Infomotions, Inc.In the Days of Chivalry / Everett-Green, Evelyn, 1856-1932



Author: Everett-Green, Evelyn, 1856-1932
Title: In the Days of Chivalry
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): raymond; gaston; basildene; peter sanghurst; joan; prince
Contributor(s): Seitz, Don C. (Don Carlos), 1862-1935 [Compiler]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 155,784 words (average) Grade range: 10-13 (high school) Readability score: 65 (easy)
Identifier: etext13183
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Title: In the Days of Chivalry

Author: Evelyn Everett-Green

Release Date: August 15, 2004 [EBook #13183]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK IN THE DAYS OF CHIVALRY ***




Produced by Martin Robb





  In the Days of Chivalry

A Tale of the Times of the Black Prince

by Evelyn Everett-Green.



    CHAPTER I. THE TWIN EAGLETS.


Autumn was upon the world -- the warm and gorgeous autumn of the south
-- autumn that turned the leaves upon the trees to every hue of russet,
scarlet, and gold, that transformed the dark solemn aisles of the
trackless forests of Gascony into what might well have been palaces of
fairy beauty, and covered the ground with a thick and soundless carpet
of almost every hue of the rainbow.

The sun still retained much of its heat and power, and came slanting in
between the huge trunks of the forest trees in broad shafts of quivering
light. Overhead the soft wind from the west made a ceaseless, dreamy
music and here and there the solemn silence of the forest was broken by
the sweet note of some singing bird or the harsh croak of the raven. At
night the savage cry of the wolf too often disturbed the rest of the
scattered dwellers in that vast forest, and made a belated traveller
look well to the sharpness of his weapons and the temper of his
bowstring; but by day and in the sunlight the forest was beautiful and
quiet enough -- something too quiet, perhaps, for the taste of the two
handsome lads who were pacing the dim aisles together, their arms
entwined and their curly heads in close proximity as they walked and talked.

The two lads were of exactly the same height, and bore a strong likeness
one to the other. Their features were almost identical, but the
colouring was different, so that no one who saw them in a good light
would be likely to mistake or confuse them. Both had the oval face and
delicate regular features which we English sometimes call
"foreign-looking;" but then again they both possessed the broad
shoulders, the noble height, the erect carriage, and frank, fearless
bearing which has in it something distinctively English, and which had
distinguished these lads from their infancy from the children of the
country of their adoption. Then, though Raymond had the dark, liquid
eyes of the south, Gaston's were as blue as the summer skies; and again,
whilst Gaston's cheek was of a swarthy hue, Raymond's was as fair as
that of an English maiden; and both had some golden gleams in their
curly brown hair --- hair that clustered round their heads in a thick,
waving mass, and gave a leonine look to the bold, eager faces. "The lion
cubs" had been one of the many nicknames given to the brothers by the
people round, who loved them, yet felt that they would not always keep
them in their quiet forest. "The twin eaglets" was another such name;
and truly there was something of the keen wildness of the eagle's eye in
the flashing blue eyes of Gaston. The eager, delicate features and the
slightly aquiline noses of the pair added, perhaps, to this resemblance;
and there had been many whispers of late to the effect that the eaglets
would not remain long in the nest now, but would spread their wings for
a wider flight.

Born and bred though they had been at the mill in the great forest that
covered almost the whole of the district of Sauveterre, they were no
true children of the mill. What had scions of the great house of the De
Brocas to do with a humble miller of Gascony? The boys were true sons of
their house -- grafts of the parent stock. The Gascon peasants looked at
them with pride, and murmured that the day would come when they would
show the world the mettle of which they were made. Those were stirring
times for Gascony -- when Gascony was a fief of the English Crown,
sorely coveted by the French monarch, but tenaciously held on to by the
"Roy Outremer," as the great Edward was called; the King who, as was
rumoured, was claiming as his own the whole realm of France. And
Gascony, it must be remembered, did not in those days hold herself to be
a part of France nor a part of the French monarchy. She held a much more
important place than she would have done had she been a mere fief of the
French Crown. She had a certain independence of her own -- her own
language, her own laws, her own customs and she saw no humiliation in
owning the sovereignty of England's King, since she bad passed under
English rule through no act of conquest or aggression on England's part,
but by the peaceful fashion of marriage, when nearly two centuries ago
Eleanor of Aquitaine had brought to her lord, King Henry the Second, the
fair lands of which Gascony formed a part. Gascony had grown and
flourished apace since then, and was rich, prosperous, and content. Her
lords knew how important she might be in days to come, when the
inevitable struggle between the rival Kings of France and England should
commence; and like an accomplished coquette, she made the most of her
knowledge, and played her part well, watching her opportunity for
demanding an increase of those rights and privileges of which she had
not a few already.

But it was not of their country's position that the twin brothers were
so eagerly talking as they wandered together along the woodland paths.
It was little indeed that they knew of what was passing in the wide
world that lay beyond their peaceful home, little that they heard of the
strife of party or the suspicious jealousy of two powerful monarchs --
jealousy which must, as all long-sighted men well knew, break into open
warfare before long. It was of matters nearer to their own hearts that
the brothers spoke as they sauntered through the woodland paths
together; and Gaston's blue eyes flashed fire as he paused and tossed
back the tangled curls from his broad brow.

"It is our birthright -- our land, our castle. Do they not all say that
in old days it was a De Brocas, not a Navailles, that ruled there?
Father Anselm hath told us a thousand times how the English King issued
mandate after mandate bidding him give up his ill-gotten gains, and
restore the lands of his rival; and yet he failed to do it. I trow had I
been in the place of our grandsire, I would not so tamely have sat down
beneath so great an affront. I would have fought to the last drop of my
blood to enforce my rights, and win back my lost inheritance Brother,
why should not thou and I do that one day? Canst thou be content for
ever with this tame life with honest Jean and Margot at the mill? Are we
the sons of peasants? Does their blood run in our veins? Raymond, thou
art as old as I -- thou hast lived as long. Canst thou remember our dead
mother? Canst thou remember her last charge to us?"

Raymond had nodded his head at the first question; he nodded it again
now, a glance of strange eagerness stealing into his dark eyes. Although
the two youths wore the dress of peasant boys -- suits of undyed
homespun only very slightly finer in make than was common in those parts
-- they spoke the English tongue, and spoke it with purity and ease. It
needed no trained eye to see that it was something more than peasant
blood that ran in their veins, albeit the peasant race of Gascony in
those days was perhaps the freest, the finest, the most independent in
the whole civilized world.

"I remember well," answered Raymond quickly; "nay, what then?"

"What then? Spoke she not of a lost heritage which it behoved us to
recover? Spoke she not of rights which the sons of the De Brocas had
power to claim -- rights which the great Roy Outremer had given to them,
and which it was for them to win back when the time should come? Dost
thou remember? dost thou heed? And now that we are approaching to man's
estate, shall we not think of these things? Shall we not be ready when
the time comes?"

Raymond gave a quick look at his brother. His own eyes were full of
eager light, but he hesitated a moment before asking:

"And thinkest thou, Gaston, that in speaking thus our mother would fain
have had us strive to recover the castle and domain of Saut?"

"In good sooth yea," answered Gaston quickly. "Was it not reft from our
grandsire by force? Has it not been kept from him ever since by that
hostile brood of Navailles, whom all men hate for their cruelty and
oppression? Brother, have we not heard of dark and hideous deeds done in
that same castle -- deeds that shame the very manhood of those that
commit them, and make all honest folk curse them in their hearts?
Raymond, thou and I have longed this many a day to sally forth to fight
for the Holy Sepulchre against the Saracens; yet have we not a crusade
here at home that calls us yet more nearly? Hast thou not thought of it,
too, by day, and dreamed of it by night? To plant the De Brocas ensign
above the walls of Saut -- that would indeed be a thing to live for.
Methinks I see the banner already waving over the proud battlements."

Gaston's eyes flashed and glowed, and Raymond's caught an answering
gleam, but still he hesitated awhile, and then said:

"I fain would think that some day such a thing might be; but, Brother,
he is a powerful and wily noble, and they say that he is high in favour
with the Roy Outremer. What chance have two striplings like ourselves
against so strong a foe? To take a castle, men must be found, and money
likewise, and we have neither; and all men stand in deadly terror of the
wrath of the Sieur de Navailles. Do they not keep even our name a secret
from him, lest he should swoop down upon the mill with his armed
retainers and carry us off thence -- so hates he the whole family that
bears the name of De Brocas? What could we do against power such as his?
I trow nothing. We should be but as pygmies before a giant."

Gaston's face had darkened. He could not gainsay his brother's reluctant
words, but he chafed beneath them as a restive horse beneath the curb
rein tightly drawn.

"Yet our mother bid us watch and be ready. She spoke often of our lost
inheritance, and she knew all the peril, the danger."

Raymond's eyes sought his brother's face. He looked like one striving to
recall a dim and almost lost memory.

"But thinkest thou, Gaston, that in thus speaking our mother was
thinking of the strong fortress of Saut? I can scarce believe that she
would call that our birthright. For we are not of the eldest branch of
our house. There must be many whose title would prove far better than
our own. We might perchance win it back to the house of De Brocas by act
of conquest; but even so, I misdoubt me if we should hold it in peace.
We have proud kinsfolk in England, they tell us, whose claim, doubtless,
would rank before ours. They care not to cross the water to win back the
lands themselves, yet I trow they would put their claim before the King
did tidings reach them that their strong and wily foe had been ousted
therefrom. We win not back lands for others to hold, nor would we
willingly war against our own kindred. Methinks, my Brother, that our
mother had other thoughts in her mind when she spoke of our rightful
inheritance."

"Other thoughts! nay, now, what other thoughts?" asked Gaston, with
quick impatience. "I have never dreamed but of Saut. I have called it in
my thoughts our birthright ever since we could walk far enow to look
upon its frowning battlements perched upon yon wooded crag."

And Gaston stretched out his hand in the direction in which the Castle
of Saut lay, not many leagues distant.

"We have heard naught save of Saut ever since we could run alone. What
but that could our mother's words have boded? Sure she looked to us to
recover yon fortress as our father once meant to do?"

"I know not altogether, and yet I can scarce believe it was so. Would
that our father had left some commands we might have followed. But,
Brother, canst thou not recall that other name she spoke so many a time
and oft as she lay a-dying? Sure it was some such name as Basildon or
Basildene -- the name of some fair spot, I trow, where she must once
have lived. Gaston, canst thou remember the day when she called us to
her, and joined our hands together, and spoke of us as 'the twin
brothers of Basildene'? I have scarce thought of it from that hour to
this, but it comes back now clearly to my mind. In sooth, it might well
have been of Basildene she was thinking when she gave us that last
charge. What could she have known or cared for Saut and its domain? She
had fled hither from England, I know not why. She knew but little of the
ways and the thoughts of those amongst whom she had come to dwell. It
might well have been of her own land that she was thinking so oft. I
verily believe that Basildene is our lost inheritance."

"Basildene!" said Gaston quickly, with a start as of recollection
suddenly stirred to life; "sure I remember the name right well now that
thy words bring it back to mind. Yet it is years since I have heard it
spoke. Raymond, knowest thou where is this Basildene?"

"In England, I well believe," was the answer of the other brother.
"Methinks it was the name of our mother's home. I seem to remember how
she told us of it -- the old house over the sea, where she had lived.
Perchance it was once her own in very sooth, and some turbulent baron or
jealous kinsman drove her forth from it, even as we of the house of De
Brocas have been ousted from the Castle of Saut. Brother, if that be so,
Basildene is more our inheritance than yon gloomy fortress can be. We
are our mother's only children, and when she joined our hands together
she called us the twins of Basildene. I trow that we have an inheritance
of our very own, Gaston, away over the blue water yonder."

Gaston's eyes flashed with sudden ardour and purpose.

Often of late had the twins talked together of the future that lay
before them, of the doughty deeds they would accomplish; yet so far
nothing of definite purpose had entered into their minds. Gaston's
dreams had been all of the ancient fortress of Saut, now for long years
passed into the hands of the hostile family, the terrible and
redoubtable Sieur de Navailles, who was feared throughout the length and
breadth of the country round about his house. Raymond had been dimly
conscious of other thoughts and purposes, but memory was only gradually
recalling to his mind the half-forgotten days of childhood, when the
twin eaglets had stood at their mother's knee to talk with her in her
own tongue of the land across the water where was her home -- the land
to which their father had lately passed, upon some mission the children
were too young to understand.

Now the faint dim memories had returned clear and strong. The long
silence was broken. Eagerly the boys strove to recall the past, and bit
by bit things pieced themselves together in their minds till they could
not but marvel how they had so long forgotten. Yet it is often so in
youth. Days pass by one after the other unnoticed and unmarked. Then all
in a moment some new train of thought or purpose is awakened, a new
element enters life, making it from that day something different; and by
a single bound the child becomes a youth -- the youth a man.

Some such change as this was passing over the twin brothers at this
time. A deep-seated dissatisfaction with their present surroundings had
long been growing up in their hearts. They were happy in a fashion in
the humble home at the mill, with good Jean the miller, and Margot his
wife who had been their nurse and a second mother to them all their
lives; but they knew that a great gulf divided them from the Gascon
peasants amongst whom they lived -- a gulf recognized by all those with
whom they came in contact, and in nowise bridged by the fact that the
brothers shared in a measure the simple peasant life, and had known no
other.

Their very name of De Brocas spoke of the race of nobles who had long
held almost sovereign rights over a large tract of country watered by
the Adour and its many tributary streams; and although at this time, the
year of grace 1342, the name of De Brocas was no more heard, but that of
the proud Sieur de Navailles who now reigned there instead, the old name
was loved and revered amongst the people, and the boys were bred up in
all the traditions of their race, till the eagle nature at last asserted
itself, and they felt that life could no longer go on in its old
accustomed groove. Had they not been taught from infancy that a great
future lay before them? and what could that future be but the winning
back of their old ancestral lands and rights?

Perhaps they would have spoken more of this deeply-seated hope had it
not been so very chimerical -- so apparently impossible of present
fulfilment. To wrest from the proud and haughty Sieur de Navailles the
vast territory and strong castle that had been held by him in open
defiance of many mandates from a powerful King, was a task that even the
sanguine and ambitious boys knew to be a hundred times too hard for
them. If they had dreamed of it in their hearts, they had scarce named
the hope even to each other. But today the brooding silence had been
broken. The twins had taken counsel one with the other; and now burning
thoughts of this other fair inheritance were in the minds of both. What
golden possibilities did not open out before them? How small a matter it
seemed to cross the ocean and claim as their own that unknown Basildene!
Both were certain that their mother had held it in her own right. Sure,
if there were right or justice in the kingdom of the Roy Outremer, they
would but have to show who and what they were, to become in very fact
what their mother had loved to call them -- the twin brothers of Basildene.

How their young hearts swelled with delighted expectation at the thought
of leaving behind the narrow life of the mill, and going forth into the
wide world to seek fame and fortune there! And England was no such
foreign land to them, albeit they had never been above ten leagues from
the mill where they had been born and brought up. Was not their mother
an Englishwoman? Had she not taught them the language of her country,
and begged them never to forget it? And could they not speak it now as
well as they spoke the language of Gascony -- better than they spoke the
French of the great realm to which Gascony in a fashion belonged?

The thought of travel always brings with it a certain exhilaration,
especially to the young and ardent, and thoughts of such a journey on
such a quest could not but be tinged with all the rainbow hues of hope.

"We will go; we will go right soon!" cried Gaston. "Would that we could
go tomorrow! Why have we lingered here so long, when we might have been
up and doing years ago?"

"Nay, Brother, we were but children years ago. We are not yet sixteen.
Yet methinks our manhood comes the faster to us for that noble blood
runs in our veins. But we will speak to Father Anselm. He has always
been our kindest friend. He will best counsel us whether to go forth, or
whether to tarry yet longer at home --"

"I will tarry no longer; I pant to burst my bonds," cried the impetuous
Gaston; and Raymond was in no whit less eager, albeit he had something
more of his mother's prudence and self-restraint.

"Methinks the holy Father will bid us go forth," he said thoughtfully.
"He has oft spoken to us of England and the Roy Outremer, and has ever
bidden us speak our mother's tongue, and not forget it here in these
parts where no man else speaks it. I trow he has foreseen the day when
we should go thither to claim our birthright. Our mother told him many
things that we were too young to hear. Perchance he could tell us more
of Basildene than she ever did, if we go to him and question him thereupon."

Gaston nodded his head several times.

"Thou speakest sooth, Brother," said he. "We will go to him forthwith.
We will take counsel with him, albeit --"

Gaston did not finish his sentence, for two reasons. One was that his
brother knew so well what words were on his lips that speech was
well-nigh needless; the other, that he was at that moment rudely
interrupted. And although the brothers had no such thought at the time,
it is probable that this interruption and its consequences had a very
distinct bearing upon their after lives, and certainly it produced a
marked effect upon the counsel they subsequently received from their
spiritual father, who, but for that episode, might strongly have
dissuaded the youths from going forth so young into the world.

The interruption came in the form of an angry hail from a loud and gruff
voice, full of impatience and resentment.

"Out of my path, ye base-born peasants!" shouted a horseman who had just
rounded the sharp angle taken by the narrow bridle path, and was brought
almost to a standstill by the tall figures of the two stalwart youths,
which took up the whole of the open way between the trees and their
thick undergrowth. "Stand aside, ye idle loons! Know ye not how to make
way for your betters? Then, in sooth, I will teach you a lesson;" and a
thick hide lash came whirling through the air and almost lighted upon
the shoulders of Gaston, who chanced to be the nearer.

But such an insult as that was not to be borne. Even a Gascon peasant
might well have sprung upon a solitary adversary of noble blood had he
ventured to assault him thus, without support from his train of
followers. As for Gaston, he hesitated not an instant, but with flashing
eyes he sprang at the right arm of his powerful adversary, and had
wrested the whip from him and tossed it far away before the words were
well out of the angry lord's mouth.

With a great oath the man drew his sword; but the youth laughed him to
scorn as he stepped back out of reach of the formidable weapon. He well
knew his advantage. Light of foot, though all unarmed, he could defy any
horseman in this wooded spot. No horse could penetrate to the right or
left of the narrow track. Even if the knight dismounted, the twin
brothers, who knew every turn and winding of these dim forest paths,
could lead him a fine dance, and then break away and let him find his
way out as best he could. Fearless and impetuous as Gaston ever was, at
this moment his fierce spirit was stirred more deeply within him than it
had ever been before, for in this powerful warrior who had dared to
insult both him and his brother, ay, and their mother's fair fame too --
he recognized the lineaments of the hated Sieur de Navailles.

The more cautious Raymond had done the same, and now he spoke in low
though urgent accents.

"Have a care, Brother! Knowest thou who it be?"

"Know? ay, that I do. It is he who now holds by force and tyranny those
fair lands which should be ours -- lands which our forefathers held from
generation to generation, which should be theirs now, were right and
justice to be had, as one day it may be, when the Roy Outremer comes in
person, as men say he will one day come, and all men may have access to
his royal presence. And he, the tyrant, the usurper, dares to call us
base born, to call us peasants, we who own a nobler name than he!

"The day will come, proud man, when thou shalt rue the hour when thou
spakest thus to me -- to me who am thy equal, ay, and more than thy
equal, in birth, and who will some day come and prove it to thee at the
sword's point!"

Many expressions had flitted over the rider's face as these bold words
had been spoken -- anger, astonishment, then an unspeakable fury, which
made Gaston look well to the hand which held the shining sword; last of
all an immense astonishment of a new kind, a perplexity not unmixed with
dismay, and tinged with a lively curiosity. As the youth ceased speaking
the knight sheathed his sword, and when he replied his voice was pitched
in a very different key.

"I pray you pardon, young sirs," he said, glancing quickly from one
handsome noble face to the other. "I knew not that I spoke to those of
gentle birth. The dress deceived me. Tell me now, good youths, who and
whence are ye? You have spoken in parables so far; tell me more plainly,
what is your name and kindred?"

Raymond, who had heard somewhat of the enmity of the Sieur de Navailles,
and knew that their identity as sons of the house of De Brocas had
always been kept from his knowledge, here pressed his brother's arm as
though to suggest the necessity for caution; but Gaston's hot blood was
up. The talk they had been holding together had strung his nerves to the
utmost pitch of tension. He was weary of obscurity, weary of the peasant
life. He cared not how soon he threw off the mask. Asked a downright
question, even by a foe, it was natural to him to make a straightforward
answer, and he spoke without fear and without hesitation.

"We are the sons of Arnald de Brocas. De Brocas is our name; we can
prove it whenever such proof becomes needful. Our fathers held these
fair lands long ere you or yours did. The day may come when a De Brocas
may reign here once more, and the cursed brood of Navailles be rooted
out for ever."

And without waiting to see the effect produced by such words upon the
haughty horseman, the two brothers dashed off into the wood, and were
speedily lost to sight.



    CHAPTER II. FATHER ANSELM.


The mill of Sainte-Foi, which was the home of the twin brothers of the
De Brocas line, was situated upon a tributary stream of the river Adour,
and was but a couple of leagues distant from the town of Sauveterre --
one of those numerous "bastides" or "villes Anglaises" built by the
great King Edward the First of England during his long regency of the
province of Gascony in the lifetime of his father. It was one of those
so-called "Filleules de Bordeaux" which, bound by strong ties to the
royal city, the queen of the Garonne, stood by her and played so large a
part in the great drama of the Hundred Years' War. Those cities had been
built by a great king and statesman to do a great work, and to them were
granted charters of liberties such as to attract into their walls large
numbers of persons who helped originally in the construction of the new
townships, and then resided there, and their children after them, proud
of the rights and immunities they claimed, and loyally true to the cause
of the English Kings, which made them what they were.

It is plain to the reader of the history of those days that Gascony
could never have remained for three hundred years a fief of the English
Crown, had it not been to the advantage of her people that she should so
remain. Her attachment to the cause of the Roy Outremer, her willing
homage to him, would never have been given for so long a period of time,
had not the people of the land found that it was to their own
advancement and welfare thus to accord this homage and fealty.

Nor is the cause for this advantage far to seek. Gascony was of immense
value to England, and of increasing value as she lost her hold upon the
more northerly portions of France. The wine trade alone was so
profitable that the nobility, and even the royal family of England,
traded on their own account. Bordeaux, with its magnificent harbour and
vast trade, was a queen amongst maritime cities. The vast "landes" of
the province made the best possible rearing ground for the chargers and
cavalry horses to which England owed much of her warlike supremacy;
whilst the people themselves, with their strength and independence of
character, their traditions of personal and individual freedom which can
be clearly traced back to the Roman occupation of the province, and
their long attachment to England and her King, were the most valuable of
allies; and although they must have been regarded to a certain extent as
foreigners when on English soil, they still assimilated better and
worked more easily with British subjects than any pure Frenchman had
ever been found to do.

Small wonder then that so astute a monarch as the First Edward had taken
vast pains to draw closer the bond which united this fair province to
England. The bold Gascons well knew that they would find no such
liberties as they now enjoyed did they once put themselves beneath the
rule of the French King. His country was already overgrown and almost
unmanageable. He might cast covetous eyes upon Gascony, but he would not
pour into it the wealth that flowed steadily from prosperous England. He
would not endow it with charters, each one more liberal than the last,
or bind it to his kingdom by giving it a pre-eminence that would but
arouse the jealousy of its neighbours. No: the shrewd Gaseous knew that
full well, and knew when they were well off. They could often obtain an
increase of liberty and an enlarged charter of rights by coquetting with
the French monarch, and thus rousing the fears of the English King; but
they had no wish for any real change, and lived happily and prosperously
beneath the rule of the Roy Outremer; and amongst all the freemen of the
Gascon world, none enjoyed such full privileges as those who lived
within the walls of the "villes Anglaises," of which Sauveterre was one
amongst the smaller cities.

The construction of these towns (now best seen in Libourne) is very
simple, and almost always practically the same -- a square in the centre
formed by the public buildings, with eight streets radiating from it,
each guarded by a gate. An outer ditch or moat protected the wall or
palisade, and the towns were thus fortified in a simple but effective
manner, and guarded as much by their own privileges as by any outer
bulwarks. The inhabitants were bound together by close ties, and each
smaller city looked to the parent city of Bordeaux, and was proud of the
title of her daughter.

Sauveterre and its traditions and its communistic life were familiar
enough, and had been familiar from childhood to the twin brothers.

Halfway between the mill and the town stood a picturesque and scattered
hamlet, and to this hamlet was attached a church, of which a pious
ecclesiastic, by name Father Anselm, had charge. He was a man of much
personal piety, and was greatly beloved through all the countryside,
where he was known in every hut and house for leagues around the doors
of his humble home. He was, as was so frequently the case in those
times, the doctor and the scribe, as well as the spiritual adviser, of
his entire flock; and he was so much trusted and esteemed that all men
told him their affairs and asked advice, not in the confessional alone,
but as one man speaking to another in whom he has strong personal
confidence.

The twin brothers knew that during the years when their dead mother had
resided at the mill with honest Jean and Margot (they began greatly to
wonder now why she had so lived in hiding and obscurity), she had been
constantly visited by the holy Father, and that she had told him things
about herself and her history which were probably known to no other
human being beside. Brought up as the youths had been, and trained in a
measure beneath the kindly eye of the priest, they would in any case
have asked his counsel and blessing before taking any overt step in
life; but all the more did they feel that they must speak to him now,
since he was probably the only person within their reach who could tell
them anything as to their own parentage and history that they did not
know already.

"We will go to him upon the morrow," said Gaston with flashing eyes. "We
will rise with the sun -- or before it -- and go to him ere his day's
work is begun. He will surely find time to talk with us when he hears
the errand upon which we come. I trow now that when he has sat at our
board, and has bent upon our faces those glances I have not known how to
read aright, he has been wondering how long it would be ere we should
awake to the knowledge that this peasant life is not the life of the De
Brocas race, guessing that we should come to him for counsel and
instruction ere we spread our wings to flee away. They call us eaglets
in sooth; and do eaglets rest for ever in their mountain eyry? Nay, they
spread their wings as strength comes upon them, and soar upwards and
onwards to see for themselves the great world around; even as thou and I
will soar away, Brother, and seek other fortunes than will ever be ours
here in Sauveterre."

With these burning feelings in their hearts, it was no wonder that the
twins uttered a simultaneous exclamation of satisfaction and pleasure
when, as they approached the mill, they were aware of the familiar
figure of Father Anselm sitting at the open door of the living house,
engaged, as it seemed, in an animated discussion with the worthy miller
and his good wife.

The look which the Father bent upon the two youths as they approached
betrayed a very deep and sincere affection for them; and when after
supper they asked to speak with him in private, he readily acceded to
their request, accepting the offer of a bed from the miller's wife, as
already the sun had long set, and his own home was some distance away.

The faces of Jean and Margot were grave with anxious thought, and that
of the priest seemed to reflect something of the same expression; for
during the course of the simple meal which all had shared together,
Gaston had told of the unlooked-for encounter with the proud Sieur de
Navailles in the forest, and of the defiance he had met with from the
twin eaglets. As the good miller and his wife heard how Gaston had
openly declared his name and race to the implacable foe of his house,
they wrung their hands together and uttered many lamentable
exclamations. The present Lord of Saut was terribly feared throughout
the neighbourhood in which he dwelt. His fierce and cruel temper had
broken forth again and again in acts of brutality or oppression from
which there was practically no redress. Free as the Gascon peasant was
from much or the serfdom and feudal servitude of other lands, he was in
some ways worse off than the serf, when he chanced to have roused the
anger of some great man of the neighbourhood. The power of the nobles
and barons -- the irresponsible power they too often held -- was one of
the crying evils of the age, one which was being gradually extinguished
by the growing independence of the middle classes. But such changes were
slow of growth, and long in penetrating beyond great centres; and it was
a terrible thing for a brace of lads, unprotected and powerless as these
twin brothers, to have brought upon themselves the hostility and
perchance the jealousy of a man like the Sieur de Navailles. If he
wished to discover their hiding place, he would have small difficulty in
doing so; and let him but once find that out, and the lives of the boys
would not be safe either by night or day. The retainers of the proud
baron might swoop down at any moment upon the peaceful mill, and carry
off the prey without let or hindrance; and this was why the secret of
their birth and name had been so jealously kept from all (save a few who
loved the house of De Brocas) by the devoted miller and his wife.

But Gaston little recked of the threatened peril. The fearless nature of
his race was in him, and he would have scorned himself had he failed to
speak out boldly when questioned by the haughty foe of his house. If the
De Brocas had been ruined in all else, they had their fearless honour
left them still.

But the priest's face was grave as he let the boys lead him into the
narrow bedchamber where they slept -- a room bare indeed of such things
as our eyes would seek, but which for the times was commodious and
comfortable enough. He was pondering in his mind what step must now be
taken, for it seemed to him as though the place of safety in the mill in
which their mother had left her sons could hide them no longer. Go they
must, of that he felt well assured; but where? That was a question less
easily answered offhand.

"Father," began Gaston eagerly, so soon as the door had closed behind
the three, and Raymond had coaxed the dim taper into its feeble flicker
-- "Father, we have come to thee for counsel -- for help. Father, chide
us not, nor call us ingrate; but it has come to this with us -- we can
no longer brook this tame and idle life. We are not of the peasant
stock; why must we live the peasant life? Father, we long to be up and
doing -- to spread our wings for a wider flight. We know that those who
bear our name are not hiding their heads in lowly cots; we know that our
sires have been soldiers and statesmen in the days that are past. Are we
then to hide our heads here till the snows of age gather upon them? Are
we, of all our race, to live and die obscure, unknown? Father, we cannot
stand it; it shall not be! To thee we come to ask more of ourselves than
yet we know. To thee our mother commended us in her last moments; to
thee she bid us look in days to come when we needed guidance and help.
Wherefore to thee we have come now, when we feel that there must surely
be an end to all of this. Tell us, Father, of our sire; tell us of our
kinsfolk. Where be they? Where may we seek them? I trow thou knowest
all. Then tell us, I beseech thee tell us freely all there is to know."

The good priest raised his eyes and thoughtfully scanned the faces of
the two eager youths. Gaston was actually shivering with repressed
excitement; Raymond was more calm, but not, as it seemed, one whit less
interested. What a strong and manly pair they looked! The priest's eyes
lighted with pride as they rested on the stalwart figures and noble
faces. It was hard to believe that these youths were not quite sixteen,
though man's estate was then accounted reached at an age which we should
call marvellously immature in these more modern days.

"My children," said the good old man, speaking slowly and with no small
feeling, "I have long looked for this day to come -- the day when ye
twain should stand thus before me and put this selfsame question."

"You have looked for it!" said Gaston eagerly; "then, in very sooth,
there is something to tell?"

"Yes, my children, there is a long story to tell; and it seemeth to me,
even as it doth to you, that the time has now come to tell it. This day
has marked an era in your lives. Methinks that from this night your
childhood will pass for ever away, and the life of your manhood
commence. May the Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Saints, and our
gracious Saviour Himself watch over and guard you in all the perils and
dangers of the life that lies before you!"

So solemn were the tones of the Father that the boys involuntarily sank
upon their knees, making the sign of the Cross as they did so. The
priest breathed a blessing over the two, and when they had risen to
their feet, he made them sit one on each side of him upon the narrow
pallet bed.

"The story is something long -- the story which will tell ye twain who
and what ye are, and why ye have been thus exiled and forced to dwell
obscure in this humble home; but I will tell all I know, and ye will
then see something of the cause.

"My children, ye know that ye have a noble name -- that ye belong to the
house of De Brocas, which was once so powerful and great in these fair
lands around this home of yours. I wot that ye know already some thing
of the history of your house, how that it was high in favour with the
great King of England, that first Edward who so long dwelt amongst us,
and made himself beloved by the people of these lands. It was in part
fidelity to him that was the cause of your kinsfolk's ruin: for whilst
they served him in other lands, following him across the sea when he was
bidden to go thither, the treacherous foe of the house of Navailles
wrested from them, little by little, all the lands they had owned here,
and not even the many mandates from the Roy Outremer sufficed to gain
them their rights again. It might have been done had the great Edward
lived; but when he died and his son mounted the throne, men found at
once how weak were the hands that held the sovereign power, and the
Sieur de Navailles laughed in his beard at commands he knew there was no
power to enforce. But listen again, my sons; that feeble King, despite
many and great faults, was not without some virtues also; and he did not
forget that the house of De Brocas had ruined itself in the cause of
himself and his father."

"Did he do aught to show his gratitude?"

"Thou shalt hear, my son. The younger Edward had not been many years
upon his father's throne before a great battle was fought by him against
the Scottish race his father had vanquished and subdued. These rebel
subjects revolted from under his hand, and he fought with them a battle
on the field of Bannockburn, in which he was overthrown and defeated,
and in which your grandsire, Arnald de Brocas, lost his life, fighting
gallantly for England's King."

"Our grandsire?" cried both the boys in a breath. "Tell us more of him."

"It is little that I know, my children, save what I have just said. He
served the King faithfully in life and death, and his sons reaped some
reward for their father's fidelity. At first, whilst they were quite
young, his three sons (of whom your father was the third) were sent to
dwell with their mother's relatives -- the De Campaines of Agen, of
whom, doubtless, ye have heard; but as they grew to man's estate, they
were recalled to the English Court, and received offices there, as many
another noble Gascon has done before them."

"Have we then uncles in England?" asked Raymond eagerly. "Then, if we
find but our way across the water, we may find a home with one of them?
Is it not so, good Father?"

The priest did not exclaim at the idea of the boys journeying forth
across the seas alone, but he shook his head thoughtfully as he
continued his narrative as if there had been no interruption.

"The English King was not unmindful of the service done him by the
father of these youths, and he promoted them to places of honour about
his Court. First, they were all made serviens of his own royal person,
and were brought up with his son, who is now the King; then, as I have
heard, they greatly endeared themselves to the Prince by loyalty and
faithful service. When he ascended the throne, and purged the Court of
the false favourites from this and other lands who had done so much ill
to that country, he was ably helped in the task before him by thy father
and thy two uncles; and I can well believe that this was so, seeing that
they were speedily advanced to posts of honour in the royal service."

"What posts?" asked the eager youths.

"The head of your branch of this noble house," continued the priest, "is
your uncle Sir John de Brocas, who is the King's Master of the Horse,
and the lord of many fair Manors and wide lands in England, and high in
favour with his master. Second in the line is your uncle Master Bernard
de Brocas, a clerk, and the Rector (as it is called in the realm of
England) of St. Nicholas, in or near a town that is called Guildford --
if I can frame my lips aright to the strange words. He too is high in
favour with the Roy Outremer, and, as I have heard, is oft employed by
him in these parts to quell strife or redress grievances; but I know not
how that may be. It is of thy father that I would fain speak to thee,
Gaston, for thou art heir to his name and estate if thou canst make good
the claim, as in time thou mayest yet. Listen whilst I tell all that I
know. Thy father -- Arnald -- was the youngest of the three sons of him
who died on the field of Bannockburn, and to him was given the post of
Master of the Horse to Prince John of Eltham. I misdoubt me if that
Prince is living yet; but of that I cannot speak with certainty. He was
also valettus or serviens to the King, and might have carved out for
himself as great a career as they, had it not been that he estranged
himself from his kindred, and even offended the King himself, by the
marriage that he made with Mistress Alice Sanghurst of Basildene."

The brothers exchanged quick glances as the name passed the priest's
lips. Their memory had not then played them false.

"But why were they thus offended? Was not our mother rightful owner of
Basildene? and is it not a fair heritage?"

"The reason for the ill will, my sons, I know not. Your mother did not
fully understand it, and from her lips it was I heard all this tale.
Perchance some nobler alliance was wished by the family and by the King
himself, perchance the young man acted something hastily, and gave
umbrage that might have been spared. I know not how that may have been.
All I for certainty know is that your father, Arnald, brought hither his
wife, flying from some menaced peril, fearful of capture and discovery;
and that here in this lonely mill, amongst those who had ever loved the
name of De Brocas, the sweet lady was able to hide her head, and to find
a place of safe refuge. Jean, then a youth, had been in the service of
Arnald, having been seized with a love of wandering in his boyhood,
which had led him to cross the sea to England, where he had fallen in
with your father and attached himself to his person. The elder Jean, his
father, was miller then and right glad was he to welcome back his son,
and give a shelter to the lady in her hour of need. Good Margot, as you
know, was your nurse when you were born; she had married Jean a short
time back, and her own babe had died the very week before you came into
the world. She has always loved you as her own, and though your mother
was taken from you, you have never lost a mother's love. Do not forget
that, my children, in the years to come; and if the time should ever be
when you can requite the faithful attachment of these two honest hearts,
be sure that you let not the chance slip."

"We will not," answered the boys in a breath. "But the rest of your
story, good Father."

"You shall hear it all, my sons. It was in the year of grace 1329 that
your father first brought his wife here, and in the following year you
twain were born. Your father stayed till he could fold you in his arms,
and bestow upon you the blessing of a father; but then his duties to his
master called him to England, and for a whole long year we heard no news
of him. At the end of that time a messenger arrived with despatches for
his lady. She sent to ask my help in reading these; and together we made
out that the letter contained a summons for her to join her lord in
England, where he would meet her at the port of Southampton, into which
harbour many of our vessels laden with wine put in for safe anchorage.
As for the children, said the letter, she must either bring or leave
them, as seemed best to her at the time; and after long and earnest
debate we resolved that she should go alone, and that you should be left
to good Margot's tender care. I myself escorted our gentle lady to
Bordeaux, and there it was easy to find safe and commodious transport
for her across the sea. She left us, and we heard no more until more
than a year had passed by, and she returned to us, sorely broken down in
mind and body, to tell a sorrowful tale."

"Sorrowful? Had our proud uncles refused to receive her?" asked Gaston,
with flashing eyes. "I trow if that be so --"

But the Father silenced him by a gesture.

"Wait and let me tell my tale, boy. Thou canst not judge till thou
knowest all. She came back to us, and to me she told all her tale, piece
by piece and bit by bit, not all at once, but as time and opportunity
served. And this is what I learned. When your father summoned her back
to join him, it was because her one brother was dead -- dead without
leaving children behind -- and her father, now growing old, wished to
see her once again, and give over to her before he died the fair domain
of Basildene, which she would now inherit, but to which she had had no
title when she married your father. It seemed like enow to both of them
that if Arnald de Brocas could lead a well-dowered bride to his
brothers' halls, all might be well between them and so it came about
when the old man died, and the lady had succeeded to the lands, that he
started forth to tell the news, not taking her, as the weather was
inclement, and she somewhat suffering from the damp and fog which they
say prevail so much in England, but faring forth alone on his embassy,
trusting to come with joy to fetch her anon."

"And did he not?" asked the boys eagerly.

"I will tell you what chanced in his absence. You must know that your
grandsire on your mother's side had a kinsman, by name Peter Sanghurst,
who had long cast covetous eyes upon Basildene. He was next of kin after
your mother, and he, as a male, claimed to call the property his. He had
failed to make good his claim by law; but so soon as he knew your mother
to be alone in the house, he came down upon it with armed retainers and
drove her forth ere she well knew what had befallen; and she, not
knowing whither her lord had gone, nor how to find him, and being in
sore danger from the malice of the wicked man who had wrested from her
the inheritance, and would gladly have done her to death, knew not what
better to do than to fly back here, leaving word for her lord where she
was to be found; and thus it came that ere she had been gone from us a
year, she returned in more desolate plight than at the first."

Gaston's face was full of fury, and Raymond's hands were clenched in an
access of rage.

"And what did our father then? Sure he waged war with the vile usurper,
and won back our mother's lands for her! Sure a De Brocas never rested
quiet under so foul an insult!"

"My sons, your father had been taught patience in a hard school. He
returned to Basildene, not having seen either of his brothers, who were
both absent on the King's business, to find his wife fled, and the place
in the firm grasp of the wily man, who well knew how to strengthen
himself in the possession of ill-gotten gains. His first care was for
your mother's safety, and he followed her hither before doing aught
else. When he found her safe with honest Jean and Margot, and when they
had taken counsel together, he returned to England to see what could be
done to regain the lost inheritance and the favour of his kinsmen who
had been estranged. You were babes of less than three summers when your
father went away, and you never saw him more."

"He did not come again?"

"Nay, he came no more, for all too soon a call which no man may disobey
came for him, and he died before the year was out."

"And had he accomplished naught?"

"So little that it must needs come to naught upon his death. He sent a
trusty messenger -- one of his stout Gascon henchmen -- over to us with
all needful tidings. But there was little of good to tell. He had seen
his brother, Sir John, the head of the family, and had been received not
unkindly by him; but in the matter of the recovery of Basildene the
knight had but shaken his head, and had said that the King had too many
great matters on hand just then to have leisure to consider so small a
petition as the one concerning a Manor of no repute or importance. If
Arnald had patience to wait, or to interest Prince John in the matter,
something might in time be done; but Peter Sanghurst would strive to
make good his claim by any means bad or good, and as he held possession
it might be difficult indeed to oust him. The property belonged to one
who had been a cause of much offence, and perchance that weighed with
Sir John and made him less willing to bestir himself in the matter. But
be that as it may, nothing had been done when Arnald de Brocas breathed
his last; and his wife, when she heard the tale, looked at you two young
children as you lay upon the grass at play, and she said with a sigh and
a smile, 'Father, I will wait till my boys be grown, for what can one
weak woman do alone? and then we will go together to the land that is
mine by birth, and my boys shall win back for me and for themselves the
lost inheritance of Basildene.'"

"And so we will!" cried Gaston, with flashing eyes; "and so we will!
Here as I stand I vow that we will win it back from the false and coward
kinsman who holds it now."

"Ay," answered Raymond, with equal ardour and enthusiasm, "that,
Brother, will we do; and we will win for ourselves the name that she
herself gave to us -- The Twin Brothers of Basildene."



    CHAPTER III. THE UNKNOWN WORLD.


So that was the story of their past. That was why they two, with the
blood of the De Brocas running in their veins, had lived all their past
lives in the seclusion of a humble mill; why they had known nothing of
their kinsfolk, albeit they had always known that they must have kindred
of their own name and race; and why their mother upon her deathbed had
spoken to them not of any inheritance that they might look to claim from
descent through their father, but of Basildene, which was theirs in very
right, as it had been hers before, till her ambitious and unscrupulous
kinsman had driven her forth.

And now what should they do? Whither should they go; and what should be
the object of the lives -- the new lives of purpose and resolve which
had awakened within them?

Gaston had given voice to this feeling in vowing them to the attempt to
recover their lost heritage of Basildene, and Father Anselm did not
oppose either that desire or the ardent wish of the youths to fare forth
into the great world alone.

"My sons," he said a few days later, when he had come to see if the
twins held yet to their first resolve. "You are something young as yet
to sally forth into the unknown world and carve for yourselves your
fortunes there; but nevertheless I trow the day has come, for this place
is no longer a safe shelter for you. The Sieur de Navailles, as it is
told me, is already searching for you. It cannot be long before he finds
your hiding place, and then no man may call your lives safe by night or
day. And not only would ye yourselves be in peril, but peril would
threaten good Jean and Margot; and methinks you would be sorely loath
that harm should come to them through the faithful kindness they have
ever shown to you and yours."

"Sooner would we die than that one hair of their head should be
touched!" cried both the boys impetuously; "and Margot lives in fear and
trembling ever since we told her of the words we spoke to yon tyrant and
usurper of Saut. We told her for her comfort that he would think us too
poor and humble and feeble to vent his rage on us; but she shook her
head at that, and feared no creature hearing the name of De Brocas would
be too humble to be a mark for his spite. And then we told her that we
would sally forth to see the world, as we had ever longed to do and
though she wept to think that we must go, she did not bid us stay. She
said, as thou hast done, good Father, that she had known that such day
would surely come; and though it has come something early and something
suddenly, she holds that we shall be safer facing the perils of the
unknown world, than living here a mark for the spite and malice of the
foe of our house. If no man holds us back, why go we not forth tomorrow?"

The priest's face was grave and even sorrowful, but he made no objection
even to so rapid a move.

"My sons, if this thing is to be, it is small use to tarry and linger. I
would not that the Sieur de Navailles should know that you have hidden
your heads here so long; and a secret, however faithfully kept, that
belongs to many, may not be a secret always. It is right that you should
go, and with the inclement winter season hard upon us, with its dangers
from heavy snows, tempests at sea, and those raids from wolves that make
the peril of travellers when the cold once sets in, it behoves you, if
go ye must, to go right speedily. And in the belief that I should find
your minds made up and your preparations well-nigh complete, I have
brought to you the casket given into my charge by your mother on her
dying bed. Methinks that you will find therein gold enough to carry you
safe to England, and such papers as shall suffice to prove to your proud
kinsmen at the King's Court that ye are in very truth the sons of their
brother, and that it is of just and lawful right that you make your
claim to Basildene."

The brothers looked eagerly at the handsome case, wrought and inlaid
with gold, in which certain precious parchments had lain ever since they
had been carried in haste from England. The boys looked at these with a
species of awe, for they had but very scant knowledge of letters, and
such as they had acquired from the good Father was not enough to enable
them to master the contents of the papers. Learning was almost entirely
confined to the ecclesiastics in those days, and many were the men of
birth and rank who could scarce read or write their own name.

But the devices upon the parchments told a tale more easily understood.
There was the golden lion rampant upon the black ground -- the arms of
the De Brocas family, as the Father told them; whilst the papers that
referred to Basildene were adorned with a shield bearing a silver stag
upon an azure ground. They would have no difficulty in knowing the deeds
apart; and good Margot sewed them first into a bag of untanned leather,
and then stitched them safely within the breast of Gaston's leathern
jerkin. The golden pieces, and a few rings and trinkets that were all
that remained to the boys of their lost inheritance, were sewn in like
manner into Raymond's clothing, and there was little more to be done ere
the brothers went forth into the unknown world.

As for their worldly possessions, they were soon numbered, and comprised
little more than their clothing, their bows and arrows, and the poniards
which hung at their girdles. As they were to proceed on foot to
Bordeaux, and would probably journey in the same simple fashion when
they reached the shores of England, they had no wish to hamper
themselves with any needless encumbrances, and all that they took with
them was a single change of under vest and hose, which they were easily
able to carry in a wallet at their back. They sallied forth in the dress
they commonly wore all through the inclement winter season -- an
under-dress of warm blue homespun, with a strong jerkin of leather, soft
and well-dressed, which was as long as a short tunic, and was secured by
the girdle below the waist which was worn by almost all ranks of the
people in that age. The long hose were likewise guarded by a species of
gaiter of the same strong stuff. And a peasant clad in his own leather
garments was often a match for a mailed warrior, the tough substance
turning aside sword point or arrow almost as effectually as a coat of
steel, whilst the freedom and quickness of motion allowed by the simpler
dress was an immense advantage to the wearer in attack or defence.

The good Father looked with tender glances at the brave bright boys as
they stood forth on the morning of their departure, ready to sally out
into the wide world with the first glimpse of dawn. He had spent the
previous night at the mill, and many words of fatherly counsel and good
advice had he bestowed upon the lads, now about to be subjected to
temptations and perils far different from any they had known in their
past life. And his words had been listened to with reverent heed, for
the boys loved him dearly, and had been trained by him in habits of
religious exercise, more common in those days than they became, alas in
later times. They had with them an English breviary which had been one
of their mother's most valued possessions, and they promised the Father
to study it with reverent heed; for they were very familiar with the
petitions, and could follow them without difficulty despite their
rudimentary education. So that when they knelt before him for his last
blessing, he was able to give it with a heart full of hope and tender
confidence; and he felt sure that whether the lads went forth for weal
or woe, he should (if they and he both lived through the following
years) see their faces again in this selfsame spot. They would not
forget old friends -- they would seek them out in years to come; and if
fate smiled upon their path, others would share in the sunshine of their
good fortune.

And so the boys rose to their feet again to meet a proud, glad smile
from the eyes of the kind old man; and though Margot's face was buried
in her apron, and honest Jean was not ashamed to let the tears run down
his weatherbeaten face, there was no attempt made to hinder or to sadden
the eager lads. They kissed their good nurse with many protestations of
love and gratitude, telling her of the days to come when they would
return as belted knights, riding on fine horses, and with their esquires
by their side, and how they would tell the story of how they had been
born and bred in this very mill, and of all they owed to those who had
sheltered them in their helpless infancy.

The farewells once over, with the inevitable sadness that such scenes
must entail, the boys' spirits rose with wonderful celerity. True, they
looked back with fond glances at the peaceful homestead where their
childhood had been passed, as they reached the ridge of the undulating
plain from which the last glimpse of the red roofs and tumbling water
was to be had. Raymond even felt a mist rise before his eyes as he stood
and gazed, and Gaston dashed his hand impatiently across his eyes as
though something hindered his vision; but his voice was steady and full
of courage as he waved his right arm and cried aloud:

"We will come back! we will see this place again! Ah, Raymond, methinks
I shall love it better then than I do today; for though it has been a
timely place of shelter, it has not been -- it never could be -- our
true home. Our home is Basildene, in the fair realm of England's King. I
will rest neither day nor night until I have looked upon the home our
mother dwelt in, and have won the right to call that home our own."

Then the brothers strode with light springy steps along the road which
would in time lead them to the great seaport city of Bordeaux, towards
which all the largest roads of the whole province converged.

The royal city of the Garonne was full forty leagues away -- over a
hundred British miles -- and the boys had never visited it yet, albeit
their dream had long been to travel thither on their feet, and see the
wonders of which travellers spoke. A day's march of ten leagues or more
was as nothing to them. Had the days been longer they would have done
more, but travelling in the dark through these forest-clad countries was
by no means safe, and the Father had bid them promise that they would
always strive to seek shelter ere the shades of night fell; for great
picks of wolves ravaged the forests of Gascony until a much later date,
and though the season of their greatest boldness and fierceness had not
yet come, they were customers not to be trifled with at any time, and a
hunting knife and a crossbow would go but a small way in defence if a
resolute attack were to be made by even half-a-dozen of the fierce beasts.

But the brothers thought not of peril as they strode through the clear
crisp air, directing their course more by the sun than by any other
guide, as they pursued their way engrossed in eager talk. They were
passing through the great grazing pastures, the Landes of Gascony, which
supplied England with so many of her best horses, and walking was easy
and they covered the ground fast. Later on would come dark stretches of
lonely forest, but here were smiling pasture and bright sunshine and the
brothers talked together of the golden future before them, of their
proud kinsmen at the King's Court, of the Roy Outremer himself, and of
Basildene and that other treacherous kinsman there. As they travelled
they debated within themselves whether it were better to seek first the
countenance of their uncles on their father's side, or whether to make
their way first to Basildene and see what manner of place it was, and
what likelihood there seemed of ousting the intruder.

How to decide this point themselves the brothers did not know; but as it
chanced, fortune was to decide it for them in her own fashion, and that
before many suns had set.

Two days of travel had passed. The brothers had long left behind them
every trace of what had been familiar to them in the old life. The
evening of the third day was stealing fast upon them, and they were yet,
as it seemed, in the heart of the vast forest which they had entered
soon after noon, and which they had hoped to pass completely through
before the daylight waned. They had been told that they might look, if
they pushed on fast, to reach the town of Castres by nightfall; but the
paths through the forest were intricate: they had several times felt
uncertain as to whether they were going right. Now that the darkness was
coming on so fast they were still more uncertain, and more than once
they had heard behind and before them the unmistakable howl of the wolf.

The hardy twins would have thought nothing of sleeping in the open air
even at this somewhat inclement season; but the proximity of the wolves
was unpleasant. For two days the cold had been sharp, and though it was
not probable that it had yet seriously interfered with the supplies of
the wild beasts, yet it was plain that they had emerged from their
summer retreats in the more remote parts of the forest, and were
disposed to venture nearer to the habitable world on the outskirts. If
the brothers slept out of doors at all, it would have to be in the fork
of some tree, and in that elevated position they would be likely to feel
the cold rather keenly, though down below in some hollow trunk they
could make themselves a warm nest enough. Mindful of their promise to
the priest, they resolved to try yet to reach some hut or place of
shelter, however rude, before the night absolutely closed in, and
marched quickly forward with the practised tread of those born to forest
life.

