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The Blanket of the Dark Chapter 3 In which Peter Lurks in the Shadow 2

 

The Blanket of the Dark Chapter 3 In which Peter Lurks in the Shadow 2

Peter turned his head at a sound behind him. Lord Avelard had entered the hall, preceded by his body-servant, who arranged his chair, procured him some wheaten cakes and butter, filled a glass of sack which he mixed with syrup of gillyflowers, and then bowed and took his leave. Seen for the first time in the morning light, the face of the old man was such as to hold the eyes. His toilet was but half made; he had slippers on his feet and still wore his dressing-gown; his age was more apparent, and could not be less than four-score; nevertheless, so strong was his air of purpose that he seemed ready forthwith to lead an army or dominate a council. A steady fire burned in his pale eyes, a fire of enthusiasm, or, it might be, of hate. Peter, as he looked on him, felt his curiosity changing to awe.

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But the old man was very cordial to the young one. He greeted him as a father might greet a son who was presently to be pope or king.

"We will call him for a little by your name, Ralph," he said. "Master Bonamy - Master Peter Bonamy - I have forgot what is his worship's manor t'other side of Severn.... Wood Eaton will be a safe retreat for a week or two, till I am ready to receive him at Avelard."

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"By your leave, my lord," said his host, "it is none too safe a sanctuary. Wood Eaton has a plaguey name as a house of call for all and sundry. It is as open as the Oxford corn-market. Likewise, I have lodging here my niece Sabine - old Jack Beauforest's daughter - you mind Jack of Dorchester, my lord? Come to think of it, Sabine is as near kin to your deceased lady as to me. She is gone for a week to the nuns at Godstow, where she went to school - Abbess Katherine was her mother's cousin - but will be home tomorrow. The secret with which you have entrusted me is too big for a maid's ear, and I do not want Mistress Sabine and this new cousin of ours to clap eyes on each other. You see the reason of it, my lord, though, as one with a hospitable name, I think shame to urge it."

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"But I have a plan to offer," he continued, when he saw the old man's countenance fall. "Let him go into Stowood to a verderer's lodge. I, as principal ranger, can compass that. There is one John of Milton, a silent man, who lives deep in the forest, and to him I would send our cousin, my lord. There no eye will see him save that of gipsy or charcoal-burner or purley-man, and he will have leisure to perfect himself in arts in which I gather he is lacking. A month will pass quick in the cool of the forest."

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Lord Avelard pondered. "Your plan is good, Ralph," he said. "Wood Eaton is a thought too notable because of its master." He looked at Peter and smiled. "How will you relish taking to the greenwood like Robin Hood or Little John? You are dedicated, my son, to a great purpose, and it has always been the custom of the dedicated to sojourn first for a while in the wilderness."

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His face, as he looked on the young man, was lit for a moment with a strange tenderness, but the next second it had fallen back into the wary mask of the conspirator.

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"How goes the country, Ralph?" he asked. "What does Oxfordshire say of the latest doings at Court?"

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"Oxfordshire is very weary of the Welshman," was the answer, "and grieves for the fate of poor Hal Norris. It was well to cut off the Concubine's head, but why should Hal have been made to suffer for her misdoings - Hal whom I knew from boyhood and who was innocent as a christom babe? Wychwood and Langley forests had never a better keeper than Hal.... Who is to have the post, think you? I heard talk of Jack Brydges...."

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