick, for night draws on and we’ve lost much time.”
Now his father tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen, for the fear in his heart urged him forward. So the end of it was that the whole party of them—thirteen men in all, counting those that Master de Cressi brought, rode away across the heath to Blythburgh, though the horses of Hugh’s party being very weary, not so fast as he could have wished.
Just as the sun sank they mounted the slope of the farther hill on the crest of which stood the manor-house backed by woods.
“The drawbridge is down, thanks be to God!” said Sir Andrew, “which shows that no attack is feared. I doubt me, son, we shall find Acour flown.”
“That we shall know presently,” answered Hugh.
“Now, dismount all and follow me.”
They obeyed, though some of them who knew old Sir John’s temper seemed not to like the business. Leaving two of their people with the horses, they crossed the bridge, thinking to themselves that the great house seemed strangely silent and deserted. Now they were in the outer court, on one side of which stood the chapel, and still there was no one to be seen. Dick tapped Hugh upon the shoulder, pointing to a window of this chapel that lay in the shadow, through which came a faint glimmering of light, as though tapers burned upon the altar.
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