Suddenly Gaston, who was a couple of paces in the front, paused and laid
a hand upon his brother's arm.

"Hist!" he said below his breath. "Methought I heard a cry."

Raymond stopped short and listened, too. Yes; there was certainly some
tumult going on a little distance ahead of them. The brothers
distinguished the sound of human voices raised in shrill piercing cries,
and with that sound was mingled the fierce baying note that they had
heard too often in their lives to mistake at any time.

"It is some traveller attacked by wolves!" cried the brothers in a
breath, and without a single thought of their own peril the gallant boys
tore headlong through the dark wood to the spot whence the tumult proceeded.

Guided by the sound of shouts, cries, and the howling of the beasts, the
brothers were not long in nearing the scene of the strife.

"Shout aloud!" cried Gaston to his brother as they ran. "Make the
cowardly brutes believe that a company is advancing against them. It is
the best, the only chance. They will turn and fly if they think there be
many against them."

Raymond was not slow to act upon this hint. The next moment the wood
rang again to the shouts and calls of the brothers, voice answering to
voice till it seemed as though a score of men were approaching. The
brothers, moreover, knew and used the sharp fierce call employed by the
hunters of the wolves in summoning their dogs to their aid -- a call
that they knew would be heard and heeded by the savage brutes, who would
well know what it meant. And in effect the artifice was perfectly
successful; for ere they had gained the spot upon which the struggle had
taken place, they heard the breaking up of the wolf party, as the
frightened beasts dashed headlong through the coverts, whilst their
howling and barking died away in the distance, and a great silence
succeeded.

"Thank Heaven for a timely rescue!" they heard a voice say in the
English tongue; "for by my troth, good Malcolm, I had thought that thou
and I would not live to tell this tale to others. But where are our good
friends and rescuers? Verily, I have seen nothing, yet there must have
been a good dozen or more. Light thy lantern, an thou canst, and let us
look well round us, for by the mass I shall soon think we have been
helped by the spirits of the forest."

"Nay, fair sir, but only by two travellers," said Gaston, advancing from
the shadow of the giant trees, his brother closely following him. "We
are ourselves benighted in this forest, having by some mischance lost
our road to Castres, which we hoped to have sighted ere now. Hearing the
struggle, and the shouts with which you doubtless tried to scare off the
brutes, we came to see if we might not aid, and being well acquainted
with the calls of the hunters of the wolves, succeeded beyond our hopes.
I trust the cowardly and treacherous beasts have done you no injury?"

"By my troth, it is strange to hear my native tongue in these parts, and
so fairly spoken withal. I trust we are not bewitched, or the sport of
spirits. Who art thou, brave boy? and whence comest thou? How comes it
that thou, being, as it seems, a native of these parts, speakest so well
a strange language?"

"It was our mother's tongue," answered Gaston, speaking nevertheless
guardedly, for he had been warned by the Father not to be too ready to
tell his name and parentage to all the world. "We are bound for
Bordeaux, and thence to England, to seek our mother's kindred, as she
bid us ere she died."

"If that be so, then let us join forces and travel on together," said he
whom they had thus succoured, a man well mounted on a fine horse, and
with a mounted servant beside him, so that the brothers took him for a
person of quality, which indeed he was, as they were soon to learn.
"There is safety in numbers, and especially so in these inhospitable
forest tracks, where so many perils beset the traveller. I have lost my
other stout fellows in the windings of the wood, and it were safer to
travel four than two. Riding is slow work in this gloom. I trow ye will
have no trouble in keeping pace with our good chargers."

The hardy Gascon boys certainly found no difficulty about that. Gaston
walked beside the bridle rein of the master, whilst Raymond chatted
amicably to the man, whose broad Scotch accent puzzled him a little, and
led in time to stories of Border warfare, and to the tale of
Bannockburn, told from a Scotchman's point of view; to all of which the
boy listened with eager interest. As for Gaston, he was hearing of the
King's Court, the gay tourneys, the gallant feats of arms at home and
abroad which characterized the reign of the Third Edward. The lad drank
in every item of intelligence, asking such pertinent questions, and
appearing so well informed upon many points, that his interlocutor was
increasingly surprised, and at last asked him roundly of his name and
kindred.

Now the priest had warned the boys at starting not to speak with too
much freedom to strangers of their private affairs, and had counselled
them very decidedly not to lay claim at starting to the name of De
Brocas, and thus draw attention to themselves at the outset. There was
great laxity in the matter of names in ages when penmanship was a
recondite art, and even in the documents of the period a name so well
known as that of De Brocas was written Broc and Brook, Brocaz and
Brocazt, and half-a-dozen more ways as well. Wherefore it mattered the
less what the lads called themselves, and they had agreed that Broc,
without the De before it, would be the best and safest patronymic for
them in the present.

"We are twin brothers, may it please you, fair sir; English on our
mother's side, though our father was a Gascon. Our father was much in
England likewise, and, as we hear, held some office about the Court,
though of its exact nature we know not. Both our parents died many long
years since; but we have never ceased to speak the tongue of England,
and to dream of one day going thither. Our names are Gaston and Raymond
Broc, and we are going forth at last in search of the adventures which
men say in these warlike days may be found by young and old, by rich and
poor. Our faces are set towards England. What may befall us there kind
Fortune only knows."

Something in the frank and noble bearing of the lad seemed to please the
knightly stranger. He laid a friendly hand on Gaston's shoulder as the
youth paced with springy strides beside him.

"I trow thou art a mettlesome knave, and I owe thee and thy brother
something more than fair words for the service ye have rendered me this
night. I have lost three or four of my followers by disease and accident
since I left the shores of England. Boy, what sayest thou to taking
service with me for a while -- thou and thy brother likewise -- and
journeying to fair England as two of my young esquires? I like you well,
and in these days it is no small thing to rank in one's train those to
whom the language of Gascony is familiar. I trow ye be able to speak the
French tongue likewise, since ye be so ready with our foreign English?"

"Ay, we can both speak and understand it," answered Gaston, whose cheeks
had crimsoned with eager delight; "but we speak English better. Good
Sir, we could desire nothing better than to follow you to the world's
end; but we have not been trained to the use of arms, nor to knightly
exercises. I know not if we could make shift to please you, be our
service never so faithful."

"In such a case as that, sure I should be a hard master to please,"
returned the other, and Gaston knew from his voice that he was smiling.
"But we need not settle it all out here in this dark wood. You must wait
awhile to see what manner of man it is you speak of serving. And you may
at least be my companions of voyage across the sea, though once on
English shores you shall please yourselves whether or not you serve me
farther. As for my name, it is James Audley, and I am one of the King's
knights. I am now bound for Windsor -- thou hast doubtless heard of
Windsor, the mighty fortress where the King holds his Court many a time
and oft. Well, it hath pleased his Majesty of late to strive to bring
back those days of chivalry of which our bards sing and of which we hear
from ancient legend -- days that seem to be fast slipping away, and
which it grieves our most excellent King to see die out in his time.
Hast heard, boy, of the great King Arthur of whom men wrote and sung in
days gone by? Has his fame reached as far as thy Gascon home?"

"Yea, verily," answered Gaston eagerly. "Our mother in long-past days
would speak to us of that great King, and of his knights, and of the
Round Table at which they sat together, their King in their midst --"

"Ay, truly thou knowest well the tale, and it is of this same Round
Table I would speak. The King has thought good to hold such a Round
Table himself, and has sent forth messages to numbers of his knights to
hold themselves in readiness to attend it early in the year which will
soon be upon us. Men say that he is building a wondrous round tower at
his fortress of Windsor, wherein his Round Table will be placed and the
feast celebrated. I know not with what truth they rumour this, but it is
like enough, for his Majesty hath the love of his people and a kingly
mind; and what he purposes he makes shift to carry out, and that right
speedily. But be that as it may, there is no mistaking his royal summons
to his Round Table, and I am hastening back across the water to be at
Windsor on the appointed day; and if it will pleasure you twain to
journey thither with me, I trow you will see things the like of which
you have never dreamed before; and sure a better fashion of entering
life could scarce be found than to follow one of the King's knights to
one of the fairest assemblies of chivalry that the world has ever locked
upon."

And indeed Gaston thought so too. His breath was taken away by the
prospect. He was dazzled by the very thought of such a thing, and his
words of eager thanks were spoken with the falterings of strong emotion.

The road had widened out here, and the travellers had got free of the
forest. Lights sparkled pleasantly in front of them, and Raymond had
come up in time to hear the offer just made. The eager delight of the
two lads seemed to please the brave Sir James, who was not much more
than a youth himself, as we should reckon things now, though
four-and-twenty appeared a more advanced age then.

As the travellers at last found themselves within the precincts of a
fairly comfortable hostelry, and the horsemen dismounted at the door and
entered the inn, Sir James pushed the two lads into the lighted room
before him, and looked them well over with a pair of searching but
kindly blue eyes. He was himself a fine man, of noble stature and
princely hearing. His face was pleasant, though it could be stern too on
occasion, and the features were regular and good. The boys had never
seen such a kingly-looking man, and their hearts went out to him at
once. As for him, he looked from one bright face to the other, and
nodded his head with a smile.

"Methinks you will make a pair of gallant squires," he said. "So long as
it pleases you to remain in my service, you may call yourselves my men,
and receive from my hands what my other servants do."



    CHAPTER IV. THE MASTER OF THE HORSE.


What a wonderful experience it was for the twin brothers to find
themselves for the first time in their lives upon the great ocean of
which they had so many times heard! As the little vessel, with her cargo
of wine, plunged merrily through the white-crested waves, bearing her
freight northward through the stormy Bay of Biscay to the white shores
of Albion, the brothers loved to stand in the pointed prow of the brave
little craft, feeling the salt spray dashing in their faces, and
listening to the swirl of water round the ship's sides as she raced
merrily on her way. Now indeed, were they well embarked upon a career of
adventure and glory. Were they not habited like the servants of an
English knight -- their swords by their sides (if need be), their
master's badge upon their sleeves? Were they not bound for the great
King's Court -- for the assembly of the Round Table, of which, as it
seemed, all men were now talking? Would they not see their own kinsmen,
feel their way perhaps to future friendship with those who bore their
own name? For the present they were dubbed Brook by the English servants
with whom they associated, though more frequently they went by their
Christian names alone.

It was the fashion in these times to think well of the Gascon race. The
King set the example, knowing how useful such men were like to be to him
in days to come; and these lads, who spoke English almost as their
mother tongue, and were so full of spirit, grace, and vivacity, rapidly
rose in favour both with Sir James himself and with his retinue. No
auspices could well have been more favourable for the lads upon their
first entrance into the great world, and they only wished that Father
Anselm could hear of their good fortune.

They had settled now to let the visit to Basildene stand over for a
time. They had but the vaguest idea where to seek their mother's home.
The priest could not help them to any information on this point, and the
way to Windsor was open. Their kinsfolk there could possibly give them
news of Basildene, even did they decide to keep their own true name a
secret for a time. There could be no doubt as to the wisdom of learning
something of their mother's country and the ways of its sons before they
launched themselves upon a difficult and possibly dangerous quest.

With what strange feelings did the brothers first set eyes upon the
shores of England, as the little sloop slid merrily into the smoother
Solent, after a rough but not unpleasant passage! How they gazed about
them as they neared the quays of Southampton, and wondered at the
contrast presented by this seaport with the stately and beautiful city
of Bordeaux, which they had seen a fortnight back! Certainly this
English port could not compare with her a single moment, yet the boys'
hearts bounded with joyful exhilaration as they first set foot on
English soil. Was not the first step of their wild dream safely and
prosperously accomplished? Might they not augur from this a happy and
prosperous career till their aim and object was accomplished?

Their master had some business to transact in and about Southampton
which detained him there many days; but the Gaston lads found no fault
with this arrangement, for everything they saw was new and full of
interest; they were well lodged and well fed without cost to themselves,
and had full license to go where they would and do what they would, as
their master had no present use for their services.

Gaston and Raymond had no desire to idle away their time without profit
to themselves, and after taking counsel with honest Malcolm, who had a
great liking for the boys, they put themselves under the instruction of
a capable swordsman, who undertook to teach them the art of using those
weapons with skill and grace. As their natural quickness of eye and
strength of hand made them quickly proficient in this exercise, they
became anxious to try their skill at the more difficult sport of
tilting, then so much in vogue with both knights and gentlemen -- a
sport which the King greatly encouraged as likely to be excellent
training for those charges of his picked horsemen which so often turned
the fortunes of the day in his favour in the sterner game of war.

Both the Gascon youths were good horsemen; not that they had ever owned
a horse themselves, or had ridden upon a saddle after the fashion of
knights and their esquires, but they had lived amongst the droves of
horses that were bred upon the wide pasture lands of their own country,
and from childhood it had been their favourite pastime to get upon the
back of one of these beautiful, unbroken creatures, and go careering
wildly over the sweeping plain. That kind of rough riding was as good a
training as they could have had, and when once they had grown used to
the feel of a saddle between their knees, and had learned the right use
of rein and spur, they became almost at once excellent and fearless
riders, and enjoyed shivering a lance or carrying off a ring or a
handkerchief from a pole as well as any of their comrades. So that the
month they passed in the seaport town was by no means wasted on them,
and when they took to horse once again to accompany Sir James on his way
to Windsor, they felt that they had made great strides, and were very
different from the country-bred Gascon youths of two months back.

There was one more halt made in London, that wonderful city of which
time fails us to speak here; and in that place a new surprise awaited
the young esquires, for they and their comrades who wore Sir James
Audley's livery were all newly equipped in two new suits of clothes, and
these of such a sumptuous description as set the boys agape with wonder.

Truly as we read of the bravery in which knights and dames and their
servants of old days were attired, one marvels where the money came from
to clothe them all. It could have been no light thing to be a great man
in such times, and small wonder was it that those who lived in and about
the Court, whose duty it was to make a brave show in the eyes of
royalty, were so often rewarded for trifling services by the gifts of
Manors, benefices, or wardships; for the cost of keeping up such state
as was required was great indeed, and could not have been done without
some adequate compensation.

Sir James had always been a favourite with the King, as he was with the
Prince of Wales -- the Black Prince of the days to come. He had at
various times received marks of the royal favour by substantial grants,
and was resolved to appear at this festival of the Round Table in such
guise as should be fitting to his rank and revenues.

Thus it came about that the Gascon youths found themselves furnished
with tunics of blue and silver, richly embroidered with their master's
cognizances, and trimmed with costly fur, with long mantles of blue
cloth fastened with golden clasps, with rich girdles, furnished with
gipciere and anelace, and hose and long embroidered shoes, such as they
began to see were the fashion of the day in England. Their stout nags,
which had carried them bravely thus far, were now exchanged for handsome
animals of a better breed, horses trained to knightly exercises, and
capable of carrying their masters bravely through any game of battle or
tourney such as the King loved to organize when he had his knights round
him. It was often that the esquires as well as the knights competed in
these contests of skill and strength, or followed their masters into
some great melee, and it was a point of honour with the latter that
their followers should be well and suitably equipped for the sport.

"By my faith, but I wish good Margot and the holy Father could see us
now," quoth Gaston, laughing, as Sir James and his followers sallied
forth one bright December morning to take their last stage on the
journey to Windsor.

They had traversed the main distance the day previously, for Sir James
had no wish to arrive weary and travel stained at the King's Court.
Orders had been given for every man to don his best riding dress and
look well to the trappings of his steed, and it was a gallant-looking
company indeed that sallied out from the door of the wayside hostelry
and took the road towards the great Castle, glimpses of which began from
time to time to be visible through the trees.

"I trow they would scarce know us! There be moments, Raymond, when I
scarce know myself for the same. It seems as though years had passed
since we left the old home, and by the Mass I feel as though I were a
new being since then!"

"Yea, verily, and I also," answered Raymond, looking round him with
eager eyes. "Gaston, look well about thee; for by what Malcolm says,
these very woods through which we shall pass, and the Manor of old
Windsor hard by, are the property of our uncle Sir John de Brocas, the
King's Master of the Horse; and by what I hear, methinks we shall see
him in the flesh ere the day has passed."

"Ha!" exclaimed Gaston, with interest; "if that be so let us heed him
well, for much of our future may hang on him. He is in the King's
favour, they say, and if he did but plead our cause with the Roy
Outremer, we might well look to call Basildene our home ere long."

"We must call him no longer the Roy Outremer," said Raymond, with a
smile. "If we are to be the brothers of Basildene, we must be English
subjects and he our liege lord."

"True," answered Gaston readily; "and methinks, if he be what all men
say, it will be no hardship to own ourselves his subjects. I would ten
thousand times sooner call myself so than be servant to yon weak and
treacherous King of France."

At that moment an interruption occurred to delay the little cavalcade
for a few moments. The road they were traversing led them past a solid
gateway, which showed that upon one side at least the property was that
of a private individual; and just as they were approaching this gateway
the portal swung open, and out of it rode a fine-looking man of middle
age and imposing aspect, followed by three youths richly attired, and by
some dozen mounted attendants. The leader of the party wore a dress that
was evidently the livery of some office -- a tunic of blue and a cape of
white Brussels cloth. His cap was of white and blue, and the King's
badge of a silver swan was fastened in the front.

As he rode out, the esquires round Gaston and Raymond drew rein and
whispered one to another:

"It is the King's Master of the Horse!"

Eagerly and curiously the two lads gazed at the face and figure of the
kinsman now before them, whilst Sir James spurred his horse forward, a
smile lighting up the grave face of the King's servant.

"Marry well met, good Sir James!" was the hearty greeting of the latter,
as the two men grasped hands. "I warrant you will be welcome at the
Castle, whither, I doubt not, your steps are bent. It was but two days
since that his Majesty was asking news of you, no man knowing rightly
whither you had gone, nor upon what errand. There be fine musterings
already at the Court, and every day brings some fresh faces to the
gathering assembly. I trow that such a sight as will shortly be
witnessed within those walls has scarce been seen by England before."

"Nay, nor since the days of good King Arthur, if all be true that I have
heard," answered Sir James. "Be these gallant youths your sons, Sir
John? Verily time flies! I have not been in these parts for full three
years. I scarce know them once again."

"Yes, these be my three sons," answered the father, with a proud glance
at the handsome youths, who came up at a sign from him to be presented
to the knight. "It may well be many long years since you saw them, for
they have often been away from my side, travelling in foreign parts with
my good brother, and learning the lessons of life as I have been able to
see occasion. This is John, my first born. Oliver and Bernard follow
after him. I trust in years to come they will live to win their spurs in
the King's service. They are often about the Court, and the Prince has
chosen them amongst his serviens. But they have not yet seen war, albeit
I trow they will not be missing when the day for fighting shall come,
which I verily believe will not be long now."

The youths made their salute to the knight, and then dropped behind. Sir
James rode in advance, still in earnest converse with the Master of the
Horse; whilst the attendants of the two bands, some of whom were
acquainted, mixed together indiscriminately, and rode after their
masters in amicable converse.

Sir John's three sons rode a few paces behind the knights, and as it
chanced the Gascon brothers were the next behind them, studying these
cousins of theirs with natural interest and curiosity. They had heard
their names distinctly as their father had presented them to his friend,
and gladly would they have fallen into converse with them had they felt
certain that the advance would be taken in good part. As it was, they
were rather fearful of committing breaches of good manners, and
restrained themselves, though their quick, eager glances towards each
other betrayed what they were feeling.

All of a sudden something unseen by the rider caused Gaston's horse to
take fright. It was a very spirited and rather troublesome animal, which
had been passed on by two or three riders as too restive for them, and
had been ridden more successfully by Gaston than by any of its former
masters. But the creature wanted close watching, and Gaston had been for
a time off his guard. The knowing animal had doubtless discovered this,
and had hoped to take advantage of this carelessness to get rid of his
rider and gain the freedom of the forest himself. With a sudden plunge
and hound, which almost unseated Gaston, the horse made a dash for the
woodland aisles; and when he felt that his rider had regained his seat
and was reining him in with a firm and steady hand, the fiery animal
reared almost erect upon his hind legs, wildly pawing the air, and
uttering fierce snorts of anger and defiance. But Gaston's blood was up
now, and he was not going to be mastered by his steed, least of all in
presence of so many witnesses. Shouting to Raymond, who had dismounted
and appeared about to spring at the horse's head, to keep away, he
brought the angry creature down by throwing himself upon his neck; and
though there were still much plunging and fierce kicking and struggling
to be encountered before the day was won, Gaston showed himself fully
equal to the demands made upon his horsemanship; and before many moments
had passed, had the satisfaction of riding the horse quietly back to the
little cavalcade, which had halted to witness the struggle.

"That was good riding, and a fine animal," remarked the Master of the
Horse, whose eyes were well trained to note the points of any steed. "I
trow that lad will make a soldier yet. Who is he, good Sir James?"

"One Gaston Brook, a lad born and brought up in Gascony, together with
his twin brother who rides by his side. They came to my help in the
forest round Castres; and as I was in need of service, and they were
faring forth to seek their fortunes, I bid them, an it pleased them,
follow me. One parent was a native of Gascony, their mother I trow,
since their name is English. I did hear somewhat of their simple tale,
but it has fled my memory since."

"They are proper youths," said Sir John, not without a passing gleam of
interest in any persons who hailed from his own country. "Half Gascon
and half English makes a fine breed. The lads may live to do good
service yet."

Meantime the three sons of Sir John had entered into conversation with
the two youthful esquires, and were making friends as fast as
circumstances would allow. They were some years older than the Gascon
brothers -- that is to say that John was close upon twenty, and Oliver
and Bernard followed, each a year younger than his predecessor. They had
seen far more of the world than these country-bred lads, and had been
reared more or less in the atmosphere of the Court; still they were
bright, high spirited, and unaffected youths, who were ready enough to
make advances to any comrades of their own standing across whose path
they might be thrown.

Gaston and Raymond had about them an air of breeding which won them
notice wherever they went. Their speech was refined for the times, and
their handsome figures and faces gained them speedy and favourable
attention. Very soon the five youths were chatting and laughing together
as though they were old friends. The sons of Sir John heard all about
the encounter in the forest, and how the wolves had been scared away;
whilst the Gascon brothers, on their side, heard about the vast round
tower built by the King for his Round Table to assemble at, and how
busily everybody had been employed in hastening on the work and getting
everything in readiness for the great festival that was at hand.

"Shall we see the feast?" asked Gaston eagerly. "Men say it will be a
sight not to be forgotten."

"We shall see it like enough," answered John, "but only belted knights
will sit at the board. Why, even the Prince of Wales himself will not
sit down at the table, but will only stand to serve his father; for his
spurs are not yet won, though he says he will not be long in winning
them if kind fortune will but give him the chance he craves. A great
assembly of esquires will be in attendance on their masters, and I trow
ye twain might well be amongst these, as we hope ourselves to be. Your
master is one of the bidden knights, and will sit not very far from the
King himself. If you can make shift to steal in through the press and
stand behind his chair, I doubt not but what ye will see all right well;
and perchance the King himself may take note of you. He has a marvellous
quick eye, and so has the Prince; and he is ever on the watch for
knightly youths to serve him as valettus -- as we do."

"We are going to win our spurs together," cried Bernard, who in some
ways was the leading spirit amongst the brothers, as he was afterwards
the most noted man of his house. "We have talked of it a thousand times,
and the day will come ere long. The King has promised that when next he
is called forth to fight the recreant King of France, he will take the
Prince with him, and he has promised that we shall go with him. The day
will come when he will lay claim once more to that crown of France which
by rights is his to wear, and we shall all sally forth to drive the
coward Louis from the throne, and place the crown on Edward's royal brow."

Bernard's eyes flashed fire at the bare thought of the unchecked career
of victory he saw for England's arms when once she had set foot on the
long-talked-of expedition which was to make Edward king over the realm
of France.

"And we will fight for him too!" cried Gaston and Raymond in a breath;
"and so, I trow, will all Gascony. We love the English rule there. We
love the Roy Outremer, as he is called there. If he would but come to
our land, instead of to treacherous Flanders or feeble, storm-torn
Brittany, for his soldiers and for his starting place, I trow his arms
would meet with naught but victory. The Sieur d'Albret, men whisper, has
been to the Court, and has looked with loving eyes upon one of the
King's daughters for his son. That hope would make him faithful to the
English cause, and he is the greatest Lord in Gascony, where all men
fear his name."

"Thou shalt tell all that to the King or to the Prince," said John in a
low tone to Raymond, as they fell a little behind, for the road grew
rough and narrow. "I trow he will be glad to learn all he may from those
who know what the people of the land speak and think -- the humbler
folks, of whom men are growing now to take more account, at least here
in England, since it is they, men now say, who must be asked ere even
the King himself may dare to go to war. For money must be found through
them, and they will not always grant it unless they be pleased with what
has already been done. The great nobles say hard things of them they
call the 'Commons;' they say that England's doom will surely come if she
is to be answerable to churls and merchant folk for what her King and
barons choose to do. But for my part it seems but just that those who
pay the heavy burden of these long wars should know somewhat about them,
and should even have the power to check them did they think the country
oppressed beyond what she could bear. A bad king might not care for the
sufferings of his people. A weak king might be but the tool of his
barons -- as we have heard the King's father was -- and hear nothing but
what they chose for him to know. For my own part, I think it right and
just enough that the people should have their voice in these things.
They always grant the King a liberal supply; and if they demand from him
the redress of grievances and the granting of certain privileges in
return, I can see in that naught that is unfair; nor would England be
happier and more prosperous, methinks, were she governed by a tyrant who
might grind her down to the dust."

John de Brocas was a very thoughtful youth, very different in appearance
from his younger brothers, who were fine stalwart young men, well versed
in every kind of knightly exercise, and delighting in nothing so much as
the display of their energies and skill. John was cast in quite a
different mould, and possibly it was something of a disappointment to
the father that his first born should be so unlike himself and his other
sons. John had had weak health from his cradle, which might account in
part for his studious turn of mind; and the influence of his uncle's
training may have had still greater effect. As the damp air of Windsor
did not appear to agree with the boy, he had been sent, when seven years
old, to his uncle's Rectory of St. Nicholas, and brought up in the more
healthy and bracing air of Guildford. Master Bernard de Brocas, though
by no means a man of exclusively scholarly tastes, was for the days he
lived in a learned man, and feeling sure that his eldest nephew would
never make a soldier, he tried to train him for a statesman and for an
ecclesiastic -- the two offices being in those days frequently combined.
The great statesmen were nearly always men in the Church's employ, and
the scholarship and learning of the age were almost entirely in their
keeping.

John showed no disposition to enter the Church -- probably the hope of
winning his spurs was not yet dead within him; but he took very kindly
to book lore, and had often shown a shrewdness and aptness in diplomatic
negotiation which had made Master Bernard prophesy great things for him.

Raymond had never heard such matters discussed before, and knew little
enough about the art of government. He looked with respect at his
companion, and John, catching the glance, smiled pleasantly in reply.

"I trow thou wouldest sooner be with the rest, hearing of the King's
Round Table and the knightly jousts to follow. Let me not weary thee
with my graver words. Go join the others an thou wilt."

"Nay, I will stay with thee," answered Raymond, who was greatly
attracted by John's pale and thoughtful face, and could not but pity him
for his manifest lack of strength and muscle. The youth was tall and
rode well, but he was slight to the verge of attenuation, and the hollow
cheek and unnaturally bright eyes sunk in deep caverns told a tale that
was not hard to read. Young De Brocas might make a student, a clerk, a
man of letters, but he would never be a soldier; and that in itself
appeared to Raymond the greatest deprivation that could befall a man.
But he liked his companion none the less for this sense of pity.

"I would fain hear more of England -- England's laws, England's ways. I
have heard that in this land men may obtain justice better than in any
other. I have heard that justice is here administered to poor as well as
rich. I would learn more of this. I would learn more of you. Tell me
first of yourself. I know well the name of De Brocas. We come from the
very place where once you held sway. The village (as you would call it)
of Brocas was not so very far away. Tell me of yourself, your father,
your uncle. I know all their names right well. I would hear all that you
can tell."

John's face lighted with interest. He was willing enough to tell of
himself, his two brothers, two sisters, and their many homes in and
about the Castle of Windsor. Besides his post as Master of the Horse,
John explained to Raymond, his father held the office of Chief Forester
of Windsor Forest (equivalent to the modern Ranger), and besides the
Manor of Old Windsor, possessed property and Manors at Old and New Bray,
Didworth and Clewer. He was high in the King's favour and confidence,
and, as may well be believed, led a busy and responsible life. Upon him
devolved the care of all those famous studs of horses on which the King
relied when he sent his armies into the field; and if his expenditure in
these matters has been condemned in more recent days, the best answer
will be found in the disasters and the ruinous expenditure of the later
campaigns of the reign, when the King, thinking that he had reduced his
French possessions to complete order, and that his magnificent cavalry
would not longer be wanted to career over the plains of France, broke up
and sold off his studs; so that when his calculation as to the future
proved mistaken, he had no longer any organized supply of war horses to
draw upon.

Raymond's interest in John's talk so won the heart of that youth that a
warm friendship sprang up rapidly between them, whilst the younger
brothers appeared to take almost the same liking for Gaston. By-and-by
it became known that the Castle was crowded almost beyond its capacity
for accommodation; and as much of the responsibility of seeing to the
lodging of guests fell upon Sir John de Brocas, he gave up his house at
Clewer for the time being for the use of some of the guests of humbler
rank, his son John acting as host there; and to this house the Gaston
brothers were asked, amongst many other youthful esquires of like
degree. Thus it came about that the merry yuletide season was spent by
them actually beneath their uncle's roof, although he had no idea that
he was entertaining kinsmen unawares.

Mindful of the good priest's warning, and knowing their ignorance of the
new life and the new people amongst whom their fortunes had led them,
the twins still carefully preserved the secret of their identity. They
knew too little of the cause of estrangement between their father and
his brothers to have any confidence how his sons would be received. They
were both of opinion that by far their wisest course was to wait quietly
and patiently, and watch what befell them; and the only question which
Raymond ever dared to put to John in the days that followed which
savoured of their own affairs, was an inquiry as to whether he had ever
heard of a place called Basildene.

"Basildene?" repeated John slowly. "Yes, I have heard the name. It is
the name of a Manor not very many miles from my uncle's house in
Guildford. Dost thou know aught of it?"

"Nay; I knew not rightly if there were such a spot. But I have heard the
name. Knowest thou to whom it belongs?"

"Yes, I know that too. It belongs to one Peter Sanghurst, of whom no man
speaks aught but evil."



    CHAPTER V. THE KING AND THE PRINCE.


King Edward's assembly of knights that met at his first Round Table was
as typical a gathering as could well have been found of that age of
warlike chivalry. The King's idea was likewise typical of the age he
lived in. He had begun to see something of that decline of chivalry
which was the natural outcome of a real advance in general civilization,
and of increasing law and order, however slow its progress might be.
Greatly deploring any decay in a system so much beloved and cherished by
knights and warriors, and not seeing that its light might merely be
paling in the rise of something more truly bright and beneficent, the
King resolved to do everything in his power to give an impetus to all
chivalrous undertakings by assembling together his knights after the
fashion of the great King Arthur, and with them to take counsel how the
ways and usages of chivalry might best be preserved, the old spirit kept
alive, and the interests of piety and religion (with which it should
ever be blended) be truly considered.

How far this festival succeeded in its object can scarcely be told now.
The days of chivalry (in the old acceptation of the term) were drawing
to a close, and an attempt to galvanize into life a decaying institution
is seldom attended with any but very moderate success. From the fact
that we hear so little of the King's Round Table, and from the few times
it ever met, one is led to conclude that the results were small and
disappointing. But the brilliance of the first assembly cannot be
doubted; and for the twins of Gascony it was a wonderful day, and marked
an epoch in their lives; for on that occasion they saw for the first
time the mighty King, whose name had been familiar to them from
childhood, and had actual speech with the Prince of Wales, that hero of
so many battlefields, known to history as the Black Prince.

So great was the crowd of esquires who waited upon the knights sitting
around the huge Round Table, that the Gascon brothers only struggled for
a few minutes into the gay assemblage to look at what was going on
there. The table was itself a curiosity -- a huge ring round which, in
beautifully carved seats, the knights sat, each seat fitting into the
next, with an arm to divide them, the backs forming a complete circle
round the table. The King's seat was adorned with a richer carving, and
had a higher back, than the others, but that was its only distinction.
Within the circle of the table were pages flitting about, attending on
the guests; and the esquires who thronged the corridors or supplemented
the attentions of the pages were considerably more numerous than the
occasion required, so that these were to be seen gathering in groups
here and there about the building in the vicinity of the feast,
discussing the proceedings or talking of public or private matters.

Very wonderful was all this to Gaston and Raymond, but not quite so
bewildering as it would have been a month ago. They had been about the
Court some little time now, and were growing used to the fine dresses,
the English ways of speech, and the manners and customs which had
perplexed them not a little at first. They were greatly entertained by
watching the shifting throng of courtiers, and their one glimpse at the
royal countenance of the King had been fraught with keen pleasure and
satisfaction; but so far as they knew it, they had not yet seen the
Prince of Wales, and they had not caught sight either of their cousins
Oliver or Bernard, though they had found John sitting in the embrasure
of a window in the corridor, watching the scene with the same interest
which they felt in it themselves.

When they saw him they joined him, and asked the names of some of the
gay personages flitting about. John good-naturedly amused them with a
number of anecdotes of the Court; and as the three were thus chatting
together, they were suddenly joined by another group of three, who
advanced along the corridor talking in low tones but with eager excitement.

"Here comes the Prince," said John, rising to his feet, and the twin
brothers turned eagerly round.

They knew in an instant which of the three was the Prince, for his
companions were John's two brothers, Oliver and Bernard. Young Edward
was at that time not quite fourteen, but so strong, so upright, so well
grown, and of such a kingly presence, that it was hard to believe he had
scarcely left his childhood behind. His tunic was of cloth of gold, with
the royal arms embroidered upon it. He wore a golden collar round his
neck, and his golden girdle held a dagger with a richly-jewelled hilt. A
short velvet mantle lined with ermine hung over his shoulder, and was
fastened by a clasp richly chased and set with rubies. His face was
flushed as if with some great purpose, and his eyes shone brightly with
excitement.

"It shall never be true -- I will not believe it!" he was saying, in
urgent accents. "Let chivalry once die out, and so goes England's glory.
May I die ere I live to see that day! Better a thousand times death in
some glorious warfare, in some knightly deed of daring, than to drag out
a life of ease and sloth with the dying records of the glorious past
alone to cheer and sustain one. Good John, thou art a man of letters --
thou canst read the signs of the times -- prithee tell me that there be
no truth in this dark whisper. Sure the days of chivalry are not half
lived through yet!"

"Nor will be so long as you are spared to England, gentle Prince,"
answered John, with his slight peculiar smile. "You and your royal Sire
together will keep alive the old chivalry at which was dealt so sore a
blow in your grandsire's days. A reign like that of weakness and folly
and treachery leaves its mark behind; but England's chivalry has lived
through it --"

"Ay, and she shall awake to new and fuller life!" cried the ardent boy.
"What use in being born a prince if something cannot thus be done to
restore what has been lost? And why should princes stand idle when the
world is all in arms? Comrades, do ye long as I do to show the world
that though we have not yet won our knighthood's spurs, we are yet ready
and willing to sally forth, even as did the knights of old, upon some
quest of peril or adventure? Why is it that I, who should by rights be
one to show what may be done by a boy's arm with a stout heart behind,
am ever held back from peril and danger, have never seen fighting save
in the tilt yard, or wound worse than what splintered spear may chance
to inflict? I burn to show the world what a band of youths can do who go
forth alone on some errand of true chivalry. Comrades, give me your
ears. Let me speak to you of the purpose in my heart. This day has my
father, in the hearing of all men, lamented the wane of chivalry, has
spoken brave words of encouragement to those who will strive with him to
let it be no hollow name amongst us. Then who more fit than his own son
to go forth now -- at once, by stealth if need be -- upon such a quest
of peril and glory? nay, not for the glory -- that may or may not be
ours -- but upon a mission of chivalrous service to the weak and
helpless? This thing I purpose to do myself, together with some few
chosen comrades. Brothers of Brocas, will ye go with me?"

"We will! we will!" cried the three brothers in a breath.

"We will!" echoed the twins of Gascony, forgetting all but their eager
desire to share the peril and the glory of the Prince's enterprise,
whatever it might be.

Young Edward heard the sound of the strange voices, and turned a quick
glance of inquiry upon the youths. He saw that they wore the livery of
Sir James Audley, who was a great favourite even then with the Prince.
The true kingly courtesy of the Plantagenets was ingrained in the nature
of this princely boy, and he looked with a smile at the two eager faces
before him.

"And who be ye, fair gentlemen?" he asked. "Methinks the badge you wear
is answer almost enough. I know your good lord well, and love him well,
and sure there be none of his esquires, be they never so young, who
would disgrace their master by fleeing in an hour of peril. Wherefore if
ye would fain be of the band I seek to muster round me, I will bid you
ready welcome. I seek none that be above twenty years of age.

"Good John, you shall be the wise man of our party. These lads have not
lived many more years than I have myself, or I am much mistaken."

"We are twin brothers," said Gaston frankly, "and we are nigh upon
sixteen. We have been with Sir James a matter of two months. We --"

"They met him in the woods of Gascony," cried Oliver, "and rescued him
from the attacks of a pack of fierce wolves. I trow they would bear
themselves bravely be your quest what it may."

"Are you Gascons?" asked the Prince, looking with keener interest at the
two youths; for he shared some of his father's instincts of government,
and was always well disposed towards Gascon subjects.

"We are half Gascon and half English, may it please you, fair Prince,"
answered Gaston readily, "and we will follow you to the death."

"I well believe it, my good comrades," answered the Prince quickly; "and
right glad shall we be of your company and assistance. For our errand
lies amidst dark forests with their hidden perils and dangers, and I wot
that none know better what such dangers are nor how they may be escaped
than our brethren of Gascony."

"Then you know on what quest we are bent, sweet Prince?"

Edward nodded his head as he looked over his shoulder. "Ay, that I do
right well, and that will I tell you incontinently if no eavesdroppers
be about. Ye know that of late days brave knights and gentlemen have
been mustering to our Court from all parts of this land? Now amongst
these is one Sir Hugh Vavasour, who comes from his house of Woodcrych,
not half a day's ride from our Royal Palace of Guildford; and with him
he has brought his son, one Alexander, with whom I yestere'en fell into
converse. I say not that I liked the youth himself. He seemed to me
something over bold, yet lacking in those graces of chivalry that are so
dear to us. Still it was in talking with him that I heard this thing
which has set my blood boiling in my veins."

"What thing is that, fair Prince?" asked John.

And then the young Edward told his tale. It was such a tale as was only
too often heard in olden days, though it did not always reach the ears
of royalty. The long and expensive, and as yet somewhat fruitless, wars
in which Edward had been engaged almost ever since he came to the
throne, had greatly impoverished his subjects, and with poverty there
arose those other evils inseparable from general distress -- robbery,
freebooting, crime in its darkest and ugliest aspects; bands of hungry
men, ruined and beggared, partly perhaps through misfortune, but partly
through their own fault, wandering about the country ravaging and
robbing, leaving desolation behind them, and too often, if opposed,
committing acts of brutal cruelty upon defenceless victims, as a warning
to others.

A band such as this was just now scouring the woods around Guildford.
Young Vavasour had heard of depredations committed close against the
walls of his own home, and had heard of many outrages which had been
suffered by the poor folks around. Cattle had been driven off, their
hardly-gathered fuel had vanished in the night; sometimes lonely houses
were attacked, and the miserable inhabitants, if they offered
resistance, stabbed to the heart by the marauders. One or two girls had
been missed from their homes, and were said to have fallen a prey to the
robber band. All these things, and the latter item especially, stirred
the hot blood in the young Prince's veins, and he was all on fire to do
some doughty deed that should at once exterminate such evildoers from
the face of the earth, strike terror into the hearts of other bands, and
show that the spirit of chivalry was yet alive in the kingdom, and that
the King's son was the first to fly to the succour of the distressed and
the feeble.

"For I will go myself and hunt these miscreants as though they were dogs
or wolves -- beasts of prey that needs must be put down with a strong
hand. I will not tell my father the tale, else might he appoint warriors
of his own to see to the matter, and the glory be theirs and not ours.
No, this is a matter for my arm to settle. I will collect around me a
band of our bravest youths -- they shall all be youths like myself. Our
good John knows well the country around our Palace of Guildford -- in
truth I know it indifferently well myself. We will sally forth together
-- my father will grant me leave to go thither with a body of youths of
my own choosing -- and thence we will scour the forests, scatter or slay
these vile disturbers of the peace, restore the lost maidens to their
homes, and make recompense to our poor subjects for all they have
suffered at their hands."

It was just the scheme to fascinate the imagination and fire the ardour
of a number of high-spirited and generous boys. The proximity of the
Royal Palace of Guildford gave them every facility for carrying out the
plan speedily and yet secretly, and the Prince had quickly enlisted a
score of well-trained, well-equipped lads to follow him on his
chivalrous quest. Sir James gave ready consent to his petition that the
Gascon twins might join his train for a few days. The King, when he gave
his sanction to the proposed expedition to Guildford, believed that his
son was going there bent on sport or some boyish pastime, and scarce
bestowed a second thought upon the matter. The royal children had each
their own attendants and establishment, following wherever their
youthful master or mistress went; and to the eldest son of the King a
very decided liberty was given, of which his father had never yet had
cause to repent.

Thus it came about that three days after the King's great feast of the
Round Table had ended, the Prince of Wales, with a following of twenty
young comrades, in addition to his ordinary staff of attendants, rode
forth from the Castle of Windsor in the tardy winter's dawn, and before
night had fallen the gay and gallant little band had reached the Palace
of Guildford, which had received due notice of the approach of the
King's son. Those who were sharp-eyed amongst the spectators of this
departure might have noted that the Prince and his immediate followers
each wore round his arm a band of black ribbon with a device embroidered
upon it. The device was an eagle worked in gold, and was supposed to be
emblematic of the swiftness and the strength that were to characterize
the expedition of the Prince, when he should swoop down upon the
dastardly foes, and force them to yield up their ill-gotten gains. These
badges had been worked by the clever fingers of Edward's sisters, the
youthful princesses Isabella and Joanna. Joanna, as the wardrobe rolls
of the period show, was a most industrious little maiden with her
needle, and must have spent the best part of her time in her favourite
pastime of embroidery, judging by the amount of silk and other material
required by her for her own private use. Both the sisters were devotedly
attached to their handsome brother, and were the sharers of his
confidences. They knew all about this secret expedition, and sympathized
most fully with it. It was Joanna's ready wit which had suggested the
idea of the badge, which idea was eagerly caught up by Edward; for to go
forth with a token woven by the fair hands of ladies would give to the
exploit a spice of romantic chivalry that would certainly add to its
zest. So for the past three days the royal sisters had been plying their
needles with the utmost diligence, and each of the gallant little band
knew that he wore upon his arm a token embroidered for him by the hands
of a youthful princess.

Of the Royal Palace of Guildford nothing now remains -- even the site is
not known with any certainty, though it is supposed to have occupied the
spot where Guildford Park farm now stands. Its extensive park covered a
large area of ground, and was a favoured hunting ground for many of the
illustrious Plantagenets.

It need hardly be said with what interest and curiosity the twin
brothers gazed about them as they neared the little town of Guildford,
where their uncle, Master Bernard de Brocas, possessed a gradually
increasing property. They felt that this journey was the first step
towards Basildene; and utterly ignorant as they were of its exact
locality, they wondered if they might not be passing it by whenever some
ancient Manor House reared its chimneys or gables above the bare
encircling trees, and their hearts beat high at the thought that they
were drawing near to their own lost inheritance.

The Palace was warmly lighted in honour of the arrival of the Prince of
Wales; and as the little cavalcade dismounted at the door and entered
the noble hall, a figure, habited after the fashion of the ecclesiastics
of the day, stepped forth to greet the scion of royalty, and the twin
brothers heard their comrades mutter,

"It is the good Rector, Master Bernard de Brocas."

The young Prince plainly knew the Rector well, and after just bending
his knee to ask the blessing, as was his reverent custom, he led him
into the banqueting hall, where a goodly meal lay spread, placing him in
a seat at his own right hand, and asking him many things as the meal
progressed, leading the talk deftly to the robbers' raids, and seeking,
without betraying his purpose, to find out where these miscreants might
most readily be found.

The good Rector had heard much about them, but knew little enough of
their movements. One day they were heard of in one place, and again they
would vanish, and no man would know whither they had gone till they
appeared in another. Everywhere they left behind them desolated homes,
and bloodshed and ruin followed in their track. Master Bernard had heard
too many such tales from all parts of the kingdom to heed overmuch what
went on in this particular spot. He knew that the winter's privation and
cold acted upon savage men almost as it did upon wolves and ravenous
beasts, and that in a country harassed and overtaxed such things must
needs be. He never suspected the cause of the Prince's eagerness. He
believed that the youths had come down bent on sport, and that they
would take far more interest in the news he had to give them, that a
wild boar had recently been seen in the forest aisles of the Royal Park,
and that the huntsmen would be ready to sally forth to slay it at a
single word from the Prince.

Edward's eyes lighted at this. It seemed to him a fortunate coincidence.
Also he would be glad enough to see the killing of the boar, though he
was more interested in the expedition it would involve into the heart of
the forest.

"Prithee give orders, good Master Bernard, that the huntsmen be ready
tomorrow morning at dawn of day. I trow there be horses and to spare to
mount us all, as our own beasts will be something weary from the journey
they have taken today. We will be ready ere the sun is up, and if kind
fortune smiles upon us, I trust I shall have the good fortune to have a
pair of fine tusks to offer to my sisters when they join us here, as
they shortly hope to do."

Master Bernard, who was a man of no small importance all through this
neighbourhood, hastened away to give the needful orders. He had come
from his own Rectory hard by to receive the Prince and his comrades, and
he suspected that the King would be well pleased for him to remain
beneath the roof of the castle so long as this gay and youthful party
did so.

When night came and the youths sought the rooms which had been made
ready for them, the Prince signed to a certain number of his comrades to
repair with him to his chamber, as though he desired their services at
his toilet. Amongst those thus summoned were the three sons of Sir John
de Brocas, and also the Gascon twins, for whom young Edward appeared to
have taken a great liking, and who on their part warmly returned this
feeling. Shutting the door carefully, and making sure that none but
friends were round him, the Prince unfolded his plan.

He had learned from the Master Huntsman, whom he had seen for a few
minutes before going to his room, that the boar lay concealed for the
most part in some thick underwood lying in the very heart of the forest
many miles distant, right away to the southwest in the direction of
Woodcrych. This part of the forest was fairly well known to the Prince
from former hunting expeditions, and he and John both remembered well
the hut of a lonely woodman that lay hidden in the very depths of the
wood near this spot. It had occurred to Edward as likely that old Ralph
would be better acquainted with the habits of the robbers than any other
person could be. He was too poor to be made a mark for their rapacity,
yet from his solitary life in the forest he might likely enough come
across their tracks, and be able to point out their hiding places.
Therefore the Prince's plan was that he and the picked companions he
should choose should slip away from the main body of the huntsmen, and
make their way to this lonely cabin, joining their comrades later when
they had discovered all that they could do from the old man. The shouts
of the huntsmen and the baying of the dogs would guide them to the scene
of the chase, and if the rest who remained all the while with the
foresters and the dogs missed the Prince from amongst their ranks, they
were not to draw attention to the fact, but were rather to strive to
conceal it from the Master Huntsman, who might grow uneasy if he found
the young Edward missing. It was of importance that all inquiries
respecting the robbers should be conducted with secrecy, for if the
Prince's curiosity on the subject were once to be known, suspicion might
be aroused, or a regular expedition against them organized, the glory
and credit of which would not belong in anything but empty name to the
Prince.

It was not, perhaps, unnatural that the six lads who had first conned
over the plan together should be selected as the ones to make this
preliminary inquiry. John was chosen for his seniority and the prudence
of his counsels, his brothers for their bravery and fleetness of foot,
and the Gascon twins for their close acquaintance with forest tracks,
and their greater comprehension of the methods employed in following the
trail of foes or fugitives through tangled woods. They would likely
enough understand the old man's counsel better than any of the others;
and as the sport of hunting the boar was more esteemed by the other
youths than the expedition to the woodman's hut, no jealousy was aroused
by the Prince's choice, and the scheme was quickly made known to the
whole of the party.

The morrow proved a first-rate day for a hunting party in the forest. A
light crisp snow lay on the ground, melting where exposed to the sun's
rays, but forming a sparkling white carpet elsewhere. It was not deep
enough to inconvenience either men or horses, and would scarce have
fallen to any depth beneath the trees of the forest; but there was just
sufficient to be an excellent guide in tracking down the quarry, and all
felt confident that the wily old boar had seen his last sunrise.

Merrily rode the party forth through the great gateway and across the
fine park in the direction of the forest. The Prince and his five chosen
comrades rode together, sometimes speaking in low tones, sometimes
joining in the gay converse on the subject of hunting which went on
around them. But the Prince's thoughts were far less with sport than
with the wrongs of his father's subjects, and the cruel outrages which
they had suffered unredressed and almost unpitied. His heart burned
within him to think that in merry England, as he liked to call it, and
in the days of chivalry, such things were possible; and to put down
cruelty and rapacity with a strong hand seemed of infinitely more
importance to him than the pursuit of a fine sport.

Thus musing, and thus talking in low tones to the thoughtful John, the
Prince dropped a little behind the muster of huntsmen. His chosen
comrades followed his example, and straggled rather aimlessly after the
main body, till at last a turn in the forest shut these completely from
their view.

"Now," said the Prince, turning to his five selected comrades, "this, if
I mistake not, is our road. We will soon see if we cannot get upon the
track of the miscreants whom I am burning to punish and destroy!"



    CHAPTER VI. THE PRINCE'S EXPLOIT.


The woodman's cottage was quickly reached. It was a little rush-thatched
cabin of mud, lying in the very heart of the dim wood. The party had to
dismount and tie up their horses at some short distance from the place;
but they had the good fortune to find the occupant at home, or rather
just outside his cabin, gathering a few dried sticks to light his fire.

He was a grizzled, uncouth-looking old man, but a certain dignity was
imparted to him by a look of deep and unspeakable melancholy upon his
face, which gave it pathos and character of its own. The rustic face is
apt to become vacant, bovine, or coarse. Solitude often reduces man
almost to the level of the beasts. This old man, who for many years had
lived hidden away in this vast forest, might well have lost all but the
semblance of humanity; but such was not the case. His eyes had light in
them; his very melancholy showed that the soul was not dead. As he saw
the bright-faced boys approaching him, he first gave a great start of
surprise, eagerly scanning one face after another; then, as he did so
the light of hope died out from his eyes, and the old despairing look
came back.

Something of this was observed by the Prince and his followers, but they
were at present too much bent upon their own mission to have thought to
spare for any other concerns. They formed a circle round him, and asked
him of the robbers -- if he ever saw them; if he knew their haunts; if
they had been near these parts during the past days?

For a moment it seemed as though the old man was disappointed by the
questions asked him. He muttered something they did not rightly
comprehend about robbers worse than these, and a quick fierce look
passed across his face, and then died out again. The young Prince was
courteous and patient: he allowed the old man's slow wits time to get to
work; and when he did begin to speak he spoke to some purpose, and the
boys listened and questioned with the most eager attention.

