Readme.it in English  home page
Readme.it in Italiano  pagina iniziale
readme.it by logo SoftwareHouse.it

Compro oro a Roma

Ebook in formato Kindle (mobi) - Kindle File Ebook (mobi)

Formato per Iphone, Ipad e Ebook (epub) - Ipad, Iphone and Ebook reader format (epub)

Versione ebook di Readme.it powered by Softwarehouse.it


Chapter 1 - How The Black Sheep Came Forth From The Fold

 


 

THE great bell of Beaulieu was ringing. Far away through the forest might beheard its musical clangor and swellPeat-cutters on Blackdown and fishers uponthe Exe heard the distant throbbing rising and falling upon the sultry summerair. It was a common sound in those parts--as common as the chatter of the jaysand the booming of the bittern. Yet the fishers and the peasants raised theirheads and looked questions at each otherfor the angelus had already gone andvespers was still far off. Why should the great bell of Beaulieu toll when theshadows were neither short nor long?

All round the Abbey the monks were trooping in. Under the long green-pavedavenues of gnarled oaks and of lichened beeches the white-robed brothersgathered to the soundFrom the vine-yard and the vine-pressfrom the bouvaryor ox-farmfrom the marl- pits and salternseven from the distant iron-worksof Sowley and the outlying grange of St. Leonard'sthey had all turned theirsteps homewards. It had been no sudden call. A swift messenger had the nightbefore sped round to the outlying dependencies of the Abbeyand had left thesummons for every monk to be back in the cloisters by the third hour afternoontide. So urgent a message had not been issued within the memory of oldlay-brother Athanasiuswho had cleaned the Abbey knocker since the year afterthe Battle of Bannockburn.

A stranger who knew nothing either of the Abbey or of its immense resourcesmight have gathered from the appearance of the brothers some conception of thevaried duties which they were called upon to performand of the busywide-spread life which centred in the old monastery. As they swept gravely in bytwos and by threeswith bended heads and muttering lips there were few who didnot bear upon them some signs of their daily toil. Here were two with wrists andsleeves all spotted with the ruddy grape juice. There again was a beardedbrother with a broad-headed axe and a bundle of faggots upon his shoulderswhile beside him walked another with the shears under his arm and the white woolstill clinging to his whiter gown. A longstraggling troop bore spades andmattocks while the two rearmost of all staggered along under a huge basket o'fresh-caught carpfor the morrow was Fridayand there were fifty platters tobe filled and as many sturdy trenchermen behind them. Of all the throng therewas scarce one who was not labor-stained and wearyfor Abbot Berghersh was ahard man to himself and to others.

Meanwhilein the broad and lofty chamber set apart for occasions of importthe Abbot himself was pacing impatiently backwards and forwardswith his longwhite nervous hands clasped in front of him. His thinthought-worn features andsunkenhaggard cheeks bespoke one who had indeed beaten down that inner foewhom every man must facebut had none the less suffered sorely in the contest.In crushing his passions he had well-nigh crushed himself. Yetfrail as was hisperson there gleamed out ever and anon from under his drooping brows a flash offierce energywhich recalled to men's minds that he came of a fighting stockand that even now his twin-brotherSir Bartholomew Berghershwas one of themost famous of those stern warriors who had planted the Cross of St. Georgebefore the gates of Paris. With lips compressed and clouded browhe strode upand down the oaken floorthe very genius and impersonation of asceticismwhilethe great bell still thundered and clanged above his head. At last the uproardied away in three lastmeasured throbsand ere their echo had ceased theAbbot struck a small gong which summoned a lay-brother to his presence.

"Have the brethern come?" he askedin the Anglo-French dialectused in religious houses.

"They are here; "the other answeredwith his eyes cast down andhis hands crossed upon his chest.

"All?"

"Two and thirty of the seniors and fifteen of the novicesmost holyfather. Brother Mark of the Spicarium is sore smitten with a fever and could notcome. He said that--"

"It boots not what he said. Fever or nohe should have come at my call.His spirit must be chastenedas must that of many more in this Abbey. Youyourselfbrother Francishave twice raised your voiceso it hath come to myearswhen the reader in the refectory hath been dealing with the lives of God'smost blessed saints. What hast thou to say?"

The lay-brother stood meek and silentwith his arms still crossed in frontof him.

"One thousand aves and as many credossaid standing with armsoutstretched before the shrine of the Virginmay help thee to remember that theCreator hath given us two ears and but one mouthas a token that there is twicethe work for the one as for the other. Where is the master of the novices?"

"He is withoutmost holy father."

"Send him hither."

The sandalled feet clattered over the wooden floorand the iron- bound doorcreaked upon its hinges. In a few moments it opened again to admit a shortsquare monk with a heavycomposed face and an authoritative manner.

"You have sent for meholy father?"

"Yesbrother JeromeI wish that this matter be disposed of with aslittle scandal as may beand yet it is needful that the example should be apublic one." The Abbot spoke in Latin nowas a language which was morefitted by its age and solemnity to convey the thoughts of two high dignitariesof the order.

"It wouldperchancebe best that the novices be not admitted"suggested the master. "This mention of a woman may turn their minds fromtheir pious meditations to worldly and evil thoughts."

"Woman! woman!" groaned the Abbot. "Well has the holyChrysostom termed them radix malorum. From Eve downwardswhat good hath comefrom any of them? Who brings the plaint?"

"It is brother Ambrose."

"A holy and devout young man."

"A light and a pattern to every novice."

"Let the matter be brought to an issue then according to our old- timemonastic habit. Bid the chancellor and the sub-chancellor lead in the brothersaccording to agetogether with brother Johnthe accusedand brother Ambrosethe accuser. And the novices?"

"Let them bide in the north alley of the cloisters. Stay! Bid thesub-chancellor send out to them Thomas the lector to read unto them from the'Gesta beati Benedicti.' It may save them from foolish and pernicious babbling."

The Abbot was left to himself once moreand bent his thin gray face over hisilluminated breviary. So he remained while the senior monks filed slowly andsedately into the chamber seating themselves upon the long oaken benches whichlined the wall on either side. At the further endin two high chairs as largeas that of the Abbotthough hardly as elaborately carvedsat the master of thenovices and the chancellorthe latter a broad and portly priestwith darkmirthful eyes and a thick outgrowth of crisp black hair all round his tonsuredhead. Between them stood a leanwhite-faced brother who appeared to be ill ateaseshifting his feet from side to side and tapping his chin nervously withthe long parchment roll which he held in his hand. The Abbotfrom his point ofvantagelooked down on the two long lines of facesplacid and sun-browned forthe most partwith the large bovine eyes and unlined features which told oftheir easyunchanging existence. Then he turned his eager fiery gaze upon thepale-faced monk who faced him.

"This plaint is thineas I learnbrother Ambrose" said he."May the holy Benedictpatron of our housebe present this day and aid usin our findings! How many counts are there?"

"Threemost holy father" the brother answered in a low andquavering voice.

"Have you set them forth according to rule?"

"They are here set downmost holy fatherupon a cantle of sheep-skin."

"Let the sheep-skin be handed to the chancellor. Bring in brother Johnand let him hear the plaints which have been urged against him."

At this order a lay-brother swung open the doorand two other lay-brothersentered leading between them a young novice of the order. He was a man of hugestaturedark-eyed and red-headedwith a peculiar half-humoroushalf-defiantexpression upon his boldwell-marked features. His cowl was thrown back uponhis shouldersand his gownunfastened at the topdisclosed a roundsinewyneckruddy and corded like the bark of the fir. Thickmuscular armscoveredwith a reddish downprotruded from the wide sleeves of his habitwhile hiswhite shirtlooped up upon one sidegave a glimpse of a huge knotty legscarred and torn with the scratches of brambles. With a bow to the Abbotwhichhad in it perhaps more pleasantry than reverencethe novice strode across tothe carved prie-dieu which had been set apart for himand stood silent anderect with his hand upon the gold bell which was used in the private orisons ofthe Abbot's own household. His dark eyes glanced rapidly over the assemblyandfinally settled with a grim and menacing twinkle upon the face of his accuser.

The chamberlain roseand having slowly unrolled the parchment- scrollproceeded to read it out in a thick and pompous voicewhile a subdued rustleand movement among the brothers bespoke the interest with which they followedthe proceedings.

"Charges brought upon the second Thursday after the Feast of theAssumptionin the year of our Lord thirteen hundred and sixty- sixagainstbrother Johnformerly known as Hordle Johnor John of Hordlebut now a novicein the holy monastic order of the Cistercians. Read upon the same day at theAbbey of Beaulieu in the presence of the most reverend Abbot Berghersh and ofthe assembled order.

"The charges against the said brother John are the followingnamelytowit:

"Firstthat on the above-mentioned Feast of the Assumptionsmall beerhaving been served to the novices in the proportion of one quart to each fourthe said brother John did drain the pot at one draught to the detriment ofbrother Paulbrother Porphyry and brother Ambrosewho could scarce eat theirnone-meat of salted stock-fish on account of their exceeding dryness"

At this solemn indictment the novice raised his hand and twitched his lipwhile even the placid senior brothers glanced across at each other and coughedto cover their amusement. The Abbot alone sat gray and immutablewith a drawnface and a brooding eye.

"Itemthat having been told by the master of the novices that he shouldrestrict his food for two days to a single three-pound loaf of bran and beansfor the greater honoring and glorifying of St. Monicamother of the holyAugustinehe was heard by brother Ambrose and others to say that he wishedtwenty thousand devils would fly away with the said Monicamother of the holyAugustineor any other saint who came between a man and his meat. Itemthatupon brother Ambrose reproving him for this blasphemous wishhe did hold thesaid brother face downwards over the piscatorium or fish-pond for a space duringwhich the said brother was able to repeat a pater and four aves for the betterfortifying of his soul against impending death."

There was a buzz and murmur among the white-frocked brethren at this gravecharge; but the Abbot held up his long quivering hand. "What then?"said he.

"Itemthat between nones and vespers on the feast of James the Less thesaid brother John was observed upon the Brockenhurst roadnear the spot whichis known as Hatchett's Pond in converse with a person of the other sexbeing amaiden of the name of Mary Sowleythe daughter of the King's verderer. Itemthat after sundry japes and jokes the said brother John did lift up the saidMary Sowley and did takecarryand convey her across a streamto the infiniterelish of the devil and the exceeding detriment of his own soulwhichscandalous and wilful falling away was witnessed by three members of our order."

A dead silence throughout the roomwith a rolling of heads and upturning ofeyesbespoke the pious horror of the community.

The Abbot drew his gray brows low over his fiercely questioning eyes.

"Who can vouch for this thing?" he asked.

"That can I" answered the accuser. "So too can brotherPorphyrywho was with meand brother Mark of the Spicariumwho hath been somuch stirred and inwardly troubled by the sight that he now lies in a feverthrough it."

"And the woman?" asked the Abbot. "Did she not break intolamentation and woe that a brother should so demean himself?"

"Nayshe smiled sweetly upon him and thanked him. I can vouch it and socan brother Porphyry."

"Canst thou?" cried the Abbotin a hightempestuous tone. "Canstthou so? Hast forgotten that the five-and-thirtieth rule of the order is that inthe presence of a woman the face should be ever averted and the eyes cast down?Hast forgot itI say? If your eyes were upon your sandalshow came ye to seethis smile of which ye prate? A week in your cellsfalse brethrena week ofrye-bread and lentilswith double lauds and double matinsmay help ye toremembrance of the laws under which ye live."

At this sudden outflame of wrath the two witnesses sank their faces on totheir chestsand sat as men crushed. The Abbot turned his angry eyes away fromthem and bent them upon the accusedwho met his searching gaze with a firm andcomposed face.

"What hast thou to saybrother Johnupon these weighty things whichare urged against you?"

"Little enoughgood fatherlittle enough" said the novicespeaking English with a broad West Saxon drawl. The brotherswho were Englishto a manpricked up their ears at the sound of the homely and yet unfamiliarspeech; but the Abbot flushed red with angerand struck his hand upon the oakenarm of his chair.

"What talk is this?" he cried. "Is this a tongue to be usedwithin the walls of an old and well-famed monastery? But grace and learning haveever gone hand in handand when one is lost it is needless to look for theother."

"I know not about that" said brother John. "I know only thatthe words come kindly to my mouthfor it was the speech of my fathers beforeme. Under your favorI shall either use it now or hold my peace."

The Abbot patted his foot and nodded his headas one who passes a point butdoes not forget it.

"For the matter of the ale" continued brother John"I hadcome in hot from the fields and had scarce got the taste of the thing beforemine eye lit upon the bottom of the pot. It may betoothat I spoke somewhatshortly concerning the bran and the beansthe same being poor provender andunfitted for a man of my inches. It is true also that I did lay my hands uponthis jack- fool of a brother Ambrosethoughas you can seeI did him littlescathe. As regards the maidtooit is true that I did heft her over the streamshe having on her hosen and shoonwhilst I had but my wooden sandalswhichcould take no hurt from the waver. I should have thought shame upon my manhoodas well as my monkhoodif I had held back my hand from her." He glancedaround as he spoke with the half-amused look which he had worn during the wholeproceedings.

"There is no need to go further" said the Abbot. "He hasconfessed to all. It only remains for me to portion out the punishment which isdue to his evil conduct."

He roseand the two long lines of brothers followed his examplelookingsideways with scared faces at the angry prelate.

"John of Hordle" he thundered"you have shown yourselfduring the two months of your novitiate to be a recreant monkand one who isunworthy to wear the white garb which is the outer symbol of the spotless spirit.That dress shall therefore be stripped from theeand thou shalt be cast intothe outer world without benefit of clerkshipand without lot or part in thegraces and blessings of those who dwell under the care of the Blessed Benedict.Thou shalt come back neither to Beaulieu nor to any of the granges of Beaulieuand thy name shall be struck off the scrolls of the order."

The sentence appeared a terrible one to the older monkswho had become soused to the safe and regular life of the Abbey that they would have been ashelpless as children in the outer world. From their pious oasis they lookeddreamily out at the desert of lifea place full of stormings andstrivings--comfortlessrestlessand overshadowed by evil. The young novicehoweverappeared to have other thoughtsfor his eyes sparkled and his smilebroadened. It needed but that to add fresh fuel to the fiery mood of the prelate.

"So much for thy spiritual punishment" he cried. "But it isto thy grosser feelings that we must turn in such natures as thineand as thouart no longer under the shield of holy church there is the less difficulty. Hothere! lay-brothers--FrancisNaomiJoseph--seize him and bind his arms! Draghim forthand let the foresters and the porters scourge him from the precincts!"

As these three brothers advanced towards him to carry out the Abbot'sdirectionthe smile faded from the novice's faceand he glanced right and leftwith his fierce brown eyeslike a bull at a baiting. Thenwith a suddendeep-chested shouthe tore up the heavy oaken prie-dieu and poised it tostriketaking two steps backward the whilethat none might take him at avantage.

"By the black rood of Waltham!" he roared"if any knave amongyou lays a finger-end upon the edge of my gownI will crush his skull like afilbert!" With his thick knotted armshis thundering voiceand hisbristle of red hairthere was something so repellent in the man that the threebrothers flew back at the very glare of him; and the two rows of white monksstrained away from him like poplars in a tempest. The Abbot only sprang forwardwith shining eyes; but the chancellor and the master hung upon either arm andwrested him back out of danger's way.

"He is possessed of a devil!" they shouted. "RunbrotherAmbrosebrother Joachim! Call Hugh of the Milland Woodman Watand Raoul withhis arbalest and bolts. Tell them that we are in fear of our lives! Runrun!for the love of the Virgin!"

But the novice was a strategist as well as a man of action. Springing forwardhe hurled his unwieldy weapon at brother Ambroseandas desk and monkclattered on to the floor togetherhe sprang through the open door and down thewinding stair. Sleepy old brother Athanasiusat the porter's cellhad afleeting vision of twinkling feet and flying skirts; but before he had time torub his eyes the recreant had passed the lodgeand was speeding as fast as hissandals could patter along the Lyndhurst Road.

Chapter 2 - How Alleyne Edricson Came Out Into The World

 


 

NEVER had the peaceful atmosphere of the old Cistercian house been so rudelyruffled. Never had there been insurrection so suddenso shortand sosuccessful. Yet the Abbot Berghersh was a man of too firm a grain to allow onebold outbreak to imperil the settled order of his great household. In a few hotand bitter wordshe compared their false brother's exit to the expulsion of ourfirst parents from the gardenand more than hinted that unless a reformationoccurred some others of the community might find themselves in the same evil andperilous case. Having thus pointed the moral and reduced his flock to a fittingstate of docilityhe dismissed them once more to their labors and withdrewhimself to his own private chamberthere to seek spiritual aid in the dischargeof the duties of his high office.

The Abbot was still on his kneeswhen a gentle tapping at the door of hiscell broke in upon his orisons.

Rising in no very good humor at the interruptionhe gave the word to enter;but his look of impatience softened down into a pleasant and paternal smile ashis eyes fell upon his visitor.

He was a thin-facedyellow-haired youthrather above the middle sizecomely and well shapenwith straightlithe figure and eagerboyish features.His clearpensive gray eyesand quickdelicate expressionspoke of a naturewhich had unfolded far from the boisterous joys and sorrows of the world. Yetthere was a set of the mouth and a prominence of the chin which relieved him ofany trace of effeminacy. Impulsive he might beenthusiasticsensitivewithsomething sympathetic and adaptive in his disposition; but an observer ofnature's tokens would have confidently pledged himself that there was nativefirmness and strength underlying his gentlemonk-bred ways.

The youth was not clad in monastic garbbut in lay attirethough his jerkincloak and hose were all of a sombre hueas befitted one who dwelt in sacredprecincts. A broad leather strap hanging from his shoulder supported a scrip orsatchel such as travellers were wont to carry. In one hand he grasped a thickstaff pointed and shod with metalwhile in the other he held his coif or bonnetwhich bore in its front a broad pewter medal stamped with the image of Our Ladyof Rocamadour.

"Art readythenfair son?" said the Abbot. "This is indeed aday of comings and of going. It is strange that in one twelve hours the Abbeyshould have cast off its foulest weed and should now lose what we are fain tolook upon as our choicest blossom."

"You speak too kindlyfather" the youth answered. "If I hadmy will I should never go forthbut should end my days here in Beaulieu. Ithath been my home as far back as my mind can carry meand it is a sore thingfor me to have to leave it."

"Life brings many a cross" said the Abbot gently. "Who iswithout them? Your going forth is a grief to us as well as to yourself. Butthere is no help. I had given my foreword and sacred promise to your fatherEdric the Franklinthat at the age of twenty you should be sent out into theworld to see for yourself how you liked the savor of it. Seat thee upon thesettleAlleynefor you may need rest ere long."

The youth sat down as directedbut reluctantly and with diffidence. TheAbbot stood by the narrow windowand his long black shadow fell slantwiseacross the rush-strewn floor.

"Twenty years ago" he said"your fatherthe Franklin ofMinsteaddiedleaving to the Abbey three hides of rich land in the hundred ofMalwoodand leaving to us also his infant son on condition that we should rearhim until he came to man's estate. This he did partly because your mother wasdeadand partly because your elder brothernow Socman of Minsteadhad alreadygiven sign of that fierce and rude nature which would make him no fit companionfor you. It was his desire and requesthoweverthat you should not remain inthe cloistersbut should at a ripe age return into the world."

"Butfather" interrupted the young man "it is surely truethat I am already advanced several degrees in clerkship?"

"Yesfair sonbut not so far as to bar you from the garb you now wearor the life which you must now lead. You have been porter?"

"Yesfather."

"Exorcist?"

"Yesfather."

"Reader?"

"Yesfather."

"Acolyte?"

"But have sworn no vow of constancy or chastity?"

"Nofather."

"Then you are free to follow a worldly life. But let me hearere youstartwhat gifts you take away with you from Beaulieu? Some I already know.There is the playing of the citole and the rebeck. Our choir will be dumbwithout you. You carve too?"

The youth's pale face flushed with the pride of the skilled workman. "Yesholy father" he answered. "Thanks to good brother BartholomewIcarve in wood and in ivoryand can do something also in silver and in bronze.From brother Francis I have learned to paint on vellumon glassand on metalwith a knowledge of those pigments and essences which can preserve the coloragainst damp or a biting air. Brother Luke hath given me some skill in damaskworkand in the enamelling of shrinestabernaclesdiptychs and triptychs. Forthe restI know a little of the making of coversthe cutting of preciousstonesand the fashioning of instruments."

"A goodly listtruly" cried the superior with a smile. "Whatclerk of Cambrig or of Oxenford could say as much? But of thy reading--hast notso much to show thereI fear?"

"Nofatherit hath been slight enough. Yetthanks to our goodchancellorI am not wholly unlettered. I have read OckhamBradwardineandother of the schoolmentogether with the learned Duns Scotus and the book ofthe holy Aquinas."

"But of the things of this worldwhat have you gathered from yourreading? From this high window you may catch a glimpse over the wooden point andthe smoke of Bucklershard of the mouth of the Exeand the shining sea. NowIpray you Alleyneif a man were to take a ship and spread sail across yonderwaterswhere might he hope to arrive?"

The youth ponderedand drew a plan amongst the rushes with the point of hisstaff. "Holy father" said he"he would come upon those parts ofFrance which are held by the King's Majesty. But if he trended to the south hemight reach Spain and the Barbary States. To his north would be Flanders and thecountry of the Eastlanders and of the Muscovites."

"True. And how ifafter reaching the King's possessionshe stilljourneyed on to the eastward?"

"He would then come upon that part of France which is still in disputeand he might hope to reach the famous city of Avignonwhere dwells our blessedfatherthe prop of Christendom."

"And then?"

"Then he would pass through the land of the Almains and the great RomanEmpireand so to the country of the Huns and of the Lithuanian pagansbeyondwhich lies the great city of Constantine and the kingdom of the uncleanfollowers of Mahmoud."

"And beyond thatfair son?"

"Beyond that is Jerusalem and the Holy Landand the great river whichhath its source in the Garden of Eden."

"And then?"

"Naygood fatherI cannot tell. Methinks the end of the world is notfar from there."

"Then we can still find something to teach theeAlleyne" said theAbbot complaisantly. "Know that many strange nations lie betwixt there andthe end of the world. There is the country of the Amazonsand the country ofthe dwarfsand the country of the fair but evil women who slay with beholdinglike the basilisk. Beyond that again is the kingdom of Prester John and of thegreat Cham. These things I know for very soothfor I had them from that piousChristian and valiant knightSir John de Mandevillewho stopped twice atBeaulieu on his way to and from Southamptonand discoursed to us concerningwhat he had seen from the reader's desk in the refectoryuntil there was many agood brother who got neither bit nor supso stricken were they by his strangetales."

"I would fain knowfather" asked the young man"what theremay be at the end of the world?"

"There are some things" replied the Abbot gravely"intowhich it was never intended that we should inquire. But you have a long roadbefore you. Whither will you first turn?"

"To my brother's at Minstead. If he be indeed an ungodly and violentmanthere is the more need that I should seek him out and see whether I cannotturn him to better ways."

The Abbot shook his head. "The Socman of Minstead hath earned an evilname over the country side" he said. "If you must go to himsee atleast that he doth not turn you from the narrow path upon which you have learnedto tread. But you are in God's keepingand Godward should you ever look indanger and in trouble. Above allshun the snares of womenfor they are everset for the foolish feet of the young. Kneel downmy childand take an oldman's blessing."

Alleyne Edricson bent his head while the Abbot poured out his heartfeltsupplication that Heaven would watch over this young soulnow going forth intothe darkness and danger of the world. It was no mere form for either of them. Tothem the outside life of mankind did indeed seem to be one of violence and ofsinbeset with physical and still more with spiritual danger. Heaventoowasvery near to them in those days. God's direct agency was to be seen in thethunder and the rainbowthe whirlwind and the lightning. To the believerclouds of angels and confessorsand martyrsarmies of the sainted and thesavedwere ever stooping over their struggling brethren upon earthraisingencouragingand supporting them. It was then with a lighter heart and a stoutercourage that the young man turned from the Abbot's roomwhile the latterfollowing him to the stair-headfinally commended him to the protection of theholy Julianpatron of travellers.

Underneathin the porch of the Abbeythe monks had gathered to give him alast God-speed. Many had brought some parting token by which he should rememberthem. There was brother Bartholomew with a crucifix of rare carved ivoryandbrother Luke With a white-backed psalter adorned with golden beesand brotherFrancis with the "Slaying of the Innocents" most daintily set forthupon vellum. All these were duly packed away deep in the traveller's scripandabove them old pippin-faced brother Athanasius had placed a parcel of simnelbread and rammel cheesewith a small flask of the famous blue-sealed Abbeywine. Soamid hand-shakings and laughings and blessingsAlleyne Edricsonturned his back upon Beaulieu.

At the turn of the road he stopped and gazed back. There was the wide-spreadbuilding which he knew so wellthe Abbot's housethe long churchthecloisters with their line of archesall bathed and mellowed in the evening sun.There too was the broad sweep of the river Exethe old stone wellthe canopiedniche of the Virginand in the centre of all the cluster of white-robed figureswho waved their hands to him. A sudden mist swam up before the young man's eyesand he turned away upon his journey with a heavy heart and a choking throat.

Chapter 3 - How Hordle John Cozened The Fuller Of Lymington

 


 

IT is nothoweverin the nature of things that a lad of twentywith younglife glowing in his veins and all the wide world before himshould spend hisfirst hours of freedom in mourning for what he had left. Long ere Alleyne wasout of sound of the Beaulieu bells he was striding sturdily alongswinging hisstaff and whistling as merrily as the birds in the thicket. It was an evening toraise a man's heart. The sun shining slantwise through the trees threw delicatetraceries across the roadwith bars of golden light between. Away in thedistance before and behindthe green boughsnow turning in places to a copperyrednessshot their broad arches across the track. The still summer air washeavy with the resinous smell of the great forest. Here and there a tawny brookprattled out from among the underwood and lost itself again in the ferns andbrambles upon the further side. Save the dull piping of insects and the sough ofthe leavesthere was silence everywhere--the sweet restful silence of nature.

And yet there was no want of life--the whole wide wood was full of it. Now itwas a lithefurtive stoat which shot across the path upon some fell errand ofits own; then it was a wild cat which squatted upon the outlying branch of anoak and peeped at the traveller with a yellow and dubious eye. Once it was awild sow which scuttled out of the brackenwith two young sounders at her heelsand once a lordly red staggard walked daintily out from among the tree trunksand looked around him with the fearless gaze of one who lived under the King'sown high protection. Alleyne gave his staff a merry flourishhoweverand thered deer bethought him that the King was far offso streaked away from whencehe came.

The youth had now journeyed considerably beyond the furthest domains of theAbbey. He was the more surprised therefore whenon coming round a turn in thepathhe perceived a man clad in the familiar garb of the orderand seated in aclump of heather by the roadside. Alleyne had known every brother wellbut thiswas a face which was new to him--a face which was very red and puffedworkingthis way and thatas though the man were sore perplexed in his mind. Once heshook both hands furiously in the airand twice he sprang from his seat andhurried down the road. When he rosehoweverAlleyne observed that his robe wasmuch too long and loose for him in every directiontrailing upon the ground andbagging about his anklesso that even with trussed-up skirts he could makelittle progress. He ran oncebut the long gown clogged him so that he sloweddown into a shambling walkand finally plumped into the heather once more.

"Young friend" said hewhen Alleyne was abreast of him"Ifear from thy garb that thou canst know little of the Abbey of Beaulieu?"

"Then you are in errorfriend" the clerk answered"for Ihave spent all my days within its walls."

"Hast so indeed?" cried he. "Then perhaps canst tell me thename of a great loathly lump of a brother wi' freckled face an' a hand like aspade. His eyes were black an' his hair was red an' his voice like the parishbull. I trow that there cannot be two alike in the same cloisters."

"That surely can be no other than brother John" said Alleyne."I trust he has done you no wrongthat you should be so hot against him."

"Wrongquotha!" cried the otherjumping out of the heather."Wrong! why he hath stolen every plack of clothing off my backif that bea wrongand hath left me here in this sorry frock of white faldingso that Ihave shame to go back to my wifelest she think that I have donned her oldkirtle. Harrow and alas that ever I should have met him!"

"But how came this?" asked the young clerkwho could scarce keepfrom laughter at the sight of the hot little man so swathed in the great whitecloak.

"It came in this way" he saidsitting down once more: "I waspassing this wayhoping to reach Lymington ere nightfall when I came on thisred-headed knave seated even where we are sitting now. I uncovered and louted asI passed thinking that he might be a holy man at his orisonsbut he called tome and asked me if I had heard speak of the new indulgence in favor of theCistercians. 'Not I' I answered. 'Then the worse for thy soul!' said he; andwith that he broke into a long tale how that on account of the virtues of theAbbot Berghersh it had been decreed by the Pope that whoever should wear thehabit of a monk of Beaulieu for as long as he might say the seven psalms ofDavid should be assured of the kingdom of Heaven. When I heard this I prayed himon my knees that he would give me the use of his gownwhich after manycontentions he at last agreed to doon my paying him three marks towards theregilding of the image of Laurence the martyr. Having stripped his robeI hadno choice but to let him have the wearing of my good leathern jerkin and hoseforas he saidit was chilling to the blood and unseemly to the eye to standfrockless whilst I made my orisons. He had scarce got them onand it was a sorelaborseeing that my inches will scarce match my girth--he had scarce got themonI sayand I not yet at the end of the second psalmwhen he bade me dohonor to my new dressand with that set off down the road as fast as feet wouldcarry him. For myselfI could no more run than if I had been sown in a sack; sohere I sitand here I am like to sitbefore I set eyes upon my clothes again."

"Nayfriendtake it not so sadly" said Alleyneclapping thedisconsolate one upon the shoulder. "Canst change thy robe for a jerkinonce more at the Abbeyunless perchance you have a friend near at hand."

"That have I" he answered"and close; but I care not to gonigh him in this plightfor his wife hath a gibing tongueand will spread thetale until I could not show my face in any market from Fordingbridge toSouthampton. But if youfair sirout of your kind charity would be pleased togo a matter of two bow-shots out of your wayyou would do me such a service asI could scarce repay."

"With all my heart" said Alleyne readily.

"Then take this pathway on the leftI pray theeand then thedeer-track which passes on the right. You will then see under a great beech-treethe hut of a charcoal-burner. Give him my namegood sirthe name of Peter thefullerof Lymingtonand ask him for a change of raimentthat I may pursue myjourney without delay. There are reasons why he would be loth to refuseme."

Alleyne started off along the path indicatedand soon found the log-hutwhere the burner dwelt. He was away faggot-cutting in the forestbut his wifea ruddy bustling damefound the needful garments and tied them into a bundle.While she busied herself in finding and folding themAlleyne Edricson stood bythe open door looking in at her with much interest and some distrustfor he hadnever been so nigh to a woman before. She had round red armsa dress of somesober woollen stuffand a brass brooch the size of a cheese-cake stuck in thefront of it.

"Peter the fuller!" she kept repeating. "Marry come up! if Iwere Peter the fuller's wife I would teach him better than to give his clothesto the first knave who asks for them. But he was always a poorfondsillycreaturewas Peterthough we are beholden to him for helping to bury oursecond son Watwho was a 'prentice to him at Lymington in the year of the BlackDeath. But who are youyoung sir?"

"I am a clerk on my road from Beaulieu to Minstead."

"Ayeindeed! Hast been brought up at the Abbey then. I could read itfrom thy reddened cheek and downcast eyeHast learned from the monksI trowto fear a woman as thou wouldst a lazar- house. Out upon them! that they shoulddishonor their own mothers by such teaching. A pretty world it would be with allthe women out of it."

"Heaven forfend that such a thing should come to pass!" saidAlleyne.

"Amen and amen! But thou art a pretty ladand the prettier for thymodest ways. It is easy to see from thy cheek that thou hast not spent thy daysin the rain and the heat and the windas my poor Wat hath been forced todo."

"I have indeed seen little of lifegood dame."

"Wilt find nothing in it to pay for the loss of thy own freshness. Hereare the clothesand Peter can leave them when next he comes this way. HolyVirgin! see the dust upon thy doublet! It were easy to see that there is nowoman to tend to thee. So!--that is better. Now buss meboy."

Alleyne stooped and kissed herfor the kiss was the common salutation of theageandas Erasmus long afterwards remarkedmore used in England than in anyother country. Yet it sent the blood to his temples againand he wonderedashe turned awaywhat the Abbot Berghersh would have answered to so frank aninvitation. He was still tingling from this new experience when he came out uponthe high-road and saw a sight which drove all other thoughts from his mind.

Some way down from where he had left him the unfortunate Peter was stampingand raving tenfold worse than before. Nowhoweverinstead of the great whitecloakhe had no clothes on at allsave a short woollen shirt and a pair ofleather shoes. Far down the road a long-legged figure was runningwith a bundleunder one arm and the other hand to his sidelike a man who laughs until he issore.

"See him!" yelled Peter. "Look to him! You shall be my witness.He shall see Winchester jail for this. See where he goes with my cloak under hisarm!"

"Who then?" cried Alleyne.

"Who but that cursed brother John. He hath not left me clothes enough tomake a gallybagger. The double thief hath cozened me out of my gown."

"Stay thoughmy friendit was his gown" objected Alleyne.

"It boots not. He hath them all--gownjerkinhosen and all. Gramercyto him that he left me the shirt and the shoon. I doubt not that he will be backfor them anon."

"But how came this?" asked Alleyneopen-eyed with astonishment.

"Are those the clothes? For dear charity's sake give them to me. Not thePope himself shall have these from methough he sent the whole college ofcardinals to ask it. How came it? Whyyou had scarce gone ere this loathly Johncame running back againandwhen I oped mouth to reproach himhe asked mewhether it was indeed likely that a man of prayer would leave his own godlyraiment in order to take a layman's jerkin. He hadhe saidbut gone for awhile that I might be the freer for my devotions. On this I plucked off the gownand he with much show of haste did begin to undo his points; but when I threwhis frock down he clipped it up and ran off all untrussedleaving me in thissorry plight. He laughed so the whilelike a great croaking frogthat I mighthave caught him had my breath not been as short as his legs were long."

The young man listened to this tale of wrong with all the seriousness that hecould maintain; but at the sight of the pursy red-faced man and the dignity withwhich he bore himthe laughter came so thick upon him that he had to lean upagainst a tree-trunk. The fuller looked sadly and gravely at him; but findingthat he still laughedhe bowed with much mock politeness and stalked onwards inhis borrowed clothes. Alleyne watched him until he was small in the distanceand thenwiping the tears from his eyeshe set off briskly once more upon hisjourney.

Chapter 4 - How The Bailiff Of Southampton Slew The Two Masterless Men

 


 

THE road along which he travelled was scarce as populous as most other roadsin the kingdomand far less so than those which lie between the larger towns.Yet from time to time Alleyne met other wayfarersand more than once wasovertaken by strings of pack mules and horsemen journeying in the same directionas himself. Once a begging friar came limping along in a brown habitimploringin a most dolorous voice to give him a single groat to buy bread wherewith tosave himself from impending death. Alleyne passed him swiftly byfor he hadlearned from the monks to have no love for the wandering friarsandbesidesthere was a great half-gnawed mutton bone sticking out of his pouch to prove hima liar. Swiftly as he wenthoweverhe could not escape the curse of the fourblessed evangelists which the mendicant howled behind him. So dreadful are hisexecrations that the frightened lad thrust his fingers into his ear-holesandran until the fellow was but a brown smirch upon the yellow road.

Further onat the edge of the woodlandhe came upon a chapman and his wifewho sat upon a fallen tree. He had put his pack down as a tableand the two ofthem were devouring a great pastyand washing it down with some drink from astone jar. The chapman broke a rough jest as he passedand the woman calledshrilly to Alleyne to come and join themon which the manturning suddenlyfrom mirth to wrathbegan to belabor her with his cudgel. Alleyne hastened onlest he make more mischiefand his heart was heavy as lead within him. Lookwhere he wouldhe seemed to see nothing but injustice and violence and thehardness of man to man.

But even as he brooded sadly over it and pined for the sweet peace of theAbbeyhe came on an open space dotted with holly busheswhere was thestrangest sight that he had yet chanced upon. Near to the pathway lay a longclump of greeneryand from behind this there stuck straight up into the airfour human legs clad in parti-colored hosenyellow and black. Strangest of allwas when a brisk tune struck suddenly up and the four legs began to kick andtwitter in time to the music. Walking on tiptoe round the busheshe stood inamazement to see two men bounding about on their headswhile they playedtheone a viol and the other a pipeas merrily and as truly as though they wereseated in a choir. Alleyne crossed himself as he gazed at this unnatural sightand could scarce hold his ground with a steady facewhen the two dancerscatching sight of himcame bouncing in his direction. A spear's length from himthey each threw a somersault into the airand came down upon their feet withsmirking faces and their hands over their hearts.

"A guerdon--a guerdonmy knight of the staring eyes!" cried one.

"A giftmy prince!" shouted the other. "Any trifle willserve-- a purse of goldor even a jewelled goblet."

Alleyne thought of what he had read of demoniac possession --the jumpingsthe twitchingsthe wild talk. It was in his mind to repeat over the exorcismproper to such attacks; but the two burst out a-laughing at his scared faceandturning on to their heads once moreclapped their heels in derision.

"Hast never seen tumblers before?" asked the eldera black- browedswarthy manas brown and supple as a hazel twig. "Why shrink from usthenas though we were the spawn of the Evil One?"

"Why shrinkmy honey-bird? Why so afeardmy sweet cinnamon?"exclaimed the othera loose-jointed lanky youth with a dancingroguish eye.

"Trulysirsit is a new sight to me" the clerk answered. "WhenI saw your four legs above the bush I could scarce credit my own eyes. Why is itthat you do this thing?"

"A dry question to answer" cried the youngercoming back on tohis feet. "A most husky questionmy fair bird! But how? A flaska flask!--byall that is wonderful!" He shot out his hand as he spokeand pluckingAlleyne's bottle out of his scriphe deftly knocked the neck offand pouredthe half of it down his throat. The rest he handed to his comradewho drank thewineand thento the clerk's increasing amazementmade a show of swallowingthe bottlewith such skill that Alleyne seemed to see it vanish down his throat.A moment laterhoweverhe flung it over his headand caught it bottomdownwards upon the calf of his left leg.

"We thank you for the winekind sir" said he"and for theready courtesy wherewith you offered it. Touching your questionwe may tell youthat we are strollers and jugglerswhohaving performed with much applause atWinchester fairare now on our way to the great Michaelmas market at Ringwood.As our art is a very fine and delicate onehoweverwe cannot let a day go bywithout exercising ourselves in itto which end we choose some quiet andsheltered spot where we may break our journey. Here you find us; and we cannotwonder that youwho are new to tumblingshould be astoundedsince many greatbaronsearlsmarshals and knightwho have wandered as far as the Holy Landare of one mind in saying that they have never seen a more noble or graciousperformance. if you will be pleased to sit upon that stumpwe will now continueour exercise."

Alleyne sat down willingly as directed with two great bundles on either sideof him which contained the strollers' dresses-- doublets of flame-colored silkand girdles of leatherspangled with brass and tin. The jugglers were on theirheads once morebounding about with rigid necksplaying the while in perfecttime and tune. It chanced that out of one of the bundles there stuck the end ofwhat the clerk saw to be a citternso drawing it forthhe tuned it up andtwanged a harmony to the merry lilt which the dancers played. On that theydropped their own instrumentsand putting their hands to the ground they hoppedabout faster and fasterever shouting to him to play more brisklyuntil atlast for very weariness all three had to stop.

"Well playedsweet poppet!" cried the younger. "Hast a raretouch on the strings."

"How knew you the tune?" asked the other.

"I knew it not. I did but follow the notes I heard."

Both opened their eyes at thisand stared at Alleyne with as much amazementas he had shown at them.

"You have a fine trick of ear then" said one. "We have longwished to meet such a man. Wilt join us and jog on to Ringwood? Thy duties shallbe lightand thou shalt have two-pence a day and meat for supper everynight."

"With as much beer as you can put away" said the other "and aflask of Gascon wine on Sabbaths."

"Nayit may not be. I have other work to do. I have tarried with youover long" quoth Alleyneand resolutely set forth upon his journey oncemore. They ran behind him some little wayoffering him first fourpence and thensixpence a daybut he only smiled and shook his headuntil at last they fellaway from him. Looking backhe saw that the smaller had mounted on theyounger's shouldersand that they stood sosome ten feet highwaving theiradieus to him. He waved back to themand then hastened onthe lighter of heartfor having fallen in with these strange men of pleasure.

Alleyne had gone no great distance for all the many small passages that hadbefallen him. Yet to himused as he was to a life of such quiet that thefailure of a brewing or the altering of an anthem had seemed to be of thedeepest importthe quick changing play of the lights and shadows of life wasstrangely startling and interesting. A gulf seemed to divide this briskuncertain existence from the old steady round of work and of prayer which he hadleft behind him. The few hours that had passed since he saw the Abbey towerstretched out in his memory until they outgrew whole months of the stagnant lifeof the cloister. As he walked and munched the soft bread from his scripitseemed strange to him to feel that it was still warm from the ovens of Beaulieu.

When he passed Penerleywhere were three cottages and a barnhe reached theedge of the tree countryand found the great barren heath of Blackdownstretching in front of himall pink with heather and bronzed with the fadingferns. On the left the woods were still thickbut the road edged away from themand wound over the open. The sun lay low in the west upon a purple cloudwhenceit threw a mildchastening light over the wild moorland and glittered on thefringe of forest turning the withered leaves into flakes of dead goldthebrighter for the black depths behind them. To the seeing eye decay is as fair asgrowthand death as life. The thought stole into Alleyne's heart as he lookedupon the autumnal country side and marvelled at its beauty. He had little timeto dwell upon it howeverfor there were still six good miles between him andthe nearest inn. He sat down by the roadside to partake of his bread and cheeseand then with a lighter scrip he hastened upon his way.

There appeared to be more wayfarers on the down than in the forest. First hepassed two Dominicans in their long black dresseswho swept by him withdowncast looks and pattering lipswithout so much as a glance at him. Thenthere came a gray friaror minoritewith a good paunch upon himwalkingslowly and looking about him with the air of a man who was at peace with himselfand with all men. He stopped Alleyne to ask him whether it was not true thatthere was a hostel somewhere in those parts which was especially famous for thestewing of eels. The clerk having made answer that he had heard the eels ofSowley well spoken ofthe friar sucked in his lips and hurried forward. Closeat his heels came three laborers walking abreastwith spade and mattock overtheir shoulders. They sang some rude chorus right tunefully as they walkedbuttheir English was so coarse and rough that to the ears of a cloister-bred man itsounded like a foreign and barbarous tongue. One of them carried a young bitternwhich they had caught upon the moorand they offered it to Alleyne for a silvergroat. Very glad he was to get safely past themforwith their bristling redbeards and their fierce blue eyesthey were uneasy men to bargain with upon alonely moor.

Yet it is not always the burliest and the wildest who are the most to bedreaded. The workers looked hungrily at himand then jogged onwards upon theirway in slowlumbering Saxon style. A worse man to deal with was a wooden-leggedcripple who came hobbling down the pathso weak and so old to all appearancethat a child need not stand in fear of him. Yet when Alleyne had passed himofa suddenout of pure devilmenthe screamed out a curse at himand sent ajagged flint stone hurtling past his ear. So horrid was the causeless rage ofthe crooked creaturethat the clerk came over a cold thrilland took to hisheels until he was out of shot from stone or word. It seemed to him that in thiscountry of England there was no protection for a man save that which lay in thestrength of his own arm and the speed of his own foot. In the cloisters he hadheard vague talk of the law--the mighty law which was higher than prelate orbaronyet no sign could he see of it. What was the benefit of a law writtenfair upon parchmenthe wonderedif there were no officers to enforce it. As ittell outhoweverhe had that very eveningere the sun had seta chance ofseeing how stern was the grip of the English law when it did happen to seize theoffender.

A mile or so out upon the moor the road takes a very sudden dip into a hollowwith a peat-colored stream running swiftly down the centre of it. To the rightof this stoodand stands to this dayan ancient barrowor burying moundcovered deeply in a bristle of heather and bracken. Alleyne was plodding downthe slope upon one sidewhen he saw an old dame coming towards him upon theotherlimping with weariness and leaning heavily upon a stick. When she reachedthe edge of the stream she stood helplesslooking to right and to left for someford. Where the path ran down a great stone had been fixed in the centre of thebrookbut it was too far from the bank for her aged and uncertain feet. Twiceshe thrust forward at itand twice she drew backuntil at lastgiving up indespairshe sat herself down by the brink and wrung her hands wearily. Thereshe still sat when Alleyne reached the crossing.

"Comemother" quoth he"it is not so very perilous apassage."

"Alas! good youth" she answered"I have a humor in the eyesand though I can see that there is a stone there I can by no means be sure as towhere it lies."

"That is easily amended" said he cheerilyand picking her lightlyupfor she was much worn with timehe passed across with her. He could not butobservehoweverthat as he placed her down her knees seemed to fail herandshe could scarcely prop herself up with her staff.

"You are weakmother" said he. "Hast journeyed farI wot."

"From Wiltshirefriend" said shein a quavering voice; "threedays have I been on the road. I go to my sonwho is one of the King's regardersat Brockenhurst. He has ever said that he would care for me in mine old age."

"And rightly toomothersince you cared for him in his youth. But whenhave you broken fast?"

"At Lyndenhurst; but alas! my money is at an endand I could but get adish of bran-porridge from the nunnery. Yet I trust that I may be able to reachBrockenhurst to-nightwhere I may have all that heart can desire; for oh! sirbut my son is a fine manwith a kindly heart of his ownand it is as good asfood to me to think that he should have a doublet of Lincoln green to his backand be the King's own paid man."

"It is a long road yet to Brockenhurst" said Alleyne; "buthere is such bread and cheese as I have leftand heretoois a penny whichmay help you to supper. May God be with you!"

"May God be with youyoung man!" she cried. "May He make yourheart as glad as you have made mine!" She turned awaystill mumblingblessingsand Alleyne saw her short figure and her long shadow stumbling slowlyup the slope.

He was moving away himselfwhen his eyes lit upon a strange sightand onewhich sent a tingling through his skin. Out of the tangled scrub on the oldovergrown barrow two human faces were looking out at him; the sinking sunglimmered full upon themshowing up every line and feature. The one was anoldish man with a thin bearda crooked noseand a broad red smudge from abirth-mark over his temple; the other was a negroa thing rarely met in Englandat that dayand rarer still in the quiet southland parts. Alleyne had read ofsuch folkbut had never seen one beforeand could scarce take his eyes fromthe fellow's broad pouting lip and shining teeth. Even as he gazedhoweverthetwo came writhing out from among the heatherand came down towards him withsuch a guiltyslinking carriagethat the clerk felt that there was no good inthemand hastened onwards upon his way.

He had not gained the crown of the slopewhen he heard a sudden scufflebehind him and a feeble voice bleating for help. Looking roundthere was theold dame down upon the roadwaywith her red whimple flying on the breezewhilethe two roguesblack and whitestooped over herwresting away from her thepenny and such other poor trifles as were worth the taking. At the sight of herthin limbs struggling in weak resistancesuch a glow of fierce anger passedover Alleyne as set his head in a whirl. Dropping his scriphe bounded over thestream once moreand made for the two villainswith his staff whirled over hisshoulder and his gray eyes blazing with fury.

The robbershoweverwere not disposed to leave their victim until they hadworked their wicked will upon her. The black manwith the woman's crimson scarftied round his swarthy headstood forward in the centre of the pathwith along dull-colored knife in his handwhile the otherwaving a ragged cudgelcursed at Alleyne and dared him to come on. His blood was fairly aflamehoweverand he needed no such challenge. Dashing at the black manhe smote at him withsuch good will that the other let his knife tinkle into the roadwayand hoppedhowling to a safer distance. The second roguehowevermade of sterner stuffrushed in upon the clerkand clipped him round the waist with a grip like abearshouting the while to his comrade to come round and stab him in the back.At this the negro took heart of graceand picking up his dagger again he camestealing with prowling step and murderous eyewhile the two swayed backwardsand forwardsstaggering this way and that. In the very midst of the scufflehoweverwhilst Alleyne braced himself to feel the cold blade between hisshouldersthere came a sudden scurry of hoofsand the black man yelled withterror and ran for his life through the heather. The man with the birth-marktoostruggled to break awayand Alleyne heard his teeth chatter and felt hislimbs grow limp to his hand. At this sign of coming aid the clerk held on thetighterand at last was able to pin his man down and glanced behind him to seewhere all the noise was coming from.

Down the slanting road there was riding a bigburly manclad in a tunic ofpurple velvet and driving a great black horse as hard as it could gallop. Heleaned well over its neck as he rodeand made a heaving with his shoulders atevery bound as though he were lifting the steed instead of it carrying him. Inthe rapid glance Alleyne saw that he had white doeskin glovesa curling whitefeather in his flat velvet capand a broad goldembroidered baldric across hisbosom. Behind him rode six otherstwo and twoclad in sober brown jerkinswith the long yellow staves of their bows thrusting out from behind their rightshoulders. Down the hill they thunderedover the brook and up to the scene ofthe contest.

"Here is one!" said the leaderspringing down from his reekinghorseand seizing the white rogue by the edge of his jerkin. "This is oneof them. I know him by that devil's touch upon his brow. Where are your cordsPeterkin? So! --bind him hand and foot. His last hour has come. And youyoungmanwho may you be?"

"I am a clerksirtravelling from Beaulieu."

"A clerk!" cried the other. "Art from Oxenford or fromCambridge? Hast thou a letter from the chancellor of thy college giving thee apermit to beg? Let me see thy letter." He had a sternsquare facewithbushy side whiskers and a very questioning eye.

"I am from Beaulieu Abbeyand I have no need to beg" said Alleynewho was all of a tremble now that the ruffle was over.

"The better for thee" the other answered. "Dost know who I am?"

"NosirI do not."

"I am the law!"--nodding his head solemnly. "I am the law ofEngland and the mouthpiece of his most gracious and royal majestyEdward theThird."

Alleyne louted low to the King's representative. "Truly you came in goodtimehonored sir" said he. "A moment later and they would have slainme."

"But there should be another one" cried the man in the purple coat."There should be a black man. A shipman with St. Anthony's fireand ablack man who had served him as cook--those are the pair that we are in chaseof."

"The black man fled over to that side" said Alleynepointingtowards the barrow.

"He could not have gone farsir bailiff" cried one of the archersunslinging his bow. "He is in hiding somewherefor he knew wellblackpaynim as he isthat our horses' four legs could outstrip his two."

"Then we shall have him" said the other. "It shall never besaidwhilst I am bailiff of Southamptonthat any wasterrieverdraw-latch ormurtherer came scathless away from me and my posse. Leave that rogue lying. Nowstretch out in linemy merry oneswith arrow on stringand I shall show yousuch sport as only the King can give. You on the leftHowettand Thomas ofRedbridge upon the right. So! Beat high and low among the heatherand a pot ofwine to the lucky marksman."

As it chancedhoweverthe searchers had not far to seek. The negro hadburrowed down into his hiding-place upon the barrowwhere he might have lainsnug enoughhad it not been for the red gear upon his head. As he raisedhimself to look over the bracken at his enemiesthe staring color caught theeye of the bailiffwho broke into a long screeching whoop and spurred forwardsword in hand. Seeing himself discoveredthe man rushed out from hishiding-placeand bounded at the top of his speed down the line of archerskeeping a good hundred paces to the front of them. The two who were on eitherside of Alleyne bent their bows as calmly as though they were shooting at thepopinjay at the village fair.

"Seven yards windageHal" said onewhose hair was streaked withgray.

"Five" replied the otherletting loose his string. Alleyne gave agulp in his throatfor the yellow streak seemed to pass through the man; but hestill ran forward.

"Sevenyou jack-fool" growled the first speakerand his bowtwanged like a harp-string. The black man sprang high up into the airand shotout both his arms and his legscoming down all a-sprawl among the heather."Right under the blade bone!" quoth the archersauntering forward forhis arrow.

"The old hound is the best when all is said" quoth the bailiff ofSouthamptonas they made back for the roadway. "That means a quart of thebest Malmsey in Southampton this very nightMatthew Atwood. Art sure that he isdead?"

"Dead as Pontius Pilateworshipful sir."

"It is well. Nowas to the other knave. There are trees and to spareover yonderbut we have scarce leisure to make for them. Draw thy swordThomasof Redbridgeand hew me his head from his shoulders."

"A boongracious sira boon!" cried the condemned man. What then?"asked the bailiff.

"I will confess to my crime. It was indeed I and the black cookbothfrom the ship 'La Rose de Gloire' of Southamptonwho did set upon the Flandersmerchant and rob him of his spicery and his merceryfor whichas we well knowyou hold a warrant against us."

"There is little merit in this confession" quoth the bailiffsternly. "Thou hast done evil within my bailiwickand must die."

"Butsir" urged Alleynewho was white to the lips at thesebloody doings"he hath not yet come to trial."

"Young clerk" said the bailiff"you speak of that of whichyou know nothing. It is true that he hath not come to trialbut the trial hathcome to him. He hath fled the law and is beyond its pale. Touch not that whichis no concern of thine. But what is this boonroguewhich you would crave?"

"I have in my shoemost worshipful sira strip of wood which belongedonce to the bark wherein the blessed Paul was dashed up against the island ofMelita. I bought it for two rose nobles from a shipman who came from the Levant.The boon I crave is that you will place it in my hands and let me die stillgrasping it. In this mannernot only shall my own eternal salvation be securedbut thine alsofor I shall never cease to intercede for thee."

At the command of the bailiff they plucked off the fellow's shoeand theresure enough at the side of the instepwrapped in a piece of fine sendalllay alongdark splinter of wood. The archers doffed caps at the sight of itand thebailiff crossed himself devoutly as he handed it to the robber.

"If it should chance" he said"that through the surpassingmerits of the blessed Paul your sin-stained soul should gain a way into paradiseI trust that you will not forget that intercession which you have promised. Bearin mind toothat it is Herward the bailiff for whom you prayand not Herwardthe sheriffwho is my uncle's son. NowThomasI pray you dispatchfor wehave a long ride before us and sun has already set."

Alleyne gazed upon the scene--the portly velvet-clad official the knot ofhard-faced archers with their hands to the bridles of their horsesthe thiefwith his arms trussed back and his doublet turned down upon his shoulders. Bythe side of the track the old dame was standingfastening her red whimple oncemore round her head. Even as he looked one of the archers drew his sword with asharp whirr of steel and stept up to the lost man. The clerk hurried away inhorror; butere he had gone many paceshe heard a suddensullen thumpwith achokingwhistling sound at the end of it. A minute later the bailiff and fourof his men rode past him on their journey back to Southamptonthe other twohaving been chosen as grave-diggers. As they passed Alleyne saw that one of themen was wiping his sword-blade upon the mane of his horse. A deadly sicknesscame over him at the sightand sitting down by the wayside he burst out weepingwith his nerves all in a jangle. It was a terrible world thought heand it washard to know which were the most to be dreadedthe knaves or the men of the law.

Chapter 5 - How A Strange Company Gathered At The "Pied Merlin."

 


 

THE night had already fallenand the moon was shining between the rifts ofraggeddrifting cloudsbefore Alleyne Edricsonfootsore and weary from theunwonted exercisefound himself in front of the forest inn which stood upon theoutskirts of Lyndhurst. The building was long and lowstanding back a littlefrom the roadwith two flambeaux blazing on either side of the door as awelcome to the traveller. From one window there thrust forth a long pole with abunch of greenery tied to the end of it- -a sign that liquor was to be soldwithin. As Alleyne walked up to it he perceived that it was rudely fashioned outof beams of woodwith twinkling lights all over where the glow from withinshone through the chinks. The roof was poor and thatched; but in strangecontrast to it there ran all along under the eaves a line of wooden shieldsmost gorgeously painted with chevronbendand saltire. and every heraldicde-vice. By the door a horse stood tetheredthe ruddy glow beating stronglyupon his brown head and patient eyeswhile his body stood back in the shadow.

Alleyne stood still in the roadway for a few minutes reflecting upon what heshould do. It washe knewonly a few miles further to Minsteadwhere hisbrother dwelt. On the other handhe had never seen this brother since childhoodand the reports which had come to his ears concerning him were seldom to hisadvantage. By all accounts he was a hard and a bitter man.

It might be an evil start to come to his door so late and claim the shelterof his root: Better to sleep here at this innand then travel on to Minstead inthe morning. If his brother would take him inwell and good.

He would bide with him for a time and do what he might to serve him. Ifonthe other handhe should have hardened his heart against himhe could only goon his way and do the best he might by his skill as a craftsman and a scrivener.At the end of a year he would be free to return to the cloistersfor such hadbeen his father's bequest. A monkish upbringingone year in the world after theage of twentyand then a free selection one way or the other--it was a strangecourse which had been marked out for him. Such as it washoweverhe had nochoice but to follow itand if he were to begin by making a friend of hisbrother he had best wait until morning before he knocked at his dwelling.

The rude plank door was ajarbut as Alleyne approached it there came fromwithin such a gust of rough laughter and clatter of tongues that he stoodirresolute upon the threshold. Summoning couragehoweverand reflecting thatit was a public dwellingin which he had as much right as any other manhepushed it open and stepped into the common room.

Though it was an autumn evening and somewhat warma huge fire of heapedbillets of wood crackled and sparkled in a broadopen gratesome of the smokeescaping up a rude chimneybut the greater part rolling out into the roomsothat the air was thick with itand a man coming from without could scarce catchhis breath. On this fire a great cauldron bubbled and simmeredgiving forth arich and promising smell. Seated round it were a dozen or so folkof all agesand conditionswho set up such a shout as Alleyne entered that he stood peeringat them through the smokeuncertain what this riotous greeting might portend.

"A rouse! A rouse!" cried one rough looking fellow in a tatteredjerkin. "One more round of mead or ale and the score to the last comer."

" 'Tis the law of the 'Pied Merlin' " shouted another. "HothereDame Eliza! Here is fresh custom come to the houseand not a drain forthe company."

"I will take your ordersgentles; I will assuredly take your orders"the landlady answeredbustling in with her hands full of leathern drinking-cups."What is it that you drinkthen? Beer for the lads of the forestmead forthe gleemanstrong waters for the tinkerand wine for the rest. It is an oldcustom of the houseyoung sir. It has been the use at the 'Pied Merlin' thismany a year back that the company should drink to the health of the last comer.Is it your pleasure to humor it?"

"Whygood dame" said Alleyne"I would not offend thecustoms of your housebut it is only sooth when I say that my purse is a thinone. As far as two pence will gohoweverI shall be right glad to do my part."

"Plainly said and bravely spokenmy sucking friar" roared a deepvoiceand a heavy hand fell upon Alleyne's shoulder. Looking uphe saw besidehim his former cloister companion the renegade monkHordle John.

"By the thorn of Glastonbury! ill days are coming upon Beaulieu"said he. "Here they have got rid in one day of the only two men withintheir walls--for I have had mine eyes upon theeyoungsterand I know that forall thy baby-face there is the making of a man in thee. Then there is the Abbottoo. I am no friend of hisnor he of mine; but he has warm blood in his veins.He is the only man left among them. The otherswhat are they?"

"They are holy men" Alleyne answered gravely.

"Holy men? Holy cabbages! Holy bean-pods! What do they do but live andsuck in sustenance and grow fat? If that be holinessI could show you hogs inthis forest who are fit to head the calendar. Think you it was for such a lifethat this good arm was fixed upon my shoulderor that head placed upon yourneck? There is work in the worldmanand it is not by hiding behind stonewalls that we shall do it."

"Whythendid you join the brothers?" asked Alleyne.

"A fair enough question; but it is as fairly answered. I joined thembecause Margery Alspayeof Boldermarried Crooked Thomas of Ringwoodand lefta certain John of Hordle in the coldfor that he was a rantingroving bladewho was not to be trusted in wedlock. That was whybeing fond and hot-headedIleft the world; and that is whyhaving had time to take thoughtI am rightglad to find myself back in it once more. Ill betide the day that ever I tookoff my yeoman's jerkin to put on the white gown!"

Whilst he was speaking the landlady came in againbearing a broad platterupon which stood all the beakers and flagons charged to the brim with the brownale or the ruby wine. Behind her came a maid with a high pile of wooden platesand a great sheaf of spoonsone of which she handed round to each of thetravellers.

Two of the companywho were dressed in the weather-stained green doublet offoresterslifted the big pot off the fireand a thirdwith a huge pewterladleserved out a portion of steaming collops to each guest. Alleyne bore hisshare and his ale-mug away with him to a retired trestle in the cornerwhere hecould sup in peace and watch the strange scenewhich was so different to thosesilent and well-ordered meals to which he was accustomed.

The room was not unlike a stable. The low ceilingsmoke- blackened and dingywas pierced by several square trap-doors with rough-hewn ladders leading up tothem. The walls of bare unpainted planks were studded here and there with greatwooden pinsplaced at irregular intervals and heightsfrom which hungover-tunicswalletswhipsbridlesand saddles. Over the fireplace weresuspended six or seven shields of woodwith coats-of-arms rudely daubed uponthemwhich showed by their varying degrees of smokiness and dirt that they hadbeen placed there at different periods. There was no furnituresave a singlelong dresser covered with coarse crockeryand a number of wooden benches andtrestlesthe legs of which sank deeply into the soft clay floorwhile the onlylightsave that of the firewas furnished by three torches stuck in sockets onthe wallwhich flickered and crackledgiving forth a strong resinous odor. Allthis was novel and strange to the cloister-bred youth; but most interesting ofall was the motley circle of guests who sat eating their collops round the blaze.They were a humble group of wayfarerssuch as might have been found that nightin any inn through the length and breadth of England; but to him theyrepresented that vague world against which he had been so frequently and soearnestly warned. It did not seem to him from what he could see of it to be sucha very wicked place after all.

Three or four of the men round the fire were evidently underkeepers andverderers from the forestsunburned and beardedwith the quick restless eyeand lithe movements of the deer among which they lived. Close to the corner ofthe chimney sat a middle-aged gleemanclad in a faded garb of Norwich cloththe tunic of which was so outgrown that it did not fasten at the neck and at thewaist. His face was swollen and coarseand his watery protruding eyes spoke ofa life which never wandered very far from the wine-pot. A gilt harpblotchedwith many stains and with two of its strings missingwas tucked under one ofhis armswhile with the other he scooped greedily at his platter. Next to himsat two other men of about the same ageone with a trimming of fur to his coatwhich gave him a dignity which was evidently dearer to him than his comfortforhe still drew it round him in spite of the hot glare of the faggots. The otherclad in a dirty russet suit with a long sweeping doublethad a cunningfoxyface with keentwinkling eyes and a peaky beard. Next to him sat Hordle Johnand beside him three other rough unkempt fellows with tangled beards and mattedhair-free laborers from the adjoining farmswhere small patches of freeholdproperty had been suffered to remain scattered about in the heart of the royaldemesne. The company was completed by a peasant in a rude dress of undyedsheepskinwith the old- fashioned galligaskins about his legsand a gaylydressed young man with striped cloak jagged at the edges and parti-colored hosenwho looked about him with high disdain upon his faceand held a bluesmelling-flask to his nose with one handwhile he brandished a busy spoon withthe other. In the corner a very fat man was lying all a-sprawl upon a trusssnoring stertorouslyand evidently in the last stage of drunkenness.

"That is Wat the limner" quoth the landladysitting down besideAlleyneand pointing with the ladle to the sleeping man. "That is he whopaints the signs and the tokens. Alack and alas that ever I should have beenfool enough to trust him! Nowyoung manwhat manner of a bird would yousuppose a pied merlin to be--that being the proper sign of my hostel?"

"Why" said Alleyne"a merlin is a bird of the same form asan eagle or a falcon. I can well remember that learned brother Bartholomewwhois deep in all the secrets of naturepointed one out to me as we walkedtogether near Vinney Ridge."

"A falcon or an eaglequotha? And piedthat is of two several colors.So any man would say except this barrel of lies. He came to melook yousayingthat if I would furnish him with a gallon of alewherewith to strengthenhimself as he workedand also the pigments and a boardhe would paint for me anoble pied merlin which I might hang along with the blazonry over my door. Ipoor simple foolgave him the ale and all that he cravedleaving him alone toobecause he said that a man's mind must be left untroubled when he had great workto do. When I came back the gallon jar was emptyand he lay as you see himwith the board in front of him with this sorry device." She raised up apanel which was leaning against the walland showed a rude painting of ascraggy and angular fowlwith very long legs and a spotted body.

"Was that" she askedlike the bird which thou hast seen?"

Alleyne shook his headsmiling.

"Nonor any other bird that ever wagged a feather. It is most like aplucked pullet which has died of the spotted fever. And scarlet too! What wouldthe gentles Sir Nicholas Boarhunteor Sir Bernard Brocasof Roche Courtsayif they saw such a thing- -orperhapseven the King's own Majesty himselfwhooften has ridden past this wayand who loves his falcons as he loves his sons?It would be the downfall of my house."

"The matter is not past mending" said Alleyne. "I pray yougood dameto give me those three pigment-pots and the brushand I shall trywhether I cannot better this painting."

Dame Eliza looked doubtfully at himas though fearing some other stratagembutas he made no demand for aleshe finally brought the paintsand watchedhim as he smeared on his backgroundtalking the while about the folk round thefire.

"The four forest lads must be jogging soon" she said. "Theybide at Emery Downa mile or more from here. Yeomen prickers they arewho tendto the King's hunt. The gleeman is called Floyting Will. He comes from the northcountrybut for many years he hath gone the round of the forest fromSouthampton to Christchurch. He drinks much and pays little but it would makeyour ribs crackle to hear him sing the 'Jest of Hendy Tobias.' Mayhap he willsing it when the ale has warmed him."

"Who are those next to him?" asked Alleynemuch interested. "Heof the fur mantle has a wise and reverent face."

"He is a seller of pills and salvesvery learned in humorsand rheumsand fluxesand all manner of ailments. He wearsas you perceivethe vernicleof Sainted Lukethe first physicianupon his sleeve. May good St. Thomas ofKent grant that it may be long before either I or mine need his help! He is hereto-night for herbergageas are the others except the foresters. His neighbor isa tooth-drawer. That bag at his girdle is full of the teeth that he drew atWinchester fair. I warrant that there are more sound ones than sorryfor he isquick at his work and a trifle dim in the eye. The lusty man next him with thered head I have not seen before. The four on this side are all workersthree ofthem in the service of the bailiff of Sir Baldwin Redversand the otherhewith the sheepskinisas I heara villein from the midlands who hath run fromhis master. His year and day are well-nigh upwhen he will be a free man."

"And the other?" asked Alleyne in a whisper. "He is surelysome very great manfor he looks as though he scorned those who were about him."

The landlady looked at him in a motherly way and shook her head. "Youhave had no great truck with the world" she said"or you would havelearned that it is the small men and not the great who hold their noses in theair. Look at those shields upon my wall and under my eaves. Each of them is thedevice of some noble lord or gallant knight who hath slept under my roof at onetime or another. Yet milder men or easier to please I have never seen: eating mybacon and drinking my wine with a merry faceand paying my score with somecourteous word or jest which was dearer to me than my profit. Those are the truegentles. But your chapman or your bearward will swear that there is a lime inthe wineand water in the aleand fling off at the last with a curse insteadof a blessing. This youth is a scholar from Cambrigwhere men are wont to beblown out by a little knowledgeand lose the use of their hands in learning thelaws of the Romans. But I must away to lay down the beds. So may the saints keepyou and prosper you in your undertaking!"

Thus left to himselfAlleyne drew his panel of wood where the light of oneof the torches would strike full upon itand worked away with all the pleasureof the trained craftsmanlistening the while to the talk which went on roundthe fire. The peasant in the sheepskinswho had sat glum and silent all eveninghad been so heated by his flagon of ale that he was talking loudly and angrilywith clenched hands and flashing eyes.

"Sir Humphrey Tennant of Ashby may till his own fields for me" hecried. "The castle has thrown its shadow upon the cottage over long. Forthree hundred years my folk have swinked and sweatedday in and day outtokeep the wine on the lord's table and the harness on the lord's back. Let himtake off his plates and delve himselfif delving must be done."

"A proper spiritmy fair son!" said one of the free laborers."I would that all men were of thy way of thinking."

"He would have sold me with his acres" the other criedin a voicewhich was hoarse with passion. " 'The manthe woman and their litter'--soran the words of the dotard bailiff. Never a bullock on the farm was sold morelightly. Ha! he may wake some black night to find the flames licking about hisears--for fire is a good friend to the poor manand I have seen a smoking heapof ashes where over night there stood just such another castlewick as Ashby."

"This is a lad of mettle!" shouted another of the laborers. Hedares to give tongue to what all men think. Are we not all from Adam's loinsall with flesh and bloodand with the same mouth that must needs have food anddrink? Where all this difference then between the ermine cloak and the leatherntunicif what they cover is the same?"

"AyeJenkin" said another"our foeman is under the stoleand the vestment as much as under the helmet and plate of proof. We have as muchto fear from the tonsure as from the hauberk. Strike at the noble and the priestshrieksstrike at priest and the noble lays his hand upon glaive. They are twinthieves who live upon our labor."

"It would take a clever man to live upon thy laborHugh" remarkedone of the foresters"seeing that the half of thy time is spent inswilling mead at the 'Pied Merlin.' "

"Better that than stealing the deer that thou art placed to guardlikesome folk I know."

"If you dare open that swine's mouth against me" shouted thewoodman"I'll crop your ears for you before the hangman has the doing ofitthou long-jawed lackbrain."

"Naygentlesgentles!" cried Dame Elizain a singsong heedlessvoicewhich showed that such bickerings were nightly things among her guests."No brawling or brabblinggentles! Take heed to the good name of thehouse."

"Besidesif it comes to the cropping of earsthere are other folk whomay say their say" quoth the third laborer. "We are all freemenandI trow that a yeoman's cudgel is as good as a forester's knife. By St. Anselm!it would be an evil day if we had to bend to our master's servants as well as toour masters."

"No man is my master save the King" the woodman answered. "Whois theresave a false traitorwho would refuse to serve the English king?"

"I know not about the English king" said the man Jenkin. "Whatsort of English king is it who cannot lay his tongue to a word of English? Youmind last year when he came down to Malwoodwith his inner marshal and hisouter marshalhis justiciarhis seneschaland his four and twenty guardsmen.One noontide I was by Franklin Swinton's gatewhen up he rides with a yeomanpricker at his heels. 'Ouvre' he cried'ouvre' or some such wordmakingsigns for me to open the gate; and then 'Merci' as though he were adrad of me.And you talk of an English king?"

"I do not marvel at it" cried the Cambrig scholarspeaking in thehigh drawling voice which was common among his class. "It is not a tonguefor men of sweet birth and delicate upbringing. It is a foulsnortingsnarlingmanner of speech. For myselfI swear by the learned Polycarp that I have mostease with Hebrewand after that perchance with Arabian."

"I will not hear a word said against old King Ned" cried HordleJohn in a voice like a bull. "What if he is fond of a bright eye and asaucy face. I know one of his subjects who could match him at that. If he cannotspeak like an Englishman I trow that he can fight like an Englishmanand he washammering at the gates of Paris while alehouse topers were grutching andgrumbling at home."

This loud speechcoming from a man of so formidable an appearancesomewhatdaunted the disloyal partyand they fell into a sullen silencewhich enabledAlleyne to hear something of the talk which was going on in the further cornerbetween the physicianthe tooth-drawer and the gleeman.

"A raw rat" the man of drugs was saying"that is what it isever my use to order for the plague--a raw rat with its paunch cut open."

"Might it not be broiledmost learned sir?" asked the tooth-drawer. "A raw rat sounds a most sorry and cheerless dish."

"Not to be eaten" cried the physicianin high disdain. "Whyshould any man eat such a thing?"

"Why indeed?" asked the gleemantaking a long drain at his tankard.

"It is to be placed on the sore or swelling. For the ratmark youbeing a foul-living creaturehath a natural drawing or affinity for all foulthingsso that the noxious humors pass from the man into the unclean beast."

"Would that cure the black deathmaster?" asked Jenkin.

"Ayetruly would itmy fair son."

"Then I am right glad that there were none who knew of it. The blackdeath is the best friend that ever the common folk had in England."

"How that then?" asked Hordle John.

"Whyfriendit is easy to see that you have not worked with your handsor you would not need to ask. When half the folk in the country were dead it wasthen that the other half could pick and choose who they would work forand forwhat wage. That is why I say that the murrain was the best friend that the borelfolk ever had."

"TrueJenkin" said another workman; "but it is not all goodthat is brought by it either. We well know that through it corn- land has beenturned into pastureso that flocks of sheep with perchance a single shepherdwander now where once a hundred men had work and wage."

"There is no great harm in that" remarked the tooth-drawer"forthe sheep give many folk their living. There is not only the herdbut theshearer and branderand then the dresserthe curerthe dyerthe fullerthewebsterthe merchantand a score of others."

"If it come to that." said one of the foresters"the toughmeat of them will wear folks teeth outand there is a trade for the man who candraw them."

A general laugh followed this sally at the dentist's expensein the midst ofwhich the gleeman placed his battered harp upon his kneeand began to pick outa melody upon the frayed strings

"Elbow room for Floyting Will!" cried the woodmen. "Twang us amerry lilt."

"Ayeayethe 'Lasses of Lancaster' " one suggested.

"Or 'St. Simeon and the Devil.' "

"Or the 'Jest of Hendy Tobias.' "

To all these suggestions the jongleur made no responsebut sat with his eyefixed abstractedly upon the ceilingas one who calls words to his mind. Thenwith a sudden sweep across the stringshe broke out into a song so gross and sofoul that ere he had finished a verse the pure-minded lad sprang to his feetwith the blood tingling in his face.

"How can you sing such things?" he cried. "Youtooan oldman who should be an example to others."

The wayfarers all gazed in the utmost astonishment at the interruption.

"By the holy Dicon of Hampole! our silent clerk has found his tongue"said one of the woodmen. "What is amiss with the song then? How has itoffended your babyship?"

"A milder and better mannered song hath never been heard within thesewalls" cried another. "What sort of talk is this for a public inn?"

"Shall it be a litanymy good clerk?" shouted a third; "orwould a hymn be good enough to serve?"

The jongleur had put down his harp in high dudgeon. "Am I to be preachedto by a child?" he criedstaring across at Alleyne with an inflamed andangry countenance. "Is a hairless infant to raise his tongue against mewhen I have sung in every fair from Tweed to Trentand have twice been namedaloud by the High Court of the Minstrels at Beverley? I shall sing no moreto-night."

"Naybut you will so" said one of the laborers. "HiDameElizabring a stoup of your best to Will to clear his throat. Go forward withthy songand if our girl-faced clerk does not love it he can take to the roadand go whence he came."

"Naybut not too last" broke in Hordle John. "There are twowords in this matter. It may be that my little comrade has been over quick inreproofhe having gone early into the cloisters and seen little of the roughways and words of the world. Yet there is truth in what he saysforas youknow wellthe song was not of the cleanest. I shall stand by himthereforeand he shall neither be put out on the roadnor shall his ears be offendedindoors."

"Indeedyour high and mighty grace" sneered one of the yeomen"have you in sooth so ordained?"

"By the Virgin!" said a second"I think that you may bothchance to find yourselves upon the road before long."

"And so belabored as to be scarce able to crawl along it" cried athird.

"NayI shall go! I shall go!" said Alleyne hurriedlyas HordleJohn began to slowly roll up his sleeveand bare an arm like a leg of mutton."I would not have you brawl about me."

"Hush! lad" he whispered"I count them not a fly. They mayfind they have more tow on their distaff than they know how to spin. Stand thouclear and give me space."

Both the foresters and the laborers had risen from their benchand DameEliza and the travelling doctor had flung themselves between the two partieswith soft words and soothing gestureswhen the door of the "Pied Merlin"was flung violently openand the attention of the company was drawn from theirown quarrel to the new-comer who had burst so unceremoniously upon them.

Chapter 6 - How Samkin Aylward Wagered His Feather-Bed

 


 

HE was a middle-sized manof most massive and robust buildwith an archingchest and extraordinary breadth of shoulder. His shaven face was as brown as ahazel-nuttanned and dried by the weatherwith harshwell-marked featureswhich were not improved by a long white scar which stretched from the corner ofhis left nostril to the angle of the jaw. His eyes were bright and searchingwith something of menace and of authority in their quick glitterand his mouthwas firm-set and hardas befitted one who was wont to set his face againstdanger. A straight sword by his side and a painted long-bow jutting over hisshoulder proclaimed his professionwhile his scarred brigandine of chain-mailand his dinted steel cap showed that he was no holiday soldierbut one who waseven now fresh from the wars. A white surcoat with the lion of St. George in redupon the centre covered his broad breastwhile a sprig of new-plucked broom atthe side of his head-gear gave a touch of gayety and grace to his grimwar-wornequipment.

"Ha!" he criedblinking like an owl in the sudden glare. "Goodeven to youcomrades! Hola! a womanby my soul!" and in an instant he hadclipped Dame Eliza round the waist and was kissing her violently. His eyehappening to wander upon the maidhoweverhe instantly abandoned the mistressand danced off after the otherwho scurried in confusion up one of the laddersand dropped the heavy trap-door upon her pursuer. He then turned back andsaluted the landlady once more with the utmost relish and satisfaction.

"La petite is frightened" said he. "Ahc'est l'amourl'amour! Curse this trick of Frenchwhich will stick to my throat. I must washit out with some good English ale. By my hilt! camaradesthere is no drop ofFrench blood in my bodyand I am a true English bowmanSamkin Aylward by name;and I tell youmes amisthat it warms my very heart-roots to set my feet onthe dear old land once more. When I came off the galley at Hythethis very dayI down on my bonesand I kissed the good brown earthas I kiss thee nowmabellefor it was eight long years since I had seen it. The very smell of itseemed life to me. But where are my six rascals? Holathere! En avant!"

At the ordersix mendressed as common drudgesmarched solemnly into theroomeach bearing a huge bundle upon his head. They formed in military linewhile the soldier stood in front of them with stern eyeschecking off theirseveral packages.

"Number one--a French feather-bed with the two counter-panes of whitesandell" said he.

"Hereworthy sir" answered the first of the bearerslaying agreat package down in the corner.

"Number two--seven ells of red Turkey cloth and nine ells of cloth ofgold. Put it down by the other. Good dameI prythee give each of these men abottrine of wine or a jack of ale. Three-a full piece of white Genoan velvetwith twelve ells of purple silk. Thou rascalthere is dirt on the hem! Thouhast brushed it against some wallcoquin!"

"Not Imost worthy sir" cried the carriershrinking away fromthe fierce eyes of the bowman.

"I say yesdog! By the three kings! I have seen a man gasp out his lastbreath for less. Had you gone through the pain and unease that I have done toearn these things you would be at more care. I swear by my ten finger-bones thatthere is not one of them that hath not cost its weight in French blood! Four--anincense-boata ewer of silvera gold buckle and a cope worked in pearls. Ifound themcamaradesat the Church of St. Denis in the harrying of Narbonneand I took them away with me lest they fall into the hands of the wicked.Five--a cloak of fur turned up with minevera gold goblet with stand and coverand a box of rose-colored sugar. See that you lay them together. Six- -a box ofmoniesthree pounds of Limousine gold-worka pair of bootssilver taggedandlastlya store of naping linen. Sothe tally is complete! Here is a groatapieceand you may go."

"Go whitherworthy sir?" asked one of the carriers.

"Whither? To the devil if ye will. What is it to me? Nowma belletosupper. A pair of cold caponsa mortress of brawnor what you willwith aflask or two of the right Gascony. I have crowns in my pouchmy sweetand Imean to spend them. Bring in wine while the food is dressing. Buvons my bravelads; you shall each empty a stoup with me."

Here was an offer which the company in an English inn at that or any otherdate are slow to refuse. The flagons were re-gathered and came back with thewhite foam dripping over their edges. Two of the woodmen and three of thelaborers drank their portions off hurriedly and trooped off togetherfor theirhomes were distant and the hour late. The othershoweverdrew closerleavingthe place of honor to the right of the gleeman to the free-handed new-comer. Hehad thrown off his steel cap and his brigandineand had placed them with hisswordhis quiver and his painted long-bowon the top of his varied heap ofplunder in the corner. Nowwith his thick and somewhat bowed legs stretched infront of the blazehis green jerkin thrown openand a great quart pot held inhis corded fisthe looked the picture of comfort and of good-fellowship. Hishard-set face had softenedand the thick crop of crisp brown curls which hadbeen hidden by his helmet grew low upon his massive neck. He might have beenforty years of agethough hard toil and harder pleasure had left their grimmarks upon his features. Alleyne had ceased painting his pied merlinand satbrush in handstaring with open eyes at a type of man so strange and so unlikeany whom he had met. Men had been good or had been bad in his cataloguebuthere was a man who was fierce one instant and gentle the nextwith a curse onhis lips and a smile in his eye. What was to be made of such a man as that?

It chanced that the soldier looked up and saw the questioning glance whichthe young clerk threw upon him. He raised his flagon and drank to himwith amerry flash of his white teeth.

"A toimon garcon" he cried. "Hast surely never seen aman-at- armsthat thou shouldst stare so?"

"I never have" said Alleyne frankly"though I have oft heardtalk of their deeds."

"By my hilt!" cried the other"if you were to cross thenarrow sea you would find them as thick as bees at a tee-hole. Couldst not shoota bolt down any street of BordeauxI warrantbut you would pink archersquireor knight. There are more breastplates than gaberdines to be seenI promise you."

"And where got you all these pretty things?" asked Hordle Johnpointing at the heap in the corner.

"Where there is as much more waiting for any brave lad to pick it up.Where a good man can always earn a good wageand where he need look upon no manas his paymasterbut just reach his hand out and help himself. Ayeit is agoodly and a proper life. And here I drink to mine old comradesand the saintsbe with them! Arouse all togethermeenfantsunder pain of my displeasure. ToSir Claude Latour and the White Company!"

"Sir Claude Latour and the White Company!" shouted the travellersdraining off their goblets.

"Well quaffedmes braves! It is for me to fill your cups againsinceyou have drained them to my dear lads of the white jerkin. Hola! mon angebringwine and ale. How runs the old stave?--

We'll drink all together To the gray goose feather And the land where thegray goose flew."

He roared out the catch in a harshunmusical voiceand ended with a shoutof laughter. "I trust that I am a better bowman than a minstrel" saidhe.

"Methinks I have some remembrance of the lilt" remarked thegleemanrunning his fingers over the strings"Hoping that it will givethee no offencemost holy sir"--with a vicious snap at Alleyne--"andwith the kind permit of the companyI will even venture upon it."

Many a time in the after days Alleyne Edricson seemed to see that sceneforall that so many which were stranger and more stirring were soon to crowd uponhim. The fatred-faced gleemanthe listening groupthe archer with upraisedfinger beating in time to the musicand the huge sprawling figure of HordleJohnall thrown into red light and black shadow by the flickering fire in thecentre--memory was to come often lovingly back to it. At the time he was lost inadmiration at the deft way in which the jongleur disguised the loss of his twomissing stringsand the lustyhearty fashion in which he trolled out hislittle ballad of the outland bowmenwhich ran in some such fashion as this:

What of the bow? The bow was made in England: Of true woodof yew woodThewood of English bows; So men who are free Love the old yew tree And the landwhere the yew tree grows.

What of the cord? The cord was made in England: A rough corda tough cordAcord that bowmen love; So we'll drain our jacks To the English flax And the landwhere the hemp was wove.

What of the shaft? The shaft was cut in England: A long shafta strong shaftBarbed and trim and true; So we'll drink all together To the gray goose featherAnd the land where the gray goose flew.

What of the men? The men were bred in England: The bowman--the yeoman-- Thelads of dale and fell Here's to you--and to you; To the hearts that are true Andthe land where the true hearts dwell.

"Well sungby my hilt!" shouted the archer in high delight. "Manya night have I heard that songboth in the old war-time and after in the daysof the White Companywhen Black Simon of Norwich would lead the staveand fourhundred of the best bowmen that ever drew string would come roaring in upon thechorus. I have seen old John Hawkwoodthe same who has led half the Companyinto Italystand laughing in his beard as he heard ituntil his plates rattledagain. But to get the full smack of it ye must yourselves be English bowmenandbe far off upon an outland soil."

Whilst the song had been singing Dame Eliza and the maid had placed a boardacross two trestlesand had laid upon it the knife the spoonthe saltthetranchoir of breadand finally the smoking dish which held the savory supper.The archer settled himself to it like one who had known what it was to find goodfood scarce; but his tongue still went as merrily as his teeth.

"It passes me" he cried"how all you lusty fellows can bidescratching your backs at home when there are such doings over the seas. Look atme--what have I to do? It is but the eye to the cordthe cord to the shaftandthe shaft to the mark. There is the whole song of it. It is but what you doyourselves for pleasure upon a Sunday evening at the parish village butts."

"And the wage?" asked a laborer.

"You see what the wage brings" he answered. "I eat of thebestand I drink deep. I treat my friendand I ask no friend to treat me. Iclap a silk gown on my girl's back. Never a knight's lady shall be betterbetrimmed and betrinketed. How of all thatmon garcon? And how of the heap oftrifles that you can see for yourselves in yonder corner? They are from theSouth Frenchevery oneupon whom I have been making war. By my hilt! camaradesI think that I may let my plunder speak for itself."

"It seems indeed to be a goodly service" said the tooth-drawer.

"Tete bleu! yesindeed. Then there is the chance of a ransom. Whylookyouin the affair at Brignais some four years backwhen the companies slewJames of Bourbonand put his army to the swordthere was scarce a man of ourswho had not countbaronor knight. Peter Karsdalewho was but a commoncountry lout newly brought overwith the English fleas still hopping under hisdoubletlaid his great hands upon the Sieur Amaury de Chatonvillewho ownshalf Picardyand had five thousand crowns out of himwith his horse andharness. 'Tis true that a French wench took it all off Peter as quick as theFrenchman paid it; but what then? By the twang of string! it would be a badthing if money was not made to be spent; and how better than on woman-- ehmabelle?"

"It would indeed be a bad thing if we had not our brave archers to bringwealth and kindly customs into the country" quoth Dame Elizaon whom thesoldier's free and open ways had made a deep impression.

"A toima cherie!" said hewith his hand over his heart. "Hola!there is la petite peeping from behind the door. A toiaussima petite! MonDieu! but the lass has a good color!"

"There is one thingfair sir" said the Cambridge student in hispiping voice"which I would fain that you would make more clear. As Iunderstand itthere was peace made at the town of Bretigny some six years backbetween our most gracious monarch and the King of the French. This being soitseems most passing strange that you should talk so loudly of war and ofcompanies when there is no quarrel between the French and us."

"Meaning that I lie" said the archerlaying down his knife.

"May heaven forfend!" cried the student hastily. "Magna estveritas sed rarawhich means in the Latin tongue that archers are all honorablemen. I come to you seeking knowledgefor it is my trade to learn."

"I fear that you are yet a 'prentice to that trade" quoth thesoldier; "for there is no child over the water but could answer what youask. Know then that though there may be peace between our own provinces and theFrenchyet within the marches of France there is always warfor the country ismuch divided against itselfand is furthermore harried by bands of flayersskinnersBrabaconstardvenusand the rest of them. When every man's grip ison his neighbor's throatand every five-sous-piece of a baron is marching withtuck of drum to fight whom he willit would be a strange thing if five hundredbrave English boys could not pick up a living. Now that Sir John Hawkwood hathgone with the East Anglian lads and the Nottingham woodmen into the service ofthe Marquis of Montferrat to fight against the Lord of Milanthere are but tenscore of us leftyet I trust that I may be able to bring some back with me tofill the ranks of the White Company. By the tooth of Peter! it would be a badthing if I could not muster many a Hamptonshire man who would be ready to strikein under the red flag of St. Georgeand the more so if Sir Nigel LoringofChristchurchshould don hauberk once more and take the lead of us."

