“The Church’s law,” she broke in; “how about God’s law? There lies the only man to whom I owe a bond, and I’ll die a hundred deaths before any other shall even touch my hand. Ay, if need be I’ll kill myself and reason out the case with St. Peter in the Gates.”
“Hush! hush! speak not so madly. The knot that the Church ties it can unloose. This matter must to his Holiness the Pope; it shall be my business to lay it before him; yea, letters shall go to Avignon by the first safe hand. Moreover, it well may happen that God Himself will free you, by the sword of His servant Death. This lord of yours, if indeed he be your lord, is a foul traitor. The King of England seeks his life, and there is another who will seek it also ere very long,” and he glanced at the senseless form of Hugh. “Fret not yourself overmuch, daughter. Be grateful rather that matters are no worse, and that you remain as you always were. Another hour and you might have been snatched away beyond our finding. What is not ended can still be mended. Now go, seek the rest you need, for I would not have two sick folk on my hands. Oh, seek it with a thankful heart, and forget not to pray for the soul of your erring father, for after all he loved you and strove for your welfare according to his lights.”
“It may be so,” answered Eve, “and I’ll pray for him, as is my duty. I’ll pray also that I may never find such another friend as my father showed himself to me.”
Then she bent for a moment over Hugh, stretching out her hands above him as though in blessing, and departed as silently as she had come.
Three days went by before Hugh found his mind again, and after that for two weeks he was so feeble that he must lie quite still and scarcely talk at all. Sir Andrew, who nursed him continually with the help of Grey Dick, who brought his master possets, bow on back and axe at side but never opened his grim mouth, told his patient that Eve was safe and sound, but that he must not see her until he grew strong again.
So Hugh strove to grow strong, and, nature helping him, not in vain. At length there came a day when he might rise from his bed, and sit on a bench in the pleasant spring sunshine by the open window. Walk he could not, however, not only on account of his weakness, but because of another hurt, now discovered for the first time, which in the end gave him more trouble than did the dreadful and dangerous blow of Clavering’s sword. It seemed that when he had fallen suddenly beneath that murderous stroke all his muscles relaxed as though he were dead, and his left ankle bent up under him, wrenching its sinews in such a fashion that for the rest of his life he walked a little lame. Especially was this so in the spring season, though whether because he had received his hurt at that time or owing to the quality of the air none could ever tell him.
Yet on that happy day he thought little of these harms, who felt the life-blood running once more strongly through his veins and who awaited Eve’s long-promised advent. At length she came, stately, kind and beautiful, for now her grief and terror had passed by, leaving her as she was before her woes fell upon her. She came, and in Sir Andrew’s presence, for he would not leave them, the tale was told.
Hugh learned for the first time all the truth of her imprisonment and of her shameful drugging. He learned of the burying of Sir John Clavering and of her naming as sole heiress to his great estates. To these, however, Acour had not been ashamed to submit some shadowy claim, made “in right of his lawful wife, Dame Eve Acour, Countess de Noyon,” which claim had been sent by him from France addressed to “all whom it might concern.” He learned of the King’s wrath at the escape of this same Acour, and of his Grace’s seizure of that false knight’s lands in Suffolk, which, however, proved to be so heavily mortgaged that no one would grow rich upon them.
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