It took some time to extract the necessary information, not from any
reluctance to speak on the old man's part, but from his inability to put
his thoughts into words. Still when this was by degrees achieved, the
information was of the highest possible importance.

The robbers, said the old man, were at that very moment not far away. He
had seen them sally forth on one of their nocturnal raids about dusk the
previous evening; and they had returned home laden with spoil two hours
before the dawn. He was of the opinion that they had carried off some
captive with them, for he had heard sounds as of bitter though stifled
weeping as they passed his hut on their return. Did he know where they
lay by day? Oh yes, right well he did! They had a hiding place in a cave
down in a deep dingle, so overgrown with brushwood that only those who
knew the path thither could hope to penetrate within it. Once there,
they felt perfectly safe, and would sleep away the day after one of
their raids, remaining safely hidden there till supplies were exhausted,
when they sallied forth again. The old woodman showed them the tracks of
the party that had passed by that morning, and to the eyes of the Gascon
brothers these tracks were plain enough, and they undertook to follow
them unerringly to the lair. The old woodman had no desire to be mixed
up in the matter. If he were to be seen in the company of the trackers,
he firmly believed that he should be skinned alive before many days had
passed. He plainly did not put much faith in the power of these lads to
overcome a large band of desperate men, and strongly advised them to go
home and think no more of the matter. But his interest was only very
partially aroused, and it was plain that there was something on his own
mind which quite outweighed with him the subject of the forest outlaws.

John would fain have questioned him about himself, being a youth of
kindly spirit; but the moment was not propitious, for the Prince was all
on fire with a new idea.

"Comrades," he said gravely and firmly, "the hour has come when we must
put our manhood to the proof. This very day, without the loss of a
needless moment, we must fall, sword in hand, upon yon dastard crew, and
do to them as they have done. You have heard this honest man's tale.
Upon the day following a midnight raid they lie close in their cave
asleep -- no doubt drunken with the excesses they indulge in, I warrant,
when they have replenished their larder anew. This, then, is the day
they must be surprised and slain. If we wait we may never have such
another chance. My brothers in arms, are you ready to follow me? Shall
the eagles fail for lack of courage when the prey is almost within sight?"

An unanimous sound of dissent ran through the group. All were as eager
as the Prince for the battle and the victory; but the face of John wore
an anxious look.

"We must not go alone," he said. "We must summon our comrades to join
us. They are bound on the quest as much as we."

"True," answered the Prince, looking round him. "It were madness, I
trow, for the six of us to make the attack alone. Yet did not Jonathan
and his armour bearer fall unawares upon a host and put them to flight?
Methinks some holy Father has told such a tale to me. Still thou art
right, good John. We must not risk losing all because it has been given
to godly men in times of old to work a great deliverance. See here,
friends, what we will do. Our comrades cannot be very far away. Hark!
Surely it is the baying of the hound I hear yonder over that wooded
ridge! Good Bernard, do thou to horse, gallop to them as fast as thou
canst, and tell them of the hap upon which we have fallen. Bid them
follow fast with thee, but leave the dogs and horses behind with the
huntsmen, lest their noise betray our approach. Master Huntsman may seek
to withhold them from the quest, but when he knows that I, the Prince,
with but four of my comrades to help me, have gone on in advance, and
that we are even then approaching the robbers' cave, he will not only
bid them all go, but will come himself doubtless, with the best of his
followers, and give us what help he may. Lose no time. To horse, and
away! And when thou hast called the band together, come back in all
haste to this spot. The forest trackers will be put upon the trail, and
will follow us surely and swiftly. You will find us there before you,
lying in ambush, having fully reconnoitred. Be not afraid for us. Honest
John will see that we run not into too great peril ere we have help. Is
it understood? Good! Then lose not a moment. And for the rest of us, we
will follow these sturdy Gascons, who will secretly lead us to the haunt
of the outlaws."

Bernard was off almost before the last words had been spoken, and very
soon they heard from the sounds that he had mounted his horse and was
galloping in the direction in which, from the faint baying of the
hounds, he knew the hunting party to be.

John looked somewhat anxious as the Prince signed to Gaston and Raymond
to lead the way upon the robbers' track; but he knew the determined
nature of the Prince, and did not venture open remonstrance. Yet
Edward's quick eye caught the uneasy glance, and he replied to it with
frank goodwill.

"Nay, fear not, honest John; I will run into no reckless peril, for my
sweet mother hath ever been forward to counsel me that recklessness is
not true bravery. Some peril there must needs be -- without it there
could be no glory; but that danger shall not be added to by any
hardihood such as my royal Sire would chide in me. Trust me; I will be
prudent, as I trust I may yet show that I can be bold. We will use all
due caution in approaching this hiding place, and if it will pleasure
thee, I will promise not to leave thy side before our friends come to
our aid."

John was glad enough of this promise. As the eldest of this ardent band,
and the one who would be most harshly taken to task did any harm come of
the enterprise, he was anxious above all things to insure the safety of
the Prince. If Edward would remain beside him, he could certainly make
sure of one thing -- that he himself did not survive his royal master,
but died at his side fighting for his safety. The younger spirits
thought only of the glory of victory. John, with his feebler physique
and more thoughtful mind, saw another possible ending to the day's
adventure. Still his heart did not fail; only his unspoken prayer was
that no harm should befall the brave young Prince, who was so eager to
show the world that chivalry was not yet dead.

The brothers from Gascony had no trouble whatever in finding and keeping
the trail the robbers had left behind them. Slowly but surely they
pursued their way through the labyrinth of the gloomy forest. Neither
John nor any of his companions had ever been here before. The dense wood
was gloomy enough to be almost terrible. Craggy rocks were visible from
time to time as the party proceeded, and the thickness of the forest was
so great that almost all light was excluded.

At last a spot was reached where the forest-bred boys paused. They
looked back at those who were following, and beckoned them silently
forward. So quietly had the party moved that the stillness of the forest
had scarce been broken. Mute and breathless, John and his companion
stole up. They found that they had now reached the edge of a deep
ravine, so thickly wooded as to appear impassable to human foot. But
just where they stood there were traces of a narrow pathway, well
concealed by the sweeping boughs of a drooping willow; and that this was
the dell and the path of which the old woodman had spoken the little
party did not doubt for a moment.

"It is doubtless the place," said the Prince, in a whisper. "Let us
softly reconnoitre whilst our forces are assembling."

"I and my brother will make the round of the dell," answered Gaston, in
a like cautious tone. "Sweet Prince, stay you hither, where the rest
will doubtless find us. It boots not for us to make too much stir. Sound
carries well in this still frosty air."

The Prince made a sign of assent, and Gaston and Raymond crept away in
different directions to make the circuit of this secluded hollow, and
try to ascertain how the land lay, and what was the chance of capturing
the band unawares. In particular they desired to note whether there were
any other pathway into it, and whether, if the robbers were taken by
surprise and desirous of flight, there was any way of gaining the forest
save by the overgrown path the exploring party had already found.

The dell proved to be a cup-like hollow of no very great extent. On the
side by which the party had approached it the ground shelved down
gradually, thickly covered with bushes and undergrowth; but on the
opposite side, as the Gascon boys discovered, the drop was almost sheer,
and though trees grew up to the very edge of the dell, nothing could
grow upon the precipitous sandy sides.

"We have them like rats in a trap," cried Gaston, with sparkling eyes,
as he once more joined the Prince, his brother with him. "They can only
escape up these steep banks thickly overgrown, and we know that there is
but this one path. On the other side it is a sheer drop; a goat could
not find foothold. If we can but take them by surprise, and post an
ambush ready to fall upon escaped stragglers who reach the top, there
will not be one left to tell the tale when the deed is done."

The Prince set his teeth, and the battle light which in after days men
learned to regard with awe shone brightly in his eyes.

"Good," he said briefly: "they shall be served as they have served
others -- taken in their slumber, taken in the midst of their security.
Nay, even so it will not be for them as it has been for their victims,
for doubtless they will have their arms beside them, and will spring
from their slumber to fight like wild wolves trapped; but I trow the
victory will lie with us, and he who fears may stay away. Are we not all
clad in leather, and armed to repulse the savage attacks of the wild
boar of the woods? Thus equipped, need we fear these human wild beasts?
Methinks we shall sweep this day from the face of the earth a fouler
scourge than ever beasts of the forest prove."

"Hist!" whispered Oliver de Brocas cautiously; "methinks I hear a sound
approaching. It is our fellows joining us."

Oliver was right. The trail had now been cautiously followed by the
huntsmen and their young charges, and the next moment the whole twenty
stood at the head of the pathway, together with the Master Huntsman, and
some half-dozen stout fellows all armed with murderous-looking hunting
knives, and betraying by their looks the same eagerness for the fight as
the band of youthful warriors.

It was vain to plead with the Prince to be one of those told off to
remain in ambush in order to intercept and slay any fugitive who might
escape the melee below. No, the young heir of England was resolved to be
foremost in the fray; and the utmost that he would consent to was that
the party should be led down by the Master Huntsman himself, whilst he
walked second, John behind him, the rest pressing on in single file, one
after the other, as quickly as might be. Down went the gallant little
band -- with the exception of two stalwart huntsmen and four of the
younger amongst the boys, who were left to guard the head of the path --
not knowing the risk they ran: whether they would find an alert and
well-armed foe awaiting them at the bottom, or whether they might fall
upon the enemy unawares. Very silent and cautious were their movements.
The Huntsman and the Gascon brothers moved noiselessly as cats, and even
the less trained youths were softly cautious in their movements.
Downwards they pressed in breathless excitement, till they found
themselves leaving the thick scrub behind and emerging upon a rocky
platform of rude shape. Here the Master Huntsman made an imperative sign
to the Prince to stop, whilst he crept forward a few paces upon hands
and knees, and peeped over the edge.

After gazing for a moment at something unseen to those behind, he made a
cautious sign to the Prince to approach. Edward at once did so, and
Gaston and Raymond followed him, their agile, cat-like movements being
as circumspect as those of the leader himself.

What they saw as they peeped down into the heart of the dell was a
welcome spectacle indeed. Some distance below them, but in full view,
was the opening into what looked like a large cavern, and at the
entrance to this cavern lay two stout ruffians, armed to the teeth, but
both in a sound sleep, their mouths open, their breath coming noisily
between their parted lips. There were no dogs to be seen. Nothing broke
the intense stillness that prevailed. It was plainly as the old woodman
had said. Their nocturnal raid had been followed by a grand carouse on
the return home, and now the party, overcome by fatigue and strong
drink, and secure in the fancied privacy of their isolated retreat, had
retired to rest within the cave, leaving two fellows on guard, to be
sure, but plainly without the smallest apprehension of attack.

"Good!" whispered the Prince, with eyes that shone like his father's in
the hour of action; and softly rising to his feet, he made a sign to his
comrades to draw their long knives and follow him in a compact body.

"No quarter," he whispered, as he surveyed with pride the brave faces
round him: "they have shown no mercy; let no mercy be shown to them.
Those who rob the poor, who slay the defenceless, who commit brutal
outrages upon the persons of women and children, deserve naught but
death. Let them fight like men; we will slay them in fair fight, but we
will give no quarter. We will, if God fights for us, sweep the carrion
brood from off the very face of the earth!"

And then, to the dismay of the Master Huntsman, who had hoped to step
upon the sleeping sentries unawares, and rid themselves of at least two
of the foe before the alarm was given, the Prince raised his voice in a
shrill battle cry, and dashing down the slope with his comrades at his
heels, flung himself upon the taller of the guards and plunged his knife
into the fellow's throat.

Gaston and Raymond had simultaneously sprung upon the other, and with a
sharp cry of astonishment and rage he too fell lifeless to the ground.

But the Prince's shout, the man's cry, and the sound of clashing arms
aroused from their deep slumbers the robber crew within the cavern, and
with the alertness that comes of such a lawless life, every man of them
sprang to his feet and seized his weapon almost before he was awake.

The Master Huntsman, however, had not waited to see the end of the
struggle upon the platform outside. At the very moment that the Prince
buried his weapon in the sentry's throat, this bold fellow, with three
of his underlings at his side, had sprung inside the cave itself, and
luckily enough it was upon the prostrate figure of the chief of the band
that his eye first lighted. Before the man could spring to his feet, a
blow from that long shining knife had found its way to his heart. The
other hunters had set each upon his man, and taken unawares, those
attacked were slain ere they had awakened sufficiently to realize what
was happening. Thus the number had been diminished by six before the
rest came swarming out, as bees from a disturbed hive.

It was well indeed then for the brave boys, who had thought themselves
the match for armed men, that these latter were dazed with deep
potations and but half armed after throwing aside their weapons ere
lying down to rest. Well was it also that they had amongst them the
Master Huntsman and his trusty satellites, who had the strength of men,
as well as the trained eye, quick hand, and steady nerve that belong to
their calling in life. Then, again, the dress of these huntsmen was so
like in character to that worn by many of the band, that the robbers
themselves suspected each other of treachery, and many turned one upon
the other, and smote his fellow to the earth. Yet notwithstanding all
these things in their favour, the Prince's youthful followers were
hardly beset, and to his rage and grief young Edward saw more than one
bright young head lying in the dust of the sandy platform.

But this sight filled him with such fury that he was like a veritable
tiger amongst the assailants who still came flocking out of the cave.
His battle cry rang again and again through the vaulted cavern, his
shining blade seemed everywhere, dealing death and destruction. Boy
though he was, he appeared endued with the strength of a man, and that
wonderful hereditary fighting instinct, which was so marked in his own
sire, seemed handed down to him. He took in the whole scope of the scene
with a single glance. Wherever there was an opening to deal a fatal
blow, that blow was dealt by the Prince's trusty blade. It almost seemed
as though he bore a charmed life in that grim scene of bloodshed and
confusion, though perhaps he owed his safety more to the faithful
support of the two Gascon brothers, who together with John de Brocas
followed the Prince wherever he went, and averted from his head many a
furious stroke that else might have settled his mortal career for ever.

But the robbers began to see that this boy was their chiefest foe. If
they could but slay him, the rest might perchance take flight. Already
their own ranks were terribly thinned, and they saw that mischief was
meant by the deadly fury with which their assailants came on at them.
They were but half armed, and the terror and bewilderment of the moment
put them at great disadvantage; but amongst those who still retained
their full senses, and could distinguish friend from foe, were three
brothers of tall stature and mighty strength, and these three, taking
momentary counsel together, resolved to fling themselves upon the little
knot surrounding the person of the Prince, and slay at all cost the
youthful leader who appeared to exercise so great a power over the rest
of the gallant little band.

It was a terrible moment for good John de Brocas, already wearied and
ready to drop with the exertions of the fight -- exertions to which he
was but little habituated -- when he saw bearing down upon them the
gigantic forms, as they looked to him, of these three black-browed
brothers. The Prince had separated himself somewhat from the rest of the
band. He and his three immediate followers had been pursuing some
fugitives, who had fallen a prey to their good steel blades. They were
just about to return to the others, round whom the fight still raged,
though with far less fierceness than at first, when these new
adversaries set upon them from behind. John was the only one who had
seen the approach, and he only just in time to give one warning shout.
Before the Prince could turn, an axe was whirling in the air above his
head; and had not John flung himself at that instant upon the Prince,
covering his person and dragging him aside at the same moment, a
glorious page in England's history would never have been written. But
John's prompt action saved the young Edward's life, though a frightful
gash was inflicted upon his own shoulder, which received the weight of
the robber's blow. With a gasping moan he sank to the ground, and knew
no more of what passed, whilst Gaston and Raymond each sprang upon one
of their assailants with a yell of fury, and the Prince flung himself
upon the fellow who had so nearly caused his death, and for all he knew
had slain the trusty John before his very eyes.

The Prince soon made sure of his man. The fellow, having missed his
stroke, was taken at a disadvantage, and was unable to free his axe or
draw his dagger before the Prince had stabbed him to the heart. Gaston
and Raymond were sore beset with their powerful adversaries, and would
scarce have lived to tell the tale of that fell struggle had not help
been nigh at hand from the Master Huntsman. But he, missing the Prince
from the cave's mouth, and seeing the peril he was in, now came running
up, shouting to his men to follow him, and the three giant brothers were
soon lying together stark and dead, whilst poor John was tenderly lifted
and carried out of the melee.

The fighting was over now. The robbers had had enough of it. Some few
had escaped, or had sought to do so; but by far the greater number lay
dead on or about the rocky platform, where the fiercest of the fighting
had been. They had slain each other as well as having been slain by the
Prince's band, and the place was now a veritable shambles, at which some
of the lads began to look with shuddering horror.

Several of their own number were badly hurt. Three lay dead and cold.
Victory had indeed been theirs, but something of the sense of triumph
was dashed as they bore away the bodies of their comrades and looked
upon the terrible traces of the fray.

But the Prince had escaped unscathed -- that was the point of paramount
importance in the minds of many -- and he was now engrossed in striving
to relieve the sufferings of his wounded comrades by seeing their wounds
skilfully bound up by the huntsmen, and obtaining for them draughts of
clear cold water from a spring that bubbled up within the cavern itself.

Gaston and Raymond had escaped with minor hurts; but John's case was
plainly serious, and the flow of blood had been very great before any
help could reach him. He was quite unconscious, and looked like death as
he lay on the floor of the cave; and after fruitless efforts to revive
him, the Prince commanded a rude litter to be made wherein he might be
transported to the Palace by the huntsmen who had not taken part in the
struggle, and were therefore least weary. The horses were not very far
away, and the rest of the wounded and the rescued captives could make
shift to walk that far, and afterwards gain the Palace by the help of
their sturdy steeds.

Thus it came about that Master Bernard de Brocas, who had believed the
Prince and his party to be engaged in the harmless and (to them) safe
sport of tracking and hunting a boar in the forest, was astounded beyond
all power of speech by seeing a battered and ghastly procession enter
the courtyard two hours before dusk, bearing in their midst a litter
upon which lay the apparently inanimate form of his eldest nephew, his
brother's first-born and heir.



    CHAPTER VII. THE RECTOR'S HOUSE.


"It was well thought and boldly executed, my son," said the King of
England, as he looked with fatherly pride at his bright-faced boy. "Thou
wilt win thy spurs ere long, I doubt not, an thou goest on thus. But it
must be an exploit more worthy thy race and state that shall win thee
the knighthood which thou dost rightly covet. England's Prince must be
knighted upon some glorious battlefield -- upon a day of victory that I
trow will come ere long for thee and me. And now to thy mother, boy, and
ask her pardon for the fright thou madest her to suffer, when thy
sisters betrayed to her the wild chase upon which thou and thy boy
comrades were bent. Well was it for all that our trusty huntsmen were
with you, else might England be mourning sore this day for a life cut
off ere it had seen its first youthful prime. Yet, boy, I have not heart
to chide thee; all I ask is that when thou art bent on some quest of
glory or peril another time, thou wilt tell thy father first. Trust him
not to say thee nay; it is his wish that thou shouldst prove a worthy
scion of thy house. He will never stand in thy path if thy purpose be
right and wise."

The Prince accepted this paternal admonition with all becoming grace and
humility, and bent his knee before his mother, to be raised and warmly
embraced both by her and the little princesses, who had come in all
haste to the Palace of Guildford before the good Rector had had time to
send a message of warning to the King. Queen Philippa had heard from her
daughters of the proposed escapade on the part of the little band
surrounding the Prince, and the fear lest the bold boy might expose
himself to real peril had induced the royal family to hasten to
Guildford only two days after the Prince had gone thither. They had met
a messenger from Master Bernard as they had neared the Palace, and the
King, after assuring himself of the safety of his son, made kindly
inquiries after those of his companions who had been with him on his
somewhat foolhardy adventure.

John de Brocas was lying dangerously ill in one of the apartments of the
Palace. The King was greatly concerned at hearing how severely he had
been hurt; and when the story came to be told more in its details, and
it appeared that to John's fidelity and the stanch support of Audley's
two youthful esquires the heir of England owed his life, Edward and his
Queen both paid a visit to the room where the sick youth lay, and with
their own hands bestowed liberal rewards upon the twin brothers, who had
stood beside the Prince in the stress of the fight, and had both
received minor hurts in shielding him.

Sir James Audley was himself in the King's train; but he was about to
leave the south for a secret mission in Scotland, entrusted to him by
his sovereign. He was going to travel rapidly and without any large
escort, and for the present he had no further need for the services of
the Gascon twins. Neither of the lads would be fit for the saddle for
more than a week to come, and they had already made good use of their
time in England, and had interested both the King and the Prince in
them, and had also earned liberal rewards. In their heart of hearts they
were anxious to remain in the neighbourhood of Guildford, for they knew
that there they were not far from Basildene. Wherefore when they
understood that their master had no present occasion for any further
service from them, they were not a little excited and pleased by the
thought that they were now in a position to prosecute their own quest in
such manner as seemed best to them.

They had made a wonderfully good beginning to their life of adventure.
They had won the favour not only of their own kinsfolk, but of the King
and the Prince. They had money and clothes and arms. They had the
prospect of service with Sir James in the future, when he should have
returned from his mission and require a larger train. Everything seemed
to be falling in with their own desires; and it was with faces of eager
satisfaction that they turned to each other when the knight had left
them alone again, after a visit to the long rush-carpeted room, by the
glowing hearth of which they were sitting when he had come to seek them
soon after the King had visited John's couch.

John lay in a semi-conscious state upon the tall canopied bed, beneath a
heavy pall of velvet, that gave a funereal aspect to the whole room. He
had been aroused by the King's visit, and had spoken a few words in
reply to the kind ones addressed to him; but afterwards he had sunk back
into the lethargy of extreme weakness, and the brothers were to all
intents and purposes alone in the long dormitory they had shared with
John, and with two more comrades who had also received slight hurts, but
who had now been summoned to attend the Prince on the return journey to
Windsor, which was to be taken leisurely and by short stages.

Oliver and Bernard de Brocas had likewise gone, and John was, they knew,
to be moved as soon as possible to Master Bernard's rectory, not far
away. The kindly priest had said something about taking the brothers
there also till they were quite healed of their wounds and bruises, and
John invariably asked for Raymond if ever he awoke to consciousness.
What was to be the end of it all the twins had no idea, but it certainly
seemed as though for the present they were to be the guests of their own
uncle, who knew nothing of the tie that existed betwixt them.

"Shall we say aught to him, Gaston?" asked Raymond, in a low whisper, as
the pair sat over the glowing fire together. "He is a good man and a
kind one, and perchance if he knew us for kinsmen he might --"

"Might be kinder than before?" questioned Gaston, with a proud smile.
"Is it that thou wouldst say, brother? Ay, it is possible, but it is
also likely enough that he would at once look coldly and harshly upon
us. Raymond, I have learned many lessons since we left our peaceful
home, and one of these is that men love not unsuccess. It is the
prosperous, the favoured of fortune, upon whom the smiles of the great
are bent. Perchance it was because he succeeded not well that by his own
brothers our father was passed by. Raymond, I have seen likewise this --
if our kinsmen are kind, they are also proud. They have won kingly
favour, kingly rewards; all men speak well of them; they are placed high
in the land. Doubtless they could help us if they would; but are we to
come suing humbly to them for favours, when they would scarce listen to
our father when he lived? Shall we run into the peril of having their
smiles turned to frowns by striving to claim kinship with them, when
perchance they would spurn us from their doors? And if in days to come
we rise to fame and fortune, as by good hap we may, shall we put it in
their power to say that it is to their favour we owe it all? No -- a
thousand times no! I will carve out mine own fortune with mine own good
sword and mine own strong arm. I will be beholden to none for that which
some day I will call mine own. The King himself has said that I shall
make a valiant knight. I have fought by the Prince's side once; I trow
that in days to come I shall do the like again. When my knighthood's
spurs are won, then perchance I will to mine uncle and say to him,
'Sire, I am thy brother Arnald's son -- thine own nephew;' but not till
then will I divulge the secret. Sir John de Brocas -- no, nor Master
Bernard either -- shall never say that they have made Sir Gaston's
fortune for him!"

The lad's eyes flashed fire; the haughty look upon his face was not
unlike the one sometimes to be seen upon that of the King's Master of
the Horse.

Raymond listened with a smile to these bold words, and then said quietly:

"Perhaps thou art right, Gaston; but I trust thou bearest no ill will
towards our two uncles?"

Gaston's face cleared, and he smiled frankly enough.

"Nay, Brother, none in the world. It is only as I think sometimes of the
story of our parents' wrongs that my hot blood seems to rise against
them. They have been kind to us. I trow we need not fear to take such
kindness as may be offered to us as strangers; but to come as suppliant
kinsmen, humble and unknown, I neither can nor will. Let us keep our
secret; let us carve out our own fortunes. A day shall come when we may
stand forth before all the world as of the old line of De Brocas, but
first we will win for ourselves the welcome we would fain receive."

"Ay, and we will seek our lost inheritance of Basildene," added Raymond.
"That shall be our next quest, Gaston. I would fain look upon our
mother's home. Methinks it lies not many miles from here."

"I misdoubt me if Basildene be aught of great moment," said Gaston,
shaking back his curly hair. "Like enough it is but a Manor such as we
have seen by the score as we have ridden through this land. It may be no
such proud inheritance when we do find it, Raymond. It is of our lost
possessions in Gascony that I chiefly think. What can any English house,
of which even here scarce any man has heard, be as compared with our
vast forest lands of Gascony -- our Castle of Saut -- of Orthez -- where
the false Sieur de Navailles rules with the rod of iron? It is there
that I would be; it is there that I would rule. When the Roy Outremer
wages war with the French King, and I fight beneath his banner and win
his favour, as I will do ere many years have passed, and when he calls
me to receive my rewards at his kingly hands, then will I tell him of
yon false and cruel tyrant there, and how our people groan beneath his
harsh rule. I will ask but his leave to win mine own again, and then I
will ride forth with my own knights in my train, and there shall be once
again a lord of the old race ruling at Saut, and the tyrant usurper
shall be brought to the very dust!"

"Ay," answered Raymond, with a smile that made his face look older for
the moment than that of his twin brother, "thou, Gaston, shalt reign in
Saut, and I will try to win and to reign at Basildene, content with the
smaller inheritance. Methinks the quiet English Manor will suit me well.
By thy side for a while will I fight, too, winning, if it may be, my
spurs of knighthood likewise; but when the days of fighting be past, I
would fain find a quiet haven in this fair land -- in the very place
where our mother longed to end her days."

It may be seen, from the foregoing fragment of talk, that already the
twin brothers were developing in different directions. So long as they
had lived in the quiet of the humble home, they had scarce known a
thought or aspiration not shared alike by both; but the experiences of
the past months had left a mark upon them, and the mark was not
altogether the same in the case of each. They had shared all adventures,
all perils, all amusements; their hearts were as much bound up as ever
one with the other; but they were already looking at life differently,
forming a different ideal of the future. The soldier spirit was coming
out with greater intensity in one nature than in the other. Gaston had
no ambition, no interest beyond that of winning fame and glory by the
sword. Raymond was just beginning to see that there were other aims and
interests in life, and to feel that there might even come a day when
these other interests should prove more to him than any laurels of battle.

In the days that followed, this feeling grew more and more upon him. His
hurt was more slow to heal than Gaston's, and long after his brother was
riding out daily into the forest with the keepers to slay a fat buck for
the prelate's table or fly a falcon for practice or sport, Raymond
remained within the house, generally the companion of the studious John;
and as the latter grew strong enough to talk, he was always imparting
new ideas to the untutored but receptive mind of the Gascon boy.

They had quickly removed from the Royal Palace to the more cozy and
comfortable quarters within the Rectory, which belonged to Master
Bernard in right of his office. John was as much at home in his uncle's
house as in his father's, having spent much of his youth with the
priest. Indeed it may be questioned whether he felt as much at ease
anywhere as he did in this sheltered and retired place, and Raymond
began to feel the subtle charm of the life there almost at once.

The Rector possessed what was for that age a fine collection of books.
These were of course all manuscripts, and very costly of their kind,
some being beautifully illuminated and others very lengthy. These
manuscripts and books were well known to John, who had read the majority
of them, and was never weary of reading them again and again. Some were
writings of the ancient fathers; others were the works of pagan writers
and philosophers who had lived in the dark ages of the world's history,
yet who had had thoughts and aspirations in advance of their day, and
who had striven without the light of Christianity to construct a code of
morals that should do the work for humanity which never could have been
done till the Light came into the world with the Incarnation.

As Raymond sat day by day beside John's couch, hearing him read out of
these wonderful books, learning himself to read also with a sense of
quickened pleasure that it was a surprise to experience, he began to
realize that there was a world around and about him of which he had had
no conception hitherto, to feel his mental horizon widening, and to see
that life held weightier questions than any that could be settled at the
sword's point.

"In truth I have long held that myself," answered John, to whom some
such remark had been made; and upon the pale face of the student there
shone a light which Raymond had seen there before, and marked with a dim
sense of awe. "We hear men talk of the days of chivalry, and mourn
because they seem to be passing away. Yet methinks there may be a holier
and a higher form of chivalry than the world has yet seen that may rise
upon the ashes of what has gone before, and lead men to higher and
better things. Raymond, I would that I might live to see such a day -- a
day when battle and bloodshed should be no longer men's favourite
pastime, but when they should come to feel as our Blessed Lord has
bidden us feel, brothers in love, for that we love Him, and that we walk
forward hand in hand towards the light, warring no more with our
brethren of the faith, but only with such things as are contrary to His
Word, and are hindering His purpose concerning the earth."

Raymond listened with but small comprehension to a thought so vastly in
advance of the spirit of the day; but despite his lack of true
understanding, he felt a quick thrill of sympathy as he looked into
John's luminous eyes, and he spoke with reverence in his tone even
though his words seemed to dissent from those of his companion.

"Nay, but how would the world go on without wars and gallant feats of
arms? And sure in a good cause men must fight with all their might and
main? Truly I would gladly seek for paynim and pagan foes if they might
be found; but men go not to the Holy Land as once they did. There be
foes nigher at home against whom we have to turn our arms. Good John,
thou surely dost not call it a wicked thing to fight beneath the banner
of our noble King when he goes forth upon his wars?"

John smiled one of those thoughtful, flickering smiles that puzzled his
companion and aroused his speculative curiosity.

"Nay, Raymond," he answered, speaking slowly, as though it were no easy
matter to put his thought in such words as would be comprehensible to
his companion, "it is not that I would condemn any man or any cause. We
are placed in the midst of warlike and stirring times, and it may be
that some great purpose is being worked out by all these wars and
tumults in which we bear our share. It is only as I lie here and think
(I have, as thou knowest, been here many times before amongst these
books and parchments, able for little but study and thought) that there
comes over me a strange sense of the hollowness of these earthly
strivings and search after fame and glory, a solemn conviction -- I
scarce know how to frame it in words -- that there must be other work to
be done in the world, stronger and more heroic deeds than men will ever
do with swords and spears. Methinks the holy saints and martyrs who went
before us knew something of that work; and though it be not given to us
to dare and suffer as they did, yet there come to me moments when I feel
assured that God may still have works of faith and patience for us to do
for Him here, which (albeit the world will never know it) may be more
blessed in His eyes than those great deeds the fame of which goes
through the world. Perchance were I a man of thews and sinews like my
brothers, I might think only of the glory of feats of arms and the
stress and strife of the battle. But being as I am, I cannot but think
of other matters; and so thinking and dreaming, there has come to me the
sense that if I may never win the knighthood and the fame which may
attend on others, I may yet be called upon to serve the Great King in
some other way. Raymond, I think that I could gladly die content if I
might but feel that I had been called to some task for Him, and having
been called had been found faithful."

John's eyes were shining brightly as he spoke. Raymond felt a slight
shiver run through his frame as he answered impulsively:

"Thou hast done a deed already of which any belted knight might well be
proud. It was thou who saved the life of the Prince of Wales by taking
upon thy shoulder the blow aimed at his head. The King himself has
spoken in thy praise. How canst thou speak as though no fame or glory
would be thine?"

A look of natural pride and pleasure stole for a moment over John's pale
face; but the thoughtful brightness in his eyes deepened during the
silence that followed, and presently he said musingly:

"I am glad to think of that. I like to feel that my arm has struck one
good blow for my King and country; though, good Raymond, to thee and to
Gaston, as much as to me, belongs the credit of saving the young Prince.
Yet though I too love deeds of glory and chivalry, and rejoice to have
borne a part in one such struggle undertaken in defence of the poor and
the weak, I still think there be higher tasks, higher quests, yet to be
undertaken by man in this world."

"What quest?" asked Raymond wonderingly, as John paused, enwrapped, as
it seemed, in his own thoughts.

It was some time before the question was answered, and then John spoke
dreamily and slow, as though his thoughts were far away from his
wondering listener.

"The quest after that whose glory shall not be of this world alone; the
quest that shall raise man heavenward to his Maker. Is that thought new
in the heart of man? I trow not. We have heard of late much of that
great King Arthur, the founder of chivalry, and of his knights. Were
feats of arms alone enough for them? or those exploits undertaken in the
cause of the helpless or oppressed, great and noble as these must ever
be? Did not one or more of their number feel that there was yet another
and a holier quest asked of a true knight? Did not Sir Galahad leave all
else to seek after the Holy Grail? Thou knowest all the story; have we
not read it often together? And seems it not to thee to point us ever
onward and upward, away from things of earth towards the things of
heaven, showing that even chivalry itself is but an earthly thing,
unless it have its final hopes and aspirations fixed far above this earth?"

John's face was illumined by a strange radiance. It seemed to Raymond as
though something of the spirit of the Knight of the Grail shone out from
those hollow eyes. A subtle sympathy fired his own soul, and taking his
cousin's thin hand in his he cried quickly and impetuously:

"Such a knight as that would I fain be. Good John, tell me, I pray thee,
where such a quest may be found."

At that literal question, put with an air of the most impulsive good
faith, John's face slightly changed. The rapt look faded from his eyes,
and a reflective smile took its place, as the young man gazed long and
earnestly into the bright face of the eager boy.

"Why shouldst thou come to me to know, good lad?" he questioned. "It is
of others that thou wilt learn these matters better than of me. Do they
not call me the man of books -- of dreams -- of fancies?"

"I know not and I care not," answered Raymond impetuously. "It is of
thee and of thee only that I would learn."

"And I scarce know how to answer thee," replied the youth, "though
gladly would I help thee to fuller, clearer knowledge if I knew how. I
trow that many men would smile at me were I to put my thoughts into
words, for it seems to me that for us who call ourselves after the
sacred name of Christ there can be no higher or holier service than the
service in which He himself embarked, and bid His followers do likewise
-- feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick, cheering the desolate,
binding up the broken heart, being eyes to the blind and feet to the
lame. He that would be the greatest, let him be the servant of all.
Those were His own words. Yet how little do we think of them now."

Raymond sat silent and amazed. Formerly such words would have seemed
comprehensible enough to him; but of late he had seen life under vastly
different aspects than any he had known in his quiet village home. The
great ones of the earth did not teach men thus to think or speak. Not to
serve but to rule was the aim and object of life.

"Wouldst have me enter the cloister, then?" he asked, a look of distaste
and shrinking upon his face; for the quiet, colourless life (as it
seemed to him) of those who entered the service of the Church was little
to the taste of the ardent boy. But John's answer was a bright smile and
a decided negative; whereupon Raymond breathed more freely.

"Nay; I trow we have priests and monks enow, holy and pious men as they
are. It has often been asked of me if I will not follow in the steps of
my good uncle here; but I have never felt the wish. It seems to me that
the habit of the monk or the cassock of the priest too often seems to
separate betwixt him and his fellow man, and that it were not good for
the world for all its holiest men to don that habit and divide
themselves from their brethren. Sir Galahad's spotless heart beat
beneath his silver armour. Would he have been to story and romance the
star and pattern he now is had he donned the monkish vesture and turned
his armed quest into a friar's pilgrimage?"

"Nay, verily not."

"I think with thee, and therefore say I, Let not all those who would
fain lead the spotless life think to do so by withdrawing from the
world. Rather let them carry about the spotless heart beneath the coat
of mail or the gay habit. Their quest need not be the less exalted --"

"But what is that quest to be?" cried Raymond eagerly; "that is what I
fain would know. Good John, give me some task to perform. What wouldst
thou do thyself in my place?"

"Thou wouldst laugh were I to tell thee."

"Try me and see."

"I will. If I were sound and whole tomorrow, I should forth into the
forest whence we came, and I should seek and find that aged woodman, who
seemed so sorely bowed down with sorrow, and I should bid him unfold his
tale to me, and see if in any wise I might help him. He is poor,
helpless, wretched, and by the words he spoke, I knew that he had
suffered heavy sorrow. Perchance that sorrow might be alleviated could
one but know the story of it. His face has haunted my fevered dreams. To
me it seems as though perchance this were an errand of mercy sent to me
to do. Deeds of knightly prowess I trow will never now be mine. It must
be enough for me to show my chivalry by acts of love and care for the
helpless, the sorrowful, the oppressed."

Raymond's eyes suddenly glowed. Something of the underlying poetry of
the thought struck an answering chord in his heart, though the words
themselves had been plain and bald enough.

"I will perform that task for thee, good John," he said. "I well
remember the place, ay, and the old man and his sorrowful mien. I will
thither tomorrow, and will bring thee word again. If he may be helped by
any act of mine, be assured that act shall not be lacking."

John pressed his comrade's hand and thanked him; but Raymond little knew
to what this quest, of apparently so little moment, was to lead, nor
what a link it was to form with the story of the lost inheritance of
Basildene.



    CHAPTER VIII. THE VISIT TO THE WOODMAN.


"Raymond, I am glad of this chance to speak alone together, for since
thou hast turned into a man of books and letters I have scarce seen
thee. I am glad of this errand into these dark woods. It seems like
times of old come back again -- and yet not that either. I would not
return to those days of slothful idleness, not for all the gold of the
King's treasury. But I have wanted words with thee alone, Brother.
Knowest thou that we are scarce ten miles (as they measure distance here
in England) from Basildene?"

Raymond turned an eager face upon his brother.

"Hast seen it, Gaston?"

"Nay. It has not been my hap to go that way; but I have heard enough and
to spare about it. I fear me that our inheritance is but a sorry one,
Raymond, and that it will be scarce worth the coil that would be set
afoot were we to try to make good our claim."

"Tell me, what hast thou heard?" asked Raymond eagerly.

"Why, that it is but an ancient Manor, of no great value or extent, and
that the old man who dwells there with his son is little different from
a sorcerer, whom it is not safe to approach -- at least not with intent
to meddle. Men say that he is in league with the devil, and that he has
sold his soul for the philosopher's stone, that changes all it touches
to gold. They say, too, that those who offend him speedily sicken of
some fell disease that no medicine can cure. Though he must have
wondrous wealth, he has let his house fall into gloomy decay. No man
approaches it to visit him, and he goes nowhither himself. His son,
Peter, who seems as little beloved as his father, goes hither and
thither as he will. But it is whispered that he shares in his father's
dealings with the Evil One, and that he will reap the benefit of the
golden treasure which has been secured to them. However that may be, all
men agree that the Sanghursts of Basildene are not to be meddled with
with impunity."

Raymond's face was very thoughtful. Such a warning as this, lightly as
it would be regarded in the present century, meant something serious
then; and Raymond instinctively crossed himself as he heard Gaston's
words. But after a moment's pause of thoughtful silence he said gravely:

"Yet perhaps on this very account ought we the rather to strive to win
our inheritance out of such polluted hands. Have we not others to think
of in this thing? Are there not those living beneath the shelter of
Basildene who must be suffering under the curse that wicked man is like
to bring upon it? For their sakes, Gaston, ought we not to do all in our
power to make good our rights? Are they to be left to the mercy of one
whose soul is sold to Satan?"

Gaston looked quickly into his brother's flushed face, and wondered at
the sudden enthusiasm beaming out of his eyes. But he had already
recognized that a change was passing over Raymond, even as a change of a
different kind was coming upon himself. He did not entirely understand
it, neither did he resent it; and now he threw his arm across his
brother's shoulder in the old caressing fashion of their boyhood.

"Nay, I know not how that may be. There may be found those who dare to
war against the powers of darkness, and with the help of the holy and
blessed saints they may prevail. But that is not the strife after which
my heart longs. Raymond, I fear me I love not Basildene, I love not the
thought of making it our own. It is for the glory of the battlefield and
the pomp and strife of true warfare that I long. There are fairer lands
to be won by force of arms than ever Basildene will prove, if all men
speak sooth. Who and what are we, to try our fortunes and tempt
destruction by drawing upon ourselves the hatred of this wicked old man,
who may do us to death in some fearful fashion, when else we might be
winning fame and glory upon the plains of France? Let us leave Basildene
alone, Brother; let us follow the fortunes of the great King, and trust
to his noble generosity for the reward of valour."

Raymond made no immediate reply, though he pressed his brother's hand
and looked lovingly into his face. Truth to tell, his affections were
winding themselves round his mother's country and inheritance, just as
Gaston's were turning rather to his father's land, and the thought of
the rewards to be won there. Then, within Raymond's heart were growing
up those new thoughts and aspirations engendered by long talks with
John; and it seemed to him that possibly the very quest of which he was
in search might be found in freeing Basildene of a heavy curse. Ardent,
sensitive, full of vivid imagination -- as the sons of the forest mostly
are -- Raymond felt that there was more in the truest and deepest
chivalry than the mere feats of arms and acts of dauntless daring that
so often went by that name. Hazy and indistinct as his ideas were,
tinged with much of the mysticism, much of the superstition of the age,
they were beginning to assume definite proportions, and to threaten to
colour the whole future course of his life; and beneath all the dimness
and confusion one settled, leading idea was slowly unfolding itself, and
forming a foundation for the superstructure that was to follow -- the
idea that in self-denial, self-sacrifice, the subservience of selfish
ambition to the service of the oppressed and needy, chivalry in its
highest form was to be found.

But in his brother's silence Gaston thought he read disappointment, and
with another affectionate gesture he hastened to add:

"But if thy heart goes out to our mother's home, we will yet win it
back, when time has changed us from striplings to tried warriors. See,
Brother, I will tell thee what we will do. Men say that it can scarce be
a year from now ere the war breaks out anew betwixt France and England,
and then will come our opportunity. We will follow the fortunes of the
King. We will win our spurs fighting at the side of the Prince. We will
do as our kindred have done before us, and make ourselves honoured and
respected of all men. It may be that we shall then be lords of Saut once
more. But be that as it may, we shall be strong, rich, powerful -- as
our uncles are now. Then, if thou wilt so have it, we will think again
of Basildene; and if we win it back, it shall be thine, and thine alone.
Fight thou by my side whilst we are yet too young to bring to good any
private matter of our own. Then will I, together with thee, think again
of our boyhood's dream; and it may be that we shall yet live to be
called the Twin Brothers of Basildene!"

Raymond smiled at the sound of that name, as he had smiled at Gaston's
eager words before. Full of ardent longings and unbounded enthusiasm, as
were most well-born youths in those adventurous days, he was just a
little less confident than Gaston of the brilliant success that was to
attend upon their feats of arms. Still there was much of the fighting
instinct in the boy, and there was certainly no hope of regaining
Basildene in the present. So that he agreed willingly to his brother's
proposition, although he resolved before he left these parts to look
once with his own eyes upon the home that had sheltered his mother's
childhood and youth.

And then they plunged into the thickest of the forest, and could talk no
more till they had reached the little clearing that lay around the
woodman's hut. The old man was not far away, as they heard by the sound
of a falling axe a little to the right of them. Following this sound,
they quickly came upon the object of their search -- the grizzled old
man, with the same look of unutterable woe stamped upon his face.

Gaston, who knew only one-half of the errand upon which they had come,
produced the pieces of silver that the Rector and John had sent, with a
message of thanks to the old woodman for his help in directing the
Prince and his company to the robbers' cave at such a favourable moment.
The old man appeared bewildered at first by the sight of the money and
the words of thanks; but recollection came back by degrees, though he
seemed as one who in constant brooding upon a single theme has come to
lose all sense of other things, and scarce to observe the flight of
time, or to know one day from another.

This strange, wild melancholy, which had struck John at once, now
aroused in Raymond a sense of sympathetic interest. He had come to try
to seek the cause of the old man's sorrow, and he did not mean to leave
with his task unfulfilled.

Perhaps John could have found no fitter emissary than this Gascon lad,
with his simple forest training, his quick sympathy and keen
intelligence, and his thorough knowledge of the details of peasant life,
which in all countries possess many features in common.

It was hard at first to get the old man to care to understand what was
said, or to take the trouble to reply. The habit of silence is one of
the most difficult to break; but patience and perseverance generally win
the day: and when it dawned upon this strange old man that it was of
himself and his own loss and grief that these youths had come to speak,
a new look crossed his weatherbeaten face, and a strange gleam of
mingled fury and despair shone in the depths of his hollow eyes.

"My sorrow!" he exclaimed, in a voice from which the dreary cadence had
now given place to a clearer, firmer ring: "is it of that you ask, young
sirs? Has it been told to you the cruel wrong that I have suffered?"

Then suddenly clinching his right hand and shaking it wildly above his
head, he broke into vehement and almost unintelligible invective,
railing with frenzied bitterness against some foe, speaking so rapidly,
and with such strange inflections of voice, that it was but a few words
that the brothers could distinguish out of the whole of the impassioned
speech. One of those words was "my son -- my boy," followed by the names
of Sanghurst and Basildene.

It was these names that arrested the attention of the brothers, causing
them to start and exchange quick glances. Raymond waited till the old
man had finished his railing, and then he asked gently:

"Had you then a son? Where is he now?"

"A son! ay, that had I -- the light and brightness of my life!" cried
the old man, with a sudden burst of rude eloquence that showed him to
have been at some former time something better than his present
circumstances seemed to indicate. "Young sirs, I know not who you are; I
know not why you ask me of my boy. But your faces are kind, and
perchance there may be help in the world, though I have found it not. I
know not how time has fled since that terrible sorrow fell upon me.
Perchance not many years by the calendar, but in misery and suffering a
lifetime. Listen, and I will tell you all. I was not ever as you see me
now. I was no lonely woodman buried in the heart of the forest. I was
second huntsman to Sir Hugh Vavasour of Woodcrych, in favour with my
master and well contented with my lot. I had a wife whom I loved, and
she had born me a lovely boy, who was the very light of my eyes and the
joy of my heart. I should weary you did I tell you of all his bold
pranks and merry ways. He was, I verily believe, the loveliest child
that God's sun has ever looked down upon. When it pleased Him to take my
wife away from me after seven happy years, I strove not to murmur; for I
had still the child, and every day that passed made him more winsome,
more loving, more mettlesome and bold. Even the master would draw rein
as he passed my door to have a word with the boy; and little Mistress
Joan gave me many a silver groat to buy him a fairing with, and keep him
always dressed in the smartest little suit of forester's green. The
priest noticed him too, and would have him to his house to teach him
many things, and told me he would live to carve out a fortune for
himself. I thought naught too good for him. I would have wondered little
if even the King had sent for him to make of him a companion for his son.

"Perchance I was foolish in the boastings I made. But the beauty and the
wisdom of the boy struck all alike -- and thence came his destruction."

"His destruction?" echoed both brothers in a breath. "What! is he then
dead?"

"He is worse than dead," answered the father, in a hollow, despairing
voice; "he has been bewitched -- undone by foul sorcery, bound over hand
and foot, and given to the keeping of Satan. Even the priest can do
nothing for us. He is lost, body and soul, for ever."

The brothers exchanged wondering glances as they made the sign of the
cross, the old man watching the gesture with a bitter smile in his eye.
Then Raymond spoke again:

"But what was it that happened? we do not yet understand."

"I will tell you all. If you know this part of the world, young sirs,
you have doubtless heard of the old Manor of Basildene, where dwells
one, Peter Sanghurst by name, who is nothing more nor less than a
wizard, who should be hunted to death without pity. Men have told me (I
know not with what truth) that these wizards, who give themselves over
to the devil, are required by their master from time to time to furnish
him with new victims, and these victims are generally children -- fair
and promising children, who can first be trained in the black arts of
their earthly master, and are then handed over, body and soul, to the
devil, to be his slaves and his victims for ever."

The old man was speaking slowly now, with a steady yet despairing
ferocity that was terrible to hear. His sunken eyes gleamed in their
sockets, and his hands, that were tightly clinched over the handle of
his axe, trembled with the emotion that had him in its clutches.

"I was sent upon a mission by my master. I was absent from my home some
seven days. When I came back my boy was gone. I had left him in the care
of the keeper of the hounds. He was an honest man, and told me all the
tale. Perchance you know that Sir Hugh Vavasour is what men call a
spendthrift. His estates will not supply him with the money he needs. He
is always in debt, he is always in difficulties. From that it comes that
he cares little what manner of men are his comrades or friends, provided
only that they can supply his needs when his own means fail. This is
why, when all men else hate and loathe the very name of Sanghurst, he
calls himself their friend. He knows that the old man has the secret by
which all things may be turned into gold, and therefore he welcomes his
son to Woodcrych. And men say that Mistress Joan is to be given in
marriage to his son one day, because he will take her without dowry; for
she is the fairest creature in the world, and he has vowed that she
shall wed him and none else."

The brothers were intensely interested by this tale, but were growing a
little confused by all the names introduced, and they wanted the story
of the woodman's son complete.

"Then was it the old man who took your boy, or was it his son? Are they
not both called Peter?"

"Ay, they have both the same name -- the same name and the same nature:
evil, cruel, remorseless. I know not how nor where the old man first set
eyes upon my boy; but he must have seen him, and have coveted possession
of him for his devilish practices; for upon the week that I was absent
from home, he left the solitude of his house, and came with the master
himself to the house where the boy was. And then Sir Hugh explained to
honest Stephen, who had charge of him, that Master Peter Sanghurst had
offered the lad a place in his service, where he would learn many things
that would stand him in good stead all the days of his life. It sounded
fair in all faith. But Stephen stoutly refused to let the boy go till I
returned; whereupon Sir Hugh struck him a blow across the face with his
heavy whip, and young Peter Sanghurst, leaping to the ground, seized the
child and placed him in front of him upon the horse, and the three
galloped off laughing aloud, whilst the boy in vain implored to be set
down to run home. When I came back he had gone, and all men said that
the old man had thus stolen him to satisfy the greed for souls of his
master the devil."

"And hast thou not seen him since?" asked the boys breathlessly. "What
didst thou do when thou camest back?"

For a moment it seemed as though the old man would break out again into
those wild imprecations of frenzied anger which the brothers had heard
him utter before; but by a violent effort he checked the vehement flow
of words that rose to his lips, and replied with a calmness far more
really impressive:

"I did all that a poor helpless man might do when his feudal lord was on
the side of the enemy, and met every prayer and supplication either with
mockery or blows. I soon saw it all too well. Sir Hugh was under the
spell of the wicked old man. What was my boy's soul to him? what my
agony? Nothing -- nothing. The wizard had coveted the beautiful boy. He
had doubtless made it worth my master's while to sell him to him; and
what could I do? I tried everything I knew; but who would listen to me?
Master Bernard de Brocas of Guildford, whom I met upon the road and
begged to listen to my tale, promised he would see if something might
not be done. I waited and waited in anguish, and hope, and despair, and
there came a day when his palfrey stopped at my door, and he came
forward himself to speak with me. He told me he had spoken to the Master
of Basildene, and that he had promised to restore me my son if I was
resolved to have him back; but he had told the good priest that he knew
the boy would never be content to stay in a woodland cottage with an
unlettered father, when he had learned what life elsewhere was like. But
I laughed this warning to scorn, and demanded my boy back."

"And did he come?"

A strange look swept over the old man's face. His hands were tightly
clinched. His voice was very low, and full of suppressed awe and fury.