"Ahyou would indeed be in luck then" quoth a woodman; "forit is said thatsetting aside the princeand mayhap good old Sir John Chandosthere was not in the whole army a man of such tried courage."

"It is soothevery word of it" the archer answered. "I haveseen him with these two eyes in a stricken fieldand never did man carryhimself better. Mon Dieu! yesye would not credit it to look at himor tohearken to his soft voicebut from the sailing from Orwell down to the foray toParisand that is clear twenty yearsthere was not a skirmishonfallsallybushmentescalado or battlebut Sir Nigel was in the heart of it. I go now toChristchurch with a letter to him from Sir Claude Latour to ask him if he willtake the place of Sir John Hawkwood; and there is the more chance that he willif I bring one or two likely men at my heels. What say youwoodman: wilt leavethe bucks to loose a shaft at a nobler mark?"

The forester shook his head. "I have wife and child at Emery Down"quoth he; "I would not leave them for such a venture."

Youthenyoung sir?" asked the archer.

"NayI am a man of peace" said Alleyne Edricson. "BesidesIhave other work to do."

"Peste!" growled the soldierstriking his flagon on the boarduntil the dishes danced again. "Whatin the name of the devilhath comeover the folk? Why sit ye all moping by the firesidelike crows round a deadhorsewhen there is man's work to be done within a few short leagues of ye? Outupon you allas a set of laggards and hang-backs! By my hilt I believe that themen of England are all in France alreadyand that what is left behind are insooth the women dressed up in their paltocks and hosen."

"Archer" quoth Hordle John"you have lied more than once andmore than twice; for whichand also because I see much in you to dislikeI amsorely tempted to lay you upon your back."

"By my hilt! thenI have found a man at last!" shouted the bowman."And'fore Godyou are a better man than I take you for if you can lay meon my backmon garcon. I have won the ram more times than there are toes to myfeetand for seven long years I have found no man in the Company who could makemy jerkin dusty."

"We have had enough bobance and boasting" said Hordle Johnrisingand throwing off his doublet. "I will show you that there are better menleft in England than ever went thieving to France."

"Pasques Dieu!" cried the archerloosening his jerkinand eyeinghis foeman over with the keen glance of one who is a judge of manhood. "Ihave only once before seen such a body of a man. By your leavemy red-headedfriendI should be right sorry to exchange buffets with you; and I will allowthat there is no man in the Company who would pull against you on a rope; so letthat be a salve to your pride. On the other hand I should judge that you haveled a life of ease for some months backand that my muscle is harder than yourown. I am ready to wager upon myself against you if you are not afeard."

"Afeardthou lurden!" growled big John. "I never saw the faceyet of the man that I was afeard of. Come outand we shall see who is thebetter man."

"But the wager?"

"I have nought to wager. Come out for the love and the lust of the thing."

"Nought to wager!" cried the soldier. "Whyyou have thatwhich I covet above all things. It is that big body of thine that I am after.Seenowmon garcon. I have a French feather-bed therewhich I have been atpains to keep these years back. I had it at the sacking of Issodumand the Kinghimself hath not such a bed. If you throw meit is thine; butif I throw youthen you are under a vow to take bow and bill and hie with me to Francethereto serve in the White Company as long as we be enrolled."

"A fair wager!" cried all the travellersmoving back their benchesand trestlesso as to give fair field for the wrestlers.

"Then you may bid farewell to your bedsoldier" said Hordle John.

"Nay; I shall keep the bedand I shall have you to France in spite ofyour teethand you shall live to thank me for it. How shall it bethenmonenfant? Collar and elbowor close-lockor catch how you can?"

"To the devil with your tricks" said Johnopening and shuttinghis great red hands. "Stand forthand let me clip thee."

"Shalt clip me as best you can then" quoth the archermoving outinto the open spaceand keeping a most wary eye upon his opponent. He hadthrown off his green jerkinand his chest was covered only by a pink silkjuponor undershirtcut low in the neck and sleeveless. Hordle John wasstripped from his waist upwardsand his huge bodywith his great musclesswelling out like the gnarled roots of an oaktowered high above the soldier.The otherhoweverthough near a foot shorterwas a man of great strength; andthere was a gloss upon his white skin which was wanting in the heavier limbs ofthe renegade monk. He was quick on his feettooand skilled at the game; sothat it was clearfrom the poise of head and shine of eyethat he counted thechances to be in his favor. It would have been hard that nightthrough thewhole length of Englandto set up a finer pair in face of each other.

Big John stood waiting in the centre with a sullenmenacing eyeand his redhair in a bristlewhile the archer paced lightly and swiftly to the right andthe left with crooked knee and hands advanced. Then with a sudden dashso swiftand fierce that the eye could scarce follow ithe flew in upon his man andlocked his leg round him. It was a grip thatbetween men of equal strengthwould mean a fall; but Hordle John tore him off from him as he might a ratandhurled him across the roomso that his head cracked up against the wooden wall.

"Ma foi!" cried the bowmanpassing his fingers through his curls"you were not far from the feather-bed thenmon gar. A little more andthis good hostel would have a new window."

Nothing dauntedhe approached his man once morebut this time with morecaution than before. With a quick feint he threw the other off his guardandthenbounding upon himthrew his legs round his waist and his arms round hisbull-neckin the hope of bearing him to the ground with the sudden shock. Witha bellow of rageHordle John squeezed him limp in his huge arms; and thenpicking him upcast him down upon the floor with a force which might well havesplintered a bone or twohad not the archer with the most perfect coolnessclung to the other's forearms to break his fall. As it washe dropped upon hisfeet and kept his balancethough it sent a jar through his frame which setevery joint a-creaking. He bounded back from his perilous foeman; but the otherheated by the boutrushed madly after himand so gave the practised wrestlerthe very vantage for which he had planned. As big John flung himself upon himthe archer ducked under the great red hands that clutched for himandcatchinghis man round the thighshurled him over his shoulder--helped as much by hisown mad rush as by the trained strength of the heave. To Alleyne's eyeit wasas if John had taken unto himself wings and flown. As he hurtled through theairwith giant limbs revolvingthe lad's heart was in his mouth; for surely noman ever yet had such a fall and came scathless out of it. In truthhardy asthe man washis neck had been assuredly broken had he not pitched head first onthe very midriff of the drunken artistwho was slumbering so peacefully in thecornerall unaware of these stirring doings. The luckless limnerthus suddenlybrought out from his dreamssat up with a piercing yellwhile Hordle Johnbounded back into the circle almost as rapidly as he had left it.

"One more fallby all the saints!" he criedthrowing out his arms.

"Not I" quoth the archerpulling on his clothes"I havecome well out of the business. I would sooner wrestle with the great bear ofNavarre."

"It was a trick" cried John.

"Aye was it. By my ten finger-bones! it is a trick that will add aproper man to the ranks of the Company."

"Ohfor that" said the other"I count it not a fly; for Ihad promised myself a good hour ago that I should go with theesince the lifeseems to be a goodly and proper one. Yet I would fain have had the feather-bed."

"I doubt it notmon ami" quoth the archergoing back to histankard. "Here is to theeladand may we be good comrades to each other!Buthola! what is it that ails our friend of the wrathful face?"

The unfortunate limner had been sitting up rubbing himself ruefully andstaring about with a vacant gazewhich showed that he knew neither where he wasnor what had occurred to him. Suddenlyhowevera flash of intelligence hadcome over his sodden featuresand he rose and staggered for the door. " 'Warethe ale!" he said in a hoarse whispershaking a warning finger at thecompany. "Ohholy Virgin'ware the ale!" and slapping his hands tohis injuryhe flitted off into the darknessamid a shout of laughterin whichthe vanquished joined as merrily as the victor. The remaining forester and thetwo laborers were also ready for the roadand the rest of the company turned tothe blankets which Dame Eliza and the maid had laid out for them upon the floor.Alleyneweary with the unwonted excitements of the daywas soon in a deepslumber broken only by fleeting visions of twittering legscursing beggarsblack robbersand the many strange folk whom he had met at the "PiedMerlin."

Chapter 7 - How The Three Comrades Journeyed Through The Woodlands

 


 

AT early dawn the country inn was all alivefor it was rare indeed that anhour of daylight would be wasted at a time when lighting was so scarce and dear.Indeedearly as it was when Dame Eliza began to stirit seemed that otherscould be earlier stillfor the door was ajarand the learned student ofCambridge had taken himself offwith a mind which was too intent upon the highthings of antiquity to stoop to consider the four- pence which he owed for bedand board. It was the shrill out-cry of the landlady when she found her lossand the clucking of the henswhich had streamed in through the open doorthatfirst broke in upon the slumbers of the tired wayfarers.

Once afootit was not long before the company began to disperse. A sleekmule with red trappings was brought round from some neighboring shed for thephysicianand he ambled away with much dignity upon his road to Southampton.The tooth-drawer and the gleeman called for a cup of small ale apieceandstarted off together for Ringwood fairthe old jongleur looking very yellow inthe eye and swollen in the face after his overnight potations. The archerhoweverwho had drunk more than any man in the roomwas as merry as a grigand having kissed the matron and chased the maid up the ladder once morehewent out to the brookand came back with the water dripping from his face andhair.

"Hola! my man of peace" he cried to Alleyne"whither are youbent this morning?"

"To Minstead" quoth he. "My brother Simon Edricson is socmanthereand I go to bide with him for a while. I prytheelet me have my scoregood dame."

"Scoreindeed!" cried shestanding with upraised hands in frontof the panel on which Alleyne had worked the night before. "Sayratherwhat it is that I owe to theegood youth. Ayethis is indeed a pied merlinand with a leveret under its clawsas I am a living woman. By the rood ofWaltham! but thy touch is deft and dainty."

"And see the red eye of it!" cried the maid.

"Ayeand the open beak."

"And the ruffled wing" added Hordle John.

"By my hilt!" cried the archer"it is the very bird itself."

The young clerk flushed with pleasure at this chorus of praiserude andindiscriminate indeedand yet so much heartier and less grudging than any whichhe had ever heard from the critical brother Jeromeor the short-spoken Abbot.There wasit would seemgreat kindness as well as great wickedness in thisworldof which he had heard so little that was good. His hostess would hearnothing of his paying either for bed or for boardwhile the archer and HordleJohn placed a hand upon either shoulder and led him off to the boardwhere somesmoking fisha dish of spinachand a jug of milk were laid out for theirbreakfast.

"I should not be surprised to learnmon camarade" said thesoldieras he heaped a slice of fish upon Alleyne's tranchoir of bread"thatyou could read written thingssince you are so ready with your brushes andpigments."

"It would be shame to the good brothers of Beaulieu if I could not"he answered"seeing that I have been their clerk this ten yearsback."

The bowman looked at him with great respect. "Think of that!" saidhe. "And you with not a hair to your faceand a skin like a girl. I canshoot three hundred and fifty paces with my little popper thereand fourhundred and twenty with the great war-bow; yet I can make nothing of thisnorread my own name if you were to set 'Sam Aylward' up against me. In the wholeCompany there was only one man who could readand he fell down a well at thetaking of Ventadourwhich proves what the thing is not suited to a soldierthough most needful to a clerk."

"I can make some show at it" said big John; "though I wasscarce long enough among the monks to catch the whole trick of it.

"Herethenis something to try upon" quoth the archerpulling asquare of parchment from the inside of his tunic. It was tied securely with abroad band of purple silkand firmly sealed at either end with a large red seal.John pored long and earnestly over the inscription upon the backwith his browsbent as one who bears up against great mental strain.

"Not having read much of late" he said"I am loth to say toomuch about what this may be. Some might say one thing and some anotherjust asone bowman loves the yewand a second will not shoot save with the ash. To meby the length and the look of itI should judge this to be a verse from one ofthe Psalms."

The bowman shook his head. "It is scarce likely" he said"thatSir Claude Latour should send me all the way across seas with nought moreweighty than a psalm-verse. You have clean overshot the butts this timemoncamarade. Give it to the little one. I will wager my feather-bed that he makesmore sense of it."

"Whyit is written in the French tongue" said Alleyne"andin a right clerkly hand. This is how it runs: 'A le moult puissant et moulthonorable chevalierSir Nigel Loring de Christchurchde son tres fidele amisSir Claude Latourcapitaine de la Compagnie blanchechatelain de Biscargrandseigneur de Montchateauvavaseurde le renomme GastonComte de Foixtenant lesdroits de la haute justicede la milieuet de la basse.' Which signifies inour speech: 'To the very powerful and very honorable knightSir Nigel Loring ofChristchurchfrom his very faithful friend Sir Claude Latourcaptain of theWhite Companychatelain of Biscargrand lord of Montchateau and vassal to therenowed GastonCount of Foixwho holds the rights of the high justicethemiddle and the low.' "

"Look at that now!" cried the bowman in triumph. "That is justwhat he would have said."

"I can see now that it is even so" said Johnexamining theparchment again. "Though I scarce understand this highmiddle and low."

"By my hilt! you would understand it if you were Jacques Bonhomme. Thelow justice means that you may fleece himand the middle that you may torturehimand the high that you may slay him. That is about the truth of it. But thisis the letter which I am to take; and since the platter is clean it is time thatwe trussed up and were afoot. You come with memon gros Jean; and as to youlittle onewhere did you say that you journeyed?"

"To Minstead."

"Ahyes. I know this forest country wellthough I was born myself inthe Hundred of Easebournein the Rape of Chichesterhard by the village ofMidhurst. Yet I have not a word to say against the Hampton menfor there are nobetter comrades or truer archers in the whole Company than some who learned toloose the string in these very parts. We shall travel round with you to Minsteadladseeing that it is little out of our way."

"I am ready" said Alleyneright pleased at the thought of suchcompany upon the road.

"So am not I. I must store my plunder at this innsince the hostess isan honest woman. Hola! ma cherieI wish to leave with you my gold-workmyvelvetmy silkmy feather bedmy incense-boatmy ewermy naping linenandall the rest of it. I take only the money in a linen bagand the box of rosecolored sugar which is a gift from my captain to the Lady Loring. Wilt guard mytreasure for me?"

"It shall be put in the safest loftgood archer. Come when you mayyoushall find it ready for you."

"Nowthere is a true friend!" cried the bowmantaking her hand."There is a bonne amie! English land and English womensay Iand Frenchwine and French plunder. I shall be back anonmon ange. I am a lonely manmysweetingand I must settle some day when the wars are over and done. Mayhap youand I----Ahmechantemechante! There is la petite peeping from behind the door.NowJohnthe sun is over the trees; you must be brisker than this when thebugleman blows 'Bows and Bills.' "

"I have been waiting this time back" said Hordle John gruffly.

"Then we must be off. Adieuma vie! The two livres shall settle thescore and buy some ribbons against the next kermesse. Do not forget Sam Aylwardfor his heart shall ever be thine alone--and thinema petite! Somarchonsandmay St. Julian grant us as good quarters elsewhere!"

The sun had risen over Ashurst and Denny woodsand was shining brightlythough the eastern wind had a sharp flavor to itand the leaves were flickeringthickly from the trees. In the High Street of Lyndhurst the wayfarers had topick their wayfor the little town was crowded with the guardsmengroomsandyeomen prickers who were attached to the King's hunt. The King himself wasstaying at Castle Malwoodbut several of his suite had been compelled to seeksuch quarters as they might find in the wooden or wattle-and-daub cottages ofthe village. Here and there a small escutcheonpeeping from a glassless windowmarked the night's lodging of knight or baron. These coats-of-arms could be readwhere a scroll would be meaninglessand the bowmanlike most men of his agewas well versed in the common symbols of heraldry.

"There is the Saracen's head of Sir Bernard Brocas" quoth he."I saw him last at the ruffle at Poictiers some ten years backwhen hebore himself like a man. He is the master of the King's horseand can sing aright jovial stavethough in that he cannot come nigh to Sir John Chandoswhois first at the board or in the saddle. Three martlets on a field azurethatmust be one of the Luttrells. By the crescent upon itit should be the secondson of old Sir Hughwho had a bolt through his ankle at the intaking ofRomorantinhe having rushed into the fray ere his squire had time to clasp hissolleret to his greave. There too is the hackle which is the old device of theDe Brays. I have served under Sir Thomas de Braywho was as jolly as a pieanda lusty swordsman until he got too fat for his harness."

So the archer gossiped as the three wayfarers threaded their way among thestamping horsesthe busy groomsand the knots of pages and squires whodisputed over the merits of their masters' horses and deerhounds. As they passedthe old churchwhich stood upon a mound at the left-hand side of the villagestreet the door was flung openand a stream of worshippers wound down thesloping pathcoming from the morning massall chattering like a cloud of jays.Alleyne bent knee and doffed hat at the sight of the open door; but ere he hadfinished an ave his comrades were out of sight round the curve of the pathandhe had to run to overtake them."

"What!" he said"not one word of prayer before God's own openhouse? How can ye hope for His blessing upon the day?"

"My friend" said Hordle John"I have prayed so much duringthe last two monthsnot only during the daybut at matinslaudsand the likewhen I could scarce keep my head upon my shoulders for noddingthat I feel thatI have somewhat over-prayed myself."

"How can a man have too much religion?" cried Alleyne earnestly."It is the one thing that availeth. A man is but a beast as he lives fromday to dayeating and drinkingbreathing and sleeping. It is only when heraises himselfand concerns himself with the immortal spirit within himthathe becomes in very truth a man. Bethink ye how sad a thing it would be that theblood of the Redeemer should be spilled to no purpose."

"Bless the ladif he doth not blush like any girland yet preach likethe whole College of Cardinals" cried the archer.

"In truth I blush that any one so weak and so unworthy as I should tryto teach another that which he finds it so passing hard to follow himself."

"Prettily saidmon garcon. Touching that same slaying of the Redeemerit was a bad business. A good padre in France read to us from a scroll the wholetruth of the matter. The soldiers came upon him in the garden. In truththeseApostles of His may have been holy menbut they were of no great account asmen-at- arms. There was oneindeedSir Peterwho smote out like a true man;butunless he is beliedhe did but clip a varlet's earwhich was no veryknightly deed. By these ten finger-bones! had I been there with Black Simon ofNorwichand but one score picked men of the Companywe had held them in play.Could we do no morewe had at least filled the false knightSir Judasso fullof English arrows that he would curse the day that ever he came on such anerrand."

The young clerk smiled at his companion's earnestness. "Had He wishedhelp" he said"He could have summoned legions of archangels fromheavenso what need had He of your poor bow and arrow? Besidesbethink you ofHis own words--that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword."

"And how could man die better?" asked the archer. "If I had mywishit would be to fall so--notmark youin any mere skirmish of theCompanybut in a stricken fieldwith the great lion banner waving over us andthe red oriflamme in frontamid the shouting of my fellows and the twanging ofthe strings. But let it be swordlanceor bolt that strikes me down: for Ishould think it shame to die from an iron ball from the hre-crake or bombard orany such unsoldierly weaponwhich is only fitted to scare babes with itsfoolish noise and smoke."

"I have heard much even in the quiet cloisters of these new and dreadfulengines" quoth Alleyne. "It is saidthough I can scarce bring myselfto believe itthat they will send a ball twice as far as a bowman can shoot hisshaftand with such force as to break through armor of proof."

"True enoughmy lad. But while the armorer is thrusting in his devil's-dustand dropping his balland lighting his flambeauI can very easily loose sixshaftsor eight maybeso he hath no great vantage after all. Yet I will notdeny that at the intaking of a town it is well to have good store of bombards. Iam told that at Calais they made dints in the wall that a man might put his headinto. But surelycomradessome one who is grievously hurt hath passed alongthis road before us."

All along the woodland track there did indeed run a scattered stragglingtrail of blood-markssometimes in single dropsand in other places in broadruddy goutssmudged over the dead leaves or crimsoning the white flint stones.

"It must be a stricken deer" said John.

"NayI am woodman enough to see that no deer hath passed this way thismorning; and yet the blood is fresh. But hark to the sound!"

They stood listening all three with sidelong heads. Through the silence ofthe great forest there came a swishingwhistling soundmingled with the mostdolorous groansand the voice of a man raised in a high quavering kind of song.The comrades hurried onwards eagerlyand topping the brow of a small risingthey saw upon the other side the source from which these strange noises arose.

A tall manmuch stooped in the shoulderswas walking slowly with bendedhead and clasped hands in the centre of the path. He was dressed from head tofoot in a long white linen clothand a high white cap with a red cross printedupon it. His gown was turned back from his shouldersand the flesh there was asight to make a man wincefor it was all beaten to a pulpand the blood wassoaking into his gown and trickling down upon the ground. Behind him walked asmaller man with his hair touched with graywho was clad in the same white garb.He intoned a long whining rhyme in the French tongueand at the end of everyline he raised a thick cordall jagged with pellets of leadand smote hiscompanion across the shoulders until the blood spurted again. Even as the threewayfarers staredhoweverthere was a sudden changefor the smaller manhaving finished his songloosened his own gown and handed the scourge to theotherwho took up the stave once more and lashed his companion with all thestrength of his bare and sinewy arm. Soalternately beating and beatentheymade their dolorous way through the beautiful woods and under the amber archesof the fading beech-treeswhere the calm strength and majesty of Nature mightserve to rebuke the foolish energies and misspent strivings of mankind.

Such a spectacle was new to Hordle John or to Alleyne Edricson; but thearcher treated it lightlyas a common matter enough.

"These are the Beating Friarsotherwise called the Flagellants"quoth he. "I marvel that ye should have come upon none of them beforeforacross the water they are as common as gallybaggers. I have heard that there areno English among thembut that they are from FranceItaly and Bohemia. Enavantcamarades! that we may have speech with them."

As they came up to themAlleyne could hear the doleful dirge which thebeater was chantingbringing down his heavy whip at the end of each linewhilethe groans of the sufferer formed a sort of dismal chorus. It was in old Frenchand ran somewhat in this way:

Or avantentre nous tous freres Battons nos charognes bien fort Enremembrant la grant misere De Dieu et sa piteuse mort Qui fut pris en la gentamere Et vendus et traia a tort Et bastu sa chairvierge et dere Au nom de sebattons plus fort.

Then at the end of the verse the scourge changed hands and the chanting begananew.

"Trulyholy fathers" said the archer in French as they cameabreast of them"you have beaten enough for to-day. The road is allspotted like a shambles at Martinmas. Why should ye mishandle yourselves thus?"

"C'est pour vos peches--pour vos peches" they dronedlooking atthe travellers with sad lack-lustre eyesand then bent to their bloody workonce more without heed to the prayers and persuasions which were addressed tothem. Finding all remonstrance uselessthe three comrades hastened on theirwayleaving these strange travellers to their dreary task.

"Mort Dieu!" cried the bowman"there is a bucketful or moreof my blood over in Francebut it was all spilled in hot fightand I shouldthink twice before I drew it drop by drop as these friars are doing. By my hilt!our young one here is as white as a Picardy cheese. What is amiss thenmon cher?"

"It is nothing" Alleyne answered. "My life has been too quietI am not used to such sights."

"Ma foi!" the other cried"I have never yet seen a man whowas so stout of speech and yet so weak of heart."

"Not sofriend" quoth big John; "it is not weakness of heartfor I know the lad well. His heart is as good as thine or mine but he hath morein his pate than ever you will carry under that tin pot of thineand as aconsequence he can see farther into thingsso that they weigh upon himmore."

"Surely to any man it is a sad sight" said Alleyne"to seethese holy menwho have done no sin themselvessuffering so for the sins ofothers. Saints are theyif in this age any may merit so high a name."

"I count them not a fly" cried Hordle John; "for who is thebetter for all their whipping and yowling? They are like other friarsI trowwhen all is done. Let them leave their backs aloneand beat the pride out oftheir hearts."

"By the three kings! there is sooth in what you say" remarked thearcher. "Besidesmethinks if I were le bon Dieuit would bring me littlejoy to see a poor devil cutting the flesh off his bones; and I should think thathe had but a small opinion of methat he should hope to please me by suchprovost-marshal work. Noby my hilt! I should look with a more loving eye upona jolly archer who never harmed a fallen foe and never feared a hale one."

"Doubtless you mean no sin" said Alleyne. "If your words arewildit is not for me to judge them. Can you not see that there are other foesin this world besides Frenchmenand as much glory to be gained in conqueringthem? Would it not be a proud day for knight or squire if he could overthrowseven adversaries in the lists? Yet here are we in the lists of lifeand therecome the seven black champions against us Sir PrideSir CovetousnessSir LustSir AngerSir GluttonySir Envyand Sir Sloth. Let a man lay those seven lowand he shall have the prize of the dayfrom the hands of the fairest queen ofbeautyeven from the Virgin-Mother herself. It is for this that these menmortify their fleshand to set us an examplewho would pamper ourselvesovermuch. I say again that they are God's own saintsand I bow my head to them."

"And so you shallmon petit" replied the archer. "I have notheard a man speak better since old Dom Bertrand diedwho was at one timechaplain to the White Company. He was a very valiant manbut at the battle ofBrignais he was spitted through the body by a Hainault man-at-arms. For this wehad an excommunication read against the manwhen next we saw our holy father atAvignon; but as we had not his nameand knew nothing of himsave that he rodea dapple-gray roussinI have feared sometimes that the blight may have settledupon the wrong man."

"Your Company has beenthento bow knee before our holy fatherthePope Urbanthe prop and centre of Christendom?" asked Alleynemuchinterested. "Perchance you have yourself set eyes upon his augustface?"

"Twice I saw him" said the archer. "He was a lean little ratof a manwith a scab on his chin. The first time we had five thousand crownsout of himthough he made much ado about it. The second time we asked tenthousandbut it was three days before we could come to termsand I am ofopinion myself that we might have done better by plundering the palace. Hischamberlain and cardinals came forthas I rememberto ask whether we wouldtake seven thousand crowns with his blessing and a plenary absolutionor theten thousand with his solemn ban by bellbook and candle. We were all of onemind that it was best to have the ten thousand with the curse; but in some waythey prevailed upon Sir Johnso that we were blest and shriven against our will.Perchance it is as wellfor the Company were in need of it about thattime."

The pious Alleyne was deeply shocked by this reminiscence. Involuntarily heglanced up and around to see if there were any trace of those opportunelevin-flashes and thunderbolts whichin the "Acta Sanctorum" werewont so often to cut short the loose talk of the scoffer. The autumn sunstreamed down as brightly as everand the peaceful red path still wound infront of them through the rustlingyellow-tinted forestNature seemed to betoo busy with her own concerns to heed the dignity of an outraged pontiff. Yethe felt a sense of weight and reproach within his breastas though he hadsinned himself in giving ear to such words. The teachings of twenty years criedout against such license. It was not until he had thrown himself down before oneof the many wayside crossesand had prayed from his heart both for the archerand for himselfthat the dark cloud rolled back again from his spirit.

Chapter 8 - The Three Friends

 


 

HIS companions had passed on whilst he was at his orisons; but his youngblood and the fresh morning air both invited him to a scamper. His staff in onehand and his scrip in the otherwith springy step and floating lockshe racedalong the forest pathas active and as graceful as a young deer. He had not farto gohowever; foron turning a cornerhe came on a roadside cottage with awooden fence-work around itwhere stood big John and Aylward the bowmanstaring at something within. As he came up with themhe saw that two littleladsthe one about nine years of age and the other somewhat olderwerestanding on the plot in front of the cottageeach holding out a round stick intheir left handswith their arms stiff and straight from the shoulderassilent and still as two small statues. They were prettyblue-eyedyellow-haired ladswell made and sturdywith bronzed skinswhich spoke of awoodland life.

"Here are young chips from an old bow stave!" cried the soldier ingreat delight. "This is the proper way to raise children. By my hilt! Icould not have trained them better had I the ordering of it myself"

"What is it then?" asked Hordle John. "They stand very stiffand I trust that they have not been struck so."

"Naythey are training their left armsthat they may have a steadygrasp of the bow. So my own father trained me. and six days a week I held outhis walking-staff till my arm was heavy as lead. Holames enfants! how longwill you hold out?"

"Until the sun is over the great lime-treegood master" the elderanswered.

What would ye bethen? Woodmen? Verderers?"

Naysoldiers" they cried both together.

"By the beard of my father! but ye are whelps of the true breed. Why sokeenthento be soldiers?"

"That we may fight the Scots" they answered. "Daddy will sendus to fight the Scots."

"And why the Scotsmy pretty lads? We have seen French and Spanishgalleys no further away than Southamptonbut I doubt that it will be some timebefore the Scots find their way to these parts."

"Our business is with the Scots" quoth the elder; "for it wasthe Scots who cut off daddy's string fingers and his thumbs."

"Ayeladsit was that" said a deep voice from behind Alleyne'sshoulder. Looking roundthe wayfarers saw a gauntbig-boned manwith sunkencheeks and a sallow facewho had come up behind them. He held up his two handsas he spokeand showed that the thumbs and two first fingers had been torn awayfrom each of them.

"Ma foicamarade!" cried Aylward. "Who hath served thee in soshameful a fashion?"

"It is easy to seefriendthat you were born far from the marches ofScotland" quoth the strangerwith a bitter smile. "North of Humberthere is no man who would not know the handiwork of Devil Douglasthe blackLord James."

"And how fell you into his hands?" asked John.

"I am a man of the north countryfrom the town of Beverley and thewapentake of Holderness" he answered. "There was a day whenfromTrent to Tweedthere was no better marksman than Robin Heathcot. Yetas youseehe hath left meas he hath left many another poor border archerwith nogrip for bill or bow. Yet the king hath given me a living here in the southlandsand please God these two lads of mine will pay off a debt that hath been owingover long. What is the price of daddy's thumbsboys?"

"Twenty Scottish lives" they answered together.

"And for the fingers?"

"Half a score."

"When they can bend my war-bowand bring down a squirrel at a hundredpacesI send them to take service under Johnny Copelandthe Lord of theMarches and Governor of Carlisle. By my soul! I would give the rest of myfingers to see the Douglas within arrow-flight of them."

"May you live to see it" quoth the bowman. "And hark yemesenfantstake an old soldier's rede and lay your bodies to the bowdrawing fromhip and thigh as much as from arm. Learn alsoI pray youto shoot with adropping shaft; for though a bowman may at times be called upon to shootstraight and fastyet it is more often that he has to do with a town-guardbehind a wallor an arbalestier with his mantlet raised when you cannot hope todo him scathe unless your shaft fall straight upon him from the clouds. I havenot drawn string for two weeksbut I may be able to show ye how such shotsshould be made." He loosened his long-bowslung his quiver round to thefrontand then glanced keenly round for a fitting mark. There was a yellow andwithered stump some way offseen under the drooping branches of a lofty oak.The archer measured the distance with his eye; and thendrawing three shaftshe shot them off with such speed that the first had not reached the mark ere thelast was on the string. Each arrow passed high over the oak; andof the threetwo stuck fair into the stump; while the thirdcaught in some wandering puff ofwindwas driven a foot or two to one side.

"Good!" cried the north countryman. "Hearken to him lads! Heis a master bowmanYour dad says amen to every word he says."

"By my hilt!" said Aylward"if I am to preach on bowmanshipthe whole long day would scarce give me time for my sermon. We have marksmen inthe Company who will knotch with a shaft every crevice and joint of aman-at-arm's harnessfrom the clasp of his bassinet to the hinge of his greave.Butwith your favorfriendI must gather my arrows againfor while a shaftcosts a penny a poor man can scarce leave them sticking in wayside stumps. Wemustthenon our road againand I hope from my heart that you may train thesetwo young goshawks here until they are ready for a cast even at such a quarry asyou speak of."

Leaving the thumbless archer and his broodthe wayfarers struck through thescattered huts of Emery Downand out on to the broad rolling heath covered deepin ferns and in heatherwhere droves of the half-wild black forest pigs wererooting about amongst the hillocks. The woods about this point fall away to theleft and the rightwhile the road curves upwards and the wind sweeps keenlyover the swelling uplands. The broad strips of bracken glowed red and yellowagainst the black peaty soiland a queenly doe who grazed among them turned herwhite front and her great questioning eyes towards the wayfarers.

Alleyne gazed in admiration at the supple beauty of the creature; but thearcher's fingers played with his quiverand his eyes glistened with the fellinstinct which urges a man to slaughter.

"Tete Dieu!" he growled"were this Franceor even Guiennewe should have a fresh haunch for our none-meat. Law or no lawI have a mind toloose a bolt at her."

"I would break your stave across my knee first" cried Johnlayinghis great hand upon the bow. "What! manI am forest- bornand I know whatcomes of it. In our own township of Hordle two have lost their eyes and one hisskin for this very thing. On my trothI felt no great love when I first saw youbut since then I have conceived over much regard for you to wish to see theverderer's flayer at work upon you."

"It is my trade to risk my skin" growled the archer; but none theless he thrust his quiver over his hip again and turned his face for the west.

As they advancedthe path still tended upwardsrunning from heath intocopses of holly and yewand so back into heath again. It was joyful to hear themerry whistle of blackbirds as they darted from one clump of greenery to theother. Now and again a peaty amber colored stream rippled across their waywithferny over-grown bankswhere the blue kingfisher flitted busily from side tosideor the gray and pensive heronswollen with trout and dignitystoodankle-deep among the sedges. Chattering jays and loud wood-pigeons flappedthickly overheadwhile ever and anon the measured tapping of Nature's carpenterthe great green woodpeckersounded from each wayside grove. On either sideasthe path mountedthe long sweep of country broadened and expandedsloping downon the one side through yellow forest and brown moor to the distant smoke ofLymington and the blue misty channel which lay alongside the sky-linewhile tothe north the woods rolled awaygrove topping groveto where in the furthestdistance the white spire of Salisbury stood out hard and clear against thecloudless sky. To Alleyne whose days had been spent in the low-lying coastlandthe eager upland air and the wide free country-side gave a sense of life and ofthe joy of living which made his young blood tingle in his veins. Even the heavyJohn was not unmoved by the beauty of their roadwhile the bowman whistledlustily or sang snatches of French love songs in a voice which might have scaredthe most stout-hearted maiden that ever hearkened to serenade.

"I have a liking for that north countryman" he remarked presently."He hath good power of hatred. Couldst see by his cheek and eye that he isas bitter as verjuice. I warm to a man who hath some gall in his liver."

"Ah me!" sighed Alleyne. "Would it not be better if he hadsome love in his heart?"

"I would not say nay to that. By my hilt! I shall never be said to betraitor to the little king. Let a man love the sex. Pasques Dieu! they are madeto be lovedles petitesfrom whimple down to shoe-string! I am right gladmongarconto see that the good monks have trained thee so wisely and so well."

"NayI meant not worldly lovebut rather that his heart should softentowards those who have wronged him."

The archer shook his head. "A man should love those of his own breed"said he. "But it is not nature that an English-born man should love a Scotor a Frenchman. Ma foi! you have not seen a drove of Nithsdale raiders on theirGalloway nagsor you would not speak of loving them. I would as soon takeBeelzebub himself to my arms. I fearmon gar.that they have taught thee butbadly at Beaulieufor surely a bishop knows more of what is right and what isill than an abbot can doand I myself with these very eyes saw the Bishop ofLincoln hew into a Scottish hobeler with a battle-axewhich was a passingstrange way of showing him that he loved him."

Alleyne scarce saw his way to argue in the face of so decided an opinion onthe part of a high dignitary of the Church. "You have borne arms againstthe Scotsthen?" he asked.

"WhymanI first loosed string in battle when I was but a ladyoungerby two years than youat Neville's Crossunder the Lord Mowbray. LaterIserved under the Warden of Berwickthat very John Copeland of whom our friendspakethe same who held the King of Scots to ransom. Ma foi! it is roughsoldieringand a good school for one who would learn to be hardy and war-wise."

"I have heard that the Scots are good men of war" said Hordle John.

"For axemen and for spearmen I have not seen their match" thearcher answered. "They can traveltoowith bag of meal and gridiron slungto their sword-beltso that it is ill to follow them. There are scant crops andfew beeves in the borderlandwhere a man must reap his grain with sickle in onefist and brown bill in the other. On the other handthey are the sorriestarchers that I have ever seenand cannot so much as aim with the arbalesttosay nought of the long-bow. Againthey are mostly poor folkeven the noblesamong themso that there are few who can buy as good a brigandine of chain-mailas that which I am wearingand it is ill for them to stand up against our ownknightswho carry the price of five Scotch farms upon their chest and shoulders.Man for manwith equal weaponsthey are as worthy and valiant men as could befound in the whole of Christendom."

"And the French?" asked Alleyneto whom the archer's light gossiphad all the relish that the words of the man of action have for the recluse.

"The French are also very worthy men. We have had great good fortune inFranceand it hath led to much bobance and camp-fire talkbut I have evernoticed that those who know the most have the least to say about it. I have seenFrenchmen fight both in open fieldin the intaking and the defending of townsor castlewicksin escaladoscamisadesnight foraysbushmentssalliesoutfallsand knightly spear-runnings. Their knights and squiresladare everywhit as good as oursand I could pick out a score of those who ride behind DuGuesclin who would hold the lists with sharpened lances against the best men inthe army of England. On the other handtheir common folk are so crushed downwith gabelleand poll-taxand every manner of cursed tallagethat the spirithas passed right out of them. It is a fool's plan to teach a man to be a cur inpeaceand think that he will be a lion in war. Fleece them like sheep and sheepthey will remain. If the nobles had not conquered the poor folk it is likeenough that we should not have conquered the nobles."

"But they must be sorry folk to bow down to the rich in such afashion" said big John. "I am but a poor commoner of England myselfand yet I know something of chartersliberties franchisesusagesprivilegescustomsand the like. If these be brokenthen all men know that it is time tobuy arrow-heads."

"Ayebut the men of the law are strong in France as well as the men ofwar. By my hilt! I hold that a man has more to fear there from the ink-pot ofthe one than from the iron of the other. There is ever some cursed sheepskin intheir strong boxes to prove that the rich man should be richer and the poor manpoorer. It would scarce pass in Englandbut they are quiet folk over thewater."

"And what other nations have you seen in your travelsgood sir?"asked Alleyne Edricson. His young mind hungered for plain facts of lifeafterthe long course of speculation and of mysticism on which he had been trained.

"I have seen the low countryman in armsand I have nought to sayagainst him. Heavy and slow is he by natureand is not to be brought intobattle for the sake of a lady's eyelash or the twang of a minstrel's stringlike the hotter blood of the south.

But ma foi! lay hand on his wool-balesor trifle with his velvet of Brugesand out buzzes every stout burgherlike bees from the tee-holeready to lay onas though it were his one business in life. By our lady! they have shown theFrench at Courtrai and elsewhere that they are as deft in wielding steel as inwelding it."

"And the men of Spain?"

"They too are very hardy soldiersthe more so as for many hundred yearsthey have had to fight hard against the cursed followers of the black Mahoundwho have pressed upon them from the southand stillas I understandhold thefairer half of the country. I had a turn with them upon the sea when they cameover to Winchelsea and the good queen with her ladies sat upon the cliffslooking down at usas if it had been joust or tourney. By my hilt! it was asight that was worth the seeingfor all that was best in England was out on thewater that day. We went Forth in little ships and came back in greatgalleys--for of fifty tall ships of Spainover two score flewthe Cross of St.George ere the sun had set. But nowyoungsterI have answered you freelyandI trow it is time what you answered me. Let things be plat and plain between us.I am a man who shoots straight at his mark. You saw the things I had with me atyonder hostel: name which you willsave only the box of rose-colored sugarwhich I take to the Lady Loringand you shall have it if you will but come withme to France."

"Nay" said Alleyne"I would gladly come with ye to France orwhere else ye willjust to list to your talkand because ye are the only twofriends that I have in the whole wide world outside of the cloisters; butindeedit may not befor my duty is towards my brotherseeing that father andmother are deadand he my elder. Besideswhen ye talk of taking me to Franceye do not conceive how useless I should be to youseeing that neither bytraining nor by nature am I fitted for the warsand there seems to be noughtbut strife in those parts."

"That comes from my fool's talk" cried the archer; "for beinga man of no learning myselfmy tongue turns to blades and targetseven as myhand does. Know then that for every parchment in England there are twenty inFrance. For every statuecut gemshrinecarven screenor what else mightplease the eye of a learned clerkthere are a good hundred to our one. At thespoiling of Carcasonne I have seen chambers stored with writingthough not oneman in our Company could read them. Againin Arlis and Nimesand other townsthat I could namethere are the great arches and fortalices still standingwhich were built of old by giant men who came from the south. Can I not see byyour brightened eye how you would love to look upon these things? Come then withmeandby these ten finger-bones! there is not one of them which you shall notsee."

"I should indeed love to look upon them" Alleyne answered; "butI have come from Beaulieu for a purposeand I must be true to my serviceevenas thou art true to thine."

"Bethink you againmon ami" quoth Aylward"that you mightdo much good yondersince there are three hundred men in the Companyand nonewho has ever a word of grace for themand yet the Virgin knows that there wasnever a set of men who were in more need of it. Sickerly the one duty maybalance the other. Your brother hath done without you this many a yearandasI gatherhe hath never walked as far as Beaulieu to see you during all thattimeso he cannot be in any great need of you."

"Besides" said John"the Socman of Minstead is a by-wordthrough the forestfrom Bramshaw Hill to Holmesley Walk. He is a drunkenbrawlingperilous churlas you may find to your cost."

"The more reason that I should strive to mend him" quoth Alleyne."There is no need to urge mefriendsfor my own wishes would draw me toFranceand it would be a joy to me if I could go with you. But indeed andindeed it cannot beso here I take my leave of youfor yonder square toweramongst the trees upon the right must surely be the church of Minsteadand Imay reach it by this path through the woods."

"WellGod be with theelad!" cried the archerpressing Alleyneto his heart. "I am quick to loveand quick to hate and 'fore God I amloth to part."

"Would it not be well" said John"that we should wait hereand see what manner of greeting you have from your brother. You may prove to beas welcome as the king's purveyor to the village dame."

"Naynay" he answered; "ye must not bide for mefor where Igo I stay."

"Yet it may be as well that you should know whither we go" saidthe archer. "We shall now journey south through the woods until we come outupon the Christchurch roadand so onwardshoping to-night to reach the castleof Sir William MontacuteEarl of Salisburyof which Sir Nigel Loring isconstable. There we shall bideand it is like enough that for a month or moreyou may find us thereere we are ready for our viage back to France."

It was hard indeed for Alleyne to break away from these two new but heartyfriendsand so strong was the combat between his conscience and hisinclinations that he dared not look roundlest his resolution should slip awayfrom him. It was not until he was deep among the tree trunks that he cast aglance backwardswhen he found that he could still see them through thebranches on the road above him. The archer was standing with folded armshisbow jutting from over his shoulderand the sun gleaming brightly upon hishead-piece and the links of his chain-mail. Beside him stood his giant recruitstill clad in the home-spun and ill-fitting garments of the fuller of Lymingtonwith arms and legs shooting out of his scanty garb. Even as Alleyne watched themthey turned upon their heels and plodded off together upon their way

Chapter 9 - How Strange Things Befell In Minstead Wood

 


 

THE path which the young clerk had now to follow lay through a magnificentforest of the very heaviest timberwhere the giant bowls of oak and of beechformed long aisles in every directionshooting up their huge branches to buildthe majestic arches of Nature's own cathedral. Beneath lay a broad carpet of thesoftest and greenest mossflecked over with fallen leavesbut yieldingpleasantly to the foot of the traveller. The track which guided him was one soseldom used that in places it lost itself entirely among the grassto reappearas a reddish rut between the distant tree trunks. It was very still here in theheart of the woodlands. The gentle rustle of the branches and the distant cooingof pigeons were the only sounds which broke in upon the silencesave that onceAlleyne heard afar off a merry call upon a hunting bugle and the shrill yappingof the hounds.

It was not without some emotion that he looked upon the scene around himforin spite of his secluded lifehe knew enough of the ancient greatness of hisown family to be aware that the time had been when they had held undisputed andparamount sway over all that tract of country. His father could trace his pureSaxon lineage back to that Godfrey Malf who had held the manors of Bisterne andof Minstead at the time when the Norman first set mailed foot upon English soil.The afforestation of the districthoweverand its conversion into a royaldemesne had clipped off a large section of his estatewhile other parts hadbeen confiscated as a punishment for his supposed complicity in an abortiveSaxon rising. The fate of the ancestor had been typical of that of hisdescendants. During three hundred years their domains had gradually contractedsometimes through royal or feudal encroachmentand sometimes through such giftsto the Church as that with which Alleyne's father had opened the doors ofBeaulieu Abbey to his younger son. The importance of the family had thusdwindledbut they still retained the old Saxon manor-housewith a couple offarms and a grove large enough to afford pannage to a hundred pigs--"sylvade centum porcis" as the old family parchments describe it. Above alltheowner of the soil could still hold his head high as the veritable Socman ofMinstead--that isas holding the land in free socagewith no feudal superiorand answerable to no man lower than the king. Knowing thisAlleyne felt somelittle glow of worldly pride as he looked for the first time upon the land withwhich so many generations of his ancestors had been associated. He pushed on thequickertwirling his staff merrilyand looking out at every turn of the pathfor some sign of the old Saxon residence. He was suddenly arrestedhoweverbythe appearance of a wild- looking fellow armed with a clubwho sprang out frombehind a tree and barred his passage. He was a roughpowerful peasantwith capand tunic of untanned sheepskinleather breechesand galligaskins round legsand feet.

"Stand!" he shoutedraising his heavy cudgel to enforce the order."Who are you who walk so freely through the wood? Whither would you goandwhat is your errand?"

"Why should I answer your questionsmy friend?" said Alleynestanding on his guard.

"Because your tongue may save your pate. But where have I looked uponyour face before?"

"No longer ago than last night at the 'Pied Merlin' " the clerkansweredrecognizing the escaped serf who had been so outspoken as to hiswrongs.

"By the Virgin! yes. You were the little clerk who sat so mum in thecornerand then cried fy on the gleeman. What hast in the scrip?"

"Naught of any price."

"How can I tell thatclerk? Let me see."

"Not I."

"Fool! I could pull you limb from limb like a pullet. What would youhave? Hast forgot that we are alone far from all men? How can your clerkshiphelp you? Wouldst lose scrip and life too?"

"I will part with neither without fight."

"A fightquotha? A fight betwixt spurred cock and new hatched chicken!Thy fighting days may soon be over."

"Hadst asked me in the name of charity I would have given freely"cried Alleyne. "As it standsnot one farthing shall you have with my freewilland when I see my brother. the Socman of Minsteadhe will raise hue andcry from vill to villfrom hundred to hundreduntil you are taken as a commonrobber and a scourge to the country."

The outlaw sank his club. "The Socman's brother!" he gasped. "Nowby the keys of Peter! I had rather that hand withered and tongue was palsied ereI had struck or miscalled you. If you are the Socman's brother you are one ofthe right sideI warrantfor all your clerkly dress."

"His brother I am" said Alleyne. "But if I were notis thatreason why you should molest me on the king's ground?"

"I give not the pip of an apple for king or for noble" cried theserf passionately. "Ill have I had from themand ill I shall repay them. Iam a good friend to my friendsandby the Virgin! an evil foeman to my foes."

And therefore the worst of foemen to thyself" said Alleyne. "But Ipray yousince you seem to know himto point out to me the shortest path to mybrother's house."

The serf was about to replywhen the clear ringing call of a bugle burstfrom the wood close behind themand Alleyne caught sight for an instant of thedun side and white breast of a lordly stag glancing swiftly betwixt the distanttree trunks. A minute later came the shaggy deer-houndsa dozen or fourteen ofthemrunning on a hot scentwith nose to earth and tail in air. As theystreamed past the silent forest around broke suddenly into loud lifewithgalloping of hoofscrackling of brushwoodand the shortsharp cries of thehunters. Close behind the pack rode a fourrier and a yeoman-prickerwhooping onthe laggards and encouraging the leadersin the shrill half-French jargon whichwas the language of venery and woodcraft. Alleyne was still gazing after themlistening to the loud "Hyke-a-Bayard! Hyke-a-Pomers! Hyke-a-Lebryt!"with which they called upon their favorite houndswhen a group of horsemencrashed out through the underwood at the very spot where the serf and he werestanding.

The one who led was a man between fifty and sixty years of agewar-worn andweather-beatenwith a broadthoughtful forehead and eyes which shone brightlyfrom under his fierce and overhung browsHis beardstreaked thickly with graybristled forward from his chinand spoke of a passionate naturewhile thelongfinely cut face and firm mouth marked the leader of men. His figure waserect and soldierlyand he rode his horse with the careless grace of a manwhose life had been spent in the saddle. In common garbhis masterful face andflashing eye would have marked him as one who was born to rule; but nowwithhis silken tunic powdered with golden fleurs-de-lishis velvet mantle linedwith the royal mineverand the lions of England stamped in silver upon hisharnessnone could fail to recognize the noble Edwardmost warlike andpowerful of all the long line of fighting monarchs who had ruled theAnglo-Norman race. Alleyne doffed hat and bowed head at the sight of himbutthe serf folded his hands and leaned them upon his cudgellooking with littlelove at the knot of nobles and knights-in-waiting who rode behind the king.

"Ha!" cried Edwardreining up for an instant his powerful blacksteed. "Le cerf est passe? Non? IciBrocas; tu parles Anglais."

"The deerclowns?" said a hard-visagedswarthy-faced manwhorode at the king's elbow. "If ye have headed it back it is as much as yourears are worth."

"It passed by the blighted beech there" said Alleynepointing"and the hounds were hard at its heels."

"It is well" cried Edwardstill speaking in French: forthoughhe could understand Englishhe had never learned to express himself in sobarbarous and unpolished a tongue. "By my faithsirs" he continuedhalf turning in his saddle to address his escort"unless my woodcraft issadly at faultit is a stag of six tines and the finest that we have rousedthis journey. A golden St. Hubert to the man who is the first to sound the mort."

He shook his bridle as he spokeand thundered awayhis knights lying lowupon their horses and galloping as hard as whip and spur would drive theminthe hope of winning the king's prize. Away they drove down the long greenglade--bay horsesblack and grayriders clad in every shade of velvetfurorsilkwith glint of brazen horn and flash of knife and spear. One only lingeredthe black-browed Baron Brocaswhomaking a gambade which brought him withinarm-sweep of the serfslashed him across the face with his riding-whip. "Doffdogdoff" he hissed"when a monarch deigns to lower his eyes tosuch as you!"--then spurred through the underwood and was gonewith agleam of steel shoes and flutter of dead leaves.

The villein took the cruel blow without wince or cryas one to whom stripesare a birthright and an inheritance. His eyes flashedhoweverand he shook hisbony hand with a fierce wild gesture after the retreating figure.

"Black hound of Gascony" he muttered"evil the day that youand those like you set foot in free England! I know thy kennel of Rochecourt.The night will come when I may do to thee and thine what you and your class havewrought upon mine and me. May God smite me if I fail to smite theethou Frenchrobberwith thy wife and thy child and all that is under thy castle roof!"

"Forbear!" cried Alleyne. "Mix not God's name with theseunhallowed threats! And yet it was a coward's blowand one to stir the bloodand loose the tongue of the most peaceful. Let me find some soothing simples andlay them on the weal to draw the sting"

"Naythere is but one thing that can draw the stingand that thefuture may bring to me. Butclerkif you would see your brother you must onfor there is a meeting to-dayand his merry men will await him ere the shadowsturn from west to east. I pray you not to hold him backfor it would be an evilthing if all the stout lads were there and the leader a-missing. I would comewith youbut sooth to say I am stationed here and may not move. The path overyonderbetwixt the oak and the thornshould bring you out into his netherfield."

Alleyne lost no time in following the directions of the wildmasterless manwhom he left among the trees where he had found him. His heart was the heavierfor the encounternot only because all bitterness and wrath were abhorrent tohis gentle naturebut also because it disturbed him to hear his brother spokenof as though he were a chief of outlaws or the leader of a party against thestate. Indeedof all the things which he had seen yet in the world to surprisehim there was none more strange than the hate which class appeared to bear toclass. The talk of laborerwoodman and villein in the inn had all pointed tothe wide-spread mutinyand now his brother's name was spoken as though he werethe very centre of the universal discontent. In good truththe commonsthroughout the length and breadth of the land were heart-weary of this fine gameof chivalry which had been played so long at their expense. So long as knightand baron were a strength and a guard to the kingdom they might be enduredbutnowwhen all men knew that the great battles in France had been won by Englishyeomen and Welsh stabberswarlike famethe only fame to which his class hadever aspiredappeared to have deserted the plate-clad horsemen. The sports ofthe lists had done much in days gone by to impress the minds of the peoplebutthe plumed and unwieldy champion was no longer an object either of fear or ofreverence to men whose fathers and brothers had shot into the press at Crecy orPoitiersand seen the proudest chivalry in the world unable to make headagainst the weapons of disciplined peasants. Power had changed hands. Theprotector had become the protectedand the whole fabric of the feudal systemwas tottering to a fall. Hence the fierce mutterings of the lower classes andthe constant discontentbreaking out into local tumult and outrageandculminating some years later in the great rising of Tyler. What Alleyne saw andwondered at in Hampshire would have appealed equally to the traveller in anyother English county from the Channel to the marches of Scotland

He was following the trackhis misgivings increasing with every step whichtook him nearer to that home which he had never seenwhen of a sudden the treesbegan to thin and the sward to spread out onto a broadgreen lawnwhere fivecows lay in the sunshine and droves of black swine wandered unchecked. A brownforest stream swirled down the centre of this clearingwith a rude bridge flungacross itand on the other side was a second field sloping up to a longlow-lying wooden housewith thatched roof and open squares for windows. Alleynegazed across at it with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes--for thishe knewmust be the home of his fathers. A wreath of blue smoke floated up through ahole in the thatchand was the only sign of life in the placesave a greatblack hound which lay sleeping chained to the door- post. In the yellow shimmerof the autumn sunshine it lay as peacefully and as still as he had oft picturedit to himself in his dreams.

He was rousedhoweverfrom his pleasant reverie by the sound of voicesandtwo people emerged from the forest some little way to his right and moved acrossthe field in the direction of the bridge. The one was a man with yellow flowingbeard and very long hair of the same tint drooping over his shoulders; his dressof good Norwich cloth and his assured bearing marked him as a man of positionwhile the sombre hue of his clothes and the absence of all ornament contrastedwith the flash and glitter which had marked the king's retinue. By his sidewalked a womantall and slight and darkwith lithegraceful figure andclear-cutcomposed features. Her jet-black hair was gathered back under a lightpink coifher head poised proudly upon her neckand her step long and springylike that of some wildtireless woodland creature. She held her left hand infront of hercovered with a red velvet gloveand on the wrist a little brownfalconvery fluffy and bedraggledwhich she smoothed and fondled as she walked.As she came out into the sunshineAlleyne noticed that her light gownslashedwith pinkwas all stained with earth and with moss upon one side from shoulderto hem. He stood in the shadow of an oak staring at her with parted lipsforthis woman seemed to him to be the most beautiful and graceful creature thatmind could conceive of. Such had he imagined the angelsand such he had triedto paint them in the Beaulieu missals; but here there was something humanwereit only in the battered hawk and discolored dresswhich sent a tingle andthrill through his nerves such as no dream of radiant and stainless spirit hadever yet been able to conjure up. Goodquietuncomplaining mother Naturelongslighted and miscalledstill bideher time and draws to her bosom the mosterrant of her children.

The two walked swiftly across the meadow to the narrow bridgehe in frontand she a pace or two behind. There they pausedand stood for a few minutesface to face talking earnestly. Alleyne had read and had heard of love and oflovers. Such were thesedoubtless--this golden-bearded man and the fair damselwith the coldproud face. Why else should they wander together in the woodsorbe so lost in talk by rustic streams? And yet as he watcheduncertain whetherto advance from the cover or to choose some other path to the househe sooncame to doubt the truth of this first conjecture. The man stoodtall and squareblocking the entrance to the bridgeand throwing out his hands as he spoke in awild eager fashionwhile the deep tones of his stormy voice rose at times intoaccents of menace and of anger. She stood fearlessly in front of himstillstroking her bird; but twice she threw a swift questioning glance over hershoulderas one who is in search of aid. So moved was the young clerk by thesemute appealsthat he came forth from the trees and crossed the meadowuncertain what to doand yet loth to hold back from one who might need his aid.So intent were they upon each other that neither took note of his approach;untilwhen he was close upon themthe man threw his arm roughly round thedamsel's waist and drew her towards himshe straining her lithesupple figureaway and striking fiercely at himwhile the hooded hawk screamed with ruffledwings and pecked blindly in its mistress's defence. Bird and maidhoweverhadbut little chance against their assailant wholaughing loudlycaught her wristin one hand while he drew her towards him with the other.

"The best rose has ever the longest thorns" said he. "Quietlittle oneor you may do yourself a hurt. Must pay Saxon toll on Saxon landmyproud Maudefor all your airs and graces."

"You boor!" she hissed. "You base underbred clod! Is this yourcare and your hospitality? I would rather wed a branded serf from my father'sfields. Leave goI say---- Ah! good youthHeaven has sent you. Make him looseme! By the honor of your motherI pray you to stand by me and to make thisknave loose me."

"Stand by you I willand that blithely." said Alleyne. "Surelysiryou should take shame to hold the damsel against her will."

The man turned a face upon him which was lion-like in its strength and in itswrath. With his tangle of golden hairhis fierce blue eyesand his largewell-marked featureshe was the most comely man whom Alleyne had ever seenandyet there was something so sinister and so fell in his expression that child orbeast might well have shrunk from him. His brows were drawnhis cheek flushedand there was a mad sparkle in his eyes which spoke of a wilduntamable nature.

"Young fool!" he criedholding the woman still to his sidethoughevery line of her shrinking figure spoke her abhorrence. "Do you keep yourspoon in your own broth. I rede you to go on your waylest worse befall you.This little wench has come with me and with me she shall bide."

"Liar!" cried the woman; andstooping her headshe suddenly bitfiercely into the broad brown hand which held her. He whipped it back with anoathwhile she tore herself free and slipped behind Alleynecowering upagainst him like the trembling leveret who sees the falcon poising for the swoopabove him.

"Stand off my land!" the man said fiercelyheedless of the bloodwhich trickled freely from his fingers. "What have you to do here? By yourdress you should be one of those cursed clerks who overrun the land like vileratspoking and prying into other men's concernstoo caitiff to fight and toolazy to work. By the rood! if I had my will upon yeI should nail you upon theabbey doorsas they hang vermin before their holes. Art neither man nor womanyoung shaveling. Get thee back to thy fellows ere I lay hands upon you: for yourfoot is on my landand I may slay you as a common draw-latch."

"Is this your landthen?" gasped Alleyne.

"Would you dispute itdog? Would you wish by trick or quibbie to juggleme out of these last acres? Knowbase-born knavethat you have dared this dayto stand in the path of one whose race have been the advisers of kings and theleaders of hostsere ever this vile crew of Norman robbers came into the landor such half-blood hounds as you were let loose to preach that the thief shouldhave his booty and the honest man should sin if he strove to win back his own."

"You are the Socman of Minstead?"

"That am I; and the son of Edric the Socmanof the pure blood ofGodfrey the thaneby the only daughter of the house of Aluricwhoseforefathers held the white-horse banner at the fatal fight where our shield wasbroken and our sword shivered. I tell youclerkthat my folk held this landfrom Bramshaw Wood to the Ringwood road; andby the soul of my father! it willbe a strange thing if I am to be bearded upon the little that is left of it.BegoneI sayand meddle not with my affair."

"If you leave me now" whispered the woman"then shameforever upon your manhood."

"Surelysir" said Alleynespeaking in as persuasive and soothinga way as he could"if your birth is gentlethere is the more reason thatyour manners should be gentle too. I am well persuaded that you did but jestwith this ladyand that you will now permit her to leave your land either aloneor with me as a guideif she should need onethrough the wood. As to birthitdoes not become me to boastand there is sooth in what you say as to theunworthiness of clerksbut it is none the less true that I am as well born asyou."

"Dog!" cried the furious Socman"there is no man in the southwho can saw as much."

"Yet can I" said Alleyne smiling; "for indeed I also am theson of Edric the Socmanof the pure blood of Godfrey the thaneby the onlydaughter of Aluric of Brockenhurst. Surelydear brother" he continuedholding out his hand"you have a warmer greeting than this for me. Thereare but two boughs left upon this oldold Saxon trunk."

His elder brother dashed his hand aside with an oathwhile an expression ofmalignant hatred passed over his passion-drawn features. "You are the youngcub of Beaulieuthen" said he. "I might have known it by the sleekface and the slavish manner too monk-ridden and craven in spirit to answer backa rough word. Thy fathershavelingwith all his faultshad a man's heart; andthere were few who could look him in the eyes on the day of his anger. But you!Look thereraton yonder field where the cows grazeand on that other beyondand on the orchard hard by the church. Do you know that all these were squeezedout of your dying father by greedy prieststo pay for your upbringing in thecloisters? Ithe Socmanam shorn of my lands that you may snivel Latin and eatbread for which you never did hand's turn. You rob me firstand now you wouldcome preaching and whiningin search mayhap of another field or two for yourpriestly friends. Knave! my dogs shall be set upon you; butmeanwhilestandout of my pathand stop me at your peril!" As he spoke he rushed forwardandthrowing the lad to one sidecaught the woman's wrist. Alleynehoweveras active as a young deer- houndsprang to her aid and seized her by the otherarmraising his iron-shod staff as he did so.

"You may say what you will to me" he said between his clenchedteeth--"it may be no better than I deserve; butbrother or noI swear bymy hopes of salvation that I will break your arm if you do not leave hold of themaid."

There was a ring in his voice and a flash in his eyes which promised that theblow would follow quick at the heels of the word. For a moment the blood of thelong line of hot-headed thanes was too strong for the soft whisperings of thedoctrine of meekness and mercy. He was conscious of a fierce wild thrill throughhis nerves and a throb of mad gladness at his heartas his real human selfburst for an instant the bonds of custom and of teaching which had held it solong. The socman sprang backlooking to left and to right for some stick orstone which might serve him for weapon; but finding nonehe turned and ran atthe top of his speed for the houseblowing the while upon a shrill whistle.

"Come!" gasped the woman. "Flyfriendere he comeback."

"Naylet him come!" cried Alleyne. "I shall not budge a footfor him or his dogs."

"Comecome!" she criedtugging at his arm. "I know the man:he will kill you. Comefor the Virgin's sakeor for my sakefor I cannot goand leave you here."

"Comethen" said he; and they ran together to the cover of thewoods. As they gained the edge of the brushwoodAlleynelooking backsaw hisbrother come running out of the house againwith the sun gleaming upon his hairand his beard. He held something which flashed in his right handand he stoopedat the threshold to unloose the black hound.

"This way!" the woman whisperedin a low eager voice."Through the bushes to that forked ash. Do not heed me; I can run as fastas youI trow. Now into the stream--right inover anklesto throw the dogoffthough I think it is but a common curlike its master." As she spokeshe sprang herself into the shallow stream and ran swiftly up the centre of itwith the brown water bubbling over her feet and her hand out-stretched towardthe clinging branches of bramble or sapling. Alleyne followed close at her heelswith his mind in a whirl at this black welcome and sudden shifting of all hisplans and hopes. Yetgrave as were his thoughtsthey would still turn towonder as he looked at the twinkling feet of his guide and saw her lithe figurebend this way and thatdipping under boughsspringing over stoneswith alightness and ease which made it no small task for him to keep up with her. Atlastwhen he was almost out of breathshe suddenly threw herself down upon amossy bankbetween two holly- bushesand looked ruefully at her own drippingfeet and bedraggled skirt.

"Holy Mary!" said she"what shall I do? Mother will keep meto my chamber for a monthand make me work at the tapestry of the nine boldknights. She promised as much last weekwhen I fell into Wilverly bogand yetshe knows that I cannot abide needle- work."

Alleynestill standing in the streamglanced down at the gracefulpink-and-white figurethe curve of raven-black hairand the proudsensitiveface which looked up frankly and confidingly at his own.

"We had best on" he said. "He may yet overtake us."

"Not so. We are well off his land nownor can he tell in this greatwood which way we have taken. But you--you had him at your mercy. Why did younot kill him?"

"Kill him! My brother!"

"And why not?"--with a quick gleam of her white teeth. "Hewould have killed you. I know himand I read it in his eyes. Had I had yourstaff I would have tried--ayeand done ittoo." She shook her clenchedwhite hand as she spokeand her lips tightened ominously.

"I am already sad in heart for what I have done" said hesittingdown on the bankand sinking his face into his hands. "God help me!--allthat is worst in me seemed to come uppermost. Another instantand I had smittenhim: the son of my own motherthe man whom I have longed to take to my heart.Alas! that I should still be so weak."

"Weak!" she exclaimedraising her black eyebrows. "I do notthink that even my father himselfwho is a hard judge of manhoodwould callyou that. But it isas you may thinksira very pleasant thing for me to hearthat you are grieved at what you have doneand I can but rede that we should goback togetherand you should make your peace with the Socman by handing backyour prisoner. It is a sad thing that so small a thing as a woman should comebetween two who are of one blood."

Simple Alleyne opened his eyes at this little spurt of feminine bitterness."Naylady" said he"that were worst of all. What man would beso caitiff and thrall as to fail you at your need? I have turned my brotheragainst meand nowalas! I appear to have given you offence also with myclumsy tongue. ButindeedladyI am torn both waysand can scarce grasp inmy mind what it is that has befallen."

"Nor can I marvel at that" said shewith a little tinkling laugh."You came in as the knight does in the jongleur's romancesbetween dragonand damselwith small time for the asking of questions. Come" she wentonspringing to her feetand smoothing down her rumpled frock"let uswalk through the shaw togetherand we may come upon Bertrand with the horses.If poor Troubadour had not cast a shoewe should not have had this trouble. NayI must have your arm: forthough I speak lightlynow that all is happily overI am as frightened as my brave Roland. See how his chest heavesand his dearfeathers all awry--the little knight who would not have his lady mishandled."So she prattled on to her hawkwhile Alleyne walked by her sidestealing aglance from time to time at this queenly and wayward woman. In silence theywandered together over the velvet turf and on through the broad Minstead woodswhere the old lichen- draped beeches threw their circles of black shadow uponthe sunlit sward.

"You have no wishthento hear my story?" said sheat last.

"If it pleases you to tell it me" he answered.

"Oh!" she cried tossing her head"if it is of so littleinterest to youwe had best let it bide."

"Nay" said he eagerly"I would fain hear it."

"You have a right to know itif you have lost a brother's favor throughit. And yet----Ah wellyou areas I understanda clerkso I must think ofyou as one step further in ordersand make you my father-confessor. Know thenthat this man has been a suitor for my handless as I think for my own sweetsake than because he hath ambition and had it on his mind that he might improvehis fortunes by dipping into my father's strong box-- though the Virgin knowsthat he would have found little enough therein. My fatherhoweveris a proudmana gallant knight and tried soldier of the oldest bloodto whom this man'schurlish birth and low descent----Ohlackaday! I had forgot that he was of thesame strain as yourself."

"Naytrouble not for that" said Alleyne"we are all fromgood mother Eve."

"Streams may spring from one sourceand yet some be clear and some befoul" quoth she quickly. "Butto be brief over the mattermy fatherwould have none of his wooingnor in sooth would I. On that he swore a vowagainst usand as he is known to be a perilous manwith many outlaws andothers at his backmy father forbade that I should hawk or hunt in any part ofthe wood to the north of the Christchurch road. As it chancedhoweverthismorning my little Roland here was loosed at a strong-winged heronand pageBertrand and I rode onwith no thoughts but for the sportuntil we foundourselves in Minstead woods. Small harm thenbut that my horse Troubadour trodwith a tender foot upon a sharp stickrearing and throwing me to the ground.See to my gownthe third that I have befouled within the week. Wo worth me whenAgatha the tire-woman sets eyes upon it!"

"And what thenlady?" asked Alleyne.

"Whythen away ran Troubadourfor belike I spurred him in fallingandBertrand rode after him as hard as hoofs could bear him. When I rose there wasthe Socman himself by my sidewith the news that I was on his landbut with somany courteous words besidesand such gallant bearingthat he prevailed uponme to come to his house for shelterthere to wait until the page return. By thegrace of the Virgin and the help of my patron St. MagdalenI stopped short ereI reached his doorthoughas you sawhe strove to hale me up to it. Andthen--ah-h-h-h!"--she shivered and chattered like one in an ague-fit.

"What is it?" cried Alleynelooking about in alarm.

"Nothingfriendnothing! I was but thinking how I bit into his hand.Sooner would I bite living toad or poisoned snake. OhI shall loathe my lipsforever! But you--how brave you wereand how quick! How meek for yourselfandhow bold for a stranger! If I were a manI should wish to do what you have done."

"It was a small thing" he answeredwith a tingle of pleasure atthese sweet words of praise. "But you--what will you do?"

"There is a great oak near hereand I think that Bertrand will bringthe horses therefor it is an old hunting-tryst of ours. Then hey for homeandno more hawking to-day! A twelve-mile gallop will dry feet and skirt."

"But your father?"

"Not one word shall I tell him. You do not know him; but I can tell youhe is not a man to disobey as I have disobeyed him. He would avenge meit istruebut it is not to him that I shall look for vengeance. Some dayperchancein joust or in tourneyknight may wish to wear my colorsand then I shall tellhim that if he does indeed crave my favor there is wrong unredressedand thewronger the Socman of Minstead. So my knight shall find a venture such as boldknights loveand my debt shall be paidand my father none the wiserand onerogue the less in the world. Sayis not that a brave plan?"

"Nayladyit is a thought which is unworthy of you. How can such asyou speak of violence and of vengeance. Are none to be gentle and kindnone tobe piteous and forgiving? Alas! it is a hardcruel worldand I would that Ihad never left my abbey cell. To hear such words from your lips is as though Iheard an angel of grace preaching the devil's own creed."

She started from him as a young colt who first feels the bit. "Gramercyfor your redeyoung sir!" she saidwith a little curtsey. "As Iunderstand your wordsyou are grieved that you ever met meand look upon me asa preaching devil. Whymy father is a bitter man when he is wrothbut hathnever called me such a name as that. It may be his right and dutybut certes itis none of thine. So it would be bestsince you think so lowly of methat youshould take this path to the left while I keep on upon this one; for it is clearthat I can be no fit companion for you." So sayingwith downcast lids anda dignity which was somewhat marred by her bedraggled skirtshe swept off downthe muddy trackleaving Alleyne standing staring ruefully after her. He waitedin vain for some backward glance or sign of relentingbut she walked on with arigid neck until her dress was only a white flutter among the leaves. Thenwitha sunken head and a heavy hearthe plodded wearily down the other pathwrothwith himself for the rude and uncouth tongue which had given offence where solittle was intended.

He had gone some waylost in doubt and in self-reproachhis mind alltremulous with a thousand new-found thoughts and fears and wondermentswhen ofa sudden there was a light rustle of the leaves behind himandglancing roundthere was this gracefulswift-footed creaturetreading in his very shadowwith her proud head bowedeven as his was--the picture of humility andrepentance.

"I shall not vex younor even speak" she said; "but I wouldfain keep with you while we are in the wood."

"Nayyou cannot vex me" he answeredall warm again at the verysight of her. "It was my rough words which vexed you; but I have beenthrown among men all my lifeand indeedwith all the willI scarce know howto temper my speech to a lady's ear."

"Then unsay it" cried she quickly; "say that I was right towish to have vengeance on the Socman."

"NayI cannot do that" he answered gravely.

"Then who is ungentle and unkind now?" she cried in triumph. "Howstern and cold you are for one so young! Art surely no mere clerkbut bishop orcardinal at the least. Shouldst have crozier for staff and mitre for cap. Wellwellfor your sake I will forgive the Socman and take vengeance on none but onmy own wilful self who must needs run into danger's path. So will that pleaseyousir?"

"There spoke your true self" said he; "and you will find morepleasure in such forgiveness than in any vengeance."

She shook her headas if by no means assured of itand then with a suddenlittle crywhich had more of surprise than of joy in it"Here is Bertrandwith the horses!"

Down the glade there came a little green-clad page with laughing eyesandlong curls floating behind him. He sat perched on a high bay horseand held onto the bridle of a spirited black palfreythe hides of both glistening from along run.

"I have sought you everywheredear Lady Maude" said he in apiping voicespringing down from his horse and holding the stirrup. "Troubadourgalloped as far as Holmhill ere I could catch him. I trust that you have had nohurt or scath?" He shot a questioning glance at Alleyne as he spoke.

"NoBertrand" said she"thanks to this courteous stranger.And nowsir" she continuedspringing into her saddle"it is notfit that I leave you without a word more. Clerk or noyou have acted this dayas becomes a true knight. King Arthur and all his table could not have donemore. It may be thatas some small returnmy father or his kin may have powerto advance your interest. He is not richbut he is honored and hath greatfriends. Tell me what is your purposeand see if he may not aid it."

"Alas! ladyI have now no purpose. I have but two friends in the worldand they have gone to Christchurchwhere it is likely I shall join them."

"And where is Christchurch?"

"At the castle which is held by the brave knightSir Nigel Loringconstable to the Earl of Salisbury."

To his surprise she burst out a-laughingandspurring her palfreydashedoff down the gladewith her page riding behind her. Not one word did she saybut as she vanished amid the trees she half turned in her saddle and waved alast greeting. Long time he stoodhalf hoping that she might again come back tohim; but the thud of the hoofs had died awayand there was no sound in all thewoods but the gentle rustle and dropping of the leaves. At last he turned awayand made his way back to the high-road--another person from the light-heartedboy who had left it a short three hours before.

Chapter 10 - How Hordle John Found A Man Whom He Might Follow

 


 

IF he might not return to Beaulieu within the yearand if his brother's dogswere to be set upon him if he showed face upon Minstead landthen indeed he wasadrift upon earth. Northsoutheastand west--he might turn where he wouldbut all was equally chill and cheerless. The Abbot had rolled ten silver crownsin a lettuce-leaf and hid them away in the bottom of his scripbut that wouldbe a sorry support for twelve long months. In all the darkness there was but theone bright spot of the sturdy comrades whom he had left that morning; if hecould find them again all would be well. The afternoon was not very advancedfor all that had befallen him. When a man is afoot at cock-crow much may be donein the day. If he walked fast he might yet overtake his friends ere they reachedtheir destination. He pushed on thereforenow walking and now running. As hejourneyed he bit into a crust which remained from his Beaulieu breadand hewashed it down by a draught from a woodland stream.

It was no easy or light thing to journey through this great forestwhich wassome twenty miles from east to west and a good sixteen from Bramshaw Woods inthe north to Lymington in the south. Alleynehoweverhad the good fortune tofall in with a woodmanaxe upon shouldertrudging along in the very directionthat he wished to go. With his guidance he passed the fringe of Bolderwood Walkfamous for old ash and yewthrough Mark Ash with its giant beech-treesand onthrough the Knightwood groveswhere the giant oak was already a great treebutonly one of many comely brothers. They plodded along togetherthe woodman andAlleynewith little talk on either sidefor their thoughts were as far asunderas the poles. The peasant's gossip had been of the huntof the brockenof thegrayheaded kites that had nested in Wood Fidleyand of the great catch ofherring brought back by the boats of Pitt's Deep. The clerk's mind was on hisbrotheron his future--above all on this strangefiercemeltingbeautifulwoman who had broken so suddenly into his lifeand as suddenly passed out of itagain. So distrait was he and so random his answersthat the wood man took towhistlingand soon branched off upon the track to Burleyleaving Alleyne uponthe main Christchurch road.

Down this he pushed as fast as he mighthoping at every turn and rise tocatch sight of his companions of the morning. From Vinney Ridge to RhinefieldWalk the woods grow thick and dense up to the very edges of the trackbutbeyond the country opens up into broad dun-colored moorsflecked with clumps oftreesand topping each other in longlow curves up to the dark lines of forestin the furthest distance. Clouds of insects danced and buzzed in the goldenautumn lightand the air was full of the piping of the song-birds. Longglinting dragonflies shot across the pathor hung tremulous with gauzy wingsand gleaming bodies. Once a white-necked sea eagle soared screaming high overthe traveller's headand again a flock of brown bustards popped up from amongthe brackenand blundered away in their clumsy fashionhalf runninghalfflyingwith strident cry and whirr of wings.

There were folktooto be met upon the road--beggars and courierschapmenand tinkers--cheery fellows for the most partwith a rough jest and homelygreeting for each other and for Alleyne. Near Shotwood he came upon five seamenon their way from Poole to Southampton--rude red-faced menwho shouted at himin a jargon which he could scarce understandand held out to him a great potfrom which they had been drinking--nor would they let him pass until he haddipped pannikin in and taken a mouthfulwhich set him coughing and chokingwith the tears running down his cheeks. Further on he met a sturdy black-beardedmanmounted on a brown horsewith a rosary in his right hand and a longtwo-handed sword jangling against his stirrup-iron. By his black robe and theeight-pointed cross upon his sleeveAlleyne recognized him as one of theKnights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalemwhose presbytery was at Baddesley.He held up two fingers as he passedwith a "Benedicefilie meus!"whereat Alleyne doffed hat and bent kneelooking with much reverence at one whohad devoted his life to the overthrow of the infidel. Poor simple lad! he hadnot learned yet that what men are and what men profess to be are very wideasunderand that the Knights of St. Johnhaving come into large part of theriches of the ill-fated Templarswere very much too comfortable to think ofexchanging their palace for a tentor the cellars of England for the thirstydeserts of Syria.

Yet ignorance may be more precious than wisdomfor Alleyne as he walked onbraced himself to a higher life by the thought of this other's sacrificeandstrengthened himself by his example which he could scarce have done had he knownthat the Hospitaller's mind ran more upon malmsey than on mamalukesand onvenison rather than victories.

As he pressed on the plain turned to woods once more in the region ofWilverley Walkand a cloud swept up from the south with the sun shining throughthe chinks of it. A few great drops came pattering loudly downand then in amoment the steady swish of a brisk showerwith the dripping and dropping of theleaves. Alleyneglancing round for sheltersaw a thick and lofty holly- bushso hollowed out beneath that no house could have been drier. Under this canopyof green two men were already squattedwho waved their hands to Alleyne that heshould join them. As he approached he saw that they had five dried herrings laidout in front of themwith a great hunch of wheaten bread and a leathern flaskfull of milkbut instead of setting to at their food they appeared to haveforgot all about itand were disputing together with flushed faces and angrygestures. It was easy to see by their dress and manner that they were two ofthose wandering students who formed about this time so enormous a multitude inevery country in Europe. The one was long and thinwith melancholy featureswhile the other was fat and sleekwith a loud voice and the air of a man who isnot to be gainsaid.

"Come hithergood youth" he cried"come hither! Vultusingenui puer. Heed not the face of my good coz here. Foenum habet in cornuasDan Horace has it; but I warrant him harmless for all that."

"Stint your bull's bellowing!" exclaimed the other. "If itcome to HoraceI have a line in my mind: Loquaces si sapiat---- How doth it run?The English o't being that a man of sense should ever avoid a great talker. Thatbeing soif all were men of sense then thou wouldst be a lonesome mancoz."

"Alas! DiconI fear that your logic is as bad as your philosophy oryour divinity--and God wot it would be hard to say a worse word than that forit. Forhark ye: grantingpropter argumentumthat I am a talkerthen thetrue reasoning runs that since all men of sense should avoid meand thou hastnot avoided mebut art at the present moment eating herrings with me under aholly-bushergo you are no man of sensewhich is exactly what I have beendinning into your long ears ever since I first clapped eyes on your sunken chops."

"Tuttut!" cried the other. "Your tongue goes like theclapper of a mill-wheel. Sit down herefriendand partake of this herring.Understand firsthoweverthat there are certain conditions attached to it."

"I had hoped" said Alleynefalling into the humor of the twain"that a tranchoir of bread and a draught of milk might be attached to it."

"Hark to himhark to him!" cried the little fat man. "It iseven thusDicon! Witladis a catching thinglike the itch or the sweatingsickness. I exude it round me; it is an aura. I tell youcozthat no man cancome within seventeen feet of me without catching a spark. Look at your owncase. A duller man never steppedand yet within the week you have said threethings which might passand one thing the day we left Fordingbridge which Ishould not have been ashamed of myself."

"Enoughrattle-pateenough!" said the other. "The milk youshall have and the bread alsofriendtogether with the herringbut you musthold the scales between us."

"If he hold the herring he holds the scalesmy sapient brother"cried the fat man. "But I pray yougood youthto tell us whether you area learned clerkandif sowhether you have studied at Oxenford or atParis."

"I have some small stock of learning" Alleyne answeredpicking athis herring"but I have been at neither of these places. I was bredamongst the Cistercian monks at Beaulieu Abbey."

"Poohpooh!" they cried both together. "What sort of anupbringing is that?"

"Non cuivis contingit adire Corinthum" quoth Alleyne.

"Comebrother Stephenhe hath some tincture of letters" said themelancholy man more hopefully. "He may be the better judgesince he hathno call to side with either of us. Nowattentionfriendand let your earswork as well as your nether jaw. Judex damnatur--you know the old saw. Here am Iupholding the good fame of the learned Duns Scotus against the foolishquibblings and poor silly reasonings of Willie Ockham."

"While I" quoth the other loudly"do maintain the good senseand extraordinary wisdom of that most learned William against the crack-brainedfantasies of the muddy Scotchmanwho hath hid such little wit as he has underso vast a pile of wordsthat it is like one drop of Gascony in a firkin ofditch-water. Solomon his wisdom would not suffice to say what the rogue means."

"CertesStephen Hapgoodhis wisdom doth not suffice" cried theother. "It is as though a mole cried out against the morning starbecausehe could not see it. But our disputefriendis concerning the nature of thatsubtle essence which we call thought. For I hold with the learned Scotus thatthought is in very truth a thingeven as vapor or fumesor many othersubstances which our gross bodily eyes are blind to. Forlook youthat whichproduces a thing must be itself a thingand if a man's thought may produce awritten bookthen must thought itself be a material thingeven as the book is.Have I expressed it? Do I make it plain?"

"Whereas I hold" shouted the other"with my reveredpreceptordoctorpreclarus et excellentissimusthat all things are butthought; for when thought is gone I prythee where are the things then? Here aretrees about usand I see them because I think I see thembut if I have swoonedor sleepor am in winethenmy thought having gone forth from melo thetrees go forth also. How nowcozhave I touched thee on the raw?"

Alleyne sat between them munching his breadwhile the twain disputed acrosshis kneesleaning forward with flushed faces and darting handsin all the heatof argument. Never had he heard such jargon of scholastic philosophysuchfine-drawn distinctionssuch cross-fire of major and minorpropositionsyllogismattack and refutation. Question clattered upon answer like a sword ona buckler. The ancientsthe fathers of the Churchthe modernsthe Scripturesthe Arabianswere each sent hurtling against the otherwhile the rain stilldripped and the dark holly-leaves glistened with the moisture. At last the fatman seemed to weary of itfor he set to work quietly upon his mealwhile hisopponentas proud as the rooster who is left unchallenged upon the middencrowed away in a last long burst of quotation and deduction. Suddenlyhoweverhis eyes dropped upon his foodand he gave a howl of dismay.

"You double thief!" he cried"you have eaten my herringsandI without bite or sup since morning."

"That" quoth the other complacently"was my final argumentmy crowning effortor peroratioas the orators have it. Forcozsince allthoughts are thingsyou have but to think a pair of herringsand then conjureup a pottle of milk wherewith to wash them down."

"A brave piece of reasoning" cried the other"and I know ofbut one reply to it." On whichleaning forwardhe caught his comrade arousing smack across his rosy cheek. "Naytake it not amiss" he said"since all things are but thoughtsthen that also is but a thought and maybe disregarded."

This last argumenthoweverby no means commended itself to the pupil ofOckhamwho plucked a great stick from the ground and signified his dissent bysmiting the realist over the pate with it. By good fortunethe wood was solight and rotten that it went to a thousand splintersbut Alleyne thought itbest to leave the twain to settle the matter at their leisurethe more so asthe sun was shining brightly once more. Looking back down the pool-strewn roadhe saw the two excited philosophers waving their hands and shouting at eachotherbut their babble soon became a mere drone in the distanceand a turn inthe road hid them from his sight.

And now after passing Holmesley Walk and the Wooton Heaththe forest beganto shred out into scattered belts of treeswith gleam of corn-field and stretchof pasture-land between. Here and there by the wayside stood little knots ofwattle-and-daub huts with shock-haired laborers lounging by the doors and red-cheeked children sprawling in the roadway. Back among the groves he could seethe high gable ends and thatched roofs of the franklin's houseson whose fieldsthese men found employmentor more often a thick dark column of smoke markedtheir position and hinted at the coarse plenty within. By these signs Alleyneknew that he was on the very fringe of the forestand therefore no great wayfrom Christchurch. The sun was lying low in the west and shooting its level raysacross the long sweep of rich green countryglinting on the white-fleeced sheepand throwing long shadows from the red kine who waded knee-deep in the juicyclover. Right glad was the traveller to see the high tower of ChristchurchPriory gleaming in the mellow evening lightand gladder still whenon roundinga cornerhe came upon his comrades of the morning seated astraddle upon afallen tree. They had a flat space before themon which they alternately threwlittle square pieces of boneand were so intent upon their occupation that theynever raised eye as he approached them. He observed with astonishmentas hedrew nearthat the archer's bow was on John's backthe archer's sword byJohn's sideand the steel cap laid upon the tree-trunk between them.

"Mort de ma vie!" Aylward shoutedlooking down at the dice. "Neverhad I such cursed luck. A murrain on the bones! I have not thrown a good mainsince I left Navarre. A one and a three! En avantcamarade!"

"Four and three" cried Hordle Johncounting on his great fingers"that makes seven. HoarcherI have thy cap! Now have at thee for thyjerkin!"

"Mon Dieu!" he growled"I am like to reach Christchurch in myshirt." Then suddenly glancing up"Holaby the splendor of heavenhere is our cher petit! Nowby my ten finger bones! this is a rare sight tomine eyes." He sprang up and threw his arms round Alleyne's neckwhileJohnno less pleasedbut more backward and Saxon in his habitsstood grinningand bobbing by the waysidewith his newly won steel cap stuck wrong sideforemost upon his tangle of red hair.

"Hast come to stop?" cried the bowmanpatting Alleyne all over inhis delight. "Shall not get away from us again!"

"I wish no better" said hewith a pringling in the eyes at thishearty greeting.

"Well saidlad!" cried big John. "We three shall to the warstogetherand the devil may fly away with the Abbot of Beaulieu! But your feetand hosen are all besmudged. Hast been in the wateror I am the more mistaken."

"I have in good sooth" Alleyne answeredand then as theyjourneyed on their way he told them the many things that had befallen himhismeeting with the villeinhis sight of the kinghis coming upon his brotherwith all the tale of the black welcome and of the fair damsel. They strode oneither sideeach with an ear slanting towards himbut ere he had come to theend of his story the bowman had spun round upon his heeland was hastening backthe way they had comebreathing loudly through his nose.

"What then?" asked Alleynetrotting after him and gripping at hisjerkin.

"I am back for Minsteadlad."

"And whyin the name of sense?"

"To thrust a handful of steel into the Socman. What! hale a demoiselleagainst her willand then loose dogs at his own brother! Let me go!"

"Nennynenny!" cried Alleynelaughing. "There was no scathdone. Come backfriend"--and soby mingled pushing and entreatiestheygot his head round for Christchurch once more. Yet he walked with his chin uponhis shoulderuntilcatching sight of a maiden by a wayside wellthe smilescame back to his face and peace to his heart.

"But you" said Alleyne"there have been changes with youalso. Why should not the workman carry his tools? Where are bow and sword andcap--and why so warlikeJohn?"

"It is a game which friend Aylward hath been a-teaching of me."

"And I found him an over-apt pupil" grumbled the bowman. "Hehath stripped me as though I had fallen into the hands of the tardvenus. Butbymy hilt! you must render them back to mecamaradelest you bring discreditupon my missionand I will pay you for them at armorers' prices."

