“By St. Mark,—he’s the right saint to swear by in Venice”—he exclaimed when he had finished, “this is a strange affair. You have travelled hither to offer single combat to Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon and Seigneur of Cattrina. The Doge is urged by his friendship to the throne of England to bring about this combat to the death, seeing that de Noyon has broken his oath of homage, has plotted to overthrow King Edward, has fought against him and that therefore you are his Grace’s champion as well as the avenger of certain private wrongs which you will explain. That’s the letter. Well, I think the Doge will listen to it, because he scarce dare do otherwise who wishes no quarrel with our country just now when it is victorious. Also this de Noyon, whom we call Cattrina here, has allied himself with certain great men of the Republic, with whom he is connected by blood, who are secret enemies to the Doge. Through them he strives to stir up trouble between Venice and England, and to raise mercenaries to serve the flag of France, as did the Genoese, to their sorrow. Therefore I think that in the Doge you will find a friend. I think also that the matter, being brought forward with such authority, the Seigneur de Cattrina will scarcely care to refuse your challenge if you can show that you have good cause for quarrel against him, since in such affairs the Venetians are punctilious. But now tell me the tale that I may judge better.”
So Hugh told him all.
“A strange story and a good cause,” said Sir Geoffrey when he had done. “Only this Cattrina is dangerous. Had he known you came to Venice, mayhap you had never lived to reach my house. Go armed, young knight, especially after the sun sinks. I’ll away to write to the Doge, setting out the heads of the matter and asking audience. The messenger shall leave ere I sleep, if sleep I may in this heat. Bide you here and talk with my lady, if it so pleases you, for I would show you my letter ere we bid good-night, and the thing is pressing. We must catch Cattrina before he gets wind of your presence in Venice.”
“How long is it since you have seen England, Sir Hugh?” asked Dame Carleon languidly.
“Some eighteen months, lady, although in truth it seems more, for many things have happened to me in that time.”
“Eighteen months only! Why, ’tis four long years since I looked upon the downs of Sussex, which are my home, the dear downs of Sussex, that I shall see never again.”
“Why say you so, lady, who should have many years of life before you?”
“Because they are done, Sir Hugh. Oh, in my heart I feel that they are done. That should not grieve me, since my only child is buried in this glittering, southern city whereof I hate the sounds and sights that men call so beautiful. Yet I would that I might have been laid at last in the kind earth of Sussex where for generations my forbears have been borne to rest,” and suddenly she began to weep.