"Ay, he came back -- he came back that same night -- but so changed in
those few months that I scarce knew him. And ah, how he clung to me when
he was set down at my door! How he sobbed on my breast, entreating me to
hold him fast -- to save him -- to protect him! What fearful tales of
unhallowed sights and sounds did his white lips pour into my ears! How
my own blood curdled at the tale, and how I vowed that never, never,
never would I let him go from out my arms again! I held him fast. I took
him within doors. I fastened the door safely. I fed him, comforted him,
and laid him in mine own bed, lying wakeful beside him for fear even
then that he should be taken from me; and thus the hours sped by. But
the rest -- ah, how can I tell it? It wrings my very heart. O my child,
my son -- my own heart's joy!"

The old man threw up his arms with a wild gesture of despair, and there
was something in his face so terrible that the twins dared ask him no
question; but after that one cry and gesture, the stony look returned
upon his face, and he went on of his own accord.

"Midnight had come. I knew it by the position of the moon in the
heavens. My boy had been sleeping like one dead beside me, never moving
or stirring, scarce breathing; and I had at last grown soothed and
drowsy likewise. I had just fallen into a light sleep, when I was
aroused by feeling Roger stir beside me, and hastily sit up in the bed.
His eyes were wide open, and in the moonlight they seemed to shine with
unnatural brilliance. It was as if he were listening -- listening with
every fibre of his being, listening to a voice which he could hear and I
could not; for he made quick answers. 'I hear, Sire,' he said, in a
strange, muffled voice. And he rose suddenly to his feet and cried, 'I
come, Master, I come.' Then a great rage and fear possessed me, for I
knew that my boy was being called by some foul spirit, and that he was
bewitched. I sprang up and seized him in my arms. 'Thou shalt not go!' I
cried aloud. 'He has given thee back to me. I am thy father. Thy place
is here. I will not let thee go!' But I might have been speaking to a
dead corpse for all the understanding I received. My boy's eyes were
opened, but he saw me not. His ears, that heard other voices, were deaf
to mine. He struggled fiercely against my fatherly embrace; and when I
felt the strength that had come into that frame, so worn and feeble but
a few short hours ago, then I knew that it was the devil himself who had
entered into my child, and that it was his voice that was luring him
back to his destruction. O my God! May I never have to live again
through the agony of that hour in which I fought with the devil for my
child, and fought in vain. Like one possessed (as indeed he was) did he
wrestle with me, crying out wildly all the while that he was coming --
that he would quickly come; hearing nothing that I could hear, seeing
nothing that I could see, and all the time struggling with me with a
strength that I knew must at last prevail, albeit he was but a tender
child and I a man in the prime of manhood's strength. But the devil was
in him that night. It was not my boy's own hand that struck the blow
which forced me to leave my hold, and sent me staggering back against
the wall. No, it was but the evil spirit within him; and even as I
released him from my embrace, he glided to the door, undid the
fastenings, and still calling out that he was coming, that he would be
there anon, he slipped out into the still forest, and vanished amongst
the trees."

"Did he return to Basildene?"

"Ay, like a bird to its nest, a dog to its master's home. Spent and
breathless, despairing as I was, I yet gathered my strength and followed
my boy -- weeping and calling upon his name, though I knew he heard me
not. Scarce could I keep the gliding figure in sight; yet I could not
choose but follow, lest some mischance should befall the child by the
way. But he moved onwards as if he trod on air, neither stumbling nor
falling, nor turning to the right hand or to the left. I watched him to
the end of the avenue of trees that leads to Basildene. As he reached it
a dark figure stepped forth, and the child sank to the ground as if
exhausted. There was the sound of laughter -- fiends' laughter, if ever
devils do laugh. It chilled the very blood in my veins, and I stood
rooted to the spot, whilst the hair of my head stood erect. The dark
form bent over the boy and seemed to raise it.

"'You shall suffer for this,' I heard a cruel voice say in a hissing
whisper; 'you will not ask to leave again!' and at those evil words a
cry of anguish -- a human cry -- broke from my boy's lips, and with a
yell of fury I sprang forward to save him or to die with him. But what
happened then I know not. Whether a human hand or a fiend's struck me
down I shall never now know. I remember a blow -- the sense that hell's
mouth was opening to receive me; that the mocking laughter of devils was
in my ears. Then I knew no more till (they tell me it was many weeks
later) I awoke from a long strange sleep in yon cabin where I live. An
old woodman had found me, and had carried me there. Sir Hugh had given
him a few silver pieces to take care of me. He had filled my place, and
my old home was occupied by another; but had it not been so, no power on
earth would have taken me back there. I had grown old in one night. I
had lost my strength, my cunning, my heart. I stayed on with the old man
awhile, and as he fell sick and died when the next snow fell upon the
ground, Master Bernard de Brocas appointed me as woodman in his stead,
and here I have remained ever since. I know not how the time has sped. I
have no heart or hope in life. My child is gone -- possessed by fiends
who have him in their clutches, so that I may never win him back to me.
I hate my life, yet fear to die; for then I might see him the sport of
devils, and be, as before, powerless to succour him. I have long ceased
to be shriven for my sins. What good to me is forgiveness, if my child
will be doomed to hellfire for evermore? No hope in this world, no hope
after death. Woe is me that ever I was born! Woe is me! woe is me!"

The energy which had supported the old man as he told his tale now
appeared suddenly to desert him. With a low moan he sank upon the ground
and buried his face in his hands, whilst the boys stood and gazed at
him, and then at one another, their faces full of interest and sympathy,
their hearts burning with indignation against the wicked foe of their
own race, who seemed to bring misery and wrong wherever he moved.

"And thou hast never seen thy son again?" asked Raymond softly. "Is he
yet alive, knowest thou?"

"I have never seen him again: they say that he still lives. But what is
life to one who is sold and bound over, body and soul, to the powers of
darkness?"

Then the old man buried his face once more in his hands, and seemed to
forget even the presence of the boys; and Gaston and Raymond stole
silently away, with many backward glances at the bowed and stricken
figure, unable to find any words either to help or comfort him.



    CHAPTER IX. JOAN VAVASOUR.


It was with the greatest interest that John de Brocas listened to the
story brought home by the twin brothers after their visit to the
woodman's hut. Such a story of oppression, cruelty, and wrong truly
stirred him to the very soul; and moreover, as the brothers spoke of
Basildene, they told him also (under the promise of secrecy) of their
own connection with that place, of their kinship with himself, and of
the wrongs they had suffered at the hand of the Sanghursts, father and
son; and all this aroused in the mind of John an intense desire to see
wrong made right, and retribution brought upon the heads of those who
seemed to become a curse wherever they went.

"And so ye twain are my cousins?" he said, looking from one face to the
other with penetrating gaze. "I knew from the very first that ye were no
common youths; and it was a stronger tie than that of Gascon blood that
knit us one to the other. But I will keep your secret. Perchance ye are
wise in wishing it kept. There be something too many hangers-on of our
house already, and albeit I know not all the cause of the estrangement,
I know well that your father was coldly regarded for many years, and it
may be that his sons would receive but sorry welcome if they came as
humble suppliants for place. The unsuccessful members of a house are
scarce ever welcomed, and the claim to Basildene might be but a
hindrance in your path. Sir Hugh Vavasour is high in favour at Court. He
is a warm friend of my father and my uncle; and he and the Sanghursts
are bound together by some close tie, the nature of which I scarce know.
Any claim on Basildene would be fiercely resented by the father and son
who have seized it, and their quarrel would be taken up by others of
more power. Gaston is right in his belief that you must first win credit
and renown beneath the King's banners. As unknown striplings you have no
chance against yon crafty fox of Basildene. Were he but to know who and
what you were, I know not that your very lives would be safe from his
malice."

The twins exchanged glances. It seemed as though they were threatened on
every hand by the malice of those who had usurped their rights and their
lands; yet they felt no fear, rather a secret exultation at the thought
of what lay before them. But their curiosity was strongly stirred about
the strange old man at Basildene, and they eagerly asked John of the
truth of those reports which spoke of him as being a tool and slave of
the devil.

A grave light came into John's eyes as he replied:

"Methinks that every man is the tool of Satan who willingly commits sin
with his eyes open, and will not be restrained. I cannot doubt that old
Peter Sanghurst has done this again and again. He is an evil man and a
wicked one. But whether or no he has visible dealings with the spirits
of darkness, I know not. Men can sin deeply and darkly and yet win no
power beyond that vouchsafed to others."

"But the woodman's son," said Raymond, in awestruck tones, "him he most
certainly bewitched. How else could he have so possessed him that even
his own father could not restrain him from going back to the dread
slavery once again?"

A thoughtful look was on John's face. He was lying on his couch in the
large room where his learned uncle stored all his precious books and
parchments, safely locked away in carved presses; and rising slowly to
his feet -- for he was still feeble and languid in his movements -- he
unlocked one of these, and took from it a large volume in some dead
language, and laid it upon the table before him.

"I know not whether or no I am right, but I have heard before of a
strange power that some men may possess over the minds and wills of
others -- a power so great that they become their helpless tools, and
can be made to act, to see, to feel just as they are bidden, and are as
helpless to resist that power as the snared bird to avoid the
outstretched hand of the fowler. That this power is a power of evil, and
comes from the devil himself, I may not disbelieve; for it has never
been God's way of dealing with men to bind captive their wills and make
them blind and helpless agents of the will of others. Could you read the
words of this book, you would find many things therein as strange as any
you have heard today. For myself, I have little doubt that old Peter
Sanghurst, who has spent years of his life amongst the heathen Moors,
and is, as all men avow, steeped to the lips in their strange and
unchristian lore, has himself the art of thus gaining the mastery over
the minds and wills of others, and that it was no demoniacal possession,
but just the wicked will of the old man exercised upon that of his
helpless victim, which drew the boy back to him when his father had him
safe at home (as he thought) once more. In this book it is written that
young boys, especially if they be beautiful of form and receptive of
mind, make the best tools for this black art. They can be thrown into
strange trances, in which many things are revealed to them. They can be
sent in the spirit to places they have never seen, and can be made to
describe what is passing thousands of miles away. I cannot tell how
these things may be, unless indeed it is the devil working in them; yet
here it is written down as if it were some art which certain men with
certain gifts may acquire, as they may acquire other knowledge and
learning. In truth, I think such things smack of the Evil One himself;
yet I doubt if there be that visible bond with Satan that is commonly
reported amongst the unlettered and ignorant. It is a cruel and a wicked
art without doubt, and it says here that the children who are caught and
subjected to these trances and laid under this spiritual bondage seldom
live long; and that but for this, there seems no end to the wonders that
might be performed. But the strain upon their spirits almost always
results in madness or death, and thus the art never makes the strides
that those who practise it long to see."

John was turning the leaves of the book as he spoke, reading a word here
and there as if to refresh his memory. The Gascon brothers listened with
breathless interest, and suddenly Raymond started to his feet, saying:

"John, thou hast spoken of a knightly quest that would win no praise
from man, but yet be such as a true knight would fain undertake. Would
not the rescue of yon wretched boy from the evil thraldom of that wicked
sorcerer be such a task as that? Is not Basildene ours? Is it not for us
to free it from the curse of such pollution? Is not that child one of
the oppressed and wronged that it is the duty of a true servant of the
old chivalry to rescue at all costs?

"Gaston, wilt thou go with me? Shall we snatch from the clutches of this
devilish old man the boy whose story we have heard today? Methinks I can
never rest happy till the thing is done. Will not a curse light upon the
very house itself if these dark deeds go on within its walls? Who can
have a better right to avert such curse than we -- its rightful lords?"

Gaston sprang to his feet, and threw back his head with a proud and
defiant gesture.

"Verily I will go with thee, Brother. I would gladly strike a blow for
the freedom of the boy and against the despoiler of our mother's house.
I would fain go this very day."

Both brothers looked to John, as if asking his sanction for the act. He
closed his book, and raised his eyes with a smile; but he advocated
prudence, and patience too.

"In truth, methinks it would be a deed of charity and true chivalry, yet
one by no means without its peril and its risk. Old Sanghurst is a wily
and a cruel foe, and failure would but mean more tyranny and suffering
for the miserable victim he holds in his relentless hands. It might lead
also to some mysterious vengeance upon you yourselves. There are ugly
whispers breathed abroad about the old man and his evil practices.
Travellers through these forest tracks, richly laden, have been known to
disappear, and no man has heard of them more. It is rumoured that they
have been seized and done to death by the rapacious owners of Basildene,
and that the father and son are growing wealthy beyond what any man
knows by the plunder they thus obtain."

"But if they hold the secret of the philosopher's stone, sure they would
not need to fall upon travellers by the way!"

John slowly shook his head, a thoughtful smile upon his face.

"For mine own part," he said quietly, "I have no belief in that stone,
or in that power of alchemy after which men since the beginning of time
have been vainly striving. They may seek and seek, but I trow they will
never find it; and I verily believe if found it would but prove a
worthless boon. For in the hands of a rapacious master, so quickly would
gold be poured upon the world that soon its value would be lost, and it
would be no more prized than the base metals we make our horseshoes of.
It is not the beauty of gold that makes men covet it. It is because it
is rare that it is precious. If this philosopher's stone were to be
found, that rareness would speedily disappear, and men would cease to
prize a thing that could be made more easily than corn may be grown."

The brothers could scarce grasp the full meaning of these words; but it
was not of the philosopher's stone that their minds were full, and
John's next words interested them more.

"No: I believe that the wealth which is being accumulated at Basildene
is won in far different fashion, and that this miserable boy, who is the
helpless slave and tool of his master's illicit art, is an unwilling
agent in showing the so-called magician the whereabouts of hapless
travellers, and in luring them on to their destruction. But that the old
man is wealthy above all those about him may not now be doubted; and it
is this growing wealth, gotten no man knows how, that makes men believe
in his possession of the magic stone."

"And if we rescue the boy, some part of his power will be gone, and he
will lose a tool that he will not easily replace," cried Gaston, with
eager animation. "Brother, let us not delay. We have long desired to
look upon Basildene; let us sally forth this very day."

But John laid a detaining hand upon his arm.

"Nay now, why this haste? Thou art a bold lad, Gaston, but something
more than boldness is needed when thou hast such a subtle foe to deal
with. Then there is another thing to think of. What will it avail to
rescue the boy, if his master holds his spirit so in thrall that he can
by no means be restrained from rising in the dead of night to return to
him again? There be many things to think of ere we can act. And we must
take counsel of one who knows Basildene, as we do not. I have never seen
the house, and know nothing of its ways. Till these things were recalled
to my memory these last days, I had scarce remembered that such a place
existed."

"Of whom then shall we take counsel?" asked Gaston, with a touch of
impatience, for to him action and not counsel was the mainspring of
life. "Of thine uncle, who thou sayest is a friend of this unholy man?"

"Scarce a friend," answered John, "albeit he has no quarrel with Master
Sanghurst; and if thou knewest more of the temper of the times, thou
wouldst know that the King's servants must have a care how they in any
wise stir up strife amongst those who dwell in the realm. We have
enemies and to spare abroad -- in Scotland, in Flanders, in France. At
home we must all strive to keep the peace. It behoves not one holding
office under the crown to embroil himself in private quarrels, or stir
up any manner of strife. This is why I counsel you to make no claim on
Basildene for the nonce, and why my uncle could give no help in the
matter of this boy, kindly as his heart is disposed towards the poor and
oppressed. He moved once in the matter, with the result that you know.
It could scarce be expected of him to do more."

"Who then will help or counsel us?"

"I can think of but one, and that is but a slim maiden, whom ye bold
lads might despise. I mean Mistress Joan Vavasour herself."

"What!" cried Gaston in amaze -- "the maiden whom Peter Sanghurst is to
wed? Sure that were a strange counsellor to choose! Good John, thou must
be dreaming."

"Nay, I am no dreamer," was the smiling answer; and a slight access of
colour came slowly into John's face. "I have not seen fair Mistress Joan
of late; yet unless I be greatly mistaken in her, I am very sure that by
no deed of her own will she ever mate with one of the Sanghurst brood. I
have known her from childhood. Once it was my dream that I might wed her
myself; but such thoughts have long ago passed from my mind never to
enter it again. Yet I know her and I love her well, and to me she has
spoken words which tell me that she will never be a passive tool in the
hands of her haughty parents. She has the spirit of her sire within her,
and I trow he will find it no easy task to bend the will even of a child
of his own, when she is made after the fashion of Mistress Joan. If
Peter Sanghurst has gone a-wooing there, I verily believe that the lady
will by this time have had more than enough of his attentions. It may be
that she would be able to give us good counsel; at least I would very
gladly ask it at her hands."

"How can we see her?" asked the brothers quickly.

"So soon as I can make shift to ride once more we will to horse and away
to Woodcrych. It is time I paid my respects to fair Mistress Joan, for I
have not seen her for long. I would that you twain could see her. She is
as fair as a lily, yet with all the spirit of her bold sire, as fearless
in the saddle as her brother, as upright as a dart, beautiful
exceedingly, with her crown of hair the colour of a ripe chestnut. Ah!
if she were but taken to the King's Court, she would be its fairest
ornament. But her sire has never the money to spend upon her adornment;
and moreover if she appeared there, she would have suitors and to spare
within a month, and he would be called upon to furnish forth a rich
dower -- for all men hold him to be a wealthy man, seeing the broad
lands he holds in fief. Wherefore I take it he thinks it safer to
betroth her to this scion of the Sanghurst brood, who will be heir to
all his father's ill-gotten wealth. But if I know Mistress Joan, as I
think I do, she will scarce permit herself to be given over like a
chattel, though she may have a sore fight to make for her liberty."

Raymond's eyes brightened and his hands closely clinched themselves.
Surely this quest after Basildene was bringing strange things to light.
Here was a miserable child to be rescued from bondage that was worse
than death; and a maiden, lovely and brave of spirit, to be saved from
the clutches of this same Sanghurst faction. What a strange combination
of circumstances seemed woven around the lost inheritance! Might it not
be the very life's work he had longed after, to fulfil his mother's
dying behest and make himself master of Basildene again?

That night his dreams were a strange medley of wizards, beauteous
maidens, and ruinous halls, through which he wandered in search of the
victim whose shrill cries he kept hearing. He rose with the first of the
tardy light, to find that Gaston was already off and away upon some
hunting expedition planned overnight. Raymond had not felt disposed to
join it; the attraction of John's society had more charm for him.

The uncle was absent from home on the King's business. The two cousins
had the house to themselves. They had established themselves beside the
glowing hearth within their favourite room containing all the books,
when the horn at the gate announced the arrival of some guest, and a
message was brought to John saying that Mistress Joan Vavasour was even
then dismounting from her palfrey, and was about to pay him a visit.

"Nay now, but this is a lucky hap!" cried John, as he went forward to be
ready to meet his guest.

The next moment the light footfall along the polished boards of the
anteroom announced the coming of the lady, and Raymond's eager eyes were
fixed upon a face so fair that he gazed and gazed and could not turn his
eyes away.

Mistress Joan was just his own age -- not yet seventeen -- yet she had
something of the grace and dignity of womanhood mingling with the fresh
sweet frankness of the childhood that had scarcely passed. Her eyes were
large and dark, flashing, and kindling with every passing gust of
feeling; her delicate lips, arched like a Cupid's bow, were capable of
expressing a vast amount of resolution, though now relaxed into a merry
smile of greeting. She was rather tall and at present very slight,
though the outlines of her figure were softly rounded, and strength as
well as grace was betrayed in every swift eager motion. She held John's
hands and asked eagerly after his well-being.

"It was but two days ago I heard that you lay sick at Guildford, and I
have been longing ever since for tidings. Today my father had business
in the town, and I humbly sued him to let me ride with him, and rest,
whilst he went his own way, in the hospitable house of your good uncle.
This is how I come to be here today. And now tell me of thyself these
many months, for I hear no news at Woodcrych. And who is this fair youth
with thee? Methinks his face is strange to me, though he bears a look of
the De Brocas, too."

A quick flush mounted in Raymond's cheek; but John only called him by
the name by which he was known to the world, and Mistress Joan spoke no
more of the fancied likeness. She and John, who were plainly well
acquainted, plunged at once into eager talk; and it was not long before
the question of Joan's own marriage was brought up, and he plainly asked
her if the news was true which gave her in wedlock to Peter Sanghurst.

A change came over Joan's face at those words. A quick gleam shot out of
her dark eyes. She set her teeth, and her face suddenly hardened as if
carved in flint. Her voice, which had been full of rippling laughter
before, now fell to a lower pitch, and she spoke with strange force and
gravity.

"John, whatever thou hearest on that score, believe it not. I will die
sooner than be wedded to that man. I hate him. I fear him -- yes, I do
fear him, I will not deny it -- I fear him for his wickedness, his evil
practices, his diabolic cruelty, of which I hear fearful whispers from
time to time. He may be rich beyond all that men credit. I doubt not he
has many a dark and hideous method of wringing gold from his wretched
victims. Basildene holds terrible secrets; and never will I enter that
house by my own free will. Never will I wed that man, not if I have to
plunge this dagger into mine own heart to save myself from him. I know
what is purposed. I know that he and his father have some strange power
over my sire and my brother, and that they will do all they can to bend
my will to theirs. But I have two hopes yet before me. One is appeal to
the King, through his gentle and gracious Queen; another is the Convent
-- for sooner would I take the veil (little as the life of the recluse
charms me) than sell myself to utter misery as the wife of that man.
Death shall call me its bride before that day shall come. Yet I would
not willingly take my life, and go forth unassoiled and unshriven. No; I
will try all else first. And in thee, good John, I know I shall find a
trusty and a stalwart friend and champion."

"Trusty in all truth, fair lady, but stalwart I fear John de Brocas will
never be. Rather enlist in thy service yon gallant youth, who has
already distinguished himself in helping to save the Prince in the
moment of peril. I trow he would be glad enough to be thy champion in
days to come. He has, moreover, a score of his own to settle one day
with the present Master of Basildene."

Joan's bright eyes turned quickly upon Raymond, who had flushed with
boyish pride and pleasure and shame at hearing himself thus praised. He
eagerly protested that he was from that time forward Mistress Joan's
loyal servant to command; and at the prompting of John, he revealed to
her the fact of his own claim on Basildene (without naming his kinship
with the house of De Brocas), and gave an animated account of the recent
visit to the woodman's hut, and told the story of his cruel wrongs.

Joan listened with flashing eyes and ever-varying colour. At the close
of the tale she spoke.

"I have heard of that wretched boy -- the tool and sport of the old
man's evil arts, the victim of the son's diabolic cruelty when he has no
other victim to torment. They keep him for days without food at times,
because they say that he responds better to their fiendish practices
when the body is well-nigh reduced to a shadow. Oh, I hear them talk! My
father is a dabbler in mystic arts. They are luring him on to think he
will one day learn the secret of the transmutation of metals, whilst I
know they do but seek to make of him a tool, to subdue his will, and to
do with him what they will. They will strive to practise next on me --
they have tried it already; but I resist them, and they are powerless,
though they hate me tenfold more for it, and I know that they are
reckoning on their revenge when I shall be a helpless victim in their
power. Art thou about to try to rescue the boy? That were, in truth, a
deed worth doing, though the world will never praise it; though it might
laugh to scorn a peril encountered for one so humble as a woodman's son.
But it would be a soul snatched from the peril of everlasting death, and
a body saved from the torments of a living hell!"

And then John spoke of the thoughts which had of late possessed them
both of that chivalry that was not like to win glory or renown, that
would not gain the praise of men, but would strive to do in the world a
work of love for the oppressed, the helpless, the lowly. And Joan's eyes
shone with the light of a great sympathy, as she turned her bright gaze
from one face to the other, till Raymond felt himself falling beneath a
spell the like of which he had never known before, and which suddenly
gave a new impulse to all his vague yearnings and imaginings, and a zest
to this adventure which was greater than any that had gone before.

Joan's ready woman's wit was soon at work planning and devising how the
deed might best be done.

"I can do this much to aid," she said. "A day will come ere long when
the two Sanghursts will come at nightfall to Woodcrych, to try, as they
have done before, some strange experiments in the laboratory my father
has had made for himself. We always know the day that this visit is to
be made, and I can make shift to let you know. They stay far into the
night, and only return to Basildene as the dawn breaks. That would be
the night to strive to find and rescue the boy. He will be almost alone
in yon big house, bound hand and foot, I doubt not, or thrown into some
strange trance that shall keep him as fast a prisoner. There be but few
servants that can be found to live there. Mostly they flee away in
affright ere they have passed a week beneath that roof. Those that stay
are bound rather by fear than aught beside; and scarce a human being
will approach that house, even in broadest daylight. There are many
doors and windows, and the walls in places are mouldering away, and
would give easy foothold to the climber. It is beneath the west wing,
hard by the great fish ponds, that the rooms lie which are ever closed
from light of day, and in which the evil men practise their foul arts. I
have heard of a secret way from the level of the water into the cellars
or dungeons of the house; but whether this be true I do not rightly
know. Yet methinks you could surely find entrance within the house, for
so great is the terror in which Basildene is held that Master Sanghurst
freely boasts that he needs neither bolt nor bar. He professes to have
drawn around the house a line which no human foot may cross. He knows
well that no man wishes to try."

Raymond shivered slightly, but he was not daunted, Yet there was still
the question to be faced, what should be done with the boy when rescued
to hold him back from the magician's unholy spell. But Joan had an
answer ready for this objection. Her hands folded themselves lightly
together, her dark eyes shone with the earnestness of her devotion.

"That will I soon tell to you. The spell cast upon the boy is one of
evil, and therefore it comes in some sort from the devil, even though,
as John says, men may have no visible dealings with him. Yet, as all sin
is of the Evil One, and as the good God and His Holy Saints are stronger
than the devil and his angels, it is His help we must invoke when the
powers of darkness strive to work in him again. And we must ask in this
the help of some holy man of God, one who has fasted and prayed and
learned to discern betwixt good and evil, has fought with the devil and
has overcome. I know one such holy man. He lives far away from here. It
is a small community between Guildford and Salisbury -- I suppose it
lies some thirty miles from hence. I could find out something more,
perchance, in time to acquaint you farther with the road. If you once
gain possession of the boy, mount without loss of time, and draw not
rein till you reach that secluded spot. Ask to be taken in in the name
of charity, and when the doors have opened to you, ask for Father Paul.
Give him the boy. Tell him all the tale, and trust him into his holy
hands without fear. He will take him; he will cast out the evil spirit.
I misdoubt me if the devil himself will have power over him whilst he is
within those hallowed walls. At least if he can find entrance there, he
will not be able to prevail; and when the foul spirit is cast out and
vanquished, you can summon his father to him and give him back his son
-- as the son of the father in Scripture was restored to him again when
the devil had been cast out by the voice of the Blessed Jesus."

"I truly think that thou art right," said John. "The powers of evil are
very strong, too strong to be combated by us unaided by the prayers and
the efforts of holy men.

"Raymond, it shall be my work to provide for this journey. My uncle will
be long absent. In his absence I may do what I will and go where I will.
I would myself pay a pilgrimage to the house where this holy man
resides, and make at the shrine of the chapel there my offering of
thanksgiving for my recovery from this hurt. We will go together. We
will take the boy with us; and the boy's father shall be one of our
party. He shall see that the powers of evil can be vanquished. He shall
see for himself the restoration of his child."



    CHAPTER X. BASILDENE.


It was in the bright moonlight of a clear March evening that the twin
brothers of Gascony stood hand in hand, gazing for the first time in
their lives upon their lost inheritance of Basildene. It was not yet
wholly dark, for a saffron glow in the sky behind still showed where the
sun had lately sunk, whilst the moon was shining with frosty brightness
overhead. Dark as the surrounding woods had been, it was light enough
here in the clearing around the house. Behind the crumbling red walls
the forest grew dark and close, but in the front the larger trees had
been cleared away, and the long low house, with its heavy timbers and
many gables, stood clearly revealed before the eager eyes of the boys,
who stopped short to gaze without speaking a single word to one another.

Once, doubtless, it had been a beautiful house, more highly decorated
than was usual at the period. The heavy beams, dark with age, let into
the brickwork were many of them richly carved, and the twisted chimneys
and quaint windows showed traces of considerable ingenuity in the
builder's art. Plainly, too, there had been a time when the ground
around the house had been cared for and kept trim and garden-like.

Now it was but a waste and wilderness, everything growing wild and
tangled around it; whilst the very edifice itself seemed crumbling to
decay, and wore the grim look of a place of evil repute. It was hard to
believe that any person lived within those walls. It was scarce possible
to approach within the precincts of that lonely house without a shudder
of chill horror.

Gaston crossed himself as he stood looking on the house, which, by what
men said, was polluted by many foul deeds, and tenanted by evil spirits
to boot; but upon Raymond's face was a different look. His heart went
suddenly out to the lonely old house. He felt that he could love it well
if it were ever given to him to win it back. As he stood there in the
moonlight gazing and gazing, he registered anew in his heart the vow
that the day should come when he would fulfil his mother's dying behest,
and stand within those halls as the recognized lord of Basildene.

But the present moment was one for action, not for vague dreamings. The
brothers had come with a definite purpose, and they did not intend to
quit the spot until that purpose was accomplished. The Sanghursts --
father and son -- were far away. The gloomy house -- unless guarded by
malevolent spirits, which did not appear unlikely -- was almost
tenantless. Within its walls was the miserable victim of cruel tyranny
whom they had come to release. The boys, who had both confessed and
received the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of the priest who had
interested himself before in the woodman's son, felt strong in the
righteousness of their cause. If they experienced some fear, as was not
unlikely, they would not own it even to themselves. Gaston was filled
with the soldier spirit of the day, that scorned to turn back upon
danger however great. Raymond was supported by a deep underlying sense
of the sacredness of the cause in which he was embarked. It was not
alone that he was going to deal a blow at the foes of his house; it was
much more to him than that. Vengeance might play a part in the crusade,
but to him it was a secondary idea. What he thought of was the higher
chivalry of which he and John had spoken so much together -- the rescue
of a soul from the clutches of spiritual tyranny; a blow struck in the
defence of one helpless and oppressed; risk run for the sake of those
who would never be able to repay; the deed done for its own sake, not in
the hope of any praise or reward. Surely this thing might be the first
step in a career of true knightliness, albeit such humble deeds might
never win the golden spurs of which men thought so much.

Gaston's eyes had been scanning the whole place with hawk-like gaze. Now
he turned to his brother and spoke in rapid whispers.

"Entrance will be none too easy here. The narrow windows, with their
stone mullions, will scarce admit the passage of a human body, and I can
see that iron bars protect many of them still farther. The doors are
doubtless strong, and heavily bolted. The old sorcerer has no wish to be
interrupted in his nefarious occupations, nor does he trust alone to
ghostly terrors to protect his house. Methinks we had better skirt round
the house, and seek that other entrance of which we have heard. Raymond,
did not our mother tell us oft a story of a revolving stone door to an
underground passage, and the trick by which it might be opened from
within and without? I remember well that it was by a secret spring
cleverly hidden -- seven from above, three from below, those were the
numbers. Can it be that it was of Basildene she was thinking all that
time? It seems not unlikely. Seven from the top, three from the bottom
-- those were certainly the numbers, though I cannot recollect to what
they referred. Canst thou remember the story, Raymond? Dost thou think
it was of Basildene she spoke?"

"Ay, verily I do!" cried the other quickly, a light coming into his
face. "Why had I not thought of it before? I remember well she spoke of
dark water which lay upon the outside of the house hard by the entrance
to the underground way. Rememberest thou not the boat moored in the lake
to carry the fugitive across to the other side, and the oars so muffled
that none might hear? And did not Mistress Joan say that the secret way
into Basildene was hard by the fish ponds on the west side of the house?
It can be nothing else but this. Let us go seek them at once. Methinks
we have in our hands the clue by which we may obtain entrance into
Basildene."

Cautiously, as though their foes were at hand, the brothers slipped
round the crumbling walls of the house, marking well as they did so that
despite the half-ruinous aspect of much of the building, there was no
ready or easy method of access. Every gap in the masonry was carefully
filled up, every window that was wide enough to admit the passage of a
human form was guarded by iron bars, and the doors were solid enough to
defy for a long time the assault of battering rams.

"It is not in ghostly terrors he mainly trusts to guard his house,"
whispered Raymond, as they skirted round into the dim darkness of the
dense woodland that lay behind the house. "Methinks if he had in very
truth a guard of evil spirits, he would not be so careful of his bolts
and bars."

Gaston was willing enough to believe this; for though he feared no human
foe, he was by no means free from the superstitious terrors of the age,
and it needed all his coolness of head, as well as all his confidence in
the righteousness of his cause, to keep his heart from fluttering with
fear as they stepped along beneath the gloom of the trees, which even
when not in leaf cast dense shadows around them. It was in truth a weird
spot: owls hooted dismally about them, bats flitted here and there in
their erratic flight, and sometimes almost brushed the faces of the boys
with their clammy wings. The strange noises always to be heard in a wood
at night assailed their ears, and mingled with the quick beating of
their own hearts; whilst from time to time a long unearthly wail, which
seemed to proceed from the interior of the house itself, filled them
with an unreasoning sense of terror that they would not confess even to
themselves.

"It is like the wail of a lost spirit," whispered Raymond at the third
repetition of the cry. "Brother, let us say a prayer, and go forward in
the power of the Blessed Virgin and her Holy Son."

For a moment the brothers knelt in prayer, as the priest had bidden them
if heart or spirit quailed.

Then rising, strengthened and supported, they looked carefully about
them, and Gaston, grasping his brother by the arm, pointed through the
trees and said:

"The water, the water! sure I see a gleam of moonlight upon it! We have
reached the fish ponds, I verily believe! Now for the secret way to the
house!"

It was true enough. A few steps brought them to the margin of a large
piece of water, which was something between a lake and a series of fish
ponds, such as are so often seen by old houses. Once the lake had
plainly been larger, but had partially drained away, and was now
confined to various levels by means of a rude dam and a sort of gate
like that of a modern lock. Still the boys could trace a likeness to the
lake of their mother's oft-told tale, and by instinct they both turned
to the right as they reached the margin of the water, and threaded their
way through the coarse and tangled sedges, decaying in the winter's
cold, till they reached a spot where brushwood grew down to the very
edge of the water, and the bank rose steep and high above their heads.

Gaston was a step in advance, Raymond following at his heels, both
keenly eager over the quest. An exclamation from the leader soon showed
that something had been discovered, and the next minute he had drawn
aside the sweeping branches of a great willow, and revealed a dark
opening in the bank, around which the giant roots seemed to form a
protecting arch.

"This is the place," he said, in a muffled whisper. "Raymond, hast thou
the wherewithal to kindle the torch?"

The boys had not come unprovided with such things as were likely to
prove needful for their search, and though it was a matter of some time
to obtain a light, they were skilful and well used to the process, and
soon their torch was kindled and they were treading with cautious steps
the intricacies of the long and tortuous passage which plainly led
straight to the house.

"We never should have found it but for our mother's story," said Gaston,
with exultation in his voice. "Raymond, methinks that this is the first
step in our career of vengeance. We have the key to Basildene in our
hands. It may be that upon another occasion we may use it with a
different purpose."

It seemed to the brothers that they had walked a great distance, when
their steps were arrested by what appeared in the first instance to be a
solid wall of stone. Had they not had some sort of clue in their heads,
they would certainly have believed that this natural tunnel ended here,
and that further progress was impossible. But as it was, they were
firmly convinced that this was but the door of masonry of which their
mother had told them in years gone by. Neither could recollect the story
save in fragments; but the numbers had clung to Gaston's tenacious
memory, and now he stood before the door saying again and again --
"Seven from the top, three from the bottom" -- scanning the wall in
front of him with the keenest glances all the while.

"Ha!" he exclaimed at length; "bring the torch nearer, Raymond. See
here. This is not one block of stone, as seems at first, but a mass of
masonry so cunningly joined together as to look like one solid piece.
See, here are the joints; I can feel them with my fingernail, though I
can scarce see them with my eyes. Let us count the number of the stones
used. Yes; there are nine in all from top to bottom, each of the same
width. Therefore the seventh from the top is the third counting from the
bottom. This is the stone which is the key."

So saying, Gaston set his knee against it and pressed with all his
might. Almost to his own surprise he felt it give as he did so, and
Raymond uttered a short cry of astonishment: for the whole of what had
looked like a solid wall revolved slowly inwards, revealing a
continuation of the passage which they had been traversing so long, only
that now the passage was plainly one in the interior of the house; for
the walls were of masonry, and the dimensions were far more regular.

"This is the secret door," said Gaston exultingly. "It is in truth a
cunning contrivance. Let me have the light here a moment, Brother. I
will see what the trick of the door upon this side is."

This point was quickly settled by an inspection of the ingenious
contrivance, which was one purely of balance, and not dependent either
upon springs or bolts. Probably it dated back from days when these
latter things were hardly known, and was so satisfactory in the working
that it had never been improved upon.

"The way to Basildene is always open to us," murmured Raymond, with a
quick thrill of exultation, as the brothers passed through the doorway
and let it close behind them; and then they forgot all else in the
excitement of the search after the woodman's miserable son.

What strange places they came upon in this underground region below the
ill-famed house! Plainly these cells had been built once for prisoners;
for there were fragments of rusty chains still fastened to the stone
floors, and in one spot a grinning skull lying broken in a corner sent
thrills of horror through the brothers' hearts. From time to time the
sound of that unearthly wailing reached their ears, though it was almost
impossible to divine from what direction it proceeded; and it had a far
less human sound now that the boys were within the precincts of the
house than had been the case when they were still outside.

Whether this was more alarming or less they hardly knew. Everything was
so strange and dreamlike that they could not tell whether or not all
were real. They pressed on eager to accomplish the object of their
search, resolved to do that at all cost, and anxious to keep themselves
from thinking or feeling too much until that object should be accomplished.

They had mounted some stairs, and had reached a different level from the
underground passages, when they found their further progress barred by a
strong door. This door was bolted, but from the outside, and they had no
difficulty in withdrawing the heavy bolts from their sockets. When this
had been done the door opened of itself, and they found themselves in a
large vaulted room utterly unlike any place they had ever seen before.
They grasped each other by the hand and gazed about in wonder.

"It is the magician's laboratory!" whispered Raymond, whose recent
readings with John had taught him many things.

He recognized the many crucibles and the strange implements lying on the
table as the things employed by dabblers in magic lore, whilst the great
sullen wood and charcoal fire, which illumined the place with a dull red
glow, was all in keeping with the nature of the occupations carried on
there, as was the strange pungent smell that filled the air.

Rows of jars and bottles upon shelves, strange-looking mirrors and
crystals, some fixed and some lying upon the tables, books and
parchments full of cabalistic signs propped open beside the crucibles or
hung against the wall, all gave evidence of the nature of the pursuits
carried on in that unhallowed spot. The brothers, burning with curiosity
as well as filled with awe, approached the tables and looked into the
many vessels lying upon them, shuddering as the crimson contents made
them think of blood.

Gaston put forth his hand cautiously and touched an ebony rod tipped
with crystal that lay beside the largest crucible. As he did so a heavy
groan seemed to arise from the very ground at his feet, and he dropped
the implement with a smothered exclamation of terror. Raymond at the
same moment looking hastily round the dim place, grasped his brother's
arm, and pointed to a dark corner not many paces from them.

"Brother, see there! see there!" he whispered. "Sure there is the boy we
have come to save!"

Gaston looked and made a quick step forward. Sure enough, there upon the
floor, bound hand and foot with leather thongs that had been pulled
cruelly tight, lay the emaciated figure of what had once been a handsome
and healthy boy, but was now little more than a living skeleton. His
face still retained its beauty of outline, though these outlines were
terribly pinched and sharpened, but the expression of abject terror in
the great blue eyes was pitiful to behold, and as Gaston and Raymond
bent over the boy, a shrill cry, as of agony or terror, broke from his
pale lips.

"Who are you?" he gasped. "How have you come? Oh, do not touch me -- do
not hurt me! Go -- go quickly from this evil place, or perchance those
devils will return and capture you as they have captured me, that they
may torture you to death as they are torturing me. Oh, how did you come?
I know the doors are locked and bolted. Are you devils in human guise,
or hapless prisoners like myself? Oh, if you are still free, go -- go
ere they can return! They know that they cannot keep me much longer;
they are thirsting for another victim. Let them not return to find you
here; and plunge your own dagger into your heart sooner than be made a
slave as I have been!"

These words were not all spoken at once, but were gasped out bit by bit
whilst the twin brothers, with wrath and fury in their hearts, cut the
tough thongs that bound the wrists and ankles of the boy, and raised his
head as they poured down his throat the strong cordial that had been
given to them by John, and which was a marvellous restorer of exhausted
nature.

They had food, too, in a wallet, and they made the boy eat before they
told him aught of their mission; and after the first gasping words of
warning and wonder, it seemed as though he obeyed their behests
mechanically, most likely taking it all for part and parcel of some
strange vision.

But as the sorely-needed nourishment and the powerful restorative did
its work upon the boy, he began to understand that this was no vision,
and that something utterly inexplicable had befallen him, whether for
weal or woe his confused senses would not tell him. He heard as in a
dream the hurried explanations of the boys, drawing his brows together
in the effort to understand. But when they spoke of flight he shook his
head, and pointed to the door leading into the house.

"No man may pass out of that," he said, in low despairing tones. "How
you came in I cannot even guess. It is guarded by a fierce hound, who
will tear in pieces any who approaches save his master. There is no way
of escape for me. If you are blessed spirits from the world above, fly
hence the way you came. For me, I must ever remain the slave of him who,
if not the devil himself, is his sworn servant."

"We will go, and that quickly," answered Raymond; "but thou shalt go
with us. We are no spirits, but let us be such to thee for the nonce.
Fear nothing; only trust us and obey us. If thou wilt do both these
things, thou shalt this very night escape for ever from the tyranny of
him whom thou hast served so long in such cruel bondage."

The boy looked at the face bending over him, instinct with courage and a
deep sympathy and brotherly love, and a strange calm and security seemed
to fall upon him. He rose to his feet, though with some difficulty, and
laid his hand in Raymond's.

"I will go with thee to the world's end. Be my master, and break the
hated yoke of that monster of wickedness, and I will serve thee for
ever. Thou art a ministering spirit sent from Heaven. I verily believe
that thou canst free me from this slavery."

"Kneel then and lift thy heart in prayer to the Great God of Heaven and
earth," answered Raymond, a strange sense of power and responsibility
falling upon him at this moment, together with a clearer, purer
perception of divine things than had ever been vouchsafed him before --
"ay, here in this very place, polluted though it may be; for God's
presence is everywhere, and it may be He will give thee, even in this
fearful chamber of abominations, that release of soul which is the right
of each of His human creatures. Kneel, and lift thy heart in prayer. I
too will pray with thee and for thee. He will hear us, for He loves us.
Be not afraid; pray with boldness, pray with love in thine heart. God
alone can loose the bands of the thraldom which binds thee; and He wilt
do it if thou canst trust in Him."

First making the sign of the cross over the kneeling boy, and then
kneeling by his side, Raymond directed his crushed spirit to rise in an
act of devotion and supplication; and the child, believing that most
assuredly a divine messenger had come to deliver him from the hand of
his persecutor, was able to utter his prayer in a spirit of trust and
hope that brought its own immediate answer in a strange calm and confidence.

"Come," said Gaston cautiously; "we must not longer delay. We have a
long night's ride before us, and John will be wondering what detains us
this long while."

Together they supported the feeble steps of the boy, who was passive and
quiet in their hands. He was scarce amazed by the opening of the
mysterious inner door within a vaulted arch, through which he saw from
time to time his captors disappear, but which was ever firmly bolted and
barred upon the outer side. He did not even hang back through dread of
what might befall him if he were again recalled, as on a former
occasion, by the diabolic arts of his master. He was so firmly persuaded
of the supernatural character of these visitors, that he had faith and
strength to let them do with him what they would without comment,
question, or remonstrance.

When they reached the outer air, after having successfully passed the
secret door again, he gave one great gasp of surprise and reeled as if
almost intoxicated by the sweet freshness of the spring night; but the
strong arms of his protectors supported him, and hurrying along through
the woodland tracks already traversed earlier in the evening, they
quickly approached the appointed place just on the outskirts of the
Basildene lands, where John, attended by three trusty serving men,
together with the old woodman, were impatiently awaiting the return of
the twins.

"We have him safe!" cried Gaston, as he bounded on a few paces in
advance; and as the words were spoken there broke from the lips of the
old woodman a strange inarticulate cry.

He sprang forward with a swiftness and agility that seemed impossible in
one so bent and bowed, and the next minute he had clasped his son in his
arms, and was weeping those terrible tears of manhood over the emaciated
form clasped to his breast.

Leaving the father and son for a few moments together, the brothers in
rapid words told their tale to John, who heard it with great
satisfaction. But time was passing, and there was no longer any need for
delay. The journey before them was somewhat rough and tedious, and all
were anxious to put many miles of forest road between themselves and
Basildene ere the dawn should break.

John did not greatly fear pursuit. He did not believe that the old man's
occult powers would enable him to track the fugitive; but he was not
certain of this, and the rest were all of opinion that he both could and
would follow, and that remorselessly, the moment he discovered the loss
of his captive.

Certainly it could do no harm to put all possible distance betwixt the
boy and his master, and the party got to horse with the smallest
possible delay. Once let the boy be placed within the precincts of the
Sanctuary for which he was bound, in the keeping of the holy man of God
whose power was known to be so great, and none feared for the result.
But if the boy should be seized upon the road with one of his fits of
frenzy, no one could tell what the result might be, and so there was no
dissentient voice raised when a quick start and a rapid pace was
suggested by Gaston.

The woodman took his boy in front of him upon the strong animal he
bestrode. Roger was plainly unfit to sit a horse unsupported by a strong
arm, and as they rode through the chill night air a dull lethargy seemed
to fall upon him, and he slept in an uneasy, troubled fashion. Every
moment his father feared to hear him answer an unheard call, feared to
feel him struggle wildly in his encircling arm; but neither of these
things happened. Mile after mile was traversed; the moonlight enabled
the party to push rapidly onward. Mile after mile slipped away; and just
as the first dim rays of dawn appeared in the eastern sky, John, who was
himself by this time looking white and jaded, pointed eagerly towards a
spire rising up against the saffron of the sky to the south.

"That is the spire of St. Michael's church," he cried. "The abode of the
holy men of whom Father Paul is one is nigh at hand. Ride on, good
Gaston, and bid the holy man come forth in the name of the love of the
Blessed Saviour. If we may once put the child in his keeping, the powers
of hell will not prevail to snatch him thence."

Gaston, who was the freshest of the little band, eagerly pressed onward
with his message. His tired horse, seeing signs of habitation, pricked
up his ears, and broke into an eager gallop. The youth quickly
disappeared from the eyes of his companions along the road; but when
they reached the monastery gate they saw that his errand had been
accomplished. A tall monk, holding in his hand a crucifix, advanced to
meet them, with a word of blessing which bared all heads; and advancing
to the side of the woodman's horse, he took the apparently inanimate
form of the boy in his arms, and looking into the wan face, said:

"Peace be with thee, my son. Into the care of Holy Church I receive
thee. Let him who can prevail against the Church of God pluck thee from
that keeping!"



    CHAPTER XI. A QUIET RETREAT.


Little did Raymond de Brocas think, as he stepped across the threshold
of that quiet monastic home, that the two next years of his own life
were to be spent beneath that friendly and hospitable roof. And yet so
it was, and to the training and teaching he received during his
residence there he attributed much of the strength of mind and force of
character that distinguished him in days to come.

The small community to which they had brought the persecuted victim of
the sorcerer's evil practices belonged to the order of the Cistercians,
who have been described as the Quakers of their day. At a time when many
of the older orders of monks were falling from their first rigid
simplicity -- falling into those habits of extravagance which in days to
come caused their fall and ultimate suppression -- the Cistercians still
held to their early regime of austere simplicity and plainness of life;
and though no longer absolutely secluding themselves from the sight or
sound of their fellow men, or living in complete solitude, they were
still men of austere life and self-denying habits, and retained the
reputation for sanctity of life that was being lost in other orders,
though men had hardly begun to recognize this fact as yet.

From the first moment that Raymond's eyes fell upon the wonderful face
of Father Paul, his heart was touched by one of those strange
attractions for which it is difficult to account, yet which often form a
turning point in the history of a human life. It was not the venerable
appearance of the holy man alone; it was an indescribable something that
defied analysis, yet drew out all that was best and highest in the
spirit of the youth. But after the first glance at the monk, as he came
forward and received the inanimate form of the woodman's son in his
strong arms, Raymond's attention was differently occupied; for on
looking round at his companions, he saw that John's face was as white as
death, and that he swayed in his saddle as though he would fall.

It then occurred to the boy for the first time that this long and tiring
night's ride was an undertaking for which John was little fit. He had
but recently recovered from a bout of sickness that had left him weak
and fit for little fatigue, and yet the whole night through he had been
riding hard, and had only yielded to exhaustion when the object for
which the journey had been taken had been accomplished.

The kindly monks came out and bore him into their house, and presently
he and the woodman's son lay side by side in the room especially set
apart for the sick, watched over by Father Paul, and assiduously tended
by Raymond, to whom John was by this time greatly attached.

As for Gaston, after a rest extending over two nights and days, he was
despatched to Windsor with the escort who had accompanied them on their
ride hither, to tell John's father what had befallen the travellers, and
how, John's wound having broken out afresh, he purposed to remain for
some time the guest of the holy Fathers.

Thus, for the first time in their lives, were the brothers separated;
for though Gaston had no thought but of speedy return when he set out on
his journey, they saw him no more in that quiet cloistered home, and for
two long years the brothers did not meet again. Truth to tell, the quiet
of a religious retreat had no charm for Gaston, as it had for his
brother, and the stirring doings in the great world held him altogether
in thrall. The King of England was even then engaged in active
preparations for the war with France that did not commence in real
earnest till two years later. But all men believed that the invasion of
the enemy's land was very near. Proclamations of the most warlike nature
were being issued alike by King and Parliament. Edward was again putting
forward his inconsistent and illogical claim to the crown of France.
Men's hearts were aflame for the glory and the stress of war, and Gaston
found himself drawn into the vortex, and could only send an urgent
message to his brother, bidding him quickly come to him at Windsor. He
had been taken amongst the number of the Prince's attendants. He longed
for Raymond to come and share his good fortune.

But Raymond, when that message reached him, had other things to think of
than the clash of arms and the struggle with a foreign foe; and he could
only send back a message to his brother that for the time at least their
paths in life must lie in different worlds. Doubtless the day would come
when they should meet again; but for the present his own work lay here
in this quiet place, and Gaston must win his spurs without his brother
beside him. So Gaston threw himself into the new life with all the zest
of his ardent nature, following sometimes the Prince and sometimes the
King, according as it was demanded of him, making one of those who
followed Edward into Flanders the following year, only to be thwarted of
their object through the most unexpected tragedy of the murder of Van
Artevelde.

Of wars, adventures, and battles we shall have enough in the pages to
follow; so without farther concerning ourselves with the fortunes of
Gaston through these two years of excitement and preparation, we will
rather remain with Raymond, and describe in brief the events which
followed upon his admission within the walls of the Cistercian monks' home.

Of those first weeks within its walls Raymond always retained a vivid
remembrance, and they left upon him a mark that was never afterwards
effaced. He became aware of a new power stirring within him which he had
never hitherto dreamed of possessing.

As has before been said, Roger the woodman's son was carried into the
bare but spotlessly clean room upon the upper floor of the building
which was used for any of the sick of the community, and John was laid
in another of the narrow pallet beds, of which there were four in that
place. All this while Roger lay as if dead, in a trance that might be
one simply of exhaustion, or might be that strange sleep into which the
old sorcerer had for years been accustomed to throw him at will. Leaving
him thus passive and apparently lifeless (save that the heart's action
was distinctly perceptible), Father Paul busied himself over poor John,
who was found to be in pitiable plight; for his wound had opened with
the exertion of the long ride, and he had lost much blood before any one
knew the state he was in. For some short time his case was somewhat
critical, as the bleeding proved obstinate, and was checked with
difficulty; and but for Father Paul's accurate knowledge of surgery
(accurate for the times he lived in, at any rate), he would likely
enough have bled to death even as he lay.