"Take them backmanand never heed the pay" said John. "Idid but wish to learn the feel of themsince I am like to have such trinketshung to my own girdle for some years to come."

"Ma foihe was born for a fr companion!" cried Aylward"Hehath the very trick of speech and turn of thought. I take them back thenandindeed it gives me unease not to feel my yew-stave tapping against my leg bone.But seemes garconson this side of the church rises the square and darklingtower of Earl Salisbury's castleand even from here I seem to see on yonderbanner the red roebuck of the Montacutes."

"Red upon white" said Alleyneshading his eyes; "but whetherroebuck or no is more than I could vouch. How black is the great towerand howbright the gleam of arms upon the wall! See below the flaghow it twinkles likea star!"

"Ayeit is the steel head-piece of the watchman" remarked thearcher. "But we must onif we are to be there before the drawbridge risesat the vespers bugle; for it is likely that sir Nigelbeing so renowned asoldiermay keep hard discipline within the wallsand let no man enter aftersundown." So sayinghe quickened his paceand the three comrades weresoon close to the straggling and broad-spread town which centered round thenoble church and the frowning castle.

It chanced on that very evening that Sir Nigel Loringhaving supped beforesunsetas was his customand having himself seen that Pommers and Cadsandhistwo war-horseswith the thirteen hacksthe five jennetsmy lady's threepalfreysand the great dapple-gray roussinhad all their needs suppliedhadtaken his dogs for an evening breather. Sixty or seventy of themlarge andsmallsmooth and shaggy--deer-houndboar-houndblood- houndwolf-houndmastiffalauntalbotlurcherterrierspaniel--snappingyelling and whiningwith score of lolling tongues and waving tailscame surging down the narrowlane which leads from the Twynham kennels to the bank of Avon. Two russet- cladvarletswith loud halloo and cracking whipswalked thigh- deep amid the swarmguidingcontrollingand urging. Behind came Sir Nigel himselfwith LadyLoring upon his armthe pair walking slowly and sedatelyas befitted boththeir age and their conditionwhile they watched with a smile in their eyes thescrambling crowd in front of them. They pausedhoweverat the bridgeandleaning their elbows upon the stoneworkthey stood looking down at their ownfaces in the glassy streamand at the swift flash of speckled trout against thetawny gravel.

Sir Nigel was a slight man of poor staturewith soft lisping voice andgentle ways. So short was he that his wifewho was no very tall womanhad thebetter of him by the breadth of three fingers. His sight having been injured inhis early wars by a basketful of lime which had been emptied over him when heled the Earl of Derby's stormers up the breach at Bergerache had contractedsomething of a stoopwith a blinkingpeering expression of face. His age wassix and fortybut the constant practice of arms. together with a cleanly lifehad preserved his activity and endurance unimpairedso that from a distance heseemed to have the slight limbs and swift grace of a boy. His facehoweverwastanned of a dull yellow tintwith a leatheryporeless lookwhich spoke ofrough outdoor doingsand the little pointed beard which he worein deferenceto the prevailing fashionwas streaked and shot with gray. His features weresmalldelicateand regularwith clear-cutcurving noseand eyes whichjutted forward from the lids. His dress was simple and yet spruce. A Flandrishhat of beevorbearing in the band the token of Our Lady of Embrunwas drawnlow upon the left side to hide that ear which had been partly shorn from hishead by a Flemish man-at-arms in a camp broil before Tournay. His cote-hardieor tunicand trunk-hosen were of a purple plum colorwith long weepers whichhung from either sleeve to below his knees. His shoes were of red leatherdaintily pointed at the toesbut not yet prolonged to the extravagant lengthswhich the succeeding reign was to bring into fashion. A gold-embroidered belt ofknighthood encircled his loinswith his armsfive roses gules on a fieldargentcunningly worked upon the clasp. So stood Sir Nigel Loring upon thebridge of Avonand talked lightly with his lady.

Andcerteshad the two visages alone been seenand the stranger been askedwhich were the more likely to belong to the bold warrior whose name was loved bythe roughest soldiery of Europehe had assuredly selected the lady's. Her facewas large and square and redwith fiercethick browsand the eyes of one whowas accustomed to rule. Taller and broader than her husbandher flowing gown ofsendalland fur-lined tippetcould not conceal the gaunt and ungracefuloutlines of her figure. It was the age of martial women. The deeds of blackAgnes of Dunbarof Lady Salisbury and of the Countess of Montfortwere stillfresh in the public minds. With such examples before them the wives of theEnglish captains had become as warlike as their matesand ordered their castlesin their absence with the prudence and discipline of veteran seneschals. Righteasy were the Montacutes of their Castle of Twynhamand little had they todread from roving galley or French squadronwhile Lady Mary Loring had theordering of it. Yet even in that age it was thought thatthough a lady mighthave a soldier's heartit was scarce as well that she should have a soldier'sface. There were men who said that of all the stern passages and daring deeds bywhich Sir Nigel Loring had proved the true temper of his couragenot the leastwas his wooing and winning of so forbidding a dame.

"I tell youmy fair lord" she was saying"that it is no fittraining for a demoiselle: hawks and houndsrotes and citoles singing a Frenchrondelor reading the Gestes de Doon de Mayenceas I found her yesternightpretending sleepthe artfulwith the corner of the scroll thrusting forth fromunder her pillow. Lent her by Father Christopher of the prioryforsooth --thatis ever her answer. How shall all this help her when she has castle of her ownto keepwith a hundred mouths all agape for beef and beer?"

"Truemy sweet birdtrue" answered the knightpicking a comfitfrom his gold drageoir. "The maid is like the young fillywhich kicksheels and plunges for very lust of life. Give her timedamegive hertime."

"WellI know that my father would have given menot timebut a goodhazel-stick across my shoulders. Ma foi! I know not what the world is coming towhen young maids may flout their elders. I wonder that you do not correct hermy fair lord."

"Naymy heart's comfortI never raised hand to woman yetand it wouldbe a passing strange thing if I began on my own flesh and blood. It was awoman's hand which cast this lime into mine eyesand though I saw her stoopand might well have stopped her ere she threwI deemed it unworthy of myknighthood to hinder or balk one of her sex."

"The hussy!" cried Lady Loring clenching her broad right hand."I would I had been at the side of her!"

"And so would Isince you would have been the nearer me my own. But Idoubt not that you are rightand that Maude's wings need clippingwhich I mayleave in your hands when I am goneforin sooththis peaceful life is not formeand were it not for your gracious kindness and loving care I could not abideit a week. I hear that there is talk of warlike muster at Bordeaux once moreand by St. Paul! it would be a new thing if the lions of England and the redpile of Chandos were to be seen in the fieldand the roses of Loring were notwaving by their side."

"Now wo worth me but I feared it!" cried shewith the color allstruck from her face. "I have noted your absent mindyour kindling eyeyour trying and rivetting of old harness. Consider my sweet lordthat you havealready won much honorthat we have seen but little of each otherthat youbear upon your body the scar of over twenty wounds received in I know not howmany bloody encounters. Have you not done enough for honor and the publiccause?"

"My ladywhen our liege lordthe kingat three score yearsand myLord Chandos at three-score and tenare blithe and ready to lay lance in restfor England's causeit would ill be-seem me to prate of service done. It issooth that I have received seven and twenty wounds. There is the more reasonthat I should be thankful that I am still long of breath and sound in limb. Ihave also seen some bickering and scuffling. Six great land battles I countwith four upon seaand seven and fifty onfallsskirmishes and bushments. Ihave held two and twenty townsand I have been at the intaking of thirty-one.Surely then it would be bitter shame to meand also to yousince my fame isyoursthat I should now hold back if a man's work is to be done. Besidesbethink you how low is our pursewith bailiff and reeve ever croaking of emptyfarms and wasting lands. Were it not for this constableship which the Earl ofSalisbury hath bestowed upon us we could scarce uphold the state which isfitting to our degree. Thereforemy sweetingthere is the more need that Ishould turn to where there is good pay to be earned and brave ransoms to be won."

"Ahmy dear lord" quoth shewith sadweary eyes. "Ithought that at last I had you to mine own selfeven though your youth had beenspent afar from my side. Yet my voiceas I know wellshould speed you on toglory and renownnot hold you back when fame is to be won. Yet what can I sayfor all men know that your valor needs the curb and not the spur. It goes to myheart that you should ride forth now a mere knight bachelorwhen there is nonoble in the land who hath so good a claim to the square pennonsave only thatyou have not the money to uphold it."

"And whose fault thatmy sweet bird?" said he.

"No faultmy fair lordbut a virtue: for how many rich ransoms haveyou wonand yet have scattered the crowns among page and archer and varletuntil in a week you had not as much as would buy food and forage. It is a mostknightly largesseand yet withouten money how can man rise?"

"Dirt and dross!" cried he.

"What matter rise or fallso that duty be done and honor gained.Banneret or bachelorsquare pennon or forkedI would not give a denier for thedifferenceand the less since Sir John Chandoschosen flower of Englishchivalryis himself but a humble knight. But meanwhile fret not thyselfmyheart's dovefor it is like that there may be no war wagedand we must awaitthe news. But here are three strangersand oneas I take ita soldier freshfrom service. It is likely that he may give us word of what is stirring over thewater."

Lady Loringglancing upsaw in the fading light three companions walkingabreast down the roadall gray with dustand stained with travelyetchattering merrily between themselves. He in the midst was young and comelywith boyish open face and bright gray eyeswhich glanced from right to left asthough he found the world around him both new and pleasing. To his right walkeda huge red-headed manwith broad smile and merry twinklewhose clothes seemedto be bursting and splitting at every seamas though he were some lusty chickwho was breaking bravely from his shell. On the other sidewith his knottedhand upon the young man's shouldercame a stout and burly archerbrown andfierce eyedwith sword at belt and long yellow yew-stave peeping over hisshoulder. Hard facebattered head piecedinted brigandinewith faded red lionof St. George ramping on a discolored groundall proclaimed as plainly as wordsthat he was indeed from the land of war. He looked keenly at Sir Nigel as heapproachedand thenplunging his hand under his breastplatehe stepped up tohim with a roughuncouth bow to the lady.

"Your pardonfair sir" said he"but I know you the moment Iclap eyes on youthough in sooth I have seen you oftener in steel than invelvet. I have drawn string besides you at La Roche-d'ErrienRomorantinMaupertuisNogentAurayand other places."

"Thengood archerI am right glad to welcome you to Twynham Castleand in the steward s room you will find provant for yourself and comrades. To mealso your face is knownthough mine eyes play such tricks with me that I canscarce be sure of my own squire. Rest awhileand you shall come to the hallanon and tell us what is passing in Francefor I have heard that it is likelythat our pennons may flutter to the south of the great Spanish mountains ereanother year be passed."

"There was talk of it in Bordeaux" answered the archer"andI saw myself that the armorers and smiths were as busy as rats in a wheat-rick.But I bring you this letter from the valiant Gascon knightSir Claude Latour.And to youLady" he added after a pause"I bring from him this boxof red sugar of Narbonnewith every courteous and knightly greeting which agallant cavalier may make to a fair and noble dame."

This little speech had cost the blunt bowman much pains and planning; but hemight have spared his breathfor the lady was quite as much absorbed as herlord in the letterwhich they held between thema hand on either cornerspelling it out very slowlywith drawn brows and muttering lips. As they readitAlleynewho stood with Hordle John a few paces back from their comradesawthe lady catch her breathwhile the knight laughed softly to himself.

"You seedear heart" said he"that they will not leave theold dog in his kennel when the game is afoot. And what of this White Companyarcher?"

"Ahsiryou speak of dogs" cried Aylward; "but there are apack of lusty hounds who are ready for any quarryif they have but a goodhuntsman to halloo them on. Sirwe have been in the wars togetherand I haveseen many a brave following but never such a set of woodland boys as this. Theydo but want you at their headand who will bar the way to them!"

"Pardieu!" said Sir Nigel"if they are all like theirmessengerthey are indeed men of whom a leader may be proud. Your namegoodarcher?"

"Sam Aylwardsirof the Hundred of Easebourne and the Rape ofChichester."

"And this giant behind you?"

"He is big Johnof Hordlea forest manwho hath now taken service inthe Company."

"A proper figure of a man at-arms" said the little knight. "Whymanyou are no chickenyet I warrant him the stronger man. See to that greatstone from the coping which hath fallen upon the bridge. Four of my lazy varletsstrove this day to carry it hence. I would that you two could put them to shameby budging itthough I fear that I overtask youfor it is of a grievous weight."

He pointed as he spoke to a huge rough-hewn block which lay by the roadsidedeep sunken from its own weight in the reddish earth. The archer approached itrolling back the sleeves of his jerkinbut with no very hopeful countenancefor indeed it was a mighty rock. Johnhoweverput him aside with his left handandstooping over the stonehe plucked it single-handed from its soft bed andswung it far into the stream. There it fell with mighty splashone jagged endpeaking out above the surfacewhile the waters bubbled and foamed withfar-circling eddy.

"Good lack!" cried Sir Nigeland "Good lack!" cried hisladywhile John stood laughing and wiping the caked dirt from his fingers.

"I have felt his arms round my ribs" said the bowman"andthey crackle yet at the thought of it. This other comrade of mine is a rightlearned clerkfor all that he is so younghight Alleynethe son of Edricbrother to the Socman of Minstead."

"Young man" quoth Sir Nigelsternly"if you are of the sameway of thought as your brotheryou may not pass under portcullis of mine."

"Nayfair sir" cried Aylward hastily"I will be pledge forit that they have no thought in common; for this very day his brother hath sethis dogs upon himand driven him from his lands."

"And are youtooof the White Company?" asked Sir Nigel. "Hasthad small experience of warif I may judge by your looks and bearing."

"I would fain to France with my friends here" Alleyne answered;"but I am a man of peace--a readerexorcistacolyteand clerk."

"That need not hinder" quoth Sir Nigel.

"Nofair sir" cried the bowman joyously. "WhyI myself haveserved two terms with Arnold de Cervolleshe whom they called the archpriest.By my hilt! I have seen him ere nowwith monk's gown trussed to his kneesoverhis sandals in blood in the fore- front of the battle. Yetere the last stringhad twangedhe would be down on his four bones among the strickenand havethem all houseled and shrivenas quick as shelling peas. Ma foi! there werethose who wished that he would have less care for their souls and a little morefor their bodies!"

"It is well to have a learned clerk in every troop" said Sir Nigel."By St. Paulthere are men so caitiff that they think more of ascrivener's pen than of their lady's smileand do their devoir in hopes thatthey may fill a line in a chronicle or make a tag to a jongleur's romance. Iremember well thatat the siege of Rettersthere was a littlesleekfatclerk of the name of Chaucerwho was so apt at rondelsirventeor tonsonthat no man dare give back a foot from the wallslest he find it all set downin his rhymes and sung by every underling and varlet in the camp. Butmy soul'sbirdyou hear me prate as though all were decidedwhen I have not yet takencounsel either with you or with my lady mother. Let us to the chamberwhilethese strangers find such fare as pantry and cellar may furnish."

"The night air strikes chill" said the ladyand turned down theroad with her hand upon her lord's arm. The three comrades dropped behind andfollowed: Aylward much the lighter for having accomplished his missionAlleynefull of wonderment at the humble bearing of so renowned a captainand John loudwith snorts and sneerswhich spoke his disappointment and contempt.

"What ails the man?" asked Aylward in surprise.

"I have been cozened and bejaped" quoth he gruffly.

"By whomSir Samson the strong?"

"By theeSir Balaam the false prophet."

"By my hilt!" cried the archerI though I be not Balaamyet Ihold converse with the very creature that spake to him. What is amissthenandhow have I played you false?"

"Whymarrydid you not sayand Alleyne here will be my witnessthatif I would hie to the wars with youyou would place me under a leader who wassecond to none in all England for valor? Yet here you bring me to a shred of amanpeaky and ill- nourishedwith eyes like a moulting owlwho must needsforsoothtake counsel with his mother ere he buckle sword to girdle."

"Is that where the shoe galls?" cried the bowmanand laughed aloud."I will ask you what you think of him three months henceif we be allalive; for sure I am that----"

Aylward's words were interrupted by an extraordinary hubbub which broke outthat instant some little way down the street in the direction of the Priory.There was deep-mouthed shouting of menfrightened shrieks of womenhowling andbarking of cursand over all a sullenthunderous rumbleindescribablymenacing and terrible. Round the corner of the narrow street there came rushinga brace of whining dogs with tails tucked under their legsand after them awhite-faced burgherwith outstretched hands and wide-spread fingershis hairall abristle and his eyes glinting back from one shoulder to the otherasthough some great terror were at his very heels. "Flymy ladyfly!"he screechedand whizzed past them like bolt from bow; while close behind camelumbering a huge black bearwith red tongue lolling from his mouthand abroken chain jangling behind him. To right and left the folk flew for arch anddoorway. Hordle John caught up the Lady Loring as though she had been a featherand sprang with her into an open porch; while Aylwardwith a whirl of Frenchoathsplucked at his quiver and tried to unsling his bow. Alleyneall unnervedat so strange and unwonted a sightshrunk up against the wall with his eyesfixed upon the frenzied creaturewhich came bounding along with ungainly speedlooking the larger in the uncertain lightits huge jaws agapewith blood andslaver trickling to the ground. Sir Nigel aloneunconscious to all appearanceof the universal panicwalked with unfaltering step up the centre of the roada silken handkerchief in one hand and his gold comfit-box in the other. It sentthe blood cold through Alleyne's veins to see that as they came together--theman and the beast--the creature reared upwith eyes ablaze with fear and hateand whirled its great paws above the knight to smite him to the earth. Hehoweverblinking with puckered eyesreached up his kerchiefand flicked thebeast twice across the snout with it. "Ahsaucy! saucy" quoth hewith gentle chiding; on which the bearuncertain and puzzleddropped its fourlegs to earth againandwaddling backwas soon swathed in ropes by thebear-ward and a crowd of peasants who had been in close pursuit.

A scared man was the keeper; forhaving chained the brute to a stake whilehe drank a stoup of ale at the innit had been baited by stray cursuntilinwrath and madnessit had plucked loose the chainand smitten or bitten all whocame in its path. Most scared of all was he to find that the creature had comenigh to harm the Lord and Lady of the castlewho had power to place him in thestretch-neck or to have the skin scourged from his shoulders. Yetwhen he camewith bowed head and humble entreaty for forgivenesshe was met with a handfulof small silver from Sir Nigelwhose damehoweverwas less charitablydisposedbeing much ruffled in her dignity by the manner in which she had beenhustled from her lord's side.

As they passed through the castle gateJohn plucked at Aylward's sleeveandthe two fell behind.

"I must crave your pardoncomrade" said hebluntly. "I wasa fool not to know that a little rooster may be the gamest. I believe that thisman is indeed a leader whom we may follow."

Chapter 11 - How A Young Shepherd Had A Perilous Flock

 


 

BLACK was the mouth of Twynham Castlethough a pair of torches burning atthe further end of the gateway cast a red glare over the outer baileyand senta dimruddy flicker through the rough-hewn archrising and falling with fitfulbrightness. Over the door the travellers could discern the escutcheon of theMontacutesa roebuck gules on a field argentflanked on either side by smallershields which bore the red roses of the veteran constable. As they passed overthe drawbridgeAlleyne marked the gleam of arms in the embrasures to right andleftand they had scarce set foot upon the causeway ere a hoarse blare burstfrom a bugleandwith screech of hinge and clank of chainthe ponderousbridge swung up into the airdrawn by unseen hands. At the same instant thehuge portcullis came rattling down from aboveand shut off the last fadinglight of day. Sir Nigel and his lady walked on in deep talkwhile a fatunder-steward took charge of the three comradesand led them to the butterywhere beefbreadand beer were kept ever in readiness for the wayfarer. Aftera hearty meal and a dip in the trough to wash the dust from themthey strolledforth into the baileywhere the bowman peered about through the darkness atwall and at keepwith the carping eyes of one who has seen something of siegesand is not likely to be satisfied. To Alleyne and to Johnhoweverit appearedto be as great and as stout a fortress as could be built by the hands of man.

Erected by Sir Balwin de Redvers in the old fighting days of the twelfthcenturywhen men thought much of war and little of comfortCastle Twynham hadbeen designed as a stronghold pure and simpleunlike those later and moremagnificent structures where warlike strength had been combined with themagnificence of a palace. From the time of the Edwards such buildings as Conwayor Caernarvon castlesto say nothing of Royal Windsorhad shown that it waspossible to secure luxury in peace as well as security in times of trouble. SirNigel's trusthoweverstill frowned above the smooth-flowing waters of theAvonvery much as the stern race of early Anglo-Normans had designed it. Therewere the broad outer and inner bailiesnot pavedbut sown with grass tonourish the sheep and cattle which might be driven in on sign of danger. Allround were high and turreted wallswith at the corner a bare square-faced keepgaunt and windowlessrearing up from a lofty moundwhich made it almostinaccessible to an assailant.

Against the bailey-walls were rows of frail wooden houses and leaning shedswhich gave shelter to the archers and men-at-arms who formed the garrison. Thedoors of these humble dwellings were mostly openand against the yellow glarefrom within Alleyne could see the bearded fellows cleaning their harnesswhiletheir wives would come out for a gossipwith their needlework in their handsand their long black shadows streaming across the yard. The air was full of theclack of their voices and the merry prattling of childrenin strange contrastto the flash of arms and constant warlike challenge from the walls above.

"Methinks a company of school lads could hold this place against an army"quoth John.

"And so say I" said Alleyne.

"Naythere you are wide of the clout" the bowman said gravely."By my hilt! I have seen a stronger fortalice carried in a summer evening.I remember such a one in Picardywith a name as long as a Gascon's pedigree. Itwas when I served under Sir Robert Knollesbefore the days of the Company; andwe came by good plunder at the sacking of it. I had myself a great silver bowlwith two gobletsand a plastron of Spanish steel. Pasques Dieu! there are somefine women over yonder! Mort de ma vie! see to that one in the doorway! I willgo speak to her. But whom have we here?"

"Is there an archer here hight Sam Aylward?" asked a gaunt man-at-armsclanking up to them across the courtyard.

"My namefriend" quoth the bowman.

"Then sure I have no need to tell thee mine" said the other.

"By the rood! if it is not Black Simon of Norwich!" cried Aylward."A mon coeurcamaradea mon coeur! Ahbut I am blithe to see thee!"The two fell upon each other and hugged like bears.

"And where fromold blood and bones?" asked the bowman.

"I am in service here. Tell mecomradeis it sooth that we shall haveanother fling at these Frenchmen? It is so rumored in the guard-roomand thatSir Nigel will take the field once more."

"It is like enoughmon gar.as things go."

"Now may the Lord be praised!" cried the other. "This verynight will I set apart a golden ouche to be offered on the shrine of myname-saint. I have pined for thisAylwardas a young maid pines for herlover."

"Art so set on plunder then? Is the purse so light that there is notenough for a rouse? I have a bag at my beltcamaradeand you have but to putyour fist into it for what you want. It was ever share and share between us."

"Nayfriendit is not the Frenchman's goldbut the Frenchman's bloodthat I would have. I should not rest quiet in the gravecozif I had notanother turn at them. For with us in France it has ever been fair and honestwar--a shut fist for the manbut a bended knee for the woman. But how was it atWinchelsea when their galleys came down upon it some few years back? I had anold mother thereladwho had come down thither from the Midlands to be thenearer her son. They found her afterwards by her own hearthstonethrust throughby a Frenchman's bill. My second sistermy brother's wifeand her two childrenthey were but ash-heaps in the smoking ruins of their house. I will not say thatwe have not wrought great scath upon Francebut women and children have beensafe from us. And soold friendmy heart is hot within meand I long to hearthe old battle-cry againandby God's truth I if Sir Nigel unfurls his pennonhere is one who will be right glad to feel the saddle-flaps under his knees."

"We have seen good work togetherold war-dog" quoth Aylward;"andby my hilt! we may hope to see more ere we die. But we are more liketo hawk at the Spanish woodcock than at the French heronthough certes it isrumored that Du Guesclin with all the best lances of France have taken serviceunder the lions and towers of Castile. Butcomradeit is in my mind that thereis some small matter of dispute still open between us."

" 'Fore Godit is sooth!" cried the other; "I had forgot it.The provost-marshal and his men tore us apart when last we met."

"On whichfriendwe vowed that we should settle the point when next wecame together. Hast thy swordI seeand the moon throws glimmer enough forsuch old night-birds as we. On guardmon gar.! I have not heard clink of steelthis month or more."

"Out from the shadow then" said the otherdrawing his sword."A vow is a vowand not lightly to be broken."

"A vow to the saints" cried Alleyne"is indeed not to be setaside; but this is a devil's vowandsimple clerk as I amI am yet themouthpiece of the true church when I say that it were mortal sin to fight onsuch a quarrel. What! shall two grown men carry malice for yearsand fly likesnarling curs at each other's throats?"

"No malicemy young clerkno malice" quoth Black Simon"Ihave not a bitter drop in my heart for mine old comrade; but the quarrelas hehath told youis still open and unsettled. Fall onAylward!"

"Not whilst I can stand between you" cried Alleynespringingbefore the bowman. "It is shame and sin to see two Christian Englishmenturn swords against each other like the frenzied bloodthirsty paynim."

"Andwhat is more" said Hordle Johnsuddenly appearing out ofthe buttery with the huge board upon which the pastry was rolled"ifeither raise sword I shall flatten him like a Shrovetide pancake. By the blackrood! I shall drive him into the earthlike a nail into a doorrather than seeyou do scath to each other."

" 'Fore Godthis is a strange way of preaching peace" cried BlackSimon. "You may find the scath yourselfmy lusty friendif you raise yourgreat cudgel to me. I had as lief have the castle drawbridge drop upon my pate."

"Tell meAylward" said Alleyne earnestlywith his handsoutstretched to keep the pair asunder"what is the cause of quarrelthatwe may see whether honorable settlement may not be arrived at?"

The bowman looked down at his feet and then up at the moons "Parbleu!"he cried"the cause of quarrel? Whymon petitit was years ago inLimousinand how can I bear in mind what was the cause of it? Simon there hathit at the end of his tongue."

"Not Iin troth" replied the other; "I have had other thingsto think of. There was some sort of bickering over diceor wineor was it awomancoz?"

"Pasques Dieu! but you have nicked it" cried Aylward. "It wasindeed about a woman; and the quarrel must go forwardfor I am still of thesame mind as before."

"What of the womanthen?" asked Simon. "May the murrainstrike me if I can call to mind aught about her."

"It was La Blanche Rosemaid at the sign of the 'Trois Corbeaux' atLimoges. Bless her pretty heart! Whymon gar.I loved her."

"So did a many"quoth Simon. "I call her to mind now. On thevery day that we fought over the little hussyshe went off with Evan ap Pricea long-legged Welsh dagsman. They have a hostel of their own nowsomewhere onthe banks of the Garonnewhere the landlord drinks so much of the liquor thatthere is little left for the customers."

"So ends our quarrelthen" said Aylwardsheathing his sword."A Welsh dagsmani' faith! C'etait mauvais gootcamaradeand the more sowhen she had a jolly archer and a lusty man-at-arms to choose from."

"Trueold lad. And it is as well that we can compose our differenceshonorablyfor Sir Nigel had been out at the first clash of steel; and he hathsworn that if there be quarrelling in the garrison he would smite the right handfrom the broilers. You know him of oldand that he is like to be as good as hisword."

"Mort-Dieu! yes. But there are alemeadand wine in the butteryandthe steward a merry roguewho will not haggle over a quart or two. Buvonsmongar.for it is not every day that two old friends come together."

The old soldiers and Hordle John strode off together in all good fellowship.Alleyne had turned to follow themwhen he felt a touch upon his shoulderandfound a young page by his side.

"The Lord Loring commands" said the boy"that you willfollow me to the great chamberand await him there."

"But my comrades?"

"His commands were for you alone."

Alleyne followed the messenger to the east end of the courtyardwhere abroad flight of steps led up to the doorway of the main hallthe outer wall ofwhich is washed by the waters of the Avon. As designed at firstno dwelling hadbeen allotted to the lord of the castle and his family but the dark and dismalbasement storey of the keep. A more civilized or more effeminate generationhoweverhad refused to be pent up in such a cellarand the hall with itsneighboring chambers had been added for their accommodation. Up the broad stepsAlleyne wentstill following his boyish guideuntil at the folding oak doorsthe latter pausedand ushered him into the main hall of the castle.

On entering the room the clerk looked round; butseeing no onehe continuedto standhis cap in his handexamining with the greatest interest a chamberwhich was so different to any to which he was accustomed. The days had gone bywhen a nobleman's hall was but a barn-likerush-strewn enclosurethe commonlounge and eating-room of every inmate of the castle. The Crusaders had broughtback with them experiences of domestic luxuriesof Damascus carpets and rugs ofAleppowhich made them impatient of the hideous bareness and want of privacywhich they found in their ancestral strongholds. Still strongerhoweverhadbeen the influence of the great French war; forhowever well matched thenations might be in martial exercisesthere could be no question but that ourneighbors were infinitely superior to us in the arts of peace. A stream ofreturning knightsof wounded soldiersand of unransomed French noblemenhadbeen for a quarter of a century continually pouring into Englandevery one ofwhom exerted an influence in the direction of greater domestic refinementwhileshiploads of French furniture from CalaisRouenand other plundered townshadsupplied our own artizans with models on which to shape their work. Henceinmost English castlesand in Castle Twynham among the restchambers were to befound which would seem to be not wanting either in beauty or in comfort.

In the great stone fireplace a log fire was spurting and cracklingthrowingout a ruddy glare whichwith the four bracket-lamps which stood at each cornerof the roomgave a bright and lightsome air to the whole apartment. Above was awreath-work of blazonryextending up to the carved and corniced oaken roof;while on either side stood the high canopied chairs placed for the master of thehouse and for his most honored guest. The walls were hung all round with mostelaborate and brightly colored tapestryrepresenting the achievements of SirBevis of Hamptonand behind this convenient screen were stored the tablesdormant and benches which would be needed for banquet or high festivity. Thefloor was of polished tileswith a square of red and black diapered Flemishcarpet in the centre; and many setteescushionsfolding chairsand carvedbancals littered all over it. At the further end was a long black buffet ordresserthickly covered with gold cupssilver salversand other suchvaluables. All this Alleyne examined with curious eyes; but most interesting ofall to him was a small ebony table at his very sideon whichby the side of achess-board and the scattered chessmenthere lay an open manuscript written ina right clerkly handand set forth with brave flourishes and devices along themargins. In vain Alleyne bethought him of where he wasand of those laws ofgood breeding and decorum which should restrain him: those colored capitals andblack even lines drew his hand down to themas the loadstone draws the needleuntilalmost before he knew ithe was standing with the romance of Garin deMontglane before his eyesso absorbed in its contents as to be completelyoblivious both of where he was and why he had come there.

He was brought back to himselfhoweverby a sudden little ripple of quickfeminine laughter. Aghasthe dropped the manuscript among the chessmen andstared in bewilderment round the room. It was as empty and as still as ever.Again he stretched his hand out to the romanceand again came that roguishburst of merriment. He looked up at the ceilingback at the closed doorandround at the stiff folds of motionless tapestry. Of a suddenhoweverhe caughta quick shimmer from the corner of a high-backed bancal in front of himandshifting a pace or two to the sidesaw a white slender handwhich held amirror of polished silver in such a way that the concealed observer could seewithout being seen. He stood irresoluteuncertain whether to advance or to takeno notice; buteven as he hesitatedthe mirror was whipped inand a tall andstately young lady swept out from behind the oaken screenwith a dancing lightof mischief in her eyes. Alleyne started with astonishment as he recognized thevery maiden who had suffered from his brother's violence in the forest. She nolonger wore her gay riding-dresshoweverbut was attired in a long sweepingrobe of black velvet of Brugeswith delicate tracery of white lace at neck andat wristscarce to be seen against her ivory skin. Beautiful as she had seemedto him beforethe lithe charm of her figure and the proudfree grace of herbearing were enhanced now by the rich simplicity of her attire.

"Ahyou start" said shewith the same sidelong look of mischief"and I cannot marvel at it. Didst not look to see the distressed damoselagain. Oh that I were a minstrelthat I might put it into rhymewith the wholeromance--the luckless maidthe wicked socmanand the virtuous clerk! So mightour fame have gone down together for all timeand you be numbered with SirPercival or Sir Galahador all the other rescuers of oppressed ladies."

"What I did" said Alleyne"was too small a thing for thanks;and yetif I may say it without offenceit was too grave and near a matter formirth and raillery. I had counted on my brother's lovebut God has willed thatit should be otherwise. It is a joy to me to see you againladyand to knowthat you have reached home in safetyif this be indeed your home."

"Yesin soothCastle Twynham is my homeand Sir Nigel Loring myfatherI should have told you so this morningbut you said that you werecoming thitherso I bethought me that I might hold it back as a surprise to you.Oh dearbut it was brave to see you!" she criedbursting out a-laughingonce moreand standing with her hand pressed to her sideand her half-closedeyes twinkling with amusement. "You drew back and came forward with youreyes upon my book therelike the mouse who sniffs the cheese and yet dreads thetrap."

"I take shame" said Alleyne"that I should have touched it."

"Nayit warmed my very heart to see it. So glad was Ithat I laughedfor very pleasure. My fine preacher can himself be tempted thenthought I; heis not made of another clay to the rest of us."

"God help me! I am the weakest of the weak" groaned Alleyne."I pray that I may have more strength."

"And to what end?" she asked sharply. "If you areas Iunderstandto shut yourself forever in your cell within the four walls of anabbeythen of what use would it be were your prayer to be answered?"

"The use of my own salvation."

She turned from him with a pretty shrug and wave. "Is that all?"she said. "Then you are no better than Father Christopher and the rest ofthem. Your ownyour ownever your own! My father is the king's manand whenhe rides into the press of fight he is not thinking ever of the saving of hisown poor body; he recks little enough if he leave it on the field. Why thenshould youwho are soldiers of the Spiritbe ever moping or hiding in cell orin cavewith minds full of your own concernswhile the worldwhich you shouldbe mendingis going on its wayand neither sees nor hears you? Were ye all asthoughtless of your own souls as the soldier is of his bodyye would be of moreavail to the souls of others."

"There is sooth in what you saylady" Alleyne answered; "andyet I scarce can see what you would have the clergy and the church to do."

"I would have them live as others and do men's work in the worldpreaching by their lives rather than their words. I would have them come forthfrom their lonely placesmix with the borel folksfeel the pains and thepleasuresthe cares and the rewardsthe temptings and the stirrings of thecommon people. Let them toil and swinkenand laborand plough the landandtake wives to themselves----"

"Alas! alas!" cried Alleyne aghast"you have surely suckedthis poison from the man Wicliffeof whom I have heard such evil things."

"NayI know him not. I have learned it by looking from my own chamberwindow and marking these poor monks of the priorytheir weary lifetheirprofitless round. I have asked myself if the best which can be done with virtueis to shut it within high walls as though it were some savage creature. If thegood will lock themselves upand if the wicked will still wander freethenalas for the world!"

Alleyne looked at her in astonishmentfor her cheek was flushedher eyesgleamingand her whole pose full of eloquence and conviction. Yet in an instantshe had changed again to her old expression of merriment leavened with mischief.

"Wilt do what I ask?" said she.

"What is itlady?"

"Ohmost ungallant clerk! A true knight would never have askedbutwould have vowed upon the instant. 'Tis but to bear me out in what I say to myfather."

"In what?"

"In sayingif he askthat it was south of the Christchurch road that Imet you. I shall be shut up with the tire-women elseand have a week of spindleand bodkinwhen I would fain be galloping Troubadour up Wilverly Walkorloosing little Roland at the Vinney Ridge herons."

"I shall not answer him if he ask."

"Not answer! But he will have an answer. Naybut you must not fail meor it will go ill with me."

"Butlady" cried poor Alleyne in great distress"how can Isay that it was to the south of the road when I know well that it was four milesto the north."

"You will not say it?"

"Surely you will nottoowhen you know that it is not so?"

"OhI weary of your preaching!" she criedand swept away with atoss of her beautiful headleaving Alleyne as cast down and ashamed as thoughhe had himself proposed some infamous thing. She was back again in an instanthoweverin another of her varying moods.

"Look at thatmy friend!" said she. "If you had been shut upin abbey or in cell this day you could not have taught a wayward maiden to abideby the truth. Is it not so? What avail is the shepherd if he leaves his sheep."

"A sorry shepherd!" said Alleyne humbly. "But here is yournoble father."

"And you shall see how worthy a pupil I am. FatherI am much beholdento this young clerkwho was of service to me and helped me this very morning inMinstead Woodsfour miles to the north of the Christchurch roadwhere I had nocall to beyou having ordered it otherwise." All this she reeled off in aloud voiceand then glanced with sidelongquestioning eyes at Alleyne for hisapproval.

Sir Nigelwho had entered the room with a silvery-haired old lady upon hisarmstared aghast at this sudden outburst of candor.

"MaudeMaude!" said heshaking his head"it is more hardfor me to gain obedience from you than from the ten score drunken archers whofollowed me to Guienne. Yethush! little onefor your fair lady-mother will behere anonand there is no need that she should know it. We will keep you fromthe provost- marshal this journey. Away to your chambersweetingand keep ablithe facefor she who confesses is shriven. And nowfair mother" hecontinuedwhen his daughter had gone"sit you here by the firefor yourblood runs colder than it did. Alleyne EdricsonI would have a word with youfor I would fain that you should take service under me. And here in good timecomes my ladywithout whose counsel it is not my wont to decide aught ofimport; butindeedit was her own thought that you should come."

"For I have formed a good opinion of youand can see that you are onewho may be trusted" said the Lady Loring. "And in good sooth my dearlord hath need of such a one by his sidefor he recks so little of himself thatthere should be one there to look to his needs and meet his wants. You have seenthe cloisters; it were well that you should see the world tooere you makechoice for life between them."

"It was for that very reason that my father willed that I should comeforth into the world at my twentieth year" said Alleyne.

"Then your father was a man of good counsel" said she"andyou cannot carry out his will better than by going on this pathwhere all thatis noble and gallant in England will be your companions."

"You can ride?" asked Sir Nigellooking at the youth with puckeredeyes.

"YesI have ridden much at the abbey."

"Yet there is a difference betwixt a friar's hack and a warrior'sdestrier. You can sing and play?"

"On citoleflute and rebeck."

"Good! You can read blazonry?"

"Indifferent well."

"Then read this" quoth Sir Nigelpointing upwards to one of themany quarterings which adorned the wall over the fireplace.

"Argent" Alleyne answered"a fess azure charged with threelozenges dividing three mullets sable. Over allon an escutcheon of the firsta jambe gules."

"A jambe gules erased" said Sir Nigelshaking his head solemnly."Yet it is not amiss for a monk-bred man. I trust that you are lowly andserviceable?"

"I have served all my lifemy lord."

"Canst carve too?"

"I have carved two days a week for the brethren."

"A model truly! Wilt make a squire of squires. But tell meI praycanst curl hair?"

"Nomy lordbut I could learn."

"It is of import" said he"for I love to keep my hair wellorderedseeing that the weight of my helmet for thirty years hath in somedegree frayed it upon the top." He pulled off his velvet cap of maintenanceas he spokeand displayed a pate which was as bald as an eggand shone bravelyin the firelight. "You see" said hewhisking roundand showing onelittle strip where a line of scattered hairslike the last survivors in somefatal fieldstill barely held their own against the fate which had fallen upontheir comrades; "these locks need some little oiling and curlingfor Idoubt not that if you look slantwise at my headwhen the light is goodyouwill yourself perceive that there are places where the hair is sparse."

"It is for you also to bear the purse" said the lady; "for mysweet lord is of so free and gracious a temper that he would give it gayly tothe first who asked alms of him. All these thingswith some knowledge ofvenerieand of the management of horsehawk and houndwith the grace andhardihood and courtesy which are proper to your agewill make you a fit squirefor Sir Nigel Loring."

"Alas! lady" Alleyne answered"I know well the great honorthat you have done me in deeming me worthy to wait upon so renowned a knightyet I am so conscious of my own weakness that I scarce dare incur duties which Imight be so ill-fitted to fulfil."

"Modesty and a humble mind" said she"are the very first andrarest gifts in page or squire. Your words prove that you have theseand allthe rest is but the work of use and time. But there is no call for haste. Restupon it for the nightand let your orisons ask for guidance in the matter. Weknew your father welland would fain help his sonthough we have small causeto love your brother the Socmanwho is forever stirring up strife in the county."

"We can scare hope" said Nigel"to have all ready for ourstart before the feast of St. Lukefor there is much to be done in the time.You will have leisurethereforeif it please you to take service under meinwhich to learn your devoir. Bertrandmy daughter's pageis hot to go; but insooth he is over young for such rough work as may be before us."

"And I have one favor to crave from you" added the lady of thecastleas Alleyne turned to leave their presence. "You haveas Iunderstandmuch learning which you have acquired at Beaulieu."

"Little enoughladycompared with those who were my teachers."

"Yet enough for my purposeI doubt not. For I would have you give anhour or two a day whilst you are with us in discoursing with my daughtertheLady Maude; for she is somewhat backwardI fearand hath no love for letterssave for these poor fond romanceswhich do but fill her empty head with dreamsof enchanted maidens and of errant cavaliers. Father Christopher comes overafter nones from the priorybut he is stricken with years and slow of speechso that she gets small profit from his teaching. I would have you do what youcan with herand with Agatha my young tire-womanand with Dorothy Pierpont."

And so Alleyne found himself not only chosen as squire to a knight but alsoas squire to three damoselswhich was even further from the part which he hadthought to play in the world. Yet he could but agree to do what he mightand sowent forth from the castle hall with his face flushed and his head in a whirl atthe thought of the strange and perilous paths which his feet were destined totread.

Chapter 12 - How Alleyne Learned More Than He Could Teach

 


 

AND now there came a time of stir and bustleof furbishing of arms and clangof hammer from all the southland counties. Fast spread the tidings from thorpeto thorpe and from castle to castlethat the old game was afoot once moreandthe lions and lilies to be in the field with the early spring. Great news thisfor that fierce old countrywhose trade for a generation had been warherexports archers and her imports prisoners. For six years her sons had chafedunder an unwonted peace. Now they flew to their arms as to their birthright. Theold soldiers of Crecyof Nogentand of Poictiers were glad to think that theymight hear the war-trumpet once moreand gladder still were the hot youth whohad chafed for years under the martial tales of their sires. To pierce the greatmountains of the southto fight the tawners of the fiery Moorsto follow thegreatest captain of the ageto find sunny cornfields and vineyardswhen themarches of Picardy and Normandy were as rare and bleak as the Jedburghforests--here was a golden prospect for a race of warriors. From sea to seathere was stringing of bows in the cottage and clang of steel in the castle.

Nor did it take long for every stronghold to pour forth its cavalryandevery hamlet its footmen. Through the late autumn and the early winter everyroad and country lane resounded with nakir and trumpetwith the neigh of thewar-horse and the clatter of marching men. From the Wrekin in the Welsh marchesto the Cotswolds in the west or Butser in the souththere was no hill-top fromwhich the peasant might not have seen the bright shimmer of armsthe toss andflutter of plume and of pensil. From bye-pathfrom woodland clearingor fromwinding moor-side track these little rivulets of steel united in the largerroads to form a broader streamgrowing ever fuller and larger as it approachedthe nearest or most commodious seaport. And there all dayand day after daythere was bustle and crowding and laborwhile the great ships loaded upandone after the other spread their white pinions and darted off to the open seaamid the clash of cymbals and rolling of drums and lusty shouts of those whowent and of those who waited. From Orwell to the Dart there was no port whichdid not send forth its little fleetgay with streamer and buntingas for ajoyous festival. Thus in the season of the waning days the might of England putforth on to the waters.

In the ancient and populous county of Hampshire there was no lack of leadersor of soldiers for a service which promised either honor or profit. In the norththe Saracen's head of the Brocas and the scarlet fish of the De Roches werewaving over a strong body of archers from HoltWoolmerand Harewood forests.De Borhunte was up in the eastand Sir John de Montague in the west. Sir Lukede PonyngesSir Thomas WestSir Maurice de BruinSir Arthur LipscombeSirWalter Ramseyand stout Sir Oliver Buttesthorn were all marching south withlevies from AndoverArlesfordOdiham and Winchesterwhile from Sussex cameSir John ClintonSir Thomas Cheyneand Sir John Fallisleewith a troop ofpicked men-at-armsmaking for their port at Southampton. Greatest of all themustershoweverwas that of Twynham Castlefor the name and the fame of SirNigel Loring drew towards him the keenest and boldest spiritsall eager toserve under so valiant a leader. Archers from the New Forest and the Forest ofBerebillmen from the pleasant country which is watered by the Stourthe Avonand the Itchenyoung cavaliers from the ancient Hampshire housesall werepushing for Christchurch to take service under the banner of the five scarletroses.

And nowcould Sir Nigel have shown the bachelles of land which the laws ofrank requiredhe might well have cut his forked pennon into a square bannerand taken such a following into the field as would have supported the dignity ofa banneret.

But poverty was heavy upon himhis land was scanthis coffers emptyandthe very castle which covered him the holding of another. Sore was his heartwhen he saw rare bowmen and war- hardened spearmen turned away from his gatesfor the lack of the money which might equip and pay them. Yet the letter whichAylward had brought him gave him powers which he was not slow to use. In it SirClaude Latourthe Gascon lieutenant of the White Companyassured him thatthere remained in his keeping enough to fit out a hundred archers and twentymen-at-armswhichjoined to the three hundred veteran companions already inFrancewould make a force which any leader might be proud to command. Carefullyand sagaciously the veteran knight chose out his men from the swarm ofvolunteers. Many an anxious consultation he held with Black SimonSam Aylwardand other of his more experienced followersas to who should come and whoshould stay. By All Saints' dayhowever ere the last leaves had fluttered toearth in the Wilverley and Holmesley gladeshe had filled up his full numbersand mustered under his banner as stout a following of Hampshire foresters asever twanged their war-bows. Twenty men-at-armstoowell mounted and equippedformed the cavalry of the partywhile young Peter Terlake of FarehamandWalter Ford of Botleythe martial sons of martial sirescame at their own costto wait upon Sir Nigel and to share with Alleyne Edricson the duties of hissquireship.

Yeteven after the enrolmentthere was much to be done ere the party couldproceed upon its way. For armorswordsand lancesthere was no need to takemuch forethoughtfor they were to be had both better and cheaper in Bordeauxthan in England. With the long-bowhoweverit was different. Yew staves indeedmight be got in Spainbut it was well to take enough and to spare with them.Then three spare cords should be carried for each bowwith a great store ofarrow-headsbesides the brigandines of chain mailthe wadded steel capsandthe brassarts or arm- guardswhich were the proper equipment of the archer.Above allthe women for miles round were hard at work cutting the whitesurcoats which were the badge of the Companyand adorning them with the redlion of St. George upon the centre of the breast. When all was completed and themuster called in the castle yard the oldest soldier of the French wars was fainto confess that he had never looked upon a better equipped or more warlike bodyof menfrom the old knight with his silk juponsitting his great blackwar-horse in the front of themto Hordle Johnthe giant recruitwho leanedcarelessly upon a huge black bow-stave in the rear. Of the six scorefully halfhad seen service beforewhile a fair sprinkling were men who had followed thewars all their livesand had a hand in those battles which had made the wholeworld ring with the fame and the wonder of the island infantry.

Six long weeks were taken in these preparationsand it was close onMartinmas ere all was ready for a start. Nigh two months had Alleyne Edricsonbeen in Castle Twynham--months which were fated to turn the whole current of hislifeto divert it from that dark and lonely bourne towards which it tendedandto guide it into freer and more sunlit channels. Already he had learned to blesshis father for that wise provision which had made him seek to know the world erehe had ventured to renounce it.

For it was a different place from that which he had pictured -- verydifferent from that which he had heard described when the master of the novicesheld forth to his charges upon she ravening wolves who lurked for them beyondthe peaceful folds of Beaulicu. There was cruelty in itdoubtlessand lust andsin and sorrow; but were there not virtues to atonerobust positive virtueswhich did not shrink from temptationwhich held their own in all the roughblasts of the work-a-day world? How colorless by contrast appeared thesinlessness which came from inability to sinthe conquest which was attained byflying from the enemy! Monk-bred as he wasAlleyne had native shrewdness and amind which was young enough to form new conclusions and to outgrow old ones. Hecould not fail to see that the men with whom he was thrown in contactrough-tonguedfierce and quarrelsome as they werewere yet of deeper natureand of more service in the world than the ox-eyed brethren who rose and ate andslept from year's end to year's end in their own narrowstagnant circle ofexistence. Abbot Berghersh was a good manbut how was he better than thiskindly knightwho lived as simple a lifeheld as lofty and inflexible an idealof dutyand did with all his fearless heart whatever came to his hand to do? Inturning from the service of the one to that of the otherAlleyne could not feelthat he was lowering his aims in life. True that his gentle and thoughtfulnature recoiled from the grim work of waryet in those days of martial ordersand militant brotherhoods there was no gulf fixed betwixt the priest and thesoldier. The man of God and the man of the sword might without scandal be unitedin the same individual. Why then should hea mere clerkhave scruples when sofair a chance lay in his way of carrying out the spirit as well as the letter ofhis father's provision. Much struggle it cost himanxious spirit-questioningsand midnight prayingswith many a doubt and a misgiving; but the issue was thatere he had been three days in Castle Twynham he had taken service under SirNigeland had accepted horse and harnessthe same to be paid for out of hisshare of the profits of the expedition. Henceforth for seven hours a day hestrove in the tilt-yard to qualify himself to be a worthy squire to so worthy aknight. Youngsupple and activewith all the pent energies from years of pureand healthy livingit was not long before he could manage his horse and hisweapon well enough to earn an approving nod from critical men-at-armsor tohold his own against Terlake and Fordhis fellow-servitors.

But were there no other considerations which swayed him from the cloisterstowards the world? So complex is the human spirit that it can itself scarcediscern the deep springs which impel it to action. Yet to Alleyne had beenopened now a side of life of which he had been as innocent as a childbut onewhich was of such deep import that it could not fail to influence him inchoosing his path. A womanin monkish preceptshad been the embodiment andconcentration of what was dangerous and evil--a focus whence spread all that wasto be dreaded and avoided. So defiling was their presence that a true Cistercianmight not raise his eyes to their face or touch their finger-tips under ban ofchurch and fear of deadly sin. Yet hereday after day for an hour after nonesand for an hour before vespershe found himself in close communion with threemaidensall youngall fairand all therefore doubly dangerous from themonkish standpoint. Yet he found that in their presence he was conscious of aquick sympathya pleasant easea ready response to all that was most gentleand best in himselfwhich filled his soul with a vague and new-found joy.

And yet the Lady Maude Loring was no easy pupil to handle. An older and moreworld-wise man might have been puzzled by her varying moodsher suddenprejudicesher quick resentment at all constraint and authority. Did a subjectinterest her was there space in it for either romance or imaginationshe wouldfly through it with her subtleactive mindleaving her two fellow- studentsand even her teacher toiling behind her. On the other handwere there dullpatience needed with steady toil and strain of memoryno single fact could byany driving be fixed in her mind. Alleyne might talk to her of the stories ofold gods and heroesof gallant deeds and lofty aimsor he might hold forthupon moon and starsand let his fancy wander over the hidden secrets of theuniverseand he would have a wrapt listener with flushed cheeks and eloquenteyeswho could repeat after him the very words which had fallen from his lips.But when it came to almagest and astrolabethe counting of figures andreckoning of epicyclesaway would go her thoughts to horse and houndand avacant eye and listless face would warn the teacher that he had lost his holdupon his scholar. Then he had but to bring out the old romance book from thepriorywith befingered cover of sheepskin and gold letters upon a purple groundto entice her wayward mind back to the paths of learning.

At timestoowhen the wild fit was upon hershe would break into pertnessand rebel openly against Alleyne's gentle firmness. Yet he would jog quietly onwith his teachingstaking no heed to her mutinyuntil suddenly she would beconquered by his patienceand break into self-revilings a hundred timesstronger than her fault demanded. It chanced however thaton one of thesemornings when the evil mood was upon herAgatha the young tire-womanthinkingto please her mistressbegan also to toss her head and make tart rejoinder tothe teacher's questions. In an instant the Lady Maude had turned upon her twoblazing eyes and a face which was blanched with anger.

"You would dare!" said she. "You would dare!" Thefrightened tire-woman tried to excuse herself. "But my fair lady" shestammered"what have I done? I have said no more than I heard."

"You would dare!" repeated the lady in a choking voice. "Youa graceless baggagea foolish lack-brainwith no thought above the hemming ofshifts. And he so kindly and hendy and long- suffering! You would--hayou maywell flee the room!"

She had spoken with a rising voiceand a clasping and opening of her longwhite fingersso that it was no marvel that ere the speech was over the skirtsof Agatha were whisking round the door and the click of her sobs to be hearddying swiftly away down the corridor.

Alleyne stared open-eyed at this tigress who had sprung so suddenly to hisrescue. "There is no need for such anger" he said mildly. "Themaid's words have done me no scath. It is you yourself who have erred."

"I know it" she cried"I am a most wicked woman. But it isbad enough that one should misuse you. Ma foi! I will see that there is not asecond one."

"Naynayno one has misused me" he answered. "But the faultlies in your hot and bitter words. You have called her a baggage and alack-brainand I know not what."

"And you are he who taught me to speak the truth" she cried."Now I have spoken itand yet I cannot please you. Lack-brain she isandlack-brain I shall call her."

Such was a sample of the sudden janglings which marred the peace of thatlittle class. As the weeks passedhoweverthey became fewer and less violentas Alleyne's firm and constant nature gained sway and influence over the LadyMaude. And yetsooth to saythere were times when he had to ask himselfwhether it was not the Lady Maude who was gaining sway and influence over him.If she were changingso was he. In drawing her up from the worldhe was day byday being himself dragged down towards it. In vain he strove and reasoned withhimself as to the madness of letting his mind rest upon Sir Nigel's daughter.What was he--a younger sona penniless clerka squire unable to pay for hisown harness--that he should dare to raise his eyes to the fairest maid inHampshire? So spake reason; butin spite of allher voice was ever in his earsand her image in his heart. Stronger than reasonstronger than cloisterteachingsstronger than all that might hold him backwas that oldold tyrantwho will brook no rival in the kingdom of youth.

And yet it was a surprise and a shock to himself to find how deeply she hadentered into his life; how completely those vague ambitions and yearnings whichhad filled his spiritual nature centred themselves now upon this thing of earth.He had scarce dared to face the change which had come upon himwhen a fewsudden chance words showed it all up hard and clearlike a lightning flash inthe darkness.

He had ridden over to Pooleone November daywith his fellow- squirePeterTerlakein quest of certain yew-staves from Wat Swathlingthe Dorsetshirearmorer. The day for their departure had almost comeand the two youths spurredit over the lonely downs at the top of their speed on their homeward courseforevening had fallen and there was much to be done. Peter was a hardwirybrownfacedcountry-bred lad who looked on the coming war as the schoolboy looks onhis holidays This dayhoweverhe had been sombre and mutewith scarce a worda mile to bestow upon his comrade.

"Tell me Alleyne Edricson" he broke outsuddenlyas theyclattered along the winding track which leads over the Bournemouth hills"hasit not seemed to you that of late the Lady Maude is paler and more silent thanis her wont?"

"It may be so" the other answered shortly.

"And would rather sit distrait by her oriel than ride gayly to the chaseas of old. MethinksAlleyneit is this learning which you have taught her thathas taken all the life and sap from her. It is more than she can masterlike aheavy spear to a light rider."

"Her lady-mother has so ordered it" said Alleyne.

"By our Lady! and withouten disrespect" quoth Terlake"it isin my mind that her lady-mother is more fitted to lead a company to a stormingthan to have the upbringing of this tender and milk- white maid. Hark yeladAlleyneto what I never told man or woman yet. I love the fair Lady Maudeandwould give the last drop of my heart's blood to serve her. He spoke with agasping voiceand his face flushed crimson in the moonlight.

Alleyne said nothingbut his heart seemed to turn to a lump of ice in hisbosom.

"My father has broad acres" the other continued"fromFareham Creek to the slope of the Portsdown Hill. There is filling of grangeshewing of woodmalting of grainand herding of sheep as much as heart couldwishand I the only son. Sure am I that Sir Nigel would be blithe at such amatch."

"But how of the lady?" asked Alleynewith dry lips.

"Ahladthere lies my trouble. It is a toss of the head and a droop ofthe eyes if I say one word of what is in my mind. 'Twere as easy to woo thesnow-dame that we shaped last winter in our castle yard. I did but ask heryesternight for her green veilthat I might bear it as a token or lambrequinupon my helm; but she flashed out at me that she kept it for a better manandthen all in a breath asked pardon for that she had spoke so rudely. Yet shewould not take back the words eithernor would she grant the veil. Has itseemed to theeAlleynethat she loves any one?"

"NayI cannot say" said Alleynewith a wild throb of sudden hopein his heart.

"I have thought soand yet I cannot name the man. Indeedgave myselfand Walter Fordand youwho are half a clerkand Father Christopher of thePrioryand Bertrand the pagewho is there whom she sees?"

"I cannot tell" quoth Alleyne shortly; and the two squires rode onagaineach intent upon his own thoughts.

Next day at morning lesson the teacher observed that his pupil was indeedlooking pale and jadedwith listless eyes and a weary manner. He washeavy-hearted to note the grievous change in her.

"Your mistressI fearis illAgatha" he said to the tire-womanwhen the Lady Maude had sought her chamber.

The maid looked aslant at him with laughing eyes. "It is not an illnessthat kills" quoth she.

"Pray God not!" he cried. "But tell meAgathawhat it isthat ails her?"

"Methinks that I could lay my hand upon another who is smitten with thesame trouble" said shewith the same sidelong look. "Canst not givea name to itand thou so skilled in leech- craft?"

"Naysave that she seems aweary."

"Wellbethink you that it is but three days ere you will all be goneand Castle Twynham be as dull as the Priory. Is there not enough there to clouda lady's brow?"

"In soothyes" he answered; "I had forgot that she is aboutto lose her father."

"Her father!" cried the tire-womanwith a little trill of laughter."Oh simplesimple!" And she was off down the passage like arrow frombowwhile Alleyne stood gazing after herbetwixt hope and doubtscarce daringto put faith in the meaning which seemed to underlie her words.

Chapter 13 - How The White Company Set Forth To The Wars

 


 

ST. LUKE'S day had come and had goneand it was in the season of Martinmaswhen the oxen are driven in to the slaughterthat the White Company was readyfor its journey. Loud shrieked the brazen bugles from keep and from gatewayandmerry was the rattle of the war-drumas the men gathered in the outer baileywith torches to light themfor the morn had not yet broken. Alleynefrom thewindow of the armorylooked down upon the strange scene--the circles of yellowflickering lightthe lines of stern and bearded facesthe quick shimmer ofarmsand the lean heads of the horses. In front stood the bow-menten deepwith a fringe of under-officerswho paced hither and thither marshalling theranks with curt precept or short rebuke. Behind were the little clump ofsteel-clad horsementheir lances raisedwith long pensils drooping down theoaken shafts. So silent and still were theythat they might have been metal-sheathed statueswere it not for the occasional quickimpatient stamp of theirchargersor the rattle of chamfron against neck- plates as they tossed andstrained. A spear's length in front of them sat the spare and long-limbed figureof Black Simonthe Norwich fighting manhis fiercedeep-lined face framed insteeland the silk guidon marked with the five scarlet roses slanting over hisright shoulder. All roundin the edge of the circle of the lightstood thecastle servantsthe soldiers who were to form the garrisonand little knots ofwomen. who sobbed in their aprons and called shrilly to their name-saints towatch over the Wator Willor Peterkin who had turned his hand to the work ofwar.

The young squire was leaning forwardgazing at the stirring and martialscenewhen he heard a shortquick gasp at his shoulderand there was the LadyMaudewith her hand to her heartleaning up against the wallslender andfairlike a half-plucked lily. Her face was turned away from himbut he couldseeby the sharp intake of her breaththat she was weeping bitterly.

"Alas! alas!" he criedall unnerved at the sight"why is itthat you are so sadlady?"

"It is the sight of these brave men" she answered; "and tothink how many of them go and how few are like to find their way back. I haveseen it beforewhen I was a little maidin the year of the Prince's greatbattle. I remember then how they mustered in the baileyeven as they do nowand my lady-mother holding me in her arms at this very window that I might seethe show."

"Please Godyou will see them all back ere another year be out"said he.

She shook her headlooking round at him with flushed cheeks and eyes thatsparkled in the lamp-light. "Ohbut I hate myself for being a woman!"she criedwith a stamp of her little foot. "What can I do that is good?Here I must bideand talk and sew and spinand spin and sew and talk. Ever thesame dull roundwith nothing at the end of it. And now you are going toowhocould carry my thoughts out of these gray wallsand raise my mind abovetapestry and distaffs. What can I do? I am of no more use or value than thatbroken bowstave."

"You are of such value to me" he criedin a whirl of hotpassionate words"that all else has become nought. You are my heartmylifemy one and only thought. OhMaudeI cannot live without youI cannotleave you without a word of love. All is changed to me since I have known you. Iam poor and lowly and all unworthy of you; but if great love may weigh down suchdefectsthen mine may do it. Give me but one word of hope to take to the warswith me--but one. Ahyou shrinkyou shudder! My wild words have frightened you."

Twice she opened her lipsand twice no sound came from them. At last shespoke in a hard and measured voiceas one who dare not trust herself to speaktoo freely.

"This is over sudden" she said; "it is not so long since theworld was nothing to you. You have changed once; perchance you may change again."

"Cruel!" he cried"who hath changed me?"

"And then your brother" she continued with a little laughdisregarding his question. "Methinks this hath become a family customamongst the Edricsons. NayI am sorry; I did not mean a jibe. ButindeedAlleynethis hath come suddenly upon meand I scarce know what to say."

"Say some word of hopehowever distant--some kind word that I maycherish in my heart."

"NayAlleyneit were a cruel kindnessand you have been too good andtrue a friend to me that I should use you despitefully. There cannot be a closerlink between us. It is madness to think of it. Were there no other reasonsitis enough that my father and your brother would both cry out against it."

"My brotherwhat has he to do with it? And your father----"

"ComeAlleynewas it not you who would have me act fairly to all menandcertesto my father amongst them?"

"You say truly" he cried"you say truly. But you do notreject meMaude? You give me some ray of hope? I do not ask pledge or promise.Say only that I am not hateful to you--that on some happier day I may hearkinder words from you."

Her eyes softened upon himand a kind answer was on her lipswhen a hoarseshoutwith the clatter of arms and stamping of steedsrose up from the baileybelow. At the sound her face set her eyes sparkledand she stood with flushedcheek and head thrown back--a woman's bodywith a soul of fire.

"My father hath gone down" she cried. "Your place is by hisside. Naylook not at meAlleyne. It is no time for dallying. Win my father'sloveand all may follow. It is when the brave soldier hath done his devoir thathe hopes for his rewardFarewelland may God be with you!" She held outher whiteslim hand to himbut as he bent his lips over it she whisked awayand was goneleaving in his outstretched hand the very green veil for whichpoor Peter Terlake had craved in vain. Again the hoarse cheering burst out frombelowand he heard the clang of the rising portcullis. Pressing the veil to hislipshe thrust it into the bosom of his tunicand rushed as fast as feet couldbear him to arm himself and join the muster.

The raw morning had broken ere the hot spiced ale had been served round andthe last farewell spoken. A cold wind blew up from the sea and ragged cloudsdrifted swiftly across the sky.

The Christchurch townsfolk stood huddled about the Bridge of Avonthe womenpulling tight their shawls and the men swathing themselves in their gaberdineswhile down the winding path from the castle came the van of the little armytheir feet clanging on the hardfrozen road. First came Black Simon with hisbannerbestriding a lean and powerful dapple-gray chargeras hard and wiry andwarwise as himself. After himriding three abreastwere nine men-at-armsallpicked soldierswho had followed the French wars beforeand knew the marchesof Picardy as they knew the downs of their native Hampshire. They were armed tothe teeth with lanceswordand macewith square shields notched at the upperright-hand corner to serve as a spear-rest. For defence each man wore a coat ofinterlaced leathern thongsstrengthened at the shoulderelbowand upper armwith slips of steel. Greaves and knee-pieces were also of leather backed bysteeland their gauntlets and shoes were of iron platescraftily jointedSowith jingle of arms and clatter of hoofsthey rode across the Bridge of Avonwhile the burghers shouted lustily for the flag of the five roses and itsgallant guard.

Close at the heels of the horses came two-score archers bearded and burlytheir round targets on their backs and their long yellow bowsthe most deadlyweapon that the wit of man had yet devisedthrusting forth from behind theirshoulders. From each man's girdle hung sword or axeaccording to his humorandover the right hip there jutted out the leathern quiver with its bristle ofgoosepigeonand peacock feathers. Behind the bowmen strode two trumpetersblowing upon nakirsand two drummers in parti-colored clothes. After them cametwenty-seven sumpter horses carrying tent-polesclothspare armsspurswedgescooking kettleshorse-shoesbags of nails and the hundred other thingswhich experience had shown to be needful in a harried and hostile country. Awhite mule with red trappingsled by a varletcarried Sir Nigel's own naperyand table comforts. Then came two-score more archersten more men-at- armsandfinally a rear guard of twenty bowmenwith big John towering in the front rankand the veteran Aylward marching by the sidehis battered harness and fadedsurcoat in strange contrast with the snow-white jupons and shining brigandinesof his companions. A quick cross-fire of greetings and questions and rough WestSaxon jests flew from rank to rankor were bandied about betwixt the marchingarchers and the gazing crowd.

"HolaGaffer Higginson!" cried Aylwardas he spied the portlyfigure of the village innkeeper. "No more of thy nut-brownmon gar. Weleave it behind us."

"By St. Paulno!" cried the other. "You take it with you.Devil a drop have you left in the great kilderkin. It was time for you togo."

"If your cask is leerI warrant your purse is fullgaffer"shouted Hordle John. "See that you lay in good store of the best for ourhome-coming."

"See that you keep your throat whole for the drinking of it archer"cried a voiceand the crowd laughed at the rough pleasantry.

"If you will warrant the beerI will warrant the throat" saidJohn composedly.

"Close up the ranks!" cried Aylward. "En avantmes enfants!Ahby my finger bonesthere is my sweet Mary from the Priory Mill! Ma foibutshe is beautiful! AdieuMary ma cherie! Mon coeur est toujours a toi. Braceyour beltWatkinsmanand swing your shoulders as a free companion should. Bymy hilt! your jerkins will be as dirty as mine ere you clap eyes on HengistburyHead again."

The company had marched to the turn of the road ere Sir Nigel Loring rode outfrom the gatewaymounted on Pommershis great black war-horsewhose ponderousfootfall on the wooden drawbridge echoed loudly from the gloomy arch whichspanned it. Sir Nigel was still in his velvet dress of peacewith flat velvetcap of maintenanceand curling ostrich feather clasped in a golden brooch. Tohis three squires riding behind him it looked as though he bore the bird's eggas well as its featherfor the back of his bald pate shone like a globe ofivory. He bore no arms save the long and heavy sword which hung at hissaddle-bow; but Terlake carried in front of him the high wivern- crestedbassinetFord the heavy ash spear with swallow-tail pennonwhile Alleyne wasentrusted with the emblazoned shield. The Lady Loring rode her palfrey at herlord's bridle-armfor she would see him as far as the edge of the forestandever and anon she turned her hard-lined face up wistfully to him and ran aquestioning eye over his apparel and appointments

"I trust that there is nothing forgot" she saidbeckoning toAlleyne to ride on her further side. "I trust him to youEdricson. Hosenshirtscyclasand under-jupons are in the brown basket on the left side of themule. His wine he takes hot when the nights are coldmalvoisie or vernagewithas much spice as would cover the thumb-nail. See that he hath a change if hecome back hot from the tilting. There is goose-grease in a boxif the old scarsache at the turn of the weather. Let his blankets be dry and----"

"Naymy heart's life" the little knight interrupted"troublenot now about such matters. Why so pale and wanEdricson? Is it not enow tomake a man's heart dance to see this noble Companysuch valiant men-at-armssuch lusty archers? By St. Paul! I would be ill to please if I were not blitheto see the red roses flying at the head of so noble a following!"

"The purse I have already given youEdricson" continue the lady."There are in it twenty-three marksone noblethree shillings andfourpencewhich is a great treasure for one man to carry. And I pray you tobear in mindEdricsonthat he hath two pair of shoesthose of red leather forcommon useand the others with golden toe-chainswhich he may wear should hechance to drink wine with the Prince or with Chandos."

"My sweet bird" said Sir Nigel"I am right loth to part fromyoubut we are now at the fringe of the forestand it is not right that Ishould take the chatelaine too far from her trust."

"But ohmy dear lord" she cried with a trembling lip"letme bide with you for one furlong further--or one and a half perhaps. You mayspare me this out of the weary miles that you will journey along."

"Comethenmy heart's comfort" he answered. "But I mustcrave a gage from thee. It is my customdearlingand hath been since I havefirst known theeto proclaim by herald in such campstownshipsor fortalicesas I may chance to visitthat my lady- lovebeing beyond compare the fairestand sweetest in ChristendomI should deem it great honor and kindlycondescension if any cavalier would run three courses against me with sharpenedlancesshould he chance to have a lady whose claim he was willing to advance. Ipray you then my fair dovethat you will vouchsafe to me one of those doeskinglovesthat I may wear it as the badge of her whose servant I shall ever be."

"Alack and alas for the fairest and sweetest!" she cried."Fair and sweet I would fain be for your dear sakemy lordbut old I amand uglyand the knights would laugh should you lay lance in rest in such acause."

"Edricson" quoth Sir Nigel"you have young eyesand mineare somewhat bedimmed. Should you chance to see a knight laughor smileorevenlook youarch his browsor purse his mouthor in any way show surprisethat I should uphold the Lady Maryyou will take particular note of his namehis coat-armorand his lodging. Your glovemy life's desire!"

The Lady Mary Loring slipped her hand from her yellow leather gauntletandhelifting it with dainty reverencebound it to the front of his velvet cap.

"It is with mine other guardian angels" quoth hepointing at thesaints' medals which hung beside it. "And nowmy dear-estyou have comefar enow. May the Virgin guard and prosper thee! One kiss!" He bent downfrom his saddleand thenstriking spurs into his horse's sideshe galloped attop speed after his menwith his three squires at his heels. Half a milefurtherwhere the road topped a hillthey looked backand the Lady Mary onher white palfrey was still where they had left her. A moment later they were onthe downward slopeand she had vanished from their view.

Chapter 14 - How Sir Nigel Sought For A Wayside Venture

 


 

FOR a time Sir Nigel was very moody and downcastwith bent brows and eyesupon the pommel of his saddle. Edricson and Terlake rode behind him in littlebetter casewhile Forda careless and light-hearted youthgrinned at themelancholy of his companionsand flourished his lord's heavy spearmaking apoint to right and a point to leftas though he were a paladin contendingagainst a host of assailants. Sir Nigel happenedhoweverto turn himself inhis saddle-Ford instantly became as stiff and as rigid as though he had beenstruck with a palsy. The four rode alonefor the archers had passed a curve inthe roadthough Alleyne could still hear the heavy clumpclump of theirmarchingor catch a glimpse of the sparkle of steel through the tangle ofleafless branches.

"Ride by my sidefriendsI entreat of you" said the knightreining in his steed that they might come abreast of him. "Forsince ithath pleased you to follow me to the warsit were well that you should know howyou may best serve me. I doubt notTerlakethat you will show yourself aworthy son of a valiant father; and youFordof yours; and youEdricsonthatyou are mindful of the old-time house from which all men know that you aresprung. And first I would have you bear very steadfastly in mind that oursetting forth is by no means for the purpose of gaining spoil or exacting ransomthough it may well happen that such may come to us also. We go to Franceandfrom thence I trust to Spainin humble search of a field in which we may winadvancement and perchance some small share of glory. For this purpose I wouldhave you know that it is not my wont to let any occasion pass where it is in anyway possible that honor may be gained. I would have you bear this in mindandgive great heed to it that you may bring me word of all cartelschallengeswrongstyranniesinfamiesand wronging of damsels. Nor is any occasion toosmall to take note offor I have known such trifles as the dropping of agauntletor the flicking of a breadcrumbwhen well and properly followed uplead to a most noble spear- running. ButEdricsondo I not see a cavalier whorides down yonder road amongst the nether shaw? It would be wellperchancethat you should give him greeting from me. Andshould he be of gentle blood itmay be that he would care to exchange thrusts with me."

"Whymy lord" quoth Fordstanding in his stirrups and shadinghis eyes"it is old Hob Davidsonthe fat miller of Milton!"

"Ahso it isindeed" said Sir Nigelpuckering his cheeks;"but wayside ventures are not to be scornedfor I have seen no finerpassages than are to be had from such chance meetingswhen cavaliers arewilling to advance themselves. I can well remember that two leagues from thetown of Rheims I met a very valiant and courteous cavalier of Francewith whomI had gentle and most honorable contention for upwards of an hour. It hath evergrieved me that I had not his namefor he smote upon me with a mace and wentupon his way ere I was in condition to have much speech with him; but his armswere an allurion in chief above a fess azure. I was also on such an occasionthrust through the shoulder by Lyon de Montcourtwhom I met on the high roadbetwixt Libourne and Bordeaux. I met him but the oncebut I have never seen aman for whom I bear a greater love and esteem. And so also with the squire LeBourg Capilletwho would have been a very valiant captain had he lived."

"He is dead then?" asked Alleyne Edricson.

"Alas! it was my ill fate to slay him in a bickering which broke out ina field near the township of Tarbes. I cannot call to mind how the thing cameaboutfor it was in the year of the Prince's ride through Langued'ocwhenthere was much fine skirmishing to be had at barriers. By St. Paul! I do notthink that any honorable cavalier could ask for better chance of advancementthan might be had by spurring forth before the army and riding to the gatewaysof Narbonneor Bergerac or Mont Giscarwhere some courteous gentleman wouldever be at wait to do what he might to meet your wish or ease you of your vow.Such a one at Ventadour ran three courses with me betwixt daybreak and sunriseto the great exaltation of his lady."

"And did you slay him alsomy lord?" asked Ford with reverence.

"I could never learnfor he was carried within the barrierand as Ihad chanced to break the bone of my leg it was a great unease for me to ride oreven to stand. Yetby the goodness of heaven and the pious intercession of thevaliant St. GeorgeI was able to sit my charger in the ruffle of Poictierswhich was no very long time afterwards. But what have we here? A very fair andcourtly maidenor I mistake."

It was indeed a tall and buxom country lasswith a basket of spinach-leavesupon her headand a great slab of bacon tucked under one arm. She bobbed afrightened curtsey as Sir Nigel swept his velvet hat from his head and reined uphis great charger.

"God be with theefair maiden!" said he.

"God guard theemy lord!" she answeredspeaking in the broadestWest Saxon speechand balancing herself first on one foot and then on the otherin her bashfulness.

"Fear notmy fair damsel" said Sir Nigel"but tell me ifperchance a poor and most unworthy knight can in any wise be of service to you.Should it chance that you have been used despitefullyit may be that I mayobtain justice for you."

"Lawk nokind sir" she answeredclutching her bacon the tighteras though some design upon it might be hid under this knightly offer. "I bethe milking wench o' fairmer Arnoldand he be as kind a maister as heart couldwish."

"It is well" said heand with a shake of the bridle rode on downthe woodland path. "I would have you bear in mind" he continued tohis squires"that gentle courtesy is notas is the base use of so manyfalse knightsto be shown only to maidens of high degreefor there is no womanso humble that a true knight may not listen to her tale of wrong. But here comesa cavalier who is indeed in haste. Perchance it would be well that we should askhim whither he ridesfor it may be that he is one who desires to advancehimself in chivalry."

The bleakhardwind-swept road dipped down in front of them into a littlevalleyand thenwrithing up the heathy slope upon the other sidelost itselfamong the gaunt pine-trees. Far away between the black lines of trunks the quickglitter of steel marked where the Company pursued its way. To the northstretched the tree countrybut to the southbetween two swelling downsaglimpse might be caught of the cold gray shimmer of the seawith the whitefleck of a galley sail upon the distant sky-line. Just in front of thetravellers a horseman was urging his steed up the slopedriving it on with whipand spur as one who rides for a set purpose. As he clattered upAlleyne couldsee that the roan horse was gray with dust and flecked with foamas though ithad left many a mile behind it. The rider was a stern-faced manhard of mouthand dry of eyewith a heavy sword clanking at his sideand a stiff whitebundle swathed in linen balanced across the pommel of his saddle.

"The king's messenger" he bawled as he came up to them. "Themessenger of the king. Clear the causeway for the king's own man."

"Not so loudlyfriend" quoth the little knightreining his horsehalf round to bar the path. "I have myself been the king's man for thirtyyears or morebut I have not been wont to halloo about it on a peacefulhighway."

"I ride in his service" cried the other"and I carry thatwhich belongs to him. You bar my path at your peril."

"Yet I have known the king's enemies claim to ride in his same"said Sir Nigel. "The foul fiend may lurk beneath a garment of light. Wemust have some sign or warrant of your mission."

"Then must I hew a passage" cried the strangerwith his shoulderbraced round and his hand upon his hilt. "I am not to be stopped on theking's service by every gadabout."

"Should you be a gentleman of quarterings and coat-armor" lispedSir Nigel"I shall be very blithe to go further into the matter with you.If notI have three very worthy squiresany one of whom would take the thingupon himselfand debate it with you in a very honorable way."

The man scowled from one to the otherand his hand stole away from his sword.

"You ask me for a sign" he said. "Here is a sign for yousince you must have one." As he spoke he whirled the covering from theobject in front of him and showed to their horror that it was a newly-severedhuman leg. "By God's tooth!" he continuedwith a brutal laugh"youask me if I am a man of quarteringsand it is even sofor I am officer to theverderer's court at Lyndhurst. This thievish leg is to hang at Miltonand theother is already at Brockenhurstas a sign to all men of what comes of beingover-fond of venison pasty."

"Faugh!" cried Sir Nigel. "Pass on the other side of the roadfellowand let us have the wind of you. We shall trot our horsesmy friendsacross this pleasant valleyforby Our Lady! a breath of God's fresh air isright welcome after such a sight."

"We hoped to snare a falcon" said he presently"but wenetted a carrion-crow. Ma foi! but there are men whose hearts are tougher than aboar's hide. For meI have played the old game of war since ever I had hair onmy chinand I have seen ten thousand brave men in one day with their faces tothe skybut I swear by Him who made me that I cannot abide the work of thebutcher."

"And yetmy fair lord" said Edricson"there hasfrom whatI hearbeen much of such devil's work in France."

"Too muchtoo much" he answered. "But I have ever observedthat the foremost in the field are they who would scorn to mishandle a prisoner.By St. Paul! it is not they who carry the breach who are wont to sack the townbut the laggard knaves who come crowding in when a way has been cleared for them.But what is this among the trees?"

"It is a shrine of Our Lady" said Terlake"and a blindbeggar who lives by the alms of those who worship there."

"A shrine!" cried the knight. "Then let us put up an orison."Pulling off his capand clasping his handshe chanted in a shrill voice:"Benedictus dominus Deus meusqui docet manus meas ad proeliumet digitosmeos ad bellum." A strange figure he seemed to his three squiresperchedon his huge horsewith his eyes upturned and the wintry sun shimmering upon hisbald head. "It is a noble prayer" he remarkedputting on his hatagain"and it was taught to me by the noble Chandos himself. But how faresit with youfather? Methinks that I should have ruth upon youseeing that I ammyself like one who looks through a horn window while his neighbors have theclear crystal. Yetby St. Paul! there is a long stride between the man who hatha horn casement and him who is walled in on every hand."

"Alas! fair sir" cried the blind old man"I have not seenthe blessed blue of heaven this two-score yearssince a levin flash burned thesight out of my head."

"You have been blind to much that is goodly and fair" quoth SirNigel"but you have also been spared much that is sorry and foul. Thisvery hour our eyes have been shocked with that which would have left you unmoved.Butby St. Paul! we must onor our Company will think that they have losttheir captain somewhat early in the venture. Throw the man my purseEdricsonand let us go."

Alleynelingering behindbethought him of the Lady Loring's counselandreduced the noble gift which the knight had so freely bestowed to a single pennywhich the beggar with many mumbled blessings thrust away into his wallet. Thenspurring his steedthe young squire rode at the top of his speed after hiscompanionsand overtook them just at the spot where the trees fringe off intothe moor and the straggling hamlet of Hordle lies scattered on either side ofthe winding and deeply- rutted track. The Company was already well-nigh throughthe village; butas the knight and his squires closed up upon themthey heardthe clamor of a strident voicefollowed by a roar of deep-chested laughter fromthe ranks of the archers. Another minute brought them up with the rear-guardwhere every man marched with his beard on his shoulder and a face which was a-grin with merriment. By the side of the column walked a huge red-headed bowmanwith his hands thrown out in argument and expostulationwhile close at hisheels followed a little wrinkled woman who poured forth a shrill volley of abusevaried by an occasional thwack from her stickgiven with all the force of herbodythough she might have been beating one of the forest trees for all theeffect that she seemed likely to produce.

"I trustAylward" said Sir Nigel gravelyas he rode up"thatthis doth not mean that any violence hath been offered to women. If such a thinghappenedI tell you that the man shall hangthough he were the best archerthat ever wore brassart."

"Naymy fair lord" Aylward answered with a grin"it isviolence which is offered to a man. He comes from Hordleand this is his motherwho hath come forth to welcome him."

"You rammucky lurden" she was howlingwith a blow between eachcatch of her breath"you shammockingyapingover-long good- for-nought.I will teach thee! I will baste thee! Ayeby my faith!"

"Whistmother" said Johnlooking back at her from the tail ofhis eye"I go to France as an archer to give blows and to take them."

"To Francequotha?" cried the old dame. "Bide here with meand I shall warrant you more blows than you are like to get in France. If blowsbe what you seekyou need not go further than Hordle."

"By my hilt! the good dame speaks truth" said Aylward. "Itseems to be the very home of them."

"What have you to sayyou clean-shaved galley-beggar?" cried thefiery dameturning upon the archer. "Can I not speak with my own son butyou must let your tongue clack? A soldierquothaand never a hair on his face.I have seen a better soldier with pap for food and swaddling clothes for harness."

"Stand to itAylward" cried the archersamid a fresh burst oflaughter.

"Do not thwart hercomrade" said big John. "She hath aproper spirit for her years and cannot abide to be thwarted. It is kindly andhomely to me to hear her voice and to feel that she is behind me. But I mustleave you nowmotherfor the way is over-rough for your feet; but I will bringyou back a silken gownif there be one in France or Spainand I will bringJinny a silver penny; so good-bye to youand God have you in His keeping!"Whipping up the little womanhe lifted her lightly to his lipsand thentaking his place in the ranks againmarched on with the laughing Company.

"That was ever his way" she criedappealing to Sir Nigelwhoreined up his horse and listened with the greatest courtesy. "He would jogon his own road for all that I could do to change him. First he must be a monkforsoothand all because a wench was wise enough to turn her back on him. Thenhe joins a rascally crew and must needs trapse off to the warsand me with noone to bait the fire if I be outor tend the cow if I be home. Yet I have beena good mother to him. Three hazel switches a day have I broke across hisshouldersand he takes no more notice than you have seen him to-day."

"Doubt not that he will come back to you both safe and prosperousmyfair dame" quoth Sir Nigel. "Meanwhile it grieves me that as I havealready given my purse to a beggar up the road I----"

"Naymy lord" said Alleyne"I still have some moneysremaining."

"Then I pray you to give them to this very worthy woman." Hecantered on as he spokewhile Alleynehaving dispensed two more penceleftthe old dame standing by the furthest cottage of Hordlewith her shrill voiceraised in blessings instead of revilings.

There were two cross-roads before they reached the Lymington Fordand ateach of then Sir Nigel pulled up his horseand waited with many a curvet andgambadecraning his neck this way and that to see if fortune would send him aventure. Crossroads hadas he explainedbeen rare places for knightly spear-runningsand in his youth it was no uncommon thing for a cavalier to abide forweeks at such a pointholding gentle debate with all comersto his ownadvancement and the great honor of his lady. The times were changedhoweverand the forest tracks wound away from them deserted and silentwith no trampleof war-horse or clang of armor which might herald the approach of anadversary--so that Sir Nigel rode on his way disconsolate. At the LymingtonRiver they splashed through the fordand lay in the meadows on the further sideto eat the bread and salt meat which they carried upon the sumpter horses. Thenere the sun was on the slope of the heavensthey had deftly trussed up againand were swinging merrily upon their waytwo hundred feet moving like two.

There is a third cross-road where the track from Boldre runs down to the oldfishing village of Pitt's Deep. Down thisas they came abreast of ittherewalked two menthe one a pace or two behind the other. The cavaliers could notbut pull up their horses to look at themfor a stranger pair were never seenjourneying together. The first was a misshapensqualid man with cruelcunningeyes and a shock of tangled red hairbearing in his hands a small unpaintedcrosswhich he held high so that all men might see it. He seemed to be in thelast extremity of frightwith a face the color of clay and his limbs all ashakeas one who hath an ague. Behind himwith his toe ever rasping upon the other'sheelsthere walked a very sternblack-bearded man with a hard eye and a setmouth. He bore over his shoulder a great knotted stick with three jagged nailsstuck in the head of itand from time to time he whirled it up in the air witha quivering armas though he could scarce hold back from dashing hiscompanion's brains out. So in silence they walked under the spread of thebranches on the grass-grown path from Boldre.

"By St. Paul!" quoth the knight"but this is a passingstrange sightand perchance some very perilous and honorable venture may arisefrom it. I pray youEdricsonto ride up to them and to ask them the cause ofit."

There was no needhoweverfor him to movefor the twain came swiftlytowards them until they were within a spear's lengthwhen the man with thecross sat himself down sullenly upon a tussock of grass by the waysidewhilethe other stood beside him with his great cudgel still hanging over his head. Sointent was he that he raised his eyes neither to knight nor squiresbut keptthem ever fixed with a savage glare upon his comrade.

"I pray youfriend" said Sir Nigel"to tell us truthfullywho you areand why you follow this man with such bitter enmity?

"So long as I am within the pale of the king's law" the strangeranswered"I cannot see why I should render account to every passingwayfarer."

"You are no very shrewd reasonerfellow" quoth the knight; "forif it be within the law for you to threaten him with your clubthen it is alsolawful for me to threaten you with my sword."

The man with the cross was down in an instant on his knees upon the groundwith hands clasped above him and his face shining with hope. "For dearChrist's sakemy fair lord" he cried in a crackling voice"I haveat my belt a bag with a hundred rose noblesand I will give it to you freely ifyou will but pass your sword through this man's body."

"Howyou foul knave?" exclaimed Sir Nigel hotly. "Do youthink that a cavalier's arm is to be bought like a packman's ware. By St. Paul!I have little doubt that this fellow hath some very good cause to hold you inhatred."

"Indeedmy fair siryou speak sooth" quoth he with the clubwhile the other seated himself once more by the wayside. "For this man isPeter Petersona very noted rievedraw-latchand murthererwho has wroughtmuch evil for many years in the parts about Winchester. It was but the otherdayupon the feasts of the blessed Simon and Judethat he slew my youngerbrother William in Bere Forest--for whichby the black thorn of Glastonbury! Ishall have his heart's bloodthough I walk behind him to the further end ofearth."

"But if this be indeed so" asked Sir Nigel"why is it thatyou have come with him so far through the forest?"

