It was old Nicholas who brought the news next morning to the brothers as they were
breaking their fast.
Lionel should have kept his bed that day, but dared not, lest the fact should arouse
suspicion. He had a little fever, the natural result both of his wound and of his loss of
blood; he was inclined to welcome rather than deplore it, since it set a flush on cheeks
that otherwise must have looked too pale.
So leaning upon his brother's arm he came down to a breakfast of herrings and small ale
before the tardy sun of that December morning was well risen.
Nicholas burst in upon them with a white face and shaking limbs. He gasped out his tale
of the event in a voice of terror, and both brothers affected to be shocked, dismayed and
incredulous. But the worst part of that old man's news, the true cause of his terrible
agitation, was yet to be announced.
"And they do zay," he cried with anger quivering through his fear, "they do zay that it
were you that killed he, Sir Oliver."
"I?" quoth Sir Oliver, staring, and suddenly like a flood there burst upon his mind a
hundred reasons overlooked until this moment, that inevitably must urge the countryside
to this conclusion, and to this conclusion only. "Where heard you that foul lie?"
In the tumult of his mind he never heeded what answer was returned by Nicholas. What
could it matter where the fellow had heard the thing; by now it would be the accusation
on the lips of every man. There was one course to take and he must take it instantly--as
he had taken it once before in like case. He must straight to Rosamund to forestall the tale
that others would carry to her. God send he did not come too late already.
He stayed for no more than to get his boots and hat, then to the stables for a horse, and he
was away over the short mile that divided Penarrow from Godolphin Court, going by
bridle and track meadow straight to his goal. He met none until he fetched up in the
courtyard at Godolphin Court. Thence a babble of excited voices had reached him as he
aproached. But at sight of him there fell a general silence, ominous and staring. A dozen
men or more were assembled there, and their eyes considered him first with amazement
and curiosity, then with sullen anger.
He leapt down from his saddle, and stood a moment waiting for one of the three
Godolphin grooms he had perceived in that assembly to take his reins. Seeing that none
"How now?" he cried. "Does no one wait here? Hither, sirrah, and hold my horse."