Then whilst the kindly monks were bending over him, and Father Paul's
entire time and attention were given up to the case before him, so that
he dared not leave John's bedside for an instant, Roger suddenly uttered
a wild cry and sprang up in his bed, his lips parted, his eyes wide open
and fixed in a dreadful stare.

"I come! I come!" he cried, in a strange, muffled voice; and with a
rapidity and energy of which no one would have believed him capable who
had seen him lifted from the horse an hour before, he rose and strove to
push aside his father's detaining hand.

The old man uttered a bitter cry, and flung his arms about the boy.

"It has come! it has come! I knew it would. There is no hope, none! He
is theirs, body and soul. He will go back to them, and they will --"

The words were drowned in a wild cry, as the boy struggled so fiercely
that it was plain even the old man's frenzied strength would not suffice
to detain him long. Father Paul and the monk who was assisting him with
John could not move without allowing the bleeding to recommence. But
Raymond was standing by disengaged, and the keen eyes of the Father
fixed themselves upon his face. He had heard a brief sketch of the
rescue of Roger as the boy had been undressed and laid in the bed, and
now he said, in accents of quiet command,

"Take the crucifix that hangs at my girdle, and lay it upon his brow.
Bid him lie down once again -- adjure him in the name of the Holy Jesus.
It is not earthly force that will prevail here. We may save him but by
the Name that is above every name. Go!"

Again over Raymond's senses there stole that sense of mystic unreality,
or to speak more truly, the sense of the reality of the unseen over the
seen things about and around us that men call mysticism, but which may
be something widely different; and with it came that quickening of the
faculties that he had experienced before as he had knelt in the
sorcerer's unhallowed hall, the same sense of fearlessness and power. He
took the crucifix without a word, and went straight to the frenzied boy,
struggling wildly against the detaining clasp of his father's arms.

"Let him go," he said briefly; and there was that in the tone that
caused the astonished old man to loose his hold, and stand gazing in awe
and amaze at the youthful face, kindling with its strange look of
resolve and authoritative power.

It seemed as though the possessed boy felt the power himself; for though
his open eyes took in no answering impression from the scenes around
him, his arms fell suddenly to his side. The struggles ceased, he made
no attempt to move; whilst Raymond laid the crucifix against his brow,
and said in a low voice:

"In the Name of the Holy Son of God, in the Name of the Blessed Jesus, I
forbid you to go. Awake from that unhallowed sleep! Call upon the Name
of all names. He will hear you -- He will save you."

His eyes were fixed upon the trembling boy; his face was shining with
the light of his own implicit faith; his strong will braced itself to
the fulfilment of the task set him to do. Confident that what the Father
bid him accomplish, that he could and must fulfil, Raymond did indeed
resemble some pictured saint on painted window, engaged in conflict with
the Evil One; and when with a sudden start and cry the boy woke suddenly
to the sense of passing things, perhaps it was small wonder that he sank
at Raymond's feet, clasping him round the knees and sobbing wildly his
broken and incoherent words:

"O blessed Saint George -- blessed and glorious victor! thou hast come
to me a second time to strengthen and to save. Ah, leave me not! To thee
I give myself; help, O help me to escape out of this snare, which is
more cruel than that of death itself! I will serve thee ever, blessed
saint. I will be thine in life and death! Only fight my battle with the
devil and his host, and take me for thine own for ever and ever."

Raymond kindly lifted him up, and laid him upon the bed again.

"I am no saint," he said, a little shamefacedly; "I am but a youth like
thyself. Thou must not pray to me. But I will help thee all I may, and
perchance some day, when this yoke be broken from off thy neck, we will
ride forth into the world together, and do some service there for those
who are yet oppressed and in darkness."

"I will follow thee to the world's end, be thou who thou mayest!"
exclaimed the boy ecstatically, clasping his thin hands together, whilst
a look of infinite peace came into his weary eyes. "If thou wouldest
watch beside my bed, then might I sleep in peace. He will not dare to
come nigh me; his messengers must stand afar off, fearing to approach
when they see by whom I am guarded."

It was plainly useless to try to disabuse Roger of the impression that
his visitor was other than a supernatural one, and Raymond saw that with
the boy's mind so enfeebled and unhinged he had better let him think
what he would. He simply held the crucifix over him once again, and
said, with a calm authority that surprised even himself:

"Trust not in me, nor in any Saint however holy. In the Name of the
Blessed Jesus alone put thy faith. Speak the prayer His lips have
taught, and then sleep, and fear nothing."

With hands locked together, and a wonderful look of rest upon his face,
Roger repeated after Raymond the long-unused Paternoster which he had
never dared to speak beneath the unhallowed roof of his master at
Basildene. With the old sense of restful confidence in prayer came at
once the old untroubled sleep of the little child; and when Raymond at
last looked up from his own devotions at the bedside, it was to see that
Roger had fallen into the tranquil slumber that is the truest restorer
of health, and that Father Paul was standing on the opposite side of the
bed, regarding him with a very gentle yet a very penetrating and
authoritative gaze. He bent his head once more as if to demand a
blessing, and the Father laid a hand upon his head, and said, in grave,
full tones:

"Peace be with thee, my son."

That was all. There was no comment upon what had passed; and after
partaking of a simple meal, Raymond was advised to retire to rest
himself after his long night's ride, and glad enough was he of the sleep
that speedily came to him.

All the next day he was occupied with Gaston, who had many charges to
undertake for John; and only when his brother had gone was he free to
take up his place at John's bedside, and be once again his nurse,
companion, and fellow student.

Roger still occupied the bed in the same room where he had first been
laid. A low fever of a nature little understood had fastened upon him,
and he still fell frequently into those strange unnatural trances which
were looked upon by the brothers of the order as due to purely satanic
agency. What Father Paul thought about them none ever knew, and none
dared to ask.

Father Paul was a man who had lived in the world till past the meridian
of life. He was reported to have travelled much, to have seen many lands
and many things, and to have been in his youth a reckless and evil
liver. Some even believed him to have committed some great crime; but
none rightly knew his history, and his present sanctity and power and
holiness were never doubted. A single look into that stern, worn,
powerful face, with the coal-black eyes gleaming in their deep sockets,
was enough to convince the onlooker that the man was intensely, even
terribly in earnest. His was the leading spirit in that small and
austere community, and he began at once to exercise a strong influence
upon each of the three youths so unexpectedly thrown across his path.

This influence was the greatest at first over Raymond, in whom he
appeared to take an almost paternal interest; and the strange warfare
that they waged together over the mental malady of the unhappy Roger
drew them still closer together.

Certainly for many long weeks it seemed as though the boy were labouring
under some demoniacal possession, and Raymond fully believed that such
was indeed the case. Often it seemed as though no power could restrain
him from at least the attempt to return to the tyrant whom he believed
to be summoning him back. Possibly much of the strange malady from which
he was suffering might be due to physical causes -- overstrained nerves,
and even an unconscious and morbid craving after that very hypnotic
condition (as it would now be termed) which had really reduced him to
his present pitiable state; but to Raymond it appeared to proceed
entirely from some spiritual possession, and in helping the unhappy boy
to resist and conquer the voice of the tempter, his own faith and
strength of spirit were marvellously strengthened; whilst Roger
continued to regard him in the light of a guardian angel, and followed
him about like a veritable shadow.

Father Paul watched the two youths with a keen and observant interest.
It was by his command that Raymond was always summoned or roused from
sleep whenever the access of nervous terror fell upon Roger and he
strove to obey the summoning voice. He would watch with quiet intensity
the struggle between the wills of the two lads, and mark, with a faint
smile upon his thin lips, the triumph invariably attained by Raymond,
and his growing and increasing faith in the power of the Name he invoked
in his aid. Seldom indeed had he himself to come to the aid of the boy.
He never did so unless Roger's paroxysm lasted long enough to try
Raymond's strength to the verge of exhaustion, and this was very seldom.

The calm smile in the Father's eyes, and his quiet words of
commendation, "Well done, my son!" were reward sufficient for Raymond
even when his strength had been most severely tasked; and as little by
little he and his charge came to know the monk better, and to receive
from him from time to time words of teaching, admonition, or
encouragement, they found themselves growing more and more dominated by
his strong will and personality, more eager day by day to please him,
more anxious to win the rare smile that occasionally flashed across the
austere face and illuminated it like a gleam of sunshine.

John felt almost the same sense of fascination as Raymond, and was by no
means impatient of the tardy convalescence that kept him so long a
prisoner beneath the walls of the small religious house. He would indeed
have fain tarried longer yet, but that his father sent a retinue of
servants at length to bring him home again.

But Raymond did not go with him. His work for Roger was not yet done,
and warmly attached as he was to John, his heart was still more centred
upon Father Paul. Besides, no mention was made of him in the letter that
accompanied the summons home. His brother was he knew not where, and his
duty lay with Roger, who looked to him as to a saviour and protector.

There was no thought of Roger's leaving the retreat he had found in his
hour of need. He scarce dared put foot outside the quiet cloistered
quadrangle behind whose gates and walls he alone felt safe. Besides, his
father lay slowly dying in the hospital hard by. It seemed as though the
very joy of having his son restored to him had been too much for his
enfeebled frame after the long strain of grief that had gone before. The
process of decay might be slow, but it was sure, and all knew that the
old man would ere long die. He had no desire for life, if only his boy
were safe; and to Raymond he presented a pathetic petition that he would
guard and cherish him, and save him from that terrible possession which
had well-nigh been his ruin body and soul.

To Raymond it seemed indeed as if this soul had been given him, and he
passed his word with a solemnity that brought great comfort to the dying
man.

An incident which had occurred shortly before had added to Raymond's
sense of responsibility with regard to Roger, and had shown him likewise
that a new peril menaced his own path in life, though of personal danger
the courageous boy thought little.

One day, some six weeks after his admission to the Monastery, and
shortly before John's departure thence, Roger had been strangely uneasy
and depressed for many hours. It was no return of the trance-like state
in which he was not master of his own words and actions. Those attacks
had almost ceased, and he had been rapidly gaining in strength in
consequence. This depression and restless uneasiness was something new
and strange. Raymond did not know what it might forebode, but he tried
to dissipate it by cheerful talk, and Roger did his best to fight
against it, though without much success.

"Some evil presence is near!" he exclaimed suddenly; "I know it -- I
feel it! I ever felt this sick shuddering when those wicked men
approached me. Methinks that one of them must even now be nigh at hand.
Can they take me hence? Do I indeed belong to them? O save me -- help
me! Give me not up to their power!"

His agitation became so violent, that it was a relief to Raymond that
Father Paul at this moment appeared; and as this phase in Roger's state
was something new, and did not partake of the nature of any spiritual
possession, he dismissed Raymond with a smile, bidding him go out for
one of the brief wanderings in the woods that were at once pleasant and
necessary for him, whilst he himself remained beside Roger, soothing his
nameless terrors and assuring him that no power in the land, not even
that of the King himself, would be strong enough to force from the
keeping of the Church any person who had sought Sanctuary beneath her
shadow.

Meantime Raymond went forth, as he was wont to do, into the beech wood
that lay behind the home of the monks. It was a very beautiful place at
all times; never more so than when the first tender green of coming
summer was clothing the giant trees, and the primroses and wood sorrel
were carpeting the ground, which was yet brown with the fallen leaves of
the past autumn. The slanting sunbeams were quivering through the
gnarled tree trunks, and the birds were singing rapturously overhead, as
Raymond bent his steps along the trodden path which led to the nearest
village; but he suddenly stopped short with a start of surprise on
encountering the intent gaze of a pair of fierce black eyes, and finding
himself face to face with a stranger he had never seen in his life before.

Never seen? No; and yet he knew the man perfectly, and felt that he
changed colour as he stood gazing upon the handsome malevolent face that
was singularly repulsive despite its regular features and bold beauty.
In a moment he recollected where he had seen those very lineaments
portrayed with vivid accuracy, even to the sinister smile and the gleam
in the coal-black eyes.

Roger possessed a gift of face drawing that would in these days make the
fortune of any portrait painter. He had many times drawn with a piece of
rough charcoal pictures of the monks as he saw them in the refectory,
the refined and hollow face of John, and the keen and powerful
countenance of Father Paul. So had he also portrayed for Raymond the
features of the two Sanghursts, father and son. The youth knew perfectly
the faces of both; and as he stopped short, gazing at this stranger with
wide-open eyes, he knew in a moment that Roger's malevolent foe was nigh
at hand, and that the sensitive and morbidly acute faculties of the boy
had warned him of the fact, when he could by no possibility have known
it by any other means.

Sanghurst stood looking intently at this bright-faced boy, a smile on
his lips, a frown in his eyes.

"Methinks thou comest from the Monastery hard by?" he questioned
smoothly. "Canst tell me if there be shelter there for a weary traveller
this night?"

"For a poor and weary traveller perchance there might be," answered the
boy, with a gleam in his eye not lost upon his interlocutor; "but it is
no house of entertainment for the rich and prosperous. Those are sent
onwards to the Benedictine Brothers, some two miles south from this.
Father Paul opens not his gates save to the sick, the sorrowful, the
needy. Shall I put you in the way of the other house, Sir? Methinks it
would suit you better than any place which calls Father Paul its head."

The gaze bent upon the boy was searching and distinctly hostile. As the
dialogue proceeded, the look of malevolence gradually deepened upon the
face of the stranger, till it might have made a timid heart quail.

"How then came John de Brocas to tarry there so long? For aught I know
he may be there yet. By what right is he a guest beneath this so
hospitable roof?"

"He was sick nigh to the death when he craved admittance," answered
Raymond briefly. "He --"

"He had aided and abetted the flight from his true masters of a servant
boy bound over to them lawfully and fast. If he thinks to deceive Peter
Sanghurst or if you do either, boy that you are, though with the
hardihood of a man and the recklessness of a fool -- you little know
with whom you have to deal. It was you -- you who broke into our house
-- I know not how, but some day I shall know -- and stole away with one
you fondly hope to hold against my power. Boy, I warn you fairly: none
ever makes of Peter Sanghurst an enemy but he bitterly, bitterly rues
the day. I give you one chance of averting the doom which else will fall
upon you. Give back the boy. Lure him out hither some day when I am
waiting to seize him. Place him once again in my hands, and your rash
act shall be forgiven. You have the power to do this. Be advised, and
accept my terms. The Sanghursts never forgive. Refuse, and the day will
come when you will so long to have done my bidding now, that you would
even sell your soul to undo the deed which has brought my enmity upon
you. Now choose. Will you deliver up the boy, or --"

"Never!" answered Raymond, with flashing eyes, not even waiting to hear
the alternative. "I fear you not. I know you, and I defy you. I will
this moment to Father Paul, to warn him of your approach. The gates will
be closed, and you will be denied all entrance. You may strive as you
will, but your victim has taken Sanctuary, and not all the powers of the
world or the devil you serve can prevail against the walls of that haven
of refuge. Go back whence you came, or stay and do your worst. We fear
you not. The Holy Saints and the Blessed Jesus are our protectors and
defenders. You have tried in vain your foul spells. You have seen what
their power is against that which is from above. Go, and repent your
evil ways ere it be too late. You threaten me with your vengeance; have
you ever thought of that vengeance of God which awaits those who defy
His laws and invoke the powers of darkness? My trust is in Him;
wherefore I fear you not. Do then your worst. Magnify yourself as you
will. Your fate will be like that of the blaspheming giant of Gath who
defied the power of the living God and fell before the sling and the
stone of the shepherd boy."

And without waiting to hear the answer which was hurled at him with all
the fury of an execration, Raymond turned and sped back to the
Monastery, not in any physical fear of the present vengeance of his foe,
but anxious to warn the keeper of the gate of the close proximity of one
who was so deadly a foe to Father Paul's protege.

Not a word of this adventure ever reached Roger's ears, and indeed
Raymond thought little of it after the next few weeks had passed without
farther molestation from the foe. The old woodman died. Roger, though
sincerely mourning his father, was too happy in returning health and
strength to be over-much cast down. His mind and body were alike growing
stronger. He was never permitted to speak of the past, nor of the
abominations of his prison house. Father Paul had from the first bidden
the boy to forget, or at least to strive to forget, all that had passed
there, and never let his thoughts or his words dwell upon it. Raymond,
despite an occasional access of boyish curiosity, ever kept this warning
in mind, and never sought to discover what Roger had done or had
suffered beneath the roof of Basildene. And so soon as the boy had
recovered some measure of health, both he and Raymond were regularly
instructed by Father Paul in such branches of learning as were likely to
be of most service to them in days to come.

Whether or not he hoped that they would embrace the religious life they
never knew. He never dropped a hint as to his desires on that point, and
they never asked him. They were happy in their quiet home. All the
brothers were kind to them, and the Father was an object of loving
veneration which bordered on adoration.

Two years slipped thus away so fast that it seemed scarce possible to
believe how time had fled by. Save that they had grown much both in body
and mind, the boys would have thought it had been months, not years,
they had spent in that peaceful retreat.

The break to that quiet life came with a mission which was entrusted by
His Holiness himself to Father Paul, and which involved a journey to
Rome. With the thought of travel there came to Raymond's mind a longing
after his own home and the familiar faces of his childhood. The Father
was going to take the route across the sea to Bordeaux, for he had a
mission to fulfil there first. Why might not he go with him and see his
foster-mother and Father Anselm again? He spoke his wish timidly, but it
was kindly and favourably heard; and before the spring green had begun
to clothe the trees, Father Paul, together with Raymond and his shadow
Roger, had set foot once more upon the soil of France.



    CHAPTER XII. ON THE WAR PATH


"Raymond! Is it -- can it be thou?"

"Gaston! I should scarce have known thee!"

The twin brothers stood facing one another within the walls of Caen,
grasping each other warmly by the hand, their eyes shining with delight
as they looked each other well over from head to foot, a vivid happiness
beaming over each handsome face. It was more than two years since they
had parted -- parted in the quiet cloister of the Cistercian
Brotherhood; now they met again amid scenes of plunder and rapine: for
the English King had just discovered, within the archives of the city
his sword had taken, a treaty drawn up many years before, agreeing that
its inhabitants should join with the King of France for the invasion of
England; and in his rage at the discovery, he had given over the town to
plunder, and would even have had the inhabitants massacred in cold
blood, had not Geoffrey of Harcourt restrained his fury by wise and
merciful counsel. But the order for universal pillage was not recalled,
and the soldiers were freebooting to their hearts' content all over the
ill-fated city.

Raymond had seen sights and had heard sounds as he had pressed through
those streets that day in search of his brother that had wrung his soul
with indignation and wonder. Where was the vaunted chivalry of its
greatest champion, if such scenes could be enacted almost under his very
eyes? Were they not true, those lessons Father Paul had slowly and
quietly instilled into his mind, that not chivalry, but a true and
living Christianity, could alone withhold the natural man from deeds of
cruelty and rapacity when the hot blood was stirred by the fierce
exultation of battle and victory, and the lust of conquest had gained
the mastery over his spirit?

The hot July sun was beating down upon the great square where were
situated those buildings of which the King and the Prince and their
immediate followers had taken temporary possession. The brothers stood
together beneath the shadow of a lofty wall. Cries and shouts from the
surrounding streets told tales of the work being done there; but that
work had carried off almost all the soldiers, and the twins were
virtually alone in the place, save for the tall and slight youth who
stood a few paces off, and was plainly acting in the capacity of
Raymond's servant.

"I thought I should find thee here, Gaston," said his brother, with fond
affection in his tones. "I knew that thou wouldst be with the King at
such a time; and when I entered within the walls of this city, I said in
my heart that my Gaston would have no hand in such scenes as those I was
forced to witness as I passed along."

Gaston's brow darkened slightly, but he strove to laugh it off.

"Nay, thou must not fall foul of our great and mighty King for what thou
hast seen today. In truth I like it not myself; but what would you? The
men were furious when they heard of yon treaty; and the King's fierce
anger was greatly kindled. The order went forth, and when pillage once
begins no man may tell where it will end. War is a glorious pastime, but
there must ever be drawbacks. Sure thine own philosophy has taught thee
that much since thou hast turned to a man of letters. But tell me of
thyself, Raymond. I am hungry for news. For myself, thou mayest guess
what has been my life, an thou knowest how these past two years have
been spent -- wars and rumours of wars, fruitless negotiations, and
journeys and marches for little gain. I am glad enough that we have
shaken hands with peace and bid her adieu for a while. She can be a
false and treacherous friend, and well pleased am I that the bloody
banner of true warfare is unfurled at last. England is athirst for some
great victory, for some gallant feat of arms which shall reward her for
the burdens she has to pay to support our good soldiers. For his
people's sake, as well as for his own honour, the King must strike some
great blow ere he returns home and we who follow the Prince have sworn
to follow him to the death and win our spurs at his side.

"Brother, say that thou wilt join our ranks. Thou hast not forgotten our
old dreams? Thou hast not turned monk or friar?"

"Nay, or I should not now be here," answered Raymond. "No, Gaston, I
have forgotten naught of the old dream; and I too have seen fighting in
the south, where the King of France has mustered his greatest strength.
For we believed the Roy Outremer would land at Bordeaux and march to the
help of my Lord Derby, who is waging war against the Count of Lille
Jourdaine and the Duke of Bourbon in and around Gascony. And, Gaston,
the Sieur de Navailles has joined the French side, and is fighting in
the van of the foe. He has long played a double game, watching and
waiting till victory seems secure for either one King or the other. Now,
having seen the huge force mustered by the King of France in the south,
he seems to have resolved that the victory must remain with him, and has
cast in his lot against the English cause. So, Brother, if the great
Edward wins his battles, and drives from his own fair territories the
invading hosts of France, it may be that the Sieur do Navailles may be
deprived of his ill-gotten lands and castles; and then, if thou hast won
thy spurs --"

Raymond paused, and Gaston's eyes flashed at the thought. But he had
learned, even in these two years, something of the lesson of patience,
and was now less confident of winning fame and fortune at one stroke
than he had been when he had made his first step along the path that he
believed would lead him by leaps and bounds to the desired haven.

"Then thou hast been there? Hast thou seen the old places -- the old
faces? Truly I have longed to visit Sauveterre once more; but all our
plans are changed, and now men speak of naught but pressing on for
Calais. Where hast thou come from?"

"From the old home, Gaston, where for three months I and Roger have
been. What! dost thou not know Roger again? In truth, he looks vastly
different from what he did when thou sawest him last. We are brothers in
arms now, albeit he likes to call himself my servant. We have never been
parted since the day we snatched him from that evil place within the
walls of Basildene. We have been in safe shelter at the mill. Honest
Jean and Margot had the warmest welcome for us, and Father Anselm gave
us holy words of welcome. Everything there is as when we left. Scarce
could I believe that nigh upon three years will soon have fled since we
quitted its safe shelter. But I could not stay without thee, Brother. I
have greatly longed to look upon thy face again. I knew that thou wert
with the King, and I looked that this meeting should have been at
Bordeaux. But when news was brought that the English ships had changed
their course and were to land their soldiers in the north, I could tarry
no longer, and we have ridden hard through the land northward to find
thee here. Tell me, why this sudden change of plan? Surely the King will
not let his fair province of Gascony be wrested from his hand without
striking a blow in its defence in person?"

Gaston laughed a proud, confident laugh.

"Thou needst scarce ask such a question, Raymond; little canst thou know
the temper of our King an thou thinkest for a moment such a thing as
that. But methinks we may strike a harder blow here in the north against
the treacherous French monarch than ever we could in the south, where
his preparations are made to receive us. Here no man is ready. We march
unopposed on a victorious career. The army is far away in the south; the
King has but a small force with him in Paris. Brave Geoffrey of
Harcourt, by whose advice we have turned our course and landed here at
La Hague, has counselled us to march upon Calais and gain possession of
that pirate city. With the very key of France in our hands, what may not
England accomplish? Wherefore our march is to be upon Calais, and
methinks there will be glory and honour to be won ore this campaign closes!"

And, indeed, for a brief space it did seem as though King Edward's
progress was to be one of unchecked victory; for he had already routed
the French King's Constable, sent to try to save Caen; had taken and
pillaged that city, and had marched unopposed through Carbon, Lisieux,
and Louviers to Rouen, leaving terrible devastation behind, as the
soldiers seized upon everything in the way of food from the hapless
inhabitants, though not repeating the scenes which had disgraced the
English colours at Caen.

But at Rouen came the first of those checks which in time became so
vexatious and even perilous to the English army. The French, in great
alarm, had realized that something must be done to check Edward's
victorious career; and as it was plain that if he turned his steps
northward there would be no chance of opposing him, their aim and object
was to pen him as far in the south as possible, so that the army in
Gascony, perhaps, or failing that the new one mustering rapidly round
the King in Paris, might close in upon the alien army and cut them to
pieces by sheer force of numbers, before they could reach the coast and
their ships. So Philip, recovering from his first panic, sent orders
that all the bridges between Rouen and Paris should be broken down; and
when Edward reached the former city, intending to cross there to the
north side of the Seine, he found only the broken piers and arches of
the bridge left standing, and the wide, turbid waters of the great river
barring his further progress.

Irritated and annoyed, but not really alarmed as yet, the English King
turned his steps eastward toward Paris, still resolved to cross by the
first bridge found standing. But each in turn had been broken down; and
the only retaliation he could inflict upon the people who were thwarting
and striving to entangle him in a net, was to burn the towns through
which he passed; Pont de l'Arche, Vernon, and Verneuil, until he arrived
at last at Poissy, only a few miles from Paris, to find the bridge there
likewise broken down, whilst messengers kept arriving from all sides
warning him that a far mightier host was gathering around Philip than he
had with him, and advising instant retreat along the course by which he
had come.

But Edward well knew that retreat was impossible. He had so exhausted
the country and exasperated its inhabitants by his recent march and its
attendant ravages, that it would be impossible to find food for his
soldiers there again, even if the people did not rise up in arms against
them. Rather would he face the French foe, however superior to his own
force, in open fight, than turn his back upon them in so cowardly a fashion.

Meantime, as Philip did not move, he set to work with his soldiers to
repair the bridge, sending out detachments of his army to harass and
alarm the inhabitants of Paris, ravaging the country up and down, and
burning St. Germain, St. Cloud, and Montjoie.

These expeditions, so perilous and so singularly successful, were just
of the kind to delight the eager spirits of the camp, and keep
enthusiasm up to a high pitch. Why Philip suffered these ravages, when
his army already far outnumbered that of the English, and why the French
permitted their foes to repair and cross the bridge at Poissy without
stirring a finger to hinder them, are questions more easily asked than
answered. Possibly the knowledge that the Somme still lay between their
enemies and the sea, and that the same difficulties with regard to the
bridges was to be found there, kept the French army secure still of
final victory. Possibly they thought that, hemmed in between the two
great rivers, the army of Edward would be so well caught in a trap that
they need not bestir themselves to consummate the final scene of the
drama. At any rate, Philip remained inactive, save that his army was
rapidly augmenting from all sides; whilst the English finished their
bridge and marched northward, only opposed by a large body of troops
sent out from Amiens to meet them, over which they obtained an easy victory.

Nevertheless the position of the English was becoming exceedingly
critical, and their march certainly partook something of the nature of a
retreat, little as they themselves appeared to be aware of the fact.
Philip with his host was advancing from behind, the great river Somme
lay before them, all its bridges either broken down or so well fortified
as to be practically impassable; and though their allies in Flanders had
raised the siege of Bovines in order to march to the assistance of the
English King, there appeared small chance of their effecting a junction
in time to be of any use.

At Airaines a pause was made in order to try to discover some bridge or
ford by which the river might be passed. But Philip's work had been so
well done that not a whole bridge could anywhere be found; and the
French army was pressing so hard upon the English that in the end they
had to break up their camp in the greatest haste, leaving their cooked
provisions and tables ready spread for their foes to benefit by. They
themselves hastened on to Abbeville, keeping slightly to the west of the
town so as to avoid provoking attack, and be nearer to the coast, though
as no English ships could be looked for in the river's mouth, the
seacoast was of small service to them.

Such is the brief outline of the facts of Edward's well-known march in
this campaign, destined to become so famous. The individual action of
our Gascon twins must now be told in greater detail.

Their reunion after so long a separation had been a source of keen
delight to both the brothers. Each had developed in a different
direction, and instead of being shadows the one of the other as in old
days, they were now drawn together by the force of contrast. Gaston was
above all else a soldier, with a soldier's high spirit, love of
adventure, and almost reckless courage. He fairly worshipped the King
and the Prince, and was high in favour with the youthful Edward, whose
first campaign this was. Raymond, whilst imbued with the same high
courage, though of a loftier kind, in that it was as much spiritual as
physical, and with much of the chivalrous love of adventure so common to
the gallant youths of that age, was far more thoughtful, well
instructed, and far-seeing than his brother. He looked to the larger
issues of life. He was not carried away by wild enthusiasm. He could
love, and yet see faults. He could throw in his lot with a cause, and
ardently strive for the victory, and yet know all the while that there
were flaws in that same cause, and admit with sorrow, yet firm
truthfulness, that in this world no cause is ever altogether pure,
altogether just. He was not of the stuff of which hot partisans are
made. He had a spirit in advance of his times, and the chances were that
he would never rise to the same measure of success as his brother. For
those who try to keep a stainless name in times of strife, bloodshed,
and hostile jealousy, seldom escape without making bitter enemies, and
suffer the penalty that will ever attend upon those who strive after a
higher ideal than is accepted by the world at large.

But if growing apart in character, the bond of warm love was but drawn
closer by the sense that each possessed gifts denied to the other.
Raymond found in Gaston the most charming and enlivening comrade and
friend. Gaston began unconsciously to look up to his brother, and to
feel that in him was a power possessed by few of those by whom he was
surrounded, and to which he could turn for counsel and help if ever the
time should come when he felt the need of either.

In Raymond's presence others as well as Gaston began to curb some of
that bold freedom of speech which has always characterized the stormy
career of the soldier. Those who so curbed themselves scarce knew why
they did so. It was seldom that Raymond spoke any word of rebuke or
admonition, and if he did it was only to some youth younger than
himself. But there was something in the direct grave look of his eyes,
and in the pure steadfastness of his expression, which gave to his
aspect a touch of saintliness quickly felt by those about him. For in
those days men, in spite of many and great faults, were not ashamed of
their religion. Much superstition might be mingled with their beliefs,
corruption and impurity were creeping within the fold of the Church,
darkness and ignorance prevailed to an extent which it is hard in these
times to realize; yet with all this against them, men were deeply and
truly loyal to their faith. It had not entered into their minds that a
deep and firm faith in God was a thing of which to be ashamed; that to
trust in special providence was childish folly; to receive absolution
upon the eve of some great and perilous undertaking a mere empty form,
or a device of cunning priestcraft. It has been the work of a more
"enlightened" age to discover all this. In olden times -- those despised
days of worn-out superstition -- men yet believed fully and faithfully
in their God, and in His beneficent care of His children. Raymond, then,
with his saint-like face and his reputation of piety, together with the
story of his residence beneath the care of Father Paul, quickly obtained
a certain reputation of his own that made him something of a power; and
Gaston felt proud to go about with his brother at his side, and hear the
comments passed upon that brother by the comrades he had made in the
past years.

During the exciting march through the hostile country Gaston and Raymond
had known much more of the feeling of the people than their comrades.
The French tongue was familiar to them, and though they did not speak it
as readily as English or their Gascon dialect, they had always known it
from childhood, and never had any difficulty in making themselves
understood. Despite their English sympathies and their loyalty to
England's King, they felt much natural compassion for the harried and
distracted victims of Edward's hostile march; and many little acts of
protective kindness had been shown by both the brothers (generally at
Raymond's instigation) towards some feeble or miserable person who might
otherwise have been left in absolute destitution. These small acts of
kindness won them goodwill wherever they went, and also assisted them to
understand the words and ways of the people as they would scarcely have
done without.

Then, as in all countries and all times the old proverb holds good that
one good turn deserves another, they picked up here and there several
valuable hints, and none more valuable than the knowledge that somewhere
below Abbeville, between that town and the sea, was a tidal ford that
could be crossed twice in the twelve hours by those who knew where to
seek it. Thus whilst the King's Marshals were riding up and down the
river banks, vainly seeking some bridge over which the hard-pressed army
could pass, the twin brothers carefully pursued their way down the
stream, looking everywhere for the white stone bottom which they had
been told marked the spot where the water was fordable.

But the tide was rolling in deep and strong, and they could see nothing.
Still cautiously pursuing their way -- cautiously because upon the
opposite bank of the river they saw a large gathering of archers and
footmen all belonging to the enemy -- they lighted presently upon a
peasant varlet cutting willow wands not far from the river's brink. The
boys entered into talk with him, and Raymond's kindly questioning soon
elicited the information that the man's name was Gobin Agace, that he
was a poor man with little hope of being anything else all his days, and
that he knew the river as well as any man in the realm.

"Then," said Raymond, "thou needest be poor no longer; for if thou wilt
come with us to the camp of the English King a short league away, and
lead him and his army to the ford of the Blanche Tache which lies not
far from here, he will make thee rich for life, and thou wilt be
prosperous all thy days."

"If the King of France do not follow and cut off my head," said the man
doubtfully, though his eyes glistened at the prospect of such easily-won
wealth.

"By holy St. Anthony, thou needst not fear that!" cried Gaston. "Our
great King can protect thee and keep thee from all harm. See here, good
knave: it will be far better for thee to win this great reward than for
us, who have no such dire need of the King's gold. If thou wilt not aid
us, we must e'en find the place ourselves; but as time presses we will
gladly lead thee to the King, and let him reward thee for thy good
service. So answer speedily yea or nay, for we may not linger longer
whilst thou debatest the matter in that slow mind of thine."

"Then I will e'en go with you, fair sirs," answered the fellow, who was
in no mind to let the reward slip through his fingers; and within an
hour Gaston and Raymond led before the King the peasant varlet who held
the key of the position in his hands.

Every hour was bringing fresh messages of warning. The French King was
in pursuit of his flying foe (as he chose to consider him), and though
he felt so certain of having him in a trap that he did not hasten as he
might have done, there was no knowing when the van of the French army
would be upon them; and the moment that the King heard of this ford, and
was assured by the peasant that at certain states of the tide twelve men
abreast could ford it, the water reaching only to the knee, he broke up
his camp at an hour's notice, and with Gobin Agace at his side proceeded
in person to the water's edge, the flower of his army crowding to the
spot beside him, whilst the mass of his troops formed in rank behind,
ready to press forward the moment the water should be fordable.

Night had fallen before the trumpets had sounded, warning the soldiers
of the breaking up of the camp. All night long they had been working,
and then marching to the fordable spot: but now the tide was rolling in
again; and worse than that, the English saw upon the opposite shore a
compact band of twelve hundred men -- Genoese archers and picked cavalry
-- posted there by the now vigilant Philip, ready to oppose their
passage if they should chance upon the ford.

"Knights and gentlemen," said the King, as he sat his fine charger and
looked round upon the gallant muster around him, "shall we be daunted by
the opposing foe? They are but a handful, and we know the coward temper
of yon Italian crossbowmen. Who will be the first to lead the charge,
and ride on to victory?"

A hundred eager voices shouted a reply. The enthusiasm spread from rank
to rank. Foremost of those beside the water's edge stood Oliver and
Bernard de Brocas; and when at last the ebb came, and the word was given
to advance, they were amongst the first who dashed into the shallow
water, whilst Gaston and his brother, though unable to press into the
foremost rank, were not far behind.

Thick and fast fell round them the bolts of the crossbows; but far
thicker and more deadly were the long shafts of the English archers,
which discomfited the foreign banners and sent them flying hither and
thither. In vain did their brave leader, Godemar de Fay, strive to rally
them and dispute the passage of the main body of the army, even when the
horsemen had passed across. Edward's splendid cavalry rode hither and
thither, charging again and again into the wavering band. Quickly the
Genoese hirelings flung away their bows and ran for their lives; whilst
the English army, with shouts of triumph, steadily advanced across the
ford in the first quivering light of the dawning day, and looked back to
see the banners of Philip of France advancing upon them, whilst a few
stragglers and some horses were actually seized by the soldiers of that
monarch.

"Now God and St. George be praised!" cried Edward, as he watched the
approach of the foe, who had so nearly trapped him upon ground which
would have given every advantage to the French and none to his own army.
"Methinks had our good brother but pressed on a day's march faster, it
would have gone hard with us to save the honour of England. Now I stand
on mine own ground. Now will I fight at my ease. There is bread for my
soldiers. They shall rest ere they be called upon to fight. Let Philip
do his worst! We will be ready with an English welcome when he comes.
Let his host outnumber ours by three to one, as men say it does, shall
we be afraid to meet him in fair field, and show him what English
chivalry may accomplish?"

A tumultuous cheer was answer enough. The whole of the English army now
stood upon the north bank of the Somme, watching, with shouts of triumph
and gestures of defiance, the futile efforts of the French to plunge
over the ford. The tide was again flowing. The water was deep and rapid.
In a moment they knew themselves to be too late, and a few well-aimed
shafts from English longbows showed them how futile was now any effort
in pursuit of the foe who had eluded them.

Sullenly and with many menacing gestures, that were replied to by shouts
of derisive laughter from the English soldiers, the French army turned
hack towards Abbeville, where they could cross the river at their
leisure by the bridge which had been strongly fortified against Edward.
Careless confidence had lost Philip the advantage he might have gained
through clever generalship; he was now to see what he could do by force
of arms when he and Edward should stand face to face in their opposing
hosts in the open field of battle.



    CHAPTER XIII. WINNING HIS SPURS.


"Tomorrow, good comrades in arms, we will show yon laggard King of what
stuff English chivalry is made!" cried the young Prince of Wales, as he
rose to his feet and held a bumper of wine high above his head. "We have
our spurs to win, and tomorrow shall be our chance. Here is to the
victory of the English arms! May the mighty St. George fight upon our
side, and bring us with glory and honour through the day!"

Every guest at the Prince's table had leaped to his feet. Swords were
unsheathed and waved in wild enthusiasm, and a shout went up that was
like one of triumph, as with one voice the guests around the Prince's
table drained their cups to the victory of the English cause, shouting
with one voice, as if formulating a battle cry:

"St. George and the Prince! St. George and the Prince!"

In the English camp that night there were elation and revelry; not the
wild carousing that too often in those days preceded a battle and left
the soldiers unfit for duty, but a cheerful partaking of good and
sufficient food before the night's rest and ease which the King had
resolved upon for his whole army, in preparation for the battle that
could scarce be delayed longer than the morrow.

It was early on Thursday morning, the twenty-fourth day of August, that
the ford of the Blanche Tache had been crossed. Thursday and Friday had
been spent by the English in skirmishing about in search of provisions,
of which great abundance had been found, and in deciding upon the
disposition of their troops in a favourable position for meeting the
advance of the French.

The King had selected some wooded and rising ground in the vicinity of
the then obscure little village of Crecy. Then having made all his
arrangements with skill and foresight, and having ordered that his men
should be provided with ample cheer, and should rest quietly during the
night, he himself gave a grand banquet to the leaders of his army; and
the young Prince of Wales followed his father's example by inviting to
his own quarters some score of bold and congenial spirits amongst the
youthful gentlemen who followed his father's banner, to pass the time
with them in joyous feasting, and to lay plans for the glory of the
coming day.

It is difficult in these modern days to realize how young were some
amongst those who took part in the great battles of the past. The Black
Prince, as he was afterwards called from the sombre hue of the armour he
wore, was not yet fifteen when the Battle of Crecy was fought; and when
the King had summoned his bold subjects to follow him to the war, he had
called upon all knights and gentlemen between the ages of sixteen and
twenty to join themselves to him for this campaign in France. Lads who
would now be reckoned as mere schoolboys were then doughty warriors
winning their spurs in battle; and some of the most brilliant charges of
those chivalrous days were led and carried through mainly by striplings
scarce twenty years old. Inured from infancy to hardy sports, and
trained to arms to the exclusion almost of all other training, these
bold sons of England certainly proved equal to the demands made upon
them. True, they were often skilfully generalled by older men, but the
young ones held their own in prowess in the field; and child as the
Prince of Wales would now be considered, the right flank of the army was
to be led by him upon the morrow; and though the Earls of Warwick and
Hereford and other trusty veterans were with him, his was the command,
and to him were they to look.

No wonder then that the comrades who had marched with him through these
last hazardous days, and who had been with and about him for many months
-- some of them for years -- should rally round him now with the keenest
enthusiasm. The De Brocas brothers were there -- Oliver and Bernard
(John had not left England to follow the fortunes of the war) -- as well
as Gaston and his brother, whose return had been warmly welcomed by the
Prince. He had heard about the rescue of the woodman's son, and had been
greatly interested and taken by Raymond and his story. Student though he
might be by nature, Raymond was as eager as any for the fight that was
to come. He had caught the spirit of the warlike King's camp, and his
blood was on fire to strike a blow at the foe who had so long harassed
and thwarted them.

And it was not all rioting and feasting in the camp that night. The
soldiers supped well and settled to rest; but the King, when his guests
had departed, went to his oratory and spent the night upon his knees,
his prayer being less for himself than for his gallant boy; less for
victory than that England's honour might be upheld, and that whatever
was the issue of the day, this might be preserved stainless in the sight
of God and man.

Then very early in the morning, whilst almost all the camp slept, the
King was joined by his son, the Prince being followed by Raymond, who
had also kept vigil upon his knees that night, and they, with some half
score of devout spirits, heard mass and received the Sacrament; whilst a
little later on the monks and priests were busy hearing the confessions
of the greater part of the soldiers, who after receiving the priestly
absolution went into battle with a loftier courage than before.

When this had been done and still the French army appeared not, the King
gave orders that the men should be served with something to eat and
drink, after which they might sit down at their ease to wait till their
adversaries appeared.

Meantime the French were having anything but a comfortable time of it.
They had remained inactive in Abbeville for the whole of Friday as well
as the preceding Thursday, after they had retreated thither from the
ford where the English had given them the slip; and on Saturday they
were marched off none too well fed, to meet their English foes.

Philip was so confident that his immense superiority in numbers was
certain to give him the victory, that he thought little of the comfort
of his men, the consequence being that they grew jaded and weary with
the long hot march taken in an ill-fed state; and his own marshals at
last very earnestly entreated their lord to call a halt for rest and
refreshment before the troops engaged in battle, or else the men would
fight at a terrible disadvantage.

Philip consented to this, and a halt was called, which was obeyed by the
ranks in front; but those behind, eager to fall upon the English, and
confident of easy victory, declined to wait, and went steadily forward,
shouting "Kill! kill!" as they went, till all the alleys became filled
up and choked. The press from behind urged forward the men in front, and
the army moved on perforce once again, though now no longer in order,
but in a confused and unmanageable mass.

Just as they came in sight of the English line of battle a heavy tempest
of thunder and rain came upon them. The clouds seemed to discharge
themselves upon the French host, and those birds of evil omen, the
ravens, flew screaming overhead, throwing many men into paroxysms of
terror who would never have blenched before the drawn blade of an armed foe.

Worse than this, the rain wet and slackened the strings of the Genoese
crossbowmen, who marched in the foremost rank; and hungry and weary as
they were, this last misfortune seemed to put the finishing touch to
their discomfiture. Hireling soldiers, whose hearts are not in the
cause, have been the curse of many a battlefield; and though these
Genoese advanced with a great shouting against the foe, as though hoping
to affright them by their noise, they did little enough except shout,
till their cries were changed to those of agony and terror as their
ineffectual shower of bolts was answered by a perfect hail of shafts
from the English archers' dreaded longbows, whilst the sun shining full
into their dazzled eyes rendered ineffectual any farther attempt on
their part to shoot straight at the foe. The hired archers turned and
fled, and throwing into confusion the horsemen behind who were eager to
charge and break the ranks of the English archers, the luckless men were
mown down ruthlessly by their infuriated allies, whose wrath was burning
against them now that they had proved not only useless but a serious
hindrance.

This was by no means a promising beginning for the French; but still,
with their overwhelming superiority of numbers, they had plenty of
confidence left; and the English, though greatly encouraged by the
breaking and havoc in the ranks of the foe, were by no means recklessly
confident that the day was theirs.

Presumably the English King, who with the reserves was posted upon the
highest ground at some distance behind the two wings, had the best view
of the battle. The left wing, commanded by the Earls of Northampton and
Arundel, occupied the stronger position, being protected on their left
by the little river Maye. The young Prince was in the position of the
greatest danger; and as he and his companions stood in their ranks,
watching the onset of the battle with parted lips, and breath that came
and went with excitement, they began to see that upon them and their men
the brunt of the day would fall.

It had been the King's command that the battle should be fought on foot
by the English, probably owing to the wooded and uncertain nature of the
ground, else his far-famed cavalry would hardly have been dismounted.
The Prince then stood still in his place, gazing with kindling eyes at
the confusion in the ranks of the foe, till the glint of a blood-red
banner in their ranks caught his eye, and he cried aloud to his men,

"The oriflamme! the oriflamme, good comrades! See ye that, and know ye
what it means when the King of France unfurls it? It is a signal that no
lives will be spared, no quarter granted to the foe. If we go not on to
victory, we march every man to his death!"

A shout that was like a cheer was the response of the gallant little
band who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Prince, and the word being
passed from mouth to mouth was received everywhere with like courageous
enthusiasm, so that the cheer went ringing down from line to line, and
hearts beat high and hand grasped sword ever harder and faster as the
tide of battle rolled onward, until the word was given and the trumpets
sounded the advance.

"Keep by my side and the Prince's, Raymond," breathed Gaston, as slowly
and steadily they pressed down the hill towards the spot where the
French horse under the Count of Alencon were charging splendidly into
the ranks of the archers and splitting the harrow into which they had
been formed by Edward's order into two divisions. The Count of Flanders
likewise, knowing that the King's son was in this half of the battle,
called on his men to follow him, and with a fine company of Germans and
Savoyards made for the spot where the young Prince was gallantly
fighting, and cheering on his men to stand firm for the honour of England.

Shoulder to shoulder, fearless and dauntless, stood the little band of
gallant knights and gentlemen who formed the bodyguard of the Prince.
Again and again had the horsemen charged them; but the soldiers threw
themselves beneath the horses of the foe and stabbed them through the
body, so that hundreds of gallant French knights were overthrown and
slain ere they well knew what had befallen them. But in the press and
the heat of battle it was hard to say how the tide would turn. The
commanders of the left wing of the English, the Earls of Northampton and
Arundel, were forcing their way inch by inch to reach the Prince's side
and divert from his immediate neighbourhood the whole stress of the
opposing force now concentred there. They could see that the Prince was
still unharmed, fighting with the gallantry of his soldier race. But the
odds for the moment were heavily against him; and they despatched a
messenger to the King, who remained with the reserves, begging him to go
to the assistance of the Prince. Ere the messenger returned, they had
fought their own way into the melee, and had joined issue with the
gallant youth, who, fearless and full of spirit, was encouraging his men
alike by the boldness of his demeanour and by his shouts of
encouragement and praise, though his breath was coming thick and fast,
and the drops of exhaustion stood upon his brow.

"Fear not, sweet Prince," cried Arundel, raising his voice so that all
who were near could hear: "we have sent word to your Royal Sire of the
stress of the battle round you, and he will soon be here himself with
the help that shall enable us to rout this rebel host;" and he turned
his eyes somewhat anxiously towards the height where the King and his
company still remained motionless.

But a messenger was spurring back through the open ground which lay
between the reserves and the right wing where such hot work was going
on. He made straight for the spot where the Prince was fighting, and
both the Earls turned eagerly towards him.

"What said the King?" they asked quickly. "When will he be with us?"

"He asked," replied the messenger, "whether the Prince were killed or
wounded; and when I told him nay, but in a hard passage of arms wherein
he needed his Sire's help, the King folded his arms and turned away,
saying, 'Let the boy win his spurs; for I will that the glory of this
day be his, and not mine.'"

As those words were spoken it seemed as if new life were infused into
the young Prince himself and all those who surrounded him. A ringing
cheer rose from all their throats. They formed once again under their
young leader, and charged the enemy with a fury that nothing was able to
resist. The horsemen were forced hack the way they had come. The Counts
who had led them boldly and well were unhorsed and slain. Dismay and
terror fell upon the breaking ranks of the French, and they turned and
fled; whilst the excited and triumphant young Prince pursued them with
shouts of exultation and triumph, till he found himself with his few
most faithful followers in the midst of the flying but hostile ranks
some little distance away from the English army.

"Sweet Prince, beware! have a care how you adventure your life thus in
the enemy's ranks," whispered Raymond in his ear, he alone keeping a
cool head in the midst of so much that was exciting. "See, here come
some score of horsemen who know thee and would fain cut off thy retreat.
Let us here make a stand and receive the charge, else shall we all be
overthrown together."

This cautious counsel came only just in time. Young Edward looked round
to see that his reckless bravery had placed him for the moment in
imminent peril; but he had all the courage of his race, and his heart
quailed not for an instant. Giving the word to his comrades to form a
compact square, he placed himself where the onset was like to be the
fiercest; nor was there time for his companions to interfere to place
him in a position of greater safety.

With a great shout of rage and triumph the band of horsemen, who had
recognized the person of the Prince, now rushed upon him, resolved
either to carry him off a prisoner or leave him lying dead upon the
field, so that the English might have little joy in their victory. So
fierce was the attack that the Prince was borne to the ground; and the
Battle of Crecy might have been a dark instead of a bright page in
England's history, but for the gallantry of a little band of Welshmen
headed by Richard de Beaumont, the bearer of the banner portraying the
great red dragon of Merlin, which had floated all day over the bold
Welsh contingent.

Flinging this banner over the prostrate form of the Prince, the brave
soldier called on his men to charge the horses and cut them down. This
they did in the way before mentioned -- throwing themselves underneath
and stabbing them through the heart. So their riders, finding even this
last effort futile, joined in the headlong flight of their compatriots;
and the Prince's faithful attendants crowded round him to raise him up
again, greatly rejoicing to find that though breathless and confused by
the shock of his fall, he was none the worse for his overthrow, and was
quickly able to thank the brave Welshmen who had so opportunely come to
the rescue of him and his comrades.

"Now, we will back to the ranks and find my father," said the Prince,
when he had spoken his courteous thanks and looked round about to see if
his comrades had suffered more than himself.

One or two had received slight wounds, and Raymond was leaning upon
Gaston's shoulder looking white and shaken; but he quickly recovered,
and declared himself only bruised and breathless, and still holding fast
to Gaston's arm, followed the Prince up the hill amongst the heaps of
dying and dead.

Gaston was flushed with his exertions, and in his heart was room for
nothing but pride and joy in the glorious victory just achieved. But
whilst Raymond looked around him as he slowly moved, suffering more
bodily pain than he wished his brother to know, his heart felt bruised
and crushed like his body, and a sudden sense of the vanity of human
life and ambition came suddenly upon him, so much so that he scarce knew
whether he was in the flesh or in the spirit as he moved slowly and
quietly onwards.

Everywhere he saw before him the bodies of men who but a few short hours
ago had been full of strong vitality, instinct with the same passions of
hatred and loyalty as had animated their own ranks that day. How strange
it seemed to look into those dead faces now, and wonder what those freed
spirits thought of those same passions that had been raging within them
but a few short hours before! Did it seem to them, as it almost seemed
to him, that in all the world around there was nothing of moment enough
to arouse such tumult of passion and strife; that only the things
eternal the things that pass not away were worthy to be greatly sought
after and longed for?

But his reverie was quickly interrupted by an exclamation from Gaston.

"See, Brother, the King! the King He is coming to meet his son, and his
nobles with him!"