"Because I am an honest Englishmanand will take no more than the lawallows. For when the deed was done this foul and base wretch fled to sanctuaryat St. Crossand Ias you may thinkafter him with all the posse. The priorhoweverhath so ordered that while he holds this cross no man may lay hand uponhim without the ban of churchwhich heaven forfend from me or mine. Yetif foran instant he lay the cross asideor if he fail to journey to Pitt's Deepwhere it is ordered that he shall take ship to outland partsor if he take notthe first shipor if until the ship be ready he walk not every day into the seaas far as his loinsthen he becomes outlawand I shall forthwith dash out hisbrains."

At this the man on the ground snarled up at him like a ratwhile the otherclenched his teethand shook his cluband looked down at him with murder inhis eyes. Knight and squire gazed from rogue to avengerbut as it was a matterwhich none could mend they tarried no longerbut rode upon their way. Alleynelooking backsaw that the murderer had drawn bread and cheese from his scripand was silently munching itwith the protecting cross still hugged to hisbreastwhile the otherblack and grimstood in the sunlit road and threw hisdark shadow athwart him.

Chapter 15 - How The Yellow Cog Sailed Forth From Lepe

 


 

THAT night the Company slept at St. Leonard'sin the great monastic barnsand spicarium--ground well known both to Alleyne and to Johnfor they werealmost within sight of the Abbey of Beaulieu. A strange thrill it gave to theyoung squire to see the well-remembered white dress once moreand to hear themeasured tolling of the deep vespers bellAt early dawn they passed across thebroadsluggishreed-girt stream--menhorsesand baggage in the flat ferrybarges--and so journeyed on through the fresh morning air past Exbury to Lepe.Topping the heathy downthey came of a sudden full in sight of the oldsea-port--a cluster of housesa trail of blue smokeand a bristle of masts. Toright and left the long blue curve of the Solent lapped in a fringe of foam uponthe yellow beach. Some way out from the town a line of pessonerscreyersandother small craft were rolling lazily on the gentle swell. Further out still laya great merchant-shiphigh endeddeep waistedpainted of a canary yellowandtowering above the fishing-boats like a swan among ducklings.

"By St. Paul!" said the knight"our good merchant ofSouthampton hath not played us falsefor methinks I can see our ship downyonder. He said that she would be of great size and of a yellow shade."

"By my hiltyes!" muttered Aylward; "she is yellow as akite's clawand would carry as many men as there are pips in a pomegranate."

"It is as well" remarked Terlake; "for methinksmy fairlordthat we are not the only ones who are waiting a passage to Gascony. Mineeye catches at times a flash and sparkle among yonder houses which assuredlynever came from shipman's jacket or the gaberdine of a burgher."

"I can also see it" said Alleyneshading his eyes with his hand."And I can see men-at-arms in yonder boats which ply betwixt the vessel andthe shore. But methinks that we are very welcome herefor already they comeforth to meet us."

A tumultuous crowd of fishermencitizensand women had indeed swarmed outfrom the northern gateand approached them up the side of the moorwavingtheir hands and dancing with joyas though a great fear had been rolled backfrom their minds. At their head rode a very large and solemn man with a longchin and a drooping lip. He wore a fur tippet round his neck and a heavy goldchain over itwith a medallion which dangled in front of him.

"Welcomemost puissant and noble lord" he crieddoffing hisbonnet to Black Simon. "I have heard of your lordship's valiant deedsandin sooth they might be expected from your lordship's face and bearing. Is thereany small matter in which I may oblige you?"

"Since you ask me" said the man-at-arms"I would take itkindly if you could spare a link or two of the chain which hangs round your neck."

"Whatthe corporation chain!" cried the other in horror. "Theancient chain of the township of Lepe! This is but a sorry jestSir Nigel."

"What the plague did you ask me for then?" said Simon. "But ifit is Sir Nigel Loring with whom you would speakthat is he upon the blackhorse."

The Mayor of Lepe gazed with amazement on the mild face and slender frame ofthe famous warrior.

"Your pardonmy gracious lord" he cried. "You see in me themayor and chief magistrate of the ancient and powerful town of Lepe. I bid youvery heartily welcomeand the more so as you are come at a moment when we aresore put to it for means of defence.'

"Ha!" cried Sir Nigelpricking up his ears.

"Yesmy lordfor the town being very ancient and the walls as old asthe townit follows that they are very ancient too. But there is a certainvillainous and bloodthirsty Norman pirate hight Tete-noirewhowith a Genoancalled Tito Caraccicommonly known as Spade-beardhath been a mighty scourgeupon these coasts. Indeedmy lordthey are very cruel and black- hearted mengraceless and ruthlessand if they should come to the ancient and powerful townof Lepe then--"

"Then good-bye to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe" quothFordwhose lightness of tongue could at times rise above his awe of Sir Nigel.

The knighthoweverwas too much intent upon the matter in hand to give heedto the flippancy of his squire. "Have you then cause" he asked"to think that these men are about to venture an attempt upon you?"

"They have come in two great galleys" answered the mayor"withtwo bank of oars on either sideand great store of engines of war and ofmen-at-arms. At Weymouth and at Portland they have murdered and ravished.Yesterday morning they were at Cowesand we saw the smoke from the burningcrofts. To-day they lie at their ease near Freshwaterand we fear much lestthey come upon us and do us a mischief."

"We cannot tarry" said Sir Nigelriding towards the townwiththe mayor upon his left side; "the Prince awaits us at Bordeauxand we maynot be behind the general muster. Yet I will promise you that on our way weshall find time to pass Freshwater and to prevail upon these rovers to leave youin peace."

"We are much beholden to you!" cried the mayor "But I cannotseemy lordhowwithout a war-shipyou may venture against these men. Withyour archershoweveryou might well hold the town and do them great scath ifthey attempt to land."

"There is a very proper cog out yonder" said Sir Nigel"itwould be a very strange thing if any ship were not a war-ship when it had suchmen as these upon her decks. Certeswe shall do as I sayand that no laterthan this very day."

"My lord" said a rough-haireddark-faced manwho walked by theknight's other stirrupwith his head sloped to catch all that he was saying."By your leaveI have no doubt that you are skilled in land fighting andthe marshalling of lancesbutby my soul! you will find it another thing uponthe sea. I am the master- shipman of this yellow cogand my name is GoodwinHawtayne. I have sailed since I was as high as this staffand I have foughtagainst these Normans and against the Genoeseas well as the ScotchtheBretonsthe Spanishand the Moors. I tell yousirthat my ship is over lightand over frail for such workand it will but end in our having our throats cutor being sold as slaves to the Barbary heathen."

"I also have experienced one or two gentle and honorable ventures uponthe sea" quoth Sir Nigel"and I am right blithe to have so fair atask before us. I thinkgood master-shipmanthat you and I may win great honorin this matterand I can see very readily that you are a brave and stout man."

"I like it not" said the other sturdily. "In God's nameIlike it not. And yet Goodwin Hawtayne is not the man to stand back when hisfellows are for pressing forward. By my soul! be it sink or swimI shall turnher beak into Freshwater Bayand if good Master Withertonof Southamptonlikenot my handling of his ship then he may find another master-shipman."

They were close by the old north gate of the little townand Alleynehalfturning in his saddlelooked back at the motley crowd who followed. The bowmenand men-at-arms had broken their ranks and were intermingled with the fishermenand citizenswhose laughing faces and hearty gestures bespoke the weight ofcare from which this welcome arrival had relieved them. Here and there among themoving throng of dark jerkins and of white surcoats were scattered dashes ofscarlet and bluethe whimples or shawls of the women. Aylwardwith a fishinglass on either armwas vowing constancy alternately to her on the right and heron the leitwhile big John towered in the rear with a little chubby maidenenthroned upon his great shoulderher soft white arm curled round his shiningheadpiece. So the throng moved onuntil at the very gate it was brought to astand by a wondrously fat manwho came darting forth from the town with rage inevery feature of his rubicund face.

"How nowSir Mayor?" he roaredin a voice like a bull. "HownowSir Mayor? How of the clams and the scallops?"

"By Our Lady! my sweet Sir Oliver" cried the mayor. "I havehad so much to think ofwith these wicked villains so close upon usthat ithad quite gone out of my head."

"Wordswords!" shouted the other furiously. "Am I to be putoff with words? I say to you againhow of the clams and scallops?"

"My fair siryou flatter me" cried the mayor. "I am apeaceful traderand I am not wont to be so shouted at upon so small a matter."

"Small!" shrieked the other. "Small! Clams and scallops! Askme to your table to partake of the dainty of the townand when I come a barrenwelcome and a bare board! Where is my spear- bearer?"

"NaySir OliverSir Oliver!" cried Sir Nigellaughing.

Let your anger be appeasedsince instead of this dish you come upon an oldfriend and comrade."

"By St. Martin of Tours!" shouted the fat knighthis wrath allchanged in an instant to joy"if it is not my dear little game rooster ofthe Garonne. Ahmy sweet cozI am right glad to see you. What days we haveseen together!"

"Ayeby my faith" cried Sir Nigelwith sparkling eyes"wehave seen some valiant menand we have shown our pennons in some nobleskirmishes. By St. Paul! we have had great joys in France."

"And sorrows also" quoth the other. "I have some sad memoriesof the land. Can you recall that which befell us at Libourne?"

"NayI cannot call to mind that we ever so much as drew sword at theplace."

"Manman" cried Sir Oliver"your mind still runs on noughtbut blades and bassinets. Hast no space in thy frame for the softer joys. Aheven now I can scarce speak of it unmoved. So noble a piesuch tender pigeonsand sugar in the gravy instead of salt! You were by my side that dayas wereSir Claude Latour and the Lord of Pommers."

"I remember it" said Sir Nigellaughing"and how youharried the cook down the streetand spoke of setting fire to the inn. By St.Paul! most worthy mayormy old friend is a perilous manand I rede you thatyou compose your difference with him on such terms as you may."

"The clams and scallops shall be ready within the hour" the mayoranswered. "I had asked Sir Oliver Buttesthorn to do my humble board thehonor to partake at it of the dainty upon which we take some little pridebutin sooth this alarm of pirates hath cast such a shadow on my wits that I am likeone distrait. But I trustSir Nigelthat you will also partake of none-meatwith me?"

"I have overmuch to do" Sir Nigel answered"for we must beaboardhorse and manas early as we may. How many do you musterSir Oliver?"

"Three and forty. The forty are drunkand the three are but indifferentsober. I have them all safe upon the ship."

"They had best find their wits againfor I shall have work for everyman of them ere the sun set. It is my intentionif it seems good to youto trya venture against these Norman and Genoese rovers."

"They carry caviare and certain very noble spices from the Levant aboardof ships from Genoa" quoth Sir Oliver. "We may come to great profitthrough the business. I pray youmaster-shipmanthat when you go on board youpour a helmetful of sea-water over any of my rogues whom you may see there."

Leaving the lusty knight and the Mayor of LepeSir Nigel led the Companystraight down to the water's edgewhere long lines of flat lighters swiftlybore them to their vessel. Horse after horse was slung by main force up from thebargesand after kicking and plunging in empty air was dropped into the deepwaist of the yellow cogwhere rows of stalls stood ready for their safe keeping.Englishmen in those days were skilled and prompt in such mattersfor it was sonot long before that Edward had embarked as many as fifty thousand men in theport of Orwellwith their horses and their baggageall in the space of four-and-twenty hours. So urgent was Sir Nigel on the shoreand so prompt wasGoodwin Hawtayne on the cogthat Sir Oliver Buttesthorn had scarce swallowedhis last scallop ere the peal of the trumpet and clang of nakir announced thatall was ready and the anchor drawn. In the last boat which left the shore thetwo commanders sat together in the sheetsa strange contrast to one anotherwhile under the feet of the rowers was a litter of huge stones which Sir Nigelhad ordered to be carried to the cog. These once aboardthe ship set her broadmainsailpurple in colorand with a golden St. Christopher bearing Christ uponhis shoulder in the centre of it. The breeze blewthe sail belliedover heeledthe portly vesseland away she plunged through the smooth blue rollersamidthe clang of the minstrels on her poop and the shouting of the black crowd whofringed the yellow beach. To the left lay the green Island of Wightwith itslonglowcurving hills peeping over each other's shoulders to the sky- line;to the right the wooded Hampshire coast as far as eye could reach; above asteel-blue heavenwith a wintry sun shimmering down upon themand enough offrost to set the breath a-smoking.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel gaylyas he stood upon the poop andlooked on either side of him"it is a land which is very well worthfighting forand it were pity to go to France for what may be had at home. Didyou not spy a crooked man upon the beach?"

"NayI spied nothing" grumbled Sir Oliver"for I washurried down with a clam stuck in my gizzard and an untasted goblet of Cyprus onthe board behind me."

"I saw himmy fair lord" said Terlake"an old man with oneshoulder higher than the other."

" 'Tis a sign of good fortune" quoth Sir Nigel. "Our path wasalso crossed by a woman and by a priestso all should be well with us. What sayyouEdricson?"

"I cannot tellmy fair lord. The Romans of old were a very wise peopleyetcertesthey placed their faith in such matters. Sotoodid the Greeksand divers other ancient peoples who were famed for their learning. Yet of themoderns there are many who scoff at all omens."

"There can be no manner of doubt about it" said Sir OliverButtesthorn"I can well remember that in Navarre one day it thundered onthe left out of a cloudless sky. We knew that ill would come of itnor had welong to wait. Only thirteen days aftera haunch of prime venison was carriedfrom my very tent door by the wolvesand on the same day two flasks of oldvernage turned sour and muddy."

"You may bring my harness from below" said Sir Nigel to hissquires"and alsoI pray youbring up Sir Oliver's and we shall don ithere. Ye may then see to your own gear; for this day you willI hopemake avery honorable entrance into the field of chivalryand prove yourselves to bevery worthy and valiant squires. And nowSir Oliveras to our dispositions:would it please you that I should order them or will you?"

"Youmy cockerelyou. By Our Lady! I am no chickenbut I cannot claimto know as much of war as the squire of Sir Walter Manny. Settle the matter toyour own liking."

"You shall fly your pennon upon the fore partthenand I upon the poop.For foreguard I shall give you your own forty menwith two-score archers.Two-score menwith my own men-at-arms and squireswill serve as a poop-guard.Ten archerswith thirty shipmenunder the mastermay hold the waist while tenlie aloft with stones and arbalests. How like you that?"

"Goodby my faithgood! But here comes my harnessand I must to workfor I cannot slip into it as I was wont when first I set my face to the wars."

Meanwhile there had been bustle and preparation in all parts of the greatvessel. The archers stood in groups about the decksnew-stringing their bowsand testing that they were firm at the nocks. Among them moved Aylward and otherof the older soldierswith a few whispered words of precept here and of warningthere.

"Stand to itmy hearts of gold" said the old bowman as he passedfrom knot to knot. "By my hilt! we are in luck this journey. Bear in mindthe old saying of the Company."

"What is thatAylward?" cried severalleaning on their bows andlaughing at him.

" 'Tis the master-bowyer's rede: 'Every bow well bent. Every shaft wellsent. Every stave well nocked. Every string well locked.' Therewith thatjingle in his heada bracer on his left handa shooting glove on his rightand a farthing's-worth of wax in his girdlewhat more doth a bowman need?"

"It would not be amiss" said Hordle John"if under hisgirdle he had tour farthings'-worth of wine."

"Work firstwine afterwardsmon camarade. But it is time that we tookour orderfor methinks that between the Needle rocks and the Alum cliffs yonderI can catch a glimpse of the topmasts of the galleys. HewettCookJohnsonCunninghamyour men are of the poop-guard. ThornburyWaltersHackettBaddlesmereyou are with Sir Oliver on the forecastle. Simonyou bide withyour lord's banner; but ten men must go forward."

Quietly and promptly the men took their placeslying flat upon their faceson the deckfor such was Sir Nigel's order. Near the prow was planted SirOliver's spearwith his arms--a boar's head gules upon a field of gold. Closeby the stern stood Black Simon with the pennon of the house of Loring. In thewaist gathered the Southampton marinershairy and burly menwith their jerkinsthrown offtheir waists braced tightswordsmalletsand pole-axes in theirhands. Their leaderGoodwin Hawtaynestood upon the poop and talked with SirNigelcasting his eye up sometimes at the swelling sailand then glancing backat the two seamen who held the tiller.

"Pass the word" said Sir Nigel"that no man shall stand toarms or draw his bow-string until my trumpeter shall sound. It would be wellthat we should seem to be a merchant-ship from Southampton and appear to fleefrom them."

"We shall see them anon" said the master-shipman. "Hasaid Inot so? There they liethe water-snakesin Freshwater Bay; and mark the reekof smoke from yonder pointwhere they have been at their devil's work. See howtheir shallops pull from the land! They have seen us and called their men aboard.Now they draw upon the anchor. See them like ants upon the forecastle! Theystoop and heave like handy ship men. Butmy fair lordthese are no niefs. Idoubt but we have taken in hand more than we can do. Each of these ships is agaleasseand of the largest and swiftest make."

"I would I had your eyes" said Sir Nigelblinking at the pirategalleys. "They seem very gallant shipsand I trust that we shall have muchpleasance from our meeting with them. It would be well to pass the word that weshould neither give nor take quarter this day. Have you perchance a priest orfriar aboard this shipMaster Hawtayne?"

"Nomy fair lord."

"Wellwellit is no great matter for my Companyfor they were allhouseled and shriven ere we left Twynham Castle; and Father Christopher of thePriory gave me his word that they were as fit to march to heaven as to Gascony.But my mind misdoubts me as to these Winchester men who have come with SirOliverfor they appear to be a very ungodly crew. Pass the word that the menkneeland that the under-officers repeat to them the paterthe aveand thecredo."

With a clank of armsthe rough archers and seamen took to their kneeswithbent heads and crossed handslistening to the hoarse mutter from thefile-leaders. It was strange to mark the hush; so that the lapping of the waterthe straining of the sailand the creaking of the timbers grew louder of asudden upon the ear. Many of the bowmen had drawn amulets and relics from theirbosomswhile he who possessed some more than usually sanctified treasure passedit down the line of his comradesthat all might kiss and reap the virtue.

The yellow cog had now shot out from the narrow waters of the Solentand wasplunging and rolling on the long heave of the open channel. The wind blewfreshly from the eastwith a very keen edge to it; and the great sail belliedroundly outlaying the vessel over until the water hissed beneath her leebulwarks. Broad and ungainlyshe floundered from wave to wavedipping herround bows deeply into the blue rollersand sending the white flakes of foam ina spatter over her decks. On her larboard quarter lay the two dark galleyswhich had already hoisted sailand were shooting out from Freshwater Bay inswift pursuittheir double line of oars giving them a vantage which could notfail to bring them up with any vessel which trusted to sails alone. High andbluff the English cog; longblack and swift the pirate galleyslike two fiercelean wolves which have seen a lordly and unsuspecting stag walk past theirforest lair.

"Shall we turnmy fair lordor shall we carry on?" asked themaster-shipmanlooking behind him with anxious eyes.

"Naywe must carry on and play the part of the helpless merchant."

"But your pennons? They will see that we have two knights with us."

"Yet it would not be to a knight's honor or good name to lower hispennon. Let them beand they will think that we are a wine- ship for Gasconyor that we bear the wool-bales of some mercer of the Staple. Ma foibut theyare very swift! They swoop upon us like two goshawks on a heron. Is there notsome symbol or device upon their sails?"

"That on the right" said Edricson"appears to have the headof an Ethiop upon it."

" 'Tis the badge of Tete-noirethe Norman" cried a seaman-mariner. "I have seen it beforewhen he harried us at Winchelsea. He is awondrous large and strong manwith no ruth for manwomanor beast. They saythat he hath the strength of six; andcerteshe hath the crimes of six uponhis soul. Seenowto the poor souls who swing at either end of his yard-arm!"

At each end of the yard there did indeed hang the dark figure of a manjolting and lurching with hideous jerkings of its limbs at every plunge andswoop of the galley.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel"and by the help of St. Georgeand Our Ladyit will be a very strange thing if our black-headed friend doesnot himself swing thence ere he be many hours older. But what is that upon theother galley?"

"It is the red cross of Genoa. This Spade-beard is a very noted captainand it is his boast that there are no seamen and no archers in the world who cancompare with those who serve the Doge Boccanegra."

"That we shall prove" said Goodwin Hawtayne; "but it would bewellere they close with usto raise up the mantlets and pavises as a screenagainst their bolts." He shouted a hoarse orderand his seamen workedswiftly and silentlyheightening the bulwarks and strengthening them. The threeship's anchors were at Sir Nigel's command carried into the waistand tied tothe mastwith twenty feet of cable betweeneach under the care of four seamen.Eight others were stationed with leather water- bags to quench any fire-arrowswhich might come aboardwhile others were sent up the mastto lie along theyard and drop stones or shoot arrows as the occasion served.

"Let them be supplied with all that is heavy and weighty in the ship"said Sir Nigel.

"Then we must send them up Sir Oliver Buttesthorn" quoth Ford.

The knight looked at him with a face which struck the smile from his lips."No squire of mine" he said"shall ever make jest of a beltedknight. And yet" he addedhis eyes softening"I know that it is buta boy's mirthwith no sting in it. Yet I should ill do my part towards yourfather if I did not teach you to curb your tongue-play."

"They will lay us aboard on either quartermy lord" cried themaster. "See how they stretch out from each other! The Norman hath amangonel or a trabuch upon the forecastle. Seethey bend to the levers! Theyare about to loose it."

"Aylward" cried the knight"pick your three trustiestarchersand see if you cannot do something to hinder their aim. Methinks theyare within long arrow flight."

"Seventeen score paces" said the archerrunning his eye backwardsand forwards. By my ten finger-bones! it would be a strange thing if we couldnot notch a mark at that distance. HereWatkin of SowleyArnoldLongWilliamslet us show the rogues that they have English bowmen to deal with."

The three archers named stood at the further end of the poopbalancingthemselves with feet widely spread and bows drawnuntil the heads of thecloth-yard arrows were level with the centre of the stave. "You are thesurerWatkin" said Aylwardstanding by them with shaft upon string."Do you take the rogue with the red coif. You two bring down the man withthe head- pieceand I will hold myself ready if you miss. Ma foi! they areabout to loose her. Shootmes garconsor you will be too late."

The throng of pirates had cleared away from the great wooden catapultleaving two of their number to discharge it. One in a scarlet cap bent over itsteadying the jagged rock which was balanced on the spoon-shaped end of the longwooden lever. The other held the loop of the rope which would release the catchand send the unwieldy missile hurtling through the air. So for an instant theystoodshowing hard and clear against the white sail behind them. The nextredcap had fallen across the stone with an arrow between his ribs; and the otherstruck in the leg and in the throatwas writhing and spluttering upon theground. As he toppled backwards he had loosed the springand the huge beam ofwoodswinging round with tremendous forcecast the corpse of his comrade soclose to the English ship that its mangled and distorted limbs grazed their verystern. As to the stoneit glanced off obliquely and fell midway between thevessels. A roar of cheering and of laughter broke from the rough archers andseamen at the sightanswered by a yell of rage from their pursuers.

"Lie lowmes enfants" cried Aylwardmotioning with his left hand."They will learn wisdom. They are bringing forward shield and mantlet. Weshall have some pebbles about our ears ere long."

Chapter 16 - How The Yellow Cog Fought The Two Rover Galleys

 


 

THE three vessels had been sweeping swiftly westwardsthe cog still well tothe frontalthough the galleys were slowly drawing in upon either quarter. Tothe left was a hard skyline unbroken by a sail. The island already lay like acloud behind themwhile right in front was St. Alban's Headwith Portlandlooming mistily in the farthest distance. Alleyne stood by the tillerlookingbackwardsthe fresh wind full in his teeththe crisp winter air tingling onhis face and blowing his yellow curls from under his bassinet. His cheeks wereflushed and his eyes shiningfor the blood of a hundred fighting Saxonancestors was beginning to stir in his veins.

"What was that?" he askedas a hissingsharp-drawn voice seemedto whisper in his ear. The steersman smiledand pointed with his foot to wherea short heavy cross-bow quarrel stuck quivering in the boards. At the sameinstant the man stumbled forward upon his kneesand lay lifeless upon the decka blood-stained feather jutting out from his back. As Alleyne stooped to raisehimthe air seemed to be alive with the sharp zip-zip of the boltsand hecould hear them pattering on the deck like apples at a tree-shaking.

"Raise two more mantlets by the poop lanthorn" said Sir Nigelquietly.

"And another man to the tiller" cried the master-shipman.

"Keep them in playAylwardwith ten of your men" the knightcontinued. "And let ten of Sir Oliver's bowmen do as much for the Genoese.I have no mind as yet to show them how much they have to fear from us."

Ten picked shots under Aylward stood in line across the broad deckand itwas a lesson to the young squires who had seen nothing of war to note howorderly and how cool were these old soldiershow quick the commandand howprompt the carrying outten moving like one. Their comrades crouched beneaththe bulwarkswith many a rough jest and many a scrap of criticism or advice."HigherWathigher!" "Put thy body into itWill!" "Forgetnot the windHal!" So ran the muttered choruswhile high above it rosethe sharp avanging of the stringsthe hiss of the shaftsand the short "Drawyour arrow! Nick your arrow! Shoot wholly together!" from the master-bowman.

And now both mangonels were at work from the galleysbut so covered andprotected thatsave at the moment of dischargeno glimpse could be caught ofthem. A huge brown rock from the Genoese sang over their headsand plungedsullenly into the slope of a wave. Another from the Norman whizzed into thewaistbroke the back of a horseand crashed its way through the side of thevessel. Two othersflying togethertore a great gap in the St. Christopherupon the sailand brushed three of Sir Oliver's men-at-arms from the forecastle.The master-shipman looked at the knight with a troubled face.

"They keep their distance from us" said he. "Our archery isover-goodand they will not close. What defence can we make against the stones?"

"I think I may trick them" the knight answered cheerfullyandpassed his order to the archers. Instantly five of them threw up their hands andfell prostrate upon the deck. One had already been slain by a boltso thatthere were but four upon their feet.

"That should give them heart" said Sir Nigeleyeing the galleyswhich crept along on either sidewith a slowmeasured swing of their greatoarsthe water swirling and foaming under their sharp stems.

"They still hold aloof" cried Hawtayne.

"Then down with two more" shouted their leader. "That willdo. Ma foi! but they come to our lure like chicks to the fowler. To your armsmen! The pennon behind meand the squires round the pennon. Stand fast with theanchors in the waistand be ready for a cast. Now blow out the trumpetsandmay God's benison be with the honest men!"

As he spoke a roar of voices and a roll of drums came from either galleyandthe water was lashed into spray by the hurried beat of a hundred oars. Down theyswoopedone on the rightone on the leftthe sides and shrouds black with menand bristling with weapons. In heavy clusters they hung upon the forecastle allready for a spring-faces whitefaces brownfaces yellowand faces blackfairNorsemenswarthy Italiansfierce rovers from the Levantand fiery Moors fromthe Barbary Statesof all hues and countriesand marked solely by the commonstamp of a wild- beast ferocity. Rasping up on either sidewith oars trailingto save them from snappingthey poured in a living torrent with horrid yell andshrill whoop upon the defenceless merchantman.

But wilder yet was the cryand shriller still the screamwhen there rose upfrom the shadow of those silent bulwarks the long lines of the English bowmenand the arrows whizzed in a deadly sleet among the unprepared masses upon thepirate decks. From the higher sides of the cog the bowmen could shoot straightdownat a range which was so short as to enable a cloth-yard shaft to piercethrough mail-coats or to transfix a shieldthough it were an inch thick oftoughened wood. One moment Alleyne saw the galley's poop crowded with rushingfigureswaving armsexultant faces; the next it was a blood-smeared shambleswith bodies piled three deep upon each otherthe living cowering behind thedead to shelter themselves from that sudden storm-blast of death. On either sidethe seamen whom Sir Nigel had chosen for the purpose had cast their anchors overthe side of the galleysso that the three vesselslocked in an iron griplurched heavily forward upon the swell.

And now set in a fell and fierce fightone of a thousand of which nochronicler has spoken and no poet sung. Through all the centuries and over allthose southern waters nameless men have fought in nameless placestheir solemonuments a protected coast and an unravaged country-side.

Fore and aft the archers had cleared the galleys' decksbut from either sidethe rovers had poured down into the waistwhere the seamen and bowmen werepushed back and so mingled with their foes that it was impossible for theircomrades above to draw string to help them. It was a wild chaos where axe andsword rose and fellwhile EnglishmanNormanand Italian staggered and reeledon a deck which was cumbered with bodies and slippery with blood. The clang ofblowsthe cries of the strickenthe shortdeep shout of the islandersandthe fierce whoops of the roversrose together in a deafening tumultwhile thebreath of the panting men went up in the wintry air like the smoke from afurnace. The giant Tete-noiretowering above his fellows and clad from head tofoot in plate of proofled on his boarderswaving a huge mace in the airwithwhich he struck to the deck every man who approached him. On the other sideSpade-bearda dwarf in heightbut of great breadth of shoulder and length ofarmhad cut a road almost to the mastwith three-score Genoese men-at- armsclose at his heels. Between these two formidable assailants the seamen werebeing slowly wedged more closely togetheruntil they stood back to back underthe mast with the rovers raging upon every side of them.

But help was close at hand. Sir Oliver Buttesthorn with his men-at-arms hadswarmed down from the forecastlewhile Sir Nigelwith his three squiresBlackSimonAylwardHordle Johnand a score morethrew themselves from the poopand hurled themselves into the thickest of the fight. Alleyneas in duty boundkept his eyes fixed ever on his lord and pressed forward close at his heels.Often had he heard of Sir Nigel's prowess and skill with all knightly weaponsbut all the tales that had reached his ears fell far short of the real quicknessand coolness of the man. It was as if the devil was in himfor he sprang hereand sprang therenow thrusting and now cuttingcatching blows on his shieldturning them with his bladestooping under the swing of an axespringing overthe sweep of a swordso swift and so erratic that the man who braced himselffor a blow at him might find him six paces off ere he could bring it down. Threepirates had fallen before himand he had wounded Spade-beard in the neckwhenthe Norman giant sprang at him from the side with a slashing blow from hisdeadly mace. Sir Nigel stooped to avoid itand at the same instant turned athrust from the Genoese swordsmanbuthis foot slipping in a pool of bloodhefell heavily to the ground. Alleyne sprang in front of the Normanbut his swordwas shattered and he himself beaten to the ground by a second blow from theponderous weapon. Ere the pirate chief could repeat ithoweverJohn's irongrip fell upon his wristand he found that for once he was in the hands of astronger man than himself.

Fiercely he strove to disengage his weaponbut Hordle John bent his armslowly back untilwith a sharp cracklike a breaking staveit turned limp inhis graspand the mace dropped from the nerveless fingers. In vain he tried topluck it up with the other hand. Back and back still his foeman bent himuntilwith a roar of pain and of furythe giant clanged his full length upon theboardswhile the glimmer of a knife before the bars of his helmet warned himthat short would be his shrift if he moved.

Cowed and disheartened by the loss of their leaderthe Normans had givenback and were now streaming over the bulwarks on to their own galleydropping adozen at a time on to her deckBut the anchor still held them in its crookedclawand Sir Oliver with fifty men was hard upon their heels. Nowtoothearchers had room to draw their bows once moreand great stones from the yard ofthe cog came thundering and crashing among the flying rovers. Here and therethey rushed with wild screams and cursesdiving under the sailcrouchingbehind boomshuddling into corners like rabbits when the ferrets are upon themas helpless and as hopeless. They were stern daysand if the honest soldiertoo poor for a ransomhad no prospect of mercy upon the battle-fieldwhat ruthwas there for sea robbersthe enemies of humankindtaken in the very deedwith proofs of their crimes still swinging upon their yard-arm.

But the fight had taken a new and a strange turn upon the other side.Spade-beard and his men had given slowly backhard pressed by Sir NigelAylwardBlack Simonand the poop-guard. Foot by foot the Italian had retreatedhis armor running blood at every jointhis shield splithis crest shornhisvoice fallen away to a mere gasping and croaking. Yet he faced his foemen withdauntless couragedashing inspringing backsure- footedsteady-handedwitha point which seemed to menace three at once. Beaten back on to the deck of hisown vesseland closely followed by a dozen Englishmenhe disengaged himselffrom themran swiftly down the decksprang back into the cog once morecutthe rope which held the anchorand was back in an instant among hiscrossbow-men. At the same time the Genoese sailors thrust with their oarsagainst the side of the cogand a rapidly widening rift appeared between thetwo vessels.

"By St. George!" cried Ford"we are cut off from Sir Nigel."

"He is lost" gasped Terlake. "Comelet us spring for it."The two youths jumped with all their strength to reach the departing galley.Ford's feet reached the edge of the bulwarksand his hand clutching a rope heswung himself on board. Terlake fell shortcrashed in among the oarsandbounded off into the sea. Alleynestaggering to the sidewas about to hurlhimself after himbut Hordle John dragged him back by the girdle.

"You can scarce standladfar less jump" said he. "See howthe blood rips from your bassinet."

"My place is by the flag" cried Alleynevainly struggling tobreak from the other's hold.

"Bide hereman. You would need wings ere you could reach Sir Nigel'sside."

The vessels were indeed so far apart now that the Genoese could use the fullsweep of their oarsand draw away rapidly from the cog.

"My Godbut it is a noble fight!" shouted big Johnclapping hishands. "They have cleared the poopand they spring into the waist. Wellstruckmy lord! Well struckAylward! See to Black Simonhow he storms amongthe shipmen! But this Spade- beard is a gallant warrior. He rallies his men uponthe forecastle. He hath slain an archer. Ha! my lord is upon him. Look to itAlleyne! See to the whirl and glitter of it!"

"By heavenSir Nigel is down!" cried the squire.

"Up!" roared John. "It was but a feint. He bears him back. Hedrives him to the side. Ahby Our Ladyhis sword is through him! They cry formercy. Down goes the red crossand up springs Simon with the scarlet roses!"

The death of the Genoese leader did indeed bring the resistance to an end.Amid a thunder of cheering from cog and from galleys the forked pennon flutteredupon the forecastleand the galleysweeping roundcame slowly backas theslaves who rowed it learned the wishes of their new masters.

The two knights had come aboard the cogand the grapplings having beenthrown offthe three vessels now moved abreast through all the storm and rushof the fight Alleyne had been aware of the voice of Goodwin Hawtaynethemaster-shipmanwith his constant "Hale the bowline! Veer the sheet!"and strange it was to him to see how swiftly the blood-stained sailors turnedfrom the strife to the ropes and back. Now the cog's head was turned Francewardsand the shipman walked the decka peaceful master-mariner once more.

There is sad scath done to the cogSir Nigel" said he. "Here is ahole in the side two ells acrossthe sail split through the centreand thewood as bare as a friar's poll. In good soothI know not what I shall say toMaster Witherton when I see the Itchen once more."

"By St. Paul! it would be a very sorry thing if we suffered you to bethe worse of this day's work" said Sir Nigel. "You shall take thesegalleys back with youand Master Witherton may sell them. Then from the moneyshe shall take as much as may make good the damageand the rest he shall keepuntil our home- comingwhen every man shall have his share. An image of silverfifteen inches high I have vowed to the Virginto be placed in her chapelwithin the Prioryfor that she was pleased to allow me to come upon thisSpade-beardwho seemed to me from what I have seen of him to be a verysprightly and valiant gentleman. But how fares it with youEdricson?"

"It is nothingmy fair lord" said Alleynewho had now loosenedhis bassinetwhich was cracked across by the Norman's blow. Even as he spokehoweverhis head swirled roundand he fell to the deck with the blood gushingfrom his nose and mouth.

"He will come to anon" said the knightstooping over him andpassing his fingers through his hair. "I have lost one very valiant andgentle squire this day. I can ill afford to lose another. How many men havefallen?"

"I have pricked off the tally" said Aylwardwho had come aboardwith his lord. "There are seven of the Winchester meneleven seamenyoursquireyoung Master Terlakeand nine archers."

"And of the others?"

"They are all dead--save only the Norman knight who stands behind you.What would you that we should do with him?"

"He must hang on his own yard" said Sir Nigel. "It was my vowand must be done."

The pirate leader had stood by the bulwarksa cord round his armsand twostout archers on either side. At Sir Nigel's words he started violentlyand hisswarthy features blanched to a livid gray.

"HowSir Knight?" he cried in broken English. "Que ditesvous?To hangle mort du chien! To hang!"

"It is my vow" said Sir Nigel shortly. "From what I hearyouthought little enough of hanging others."

"Peasantsbase roturiers" cried the other. "It is theirfitting death. Mais Le Seigneur d'Andelysavec le sang des rois dans ses veins!C'est incroyable!"

Sir Nigel turned upon his heelwhile two seamen cast a noose over thepirate's neck. At the touch of the cord he snapped the bonds which bound himdashed one of the archers to the deckand seizing the other round the waistsprang with him into the sea.

"By my hilthe is gone!" cried Aylwardrushing to the side."They have sunk together like a stone."

"I am right glad of it" answered Sir Nigel; "for though itwas against my vow to loose himI deem that he has carried himself like a verygentle and debonnaire cavalier."

Chapter 17 - How The Yellow Cog Crossed The Bar Of Gironde

 


 

FOR two days the yellow cog ran swiftly before a northeasterly windand onthe dawn of the third the high land of Ushant lay like a mist upon theshimmering sky-line. There came a plump of rain towards mid-day and the breezedied downbut it freshened again before nightfalland Goodwin Hawtayne veeredhis sheet and held head for the south. Next morning they had passed Belle Isleand ran through the midst of a fleet of transports returning from Guienne. SirNigel Loring and Sir Oliver Buttesthorn at once hung their shields over thesideand displayed their pennons as was the customnoting with the keenestinterest the answering symbols which told the names of the cavaliers who hadbeen constrained by ill health or wounds to leave the prince at so critical atime.

That evening a great dun-colored cloud banked up in the westand an anxiousman was Goodwin Hawtaynefor a third part of his crew had been slainand halfthe remainder were aboard the galleysso thatwith an injured shiphe waslittle fit to meet such a storm as sweeps over those waters. All night it blewin short fitful puffsheeling the great cog over until the water curled overher lee bulwarks. As the wind still freshened the yard was lowered half way downthe mast in the morning. Alleynewretchedly ill and weakwith his head stillringing from the blow which he had receivedcrawled up upon deckWater-sweptand aslantit was preferable to the noisomerat-haunted dungeons which servedas cabins. Thereclinging to the stout halliards of the sheethe gazed withamazement at the long lines of black waveseach with its curling ridge of foamracing in endless succession from out the inexhaustible west. A huge sombrecloudflecked with livid blotchesstretched over the whole seaward sky-linewith long ragged streamers whirled out in front of it. Far behind them the twogalleys labored heavilynow sinking between the rollers until their yards werelevel with the wavesand again shooting up with a reelingscooping motionuntil every spar and rope stood out hard against the sky. On the left thelow-lying land stretched in a dim hazerising here and there into a darker blurwhich marked the higher capes and headlands. The land of France! Alleyne's eyesshone as he gazed upon it. The land of France!--the very words sounded as thecall of a bugle in the ears of the youth of England. The land where theirfathers had bledthe home of chivalry and of knightly deedsthe country ofgallant menof courtly womenof princely buildingsof the wisethe polishedand the sainted. There it layso still and gray beneath the drifting wrack--thehome of things noble and of things shameful--the theatre where a new name mightbe made or an old one marred. From his bosom to his lips came the crumpled veiland he breathed a vow that if valor and goodwill could raise him to his lady'ssidethen death alone should hold him back from her. His thoughts were still inthe woods of Minstead and the old armory of Twynham Castlewhen the hoarsevoice of the master-shipman brought them back once more to the Bay of Biscay.

"By my trothyoung sir" he said"you are as long in theface as the devil at a christeningand I cannot marvel at itfor I have sailedthese waters since I was as high as this whinyardand yet I never saw more surepromise of an evil night."

"NayI had other things upon my mind" the squire answered.

"And so has every man" cried Hawtayne in an injured voice. "Letthe shipman see to it. It is the master-shipman's affair. Put it all upon goodMaster Hawtayne! Never had I so much care since first I blew trumpet and showedcartel at the west gate of Southampton."

"What is amiss then?" asked Alleynefor the man's words were asgusty as the weather.

"Amissquotha? Here am I with but half my marinersand a hole in theship where that twenty-devil stone struck us big enough to fit the fat widow ofNortham through. It is well enough on this tackbut I would have you tell mewhat I am to do on the other. We are like to have salt water upon us until we befound pickled like the herrings in an Easterling's barrels."

"What says Sir Nigel to it?"

"He is below pricking out the coat-armor of his mother's uncle. 'Pesterme not with such small matters!' was all that I could get from him. Then thereis Sir Oliver. 'Fry them in oil with a dressing of Gascony' quoth heand thenswore at me because I had not been the cook. 'Walawa' thought I'mad mastersober man'--so away forward to the archers. Harrow and alas! but they were worsethan the others."

"Would they not help you then?"

"Naythey sat tway and tway at a boardhim that they call Aylward andthe great red-headed man who snapped the Norman's arm-boneand the black manfrom Norwichand a score of othersrattling their dice in an archer's gauntletfor want of a box. 'The ship can scarce last much longermy masters' quoth I.'That is your businessold swine's-head' cried the black galliard. 'Le diablet'emporte' says Aylward. 'A fivea four and the main' shouted the big manwith a voice like the flap of a sail. Hark to them nowyoung sirand say if Ispeak not sooth."

As he spokethere sounded high above the shriek of the gale and thestraining of the timbers a gust of oaths with a roar of deep- chested mirth fromthe gamblers in the forecastle.

"Can I be of avail?" asked Alleyne. "Say the word and thething is doneif two hands may do it."

"Naynayyour head I can see is still tottyand i' faith little headwould you havehad your bassinet not stood your friend. All that may be done isalready carried outfor we have stuffed the gape with sails and corded itwithout and within. Yet when we bale our bowline and veer the sheet our liveswill hang upon the breach remaining blocked. See how yonder headland looms uponus through the mist! We must tack within three arrow flightsor we may find arock through our timbers. NowSt. Christopher be praised! here is Sir Nigelwith whom I may confer."

"I prythee that you will pardon me" said the knightclutching hisway along the bulwark. "I would not show lack of courtesy toward a worthymanbut I was deep in a matter of some weightconcerning whichAlleyneIshould be glad of your rede. It touches the question of dimidiation orimpalement in the coat of mine uncleSir John Leighton of Shropshirewho tookunto wife the widow of Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell. The case has been muchdebated by pursuivants and kings-of-arms. But how is it with youmaster shipman?"

"Ill enoughmy fair lord. The cog must go about anonand I know nothow we may keep the water out of her."

"Go call Sir Oliver!" said Sir Nigeland presently the portlyknight made his way all astraddle down the slippery deck.

"By my soulmaster-shipmanthis passes all patience!" he criedwrathfully. "If this ship of yours must needs dance and skip like a clownat a kermessethen I pray you that you will put me into one of these galeasses.I had but sat down to a flask of malvesie and a mortress of brawnas is my useabout this hourwhen there comes a cherkingand I find my wine over my legsand the flask in my lapand then as I stoop to clip it there comes anothercursed cherkand there is a mortress of brawn stuck fast to the nape of my neck.At this moment I have two pages coursing after it from side to sidelike houndsbehind a leveret. Never did living pig gambol more lightly. But you have sentfor meSir Nigel?"

"I would fain have your redeSir Oliverfor Master Hawtayne hath fearsthat when we veer there may come danger from the hole in our side."

"Then do not veer" quoth Sir Oliver hastily. "And nowfairsirI must hasten back to see how my rogues have fared with the brawn."

"Naybut this will scarce suffice" cried the shipman. "If wedo not veer we will be upon the rocks within the hour."

"Then veer" said Sir Oliver. "There is my rede; and nowSirNigelI must crave----"

At this instanthowevera startled shout rang out from two seamen upon theforecastle. "Rocks!" they yelledstabbing into the air with theirforefingers. "Rocks beneath our very bows!" Through the belly of agreat black wavenot one hundred paces to the front of themthere thrust fortha huge jagged mass of brown stonewhich spouted spray as though it were somecrouching monsterwhile a dull menacing boom and roar filled the air.

"Yare! yare!" screamed Goodwin Hawtayneflinging himself upon thelong pole which served as a tiller. "Cut the halliard! Haul her over! Layher two courses to the wind!"

Over swung the great boomand the cog trembled and quivered within fivespear-lengths of the breakers.

"She can scarce draw clear" cried Hawtaynewith his eyes from thesail to the seething line of foam. "May the holy Julian stand by us and thethrice-sainted Christopher!"

"If there be such perilSir Oliver" quoth Sir Nigel"itwould be very knightly and fitting that we should show our pennons. I pray you.Edricsonthat you will command my guidon-bearer to put forward my banner."

"And sound the trumpets!" cried Sir Oliver. "In manus tuasDomine! I am in the keeping of James of Compostellato whose shrine I shallmake pilgrimageand in whose honor I vow that I will eat a carp each year uponhis feast-day. Mon Dieubut the waves roar! How is it with us nowmaster-shipman?"

"We draw! We draw!" cried Hawtaynewith his eyes still fixed uponthe foam which hissed under the very bulge of the side. "AhHoly Motherbe with us now!"

As he spoke the cog rasped along the edge of the reefand a long whitecurling sheet of wood was planed off from her side from waist to poop by ajutting horn of the rock. At the same instant she lay suddenly overthe saildrew fulland she plunged seawards amid the shoutings of the seamen and thearchers.

"The Virgin be praised!" cried the shipmanwiping his brow. "Forthis shall bell swing and candle burn when I see Southampton Water once more.Cheerilymy hearts! Pull yarely on the bowline!"

"By my soul! I would rather have a dry death" quoth Sir Oliver."ThoughMort Dieu! I have eaten so many fish that it were but justice thatthe fish should eat me. Now I must back to the cabinfor I have matters therewhich crave my attention."

"NaySir Oliveryou had best bide with usand still show your ensign"Sir Nigel answered; "forif I understand the matter arightwe have butturned from one danger to the other."

"Good Master Hawtayne" cried the boatswainrushing aft"thewater comes in upon us apace. The waves have driven in the sail wherewith westrove to stop the hole." As he spoke the seamen came swarming on to thepoop and the forecastle to avoid the torrent which poured through the huge leakinto the waist. High above the roar of the wind and the clash of the sea rosethe shrill half-human cries of the horsesas they found the water risingrapidly around them.

"Stop it from without!" cried Hawtayneseizing the end of the wetsail with which the gap had been plugged. "Speedilymy heartsor we aregone!" Swiftly they rove ropes to the cornersand thenrushing forward tothe bowsthey lowered them under the keeland drew them tight in such a waythat the sail should cover the outer face of the gap. The force of the rush ofwater was checked by this obstaclebut it still squirted plentifully from everyside of it. At the sides the horses were above the bellyand in the centre aman from the poop could scarce touch the deck with a seven-foot spear. The coglay lower in the water and the waves splashed freely over the weather bulwark.

"I fear that we can scarce bide upon this tack" cried Hawtayne;"and yet the other will drive us on the rocks."

"Might we not haul down sail and wait for better times?" suggestedSir Nigel.

"Naywe should drift upon the rocks. Thirty years have I been on theseaand never yet in greater straits. Yet we are in the hands of the Saints."

"Of whom" cried Sir Oliver"I look more particularly to St.James of Compostellawho hath already befriended us this dayand on whosefeast I hereby vow that I shall eat a second carpif he will but interpose asecond time."

The wrack had thickened to seawardand the coast was but a blurred line. Twovague shadows in the offing showed where the galeasses rolled and tossed uponthe great Atlantic rollersHawtayne looked wistfully in their direction.

"If they would but lie closer we might find safetyeven should the cogfounder. You will bear me out with good Master Witherton of Southampton that Ihave done all that a shipman might. It would be well that you should doff camailand greavesSir Nigelforby the black rood! it is like enough that we shallhave to swim for it."

"Nay" said the little knight"it would be scarce fittingthat a cavalier should throw off his harness for the fear of every puff of windand puddle of water. I would rather that my Company should gather round me hereon the poopwhere we might abide together whatever God may be pleased to send.ButcertesMaster Hawtaynefor all that my sight is none of the bestit isnot the first time that I have seen that headland upon the left."

The seaman shaded his eyes with his handand gazed earnestly through thehaze and spray. Suddenly he threw up his arms and shouted aloud in his joy.

" 'Tis the point of La Tremblade!" he cried. "I had notthought that we were as far as Oleron. The Gironde lies before usand once overthe barand under shelter of the Tour de Cordouanall will be well with us.Veer againmy heartsand bring her to try with the main course!"

The sail swung round once moreand the cogbattered and torn and well-nighwater-loggedstaggered in for this haven of refuge. A bluff cape to the northand a long spit to the south marked the mouth of the noble riverwith alow-lying island of silted sand in the centreall shrouded and curtained by thespume of the breakers. A line of broken water traced the dangerous barwhich inclear day and balmy weather has cracked the back of many a tall ship.

"There is a channel" said Hawtayne"which was shown to me bythe Prince's own pilot. Mark yonder tree upon the bankand see the tower whichrises behind it. If these two be held in a lineeven as we hold them nowitmay be donethough our ship draws two good ells more than when she put forth."

"God speed youMaster Hawtayne!" cried Sir Oliver. "Twicehave we come scathless out of periland now for the third time I commend me tothe blessed James of Compostellato whom I vow---- "

"Naynayold friend" whispered Sir Nigel. "You are like tobring a judgment upon us with these vowswhich no living man could accomplish.Have I not already heard you vow to eat two carp in one dayand now you wouldventure upon a third?"

"I pray you that you will order the Company to lie down" criedHawtaynewho had taken the tiller and was gazing ahead with a fixed eye."In three minutes we shall either be lost or in safety."

Archers and seamen lay flat upon the deckwaiting in stolid silence forwhatever fate might come. Hawtayne bent his weight upon the tillerand crouchedto see under the bellying sail. Sir Oliver and Sir Nigel stood erect with handscrossed in front of the poop. Down swooped the great cog into the narrow channelwhich was the portal to safety. On either bow roared the shallow bar. Rightahead one small lane of black swirling water marked the pilot's course. But truewas the eye and firm the hand which guided. A dull scraping came from beneaththe vessel quivered and shookat the waistat the quarterand behind soundedthat grim roaring of the watersand with a plunge the yellow cog was over thebar and speeding swiftly up the broad and tranquil estuary of the Gironde.

Chapter 18 - How Sir Nigel Loring Put A Patch Upon His Eye

 


 

IT was on the morning of Fridaythe eight-and twentieth day of Novembertwodays before the feast of St. Andrewthat the cog and her two prisonersafter aweary tacking up the Girondo and the Garonnedropped anchor at last in front ofthe noble city of Bordeaux. With wonder and admirationAlleyneleaning overthe bulwarksgazed at the forest of maststhe swarm of boats darting hitherand thither on the bosom of the broad curving streamand the graycrescent-shaped city which stretched with many a tower and minaret along thewestern shore. Never had he in his quiet life seen so great a townnor wasthere in the whole of Englandsave London aloneone which might match it insize or in wealth. Here came the merchandise of all the fair countries which arewatered by the Garonne and the Dordogne--the cloths of the souththe skins ofGuiennethe wines of the Medoc--to be borne away to HullExeterDartmouthBristol or Chesterin exchange for the wools and woolfels of England. Here toodwelt those famous smelters and welders who had made the Bordeaux steel the mosttrusty upon earthand could give a temper to lance or to sword which might meandear life to its owner. Alleyne could see the smoke of their forges reeking upin the clear morning air. The storm had died down now to a gentle breezewhichwafted to his ears the long-drawn stirring bugle-calls which sounded from theancient ramparts.

"Holamon petit!" said Aylwardcoming up to where he stood."Thou art a squire nowand like enough to win the golden spurswhile I amstill the master-bowmanand master-bowman I shall bide. I dare scarce wag mytongue so freely with you as when we tramped together past Wilverley ChaseelseI might be your guide nowfor indeed I know every house in Bordeaux as a friarknows the beads on his rosary."

"NayAylward" said Alleynelaying his hand upon the sleeve ofhis companion's frayed jerkin"you cannot think me so thrall as to throwaside an old friend because I have had some small share of good fortune. I takeit unkind that you should have thought such evil of me."

"Naymon gar. 'Twas but a flight shot to see if the wind blew steadythough I were a rogue to doubt it."

"Whyhad I not met youAylwardat the Lynhurst innwho can say whereI had now been! CertesI had not gone to Twynham Castlenor become squire toSir Nigelnor met----" He paused abruptly and flushed to his hairbut thebowman was too busy with his own thoughts to notice his young companion'sembarrassment.

"It was a good hostelthat of the 'Pied Merlin' " he remarked."By my ten finger bones! when I hang bow on nail and change my brigandinefor a tunicI might do worse than take over the dame and her business."

"I thought" said Alleyne"that you were betrothed to someone at Christchurch."

"To three" Aylward answered moodily"to three. I fear I maynot go back to Christchurch. I might chance to see hotter service in Hampshirethan I have ever done in Gascony. But mark you now yonder lofty turret in thecentrewhich stands back from the river and hath a broad banner upon thesummit. See the rising sun flashes full upon it and sparkles on the golden lions.'Tis the royal banner of Englandcrossed by the prince's label. There he dwellsin the Abbey of St. Andrewwhere he hath kept his court these years back.Beside it is the minster of the same saintwho hath the town under his veryspecial care."

"And how of yon gray turret on the left?"

" 'Tis the fane of St. Michaelas that upon the right is of St. Remi.Theretooabove the poop of yonder niefyou see the towers of Saint Croix andof Pey Berland. Mark also the mighty ramparts which are pierced by the threewater-gatesand sixteen others to the landward side."

"And how is itgood Aylwardthat there comes so much music from thetown? I seem to hear a hundred trumpetsall calling in chorus."

"It would be strange elseseeing that all the great lords of Englandand of Gascony are within the wallsand each would have his trumpeter blow asloud as his neighborlest it might be thought that his dignity had been abated.Ma foi! they make as much louster as a Scotch armywhere every man fillshimself with girdle-cakesand sits up all night to blow upon the toodle-pipe.See all along the banks how the pages water the horsesand there beyond thetown how they gallop them over the plain! For every horse you see a beltedknight hath herbergage in the townforas I learnthe men-at-arms and archershave already gone forward to Dax."

"I trustAylward" said Sir Nigelcoming upon deck"thatthe men are ready for the land. Go tell them that the boats will be for themwithin the hour."

The archer raised his hand in saluteand hastened forward. In the meantimeSir Oliver had followed his brother knightand the two paced the poop togetherSir Nigel in his plum-colored velvet suit with flat cap of the sameadorned infront with the Lady Loring's glove and girt round with a curling ostrich feather.The lusty knighton the other handwas clad in the very latest modewithcote-hardiedoubletpourpointcourtpieand paltock of olive-greenpickedout with pink and jagged at the edges. A red chaperon or capwith long hangingcornettesat daintily on the back of his black-curled headwhile his gold-huedshoes were twisted up a la poulaineas though the toes were shooting forth atendril which might hope in time to entwine itself around his massive leg.

"Once moreSir Oliver" said Sir Nigellooking shorewards withsparkling eyes"do we find ourselves at the gate of honorthe door whichhath so often led us to all that is knightly and worthy. There flies theprince's bannerand it would be well that we haste ashore and pay our obeisanceto him. The boats already swarm from the bank."

"There is a goodly hostel near the west gatewhich is famed for thestewing of spiced pullets" remarked Sir Oliver. "We might take theedge of our hunger off ere we seek the princefor though his tables are gaywith damask and silver he is no trencherman himselfand hath no sympathy forthose who are his betters."

"His betters!"

"His betters before the tranchoirlad. Sniff not treason where none ismeant. I have seen him smile in his quiet way because I had looked for thefourth time towards the carving squire. And indeed to watch him dallying with alittle gobbet of breador sipping his cup of thrice-watered wineis enough tomake a man feel shame at his own hunger. Yet war and glorymy good friendthough well enough in their waywill not serve to tighten such a belt as claspsmy waist."

"How read you that coat which hangs over yonder galleyAlleyne?"asked Sir Nigel.

"Argenta bend vert between cotises dancette gules."

"It is a northern coat. I have seen it in the train of the Percies. Fromthe shieldsthere is not one of these vessels which hath not knight or baronaboard. I would mine eyes were better. How read you this upon the left?"

"Argent and azurea barry wavy of six."

"Hait is the sign of the Wiltshire Stourtons! And there beyond I seethe red and silver of the Worsleys of Apuldercombewho like myself are ofHampshire lineageClose behind us is the moline cross of the gallant WilliamMolyneuxand beside it the bloody chevrons of the Norfork Woodhouseswith theamulets of the Musgraves of Westmoreland. By St. Paul! it would be a verystrange thing if so noble a company were to gather without some notable deed ofarms arising from it. And here is our boatSir Oliverso it seems best to methat we should go to the abbey with our squiresleaving Master Hawtayne to havehis own way in the unloading."

The horses both of knights and squires were speedily lowered into a broadlighterand reached the shore almost as soon as their masters. Sir Nigel benthis knee devoutly as he put foot on landand taking a small black patch fromhis bosom he bound it tightly over his left eye.

"May the blessed George and the memory of my sweet lady-love raise highmy heart!" quoth he. "And as a token I vow that I will not take thispatch from my eye until I have seen something of this country of Spainand donesuch a small deed as it lies in me to do. And this I swear upon the cross of mysword and upon the glove of my lady."

"In truthyou take me back twenty yearsNigel" quoth Sir Oliveras they mounted and rode slowly through the water-gate. "After CadsandIdeem that the French thought that we were an army of the blindfor there wasscarce a man who had not closed an eye for the greater love and honor of hislady. Yet it goes hard with you that you should darken one sidewhen with bothopen you can scarce tell a horse from a mule. In truthfriendI think that youstep over the line of reason in this matter."

"Sir Oliver Buttesthorn" said the little knight shortly"Iwould have you to understand thatblind as I amI can yet see the path ofhonor very clearlyand that that is the road upon which I do not crave anotherman's guidance."

"By my soul" said Sir Oliver"you are as tart as verjuicethis morning! If you are bent upon a quarrel with me I must leave you to yourhumor and drop into the 'Tete d'Or' herefor I marked a varlet pass the doorwho bare a smoking dishwhich hadmethoughta most excellent smell."

"Nennynenny" cried his comradelaying his hand upon his knee;"we have known each other over long to fall outOliverlike two raw pagesat their first epreuves. You must come with me first to the princeand thenback to the hostel; though sure I am that it would grieve his heart that anygentle cavalier should turn from his board to a common tavern. But is not thatmy Lord Delewar who waves to us? Ha! my fair lordGod and Our Lady be with you!And there is Sir Robert Cheney. Good-morrowRobert! I am right glad to see you."

The two knights walked their horses abreastwhile Alleyne and FordwithJohn Northburywho was squire to Sir Oliverkept some paces behind themaspear's-length in front of Black Simon and of the Winchester guidon-bearer.Northburya leansilent manhad been to those parts beforeand sat his hossewith a rigid neck; but the two young squires gazed eagerly to right or leftandplucked each other's sleeves to call attention to the many strange things onevery side of them.

"See to the brave stalls!" cried Alleyne. "See to the noblearmor set forthand the costly taffeta--and ohFordsee to where thescrivener sits with the pigments and the ink-hornsand the rolls of sheepskinas white as the Beaulieu napery! Saw man ever the like before?"

"Naymanthere are finer stalls in Cheapside" answered Fordwhose father had taken him to London on occasion of one of the Smithfieldjoustings. "I have seen a silversmith's booth there which would serve tobuy either side of this street. But mark these housesAlleynehow they thrustforth upon the top. And see to the coats-of-arms at every windowand banner orpensel on the roof."

"And the churches!" cried Alleyne. "The Priory at Christchurch was a noble pilebut it was cold and baremethinksby one of thesewith their frettingsand their carvingsand their traceriesas though somegreat ivy-plant of stone had curled and wantoned over the walls."

"And hark to the speech of the folk!" said Ford. "Was eversuch a hissing and clacking? I wonder that they have not wit to learn Englishnow that they have come under the English crown. By Richard of Hampole! thereare fair faces amongst them. See the wench with the brown whimple! Out on youAlleynethat you would rather gaze upon dead stone than on living flesh!"

It was little wonder that the richness and ornamentnot only of church andof stallbut of every private house as wellshould have impressed itself uponthe young squires. The town was now at the height of its fortunes. Besides itstrade and its armorersother causes had combined to pour wealth into it. Warwhich had wrought evil upon so many fair cities aroundhad brought nought butgood to this one. As her French sisters decayed she increasedfor herefromnorthand from eastand from southcame the plunder to be sold and the ransommoney to be spent. Through all her sixteen landward gates there had set for manyyears a double tide of empty-handed soldiers hurrying Francewardsand ofenriched and laden bands who brought their spoils home. The prince's courttoowith its swarm of noble barons and wealthy knightsmany of whomin imitationof their masterhad brought their ladies and their children from Englandallhelped to swell the coffers of the burghers. Nowwith this fresh influx ofnoblemen and cavaliersfood and lodging were scarce to be hadand the princewas hurrying forward his forces to Dax in Gascony to relieve the overcrowding ofhis capital.

In front of the minster and abbey of St. Andrews was a large square crowdedwith priestssoldierswomenfriarsand burgherswho made it their commoncentre for sight-seeing and gossip. Amid the knot of noisy and gesticulatingtownsfolkmany small parties of mounted knights and squires threaded their waytowards the prince's quarterswhere the huge iron-clamped doors were thrownback to show that he held audience within. Two-score archers stood about thegatewayand beat back from time to time with their bow-staves the inquisitiveand chattering crowd who swarmed round the portal. Two knights in full armorwith lances raised and closed visorssat their horses on either sidewhile inthe centrewith two pages to tend upon himthere stood a noble-faced man inflowing purple gownwho pricked off upon a sheet of parchment the style andtitle of each applicantmarshalling them in their due orderand giving to eachthe place and facility which his rank demanded. His long white beard andsearching eyes imparted to him an air of masterful dignitywhich was increasedby his tabard-like vesture and the heraldic barret cap with triple plume whichbespoke his office.

"It is Sir William de Pakingtonthe prince's own herald and scrivener"whispered Sir Nigelas they pulled up amid the line of knights who waitedadmission. "Ill fares it with the man who would venture to deceive him. Hehath by rote the name of every knight of France or of England; and all the treeof his familywith his kinshipscoat-armormarriagesaugmentationsabatementsand I know not what beside. We may leave our horses here with thevarletsand push forward with our squires."

Following Sir Nigel's counselthey pressed on upon foot until they wereclose to the prince's secretarywho was in high debate with a young and foppishknightwho was bent upon making his way past him.

"Mackworth!" said the king-at-arms. "It is in my mindyoungsirthat you have not been presented before."

"Nayit is but a day since I set foot in Bordeauxbut I feared lestthe prince should think it strange that I had not waited upon him."

"The prince hath other things to think upon" quoth Sir William dePakington; "but if you be a Mackworth you must be a Mackworth of Normantonand indeed I see now that your coat is sable and ermine."

"I am a Mackworth of Normanton" the other answeredwith someuneasiness of manner.

"Then you must be Sir Stephen Mackworthfor I learn that when old SirGuy died he came in for the arms and the namethe war- cry and the profit."

"Sir Stephen is my elder brotherand I am Arthurthe second son"said the youth.

"In sooth and in sooth!" cried the king-at-arms with scornful eyes."And praysir second sonwhere is the cadency mark which should mark yourrank. Dare you to wear your brother's coat without the crescent which shouldstamp you as his cadet. Away to your lodgingsand come not nigh the princeuntil the armorer hath placed the true charge upon your shield." As theyouth withdrew in confusionSir William's keen eye singled out the five redroses from amid the overlapping shields and cloud of pennons which faced him.

"Ha!" he cried"there are charges here which are abovecounterfeit. "The roses of Loring and the boar's head of Buttesthorn maystand back in peacebut by my faith! they are not to be held back in war.WelcomeSir OliverSir Nigel! Chandos will be glad to his very heart-rootswhen he sees you. This waymy fair sirs. Your squires are doubtless worthy thefame of their masters. Down this passageSir Oliver! Edricson! Ha! one of theold strain of Hampshire EdricsonsI doubt not. And Fordthey are of a southSaxon stockand of good repute. There are Norburys in Cheshire and in Wiltshireand alsoas I have heardupon the borders. Somy fair sirsand I shall seethat you are shortly admitted."

He had finished his professional commentary by flinging open a folding doorand ushering the party into a broad hallwhich was filled with a great numberof people who were waitinglike themselvesfor an audience. The room was veryspaciouslighted on one side by three arched and mullioned windowswhileopposite was a huge fireplace in which a pile of faggots was blazing merrily.Many of the company had crowded round the flamesfor the weather was bitterlycold; but the two knights seated themselves upon a bancalwith their squiresstanding behind them. Looking down the roomAlleyne marked that both floor andceiling were of the richest oakthe latter spanned by twelve arching beamswhich were adorned at either end by the lilies and the lions of the royal arms.On the further side was a small dooron each side of which stood men-at-arms.From time to time an elderly man in black with rounded shoulders and a longwhite wand in his hand came softly forth from this inner roomand beckoned toone or other of the companywho doffed cap and followed him.

The two knights were deep in talkwhen Alleyne became aware of a remarkableindividual who was walking round the room in their direction. As he passed eachknot of cavaliers every head turned to look after himand it was evidentfromthe bows and respectful salutations on all sidesthat the interest which heexcited was not due merely to his strange personal appearance. He was tall andstraight as a lancethough of a great agefor his hairwhich curled fromunder his velvet cap of maintenancewas as white as the new-fallen snow. Yetfrom the swing of his stride and the spring of his stepit was clear that hehad not yet lost the fire and activity of his youth. His fierce hawk- like facewas clean shaven like that of a priestsave for a long thin wisp of whitemoustache which drooped down half way to his shoulder. That he had been handsomemight be easily judged from his high aquiline nose and clear-cut chin; but hisfeatures had been so distorted by the seams and scars of old woundsand by theloss of one eye which had been torn from the socketthat there was little leftto remind one of the dashing young knight who had been fifty years ago thefairest as well as the boldest of the English chivalry. Yet what knight wasthere in that hall of St. Andrews who would not have gladly laid down youthbeautyand all that he possessed to win the fame of this man? For who could benamed with Chandosthe stainless knightthe wise councillorthe valiantwarriorthe hero of Crecyof Winchelseaof Poictiersof Aurayand of asmany other battles as there were years to his life?

"Hamy little heart of gold!" he crieddarting forward suddenlyand throwing his arms round Sir Nigel. "I heard that you were here and havebeen seeking you."

"My fair and dear lord" said the knightreturning the warrior'sembrace"I have indeed come back to youfor where else shall I go that Imay learn to be a gentle and a hardy knight?"

"By my troth!" said Chandos with a smile"it is very fittingthat we should be companionsNigelfor since you have tied up one of your eyesand I have had the mischance to lose one of minewe have but a pair between us.AhSir Oliver! you were on the blind side of me and I saw you not. A wise womanhath made prophecy that this blind side will one day be the death of me. Weshall go in to the prince anon; but in truth he hath much upon his handsforwhat with Pedroand the King of Majorcaand the King of Navarrewho is no twodays of the same mindand the Gascon barons who are all chaffering for termslike so many huckstershe hath an uneasy part to play. But how left you theLady Loring?"

"She was wellmy fair lordand sent her service and greetings to you."

"I am ever her knight and slave. And your journeyI trust that it waspleasant?"

"As heart could wish. We had sight of two rover galleysand even cameto have some slight bickering with them."

"Ever in luck's wayNigel!" quoth Sir John. "We must hear thetale anon. But I deem it best that ye should leave your squires and come withmeforhowsoe'er pressed the prince may beI am very sure that he would beloth to keep two old comrades-in-arms upon the further side of the door. Followclose behind meand I will forestall old Sir Williamthough I can scarcepromise to roll forth your style and rank as is his wont." So sayingheled the way to the inner chamberthe two companions treading close at his heelsand nodding to right and left as they caught sight of familiar faces among thecrowd.

Chapter 18 - How Sir Nigel Loring Put A Patch Upon His Eye

 


 

IT was on the morning of Fridaythe eight-and twentieth day of Novembertwodays before the feast of St. Andrewthat the cog and her two prisonersafter aweary tacking up the Girondo and the Garonnedropped anchor at last in front ofthe noble city of Bordeaux. With wonder and admirationAlleyneleaning overthe bulwarksgazed at the forest of maststhe swarm of boats darting hitherand thither on the bosom of the broad curving streamand the graycrescent-shaped city which stretched with many a tower and minaret along thewestern shore. Never had he in his quiet life seen so great a townnor wasthere in the whole of Englandsave London aloneone which might match it insize or in wealth. Here came the merchandise of all the fair countries which arewatered by the Garonne and the Dordogne--the cloths of the souththe skins ofGuiennethe wines of the Medoc--to be borne away to HullExeterDartmouthBristol or Chesterin exchange for the wools and woolfels of England. Here toodwelt those famous smelters and welders who had made the Bordeaux steel the mosttrusty upon earthand could give a temper to lance or to sword which might meandear life to its owner. Alleyne could see the smoke of their forges reeking upin the clear morning air. The storm had died down now to a gentle breezewhichwafted to his ears the long-drawn stirring bugle-calls which sounded from theancient ramparts.

"Holamon petit!" said Aylwardcoming up to where he stood."Thou art a squire nowand like enough to win the golden spurswhile I amstill the master-bowmanand master-bowman I shall bide. I dare scarce wag mytongue so freely with you as when we tramped together past Wilverley ChaseelseI might be your guide nowfor indeed I know every house in Bordeaux as a friarknows the beads on his rosary."

"NayAylward" said Alleynelaying his hand upon the sleeve ofhis companion's frayed jerkin"you cannot think me so thrall as to throwaside an old friend because I have had some small share of good fortune. I takeit unkind that you should have thought such evil of me."

"Naymon gar. 'Twas but a flight shot to see if the wind blew steadythough I were a rogue to doubt it."

"Whyhad I not met youAylwardat the Lynhurst innwho can say whereI had now been! CertesI had not gone to Twynham Castlenor become squire toSir Nigelnor met----" He paused abruptly and flushed to his hairbut thebowman was too busy with his own thoughts to notice his young companion'sembarrassment.

"It was a good hostelthat of the 'Pied Merlin' " he remarked."By my ten finger bones! when I hang bow on nail and change my brigandinefor a tunicI might do worse than take over the dame and her business."

"I thought" said Alleyne"that you were betrothed to someone at Christchurch."

"To three" Aylward answered moodily"to three. I fear I maynot go back to Christchurch. I might chance to see hotter service in Hampshirethan I have ever done in Gascony. But mark you now yonder lofty turret in thecentrewhich stands back from the river and hath a broad banner upon thesummit. See the rising sun flashes full upon it and sparkles on the golden lions.'Tis the royal banner of Englandcrossed by the prince's label. There he dwellsin the Abbey of St. Andrewwhere he hath kept his court these years back.Beside it is the minster of the same saintwho hath the town under his veryspecial care."

"And how of yon gray turret on the left?"

" 'Tis the fane of St. Michaelas that upon the right is of St. Remi.Theretooabove the poop of yonder niefyou see the towers of Saint Croix andof Pey Berland. Mark also the mighty ramparts which are pierced by the threewater-gatesand sixteen others to the landward side."

"And how is itgood Aylwardthat there comes so much music from thetown? I seem to hear a hundred trumpetsall calling in chorus."

"It would be strange elseseeing that all the great lords of Englandand of Gascony are within the wallsand each would have his trumpeter blow asloud as his neighborlest it might be thought that his dignity had been abated.Ma foi! they make as much louster as a Scotch armywhere every man fillshimself with girdle-cakesand sits up all night to blow upon the toodle-pipe.See all along the banks how the pages water the horsesand there beyond thetown how they gallop them over the plain! For every horse you see a beltedknight hath herbergage in the townforas I learnthe men-at-arms and archershave already gone forward to Dax."

"I trustAylward" said Sir Nigelcoming upon deck"thatthe men are ready for the land. Go tell them that the boats will be for themwithin the hour."

The archer raised his hand in saluteand hastened forward. In the meantimeSir Oliver had followed his brother knightand the two paced the poop togetherSir Nigel in his plum-colored velvet suit with flat cap of the sameadorned infront with the Lady Loring's glove and girt round with a curling ostrich feather.The lusty knighton the other handwas clad in the very latest modewithcote-hardiedoubletpourpointcourtpieand paltock of olive-greenpickedout with pink and jagged at the edges. A red chaperon or capwith long hangingcornettesat daintily on the back of his black-curled headwhile his gold-huedshoes were twisted up a la poulaineas though the toes were shooting forth atendril which might hope in time to entwine itself around his massive leg.

"Once moreSir Oliver" said Sir Nigellooking shorewards withsparkling eyes"do we find ourselves at the gate of honorthe door whichhath so often led us to all that is knightly and worthy. There flies theprince's bannerand it would be well that we haste ashore and pay our obeisanceto him. The boats already swarm from the bank."

"There is a goodly hostel near the west gatewhich is famed for thestewing of spiced pullets" remarked Sir Oliver. "We might take theedge of our hunger off ere we seek the princefor though his tables are gaywith damask and silver he is no trencherman himselfand hath no sympathy forthose who are his betters."

"His betters!"

"His betters before the tranchoirlad. Sniff not treason where none ismeant. I have seen him smile in his quiet way because I had looked for thefourth time towards the carving squire. And indeed to watch him dallying with alittle gobbet of breador sipping his cup of thrice-watered wineis enough tomake a man feel shame at his own hunger. Yet war and glorymy good friendthough well enough in their waywill not serve to tighten such a belt as claspsmy waist."

"How read you that coat which hangs over yonder galleyAlleyne?"asked Sir Nigel.

"Argenta bend vert between cotises dancette gules."

"It is a northern coat. I have seen it in the train of the Percies. Fromthe shieldsthere is not one of these vessels which hath not knight or baronaboard. I would mine eyes were better. How read you this upon the left?"

"Argent and azurea barry wavy of six."

"Hait is the sign of the Wiltshire Stourtons! And there beyond I seethe red and silver of the Worsleys of Apuldercombewho like myself are ofHampshire lineageClose behind us is the moline cross of the gallant WilliamMolyneuxand beside it the bloody chevrons of the Norfork Woodhouseswith theamulets of the Musgraves of Westmoreland. By St. Paul! it would be a verystrange thing if so noble a company were to gather without some notable deed ofarms arising from it. And here is our boatSir Oliverso it seems best to methat we should go to the abbey with our squiresleaving Master Hawtayne to havehis own way in the unloading."

The horses both of knights and squires were speedily lowered into a broadlighterand reached the shore almost as soon as their masters. Sir Nigel benthis knee devoutly as he put foot on landand taking a small black patch fromhis bosom he bound it tightly over his left eye.

"May the blessed George and the memory of my sweet lady-love raise highmy heart!" quoth he. "And as a token I vow that I will not take thispatch from my eye until I have seen something of this country of Spainand donesuch a small deed as it lies in me to do. And this I swear upon the cross of mysword and upon the glove of my lady."

"In truthyou take me back twenty yearsNigel" quoth Sir Oliveras they mounted and rode slowly through the water-gate. "After CadsandIdeem that the French thought that we were an army of the blindfor there wasscarce a man who had not closed an eye for the greater love and honor of hislady. Yet it goes hard with you that you should darken one sidewhen with bothopen you can scarce tell a horse from a mule. In truthfriendI think that youstep over the line of reason in this matter."

"Sir Oliver Buttesthorn" said the little knight shortly"Iwould have you to understand thatblind as I amI can yet see the path ofhonor very clearlyand that that is the road upon which I do not crave anotherman's guidance."

"By my soul" said Sir Oliver"you are as tart as verjuicethis morning! If you are bent upon a quarrel with me I must leave you to yourhumor and drop into the 'Tete d'Or' herefor I marked a varlet pass the doorwho bare a smoking dishwhich hadmethoughta most excellent smell."

"Nennynenny" cried his comradelaying his hand upon his knee;"we have known each other over long to fall outOliverlike two raw pagesat their first epreuves. You must come with me first to the princeand thenback to the hostel; though sure I am that it would grieve his heart that anygentle cavalier should turn from his board to a common tavern. But is not thatmy Lord Delewar who waves to us? Ha! my fair lordGod and Our Lady be with you!And there is Sir Robert Cheney. Good-morrowRobert! I am right glad to see you."

The two knights walked their horses abreastwhile Alleyne and FordwithJohn Northburywho was squire to Sir Oliverkept some paces behind themaspear's-length in front of Black Simon and of the Winchester guidon-bearer.Northburya leansilent manhad been to those parts beforeand sat his hossewith a rigid neck; but the two young squires gazed eagerly to right or leftandplucked each other's sleeves to call attention to the many strange things onevery side of them.

"See to the brave stalls!" cried Alleyne. "See to the noblearmor set forthand the costly taffeta--and ohFordsee to where thescrivener sits with the pigments and the ink-hornsand the rolls of sheepskinas white as the Beaulieu napery! Saw man ever the like before?"

"Naymanthere are finer stalls in Cheapside" answered Fordwhose father had taken him to London on occasion of one of the Smithfieldjoustings. "I have seen a silversmith's booth there which would serve tobuy either side of this street. But mark these housesAlleynehow they thrustforth upon the top. And see to the coats-of-arms at every windowand banner orpensel on the roof."

"And the churches!" cried Alleyne. "The Priory at Christchurch was a noble pilebut it was cold and baremethinksby one of thesewith their frettingsand their carvingsand their traceriesas though somegreat ivy-plant of stone had curled and wantoned over the walls."

"And hark to the speech of the folk!" said Ford. "Was eversuch a hissing and clacking? I wonder that they have not wit to learn Englishnow that they have come under the English crown. By Richard of Hampole! thereare fair faces amongst them. See the wench with the brown whimple! Out on youAlleynethat you would rather gaze upon dead stone than on living flesh!"

It was little wonder that the richness and ornamentnot only of church andof stallbut of every private house as wellshould have impressed itself uponthe young squires. The town was now at the height of its fortunes. Besides itstrade and its armorersother causes had combined to pour wealth into it. Warwhich had wrought evil upon so many fair cities aroundhad brought nought butgood to this one. As her French sisters decayed she increasedfor herefromnorthand from eastand from southcame the plunder to be sold and the ransommoney to be spent. Through all her sixteen landward gates there had set for manyyears a double tide of empty-handed soldiers hurrying Francewardsand ofenriched and laden bands who brought their spoils home. The prince's courttoowith its swarm of noble barons and wealthy knightsmany of whomin imitationof their masterhad brought their ladies and their children from Englandallhelped to swell the coffers of the burghers. Nowwith this fresh influx ofnoblemen and cavaliersfood and lodging were scarce to be hadand the princewas hurrying forward his forces to Dax in Gascony to relieve the overcrowding ofhis capital.

In front of the minster and abbey of St. Andrews was a large square crowdedwith priestssoldierswomenfriarsand burgherswho made it their commoncentre for sight-seeing and gossip. Amid the knot of noisy and gesticulatingtownsfolkmany small parties of mounted knights and squires threaded their waytowards the prince's quarterswhere the huge iron-clamped doors were thrownback to show that he held audience within. Two-score archers stood about thegatewayand beat back from time to time with their bow-staves the inquisitiveand chattering crowd who swarmed round the portal. Two knights in full armorwith lances raised and closed visorssat their horses on either sidewhile inthe centrewith two pages to tend upon himthere stood a noble-faced man inflowing purple gownwho pricked off upon a sheet of parchment the style andtitle of each applicantmarshalling them in their due orderand giving to eachthe place and facility which his rank demanded. His long white beard andsearching eyes imparted to him an air of masterful dignitywhich was increasedby his tabard-like vesture and the heraldic barret cap with triple plume whichbespoke his office.

"It is Sir William de Pakingtonthe prince's own herald and scrivener"whispered Sir Nigelas they pulled up amid the line of knights who waitedadmission. "Ill fares it with the man who would venture to deceive him. Hehath by rote the name of every knight of France or of England; and all the treeof his familywith his kinshipscoat-armormarriagesaugmentationsabatementsand I know not what beside. We may leave our horses here with thevarletsand push forward with our squires."

Following Sir Nigel's counselthey pressed on upon foot until they wereclose to the prince's secretarywho was in high debate with a young and foppishknightwho was bent upon making his way past him.

"Mackworth!" said the king-at-arms. "It is in my mindyoungsirthat you have not been presented before."

"Nayit is but a day since I set foot in Bordeauxbut I feared lestthe prince should think it strange that I had not waited upon him."

"The prince hath other things to think upon" quoth Sir William dePakington; "but if you be a Mackworth you must be a Mackworth of Normantonand indeed I see now that your coat is sable and ermine."

"I am a Mackworth of Normanton" the other answeredwith someuneasiness of manner.

"Then you must be Sir Stephen Mackworthfor I learn that when old SirGuy died he came in for the arms and the namethe war- cry and the profit."

"Sir Stephen is my elder brotherand I am Arthurthe second son"said the youth.

"In sooth and in sooth!" cried the king-at-arms with scornful eyes."And praysir second sonwhere is the cadency mark which should mark yourrank. Dare you to wear your brother's coat without the crescent which shouldstamp you as his cadet. Away to your lodgingsand come not nigh the princeuntil the armorer hath placed the true charge upon your shield." As theyouth withdrew in confusionSir William's keen eye singled out the five redroses from amid the overlapping shields and cloud of pennons which faced him.

"Ha!" he cried"there are charges here which are abovecounterfeit. "The roses of Loring and the boar's head of Buttesthorn maystand back in peacebut by my faith! they are not to be held back in war.WelcomeSir OliverSir Nigel! Chandos will be glad to his very heart-rootswhen he sees you. This waymy fair sirs. Your squires are doubtless worthy thefame of their masters. Down this passageSir Oliver! Edricson! Ha! one of theold strain of Hampshire EdricsonsI doubt not. And Fordthey are of a southSaxon stockand of good repute. There are Norburys in Cheshire and in Wiltshireand alsoas I have heardupon the borders. Somy fair sirsand I shall seethat you are shortly admitted."

He had finished his professional commentary by flinging open a folding doorand ushering the party into a broad hallwhich was filled with a great numberof people who were waitinglike themselvesfor an audience. The room was veryspaciouslighted on one side by three arched and mullioned windowswhileopposite was a huge fireplace in which a pile of faggots was blazing merrily.Many of the company had crowded round the flamesfor the weather was bitterlycold; but the two knights seated themselves upon a bancalwith their squiresstanding behind them. Looking down the roomAlleyne marked that both floor andceiling were of the richest oakthe latter spanned by twelve arching beamswhich were adorned at either end by the lilies and the lions of the royal arms.On the further side was a small dooron each side of which stood men-at-arms.From time to time an elderly man in black with rounded shoulders and a longwhite wand in his hand came softly forth from this inner roomand beckoned toone or other of the companywho doffed cap and followed him.

The two knights were deep in talkwhen Alleyne became aware of a remarkableindividual who was walking round the room in their direction. As he passed eachknot of cavaliers every head turned to look after himand it was evidentfromthe bows and respectful salutations on all sidesthat the interest which heexcited was not due merely to his strange personal appearance. He was tall andstraight as a lancethough of a great agefor his hairwhich curled fromunder his velvet cap of maintenancewas as white as the new-fallen snow. Yetfrom the swing of his stride and the spring of his stepit was clear that hehad not yet lost the fire and activity of his youth. His fierce hawk- like facewas clean shaven like that of a priestsave for a long thin wisp of whitemoustache which drooped down half way to his shoulder. That he had been handsomemight be easily judged from his high aquiline nose and clear-cut chin; but hisfeatures had been so distorted by the seams and scars of old woundsand by theloss of one eye which had been torn from the socketthat there was little leftto remind one of the dashing young knight who had been fifty years ago thefairest as well as the boldest of the English chivalry. Yet what knight wasthere in that hall of St. Andrews who would not have gladly laid down youthbeautyand all that he possessed to win the fame of this man? For who could benamed with Chandosthe stainless knightthe wise councillorthe valiantwarriorthe hero of Crecyof Winchelseaof Poictiersof Aurayand of asmany other battles as there were years to his life?

"Hamy little heart of gold!" he crieddarting forward suddenlyand throwing his arms round Sir Nigel. "I heard that you were here and havebeen seeking you."

"My fair and dear lord" said the knightreturning the warrior'sembrace"I have indeed come back to youfor where else shall I go that Imay learn to be a gentle and a hardy knight?"

"By my troth!" said Chandos with a smile"it is very fittingthat we should be companionsNigelfor since you have tied up one of your eyesand I have had the mischance to lose one of minewe have but a pair between us.AhSir Oliver! you were on the blind side of me and I saw you not. A wise womanhath made prophecy that this blind side will one day be the death of me. Weshall go in to the prince anon; but in truth he hath much upon his handsforwhat with Pedroand the King of Majorcaand the King of Navarrewho is no twodays of the same mindand the Gascon barons who are all chaffering for termslike so many huckstershe hath an uneasy part to play. But how left you theLady Loring?"

"She was wellmy fair lordand sent her service and greetings to you."

"I am ever her knight and slave. And your journeyI trust that it waspleasant?"

"As heart could wish. We had sight of two rover galleysand even cameto have some slight bickering with them."

"Ever in luck's wayNigel!" quoth Sir John. "We must hear thetale anon. But I deem it best that ye should leave your squires and come withmeforhowsoe'er pressed the prince may beI am very sure that he would beloth to keep two old comrades-in-arms upon the further side of the door. Followclose behind meand I will forestall old Sir Williamthough I can scarcepromise to roll forth your style and rank as is his wont." So sayingheled the way to the inner chamberthe two companions treading close at his heelsand nodding to right and left as they caught sight of familiar faces among thecrowd.

Chapter 19 - Chapter Xix How There Was Stir At The Abbey Of St. Andrews

 


 

THE prince's reception-roomalthough of no great sizewas fitted up withall the state and luxury which the fame and power of its owner demanded. A highdais at the further end was roofed in by a broad canopy of scarlet velvetspangled with silver fleurs-de-lisand supported at either corner by silverrods. This was approached by four steps carpeted with the same materialwhileall round were scattered rich cushionsoriental mats and costly rugs of fur.The choicest tapestries which the looms of Arras could furnish draped the wallswhereon the battles of Judas Maccabaeus were set forthwith the Jewish warriorsin plate of proofwith crest and lance and banderoleas the naive artists ofthe day were wont to depict them. A few rich settles and bancalschoicelycarved and decorated with glazed leather hangings of the sort termed or basanecompleted the furniture of the apartmentsave that at one side of the daisthere stood a lofty perchupon which a cast of three solemn Prussian gerfalconssathooded and jesseledas silent and motionless as the royal fowler who stoodbeside them.

In the centre of the dais were two very high chairs with dorseretswhicharched forwards over the heads of the occupantsthe whole covered withlight-blue silk thickly powdered with golden stars. On that to the right sat avery tall and well formed man with red haira livid faceand a cold blue eyewhich had in it something peculiarly sinister and menacing. He lounged back in acareless positionand yawned repeatedly as though heartily weary of theproceedingsstooping from time to time to fondle a shaggy Spanish greyhoundwhich lay stretched at his feet. On the other throne there was perched boltuprightwith prim demeanoras though he felt himself to be upon his goodbehaviora littleroundpippin faced personwho smiled and bobbed to everyone whose eye he chanced to meet. Between and a little in front of them on ahumble charette or stoolsat a slimdark young manwhose quiet attire andmodest manner would scarce proclaim him to be the most noted prince in Europe. Ajupon of dark blue clothtagged with buckles and pendants of goldseemed but asombre and plain attire amidst the wealth of silk and ermine and gilt tissue offustian with which he was surrounded. He sat with his two hands clasped roundhis kneehis head slightly bentand an expression of impatience and of troubleupon his clearwell-chiselled features. Behind the thrones there stood two menin purple gownswith asceticclean- shaven facesand half a dozen other highdignitaries and office- holders of Aquitaine. Below on either side of the stepswere forty or fifty baronsknightsand courtiersranged in a triple row tothe right and the leftwith a clear passage in the centre.

