Lastly he learned that King Edward, in a letter written by one of his secretaries to Sir Andrew Arnold and received only that morning, said that he held him, Hugh de Cressi, not to blame for Acour’s escape. It commanded also that if he recovered from his wound, for the giving of which Sir John Clavering should have paid sharply if he had lived, he and the archer, his servant, should join him either in England or in France, whither he purposed shortly to proceed with all his host. But the Mayor and men of Dunwich he did not hold free of blame.
The letter added, moreover, that the King was advised that Edmund Acour on reaching Normandy had openly thrown off his allegiance to the crown of England and there was engaged in raising forces to make war upon him. Further, that this Acour alleged himself to be the lawfully married husband of Eve Clavering, the heiress of Sir John Clavering, a point upon which his Grace demanded information, since if this were true he purposed to escheat the Clavering lands. With this brief and stern announcement the letter ended.
“By God’s mercy, Eve, tell me, are you this fellow’s wife?” exclaimed Hugh.
“Not so,” she answered. “Can a woman who is Dunwich born be wed without consent? And can a woman whose will is foully drugged out of her give consent to that which she hates? Why, if so there is no justice in the world.”
“‘Tis a rare jewel in these evil days, daughter,” said Sir Andrew with a sigh. “Still fret not yourself, son Hugh. A full statement of the case, drawn by skilled clerks and testified to by many witnesses, has gone forward already to his Holiness the Pope, of which statement true copies have been sent to the King and to the Bishops of Norwich and of Canterbury. Yet be warned that in such matters the law ecclesiastic moves but slowly, and then only when its wheels are greased with gold.”
“Well,” answered Hugh with a fierce laugh, “there remains another law which moves more swiftly and its wheels are greased with vengeance; the law of the sword. If you are married, Eve, I swear that before very long you shall be widowed or I dead. I’ll not let de Noyon slip a second time even if he stands before the holiest altar in Christendom.”
“I’d have killed him in the chapel yonder,” muttered Grey Dick, who had entered with his master’s food and not been sent away. “Only,” he added looking reproachfully at Sir Andrew, “my hand was stayed by a certain holy priest’s command to which, alack, I listened.”
“And did well to listen, man, since otherwise by now you would be excommunicate.”
“I could mock at that,” said Dick sullenly, “who make confession in my own way, and do not wish to be married, and care not the worth of a horseshoe nail how and where I am buried, provided those I hate are buried first.”
“Richard Archer, graceless wight that you are,” said Sir Andrew, “I say you stand in danger of your soul.”
“Ay, Father, and so the Frenchman, Acour, stood in danger of his body. But you saved it, so perhaps if there is need at the last, you will do as much for my soul. If not it must take its chance,” and snatching at the dish-cover angrily, he turned and left the chamber.
“Well,” commented Sir Andrew, shaking his head sadly, “if the fellow’s heart is hard it is honest, so may he be forgiven who has something to forgive like the rest of us. Now hearken to me, son and daughter. Wrong, grievous and dreadful, has been done to you both. Yet, until death or the Church levels it, a wall that you may not climb stands between you, and when you meet it must be as friends—no more.
“Now I begin to wish that I had learned in Grey Dick’s school,” said Hugh. But whatever she thought, Eve set her lips and said nothing.
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IT WAS Saturday, the 26th of August, in the year 1346. The harassed English host—but a little host, after all, retreating for its life from Paris—had forced the passage of the Somme by the ford which a forgotten traitor, Gobin Agache by name, revealed to them. Now it stood at bay upon the plain of Crecy, there to conquer or to die.
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