It was a sight not soon to be forgotten, that meeting between the
warlike Edward and his bold young son, after the splendid triumph just
achieved by the gallant boy. The King embraced the Prince with tears of
joyful pride in his eyes, whilst the nobles standing round the King
shouted aloud at the sight, and the soldiers made the welkin ring with
their lusty English cheers.

Young Edward had received knighthood at his father's hand upon landing
on the shores of France, though truly it was this day's fighting which
had won him his spurs. But as the King was resolved to mark the occasion
by some rewards to those who had stood by his gallant boy in the thick
of the press, he quickly picked out from the cluster of noble youths who
stood behind their young leader some six of gentle blood and known
bravery, and thereupon dubbed them knights upon the bloody battlefield.
Amongst those thus singled out for such honourable notice were the two
sons of the King's Master of the Horse, Oliver and Bernard de Brocas,
the latter of whom was destined to be the Prince's chosen and trusted
comrade through many another warlike campaign.

Gladly and proudly did the royal boy stand by and see the reward of
valour thus bestowed upon his chosen comrades of the day; but he seemed
scarce satisfied by all that was done. His eye wandered quickly over the
little knot grouped upon the knoll around the King, and then his glance
travelling yet farther to the remoter outskirts, he suddenly detached
himself from the centre group, and ran quickly down the hillside till he
reached the spot where the twin brothers were standing watching the
scene with vivid interest, Raymond still leaning rather heavily upon his
brother's arm.

"Nay now, why tarry ye here?" eagerly questioned the Prince. "Sure ye
were amongst the most steadfast and fearless in the fight today.

"Good Raymond, but for thy quick eye and timely word of warning, we had
been fallen upon and scattered unawares, and perhaps had been cut to
pieces, ere we knew that we were vanquished rather than victors. My
father is even now bestowing upon my gallant comrades the reward their
good swords have won for them. Come, and let me present you twain to
him; for sure in all the gallant band that fought by my side none were
more worthy of knighthood than you. Come, and that quickly!"

A quick flush crossed Gaston's cheek as the guerdon so dear to the heart
of the soldier was thus thrust upon him; but a whisper in his ear held
him back.

"Gaston, we have no name; we cannot receive knighthood without revealing
all. Has the time yet come to speak? Of that thou shalt be the judge. I
will follow thy wishes in this as in all else."

For a moment Gaston stood debating with himself. Then the counsel of
prudence prevailed over that of youthful ambition. How were he and his
brother worthily to support the offered rank? Even did they make known
their true parentage, that would not put money in their purses; and to
be poor dependents upon the bounty of relatives who had rejected their
mother and driven forth their father to seek his fortune as he could,
was as repugnant to Gaston's pride now as it had been two years before.

"Sweet Prince," he answered, after this brief pause for thought, "we
have but done our duty today, and knighthood is far too great a reward
for our poor merits. Sure it has been honour and glory enough to fight
by your side, and win this gallant day. We are but poor youths, without
home or friends. How could we receive a reward which we could not
worthily wear? A penniless knight without servant or esquire would cut
but a sorry figure. Nay then, sweet Prince, let it be enough for us this
day to have won these gracious words at your lips. It may be when fair
fortune has smiled upon us, and we are no longer poor and nameless, that
we will come to you to crave the boon you have graciously offered this
day. We will remain for the nonce in our present state, but will ever
look forward to the day when some other glorious victory may be won, and
when we may come to our Prince for that reward which today we may not
receive at his hands."

"So be it," answered the Prince, his face, which had clouded over with
regret a few moments earlier, lighting up again at these latter words.
"Be assured I will not forget you, nor the services ye have done me this
day. I too in days to come shall have knighthood to bestow upon those
who have earned the right to wear it. Fear not that Edward ever will
forget. Whenever the day comes that shall bring you thus to me for the
reward so nobly earned today, that reward shall be yours. The King's son
has promised it."



    CHAPTER XIV. WINTER DAYS.


"Nephew John, I have brought thee a companion to share thy winter's
solitude."

John de Brocas, who was in his old and favourite retreat -- his
Rector-uncle's great library -- rose to his feet with a start at hearing
the familiar voice of Master Bernard (whom he believed to be far away in
France), and found himself face to face not with his cheery uncle alone,
but with a tall, white, hollow-eyed youth, upon whose weary face a smile
of delighted recognition was shining, whilst a thin hand was eagerly
advanced in welcome.

"Raymond!" exclaimed John, with a look that spoke volumes of welcome.

"Good mine uncle, welcome at all times, thou art doubly welcome in such
company as this. But I had not looked to see you in merry England again
for long. Men say that Calais is closely besieged by the King, and
methought he had need of thee and my father likewise whilst the campaign
across the water lasted."

"True, lad, the King has need of those he graciously dubs his trusty
counsellors; and I have but come hither for a short while. The King is
full of anxiety about this outbreak of the hardy Scots, which has been
so gallantly frustrated at Neville's Cross by our gracious Queen, worthy
to be the mate of the world's greatest warrior. I am come hither charged
with much business in this matter, and so soon as all is accomplished I
am desired to bring the Queen to join her royal spouse before the walls
of Calais. It is not long that I may linger here. I have but a few short
hours to set mine own affairs in order. But thinking I should be like to
find thee here, Nephew John, as the autumn weather in low-lying Windsor
generally drives thee forth from thence, I hastened hither to bring to
thee a companion for thy winter's loneliness. Methinks thou hast known
and loved him before. Treat him as a cousin and a friend. He will tell
thee all his story at his leisure."

The slight stress laid upon the word "cousin" by the prelate caused John
to glance quickly and curiously at Raymond, who answered by a slight
smile. Just at that moment there was no time for explanations. Master
Bernard engrossed the whole of John's time and attention, being eager to
learn from that young man every detail of the campaign in the north
which had reached his ears. And John, who took a wide and intelligent
interest in all the passing affairs of the day, and from his position
was able to learn much of what went on in the world, sat beside his
uncle at the hastily-spread board, and told all the leading facts of the
brief and triumphant campaign in terse and soldier-like fashion.

Meantime Raymond sat at ease in the corner of a deep settle beside the
fire, leaning back against the soft fur rug which draped it, unable to
eat through very weariness, but eagerly interested in all the news his
uncle was hearing from John.

Master Bernard had to push on to London that night. He and his companion
had landed at Southampton the previous day, and had taken Guildford upon
their way to the capital. There Raymond was to remain under the kindly
care of John; and as soon as the Rector had set off with fresh horses
and his own retinue of servants, his nephew turned eagerly back to the
hall, where his cousin was still resting, and taking him warmly by the
hands, gazed into his face with a glance of the most friendly and
affectionate solicitude.

"Good my cousin, I have scarce had time to bid thee welcome yet, but I
do so now with all my heart. It is as a cousin I am to receive and treat
thee? What meant my good uncle by that? Hast thou told him what I myself
know? Methought he spoke like one with a purpose."

"Yes, it is true that he knows," answered Raymond; "but he counsels us
to keep our secret awhile longer. He thinks, as does Gaston, that we
were wiser first to win our way to greater fame and fortune than mere
boys can hope to do, and then to stand revealed as those sprung from a
noble line. How came he to know? That I will tell thee when I am
something rested. But I am so weary with our journey that I scarce know
how to frame my thoughts in fitting words. Yet I am glad to see thy face
again, good John. I have been wearying long for a sight of thee."

"Thou art indeed sadly changed thyself, my cousin," said John. "In
truth, men who go to these wars go with their lives in their hands. Was
it on the glorious field of Crecy that thou receivedst some hurt? Sure
thou hast been sore wounded. But thou shalt tell me all thy tale anon,
when thou art something rested and refreshed."

The tale was told that same evening, when, after Raymond had slept for a
few hours and had been able then to partake of some food, he felt, in
part at least, recovered from the fatigues of the long ride from the
coast, and could recline at ease beside the glowing fire, and talk to
John of all that had befallen him since they had parted two and a half
years before.

The account of the victory at Crecy was eagerly listened to, and also
that of the subsequent march upon Calais, when the King of France,
choosing to consider the campaign at an end, had disbanded both his
armies, leaving the victorious King of England to build unmolested a new
town about Calais, in which his soldiers could live through the winter
in ease and plenty, and complete the blockade both by sea and land
undisturbed by hostile demonstrations.

"It seems to me," said Raymond, "that did our great Edward wish to make
good his claim on the crown of France, he has only to march straight
upon Paris and demand coronation there. When after the victory at Crecy
and the subsequent triumphs I have told you of, over band after band of
troops all going to the support of Philip, we could have marched
unopposed through the length and breadth of the land, none daring to
oppose us, the soldiers all thought that Paris, not Calais, would be the
next halting place.

"What thinkest thou, good John? Thou knowest much of the true mind of
the King. Why, after so glorious a victory, does he not make himself
master of all France?"

John smiled his thoughtful smile.

"Verily because our King is statesman as well as soldier; and though he
boldly advances a claim on the crown of France, to give the better
colour to his feats of arms against its King, he knows that he could not
rule so vast an empire as that of France and England together would be,
and that his trusty subjects at home would soon grow jealous and
discontented were they to find themselves relegated to the second place,
whilst their mighty Edward took up his abode in his larger and more
turbulent kingdom of France. England rejoices in snatching portions of
territory from the French monarch, in holding off his grasping hand from
those portions of France that lawfully belong to our great King. She
will support him joyfully through a series of victories that bring spoil
and glory to her soldiers; but jealousy would soon arise did she think
that her King was like to regard France as his home rather than England,
that England was to be drained of her gold and her best men to keep
under control the unwieldy possession she had won but could never
peacefully hold. Methinks the King and his best counsellors know this
well, and content themselves with their glorious feats of arms which
stir the blood and gratify the pride of all loyal subjects.

"But now, I pray thee, tell me of thyself; for thou hast sadly altered
since we parted last. What has befallen thee in these wars? and where is
thy brother Gaston, whom thou wentest forth to seek? and where the
faithful Roger, whose name thou hast spoken many times before?"

"I have left them together in the camp before Calais," answered Raymond.
"Roger would fain have come with me, but I thought it not well that he
should place himself so near his ancient foes and masters, even though I
trow the spell has been snapped once and for ever. He loves Gaston only
second to me, and was persuaded at length to stay with him. I, too,
would have stayed likewise, but they said the winter's cold would kill
me, and I could no longer bear arms or serve in the ranks. So I was fain
to leave them and come to England with our uncle. And the thought of
spending the winter months with thee and with the books made amends for
all I left behind beneath the walls of Calais."

"What ails thee then, Raymond? Is it some unhealed wound?"

The youth shook his head.

"Nay, I have no wound. It was some hurt I got in that last melee on the
field of Crecy, when the Prince nearly lost his life just as the day was
won. I was hurled to the ground and trampled upon. Methought for many
long minutes that I should never rise again. But for days afterwards I
knew not that the hurt was aught to think about or care for. It pained
me to move or breathe, but I thought the pain would pass, and heeded it
but little. We rode gaily enough to the walls of Calais, and we set
about building a second city without its walls (when the governor
refused to surrender it into our hands), which the King has been pleased
to call Newtown the Bold. I strove to work with the rest, thinking that
the pain I suffered would abate by active toil, and liking not to speak
of it when many who had received grievous wounds were to be seen lending
willing service in the task set us. But there came a day when I could no
more. I could scarce creep to the tent which Gaston, Roger, and I shared
together; and then I can remember naught but the agony of a terrible
pain that never left me night or day, and I only longed that I might die
and so find rest."

"Ah, poor lad, I too have known that wish," said John. "Doubtless it was
some grave inflammation of the hidden tissues of the body from the which
you so grievously suffered. And how came it that our uncle found you
out? He is a notable leech, as many men have found ere now. Was it as
such that he then came to thee?"

"Yes, truly; and our generous and kindly Prince sent him. He heard
through Gaston of the strait I was in, and forthwith begged our uncle to
come and visit me. John, dost thou know that Gaston and I each wear
about our neck the halves of a charm our mother hung there in our
infancy? It is a ring of gold, each complete in itself, yet which may be
so joined together as to form one circlet with the two halves of the
medallion joined in one;" and Raymond pulled forth from within his
doublet a small circlet of gold curiously chased, with a half medallion
bearing certain characters inscribed upon it.

John examined it curiously, and said it was of Eastern workmanship.

"I know not how that may be. I know not its history," answered Raymond;
"but Gaston tells me that when our uncle saw the ring about my neck he
seemed greatly moved, and asked quickly how it came there. Gaston told
him it was hung there by our mother, and showed his own half, and how
they fitted together. At that our uncle seemed yet more moved; and after
he had done what he could to ease my pain, he left me with Roger, and
bid Gaston follow him to his own tent. There he told him the history of
that ring, and how for many generations it had been in the De Brocas
family, its last owner having been the Arnald de Brocas who had
quarrelled with his kindred, and had died ere the dispute had been
righted. Seeing that it was useless to hide the matter longer, Gaston
told our uncle all; and he listened kindly and with sympathy to the
tale. At the first he seemed as if he would have told your father all
the story likewise, and have had us owned before the world. But either
Gaston's reluctance to proclaim ourselves before we had won our way to
fortune, or else his own uncertainty as to how your father would take
the news, held him silent; and he said we were perchance right and wise
to keep our secret. He added that to reveal ourselves, though it might
gain us friends, would also raise up many bitter and powerful enemies.
The Sieur de Navailles in the south, who by joining the French King's
standard had already made himself a mark for Edward's just displeasure
when the time should come for revenging himself upon those treacherous
subjects in Gascony, would be certain to hold in especial abhorrence any
De Brocas who would be like to cast longing eyes upon the domain he had
so long ruled over; whilst in England the fierce and revengeful
Sanghursts would have small scruple in seeking the destruction of any
persons who would rise to dispute their hold on Basildene. The King's
time and thought were too much engrossed in great matters of the state
to give him leisure to concern himself with private affairs. Let the
youths then remain as they were for the present, serving under his
banner, high in favour with the youthful Prince, and like to win fame
and honour and wealth through the victorious war about to be waged in
France. When that war had triumphantly ended, and the King was rewarding
those whose faithful service had gained him the day, then might the time
come for the brothers of Basildene to make themselves known, and plead
for their own again."

"I trow he is in the right," said John, "and I am glad that he knows all
himself. So would he take the more interest in you, good Raymond; and
thus it was, I take it, that he brought you to England himself when he
came hither."

"Ay, truly his kindness was great; and after he knew all, I was moved to
better quarters, and a prince could not have been better treated. But it
was long before I could stand upon my own feet, and save for the hope of
seeing you once again, I would gladly have been spared the journey to
England. But the sea passage was favourable, and gave me strength,
though the wind from the east blew so strong that we could not make the
harbour of Dover, and were forced to beat westward along the coast till
we reached the friendly port of Southampton. Then we took horse and rode
hither, and glad am I to be at the journey's end. But our uncle tells me
that in a few short weeks I shall be sound and whole again, and before
the winter ends I may hope to join my brother beneath the King's banner."

"I hope it will be so," answered John; "and if rest is what thou needest
for thy recovery, it will not be lacking to thee here. It is well that
the sword is not the only weapon thou lovest, but that the quill and the
lore of the wise of the earth have attractions for thee likewise."

It quickly seemed to Raymond as if the incidents of that stirring
campaign had been but part and parcel of a fevered dream. He was
disposed to believe that he had never quitted the retreat of his uncle's
roof, and took up his old studies with John with the greatest zest. John
found him marvellously advanced since the days they had studied together
before. His two years with Father Paul in the Brotherhood had
wonderfully enlarged his mind and extended his field of vision. It was a
delight to both cousins to exchange ideas, and learn from one another;
and the time fled by only too fast, each day marked by a steady though
imperceptible improvement in Raymond's state of health, as his fine
constitution triumphed over the serious nature of the injury received.

Although he often thought of Basildene, he made no attempt to see the
place. The winter cold had set in with severity; John had little
disposition to face it, and quiet and rest were far more congenial to
him than any form of activity or amusement. John believed that the
Sanghursts were still there, engaged in their mysterious experiments
that savoured so strongly of magic. But after hearing of Raymond's bold
defiance of the implacable Peter in the forest near to the Brotherhood,
John was by no means desirous that the fact of Raymond's residence at
the Rectory of St. Nicholas should become known at Basildene. Without
sharing to the full the fears of the country people with regard to the
occult powers of the father and son in that lonely house, John believed
them to be as cruel and unscrupulous a pair as ever lived, even in those
half-civilized times. He therefore charged his servants to say nothing
of Raymond's visit, and hoped that it would not reach the ears of the
Sanghursts.

But there was another person towards whom Raymond's fancy had sometime
strayed during the years of his absence from Guildford, and this person
he was unaccountably shy of naming even to John, though he would have
been quite unable to allege a reason for his reticence.

But fortune favoured him in this as in other matters, for on entering
the library one day after a short stroll around the Rector's garden, he
found himself face to face with a radiant young creature dressed in the
picturesque riding gear of the day, who turned to him with a beaming
smile as she cried:

"Ah! I have been hearing of thee and of thy prowess, my fair young sir.
My good brother Alexander, who has followed the King's banner, would
gladly have been in thy place on the day of Crecy. Thou and thy brother
were amongst that gallant little band who fought around the Prince and
bore him off the field unhurt. Did not I say of thee that thou wouldst
quickly win thy knighthood's spurs? And thou mightest already have been
a belted knight if thy prudence and thy modesty had not been greater
than thine ambition. Is it not so?"

Raymond's face glowed like a child's beneath the praises of Mistress
Joan Vavasour, and the light of her bright eyes seemed fairly to dazzle
him. John came to the rescue by telling Raymond's own version of the
story; and then he eagerly asked Joan of herself and what had become of
her these past years, for he had seldom seen her, and knew not where she
was living nor what she was doing -- knew not even if she were wedded,
nor if Peter Sanghurst's suit were at an end or had been crowned by success.

At the sound of that name the girl's face darkened quickly, and a spark
of fire gleamed in her eyes.

"Talk not of him," she said; "I would that he were dead! Have I not said
that I would never wed him, that I would die first? Fair fortune hath
befriended me in this thing. Thou knowest perchance that my father and
brother have been following the King's banner of late, first in Flanders
and then in France. My mother and I meantime have not been residing at
Woodcrych, but in London, whither all news of the war is first known,
and where travellers from the spot are like to come. We are here but for
a short space, to spend the merry Yuletide season with my mother's
brother, who lives, as thou knowest, within the town of Guildford. After
that we return once more to London, there to await the return of my
father and brother. Alexander, in truth, has once visited us, but has
returned to the siege of Calais, hoping to be amongst those who will
reap plenteous spoil when the city is given over to plunder, as Caen was
given. Of the Sanghursts, I thank my kindly saints, I have heard naught
all this while. My mother loved them not, albeit she was always
entreating me in nowise to thwart or gainsay my father. I cannot but
hope that these long months of absence will have gone far to break the
spell that those evil men seemed to cast about him. Be that as it may, I
myself have grown from a child to a woman, and I say now, as I said
then, that no power in the world shall induce me to give my hand in
marriage to Peter Sanghurst. I will die first!"

The girl threw back her handsome head, and her great eyes glowed and
flashed. Raymond looked at her with a beating heart, feeling once more
that mysterious kindling of the soul which he could not understand, and
yet of which he had been before in the presence of Joan so keenly
conscious. She appeared to him to be far older than himself, though in
reality he was a few months the senior; for at eighteen a girl is always
older in mind than a boy, and Joan's superb physique helped to give to
her the appearance of a more advanced age than was really hers. Just
then, too, Raymond, though grown to his full height, which was stately
enough, was white and thin and enfeebled. He felt like a mere stripling,
and it never occurred to him that the many glances bent upon him by the
flashing eyes of the queenly maiden were glances of admiration,
interest, and romantic approval. To her the pale, silent youth, with the
saint-like face and the steadfast, luminous eyes, was in truth a very
/preux chevalier/ amongst men. She had seen something too much of those
knights of flesh and blood and nothing else, who could fight gallantly
and well, but who knew nothing of the deeper and truer chivalry of the
days of mythical romance in which her own ardent fancies loved to stray.
Feats of arms she delighted in truly with the bold spirit of her soldier
race; but she wanted something more than mere bravery in the field. It
was not physical courage alone that made Sir Galahad her favourite of
all King Arthur's knights. Ah no! There was another quest than that of
personal glory which every true knight was bound to seek. Yet how many
of them felt this and understood the truer, deeper meaning of chivalry?
She knew, she felt, that Raymond did; and as she turned her palfrey's
steps homeward when the twilight began to fall that cold December day,
it was with her favourite Sir Galahad that her mind was engrossed, and
to him she gave a pale, thin face, with firm, sweet lines and deep-set
dreamy eyes -- eyes that looked as though they had never quailed before
the face of foe, and which yet saw far into the unseen mysteries of
life, and which would keep their sweet steadfastness even to the end.

As for Raymond, an unwonted restlessness came over him at this time. He
was growing stronger and better. Moderate exercise was recommended as
beneficial, and almost every day during the bright hours of the forenoon
his steps were turned towards the town of Guildford, lying hard by his
uncle's Rectory house. Scarce a day passed but what he was rewarded by a
chance encounter with Mistress Joan -- either a glimpse of her at a
window, or a smile from her bright eyes as she passed him upon her
snow-white palfrey; or sometimes he would have the good hap to meet her
upon foot, attended by her nurse, or some couple of stout retainers, if
her walk had been in any wise extended; and then she would pause and
bring him to her side by a look, and inquire after his own health and
that of John, who seldom stirred out in the bitter cold of winter. Then
he would ask and obtain her permission to accompany her as far as the
gate of her own home -- the place where she was staying; and though he
never advanced beyond the gate -- for she knew not what her relatives
might say to these encounters with a gallant without money and without
lands -- they were red-letter days in the calendar of two young lives,
and were strong factors moulding their future lives, little as either
knew it at the time.

Had either the radiant maiden or the knightly youth had eyes for any but
the other, they might have observed that these encounters, now of almost
daily occurrence, were not unheeded by at least one evil-faced watcher.
The servants who attended Mistress Joan were all devoted to her, and
kept their own counsel, whatever they might think, and Raymond's fame as
one of the heroes of Crecy had already gone far and wide, and won him
great regard in and about the walls of his uncle's home; but there was
another watcher of Mistress Joan's movements who took a vastly different
view of the little idyll playing itself out between the youth and the
maiden, and this watcher was none other than the evil and vengeful Peter
Sanghurst the younger.

Once as Raymond turned away, after watching Joan's graceful, stately
figure vanish up the avenue which led to her uncle's house, he suddenly
encountered the intensely malevolent glance of a pair of coal-black
eyes, and found himself most unexpectedly face to face with the same man
who had once confronted him in the forest and had demanded the
restitution of the boy Roger.

"You again!" hissed out between his teeth the dark-browed man. "You
again daring to stand in my path to thwart me! Have a care how you
provoke me too far. My day is coming! Think you that I threaten in vain?
Go on then in your blind folly and hardihood! But remember that I can
read the future. I can see the day when you, a miserable crushed worm,
will be wholly and solely in my power; when you will be mine mine to do
with what I will, none hindering or gainsaying me. Take heed then how
you provoke me to vengeance; for the vengeance of the Sanghurst can be
what thou dreamest not of now. Thwart me, defy me, and the hour will
come when for every pang of rage and jealousy I have known thou shalt
suffer things of which thou hast no conception now, and none shall be
able to rescue thee from my hand. Yon maiden is mine -- mine -- mine!
Her will I wed, and none other. Strive as thou wilt, thou wilt never
pluck her from my hand. Thou wilt but draw down upon thine own head a
fearful fate, and she too shall suffer bitterly if thou failest to heed
my words."

And with a look of hatred and fury that seemed indeed to have something
positively devilish in it, Sanghurst turned and strode away, leaving
Raymond to make what he could of the vindictive threats launched at him.
Had this man, in truth, some occult power of which none else had the
secret; or was it but an idle boast, uttered with the view of terrifying
one who was but a boy in years?

Raymond knew not, could not form a guess; but his was a nature not prone
to coward fears. He resolved to go home and take counsel with his good
cousin John.



    CHAPTER XV. THE DOUBLE SURRENDER.


On a burning day in July, nearly a year from the time of their parting,
the twin brothers met once more in the camp before Calais, where they
had parted the previous autumn. Raymond had been long in throwing off
the effect of the severe injuries which had nearly cost him his life
after the Battle of Crecy; but thanks to the rest and care that had been
his in his uncle's house, he had entirely recovered. Though not quite so
tall nor so broad-shouldered and muscular as Gaston, who was in truth a
very prince amongst men, he was in his own way quite as striking, being
very tall, and as upright as a dart, slight and graceful, though no
longer attenuated, and above all retaining that peculiar depth and
purity of expression which had long seemed to mark him out somewhat from
his fellow men, and which had only intensified during the year that had
banished him from the stirring life of the camp.

"Why, Brother," said Gaston, as he held the slim white hands in his
vise-like clasp, and gazed hungrily into the face he had last seen so
wan and white, "I had scarce dared to hope to see thee again in the camp
of the King after the evil hap that befell thee here before; but right
glad am I to welcome thee hither before the final act of this great
drama, for methinks the city cannot long hold out against the famine
within and our bold soldiers without the walls. Thou hast done well to
come hither to take thy part in the final triumph, and reap thy share of
the spoil, albeit thou lookest more like a youthful St. George upon a
church window than a veritable knight of flesh and blood, despite the
grip of thy fingers, which is well-nigh as strong as my own."

"I will gladly take my share in any valorous feat of arms that may be
undertaken for the honour of England and of England's King. But I would
sooner fight with warriors who are not half starved to start with. Say
not men that scarce a dog or a cat remains alive in the city, and that
unless the citizens prey one upon the other, all must shortly perish?"

"Yea, in very truth that is so; for, as perchance thou hast heard, a
vessel was sighted leaving Calais harbour but a few short days ago, and
being hotly pursued, was seen to drop a packet overboard. That packet at
ebb tide was found tied to an anchor, and being brought to the King and
by him opened, was found to contain those very words addressed to the
King of France by the governor of the city, praying him to come speedily
to the rescue of his fortress if he wished to save it from the enemy's
hand. Our bold King having first read it, sent it on posthaste to his
brother of France, crying shame upon him to leave his gallant subjects
thus to perish with hunger. Methinks that message will shame yon laggard
monarch into action. How he has been content to idle away the year, with
the foe besieging the key of his kingdom, I know not. But it is a warm
welcome he shall get if he comes to the relief of Calais. We are as
ready to receive him here as we were a year ago on the field of Crecy!"

"Ay, in fair fight with Philip's army would I gladly adventure my life
again!" cried Raymond, with kindling eyes; "but there be fighting I have
small relish for, my Gaston, and I have heard stories of this very siege
which have wrung my heart to listen to. Was it true, brother, that
hundreds of miserable creatures, more than half of them women and little
children, were expelled from the city as 'useless mouths,' and left to
starve to death between the city walls and the camp of the English, in
which plenty has all the winter reigned? Could that be true of our
gallant King and his brave English soldiers?"

A quick flush dyed Gaston's cheek, but he strove to laugh.

"Raymond, look not at me with eyes so full of reproach. War is a cruel
game, and in some of its details I like it little better than thou. But
what can we soldiers do? Nay, what can even the King do? Listen, and
condemn him not too hastily. Long months ago, soon after thou hadst left
us, the same thing was done. Seventeen hundred persons -- men, women,
and children -- were turned out of the town, and the King heard of it
and ordered some of them to be brought before him. In answer to his
question they told him that they were driven from the city because they
could not fight, and were only consuming the bread, of which there was
none to spare for useless mouths. They had no place to go to, no food to
eat, no hope for the future. Then what does our King do but give them
leave to pass through his camp; and not only so, but he orders his
soldiers to feed them well, and start them refreshed on their way; and
before they went forth, to each of them was given, by the royal order,
two sterlings of silver, so that they went forth joyously, blessing the
liberality and kindness of the English and England's King. But thou must
see he could not go on doing these kindly acts if men so took advantage
of them. He is the soul of bravery and chivalry, but there must be
reasonable limits to all such royal generosity."

Raymond could have found in his heart to wish that the limit had not
been quite so quickly reached, and that the hapless women and children
had not been left to perish miserably in the sight of the warmth and
plenty of the English camp; but he would not say more to damp his
brother's happiness in their reunion, nor in that almost greater joy
with which Roger received him back.

"In faith," laughed Gaston, "I believe that some of the wizard's art
cleaves yet to yon boy, for he has been restless and dreamy and unlike
himself these many days; and when I have asked him what ailed him, his
answer was ever the same, that he knew you were drawing nigh; and verily
he has proved right, little as I believed him when he spoke of it."

Roger had so grown and improved that Raymond would scarce have
recognized in him the pale shrinking boy they had borne out from the
house of the sorcerer three years before. He had developed rapidly after
the first year of his new life, when the shackles of his former
captivity seemed finally broken; but this last year of regular soldier's
employment had produced a more marked change in his outward man than
those spent in the Brotherhood or at Raymond's side. His figure had
widened. He carried himself well, and with an air of fearless alertness.
He was well trained in martial exercises, and the hot suns of France had
bronzed his cheeks, and given them a healthy glow of life and animation.
He still retained much of his boyish beauty, but the dreaminess and
far-away vacancy had almost entirely left his eyes. Now and again the
old listening look would creep into them, and he would seem for a few
moments to be lost to outward impressions; but if recalled at such
moments from his brief lapse, and questioned as to what he was thinking,
it always proved to be of Raymond, not of his old master.

Once or twice he had told Gaston that his brother was in peril -- of
what kind he knew not; and Gaston had wondered if indeed this had been
so. One of these occasions had been just before Christmastide, and the
date being thus fixed in his mind, he asked his brother if he had been
at that time exposed to any peril. Raymond could remember nothing save
the vindictive threat of Peter Sanghurst, and Gaston was scarce disposed
to put much faith in words, either good or bad, uttered by such a man as
that.

And now things began to press towards a climax in this memorable siege.
The French King, awakened from his long and inexplicable lethargy by the
entreaties of his starving subjects so bravely holding the town for a
pusillanimous master, and stung by the taunts of the English King, had
mustered an army, and was now marching to the relief of the town. It was
upon the last day of July, when public excitement was running high, and
all men were talking and thinking of an approaching battle, that word
was brought into the camp, and eagerly passed from mouth to mouth, to
the effect that the King of France had despatched certain messengers to
hold parley with the royal Edward, and that they were even now being
admitted to the camp by the bridge of Nieulay -- the only approach to
Calais through the marshes on the northeast, which had been closely
guarded by the English throughout the siege.

"Hasten, Raymond, hasten!" cried Gaston, dashing into the small lodging
he and his brother now shared together. "There be envoys come from the
French King. The Prince will be with his father to hear their message,
and if we but hasten to his side, we may be admitted amongst the number
who may hear what is spoken on both sides."

Raymond lost no time in following his brother, both eager to hear and
see all that went on; and they were fortunate enough to find places in
the brilliant muster surrounding the King and his family, as these
received with all courtesy the ambassador from the French monarch.

That messenger was none other than the celebrated Eustache de
Ribeaumont, one of the flower of the French chivalry, to whom, on
another occasion, Edward presented the celebrated chaplet of pearls,
with one of the highest compliments that one brave man could give
another. The boys, and indeed the whole circle of English nobility,
looked with admiration at his stately form and handsome face, and though
to our ears the message with which he came charged sounds infinitely
strange, it raised no smile upon the faces of those who stood around the
royal Edward.

"Sire," began the messenger, "our liege lord, the King of France, sends
us before you, and would have you know that he is here, and is posted on
the Sandgatte Hill to fight you; but intrenched as you are in this camp,
he can see no way of getting at you, and therefore he sends us to you to
say this. He has a great desire to raise the siege of Calais, and save
his good city, but can see no way of doing so whilst you remain here.
But if you would come forth from your intrenchments, and appoint some
spot where he could meet you in open fight, he would rejoice to do it,
and this is the thing we are charged to request of you."

A shout, led by the Prince of Wales, and taken up by all who stood by,
was proof enough how acceptable such a notion was to the ardent spirits
of the camp; for it was not a shout of derision, but one of eager
assent. Indeed, for a moment it seemed as though the King of England
were disposed to give a favourable reply to the messenger; but then he
paused, and a different expression crossed his face. He sat looking
thoughtfully upon the ground, whilst breathless silence reigned around
him, and then he and the Queen spoke in low tones together for some few
minutes.

When Edward looked up again his face had changed, and was stern and set
in expression.

"Tell your lord," he said, speaking slowly and distinctly, "that had he
wished thus to fight, he should have sent his challenge before. I have
been near a twelvemonth encamped before this place, and my good people
of England have been sore pressed to furnish me with munitions for the
siege. The town is now on the point of falling into my hands, and then
will my good subjects find plunder enough to recompense them for their
labour and loss. Wherefore tell your lord that where I am there will I
stay; and that if he wishes to fight he must attack me in my camp, for I
assuredly have no intention of moving out from it."

A slight murmur of disappointment arose from the younger and more ardent
members of the crowd; but the older men saw the force of the King's
words, and knew that it would be madness to throw away all the
hardly-earned advantages of those long months just for a piece of
chivalrous bravado. So De Ribeaumont had to ride back to the French camp
with Edward's answer; and ere two more days had passed, the astonishing
news was brought to the English lines that Philip had abandoned his
camp, which was now in flames, and was retreating with his whole army by
the way he had come.

"Was ever such a craven coward!" cried the Prince, in indignant
disappointment; for all within the English camp had been hoping for
battle, and had been looking to their arms, glad of any incident to vary
the long monotony of the siege. "Were I those gallant soldiers in yon
fortress, I would serve no longer such a false, treacherous lord. Were
my father but their king, he would not leave them in such dire strait,
with an army at his back to fight for him, be the opposing force a
hundredfold greater than it is!"

And indeed it seemed as though the brave but desperate garrison within
those walls saw that it was hopeless to try to serve such a master. How
bitter must their feelings have been when Philip turned and left them to
their fate may well be imagined. Hopeless and helpless, there was
nothing but surrender before them now; and to make the best terms
possible was the only thing that remained for them. The day following
Philip's dastardly desertion, the signal that the city was ready to
treat was hung out, and brave Sir Walter Manny, whose own history and
exploits during the campaigns in Brittany and Gascony would alone fill a
volume either of history or romance, was sent to confer on this matter
with the governor of the city, the gallant De Vienne, who had been
grievously wounded during the long siege.

Raymond's sympathies had been deeply stirred by what he had heard and
imagined of the sufferings of the citizens, and with the love of
adventure and romance common to those days, he arrayed himself lightly
in a dress that would not betray his nationality, and followed in the
little train which went with Sir Walter. The conference took place
without the walls, but near to one of the gates. Raymond did not press
near to hear what was said, like the bulk of the men on both sides who
accompanied the leaders, but he passed through the eager crowd and made
for the gate itself, the wicket of which stood open; and so calm and
assured was his air, and so deeply were the minds of the porters stirred
by anxiety to know the fate of the town, that the youth passed in
unheeded and unchallenged, and once within the ramparts he could go
where he chose and see what he would.

But what a sight met his eyes! Out into the streets were flocking the
inhabitants, all trembling with anxiety to hear their fate. Every turn
brought him to fresh knots of famine-stricken wretches, who had almost
lost the wish to live, or any interest in life, till just stirred to a
faint and lingering hope by the news that the town was to be surrendered
at last. Gaunt and hollow-eyed men, women little better than skeletons,
and children scarce able to trail their feeble bodies along, were
crowding out of the houses and towards the great marketplace, where the
assembly to hear the conditions was likeliest to meet. The soldiers, who
had been better cared for than the more useless townsfolk, were
spectre-like in all conscience; but the starving children, and the
desperate mothers who could only weep and wring their hands in answer to
the piteous demand for bread, were the beings who most stirred Raymond's
heart as he went his way amongst them.

Again that sense of horror and shrinking came upon him that he had
experienced upon the field of Crecy amongst the dying and the dead. If
war did indeed entail such ghastly horrors and frightful sufferings,
could it be that glorious thing that all men loved to call it?

Curious glances began to be levelled at him as he passed through the
streets, sometimes pausing to soothe a wailing child, sometimes lending
a hand to assist a tottering woman's steps, and speaking to all in that
gentle voice of his, which with its slightly unfamiliar accent smote
strangely upon the ears of the people. He wore no helmet on his head,
and his curly hair floated about his grave saint-like face, catching
golden lights from the glory of the August sunshine.

"Is it one of the blessed saints?" asked a little child of his mother,
as Raymond paused in passing by to lay a caressing hand upon his head,
and speak a soft word of encouragement and hope to the weary mother.

And the innocent question was taken up and passed from mouth to mouth,
till it began to be whispered about that one of the holy saints had
appeared in their midst in the hour of the city's deadly peril. As
Raymond passed on his way, many a knee was bent and many a pleading
voice asked a blessing; whilst he, feeling still as one who moves in a
dream, made the sign of the cross from time to time over some kneeling
suppliant without understanding what was said of him or why all eyes
were bent upon him.

But the great town bell was ringing now to summon the citizens to
assemble themselves together to hear the final terms agreed upon for the
capitulation of the city, and all else was forgotten in the overwhelming
anxiety of that moment; for none could form a guess what terms would be
granted to a town in such sore straits as was theirs. The English King
could be generous and merciful, but he could also be stern and
implacable; and the long resistance made by the town was like to have
stirred his wrath, as well as the fact that the sea port of Calais had
done more harm to his ships and committed more acts of piracy than any
other port in France.

Raymond himself had great fears for the fate of the hapless town, and
was as eager as any to hear what had been decreed.

"Sure if the King could see the famished gathering here his heart would
relent," murmured the youth to himself, as he looked round at the sea of
wan faces gathered in the open square.

But the grave and sorrowful expression upon the governor's face told
that he had no very happy tidings to impart. He stood upon a flight of
steps where all men could well behold him, and in the dead silence that
fell upon the multitude every word spoken could be distinctly beard.

"My friends," he said, in grave, mournful accents, "I come to you with
news of the only terms of capitulation that I have been able to win from
England's King. I myself offered to capitulate if he would permit all
within the walls to depart unharmed, whilst his demand was for
unconditional surrender. The brave knight who came forth to confer with
me went back more than once to strive to win for us better terms, and
his intercession was thus far successful. The King will take the rest of
the citizens to mercy if six of their chief burgesses be given up to his
vengeance, and appear before him bareheaded and barefooted, with halters
about their necks and the keys of the city in their hands. For such
there will be no mercy. Brave Sir Walter Manny, who bore hack this
message with so sorrowful a countenance, bid me not hope that the lives
of these men would be spared. He said he saw the fierce sparkle in
Edward's eyes as he added, grinding his teeth, 'On them will I do my
will.' Wherefore, my good friends, we are this day in a great strait,
and I would that I might myself give up my life to save the town; but
the King's command is that it shall be six of the burgesses, and it is
for you and them to say if these hard conditions shall be accepted."

The deepest silence had hitherto prevailed in that vast place, but now
it was broken by the weeping and wailing of a great multitude. Raymond's
throat swelled and his eyes glistened as he looked around upon that sea
of starving faces, and tried to realize all that this message must mean
to them. If his own life could have paid the ransom, he would have laid
it down that moment for these miserable weeping beings; but he was
helpless as the brave governor, and could only stand and see the end of
the drama.

Slowly up the steps of the marketplace, where stood the governor of the
city, advanced a fine-looking man in the prime of life, and a hushed
murmur ran through the crowd, in which Raymond caught the name of
Eustache de St. Pierre. This man held up his hand in token that he
wished to speak, and immediately a deathlike silence fell again upon the
crowd.

"My friends," spoke the clear deliberate voice, "it would be a great
pity and mischief to let such a people as this assembled here die by
famine or any other way, if a means can be found to save them; and it
would be great alms and great grace in the sight of the Lord for any one
who could save them from such harm. I have myself so great hope of
finding grace and pardon in the sight of our Lord, if I die to save this
people, that I will be the first, and will yield myself willingly, in
nothing but my shirt, with my head bare and a halter round my neck, to
the mercy of the King of England."

As these simple but truly heroic words were spoken a burst of weeping
and blessing arose from the crowd, women pressed forward and fell at the
feet of the worthy citizen, and Raymond said in his heart:

"Sure if the King of England could but see it, there is more chivalry in
yon simple merchant than in half the knights who stand about his throne."

It is seldom that a noble example is thrown away upon men. Hardly had
the burst of weeping died away before two more men, brothers, to judge
by their likeness to each other, mounted the steps and stood beside St.
Pierre. He held out his hand and greeted them by name.

"My good friends Jacques and Peter de Wisant, we go hand in hand to
death, as we have gone hand in hand in other ventures of another kind.
And hither to join us comes our good friend Jehan d'Aire. Truly if we
march to death, we shall march in good company."

The full number was soon made up. Six of the wealthiest and best known
of the citizens came forward and stood together to be disrobed and led
before the King.

But Raymond could bear the sight no longer. With a bursting heart he
hurried through the crowd, which made way wonderingly for him as he
moved, and went straight towards the gate by which he had entered, none
hindering his path.

"It is the blessed saint who came amongst us in our hour of need," said
the women one to another, "and now perchance he goes to intercede with
the mighty conqueror! See how his face is set towards the gate; see the
light that shines in his eyes! Sure he can be no being of this earth,
else how could he thus come and go in our beleaguered city!"

The guard at the gate looked with doubtful eyes at the stranger, and one
man stood in his path as if to hinder him; but Raymond's eyes seemed to
look through and beyond him, and in a clear, strange voice he said:

"In the name of the Blessed Son of God, I bid thee let me pass. I go
upon an errand of mercy in that most Holy Name."

The man fell back, his comrades crossed themselves and bent the knee.
Raymond passed out of the gate, scarce knowing how he had done so, and
sped back to the English camp as if his feet had wings. With that same
strangely rapt expression upon his face, he went straight to the lodging
of the Prince of Wales, and entering without ceremony found not only the
Prince there, but also his royal mother, the gracious Queen Philippa.

Bending his knee to that fair lady, but without one thought beyond the
present urgent need of the moment, Raymond told all his tale in the ear
of the Queen and the Prince. With that power of graphic description
which was the gift of his vivid imagination and deep sense of sympathy
with the needs of others, he brought the whole scene before the eyes of
his listeners the crowded marketplace, the famine-stricken people in
their extremity and despair, the calm heroism of the men who willingly
offered their lives to save those of their townspeople, and the wailing
multitude watching the start of the devoted six going forth to a
shameful and ignominious death on their behalf.

And as Raymond spoke the Prince's cheek flushed, and the eyes of the
beautiful Queen kindled and filled with sudden tears; and rising to her
feet she held out her hand to Raymond and said:

"Good lad, I thank thee for thy tale, and the request thy lips have not
spoken shall be granted. Those men shall not die! I, the Queen of
England, will save them. I pledge thee here my royal word. I will to my
noble husband and win their pardon myself."

Raymond sank upon his knee and kissed the fair hand extended to him, and
both he and the Prince hastened after the Queen, who hoped to find her
royal husband alone and in a softened mood, as he was wont to be after
the stress of the day was over.

But time had fled fast whilst Raymond had been telling his tale, and
already notice had been brought to Edward of the approach of the six
citizens, and he had gone forth into a pavilion erected for his
convenience in an open part of the camp; and there he was seated with
grim aspect and frowning brow as his Queen approached to speak with him.

"I will hear thee anon, good wife," he said, seeing that she craved his
ear. "I have sterner work on hand today than the dallying of women. Stay
or go as thou wilt, but speak not to me till this day's work is carried
through."

Raymond's heart sank as he heard these words, and saw the relentless
look upon the King's face. None realized better than he the cruel side
to the boasted chivalry of the age; and these middle-aged burgesses,
with no knightliness of dress or bearing, would little move the loftier
side of the King's nature. There would be no glamour of romance
surrounding them. He would think only of the thousands of pounds the
resistance of the city had cost him, and he would order to a speedy
death those whom he would regard as in part the cause of all this
trouble and loss.

The Queen made no further effort to win his notice, but with graceful
dignity placed herself beside him; whilst the Prince, quivering with
suppressed excitement, stepped behind his father's chair. Raymond stood
in the surrounding circle, and felt Gaston's arm slipped within his. But
he had eyes only for the mournful procession approaching from the
direction of the city, and every nerve was strained to catch the
lightest tone of the Queen's voice if she should speak.

The governor of Calais, though disabled by wounds from walking, was
pacing on horseback beside the devoted six thus giving themselves up to
death; and as he told how they had come forward to save their fellow
citizens from death, tears gathered in many eyes, and brave Sir Walter
Manny, who had pleaded their cause before, again threw himself upon his
knees before his sovereign, and besought his compassion for the brave
burgesses.

But Edward would not listen -- would not allow the better feelings
within him to have play. With a few angry and scathing words, bidding
his servants remember what Calais had cost them to take, and what the
obstinacy of its citizens had made England pay, he relentlessly ordered
the executioner to do his work, and that right quickly; and as that grim
functionary slowly advanced to do the royal bidding, a shiver ran
through the standing crowd, the devoted six alone holding themselves
fearlessly erect.

But just at the moment when it seemed as if all hope of mercy was at an
end, the gentle Queen arose and threw herself at her husband's feet, and
her silvery voice rose clear above the faint murmur rising in the throng.

"Ah, gentle Sire, since I have crossed the sea with great peril, I have
never asked you anything; now I humbly pray, for the sake of the Son of
the Holy Mary and your love of me, that you will have mercy on these six
brave men!"

Raymond's breath came so thick and fast as he waited for the answer,
that he scarce heard it when it came, though the ringing cheer which
broke from the lips of those who stood by told him well its purport.

The King's face, gloomy at first, softened as he gazed upon the graceful
form of his wife, and with a smile he said at last:

"Dame, I wish you had been somewhere else this day; but I cannot refuse
you. I put them into your keeping; do with them what you will."

Raymond felt himself summoned by a glance from the Prince. The
Queen-mother had bidden him take the men, and feast them royally, and
send them away with rich gifts.

As the youth who had done so much for them forced his way to the side of
the Prince, his face full of a strange enthusiasm and depth of feeling,
the citizens looked one upon another and whispered:

"Sure it was true what the women said to us. That was the youth with the
face of painted saint that we saw within the walls of the city. Sure the
Blessed Saints have been watching over us this day, and have sent an
angel messenger down to deliver us in our hour of sorest need!"



    CHAPTER XVI. IN THE OLD HOME.


The memorable siege of Calais at an end, Edward, his Queen and son and
nobility generally, set sail for England, where many matters were
requiring the presence of the sovereign after an absence so prolonged.

When the others of the Prince's comrades were thronging on hoard to
accompany him homewards, Gaston and Raymond sought him to petition for
leave to remain yet longer in France, that they might revisit the home
of their youth and the kind-hearted people who had protected them during
their helpless childhood.

Leave was promptly and willingly given, though the Prince was graciously
pleased to express a hope that he should see his faithful comrades in
England again ere long.

It had begun to be whispered abroad that these two lads with their
knightly bearing, their refinement of aspect, and their fearlessness in
the field, were no common youths sprung from some lowly stock. That
there was some mystery surrounding their birth was now pretty well
admitted, and this very mystery encircled them with something of a charm
-- a charm decidedly intensified by the aspect of Raymond, who never
looked so much the creature of flesh and blood as did his brother and
the other young warriors of Edward's camp. The fact, which was well
known now, that he had walked unharmed and unchallenged through the
streets of Calais upon the day of its capitulation, but before the terms
had been agreed upon, was in itself, in the eyes of many, a proof of
some strange power not of this world which encircled the youth. And
indeed Gaston himself was secretly of the opinion that his brother was
something of a saint or spirit, and regarded him with a reverential
affection unusual between brothers of the same age.

Through the four years since he had left his childhood's home, Gaston
had felt small wish to revisit it. The excitement and exaltation of the
new life had been enough for him, and the calm quiet of the peaceful
past had lost, its charm. Now, however, that the war was for the present
over, and with it the daily round of adventure and change; now that he
had gold in his purse, a fine charger to ride, and two or three stout
men-at-arms in his train, a sudden wish to see again the familiar haunts
of his childhood had come over him, and he had willingly agreed to
Raymond's suggestion that they should go together to Sauveterre, to ask
a blessing from Father Anselm, and tell him how they had fared since
they had parted from him long ago. True, Raymond had seen him a year
before, but he had not then been in battle; he had not had much to tell
save of the cloister life he had been sharing; and of Gaston's fortunes
he had himself known nothing.

Both brothers were for the present amply provided for. They had received
rich rewards from the Prince after the Battle of Crecy, and the spoils
of Calais had been very great. They could travel in ease through the
sunny plains of France, sufficiently attended to be safe from
molestation, even if the terror of the English arms were not protection
enough for those who wore the badge of the great Edward. From Bordeaux
they could find easy means of transport to England later; and nothing
pleased them better than the thought of this long ride through the
plains of France, on the way to the old home.

They did not hurry themselves on this pleasant journey, taken just as
the trying heats of summer had passed, but before the winter's cold had
made its first approach. The woods were scarce showing their first
russet tints as the brothers found themselves in familiar country once
again, and looked about them with eager glances of recognition as they
traversed the once well-known tracks.

"Let us first to Father Anselm," said Raymond, as they neared the
village where the good priest held his cure. "He will gladly have us
pass a night beneath his roof ere we go onward to the mill; and our good
fellows will find hospitable shelter with the village folks. They have
been stanch and loyal in these parts to the cause of the Roy Outremer,
and any soldier coming from his camp will be doubly welcome, as the
bearer of news of good luck to the English arms. The coward King of
France is little loved by the bold Gascons, save where a rebel lord
thinks to forward his private ends by transferring his allegiance from
England to France."

"To the good Father's, then, with all my heart," answered Gaston
heartily; and the little troop moved onwards until, to the astonishment
of the simple villagers clustered round the little church and their
cure's house, the small but brilliant cavalcade of armed travellers drew
up before that lowly door.

The Father was within, and, as the sound of trampling feet made itself
heard, appeared at his door in some astonishment; but when the two
youths sprang from their horses and bent the knee before him, begging
his blessing, and he recognized in them the two boys who had filled so
great a portion of his life not so many years ago, a mist came before
his eyes, and his voice faltered as he gave the benediction, whilst
raising them afterwards and tenderly embracing them, he led them within
the well-known doorway, at the same time calling his servant and bidding
him see to the lodging of the men without.

The low-ceiled parlour of the priest, with its scanty plenishing and
rush-strewn floor, was well known to the boys; yet as Raymond stepped
across the threshold he uttered a cry of surprise, not at any change in
the aspect of the room itself, but at sight of a figure seated in a
high-backed chair, with the full sunlight shining upon the calm, thin
face. With an exclamation of joyful recognition the lad sped forward and
threw himself upon his knees before the erect figure, with the name of
Father Paul upon his lips.

The keen, austere face did not soften as Father Anselm's had done. The
Cistercian monk, true to the severity of his order, permitted nothing of
pleasure to appear in his face as he looked at the youth whose character
he had done so much to form. He did not even raise his hand at once in
the customary salutation or blessing, but fixed his eyes upon Raymond's
face, now lifted to his in questioning surprise; and not until he had
studied that face with great intentness for many long minutes did he lay
his hand upon the lad's head and say, in a low, deep voice, "Peace be
with thee, my son."

This second and most unexpected meeting was almost a greater pleasure to
Raymond than the one with Father Anselm. Whilst Gaston engrossed his old
friend's time and thought, sitting next him at the board, and pacing at
his side afterwards in the little garden in which he loved to spend his
leisure moments, Raymond remained seated at the feet of Father Paul,
listening with breathless interest to his history of the voyage he had
taken to the far East (as it then seemed), and to the strange and
terrible sights he had witnessed in some of those far-off lands.