"There sits the prince" whispered Sir John Chandosas theyentered. "He on the right is Pedrowhom we are about to put upon thespanish throne. The other is Don Jameswhom we purpose with the aid of God tohelp to his throne in Majorca. Now follow meand take it not to heart if he bea little short in his speechfor indeed his mind is full of many very weightyconcerns."

The princehoweverhad already observed their entranceandspringing tohis feethe had advanced with a winning smile and the light of welcome in hiseyes.

"We do not need your good offices as herald hereSir John" saidhe in a low but clear voice; "these valiant knights are very well known tome. Welcome to AquitaineSir Nigel Loring and Sir Oliver Buttesthorn. Naykeepyour knee for my sweet father at Windsor. I would have your handsmy friends.We are like to give you some work to do ere you see the downs of Hampshire oncemore. Know you aught of SpainSir Oliver?"

"Noughtmy siresave that I have heard men say that there is a dishnamed an olla which is prepared therethough I have never been clear in my mindas to whether it was but a ragout such as is to be found in the southorwhether there is some seasoning such as fennel or garlic which is peculiar toSpain."

"Your doubtsSir Olivershall soon be resolved" answered theprincelaughing heartilyas did many of the barons who surrounded them. "Hismajesty here will doubtless order that you have this dish hotly seasoned when weare all safely in Castile."

"I will have a hotly seasoned dish for some folk I know of"answered Don Pedro with a cold smile.

"But my friend Sir Oliver can fight right hardily without either bite orsup" remarked the prince. "Did I not see him at Poictierswhen fortwo days we had not more than a crust of bread and a cup of foul wateryetcarrying himself most valiantly. With my own eyes I saw him in the rout sweepthe head from a knight of Picardy with one blow of his sword."

"The rogue got between me and the nearest French victual wain"muttered Sir Oliveramid a fresh titter from those who were near enough tocatch his words.

"How many have you in your train?" asked the princeassuming agraver mien.

"I have forty men-at-armssire" said Sir Oliver.

"And I have one hundred archers and a score of lancersbut there aretwo hundred men who wait for me on this side of the water upon the borders ofNavarre."

"And who are theySir Nigel?"

"They are a free companysireand they are called the WhiteCompany."

To the astonishment of the knighthis words provoked a burst of merrimentfrom the barons roundin which the two kings and the prince were fain to join.Sir Nigel blinked mildly from one to the otheruntil at last perceiving a stoutblack-bearded knight at his elbowwhose laugh rang somewhat louder than theothershe touched him lightly upon the sleeve.

"Perchancemy fair sir" he whispered"there is some smallvow of which I may relieve you. Might we not have some honorable debate upon thematter. Your gentle courtesy may perhaps grant me an exchange of thrusts."

"NaynaySir Nigel" cried the prince"fasten not theoffence upon Sir Robert Briquetfor we are one and all bogged in the same mire.Truth to sayour ears have just been vexed by the doings of the same companyand I have even now made vow to hang the man who held the rank of captain overit. I little thought to find him among the bravest of my own chosen chieftains.But the vow is now noughtforas you have never seen your companyit would bea fool's act to blame you for their doings."

"My liege" said Sir Nigel"it is a very small matter that Ishould be hangedalbeit the manner of death is somewhat more ignoble than I hadhoped for. On the other handit would be a very grievous thing that youthePrince of England and the flower of knighthoodshould make a vowwhether inignorance or noand fail to bring it to fulfilment."

"Vex not your mind on that" the prince answeredsmiling. "Wehave had a citizen from Montauban here this very daywho told us such a tale ofsack and murder and pillage that it moved our blood; but our wrath was turnedupon the man who was in authority over them."

"My dear and honored master" cried Nigelin great anxiety"I fear me much that in your gentleness of heart you are straining this vowwhich you have taken. If there be so much as a shadow of a doubt as to the formof itit were a thousand times best--- -"

"Peace! peace!" cried the prince impatiently. "I am very wellable to look to my own vows and their performance. We hope to see you both inthe banquet-hall anon. Meanwhile you will attend upon us with our train."He bowedand Chandosplucking Sir Oliver by the sleeveled them both away tothe back of the press of courtiers.

"Whylittle coz" he whispered"you are very eager to haveyour neck in a noose. By my soul! had you asked as much from our new ally DonPedrohe had not baulked you. Between friendsthere is overmuch of the hangmanin himand too little of the prince. But indeed this White Company is a roughbandand may take some handling ere you find yourself safe in yourcaptaincy."

"I doubt notwith the help of St. Paulthat I shall bring them to someorder" Sir Nigel answered. "But there are many faces here which arenew to methough others have been before me since first I waited upon my dearmasterSir Walter. I pray you to tell meSir Johnwho are these priests uponthe dais?"

"The one is the Archbishop of BordeauxNigeland the other the Bishopof Agen."

"And the dark knight with gray-streaked beard? By my trothhe seems tobe a man of much wisdom and valor."

"He is Sir William Fentonwhowith my unworthy selfis the chiefcounsellor of the princehe being high steward and I the seneschal ofAquitaine."

"And the knights upon the rightbeside Von Pedro?"

"They are cavaliers of Spain who have followed him in his exile. The oneat his elbow is Fernando de Castrowho is as brave and true a man as heartcould wish. In front to the right are the Gascon lords. You may well tell themby their clouded browsfor there hath been some ill-will of late betwixt theprince and them. The tall and burly man is the Captal de Buchwhom I doubt notthat you knowfor a braver knight never laid lance in rest. That heavy-facedcavalier who plucks his skirts and whispers in his ear is Lord Oliver deClissonknown also as the butcher. He it is who stirs up strifeand foreverblows the dying embers into flame. The man with the mole upon his cheek is theLord Pommersand his two brothers stand behind himwith the Lord LesparreLord de RosemLord de MucidentSir Perducas d'Albretthe Souldich de laTraneand others. Further back are knights from QuercyLimousinSaintongePoitouand Aquitainewith the valiant Sir Guiscard d'Angle. That is he in therose-colored doublet with the ermine."

"And the knights upon this side?"

"They are all Englishmensome of the household and others who likeyourselfare captains of companies. There is Lord NevilleSir StephenCossingtonand Sir Matthew Gourneywith Sir Walter HuetSir Thomas Banasterand Sir Thomas Feltonwho is the brother of the high steward. Mark well the manwith the high nose and flaxen beard who hath placed his hand upon the shoulderof the dark hard-faced cavalier in the rust-stained jupon."

"Ayeby St. Paul!" observed Sir Nigel"they both bear theprint of their armor upon their cotes-hardies. Methinks they are men who breathefreer in a camp than a court."

"There are many of us who do thatNigel" said Chandos"andthe head of the court isI dare warrantamong them. But of these two men theone is Sir Hugh Calverleyand the other is Sir Robert Knolles."

Sir Nigel and Sir Oliver craned their necks to have the clearer view of thesefamous warriorsthe one a chosen leader of free companiesthe other a man whoby his fierce valor and energy had raised himself from the lowest ranks until hewas second only to Chandos himself in the esteem of the army.

"He hath no light hand in warhath Sir Robert" said Chandos."If he passes through a country you may tell it for some years to come. Ihave heard that in the north it is still the use to call a house which hath butthe two gable ends leftwithout walls or roofa Knolles' mitre."

"I have often heard of him" said Nigel"and I have hoped tobe so far honored as to run a course with him. But harkSir Johnwhat is amisswith the prince?"

Whilst Chandos had been conversing with the two knights a continuous streamof suitors had been ushered inadventurers seeking to sell their swords andmerchants clamoring over some grievancea ship detained for the carriage oftroopsor a tun of sweet wine which had the bottom knocked out by a troop ofthirsty archers. A few words from the prince disposed of each caseandif theapplicant liked not the judgmenta quick glance from the prince's dark eyessent him to the door with the grievance all gone out of him. The younger rulerhad sat listlessly upon his stool with the two puppet monarchs enthroned behindhimbut of a sudden a dark shadow passed over his faceand he sprang to hisfeet in one of those gusts of passion which were the single blot upon his nobleand generous character.

"How nowDon Martin de la Carra?" he cried. "How nowsirrah?What message do you bring to us from our brother of Navarre?"

The new-comer to whom this abrupt query had been addressed was a tall andexceedingly handsome cavalier who had just been ushered into the apartment. Hisswarthy cheek and raven black hair spoke of the fiery southand he wore hislong black cloak swathed across his chest and over his shoulders in a gracefulsweeping fashionwhich was neither English nor French. With stately steps andmany profound bowshe advanced to the foot of the dais before replying to theprince's question.

"My powerful and illustrious master" he began"CharlesKingof NavarreEarl of EvreuxCount of Champagnewho also writeth himselfOverlord of Bearnhereby sends his love and greetings to his dear cousinEdwardthe Prince of WalesGovernor of AquitaineGrand Commander of----"

"Tush! tush! Don Martin!" interrupted the princewho had beenbeating the ground with his foot impatiently during this stately preamble."We already know our cousin's titles and styleandcerteswe know ourown. To the pointmanand at onceAre the passes open to usor does yourmaster go back from his word pledged to me at Libourne no later than lastMichaelmas?"

"It would ill become my gracious mastersireto go back from promisegiven. He does but ask some delay and certain conditions and hostages----"

"Conditions! Hostages! Is he speaking to the Prince of Englandor is itto the bourgeois provost of some half-captured town! Conditionsquotha? He mayfind much to mend in his own condition ere long. The passes arethenclosed tous?"

"Naysire----"

"They are openthen?"

"Naysireif you would but----"

"EnoughenoughDon Martin" cried the prince. "It is a sorrysight to see so true a knight pleading in so false a cause. We know the doingsof our cousin Charles. We know that while with the right hand he takes our fiftythousand crowns for the holding of the passes openhe hath his leftoutstretched to Henry of Trastamareor to the King of Franceall ready to takeas many more for the keeping them closed. I know our good Charlesandby myblessed name-saint the Confessorhe shall learn that I know him. He sets hiskingdom up to the best bidderlike some scullion farrier selling a glanderedhorse. He is----"

"My lord" cried Don Martin"I cannot stand there to hearsuch words of my master. Did they come from other lipsI should know better howto answer them."

Don Pedro frowned and curled his lipbut the prince smiled and nodded hisapprobation.

"Your bearing and your wordsDon Martinare such I should have lookedfor in you" he remarked. "You will tell the kingyour masterthathe hath been paid his price and that if he holds to his promise he hath my wordfor it that no scath shall come to his peoplenor to their houses or gear. Ifhoweverwe have not his leaveI shall come close at the heels of this messagewithout his leaveand bearing a key with me which shall open all that he mayclose." He stooped and whispered to Sir Robert Knolles and Sir HugeCalverleywho smiled as men well pleasedand hastened from the room.

"Our cousin Charles has had experience of our friendship" theprince continued"and nowby the Saints! he shall feel a touch of ourdispleasure. I send now a message to our cousin Charles which his whole kingdommay read. Let him take heed lest worse befall him. Where is my Lord Chandos? HaSir JohnI commend this worthy knight to your care. You will see that he hathrefectionand such a purse of gold as may defray his chargesfor indeed it isgreat honor to any court to have within it so noble and gentle a cavalier. Howsay yousire?" he askedturning to the Spanish refugeewhile the heraldof Navarre was conducted from the chamber by the old warrior.

"It is not our custom in Spain to reward pertness in a messenger"Don Pedro answeredpatting the head of his greyhound. "Yet we have allheard the lengths to which your royal generosity runs."

"In soothyes" cried the King of Majorca.

"Who should know it better than we?" said Don Pedro bitterly"since we have had to fly to you in our trouble as to the natural protectorof all who are weak."

"Naynayas brothers to a brother" cried the princewithsparkling eyes. "We doubt notwith the help of Godto see you very soonrestored to those thrones from which you have been so traitorously thrust."

"When that happy day comes" said Pedro"then Spain shall beto you as Aquitaineandbe your project what it mayyou may ever count onevery troop and every ship over which flies the banner of Castile."

"And" added the other"upon every aid which the wealth andpower of Majorca can bestow."

"Touching the hundred thousand crowns in which I stand yourdebtor" continued Pedro carelessly"it can no doubt----"

"Not a wordsirenot a word!" cried the prince. "It is notnow when you are in grief that I would vex your mind with such base and sordidmatters. I have said once and forever that I am yours with every bow-string ofmy army and every florin in my coffers."

"Ah! here is indeed a mirror of chivalry" said Don Pedro. "IthinkSir Fernandosince the prince's bounty is stretched so farthat we maymake further use of his gracious goodness to the extent of fifty thousandcrowns. Good Sir William Feltonherewill doubtless settle the matter withyou."

The stout old English counsellor looked somewhat blank at this promptacceptance of his master's bounty.

"If it please yousire" he said"the public funds are attheir lowestseeing that I have paid twelve thousand men of the companiesandthe new taxes--the hearth-tax and the wine-tax-- not yet come in. If you couldwait until the promised help from England comes----"

"Naynaymy sweet cousin" cried Don Pedro. "Had we knownthat your own coffers were so lowor that this sorry sum could have weighed oneway or the otherwe had been loth indeed----"

"Enoughsireenough!" said the princeflushing with vexation."If the public funds beindeedso backwardSir Williamthere is stillI trustmy own private creditwhich hath never been drawn upon for my ownusesbut is now ready in the cause of a friend in adversity. Goraise thismoney upon our own jewelsif nought else may serveand see that it be paidover to Don Fernando."

"In security I offer----" cried Don Pedro.

"Tush! tush!" said the prince. "I am not a Lombardsire. Yourkingly pledge is my securitywithout bond or seal. But I have tidings for youmy lords and liegesthat our brother of Lancaster is on his way for our capitalwith four hundred lances and as many archers to aid us in our venture. When hehath comeand when our fair consort is recovered in her healthwhich I trustby the grace of God may be ere many weeks be pastwe shall then join the armyat Daxand set our banners to the breeze once more."

A buzz of joy at the prospect of immediate action rose up from the group ofwarriors. The prince smiled at the martial ardor which shone upon every facearound him.

"It will hearten you to know" he continued"that I have sureadvices that this Henry is a very valiant leaderand that he has it in hispower to make such a stand against us as promises to give us much honor andpleasure. Of his own people he hath brought togetheras I learnsome fiftythousandwith twelve thousand of the French free companieswho areas youknow very valiant and expert men-at-arms. It is certain alsothat the brave andworthy Bertrand de Guesclin hath ridden into France to the Duke of Anjouandpurposes to take back with him great levies from Picardy and Brittany. We holdBertrand in high esteemfor he has oft before been at great pains to furnish uswith an honorable encounter. What think you of itmy worthy Captal? He took youat Cocherelandby my soul I you will have the chance now to pay thatscore."

The Gascon warrior winced a little at the allusionnor were his countrymenaround him better pleasedfor on the only occasion when they had encounteredthe arms of France without English aid they had met with a heavy defeat.

"There are some who saysire" said the burly De Clisson"that the score is already overpaidfor that without Gascon help Bertrandhad not been taken at Auraynor had King John been overborne atPoictiers."

"By heaven! but this is too much" cried an English nobleman."Methinks that Gascony is too small a cock to crow so lustily."

"The smaller cockmy Lord Audleymay have the longer spur"remarked the Captal de Buch.

"May have its comb clipped if it make over-much noise" broke in anEnglishman.

"By our Lady of Rocamadour!" cried the Lord of Mucident"thisis more than I can abide. Sir John Charnellyou shall answer to me for thosewords!"

"Freelymy lordand when you will" returned the Englishmancarelessly.

"My Lord de Clisson" cried Lord Audley"you look somewhatfixedly in my direction. By God's soul! I should be right glad to go furtherinto the matter with you."

"And youmy Lord of Pommers" said Sir Nigelpushing his way tothe front"it is in my mind that we might break a lance in gentle andhonorable debate over the question."

For a moment a dozen challenges flashed backwards and forwards at this suddenbursting of the cloud which had lowered so long between the knights of the twonations. Furious and gesticulating the Gasconswhite and cold and sneering theEnglishwhile the prince with a half smile glanced from one party to the otherlike a man who loved to dwell upon a fiery sceneand yet dreaded least themischief go so far that he might find it beyond his control.

"Friendsfriends!" he cried at last"this quarrel must go nofurther. The man shall answer to mebe he Gascon or Englishwho carries itbeyond this room. I have overmuch need for your swords that you should turn themupon each other. Sir John CharnellLord Audleyyou do not doubt the courage ofour friends of Gascony?"

"Not Isire" Lord Audley answered. "I have seen them fighttoo often not to know that they are very hardy and valiant gentlemen."

"And so say I" quoth the other Englishman; "butcertesthere is no fear of our forgetting it while they have a tongue in theirheads."

"NaySir John" said the prince reprovingly"all peopleshave their own use and customs. There are some who might call us cold and dulland silent. But you hearmy lords of Gasconythat these gentlemen had nothought to throw a slur upon your honor or your valorso let all anger fadefrom your mind. ClissonCaptalDe PommersI have your word?"

"We are your subjectssire" said the Gascon baronsthough withno very good grace. "Your words are our law."

"Then shall we bury all cause of unkindness in a flagon ofMalvoisie" said the princecheerily. "Hothere! the doors of thebanquet-hall! I have been over long from my sweet spouse but I shall be backwith you anon. Let the sewers serve and the minstrels playwhile we drain a cupto the brave days that are before us in the south!" He turned awayaccompanied by the two monarchswhile the rest of the companywith many acompressed lip and menacing eyefiled slowly through the side-door to the greatchamber in which the royal tables were set forth.

Chapter 20 - How Alleyne Won His Place In An Honorable Guild

 


 

WHILST the prince's council was sittingAlleyne and Ford had remained in theouter hallwhere they were soon surrounded by a noisy group of young Englishmenof their own rankall eager to hear the latest news from England.

"How is it with the old man at Windsor?" asked one.

"And how with the good Queen Philippa?"

"And how with Dame Alice Perrers?" cried a third.

"The devil take your tongueWat!" shouted a tall young manseizing the last speaker by the collar and giving him an admonitory shake."The prince would take your head off for those words."

"By God's coif! Wat would miss it but little" said another."It is as empty as a beggar's wallet."

"As empty as an English squirecoz" cried the first speaker."What a devil has become of the maitre-destables and his sewers? They havenot put forth the trestles yet."

"Mon Dieu! if a man could eat himself into knighthoodHumphreyyou hadbeen a banneret at the least" observed anotheramid a burst of laughter.

"And if you could drink yourself inold leather-headyou had beenfirst baron of the realm" cried the aggrieved Humphrey. "But how ofEnglandmy lads of Loring?"

"I take it" said Ford"that it is much as it was when youwere there lastsave that perchance there is a little less noise there."

"And why less noiseyoung Solomon?"

"Ahthat is for your wit to discover."

"Pardieu! here is a paladin come overwith the Hampshire mud stillsticking to his shoes. He means that the noise is less for our being out of thecountry."

"They are very quick in these parts" said Fordturning toAlleyne.

"How are we to take thissir?" asked the ruffling squire.

"You may take it as it comes" said Ford carelessly.

"Here is pertness!" cried the other.

"SirI honor your truthfulness" said Ford.

"Stint itHumphrey" said the tall squirewith a burst oflaughter. "You will have little credit from this gentlemanI perceive.Tongues are sharp in Hampshiresir."

"And swords?"

"Hum! we may prove that. In two days' time is the vepres du tournoiwhen we may see if your lance is as quick as your wit."

"All very wellRoger Harcomb" cried a burlybullnecked youngmanwhose square shoulders and massive limbs told of exceptional personalstrength. "You pass too lightly over the matter. We are not to be so easilyovercrowed. The Lord Loring hath given his proofs; but we know nothing of hissquiressave that one of them hath a railing tongue. And how of youyoungsir?" bringing his heavy hand down on Alleyne's shoulder.

"And what of meyoung sir?"

"Ma foi! this is my lady's page come over. Your cheek will be brownerand your hand harder ere you see your mother again."

"If my hand is not hardit is ready."

"Ready? Ready for what? For the hem of my lady's train?"

"Ready to chastise insolencesir" cried Alleyne with hashingeyes.

"Sweet little coz!" answered the burly squire. "Such a daintycolor! Such a mellow voice! Eyes of a bashful maidand hair like a three years'babe! Voila!" He passed his thick fingers roughly through the youth's crispgolden curls.

"You seek to force a quarrelsir" said the young manwhite withanger.

"And what then?"

"Whyyou do it like a country boorand not like a gentle squire. Hastbeen ill bred and as ill taught. I serve a master who could show you how suchthings should he done."

"And how would he do itO pink of squires?"

"He would neither be loud nor would he be unmannerlybut rather moregentle than is his wont. He would say'SirI should take it as an honor to dosome small deed of arms against younot for mine own glory or advancementbutrather for the fame of my lady and for the upholding of chivalry.' Then he woulddraw his glovethusand throw it on the ground; orif he had cause to thinkthat he had to deal with a churlhe might throw it in his face--as I donow!"

A buzz of excitement went up from the knot of squires as Alleynehis gentlenature turned by this causeless attack into fiery resolutiondashed his glovewith all his strength into the sneering face of his antagonist. From all partsof the hall squires and pages came runninguntil a denseswaying crowdsurrounded the disputants.

"Your life for this!" said the bullywith a face which wasdistorted with rage.

"If you can take it" returned Alleyne.

"Good lad!" whispered Ford. "Stick to it close as wax."

"I shall see justice" cried NewburySir Oliver's silentattendant.

"You brought it upon yourselfJohn Tranter" said the tall squirewho had been addressed as Roger Harcomb. "You must ever plague thenew-comers. But it were shame if this went further. The lad hath shown a properspirit."

"But a blow! a blow!" cried several of the older squires."There must be a finish to this."

"Nay; Tranter first laid hand upon his head" said Harcomb."How say youTranter? The matter may rest where it stands?"

"My name is known in these parts" said Tranterproudly"Ican let pass what might leave a stain upon another. Let him pick up his gloveand say that he has done amiss."

"I would see him in the claws of the devil first" whispered Ford.

"You hearyoung sir?" said the peacemaker. "Our friend willoverlook the matter if you do but say that you have acted in heat andhaste."

"I cannot say that" answered Alleyne.

"It is our customyoung sirwhen new squires come amongst us fromEnglandto test them in some such way. Bethink you that if a man have adestrier or a new lance he will ever try it in time of peacelest in days ofneed it may fail him. How much more then is it proper to test those who are ourcomrades in arms."

"I would draw out if it may honorably be done" murmured Norbury inAlleyne's ear. "The man is a noted swordsman and far above yourstrength."

Edricson camehoweverof that sturdy Saxon blood which is very slowlyheatedbut once up not easily to be cooled. The hint of danger which Norburythrew out was the one thing needed to harden his resolution.

"I came here at the back of my master" he said"and I lookedon every man here as an Englishman and a friend. This gentleman hath shown me arough welcomeand if I have answered him in the same spirit he has but himselfto thank. I will pick the glove up; butcertesI shall abide what I have doneunless he first crave my pardon for what he hath said and done."

Tranter shrugged his shoulders. "You have done what you could to savehimHarcomb" said he. "We had best settle at once."

"So say I" cried Alleyne.

"The council will not break up until the banquet" remarked agray-haired squire. "You have a clear two hours."

"And the place?"

"The tilting-yard is empty at this hour."

"Nay; it must not be within the grounds of the courtor it may go hardwith all concerned if it come to the ears of the prince."

"But there is a quiet spot near the river" said one youth."We have but to pass through the abbey groundsalong the armory wallpastthe church of St. Remiand so down the Rue des Apotres."

"En avantthen!" cried Tranter shortlyand the whole assemblyflocked out into the open airsave only those whom the special orders of theirmasters held to their posts. These unfortunates crowded to the small casementsand craned their necks after the throng as far as they could catch a glimpse ofthem.

Close to the banks of the Garonne there lay a little tract of green swardwith the high wall of a prior's garden upon one side and an orchard with a thickbristle of leafless apple-trees upon the other. The river ran deep and swift upto the steep bank; but there were few boats upon itand the ships were mooredfar out in the centre of the stream. Here the two combatants drew their swordsand threw off their doubletsfor neither had any defensive armor. The duellowith its stately etiquette had not yet come into voguebut rough and suddenencounters were as common as they must ever be when hot-headed youth goes abroadwith a weapon strapped to its waist. In such combatsas well as in the moreformal sports of the tilting-yardTranter had won a name for strength anddexterity which had caused Norbury to utter his well-meant warning. On the otherhandAlleyne had used his weapons in constant exercise and practice for everyday for many monthsand being by nature quick of eye and prompt of handhemight pass now as no mean swordsman. A strangely opposed pair they appeared asthey approached each other: Tranter dark and stout and stiffwith hairy chestand corded armsAlleyne a model of comeliness and gracewith his golden hairand his skin as fair as a woman's. An unequal fight it seemed to most; but therewere a fewand they the most experiencedwho saw something in the youth'ssteady gray eye and wary step which left the issue open to doubt.

"Holdsirshold!" cried Norburyere a blow had been struck."This gentleman hath a two-handed sworda good foot longer than that ofour friend."

"Take mineAlleyne" said Ford.

"Nayfriends" he answered"I understand the weight andbalance of mine own. To worksirfor our lord may need us at the abbey!"

Tranter's great sword was indeed a mighty vantage in his favor. He stood withhis feet close togetherhis knees bent outwardsready for a dash inwards or aspring out. The weapon he held straight up in front of him with blade erectsothat he might either bring it down with a swinging blowor by a turn of theheavy blade he might guard his own head and body. A further protection lay inthe broad and powerful guard which crossed the hiltand which was furnishedwith a deep and narrow notchin which an expert swordsman might catch hisfoeman's bladeand by a quick turn of his wrist might snap it across. Alleyneon the other handmust trust for his defence to his quick eye and activefoot--for his swordthough keen as a whetstone could make itwas of a lightand graceful build with a narrowsloping pommel and a tapering steel.

Tranter well knew his advantage and lost no time in putting it to use. As hisopponent walked towards him he suddenly bounded forward and sent in a whistlingcut which would have severed the other in twain had he not sprung lightly backfrom it. So close was it that the point ripped a gash in the jutting edge of hislinen cyclas. Quick as a pantherAlleyne sprang in with a thrustbut Tranterwho was as active as he was stronghad already recovered himself and turned itaside with a movement of his heavy blade. Again he whizzed in a blow which madethe spectators hold their breathand again Alleyne very quickly and swiftlyslipped from under itand sent back two lightning thrusts which the other couldscarce parry. So close were they to each other that Alleyne had no time tospring back from the next cutwhich beat down his sword and grazed hisforeheadsending the blood streaming into his eyes and down his cheeks. Hesprang out beyond sword sweepand the pair stood breathing heavilywhile thecrowd of young squires buzzed their applause.

"Bravely struck on both sides!" cried Roger Harcomb. "You haveboth won honor from this meetingand it would be sin and shame to let it gofurther."

"You have done enoughEdricson" said Norbury.

"You have carried yourself well" cried several of the oldersquires.

"For my partI have no wish to slay this young man" said Tranterwiping his heated brow.

"Does this gentleman crave my pardon for having used medespitefully?" asked Alleyne.

"Naynot I."

"Then stand on your guardsir!" With a clatter and dash the twoblades met once moreAlleyne pressing in so as to keep within the full sweep ofthe heavy bladewhile Tranter as continually sprang back to have space for oneof his fatal cuts. A three- parts-parried blow drew blood from Alleyne's leftshoulderbut at the same moment he wounded Tranter slightly upon the thigh.Next instanthoweverhis blade had slipped into the fatal notchthere was asharp cracking sound with a tinkling upon the groundand he found a splinteredpiece of steel fifteen inches long was all that remained to him of his weapon.

"Your life is in my hands!" cried Tranterwith a bitter smile.

"Naynayhe makes submission!" broke in several squires. Anothersword!" cried Ford.

"Naysir" said Harcomb"that is not the custom."

"Throw down your hiltEdricson" cried Norbury.

"Never!" said Alleyne. "Do you crave my pardonsir?"

"You are mad to ask it."

"Then on guard again!" cried the young squireand sprang in with afire and a fury which more than made up for the shortness of his weapon. It hadnot escaped him that his opponent was breathing in shorthoarse gaspslike aman who is dizzy with fatigue. Now was the time for the purer living and themore agile limb to show their value. Back and back gave Tranterever seekingtime for a last cut. On and on came Alleynehis jagged point now at hisfoeman's facenow at his throatnow at his cheststill stabbing and thrustingto pass the line of steel which covered him. Yet his experienced foeman knewwell that such efforts could not be long sustained. Let him relax for oneinstantand his death-blow had come. Relax he must! Flesh and blood could notstand the strain. Already the thrusts were less fiercethe foot less readyalthough there was no abatement of the spirit in the steady gray eyes. Trantercunning and wary from years of fightingknew that his chance had come. Hebrushed aside the frail weapon which was opposed to himwhirled up his greatbladesprang back to get the fairer sweep--and vanished into the waters of theGaronne.

So intent had the squiresboth combatants and spectatorsbeen on the matterin handthat all thought of the steep bank and swift still stream had gone fromtheir minds. It was not until Trantergiving back before the other's fieryrushwas upon the very brinkthat a general cry warned him of his danger. Thatlast springwhich he hoped would have brought the fight to a bloody endcarried him clear of the edgeand he found himself in an instant eight feetdeep in the ice-cold stream. Once and twice his gasping face and clutchingfingers broke up through the still green watersweeping outwards in the swirlof the current. In vain were sword-sheathsapple-branches and belts linkedtogether thrown out to him by his companions. Alleyne had dropped his shatteredsword and was standingtrembling in every limbwith his rage all changed in aninstant to pity. For the third time the drowning man came to the surfacehishands full of green slimy water-plantshis eyes turned in despair to the shore.Their glance fell upon Alleyneand he could not withstand the mute appeal whichhe read in them. In an instant hetoowas in the Garonnestriking out withpowerful strokes for his late foeman

Yet the current was swift and strongandgood swimmer as he wasit was noeasy task which Alleyne had set himself. To clutch at Tranter and to seize himby the hair was the work of a few secondsbut to hold his head above water andto make their way out of the current was another matter. For a hundred strokeshe did not seem to gain an inch. Then at lastamid a shout of joy and praisefrom the bankthey slowly drew clear into more stagnant waterat the instantthat a ropemade of a dozen sword-belts linked together by the buckleswasthrown by Ford into their very hands. Three pulls from eager armsand the twocombatantsdripping and palewere dragged up the bankand lay panting uponthe grass.

John Tranter was the first to come to himselffor although he had beenlonger in the waterhe had done nothing during that fierce battle with thecurrent. He staggered to his feet and looked down upon his rescuerwho hadraised himself upon his elbowand was smiling faintly at the buzz ofcongratulation and of praise which broke from the squires around him.

"I am much beholden to yousir" said Tranterthough in no veryfriendly voice. "CertesI should have been in the river now but for youfor I was born in Warwickshirewhich is but a dry countyand there are few whoswim in those parts."

"I ask no thanks" Alleyne answered shortly. "Give me yourhand to riseFord."

"The river has been my enemy" said Tranter"but it hath beena good friend to youfor it has saved your life this day."

"That is as it may be" returned Alleyne.

"But all is now well over" quoth Harcomb"and no scath comeof itwhich is more than I had at one time hoped for. Our young friend herehath very fairly and honestly earned his right to be craftsman of the HonorableGuild of the Squires of Bordeaux. Here is your doubletTranter."

"Alas for my poor sword which lies at the bottom of the Garonne!"said the squire.

"Here is your pourpointEdricson" cried Norbury. "Throw itover your shouldersthat you may have at least one dry garment."

"And now away back to the abbey!" said several.

"One momentsirs" cried Alleynewho was leaning on Ford'sshoulderwith the broken swordwhich he had picked upstill clutched in hisright hand. "My ears may be somewhat dulled by the waterand perchancewhat has been said has escaped mebut I have not yet heard this gentleman cravepardon for the insults which he put upon me in the hall."

"What! do you still pursue the quarrel?" asked Trenter.

"And why notsir? I am slow to take up such thingsbut once afoot Ishall follow it while I have life or breath."

"Ma foi! you have not too much of eitherfor you are as white asmarble" said Harcomb bluntly. "Take my redesirand let it dropfor you have come very well out from it."

"Nay" said Alleyne"this quarrel is none of my making; butnow that I am hereI swear to you that I shall never leave this spot until Ihave that which I have come for: so ask my pardonsiror choose another glaiveand to it again."

The young squire was deadly white from his exertionsboth on the land and inthe water. Soaking and stainedwith a smear of blood on his white shoulder andanother on his browthere was still in his whole pose and set of face the traceof an inflexible resolution. His opponent's duller and more material mindquailed before the fire and intensity of a higher spiritual nature.

"I had not thought that you had taken it so amiss" said heawkwardly. "It was but such a jest as we play upon each otherandif youmust have it soI am sorry for it."

"Then I am sorry too" quoth Alleyne warmly"and here is myhand upon it."

"And the none-meat horn has blown three times" quoth Harcombasthey all streamed in chattering groups from the ground. "I know not whatthe prince's maitre-de-cuisine will say or think. By my troth! master Fordyourfriend here is in need of a cup of winefor he hath drunk deeply of Garonnewater. I had not thought from his fair face that he had stood to this matter soshrewdly."

"Faith" said Ford"this air of Bordeaux hath turned ourturtle- dove into a game-cock. A milder or more courteous youth never came outof Hampshire."

"His master alsoas I understandis a very mild and courteousgentleman" remarked Harcomb; "yet I do not think that they are eitherof them men with whom it is very safe to trifle."

Chapter 21 - How Agostino Pisano Risked His Head

 


 

EVEN the squires' table at the Abbey of St. Andrew's at Bordeaux was on avery sumptuous scale while the prince held his court there. Here firstafterthe meagre fare of Beaulieu and the stinted board of the Lady LoringAlleynelearned the lengths to which luxury and refinement might be pushed. Roastedpeacockswith the feathers all carefully replacedso that the bird lay uponthe dish even as it had strutted in lifeboars' heads with the tusks gilded andthe mouth lined with silver foiljellies in the shape of the Twelve Apostlesand a great pasty which formed an exact model of the king's new castle atWindsor--these were a few of the strange dishes which faced him. An archer hadbrought him a change of clothes from the cogand he had alreadywith theelasticity of youthshaken off the troubles and fatigues of the morning. A pagefrom the inner banqueting-hall had come with word that their master intended todrink wine at the lodgings of the Lord Chandos that nightand that he desiredhis squires to sleep at the hotel of the "Half Moon" on the Rue desApotres. Thither then they both set out in the twilight after the long course ofjuggling tricks and glee-singing with which the principal meal was concluded.

A thin rain was falling as the two youthswith their cloaks over theirheadsmade their way on foot through the streets of the old townleaving theirhorses in the royal stables. An occasional oil lamp at the corner of a streetor in the portico of some wealthy burgherthrew a faint glimmer over theshining cobblestonesand the varied motley crowd whoin spite of the weatherebbed and flowed along every highway. In those scattered circles of dim radiancemight be seen the whole busy panorama of life in a wealthy and martial city.Here passed the round-faced burgherswollen with prosperityhis sweeping dark-clothed gaberdineflat velvet capbroad leather belt and dangling pouch allspeaking of comfort and of wealth. Behind him his serving wenchher bluewhimple over her headand one hand thrust forth to bear the lanthorn whichthrew a golden bar of light along her master's path. Behind them a group ofswaggeringhalf-drunken Yorkshire dalesmenspeaking a dialect which their ownsouthland countrymen could scarce comprehendtheir jerkins marked with thepelicanwhich showed that they had come over in the train of the north-countryStapletons. The burgher glanced back at their fierce faces and quickened hisstepwhile the girl pulled her whimple closer round herfor there was ameaning in their wild eyesas they stared at the purse and the maidenwhichmen of all tongues could understand. Then came archers of the guardshrill-voiced women of the campEnglish pages with their fair skins and bluewondering eyesdark-robed friarslounging men-at-armsswarthy loud-tonguedGascon serving-menseamen from the riverrude peasants of the Medocandbecloaked and befeathered squires of the courtall jostling and pushing in anever-changingmany-colored streamwhile EnglishFrenchWelshBasqueandthe varied dialects of Gascony and Guienne filled the air with their babel. Fromtime to time the throng would be burst asunder and a lady's horse- litter wouldtrot past towards the abbeyor there would come a knot of torch-bearing archerswalking in front of Gascon baron or English knightas he sought his lodgingsafter the palace revels. Clatter of hoofsclinking of weaponsshouts {rom thedrunken brawlersand high laughter of womenthey all rose uplike the mistfrom a marshout of the crowded streets of the dim-lit city.

One couple out of the moving throng especially engaged the attention of thetwo young squiresthe more so as they were going in their own direction andimmediately in front of them. They consisted of a man and a girlthe formervery tall with rounded shouldersa limp of one footand a large flat objectcovered with dark cloth under his arm. His companion was young and straightwith a quickelastic step and graceful bearingthough so swathed in a blackmantle that little could be seen of her face save a flash of dark eyes and acurve of raven hair. The tall man leaned heavily upon her to take the weight offhis tender footwhile he held his burden betwixt himself and the wallcuddlingit jealously to his sideand thrusting forward his young companion to act as abuttress whenever the pressure of the crowd threatened to bear him away. Theevident anxiety of the manthe appearance of his attendantand the joint carewith which they defended their concealed possessionexcited the interest of thetwo young Englishmen who walked within hand-touch of them.

"Couragechild!" they heard the tall man exclaim in strange hybridFrench. "If we can win another sixty paces we are safe."

"Hold it safefather" the other answeredin the same softmincing dialect. "We have no cause for fear"

"Verilythey are heathens and barbarians" cried the man;"madhowlingdrunken barbarians! Forty more pacesTita miaand I swearto the holy Eloipatron of all learned craftsmenthat I will never set footover my door again until the whole swarm are safely hived in their camp of Daxor wherever else they curse with their presence. Twenty more pacesmy treasure:Ahmy God! how they push and brawl! Get in their wayTita mia! Put your littleelbow bravely out! Set your shoulders squarely against themgirl! Why shouldyou give way to these mad islanders? Ahcospetto! we are ruined anddestroyed!"

The crowd had thickened in frontso that the lame man and the girl had cometo a stand. Several half-drunken English archersattractedas the squires hadbeenby their singular appearancewere facing towards themand peering atthem through the dim light.

"By the three kings!" cried one"here is an old dotard shrewto have so goodly a crutch! Use the leg that God hath given youmanand do notbear so heavily upon the wench."

"Twenty devils fly away with him!" shouted another. "Whathowman! are brave archers to go maidless while an old man uses one as awalking-staff?"

"Come with memy honey-bird!" cried a thirdplucking at thegirl's mantle.

"Naywith memy heart's desire!" said the first. "By St.George! our life is shortand we should be merry while we may. May I never seeChester Bridge againif she is not a right winsome lass!"

"What hath the old toad under his arm?" cried one of the others."He hugs it to him as the devil hugged the pardoner."

"Let us seeold bag of bones; let us see what it is that you have underyour arm!" They crowded in upon himwhile heignorant of their languagecould but clutch the girl with one hand and the parcel with the otherlookingwildly about in search of help.

"Nayladsnay!" cried Fordpushing back the nearest archer."This is but scurvy conduct. Keep your hands offor it will be the worsefor you."

"Keep your tongue stillor it will be the worse for you" shoutedthe most drunken of the archers. "Who are you to spoil sport?"

"A raw squirenew landed" said another. "By St. Thomas ofKent! we are at the beck of our masterbut we are not to be ordered by everybabe whose mother hath sent him as far as Aquitaine."

"Ohgentlemen" cried the girl in broken French"for dearChrist's sake stand by usand do not let these terrible men do us aninjury."

"Have no fearslady" Alleyne answered. "We shall see thatall is well with you. Take your hand from the girl's wristyou north-countryrogue!"

"Hold to herWat!" said a great black-bearded man-at-armswhosesteel breast-plate glimmered in the dusk. "Keep your hands from yourbodkinsyou twofor that was my trade before you were bornandby God'ssoul! I will drive a handful of steel through you if you move a finger."

"Thank God!" said Alleyne suddenlyas he spied in the lamplight ashock of blazing red hair which fringed a steel cap high above the heads of thecrowd. "Here is Johnand Aylwardtoo! Help uscomradesfor there iswrong being done to this maid and to the old man."

"Holamon petit" said the old bowmanpushing his way through thecrowdwith the huge forester at his heels. "What is all thisthen? By thetwang of string! I think that you will have some work upon your hands if you areto right all the wrongs that you may see upon this side of the water. It is notto be thought that a troop of bowmenwith the wine buzzing in their earswillbe as soft-spoken as so many young clerks in an orchard. When you have been ayear with the Company you will think less of such matters. But what is amisshere? The provost-marshal with his archers is coming this wayand some of youmay find yourselves in the stretch-neckif you take not heed."

"Whyit is old Sam Aylward of the White Company!" shouted theman-at-arms. "WhySamkinwhat hath come upon thee? I can call to mind theday when you were as roaring a blade as ever called himself a free companion. Bymy soul! from Limoges to Navarrewho was there who would kiss a wench or cut athroat as readily as bowman Aylward of Hawkwood's company?"

"Like enoughPeter" said Aylward"andby my hilt! I maynot have changed so much. But it was ever a fair loose and a clear mark with me.The wench must be willingor the man must be standing up against meelsebythese ten finger bones I either were safe enough for me."

A glance at Aylward's resolute faceand at the huge shoulders of HordleJohnhad convinced the archers that there was little to be got by violence. Thegirl and the old man began to shuffle on in the crowd without their tormentorsventuring to stop them. Ford and Alleyne followed slowly behind thembutAylward caught the latter by the shoulder.

"By my hilt! camarade" said he"I hear that you have donegreat things at the Abbey to-daybut I pray you to have a carefor it was Iwho brought you into the Companyand it would be a black day for me if aughtwere to befall you."

"NayAylwardI will have a care."

"Thrust not forward into danger too muchmon petit. In a little timeyour wrist will be stronger and your cut more shrewd.

There will be some of us at the 'Rose de Guienne' to-nightwhich is twodoors from the hotel of the 'Half Moon' so if you would drain a cup with a fewsimple archers you will be right welcome."

Alleyne promised to be there if his duties would allowand thenslippingthrough the crowdhe rejoined Fordwho was standing in talk with the twostrangerswho had now reached their own doorstep.

"Brave young signor" cried the tall manthrowing his arms roundAlleyne"how can we thank you enough for taking our parts against thosehorrible drunken barbarians. What should we have done without you? My Tita wouldhave been dragged awayand my head would have been shivered into a thousandfragments."

"NayI scarce think that they would have mishandled you so" saidAlleyne in surprise.

"Hoho!" cried he with a high crowing laugh"it is not thehead upon my shoulders that I think of. Cospetto! no. It is the head under myarm which you have preserved."

"Perhaps the signori would deign to come under our rooffather"said the maiden. "If we bide herewho knows that some fresh tumult may notbreak out."

"Well saidTita! Well saidmy girl! I pray yousirsto honor myunworthy roof so far. A lightGiacomo! There are five steps up. Now two more.So! Here we are at last in safety. Corpo di Baccho! I would not have given tenmaravedi for my head when those children of the devil were pushing us againstthe wall. Tita miayou have been a brave girland it was better that youshould be pulled and pushed than that my head should be broken."

"Yes indeedfather" said she earnestly.

"But those English! Ach! Take a Gotha Hunand a Vandalmix themtogether and add a Barbary rover; then take this creature and make himdrunk--and you have an Englishman. My God I were ever such people upon earth!What place is free from them? I hear that they swarm in Italy even as they swarmhere. Everywhere you will find themexcept in heaven."

"Dear father" cried Titastill supporting the angry old manashe limped up the curved oaken stair. "You must not forget that these goodsignori who have preserved us are also English."

"Ahyes. My pardonsirs! Come into my rooms here. There are some whomight find some pleasure in these paintingsbut I learn the art of war is theonly art which is held in honor in your island."

The low-roofedoak-panelled room into which he conducted them wasbrilliantly lit by four scented oil lamps. Against the wallsupon the tableonthe floorand in every part of the chamber were great sheets of glass paintedin the most brilliant colors. Ford and Edricson gazed around them in amazementfor never had they seen such magnificent works of art.

"You like them then" the lame artist criedin answer to the lookof pleasure and of surprise in their faces. "There are then some of you whohave a taste for such trifling."

"I could not have believed it" exclaimed Alleyne. "Whatcolor! What outlines! See to this martyrdom of the holy StephenFord. Could younot yourself pick up one of these stones which lie to the hand of the wickedmurtherers?"

"And see this stagAlleynewith the cross betwixt its horns. By myfaith! I have never seen a better one at the Forest of Bere."

"And the green of this grass--how bright and clear! Why all the paintingthat I have seen is but child's play beside this. This worthy gentleman must beone of those great painters of whom I have oft heard brother Bartholomew speakin the old days at Beaulieu."

The dark mobile face of the artist shone with pleasure at the unaffecteddelight of the two young Englishmen. His daughter had thrown off her mantle anddisclosed a face of the finest and most delicate Italian beautywhich soon drewFord's eyes from the pictures in front of him. Alleynehowevercontinued withlittle cries of admiration and of wonderment to turn from the walls to the tableand yet again to the walls.

"What think you of thisyoung sir?" asked the paintertearing offthe cloth which concealed the flat object which he had borne beneath his arm. Itwas a leaf-shaped sheet of glass bearing upon it a face with a halo round itsodelicately outlinedand of so perfect a tintthat it might have been indeed ahuman face which gazed with sad and thoughtful eyes upon the young squire. Heclapped his handswith that thrill of joy which true art will ever give to atrue artist.

"It is great!" he cried. "It is wonderful! But I marvelsirthat you should have risked a work of such beauty and value by bearing it atnight through so unruly a crowd."

"I have indeed been rash" said the artist. "Some wineTitafrom the Florence flask! Had it not been for youI tremble to think of whatmight have come of it. See to the skin tint: it is not to be replacedfor paintas you willit is not once in a hundred times that it is not either burned toobrown in the furnace or else the color will not holdand you get but a sicklywhite. There you can see the very veins and the throb of thee blood. Yesdiavolo! if it had brokenmy heart would have broken too. It is for the choirwindow in the church of St. Remiand we had gonemy little helper and Itosee if it was indeed of the size for the stonework. Night had fallen ere wefinishedand what could we do save carry it home as best we might? But youyoung siryou speak as if you too knew something of the art."

"So little that I scarce dare speak of it in your presence"Alleyne answered. "I have been cloister-bredand it was no very greatmatter to handle the brush better than my brother novices."

"There are pigmentsbrushand paper" said the old artist."I do not give you glassfor that is another matterand takes much skillin the mixing of colors. Now I pray you to show me a touch of your art. I thankyouTita! The Venetian glassescara miaand fill them to the brim. A seatsignor!"

While Fordin his English-Frenchwas conversing with Tita in her ItalianFrenchthe old man was carefully examining his precious head to see that noscratch had been left upon its surface. When he glanced up againAlleyne hadwith a few bold strokes of the brushtinted in a woman's face and neck upon thewhite sheet in front of him.

"Diavolo!" exclaimed the old artiststanding with his head on oneside"you have power; yescospetto! you have powerit is the face of anangel!"

"It is the face of the Lady Maude Loring!" cried Fordeven moreastonished.

"Whyon my faithit is not unlike her!" said Alleynein someconfusion.

"Ah! a portrait! So much the better. Young manI am Agostino Pisanothe son of Andrea Pisanoand I say again that you have power. FurtherI saythatif you will stay with meI will teach you all the secrets of theglass-stainers' mystery: the pigments and their thickeningwhich will fuse intothe glass and which will notthe furnace and the glazing--every trick andmethod you shall know."

"I would be right glad to study under such a master" said Alleyne;"but I am sworn to follow my lord whilst this war lasts."

"War! war!" cried the old Italian. "Ever this talk of war. Andthe men that you hold to be great--what are they? Have I not heard their names?Soldiersbutchersdestroyers! Ahper Bacco! we have men in Italy who are invery truth great. You pull downyou despoil; but they build upthey restore.Ahif you could but see my own dear Pisathe Duomothe cloisters of CampoSantothe high Campanilewith the mellow throb of her bells upon the warmItalian air! Those are the works of great men. And I have seen them with my owneyesthese very eyes which look upon you. I have seen Andrea OrcagnaTaddeoGaddiGiottinoStefanoSimone Memmi--men whose very colors I am not worthy tomix. And I have seen the aged Giottoand he in turn was pupil to Cimabuebefore whom there was no art in Italyfor the Greeks were brought to paint thechapel of the Gondi at Florence. Ahsignorithere are the real great men whosenames will be held in honor when your soldiers are shown to have been theenemies of humankind."

"Faithsir" said Ford"there is something to say for thesoldiers alsoforunless they be defendedhow are all these gentlemen whomyou have mentioned to preserve the pictures which they have painted?"

"And all these!" said Alleyne. "Have you indeed done themall?-- and where are they to go?"

"Yessignorthey are all from my hand. Some areas you seeupon onesheetand some are in many pieces which may fasten togetherThere are some whodo but paint upon the glassand thenby placing another sheet of glass uponthe top and fastening itthey keep the air from their painting. Yet I hold thatthe true art of my craft lies as much in the furnace as in the brush. See thisrose windowwhich is from the model of the Church of the Holy Trinity atVendomeand this other of the 'Finding of the Grail' which is for the apse ofthe Abbey church. Time was when none but my countrymen could do these things;but there is Clement of Chartres and others in France who are very worthyworkmen. Butah! there is that ever shrieking brazen tongue which will not letus forget for one short hour that it is the arm of the savageand not the handof the masterwhich rules over the world."

A sternclear bugle call had sounded close at hand to summon some followingtogether for the night.

"It is a sign to us as well" said Ford. "I would fain stayhere forever amid all these beautiful things--" staring hard at theblushing Tita as he spoke--"but we must be back at our lord's hostel ere hereach it." Amid renewed thanks and with promises to come againthe twosquires bade their leave of the old Italian glass-stainer and his daughter. Thestreets were clearer nowand the rain had stoppedso they made their wayquickly from the Rue du Roiin which their new friends dweltto the Rue desApotreswhere the hostel of the "Half Moon" was situated.

Chapter 22 - How The Bowmen Held Wassail At The "Rose De Guienne.

 


 

"MON Dieu! Alleynesaw you ever so lovely a face?" cried Ford asthey hurried along together. "So pureso peacefuland so beautiful!"

"In soothyes. And the hue of the skin the most perfect that ever Isaw. Marked you also how the hair curled round the brow? It was wonderfine."

"Those eyestoo!" cried Ford. "How clear and how tender --simple. and yet so full of thought!"

"If there was a weakness it was in the chin" said Alleyne.

"Nay. I saw none."

"It was well curvedit is true."

"Most daintily so."

"And yet----"

"What thenAlleyne? Wouldst find flaw in the sun?"

"Wellbethink youFordwould not more power and expression have beenput into the face by a long and noble beard?"

"Holy Virgin!" cried Ford"the man is mad. A beard on theface of little Tita!"

"Tita! Who spoke of Tita?"

"Who spoke of aught else?"

"It was the picture of St. Remymanof which I have beendiscoursing."

"You are indeed" cried Fordlaughing"a GothHunandVandalwith all the other hard names which the old man called us. How could youthink so much of a smear of pigmentswhen there was such a picture painted bythe good God himself in the very room with you? But who is this?"

"If it please yousirs" said an archerrunning across to them"Aylward and others would be right glad to see you. They are within here.He bade me say to you that the Lord Loring will not need your service to-nightas he sleeps with the Lord Chandos."

"By my faith!" said Ford"we do not need a guide to lead usto their presence." As he spoke there came a roar of singing from thetavern upon the rightwith shouts of laughter and stamping of feet. Passingunder a low doorand down a stone-flagged passagethey found themselves in along narrow hall lit up by a pair of blazing torchesone at either end. Trussesof straw had been thrown down along the wallsand reclining on them were sometwenty or thirty archersall of the Companytheir steel caps and jacks thrownofftheir tunics open and their great limbs sprawling upon the clay floor. Atevery man's elbow stood his leathern blackjack of beerwhile at the further enda hogshead with its end knocked in promised an abundant supply for the future.Behind the hogsheadon a half circle of kegsboxesand rude settlessatAylwardJohnBlack Simon and three or four other leading men of the archerstogether with Goodwin Hawtaynethe master-shipmanwho had left his yellow cogin the river to have a last rouse with his friends of the Company. Ford andAlleyne took their seats between Aylward and Black Simonwithout their entrancechecking in any degree the hubbub which was going on.

"Alemes camarades?" cried the bowman"or shall it be wine?Naybut ye must have the one or the other. HereJacquesthou limb of thedevilbring a bottrine of the oldest vernageand see that you do not shake it.Hast heard the news?"

"Nay" cried both the squires.

"That we are to have a brave tourney."

"A tourney?"

"Ayelads. For the Captal du Buch hath sworn that he will find fiveknights from this side of the water who will ride over any five Englishmen whoever threw leg over saddle; and Chandos hath taken up the challengeand theprince hath promised a golden vase for the man who carries himself bestand allthe court is in a buzz over it."

"Why should the knights have all the sport?" growled Hordle John."Could they not set up five archers for the honor of Aquitaine and ofGascony?"

"Or five men-at-arms" said Black Simon.

"But who are the English knights?" asked Hawtayne.

"There are three hundred and forty-one in the town" said Aylward"and I hear that three hundred and forty cartels and defiances have alreadybeen sent inthe only one missing being Sir John Ravensholmewho is in his bedwith the sweating sicknessand cannot set foot to ground."

"I have heard of it from one of the archers of the guard" cried abowman from among the straw; "I hear that the prince wished to break alancebut that Chandos would not hear of itfor the game is likely to be arough one."

"Then there is Chandos."

"Naythe prince would not permit it. He is to be marshal of the listswith Sir William Felton and the Duc d'Armagnac. The English will be the LordAudleySir Thomas PercySir Thomas WakeSir William Beauchampand our ownvery good lord and leader."

"Hurrah for himand God be with him!" cried several. "It ishonor to draw string in his service"

"So you may well say" said Aylward. "By my ten finger-bones!if you march behind the pennon of the five roses you are like to see all that agood bowman would wish to see. Ha! yesmes garconsyou laughbutby my hilt!you may not laugh when you find yourselves where he will take youfor you cannever tell what strange vow he may not have sworn to. I see that he has a patchover his eyeeven as he had at Poictiers. There will come bloodshed of thatpatchor I am the more mistaken."

"How chanced it at Poictiersgood Master Aylward?" asked one ofthe young archersleaning upon his elbowswith his eyes fixed respectfullyupon the old bowman's rugged face.

"AyeAylwardtell us of it" cried Hordle John

"Here is to old Samkin Aylward!" shouted several at the further endof the roomwaving their blackjacks in the air.

"Ask him!" said Aylward modestlynodding towards Black Simon."He saw more than I did. And yetby the holy nails! there was not verymuch that I did not see either."

"Ahyes" said Simonshaking his head"it was a great day.I never hope to see such another. There were some fine archers who drew theirlast shaft that day. We shall never see better menAylward."

"By my hilt! no. There was little Robby Withstaffand AndrewSalblasterand Wat Alspayewho broke the neck of the German. Mon Dieu! whatmen they were! Take them how you wouldat long butts or shorthoylesroundsor roversbetter bowmen never twirled a shaft over their thumb-nails."

"But the fightAylwardthe fight!" cried several impatiently.

"Let me fill my jack firstboysfor it is a thirsty tale. It was atthe first fall of the leaf that the prince set forthand he passed throughAuvergneand Berryand Anjouand Touraine. In Auvergne the maids are kindbut the wines are sour. In Berry it is the women that are sourbut the winesare rich. Anjouhoweveris a very good land for bowmenfor wine and women areall that heart could wish. In Touraine I got nothing save a broken patebut atVierzon I had a great good fortunefor I had a golden pyx from the minsterforwhich I afterwards got nine Genoan janes from the goldsmith in the Rue MontOlive. From thence we went to Bourgeswere I had a tunic of flame-colored silkand a very fine pair of shoes with tassels of silk and drops of silver."

"From a stallAylward?" asked one of the young archers.

"Nayfrom a man's feetlad. I had reason to think that he might notneed them againseeing that a thirty-inch shaft had feathered in hisback."

"And what thenAylward?"

"On we wentcozsome six thousand of usuntil we came to Issodunandthere again a very great thing befell."

"A battleAylward?"

"Naynay; a greater thing than that. There is little to be gained outof a battleunless one have the fortune to win a ransom. At Issodun I and threeWelshmen came upon a house which all others had passedand we had the profit ofit to ourselves. For myselfI had a fine feather-bed--a thing which you willnot see in a long day's journey in England. You have seen itAlleyneand youJohn. You will bear me out that it is a noble bed. We put it on a sutler's muleand bore it after the army. It was on my mind that I would lay it by until Icame to start house of mine ownand I have it now in a very safe place nearLyndhurst."

"And what thenmaster-bowman?" asked Hawtayne. "By St.Christopher! it is indeed a fair and goodly life which you have chosenfor yougather up the spoil as a Warsash man gathers lobsterswithout grace or favorfrom any man."

"You are rightmaster-shipman" said another of the older archers."It is an old bowyer's rede that the second feather of a fenny goose isbetter than the pinion of a tame one. Draw on old ladfor I have come betweenyou and the clout."

"On we went then" said Aylwardafter a long pull at hisblackjack. "There were some six thousand of uswith the prince and hisknightsand the feather-bed upon a sutler's mule in the centre. We made greathavoc in Touraineuntil we came into Romorantinwhere I chanced upon a goldchain and two bracelets of jasperwhich were stolen from me the same day by ablack-eyed wench from the Ardennes. Mon Dieu! there are some folk who have nofear of Domesday in themand no sign of grace in their soulsfor everclutching and clawing at another's chattels."

"But the battleAylwardthe battle!" cried severalamid a burstof laughter.

"I come to itmy young war-pups. Wellthenthe King of France hadfollowed us with fifty thousand menand he made great haste to catch usbutwhen he had us he scarce knew what to do with usfor we were so drawn up amonghedges and vineyards that they could not come nigh ussave by one lane. On bothsides were archersmen-at-arms and knights behindand in the centre thebaggagewith my feather-bed upon a sutler's mule. Three hundred chosen knightscame straight for itandindeedthey were very brave menbut such a drift ofarrows met them that few came back. Then came the Germansand they also foughtvery bravelyso that one or two broke through the archers and came as far asthe feather-bedbut all to no purpose. Then out rides our own little hotheadwith the patch over his eyeand my Lord Audley with his four Cheshire squiresand a few others of like kidneyand after them went the prince and Chandosandthen the whole throng of uswith axe and swordfor we had shot away ourarrows. Ma foi! it was a foolish thingfor we came forth from the hedgesandthere was naught to guard the baggage had they ridden round behind us. But allwent well with usand the king was takenand little Robby Withstaff and I fellin with a wain with twelvefirkins of wine for the king's own tableandby myhilt! if you ask me what happened after thatI cannot answer younor canlittle Robby Withstaff either."

"And next day?"

"By my faith! we did not tarry longbut we hied back to Bordeauxwherewe came in safety with the King of France and also the feather-bed. I sold myspoilmes garconsfor as many gold-pieces as I could hold in my hufkenandfor seven days I lit twelve wax candles upon the altar of St. Andrew; for if youforget the blessed when things are well with youthey are very likely to forgetyou when you have need of them. I have a score of one hundred and nineteenpounds of wax against the holy Andrewandas he was a very just manI doubtnot that I shall have full weigh and measure when I have most need of it."

"Tell memaster Aylward" cried a young fresh-faced archer at thefurther end of the room"what was this great battle about?"

"Whyyou jack-foolwhat would it be about save who should wear thecrown of France?"

"I thought that mayhap it might be as to who should have thisfeather-bed of thine."

"If I come down to youSilasI may lay my belt across yourshoulders" Aylward answeredamid a general shout of laughter. "Butit is time young chickens went to roost when they dare cackle against theirelders. It is lateSimon."

"Naylet us have another song."

"Here is Arnold of Sowley will troll as good a stave as any man in theCompany."

"Naywe have one here who is second to none" said Hawtaynelaying his hand upon big John's shoulder. "I have heard him on the cog witha voice like the wave upon the shore. I pray youfriendto give us 'The Bellsof Milton' orif you will'The Franklin's Maid.' "

Hordle John drew the back of his hand across his mouthfixed his eyes uponthe corner of the ceilingand bellowed forthin a voice which made the torchesflickerthe southland ballad for which he had been asked:--

The franklin he hath gone to roamThe franklin's maid she bides at homeButshe is cold and coy and staidAnd who may win the franklin's maid?

There came a knight of high renown In bassinet and ciclatoun; On bended kneefull long he prayedHe might not win the franklin's maid.

There came a squire so debonair His dress was richhis words were fairHesweetly sanghe deftly played: He could not win the franklin's maid.

There came a mercer wonder-fine With velvet cap and gaberdine; For all hisshipsfor all his trade He could not buy the franklin's maid.

There came an archer bold and trueWith bracer guard and stave of yew; Hispurse was lighthis jerkin frayed; Haroalas! the franklin's maid!

Ohsome have laughed and some have cried And some have scoured thecountry-side! But off they ride through wood and gladeThe bowman and thefranklin's maid.

A roar of delight from his audiencewith stamping of feet and beating ofblackjacks against the groundshowed how thoroughly the song was to theirtastewhile John modestly retired into a quart potwhich he drained in fourgiant gulps. "I sang that ditty in Hordle ale-house ere I ever thought tobe an archer myself" quoth he.

"Fill up your stoups!" cried Black Simonthrusting his own gobletinto the open hogshead in front of him. "Here is a last cup to the WhiteCompanyand every brave boy who walks behind the roses of Loring!"

"To the woodthe flaxand the gander's wing!" said an old gray-headed archer on the right

"To a gentle looseand the king of Spain for a mark at fourteenscore!" cried another.

"To a bloody war!" shouted a fourth. "Many to go and few tocome!"

"With the most gold to the best steel!" added a fifth.

And a last cup to the maids of our heart!" cried Aylward "A steadyhand and a true eyeboys; so let two quarts be a bowman's portion." Withshout and jest and snatch of song they streamed from the roomand all waspeaceful once more in the "Rose de Guienne."

Chapter 23 - How England Held The Lists At Bordeaux

 


 

SO used were the good burghers of Bordeaux to martial display and knightlysportthat an ordinary joust or tournament was an everyday matter with them.The fame and brilliancy of the prince's court had drawn the knights-errant andpursuivants-of- arms from every part of Europe. In the long lists by the Garonneon the landward side of the northern gate there had been many a strange combatwhen the Teutonic knightfresh from the conquest of the Prussian heathenran acourse against the knight of Calatravahardened by continual struggle againstthe Moorsor cavaliers from Portugal broke a lance with Scandinavian warriorsfrom the further shore of the great Northern Ocean. Here fluttered many anoutland pennonbearing symbol and blazonry from the banks of the Danubethewilds of Lithuania and the mountain strongholds of Hungary; for chivalry was ofno clime and of no racenor was any land so wild that the fame and name of theprince had not sounded through it from border to border.

Greathoweverwas the excitement through town and district when it waslearned that on the third Wednesday in Advent there would be held apassage-at-arms in which five knights of England would hold the lists againstall comers. The great concourse of noblemen and famous soldiersthe nationalcharacter of the contestand the fact that this was a last trial of arms beforewhat promised to be an arduous and bloody warall united to make the event oneof the most notable and brilliant that Bordeaux had ever seen. On the eve of thecontest the peasants flocked in from the whole district of the Medocand thefields beyond the walls were whitened with the tents of those who could find nowarmer lodging. From the distant camp of Daxtooand from BlayeBourgeLibourneSt. EmilionCastillonSt. MacaireCardillacRyonsand all thecluster of flourishing towns which look upon Bordeaux as their mothertherethronged an unceasing stream of horsemen and of footmenall converging upon thegreat city. By the morning of the day on which the courses were to be runnotless than eighty people had assembled round the lists and along the low grassyridge which looks down upon the scene of the encounter.

It wasas may well be imaginedno easy matter among so many noted cavaliersto choose out five on either side who should have precedence over their fellows.A score of secondary combats had nearly arisen from the rivalries and bad bloodcreated by the selectionand it was only the influence of the prince and theefforts of the older barons which kept the peace among so many eager and fierysoldiers. Not till the day before the courses were the shields finally hung outfor the inspection of the ladies and the heraldsso that all men might know thenames of the champions and have the opportunity to prefer any charge againstthemshould there be stain upon them which should disqualify them from takingpart in so noble and honorable a ceremony.

Sir Hugh Calverley and Sir Robert Knolles had not yet returned from theirraid into the marches of the Navarreso that the English party were deprived oftwo of their most famous lances. Yet there remained so many good names thatChandos and Feltonto whom the selection had been referredhad many an earnestconsultationin which every feat of arms and failure or success of eachcandidate was weighed and balanced against the rival claims of his companions.Lord Audley of Cheshirethe hero of Poictiersand Loring of Hampshirewho washeld to be the second lance in the armywere easily fixed upon. Thenof theyounger menSir Thomas Percy of NorthumberlandSir Thomas Wake of Yorkshireand Sir William Beauchamp of Gloucestershirewere finally selected to upholdthe honor of England. On the other side were the veteran Captal de Buch and thebrawny Olivier de Clissonwith the free companion Sir Perducas d'Albertthevaliant Lord of Mucidentand Sigismond von Altenstadtof the Teutonic Order.The older soldiers among the English shook their heads as they looked upon theescutcheons of these famous warriorsfor they were all men who had spent theirlives upon the saddleand bravery and strength can avail little againstexperience and wisdom of war.

"By my faith! Sir John" said the prince as he rode through thewinding streets on his way to the list"I should have been glad to havesplintered a lance to-day. You have seen me hold a spear since I had strength tolift oneand should know best whether I do not merit a place among thishonorable company."

"There is no better seat and no truer lancesire" said Chandos;"butif I may say so without fear of offenceit were not fitting that youshould join in this debate."

"And whySir John?"

"Becausesireit is not for you to take part with Gascons againstEnglishor with English against Gasconsseeing that you are lord of both. Weare not too well loved by the Gascons nowand it is but the golden link of yourprincely coronet which holds us together. If that be snapped I know not whatwould follow."

"SnappedSir John!" cried the princewith an angry sparkle in hisdark eyes. "What manner of talk is this? You speak as though the allegianceof our people were a thing which might be thrown off or on like a falcon'sjessel."

"With a sorry hack one uses whip and spursire" said Chandos;"but with a horse of blood and spirit a good cavalier is gentle andsoothingcoaxing rather than forcing. These folk are strange peopleand youmust hold their loveeven as you have it nowfor you will get from theirkindness what all the pennons in your army could not wring from them."

"You are over-grave to-dayJohn" the prince answered. "Wemay keep such questions for our council-chamber. But how nowmy brothers ofSpainand of Majorca. what think you of this challenge?"

"I look to see some handsome joisting" said Don Pedrowho rodewith the King of Majorca upon the right of the princewhile Chandos was on theleft. "By St. James of Compostella! but these burghers would bear sometaxing. See to the broadcloth and velvet that the rogues bear upon their backs!By my troth! if they were my subjects they would be glad enough to wear faldingand leather ere I had done with them. But mayhap it is best to let the wool growlong ere you clip it."

"It is our pride" the prince answered coldly"that we ruleover freemen and not slaves."

"Every man to his own humor" said Pedro carelessly. "Carajo!there is a sweet face at yonder window! Don FernandoI pray you to mark thehouseand to have the maid brought to us at the abbey."

"Naybrothernay!" cried the prince impatiently. "I have hadoccasion to tell you more than once that things are not ordered in this way inAquitaine."

"A thousand pardonsdear friend" the Spaniard answered quicklyfor a flush of anger had sprung to the dark cheek of the English prince."You make my exile so like a home that I forget at times that I am not invery truth back in Castile. Every land hath indeed its ways and manners; but Ipromise youEdwardthat when you are my guest in Toledo or Madrid you shallnot yearn in vain for any commoner's daughter on whom you may deign to cast youreye."

"Your talksire" said the prince still more coldly"is notsuch as I love to hear from your lips. I have no taste for such amours as youspeak ofand I have sworn that my name shall be coupled with that of no womansave my ever dear wife."

"Ever the mirror of true chivalry!" exclaimed Pedrowhile James ofMajorcafrightened at the stern countenance of their all- powerful protectorplucked hard at the mantle of his brother exile.

"Have a carecousin" he whispered; "for the sake of theVirgin have a carefor you have angered him."

"Pshaw! fear not" the other answered in the same low tone."If I miss one stoop I will strike him on the next. Mark me else. Faircousin" he continuedturning to the prince"these be raremen-at-arms and lusty bowmen. It would be hard indeed to match them."

"They have Journeyed farsirebut they have never yet found theirmatch."

"Nor ever willI doubt not. I feel myself to be back upon my thronewhen I look at them. But tell medear cozwhat shall we do nextwhen we havedriven this bastard Henry from the kingdom which he hath filched?"

"We shall then compel the King of Aragon to place our good friend andbrother James of Majorca upon the throne."

"Noble and generous prince!" cried the little monarch.

"That done" said King Pedroglancing out of the corners of hiseyes at the young conqueror"we shall unite the forces of EnglandofAquitaineof Spain and of Majorca. It would be shame to us if we did not dosome great deed with such forces ready to our hand."

"You say trulybrother" cried the princehis eyes kindling atthe thought. "Methinks that we could not do anything more pleasing to OurLady than to drive the heathen Moors out of the country."

"I am with youEdwardas true as hilt to blade. Butby St. James! weshall not let these Moors make mock at us from over the sea. We must take shipand thrust them from Africa."

"By heavenyes!" cried the prince. "And it is the dream of myheart that our English pennons shall wave upon the Mount of Olivesand thelions and lilies float over the holy city."

"And why notdear coz? Your bowmen have cleared a path to Parisandwhy not to Jerusalem? Once thereyour arms might rest."

"Naythere is more to be done" cried the princecarried away bythe ambitious dream. "There is still the city of Constantine to be takenand war to be waged against the Soldan of Damascus. And beyond him again thereis tribute to be levied from the Cham of Tartary and from the kingdom of Cathay.Ha! Johnwhat say you? Can we not go as far eastward as Richard of the LionHeart?"

"Old John will bide at homesire" said the rugged soldier."By my soul! as long as I am seneschal of Aquitaine I will find enough todo in guarding the marches which you have entrusted to me. It would be a blitheday for the King of France when he heard that the seas lay between him andus."

"By my soul! John" said the prince"I have never known youturn laggard before."

"The babbling houndsireis not always the first at the mort"the old knight answered.

"Naymy true-heart! I have tried you too often not to know. Butby mysoul! I have not seen so dense a throng since the day that we brought King Johndown Cheapside."

It was indeed an enormous crowd which covered the whole vast plain from theline of vineyards to the river bank. From the northern gate the prince and hiscompanions looked down at a dark sea of headsbrightened here and there by thecolored hoods of the womenor by the sparkling head-pieces of archers andmen-at- arms. In the centre of this vast assemblage the lists seemed but anarrow strip of green marked out with banners and streamerswhile a gleam ofwhite with a flutter of pennons at either end showed where the marquees werepitched which served as the dressing-rooms of the combatants. A path had beenstaked off from the city gate to the stands which had been erected for the courtand the nobility. Down thisamid the shouts of the enormous multitudetheprince cantered with his two attendant kingshis high officers of stateandhis long train of lords and ladiescourtierscounsellorsand soldierswithtoss of plume and flash of jewelsheen of silk and glint of gold--as rich andgallant a show as heart could wish. The head of the cavalcade had reached thelists ere the rear had come clear of the city gatefor the fairest and thebravest had assembled from all the broad lands which are watered by the Dordogneand the Garonne. Here rode dark-browed cavaliers from the sunny southfierysoldiers from Gasconygraceful courtiers of Limousin or Saintongeand gallantyoung Englishmen from beyond the seas. Here too were the beautiful brunettes ofthe Girondewith eyes which out-flashed their jewelswhile beside them rodetheir blonde sisters of Englandclear cut and aquilineswathed in swans'-downand in erminefor the air was biting though the sun was bright. Slowly the longand glittering train wound into the listsuntil every horse had been tetheredby the varlets in waitingand every lord and lady seated in the long standswhich stretchedrich in tapestry and velvet and blazoned armson either sideof the centre of the arena.

The holders of the lists occupied the end which was nearest to the city gate.Therein front of their respective pavilionsflew the martlets of Audleytheroses of Loringthe scarlet bars of Wake. the lion of the Percies and thesilver wings of the Beauchampseach supported by a squire clad in hanging greenstuff to represent so many Tritonsand bearing a huge conch- shell in theirleft hands. Behind the tents the great war- horsesarmed at all pointschampedand rearedwhile their masters sat at the doors of their pavilionswith theirhelmets upon their kneeschatting as to the order of the day's doings. TheEnglish archers and men-at-arms had mustered at that end of the listsbut thevast majority of the spectators were in favor of the attacking partyfor theEnglish had declined in popularity ever since the bitter dispute as to thedisposal of the royal captive after the battle of Poictiers. Hence the applausewas by no means general when the herald-at-arms proclaimedafter a flourish oftrumpetsthe names and styles of the knights who were preparedfor the honorof their country and for the love of their ladiesto hold the field against allwho might do them the favor to run a course with them. On the other handadeafening burst of cheering greeted the rival heraldwhoadvancing from theother end of the listsrolled forth the well-known titles of the five famouswarriors who had accepted the defiance.

"FaithJohn" said the prince"it sounds as though you wereright. "Ha! my grace D'Armagnacit seems that our friends on this sidewill not grieve if our English champions lose the day."

"It may be sosire" the Gascon nobleman answered. "I havelittle doubt that in Smithfield or at Windsor an English crowd would favor theirown countrymen."

"By my faith! that's easily seen" said the princelaughing"for a few score English archers at yonder end are bellowing as though theywould out-shout the mighty multitude. I fear that they will have little to shoutover this journeyfor my gold vase has small prospect of crossing the water.What are the conditionsJohn?"

"They are to tilt singly not less than three coursessireand thevictory to rest with that party which shall have won the greater number ofcourseseach pair continuing till one or other have the vantage. He who carrieshimself best of the victors hath the prizeand he who is judged best of theother party hath a jewelled clasp. Shall I order that the nakirs soundsire?"

The prince noddedand the trumpets rang outwhile the champions rode forthone after the othereach meeting his opponent in the centre of the lists. SirWilliam Beauchamp went down before the practiced lance of the Captal de Buch.Sir Thomas Percy won the vantage over the Lord of Mucidentand the Lord Audleystruck Sir Perducas d'Albert from the saddle. The burly De Clissonhoweverrestored the hopes of the attackers by beating to the ground Sir Thomas Wake ofYorkshire. So farthere was little to choose betwixt challengers andchallenged.

"By Saint James of Santiago!" cried Don Pedrowith a tinge ofcolor upon his pale cheeks"win who willthis has been a most notablecontest."

"Who comes next for EnglandJohn?" asked the prince in a voicewhich quivered with excitement.

"Sir Nigel Loring of Hampshiresire."

"Ha! he is a man of good courageand skilled in the use of allweapons."

"He is indeedsire. But his eyeslike my ownare the worse for wars.Yet he can tilt or play his part at hand-strokes as merrily as ever. It was hesirewho won the golden crown which Queen Philippayour royal mothergave tobe jousted for by all the knights of England after the harrying of Calais. Ihave heard that at Twynham Castle there is a buffet which groans beneath theweight of his prizes."

"I pray that my vase may join them" said the prince. "Buthere is the cavalier of Germanyand by my soul! he looks like a man of greatvalor and hardiness. Let them run their full three coursesfor the issue isover-great to hang upon one."

As the prince spokeamid a loud flourish of trumpets and the shouting of theGascon partythe last of the assailants rode gallantly into the lists. He was aman of great sizeclad in black armor without blazonry or ornament of any kindfor all worldly display was forbidden by the rules of the military brotherhoodto which he belonged. No plume or nobloy fluttered from his plain tiltingsaladeand even his lance was devoid of the customary banderole. A white mantlefluttered behind himupon the left side of which was marked the broad blackcross picked out with silver which was the well-known badge of the TeutonicOrder. Mounted upon a horse as largeas blackand as forbidding as himselfhecantered slowly forwardwith none of those prancings and gambades with which acavalier was accustomed to show his command over his charger. Gravely andsternly he inclined his head to the princeand took his place ar the furtherend of the arena.

He had scarce done so before Sir Nigel rode out from the holders' enclosureand galloping at full speed down the listsdrew his charger up before theprince's stand with a jerk which threw it back upon its haunches. With whitearmorblazoned shieldand plume of ostrich-feathers from his helmethecarried himself in so jaunty and joyous a fashionwith tossing pennon andcurvetting chargerthat a shout of applause ran the full circle of the arena.With the air of a man who hastes to a joyous festivalhe waved his lance insaluteand reining the pawing- horse round without permitting its fore-feet totouch the groundhe hastened back to his station.

A great hush fell over the huge multitude as the two last champions facedeach other. A double issue seemed to rest upon their contestfor their personalfame was at stake as well as their party's honor. Both were famous warriorsbutas their exploits had been performed in widely sundered countriesthey hadnever before been able to cross lances. A course between such men would havebeen enough in itself to cause the keenest interestapart from its being thecrisis which would decide who should be the victors of the day. For a momentthey waited--the German sombre and collectedSir Nigel quivering in every fibrewith eagerness and fiery resolution. Thenamid a long-drawn breath from thespectatorsthe glove fell from the marshal's handand the two steel-cladhorsemen met like a thunderclap in front of the royal stand. The Germanthoughhe reeled for an instant before the thrust of the Englishmanstruck hisopponent so fairly upon the vizor that the laces burstthe plumed helmet flewto piecesand Sir Nigel galloped on down the lists with his bald headshimmering in the sunshine. A thousand waving scarves and tossing caps announcedthat the first bout had fallen to the popular party.

The Hampshire knight was not a man to be disheartened by a reverse. Hespurred back to the pavilionand was out in a few instants with another helmet.The second course was so equal that the keenest judges could not discern anyvantage. Each struck fire from the other's shieldand each endured the jarringshock as though welded to the horse beneath him. In the final bouthoweverSirNigel struck his opponent with so true an aim that the point of the lance caughtbetween the bars of his vizor and tore the front of his helmet outwhile theGermanaiming somewhat lowand half stunned by the shockhad the misfortuneto strike his adversary upon the thigha breach of the rules of thetilting-yardby which he not only sacrificed his chances of successbut wouldalso have forfeited his horse and his armorhad the English knight chosen toclaim them. A roar of applause from the English soldierswith an ominoussilence from the vast crowd who pressed round the barriersannounced that thebalance of victory lay with the holders. Already the ten champions had assembledin front of the prince to receive his awardwhen a harsh bugle call from thefurther end of the lists drew all eyes to a new and unexpected arrival.

Chapter 24 - How A Champion Came Forth From The East

 


 

THE Bordeaux lists wereas has already been explainedsituated upon theplain near the river upon those great occasions when the tilting-ground in frontof the Abbey of St. Andrew's was deemed to be too small to contain the crowd. Onthe eastern side of this plain the country-side sloped upwardsthick with vinesin summerbut now ridged with the brown bare enclosures. Over the gently risingplain curved the white road which leads inlandusually flecked with travellersbut now with scarce a living form upon itso completely had the lists drainedall the district of its inhabitants. Strange it was to see such a vast concourseof peopleand then to look upon that broadwhiteempty highway which woundawaybleak and deserteduntil it narrowed itself to a bare streak against thedistant uplands.

Shortly after the contest had begunany one looking from the lists alongthis road might have remarkedfar away in the extreme distancetwo brilliantand sparkling points which glittered and twinkled in the bright shimmer of thewinter sun. Within an hour these had become clearer and neareruntil they mightbe seen to come from the reflection from the head-pieces of two horsemen whowere riding at the top of their speed in the direction of Bordeaux. Anotherhalf-hour had brought them so close that every point of their bearing andequipment could be discerned. The first was a knight in full armormounted upona brown horse with a white blaze upon breast and forehead. He was a short man ofgreat breadth of shoulderwith vizor closedand no blazonry upon his simplewhite surcoat or plain black shield. The otherwho was evidently his squire andattendantwas unarmed save for the helmet upon his headbut bore in his righthand a very long and heavy oaken spear which belonged to his master. In his lefthand the squire held not only the reins of his own horse but those of a greatblack war-horsefully harnessedwhich trotted along at his side. Thus thethree horses and their two riders rode swiftly to the listsand it was theblare of the trumpet sounded by the squire as his lord rode into the arena whichhad broken in upon the prize-giving and drawn away the attention and interest ofthe spectators.

"HaJohn!" cried the princecraning h s neck"who is thiscavalierand what is it that he desires?"

"On my wordsire" replied Chandoswith the utmost surprise uponhis face"it is my opinion that he is a Frenchman."

"A Frenchman!" repeated Don Pedro. "And how can you tell thatmy Lord Chandoswhen he has neither coat-armorcrestor blazonry?"

"By his armorsirewhich is rounder at elbow and at shoulder than anyof Bordeaux or of England. Italian he might be were his bassinet more slopedbut I will swear that those plates were welded betwixt this and Rhine. Herecomes his squirehoweverand we shall hear what strange fortune hath broughthim over the marches."

As he spoke the attendant cantered up the grassy enclosureand pulling uphis steed in front of the royal standblew a second fanfare upon his bugle. Hewas a raw-bonedswarthy-cheeked manwith black bristling beard and aswaggering bearing.

Having sounded his callhe thrust the bugle into his beltandpushing hisway betwixt the groups of English and of Gascon knightshe reined up within aspear's length of the royal party.

"I come" he shouted in a hoarsethick voicewith a strong Bretonaccent"as squire and herald from my masterwho is a very valiantpursuivant-of-armsand a liegeman to the great and powerful monarchCharlesking of the French. My master has heard that there is jousting hereandprospect of honorable advancementso he has come to ask that some Englishcavalier will vouchsafe for the love of his lady to run a course with sharpenedlances with himor to meet him with swordmacebattle-axeor dagger. He bademe sayhoweverthat he would fight only with a true Englishmanand not withany mongrel who is neither English nor Frenchbut speaks with the tongue of theoneand fights under the banner of the other."

"Sir!" cried De Clissonwith a voice of thunderwhile hiscountrymen clapped their hands to their swords. The squirehowevertook nonotice of their angry facesbut continued with his master's message.

"He is now readysire" he said"albeit his destrier hastravelled many miles this dayand fastfor we were in fear lest we come toolate for the jousting."

"Ye have indeed come too late" said the prince"seeing thatthe prize is about to be awarded; yet I doubt not that one of these gentlemenwill run a course for the sake of honor with this cavalier of France."

"And as to the prizesire" quoth Sir Nigel"I am sure thatI speak for all when I say this French knight hath our leave to bear it awaywith him if he can fairly win it."

"Bear word of this to your master" said the prince"and askhim which of these five Englishmen he would desire to meet. But stay; yourmaster bears no coat-armorand we have not yet heard his name."

"My mastersireis under vow to the Virgin neither to reveal his namenor to open his vizor until he is back upon French ground once more."

"Yet what assurance have we" said the prince"that this isnot some varlet masquerading in his master's harnessor some caitiff knightthe very touch of whose lance might bring infamy upon an honorablegentleman?"

"It is not sosire" cried the squire earnestly. "There is noman upon earth who would demean himself by breaking a lance with mymaster."

"You speak out boldlysquire" the prince answered; "butunless I have some further assurance of your master's noble birth and gentlename I cannot match the choicest lances of my court against him."

"You refusesire?"

"I do refuse."

"ThensireI was bidden to ask you from my master whether you wouldconsent if Sir John Chandosupon hearing my master's nameshould assure youthat he was indeed a man with whom you might yourself cross swords withoutindignity."

"I ask no better" said the prince.

"Then I must askLord Chandosthat you will step forth. I have yourpledge that the name shall remain ever a secretand that you will neither saynor write one word which might betray it. The name is ----" He stooped downfrom his horse and whispered something into the old knight's ear which made himstart with surpriseand stare with much curiosity at the distant Knightwhowas sitting his charger at the further end of the arena.

"Is this indeed sooth?" he exclaimed.

"It ismy lordand I swear it by St. Ives of Brittany."

"I might have known it" said Chandostwisting his mousetacheandstill looking thoughtfully at the cavalier.

"What thenSir John?" asked the prince.

"Sirethis is a knight whom it is indeed great honor to meetand Iwould that your grace would grant me leave to send my squire for my harnessforI would dearly love to run a course with him.

"NaynaySir Johnyou have gained as much honor as one man can bearand it were hard if you could not rest now. But I pray yousquireto tell yourmaster that he is very welcome to our courtand that wines and spices will beserved himif he would refresh himself before jousting."

"My master will not drink" said the squire.

"Let him then name the gentleman with whom he would break a spear."

"He would contend with these five knightseach to choose such weaponsas suit him best."

"I perceive" said the prince"that your master is a man ofgreat heart and high of enterprise. But the sun already is low in the westandthere will scarce be light for these courses. I pray yougentlemento takeyour placesthat we may see whether this stranger's deeds are as bold as hiswords."

The unknown knight had sat like a statue of steellooking neither to theright nor to the left during these preliminaries. He had changed from the horseupon which he had riddenand bestrode the black charger which his squire hadled beside him. His immense breadthhis stern composed appearanceand the modein which he handled his shield and his lancewere enough in themselves toconvince the thousands of critical spectators that he was a dangerous opponent.Aylwardwho stood in the front row of the archers with Simonbig Johnandothers of the Companyhad been criticising the proceedings from thecommencement with the ease and freedom of a man who had spent his life underarms and had learned in a hard school to know at a glance the points of a horseand his rider. He stared now at the stranger with a wrinkled brow and the air ofa man who is striving to stir his memory.

"By my hilt! I have seen the thick body of him before to-day. Yet Icannot call to mind where it could have been. At Nogent belikeor was it atAuray? Mark meladsthis man will prove to be one of the best lances ofFranceand there are no better in the world."

"It is but child's playthis poking game" said John. "Iwould fain try my hand at itforby the black rood! I think that it might beamended."

"What then would you doJohn?" asked several.

"There are many things which might be done" said the foresterthoughtfully. "Methinks that I would begin by breaking my spear."

"So they all strive to do."

"Naybut not upon another man's shield. I would break it over my ownknee."

"And what the better for thatold beef and bones?" asked BlackSimon.

"So I would turn what is but a lady's bodkin of a weapon into a veryhandsome club."

"And thenJohn?"

"Then I would take the other's spear into my arm or my legor where itpleased him best to put itand I would dash out his brains with my club."

"By my ten finger-bones! old John" said Aylward"I wouldgive my feather-bed to see you at a spear-running. This is a most courtly andgentle sport which you have devised."

"So it seems to me" said John seriously. "Oragainonemight seize the other round the middlepluck him off his horse and bear him tothe pavilionthere to hold him to ransom."

"Good!" cried Simonamid a roar of laughter from all the archersround. "By Thomas of Kent I we shall make a camp-marshal of theeand thoushalt draw up rules for our jousting. ButJohnwho is it that you would upholdin this knightly and pleasing fashion?"

"What mean you?"

"WhyJohnso strong and strange a tilter must fight for the brightnessof his lady's eyes or the curve of her eyelasheven as Sir Nigel does for theLady Loring."

"I know not about that" said the big archerscratching his headin perplexity. "Since Mary hath played me falseI can scarce fight forher."

"Yet any woman will serve."

"There is my mother then" said John. "She was at much painsat my upbringingandby my soul! I will uphold the curve of her eyelashesforit tickleth my very heart-root to think of her. But who is here?"

"It is Sir William Beauchamp. He is a valiant manbut I fear that he isscarce firm enough upon the saddle to bear the thrust of such a tilter as thisstranger promises to be."

Aylward's words were speedily justifiedfor even as he spoke the two knightsmet in the centre of the lists. Beauchamp struck his opponent a shrewd blow uponthe helmetbut was met with so frightful a thrust that he whirled out of hissaddle and rolled over and over upon the ground. Sir Thomas Percy met withlittle better successfor his shield was splithis vambrace torn and hehimself wounded slightly in the side. Lord Audley and the unknown knight struckeach other fairly upon the helmet; butwhile the stranger sat as firm and rigidas ever upon his chargerthe Englishman was bent back to his horse's crupper bythe weight of the blowand had galloped half-way down the lists ere he couldrecover himself. Sir Thomas Wake was beaten to the ground with abattle-axe--that being the weapon which he had selected--and had to be carriedto his pavilion. These rapid successesgained one after the other over fourcelebrated warriorsworked the crowd up to a pitch of wonder and admiration.Thunders of applause from the English soldiersas well as from the citizens andpeasantsshowed how far the love of brave and knightly deeds could rise abovethe rivalries of race.

"By my soul! John" cried the princewith his cheek flushed andhis eyes shining"this is a man of good courage and great hardiness. Icould not have thought that there was any single arm upon earth which could haveoverthrown these four champions."

"He is indeedas I have saidsirea knight from whom much honor is tobe gained. But the lower edge of the sun is wetand it will be beneath the seaere long."

"Here is Sir Nigel Loringon foot and with his sword" said theprince. "I have heard that he is a fine swordsman."

"The finest in your armysire" Chandos answered. "Yet Idoubt not that he will need all his skill this day."

As he spokethe two combatants advanced from either end in full armor withtheir two-handed swords sloping over their shoulders. The stranger walkedheavily and with a measured stridewhile the English knight advanced as brisklyas though there was no iron shell to weigh down the freedom of his limbs. Atfour paces distance they stoppedeyed each other for a momentand then in aninstant fell to work with a clatter and clang as though two sturdy smiths werebusy upon their anvils. Up and down went the longshining bladesround andround they circled in curves of glimmering lightcrossingmeetingdisengagingwith flash of sparks at every parry. Here and there bounded SirNigelhis head erecthis jaunty plume fluttering in the airwhile his darkopponent sent in crashing blow upon blowfollowing fiercely up with cut andwith thrustbut never once getting past the practised blade of the skilledswordsman. The crowd roared with delight as Sir Nigel would stoop his head toavoid a blowor by some slight movement of his body allow some terrible thrustto glance harmlessly past him. Suddenlyhoweverhis time came. The Frenchmanwhirling up his swordshowed for an instant a chink betwixt his shoulder pieceand the rerebrace which guarded his upper arm. In dashed Sir Nigeland outagain so swiftly that the eye could not follow the quick play of his bladebuta trickle of blood from the stranger's shoulderand a rapidly widening redsmudge upon his white surcoatshowed where the thrust had taken effect. Thewound washoweverbut a slight oneand the Frenchman was about to renew hisonsetwhenat a sign from the princeChandos threw down his batonand themarshals of the lists struck up the weapons and brought the contest to an end.

"It were time to check it" said the princesmiling"for SirNigel is too good a man for me to loseandby the five holy wounds! if one ofthose cuts came home I should have fears for our champion. What think youPedro?"

"I thinkEdwardthat the little man was very well able to take care ofhimself. For my partI should wish to see so well matched a pair fight on whilea drop of blood remained in their veins."

"We must have speech with him. Such a man must not go from my courtwithout rest or sup. Bring him hitherChandosandcertesif the Lord Loringhath resigned his claim upon this gobletit is right and proper that thiscavalier should carry it to France with him as a sign of the prowess that he hasshown this day."

As he spokethe knight-errantwho had remounted his warhorsegallopedforward to the royal standwith a silken kerchief bound round his wounded arm.The setting sun cast a ruddy glare upon his burnished armsand sent his longblack shadow streaming behind him up the level clearing. Pulling up his steedhe slightly inclined his headand sat in the stern and composed fashion withwhich he had borne himself throughoutheedless of the applauding shouts and theflutter of kerchiefs from the long lines of brave men and of fair women who werelooking down upon him.

"Sir knight" said the prince"we have all marvelled this dayat this great skill and valor with which God has been pleased to endow you. Iwould fain that you should tarry at our courtfor a time at leastuntil yourhurt is healed and your horses rested.."

"My hurt is nothingsirenor are my horses weary" returned thestranger in a deepstern voice.

"Will you not at least hie back to Bordeaux with usthat you may draina cup of muscadine and sup at our table?"

"I will neither drink your wine nor sit at your table" returnedthe other. "I bear no love for you or for your raceand there is noughtthat I wish at your hands until the day when I see the last sail which bears youback to your island vanishing away against the western sky."

"These are bitter wordssir knight" said Prince Edwardwith anangry frown.

"And they come from a bitter heart" answered the unknown knight."How long is it since there has been peace in my hapless country? Where arethe steadingsand orchardsand vineyardswhich made France fair? Where arethe cities which made her great? From Providence to Burgundy we are beset byevery prowling hireling in Christendomwho rend and tear the country which youhave left too weak to guard her own marches. Is it not a by-word that a man mayride all day in that unhappy land without seeing thatch upon roof or hearing thecrow of cock? Does not one fair kingdom content youthat you should strive sofor this other one which has no love for you? Pardieu! a true Frenchman's wordsmay well be bitterfor bitter is his lot and bitter his thoughts as he ridesthrough his thrice unhappy country."

"Sir knight" said the prince"you speak like a brave manand our cousin of France is happy in having a cavalier who is so fit to upholdhis cause either with tongue or with sword. But if you think such evil of ushow comes it that you have trusted yourselves to us without warranty orsafe-conduct?"

"Because I knew that you would be heresire. Had the man who sits uponyour right been ruler of this landI had indeed thought twice before I lookedto him for aught that was knightly or generous." With a soldierly salutehe wheeled round his horseandgalloping down the listsdisappeared amid thedense crowd of footmen and of horsemen who were streaming away from the scene ofthe tournament.

"The insolent villain!" cried Pedroglaring furiously after him."I have seen a man's tongue torn from his jaws for less. Would it not bewell even nowEdwardto send horsemen to hale him back? Bethink you that itmay be one of the royal house of Franceor at least some knight whose losswould be a heavy blow to his master. Sir William Feltonyou are well mountedgallop after the caitiffI pray you."

"Do soSir William" said the prince" and give him thispurse of a hundred nobles as a sign of the respect which I bear for him; forbySt. George! he has served his master this day even as I would wish liegeman ofmine to serve me." So sayingthe prince turned his back upon the King ofSpainand springing upon his horserode slowly homewards to the Abbey of SaintAndrew's.

Chapter 25 - How Sir Nigel Wrote To Twynham Castle

 


 

ON the morning after the joustingwhen Alleyne Edricson wentas was hiscustominto his master's chamber to wait upon him in his dressing and to curlhis hairhe found him already up and very busily at work. He sat at a table bythe windowa deerhound on one side of him and a lurcher on the otherhis feettucked away under the trestle on which he satand his tongue in his cheekwiththe air of a man who is much perplexed. A sheet of vellum lay upon the board infront of himand he held a pen in his handwith which he had been scribblingin a rude schoolboy hand. So many were the blotshoweverand so numerous thescratches and erasuresthat he had at last given it up in despairand sat withhis single uncovered eye cocked upwards at the ceilingas one who waits uponinspiration.

"By Saint Paul!" he criedas Alleyne entered"you are theman who will stand by me in this matter. I have been in sore need of youAlleyne."

"God be with youmy fair lord!" the squire answered. "I trustthat you have taken no hurt from all that you have gone through yesterday."

"Nay; I feel the fresher for itAlleyne. It has eased my jointswhichwere somewhat stiff from these years of peace. I trustAlleynethat thou didstvery carefully note and mark the bearing and carriage of this knight of France;for it is timenow when you are youngthat you should see all that is bestand mould your own actions in accordance. This was a man from whom much honormight be gainedand I have seldom met any one for whom I have conceived so muchlove and esteem. Could I but learn his nameI should send you to him with mycartelthat we might have further occasion to watch his goodly feats ofarms."

"It is saidmy fair lordthat none know his name save only the LordChandosand that he is under vow not to speak it. So ran the gossip at thesquires' table."

"Be he who he mighthe was a very hardy gentleman. But I have a taskhereAlleynewhich is harder to me than aught that was set before meyesterday."

"Can I help youmy lord?"

"That indeed you can. I have been writing my greetings to my sweet wife;for I hear that a messenger goes from the prince to Southampton within the weekand he would gladly take a packet for me. I pray youAlleyneto cast your eyesupon what I have writtenand see it they are such words as my lady willunderstand. My fingersas you can seeare more used to iron and leather thanto the drawing of strokes and turning of letters. What then? Is there aughtamissthat you should stare so?"

"It is this first wordmy lord. In what tongue were you pleased towrite?"

"In English; for my lady talks it more than she doth French.

"Yet this is no English wordmy sweet lord. Here are four t's and nevera letter betwixt them."

"By St. Paul! it seemed strange to my eye when I wrote it" saidSir Nigel. "They bristle up together like a clump of lances. We must breaktheir ranks and set them farther apart. The word is 'that.' Now I will read itto youAlleyneand you shall write it out fair; for we leave Bordeaux thisdayand it would be great joy to me to think that the Lady Loring had word fromme."

Alleyne sat down as orderedwith a pen in his hand and a fresh sheet ofparchment before himwhile Sir Nigel slowly spelled out his letterrunning hisforefinger on from word to word.

"That my heart is with theemy dear sweetingis what thine own heartwill assure thee of. All is well with us heresave that Pepin hath the mange onhis backand Pommers hath scarce yet got clear of his stiffness from being fourdays on ship-boardand the more so because the sea was very highand we werelike to founder on account of a hole in her sidewhich was made by a stone castat us by certain sea-roverswho may the saints have in their keepingfor theyhave gone from amongst usas has young Terlakeand two-score mariners andarcherswho would be the more welcome here as there is like to be a very finewarwith much honor and all hopes of advancementfor which I go to gather myCompany togetherwho are now at Montaubonwhere they pillage and destroy; yetI hope thatby God's helpI may be able to show that I am their masterevenasmy sweet ladyI am thy servant."

"How of thatAlleyne?" continued Sir Nigelblinking at hissquirewith an expression of some pride upon his face. "Have I not toldher all that hath befallen us?"

"You have said muchmy fair lord; and yetif I may say soit issomewhat crowded togetherso that my Lady Loring canmayhapscarce follow it.Were it in shorter periods----"

"Nayit boots me not how you marshal themas long as they are allthere at the muster. Let my lady have the wordsand she will place them in suchorder as pleases her best. But I would have you add what it would please her toknow."

"That will I" said Alleyneblithelyand bent to the task.

"My fair lady and mistress" he wrote"God hath had us in Hiskeepingand my lord is well and in good cheer. He hath won much honor at thejousting before the princewhen he alone was able to make it good against avery valiant man from France. Touching the moneysthere is enough and to spareuntil we reach Montaubon. Herewithmy fair ladyI send my humble regardsentreating you that you will give the same to your daughterthe Lady Maude. Maythe holy saints have you both in their keeping is ever the prayer of thyservant"ALLEYNE EDRICSON."

"That is very fairly set forth" said Sir Nigelnodding his baldhead as each sentence was read to him. "And for thyselfAlleyneif therebe any dear friend to whom you would fain give greetingI can send it for theewithin this packet."

"There is none" said Alleynesadly.

"Have you no kinsfolkthen?"

"Nonesave my brother."

"Ha! I had forgotten that there was ill blood betwixt you. But are therenone in all England who love thee?"

"None that I dare say so."

"And none whom you love?"

"NayI will not say that" said Alleyne.

Sir Nigel shook his head and laughed softly to himself"I see how it iswith you" he said. "Have I not noted your frequent sighs and vacanteye? Is she fair?"

"She is indeed" cried Alleyne from his heartall tingling at thissudden turn of the talk.

"And good?"

"As an angel."

"And yet she loves you not?"

"NayI cannot say that she loves another."

"Then you have hopes?"

"I could not live else."

"Then must you strive to be worthy of her love. Be brave and purefearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and sowhether this love prosperor noyou will have fitted yourself to be honored by a maiden's lovewhich isin sooththe highest guerdon which a true knight can hope for."

"Indeedmy lordI do so strive" said Alleyne; "but she isso sweetso daintyand of so noble a spiritthat I fear me that I shall neverbe worthy of her."

"By thinking so you become worthy. Is she then of noble birth?"

"She ismy lord" faltered Alleyne.

"Of a knightly house?"

"Yes."

"Have a careAlleynehave a care!" said Sir Nigelkindly."The higher the steed the greater the fall. Hawk not at that which may bebeyond thy flight."

"My lordI know little of the ways and usages of the world" criedAlleyne"but I would fain ask your rede upon the matter. You have known myfather and my kin: is not my family one of good standing and repute?"

"Beyond all question."

"And yet you warn me that I must not place my love too high."

"Were Minstead yoursAlleynethenby St. Paul! I cannot think thatany family in the land would not be proud to take you among themseeing thatyou come of so old a strain. But while the Socman lives----Haby my soul!"if this is not Sir Oliver's step I am the more mistaken."

As he spokea heavy footfall was heard withoutand the portly knight flungopen the door and strode into the room.

"Whymy little coz" said he"I have come across to tell youthat I live above the barber's in the Rue de la Tourand that there is avenison pasty in the oven and two flasks of the right vintage on the table. BySt. James! a blind man might find the placefor one has but to get in the windfrom itand follow the savory smell. Put on your cloakthenand comefor SirWalter Hewett and Sir Robert Briquetwith one or two othersare awaitingus."

"NayOliverI cannot be with youfor I must to Montaubon thisday."

"To Montaubon? But I have heard that your Company is to come with myforty Winchester rascals to Dax."

"If you will take charge of themOliver. For I will go to Montaubonwith none save my two squires and two archers. Thenwhen I have found the restof my Company I shall lead them to Dax. We set forth this morning."

"Then I must back to my pasty" said Sir Oliver. "You willfind us at DaxI doubt notunless the prince throw me into prisonfor he isvery wroth against me."

"And whyOliver?"

"Pardieu! because I have sent my cartelgauntletand defiance to SirJohn Chandos and to Sir William Felton."

"To Chandos? In God's nameOliverwhy have you done this?"

"Because he and the other have used me despitefully."

"And how?"

"Because they have passed me over in choosing those who should joust forEngland. Yourself and Audley I could passcozfor you are mature men; but whoare Wakeand Percyand Beauchamp? By my soul! I was prodding for my food intoa camp-kettle when they were howling for their pap. Is a man of my weight andsubstance to be thrown aside for the first three half-grown lads who havelearned the trick of the tilt-yard? But hark yecozI think of sending mycartel also to the prince."

"Oliver! Oliver! You are mad!"

"Not Ii' faith! I care not a denier whether he be prince or no. BySaint James! I see that your squire's eyes are starting from his head like atrussed crab. Wellfriendwe are all three men of Hampshireand not lightlyto be jeered at."

"Has he jeered at you than?"

"Pardieu! yes'Old Sir Oliver's heart is still stout' said one of hiscourt. 'Else had it been out of keeping with the rest of him' quoth the prince.'And his arm is strong' said another. 'So is the backbone of his horse' quoththe prince. This very day I will send him my cartel and defiance."

"Naynaymy dear Oliver" said Sir Nigellaying his hand uponhis angry friend's arm. "There is naught in thisfor it was but sayingthat you were a strong and robust manwho had need of a good destrier. And asto Chandos and Feltonbethink you that if when you yourself were young theolder lances had ever been preferredhow would you then have had the chance toearn the good name and fame which you now bear? You do not ride as light as youdidOliverand I ride lighter by the weight of my hairbut it would be an illthing if in the evening of our lives we showed that our hearts were less trueand loyal than of old. If such a knight as Sir Oliver Buttesthorn may turnagainst his own prince for the sake of a light wordthen where are we to lookfor steadfast faith and constancy?"

"Ah! my dear little cozit is easy to sit in the sunshine and preach tothe man in the shadow. Yet you could ever win me over to your side with thatsoft voice of yours. Let us think no more of it then. Butholy Mother! I hadforgot the pastyand it will be as scorched as Judas Iscariot! ComeNigellest the foul fiend get the better of me again."

"For one hourthen; for we march at mid-day. Tell AylwardAlleynethat he is to come with me to Montaubonand to choose one archer for hiscomrade. The rest will to Dax when the prince startswhich will be before thefeast of the Epiphany. Have Pommers ready at mid-day with my sycamore lanceandplace my harness on the sumpter mule."

With these brief directionsthe two old soldiers strode off togetherwhileAlleyne hastened to get all in order for their journey.

Chapter 26 - How The Three Comrades Gained A Mighty Treasur

 


 

IT was a brightcrisp winter's day when the little party set off fromBordeaux on their journey to Montaubonwhere the missing half of their Companyhad last been heard of. Sir Nigel and Ford had ridden on in advancethe knightupon his hackneywhile his great war-horse trotted beside his squire. Two hourslater Alleyne Edricson followed; for he had the tavern reckoning to settleandmany other duties which fell to him as squire of the body. With him came Aylwardand Hordle Johnarmed as of oldbut mounted for their journey upon a pair ofclumsy Landes horsesheavy-headed and shamblingbut of great enduranceandcapable of jogging along all dayeven when between the knees of the hugearcherwho turned the scale at two hundred and seventy pounds. They took withthem the sumpter muleswhich carried in panniers the wardrobe and tablefurniture of Sir Nigel; for the knightthough neither fop nor epicurewas verydainty in small mattersand lovedhowever bare the board or hard the lifethat his napery should still be white and his spoon of silver.

There had been frost during the nightand the white hard road rang loudunder their horses' irons as they spurred through the east gate of the townalong the same broad highway which the unknown French champion had traversed onthe day of the jousts. The three rode abreastAlleyne Edricson with his eyescast down and his mind distraitfor his thoughts were busy with theconversation which he had had with Sir Nigel in the morning. Had he done well tosay so muchor had he not done better to have said more? What would the knighthave said had he confessed to his love for the Lady Maude? Would he cast him offin disgraceor might he chide him as having abused the shelter of his roof? Ithad been ready upon his tongue to tell him all when Sir Oliver had broken inupon them. Perchance Sir Nigelwith his love of all the dying usages ofchivalrymight have contrived some strange ordeal or feat of arms by which hislove should be put to the test. Alleyne smiled as he wondered what fantastic andwondrous deed would be exacted from him. Whatever it washe was ready for itwhether it were to hold the lists in the court of the King of Tartaryto carrya cartel to the Sultan of Baghdador to serve a term against the wild heathenof Prussia. Sir Nigel had said that his birth was high enough for any ladyifhis fortune could but be amended. Often had Alleyne curled his lip at thebeggarly craving for land or for gold which blinded man to the higher and morelasting issues of life. Now it seemed as though it were only by this same landand gold that he might hope to reach his heart's desire. But thenagaintheSocman of Minstead was no friend to the Constable of Twynham Castle. It mighthappen thatshould he amass riches by some happy fortune of warthis feudmight hold the two families aloof. Even if Maude loved himhe knew her too wellto think that she would wed him without the blessing of her father. Dark andmurky was it allbut hope mounts high in youthand it ever fluttered over allthe turmoil of his thoughts like a white plume amid the shock of horsemen.

If Alleyne Edricson had enough to ponder over as he rode through the bareplains of Guiennehis two companions were more busy with the present and lessthoughtful of the future. Aylward rode for half a mile with his chin upon hisshoulderlooking back at a white kerchief which fluttered out of the gablewindow of a high house which peeped over the corner of the battlements. When atlast a dip of the road hid it from his viewhe cocked his steel capshruggedhis broad shouldersand rode on with laughter in his eyesand hisweatherbeaten face all ashine with pleasant memories. John also rode in silencebut his eyes wandered slowly from one side of the road to the otherand hestared and pondered and nodded his head like a traveller who makes his notes andsaves them up for the re-telling

"By the rood!" he broke out suddenlyslapping his thigh with hisgreat red hand"I knew that there was something a-missingbut I could notbring to my mind what it was."

"What was it then?" asked Alleynecoming with a start out of hisreverie.

"Whyit is the hedgerows" roared Johnwith a shout of laughter."The country is all scraped as clear as a friar's poll. But indeed I cannotthink much of the folk in these parts. Why do they not get to work and dig upthese long rows of black and crooked stumps which I see on every hand? Afranklin of Hampshire would think shame to have such litter upon his soil."

"Thou foolish old John!" quoth Aylward. "You should knowbettersince I have heard that the monks of Beaulieu could squeeze a good cupof wine from their own grapes. Know then that if these rows were dug up thewealth of the country would be goneand mayhap there would be dry throats andgaping mouths in Englandfor in three months' time these black roots willblossom and snoot and burgeonand from them will come many a good ship-load ofMedoc and Gascony which will cross the narrow seas. But see the church in thehollowand the folk who cluster in the churchyard! By my hilt! it is a burialand there is a passing bell!" He pulled off his steel cap as he spoke andcrossed himselfwith a muttered prayer for the repose of the dead.

"There too" remarked Alleyneas they rode on again"thatwhich seems to the eye to be dead is still full of the sap of lifeeven as thevines were. Thus God hath written Himself and His laws very broadly on all thatis around usif our poor dull eyes and duller souls could but read what He hathset before us."

"Ha! mon petit" cried the bowman"you take me back to thedays when you were new fledgedas sweet a little chick as ever pecked his wayout of a monkish egg. I had feared that in gaining our debonair youngman-at-arms we had lost our soft-spoken clerk. In truthI have noted muchchange in you since we came from Twynham Castle."

"Surely it would be strange elseseeing that I have lived in a world sonew to me. Yet I trust that there are many things in which I have not changed.If I have turned to serve an earthly masterand to carry arms for an earthlykingit would be an ill thing if I were to lose all thought of the great highKing and Master of allwhose humble and unworthy servant I was ere ever I leftBeaulieu. YouJohnare also from the cloistersbut I trow that you do notfeel that you have deserted the old service in taking on the new."

"I am a slow-witted man" said John"andin soothwhen ltry to think about such matters it casts a gloom upon me. Yet I do not look uponmyself as a worse man in an archer's jerkin than I was in a white cowlif thatbe what you mean."

"You have but changed from one white company to the other" quothAylward. "Butby these ten finger-bones! it is a passing strange thing tome to think that it was but in the last fall of the leaf that we walked fromLyndhurst togetherhe so gentle and maidenlyand youJohnlike a greatred-limbed overgrown moon- calf; and now here you are as sprack a squire and aslusty an archer as ever passed down the highway from Bordeauxwhile I am stillthe same old Samkin Aylwardwith never a changesave that I have a few moresins on my soul and a few less crowns in my pouch. But I have never yet heardJohnwhat the reason was why you should come out of Beaulieu."

"There were seven reasons" said John thoughtfully. "The firstof them was that they threw me out."

"Ma foi! camaradeto the devil with the other six! That is enough forme and for thee also. I can see that they are very wise and discreet folk atBeaulieu. Ah! mon angewhat have you in the pipkin?"

"It is milkworthy sir" answered the peasant-maidwho stood bythe door of a cottage with a jug in her hand. "Would it please yougentlesthat I should bring you out three horns of it?"

"Nayma petitebut here is a two-sous piece for thy kindly tongue andfor the sight of thy pretty face. Ma foi! but she has a bonne mine. I have amind to bide and speak with her."

"NaynayAylward" cried Alleyne. "Sir Nigel will await usand he in haste."

"Truetruecamarade! Adieuma cherie! mon coeur est toujours a toi.Her mother is a well-grown woman also. See where she digs by the wayside. Mafoi! the riper fruit is ever the sweeter. Bon jourma belle dame! God have youin his keeping! Said Sir Nigel where he would await us?"

"At Marmande or Aiguillon. He said that we could not pass himseeingthat there is but the one road."

"Ayeand it is a road that I know as I know the Midhurst parishbutts" quoth the bowman. "Thirty times have I journeyed itforwardand backwardandby the twang of string! I am wont to come back this way moreladen than I went. I have carried all that I had into France in a walletand ithath taken four sumpter-mules to carry it back again. God's benison on the manwho first turned his hand to the making of war! But theredown in the dingleis the church of Cardillacand you may see the inn where three poplars growbeyond the village. Let us onfor a stoup of wine would hearten us upon ourway."

The highway had lain through the swelling vineyard countrywhich stretchedaway to the north and east in gentle curveswith many a peeping spire andfeudal towerand cluster of village housesall clear cut and hard in thebright wintry air. To their right stretched the blue Garonnerunning swiftlyseawardswith boats and barges dotted over its broad bosom. On the other sidelay a strip of vineyardand beyond it the desolate and sandy region of theLandesall tangled with faded gorse and heath and broomstretching away inunbroken gloom to the blue hills which lay low upon the furthest sky-line.Behind them might still be seen the broad estuary of the Girondewith the hightowers of Saint Andre and Saint Remi shooting up from the plain. In frontamidradiating lines of poplarslay the riverside townlet of Cardillac--gray wallswhite housesand a feather of blue smoke.

"This is the 'Mouton d'Or' " said Aylwardas they pulled up theirhorses at a whitewashed straggling hostel. "What ho there!" hecontinuedbeating upon the door with the hilt of his sword. "Tapsterostlervarlethark hitherand a wannion on your lazy limbs! Ha! Michelasred in the nose as ever! Three jacks of the wine of the countryMichel--for theair bites shrewdly. I pray youAlleyneto take note of this doorfor I have atale concerning it."

"Tell mefriend" said Alleyne to the portly red-faced inn-keeper"has a knight and a squire passed this way within the hour?"

"Naysirit would be two hours back. Was he a small manweak in theeyeswith a want of hairand speaks very quiet when he is most to befeared?"

"The same" the squire answered. "But I marvel how you shouldknow how he speaks when he is in wrathfor he is very gentle- minded with thosewho are beneath him."

"Praise to the saints! it was not I who angered him" said the fatMichel.

"Whothen?"

"It was young Sieur de Crespigny of Saintongewho chanced to be hereand made game of the Englishmanseeing that he was but a small man and hath aface which is full of peace. But indeed this good knight was a very quiet andpatient manfor he saw that the Sieur de Crespigny was still young and spokefrom an empty headso he sat his horse and quaffed his wineeven as you aredoing nowall heedless of the clacking tongue." And what thenMichel?"

"Wellmessieursit chanced that the Sieur de Crespignyhaving saidthis and thatfor the laughter of the varletscried out at last about theglove that the knight wore in his coifasking if it was the custom in Englandfor a man to wear a great archer's glove in his cap. Pardieu! I have never seena man get off his horse as quick as did that stranger Englishman. Ere the wordswere past the other's lips he was beside himhis face nigh touchingand hisbreath hot upon his cheeks. 'I thinkyoung sir' quoth he softlylooking intothe other's eyes'that now that I am nearer you will very clearly see that theglove is not an archer's glove.' 'Perchance not' said the Sieur de Crespignywith a twitching lip. 'Nor is it largebut very small' quoth the Englishman.'Less large than I had thought' said the otherlooking downfor the knight'sgaze was heavy upon his eyelids. 'And in every way such a glove as might be wornby the fairest and sweetest lady in England' quoth the Englishman. 'It may beso' said the Sieur de Crespignyturning his face from him. 'I am myself weakin the eyesand have often taken one thing for another' quoth the knightashe sprang back into his saddle and rode offleaving the Sieur de Crespignybiting his nails before the door. Ha! by the five woundsmany men of war havedrunk my winebut never one was more to my fancy than this littleEnglishman."

"By my hilt! he is our masterMichel" quoth Aylward"andsuch men as we do not serve under a laggart. But here are four deniersMicheland God be with you! En avantcamarades! for we have a long road beforeus."

At a brisk trot the three friends left Cardillac and its wine- house behindthemriding without a halt past St. Macaireand on by ferry over the riverDorpt. At the further side the road winds through La ReolleBazailleandMarmandewith the sunlit river still gleaming upon the rightand the barepoplars bristling up upon either side. John and Alleyne rode silent on eithersidebut every innfarm-steadingor castle brought back to Aylward someremembrance of loveforayor plunderwith which to beguile the way.

"There is the smoke from Bazason the further side of Garonne"quoth he. "There were three sisters yonderthe daughters of a farrierandby these ten finger-bones! a man might ride for a long June day and neverset eyes upon such maidens. There was Marietall and graveand Blanche petiteand gayand the dark Agneswith eyes that went through you like a waxed arrow.I lingered there as long as four daysand was betrothed to them all; for itseemed shame to set one above her sistersand might make ill blood in thefamily. Yetfor all my carethings were not merry in the houseand I thoughtit well to come away. Theretoois the mill of Le Souris. Old Pierre Le Caronwho owned itwas a right good comradeand had ever a seat and a crust for aweary archer. He was a man who wrought hard at all that he turned his hand to;but he heated himself in grinding bones to mix with his flourand so throughover-diligence he brought a fever upon himself and died."

"Tell meAylward" said Alleyne"what was amiss with thedoor of yonder inn that you should ask me to observe it."

"Pardieu! yesI had well-nigh forgot. What saw you on yonderdoor?"

"I saw a square holethrough which doubtless the host may peep when heis not too sure of those who knock."

"And saw you naught else?"

"I marked that beneath this hole there was a deep cut in the doorasthough a great nail had been driven in."

"And naught else?"

"No."

"Had you looked more closely you might have seen that there was a stainupon the wood. The first time that I ever heard my comrade Black Simon laugh wasin front of that door. I heard him once again when he slew a French squire withhis teethhe being unarmed and the Frenchman having a dagger."

"And why did Simon laugh in front of the inn-door!" asked John.

"Simon is a hard and perilous man when he hath the bitter drop in him;andby my hilt! he was born for warfor there is little sweetness or rest inhim. This innthe 'Mouton d'Or' was kept in the old days by one FrancoisGourvalwho had a hard fist and a harder heart. It was said that many and manyan archer coming from the wars had been served with wine with simples in ituntil he sleptand had then been stripped of all by this Gourval. Then on themorrowif he made complaintthis wicked Gourval would throw him out upon theroad or beat himfor he was a very lusty manand had many stout varlets in hisservice. This chanced to come to Simon's ears when we were at Bordeaux togetherand he would have it that we should ride to Cardillac with a good hempen cordand give this Gourval such a scourging as he merited. Forth we rode thenbutwhen we came to the Mouton d'Or' Gourval had had word of our coming and itspurposeso that the door was barrednor was there any way into the house. 'Letus ingood Master Gourval!' cried Simonand 'Let us ingood Master Gourval!'cried Ibut no word could we get through the hole in the doorsave that hewould draw an arrow upon us unless we went on our way. 'WellMaster Gourval'quoth Simon at last'this is but a sorry welcomeseeing that we have ridden sofar just to shake you by the hand.' 'Canst shake me by the hand without comingin' said Gourval. 'And how that?' asked Simon. 'By passing in your hand throughthe hole' said he. 'Naymy hand is wounded' quoth Simon'and of such a sizethat I cannot pass it in.' 'That need not hinder' said Gourvalwho was hot tobe rid of us'pass in your left hand.' 'But I have something for theeGourval' said Simon. 'What then?' he asked. 'There was an English archer whoslept here last week of the name of Hugh of Nutbourne.' 'We have had many rogueshere' said Gourval. 'His conscience hath been heavy within him because he owesyou a debt of fourteen deniershaving drunk wine for which he hath never paid.For the easing of his soulhe asked me to pay the money to you as I passed.'Now this Gourval was very greedy for moneyso he thrust forth his hand for thefourteen deniersbut Simon had his dagger ready and he pinned his hand to thedoor. 'I have paid the Englishman's debtGourval!' quoth heand so rode awaylaughing so that he could scarce sit his horseleaving mine host still nailedto his door. Such is the story of the hole which you have markedand of thesmudge upon the wood. I have heard that from that time English archers have beenbetter treated in the auberge of Cardillac. But what have we here by thewayside?"

"It appears to be a very holy man" said Alleyne.

"Andby the rood! he hath some strange wares" cried John."What are these bits of stoneand of woodand rusted nailswhich are setout in front of him?"

The man whom they had remarked sat with his back against a cherry-treeandhis legs shooting out in front of himlike one who is greatly at his ease.Across his thighs was a wooden boardand scattered over it all manner of slipsof wood and knobs of brick and stoneeach laid separate from the otheras ahuckster places his wares. He was dressed in a long gray gownand wore a broadhat of the same colormuch weather-stainedwith three scallop-shells danglingfrom the brim. As they approachedthe travellers observed that he was advancedin yearsand that his eyes were upturned and yellow.

"Dear knights and gentlemen" he cried in a high crackling voice"worthy Christian cavalierswill ye ride past and leave an aged pilgrim todie of hunger? The sight hast been burned from mine eyes by the sands of theHoly Landand I have had neither crust of bread nor cup of wine these two dayspast."

"By my hilt! father" said Aylwardlooking keenly at him"itis a marvel to me that thy girdle should have so goodly a span and clip thee socloselyif you have in sooth had so little to place within it."

"Kind stranger" answered the pilgrim"you have unwittinglyspoken words which are very grievous to me to listen to. Yet I should be loth toblame youfor I doubt not that what you said was not meant to sadden menor tobring my sore affliction back to my mind. It ill becomes me to prate too much ofwhat I have endured for the faithand yetsince you have observed itI musttell you that this thickness and roundness of the waist is caused by a dropsybrought on by over-haste in journeying from the house of Pilate to the Mount ofOlives."

"ThereAylward" said Alleynewith a reddened cheek"letthat curb your blunt tongue. How could you bring a fresh pang to this holy manwho hath endured so much and hath journeyed as far as Christ's own blessedtomb?"

"May the foul fiend strike me dumb!" cried the bowman in hotrepentance; but both the palmer and Alleyne threw up their hands to stop him.

"I forgive thee from my heartdear brother" piped the blind man."Butohthese wild words of thine are worse to mine ears than aught whichyou could say of me."

"Not another word shall I speak" said Aylward; "but here is afranc for thee and I crave thy blessing."

"And here is another" said Alleyne.

"And another" cried Hordle John.

But the blind palmer would have none of their alms. "Foolishfoolishpride!" he criedbeating upon his chest with his large brown hand."Foolishfoolish pride! How long then will it be ere I can scourge itforth? Am I then never to conquer it? Ohstrongstrong are the ties of fleshand hard it is to subdue the spirit! I comefriendsof a noble houseand Icannot bring myself to touch this moneyeven though it be to save me from thegrave."

"Alas! father" said Alleyne"how then can we be of help tothee?"

"I had sat down here to die" quoth the palmer; "but for manyyears I have carried in my wallet these precious things which you see set forthnow before me. It were sinthought Ithat my secret should perish with me. Ishall therefore sell these things to the first worthy passers-byand from themI shall have money enough to take me to the shrine of Our Lady at Rocamadourwhere I hope to lay these old bones."

"What are these treasuresthenfather?" asked Hordle John."I can but see an old rusty nailwith bits of stone and slips ofwood."

"My friend" answered the palmer"not all the money that isin this country could pay a just price for these wares of mine. This nail"he continuedpulling off his hat and turning up his sightless orbs"isone of those wherewith man's salvation was secured. I had ittogether with thispiece of the true roodfrom the five-and-twentieth descendant of Joseph ofArimatheawho still lives in Jerusalem alive and wellthough latterly muchafflicted by boils. Ayeyou may well cross yourselvesand I beg that you willnot breathe upon it or touch it with your fingers."

"And the wood and stoneholy father?" asked Alleynewith batedbreathas he stared awe-struck at his precious relics.

"This cantle of wood is from the true crossthis other from Noah hisarkand the third is from the door-post of the temple of the wise King Solomon.This stone was thrown at the sainted Stephenand the other two are from theTower of Babel. Heretoois part of Aaron's rodand a lock of hair fromElisha the prophet."

"Butfather" quoth Alleyne"the holy Elisha was baldwhichbrought down upon him the revilements of the wicked children."

"It is very true that he had not much hair" said the palmerquickly"and it is this which makes this relic so exceeding precious. Takenow your choice of thesemy worthy gentlemenand pay such a price as yourconsciences will suffer you to offer; for I am not a chapman nor a hucksterandI would never part with themdid I not know that I am very near to myreward."

"Aylward" said Alleyne excitedly"This is such a chance asfew folk have twice in one life. The nail I must haveand I will give it to theabbey of Beaulieuso that all the folk in England may go thither to wonder andto pray."

"And I will have the stone from the temple" cried Hordle John."What would not my old mother give to have it hung over her bed?"

"And I will have Aaron's rod" quoth Aylward. "I have but fiveflorins in the worldand here are four of them."

"Here are three more" said John.

"And here are five more" added Alleyne. "Holy fatherI handyou twelve florinswhich is all that we can givethough we well know how poora pay it is for the wondrous things which you sell us."

"Downpridedown!" cried the pilgrimstill beating upon hischest. "Can I not bend myself then to take this sorry sum which is offeredme for that which has cost me the labors of a life. Give me the dross! Here arethe precious relicsandohI pray you that you will handle them softly andwith reverenceelse had I rather left my unworthy bones here by thewayside."

With doffed caps and eager handsthe comrades took their new and preciouspossessionsand pressed onwards upon their journeyleaving the aged palmerstill seated under the cherry-tree. They rode in silenceeach with his treasurein his handglancing at it from time to timeand scarce able to believe thatchance had made them sole owners of relics of such holiness and worth that everyabbey and church in Christendom would have bid eagerly for their possession. Sothey journeyedfull of this good fortuneuntil opposite the town of Le Maswhere John's horse cast a shoeand they were glad to find a wayside smith whomight set the matter to rights. To him Aylward narrated the good hap which hadbefallen them; but the smithwhen his eyes lit upon the relicsleaned upagainst his anvil and laughedwith his hand to his sideuntil the tears hoppeddown his sooty cheeks.

"Whymasters" quoth he"this man is a coquillartor sellerof false relicsand was here in the smithy not two hours ago. This nail that hehath sold you was taken from my nail-boxand as to the wood and the stonesyouwill see a heap of both outside from which he hath filled his scrip."

"Naynay" cried Alleyne"this was a holy man who hadjourneyed to Jerusalemand acquired a dropsy by running from the house ofPilate to the Mount of Olives"

"I know not about that" said the smith; "but I know that aman with a gray palmer's hat and gown was here no very long time agoand thathe sat on yonder stump and ate a cold pullet and drank a flask of wine. Then hebegged from me one of my nailsand filling his scrip with stoneshe went uponhis way. Look at these nailsand see if they are not the same as that which hehas sold you."

"Now may God save us!" cried Alleyneall aghast. "Is there noend then to the wickedness of humankind? He so humbleso agedso loth to takeour money--and yet a villain and a cheat. Whom can we trust or believe in?"

"I will after him" said Aylwardflinging himself into the saddle."ComeAlleynewe may catch him ere John's horse be shod."

Away they galloped togetherand ere long they saw the old gray palmerwalking slowly along in front of them. He turnedhoweverat the sound of theirhoofsand it was clear that his blindness was a cheat like all the rest of himfor he ran swiftly through a field and so into a woodwhere none could followhim. They hurled their relics after himand so rode back to the blacksmith'sthe poorer both in pocket and in faith.

Chapter 27 - How Rodger Club-Foot Was Passed Into Paradise

 


 

IT was evening before the three comrades came into AiguillonThere theyfound Sir Nigel Loring and Ford safely lodged at the sign of the "BatonRouge" where they supped on good fare and slept between lavender-scentedsheets. It chancedhoweverthat a knight of PoitouSir Gaston d'Estellewasstaying there on his way back from Lithuaniawhere he had served a term withthe Teutonic knights under the land-master of the presbytery of Marienberg. Heand Sir Nigel sat late in high converse as to bushmentsoutfallsand theintaking of citieswith many tales of warlike men and valiant deeds. Then theirtalk turned to minstrelsyand the stranger knight drew forth a citternuponwhich he played the minne-lieder of the northsinging the while in a highcracked voice of Hildebrand and Brunhild and Siegfriedand all the strength andbeauty of the land of Almain. To this Sir Nigel answered with the romances ofSir Eglamourand of Sir Isumbrasand so through the long winter night they satby the crackling wood-fire answering each other's songs until the crowing cocksjoined in their concert. Yetwith scarce an hour of restSir Nigel was asblithe and bright as ever as they set forth after breakfast upon their way.

"This Sir Gaston is a very worthy man" said he to his squires asthey rode from the "Baton Rouge." "He hath a very strong desireto advance himselfand would have entered upon some small knightly debate withmehad he not chanced to have his arm-bone broken by the kick of a horse. Ihave conceived a great love for himand I have promised him that when his boneis mended I will exchange thrusts with him. But we must keep to this road uponthe left."

"Naymy fair lord" quoth Aylward. "The road to Montaubon isover the riverand so through Quercy and the Agenois."

"Truemy good Aylward; but I have learned from this worthy knightwhohath come over the French marchesthat there is a company of Englishmen who areburning and plundering in the country round Villefranche. I have little doubtfrom what he saysthat they are those whom we seek."

"By my hilt! it is like enough" said Aylward. "By allaccounts they had been so long at Montaubonthat there would be little thereworth the taking. Then as they have already been in the souththey would comenorth to the country of the Aveyron."

"We shall follow the Lot until we come to Cahorsand then cross themarches into Villefranche" said Sir Nigel. "By St. Paul! as we arebut a small bandit is very likely that we may have some very honorable andpleasing adventurefor I hear that there is little peace upon the Frenchborder."

All morning they rode down a broad and winding roadbarred with the shadowsof poplars. Sir Nigel rode in front with his squireswhile the two archersfollowed behind with the sumpter mule between them. They had left Aiguillon andthe Garonne far to the southand rode now by the tranquil Lotwhich curvesblue and placid through a gently rolling country. Alleyne could not but markthatwhereas in Guienne there had been many townlets and few castlestherewere now many castles and few houses. On either hand gray walls and square grimkeeps peeped out at every few miles from amid the forests while the few villageswhich they passed were all ringed round with rude wallswhich spoke of theconstant fear and sudden foray of a wild frontier land. Twice during the morningthere came bands of horsemen swooping down upon them from the black gateways ofwayside strongholdswith shortstern questions as to whence they came and whattheir errand. Bands of armed men clanked along the highwayand the few lines ofladen mules which carried the merchandise of the trader were guarded by armedvarletsor by archers hired for the service.

"The peace of Bretigny hath not made much change in these parts"quoth Sir Nigel"for the country is overrun with free companions andmasterless men. Yonder towersbetween the wood and the hillmark the town ofCahorsand beyond it is the land of France. But here is a man by the waysideand as he hath two horses and a squire I make little doubt that he is a knight.I pray youAlleyneto give him greeting from meand to ask him for his titlesand coat-armor. It may be that I can relieve him of some vowor perchance hehath a lady whom he would wish to advance."

"Naymy fair lord" said Alleyne"these are not horses and asquirebut mules and a varlet. The man is a mercerfor he hath a great bundlebeside him."

"NowGod's blessing on your honest English voice!" cried thestrangerpricking up his ears at the sound of Alleyne's words. "Never haveI heard music that was so sweet to mine ear. ComeWatkin ladthrow the balesover Laura's back! My heart was nigh brokefor it seemed that I had left allthat was English behind meand that I would never set eyes upon Norwich marketsquare again." He was a talllustymiddle-aged man with a ruddy faceabrown forked beard shot with grayand a broad Flanders hat set at the back ofhis head. His servantas tall as himselfbut gaunt and raw-bonedhad swungthe bales on the back of one mulewhile the merchant mounted upon the other androde to join the party. It was easy to seeas he approachedfrom the qualityof his dress and the richness of his trappingsthat he was a man of some wealthand position.

"Sir knight" said he"my name is David Micheldeneand I ama burgher and alderman of the good town of Norwichwhere I live five doors fromthe church of Our Ladyas all men know on the banks of Yare. I have here mybales of cloth which I carry to Cahors--woe worth the day that ever I started onsuch an errand! I crave your gracious protection upon the way for memyservantand my mercery; for I have already had many perilous passagesand havenow learned that Roger Club-footthe robber-knight of Quercyis out upon theroad in front of me. I hereby agree to give you one rose-noble if you bring mesafe to the inn of the 'Angel' in Cahorsthe same to be repaid to me or myheirs if any harm come to me or my goods."

"By Saint Paul!" answered Sir Nigel"I should be a sorryknight if I ask pay for standing by a countryman in a strange land. You may ridewith me and welcomeMaster Micheldeneand your varlet may follow with myarchers."

"God's benison upon thy bounty!" cried the stranger. "Shouldyou come to Norwich you may have cause to remember that you have been of serviceto Alderman Micheldene. It is not very far to Cahorsfor surely I see thecathedral towers against the sky-line; but I have heard much of this RogerClubfootand the more I hear the less do I wish to look upon his face. OhbutI am sick and weary of it alland I would give half that I am worth to see mygood dame sitting in peace beside meand to hear the bells of Norwichtown."

"Your words are strange to me" quoth Sir Nigel"for you havethe appearance of a stout manand I see that you wear a sword by yourside."

"Yet it is not my trade" answered the merchant. "I doubt notthat if I set you down in my shop at Norwich you might scarce tell fustian fromfaldingand know little difference between the velvet of Genoa and thethree-piled cloth of Bruges. There you might well turn to me for help. But hereon a lone roadsidewith thick woods and robber-knightsI turn to youfor itis the business to which you have been reared."

"There is sooth in what you sayMaster Micheldene" said SirNigel"and I trust that we may come upon this Roger Clubfootfor I haveheard that he is a very stout and skilful soldierand a man from whom muchhonor is to be gained."

"He is a bloody robber" said the tradercurtly"and I wishI saw him kicking at the end of a halter."

"It is such men as he" Sir Nigel remarked"who give the trueknight honorable deeds to dowhereby he may advance himself."

"It is such men as he" retorted Micheldene"who are likerats in a wheat-rick or moths in a woolfelsa harm and a hindrance to allpeaceful and honest men."

"Yetif the dangers of the road weigh so heavily upon youmasteraldermanit is a great marvel to me that you should venture so far fromhome."

"And sometimessir knightit is a marvel to myself. But I am a man whomay grutch and grumblebut when I have set my face to do a thing I will notturn my back upon it until it be done. There is oneFrancois Villetat Cahorswho will send me wine-casks for my cloth-balesso to Cahors I will gothoughall the robber-knights of Christendom were to line the roads like yonderpoplars."

"Stoutly spokenmaster alderman! But how have you fared hitherto?"

"As a lamb fares in a land of wolves. Five times we have had to beg andpray ere we could pass. Twice I have paid toll to the wardens of the road. Threetimes we have had to drawand once at La Reolle we stood seer our wool-balesWatkin and Iand we laid about us for as long as a man might chant a litanyslaying one rogue and wounding two others. By God's coif! we are men of peacebut we are free English burghersnot to be mishandled either in our country orabroad. Neither lordbaronknightor commoner shall have as much as a strikeof flax of mine whilst I have strength to wag this sword."

"And a passing strange sword it is" quoth Sir Nigel. "Whatmake youAlleyneof these black lines which are drawn across the sheath?"

"I cannot tell what they aremy fair lord."

"Nor can I" said Ford.

The merchant chuckled to himself. "It was a thought of mine own"said he; "for the sword was made by Thomas Wilsonthe armorerwho isbetrothed to my second daughter Margery. Know then that the sheath is onecloth-yardin lengthmarked off according to feet and inches to serve me as ameasuring wand. It is also of the exact weight of two poundsso that I may useit in the balance."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel"it is very clear to me thatthe sword is like thyselfgood aldermanapt either for war or for peace. But Idoubt not that even in England you have had much to suffer from the hands ofrobbers and outlaws."

"It was only last Lammastidesir knightthat I was left for dead nearReading as I journeyed to Winchester fair. Yet I had the rogues up at the courtof pie-powderand they will harm no more peaceful traders."

"You travel much then!"

"To WinchesterLinn martBristol fairStourbridgeand Bartholomew'sin London Town. The rest of the year you may ever find me five doors from thechurch of Our Ladywhere I would from my heart that I was at this momentforthere is no air like Norwich airand no water like the Yarenor can all thewines of France compare with the beer of old Sam Yelverton who keeps the 'DunCow.' Butout and alackhere is an evil fruit which hangs upon thischestnut-tree!"

As he spoke they had ridden round a curve of the road and come upon a greattree which shot one strong brown branch across their path. From the centre ofthis branch there hung a manwith his head at a horrid slant to his body andhis toes just touching the ground. He was naked save for a linen under shirt andpair of woollen drawers. Beside him on a green bank there sat a small man with asolemn faceand a great bundle of papers of all colors thrusting forth from thescrip which lay beside him. He was very richly dressedwith furred robesascarlet hoodand wide hanging sleeves lined with flame-colored silk. A greatgold chain hung round his neckand rings glittered from every finger of hishands. On his lap he had a little pile of gold and of silverwhich he wasdroppingcoin by coininto a plump pouch which hung from his girdle.

"May the saints be with yougood travellers!" he shoutedas theparty rode up. "May the four Evangelists watch over you! May the twelveApostles bear you up! May the blessed army of martyrs direct your feet and leadyou to eternal bliss!"

"Gramercy for these good wishes!" said Sir Nigel. "But Iperceivemaster aldermanthat this man who hangs here isby mark of footthevery robber-knight of whom we have spoken. But there is a cartel pinned upon hisbreastand I pray youAlleyneto read it to me."

The dead robber swung slowly to and fro in the wintry winda fixed smileupon his swarthy faceand his bulging eyes still glaring down the highway ofwhich he had so long been the terror; on a sheet of parchment upon his breastwas printed in rude characters;

ROGER PIED-BOT.

Par l'ordre du Senechal de Castelnauet de l'Echevin de Cahorsservantesfideles du tres vaillant et tres puissant EdouardPrince de Galles etd'Aquitaine. Ne touchez pasNe coutez pasNe depechez pas.

"He took a sorry time in dying" said the man who sat beside him."He could stretch one toe to the ground and bear him self upso that Ithought he would never have done. Now at lasthoweverhe is safely inparadiseand so I may jog on upon my earthly way." He mountedas hespokea white mule which had been grazing by the waysideall gay with fustianof gold and silver bellsand rode onward with Sir Nigel's party.

"How know you then that he is in paradise?" asked Sir Nigel."All things are possible to Godbutcerteswithout a miracleI shouldscarce expect to find the soul of Roger Clubfoot amongst the just"

"I know that he is there because I have just passed him in there"answered the strangerrubbing his bejewelled hands together in placidsatisfaction. "It is my holy mission to be a sompnour or pardoner. I am theunworthy servant and delegate of him who holds the keys. A contrite heart andten nobles to holy mother Church may stave off perdition; but he hath a pardonof the first degreewith a twenty-five livre benisonso that I doubt if hewill so much as feel a twinge of purgatory. I came up even as the seneschal'sarchers were tying him upand I gave him my fore-word that I would bide withhim until he had passed. There were two leaden crowns among the silverbut Iwould not for that stand in the way of his salvation."

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel"if you have indeed thispower to open and to shut the gates of hopethen indeed you stand high abovemankind. But if you do but claim to have itand yet have it notthen it seemsto memaster clerkthat you may yourself find the gate barred when you shallask admittance."

"Small of faith! Small of faith!" cried the sompnour. "AhSirDidymus yet walks upon earth! And yet no words of doubt can bring anger to mineheartor a bitter word to my lipfor am I not a poor unworthy worker in thecause of gentleness and peace? Of all these pardons which I bear every one isstamped and signed by our holy fatherthe prop and centre of Christendom."

"Which of them?" asked Sir Nigel.

"Haha!" cried the pardonershaking a jewelled forefinger. Thouwouldst be deep in the secrets of mother Church? Know then that I have both inmy scrip. Those who hold with Urban shall have Urban's pardonwhile I haveClement's for the Clementist--or he who is in doubt may have bothso that comewhat may he shall be secure. I pray you that you will buy onefor war is bloodyworkand the end is sudden with little time for thought or shrift. Or yousirfor you seem to me to be a man who would do ill to trust to your ownmerits." This to the alderman of Norwichwho had listened to him with afrowning brow and a sneering lip.

"When I sell my cloth" quoth he"he who buys may weigh andfeel and handle. These goods which you sell are not to be seennor is there anyproof that you hold them. Certesif mortal man might control God's mercyitwould be one of a lofty and God- like lifeand not one who is decked out withrings and chains and silkslike a pleasure-wench at a kermesse.

"Thou wicked and shameless man!" cried the clerk. "Dost thoudare to raise thy voice against the unworthy servant of mother Church?"

"Unworthy enough!" quoth David Micheldene. "I would have youto knowclerkthat I am a free English burgherand that I dare say my mind toour father the Pope himselflet alone such a lacquey's lacquey as you!"

"Base-born and foul-mouthed knave!" cried the sompnour. "Youprate of holy thingsto which your hog's mind can never rise. Keep silencelest I call a curse upon you!"

"Silence yourself!" roared the other. "Foul bird!" wefound thee by the gallows like a carrion-crow. A fine life thou hast of it withthy silks and thy baublescozening the last few shillings from the pouches ofdying men. A fig for thy curse! Bide hereif you will take my redefor we willmake England too hot for such as youwhen Master Wicliff has the ordering ofit. Thou vile thief!" it is youand such as youwho bring an evil nameupon the many churchmen who lead a pure and a holy life. Thou outside the doorof heaven! Art more like to be inside the door of hell."

At this crowning insult the sompnourwith a face ashen with rageraised upa quivering hand and began pouring Latin imprecations upon the angry alderman.The latterhoweverwas not a man to be quelled by wordsfor he caught up hisell- measure sword-sheath and belabored the cursing clerk with it. The latterunable to escape from the shower of blowsset spurs to his mule and rode forhis lifewith his enemy thundering behind him. At sight of his master's suddendeparturethe varlet Watkin set off after himwith the pack-mule beside himso that the four clattered away down the road togetheruntil they swept round acurve and their babble was but a drone in the distance. Sir Nigel and Alleynegazed in astonishment at one anotherwhile Ford burst out a-laughing.

"Pardieu!" said the knight"this David Micheldene must be oneof those Lollards about whom Father Christopher of the priory had so much tosay. Yet he seemed to be no bad man from what I have seen of him."

"I have heard that Wicliff hath many followers in Norwich"answered Alleyne.

"By St. Paul! I have no great love for them" quoth Sir Nigel."I am a man who am slow to change; andif you take away from me the faiththat I have been taughtit would be long ere I could learn one to set in itsplace. It is but a chip here and a chip thereyet it may bring the tree down intime. Yeton the other handI cannot but think it shame that a man should turnGod's mercy on and offas a cellarman doth wine with a spigot."

"Nor is it" said Alleyne"part of the teachings of thatmother Church of which he had so much to say. There was sooth in what thealderman said of it."

"Thenby St. Paul! they may settle it betwixt them" quoth SirNigel. "For meI serve Godthe king and my lady; and so long as I cankeep the path of honor I am well content. My creed shall ever be that ofChandos:

" 'Fais ce que dois--adviegne que peutC'est commande au chevalier.'"

Chapter 28 - How The Comrades Came Over The Marches Of Franc

 


 

AFTER passing Cahorsthe party branched away from the main roadand leavingthe river to the north of themfollowed a smaller track which wound over a vastand desolate plain. This path led them amid marshes and woodsuntil it broughtthem out into a glade with a broad stream swirling swiftly down the centre ofit. Through this the horses splashed their wayand on the farther shore SirNigel announced to them that they were now within the borders of the land ofFrance. For some miles they still followed the same lonely trackwhich led themthrough a dense woodand then widening outcurved down to an open rollingcountrysuch as they had traversed between Aiguillon and Cahors.

If it were grim and desolate upon the English borderhoweverwhat candescribe the hideous barrenness of this ten times harried tract of France? Thewhole face of the country was scarred and disfiguredmottled over with theblack blotches of burned farm-steadingsand the graygaunt gable-ends of whathad been chateaux. Broken fencescrumbling wallsvineyards littered withstonesthe shattered arches of bridges--look where you mightthe signs of ruinand rapine met the eye. Here and there onlyon the farthest sky-linethegnarled turrets of a castleor the graceful pinnacles of church or of monasteryshowed where the forces of the sword or of the spirit had preserved some smallislet of security in this universal flood of misery. Moodily and in silence thelittle party rode along the narrow and irregular tracktheir hearts weigheddown by this far-stretching land of despair. It was indeed a stricken and ablighted countryand a man might have ridden from Auvergne in the north to themarches of Foixnor ever seen a smiling village or a thriving homestead.

From time to time as they advanced they saw strange lean figures scraping andscratching amid the weeds and thistleswhoon sight of the band of horsementhrew up their arms and dived in among the brushwoodas shy and as swift aswild animals. More than oncehoweverthey came on families by the waysidewhowere too weak from hunger and disease to flyso that they could but sit likehares on a tussockwith panting chests and terror in their eyes. So gaunt werethese poor folkso worn and spent- -with bent and knotted framesand sullenhopelessmutinous faces--that it made the young Englishman heart-sick to lookupon them. Indeedit seemed as though all hope and light had gone so far fromthem that it was not to be brought back; for when Sir Nigel threw down a handfulof silver among them there came no softening of their lined facesbut theyclutched greedily at the coinspeering questioningly at himand champing withtheir animal jaws. Here and there amid the brushwood the travellers saw the rudebundle of sticks which served them as a home--more like a fowl's nest than thedwelling-place of man. Yet why should they build and strivewhen the firstadventurer who passed would set torch to their thatchand when their own feudallord would wring from them with blows and curses the last fruits of their toil?They sat at the lowest depth of human miseryand hugged a bitter comfort totheir souls as they realized that they could go no lower. Yet they had still thehuman gift of speechand would take council among themselves in their brushwoodhovelsglaring with bleared eyes and pointing with thin fingers at the greatwidespread chateaux which ate like a cancer into the life of the country-side.When such menwho are beyond hope and fearbegin in their dim minds to see thesource their woesit may be an evil time for those who have wronged them. Theweak man becomes strong when he has nothingfor then only can he feel the wildmad thrill of despair. High and strong the chateauxlowly and weak thebrushwood hut; but God help the seigneur and his lady when the men of thebrushwood set their hands to the work of revenge!

Through such country did the party ride for eight or it might be nine milesuntil the sun began to slope down in the west and their shadows to stream downthe road in front of them. Wary and careful they must bewith watchful eyes tothe right and the leftfor this was no man's landand their only passportswere those which hung from their belts. Frenchmen and EnglishmenGascon andProvencalBrabanterTardvenuScorcherFlayerand Free Companionwanderedand struggled over the whole of this accursed district. So bare and cheerlesswas the outlookand so few and poor the dwellingsthat Sir Nigel began to havefears as to whether he might find food and quarters for his little troop. It wasa relief to himthereforewhen their narrow track opened out upon a largerroadand they saw some little way down it a square white house with a greatbunch of holly hung out at the end of a stick from one of the upper windows.

"By St. Paul!" said he"I am right glad; for I had fearedthat we might have neither provant nor herbergage. Ride onAlleyneand tellthis inn-keeper that an English knight with his party will lodge with him thisnight."

Alleyne set spurs to his horse and reached the inn door a long bow-shotbefore his companions. Neither varlet nor ostler could be seenso he pushedopen the door and called loudly for the landlord. Three times he shoutedbutreceiving no replyhe opened an inner door and advanced into the chiefguest-room of the hostel.

A very cheerful wood-fire was sputtering and cracking in an open grate at thefurther end of the apartment. At one side of this firein a high-backed oakchairsat a ladyher face turned towards the door. The firelight played overher featuresand Alleyne thought that he had never seen such queenly powersuch dignity and strengthupon a woman's face. She might have beenfive-and-thirty years of agewith aquiline nosefirm yet sensitive mouthdarkcurving browsand deep-set eyes which shone and sparkled with a shiftingbrilliancy. Beautiful as she wasit was not her beauty which impressed itselfupon the beholder; it was her strengthher powerthe sense of wisdom whichhung over the broad white browthe decision which lay in the square jaw anddelicately moulded chin. A chaplet of pearls sparkled amid her black hairwitha gauze of silver network flowing back from it over her shoulders; a blackmantle was swathed round herand she leaned back in her chair as one who isfresh from a journey.

In the opposite corner there sat a very burly and broad- shouldered mancladin a black jerkin trimmed with sablewith a black velvet cap with curling whitefeather cocked upon the side of his head. A flask of red wine stood at hiselbowand he seemed to be very much at his easefor his feet were stuck up ona stooland between his thighs he held a dish full of nuts. These he crackedbetween his strong white teeth and chewed in a leisurely waycasting the shellsinto the blaze. As Alleyne gazed in at him he turned his face half round andcocked an eye at him over his shoulder. It seemed to the young Englishman thathe had never seen so hideous a facefor the eyes were of the lightest greenthe nose was broken and driven inwardswhile the whole countenance was searedand puckered with wounds. The voicetoowhen he spokewas as deep and asfierce as the growl of a beast of prey.

"Young man" said he"I know not who you may beand I am notmuch inclined to bestir myselfbut if it were not that I am bent upon taking myeaseI swearby the sword of Joshua! that I would lay my dog-whip across yourshoulders for daring to fill the air with these discordant bellowings."

Taken aback at this ungentle speechand scarce knowing how to answer itfitly in the presence of the ladyAlleyne stood with his hand upon the handleof the doorwhile Sir Nigel and his companions dismounted. At the sound ofthese fresh voicesand of the tongue in which they spokethe stranger crashedhis dish of nuts down upon the floorand began himself to call for the landlorduntil the whole house re-echoed with his roarings. With an ashen face thewhite-aproned host came running at his callhis hands shaking and his very hairbristling with apprehension. "For the sake of Godsirs" he whisperedas he passed"speak him fair and do not rouse him! For the love of theVirginbe mild with him!"

"Who is thisthen?" asked Sir Nigel.

Alleyne was about to explainwhen a fresh roar from the stranger interruptedhim.

"Thou villain inn-keeper" he shouted"did I not ask you whenI brought my lady here whether your inn was clean?"

"You didsire."

"Did I not very particularly ask you whether there were any vermin init?"

"You didsire."

"And you answered me?"

"That there were notsire."

"And yet ere I have been here an hour I find Englishmen crawling aboutwithin it. Where are we to be free from this pestilent race? Can a Frenchmanupon French land not sit down in a French auberge without having his ears painedby the clack of their hideous talk? Send them packinginn-keeperor it may bethe worse for them and for you."

"I willsireI will!" cried the frightened hostand bustled fromthe roomwhile the softsoothing voice of the woman was heard remonstratingwith her furious companion.

"Indeedgentlemenyou had best go" said mine host. "It isbut six miles to Villefranchewhere there are very good quarters at the sign ofthe 'Lion Rouge.' "

"Nay" answered Sir Nigel"I cannot go until I have seen moreof this personfor he appears to be a man from whom much is to be hoped. Whatis his name and title?"

"It is not for my lips to name it unless by his desire. But I beg andpray yougentlementhat you will go from my housefor I know not what maycome of it if his rage should gain the mastery of him."

"By Saint Paul!" lisped Sir Nigel"this is certainly a manwhom it is worth journeying far to know. Go tell him that a humble knight ofEngland would make his further honorable acquaintancenot from any presumptionprideor ill-willbut for the advancement of chivalry and the glory of ourladies. Give him greeting from Sir Nigel Loringand say that the glove which Ibear in my cap belongs to the most peerless and lovely of her sexwhom I am nowready to uphold against any lady whose claim he might be desirous ofadvancing."

The landlord was hesitating whether to carry this message or nowhen thedoor of the inner room was flung openand the stranger bounded out like apanther from its denhis hair bristling and his deformed face convulsed withanger.

"Still here!" he snarled. "Dogs of Englandmust ye be lashedhence? Tiphainemy sword!" He turned to seize his weaponbut as he did sohis gaze fell upon the blazonry of sir Nigel's shieldand he stood staringwhile the fire in his strange green eyes softened into a sly and humoroustwinkle.

"Mort Dieu!" cried he"it is my little swordsman of Bordeaux.I should remember that coat-armorseeing that it is but three days since Ilooked upon it in the lists by Garonne. Ah! Sir NigelSir Nigel! you owe me areturn for this" and he touched his right armwhich was girt round justunder the shoulder with a silken kerchief.

But the surprise of the stranger at the sight of Sir Nigel was as nothingcompared with the astonishment and the delight which shone upon the face of theknight of Hampshire as he looked upon the strange face of the Frenchman. Twicehe opened his mouth and twice he peered againas though to assure himself thathis eyes had not played him a trick.

"Bertrand!" he gasped at last. "Bertrand du Guesclin!"

"By Saint Ives!" shouted the French soldierwith a hoarse roar oflaughter"it is well that I should ride with my vizor downfor he thathas once seen my face does not need to be told my name. It is indeed ISirNigeland here is my hand! I give you my word that there are but threeEnglishmen in this world whom I would touch save with the sharp edge of thesword: the prince is oneChandos the secondand you the third; for I haveheard much that is good of you."

"I am growing agedand am somewhat spent in the wars" quoth SirNigel; "but I can lay by my sword now with an easy mindfor I can say thatI have crossed swords with him who hath the bravest heart and the strongest armof all this great kingdom of France. I have longed for itI have dreamed of itand now I can scarce bring my mind to understand that this great honor hathindeed been mine."

"By the Virgin of Rennes! you have given me cause to be very certain ofit" said Du Guesclinwith a gleam of his broad white teeth.

"And perhapsmost honored sirit would please you to continue thedebate. Perhaps you would condescend to go farther into the matter. God He knowsthat I am unworthy of such honoryet I can show my four-and-sixty quarteringsand I have been present at some bickerings and scufflings during these twentyyears."

"Your fame is very well known to meand I shall ask my lady to enteryour name upon my tablets" said Sir Bertrand. "There are many whowish to advance themselvesand who bide their turnfor I refuse no man whocomes on such an errand. At present it may not befor mine arm is stiff fromthis small touchand I would fain do you full honor when we cross swords again.Come in with meand let your squires come alsothat my sweet spousethe LadyTiphainemay say that she hath seen so famed and gentle a knight."

Into the chamber they went in all peace and concordwhere the Lady Tiphainesat like queen on throne for each in turn to be presented to her. Sooth to saythe stout heart of Sir Nigelwhich cared little for the wrath of her lion-likespousewas somewhat shaken by the calmcold face of this stately damefortwenty years of camp-life had left him more at ease in the lists than in alady's boudoir. He bethought himtooas he looked at her set lips and deep-setquestioning eyesthat he had heard strange tales of this same Lady Tiphaine duGuesclin. Was it not she who was said to lay hands upon the sick and raise themfrom their couches when the leeches had spent their last nostrums? Had she notforecast the futureand were there not times when in the loneliness of herchamber she was heard to hold converse with some being upon whom mortal eyenever rested--some dark familiar who passed where doors were barred and windowshigh? Sir Nigel sunk his eye and marked a cross on the side of his leg as hegreeted this dangerous dameand yet ere five minutes had passed he was hersand not he only but his two young squires as well. The mind had gone out ofthemand they could but look at this woman and listen to the words which fellfrom her lips--words which thrilled through their nerves and stirred their soulslike the battle-call of a bugle.

Often in peaceful after-days was Alleyne to think of that scene of thewayside inn of Auvergne. The shadows of evening had fallenand the corners ofthe longlowwood-panelled room were draped in darkness. The sputtering woodfire threw out a circle of red flickering light which played over the littlegroup of wayfarersand showed up every line and shadow upon their faces. SirNigel sat with elbows upon kneesand chin upon handshis patch still coveringone eyebut his other shining like a starwhile the ruddy light gleamed uponhis smooth white head. Ford was seated at his lefthis lips partedhis eyesstaringand a fleck of deep color on either cheekhis limbs all rigid as onewho fears to move. On the other side the famous French captain leaned back inhis chaira litter of nut-shells upon his laphis huge head half buried in acushionwhile his eyes wandered with an amused gleam from his dame to thestaringenraptured Englishmen. Thenlast of allthat pale clear-cut facethat sweet clear voicewith its high thrilling talk of the deathlessness ofgloryof the worthlessness of lifeof the pain of ignoble joysand of the joywhich lies in all pains which lead to a noble end. Stillas the shadowsdeepenedshe spoke of valor and virtueof loyaltyhonorand fameand stillthey sat drinking in her words while the fire burned down and the red ash turnedto gray.

"By the sainted Ives!" cried Du Guesclin at last"it is timethat we spoke of what we are to do this nightfor I cannot think that in thiswayside auberge there are fit quarters for an honorable company."

Sir Nigel gave a long sigh as he came back from the dreams of chivalry andhardihood into which this strange woman's words had wafted him. "I care notwhere I sleep" said he; "but these are indeed somewhat rude lodgingsfor this fair lady."

"What contents my lord contents me" quoth she. "I perceiveSir Nigelthat you are under vow" she addedglancing at his covered eye.

"It is my purpose to attempt some small deed" he answered.

"And the glove--is it your lady's?"

"It is indeed my sweet wife's."

"Who is doubtless proud of you."

"Say rather I of her" quoth he quickly. "God He knows that Iam not worthy to be her humble servant. It is easyladyfor a man to rideforth in the light of dayand do his devoir when all men have eyes for him. Butin a woman's heart there is a strength and truth which asks no praiseand canbut be known to him whose treasure it is."

The Lady Tiphaine smiled across at her husband. "You have often told meBertrandthat there were very gentle knights amongst the English" quothshe.

"Ayeaye" said he moodily. "But to horseSir Nigelyou andyours and we shall seek the chateau of Sir Tristram de Rochefortwhich is twomiles on this side of Villefranche. He is Seneschal of Auvergneand mine oldwar companion."

"Certeshe would have a welcome for you" quoth Sir Nigel;"but indeed he might look askance at one who comes without permit over themarches."

"By the Virgin! when he learns that you have come to draw away theserascals he will be very blithe to look upon your face. Inn- keeperhere are tengold pieces. What is over and above your reckoning you may take off from yourcharges to the next needy knight who comes this way. Come thenfor it growslate and the horses are stamping in the roadway."

The Lady Tiphaine and her spouse sprang upon their steeds without settingfeet to stirrupand away they jingled down the white moonlit highwaywith SirNigel at the lady's bridle-armand Ford a spear's length behind them. Alleynehad lingered for an instant in the passageand as he did so there came a wildoutcry from a chamber upon the leftand out there ran Aylward and Johnlaughing together like two schoolboys who are bent upon a prank. At sight ofAlleyne they slunk past him with somewhat of a shame- faced airand springingupon their horses galloped after their party. The hubbub within the chamber didnot ceasehoweverbut rather increasedwith yells of: "A moimes amis!A moicamarades! A moil'honorable champion de l'Eveque de Montaubon! A larecouse de l'eglise sainte!" So shrill was the outcry that both theinn-keeper and Alleynewith every varlet within hearingrushed wildly to thescene of the uproar.

It was indeed a singular scene which met their eyes. The room was a long andlofty onestone floored and barewith a fire at the further end upon which agreat pot was boiling. A deal table ran down the centrewith a woodenwine-pitcher upon it and two horn cups. Some way from it was a smaller tablewith a single beaker and a broken wine-bottle. From the heavy wooden rafterswhich formed the roof there hung rows of hooks which held up sides of baconjoints of smoked beefand strings of onions for winter use. In the very centreof all theseupon the largest hook of allthere hung a fat little red-facedman with enormous whiskerskicking madly in the air and clawing at raftershamsand all else that was within hand-grasp. The huge steel hook had beenpassed through the collar of his leather jerkinand there he hung like a fishon a linewrithingtwistingand screamingbut utterly unable to free himselffrom his extraordinary position. It was not until Alleyne and the landlord hadmounted on the table that they were able to lift him downwhen he sank gaspingwith rage into a seatand rolled his eyes round in every direction.

"Has he gone?" quoth he.

"Gone? Who?"

"Hethe man with the red headthe giant man."

"Yes" said Alleyne"he hath gone."

"And comes not back?"

"No."

"The better for him!" cried the little manwith a long sigh ofrelief. "Mon Dieu! What! am I not the champion of the Bishop of Montaubon?Ahcould I have descendedcould I have come downere he fled! Then you wouldhave seen. You would have beheld a spectacle then. There would have been onerascal the less upon earth. Mafoiyes!"

"Good master Pelligny" said the landlord"these gentlemenhave not gone very fastand I have a horse in the stable at your disposalforI would rather have such bloody doings as you threaten outside the four walls ofmine auberge."

"I hurt my leg and cannot ride" quoth the bishop's champion."I strained a sinew on the day that I slew the three men atCastelnau."

"God save youmaster Pelligny!" cried the landlord. "It mustbe an awesome thing to have so much blood upon one's soul. And yet I do not wishto see so valiant a man mishandledand so I willfor friendship's sakerideafter this Englishman and bring him back to you."

"You shall not stir" cried the championseizing the inn-keeper ina convulsive grasp. "I have a love for youGastonand I would not bringyour house into ill reputenor do such scath to these walls and chattels asmust befall if two such men as this Englishman and I fall to work here."

"Naythink not of me!" cried the inn-keeper. "What are mywalls when set against the honor of Francois Poursuivant d'Amour Pellignychampion of the Bishop of Montaubon. My horseAndre!"

"By the saintsno! GastonI will not have it! You have said truly thatit is an awesome thing to have such rough work upon one's soul. I am but a rudesoldieryet I have a mind. Mon Dieu! I reflectI weighI balance. Shall I notmeet this man again? Shall I not bear him in mind? Shall I not know him by hisgreat paws and his red head? Ma foiyes!"

"And may I asksir" said Alleyne"why it is that you callyourself champion of the Bishop of Montaubon?"

"You may ask aught which it is becoming to me to answer. The bishop hathneed of a championbecauseif any cause be set to test of combatit wouldscarce become his office to go down into the lists with leather and shield andcudgel to exchange blows with any varlet. He looks around him then for sometried fighting mansome honest smiter who can give a blow or take one. It isnot for me to say how far he hath succeededbut it is sooth that he who thinksthat he hath but to do with the Bishop of Montaubonfinds himself face to facewith Francois Poursuivant d'Amour Pelligny."

At this moment there was a clatter of hoofs upon the roadand a varlet bythe door cried out that one of the Englishmen was coming back. The championlooked wildly about for some corner of safetyand was clambering up towards thewindowwhen Ford's voice sounded from withoutcalling upon Alleyne to hastenor he might scarce find his way. Bidding adieu to landlord and to championthereforehe set off at a gallopand soon overtook the two archers.

"A pretty thing thisJohn" said he. "Thou wilt have holyChurch upon you if you hang her champions upon iron hooks in an innkitchen."

"It was done without thinking" he answered apologeticallywhileAylward burst into a shout of laughter.

"By my hilt! mon petit" said he"you would have laughed alsocould you have seen it. For this man was so swollen with pride that he wouldneither drink with usnor sit at the same table with usnor as much as answera questionbut must needs talk to the varlet all the time that it was wellthere was peaceand that he had slain more Englishmen than there were tags tohis doublet. Our good old John could scarce lay his tongue to French enough toanswer himso he must needs reach out his great hand to him and place him verygently where you saw him. But we must onfor I can scarce hear their hoofs uponthe road."

"I think that I can see them yet" said Fordpeering down themoonlit road.

"Pardieu! yes. Now they ride forth from the shadow. And yonder darkclump is the Castle of Villefranche. En avant camarades! or Sir Nigel may reachthe gates before us. But harkmes amiswhat sound is that?"

As he spoke the hoarse blast of a horn was heard from some woods upon theright. An answering call rung forth upon their leftand hard upon it two othersfrom behind them.

"They are the horns of swine-herds" quoth Aylward. "Thoughwhy they blow them so late I cannot tell."

"Let us onthen" said Fordand the whole partysetting theirspurs to their horsessoon found themselves at the Castle of Villefranchewhere the drawbridge had already been lowered and the portcullis raised inresponse to the summons of Du Guesclin.

Chapter 29 - How The Blessed Hour Of Sight Came To The Lady Tiphaine

 


 

SIR TRISTRAM DE ROCHEFORTSeneschal of Auvergne and Lord of Villefranchewas a fierce and renowned soldier who had grown gray in the English wars. Aslord of the marches and guardian of an exposed country-sidethere was littlerest for him even in times of so-called peaceand his whole life was spent inraids and outfalls upon the Brabanterslate-comersflayers free companionsand roving archers who wandered over his province. At times he would come backin triumphand a dozen corpses swinging from the summit of his keep would warnevil-doers that there was still a law in the land. At others his ventures werenot so happyand he and his troop would spur it over the drawbridge withclatter of hoofs hard at their heels and whistle of arrows about their ears.Hard he was of hand and harder of hearthated by his foesand yet not loved bythose whom he protectedfor twice he had been taken prisonerand twice hisransom had been wrung by dint of blows and tortures out of the starving peasantsand ruined farmers. Wolves or watch-dogsit was hard to say from which thesheep had most to fear.

The Castle of Villefranche was harsh and stern as its master. A broad moatahigh outer wall turreted at the cornerswith a great black keep towering aboveall--so it lay before them in the moonlight. By the light of two flambeauxprotruded through the narrow slit-shaped openings at either side of theponderous gatethey caught a glimpse of the glitter of fierce eyes and of thegleam of the weapons of the guard. The sight of the two-headed eagle of DuGuesclinhoweverwas a passport into any fortalice in Franceand ere they hadpassed the gate the old border knight came running forwards with handsout-thrown to greet his famous countryman. Nor was he less glad to see SirNigelwhen the Englishman's errand was explained to himfor these archers hadbeen a sore thorn in his side and had routed two expeditions which he had sentagainst them. A happy day it would be for the Seneschal of Auvergne when theyshould learn that the last yew bow was over the marches.

The material for a feast was ever at hand in days whenif there was grimwant in the cottagethere was at least rude plenty in the castle. Within anhour the guests were seated around a board which creaked under the great pastiesand joints of meatvaried by those more dainty dishes in which the Frenchexcelledthe spiced ortolan and the truffled beccaficoes. The Lady Rochefortabright and laughter-loving damesat upon the left of her warlike spousewithLady Tiphaine upon the right. Beneath sat Du Guesclin and Sir Nigelwith SirAmory Monticourtof the order of the Hospitallersand Sir Otto Harnitawandering knight from the kingdom of Bohemia. These with Alleyne and FordfourFrench squiresand the castle chaplainmade the company who sat together thatnight and made good cheer in the (Castle of Villefranche. The great firecrackled in the gratethe hooded hawks slept upon their perchesthe roughdeer-hounds with expectant eyes crouched upon the tiled floor; close at theelbows of the guests stood the dapper little lilac-coated pages; the laugh andjest circled round and all was harmony and comfort. Little they recked of thebrushwood men who crouched in their rags along the fringe of the forest andlooked with wild and haggard eyes at the richwarm glow which shot a golden barof light from the high arched windows of the castle.

Supper overthe tables dormant were cleared away as by magic and trestlesand bancals arranged around the blazing firefor there was a bitter nip in theair. The Lady Tiphaine had sunk back in her cushioned chairand her long darklashes drooped low over her sparkling eyes. Alleyneglancing at hernoted thather breath came quick and shortand that her cheeks had blanched to a lilywhite. Du Guesclin eyed her keenly from time to timeand passed his broad brownfingers through his crispcurly black hair with the air of a man who isperplexed in his mind.

"These folk here" said the knight of Bohemia"they do notseem too well fed."

"Ahcanaille!" cried the Lord of Villefranche. "You wouldscarce credit itand yet it is sooth that when I was taken at Poictiers it wasall that my wife and foster-brother could do to raise the money from them for myransom. The sulky dogs would rather have three twists of a rackor thethumbikins for an hourthan pay out a denier for their own feudal father andliege lord. Yet there is not one of them but hath an old stocking full of goldpieces hid away in a snug corner."

"Why do they not buy food then?" asked Sir Nigel. "By St.Paul! it seemed to me their bones were breaking through their skin."

"It is their grutching and grumbling which makes them thin. We have asaying hereSir Nigelthat if you pummel Jacques Bonhomme he will pat youbutif you pat him he will pummel you. Doubtless you find it so in England."

"Ma foino!" said Sir Nigel. "I have two Englishmen of thisclass in my trainwho are at this instantI make little doubtas full of yourwine as any cask in your cellar. He who pummelled them might come by such a patas he would be likely to remember."

"I cannot understand it" quoth the seneschal"for theEnglish knights and nobles whom I have met were not men to brook the insolenceof the base born."

"Perchancemy fair lordthe poor folk are sweeter and of a bettercountenance in England" laughed the Lady Rochefort. "Mon Dieu! youcannot conceive to yourself how ugly they are! Without hairwithout teethalltwisted and bent; for meI cannot think how the good God ever came to make suchpeople. I cannot bear itIand so my trusty Raoul goes ever before me with acudgel to drive them from my path."

"Yet they have soulsfair ladythey have souls!" murmured thechaplaina white-haired man with a wearypatient face.

"So I have heard you tell them" said the lord of the castle;"and for myselffatherthough I am a true son of holy Churchyet I thinkthat you were better employed in saying your mass and in teaching the childrenof my men-at-armsthan in going over the country-side to put ideas in thesefolks' heads which would never have been there but for you. I have heard thatyou have said to them that their souls are as good as oursand that it islikely that in another life they may stand as high as the oldest blood ofAuvergne. For my partI believe that there are so many worthy knights andgallant gentlemen in heaven who know how such things should be arrangedthatthere is little fear that we shall find ourselves mixed up with base roturiersand swine- herds. Tell your beadsfatherand con your psalterbut do not comebetween me and those whom the king has given to me!"

"God help them!" cried the old priest. "A higher King thanyours has given them to meand I tell you here in your own castle hallSirTristram de Rochefortthat you have sinned deeply in your dealings with thesepoor folkand that the hour will comeand may even now be at handwhen God'shand will be heavy upon you for what you have done." He rose as he spokeand walked slowly from the room.

"Pest take him!" cried the French knight. "Nowwhat is a manto do with a priestSir Bertrand?--for one can neither fight him like a man norcoax him like a woman."

"AhSir Bertrand knowsthe naughty one!" cried the LadyRochefort. "Have we not all heard how he went to Avignon and squeezed fiftythousand crowns out of the Pope."

"Ma foi!" said Sir Nigellooking with a mixture of horror andadmiration at Du Guesclin. "Did not your heart sink within you? Were younot smitten with fears? Have you not felt a curse hang over you?"

"I have not observed it" said the Frenchman carelessly. "Butby Saint Ives! Tristramthis chaplain of yours seems to me to be a worthy manand you should give heed to his wordsfor though I care nothing for the curseof a bad popeit would be a grief to me to have aught but a blessing from agood priest."

"Hark to thatmy fair lord" cried the Lady Rochefort. "TakeheedI pray theefor I do not wish to have a blight cast over menor a palsyof the limbs. I remember that once before you angered Father Stephenand mytire-woman said that I lost more hair in seven days than ever before in amonth."

"If that be sign of sinthenby Saint Paul! I have much upon mysoul" said Sir Nigelamid a general laugh. "But in very truthSirTristramif I may venture a word of counselI should advise that you make yourpeace with this good man."

"He shall have four silver candlesticks" said the seneschalmoodily. "And yet I would that he would leave the folk alone. You cannotconceive in your mind how stubborn and brainless they are. Mules and pigs arefull of reason beside them. God He knows that I have had great patience withthem. It was but last week thathaving to raise some moneyI called up to thecastle Jean Goubertwhoas all men knowhas a casketful of gold pieces hiddenaway in some hollow tree. I give you my word that I did not so much as lay astripe upon his fool's backbut after speaking with himand telling him howneedful the money was to meI left him for the night to think over the matterin my dungeon. What think you that the dog did? Whyin the morning we foundthat he had made a rope from strips of his leathern jerkinand had hung himselfto the bar of the window."

"For meI cannot conceive such wickedness!" cried the lady.

"And there was Gertrude Le Boeufas fair a maiden as eye could seebutas bad and bitter as the rest of them. When young Amory de Valance was here lastLammastide he looked kindly upon the girland even spoke of taking her into hisservice. What does she dowith her dog of a father? Whythey tie themselvestogether and leap into the Linden Poolwhere the water is five spears'-lengthsdeep. I give you my word that it was a great grief to young Amoryand it wasdays ere he could cast it from his mind. But how can one serve people who are sofoolish and so ungrateful?"

Whilst the Seneschal of Villefranche had been detailing the evil doings ofhis tenantsAlleyne had been unable to take his eyes from the face of LadyTiphaine. She had lain back in her chairwith drooping eyelids and bloodlessfaceso that he had feared at first her journey had weighed heavily upon herand that the strength was ebbing out of her. Of a suddenhoweverthere came achangefor a dash of bright color flickered up on to either cheekand her lidswere slowly raised again upon eyes which sparkled with such lustre as Alleynehad never seen in human eyes beforewhile their gaze was fixed intentlynot onthe companybut on the dark tapestry which draped the wall. So transformed andso ethereal was her expressionthat Alleynein his loftiest dream of archangelor of seraphhad never pictured so sweetso womanlyand yet so wise a face.Glancing at Du GuesclinAlleyne saw that he also was watching his wife closelyand from the twitching of his featuresand the beads upon his brick-coloredbrowit was easy to see that he was deeply agitated by the change which hemarked in her.

"How is it with youlady?" he asked at lastin a tremulous voice.

Her eyes remained fixed intently upon the walland there was a long pauseere she answered him. Her voicetoowhich had been so clear and ringingwasnow low and muffled as that of one who speaks from a distance.

"All is very well with meBertrand" said she. "The blessedhour of sight has come round to me again."

"I could see it come! I could see it come!" he exclaimedpassinghis fingers through his hair with the same perplexed expression as before.

"This is untowardSir Tristram" he said at last. "And Iscarce know in what words to make it clear to youand to your fair wifeand toSir Nigel Loringand to these other stranger knights. My tongue is a blunt oneand fitter to shout word of command than to clear up such a matter as thisofwhich I can myself understand little. ThishoweverI knowthat my wife iscome of a very sainted racewhom God hath in His wisdom endowed with wondrouspowersso that Tiphaine Raquenel was known throughout Brittany ere ever I firstsaw her at Dinan. Yet these powers are ever used for goodand they are the giftof God and not of the devilwhich is the difference betwixt white magic andblack."

"Perchance it would be as well that we should send for FatherStephen" said Sir Tristram.

"It would be best that he should come" cried the Hospitaller

"And bring with him a flask of holy water" added the knight ofBohemia.

"Not sogentlemen" answered Sir Bertrand. "It is not needfulthat this priest should be calledand it is in my mind that in asking for thisye cast some slight shadow or slur upon the good name of my wifeas though itwere still doubtful whether her power came to her from above or below. If yehave indeed such a doubt I pray that you will say sothat we may discuss thematter in a fitting way."

"For myself" said Sir Nigel"I have heard such words fallfrom the lips of this lady that I am of the opinion that there is no womansaveonly onewho can be in any way compared to her in beauty and in goodness.Should any gentleman think otherwiseI should deem it great honor to run asmall course with himor debate the matter in whatever way might be mostpleasing to him."

"Nayit would ill become me to cast a slur upon a lady who is both myguest and the wife of my comrade-in-arms" said the Seneschal ofVillefranche. "I have perceived also that on her mantle there is marked asilver crosswhich is surely sign enough that there is nought of evil in thesestrange powers which you say that she possesses."

This argument of the seneschal's appealed so powerfully to the Bohemian andto the Hospitaller that they at once intimated that their objections had beenentirely overcomewhile even the Lady Rochefortwho had sat shivering andcrossing herselfceased to cast glances at the doorand allowed her fears toturn to curiosity.