Raymond had vaguely heard before of the plague, but had regarded it as a
scourge confined exclusively to the fervid heat of far-off countries --
a thing that would never come to the more temperate latitudes of the
north; but when he spoke these words to the monk, Father Paul shook his
head, and a sudden sombre light leaped into his eyes.

"My son, the plague is the scourge of God. It is not confined to one
land or another. It visits all alike, if it be God's will to send it in
punishment for the many and grievous sins of its inhabitants. True, in
the lands of the East, where the paynim holds his court, and everywhere
is blasphemy and abomination, the scourge returns time after time, and
never altogether ceases from amongst the blinded people. But of late it
has spread farther and farther westward -- nearer and nearer to our own
shores. God is looking down upon the lands whose people call themselves
after His name, and what does he see there but corruption in high
places, greed, lust, the covetousness that is idolatry, the slothful
ease that is the curse of the Church?"

The monk's eyes flashed beneath their heavily-fringed lids; the fire
that glowed in them was of a strange and sombre kind. Raymond turned his
pure young face, full of passionate admiration and reverence, towards
the fine but terribly stern countenance of the ecclesiastic. A painter
would have given much to have caught the expression upon those two faces
at that moment. The group was a very striking one, outlined against the
luminous saffron of the western sky behind.

"Father, tell me more!" pleaded Raymond. "I am so young, so ignorant;
and many of the things the world praises and calls deeds of good turn my
heart sick and my spirit faint within me. I would fain know how I may
safely tread the difficult path of life. I would fain choose the good
and leave the evil. But there be times when I know not how to act, when
it seems as though naught in this world were wholly pure. Is it only
those who yield themselves up to the life of the cloister who may choose
aright and see with open eyes? Must I give up my sword and turn monk ere
I may call myself a son of Heaven?"

The boy's eyes were full of an eager, questioning light. His hands were
clasped together, and his face was turned full upon his companion. The
Father's eyes rested on the pure, ethereal face with a softer look than
they had worn before, and then a deep sadness came into them.

"My son," he answered, very gravely, "I am about to say a thing to thee
which I would not say to many young and untried as thou art. There have
been times in my life when I should have triumphed openly had men spoken
to me the words that I shall speak to thee -- times when I had gladly
said that all which men call holiness was but a mask for corruption and
deceit, and should have rejoiced that the very monks themselves were
forced to own to their own wanton disregard of their vows. My son, I see
the shrinking and astonishment in thine eyes; but yet I would for a
moment that thou couldst see with mine. I spoke awhile ago of the
judgment of an angry God. Wherefore, thinkest thou, is it that His anger
is so hotly burning against those lands that call themselves by His name
-- that call day by day upon His name, and make their boast that they
hold the faith whole and undefiled?"

Raymond shook his head. He had no words with which to answer. He was
beginning slowly yet surely to feel his eyes opened to the evil of the
world -- even that world of piety and chivalry of which such bright
dreams had been dreamed. His fair ideals were being gradually dashed and
effaced. Something of sickness of heart had penetrated his being, and he
had said in the unconscious fashion of pure-hearted youth, "Vanity of
vanities! is all around but vanity?" and he had found no answer to his
own pathetic question.

As an almost necessary consequence of all this had his thoughts turned
towards the holy, dedicated life of the sons of the Church; and though
it was with a strong sense of personal shrinking, with a sense that the
sacrifice would be well-nigh bitterer than the bitterness of death, he
had asked himself if it might not be that God had called him, and that
if he would be faithful to the love he had ever professed to hold, he
ought to rise up without farther delay and offer himself to the
dedicated service of the Church.

And now Father Paul, who had always seemed to read the very secrets of
his heart, appeared about to answer this unspoken question. Greatly had
Raymond longed of late to speak with him again. Father Anselm was a good
and a saintly man, but he knew nothing of the life of the world. To him
the Church was the ark of refuge from all human ills, and gladly would
he have welcomed within its fold any weary or world-worn soul. But with
Father Paul it was different. He had lived in the world; he had sinned
(if men spoke truth), and had suffered bitterly. One look in his face
was enough to tell that; and having lived and sinned, repented and
suffered, he was far more able to offer counsel to one tempted and
sometimes suffering, though perhaps in a very different fashion.

The Father's eyes were bent upon the faint glow in the sky, seen through
the open casement. His words were spoken quietly, yet with an
earnestness that was almost terrible.

"My son," he said, "I have come back but recently from lands where it
seems that holiness should abound -- that righteousness should flow
forth as from a perpetual fountain, where the Lord should be seen
walking almost visibly in the midst of His people. And what have I seen
instead? Luxury, corruption, unspeakable abominations -- abominations
such as I may not dare to speak in thy pure ears, such as I would not
have believed had not mine own eyes seen, mine own ears heard. Where is
the poverty, the lowliness, the meekness, the chastity of the sons of
the Church? Ah, God in Heaven only knows; and let it be our solemn
rejoicing that He does know where His own faithful children are to be
found, for assuredly man would miserably fail if he were sent forth to
find and to gather them. Leaving those lands which thou, my son, hast
never seen, and coming hither to France and England, what do we find?
Those who have vowed themselves to the service of the Church walking
gaily in the dress of soldiers, engaged in carnal matters, letting their
hair hang down their shoulders curled and powdered, and thinking scorn
of the tonsure, which is the mark of the Kingdom of Heaven. And does not
God see? Will He not recompense to His people their sins? Yea, verily He
will; and in an hour when they little think it, the wrath of God shall
fall upon them. It is even now upon its way. I have seen it; I have
marked its progress. Ere another year has passed, if men repent not of
their sins, it will be stalking amongst us. And thou, my son, when that
day comes, fear not. Think not of the cloister; keep thy good sword at
thy side, but keep it bright in the cause of right, of mercy, of truth,
and keep thy shield stainless and unspotted. Then when the hour of
judgment falls upon this land, and men in wild terror begin to call upon
the God they have forgotten and abused, then go thou forth in the power
of that purity of heart which He in His mercy has vouchsafed to thee.
Fear not the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor the sickness that
destroyeth at noonday. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten
thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. With thine
eyes shalt thou behold the destruction of thine enemies; but the angels
of God shall encamp around thy path, and guard thee in all thy ways.
Only be true, be fearless, be steadfast. Thou shalt be a knight of the
Lord; thou shalt fight His battle; and from Him, and from no earthly
sovereign, shalt thou reap thy reward at last!"

As the Father continued speaking, it seemed as if something of prophetic
fire had lighted his eyes. Raymond held his breath in awe as he heard
this strange warning, benediction, and promise. But not for a moment did
he doubt that what the Father spoke would come to pass. He sank upon his
knees, and his heart went up in prayer that when the hour of trial came
he might be found faithful at his post; and at once and for ever was
laid to rest that restless questioning as to the life of the Church. He
knew from that moment forward that it was in the world and not out of it
that his work for his Lord was to be done.

No more of a personal nature passed between him and Father Paul that
night, and upon the morrow the brothers proceeded to the mill, and the
Father upon his journey to England.

"We shall meet again ere long," was Father Paul's parting word to
Raymond, and he knew that it would be so.

It was a pretty sight to witness the delighted pride with which honest
Jean and Margot welcomed back their boys again after the long
separation. Raymond hardly seemed a stranger after his visit of the
previous year, but of Gaston they knew not how to make enough. His tall
handsome figure and martial air struck them dumb with admiration. They
never tired of listening to his tales of flood and field; and the
adventures he had met with, though nothing very marvellous in
themselves, seemed to the simple souls, who had lived so quiet a life,
to raise him at once to the position of some wonderful and almost
mythical being.

On their own side, they had a long story to tell of the disturbed state
of the country, and the constant fighting which had taken place until
the English King's victory at Crecy had caused Philip to disband his
army, and had restored a certain amount of quiet to the country.

The quiet was by no means assured or very satisfactory. Though the army
had been disbanded, there was a great deal of brigandage in the remoter
districts. So near as the mill was to Sauveterre, it had escaped without
molestation, and the people in the immediate vicinity had not suffered
to any extent; but there was a restless and uneasy feeling pervading the
country, and it had been a source of considerable disappointment to the
well-disposed that the Roy Outremer had not paid a visit to Gascony in
person, to restore a greater amount of order, before returning to his
own kingdom.

The Sieur de Navailles had made himself more unpopular than ever by his
adhesion to the French cause when all the world had believed that
Philip, with his two huge armies, would sweep the English out of the
country. Of late, in the light of recent events, he had tried to annul
his disloyalty, and put another face upon his proceedings; but only his
obscurity, and the remoteness of his possessions in the far south, would
protect him from Edward's wrath when the affairs of the rebel Gascons
came to be inquired into in detail.

Gaston listened eagerly, and treasured it all carefully up, feeling sure
he could place his rival and the usurper of the De Brocas lands in a
very unenviable position with the royal Edward at any time when he
wished to make good his own claim.

The visit of the De Brocas brothers (as they were known in these parts)
was not made by stealth. All the world might know it now for all they
cared, protected as they were by their stout men-at-arms, and surrounded
by the glamour of the English King's royal favour. Gaston and Raymond
ranged the woods and visited their old haunts with the zest of youth and
affectionate memories, and Gaston often hunted there alone whilst his
brother paid a visit to Father Anselm, to read with him or talk of
Father Paul.

It was after a day spent thus apart that Gaston came in looking as
though some unwonted thing had befallen him, and when he and his brother
were alone in their room together, he began to speak with eager rapidity.

"Raymond, methinks I have this day lost my heart to a woodland nymph or
fairy. Such a strange encounter had I in the forest today! and with it a
warning almost as strange as the being who offered it."

"A warning, Gaston? what sort of warning?"

"Why, against our old, old enemy the Navailles, who, it seems, knows of
our visit here, and, if he dared, would gladly make an end of us both.
So at least the fairy creature told me, imploring me, with sweetest
solicitude, to be quickly gone, and to adventure myself in the woods
alone no more. I told her that our visit was well-nigh at an end, and
that we purposed to reach England ere the autumn gales blew shrill. At
that she seemed mightily pleased, and yet she sighed when we said adieu.
Raymond, she was the loveliest maiden my eyes have ever beheld: her hair
like silk, and of the deepest golden hue; her eyes of the colour of
violets nestling beneath brown winter leaves. Her voice was like the
rippling of a summer's brook, and her form scarce of this earth, so
light, so airy, so full of sylvan grace. She was like the angelic being
of a dream. I have never seen a daughter of earth so fair. Tell me,
thinkest thou it was some dream? Yet it is not my wont to slumber at my
sport, and the little hand I held in mine throbbed with the warmth of life."

"Asked you not her name and station?"

"Yea verily, but she would tell me naught; only the soft colour crept
into her cheeks, and she turned her eyes for a moment away. Raymond, I
have heard men speak of love, but till that moment I knew not what they
meant. Now methinks I have a better understanding, for if yon sweet
maiden had looked long into my eyes, my very soul would sure have gone
out to her, and I should have straightway forgot all else in the world
but herself. Wherefore I wondered if she could be in truth a real and
living being, or whether some woodland siren sent to lure man to death
and destruction."

Raymond smiled at the gravity of Gaston's words. Mystic as he was in
many matters, he had outgrown that belief in woodland nymphs and sirens
which had woven itself into their life whilst the spell of the forests
remained upon them in their boyhood. That evil and good spirits did
hover about the path of humanity, Raymond sincerely believed; but he was
equally certain that they took no tangible form, and that the vision
Gaston had seen in the wood was no phantom form of spirit.

"Sure she came to try to warn and save," he answered; "that should be
answer enough. Gaston, methinks we will take that warning. We are still
but striplings and our men are few, though brave and true. The land is
disturbed as in our memory it never was, and men are wild and lawless,
none being strong enough to put down disorder. Wherefore we had best be
gone. It is no true bravery to court danger, and our errand here is
done. When the King comes, as one day he will, to punish rebels and
reward faithful loyalty, then we will come with him, and thou shalt seek
out thy woodland nymph once more, and thank her for her good counsel.
Now wilt thou thank her best -- seeing she came express to warn thee of
coming peril -- by taking her at her word. Honest Jean and Margot will
not seek to stay us longer. They have a secret fear of the Sieur de
Navailles. We will not tell them all, but we will tell them something,
and that will be enough. Tomorrow will we take to horse again; and we
will tell in the ears of the King how restless and oppressed by
lawlessness and strife are his fair lands of Gascony."

Raymond's advice was followed. Gaston had had enough of quiet and
repose, and only the desire to see again the face of the woodland sprite
could have detained him. Not knowing where to seek her, he was willing
enough to set his face for Bordeaux; and soon the brothers had landed
once again upon the shores of England.



    CHAPTER XVII. THE BLACK DEATH


The glorious termination of Edward's campaign, and the rich spoil
brought home from the wars by the soldiers, had served to put the nation
into a marvellous good temper. Their enthusiasm for their King amounted
almost to adoration, and nothing was thought of but tourneys, jousts,
and all sorts of feasting and revelry. Indeed, things came to such a
pass that at last an order was given that tournaments might be held only
at the royal pleasure, else the people were disposed to think of nothing
else, and to neglect the ordinary avocations of life. As the King
appointed nineteen in six months, to be held in various places
throughout the kingdom, it cannot be said that he defrauded his subjects
of their sports; and he himself set the example of the extravagant and
fanciful dressing which called forth so much adverse criticism from the
more sober minded, appearing at the jousts in all manner of wonderful
apparel, one of his dresses being described as "a harness of white
buckram inlaid with silver -- namely, a tunic, and a shield with the motto:

'Hay, hay, the wythe swan!
By Goddes soul I am thy man;'

whilst he gave away on that occasion five hoods of long white cloth
worked with blue men dancing, and two white velvet harnesses worked with
blue garters and diapered throughout with wild men."

Women disgraced themselves by going about in men's attire and behaving
themselves in many unseemly fashions. The ecclesiastics, too, often fell
into the prevailing vices of extravagance and pleasure seeking that at
this juncture characterized the whole nation, and, as Father Paul had
said to Raymond, disgraced their calling by so doing far more than
others who had never professed a higher code. Amongst the graver and
more austere men of the day heads were gravely shaken over the wild
burst of enthusiasm and extravagance, and there were not wanting those
who declared that the nation was calling down upon itself some terrible
judgment of God -- such a judgment as so often follows upon a season of
unwonted and sudden prosperity.

As for the twin brothers, they spent these months in diverse fashion,
each carrying out his own tastes and preferences. Gaston attached
himself to Sir James Audley once again, and travelled with him into
Scotland, where the knight frequently went upon the King's business.
When in or about the Court, he threw himself into the jousting and
sports with the greatest enthusiasm and delight, quickly excelling so
well in each and every contest that he made a name and reputation for
himself even amongst the chosen flower of the English nobility. Real
fighting was, however, more to his taste than mock contests, and he was
always glad to accompany his master upon his journeys, which were not
unfrequently attended by considerable peril, as the unsettled state of
the Border counties, and the fierce and sometimes treacherous nature of
the inhabitants, made travelling there upon the King's business a matter
of some difficulty and danger. There was no fear of Gaston's growing
effeminate or turning into a mere pleasure hunter; and he soon made
himself of great value to his master, not only by his undaunted bravery,
but by his success in diplomatic negotiation -- a success by no means
expected by himself, and a surprise to all about him.

Perhaps the frank, free bearing of the youth, his perfect fearlessness,
and his remarkably quick and keen intelligence, helped him when he had
any delicate mission entrusted to him. Then, too, the hardy and
independent nature of the Scots was not altogether unlike that of the
free-born Gascon peasant of the Pyrenean portion of the south of France;
so that he understood and sympathized with them better, perhaps, than an
average Englishman could have done.

A useful life is always a happy one, and the successful exercise of
talents of whose very existence we were unaware is in itself a source of
great satisfaction. Gaston, as he grew in years, now began to develop in
mind more rapidly than he had hitherto done, and though separated for
the most part from his brother, was seldom many months without meeting
him for at least a few days.

Raymond was spending the time with his old friend and comrade and
cousin, John de Brocas. It had become evident to all who knew him that
John was not long for this world. He might linger on still some few
years, but the insidious disease we now call consumption had firm hold
upon him, and he was plainly marked as one who would not live to make
any name in the world. He showed no disposition to seclude himself from
his kind by entering upon the monastic life, and his father had recently
bestowed upon him a small property which he had purchased near
Guildford, the air and dryness of which place had always been beneficial
to him.

This modest but pleasant residence, with the revenues attached, kept
John in ease and comfort. He had spent the greater part of his income
the year previous in the purchase of books, and his uncle's library was
always at his disposal. He had many friends in and about the place; and
his life, though a little lonely, was a very happy one -- just the life
of quietness and study that he loved better than any other.

When his cousin Raymond came home from the wars without any very
definite ideas as to his own immediate career in the future, it had
occurred to John that if he could secure the companionship of this
cousin for the coming winter it would be a great boon to himself; and
the suggestion had been hailed with pleasure by the youth.

Raymond would gladly have remained with the King had there been any
fighting in the cause of his country to be done; but the round of
feasting and revelry which now appeared to be the order of the day had
no charms for him. After breaking a lance or two at Windsor, and seeing
what Court life was in times of triumphant peace, he wearied of the
scene, and longed for a life of greater purpose. Hearing where his
cousin John was located, he had quickly ridden across to pay him a
visit; and that visit had lasted from the previous October till now,
when the full beauty of a glorious English summer had clothed the world
in green, and the green was just tarnishing slightly in the heat of a
glaring August.

As Raymond had seen something of the fashion in which the world was
wagging, his thoughts had ofttimes recurred to Father Paul and that
solemn warning he had uttered. He had spoken of it to John, and both had
mused upon it, wondering if indeed something of prophetic fire dwelt
within that strong, spare frame -- whether indeed, through his
austerities and fasts, the monk had so reduced the body that the things
of the spiritual world were revealed to him, and the future lay spread
before his eyes.

At first both the cousins had thought week by week to hear some news of
a terrible visitation; but day had followed day, and months had rolled
by, and still the country was holding high revel without a thought or a
fear for the future. So gradually the two studious youths had ceased to
speak of the visitation they had once confidently looked for, and they
gave themselves up with the zest of pure enjoyment to their studies and
the pursuit of learning. Raymond's spiritual nature was deepened and
strengthened by his perusal of such sacred and devotional lore as he
could lay hands upon; and though the Scriptures, as they were presented
to him, were not without many errors and imperfections and omissions, he
yet obtained a clearer insight into many of the prophetical writings,
and a fuller grasp of God's purposes towards man, than he had ever
dreamed of before. So that though strongly tinged with the mysticism and
even with the superstition of the times, his spiritual growth was great,
and the youth felt within him a spring of power unknown before which was
in itself a source of exaltation and power.

And there was another element of happiness in Raymond's life at this
time which must not be omitted from mention. Seldom as he saw her --
jealously as she was guarded by her father and brother, now returned
from the war, and settled again at Woodcrych -- he did nevertheless from
time to time encounter Mistress Joan Vavasour, and each encounter was
fraught with a new and increasing pleasure. He had never spoken a word
of love to her; indeed he scarce yet knew that he had lost his heart in
that fashion which so often leads to wedlock. He was only just beginning
to realize that she was not many years older than himself -- that she
was not a star altogether beyond the firmament of his own sky. He had
hitherto regarded her with one of those boyish adorations which are for
the time being sufficient in themselves, and do not look ahead into the
future; and then Raymond well knew that before he could for a moment
dream of aspiring to the hand of the proud knight's daughter, he must
himself have carved his way to moderate fortune and fame.

His dreams of late had concerned themselves little with his worldly
estate, and therefore his deep reverential admiration for Joan had not
developed into anything of a definite purpose. If he dreamed dreams of
the future in which she bore a part, it was only of laying at her feet
such laurels as he should win, without thinking of asking a reward at
her hands, unless it was the reward of being her own true knight, and
rescuing her from the power of the Sanghursts, father and son, who
appeared to have regained their old ascendency over Sir Hugh and his
son, and to be looking forward still to the alliance between the two
families.

Joan was of more than marriageable age. It was thought strange by many
that the match was not yet consummated. But the quietly determined
resistance on the part of the girl herself was not without some effect;
and although there were many rumours afloat as to the boundless wealth
of the ill-famed father and son, it was not yet an affair of absolute
certainty that they were in possession of the secret of the
transmutation of metals. So the match still hung fire, and Raymond
received many bewitching smiles from the lady on the rare occasions when
they met; and he thought nothing of the threat of Peter Sanghurst, being
endowed with that fearless courage which does not brood upon possible
perils, but faces real ones with quiet resolution.

John was sitting over his books in the pleasant western window one
evening at the close of a hot September day, when he heard a quick
footstep crossing the anteroom, and Raymond came in with a strange look
upon his face.

"John," he said, before his cousin could ask a single question, "it has
come at last!"

"What has come?"

"The visitation -- the sickness -- the scourge of God. I knew that
Father Paul was looking into the future when he pronounced the doom upon
this land. It has come; it is amongst us now!"

"Not here -- not in this very place! We must have heard something of it
had it been so nigh."

"It has not yet reached this town," answered Raymond, the same strange
light shining in his eyes that John had observed there from his
entrance. "Listen, and I will tell thee all I myself know. Thou knowest
that I have been to Windsor, to meet my brother who is there. Him I
found well and happy, brave as ever, knowing naught of this curse and
scourge. But even as we talked together, there came a messenger from
London in hot haste to see thy father, good John. He had been straight
despatched by the King with a message of dire warning. A terrible
sickness, which already men are calling by the name of Black Death, has
broken out in the south and west of the land, and seems creeping
eastward with these hot west winds that steadily blow. It attacks not
only men, but beasts and cattle -- that is, it seems to be accompanied
by a plague something similar in nature which attacks the beasts. Word
has been passed on by the monks of what is happening far away, and
already a great terror has seized upon many, and some are for flying the
country, others for shutting themselves up in their houses and keeping
great fires burning around them. The message to thy father was to have a
care for the horses, and to buy no new ones that might by chance carry
the seeds of the sickness within them. Men say that the people of London
are very confident that they can keep the sickness away from entering
their walls, by maintaining a careful guard upon the city gates. At
Windsor, I left the town in a mighty fear, folks looking already askance
at each other, as if afraid they were smitten with the deadly disease.
The news of its appearance is passing from mouth to mouth faster than a
horseman could spread the tidings. It had outridden me hither, and I
thought perchance thou mightest have heard it ere I reached home."

"Nay, I have heard naught; but I would fain hear more now."

"I know little but what I have already told thee," answered Raymond.
"Indeed, it is but little that there is to know at present. The disease
seems to me somewhat to resemble that described by Lucretius as visiting
Athens. Men sometimes suddenly fall down dead; or they are seized with
violent shiverings, their hair bristling upon their heads. Sometimes it
is like a consuming fire within, and they run raving mad to the nearest
water, falling in perchance, and perishing by drowning, leaving their
carcases to pollute the spring. But if it do not carry off the stricken
person for some hours or days, black swellings are seen upon their
bodies like huge black boils, and death follows rapidly, the victim
often expiring in great agony. I have heard that the throat and lungs
often become inflamed before the Black Death seizes its victim, and that
in districts where the scourge has reached, any persons who appear to
have about them even a common rheum are cast forth from their homes even
by those nearest and dearest, for fear they are victims to the terrible
scourge."

"Misfortune makes men cruel if it do not bind them closer together.
Raymond, I see a purpose in thy face -- a purpose of which I would know
the meaning. That light in thine eyes is not for nothing. Tell me all
that is in thine heart. Methinks I divine it somewhat already."

"Belike thou dost, good John," answered Raymond, speaking very calmly
and steadily, "for thou knowest the charge laid upon me by my spiritual
Father. 'Fear not, be not dismayed. A thousand shall fall beside thee,
and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.'
Such was the burden of his charge; and shall I shrink or falter when the
hour I have waited and watched for all these years has come like a thief
in the night? Good John, thou wast the first to teach me that there was
a truer, deeper chivalry than that of the tourney or the battlefield.
Thou wast the first to understand, and to make me understand, that the
highest chivalry was that of our Lord Himself, when He laid down His
life for sinners, and prayed for His enemies who pierced and nailed Him
to the Cross. His words are ever words of mercy. Were He here with us
today upon earth, where should we find Him now? Surely where the peril
was greatest, where the need sorest, where the darkness, the terror, the
distress blackest. And where He would be, were He with us here, is the
place where those who would follow Him most faithfully should be found.
Not all perchance; there be claims of kindred, ties of love that no man
may lightly disregard: But none such ties bind me. I have but my brother
to love, and he is out in the world -- he needs me not. I am free to go
where the voice within calls me; and I go forth to-morrow."

"And whither goest thou?" asked John, in a low, awestruck tone.

"I go to Father Paul," answered Raymond, without hesitation, as one who
has thought the matter well out beforehand. "Wherever the need is
sorest, the peril greatest, there will Father Paul be found. And the
Brotherhood stands in the heart of the smitten regions; wherefore at his
very doors the sick will be lying, untended perchance and unassoiled,
save in those places whither he can go. I fare forth at sunrising
tomorrow, to seek and to find him. He will give me work, he will let me
toil beside him; better than that I ask not."

John had risen from his seat. An answering light had sprung to his eyes
as he had heard and watched Raymond. Now he laid his hand upon his
cousin's arm, and said quietly:

"Go, then, in the name of the Lord; I too go with thee."

Raymond turned his head and looked full at his cousin, marking the thin,
sunken lines of the face, the stooping pose of the shoulders, the hectic
flush that came and went upon the hollow cheek; and seeing this and
knowing what it betokened, he linked his arm within John's and commenced
walking up and down the room with him, as though inaction were
impossible at such a moment. And as he walked he talked.

"Good John," he said, "I would fain have thee with me; but I well know
thou hast no strength for the task thou hast set thyself. Even the long
day's ride would weary thy frame so sorely that thou wouldst fall an
easy victim to the sickness ere thou hadst done aught to help another.
Thou hast thy father, thy mother, and thy good uncle to think of. How
sad would they be to hear whither thou hadst gone! And then, my cousin,
it may well be that for thee there is other work, and work for which
thou canst better prepare thyself here than in any other place. I have
thought of thee as well as of myself as I have ridden homeward this day.
Shall I tell thee what my thought -- my dream of thee was like?"

"Ay, tell me; I would gladly hear."

"I saw in my spirit the advance of this terrible Black Death; I saw it
come to this very place. Dead and dying, cast out of their homes by
those who would neither bury the one nor tend the other, were left lying
in the streets around, and a deadly fear was upon all the place. And
then I saw a man step forth amongst these miserable wretches, and the
man had thy face, dear cousin. And he came forward and said to those who
were yet willing to touch the sick, 'Carry them into my house; I have a
place made ready for them. Bring them to my house; there they will he
tended and cared for.' And then I thought that I saw the bearers lift
and carry the sick here to this house, and that there they were received
by some devoted men and women who had not been driven away by the
general terror, and there were clean and comfortable beds awaiting the
sick, and great fires of aromatic herbs burning upon the hearths to keep
away the fumes of the pestilence from the watchers. And as the wretched
and stricken creatures found themselves in this fair haven, they blessed
him who had had this care for them; and those who died, died in comfort,
shriven and assoiled by holy priests, whilst some amongst the number
were saved, and saved through the act of him who had found them this
safe refuge."

Raymond ceased speaking, and looked out over the fair landscape
commanded by the oriel window of the room in which they were standing;
and John's pale face suddenly kindled and glowed. The same spirit of
self-sacrifice animated them both; but the elder of the pair realized,
when it was put before him, how little he was fit for the work which the
younger had set himself to do, whilst he had the means as well as the
disposition to perform an act of mercy which in the end might be a
greater boon to many than any service he could offer now. And if he did
this thing -- if he turned his house into a house of mercy for the sick
of the plague -- he would then have his own opportunity to tend and care
for the sufferers.

Only one thought for a moment hindered him from giving an answer. He
looked at Raymond, and said:

"Thinkest thou that this sickness will surely come this way?"

"In very truth I believe that it will ravage the land from end to end. I
know that Father Paul looked to see the whole country swept by the
scourge of God. Fear not but that thy work will find thee here. Thou
wilt not have to wait long, methinks. Thou wilt but have fair time to
make ready all that thou wilt need -- beds, medicaments, aromatic wood,
and perfumes -- and gather round thee a few faithful, trusty souls who
will not fly at the approach of danger. It may be no easy task to find
these, yet methinks they will be found here and there; for where God
sends His scourges upon His earth, He raises up pious men and women too,
to tend the sufferers and prove to the world that He has still amongst
the gay and worldly His own children, His own followers, who will follow
wherever He leads."

John's mind was quickly made up.

"I will remain behind and do this thing," he said. "Perchance thou and I
will yet work together in this very place amongst the sick and dying."

"I well believe it," answered Raymond, with one of his far-away looks;
and the cousins stood together looking out over the green world bathed
in the light of sunset, wondering how and when they would meet again,
but both strangely possessed with perfect confidence that they would so
meet.

Then Raymond went to make his simple preparations for the morrow's ride.
He had intended travelling quite alone, and chancing the perils of the
road, which, however, in these times of peace and rejoicing, were not
very great; for freebooters seldom disturbed travellers by day, save
perhaps in very lonely forest roads. But when Roger, the woodman's son,
heard whither his master's steps were bent, and upon what errand he was
going, he fell at his feet in one of his wild passions of devotional
excitement, and begged to be allowed to follow him even to the death.

"It may well be to the death, good Roger," answered Raymond gravely.
"Men say that death is certain for those who take the breath of the
smitten persons; and such as go amongst them go at the risk of their
lives. I do not bid thee follow me -- I well believe the peril is great;
but if thou willest to do this thing, I dare not say thee nay, for
methinks it is a work of God, and may well win His approval."

"I will go," answered Roger, without the slightest hesitation. "Do I not
owe all -- my body and soul alike -- to you and Father Paul? Where you
go, there will I go with you. What you fear not to face, I fear not
either. For life or for death I am yours; and if the Holy Saints and the
Blessed Virgin will but give me strength to fight and to conquer this
fell foe, I trow they will do it because that thou art half a saint
thyself, and they will know that I go to be with thee, to watch over
thee, and perchance, by my service and my prayers, guard thee in some
sort from ill."

Raymond smiled and held out his hand to his faithful servant. In times
of common peril men's hearts are very closely knit together. The bond
between the two youths seemed suddenly to take a new form; and when they
rode forth at sunrise on the morrow, with John waving an adieu to them
and watching their departure with a strange look of settled purpose on
his face, it was no longer as master and servant that they rode, but as
friends and comrades going forth to meet a deadly peril together.

It seemed strange, as they rode along in the bright freshness of a clear
September morning, to realize that any scenes of horror and death could
be enacting themselves upon this fair earth not very many miles away.
Yet as they rode ever onwards and drew near to the infected districts,
the sunshine became obscured by a thick haze, the fresh wind which had
hitherto blown in their faces dropped, and the air was still with a
deadly stillness new to both of them -- a stillness which was oppressive
and which weighed upon their spirits like lead. The first intimation
they had of the pestilence itself was the sight of the carcasses of
several beasts lying dead in their pasture, and, what was more terrible
still, the body of a man lying beside them, as though he had dropped
dead as he came to drive them into shelter.

Raymond looked at the little group with an involuntary shudder, and
Roger crossed himself and muttered a prayer. But they did not turn out
of their way; they were now nearing the gates of the Monastery, and it
was of Father Paul that Raymond's thoughts were full. Plainly enough he
was in the heart of the peril. How had it gone with him since the
sickness had appeared here?

That question was answered the moment the travellers appeared within
sight of the well-known walls. They saw a sight that lived in their
memories for many a day to come.

Instead of the calm and solitude which generally reigned in this place,
a great crowd was to be seen around the gate, but such a crowd as the
youths had never dreamed of before. Wretched, plague-stricken people,
turned from their own doors and abandoned by their kindred, had dragged
themselves from all parts to the doors of the Monastery, in the hope
that the pious Brothers would give them help and a corner to die in
peace. And that they were not disappointed in this hope was well seen:
for as Raymond and his companion appeared, they saw that one after
another of these wretched beings was carried within the precincts of the
Monastery by the Brothers; whilst amongst those who lay outside waiting
their turn for admission, or too far gone to be moved again, a tall thin
form moved fearlessly, bending over the dying sufferers and hearing
their last confessions, giving priestly absolution, or soothing with
strong and tender hands the last agonies of some stricken creature.

Raymond, with a strange, tense look upon his face, went straight to the
Father where he stood amongst the dying and the dead, and just as he
reached his side the Monk stood suddenly up and looked straight at him.
His austere face did not relax, but in his eyes shone a light that
looked like triumph.

"It is well, my son," he said. "I knew that thou wouldest be here anon.
The soldier of the Cross is ever found at his post in such a time as this."



    CHAPTER XVIII. WITH FATHER PAUL.


All that evening and far into the night Raymond worked with the Brothers
under Father Paul, bringing in the sick, burying the dead, and tending
all those for whom anything could be done to mitigate their sufferings,
or bring peace either of body or mind.

By nightfall the ghastly assemblage about the Monastery doors had
disappeared. The living were lying in rows in the narrow beds, or upon
the straw pallets of the Brothers, filling dormitories and Refectory
alike; the dead had been laid side by side in a deep trench which had
been hastily dug by order of Father Paul; and after he had read over
them the burial service, earth and lime had been heaped upon the bodies,
and one end of the long trench filled in. Before morning there were a
score more corpses to carry forth, and out of the thirty and odd
stricken souls who lay within the walls, probably scarce ten would
recover from the malady.

But no more of the sick appeared round and about the Monastery gates as
they had been doing for the past three days; and when Raymond asked why
this was so, Father Paul looked into his face with a keen, searching
glance as he replied:

"Verily, my son, it is because there be no more to come -- no more who
have strength to drag themselves out hither. Tomorrow I go forth to
visit the villages where the sick be dying like beasts in the shambles.
I go to shrive and confess the sick, to administer the last rites to the
dying, to read the prayers of the Church over those who are being
carried to the great common grave. God alone knows whether even now the
living may suffice to bury the dead. But where the need is sorest, there
must His faithful servants be found."

Raymond looked back with a face full of resolute purpose.

"Father, take me with thee," he said.

Father Paul looked earnestly into that fair young face, that was growing
so intensely spiritual in its expression, and asked one question.

"My son, and if it should be going to thy death?"

"I will go with thee, Father Paul, be it for life or for death."

"God bless and protect thee, my son!" said the Father. "I verily believe
that thou art one over whom the Blessed Saints and the Holy Angels keep
watch and ward, and that thou wilt pass unscathed even through this time
of desolation and death."

Raymond had bent his knee to receive the Father's blessing, and when he
rose he saw that Roger was close behind him, likewise kneeling; and
reading the thought in his mind, he said to the Father:

"Wilt thou not give him thy blessing also? for I know that he too will
go with us and face the peril, be it for life or death."

Father Paul laid his hand upon the head of the second lad.

"May God's blessing rest also upon thee, my son," he said. "In days past
thou hast been used as an instrument of evil, and hast been forced to do
the devil's own work. Now God, in His mercy, has given thee work to do
for Him, whereby thou mayest in some sort make atonement for the past,
and show by thy faith and piety that thou art no longer a bondservant
unto sin."

Then turning to both the youths as they stood before him, the Father
added, in a different and less solemn tone:

"And since your purpose is to go forth with me tomorrow, you must now
take some of that rest without which youthful frames cannot long
dispense. Since early dawn you have been travelling and working at tasks
of a nature to which you are little used. Come with me, therefore, and
pass the remaining hours of the night in sleep. I will arouse you for
our office of early mass, and then we will forth together. Till then
sleep fearlessly and well. Sleep will best fit you for what you will see
and hear tomorrow."

So saying, the Father led them into a narrow cell where a couple of
pallet beds had been placed, and where some slices of brown bread and a
pitcher of spring water were likewise standing.

"Our fare is plain, but it is wholesome. Eat and drink, my sons, and
sleep in peace. Wake not nor rise until I come to you again."

The lads were indeed tired enough, though they had scarcely known it in
the strange excitement of the journey, and amid the terrible scenes of
death and sickness which they had witnessed around and about the
Monastery doors since their arrival there. Now, however, that they had
received the command to rest and sleep (and to gainsay the Father's
commands was a thing that would never have entered their minds), they
were willing enough to obey, and had hardly laid themselves down before
they fell into a deep slumber, from which neither awoke until the light
of day had long been shining upon the world, and the Father stood beside
them bidding them rise and follow him.

In a few minutes their simple toilet and ablutions had been performed,
and they made their way along the familiar passage to the chapel, from
whence a low sound of chanting began to arise. There were not many of
the Brothers present at the early service, most of them being engaged in
tending the plague-stricken guests beneath their roof. But the Father
was performing the office of the mass, and when he had himself partaken
of the Sacrament, he signed to the two boys, who were about to go forth
with him into scenes of greater peril than any they had witnessed
heretofore, to come and receive it likewise.

The service over, and some simple refreshment partaken of, the youths
prepared for their day's toil, scarce knowing what they would be like to
see, but resolved to follow Father Paul wherever he went, anxious only
to accomplish successfully such work as he should find for them to do.

Each had a certain burden to carry with him -- some of the cordials that
had been found to give most relief in cases of utter collapse and
exhaustion, a few simple medicaments and outward applications thought to
be of some use in allaying the pain of those terrible black swellings
from which the sickness took its significant name, and some
simply-prepared food for the sufferers, who were often like to perish
from inanition even before the plague had done its worst. For stricken
persons, or those supposed to be stricken, were often turned out of
their homes even by their nearest relatives, and forced to wander about
homeless and starving, none taking pity upon their misery, until the
poison in their blood did its fatal work, and they dropped down to die.

That loosening of the bands of nature and affection in times of deadly
sickness has always been one of the most terrible features of the
outbreaks of the plague when it has visited either this or other lands.
There are some forms of peril that bind men closer and closer together,
and that bring into bond of friendship even those who have been before
estranged; and terrible though these perils may be, there is always a
deep sense of underlying consolation in the closer drawing of the bond
of brotherhood. But when the scourge of deadly sickness has passed over
the land, the effect has almost always been to slacken this tie; the
inherent love of life, natural to human beings, turning to an almost
incredible selfishness, and inducing men to abandon their nearest and
dearest in the hour of peril, leaving them, if stricken, to die alone,
or turning them, sick to death though they might be, away from their
doors, to perish untended and without shelter. True, there were many
bright exceptions to such a code of barbarity, and devoted men and women
arose by the score to strive to ameliorate the condition of the
sufferers; but for all that, one of the most terrible features of the
period of death and desolation was that of the fearful panic it
everywhere produced, and the inhuman neglect and cruelty with which the
early sufferers were treated by the very persons who, perhaps only a few
days or even hours later, had themselves caught the contagion, and were
lying dead or dying in the homes from which they had ejected their own
kith and kin before.

Of the fearful havoc wrought in England by this scourge of the Black
Death many readers of history are scarcely aware. Whole districts were
actually and entirely depopulated, not a living creature of any kind
being left sometimes within a radius of many miles; and at the lowest
computation made by historians, it is believed that not less than
one-half of the entire population perished during the outbreak.

But of anything like the magnitude of such a calamity no person at this
time had any conception, and little indeed was Raymond prepared for the
sights that he was this day to look upon.

The Father and his two assistants went forth after they had partaken of
food, and turned their faces westward.

"There is a small village two miles hence that we will visit first,"
said the Father, "for the poor people have no pastor or any other person
to care for their bodies or souls, and I trow we shall find work to do
there. If time permits when we have done what we may there, we will pass
on to the little town round the church of St. Michael, whose spire you
see yonder on the hillside. Many of the stricken folks within our walls
came from thence. The sickness is raging there, and there may be few
helpers left by now."

The same sultry haze the travellers had noticed in the infected regions
was still hanging over the woods today as they sallied forth; and though
the sun was shining in the sky, its beams were thick and blood-red
instead of being clear and bright, and there was an oppression in the
air which caused the birds to cease their song, and lay on the spirit
like a dead weight.

"The curse of God upon the land -- the curse of God!" said the Father,
in a low, solemn tone, as he led the way, bearing in his hands the Holy
Sacrament with which to console the dying. "Men have long been
forgetting Him. But He will not alway be forgotten. He will arise in
judgment and show men the error of their ways. If in their prosperity
they will not remember Him, He will call Himself to their remembrance by
a terrible day of adversity. And who may stand before the Lord? Who may
abide the day of His visitation?"

Moving along with these and like solemn words of warning and admonition,
to which his followers paid all reverent heed, the woodland path was
quickly traversed, and the clearing reached which showed the near
approach to the village. There was a break in the forest at this point,
and some excellent pasture land and arable fields had tempted two
farmers to establish themselves here, a small hamlet growing quickly up
around the farmsteads. This small community supplied the Brothers with
some of the necessaries of life, and every soul there was known to the
Father. Some dozen persons had come to the Monastery gates during the
past two days, stricken and destitute, and had been taken in there. But
all these had died and no others had followed, and Father Paul was
naturally anxious to know how it fared with those left behind.

Raymond and Roger both knew the villagers well. The two years spent
within the walls of the Brotherhood had made them fully acquainted with
the people round about. The little hamlet was a pretty spot: a number of
low thatched cottages nestled together beside the stream that watered
the meadows, whilst the larger farmsteads, which, however, were only
modest dwelling houses with their barns and sheds forming a background
to them, stood a little farther back upon a slightly-rising ground,
sheltered from the colder winds by a spur of the forest.

Generally one was aware, in approaching the place, of the pleasant
homely sounds of life connected with farming. Today, with the golden
grain all ready for the reaper's hand, one looked to hear the sound of
the sickle in the corn, and the voices of the labourers calling to each
other, or singing some rustic harvest song over their task. But instead
of that a deadly and death-like silence prevailed; and Raymond, who had
quickened his steps as he neared the familiar spot, now involuntarily
paused and hung back, as if half afraid of what he would be forced to
look upon when once the last turning was passed.

But Father Paul moved steadily on, turning neither to the right hand nor
to the left. There was no hesitation or faltering in his step, and the
two youths pressed after him, ashamed of their moment's backwardness.
The sun had managed to pierce through the haze, and was shining now with
some of its wonted brilliancy. As Raymond turned the corner and saw
before him the whole of the little hamlet, he almost wished the sun had
ceased to shine, the contrast between the beauty and brightness of
nature and the scene upon which it looked being almost too fearful for
endurance.

Lying beside the river bank, in every attitude and contortion of the
death agony, were some dozen prostrate forms of men, women, and
children, all dead and still. It seemed as though they must have crawled
forth from the houses when the terrible fever thirst was upon them, and
dragging themselves down to the water's edge, had perished there. And
yet if all were dead, as indeed there could be small doubt from their
perfect stillness and rigidity, why did none come forth to bury them?
Already the warm air was tainted and oppressive with that
plague-stricken odour so unspeakably deadly to the living. Why did not
the survivors come forth from their homes and bury the dead out of their
sight? Had all fled and left them to their fate?

Father Paul walked calmly onwards, his eyes taking in every detail of
the scene.

As he reached the dead around the margin of the stream, he paused and
looked upon the faces he had known so well in life, then turning to his
two followers, he said:

"I trow these be all dead corpses, but I will examine each if there be
any spark of life remaining. Go ye into the houses, and if there be any
sound persons within, bid them, in the name of humanity and their own
safety, come forth and help to bury their brethren. If they are suffered
to lie here longer, every soul in this place will perish!"

Glad enough to turn his eyes from the terrible sight without, Raymond
hurried past to the cluster of dwelling places beyond, and entering the
first of these himself, signed to Roger to go into the second. He had
some slight difficulty in pushing open the door, not because it was
fastened, but owing to some encumbrance behind. When, however, he
succeeded in forcing his way in, he found that the encumbrance was
nothing more or less than the body of a woman lying dead along the floor
of the tiny room. Upon a bed in the corner two children were lying,
smiling as if in sleep, but both stiff and cold, the livid tokens of the
terrible malady visible upon their little bodies, though the end seemed
to have been painless. No other person was in the house, and Raymond,
drawing a covering over the children as they lay, turned from the house
again with a shudder of compassionate sorrow. Outside he met Roger
coming forth with a look of awe upon his face.

"There be five souls within you door," he said -- "an old woman, her two
sons and two daughters. But they are all dead and cold. I misdoubt me if
we find one alive in the place."

"We must try farther and see," answered Raymond, his face full of the
wondering consternation of so terrible a discovery; and by mutual
consent they proceeded in their task together. There was something so
unspeakably awful in going about alone in a veritable city of the dead.

And such indeed might this place be called. Roger was fearfully right in
his prediction. Each house entered showed its number of victims to the
destroyer, but not one of these victims was living to receive comfort or
help from the ministrations of those who had come amongst them. And not
man alone had suffered; upon the dumb beasts too had the scourge fallen:
for when Roger suddenly bethought him that the creatures would want
tendance in the absence of their owners, and had gone to the sheds to
seek for them, nothing but death met his eye on all sides. Some in their
stalls, some in the open fields, some, like their masters, beside the
stream, lay the poor beasts all stone dead.

It seemed as if the scourge had fallen with peculiar virulence upon this
little hamlet, in the warm cup-like hollow where it lay, and had smitten
it root and branch. Possibly the waters of the stream had been poisoned
higher up, and the deadly malaria had reached it in that way; possibly
some condition of the atmosphere predisposed living things to take the
infection. But be the cause what it might, there was no gainsaying the
fact. Not a living or breathing thing remained in the hamlet; and little
as Raymond knew it, such wholesale destruction was only too common
throughout the length and breadth of England. But such a revelation
coming upon him suddenly, brought before his very eyes when he had come
with the desire to help and tend the living, filled him with an awe that
was almost terror, although the terror was not for himself. Personally
he had no fear; he had given himself to this work, and he would hold to
it be the result what it might. But the thought of the scourge sweeping
down upon a peaceful hamlet, and carrying off in a few short days every
breathing thing within its limits, was indeed both terrible and pitiful.
He could picture only too vividly the terror, the anguish, the agony of
the poor helpless people, and longed, not to escape from such scenes,
but rather to go forward to other places ere the work of destruction had
been accomplished, and be with the sick when the last call came. If he
had been but two days earlier in coming forward, might he not have been
in time to do a work of mercy and charity even here?

But it was useless musing thus. To act, and not to think, was now the
order of the day. He went slowly out from the yard they had last
visited, his face as pale as death, but full of courage and high purpose.

"There is nothing living here," he said, as he reached the Father, who
had not left the side of the dead. "We have been into all the houses, we
have looked everywhere, but there is nothing but dead corpses: man and
beast have perished alike. Nothing that breathes is left alive."

The Father looked round upon the scene of smiling desolation -- the
sunny harvest fields, the laughing brook, the broad meadows -- and the
ghastly rows of plague-stricken corpses at his feet, and a stern, sad
change passed across his face.

"It is the hand of the Lord," he said, "and perchance He smites in mercy
as well as in wrath, delivering men from the evil to come. Let us arise
and go hence. Our work is for the living and not the dead."

For those three to have attempted to bury all that hamlet would have
been an absolute impossibility. Dreadful as was the thought of turning
away and leaving the place as it was, it was hopeless to do otherwise,
and possibly in the town men might be found able and willing to come out
and inter the corpses in one common grave.

With hearts full of awe, the two lads followed their conductor. He had
been through similar scenes in other lands. To him there was nothing new
in sights such as this. Even the sense of personal peril, little as he
had ever regarded it, had long since passed away. But it was something
altogether new to Raymond and his companion; and though they had seen
death in many terrible forms upon the battlefield, it had never inspired
the same feelings of horror and awe. It was impossible to forget that
they might at any moment be breathing into their lungs the same deadly
poison which was carrying off multitudes on every side, and although
there was no conscious fear for themselves in the thought, it could not
but fill them with a quickened perception of the uncertainty of life and
the unreality of things terrestrial.

In perfect silence the walk towards the little town was accomplished;
and as they neared it terrible sights began to reveal themselves even
along the roadside. Plainly indeed to be seen were evidences of
attempted flight from the plague-stricken place; and no doubt many had
made good their escape, but others had fallen down by the wayside in a
dying state, and these dead or dying sufferers were the first tokens
observed by the travellers of the condition of the town.

Not all were dead, though most were plainly hopeless cases. Raymond and
Roger had both learned something during the hours of the previous night,
when they had helped the good Brothers over their tasks; and they
fearlessly knelt beside the poor creatures, moistening their parched
lips, answering their feeble, moaning plaints, and summoning to the side
of the dying the Father, who could hear the feeble confession of sin,
and pronounce the longed-for absolution to the departing soul.

Passing still onwards -- for they could not linger long, and little
enough could be done for these dying sufferers, all past hope -- they
reached the streets of the town itself; and the first sight which
greeted their eyes was the figure of a man stripped naked to the waist,
his back bleeding from the blows he kept on inflicting upon himself with
the thick, knotted cord he held in his hands, a heavy and rough piece of
iron being affixed to the end to make the blows more severe. From the
waist downwards he was clothed with sackcloth, and as he rushed about
the streets shrieking and castigating himself, he called aloud on the
people to repent of their sins, and to flee from the wrath of God that
was falling upon the whole nation.

Yet, though many dead and dying were lying in the streets about him, and
though cries and groans from many houses told that the destroyer was at
work there, this Flagellant (as these maniacs, of which at that time
there were only too many abroad, were called) never attempted to touch
one of them, though he ran almost over their prostrate bodies, and had
apparently no fear of the contagion. There were very few people abroad
in the streets, and such as were sound kept their faces covered with
cloths steeped in vinegar or some other pungent mixture, and walked
gingerly in the middle of the road, as if afraid to approach either the
houses on each side or the other persons walking in the streets.

A cart was going about, with two evil-looking men in it, who lifted in
such of the dead as they found lying by the roadside, and coolly
divested them of anything of any value which they chanced to have upon
them before conveying them to the great pit just outside which had been
dug to receive the victims of the plague.

A wild panic had seized upon the place. Most of the influential
inhabitants had fled. There was no rule or order or oversight observed,
and the priest of the church, who until this day had kept a certain
watch over his flock, and had gone about encouraging and cheering the
people, had himself been stricken down with the fell malady, and no one
knew whether he were now living or dead.

As the Father passed by, people rushed out from many doors to implore
him to come to this house or the other, to administer the last rites to
some one dying within. There were other houses marked with a red cross
on the doors, which had been for many days closed by the town
authorities, until these had themselves fled, being assured that no
person could live in that polluted air. What had become of the wretched
beings thus shut up, when the watchers who were told off to guard them
had fled in terror, it was hard to imagine; and whilst the Father
responded to the calls of those who required spiritual assistance at the
last dread hour, Raymond beckoned to Roger to follow him in his
visitation to those places where the distemper had first showed itself,
and where people had hoped to confine it by closing the houses and
letting none go forth.

The terribly deadly nature of the malady was well exemplified by the
condition of these houses. Scarce ten living souls were found in them,
and of these almost all were reduced to the last extremity either by
disease or hunger; for none had been nigh them, and they had no strength
to try to make their wants known.

Raymond had the satisfaction of seeing some amongst these wretched
beings revive somewhat under his ministrations. It was not in every case
the real distemper from which they suffered; in not a few the patients
had sunk only from fright and the misery of feeling themselves shut away
from their fellows. Whenever any persons ailed anything in those days,
it was at once supposed that the Black Death was upon them, and they
were shunned and abhorred by all their friends and kindred. To these
poor creatures it seemed indeed as though an angel from heaven had come
down when Raymond bent over them and put food and drink to their lips.
Many an office of loving mercy to the sick and dying did he and Roger
perform ere daylight faded from the sky; and before night actually fell,
the Father had by precept and example got together a band of helpers
ready and willing to tend the sick and bury the dead, and the people
felt that the terrible panic which had fallen upon them, and caused
every one to flee away, had given place to something better and more humane.