"Among the gifts which hare been vouchsafed to my wife" said DuGuesclin"there is the wondrous one of seeing into the future; but itcomes very seldom upon herand goes as quicklyfor none can command it. Theblessed hour of sightas she hath named ithas come but twice since I haveknown herand I can vouch for it that all that she hath told me was trueforon the evening of the Battle of Auray she said that the morrow would be an illday for me and for Charles of Blois. Ere the sun had sunk again he was deadandI the prisoner of Sir John Chandos. Yet it is not every question that she cananswerbut only those----"

"BertrandBertrand!" cried the lady in the same mutterings far-away voice"the blessed hour passes. Use itBertrandwhile youmay."

"I willmy sweet. Tell methenwhat fortune comes upon me?"

"DangerBertrand--deadlypressing danger--which creeps upon you andyou know it not."

The French soldier burst into a thunderous laughand his green eyes twinkledwith amusement. "At what time during these twenty years would not that havebeen a true word?" he cried. "Danger is in the air that I breathe. Butis this so very closeTiphaine?"

"Here--now--close upon you!" The words came out in brokenstrenuous speechwhile the lady's fair face was writhed and drawn like that ofone who looks upon a horror which strikesthe words from her lips. Du Guesclingazed round the tapestried roomat the screensthe tablesthe abacethecredencethe buffet with its silver salverand the half-circle of friendlywondering faces. There was an utter stillnesssave for the sharp breathing ofthe Lady Tiphaine and for the gentle soughing of the wind outsidewhich waftedto their ears the distant call upon a swine-herd's horn.

"The danger may bide" said heshrugging his broad shoulders."And nowTiphainetell us what will come of this war in Spain."

"I can see little" she answeredstraining her eyes and puckeringher browas one who would fain clear her sight. "There are mountainsanddry plainsand flash of arms and shouting of battle-criesYet it is whisperedto me that by failure you will succeed."

"Ha! Sir Nigelhow like you that?" quoth Bertrandshaking hishead. "It is like mead and vinegarhalf sweethalf sour. And is there noquestion which you would ask my lady?"

"Certes there is. I would fain knowfair ladyhow all things are atTwynham Castleand above all how my sweet lady employs herself."

"To answer this I would fain lay hand upon one whose thoughts turnstrongly to this castle which you have named. Naymy Lord Loringit iswhispered to me that there is another here who hath thought more deeply of itthan you."

"Thought more of mine own home?" cried Sir Nigel. "LadyIfear that in this matter at least you are mistaken."

"Not soSir Nigel. Come hitheryoung manyoung English squire withthe gray eyes! Now give me your handand place it here across my browthat Imay see that which you have seen. What is this that rises before me? Mistmistrolling mist with a square black tower above it. See it shreds outit thinsitrisesand there lies a castle in green plainwith the sea beneath itand agreat church within a bow-shot. There are two rivers which run through themeadowsand between them lie the tents of the besiegers."

"The besiegers!" cried AlleyneFordand Sir Nigelall three in abreath.

"Yestrulyand they press hard upon the castlefor they are anexceeding multitude and full of courage. See how they storm and rage against thegatewhile some rear laddersand othersline after linesweep the walls withtheir arrows. They are many leaders who shout and beckonand onea tall manwith a golden beardwho stands before the gate stamping his foot and hallooingthem onas a pricker doth the hounds. But those in the castle fight bravely.There is a womantwo womenwho stand upon the wallsand give heart to themen-at-arms. They shower down arrowsdarts and great stones. Ah I they havestruck down the tall leaderand the others give back. The mist thickens and Ican see no more."

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel"I do not think that therecan be any such doings at Christchurchand I am very easy of the fortalice solong as my sweet wife hangs the key of the outer bailey at the head of her bed.Yet I will not deny that you have pictured the castle as well as I could havedone myselfand I am full of wonderment at all that I have heard andseen."

"I wouldLady Tiphaine" cried the Lady Rochefort"that youwould use your power to tell me what hath befallen my golden bracelet which Iwore when hawking upon the second Sunday of Adventand have never set eyes uponsince."

"Naylady" said du Guesclin"it does not befit so great andwondrous a power to pry and search and play the varlet even to the beautifulchatelaine of Villefranche. Ask a worthy questionandwith the blessing ofGodyou shall have a worthy answer."

"Then I would fain ask" cried one of the French squires"asto which may hope to conquer in these wars betwixt the English andourselves."

"Both will conquer and each will hold its own" answered the LadyTiphaine.

"Then we shall still hold Gascony and Guienne?" cried Sir Nigel.

The lady shook her head. "French landFrench bloodFrenchspeech" she answered. "They are Frenchand France shall havethem."

"But not Bordeaux?" cried Sir Nigel excitedly.

"Bordeaux also is for France."

"But Calais?"

"Calais too."

"Woe worth me thenand ill hail to these evil words! If Bordeaux andCalais be gonethen what is left for England?"

"It seems indeed that there are evil times coming upon yourcountry" said Du Guesclin. "In our fondest hopes we never thought tohold Bordeaux. By Saint Ives! this news hath warmed the heart within me. Ourdear country will then be very great in the futureTiphaine?"

"Greatand richand beautiful" she cried. "Far down thecourse of time I can see her still leading the nationsa wayward queen amongthe peoplesgreat in warbut greater in peacequick in thoughtdeft inactionwith her people's will for her sole monarchfrom the sands of Calais tothe blue seas of the south."

"Ha!" cried Du Guesclinwith his eyes flashing in triumph"you hear herSir Nigel?--and she never yet said word which was notsooth."

The English knight shook his head moodily. "What of my own poorcountry?" said he. "I fearladythat what you have said bodes butsmall good for her."

The lady sat with parted lipsand her breath came quick and fast. "MyGod!" she cried"what is this that is shown me? Whence come theythese peoplesthese lordly nationsthese mighty countries which rise up beforeme? I look beyondand others riseand yet othersfar and farther to theshores of the uttermost waters. They crowd! They swarm! The world is given tothemand it resounds with the clang of their hammers and the ringing of theirchurch bells. They call them many namesand they rule them this way or that butthey are all Englishfor I can hear the voices of the people. On I goandonwards over seas where man hath never yet sailedand I see a great land undernew stars and a stranger skyand still the land is England. Where have herchildren not gone? What have they not done? Her banner is planted on ice. Herbanner is scorched in the sun. She lies athwart the landsand her shadow isover the seas. BertrandBertrand! we are undone for the buds of her bud areeven as our choicest flower!" Her voice rose into a wild cryand throwingup her arms she sank back white and nerveless into the deep oaken chair.

"It is over" said Du Guesclin moodilyas he raised her droopinghead with his strong brown hand. "Wine for the ladysquire! The blessedhour of sight hath passed."

Chapter 30 - How The Brushwood Men Came To The Chateau Of Villefranche

 


 

IT was late ere Alleyne Edricsonhaving carried Sir Nigel the goblet ofspiced wine which it was his custom to drink after the curling of his hairwasable at last to seek his chamber. It was a stone-flagged room upon the secondfloorwith a bed in a recess for himand two smaller pallets on the othersideon which Aylward and Hordle John were already snoring. Alleyne had kneltdown to his evening orisonswhen there came a tap at his doorand Ford enteredwith a small lamp in his hand. His face was deadly paleand his hand shookuntil the shadows flickered up and down the wall.

"What is itFord?" cried Alleynespringing to his feet.

"I can scarce tell yousaid hesitting down on the side of the couchand resting his chin upon his hand. "I know not what to say or what tothink."

"Has aught befallen youthen?"

"Yesor I have been slave to my own fancy. I tell youladthat I amall undonelike a fretted bow-string. Hark hitherAlleyne! it cannot be thatyou have forgotten little Titathe daughter of the old glass-stainer atBordeaux?"

"I remember her well."

"She and IAlleynebroke the lucky groat together ere we partedandshe wears my ring upon her finger. 'Caro mio' quoth she when last we parted'Ishall be near thee in the warsand thy danger will be my danger.' AlleyneasGod is my helpas I came up the stairs this night I saw her stand before meher face in tearsher hands out as though in warning--I saw itAlleyneevenas I see those two archers upon their couches. Our very finger-tips seemed tomeetere she thinned away like a mist in the sunshine."

"I would not give overmuch thought to it" answered Alleyne."Our minds will play us strange pranksand bethink you that these words ofthe Lady Tiphaine Du Guesclin have wrought upon us and shaken us."

Ford shook his head. "I saw little Tita as clearly as though I were backat the Rue des Apotres at Bordeaux" said he.

"But the hour is lateand I must go."

"Where do you sleepthen?"

"In the chamber above you. May the saints be with us all!" He rosefrom the couch and left the chamberwhile Alleyne could hear his feet soundingupon the winding stair. The young squire walked across to the window and gazedout at the moonlit landscapehis mind absorbed by the thought of the LadyTiphaineand of the strange words that she had spoken as to what was goingforward at Castle Twynham. Leaning his elbows upon the stoneworkhe was deeplyplunged in reveriewhen in a moment his thoughts were brought back toVillefranche and to the scene before him.

The window at which he stood was in the second floor of that portion of thecastle which was nearest to the keep. In front lay the broad moatwith the moonlying upon its surfacenow clear and roundnow drawn lengthwise as the breezestirred the waters. Beyondthe plain sloped down to a thick woodwhile furtherto the left a second wood shut out the view. Between the two an open gladestretchedsilvered in the moonshinewith the river curving across the lowerend of it.

As he gazedhe saw of a sudden a man steal forth from the wood into the openclearing. He walked with his head sunkhis shoulders curvedand his kneesbentas one who strives hard to remain unseen. Ten paces from the fringe oftrees he glanced aroundand waving his hand he crouched downand was lost tosight among a belt of furze-bushes. After him there came a second manand afterhim a thirda fourthand a fifth stealing across the narrow open space anddarting into the shelter of the brushwood. Nine-and-seventy Alleyne counted ofthese dark figures flitting across the line of the moonlight. Many bore hugeburdens upon their backsthough what it was that they carried he could not tellat the distance. Out of the one wood and into the other they passedall withthe same crouchingfurtive gaituntil the black bristle of trees had swallowedup the last of them.

For a moment Alleyne stood in the windowstill staring down at the silentforestuncertain as to what he should think of these midnight walkers. Then hebethought him that there was one beside him who was fitter to judge on such amatter. His fingers had scarce rested upon Aylward's shoulder ere the bowman wason his feetwith his hand outstretched to his sword.

"Qui va?" he cried. "Hola! mon petit. By my hilt! I thoughtthere had been a camisade. What thenmon gar.?"

"Come hither by the windowAylward" said Alleyne. "I haveseen four-score men pass from yonder shaw across the gladeand nigh every manof them had a great burden on his back. What think you of it?"

"I think nothing of itmon camarade! There are as many masterless folkin this country as there are rabbits on Cowdray Downand there are many whoshow their faces by night but would dance in a hempen collar if they stirredforth in the day. On all the French marches are droves of outcastsreiversspoilersand draw-latchesof whom I judge that these are somethough I marvelthat they should dare to come so nigh to the castle of the seneschal. All seemsvery quiet now" he addedpeering out of the window.

"They are in the further wood" said Alleyne.

"And there they may bide. Back to restmon petit; forby my hilt! eachday now will bring its own work. Yet it would be well to shoot the bolt inyonder door when one is in strange quarters. So!" He threw himself downupon his pallet and in an instant was fast asleep.

It might have been about three o'clock in the morning when Alleyne wasaroused from a troubled sleep by a low cry or exclamation. He listenedbutashe heard no morehe set it down as the challenge of the guard upon the wallsand dropped off to sleep once more. A few minutes later he was disturbed by agentle creaking of his own dooras though some one were pushing cautiouslyagainst itand immediately afterwards he heard the soft thud of cautiousfootsteps upon the stair which led to the room abovefollowed by a confusednoise and a muffled groan. Alleyne sat up on his couch with all his nerves in atingleuncertain whether these sounds might come from a simple cause--some sickarcher and visiting leech perhaps--or whether they might have a more sinistermeaningBut what danger could threaten them here in this strong castleunderthe care of famous warriorswith high walls and a broad moat around them? Whowas there that could injure them? He had well-nigh persuaded himself that hisfears were a foolish fancywhen his eyes fell upon that which sent the bloodcold to his heart and left him gaspingwith hands clutching at the counterpane.

Right in front of him was the broad window of the chamberwith the moonshining brightly through it. For an instant something had obscured the lightand now a head was bobbing up and down outsidethe face looking in at himandswinging slowly from one side of the window to the other. Even in that dim lightthere could be no mistaking those features. Drawndistorted and blood-stainedthey were still those of the young fellow-squire who had sat so recently uponhis own couch. With a cry of horror Alleyne sprang from his bed and rushed tothe casementwhile the two archersaroused by the soundseized their weaponsand stared about them in bewilderment. One glance was enough to show Edricsonthat his fears were but too true. Foully murderedwith a score of wounds uponhim and a rope round his neckhis poor friend had been cast from the upperwindow and swung slowly in the night windhis body rasping against the wall andhis disfigured face upon a level with the casement.

"My God!" cried Alleyneshaking in every limb. "What has comeupon us? What devil's deed is this?"

"Here is flint and steel" said John stolidly. "The lampAylward! This moonshine softens a man's heart. Now we may use the eyes which Godhath given us."

"By my hilt!" cried Aylwardas the yellow flame flickered up"it is indeed young master Fordand I think that this seneschal is a blackvillainwho dare not face us in the day but would murther us in our sleep. Bythe twang of string I if I do not soak a goose's feather with his heart's bloodit will be no fault of Samkin Aylward of the White Company."

"ButAylwardthink of the men whom I saw yesternight" saidAlleyne. "It may not be the seneschal. It may be that others have come intothe castle. I must to Sir Nigel ere it be too late. Let me goAylwardfor myplace is by his side."

"One momentmon gar. Put that steel head-piece on the end of myyew-stave. So! I will put it first through the door; for it is ill to come outwhen you can neither see nor guard yourself. Nowcamaradesout swords andstand ready! Holaby my hilt! it is time that we were stirring!"

As he spokea sudden shouting broke forth in the castlewith the scream ofa woman and the rush of many feet. Then came the sharp clink of clashing steeland a roar like that of an angry lion--"Notre Dame Du Guesclin! St. Ives!St. Ives!" The bow-man pulled back the bolt of the doorand thrust out theheadpiece at the end of the bow. A clashthe clatter of the steel-cap upon thegroundandere the man who struck could heave up for another blowthe archerhad passed his sword through his body. "Oncamaradeson!" he cried;andbreaking fiercely past two men who threw themselves in his wayhe speddown the broad corridor in the direction of the shouting.

A sharp turningand then a second onebrought them to the head of a shortstairfrom which they looked straight down upon the scene of the uproar. Asquare oak-floored hall lay beneath themfrom which opened the doors of theprincipal guest-chambers. This hall was as light as dayfor torches burned innumerous sconces upon the wallsthrowing strange shadows from the tusked orantlered heads which ornamented them. At the very foot of the stairclose tothe open door of their chamberlay the seneschal and his wife: she with herhead shorn from her shouldershe thrust through with a sharpened stakewhichstill protruded from either side of his body. Three servants of the castle laydead beside themall torn and draggledas though a pack of wolves had beenupon them. In front of the central guest-chamber stood Du Guesclin and SirNigelhalf-clad and unarmoredwith the mad joy of battle gleaming in theireyes. Their heads were thrown backtheir lips compressedtheir blood-stainedswords poised over their right shouldersand their left feet thrown out. Threedead men lay huddled together in front of them: while a fourthwith the bloodsquirting from a severed vessellay back with updrawn kneesbreathing inwheezy gasps. Further back--all panting togetherlike the wind in a tree--therestood a group of fiercewild creaturesbare-armed and bare-leggedgauntunshavenwith deep-set murderous eyes and wild beast faces. With their flashingteeththeir bristling hairtheir mad leapings and screamingsthey seemed toAlleyne more like fiends from the pit than men of flesh and blood. Even as helookedthey broke into a hoarse yell and dashed once more upon the two knightshurling themselves madly upon their sword-points; clutchingscramblingbitingtearingcareless of wounds if they could but drag the two soldiers to earth.Sir Nigel was thrown down by the sheer weight of themand Sir Bertrand with histhunderous war-cry was swinging round his heavy sword to clear a space for himto risewhen the whistle of two long English arrowsand the rush of the squireand the two English archers down the stairsturned the tide of the combat. Theassailants gave backthe knights rushed forwardand in a very few moments thehall was clearedand Hordle John had hurled the last of the wild men down thesteep steps which led from the end of it.

"Do not follow them" cried Du Guesclin. "We are lost if wescatter. For myself I care not a denierthough it is a poor thing to meet one'send at the hands of such scum; but I have my dear lady herewho must by nomeans be risked. We have breathing-space nowand I would ask youSir Nigelwhat it is that you would counsel?"

"By St. Paul!" answered Sir Nigel"I can by no meansunderstand what hath befallen ussave that I have been woken up by yourbattle-cryandrushing forthfound myself in the midst of this smallbickering. Harrow and alas for the lady and the seneschal! What dogs are theywho have done this bloody deed?"

"They are the Jacksthe men of the brushwood. They have the castlethough I know not how it hath come to passLook from this window into thebailey."

"By heaven!" cried Sir Nigel"it is as bright as day with thetorches. The gates stand openand there are three thousand of them within thewalls. See how they rush and scream and wave! What is it that they thrust outthrough the postern door? My God! it is a man-at-armsand they pluck him limbfrom limb like hounds on a wolf. Now anotherand yet another. They hold thewhole castlefor I see their faces at the windows. Seethere are some withgreat bundles on their backs."

"It is dried wood from the forest. They pile them against the walls andset them in a blaze. Who is this who tries to check them? By St. Ives! it is thegood priest who spake for them in the hall. He kneelshe prayshe implores!What! villainswould ye raise hands against those who have befriended you? Ahthe butcher has struck him! He is down! They stamp him under their feet! Theytear off his gown and wave it in the air! See nowhow the flames lick up thewalls! Are there none left to rally round us? With a hundred men we might holdour own."

"Ohfor my Company!" cried Sir Nigel. "But where is FordAlleyne?"

"He is foully murderedmy fair lord."

"The saints receive him! May he rest in peace! But here come some atlast who may give us counselfor amid these passages it is ill to stir withouta guide."

As he spokea French squire and the Bohemian knight came rushing down thestepsthe latter bleeding from a slash across his forehead.

"All is lost!" he cried. "The castle is taken and on firetheseneschal is slainand there is nought left for us."

"On the contrary" quoth Sir Nigel"there is much left to usfor there is a very honorable contention before usand a fair lady for whom togive our lives. There are many ways in which a man might diebut none betterthan this."

"You can tell usGodfrey" said Du Guesclin to the French squire:"how came these men into the castleand what succors can we count upon? BySt. Ives! if we come not quickly to some counsel we shall be burned like youngrooks in a nest."

The squirea darkslender striplingspoke firmly and quicklyas one whowas trained to swift action. "There is a passage under the earth into thecastle" said he"and through it some of the Jacks made their waycasting open the gates for the others. They have had help from within the wallsand the men-at- arms were heavy with wine: they must have been slain in theirbedsfor these devils crept from room to room with soft step and ready knife.Sir Amory the Hospitaller was struck down with an axe as he rushed before usfrom his sleeping-chamber. Save only ourselvesI do not think that there areany left alive."

"Whatthenwould you counsel?"

"That we make for the keep. It is unusedsave in time of warand thekey hangs from my poor lord and master's belt."

"There are two keys there."

"It is the larger. Once therewe might hold the narrow stair; and atleastas the walls are of a greater thicknessit would be longer ere theycould burn them. Could we but carry the lady across the baileyall might bewell with us."

"Nay; the lady hath seen something of the work of war" saidTiphaine coming forthas whiteas graveand as unmoved as ever. "I wouldnot be a hamper to youmy dear spouse and gallant friend. Rest assured of thisthat if all else fail I have always a safeguard here"--drawing a smallsilver-hilted poniard from her bosom--"which sets me beyond the fear ofthese vile and blood-stained wretches."

"Tiphaine" cried Du Guesclin"I have always loved you; andnowby Our Lady of Rennes! I love you more than ever. Did I not know that yourhand will be as ready as your words I would myself turn my last blow upon youere you should fall into their hands. Lead onGodfrey! A new golden pyx willshine in the minster of Dinan if we come safely through with it."

The attention of the insurgents had been drawn away from murder to plunderand all over the castle might be heard their cries and whoops of delight as theydragged forth the rich tapestriesthe silver flagonsand the carved furniture.Down in the courtyard half-clad wretchestheir bare limbs all mottled withblood-stainsstrutted about with plumed helmets upon their headsor with theLady Rochefort's silken gowns girt round their loins and trailing on the groundbehind them. Casks of choice wine had been rolled out from the cellarsandstarving peasants squattedgoblet in handdraining off vintages which DeRochefort had set aside for noble and royal guests. Otherswith slabs of baconand joints of dried meat upon the ends of their pikesheld them up to the blazeor tore at them ravenously with their teeth. Yet all order had not been lostamongst themfor some hundreds of the better armed stood together in a silentgroupleaning upon their rude weapons and looking up at the firewhich hadspread so rapidly as to involve one whole side of the castle. Already Alleynecould hear the crackling and roaring of the flameswhile the air was heavy withheat and full of the pungent whiff of burning wood.

Chapter 31 - How Five Men Held The Keep Of Villefranch

 


 

UNDER the guidance of the French squire the party passed down two narrowcorridors. The first was emptybut at the head of the second stood a peasantsentrywho started off at the sight of themyelling loudly to his comrades."Stop himor we are undone!" cried Du Guesclinand had started torunwhen Aylward's great war-bow twanged like a harp-stringand the man fellforward upon his facewith twitching limbs and clutching fingers. Within fivepaces of where he lay a narrow and little- used door led out into the bailey.From beyond it came such a Babel of hooting and screaminghorrible oaths andyet more horrible laughterthat the stoutest heart might have shrunk fromcasting down the frail barrier which faced them.

"Make straight for the keep!" said Du Guesclinin a sharpsternwhisper. "The two archers in frontthe lady in the centrea squire oneither sidewhile we three knights shall bide behind and beat back those whopress upon us. So! Now open the doorand God have us in his holy keeping!"

For a few moments it seemed that their object would be attained withoutdangerso swift and so silent had been their movements. They were half-wayacross the bailey ere the frantichowling peasants made a movement to stopthem. The few who threw themselves in their way were overpowered or brushedasidewhile the pursuers were beaten back by the ready weapons of the threecavaliers. Unscathed they fought their way to the door of the keepand facedround upon the swarming mobwhile the squire thrust the great key into thelock.

"My God!" he cried"it is the wrong key."

"The wrong key!"

"Doltfool that I am! This is the key of the castle gate; the otheropens the keep. I must back for it!" He turnedwith some wild intention ofretracing his stepsbut at the instant a great jagged rockhurled by a brawnypeasantstruck him full upon the earand he dropped senseless to the ground.

"This is key enough for me!" quoth Hordle Johnpicking up the hugestoneand hurling it against the door with all the strength of his enormousbody. The lock shiveredthe wood smashedthe stone flew into five piecesbutthe iron clamps still held the door in its position. Bending downhe thrust hisgreat fingers under itand with a heave raised the whole mass of wood and ironfrom its hinges. For a moment it tottered and swayedand thenfalling outwardburied him in its ruinwhile his comrades rushed into the dark archway whichled to safety.

"Up the stepsTiphaine!" cried Du Guesclin. "Now roundfriendsand beat them back!" The mob of peasants had surged in upon theirheelsbut the two trustiest blades in Europe gleamed upon that narrow stairand four of their number dropped upon the threshold. The others gave backandgathered in a half circle round the open doorgnashing their teeth and shakingtheir clenched hands at the defenders. The body of the French squire had beendragged out by them and hacked to piecesThree or four others had pulled Johnfrom under the doorwhen he suddenly bounded to his feetand clutching one ineither hand dashed them together with such force that they fell senseless acrosseach other upon the ground. With a kick and a blow he freed himself from twoothers who clung to himand in a moment he was within the portal with hiscomrades.

Yet their position was a desperate one. The peasants from far and near hadbeen assembled for this deed of vengeanceand not less than six thousand werewithin or around the walls of the Chateau of Villefranche. Ill armed and halfstarvedthey were still desperate mento whom danger had lost all fears: forwhat was death that they should shun it to cling to such a life as theirs? Thecastle was theirsand the roaring flames were spurting through the windows andflickering high above the turrets on two sides of the quadrangle. From eitherside they were sweeping down from room to room and from bastion to bastion inthe direction of the keep. Faced by an armyand girt in by firewere six menand one woman; but some of them were men so trained to danger and so wise in warthat even now the combat was less unequal than it seemed. Courage and resourcewere penned in by desperation and numberswhile the great yellow sheets offlame threw their lurid glare over the scene of death.

"There is but space for two upon a step to give free play to oursword-arms" said Du Guesclin. "Do you stand with meNigelupon thelowest. France and England will fight together this night. Sir OttoI pray youto stand behind us with this young squire. The archers may go higher yet andshoot over our heads. I would that we had our harnessNigel."

"Often have I heard my dear Sir John Chandos say that a knight shouldnevereven when a guestbe parted from it. Yet it will be more honor to us ifwe come well out of it. We have a vantagesince we see them against the lightand they can scarce see us. It seems to me that they muster for anonslaught."

"If we can but keep them in play" said the Bohemian"it islikely that these flames may bring us succor if there be any true men in thecountry."

"Bethink youmy fair lord" said Alleyne to Sir Nigel"thatwe have never injured these mennor have we cause of quarrel against them.Would it not be wellif but for the lady's saketo speak them fair and see ifwe may not come to honorable terms with them?"

"Not soby St. Paul!" cried Sir Nigel. "It does not accordwith mine honornor shall it ever be said that Ia knight of Englandwasready to hold parley with men who have slain a fair lady and a holypriest."

"As well hold parley with a pack of ravening wolves" said theFrench captain. "Ha! Notre Dame Du Guesclin! Saint Ives! Saint Ives!"

As he thundered forth his war-crythe Jacks who had been gathering beforethe black arch of the gateway rushed in madly in a desperate effort to carry thestaircase. Their leaders were a small mandark in the facewith his beard doneup in two plaitsand another larger manvery bowed in the shoulderswith ahuge club studded with sharp nails in his hand. The first had not taken threesteps ere an arrow from Aylward's bow struck him full in the chestand he fellcoughing and spluttering across the threshold. The other rushed onwardsandbreaking between Du Guesclin and Sir Nigel he dashed out the brains of theBohemian with a single blow of his clumsy weapon. With three swords through himhe still struggled onand had almost won his way through them ere he fell deadupon the stair. Close at his heels came a hundred furious peasantswho flungthemselves again and again against the five swords which confronted them. It wascut and parry and stab as quick as eye could see or hand act. The door was piledwith bodiesand the stone floor was slippery with blood. The deep shout of DuGuesclinthe hardhissing breath of the pressing multitudethe clatter ofsteelthe thud of falling bodiesand the screams of the strickenmade up sucha medley as came often in after years to break upon Alleyne's sleep. Slowly andsullenly at last the throng drew offwith many a fierce backward glancewhileeleven of their number lay huddled in front of the stair which they had failedto win.

"The dogs have had enough" said Du Guesclin.

"By Saint Paul! there appear to be some very worthy and valiant personsamong them" observed Sir Nigel. "They are men from whomhad theybeen of better birthmuch honor and advancement might be gained. Even as it isit is a great pleasure to have seen them. But what is this that they arebringing forward?"

"It is as I feared" growled Du Guesclin. "They will burn usoutsince they cannot win their way past us. Shoot straight and hardarchers;forby St. Ives! our good swords are of little use to us."

As he spokea dozen men rushed forwardeach screening himself behind a hugefardel of brushwood. Hurling their burdens in one vast heap within the portalthey threw burning torches upon the top of it. The wood had been soaked in oilfor in an instant it was ablazeand a longhissingyellow flame licked overthe heads of the defendersand drove them further up to the first floor of thekeep. They had scarce reached ithoweverere they found that the wooden joistsand planks of the flooring were already on fire. Dry and worm-eatena sparkupon them became a smoulderand a smoulder a blaze. A choking smoke filled theairand the five could scarce grope their way to the staircase which led up tothe very summit of the square tower.

Strange was the scene which met their eyes from this eminence. Beneath themon every side stretched the long sweep of peaceful countryrolling plainandtangled woodall softened and mellowed in the silver moonshine. No lightnormovementnor any sign of human aid could be seenbut far away the hoarseclangor of a heavy bell rose and fell upon the wintry air. Be- neath and aroundthem blazed the huge fireroaring find crackling on every side of the baileyand even as they looked the two corner turrets fell in with a deafening crashand the whole castle was but a shapeless massspouting flames and smoke fromevery window and embrasure. The great black tower upon which they stood roselike a last island of refuge amid this sea of fire but the ominous crackling androaring below showed that it would not be long ere it was engulfed also in thecommon ruin. At their very feet was the square courtyardcrowded with thehowling and dancing peasantstheir fierce faces upturnedtheir clenched handswavingall drunk with bloodshed and with vengeance. A yell of execration and ascream of hideous laughter burst from the vast throngas they saw the faces ofthe last survivors of their enemies peering down at them from the height of thekeep. They still piled the brushwood round the base of the towerand gambolledhand in hand around the blazescreaming out the doggerel lines which had longbeen the watchword of the Jacquerie:

Cessezcessezgens d'armes et pletonsDe piller et manger le bonhomme Quide longtemps Jacques Bonhomme Se homme.

Their thinshrill voices rose high above the roar of the flames and thecrash of the masonrylike the yelping of a pack of wolves who see their quarrybefore them and know that they have well-nigh run him down.

"By my hilt!" said Aylward to John"it is in my mind that weshall not see Spain this journey. It is a great joy to me that I have placed myfeather-bed and other things of price with that worthy woman at Lyndhurstwhowill now have the use of them. I have thirteen arrows yetand if one of themfly unfleshedthenby the twang of string! I shall deserve my doom. First athim who flaunts with my lady's silken frock. Clap in the cloutby God! though ahand's-breadth lower than I had meant. Now for the rogue with the head upon hispike. Ha! to the inchJohn. When my eye is trueI am better at rovers than atlong-butts or hoyles. A good shoot for you alsoJohn! The villain hath fallenforward into the fire. But I pray youJohnto loose gentlyand not to pluckwith the drawing-handfor it is a trick that hath marred many a finebowman."

Whilst the two archers were keeping up a brisk fire upon the mob beneaththemDu Guesclin and his lady were consulting with Sir Nigel upon theirdesperate situation.

" 'Tis a strange end for one who has seen so many stricken fields"said the French chieftain. "For me one death is as anotherbut it is thethought of my sweet lady which goes to my heart."

"NayBertrandI fear it as little as you" said she. "Had Imy dearest wishit would be that we should go together."

"Well answeredfair lady!" cried Sir Nigel. "And very sure Iam that my own sweet wife would have said the same. If the end be now comeIhave had great good fortune in having lived in times when so much glory was tobe wonand in knowing so many valiant gentlemen and knights. But why do youpluck my sleeveAlleyne?"

"If it please youmy fair lordthere are in this corner two greattubes of ironwith many heavy ballswhich may perchance be those bombards andshot of which I have heard."

"By Saint Ives! it is true" cried Sir Bertrandstriding across tothe recess where the ungainlyfunnel-shapedthick-ribbed engines werestanding. "Bombards they areand of good size. We may shoot down uponthem."

"Shoot with themquotha?" cried Aylward in high disdainforpressing danger is the great leveller of classes. "How is a man to take aimwith these fool's toysand how can he hope to do scath with them?"

"I will show you" answered Sir Nigel; "for here is the greatbox of powderand if you will raise it for meJohnI will show you how it maybe used. Come hitherwhere the folk are thickest round the fire. NowAylwardcrane thy neck and see what would have been deemed an old wife's tale when wefirst turned our faces to the wars. Throw back the lidJohnand drop the boxinto the fire!"

A deafening roara fluff of bluish lightand the great square tower rockedand trembled from its very foundationsswaying this way and that like a reed inthe wind. Amazed and dizzythe defendersclutching at the cracking parapetsfor supportsaw great stonesburning beams of woodand mangled bodieshurtling past them through the air. When they staggered to their feet once morethe whole keep had settled down upon one sideso that they could scarce keeptheir footing upon the sloping platform. Gazing over the edgethey looked downupon the horrible destruction which had been caused by the explosion. For fortyyards round the portal the ground was black with writhingscreaming figureswho struggled up and hurled themselves down againtossing this way and thatsightlessscorchedwith fire bursting from their tattered clothing. Beyondthis circle of death their comradesbewildered and amazedcowered away fromthis black tower and from these invincible menwho were most to be dreaded whenhope was furthest from their hearts.

"A sallyDu Guesclina sally!" cried Sir Nigel. "By SaintPaul! they are in two mindsand a bold rush may turn them." He drew hissword as he spoke and darted down the winding stairsclosely followed by hisfour comrades. Ere he was at the first floorhoweverhe threw up his arms andstopped. "Mon Dieu!" he said"we are lost men!"

"What then?" cried those behind him.

"The wail hath fallen inthe stair is blockedand the fire still ragesbelow. By Saint Paul! friendswe have fought a very honorable fightand maysay in all humbleness that we have done our devoirbut I think that we may nowgo back to the Lady Tiphaine and say our orisonsfor we have played our partsin this worldand it is time that we made ready for another."

The narrow pass was blocked by huge stones littered in wild confusion overeach otherwith the blue choking smoke reeking up through the crevices. Theexplosion had blown in the wall and cut off the only path by which they coulddescend. Pent ina hundred feet from earthwith a furnace raging under themand a ravening multitude all round who thirsted for their bloodit seemedindeed as though no men had ever come through such peril with their lives.Slowly they made their way back to the summitbut as they came out upon it theLady Tiphaine darted forward and caught her husband by the wrist.

"Bertrand" said she"hush and listen! I have heard thevoices of men all singing together in a strange tongue."

Breathless they stood and silentbut no sound came up to themsave the roarof the flames and the clamor of their enemies.

"It cannot belady" said Du Guesclin. "This night hath overwrought youand your senses play you false. What men ere there in this countrywho would sing in a strange tongue?"

"Hola!" yelled Aylwardleaping suddenly into the air with wavinghands and joyous face. "I thought I heard it ere we went downand now Ihear it again. We are savedcomrades! By these ten finger-boneswe are saved!It is the marching song of the White Company. Hush!"

With upraised forefinger and slanting headhe stood listening. Suddenlythere came swelling up a deep-voicedrollicking chorus from somewhere out ofthe darkness. Never did choice or dainty ditty of Provence or Languedoc soundmore sweetly in the ears than did the rough-tongued Saxon to the six whostrained their ears from the blazing keep:

We'll drink all together To the gray goose feather And the land where thegray goose flew.

"Haby my hilt!" shouted Aylward"it is the dear old bowsong of the Company. Here come two hundred as tight lads as ever twirled a shaftover their thumbnails. Hark to the dogshow lustily they sing!"

Nearer and clearerswelling up out of the nightcame the gay marching lilt:

What of the bow? The bow was made in England. Of true woodof yew woodThewood of English bows; For men who are free Love the old yew-tree And the landwhere the yew tree grows.

What of the men? The men were bred in EnglandThe bowmenthe yeomenThelads of the dale and fellHere's to you and to youTo the hearts that aretrueAnd the land where the true hearts dwell.

"They sing very joyfully" said Du Guesclin"as though theywere going to a festival."

"It is their wont when there is work to be done."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel"it is in my mind that theycome too latefor I cannot see how we are to come down from this tower."

"There they comethe hearts of gold!" cried Aylward. "Seethey move out from the shadowNow they cross the meadow. They are on thefurther side of the moat. Hola camaradeshola! JohnstonEcclesCookeHarwardBligh! Would ye see a fair lady and two gallant knights done foully todeath?"

"Who is there?" shouted a deep voice from below. "Who is thiswho speaks with an English tongue?"

"It is Iold lad. It is Sam Aylward of the Company; and here is yourcaptainSir Nigel Loringand four othersall laid out to be grilled like anEasterling's herrings."

"Curse me if I did not think that it was the style of speech of oldSamkin Aylward" said the voiceamid a buzz from the ranks. "Whereverthere are knocks going there is Sammy in the heart of it. But who are theseill-faced rogues who block the path? To your kennelscanaille! What! you darelook us in the eyes? Out swordsladsand give them the flat of them! Waste notyour shafts upon such runagate knaves."

There was little fight left in the peasantshoweverstill dazed by theexplosionamazed at their own losses and disheartened by the arrival of thedisciplined archers. In a very few minutes they were in full flight for theirbrushwood homesleaving the morning sun to rise upon a blackened andblood-stained ruinwhere it had left the night before the magnificent castle ofthe Seneschal of Auvergne. Already the white lines in the east were deepeninginto pink as the archers gathered round the keep and took counsel how to rescuethe survivors.

"Had we a rope" said Alleyne"there is one side which is notyet on firedown which we might slip."

"But how to get a rope?"

"It is an old trick" quoth Aylward. "Hola! Johnstoncast meup a ropeeven as you did at Maupertius in the war time."

The grizzled archer thus addressed took several lengths of rope from hiscomradesand knotting them firmly togetherhe stretched them out in the longshadow which the rising sun threw from the frowning keep. Then he fixed theyew-stave of his bow upon end and measured the longthinblack line which itthrew upon the turf.

"A six-foot stave throws a twelve-foot shadow" he muttered."The keep throws a shadow of sixty paces. Thirty paces of rope will be enowand to spare. Another strandWatkin! Now pull at the end that all may be safe.So! It is ready for them.'

"But how are they to reach it?" asked the young archer beside him.

"Watch and seeyoung fool's-head" growled the old bowman. He tooka long string from his pouch and fastened one end to an arrow.

"All readySamkin?"

"Readycamarade."

"Close to your hand then." With an easy pull he sent the shaftflickering gently upfalling upon the stonework within a foot of where Aylwardwas standing. The other end was secured to the ropeso that in a minute a goodstrong cord was dangling from the only sound side of the blazing and shatteredtower. The Lady Tiphaine was lowered with a noose drawn fast under the armsandthe other five slid swiftly downamid the cheers and joyous outcry of theirrescuers.

Chapter 32 - How The Company Took Counsel Round The Fallen Tree

 


 

"WHERE is Sir Claude Latour?" asked Sir Nigelas his feet touchedground.

"He is in campnear Montpezattwo hours' march from heremy fairlord" said Johnstonthe grizzled bowman who commanded the archers.

"Then we shall march thitherfor I would fain have you all back at Daxin time to be in the prince's vanguard."

"My lord" cried Alleynejoyfully"here are our chargers inthe fieldand I see your harness amid the plunder which these rogues have leftbehind them."

"By Saint Ives! you speak soothyoung squire" said Du Guesclin."There is my horse and my lady's jennet. The knaves led them from thestablesbut fled without them. NowNigelit is great joy to me to have seenone of whom I have often heard. Yet we must leave you nowfor I must be withthe King of Spain ere your army crosses the mountains."

"I had thought that you were in Spain with the valiant Henry ofTrastamare."

"I have been therebut I came to France to raise succor for him. Ishall ride backNigelwith four thousand of the best lances of France at mybackso that your prince may find he hath a task which is worthy of him. God bewith youfriendand may we meet again in better times!"

"I do not think" said Sir Nigelas he stood by Alleyne's sidelooking after the French knight and his lady"that in all Christendom youwill meet with a more stout-hearted man or a fairer and sweeter dame. But yourface is pale and sadAlleyne! Have you perchance met with some hurt during theruffle?"

"Naymy fair lordI was but thinking of my friend Fordand how he satupon my couch no later than yesternight."

Sir Nigel shook his head sadly. "Two brave squires have I lost"said he. "I know not why the young shoots should be pluckedand an oldweed left standingyet certes there must be come good reasonsince God hath soplanned it. Did you not noteAlleynethat the Lady Tiphaine did give uswarning last night that danger was coming upon us?"

"She didmy lord."

"By Saint Paul! my mind misgives me as to what she saw at Twyham Castle.And yet I cannot think that any Scottish or French rovers could land in suchforce as to beleaguer the fortalice. Call the Company togetherAylward; and letus onfor it will be shame to us if we are not at Dax upon the trystingday."

The archers had spread themselves over the ruinsbut a blast upon a buglebrought them all back to musterwith such booty as they could bear with themstuffed into their pouches or slung over their shoulders. As they formed intorankseach man dropping silently into his placeSir Nigel ran a questioningeye over themand a smile of pleasure played over his face. Tall and sinewyand brownclear-eyedhard-featuredwith the stern and prompt bearing ofexperienced soldiersit would be hard indeed for a leader to seek for a choicerfollowing. Here and there in the ranks were old soldiers of the French warsgrizzled and leanwith fiercepuckered features and shaggybristling brows.The mosthoweverwere young and dandy archerswith fresh English facestheirbeards combed outtheir hair curling from under their close steel hufkenswithgold or jewelled earrings gleaming in their earswhile their gold-spangledbaldricstheir silken beltsand the chains which many of them wore round theirthick brown necksall spoke of the brave times which they had had as freecompanions. Each had a yew or hazel stave slung over his shoulderplain andserviceable with the older menbut gaudily painted and carved at either endwith the others. Steel capsmail brigandineswhite surcoats with the red lionof St. Georgeand sword or battle-axe swinging from their beltscompleted thisequipmentwhile in some cases the murderous maule or five-foot mallet was hungacross the bowstavebeing fastened to their leathern shoulder-belt by a hook inthe centre of the handle. Sir Nigel's heart beat high as he looked upon theirfree bearing and fearless faces.

For two hours they marched through forest and marshlandalong the left bankof the river Aveyron; Sir Nigel riding behind his Companywith Alleyne at hisright handand Johnstonthe old master bowmanwalking by his left stirrup.Ere they had reached their journey's end the knight had learned all that hewould know of his mentheir doings and their intentions. Onceas they marchedthey saw upon the further bank of the river a body of French men-at-armsridingvery swiftly in the direction of Villefranche.

"It is the Seneschal of Toulousewith his following" saidJohnstonshading his eyes with his hand. "Had he been on this side of thewater he might have attempted something upon us."

"I think that it would be well that we should cross" said SirNigel. "It were pity to balk this worthy seneschalshould he desire to trysome small feat of arms."

"Naythere is no ford nearer than Tourville" answered the oldarcher. "He is on his way to Villefrancheand short will be the shrift ofany Jacks who come into his handsfor he is a man of short speech. It was heand the Seneschal of Beaucair who hung Peter Wilkinsof the CompanylastLammastide; for whichby the black rood of Waltham! they shall hang themselvesif ever they come into our power. But here are our comradesSir Nigeland hereis our camp."

As he spokethe forest pathway along which they marched opened out into agreen gladewhich sloped down towards the river. Highleafless trees girt itin on three sideswith a thick undergrowth of holly between their trunks. Atthe farther end of this forest clearing there stood forty or fifty hutsbuiltvery neatly from wood and claywith the blue smoke curling out from the roofs.A dozen tethered horses and mules grazed around the encampmentwhile a numberof archers lounged about: some shooting at markswhile others built up greatwooden fires in the openand hung their cooking kettles above them. At thesight of their returning comrades there was a shout of welcomeand a horsemanwho had been exercising his charger behind the campcame cantering down tothem. He was a dapperbrisk manvery richly cladwith a roundclean-shavenfaceand very bright black eyeswhich danced and sparkled with excitement.

"Sir Nigel!" he cried. "Sir Nigel Loringat last! By my soulwe have awaited you this month past. Right welcomeSir Nigel! You have had myletter?"

"It was that which brought me here" said Sir Nigel. "ButindeedSir Claude Latourit is a great wonder to me that you did not yourselflead these bowmenfor surely they could have found no better leader?"

"Nonenoneby the Virgin of L'Esparre!" he criedspeaking in thestrangethick Gascon speech which turns every _v_ into a _b_. "But youknow what these islanders of yours areSir Nigel. They will not be led by anysave their own blood and race. There is no persuading them. Not even IClaudeLetour Seigneur of Montchateaumaster of the high justicethe middle and thelowcould gain their favor. They must needs hold a council and put their twohundred thick heads togetherand then there comes this fellow Aylward andanotheras their spokesmento say that they will disband unless an Englishmanof good name be set over them. There are many of themas I understandwho comefrom some great forest which lies in Hampior Hampti--I cannot lay my tongue tothe name. Your dwelling is in those partsand so their thoughts turned to youas their leader. But we had hoped that you would bring a hundred men withyou."

"They are already at Daxwhere we shall join them" said SirNigel. "But let the men break their fastand we shall then take counselwhat to do."

"Come into my hut" said Sir Claude. "It is but poor fare thatI can lay before you--milkcheesewineand bacon--yet your squire andyourself will doubtless excuse it. This is my house where the pennon fliesbefore the door--a small residence to contain the Lord of Montchateau."

Sir Nigel sat silent and distrait at his mealwhile Alleyne hearkened to theclattering tongue of the Gasconand to his talk of the glories of his ownestatehis successes in loveand his triumphs in war.

"And now that you are hereSir Nigel" he said at last"Ihave many fine ventures all ready for us. I have heard that Montpezat is of nogreat strengthand that there are two hundred thousand crowns in the castle. AtCastelnau also there is a cobbler who is in my payand who will throw us a ropeany dark night from his house by the town wall. I promise you that you shallthrust your arms elbow-deep among good silver pieces ere the nights are moonlessagain; for on every hand of us are fair womenrich wineand good plunderasmuch as heart could wish."

"I have other plans" answered Sir Nigel curtly; "for I havecome hither to lead these bowmen to the help of the princeour masterwho mayhave sore need of them ere he set Pedro upon the throne of Spain. It is mypurpose to start this very day for Dax upon the Adourwhere he hath now pitchedhis camp."

The face of the Gascon darkenedand his eyes flashed with resentment"For me" he said"I care little for this warand I find thelife which I lead a very joyous and pleasant one. I will not go to Dax."

"Naythink againSir Claude" said Sir Nigel gently; "foryou have ever had the name of a true and loyal knight. Surely you will not holdback now when your master hath need of you."

"I will not go to Dax" the other shouted.

"But your devoir--your oath of fealty?"

"I say that I will not go."

"ThenSir ClaudeI must lead the Company without you."

"If they will follow" cried the Gascon with a sneer. "Theseare not hired slavesbut free companionswho will do nothing save by their owngood wills. In very soothmy Lord Loringthey are ill men to trifle withandit were easier to pluck a bone from a hungry bear than to lead a bowman out of aland of plenty and of pleasure."

"Then I pray you to gather them together" said Sir Nigel"and I will tell them what is in my mind; for if I am their leader theymust to Daxand if I am not then I know not what I am doing in Auvergne. Havemy horse readyAlleyne; forby St. Paul! come what mayI must be upon thehomeward road ere mid-day."

A blast upon the bugle summoned the bowmen to counseland they gathered inlittle knots and groups around a great fallen tree which lay athwart the glade.Sir Nigel sprang lightly upon the trunkand stood with blinking eye and firmlips looking down at the ring of upturned warlike faces.

"They tell mebowmen" said he"that ye have grown so fondof ease and plunder and high living that ye are not to be moved from thispleasant country. Butby Saint Paul! I will believe no such thing of youfor Ican readily see that you are all very valiant menwho would scorn to live herein peace when your prince hath so great a venture before him. Ye have chosen meas a leaderand a leader I will be if ye come with me to Spain; and I vow toyou that my pennon of the five roses shallif God give me strength and lifebeever where there is most honor to be gained. But if it be your wish to loll andloiter in these gladesbartering glory and renown for vile gold and ill-gottenrichesthen ye must find another leader; for I have lived in honorand inhonor I trust that I shall die. If there be forest men or Hampshire men amongstyeI call upon them to say whether they will follow the banner of Loring."

"Here's a Romsey man for you!" cried a young bowman with a sprig ofevergreen set in his helmet.

"And a lad from Alresford!" shouted another.

"And from Milton!"

"And from Burley!"

"And from Lymington!"

"And a little one from Brockenhurst!" shouted a huge-limbed fellowwho sprawled beneath a tree.

"By my hilt! lads" cried Aylwardjumping upon the fallen trunk"I think that we could not look the girls in the eyes if we let the princecross the mountains and did not pull string to clear a path for him. It is verywell in time of peace to lead such a life as we have had togetherbut now thewar-banner is in the wind once moreandby these ten finger-bones! if he goaloneold Samkin Aylward will walk beside it."

These words from a man as popular as Aylward decided many of the waverersand a shout of approval burst from his audience.

"Far be it from me" said Sir Claude Latour suavely"topersuade you against this worthy archeror against Sir Nigel Loring; yet wehave been together in many venturesand per-chance it may not be amiss if I sayto you what I think upon the matter."

"Peace for the little Gascon!" cried the archers. "Let everyman have his word. Shoot straight for the markladand fair play forall."

"Bethink youthen" said Sir Claude"that you go under ahard rulewith neither freedom nor pleasure--and for what? For sixpence a dayat the most; while now you may walk across the country and stretch out eitherhand to gather in whatever you have a mind for. What do we not hear of ourcomrades who have gone with Sir John Hawkwood to Italy? In one night they haveheld to ransom six hundred of the richest noblemen of Mantua. They camp before agreat cityand the base burghers come forth with the keysand then they makegreat spoil; orif it please them betterthey take so many horse-loads ofsilver as a composition; and so they journey on from state to staterich andfree and feared by all. Nowis not that the proper life for a soldier?"

"The proper life for a robber!" roared Hordle Johnin histhundering voice.

"And yet there is much in what the Gascon says" said a swarthyfellow in a weather-stained doublet; "and I for one would rather prosper inItaly than starve in Spain."

"You were always a cur and a traitorMark Shaw" cried Aylward."By my hilt! if you will stand forth and draw your sword I will warrant youthat you will see neither one nor the other."

"NayAylward" said Sir Nigel"we cannot mend the matter bybroiling. Sir ClaudeI think that what you have said does you little honorandif my words aggrieve you I am ever ready to go deeper into the matter with you.But you shall have such men as will follow youand you may go where you willso that you come not with us. Let all who love their prince and country standfastwhile those who think more of a well-lined purse step forth upon thefarther side."

Thirteen bowmenwith hung heads and sheepish facesstepped forward withMark Shaw and ranged themselves behind Sir Claude. Amid the hootings andhissings of their comradesthey marched off together to the Gascon's hutwhilethe main body broke up their meeting and set cheerily to work packing theirpossessionsfurbishing their weaponsand preparing for the march which laybefore them. Over the Tarn and the Garonnethrough the vast quagmires ofArmagnacpast the swift-flowing Losseand so down the long valley of theAdourthere was many a long league to be crossed ere they could join themselvesto that dark war-cloud which was drifting slowly southwards to the line of thesnowy peaksbeyond which the banner of England had never yet been seen.

Chapter 33 - How The Army Made The Passage Of Roncesvalles

 


 

THE whole vast plain of Gascony and of Languedoc is an arid and profitlessexpanse in winter save where the swift-flowing Adour and her snow-fedtributariesthe Loutsthe Oloron and the Paurun down to the sea of Biscay.South of the Adour the jagged line of mountains which fringe the sky-line sendout long granite clawsrunning down into the lowlands and dividing them into"gaves" or stretches of valley. Hillocks grow into hillsand hillsinto mountainseach range overlying its neighboruntil they soar up in thegiant chain which raises its spotless and untrodden peakswhite and dazzlingagainst the pale blue wintry sky.

A quiet land is this--a land where the slow-moving Basquewith his flatbiretta-caphis red sash and his hempen sandalstills his scanty farm ordrives his lean flock to their hill-side pastures. It is the country of the wolfand the isardof the brown bear and the mountain-goata land of bare rock andof rushing water. Yet here it was that the will of a great prince had nowassembled a gallant army; so that from the Adour to the passes of Navarre thebarren valleys and wind-swept wastes were populous with soldiers and loud withthe shouting of orders and the neighing of horses. For the banners of war hadbeen flung to the wind once moreand over those glistening peaks was thehighway along which Honor pointed in an age when men had chosen her as theirguide.

And now all was ready for the enterprise. From Dax to St. Jean Pied-du-Portthe country was mottled with the white tents of GasconsAquitanians andEnglishall eager for the advance. From all sides the free companions hadtrooped inuntil not less than twelve thousand of these veteran troops werecantoned along the frontiers of Navarre. From England had arrived the prince'sbrotherthe Duke of Lancasterwith four hundred knights in his train and astrong company of archers. Above allan heir to the throne had been born inBordeauxand the prince might leave his spouse with an easy mindfor all waswell with mother and with child.

The keys of the mountain passes still lay in the hands of the shifty andignoble Charles of Navarrewho had chaffered and bargained both with theEnglish and with the Spanishtaking money from the one side to hold them openand from the other to keep them sealed. The mallet hand of Edwardhoweverhadshattered all the schemes and wiles of the plotter. Neither entreaty nor courtlyremonstrance came from the English prince; but Sir Hugh Calverley passedsilently over the border with his companyand the blazing walls of the twocities of Miranda and Puenta della Reyna warned the unfaithful monarch thatthere were other metals besides goldand that he was dealing with a man to whomit was unsafe to lie. His price was paidhis objections silencedand themountain gorges lay open to the invaders. From the Feast of the Epiphany therewas mustering and massinguntilin the first week of February--three daysafter the White Company joined the army--the word was given for a generaladvance through the defile of Roncesvalles. At five in the cold winter's morningthe bugles were blowing in the hamlet of St. Jean Pied-du-Portand by six SirNigel's Companythree hundred strongwere on their way for the defilepushingswiftly in the dim light up the steep curving road; for it was the prince'sorder that they should be the first to pass throughand that they should remainon guard at the further end until the whole army had emerged from the mountains.Day was already breaking in the eastand the summits of the great peaks hadturned rosy redwhile the valleys still lay in the shadowwhen they foundthemselves with the cliffs on either hand and the longrugged pass stretchingaway before them.

Sir Nigel rode his great black war-horse at the head of his archersdressedin full armorwith Black Simon bearing his banner behind himwhile Alleyne athis bridle-arm carried his blazoned shield and his well-steeled ashen spear. Aproud and happy man was the knightand many a time he turned in his saddle tolook at the long column of bowmen who swung swiftly along behind him.

"By Saint Paul! Alleyne" said he"this pass is a veryperilous placeand I would that the King of Navarre had held it against usforit would have been a very honorable venture had it fallen to us to win apassage. I have heard the minstrels sing of one Sir Rolane who was slain by theinfidels in these very parts."

"If it please youmy fair lord" said Black Simon"I knowsomething of these partsfor I have twice served a term with the King ofNavarre. There is a hospice of monks yonderwhere you may see the roof amongthe treesand there it was that Sir Roland was slain. The village upon the leftis Orbaicetaand I know a house therein where the right wine of Jurancon is tobe boughtif it would please you to quaff a morning cup"

"There is smoke yonder upon the right."

"That is a village named Les Aldudesand I know a hostel there alsowhere the wine is of the best. It is said that the inn- keeper hath a buriedtreasureand I doubt notmy fair lordthat if you grant me leave I couldprevail upon him to tell us where he hath hid it."

"NaynaySimon" said Sir Nigel curtly"I pray you toforget these free companion tricks. Ha! EdricsonI see that you stare aboutyouand in good sooth these mountains must seem wondrous indeed to one who hathbut seen Butser or the Portsdown hill."

The broken and rugged road had wound along the crests of low hillswithwooded ridges on either side of it over which peeped the loftier mountainsthedistant Peak of the South and the vast Altabiscawhich towered high above themand cast its black shadow from left to right across the valley. From where theynow stood they could look forward down a long vista of beech woods and jaggedrock-strewn wildernessall white with snowto where the pass opened out uponthe uplands beyond. Behind them they could still catch a glimpse of the grayplains of Gasconyand could see her rivers gleaming like coils of silver in thesunshine. As far as eye could see from among the rocky gorges and the bristlesof the pine woods there came the quick twinkle and glitter of steelwhile thewind brought with it sudden distant bursts of martial music from the great hostwhich rolled by every road and by-path towards the narrow pass of Roncesvalles.On the cliffs on either side might also be seen the flash of arms and the wavingof pennons where the force of Navarre looked down upon the army of strangers whopassed through their territories.

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigelblinking up at them"I thinkthat we have much to hope for from these cavaliersfor they cluster verythickly upon our flanks. Pass word to the menAylwardthat they unsling theirbowsfor I have no doubt that there are some very worthy gentlemen yonder whomay give us some opportunity for honorable advancement."

"I hear that the prince hath the King of Navarre as hostage" saidAlleyne"and it is said that he hath sworn to put him to death if there beany attack upon us."

"It was not so that war was made when good King Edward first turned hishand to it" said Sir Nigel sadly. "Ah! AlleyneI fear that you willnever live to see such thingsfor the minds of men are more set upon money andgain than of old. By Saint Paul! it was a noble sight when two great armieswould draw together upon a certain dayand all who had a vow would ride forthto discharge themselves of it. What noble spear-runnings have I not seenandeven in an humble way had a part inwhen cavaliers would run a course for theeasing of their souls and for the love of their ladies! Never a bad word have Ifor the Frenchforthough I have ridden twenty times up to their arrayI havenever yet failed to find some very gentle and worthy knight or squire who waswilling to do what he might to enable me to attempt some small feat of arms.Thenwhen all cavaliers had been satisfiedthe two armies would come tohand-strokesand fight right merrily until one or other had the vantage. BySaint Paul! it was not our wont in those days to pay gold for the opening ofpassesnor would we hold a king as hostage lest his people come to thrusts withus. In good soothif the war is to be carried out in such a fashionthen it isgrief to me that I ever came away from Castle Twynhamfor I would not have leftmy sweet lady had I not thought that there were deeds of arms to be done."

"But surelymy fair lord" said Alleyne"you have done somegreat feats of arms since we left the Lady Loring."

"I cannot call any to mind" answered Sir Nigel.

"There was the taking of the sea-roversand the holding of the keepagainst the Jacks."

"Naynay" said the knight"these were not feats of armsbut mere wayside ventures and the chances of travel. By Saint Paul! if it werenot that these hills are over-steep for PommersI would ride to these cavaliersof Navarre and see if there were not some among them who would help me to takethis patch from mine eye. It is a sad sight to see this very fine passwhich myown Company here could hold against an armyand yet to ride through it with aslittle profit as though it were the lane from my kennels to the Avon."

All morning Sir Nigel rode in a very ill-humorwith his Company trampingbehind him. It was a toilsome march over broken ground and through snowwhichcame often as high as the kneeyet ere the sun had begun to sink they hadreached the spot where the gorge opens out on to the uplands of Navarreandcould see the towers of Pampeluna jutting up against the southern sky-line. Herethe Company were quartered in a scattered mountain hamletand Alleyne spent theday looking down upon the swarming army which poured with gleam of spears andflaunt of standards through the narrow pass.

"Holamon gar." said Aylwardseating himself upon a boulder byhis side. "This is indeed a fine sight upon which it is good to lookand aman might go far ere he would see so many brave men and fine horses. By my hilt!our little lord is wroth because we have come peacefully through the passesbutI will warrant him that we have fighting enow ere we turn our faces northwardagain. It is said that there are four-score thousand men behind the King ofSpainwith Du Guesclin and all the best lances of Francewho have sworn toshed their heart's blood ere this Pedro come again to the throne."

"Yet our own army is a great one" said Alleyne.

"Naythere are but seven-and-twenty thousand men. Chandos hathpersuaded the prince to leave many behindand indeed I think that he is rightfor there is little food and less water in these parts for which we are bound. Aman without his meat or a horse without his fodder is like a wet bow-stringfitfor little. But voilamon petithere comes Chandos and his companyand thereis many a pensil and banderole among yonder squadrons which show that the bestblood of England is riding under his banners."

Whilst Aylward had been speakinga strong column of archers had defiledthrough the pass beneath them. They were followed by a banner-bearer who heldhigh the scarlet wedge upon a silver field which proclaimed the presence of thefamous warrior. He rode himself within a spear's-length of his standardcladfrom neck to foot in steelbut draped in the long linen gown or parement whichwas destined to be the cause of his death. His plumed helmet was carried behindhim by his body-squireand his head was covered by a small purple capfromunder which his snow- white hair curled downwards to his shoulders. With hislong beak-like nose and his single gleaming eyewhich shone brightly from undera thick tuft of grizzled browhe seemed to Alleyne to have something of thelook of some fierce old bird of prey. For a moment he smiledas his eye litupon the banner of the five roses waving from the hamlet; but his course lay forPampelunaand he rode on after the archers.

Close at his heels came sixteen squiresall chosen from the highestfamiliesand behind them rode twelve hundred English knightswith gleam ofsteel and tossing of plumestheir harness jinglingtheir long straight swordsclanking against their stirrup-ironsand the beat of their chargers' hoofs likethe low deep roar of the sea upon the shore. Behind them marched six hundredCheshire and Lancashire archersbearing the badge of the Audleysfollowed bythe famous Lord Audley himselfwith the four valiant squiresDutton of DuttonDelves of DoddingtonFowlehurst of Creweand Hawkstone of Wainehillwho hadall won such glory at Poictiers. Two hundred heavily-armed cavalry rode behindthe Audley standardwhile close at their heels came the Duke of Lancaster witha glittering trainheralds tabarded with the royal arms riding three deep uponcream-colored chargers in front of him. On either side of the young prince rodethe two seneschals of AquitaineSir Guiscard d'Angle and Sir StephenCossingtonthe one bearing the banner of the province and the other that ofSaint George. Away behind him as far as eye could reach rolled thefar-stretchingunbroken river of steel-rank after rank and column after columnwith waving of plumesglitter of armstossing of guidonsand flash andflutter of countless armorial devices. All day Alleyne looked down upon thechanging sceneand all day the old bowman stood by his elbowpointing out thecrests of famous warriors and the arms of noble houses. Here were the goldmullets of the Pakingtonsthe sable and ermine of the Mackworthsthe scarletbars of the Wakesthe gold and blue of the Grosvenorsthe cinque-foils of theCliftonsthe annulets of the Musgravesthe silver pinions of the Beauchampsthe crosses of the Molineux the bloody chevron of the Woodhousesthe red andsilver of the Worsleysthe swords of the Clarksthe boars'-heads of theLuciesthe crescents of the Boyntonsand the wolf and dagger of the Lipscombs.So through the sunny winter day the chivalry of England poured down through thedark pass of Roncesvalles to the plains of Spain.

It was on a Monday that the Duke of Lancaster's division passed safelythrough the Pyrenees. On the Tuesday there was a bitter frostand the groundrung like iron beneath the feet of the horses; yet ere evening the princehimselfwith the main battle of his armyhad passed the gorge and united withhis vanguard at Pampeluna. With him rode the King of Majorcathe hostage Kingof Navarreand the fierce Don Pedro of Spainwhose pale blue eyes gleamed witha sinister light as they rested once more upon the distant peaks of the landwhich had disowned him. Under the royal banners rode many a bold Gascon baronand many a hot- blooded islander. Here were the high stewards of AquitaineofSaintongeof La Rochelleof Quercyof Limousinof Agenoisof Poitouand ofBigorrewith the banners and musters of their provinces. Here also were thevaliant Earl of AngusSir Thomas Banaster with his garter over his greaveSirNele Loringsecond cousin to Sir Nigeland a long column of Welsh footmen whomarched under the red banner of Merlin. From dawn to sundown the long trainwound through the passtheir breath reeking up upon the frosty air like thesteam from a cauldron.

The weather was less keen upon the Wednesdayand the rear-guard made goodtheir passagewith the bombards and the wagon-train. Free companions andGascons made up this portion of the army to the number of ten thousand men. Thefierce Sir Hugh Calverleywith his yellow maneand the rugged Sir RobertKnolleswith their war-hardened and veteran companies of English bowmenheadedthe long column; while behind them came the turbulent bands of the Bastard ofBreteuil Nandon de Bagerantone-eyed CamusBlack OrtingoLa Nuit and otherswhose very names seem to smack of hard hands and ruthless deeds. With them alsowere the pick of the Gascon chivalry--the old Duc d'Armagnachis nephew Lordd'Albretbrooding and scowling over his wrongsthe giant Oliver de Clissonthe Captal de Buchpink of knighthoodthe sprightly Sir Perducas d'Albertthered-bearded Lord d'Esparreand a long train of needy and grasping bordernobleswith long pedigrees and short purseswho had come down from their hill-side strongholdsall hungering for the spoils and the ransoms of Spain. By theThursday morning the whole army was encamped in the Vale of Pampelunaand theprince had called his council to meet him in the old palace of the ancient cityof Navarre.

Chapter 34 - How The Company Made Sport In The Vale Of Pampeluna

 


 

WHILST the council was sitting in Pampeluna the White Companyhavingencamped in a neighboring valleyclose to the companies of La Nuit and of BlackOrtingowere amusing themselves with sword-playwrestlingand shooting at theshieldswhich they had placed upon the hillside to serve them as butts. Theyounger archerswith their coats of mail thrown asidetheir brown or flaxenhair tossing in the windand their jerkins turned back to give free play totheir brawny chests and armsstood in lineseach loosing his shaft in turnwhile JohnstonAylwardBlack Simonand half-a-score of the elders lounged upand down with critical eyesand a word of rough praise or of curt censure forthe marksmen. Behind stood knots of Gascon and Brabant crossbowmen from thecompanies of Ortingo and of La Nuitleaning upon their unsightly weapons andwatching the practice of the Englishmen.

"A good shotHewetta good shot!" said old Johnston to a youngbowmanwho stood with his bow in his left handgazing with parted lips afterhis flying shaft. "You seeshe finds the ringas I knew she would fromthe moment that your string twanged."

"Loose it easysteadyand yet sharp" said Aylward. "By myhilt! mon gar.it is very well when you do but shoot at a shield. but whenthere is a man behind the shieldand he rides at you with wave of sword andglint of eyes from behind his vizoryou may find him a less easy mark."

"It is a mark that I have found before now" answered the youngbowman.

"And shall againcamaradeI doubt not. But hola! Johnstonwho is thiswho holds his bow like a crow-keeper?"

"It is Silas Petersonof Horsham. Do not wink with one eye and lookwith the otherSilasand do not hop and dance after you shootwith yourtongue outfor that will not speed it upon its way. Stand straight and firmasGod made you. Move not the bow armand steady with the drawing hand!"

"I' faith" said Black Simon"I am a spearman myselfand ammore fitted for hand-strokes than for such work as this. Yet I have spent mydays among bowmenand I have seen many a brave shaft sped. I will not say butthat we have some good marksmen hereand that this Company would be accounted afine body of archers at any time or place. Yet I do not see any men who bend sostrong a bow or shoot as true a shaft as those whom I have known."

"You say sooth" said Johnstonturning his seamed and grizzledface upon the man-at-arms. "See yonder" he addedpointing to abombard which lay within the camp: "there is what hath done scath to goodbowmanshipwith its filthy soot and foolish roaring mouth. I wonder that a trueknightlike our princeshould carry such a scurvy thing in his train. Robinthou red-headed lurdenhow oft must I tell thee not to shoot straight with aquarter-wind blowing across the mark?"

"By these ten finger-bones! there were some fine bowmen at the intakingof Calais" said Aylward. "I well remember thaton occasion of anoutfalla Genoan raised his arm over his mantletand shook it at usa hundredpaces from our line. There were twenty who loosed shafts at himand when theman was afterwards slain it was found that he had taken eighteen through hisforearm."

"And I can call to mind" remarked Johnston"that when thegreat cog 'Christopher' which the French had taken from uswas moored twohundred paces from the shoretwo archerslittle Robin Withstaff and EliasBaddlesmerein four shots each cut every strand of her hempen anchor-cordsothat she well-nigh came upon the rocks."

"Good shootingi' faith rare shooting!" said Black Simon."But I have seen youJohnstonand youSamkin Aylwartand one or twoothers who are still with usshoot as well as the best. Was it not youJohnstonwho took the fat ox at Finsbury butts against the pick of Londontown?"

A sunburnt and black-eyed Brabanter had stood near the old archersleaningupon a large crossbow and listening to their talkwhich had been carried on inthat hybrid camp dialect which both nations could understand. He was a squatbull-necked manclad in the iron helmetmail tunicand woollen gambesson ofhis class. A jacket with hanging sleevesslashed with velvet at the neck andwristsshowed that he was a man of some considerationan under-officerorfile-leader of his company.

"I cannot think" said he"why you English should be so fondof your six-foot stick. If it amuse you to bend itwell and good; but whyshould I strain and pullwhen my little moulinet will do all for meand betterthan I can do it for myself?"

"I have seen good shooting with the prod and with the latch" saidAylward"butby my hilt! camaradewith all respect to you and to yourbowI think that is but a woman's weaponwhich a woman can point and loose aseasily as a man."

"I know not about that" answered the Brabanter"but this Iknowthat though I have served for fourteen yearsI have never yet seen anEnglishman do aught with the long-bow which I could not do better with myarbalest. By the three kings! I would even go furtherand say that I have donethings with my arbalest which no Englishman could do with his long-bow."

"Well saidmon gar." cried Aylward. "A good cock has ever abrave call. NowI have shot little of latebut there is Johnston here who willtry a round with you for the honor of the Company."

"And I will lay a gallon of Jurancon wine upon the long-bow" saidBlack Simon"though I had ratherfor my own drinkingthat it were aquart of Twynham ale."

"I take both your challenge and your wager" said the man ofBrabantthrowing off his jacket and glancing keenly about him with his blacktwinkling eyes. "I cannot see any fitting markfor I care not to waste abolt upon these shieldswhich a drunken boor could not miss at a villagekermesse."

"This is a perilous man" whispered an English man-at-armsplucking at Aylward's sleeve. "He is the best marksman of all the crossbowcompanies and it was he who brought down the Constable de Bourbon at BrignaisIfear that your man will come by little honor with him."

"Yet I have seen Johnston shoot these twenty yearsand I will notflinch from it. How say youold warhoundwill you not have a flight shot ortwo with this springald?"

"TuttutAylward" said the old bowman. " My day is pastand it is for the younger ones to hold what we have gained. I take it unkindlyof theeSamkinthat thou shouldst call all eyes thus upon a broken bowman whocould once shoot a fair shaft. Let me feel that bowWilkins! It is a ScotchbowI seefor the upper nock is without and the lower within. By the blackrood! it is a good piece of yewwell nockedwell strungwell waxedand veryjoyful to the feel. I think even now that I might hit any large and goodly markwith a bow like this. Turn thy quiver to meAylward. I love an ash arrowpierced with cornel-wood for a roving shaft."

"By my hilt! and so do I" cried Aylward. "These three gander-winged shafts are such."

"So I seecomrade. It has been my wont to choose a saddle- backedfeather for a dead shaftand a swine-backed for a smooth flier. I will take thetwo of them. Ah! Samkinladthe eye grows dim and the hand less firm as theyears pass."

"Come thenare you not ready?" said the Brabanterwho had watchedwith ill-concealed impatience the slow and methodic movements of his antagonist.

"I will venture a rover with youor try long-butts or hoyles"said old Johnston. "To my mind the long-bow is a better weapon than thearbalestbut it may be ill for me to prove it."

"So I think" quoth the other with a sneer. He drew his moulinetfrom his girdleand fixing it to the windlasshe drew back the powerful doublecord until it had clicked into the catch. Then from his quiver he drew a shortthick quarrelwhich he placed with the utmost care upon the groove. Word hadspread of what was going forwardand the rivals were already surroundednotonly by the English archers of the Companybut by hundreds of arbalestiers andmen-at-arms from the bands of Ortingo and La Nuitto the latter of which theBrabanter belonged.

"There is a mark yonder on the hill" said he; "mayhap you candiscern it."

"I see something" answered Johnstonshading his eyes with hishand; "but it is a very long shoot."

"A fair shoot--a fair shoot! Stand asideArnaudlest you find a boltthrough your gizzard. NowcomradeI take no flight shotand I give you thevantage of watching my shaft."

As he spoke he raised his arbalest to his shoulder and was about to pull thetriggerwhen a large gray stork flapped heavily into view skimming over thebrow of the hilland then soaring up into the air to pass the valley. Itsshrill and piercing cries drew all eyes upon itandas it came nearera darkspot which circled above it resolved itself into a peregrine falconwhichhovered over its headpoising itself from time to timeand watching its chanceof closing with its clumsy quarry. Nearer and nearer came the two birdsallabsorbed in their own contestthe stork wheeling upwardsthe hawk stillfluttering above ituntil they were not a hundred paces from the camp. TheBrabanter raised his weapon to the skyand there came the shortdeep twang ofhis powerful string. His bolt struck the stork just where its wing meets thebodyand the bird whirled aloft in a last convulsive flutter before fallingwounded and flapping to the earth. A roar of applause burst from thecrossbowmen; but at the instant that the bolt struck its mark old Johnstonwhohad stood listlessly with arrow on stringbent his bow and sped a shaft throughthe body of the falcon. Whipping the other from his belthe sent it skimmingsome few feet from the earth with so true an aim that it struck and transfixedthe stork for the second time ere it could reach the ground. A deep-chestedshout of delight burst from the archers at the sight of this double featandAylwarddancing with joythrew his arms round the old marksman and embracedhim with such vigor that their mail tunics clanged again.

"Ah! camarade" he cried"you shall have a stoup with me forthis! What thenold dogwould not the hawk please theebut thou must have thestork as well. Ohto my heart again!"

"It is a pretty piece of yewand well strung" said Johnston witha twinkle in his deep-set gray eyes. "Even an old broken bowman might findthe clout with a bow like this."

"You have done very well" remarked the Brabanter in a surly voice."But it seems to me that you have not yet shown yourself to be a bettermarksman than Ifor I have struck that at which I aimedandby the threekings! no man can do more."

"It would ill beseem me to claim to be a better marksman" answeredJohnston"for I have heard great things of your skill. I did but wish toshow that the long-bow could do that which an arbalest could not dofor youcould not with your moulinet have your string ready to speed another shaft erethe bird drop to the earth."

"In that you have vantage" said the crossbowman. "By SaintJames! it is now my turn to show you where my weapon has the better of you. Ipray you to draw a flight shaft with all your strength down the valleythat wemay see the length of your shoot."

"That is a very strong prod of yours" said Johnstonshaking hisgrizzled head as he glanced at the thick arch and powerful strings of hisrival's arbalest. "I have little doubt that you can overshoot meand yet Ihave seen bowmen who could send a cloth-yard arrow further than you could speeda quarrel."

"So I have heard" remarked the Brabanter; "and yet it is astrange thing that these wondrous bowmen are never where I chance to be. Paceout the distances with a wand at every five scoreand do youArnaudstand atthe fifth wand to carry back my bolts to me."

A line was measured down the valleyand Johnstondrawing an arrow to thevery headsent it whistling over the row of wands.

"Bravely drawn! A rare shoot!" shouted the bystanders.

"It is well up to the fourth mark."

"By my hilt! it is over it" cried Aylward. "I can see wherethey have stooped to gather up the shaft."

"We shall hear anon" said Johnston quietlyand presently a youngarcher came running to say that the arrow had fallen twenty paces beyond thefourth wand.

"Four hundred paces and a score" cried Black Simon. "I'faithit is a very long flight. Yet wood and steel may do more than flesh andblood."

The Brabanter stepped forward with a smile of conscious triumphand loosedthe cord of his weapon. A shout burst from his comrades as they watched theswift and lofty flight of the heavy bolt.

"Over the fourth!" groaned Aylward. "By my hilt! I think thatit is well up to the fifth."

"It is over the fifth!" cried a Gascon loudlyand a comrade camerunning with waving arms to say that the bolt had pitched eight paces beyond themark of the five hundred.

"Which weapon hath the vantage now?" cried the BrabanterStruttingproudly about with shouldered arbalestamid the applause of his companions.

"You can overshoot me" said Johnston gently.

"Or any other man who ever bent a long-bow" cried his victoriousadversary.

"Naynot so fast" said a huge archerwhose mighty shoulders andred head towered high above the throng of his comrades. "I must have a wordwith you ere you crow so loudly. Where is my little popper? By sainted Dick ofHampole! it will be a strange thing if I cannot outshoot that thing of thinewhich to my eyes is more like a rat-trap than a bow. Will you try anotherflightor do you stand by your last?"

"Five hundred and eight paces will serve my turn" answered theBrabanterlooking askance at this new opponent.

"TutJohn" whispered Aylward"you never were a marksman.Why must you thrust your spoon into this dish?"

"Easy and slowAylward. There are very many things which I cannot dobut there are also one or two which I have the trick of. It is in my mind that Ican beat this shootif my bow will but hold together."

"Go onold babe of the woods!" "Have at itHampshire!"cried the archers laughing.

"By my soul! you may grin" cried John. "But I learned how tomake the long shoot from old Hob Miller of Milford." He took up a greatblack bowas he spokeand sitting down upon the ground he placed his two feeton either end of the stave. With an arrow fittedhe then pulled the stringtowards him with both hands until the head of the shaft was level with the wood.The great bow creaked and groaned and the cord vibrated with the tension.

"Who is this fool's-head who stands in the way of my shoot?" saidhecraning up his neck from the ground.

"He stands on the further side of my mark" answered the Brabanter"so he has little to fear from you."

"Wellthe saints assoil him!" cried John. "Though I think heis over-near to be scathed." As he spoke he raised his two feetwith thebow-stave upon their solesand his cord twanged with a deep rich hum whichmight be heard across the valley. The measurer in the distance fell flat uponhis faceand then jumping up againhe began to run in the opposite direction.

"Well shotold lad! It is indeed over his head" cried the bowmen.

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Brabanter"who ever saw such ashoot?"

"It is but a trick" quoth John. "Many a time have I won agallon of ale by covering a mile in three flights down Wilverley Chase."

"It fell a hundred and thirty paces beyond the fifth mark" shoutedan archer in the distance.

"Six hundred and thirty paces! Mon Dieu! but that is a shoot! And yet itsays nothing for your weaponmon gros camaradefor it was by turning yourselfinto a crossbow that you did it."

"By my hilt! there is truth in that" cried Aylward. "And nowfriendI will myself show you a vantage of the long-bow. I pray you to speed abolt against yonder shield with all your force. It is an inch of elm with bull'shide over it."

"I scarce shot as many shafts at Brignais" growled the man ofBrabant; "though I found a better mark there than a cantle of bull's hide.But what is thisEnglishman? The shield hangs not one hundred paces from meand a blind man could strike it." He screwed up his string to the furthestpitchand shot his quarrel at the dangling shield. Aylwardwho had drawn anarrow from his quivercarefully greased the head of itand sped it at the samemark.

"RunWilkins" quoth he"and fetch me the shield."

Long were the faces of the Englishmen and broad the laugh of the crossbowmenas the heavy mantlet was carried towards themfor there in the centre was thethick Brabant bolt driven deeply into the woodwhile there was neither sign nortrace of the cloth- yard shaft.

"By the three kings!" cried the Brabanter"this time at leastthere is no gainsaying which is the better weaponor which the truer hand thatheld it. You have missed the shieldEnglishman."

"Tarry a bit! tarry a bitmon gar.!" quoth Aylwardand turninground the shield he showed a round clear hole in the wood at the back of it."My shaft has passed through itcamaradeand I trow the one which goesthrough is more to be feared than that which bides on the way"

The Brabanter stamped his foot with mortificationand was about to make someangry replywhen Alleyne Edricson came riding up to the crowds of archers.

"Sir Nigel will be here anon" said he"and it is his wish tospeak with the Company."

In an instant order and method took the place of general confusion. Bowssteel capsand jacks were caught up from the grass. A long cordon cleared thecamp of all strangerswhile the main body fell into four lines withunder-officers and file- leaders in front and on either flank. So they stoodsilent and motionlesswhen their leader came riding towards themhis faceshining and his whole small figure swelling with the news which he bore.

"Great honor has been done to usmen" cried he: "forof allthe armythe prince has chosen us out that we should ride onwards into thelands of Spain to spy upon our enemies. Yetas there are many of usand as theservice may not be to the liking of allI pray that those will step forwardfrom the ranks who have the will to follow me."

There was a rustle among the bowmenbut when Sir Nigel looked up at them noman stood forward from his fellowsbut the four lines of men stretched unbrokenas before. Sir Nigel blinked at them in amazementand a look of the deepestsorrow shadowed his face.

"That I should live to see the day!" he cried"What! notone---- "

"My fair lord" whispered Alleyne"they have all steppedforward."

"Ahby Saint Paul! I see how it is with them. I could not think thatthey would desert me. We start at dawn to-morrowand ye are to have the horsesof Sir Robert Cheney's company. Be readyI pray yeat early cock-crow."

A buzz of delight burst from the archersas they broke their ranks and ranhither and thitherwhooping and cheering like boys who have news of a holiday.Sir Nigel gazed after them with a smiling facewhen a heavy hand fell upon hisshoulder.

"What ho! my knight-errant of Twynham!" said a voice"You areoff to EbroI hear; andby the holy fish of Tobias! you must take me underyour banner."

"What! Sir Oliver Buttesthorn!" cried Sir Nigel. "I had heardthat you were come into campand had hoped to see you. Glad and proud shall Ibe to have you with me."

"I have a most particular and weighty reason for wishing to go"said the sturdy knight.

"I can well believe it" returned Sir Nigel; "I have met noman who is quicker to follow where honor leads."

"Nayit is not for honor that I goNigel."

"For what then?"

"For pullets."

"Pullets?"

"Yesfor the rascal vanguard have cleared every hen from thecountry-side. It was this very morning that Norburymy squirelamed his horsein riding round in quest of onefor we have a bag of trufflesand nought toeat with them. Never have I seen such locusts as this vanguard of ours. Not apullet shall we see until we are in front of therm; so I shall leave myWinchester runagates to the care of the provost-marshaland I shall hie southwith youNigelwith my truffles at my saddle-bow."

"OliverOliverI know you over-well" said Sir Nigelshaking hisheadand the two old soldiers rode off together to their pavilion.

Chapter 34 - How The Company Made Sport In The Vale Of Pampeluna

 


 

WHILST the council was sitting in Pampeluna the White Companyhavingencamped in a neighboring valleyclose to the companies of La Nuit and of BlackOrtingowere amusing themselves with sword-playwrestlingand shooting at theshieldswhich they had placed upon the hillside to serve them as butts. Theyounger archerswith their coats of mail thrown asidetheir brown or flaxenhair tossing in the windand their jerkins turned back to give free play totheir brawny chests and armsstood in lineseach loosing his shaft in turnwhile JohnstonAylwardBlack Simonand half-a-score of the elders lounged upand down with critical eyesand a word of rough praise or of curt censure forthe marksmen. Behind stood knots of Gascon and Brabant crossbowmen from thecompanies of Ortingo and of La Nuitleaning upon their unsightly weapons andwatching the practice of the Englishmen.

"A good shotHewetta good shot!" said old Johnston to a youngbowmanwho stood with his bow in his left handgazing with parted lips afterhis flying shaft. "You seeshe finds the ringas I knew she would fromthe moment that your string twanged."

"Loose it easysteadyand yet sharp" said Aylward. "By myhilt! mon gar.it is very well when you do but shoot at a shield. but whenthere is a man behind the shieldand he rides at you with wave of sword andglint of eyes from behind his vizoryou may find him a less easy mark."

"It is a mark that I have found before now" answered the youngbowman.

"And shall againcamaradeI doubt not. But hola! Johnstonwho is thiswho holds his bow like a crow-keeper?"

"It is Silas Petersonof Horsham. Do not wink with one eye and lookwith the otherSilasand do not hop and dance after you shootwith yourtongue outfor that will not speed it upon its way. Stand straight and firmasGod made you. Move not the bow armand steady with the drawing hand!"

"I' faith" said Black Simon"I am a spearman myselfand ammore fitted for hand-strokes than for such work as this. Yet I have spent mydays among bowmenand I have seen many a brave shaft sped. I will not say butthat we have some good marksmen hereand that this Company would be accounted afine body of archers at any time or place. Yet I do not see any men who bend sostrong a bow or shoot as true a shaft as those whom I have known."

"You say sooth" said Johnstonturning his seamed and grizzledface upon the man-at-arms. "See yonder" he addedpointing to abombard which lay within the camp: "there is what hath done scath to goodbowmanshipwith its filthy soot and foolish roaring mouth. I wonder that a trueknightlike our princeshould carry such a scurvy thing in his train. Robinthou red-headed lurdenhow oft must I tell thee not to shoot straight with aquarter-wind blowing across the mark?"

"By these ten finger-bones! there were some fine bowmen at the intakingof Calais" said Aylward. "I well remember thaton occasion of anoutfalla Genoan raised his arm over his mantletand shook it at usa hundredpaces from our line. There were twenty who loosed shafts at himand when theman was afterwards slain it was found that he had taken eighteen through hisforearm."

"And I can call to mind" remarked Johnston"that when thegreat cog 'Christopher' which the French had taken from uswas moored twohundred paces from the shoretwo archerslittle Robin Withstaff and EliasBaddlesmerein four shots each cut every strand of her hempen anchor-cordsothat she well-nigh came upon the rocks."

"Good shootingi' faith rare shooting!" said Black Simon."But I have seen youJohnstonand youSamkin Aylwartand one or twoothers who are still with usshoot as well as the best. Was it not youJohnstonwho took the fat ox at Finsbury butts against the pick of Londontown?"

A sunburnt and black-eyed Brabanter had stood near the old archersleaningupon a large crossbow and listening to their talkwhich had been carried on inthat hybrid camp dialect which both nations could understand. He was a squatbull-necked manclad in the iron helmetmail tunicand woollen gambesson ofhis class. A jacket with hanging sleevesslashed with velvet at the neck andwristsshowed that he was a man of some considerationan under-officerorfile-leader of his company.

"I cannot think" said he"why you English should be so fondof your six-foot stick. If it amuse you to bend itwell and good; but whyshould I strain and pullwhen my little moulinet will do all for meand betterthan I can do it for myself?"

"I have seen good shooting with the prod and with the latch" saidAylward"butby my hilt! camaradewith all respect to you and to yourbowI think that is but a woman's weaponwhich a woman can point and loose aseasily as a man."

"I know not about that" answered the Brabanter"but this Iknowthat though I have served for fourteen yearsI have never yet seen anEnglishman do aught with the long-bow which I could not do better with myarbalest. By the three kings! I would even go furtherand say that I have donethings with my arbalest which no Englishman could do with his long-bow."

"Well saidmon gar." cried Aylward. "A good cock has ever abrave call. NowI have shot little of latebut there is Johnston here who willtry a round with you for the honor of the Company."

"And I will lay a gallon of Jurancon wine upon the long-bow" saidBlack Simon"though I had ratherfor my own drinkingthat it were aquart of Twynham ale."

"I take both your challenge and your wager" said the man ofBrabantthrowing off his jacket and glancing keenly about him with his blacktwinkling eyes. "I cannot see any fitting markfor I care not to waste abolt upon these shieldswhich a drunken boor could not miss at a villagekermesse."

"This is a perilous man" whispered an English man-at-armsplucking at Aylward's sleeve. "He is the best marksman of all the crossbowcompanies and it was he who brought down the Constable de Bourbon at BrignaisIfear that your man will come by little honor with him."

"Yet I have seen Johnston shoot these twenty yearsand I will notflinch from it. How say youold warhoundwill you not have a flight shot ortwo with this springald?"

"TuttutAylward" said the old bowman. " My day is pastand it is for the younger ones to hold what we have gained. I take it unkindlyof theeSamkinthat thou shouldst call all eyes thus upon a broken bowman whocould once shoot a fair shaft. Let me feel that bowWilkins! It is a ScotchbowI seefor the upper nock is without and the lower within. By the blackrood! it is a good piece of yewwell nockedwell strungwell waxedand veryjoyful to the feel. I think even now that I might hit any large and goodly markwith a bow like this. Turn thy quiver to meAylward. I love an ash arrowpierced with cornel-wood for a roving shaft."

"By my hilt! and so do I" cried Aylward. "These three gander-winged shafts are such."

"So I seecomrade. It has been my wont to choose a saddle- backedfeather for a dead shaftand a swine-backed for a smooth flier. I will take thetwo of them. Ah! Samkinladthe eye grows dim and the hand less firm as theyears pass."

"Come thenare you not ready?" said the Brabanterwho had watchedwith ill-concealed impatience the slow and methodic movements of his antagonist.

"I will venture a rover with youor try long-butts or hoyles"said old Johnston. "To my mind the long-bow is a better weapon than thearbalestbut it may be ill for me to prove it."

"So I think" quoth the other with a sneer. He drew his moulinetfrom his girdleand fixing it to the windlasshe drew back the powerful doublecord until it had clicked into the catch. Then from his quiver he drew a shortthick quarrelwhich he placed with the utmost care upon the groove. Word hadspread of what was going forwardand the rivals were already surroundednotonly by the English archers of the Companybut by hundreds of arbalestiers andmen-at-arms from the bands of Ortingo and La Nuitto the latter of which theBrabanter belonged.

"There is a mark yonder on the hill" said he; "mayhap you candiscern it."

"I see something" answered Johnstonshading his eyes with hishand; "but it is a very long shoot."

"A fair shoot--a fair shoot! Stand asideArnaudlest you find a boltthrough your gizzard. NowcomradeI take no flight shotand I give you thevantage of watching my shaft."

As he spoke he raised his arbalest to his shoulder and was about to pull thetriggerwhen a large gray stork flapped heavily into view skimming over thebrow of the hilland then soaring up into the air to pass the valley. Itsshrill and piercing cries drew all eyes upon itandas it came nearera darkspot which circled above it resolved itself into a peregrine falconwhichhovered over its headpoising itself from time to timeand watching its chanceof closing with its clumsy quarry. Nearer and nearer came the two birdsallabsorbed in their own contestthe stork wheeling upwardsthe hawk stillfluttering above ituntil they were not a hundred paces from the camp. TheBrabanter raised his weapon to the skyand there came the shortdeep twang ofhis powerful string. His bolt struck the stork just where its wing meets thebodyand the bird whirled aloft in a last convulsive flutter before fallingwounded and flapping to the earth. A roar of applause burst from thecrossbowmen; but at the instant that the bolt struck its mark old Johnstonwhohad stood listlessly with arrow on stringbent his bow and sped a shaft throughthe body of the falcon. Whipping the other from his belthe sent it skimmingsome few feet from the earth with so true an aim that it struck and transfixedthe stork for the second time ere it could reach the ground. A deep-chestedshout of delight burst from the archers at the sight of this double featandAylwarddancing with joythrew his arms round the old marksman and embracedhim with such vigor that their mail tunics clanged again.

"Ah! camarade" he cried"you shall have a stoup with me forthis! What thenold dogwould not the hawk please theebut thou must have thestork as well. Ohto my heart again!"

"It is a pretty piece of yewand well strung" said Johnston witha twinkle in his deep-set gray eyes. "Even an old broken bowman might findthe clout with a bow like this."

"You have done very well" remarked the Brabanter in a surly voice."But it seems to me that you have not yet shown yourself to be a bettermarksman than Ifor I have struck that at which I aimedandby the threekings! no man can do more."

"It would ill beseem me to claim to be a better marksman" answeredJohnston"for I have heard great things of your skill. I did but wish toshow that the long-bow could do that which an arbalest could not dofor youcould not with your moulinet have your string ready to speed another shaft erethe bird drop to the earth."

"In that you have vantage" said the crossbowman. "By SaintJames! it is now my turn to show you where my weapon has the better of you. Ipray you to draw a flight shaft with all your strength down the valleythat wemay see the length of your shoot."

"That is a very strong prod of yours" said Johnstonshaking hisgrizzled head as he glanced at the thick arch and powerful strings of hisrival's arbalest. "I have little doubt that you can overshoot meand yet Ihave seen bowmen who could send a cloth-yard arrow further than you could speeda quarrel."

"So I have heard" remarked the Brabanter; "and yet it is astrange thing that these wondrous bowmen are never where I chance to be. Paceout the distances with a wand at every five scoreand do youArnaudstand atthe fifth wand to carry back my bolts to me."

A line was measured down the valleyand Johnstondrawing an arrow to thevery headsent it whistling over the row of wands.

"Bravely drawn! A rare shoot!" shouted the bystanders.

"It is well up to the fourth mark."

"By my hilt! it is over it" cried Aylward. "I can see wherethey have stooped to gather up the shaft."

"We shall hear anon" said Johnston quietlyand presently a youngarcher came running to say that the arrow had fallen twenty paces beyond thefourth wand.

"Four hundred paces and a score" cried Black Simon. "I'faithit is a very long flight. Yet wood and steel may do more than flesh andblood."

The Brabanter stepped forward with a smile of conscious triumphand loosedthe cord of his weapon. A shout burst from his comrades as they watched theswift and lofty flight of the heavy bolt.

"Over the fourth!" groaned Aylward. "By my hilt! I think thatit is well up to the fifth."

"It is over the fifth!" cried a Gascon loudlyand a comrade camerunning with waving arms to say that the bolt had pitched eight paces beyond themark of the five hundred.

"Which weapon hath the vantage now?" cried the BrabanterStruttingproudly about with shouldered arbalestamid the applause of his companions.

"You can overshoot me" said Johnston gently.

"Or any other man who ever bent a long-bow" cried his victoriousadversary.

"Naynot so fast" said a huge archerwhose mighty shoulders andred head towered high above the throng of his comrades. "I must have a wordwith you ere you crow so loudly. Where is my little popper? By sainted Dick ofHampole! it will be a strange thing if I cannot outshoot that thing of thinewhich to my eyes is more like a rat-trap than a bow. Will you try anotherflightor do you stand by your last?"

"Five hundred and eight paces will serve my turn" answered theBrabanterlooking askance at this new opponent.

"TutJohn" whispered Aylward"you never were a marksman.Why must you thrust your spoon into this dish?"

"Easy and slowAylward. There are very many things which I cannot dobut there are also one or two which I have the trick of. It is in my mind that Ican beat this shootif my bow will but hold together."

"Go onold babe of the woods!" "Have at itHampshire!"cried the archers laughing.

"By my soul! you may grin" cried John. "But I learned how tomake the long shoot from old Hob Miller of Milford." He took up a greatblack bowas he spokeand sitting down upon the ground he placed his two feeton either end of the stave. With an arrow fittedhe then pulled the stringtowards him with both hands until the head of the shaft was level with the wood.The great bow creaked and groaned and the cord vibrated with the tension.

"Who is this fool's-head who stands in the way of my shoot?" saidhecraning up his neck from the ground.

"He stands on the further side of my mark" answered the Brabanter"so he has little to fear from you."

"Wellthe saints assoil him!" cried John. "Though I think heis over-near to be scathed." As he spoke he raised his two feetwith thebow-stave upon their solesand his cord twanged with a deep rich hum whichmight be heard across the valley. The measurer in the distance fell flat uponhis faceand then jumping up againhe began to run in the opposite direction.

"Well shotold lad! It is indeed over his head" cried the bowmen.

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Brabanter"who ever saw such ashoot?"

"It is but a trick" quoth John. "Many a time have I won agallon of ale by covering a mile in three flights down Wilverley Chase."

"It fell a hundred and thirty paces beyond the fifth mark" shoutedan archer in the distance.

"Six hundred and thirty paces! Mon Dieu! but that is a shoot! And yet itsays nothing for your weaponmon gros camaradefor it was by turning yourselfinto a crossbow that you did it."

"By my hilt! there is truth in that" cried Aylward. "And nowfriendI will myself show you a vantage of the long-bow. I pray you to speed abolt against yonder shield with all your force. It is an inch of elm with bull'shide over it."

"I scarce shot as many shafts at Brignais" growled the man ofBrabant; "though I found a better mark there than a cantle of bull's hide.But what is thisEnglishman? The shield hangs not one hundred paces from meand a blind man could strike it." He screwed up his string to the furthestpitchand shot his quarrel at the dangling shield. Aylwardwho had drawn anarrow from his quivercarefully greased the head of itand sped it at the samemark.

"RunWilkins" quoth he"and fetch me the shield."

Long were the faces of the Englishmen and broad the laugh of the crossbowmenas the heavy mantlet was carried towards themfor there in the centre was thethick Brabant bolt driven deeply into the woodwhile there was neither sign nortrace of the cloth- yard shaft.

"By the three kings!" cried the Brabanter"this time at leastthere is no gainsaying which is the better weaponor which the truer hand thatheld it. You have missed the shieldEnglishman."

"Tarry a bit! tarry a bitmon gar.!" quoth Aylwardand turninground the shield he showed a round clear hole in the wood at the back of it."My shaft has passed through itcamaradeand I trow the one which goesthrough is more to be feared than that which bides on the way"

The Brabanter stamped his foot with mortificationand was about to make someangry replywhen Alleyne Edricson came riding up to the crowds of archers.

"Sir Nigel will be here anon" said he"and it is his wish tospeak with the Company."

In an instant order and method took the place of general confusion. Bowssteel capsand jacks were caught up from the grass. A long cordon cleared thecamp of all strangerswhile the main body fell into four lines withunder-officers and file- leaders in front and on either flank. So they stoodsilent and motionlesswhen their leader came riding towards themhis faceshining and his whole small figure swelling with the news which he bore.

"Great honor has been done to usmen" cried he: "forof allthe armythe prince has chosen us out that we should ride onwards into thelands of Spain to spy upon our enemies. Yetas there are many of usand as theservice may not be to the liking of allI pray that those will step forwardfrom the ranks who have the will to follow me."

There was a rustle among the bowmenbut when Sir Nigel looked up at them noman stood forward from his fellowsbut the four lines of men stretched unbrokenas before. Sir Nigel blinked at them in amazementand a look of the deepestsorrow shadowed his face.

"That I should live to see the day!" he cried"What! notone---- "

"My fair lord" whispered Alleyne"they have all steppedforward."

"Ahby Saint Paul! I see how it is with them. I could not think thatthey would desert me. We start at dawn to-morrowand ye are to have the horsesof Sir Robert Cheney's company. Be readyI pray yeat early cock-crow."

A buzz of delight burst from the archersas they broke their ranks and ranhither and thitherwhooping and cheering like boys who have news of a holiday.Sir Nigel gazed after them with a smiling facewhen a heavy hand fell upon hisshoulder.

"What ho! my knight-errant of Twynham!" said a voice"You areoff to EbroI hear; andby the holy fish of Tobias! you must take me underyour banner."

"What! Sir Oliver Buttesthorn!" cried Sir Nigel. "I had heardthat you were come into campand had hoped to see you. Glad and proud shall Ibe to have you with me."

"I have a most particular and weighty reason for wishing to go"said the sturdy knight.

"I can well believe it" returned Sir Nigel; "I have met noman who is quicker to follow where honor leads."

"Nayit is not for honor that I goNigel."

"For what then?"

"For pullets."

"Pullets?"

"Yesfor the rascal vanguard have cleared every hen from thecountry-side. It was this very morning that Norburymy squirelamed his horsein riding round in quest of onefor we have a bag of trufflesand nought toeat with them. Never have I seen such locusts as this vanguard of ours. Not apullet shall we see until we are in front of therm; so I shall leave myWinchester runagates to the care of the provost-marshaland I shall hie southwith youNigelwith my truffles at my saddle-bow."

"OliverOliverI know you over-well" said Sir Nigelshaking hisheadand the two old soldiers rode off together to their pavilion.

Chapter 35 - How Sir Nigel Hawked At An Eagle

 


 

TO the south of Pampeluna in the kingdom of Navarre there stretched a hightable-landrising into baresterile hillsbrown or gray in colorand strewnwith huge boulders of granite. On the Gascon side of the great mountains therehad been running streamsmeadowsforestsand little nestling villages. Hereon the contrarywere nothing but naked rockspoor pastureand savagestone-strewn wastes. Gloomy defiles or barrancas intersected this wild countrywith mountain torrents dashing and foaming between their rugged sides. Theclatter of watersthe scream of the eagleand the howling of wolves the onlysounds which broke upon the silence in that dreary and inhospitable region.

Through this wild country it was that Sir Nigel and his Company pushed theirwayriding at times through vast defiles where the browngnarled cliffs shotup on either side of themand the sky was but a long winding blue slit betweenthe clustering lines of box which fringed the lips of the precipices; oragainleading their horses along the narrow and rocky paths worn by the muleteers uponthe edges of the chasmwhere under their very elbows they could see the whitestreak which marked the gave which foamed a thousand feet below them. So for twodays they pushed their way through the wild places of Navarrepast Fuenteoverthe rapid Egathrough Estellauntil upon a winter's evening the mountains fellaway from in front of themand they saw the broad blue Ebro curving betwixt itsdouble line or homesteads and of villages. The fishers of Viana were arousedthat night by rough voices speaking in a strange tongueand ere morning SirNigel and his men had ferried the river and were safe upon the land of Spain.

All the next day they lay in a pine wood near to the town of Logronorestingtheir horses and taking counsel as to what they should do. Sir Nigel had withhim Sir William FeltonSir Oliver Buttesthornstout old Sir Simon BurleytheScotch knight- errantthe Earl of Angusand Sir Richard Caustonall accountedamong the bravest knights in the armytogether with sixty veteran men-at-armsand three hundred and twenty archers. Spies had been sent out in the morningand returned after nightfall to say that the King of Spain was encamped somefourteen miles off in the direction of Burgoshaving with him twenty thousandhorse and forty-five thousand foot. A dry-wood fire had been litand round thisthe leaders crouchedthe glare beating upon their rugged faceswhile the hardyarchers lounged and chatted amid the tethered horseswhile they munched theirscanty provisions.

"For my part" said Sir Simon Burley"I am of opinion that wehave already done that which we have come for. For do we not now know where theking isand how great a following he hathwhich was the end of ourjourney."

"True" answered Sir William Felton"but I have come on thisventure because it is a long time since I have broken a spear in warandcertesI shall not go back until I have run a course with some cavalier ofSpain. Let those go back who willbut I must see more of these Spaniards ere Iturn."

"I will not leave youSir William" returned Sir Simon Burley;"and yetas an old soldier and one who hath seen much of warI cannot butthink that it is an ill thing for four hundred men to find themselves between anarmy of sixty thousand on the one side and a broad river on the other."

"Yet" said Sir Richard Causton"we cannot for the honor ofEngland go back without a blow struck."

"Nor for the honor of Scotland either" cried the Earl of Angus."By Saint Andrew! I wish that I may never set eyes upon the water of Leithagainif I pluck my horse's bridle ere I have seen this camp of theirs."

"By Saint Paul! you have spoken very well" said Sir Nigel"and I have always heard that there were very worthy gentlemen among theScotsand fine skirmishing to be had upon their border. Bethink youSir Simonthat we have this news from the lips of common spieswho can scarce tell us asmuch of the enemy and of his forces as the prince would wish to hear."

"You are the leader in this ventureSir Nigel" the otheranswered"and I do but ride under your banner."

"Yet I would fain have your rede and counselSir Simon. Buttouchingwhat you say of the riverwe can take heed that we shall not have it at theback of usfor the prince hath now advanced to Salvatierraand thence toVittoriaso that if we come upon their camp from the further side we can makegood our retreat."

"What then would you propose?" asked Sir Simonshaking hisgrizzled head as one who is but half convinced.

"That we ride forward ere the news reach them that we have crossed theriver. In this way we may have sight of their armyand perchance even findoccasion for some small deed against them."

"So be itthen" said Sir Simon Burley; and the rest of thecouncil having approveda scanty meal was hurriedly snatchedand the advanceresumed under the cover of the darkness. All night they led their horsesstumbling and groping through wild defiles and rugged valleysfollowing theguidance of a frightened peasant who was strapped by the wrist to Black Simon'sstirrup-leather. With the early dawn they found themselves in a black ravinewith others sloping away from it on either sideand the bare brown crags risingin long bleak terraces all round them.

"If it please youfair lord" said Black Simon"this manhath misled usand since there is no tree upon which we may hang himit mightbe well to hurl him over yonder cliff."

The peasantreading the soldier's meaning in his fierce eyes and harshaccents dropped upon his kneesscreaming loudly for mercy.

"How comes itdog?" asked Sir William Felton in Spanish."Where is this camp to which you swore that you would lead us?"

"By the sweet Virgin! By the blessed Mother of God! cried the tremblingpeasant"I swear to you that in the darkness I have myself lost thepath."

"Over the cliff with him!" shouted half a dozen voices; but ere thearchers could drag him from the rocks to which he clung Sir Nigel had ridden upand called upon them to stop.

"How is thissirs?" said he. "As long as the prince doth methe honor to entrust this venture to meit is for me only to give orders; andby Saint Paul! I shall be right blithe to go very deeply into the matter withany one to whom my words may give offence. How say youSir William? Or youmyLord of Angus? Or youSir Richard?"

"NaynayNigel!" cried Sir William. "This base peasant istoo small a matter for old comrades to quarrel over. But he hath betrayed usand certes he hath merited a dog's death."

"Hark yefellow" said Sir Nigel. "We give you one morechance to find the path. We are about to gain much honorSir Williamin thisenterpriseand it would be a sorry thing if the first blood shed were that ofan unworthy boor. Let us say our morning orisonsand it may chance that ere wefinish he may strike upon the track."

With bowed heads and steel caps in handthe archers stood at their horse'sheadswhile Sir Simon Burley repeated the Paterthe Aveand the Credo. Longdid Alleyne bear the scene in mind- -the knot of knights in their dullleaden-hued armorthe ruddy visage of Sir Oliverthe craggy features of theScottish earlthe shining scalp of Sir Nigelwith the dense ring of hardbearded faces and the long brown heads of the horsesall topped and circled bythe beetling cliffs. Scarce had the last deep "amen" broken from theCompanywhenin an instantthere rose the scream of a hundred bugleswiththe deep rolling of drums and the clashing of cymbalsall sounding together inone deafening uproar. Knights and archers sprang to armsconvinced that somegreat host was upon them; but the guide dropped upon his knees and thankedHeaven for its mercies.

"We have found themcaballeros!" he cried. "This is theirmorning call. If ye will but deign to follow meI will set them before you erea man might tell his beads."

As he spoke he scrambled down one of the narrow ravinesandclimbing over alow ridge at the further endhe led them into a short valley with a streampurling down the centre of it and a very thick growth of elder and of box uponeither side. Pushing their way through the dense brushwoodthey looked out upona scene which made their hearts beat harder and their breath come faster.

In front of them there lay a broad plainwatered by two winding streams andcovered with grassstretching away to wherein the furthest distancethetowers of Burgos bristled up against the light blue morning sky. Over all thisvast meadow there lay a great city of tents--thousands upon thousands of themlaid out in streets and in squares like a well-ordered town. High silkenpavilions or colored marqueesshooting up from among the crowd of meanerdwellingsmarked where the great lords and barons of Leon and Castile displayedtheir standardswhile over the white roofsas far as eye could reachthewaving of ancientspavonspensilsand banderoleswith flash of gold and glowof colorsproclaimed that all the chivalry of Iberia were mustered in the plainbeneath them. Far offin the centre of the campa huge palace of red and whitesilkwith the royal arms of Castile waiving from the summitannounced that thegallant Henry lay there in the midst of his warriors.

As the English adventurerspeeping out from behind their brushwood screenlooked down upon this wondrous sight they could see that the vast army in frontof them was already afoot. The first pink light of the rising sun glittered uponthe steel caps and breastplates of dense masses of slingers and of crossbowmenwho drilled and marched in the spaces which had been left for their exercise. Athousand columns of smoke reeked up into the pure morning air where the faggotswere piled and the camp- kettles already simmering. In the open plain clouds oflight horse galloped and swooped with swaying bodies and waving javelinsafterthe fashion which the Spanish had adopted from their Moorish enemies. All alongby the sedgy banks of the rivers long lines of pages led their masters' chargersdown to waterwhile the knights themselves lounged in gayly-dressed groupsabout the doors of their pavilionsor rode outwith their falcons upon theirwrists and their greyhounds behind themin quest of quail or of leveret.

"By my hilt! mon gar." whispered Aylward to Alleyneas the youngsquire stood with parted lips and wondering eyesgazing down at the novel scenebefore him"we have been seeking them all nightbut now that we havefound them I know not what we are to do with them."

"You say soothSamkin" quoth old Johnston. "I would that wewere upon the far side of Ebro againfor there is neither honor nor profit tobe gained here. What say youSimon?"

"By the rood!" cried the fierce man-at-arms"I will see thecolor of their blood ere I turn my mare's head for the mountains. Am I a childthat I should ride for three days and nought but words at the end of it?"

"Well saidmy sweet honeysuckle!" cried Hordle John. "I amwith youlike hilt to blade. Could I but lay hands upon one of those gayprancers yonderI doubt not that I should have ransom enough from him to buy mymother a new cow."

"A cow!" said Aylward. "Say rather ten acres and a homesteadon the banks of Avon."

"Say you so? Thenby our Lady! here is for yonder one in the redjerkin!"

He was about to push recklessly forward into the openwhen Sir Nigel himselfdarted in front of himwith his hand upon his breast.

"Back!" said he. "Our time is not yet comeand we must liehere until evening. Throw off your jacks and headpiecesleast their eyes catchthe shineand tether the horses among the rocks."

The order was swiftly obeyedand in ten minutes the archers were stretchedalong by the side of the brookmunching the bread and the bacon which they hadbrought in their bagsand craning their necks to watch the ever-changing scenebeneath them. Very quiet and still they laysave for a muttered jest orwhispered orderfor twice during the long morning they heard bugle-calls fromamid the hills on either side of themwhich showed that they had thrustthemselves in between the outposts of the enemy. The leaders sat amongst thebox-woodand took counsel together as to what they should do; while from belowthere surged up the buzz of voicesthe shoutingthe neighing of horsesandall the uproar of a great camp.

"What boots it to wait?" said Sir William Felton. "Let us ridedown upon their camp ere they discover us."

"And so say I" cried the Scottish earl; "for they do not knowthat there is any enemy within thirty long leagues of them."

"For my part" said Sir Simon Burley"I think that it ismadnessfor you cannot hope to rout this great army; and where are you to goand what are you to do when they have turned upon you? How say youSir OliverButtesthorn?"

"By the apple of Eve!" cried the fat knight"it appears to methat this wind brings a very savory smell of garlic and of onions from theircooking-kettles. I am in favor of riding down upon them at onceif my oldfriend and comrade here is of the same mind."

"Nay" said Sir Nigel"I have a plan by which we may attemptsome small deed upon themand yetby the help of Godmay be able to draw offagain; whichas Sir Simon Burley hath saidwould be scarce possible in anyother way."

"How thenSir Nigel?" asked several voices.

"We shall lie here all day; for amid this brushwood it is ill for themto see us. Then when evening comes we shall sally out upon them and see if wemay not gain some honorable advancement from them."

"But why then rather than now?"

"Because we shall have nightfall to cover us when we draw offso thatwe may make our way back through the mountains. I would station a score ofarchers here in the passwith all our pennons jutting forth from the rocksandas many nakirs and drums and bugles as we have with usso that those who followus in the fading light may think that the whole army of the prince is upon themand fear to go further. What think you of my planSir Simon?"

"By my troth! I think very well of it" cried the prudent oldcommander. "If four hundred men must needs run a tilt against sixtythousandI cannot see how they can do it better or more safely."

"And so say I" cried Feltonheartily. "But I wish the daywere overfor it will be an ill thing for us if they chance to light uponus."

The words were scarce out of his mouth when there came a clatter of loosestonesthe sharp clink of trotting hoofsand a dark- faced cavaliermountedupon a white horseburst through the bushes and rode swiftly down the valleyfrom the end which was farthest from the Spanish camp. Lightly armedwith hisvizor open and a hawk perched upon his left wristhe looked about him with thecareless air of a man who is bent wholly upon pleasureand unconscious of thepossibility of danger. Suddenlyhoweverhis eyes lit upon the fierce faceswhich glared out at him from the brushwood. With a cry of terrorhe thrust hisspurs into his horse's sides and dashed for the narrow opening of the gorge. Fora moment it seemed as though he would have reached itfor he had trampled overor dashed aside the archers who threw themselves in his way; but Hordle Johnseized him by the foot in his grasp of iron and dragged him from the saddlewhile two others caught the frightened horse.

"Hoho!" roared the great archer. "How many cows wilt buy mymotherif I set thee free?"

"Hush that bull's bellowing!" cried Sir Nigel impatiently."Bring the man here. By St. Paul! it is not the first time that we havemet; forif I mistake notit is Don Diego Alvarezwho was once at theprince's court."

"It is indeed I" said the Spanish knightspeaking in the Frenchtongue"and I pray you to pass your sword through my heartfor how can Ilive--Ia caballero of Castile--after being dragged from my horse by the basehands of a common archer?"

"Fret not for that" answered Sir Nigel. "Forin soothhadhe not pulled you downa dozen cloth-yard shafts had crossed each other in yourbody."

"By St. James! it were better so than to be polluted by his touch"answered the Spaniardwith his black eyes sparkling with rage and hatred."I trust that I am now the prisoner of some honorable knight orgentleman."

"You are the prisoner of the man who took youSir Diego" answeredSir Nigel. "And I may tell you that better men than either you or I havefound themselves before now prisoners in the hands of archers of England."

"What ransomthendoes he demand?" asked the Spaniard.

Big John scratched his red head and grinned in high delight when the questionwas propounded to him. "Tell him" said he"that I shall haveten cows and a bull tooif it be but a little one. Also a dress of blue sendallfor mother and a red one for Joan; with five acres of pasture-landtwo scythesand a fine new grindstone. Likewise a small housewith stalls for the cowsandthirty-six gallons of beer for the thirsty weather."

"Tuttut!" cried Sir Nigellaughing. "All these things maybe had for money; and I thinkDon Diegothat five thousand crowns is not toomuch for so renowned a knight."

"It shall be duly paid him."

"For some days we must keep you with us; and I must crave leave also touse your shieldyour armorand your horse."

"My harness is yours by the law of arms" said the Spaniardgloomily.

"I do but ask the loan of it. I have need of it this daybut it shallbe duly returned to you. Set guardsAylwardwith arrow on stringat eitherend of the pass; for it may happen that some other cavaliers may visit us erethe time be come." All day the little band of Englishmen lay in thesheltered gorgelooking down upon the vast host of their unconscious enemies.Shortly after mid-daya great uproar of shouting and cheering broke out in thecampwith mustering of men and calling of bugles. Clambering up among therocksthe companions saw a long rolling cloud of dust along the whole easternsky-linewith the glint of spears and the flutter of pennonswhich announcedthe approach of a large body of cavalryFor a moment a wild hope came upon themthat perhaps the prince had moved more swiftly than had been plannedthat hehad crossed the Ebroand that this was his vanguard sweeping to the attack.

"Surely I see the red pile of Chandos at the head of yondersquadron!" cried Sir Richard Caustonshading his eyes with his hand.

"Not so" answered Sir Simon Burleywho had watched theapproaching host with a darkening face. "It is even as I feared. That isthe double eagle of Du Guesclin."

"You say very truly" cried the Earl of Angus. "These are thelevies of Francefor I can see the ensigns of the Marshal d'Andreghenwiththat of the Lord of Antoing and of Briseuiland of many another from Brittanyand Anjou."

"By St. Paul! I am very glad of it" said Sir Nigel. "Of theseSpaniards I know nothing; but the French are very worthy gentlemenand will dowhat they can for our advancement."

"There are at the least four thousand of themand all men-at-arms" cried Sir William Felton. "Seethere is Bertrand himselfbeside his bannerand there is King Henrywho rides to welcome him. Now theyall turn and come into the camp together."

As he spokethe vast throng of Spaniards and of Frenchmen trooped across theplainwith brandished arms and tossing banners. All day long the sound ofrevelry and of rejoicing from the crowded camp swelled up to the ears of theEnglishmenand they could see the soldiers of the two nations throwingthemselves into each other's arms and dancing hand-in-hand round the blazingfires. The sun had sunk behind a cloud-bank in the west before Sir Nigel at lastgave word that the men should resume their arms and have their horses ready. Hehad himself thrown off his armorand had dressed himself from head to foot inthe harness of the captured Spaniard.

"Sir William" said he"it is my intention to attempt a smalldeedand I ask you therefore that you will lead this outfall upon the camp. FormeI will ride into their camp with my squire and two archers. I pray you towatch meand to ride forth when I am come among the tents. You will leavetwenty men behind hereas we planned this morningand you will ride back hereafter you have ventured as far as seems good to you."

"I will do as you orderNigel; but what is it that you propose todo?"

"You will see anonand indeed it is but a trifling matter. Alleyneyouwill come with meand lead a spare horse by the bridle. I will have the twoarchers who rode with us through Francefor they are trusty men and of stoutheart. Let them ride behind usand let them leave their bows here among thebushes for it is not my wish that they should know that we are Englishmen. Sayno word to any whom we may meetandif any speak to youpass on as though youheard them not. Are you ready?"

"I am readymy fair lord" said Alleyne.

"And I" "And I" cried Aylward and John.

"Then the rest I leave to your wisdomSir William; and if God sends usfortune we shall meet you again in this gorge ere it be dark."

So sayingSir Nigel mounted the white horse of the Spanish cavalierandrode quietly forth from his concealment with his three companions behind himAlleyne leading his master's own steed by the bridle. So many small parties ofFrench and Spanish horse were sweeping hither and thither that the small bandattracted little noticeand making its way at a gentle trot across the plainthey came as far as the camp without challenge or hindrance. On and on theypushed past the endless lines of tentsamid the dense swarms of horsemen and offootmenuntil the huge royal pavilion stretched in front of them. They wereclose upon it when of a sudden there broke out a wild hubbub from a distantportion of the campwith screams and war-cries and all the wild tumult ofbattle. At the sound soldiers came rushing from their tentsknights shoutedloudly for their squiresand there was mad turmoil on every hand of bewilderedmen and plunging horses. At the royal tent a crowd of gorgeously dressedservants ran hither and thither in helpless panic for the guard of soldiers whowere stationed there had already ridden off in the direction of the alarm. Aman-at-arms on either side of the doorway were the sole protectors of the royaldwelling.

"I have come for the king" whispered Sir Nigel; "andbySaint Paul! he must back with us or I must bide here."

Alleyne and Aylward sprang from their horsesand flew at the two sentrieswho were disarmed and beaten down in an instant by so furious and unexpected anattack. Sir Nigel dashed into the royal tentand was followed by Hordle John assoon as the horses had been secured. From within came wild screamings and theclash of steeland then the two emerged once moretheir swords and forearmsreddened with bloodwhile John bore over his shoulder the senseless body of aman whose gay surcoatadorned with the lions and towers of Castileproclaimedhim to belong to the royal house. A crowd of white-faced sewers and pagesswarmed at their heelsthose behind pushing forwardswhile the foremost shrankback from the fierce faces and reeking weapons of the adventurers. The senselessbody was thrown across the spare horsethe four sprang to their saddlesandaway they thundered with loose reins and busy spurs through the swarming camp.

But confusion and disorder still reigned among the Spaniards for Sir WilliamFelton and his men had swept through half their campleaving a long litter ofthe dead and the dying to mark their course. Uncertain who were their attackersand unable to tell their English enemies from their newly-arrived Breton alliesthe Spanish knights rode wildly hither and thither in aimless fury. The madturmoilthe mixture of racesand the fading lightwere all in favor of thefour who alone knew their own purpose among the vast uncertain multitude. Twiceere they reached open ground they had to break their way through small bodies ofhorsesand once there came a whistle of arrows and singing of stones abouttheir ears; butstill dashing onwardsthey shot out from among the tents andfound their own comrades retreating for the mountains at no very great distancefrom them. Another five minutes of wild galloping over the plainand they wereall back in their gorgewhile their pursuers fell back before the rolling ofdrums and blare of trumpetswhich seemed to proclaim that the whole army of theprince was about to emerge from the mountain passes.

"By my soul! Nigel" cried Sir Oliverwaving a great boiled hamover his head"I have come by something which I may eat with my truffles!I had a hard fight for itfor there were three of them with their mouths openand the knives in their handsall sitting agape round the tablewhen I rushedin upon them. How say youSir Williamwill you not try the smack of the famedSpanish swinethough we have but the brook water to wash it down?"

"LaterSir Oliver" answered the old soldierwiping his grimedface. "We must further into the mountains ere we be in safety. But whathave we hereNigel?"

"It is a prisoner whom I have takenand in soothas he came from theroyal tent and wears the royal arms upon his juponI trust that he is the Kingof Spain."

"The King of Spain!" cried the companionscrowding round inamazement.

"NaySir Nigel" said Feltonpeering at the prisoner through theuncertain light"I have twice seen Henry of Transtamareand certes thisman in no way resembles him."

"Thenby the light of heaven! I will ride back for him" cried SirNigel.

"Naynaythe camp is in armsand it would be rank madness. Who areyoufellow?" he added in Spanish"and how is it that you dare towear the arms of Castile?"

The prisoner was bent recovering the consciousness which had been squeezedfrom him by the grip of Hordle John. "If it please you" he answered"I and nine others are the body-squires of the kingand must ever wear hisarmsso as to shield him from even such perils as have threatened him thisnight. The king is at the tent of the brave Du Guesclinwhere he will sup tonight. But I am a caballero of AragonDon Sancho Penelosaandthough I be nokingI am yet ready to pay a fitting price for my ransom."

"By Saint Paul! I will not touch your gold" cried Sir Nigel."Go back to your master and give him greeting from Sir Nigel Loring ofTwynham Castletelling him that I had hoped to make his better acquaintancethis nightand thatif I have disordered his tentit was but in my eagernessto know so famed and courteous a knight. Spur oncomrades! for we must covermany a league ere we can venture to light fire or to loosen girth. I had hopedto ride without this patch to-nightbut it seems that I must carry it yet alittle longer."

Chapter 36 - How Sir Nigel Took The Patch From His Eye

 


 

IT was a coldbleak morning in the beginning of Marchand the mist wasdrifting in dense rolling clouds through the passes of the Cantabrian mountains.The Companywho had passed the night in a sheltered gullywere already astirsome crowding round the blazing fires and others romping or leaping over eachother's backs for their limbs were chilled and the air biting. Here and therethrough the dense haze which surrounded themthere loomed out huge pinnaclesand jutting boulders of rock: while high above the sea of vapor there towered upone gigantic peakwith the pink glow of the early sunshine upon its snow-cappedhead. The ground was wetthe rocks drippingthe grass and ever-greenssparkling with beads of moisture; yet the camp was loud with laughter andmerrimentfor a messenger had ridden in from the prince with words ofheart-stirring praise for what they had doneand with orders that they shouldstill abide in the forefront of the army.

Round one of the fires were clustered four or five of the leading men of thearcherscleaning the rust from their weaponsand glancing impatiently fromtime to time at a great pot which smoked over the blaze. There was Aylwardsquatting cross-legged in his shirtwhile he scrubbed away at his chain-mailbrigandinewhistling loudly the while. On one side of him sat old Johnstonwhowas busy in trimming the feathers of some arrows to his liking; and on the otherHordle Johnwho lay with his great limbs all asprawland his headpiecebalanced upon his uplifted foot. Black Simon of Norwich crouched amid the rockscrooning an Eastland ballad to himselfwhile he whetted his sword upon a flatstone which lay across his knees; while beside him sat Alleyne EdricsonandNorburythe silent squire of Sir Oliverholding out their chilled handstowards the crackling faggots

"Cast on another culponJohnand stir the broth with thysword-sheath" growled Johnstonlooking anxiously for the twentieth timeat the reeking pot.

"By my hilt!" cried Aylward"now that John hath come by thisgreat ransomhe will scarce abide the fare of poor archer lads. How say youcamarade? When you see Hordle once morethere will be no penny ale and fatbaconbut Gascon wines and baked meats every day of the seven."

"I know not about that" said Johnkicking his helmet up into theair and catching it in his hand. "I do but know that whether the broth beready or noI am about to dip this into it."

"It simmers and it boils" cried Johnstonpushing his hard-linedface through the smoke. In an instant the pot had been plucked from the blazeand its contents had been scooped up in half a dozen steel head-pieceswhichwere balanced betwixt their owners' kneeswhilewith spoon and gobbet ofbreadthey devoured their morning meal.

"It is ill weather for bows" remarked John at lastwhenwith along sighhe drained the last drop from his helmet. "My strings are aslimp as a cow's tail this morning."

"You should rub them with water glue" quoth Johnston. "YourememberSamkinthat it was wetter than this on the morning of Crecyand yetI cannot call to mind that there was aught amiss with our strings."

"It is in my thoughts" said Black Simonstill pensively grindinghis sword"that we may have need of your strings ere sundown. I dreamed ofthe red cow last night."

"And what is this red cowSimon?" asked Alleyne.

"I know notyoung sir; but I can only say that on the eve of Cadsandand on the eve of Crecyand on the eve of NogentI dreamed of a red cow; andnow the dream has come upon me againso I am now setting a very keen edge to myblade."

"Well saidold war-dog!" cried Aylward. "By my hilt! I praythat your dream may come truefor the prince hath not set us out here to drinkbroth or to gather whortleberries. One more fightand I am ready to hang up mybowmarry a wifeand take to the fire corner. But how nowRobin? Whom is itthat you seek?"

"The Lord Loring craves your attendance in his tent" said a youngarcher to Alleyne.

The squire rose and proceeded to the pavilionwhere he found the knightseated upon a cushionwith his legs crossed in front of him and a broad ribbonof parchment laid across his kneesover which he was poring with frowning browsand pursed lips.

"It came this morning by the prince's messenger" said he"and was brought from England by Sir John Fallisleewho is new come fromSussex. What make you of this upon the outer side?"

"It is fairly and clearly written" Alleyne answered"and itsignifies To Sir Nigel LoringKnight Constable of Twynham Castleby the handof Christopherthe servant of God at the Priory of Christchurch."

"So I read it" said Sir Nigel. "Now I pray you to read whatis set forth within."

Alleyne turned to the letterandas his eyes rested upon ithis faceturned pale and a cry of surprise and grief burst from his lips.

"What then?" asked the knightpeering up at him anxiously."There is nought amiss with the Lady Mary or with the Lady Maude?"

"It is my brother--my poor unhappy brother!" cried Alleynewithhis hand to his brow. "He is dead."

"By Saint Paul! I have never heard that he had shown so much love foryou that you should mourn him so."

"Yet he was my brother--the only kith or kin that I had upon earth.Mayhap he had cause to be bitter against mefor his land was given to the abbeyfor my upbringing. Alas! alas! and I raised my staff against him when last wemet! He has been slain- -and slainI fearamidst crime and violence."

"Ha!" said Sir Nigel. "Read onI pray you."

" 'God be with theemy honored lordand have thee in his holy keeping.The Lady Loring hath asked me to set down in writing what hath befallen atTwynhamand all that concerns the death of thy ill neighbor the Socman ofMinstead. For when ye had left usthis evil man gathered around him alloutlawsvilleinsand masterless menuntil they were come to such a force thatthey slew and scattered the king's men who went against them. Thencoming forthfrom the woodsthey laid siege to thy castleand for two days they girt us inand shot hard against uswith such numbers as were a marvel to see. Yet theLady Loring held the place stoutlyand on the second day the Socman wasslain--by his own menas some think--so that we were delivered from theirhands; for which praise be to all the saintsand more especially to the holyAnselmupon whose feast it came to pass. The Lady Loringand the Lady Maudethy fair daughterare in good health; and so also am Isave for an imposthumeof the toe- jointwhich hath been sent me for my sins. May all the saintspreserve thee!' "

"It was the vision of the Lady Tiphaine" said Sir Nigelafter apause. "Marked you not how she said that the leader was one with a yellowbeardand how he fell before the gate. But how came itAlleynethat thiswomanto whom all things are as crystaland who hath not said one word whichhas not come to passwas yet so led astray as to say that your thoughts turnedto Twynham Castle even more than my own?"

"My fair lord" said Alleynewith a flush on his weather-stainedcheeks"the Lady Tiphaine may have spoken sooth when she said it; forTwynham Castle is in my heart by day and in my dreams by night."

"Ha!" cried Sir Nigelwith a sidelong glance.

"Yesmy fair lord; for indeed I love your daughterthe Lady Maude;andunworthy as I amI would give my heart's blood to serve her."

"By St. Paul! Edricson" said the knight coldlyarching hiseyebrows"you aim high in this matter. Our blood is very old."

"And mine also is very old" answered the squire.

"And the Lady Maude is our single child. All our name and lands centreupon her."

"Alas! that I should say itbut I also am now the only Edricson."

"And why have I not heard this from you beforeAlleyne? In soothIthink that you have used me ill."

"Naymy fair lordsay not so; for I know not whether your daughterloves meand there is no pledge between us."

Sir Nigel pondered for a few momentsand then burst out a- laughing."By St. Paul!" said he"I know not why I should mix in thematter; for I have ever found that the Lady Maude was very well able to look toher own affairs. Since first she could stamp her little footshe hath ever beenable to get that for which she craved; and if she set her heart on theeAlleyneand thou on herI do not think that this Spanish kingwith histhree-score thousand mencould hold you apart. Yet this I will saythat Iwould see you a full knight ere you go to my daughter with words of love. I haveever said that a brave lance should wed her; andby my soul! Edricsonif Godspare youI think that you will acquit yourself well. But enough of suchtriflesfor we have our work before usand it will be time to speak of thismatter when we see the white cliffs of England once more. Go to Sir WilliamFeltonI pray youand ask him to come hitherfor it is time that we weremarching. There is no pass at the further end of the valleyand it is aperilous place should an enemy come upon us."

Alleyne delivered his messageand then wandered forth from the campfor hismind was all in a whirl with this unexpected newsand with his talk with SirNigel. Sitting upon a rockwith his burning brow resting upon his handshethought of his brotherof their quarrelof the Lady Maude in her bedraggledriding- dressof the gray old castleof the proud pale face in the armoryandof the last fiery words with which she had sped him on his way. Then he was buta pennilessmonk-bred ladunknown and unfriended. Now he was himself Socman ofMinsteadthe head of an old stockand the lord of an estate whichif reducedfrom its former sizewas still ample to preserve the dignity of his family.Furtherhe had become a man of experiencewas counted brave among brave menhad won the esteem and confidence of her fatherandabove allhad beenlistened to by him when he told him the secret of his love. As to the gaining ofknighthoodin such stirring times it was no great matter for a brave squire ofgentle birth to aspire to that honor. He would leave his bones among theseSpanish ravinesor he would do some deed which would call the eyes of men uponhim.

Alleyne was still seated on the rockhis griefs and his joys driftingswiftly over his mind like the shadow of clouds upon a sunlit meadowwhen of asudden he became conscious of a lowdeep sound which came booming up to himthrough the fog. Close behind him he could hear the murmur of the bowmentheoccasional bursts of hoarse laughterand the champing and stamping of theirhorses. Behind it allhowevercame that low-pitcheddeep- toned humwhichseemed to come from every quarter and to fill the whole air. In the old monasticdays he remembered to have heard such a sound when he had walked out one windynight at Bucklershardand had listened to the long waves breaking upon theshingly shore. Herehoweverwas neither wind nor seaand yet the dull murmurrose ever louder and stronger out of the heart of the rolling sea of vapor. Heturned and ran to the campshouting an alarm at the top of his voice.

It was but a hundred pacesand yet ere he had crossed it every bowman wasready at his horse's headand the group of knights were out and listeningintently to the ominous sound.

"It is a great body of horse" said Sir William Felton"andthey are riding very swiftly hitherwards."

"Yet they must be from the prince's army" remarked Sir RichardCauston"for they come from the north."

"Nay" said the Earl of Angus"it is not so certain; for thepeasant with whom we spoke last night said that it was rumored that Don Tellothe Spanish king's brotherhad ridden with six thousand chosen men to beat upthe prince's camp. It may be that on their backward road they have come thisway."

"By St. Paul!" cried Sir Nigel"I think that it is even asyou sayfor that same peasant had a sour face and a shifting eyeas one whobore us little good will. I doubt not that he has brought these cavaliers uponus."

"But the mist covers us" said Sir Simon Burley. "We have yettime to ride through the further end of the pass."

"Were we a troop of mountain goats we might do so" answered SirWilliam Felton"but it is not to be passed by a company of horsemen. Ifthese be indeed Don Tello and his menthen we must bide where we areand dowhat we can to make them rue the day that they found us in their path."

"Well spokenWilliam!" cried Sir Nigelin high delight. "Ifthere be so many as has been saidthen there will be much honor to be gainedfrom them and every hope of advancement. But the sound has ceasedand I fearthat they have gone some other way."

"Or mayhap they have come to the mouth of the gorgeand are marshallingtheir ranks. Hush and hearken! for they are no great way from us."

The Company stood peering into the dense fog-wreathamidst a silence soprofound that the dripping of the water from the rocks and the breathing of thehorses grew loud upon the ear. Suddenly from out the sea of mist came the shrillsound of a neighfollowed by a long blast upon a bugle.

"It is a Spanish callmy fair lord" said Black Simon. "It isused by their prickers and huntsmen when the beast hath not fledbut is stillin its lair."

"By my faith!" said Sir Nigelsmiling"if they are in ahumor for venerie we may promise them some sport ere they sound the mort overus. But there is a hill in the centre of the gorge on which we might take ourstand."

"I marked it yester-night" said Felton"and no better spotcould be found for our purposefor it is very steep at the back. It is but abow-shot to the leftandindeedI can see the shadow of it."

The whole Companyleading their horsespassed across to the small hillwhich loomed in front of them out of the mist. It was indeed admirably designedfor defencefor it sloped down in frontall jagged and boulder-strewnwhileit fell away in a sheer cliff of a hundred feet or more. On the summit was asmall uneven plateauwith a stretch across of a hundred pacesand a depth ofhalf as much again.

"Unloose the horses!" said Sir Nigel. "We have no space forthemand if we hold our own we shall have horses and to spare when this day'swork is done. Naykeep yoursmy fair sirsfor we may have work for them.AylwardJohnstonlet your men form a harrow on either side of the ridge. SirOliver and youmy Lord AngusI give you the right wingand the left to youSir Simonand to youSir Richard Causten. I and Sir William Felton will holdthe centre with our men-at-arms. Now order the ranksand fling wide thebannersfor our souls are God's and our bodies the king'sand our swords forSaint George and for England!"

Sir Nigel had scarcely spoken when the mist seemed to thin in the valleyandto shred away into long ragged clouds which trailed from the edges of thecliffs. The gorge in which they had camped was a mere wedge-shaped cleft amongthe hillsthree-quarters of a mile deepwith the small rugged rising uponwhich they stood at the further endand the brown crags walling it in on threesides. As the mist partedand the sun broke throughit gleamed and shimmeredwith dazzling brightness upon the armor and headpieces of a vast body ofhorsemen who stretched across the barranca from one cliff to the otherandextended backwards until their rear guard were far out upon the plain beyond.Line after lineand rank after rankthey choked the neck of the valley with along vista of tossing pennonstwinkling lanceswaving plumes and streamingbanderoleswhile the curvets and gambades of the chargers lent a constantmotion and shimmer to the glitteringmany-colored mass. A yell of exultationand a forest of waving steel through the length and breadth of their columnannounced that they could at last see their entrapped enemieswhile theswelling notes of a hundred bugles and drumsmixed with the clash of Moorishcymbalsbroke forth into a proud peal of martial triumph. Strange it was tothese gallant and sparkling cavaliers of Spain to look upon this handful of menupon the hillthe thin lines of bowmenthe knots of knights and men-at-armswith armor rusted and discolored from long serviceand to learn that these wereindeed the soldiers whose fame and prowess had been the camp-fire talk of everyarmy in Christendom. Very still and silent they stoodleaning upon their bowswhile their leaders took counsel together in front of them. No clang of buglerose from their stern ranksbut in the centre waved the leopards of Englandonthe right the ensign of their Company with the roses of Loringand on the leftover three score of Welsh bowmenthere floated the red banner of Merlin withthe boars'-heads of the Buttesthorns. Gravely and sedately they stood beneaththe morning sun waiting for the onslaught of their foemen.

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigelgazing with puckered eye down thevalley"there appear to be some very worthy people among them. What isthis golden banner which waves upon the left?"

"It is the ensign of the Knights of Calatrava" answered Felton.

"And the other upon the right?"

"It marks the Knights of Santiagoand I see by his flag that theirgrand-master rides at their head. There too is the banner of Castile amid yondersparkling squadron which heads the main battle. There are six thousandmen-at-arms with ten squadrons of slingers as far as I may judge theirnumbers."

"There are Frenchmen among themmy fair lord" remarked BlackSimon. "I can see the pennons of De CouvetteDe BrieuxSaint Polandmany others who struck in against us for Charles of Blois."

"You are right" said Sir William"for I can also see them.There is much Spanish blazonry alsoif I could but read it. Don Diegoyou knowthe arms of your own land. Who are they who have done us this honor?"

The Spanish prisoner looked with exultant eyes upon the deep and serriedranks of his countrymen.

"By Saint James!" said he"if ye fall this day ye fall by nomean handsfor the flower of the knighthood of Castile ride under the banner ofDon Tellowith the chivalry of AsturiasToledoLeonCordovaGaliciaandSeville. I see the guidons of AlbornezCacorlaRodriguezTavorawith the twogreat ordersand the knights of France and of Aragon. If you will take my redeyou will come to a composition with themfor they will give you such terms asyou have given me."

"Nayby Saint Paul! it were pity if so many brave men were drawntogetherand no little deed of arms to come of it. Ha! Williamthey advanceupon us; andby my soul! it is a sight that is worth coming over the seas tosee."

As he spokethe two wings of the Spanish hostconsisting of the Knights ofCalatrava on the one side and of Santiago upon the othercame swooping swiftlydown the valleywhile the main body followed more slowly behind. Five hundredpaces from the English the two great bodies of horse crossed each otherandsweeping round in a curveretired in feigned confusion towards their centre.Often in bygone wars had the Moors tempted the hot- blooded Spaniards from theirplaces of strength by such pretended flightsbut there were men upon the hillto whom every ruse an trick of war were as their daily trade and practice. Againand even nearer came the rallying Spaniardsand again with cry of fear andstooping bodies they swerved off to right and leftbut the English still stoodstolid and observant among their rocks. The vanguard halted a long bow shot fromthe hilland with waving spears and vaunting shouts challenged their enemies tocome forthwhile two cavalierspricking forward from the glittering rankswalked their horses slowly between the two arrays with targets braced and lancesin rest like the challengers in a tourney.

"By Saint Paul!" cried Sir Nigelwith his one eye glowing like anember"these appear to be two very worthy and debonair gentlemen. I do notcall to mind when I have seen any people who seemed of so great a heart and sohigh of enterprise. We have our horsesSir William: shall we not relieve themof any vow which they may have upon their souls?"

Felton's reply was to bound upon his chargerand to urge it down the slopewhile Sir Nigel followed not three spears'-lengths behind him. It was a ruggedcourserocky and unevenyet the two knightschoosing their mendashedonwards at the top of their speedwhile the gallant Spaniards flew as swiftlyto meet them. The one to whom Felton found himself opposed was a tall striplingwith a stag's head upon his shieldwhile Sir Nigel's man was broad and squatwith plain steel harnessand a pink and white torse bound round his helmet. Thefirst struck Felton on the target with such force as to split it from side tosidebut Sir William's lance crashed through the camail which shielded theSpaniard's throatand he fellscreaming hoarselyto the ground. Carried awayby the heat and madness of fightthe English knight never drew reinbutcharged straight on into the array of the knights of Calatrava. Long time thesilent ranks upon the hill could see a swirl and eddy deep down in the heart ofthe Spanish columnwith a circle of rearing chargers and flashing bladesHereand there tossed the white plume of the English helmetrising and falling likethe foam upon a wavewith the fierce gleam and sparkle ever circling round ituntil at last it had sunk from viewand another brave man had turned from warto peace.

Sir Nigelmeanwhilehad found a foeman worthy of his steel for his opponentwas none other than Sebastian Gomezthe picked lance of the monkish Knights ofSantiagowho had won fame in a hundred bloody combats with the Moors ofAndalusia. So fierce was their meeting that their spears shivered up to the verygraspand the horses reared backwards until it seemed that they must crash downupon their riders. Yet with consummate horsemanship they both swung round in along curvetand then plucking out their swords they lashed at each other liketwo lusty smiths hammering upon an anvil. The chargers spun round each otherbiting and strikingwhile the two blades wheeled and whizzed and circled ingleams of dazzling light. Cutparryand thrust followed so swiftly upon eachother that the eye could not follow themuntil at last coming thigh to thighthey cast their arms around each other and rolled off their saddles to theground. The heavier Spaniard threw himself upon his enemyand pinning him downbeneath him raised his sword to slay himwhile a shout of triumph rose from theranks of his countrymen. But the fatal blow never fellfor even as his armquivered before descendingthe Spaniard gave a shudderand stiffening himselfrolled heavily over upon his sidewith the blood gushing from his armpit andfrom the slit of his vizor. Sir Nigel sprang to his feet with his bloody daggerin his left hand and gazed down upon his adversarybut that fatal and suddenstab in the vital spotwhich the Spaniard had exposed by raising his armhadproved instantly mortal. The Englishman leaped upon his horse and made for thehillat the very instant that a yell of rage from a thousand voices and theclang of a score of bugles announced the Spanish onset.

But the islanders were ready and eager for the encounter. With feet firmlyplantedtheir sleeves rolled back to give free play to their musclestheirlong yellow bow-staves in their left handsand their quivers slung to thefrontthey had waited in the four-deep harrow formation which gave strength totheir arrayand yet permitted every man to draw his arrow freely without harmto those in front. Aylward and Johnston had been engaged in throwing light tuftsof grass into the air to gauge the wind forceand a hoarse whisper passed downthe ranks from the file-leaders to the menwith scraps of advice andadmonition.

"Do not shoot outside the fifteen-score paces" cried Johnston."We may need all our shafts ere we have done with them."

"Better to overshoot than to undershoot" added Aylward."Better to strike the rear guard than to feather a shaft in theearth."

"Loose quick and sharp when they come" added another. "Let itbe the eye to the stringthe string to the shaftand the shaft to the mark. ByOur Lady! their banners advanceand we must hold our ground now if ever we areto see Southampton Water again."

Alleynestanding with his sword drawn amidst the archerssaw a long tossand heave of the glittering squadrons. Then the front ranks began to surgeslowly forwardto trotto canterto gallopand in an instant the whole vastarray was hurtling onwardline after linethe air full of the thunder of theircriesthe ground shaking with the beat of their hootsthe valley choked withthe rushing torrent of steeltopped by the waving plumesthe slanting spearsand the fluttering banderoles. On they swept over the level and up to the slopeere they met the blinding storm of the English arrows. Down went the whole ranksin a whirl of mad confusionhorses plunging and kickingbewildered menfallingrisingstaggering on or backwhile ever new lines of horsemen camespurring through the gaps and urged their chargers up the fatal slope. Allaround him Alleyne could hear the sternshort orders of the master-bowmenwhile the air was filled with the keen twanging of the strings and the swish andpatter of the shafts. Right across the foot of the hill there had sprung up along wall of struggling horses and stricken menwhich ever grew and heightenedas fresh squadrons poured on the attack. One young knight on a gray jennetleaped over his fallen comrades and galloped swiftly up the hillshriekingloudly upon Saint Jamesere he fell within a spear- length of the English linewith the feathers of arrows thrusting out from every crevice and joint of hisarmor. So for five long minutes the gallant horsemen of Spain and of Francestrove ever and again to force a passageuntil the wailing note of a buglecalled them backand they rode slowly out of bow-shotleaving their best andtheir bravest in the ghastlyblood-mottled heap behind them.

But there was little rest for the victors. Whilst the knights had chargedthem in front the slingers had crept round upon either flank and had gained afooting upon the cliffs and behind the outlying rocks. A storm of stones brokesuddenly upon the defenderswhodrawn up in lines upon the exposed summitoffered a fair mark to their hidden foes. Johnstonthe old archerwas struckupon the temple and fell dead without a groanwhile fifteen of his bowmen andsix of the men-at-arms were struck down at the same moment. The others lay ontheir faces to avoid the deadly hailwhile at each side of the plateau a fringeof bowmen exchanged shots with the slingers and crossbowmen among the rocksaiming mainly at those who had swarmed up the cliffsand bursting into laughterand cheers when a well-aimed shaft brought one of their opponents toppling downfrom his lofty perch.

"I thinkNigel" said Sir Oliverstriding across to the littleknight"that we should all acquit ourselves better had we our none-meatfor the sun is high in the heaven."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigelplucking the patch from his eye"I think that I am now clear of my vowfor this Spanish knight was aperson from whom much honor might be won. Indeedhe was a very worthygentlemanof good courageand great hardinessand it grieves me that heshould have come by such a hurt. As to what you say of foodOliverit is notto be thought offor we have nothing with us upon the hill."

"Nigel!" cried Sir Simon Burleyhurrying up with consternationupon his face"Aylward tells me that there are not ten-score arrows leftin all their sheaves. See! they are springing from their horsesand cuttingtheir sollerets that they may rush upon us. Might we not even now make aretreat?"

"My soul will retreat from my body first!" cried the little knight."Here I amand here I bidewhile God gives me strength to lift asword."

"And so say I!" shouted Sir Oliverthrowing his mace high into theair and catching it again by the handle.

"To your armsmen!" roared Sir Nigel. "Shoot while you mayand then out swordand let us live or die together!"

Chapter 37 - How The White Company Came To Be Disbanded

 


 

THEN uprose from the hill in the rugged Calabrian valley a sound such as hadnot been heard in those parts beforenor was againuntil the streams whichrippled amid the rocks had been frozen by over four hundred winters and thawedby as many returning springs. Deep and full and strong it thundered down theravinethe fierce battle-call of a warrior racethe last stern welcome towhoso should join with them in that world-old game where the stake is death.Thrice it swelled forth and thrice it sank awayechoing and reverberatingamidst the crags. Thenwith set facesthe Company rose up among the storm ofstonesand looked down upon the thousands who sped swiftly up the slope againstthem. Horse and spear had been set asidebut on footwith sword andbattle-axetheir broad shields slung in front of themthe chivalry of Spainrushed to the attack.

And now arose a struggle so fellso longso evenly sustainedthat even nowthe memory of it is handed down amongst the Calabrian mountaineers and theill-omened knoll is still pointed out by fathers to their children as the"Altura de los Inglesos" where the men from across the sea fought thegreat fight with the knights of the south. The last arrow was quickly shotnorcould the slingers hurl their stonesso close were friend and foe. From side toside stretched the thin line of the Englishlightly armed and quick-footedwhile against it stormed and raged the pressing throng of fiery Spaniards and ofgallant Bretons. The clink of crossing sword-bladesthe dull thudding of heavyblowsthe panting and gasping of weary and wounded menall rose together in awildlong-drawn notewhich swelled upwards to the ears of the wonderingpeasants who looked down from the edges of the cliffs upon the swaying turmoilof the battle beneath them. Back and forward reeled the leopard bannernowborne up the slope by the rush and weight of the onslaughtnow pushingdownwards again as Sir NigelBurleyand Black Simon with their veteran men-atarmsflung themselves madly into the fray. Alleyneat his lord's right handfound himself swept hither and thither in the desperate struggleexchangingsavage thrusts one instant with a Spanish cavalierand the next torn away bythe whirl of men and dashed up against some new antagonist. To the right SirOliverAylwardHordle Johnand the bowmen of the Company fought furiouslyagainst the monkish Knights of Santiagowho were led up the hill by theirprior--a greatdeep-chested manwho wore a brown monastic habit over his suitof mail. Three archers he slew in three giant strokesbut Sir Oliver flung hisarms round himand the twostaggering and strainingreeled backwards andfelllocked in each other's graspover the edge of the steep cliff whichflanked the hill. In vain his knights stormed and raved against the thin linewhich barred their path: the sword of Aylward and the great axe of John gleamedin the forefront of the battle and huge jagged pieces of rockhurled by thestrong arms of the bowmencrashed and hurtled amid their ranks. Slowly theygave back down the hillthe archers still hanging upon their skirtswith along litter of writhing and twisted figures to mark the course which they hadtaken. At the same instant the Welshmen upon the leftled on by the Scotchearlhad charged out from among the rocks which sheltered themand by the furyof their outfall had driven the Spaniards in front of them in headlong flightdown the hill. In the centre only things seemed to be going ill with thedefenders. Black Simon was down--dyingas he would wish to have diedlike agrim old wolf in its lair with a ring of his slain around him. Twice Sir Nigelhad been overborneand twice Alleyne had fought over him until he had staggeredto his feet once more. Burley lay senselessstunned by a blow from a maceandhalf of the men-at-arms lay littered upon the ground around him. Sir Nigel'sshield was brokenhis crest shornhis armor cut and smashedand the vizortorn from his helmet; yet he sprang hither and thither with light foot and readyhandengaging two Bretons and a Spaniard at the same instant--thrustingstoopingdashing inspringing out--while Alleyne still fought by his sidestemming with a handful of men the fierce tide which surged up against them. Yetit would have fared ill with them had not the archers from either side closed inupon the flanks of the attackersand pressed them very slowly and foot by footdown the long slopeuntil they were on the plain once morewhere their fellowswere already rallying for a fresh assault.

But terrible indeed was the cost at which the last had been repelled. Of thethree hundred and seventy men who had held the crestone hundred andseventy-two were left standingmany of whom were sorely wounded and weak fromloss of blood. Sir Oliver ButtesthornSir Richard CaustenSir Simon BurleyBlack SimonJohnstona hundred and fifty archersand forty-seven men-at- armshad fallenwhile the pitiless hail of stones was already whizzing and pipingonce more about their earsthreatening every instant to further reduce theirnumbers.

Sir Nigel looked about him at his shattered ranksand his face flushed witha soldier's pride.

"By St. Paul!" he cried"I have fought in many a littlebickeringbut never one that I would be more loth to have missed than this. Butyou are woundedAlleyne?"

"It is nought" answered his squirestanching the blood whichdripped from a sword-cut across his forehead.

"These gentlemen of Spain seem to be most courteous and worthy people. Isee that they are already forming to continue this debate with us. Form up thebowmen two deep instead of four. By my faith! some very brave men have gone fromamong us. Aylwardyou are a trusty soldierfor all that your shoulder hasnever felt accoladenor your heels worn the gold spurs. Do you take charge ofthe right; I will hold the centreand youmy Lord of Angusthe left."

"Ho! for Sir Samkin Aylward!" cried a rough voice among thearchersand a roar of laughter greeted their new leader.

"By my hilt!" said the old bowman"I never thought to lead awing in a stricken field. Stand closecamaradesforby these finger-bones! wemust play the man this day."

"Come hitherAlleyne" said Sir Nigelwalking back to the edge ofthe cliff which formed the rear of their position. "And youNorbury"he continuedbeckoning to the squire of Sir Oliver"do you also comehere."

The two squires hurried across to himand the three stood looking down intothe rocky ravine which lay a hundred and fifty feet beneath them.

"The prince must hear of how things are with us" said the knight."Another onfall we may withstandbut they are many and we are fewso thatthe time must come when we can no longer form line across the hill. Yet if helpwere brought us we might hold the crest until it comes. See yonder horses whichstray among the rocks beneath us?"

"I see themmy fair lord."

"And see yonder path which winds along the hill upon the further end ofthe valley?"

"I see it."

"Were you on those horsesand riding up yonder tracksteep and roughas it isI think that ye might gain the valley beyond. Then on to the princeand tell him how we fare."

"Butmy fair lordhow can we hope to reach the horses?" askedNorbury.

"Ye cannot go round to themfor they would be upon ye ere ye could cometo them. Think ye that ye have heart enough to clamber down this cliff?"

"Had we but a rope."

"There is one here. It is but one hundred feet longand for the rest yemust trust to God and to your fingers. Can you try itAlleyne?"

"With all my heartmy dear lordbut how can I leave you in such astrait?"

"Nayit is to serve me that ye go. And youNorbury?"

The silent squire said nothingbut he took up the ropeandhaving examinedithe tied one end firmly round a projecting rock. Then he cast off hisbreast-platethigh piecesand greaveswhile Alleyne followed his example.

"Tell Chandosor Calverleyor Knollesshould the prince have goneforward" cried Sir Nigel. "Now may God speed yefor ye are brave andworthy men."

It wasindeeda task which might make the heart of the bravest sink withinhim. The thin cord dangling down the face of the brown cliff seemed from aboveto reach little more than half-way down it. Beyond stretched the rugged rockwet and shiningwith a green tuft here and there thrusting out from itbutlittle sign of ridge or foothold. Far below the jagged points of the bouldersbristled updark and menacing. Norbury tugged thrice with all his strength uponthe cordand then lowered himself over the edgewhile a hundred anxious facespeered over at him as he slowly clambered downwards to the end of the rope.Twice he stretched out his footand twice he failed to reach the point at whichhe aimedbut even as he swung himself for a third effort a stone from a slingbuzzed like a wasp from amid the rocks and struck him full upon the side of hishead. His grasp relaxedhis feet slippedand in an instant he was a crushedand mangled corpse upon the sharp ridges beneath him.

"If I have no better fortune" said Alleyneleading Sir Nigelaside. "I pray youmy dear lordthat you will give my humble service tothe Lady Maudeand say to her that I was ever her true servant and mostunworthy cavalier."

The old knight said no wordbut he put a hand on either shoulderand kissedhis squirewith the tears shining in his eyes. Alleyne sprang to the ropeandsliding swiftly downsoon found himself at its extremity. From above it seemedas though rope and cliff were well-nigh touchingbut nowwhen swinging ahundred feet downthe squire found that he could scarce reach the face of therock with his footand that it was as smooth as glasswith no resting-placewhere a mouse could stand. Some three feet lowerhoweverhis eye lit upon along jagged crack which slanted downwardsand this he must reach if he wouldsave not only his own poor lifebut that of the eight-score men above him. Yetit were madness to spring for that narrow slit with nought but the wetsmoothrock to cling to. He swung for a momentfull of thoughtand even as he hungthere another of the hellish stones sang through his curlsand struck a chipfrom the face of the cliff. Up he clambered a few feetdrew up the loose endafter himunslung his beltheld on with knee and with elbow while he splicedthe longtough leathern belt to the end of the cord: then lowering himself asfar as he could gohe swung backwards and forwards until his hand reached thecrackwhen he left the rope and clung to the face of the cliff. Another stonestruck him on the sideand he heard a sound like a breaking stickwith a keenstabbing pain which shot through his chest. Yet it was no time now to think ofpain or ache. There was his lord and his eight-score comradesand they must beplucked from the jaws of death. On he clamberedwith his hand shuffling downthe long sloping cracksometimes bearing all his weight upon his armsatothers finding some small shelf or tuft on which to rest his foot. Would henever pass over that fifty feet? He dared not look down and could but gropeslowly onwardshis face to the cliffhis fingers clutchinghis feet scrapingand feeling for a support. Every vein and crack and mottling of that face ofrock remained forever stamped upon his memory. At lasthoweverhis foot cameupon a broad resting-place and he ventured to cast a glance downwards. ThankGod! he had reached the highest of those fatal pinnacles upon which his comradehad fallen. Quickly now he sprang from rock to rock until his feet were on thegroundand he had his hand stretched out for the horse's reinwhen asling-stone struck him on the headand he dropped senseless upon the ground.

An evil blow it was for Alleynebut a worse one still for him who struck it.The Spanish slingerseeing the youth lie slainand judging from his dress thathe was no common manrushed forward to plunder himknowing well that thebowmen above him had expended their last shaft. He was still three paceshoweverfrom his victim's side when John upon the cliff above plucked up a hugeboulderandpoising it for an instantdropped it with fatal aim upon theslinger beneath him. It struck upon his shoulderand hurled himcrushed andscreamingto the groundwhile Alleynerecalled to his senses by these shrillcries in his very earstaggered on to his feetand gazed wildly about him. Hiseyes fell upon the horsesgrazing upon the scanty pastureand in an instantall had come back to him-- his missionhis comradesthe need for haste. He wasdizzysickfaintbut he must not dieand he must not tarryfor his lifemeant many lives that day. In an instant he was in his saddle and spurring downthe valley. Loud rang the swift charger's hoofs over rock and reefwhile thefire flew from the stroke of ironand the loose stones showered up behind him.But his head was whirling roundthe blood was gushing from his browhistemplehis mouth. Ever keener and sharper was the deadly pain which shot like ared-hot arrow through his side. He felt that his eye was glazinghis sensesslipping from himhis grasp upon the reins relaxing. Then with one mightyefforthe called up all his strength for a single minute. Stooping downheloosened the stirrup-strapsbound his knees tightly to his saddle-flapstwisted his hands in the bridleand thenputting the gallant horse's head forthe mountain pathhe dashed the spurs in and fell forward fainting with hisface buried in the coarseblack mane.

Little could he ever remember of that wild ride. Half consciousbut everwith the one thought beating in his mindhe goaded the horse onwardsrushingswiftly down steep ravines over huge bouldersalong the edges of black abysbes.Dim memories he had of beetling cliffsof a group of huts with wondering facesat the doorsof foamingclattering waterand of a bristle of mountainbeeches. Onceere he had ridden farhe heard behind him three deepsullenshoutswhich told him that his comrades had set their faces to the foe oncemore. Then all was blankuntil he woke to find kindly blue English eyes peeringdown upon him and to hear the blessed sound of his country's speech. They werebut a foraging party--a hundred archers and as many men at- arms-but theirleader was Sir Hugh Calverleyand he was not a man to bide idle when good blowswere to be had not three leagues from him. A scout was sent flying with amessage to the campand Sir Hughwith his two hundred menthundered off tothe rescue. With them went Alleynestill bound to his saddlestill drippingwith bloodand swooning and recoveringand swooning once again. On they rodeand onuntilat lasttopping a ridgethey looked down upon the fatefulvalley. Alas! and alas! for the sight that met their eyes.

Therebeneath themwas the blood-bathed hilland from the highest pinnaclethere flaunted the yellow and white banner with the lions and the towers of theroyal house of Castile. Up the long slope rushed ranks and ranks of menexultantshoutingwith waving pennons and brandished arms. Over the wholesummit were dense throngs of knightswith no enemy that could be seen to facethemsave only that at one corner of the plateau an eddy and swirl amid thecrowded mass seemed to show that all resistance was not yet at an end. At thesight a deep groan of rage and of despair went up from the baffled rescuersandspurring on their horsesthey clattered down the long and winding pathwhich led to the valley beneath.

But they were too late to avengeas they had been too late to save. Long erethey could gain the level groundthe Spaniardsseeing them riding swiftly amidthe rocksand being ignorant of their numbersdrew off from the captured hillandhaving secured their few prisonersrode slowly in a long columnwithdrum-beating and cymbal-clashingout of the valley. Their rear ranks werealready passing out of sight ere the new-comers were urging their pantingfoaming horses up the slope which had been the scene of that long drawn andbloody fight.

And a fearsome sight it was that met their eyes! Across the lower end lay thedense heap of men and horses where the first arrow-storm had burst. Abovethebodies of the dead and the dying--FrenchSpanishand Aragonese--lay thick andthickeruntil they covered the whole ground two and three deep in one dreadfultangle of slaughter. Above them lay the Englishmen in their lineseven as theyhad stoodand higher yet upon the plateau a wild medley of the dead of allnationswhere the last deadly grapple had left them. In the further cornerunder the shadow of a great rockthere crouched seven bowmenwith great Johnin the centre of them--all woundedwearyand in sorry casebut stillunconqueredwith their blood-stained weapons waving and their voices ringing awelcome to their countrymen. Alleyne rode across to Johnwhile Sir HughCalverley followed close behind him.

"By Saint George!" cried Sir Hugh"I have never seen signs ofso stern a fightand I am right glad that we have been in time to saveyou."

"You have saved more than us" said Johnpointing to the bannerwhich leaned against the rock behind him.

"You have done nobly" cried the old free companiongazing with asoldier's admiration at the huge frame and bold face of the archer. "Butwhy is itmy good fellowthat you sit upon this man."

"By the rood! I had forgot him" John answeredrising and draggingfrom under him no less a person than the Spanish caballeroDon Diego Alvarez."This manmy fair lordmeans to me a new houseten cowsone bull--if itbe but a little one--a grindstoneand I know not what besides; so that Ithought it well to sit upon himlest he should take a fancy to leave me."

"Tell meJohn" cried Alleyne faintly: "where is my dearlordSir Nigel Loring?"

"He is deadI fear. I saw them throw his body across a horse and rideaway with itbut I fear the life had gone from him."

"Now woe worth me! And where is Aylward?"

"He sprang upon a riderless horse and rode after Sir Nigel to save him.I saw them throng around himand he is either taken or slain."

"Blow the bugles!" cried Sir Hughwith a scowling brow. "Wemust back to campand ere three days I trust that we may see these Spaniardsagain. I would fain have ye all in my company."

"We are of the White Companymy fair lord" said John.

"Naythe White Company is here disbanded" answered Sir Hughsolemnlylooking round him at the lines of silent figures"Look to thebrave squirefor I fear that he will never see the sun rise again."

Chapter 38 - Of The Home-Coming To Hampshire

 


 

IT was a bright July morning four months after that fatal fight in theSpanish batranca. A blue heaven stretched abovea green rolling plain undulatedbelowintersected with hedge-rows and flecked with grazing sheep. The sun wasyet low in the heavenand the red cows stood in the long shadow of the elmschewing the cud and gazing with great vacant eyes at two horsemen who werespurring it down the long white road which dipped and curved away back to wherethe towers and pinnacles beneath the flat- topped hill marked the old town ofWinchester.

Of the riders one was younggracefuland fairclad in plain doublet andhosen of blue Brussels clothwhich served to show his active and well-knitfigure. A flat velvet cap was drawn forward to keep the glare from his eyesandhe rode with lips compressed and anxious faceas one who has much care upon hismind. Young as he wasand peaceful as was his dressthe dainty golden spurswhich twinkled upon his heels proclaimed his knighthoodwhile a long seam uponhis brow and a scar upon his temple gave a manly grace to his refined anddelicate countenance. His comrade was a largered-headed man upon a great blackhorsewith a huge canvas bag slung from his saddle- bowwhich jingled andclinked with every movement of his steed. His broadbrown face was lighted upby a continual smileand he looked slowly from side to side with eyes whichtwinkled and shone with delight. Well might John rejoicefor was he not back inhis native Hampshirehad he not Don Diego's five thousand crowns raspingagainst his kneeand above all was he not himself squire now to Sir AlleyneEdricsonthe young Socman of Minstead lately knighted by the sword of the BlackPrince himselfand esteemed by the whole army as one of the most rising of thesoldiers of England.

For the last stand of the Company had been told throughout Christendomwherever a brave deed of arms was lovedand honors had flowed in upon the fewwho had survived it. For two months Alleyne had wavered betwixt death and lifewith a broken rib and a shattered head; yet youth and strength and a cleanlylife were all upon his sideand he awoke from his long delirium to find thatthe war was overthat the Spaniards and their allies had been crushed atNavarettaand that the prince had himself heard the tale of his ride for succorand had come in person to his bedside to touch his shoulder with his sword andto insure that so brave and true a man should dieif he could not livewithinthe order of chivalry. The instant that he could set foot to ground Alleyne hadstarted in search of his lordbut no word could he hear of himdead or aliveand he had come home now sad-heartedin the hope of raising money upon hisestates and so starting upon his quest once more. Landing at Londonhe hadhurried on with a mind full of carefor he had heard no word from Hampshiresince the short note which had announced his brother's death.

"By the rood!" cried Johnlooking around him exultantly"where have we seen since we left such noble cowssuch fleecy sheepgrassso greenor a man so drunk as yonder rogue who lies in the gap of thehedge?"

"AhJohn" Alleyne answered wearily"it is well for youbutI never thought that my home-coming would be so sad a one. My heart is heavy formy dear lord and for Aylwardand I know not how I may break the news to theLady Mary and to the Lady Maudeif they have not yet had tidings of it."

John gave a groan which made the horses shy. "It is indeed a blackbusiness" said he. "But be not sadfor I shall give half thesecrowns to my old motherand half will I add to the money which you may haveand so we shall buy that yellow cog wherein we sailed to Bordeauxand in it weshall go forth and seek Sir Nigel."

Alleyne smiledbut shook his head. "Were he alive we should have hadword of him ere now" said he. "But what is this town before us?"

"Whyit is Romsey!" cried John. "See the tower of the oldgray churchand the long stretch of the nunnery. But here sits a very holy manand I shall give him a crown for his prayers."

Three large stones formed a rough cot by the roadsideand beside itbaskingin the sunsat the hermitwith clay-colored facedull eyesand long witheredhands. With crossed ankles and sunken head. he sat as though all his life hadpassed out of himwith the beads slipping slowly through his thinyellowfingers. Behind him lay the narrow cellclay-floored and dampcomfortlessprofitless and sordid. Beyond it there lay amid the trees the wattle-and-daubhut of a laborerthe door openand the single room exposed to the view. Theman ruddy and yellow- hairedstood leaning upon the spade wherewith he had beenat work upon the garden patch. From behind him came the ripple of a happywoman's laughterand two young urchins darted forth from the hutbare-leggedand towsywhile the motherstepping outlaid her hand upon her husband's armand watched the gambols of the children. The hermit frowned at the untowardnoise which broke upon his prayersbut his brow relaxed as he looked upon thebroad silver piece which John held out to him.

"There lies the image of our past and of our future" criedAlleyneas they rode on upon their way. "Nowwhich is betterto tillGod's earthto have happy faces round one's kneeand to love and be lovedorto sit forever moaning over one's own soullike a mother over a sickbabe?"

"I know not about that" said John"for it casts a greatcloud over me when I think of such matters. But I know that my crown was wellspentfor the man had the look of a very holy person. As to the othertherewas nought holy about him that I could seeand it would be cheaper for me topray for myself than to give a crown to one who spent his days in digging forlettuces."

Ere Alleyne could answer there swung round the curve of the road a lady'scarriage drawn by three horses abreast with a postilion upon the outer one. Veryfine and rich it waswith beams painted and giltwheels and spokes carved instrange figuresand over all an arched cover of red and white tapestry. Beneathits shade there sat a stout and elderly lady in a pink cote- hardieleaningback among a pile of cushionsand plucking out her eyebrows with a small pairof silver tweezers. None could seem more safe and secure and at her ease thanthis ladyyet here also was a symbol of human lifefor in an instanteven asAlleyne reined aside to let the carriage passa wheel flew out from among itsfellowsand over it all toppled--carvingtapestry and gilt--in one wild heapwith the horses plungingthe postilion shoutingand the lady screaming fromwithin. In an instant Alleyne and John were on footand had lifted her forthall in a shake with fearbut little the worse for her mischance.

"Now woe worth me!" she cried"and ill fall on MichaelEasover of Romsey! for I told him that the pin was looseand yet he must needsgainsay melike the foolish daffe that he is."

"I trust that you have taken no hurtmy fair lady" said Alleyneconducting her to the bankupon which John had already placed a cushion.

"NayI have had no scaththough I have lost my silver tweezers. Nowlack-a-day! did God ever put breath into such a fool as Michael Easover ofRomsey? But I am much beholden to yougentle sirs. Soldiers ye areas one mayreadily see. I am myself a soldier's daughter" she addedcasting asomewhat languishing glance at John"and my heart ever goes out to a braveman."

"We are indeed fresh from Spain" quoth Alleyne.

"From Spainsay you? Ah! it was an ill and sorry thing that so manyshould throw away the lives that Heaven gave them. In soothit is bad for thosewho fallbut worse for those who bide behind. I have but now bid farewell toone who hath lost all in this cruel war."

"And how thatlady?"

"She is a young damsel of these partsand she goes now into a nunnery.Alack! it is not a year since she was the fairest maid from Avon to Itchenandnow it was more than I could abide to wait at Rumsey Nunnery to see her put thewhite veil upon her facefor she was made for a wife and not for the cloister.Did you evergentle sirhear of a body of men called 'The White Company' overyonder?"

"Surely so" cried both the comrades.

"Her father was the leader of itand her lover served under him assquire. News hath come that not one of the Company was left aliveand sopoorlambshe hath----"

"Lady!" cried Alleynewith catching breath"is it the LadyMaude Loring of whom you speak?"

"It isin sooth."

"Maude! And in a nunnery! Didthenthe thought of her father's deathso move her?"

"Her father!" cried the ladysmiling. "Nay; Maude is a gooddaughterbut I think it was this young golden-haired squire of whom I haveheard who has made her turn her back upon the world."

"And I stand talking here!" cried Alleyne wildly. "ComeJohncome!"

Rushing to his horsehe swung himself into the saddleand was off down theroad in a rolling cloud of dust as fast as his good steed could bear him.

Great had been the rejoicing amid the Romsey nuns when the Lady Maude Loringhad craved admission into their order--for was she not sole child and heiress ofthe old knightwith farms and fiefs which she could bring to the great nunnery?Long and earnest had been the talks of the gaunt lady abbessin which she hadconjured the young novice to turn forever from the worldand to rest herbruised heart under the broad and peaceful shelter of the church. And nowwhenall was settledand when abbess and lady superior had had their willit wasbut fitting that some pomp and show should mark the glad occasion. Hence was itthat the good burghers of Romsey were all in the streetsthat gay flags andflowers brightened the path from the nunnery to the churchand that a longprocession wound up to the old arched door leading up the bride to thesespiritual nuptials. There was lay-sister Agatha with the high gold crucifixandthe three incense-bearersand the two-and-twenty garbed in whitewho castflowers upon either side of them and sang sweetly the while. Thenwith fourattendantscame the noviceher drooping head wreathed with white blossomsandbehindthe abbess and her council of older nunswho were already countingin their minds whether their own bailiff could manage the farms of Twynhamorwhether a reve would be needed beneath himto draw the utmost from these newpossessions which this young novice was about to bring them.

But alas! for plots and plans when love and youth and natureand above allfortune are arrayed against them. Who is this travel- stained youth who dares toride so madly through the lines of staring burghers? Why does he fling himselffrom his horae and stare so strangely about him? See how he has rushed throughthe incense-bearersthrust aside lay-sister Agathascattered thetwo-and-twenty damosels who sang so sweetly--and he stands before the novicewith his hands out-stretchedand his face shiningand the light of love in hisgray eyes. Her foot is on the very lintel of the churchand yet he bars theway--and sheshe thinks no more of the wise words and holy rede of the ladyabbessbut she hath given a sobbing cry and hath fallen forward with his armsaround her drooping body and her wet cheek upon his breast. A sorry sight thisfor the gaunt abbessan ill lesson too for the stainless two-and-twenty whohave ever been taught that the way of nature is the way of sin. But Maude andAlleyne care little for this. A dankcold air comes out from the black archbefore them. Withoutthe sun shines bright and the birds are singing amid theivy on the drooping beeches. Their choice is madeand they turn awayhand-in-handwith their backs to the darkness and their faces to the light.

Very quiet was the wedding in the old priory church at ChristchurchwhereFather Christopher read the serviceand there were few to see save the LadyLoring and Johnand a dozen bowmen from the castle. The Lady of Twynham haddrooped and pined for weary monthsso that her face was harsher and less comelythan beforeyet she still hoped onfor her lord had come through so manydangers that she could scarce believe that he might be stricken down at last. Ithad been her wish to start for Spain and to search for himbut Alleyne hadpersuaded her to let him go in her place. There was much to look afternow thatthe lands of Minstead were joined to those of Twynhamand Alleyne had promisedher that if she would but bide with his wife he would never come back toHampshire again until he had gained some newsgood or illof her lord andlover.

The yellow cog had been engagedwith Goodwin Hawtayne in commandand amonth after the wedding Alleyne rode down to Bucklershard to see if she had comeround yet from Southampton. On the way he passed the fishing village of Pitt'sDeepand marked that a little creyer or brig was tacking off the landasthough about to anchor there. On his way backas he rode towards the villagehe saw that she had indeed anchoredand that many boats were round herbearingcargo to the shore.

A bow-shot from Pitt's Deep there was an inn a little back from the roadvery large and wide-spreadwith a great green bush hung upon a pole from one ofthe upper windows. At this window he markedas he rode upthat a man wasseated who appeared to be craning his neck in his direction. Alleyne was stilllooking up at himwhen a woman came rushing from the open door of the innandmade as though she would climb a treelooking back the while with a laughingface. Wondering what these doings might meanAlleyne tied his horse to a treeand was walking amid the trunks towards the innwhen there shot from theentrance a second woman who made also for the trees. Close at her heels came aburlybrown-faced manwho leaned against the door-post and laughed loudly withhis hand to his side"Ahmes belles!" he cried"and is it thusyou treat me? Ahmes petites! I swear by these finger-bones that I would nothurt a hair of your pretty heads; but I have been among the black paynimandby my hilt! it does me good to look at your English cheeks. Comedrink a stoupof muscadine with memes angesfor my heart is warm to be among yeagain."

At the sight of the man Alleyne had stood staringbut at the sound of hisvoice such a thrill of joy bubbled up in his heart that he had to bite his lipto keep himself from shouting outright. But a deeper pleasure yet was in store.Even as he lookedthe window above was pushed outwardsand the voice of theman whom he had seen there came out from it. "Aylward" cried thevoice"I have seen just now a very worthy person come down the roadthough my eyes could scarce discern whether he carried coat-armor. I pray you towait upon him and tell him that a very humble knight of England abides heresothat if he be in need of advancementor have any small vow upon his soulordesire to exalt his ladyI may help him to accomplish it."

Aylward at this order came shuffling forward amid the treesand in aninstant the two men were clinging in each other's armslaughing and shoutingand patting each other in their delight; while old Sir Nigel came running withhis swordunder the impression that some small bickering had broken outonlyto embrace and be embraced himselfuntil all three were hoarse with theirquestions and outcries and congratulations.

On their journey home through the woods Alleyne learnt their wondrous story:howwhen Sir Nigel came to his senseshe with his fellow-captive had beenhurried to the coastand conveyed by sea to their captor's castle; how upon theway they had been taken by a Barbary roverand how they exchanged their lightcaptivity for a seat on a galley bench and hard labor at the pirate's oars; howin the port at BarbarySir Nigel had slain the Moorish captainand had swumwith Aylward to a small coaster which they had takenand so made their way toEngland with a rich cargo to reward them for their toils. All this Alleynelistened tountil the dark keep of Twynham towered above them in the gloamingand they saw the red sun lying athwart the rippling Avon. No need to speak ofthe glad hearts at Twynham Castle that nightnor of the rich offerings from outthat Moorish cargo which found their way to the chapel of Father Christopher.

Sir Nigel Loring lived for many yearsfull of honor and laden with everyblessing. He rode no more to the warsbut he found his way to every joustingwithin thirty miles; and the Hampshire youth treasured it as the highest honorwhen a word of praise fell from him as to their management of their horsesortheir breaking of their lances. So he lived and so he diedthe most revered andthe happiest man in all his native shire.

For Sir Alleyne Edricson and for his beautiful bride the future had alsonaught but what was good. Twice he fought in Franceand came back each timeladen with honors. A high place at court was given to himand he spent manyyears at Windsor under the second Richard and the fourth Henry--where hereceived the honor of the Garterand won the name of being a brave soldieratrue- hearted gentlemanand a great lover and patron of every art and sciencewhich refines or ennobles life.

As to Johnhe took unto himself a village maidand settled in Lyndhurstwhere his five thousand crowns made him the richest franklin for many milesaround. For many years he drank his ale every night at the "PiedMerlin" which was now kept by his friend Aylwardwho had wedded the goodwidow to whom he had committed his plunder. The strong men and the bowmen of thecountry round used to drop in there of an evening to wrestle a fall with John orto shoot a round with Aylward; butthough a silver shilling was to be the prizeof the victoryit has never been reported that any man earned much money inthat fashion. So they livedthese menin their own lustycheery fashion--rudeand roughbut honestkindly and true. Let us thank God if we have outgrowntheir vices. Let us pray to God that we may ever hold their virtues. The sky maydarkenand the clouds may gatherand again the day may come when Britain mayhave sore need of her childrenon whatever shore of the sea they be found.Shall they not muster at her call?




Google