Men who had fled their stricken homes and had spent their time carousing
in the taverns, trying to drown their fears and their griefs, now
returned home to see how it fared with those who had been left behind.
Women who had been almost distracted by grief, and had been rushing into
the church sobbing and crying, and neglecting the sick, that they might
pour out their hearts at the shrine of their favourite saint, were
admonished by the Holy Father, so well known to them, to return to their
homes and their duties. As the pall of night fell over the stricken
city, and the three who had entered it a few hours before still toiled
on without cessation, people breathed blessings on them wherever they
appeared, and Raymond felt that his work for the Lord in the midst of
His stricken people had indeed begun.



    CHAPTER XIX. THE STRICKEN SORCERER.


"Thou to Guildford then, my son, and I and the Brethren to London."

So said Father Paul some three weeks later, as he stood once again
inside the precincts of the Monastery, with Raymond by his side, looking
round the thinned circle of faces of such of the Brothers as had
survived the terrible visitation which had passed over them, and now
gone, as it seemed, elsewhere. Quite one-half of the inhabitants of that
small retreat had fallen victims to the scourge. Scarce ten souls out of
all those who had sought shelter within those walls had risen from their
beds and gone forth to their desolated homes again. The great trench in
the burying ground had received the rest; and of the Brothers who
gathered round Father Paul to welcome him back, several showed, by their
pinched and stricken appearance, how near they themselves had been to
the gates of death.

Few stricken by the fatal sickness itself ever recovered; but there were
many others who, falling ill of overwork or some other feverish ailment,
were accounted to have caught the distemper, and many of these did
amend, though all sickness at such a time seemed to get a firmer hold
upon its victims. But Father Paul and both his young assistants had
escaped unscathed, though they had been waging a hand-to-hand fight with
the destroyer for three long weeks, that seemed years in the retrospect.

The Brothers came crowding round them as about those returned from the
grave. Indeed, to them it did almost seem as though this was a
resurrection from the dead; for they had long since given up all hope of
seeing their beloved Superior and Father again in the flesh.

But the Father himself only accounted his work begun. Although the
pestilence appeared to have passed from the immediate district, and such
cases as occurred amid the few survivors of the visitation were by no
means so fatal as they had been in the beginning, yet the sickness
itself in its most virulent form was sweeping along northward and
eastward, spreading death and desolation in its track; and Father Paul
had but one purpose in his mind, which was to follow in the path of the
destroyer, performing for the sufferers wherever he went the same
offices of piety and mercy that he had been wont to undertake all these
past days; and the Brothers, who had finished their labour of love
within the walls of their home, and had grown fearless before the
pestilence with that fearlessness which gradually comes to those who
look long and steadily upon death, were not wanting in resolve to face
it even in its most terrible shape.

So that they one and all vowed that they would go with Father Paul; and
his steps were bound for the capital of the kingdom, where he knew that
the need would be the sorest.

It seemed to the Brothers, who had long lived beneath his austere but
wise and fatherly rule, that not only did he himself bear a charmed
life, but that all who worked with him felt the shelter of that charm.
Raymond and Roger had returned, having suffered no ill effects from the
terrible sights and scenes through which they had passed. Though the
country in these almost depopulated districts literally reeked with the
pestilence, owing to the effluvia from the carcasses of men and beasts
which lay rotting on the ground unburied, yet they had passed unscathed
through all, and were ready to go forth again upon the same errand of mercy.

Raymond was much divided in mind as to his own course of action. Much as
he longed to remain with Father Paul, whom he continued to revere with a
loving admiration that savoured of worship, he yet had a great desire to
know how it was faring with his cousin John. He could not but be very
sure that the pestilence would not pass Guildford by, and he knew that
John would go forth amongst the sick and dying, and bring them into his
own house for tendance, even though his own life paid the forfeit. It
was therefore with no small eagerness that he longed for news of him;
and when he spoke of this to the Father, the latter at once advised that
they should part company -- he and such of the Brethren as were fit for
the journey travelling on to London, whilst the two youths took the
direct road to Guildford, to see how matters fared there.

"Ye are but striplings," said the Father kindly, "and though ye be
willing and devoted, ye have not the strength of men, nor are ye such
seasoned vessels. In London the scenes will be terrible to look upon. It
may be that they would be more than ye could well brook. Go, then, to
Guildford. They will need helpers there who know how best to wrestle
with the foul distemper, and ye have both learned many lessons with me.
I verily believe that your work lies there, as mine lies yonder. Go
then, and the Lord be with you. It may be we shall meet again in this
world, but if not, in that world beyond into which our Blessed Saviour
has passed, that through His intercession, offered unceasingly for us,
we too may obtain an entrance through the merits of His redeeming Blood."

Then blessing both the boys and embracing them with a tenderness new in
one generally so reserved and austere, he sent them away, and they set
their faces steadily whence they had come, not knowing what adventures
they might meet upon the way.

This return journey was by no means so rapid as the ride hither had
been. Both the horses they had then ridden had perished of the sickness,
and as none others were to be found, and had they been obtainable might
but have fallen down by the wayside to die, the youths travelled on
foot. And they did not even take the most direct route, but turned aside
to this place or the other, wherever they knew of the existence of human
habitations; for wherever such places were, there might there be need
for human help and sympathy. And not a few acts of mercy did the boys
perform as they travelled slowly onwards through an almost depopulated
region.

Time fails to tell of all they saw and heard as they thus journeyed; but
they found ample employment for all their skill and energy. The lives of
many little children, whose parents had died or fled, were saved by
them, and the neglected little orphans left in the kindly care of some
devoted Sisterhood, whose inmates gladly received them, fearless of the
risk they might run by so doing.

Wandering so often out of their way, they scarce knew their exact
whereabouts when darkness fell upon them on the third day of their
journeying; but after walking still onwards for some time in what they
judged to be the right direction, they presently saw a light in a
cottage window, and knocking at the door, asked shelter for the night.

Travellers at such a time as this were regarded with no small suspicion,
and the youths hardly looked to get any answer to their request; but
rather to their surprise, the door was quickly opened, and Roger uttered
a cry of recognition as he looked in the face of the master of the house.

It was no other, in fact, than the ranger with whom as a boy he had
found a temporary home, from which home he had been taken in his
father's absence and sold into the slavery of Basildene. The boy's cry
of astonishment was echoed by the man when once he had made sure that
his senses were not deceiving him, but that it was really little Roger,
whom he had long believed to be dead; and both he and his companion were
eagerly welcomed in and set down to a plentiful meal of bread and
venison pasty, whilst the boy told his long and adventurous story as
briefly as he could, Stephen listening with parted lips and staring
eyes, as if to the recital of some miraculous narrative.

And in truth the tale was strange enough, told in its main aspects: the
escape from Basildene, which to himself always partook of the nature of
a miracle, the conflict with the powers of darkness in the Monastery,
his adventures in France, and now his marvellous escape in the midst of
the plague-stricken people whom he had tended and helped. The ranger,
who had lost his own wife and children in the distemper, and had himself
escaped, had lost all fear of the contagion --indeed he cared little
whether he lived or died; and when he heard upon what errand the youths
were bent, he declared he would gladly come with them, for the solitude
of his cottage was so oppressive to him that he would have welcomed even
a plague-stricken guest sooner than be left much longer with only his
hounds and his own thoughts for company.

"If I cannot tend the sick, I can at least bury the dead," he said,
drawing his horny hand across his eyes, remembering for whom he had but
lately performed that last sad office. And Raymond, to whom this offer
was addressed, accepted his company gladly, for he knew by recent
experience how great was the need for helpers where the sick and the
dead so far outnumbered the whole and sound.

He had gone off into a reverie as he sat by the peat fire, whilst Roger
and the ranger continued talking together eagerly of many matters, and
he heard little of what passed until roused by the name of Basildene
spoken more than once, and he commanded his drowsy and wearied faculties
to listen to what the ranger was saying.

"Yes, the Black Death has found its way in behind those walls, men say.
The old sorcerer tried all his black arts to keep it out; but there came
by one this morning who told me that the old man had been seized, and
was lying without a soul to go near him. They have but two servants that
have ever stayed with them in that vile place, and these both thought
the old man's dealings with the devil would at least suffice to keep the
scourge away, and felt themselves safer there than elsewhere. But the
moment he was seized they both ran away and left him, and there they say
he is lying still, untended and unwatched -- if he be not dead by now.
For as for the son, he had long since made his own preparations. He has
shut himself up in a turret, with a plentiful supply of food; and he
burns a great fire of scented wood and spices at the foot of the
stairway, and another in the place he lives in, and never means to stir
forth until the distemper has passed. One of the servants, before he
fled, went to the stair foot and called to him to tell him that his
father lay a-dying of the plague below; but he only laughed, and said it
was time he went to the devil, who had been waiting so long for him; and
the man rushed out of the house in affright at the sound of such
terrible blasphemy and unnatural wickedness at a time like this."

Raymond's face took a new expression as he heard these words. The
lassitude and weariness passed out of it, and a curious light crept into
his eyes. Roger and the ranger continued to talk together of many
things, but their silent companion still sat motionless beside the
hearth. Over his face was stealing a look of purpose -- such purpose as
follows a struggle of the spirit over natural distaste and disgust.

When the ranger presently left them, to see what simple preparations he
could make for their comfort during the night, he motioned to Roger to
come nearer, and looking steadily at him, he said:

"Roger, I am going to Basildene tonight, to see what human skill may do
for the old Sanghurst. He is our enemy -- thine and mine -- therefore
doubly is it our duty to minister to him in the hour of his extremity. I
go forth this night to seek him. Wilt thou go with me? or dost thou fear
to fall again under the sway of his evil mind, or his son's, if thou
puttest foot within the halls of Basildene again?"

For a moment a look of strong repulsion crossed Roger's face. He shrank
back a little, and looked as though he would have implored his young
master to reconsider his resolution. But something in the luminous
glance of those clear bright eyes restrained him, and presently some of
their lofty purpose seemed to be infused into his own soul.

"If thou goest, I too will go," he said. "At thy side no harm from the
Evil One can come nigh me. Have I not proved that a hundred times ere
now? And the spell has long been broken off my neck and off my spirit. I
fear neither the sorcerer nor his son. If it be for us -- if it be a
call -- to go even to him in the hour of his need, I will go without a
thought of fear. I go in the name of the Holy Virgin and her Son. I need
not fear what man can do against me."

Great was the astonishment of the worthy ranger when he returned to hear
the purpose upon which his guests were bent; but he had already imbibed
some of that strange reverential admiration for Raymond which he so
frequently inspired in those about him, and it did not for a moment
occur to him to attempt to dissuade him from an object upon which his
mind was bent.

The October night, though dark and moonless, was clear, and the stars
were shining in the sky as the little procession started forth. The
ranger insisted on being one of the number. Partly from curiosity,
partly from sheer hatred of solitude, and a good deal from interest in
his companions and their errand of mercy, he had decided to come with
them, not merely to show them the way to Basildene, which he could find
equally well by night as by day, but to see the result of their journey
there, and take on with him to Guildford the description of the old
sorcerer's home and his seizure there.

As they moved along through the whispering wood, the man, in low and
awe-stricken tones, asked Roger of his old life there, and what it was
that made him of such value to the Sanghursts. Raymond had never talked
to the lad of that chapter in his past life, always abiding by Father
Paul's advice to let him forget it as far as possible.

Now, however, Roger seemed able to speak of it calmly, and without the
terror and emotion that any recollection of that episode used to cause
him in past years. He could talk now of the strange trances into which
he was thrown, and how he was made to see things at a distance and tell
all he saw. Generally it was travellers upon the road he was instructed
to watch, and forced to describe the contents of the mails they carried
with them. Some instinct made the boy many times struggle hard against
revealing the nature of the valuables he saw that these people had about
them, knowing well how they would be plundered by his rapacious masters,
after they had tempted them upon the treacherous swamp not far from
Basildene, where, if they escaped with their lives, it would be as much
as they could hope to do. But the truth was always wrung from him by
suffering at last -- not that his body was in any way injured by them,
save by the prolonged fasts inflicted upon him to intensify his gift of
clairvoyance; but whilst in these trances they could make him believe
that any sort of pain was being inflicted, and he suffered it exactly as
though it had been actually done upon his bodily frame. Thus they forced
from his reluctant lips every item of information they desired; and he
knew when plunder was brought into the house, and stored in the deep
underground cellars, how and whence it had come -- knew, too, that many
and many a wretched traveller had been overwhelmed in the swamp who
might have escaped with life and goods but for him.

It was the horror of this conviction, and the firm belief that he had
been bound over body and soul to Satan, that was killing him by inches
when the twin brothers effected his rescue. He did not always remember
clearly in his waking moments what had passed in his hours of trance,
but the horror of great darkness always remained with him; and at some
moments everything would come upon him with a fearful rush, and he would
remain stupefied and overwhelmed with anguish.

To all of this Raymond listened with great interest. He and John had
read of some such phenomena in their books relating to the history of
magic; and little as the hypnotic state was understood in those days,
the young student had gained some slight insight into the matter, and
was able to speak of his convictions to Roger with some assurance. He
told him that though he verily believed such power over the wills of
others to be in some sort the work of the devil, it might yet be
successfully withstood by a resolute will, bound over to the
determination to yield nothing to the strong and evil wills of others.
And Roger, who had long since fought his fight and gained strength and
confidence, was not afraid of venturing into the stronghold of
wickedness -- less so than ever now that he might go at Raymond's side.

It was midnight before the lonely house was reached, and Raymond's heart
beat high as he saw the outline of the old walls looming up against the
gloomy sky. Not a light was to be seen burning in any of the windows,
save a single gleam from out the turret at the corner away to the left;
and though owls hooted round the place, and bats winged their uncertain
flight, no other living thing was to be seen, and the silence of death
seemed to brood over the house.

"This is the way to the door that is the only one used," said Stephen,
"and we shall find it unlocked for certain, seeing that the servants
have run away, and the young master will not go nigh his father, not
though he were ten times dying. My lantern will guide us surely enough
through the dark passages, and maybe young Roger will know where the old
man is like to be found."

"Below stairs, I doubt not, amongst his bottles and books of magic,"
answered Roger, with a light shiver, as he passed through the doorway
and found himself once again within the evil house. "He would think that
in yon place no contagion could touch him. He spent his days and nights
alike there. He scarce left it save to go abroad, or perchance to have a
few hours' sleep in his bed. But the treasure is buried somewhere nigh
at hand down in those cellars, though the spot I know not. And he fears
to leave it night or day, lest some stealthy hand filch away the
ill-gotten gain. Men thought he had the secret whereby all might be
changed to gold, and indeed he would ofttimes bring pure gold out from
the crucibles over his fire; but he had cast in first, unknown to those
who so greedily watched him, the precious baubles he had stolen from
travellers upon the road. He was a very juggler with his hands. I have
watched him a thousand times at tricks which would have made the fortune
of a travelling mountebank. But soft! here is the door at the head of
the stairs. Take heed how that is opened, lest the hound fly at thy
throat. Give me the lantern, and have thou thy huntsman's knife to
plunge into his throat, else he may not let us pass down alive."

But when the door was opened, the hound, instead of growling or
springing, welcomed them with whines of eager welcome. The poor beast
was almost starved, and had been tamed by hunger to unwonted gentleness.

Raymond, who had food in his wallet, fed him with small pieces as they
cautiously descended the stairs, for Basildene would furnish them with
more if need be; the larder and cellar there were famous in their way,
though few cared to accept of their owner's hospitality.

Roger almost expected to find the great door of that subterranean room
bolted and locked, so jealous was its owner of entrance being made
there; but it yielded readily to the touch, and the three, with the
hound, passed in together.

In a moment Raymond knew by the peculiar atmosphere, which even in so
large a place was sickly and fetid, that they were in the presence of
one afflicted with the true distemper. The place was in total darkness
save for the light of the lantern the ranger carried; but there were
lamps in sconces all along the wall, and these Roger quickly lighted,
being familiar enough with this underground place, which it had been
part of his duty to see to. The light from these lamps was pure and
white and very bright, and lit up the weird vaulted chamber from end to
end. It shone upon a stiffened figure lying prone upon the floor not far
from the vaulted fireplace, upon whose hearth the embers lay black and
cold; and Raymond, springing suddenly forward as his glance rested upon
this figure, feared that he had come too late, and that the foe of his
house had passed beyond the power of human aid.

"Help me to lift him," he said to Stephen; "and, Roger, kindle thou a
fire upon the hearth. There may be life in him yet. We will try what we
know. Yes, methinks his heart beats faintly; and the tokens of the
distemper are plainly out upon him. Perchance he may yet live. Of late I
have seen men rise up from their beds whom we have given up for lost."

Raymond was beginning to realize that the black boils, so often looked
upon as the death tokens, were by no means in reality anything of the
kind. As a matter of fact, of the cases that recovered, most, if not
all, had the plague spots upon them. These boils were, in fact, nature's
own effort at expelling the virulent poison from the system, and if
properly treated by mild methods and poultices, in some cases really
brought relief, so that the patient eventually recovered.

But the intensity of the poison, and its rapid action upon the human
organs, made cases of recovery rare indeed at the outset, when the
outbreak always came in its most virulent form; and truly the appearance
of old Peter Sanghurst was such as almost to preclude hope of
restoration. Tough as he was in constitution, the glaze of death seemed
already in his eyes. He was all but pulseless and as cold as death,
whilst the spasmodic twitchings of his limbs when he was lifted spoke of
death rather than life.

Still Raymond would not give up hope. He had the fire kindled, and it
soon blazed up hot and fierce, whilst the old man was wrapped in a rich
furred cloak which Roger produced from a cupboard, and some hot cordial
forced between his lips. After one or two spasmodic efforts which might
have been purely muscular, he appeared to make an attempt to swallow,
and in a few more minutes it became plain that he was really doing so,
and with increasing ease each time. The blood began to run through his
veins again, the chest heaved, and the breath was drawn in long,
labouring gasps. At last the old man's eyes opened, and fixed themselves
upon Raymond's face with a long, bewildered stare.

They asked him no questions. They had no desire that he should speak.
His state was critical in the extreme. They had but come to minister to
his stricken body. To cope with a mind such as his was a task that
Raymond felt must be far beyond his own powers. He would have given much
to have had Father Paul at this bedside for one brief hour, the more so
as he saw the shrinking and terror creeping over the drawn, ashen face.
Did his guilty soul know itself to be standing on the verge of eternity?
and did the wretched man feel the horror of great darkness infolding him
already?

All at once he spoke, and his words were like a cry of terror.

"Alicia! Alicia! how comest thou here?"

Raymond, to whom the words were plainly addressed, knew not how to
answer them, or what they could mean; but the wild eyes were still fixed
upon his face, and again the old man's excited words broke forth --
"Comest thou in this dread hour to claim thine own again? Alicia,
Alicia! I do repent of my robbery. I would fain restore all. It has been
a curse, and not a blessing; all has been against me -- all. I was a
happy man before I unlawfully wrested Basildene from thee. Since I have
done that deed naught has prospered with me; and here I am left to die
alone, neglected by all, and thou alone -- thy spirit from the dead --
comes to taunt me in my last hour with my robbery and my sin. O forgive,
forgive! Thou art dead. Spirits cannot inherit this world's goods, else
would I restore all to thee. Tell me what I may do to make amends ere I
die? But look not at me with those great eyes of thine, lightened with
the fire of the Lord. I cannot bear it -- I cannot bear it! Tell me only
how I may make restoration ere I am taken hence to meet my doom!"

Raymond understood then. The old man mistook him for his mother, who
must have been about his own age when her wicked kinsman had ousted her
from her possessions. Had they not told him in the old home how wondrous
like to her he was growing? The clouded vision of the old man could see
nothing but the face of the youth bending over him, and to him it was
the face of an avenging angel. He clasped his hands together in an agony
of supplication, and would have cast himself at the boy's feet had he
not been restrained. The terrible remorse which so often falls upon a
guilty conscience at the last hour had the miserable man in its
clutches. His mind was too far weakened to think of his many crimes even
blacker than this one. The sight of Raymond had awakened within him the
memory of the defrauded woman, and he could think of nothing else. She
had come back from the dead to put him in mind of his sin. If he could
but make one act of restitution, he felt that he could almost die in
peace. He gripped Raymond's hand hard, and looked with agonizing
intensity into his face.

"I am not Alicia," he answered gently. "Her spirit is at rest and free,
and no thought of malice or hatred could come from her now. I am her
son. I know all -- how you drove her forth from Basildene, and made
yourself an enemy; but you are an enemy no longer now, for the hand of
God is upon you, and I am here in His name to strive to soothe your last
hours, and point the way upwards whither she has gone."

"Alicia's son! Alicia's son!" almost screamed the old man. "Now Heaven
be praised, for I can make restitution of all!"

Raymond raised his eyes suddenly at an exclamation from Roger, to see a
tall dark figure standing motionless in the doorway, whilst Peter
Sanghurst's fiery eyes were fixed upon his face with a gaze of the most
deadly malevolence in them.



    CHAPTER XX. MINISTERING SPIRITS.


"The sickness in the town! Alackaday! Woe betide us all! It will be next
within our very walls. Holy St. Catherine protect us! May all the Saints
have mercy upon us! In Guildford! why, that is scarce five short miles
away! And all the men and the wenches are flying as for dear life,
though if what men say be true there be few enough places left to fly
to! Why, Joan, why answerest thou not? I might as well speak to a block
as to thee. Dost understand, girl, that the Black Death is at our very
doors -- that all our people are flying from us? And yet thou sittest
there with thy book, as though this were a time for idle fooling. I am
fair distraught -- thy father and brother away and all! Canst thou not
say something? Hast thou no feeling for thy mother? Here am I nigh
distracted by fear and woe, and thou carriest about a face as calm as if
this deadly scourge were but idle rumour."

Joan laid down her book, came across to her mother, and put her strong
hand caressingly upon her shoulder. Poor, weak, timid Lady Vavasour had
never been famed for strength of mind in any of the circumstances of
life, and it was perhaps not wonderful that this scare, reaching her
ears in her husband's absence, should drive her nearly frantic with terror.

For many days reports of a most disquieting nature had been pouring in.
Persons who came to Woodcrych on business or pleasure spoke of nothing
but the approach of the Black Death. Some affected to make light of it,
protested that far too much was being made of the statements of ignorant
and terrified people, and asserted boldly that it would not attack the
well-fed and prosperous classes; whilst others declared that the whole
country would speedily be depopulated, and whispered gruesome tales of
those scenes of death and horror which were shortly to become so common.
Then the inhabitants of isolated houses like Woodcrych received visits
from travelling peddlers and mountebanks of all sorts, many disguised in
Oriental garb, who brought with them terrible stories of the spread of
the distemper, at the same time offering for sale certain herbs and
simples which they declared to be never-failing remedies in case any
person were attacked by the disease; or else they besought the credulous
to purchase amulets or charms, or in some cases alleged relics blessed
by the Pope, which if always worn upon the person would effectually
prevent the onset of the malady. After listening greedily (as the
servants in those houses always loved to do) to any story of ghastly
horror which these impostors chose to tell them, they were thankful to
buy at almost any price some antidote against the fell disease; and even
Lady Vavasour had made many purchases for herself and her daughter of
quack medicines and talismans or relics.

But hitherto no one had dared to whisper how fast the distemper was
encroaching in this very district. Men still spoke of it as though it
were far off, and might likely enough die out without spreading, so that
now it was with terror akin to distraction that the poor lady heard
through her servants that it had well-nigh reached their own doors. One
of the lackeys had had occasion to ride over to the town that very day,
and had come back with the news that people there were actually dying in
the streets. He had seen two men fall down, either dead or stricken for
death, before he could turn his beast away and gallop off, and the shops
were shut and the church bell was tolling, whilst all men looked in each
other's faces as if afraid of what they might see there.

Sir Hugh and his son were far away from Woodcrych at one of their newer
possessions some forty miles distant, and in their absence Lady Vavasour
felt doubly helpless. She shook off Joan's hand, and recommenced her
agitated pacing. Her daughter's calmness was incomprehensible apathy to
her. It fretted her even to see it.

"Thou hast no feeling, Joan; thou hast a heart of stone," she cried,
bursting into weak weeping. "Why canst thou not give me help or counsel
of some sort? What are we to do? What is to become of us? Wouldst have
us all stay shut up in this miserable place to die together?"

Joan did not smile at the feeble petulance of the half-distracted woman.
Indeed it was no time for smiles of any sort. The peril around and about
was a thing too real and too fearful in its character to admit of any
lightness of speech; and the girl did not even twit her mother with the
many sovereign remedies purchased as antidotes against infection, though
her own disbelief in these had brought down many laments from Lady
Vavasour but a few days previously.

Brought face to face with the reality of the peril, these wonderful
medicines did not inspire the confidence the sanguine purchasers had
hoped when they spent their money upon them. Lady Vavasour's hope seemed
now to lie in flight and flight alone. She was one of those persons
whose instinct is always for flight, whatever the danger to be avoided;
and now she was eagerly urging upon Joan the necessity for immediate
departure, regardless of the warning of her calmer-minded daughter that
probably the roads would be far more full of peril than their own house
could ever be, if they strictly shut it up, lived upon the produce of
their own park and dairy, and suffered none to go backwards and forwards
to bring the contagion with them.

Whether Joan's common-sense counsel would have ever prevailed over the
agitated panic of her mother is open to doubt, but all chance of getting
Lady Vavasour to see reason was quickly dissipated by a piece of news
brought to the mother and daughter by a white-faced, shivering servant.

The message was that the lackey who had but lately returned from
Guildford, whilst sitting over the kitchen fire with his cup of mead,
had complained of sudden and violent pains, had vomited and fallen down
upon the floor in a fit; whereat every person present had fled in wild
dismay, perfectly certain that he had brought home the distemper with
him, and that every creature in the house was in deadly peril.

Lady Vavasour's terror and agitation were pitiful to see. In vain Joan
strove to soothe and quiet her. She would listen to no words of comfort.
Not another hour would she remain in that house. The servants, some of
whom had already fled, were beginning to take the alarm in good earnest,
and were packing up their worldly goods, only anxious to be gone. Horses
and pack horses were being already prepared, for Lady Vavasour had given
half-a-dozen orders for departure before she had made up her mind what
to do or where to go.

Now she was resolved to ride straight to her husband, without drawing
rein, or exchanging a word with any person upon the road. Such of the
servants as wished to accompany her might do so; the rest might do as
they pleased. Her one idea was to be gone, and that as quickly as possible.

She hurried away to change her dress for her long ride, urging Joan to
lose not a moment in doing the same; but what was her dismay on her
return to find her daughter still in her indoor dress, though she was
forwarding her mother's departure by filling the saddlebags with
provisions for the way, and laying strict injunctions upon the trusty
old servants who were about to travel with her to give every care to
their mistress, and avoid so far as was possible any place where there
was likelihood of catching the contagion. They were to bait the horses
in the open, and not to take them under any roof, and all were to carry
their own victuals and drink with them. But that she herself was not to
make one of the party was plainly to be learned by these many and
precise directions.

This fact became patent to the mother directly she came downstairs, and
at once she broke into the most incoherent expression of dismay and
terror; but Joan, after letting her talk for a few minutes to relieve
her feelings, spoke her answer in brief, decisive sentences.

"Mother, it is impossible for me to go. Old Bridget, as you know, is
ill. It is not the distemper, it is one of the attacks of illness to
which she has been all her life subject; but not one of these foolish
wenches will now go near her. She has nursed and tended me faithfully
from childhood. To leave her here alone in this great house, to live or
die as she might, is impossible. Here I remain till she is better. Think
not of me and fear not for me. I have no fears for myself. Go to our
father; he will doubtless be anxious for news of us. Linger not here.
Men say that those who fear the distemper are ever the first victims.
Farewell, and may health and safety be with you. My place is here, and
here I will remain till I see my way before me."

Lady Vavasour wept and lamented, but did not delay her own departure on
account of her obstinate daughter. She gave Joan up for lost, but she
would not stay to share her fate. She had already seen something of the
quiet firmness of the girl, which her father sometimes cursed as
stubbornness, and she felt that words would only be thrown away upon
her. Lamenting to the last, she mounted her palfrey, and set her train
of servants in motion; whilst Joan stood upon the top step of the flight
to the great door, and waved her hand to her mother till the cortege
disappeared down the drive. A brave and steadfast look was upon her
face, and the sigh she heaved as she turned at last away seemed one of
relief rather than of sorrow.

Lonely as might be her situation in this deserted house, it could not
but be a relief to her to feel that her timid mother would shortly be
under the protection of her husband, and more at rest than she could
ever hope to be away from his side. He could not keep the distemper at
bay, but he could often quiet the restless plaints and causeless terrors
of his weak-minded spouse.

As she turned back into the silent house she was aware of two figures in
the great hall that were strange there, albeit she knew both well as
belonging to two of the oldest retainers of the place, an old man and
his wife, who had lived the best part of their lives in Sir Hugh's
service at Woodcrych.

"Why, Betty -- and you also, Andrew -- what do ye here?" asked Joan,
with a grave, kindly smile at the aged couple.

With many humble salutations and apologies the old folks explained that
they had heard of the hasty and promiscuous flight of the whole
household, headed by the mistress, and also that the "sweet young lady"
was left all alone because she refused to leave old Bridget; and that
they had therefore ventured to come up to the great house to offer their
poor services, to wait upon her and to do for her all that lay in their
power, and this not for her only, but for the two sick persons already
in the house.

"For, as I do say to my wife there," said old Andrew, though he spoke in
a strange rustic fashion that would scarce be intelligible to our modern
ears, "a body can but die once; and for aught I see, one might as easy
die of the Black Death as of the rheumatics that sets one's bones afire,
and cripples one as bad as being in one's coffin at once. So I be
a-going to look to poor Willum, as they say is lying groaning still upon
the kitchen floor, none having dared to go anigh him since he fell down
in a fit. And if I be took tending on him, I know that you will take
care of my old woman, and see that she does not want for bread so long
as she lives."

Joan put out her soft, strong hand and laid it upon the hard, wrinkled
fist of the old servant. There was a suspicious sparkle in her dark eyes.

"I will not disappoint that expectation, good Andrew," she said. "Go if
you will, whilst we think what may best be done for Bridget. Later on I
will come myself to look at William. I have no fear of the distemper;
and of one thing I am very sure -- that it is never kept away by being
fled from and avoided. I have known travellers who have seen it, and
have been with the sick, and have never caught the contagion, whilst
many fled from it in terror only to be overtaken and struck down as they
so ran. We are in God's hands -- forsaken of all but Him. Let us trust
in His mercy, do our duty calmly and firmly, and leave the rest to Him."

Later in the day, upheld by this same lofty sense of calmness and trust,
Joan, after doing all in her power to make comfortable the old nurse,
who was terribly distressed at hearing how her dear young lady had been
deserted, left her to the charge of Betty, and went down again through
the dark and silent house to the great kitchen, where William was still
to be found, reclining now upon a settle beside the glowing hearth, and
looking not so very much the worse for the seizure of the afternoon.

"I do tell he it were but the colic," old Andrew declared, rubbing his
crumpled hands together in the glow of the fire. "He were in a rare
fright when I found he -- groaning out that the Black Death had hold of
he, and that he were a dead man; but I told he that he was the liveliest
corpse as I'd set eyes on this seventy years; and so after a bit he
heartened up, and found as he could get upon his feet after all. It were
naught but the colic in his inside; and he needn't be afraid of nothing
worse."

Old Andrew proved right. William's sudden indisposition had been but the
result of fright and hard riding, followed by copious draughts of hot
beer taken with a view to keeping away the contagion. Very soon he was
convinced of this himself; and when he understood how the whole
household had fled from him, and that the only ones who had stayed to
see that he did not die alone and untended were these old souls and
their adored young lady, his heart was filled with loving gratitude and
devotion, and he lost no opportunity of doing her service whenever it
lay in his power.

Strange and lonely indeed was the life led by those five persons shut up
in that large house, right away from all sights and sounds from the
world without. The silence and the solitude at last became well-nigh
intolerable, and when Bridget had recovered from her attack of illness
and was going about briskly again, Joan took the opportunity of speaking
her mind to her fully and freely.

"Why do we remain shut up within these walls, when there is so much work
to be done in the world? Bridget, thou knowest that I love not my life
as some love it. Often it seems to me as though by death alone I may
escape a frightful doom. All around us our fellow creatures are dying --
too often alone and untended, like dogs in a ditch. Good Bridget, I have
money in the house, and we have health and strength and courage; and
thou art an excellent good nurse in all cases of sickness. Thou hast
taught me some of thy skill, and I long to show it on behalf of these
poor stricken souls, so often deserted by their nearest and dearest in
the hour of their deadliest peril. If I go, wilt thou go with me? I trow
that thou art a brave woman --"

"And if I were not thou wouldst shame me into bravery, Sweetheart,"
answered the old woman fondly, as she looked into the earnest face of
her young mistress. "I too have been thinking of the poor stricken
souls. I would gladly risk the peril in such a labour of love. As old
Andrew says, we can but die once. The Holy Saints will surely look
kindly upon those who die at their post, striving to do as they would
have done had they been here with us upon earth."

And when William heard what his young mistress was about to do, he
declared that he too would go with her, and assist with the offices to
the sick or the dead. He still had a vivid recollection of the moments
when he had believed himself left alone to die of the distemper; and
fellow feeling and generosity getting the better of his first
unreasoning terror, he was as eager as Joan herself to enter upon this
labour of love. Bridget, who was a great botanist, in the practical
fashion of many old persons in those days, knew more about the
properties of herbs than anybody in the country round, and she made a
great selection from her stores, and brewed many pungent concoctions
which she gave to her young mistress and William to drink, to ward off
any danger from infection. She also gave them, to hang about their
necks, bags containing aromatic herbs, whose strong and penetrating
odour dominated all others, and was likely enough to do good in
purifying the atmosphere about the wearer.

There was no foolish superstition in Bridget's belief in her simples.
She did not regard them as charms; but she had studied their properties
and had learned their value, and knew them to possess valuable
properties for keeping the blood pure, and so rendering much smaller any
chance of imbibing the poison.

At dusk that same evening, William, who had been out all day, returned,
and requested speech of his young mistress. He was ushered into the
parlour where she sat, with her old nurse for her companion; and
standing just within the threshold he told his tale.

"I went across to the town today. I thought I would see if there was any
lodging to be had where you, fair Mistress, might conveniently abide
whilst working in that place. Your worshipful uncle's house I found shut
up and empty, not a soul within the doors -- all fled, as most of the
better sort of the people are fled, and every window and door fastened
up. Half the houses, too, are marked with black or red crosses, to show
that those within are afflicted with the distemper. There are watchmen
in the streets, striving to keep within their doors all such as have the
Black Death upon them; but these be too few for the task, and the
maddened wretches are continually breaking out, and running about the
streets crying and shouting, till they drop down in a fit, and lie
there, none caring for them. By day there be dead and dying in every
street; but at night a cart comes and carries the corpses off to the
great grave outside the town."

"And is there no person to care for the sick in all the town?" asked
Joan, with dilating eyes.

"There were many monks at first; but the distemper seized upon them
worse than upon the townfolks, and now there is scarce one left. Soon
after the distemper broke out, Master John de Brocas threw open his
house to receive all stricken persons who would come thither to be
tended, and it has been full to overflowing night and day ever since. I
passed by the house as I came out, and around the door there were scores
of wretched creatures, all stricken with the distemper, praying to be
taken in. And I saw Master John come out to them and welcome them in,
lifting a little child from the arms of an almost dying woman, and
leading her in by the hand. When I saw that, I longed to go in myself
and offer myself to help in the work; but I thought my first duty was to
you, sweet Mistress, and I knew if once I had told my tale you would not
hold me back."

"Nay; and I will go thither myself, and Bridget with me," answered Joan,
with kindling eyes. "We will start with the first light of the new-born
day. They will want the help of women as well as of men within those walls.

"Good Bridget, look well to thy store of herbs, and take ample provision
of all such as will allay fever and destroy the poison that works in the
blood. For methinks there will be great work to be done by thee and me
ere another sun has set; and every aid that nature can give us we will
thankfully make use of."

"Your palfrey is yet in the stable, fair Mistress," said William, "and
there be likewise the strong sorrel from the farm, whereupon Bridget can
ride pillion behind me. Shall I have them ready at break of day
tomorrow? We shall then gain the town before the day's work has well begun."

"Do so," answered Joan, with decision. "I would fain have started by
night; but it will be wiser to tarry for the light of day. Good William,
I thank thee for thy true and faithful service. We are going forth to
danger and perchance to death; but we go in a good cause, and we have no
need to fear."

And when William had retired, she turned to Bridget with shining eyes,
and said:

"Ah, did I not always say that John was the truest knight of them all?
The others have won their spurs; they have won the applause of men. They
have all their lives looked down on John as one unable to wield a sword,
one well-nigh unworthy of the ancient name he bears. But which of yon
gay knights would have done what he is doing now? Who of all of them
would stand forth fearless and brave in the teeth of this far deadlier
peril than men ever face upon the battlefield? I trow not one of them
would have so stood before a peril like this. They have left that for
the true Knight of the Cross!"

At dawn next day Joan said adieu to her old home, and set her face
steadily forward towards Guildford. The chill freshness of the November
air was pleasant after the long period of oppressive warmth and
closeness which had gone before, and now that the leaves had really
fallen from the trees, there was less of the heavy humidity in the air
that seemed to hold the germs of distemper and transmit them alike to
man and beast.

The sun was not quite up as they started; but as they entered the silent
streets of Guildford it was shining with a golden glory in strange
contrast to the scenes upon which it would shortly have to look. Early
morning was certainly the best time for Joan to enter the town, for the
cart had been its round, the dead had been removed from the streets, and
the houses were quieter than they often were later in the day. Once in a
way a wild shriek or a burst of demoniacal laughter broke from some
window; and once a girl, with hair flying wildly down her back, flew out
of one of the houses sobbing and shrieking in a frenzy of terror, and
was lost to sight down a side alley before Joan could reach her side.

Pursuing their way through the streets, they turned down the familiar
road leading to John's house, and dismounting at the gate, Joan gave up
her palfrey to William to seek stabling for it behind, and walked up
with Bridget to the open door of the house.

That door was kept wide open night and day, and none who came were ever
turned away. Joan entered the hall, to find great fires burning there,
and round these fires were crowded shivering and moaning beings, some of
the latest victims of the distemper, who had been brought within the
hospitable shelter of that house of mercy, but who had not yet been
provided with beds; for the numbers coming in day by day were even
greater than the vacancies made by deaths constantly occurring in the
wards (as they would now be called). Helpers were few, and of these one
or another would be stricken down, and carried away to burial after a
few hours' illness.

Of the wretched beings grouped about the fires several were little
children, and Joan's heart went out in compassion to the suffering
morsels of humanity. Taking a little moaning infant upon her knee, and
letting two more pillow their weary beads against her dress, she signed
to Bridget to remove her riding cloak, which she gently wrapped about
the scantily-clothed form of a woman extended along the ground at her
feet, to whom the children apparently belonged. The woman was dying
fast, as her glazing eyes plainly showed.

Probably her case was altogether hopeless; but Joan was not yet seasoned
to such scenes, and it seemed too terrible to sit by idle whilst a
fellow creature actually died not two yards away. Surely somewhere
within that house aid could be found. The girl rose gently from her
seat, and still clasping the stricken infant in her arms, she moved
towards one of the closed doors of the lower rooms.

Opening this softly, she looked in, and saw a row of narrow pallet beds
down each side of the room, and every bed was tenanted. Sounds of
moaning, the babble of delirious talk, and thickly-uttered cries for
help or mercy now reached her ears, and the terrible breath of the
plague for the first time smote upon her senses in all its full
malignity. She recoiled for an instant, and clutched at the bag around
her neck, which she was glad enough to press to her face.

A great fire was burning in the hearth, and all that could be done to
lessen the evil had been accomplished. There was one attendant in this
room, which was set apart for men, and he was just now bending over a
delirious youth, striving to restrain his wild ravings and to induce him
to remain in his bed. This attendant had his back to Joan, but she saw
by his actions and his calm self possession that he was no novice to his
task; and she walked softly through the pestilential place, feeling that
she should not appeal to him for help in vain.

As the sound of the light, firm tread sounded upon the bare boards of
the floor, the attendant suddenly lifted himself and turned round. Joan
uttered a quick exclamation of surprise, which was echoed by the person
in question.

"Raymond!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

"Joan! Thou here, and at such a time as this!"

And then they both stood motionless for a few long moments, feeling that
despite the terrible scenes around and about them, the very gates of
Paradise had opened before them, turning everything around them to gold.



    CHAPTER XXI. THE OLD, OLD STORY


The scourge had passed. It had swept over the length and breadth of the
region of which Guildford formed the centre, and had done its terrible
work of destruction there, leaving homes desolated and villages almost
depopulated. It was still raging in London, and was hurrying northward
and eastward with all its relentless energy and deadliness; but in most
of the places thus left behind its work seemed to be fully accomplished,
and there were no fresh cases.

People began to go about their business as of old. Those who had fled
returned to their homes, and strove to take up the scattered threads of
life as best they might. In many cases whole families had been swept out
of existence; in others (more truly melancholy cases), one member had
escaped when all the rest had perished. The religious houses were
crowded with the helpless orphans of the sufferers in the epidemic, and
the summer crops lay rotting in the fields for want of labourers to get
them in.

John's house in Guildford had by this time reassumed its normal aspect.
The last of the sick who had not been carried to the grave, but had
recovered to return home, had now departed, with many a blessing upon
the master, whose act of piety and charity had doubtless saved so many
lives at this crisis. The work the young man had set himself to do had
been nobly accomplished; but the task had been one beyond his feeble
strength, and he now lay upon a couch of sickness, knowing well, if
others did not, that his days were numbered.

He had fallen down in a faint upon the very day that the last patient
had been able to leave his doors. For a moment it was feared that the
poison of the distemper had fastened upon him; but it was not so. The
attack was but due to the failure of the heart's action -- nature, tried
beyond her powers of endurance, asserting herself at last -- and they
laid him down in his old favourite haunt, with his books around him,
having made the place look like it did before the house had been turned
into a veritable hospital and mortuary.

When John opened his eyes at last it was to find Joan bending over him;
and looking into her face with his sweet, tired smile, he said:

"You will not leave me, Joan?"

"No," she answered gently; "I will not leave you yet. Bridget and I will
nurse you. All our other helpers are themselves worn out; but we have
worked only a little while. We have not borne the burden and heat of
that terrible day."

"You came in a good hour -- like angels of mercy that you were," said
John, feeling, now that the long strain and struggle was over, a
wonderful sense of rest and peace. "I thought it was a dream when first
I saw your face, Joan -- when I saw you moving about amongst the sick,
always with a child in your arms. I have never been able to ask how you
came hither. In those days we could never stay to talk. There are many
things I would fain ask now. How come you here alone, save for your old
nurse? Are your parents dead likewise?"

"I know not that myself," answered Joan, with the calmness that comes
from constantly standing face to face with death. "I have heard naught
of them these many weeks. William goes ofttimes to Woodcrych to seek for
news of them there. But they have not returned, and he can learn nothing."

And then whilst John lay with closed eyes, his face so white and still
that it looked scarce the face of a living man, Joan told him all her
tale; and he understood then how it was that she had suddenly appeared
amongst them like a veritable angel of mercy.

When her story was done, he opened his eyes and said:

"Where is Raymond?"

"They told me he was sleeping an hour since," answered Joan. "He has
sore need of sleep, for he has been watching and working night and day
for longer than I may tell. He looks little more than a shadow himself;
and he has had Roger to care for of late, since he fell ill."

"But Roger is recovering?"

"Yes. It was the distemper, but in its least deadly form, and he is
already fast regaining his strength.

"Has Raymond been the whole time with you? I have never had the chance
to speak to him of himself."

And a faint soft flush awoke in Joan's cheek, whilst a smile hovered
round the corners of her lips.

"Nor I; yet there be many things I would fain ask of him. He went forth
to be with Father Paul when first the Black Death made its fatal entry
into the country; and from that day forth I heard naught of him until he
came hither to me. We will ask him of himself when he comes to join us.
It will be like old times come back again when thou, Joan, and he and I
gather about the Yule log, and talk together of ourselves and others."

A common and deadly peril binds very closely together those who have
faced it and fought it hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder; and in
those days of divided houses, broken lives, and general disruption of
all ordinary routine in domestic existence, things that in other times
would appear strange and unnatural were now taken as a matter of course.
It did not occur to Joan as in any way remarkable that she should remain
in John's house, nursing him with the help of Bridget, and playing a
sister's part until some of his own kith or kin returned. He had been
deserted by all of his own name. She herself knew not whether she had
any relatives living. Circumstances had thrown her upon his hospitality,
and she had looked upon him almost as a brother ever since the days of
her childhood.

She knew that he was dying; there was that in his face which told as
much all too well to those who had long been looking upon death. To have
left him at such a moment would have seemed far more strange and
unnatural than to remain. In those times of terror stranger things were
done daily, no man thinking aught of it.

So she smiled as she heard John's last words, trying to recall the day
when she had first seen Raymond at Master Bernard's house, when he had
seemed to her little more than a boy, albeit a very knightly and
chivalrous one. Now her feelings towards him were far different: not
that she thought less of his knightliness and chivalry, but that she was
half afraid to let her mind dwell too much upon him and her thoughts of
him; for of late, since they had been toiling together in the
hand-to-hand struggle against disease and death, she was conscious of a
feeling toward him altogether new in her experience, and his face was
seldom out of her mental vision. The sound of his voice was ever in her
ears; and she always knew, by some strange intuition, when he was near,
whether she could see him or not.

She knew even as John spoke that he was approaching; and as the latch of
the door clicked a soft wave of colour rose in her pale cheek, and she
turned her head with a gesture that spoke a mute welcome.

"They tell me that thou art sick, good John," said Raymond, coming
forward into the bright circle of the firelight.

The dancing flames lit up that pale young face, worn and hollow with
long watching and stress of work, and showed that Raymond had changed
somewhat during those weeks of strange experience. Some of the
dreaminess had gone out of the eyes, to be replaced by a luminous
steadfastness of expression which had always been there, but was now
greatly intensified. Pure, strong, and noble, the face was that of a man
rather than a boy, and yet the bright, almost boyish, alertness and
eagerness were still quickly apparent when he entered into conversation,
and turned from one companion to another. It was the same Raymond -- yet
with a difference; and both of his companions scanned him with some
curiosity as he took his seat beside John's couch and asked of his
cousin's welfare.

"Nay, trouble not thyself over me; thou knowest that my life's sands are
well-nigh run out. I have been spared for this work, that thou, my
Raymond, gavest me to do. I am well satisfied, and thou must be the
same, my kind cousin. Only let me have thee with me to the end -- and
sweet Mistress Joan, if kind fortune will so favour us. And tell us now
of thyself, Raymond, and how it fared with thee before thou camest
hither. Hast thou been with Father Paul? And if so, why didst thou leave
him? Is he, too, dead?"

"He was not when we parted; he went forward to London when he bid me
come to see how it fared with thee, good John, and bring thee his
blessing. I should have been with thee one day earlier, save that I
turned aside to Basildene, where I heard that the old man lay dying alone."

"Basildene!" echoed both his hearers quickly. "Has the Black Death been
there?"

"Ay, and the old man who is called a sorcerer is dead. To me it was
given to soothe his dying moments, and give him such Christian burial as
men may have when there be no priest at hand to help them to their last
rest. I was in time for that."

"Peter Sanghurst dead!" mused John thoughtfully; and looking up at
Raymond, he said quickly, "Did he know who and what thou wert?"

"He did; for in his delirium he took me for my mother, and his terror
was great, knowing her to be dead. When I told him who I was, he was
right glad; and he would fain have made over to me the deeds by which he
holds Basildene -- the deeds my mother left behind her in her flight,
and which he seized upon. He would fain have made full reparation for
that one evil deed of his life; but his son, who had held aloof
hitherto, and would have left his father to die untended and alone --"

Joan had uttered a little exclamation of horror and disgust; now she
asked, quickly and almost nervously:

"The son -- Peter Sanghurst? O Raymond, was that bad man there?"

"Yes; and he knows now who and what I am, whereby his old hatred to me
is bitterly increased. He holds that I have hindered and thwarted him
before in other matters. Now that he knows I have a just and lawful
claim on Basildene, which one day I will make good, he hates me with a
tenfold deadlier hatred."

"Hates you -- when you came to his father in his last extremity? How can
he dare to hate you now?"

Raymond smiled a shadowy smile as he looked into the fire.

"Methinks he knows little of filial love. He knew that his father had
been stricken with the distemper, but he left him to die alone. He would
not have come nigh him at all, save that he heard sounds in the house,
and feared that robbers had entered, and that his secret treasure hoards
might fall into their hands. He had come down armed to the teeth to
resist such marauders, being willing rather to stand in peril of the
distemper than to lose his ill-gotten gold. But he found none such as he
thought; yet having come, and having learned who and what manner of man
I was, he feared to leave me alone with his father, lest I should be
told the secret of the hidden hoard, which the old man longed to tell me
but dared not. Doubtless the parchment he wished to place in my hands is
there; but his son hovered ever within earshot, and the old man dared
not speak. Yet with his last breath he called me lord of Basildene, and
charged me to remove from it the curse which in his own evil days had
fallen upon the place."

"Peter Sanghurst will not love you the more for that," said John.

"Verily no; yet methinks he can scarce hate me more than he does and has
done for long."

"He is no insignificant foe," was the thoughtful rejoinder. "His hate
may be no light thing."

"He has threatened me oft and savagely," answered Raymond, "and yet no
harm has befallen me therefrom."

"Why has he threatened thee?" asked Joan breathlessly; "what hast thou
done to raise his ire?"

"We assisted Roger, the woodman's son, to escape from that vile slavery
at Basildene, of which doubtless thou hast heard, sweet lady. That was
the first cause of offence."

"And the second?"

Raymond's clear gaze sought her face for a moment, and Joan's dark eyes
kindled and then slowly dropped.

"The second was on thy account, sweet Joan," said Raymond, with a
curious vibration in his voice. "He saw us once together -- it is long
ago now -- and he warned me how I meddled to thwart him again. I scarce
understood him then, though I knew that he would fain have won this fair
hand, but that thou didst resolutely withhold it. Now that I have
reached man's estate I understand him better. Joan, he is still bent
upon having this hand. In my hearing he swore a great oath that by fair
means or foul it should be his one day. He is a man of resolute
determination, and, now that his father no longer lives, of great wealth
too, and wealth is power. Thou hast thwarted him till he is resolved to
humble thee at all cost. I verily believe to be avenged for all thou
hast cost him would be motive enough to make him compass heaven and
earth to win thee. What sayest thou? To withstand him may be perilous --"

"To wed him would be worse than death," said Joan, in a very low tone.
"I will never yield, if I die to save myself from him."

Unconsciously these two had lowered their voices. John had dropped
asleep beside the fire with the ease of one exhausted by weakness and
long watching. Joan and Raymond were practically alone together. There
was a strange light upon the face of the youth, and into his pale face
there crept a flush of faint red.

"Joan," he said, in low, firm tones that shook a little with the
intensity of his earnestness, "when I saw thee first, and knew thee for
a very queen amongst women, my boyish love and homage was given all to
thee. I dreamed of going forth to win glory and renown, that I might
come and lay my laurels at thy feet, and win one sweet answering smile,
one kindly word of praise from thee. Yet here am I, almost at man's
estate, and I have yet no laurels to bring to thee. I have but one thing
to offer -- the deep true love of a heart that beats alone for thee.
Joan, I am no knightly suitor, I have neither gold nor lands -- though
one day it may be I may have both, and thy father would doubtless drive
me forth from his doors did I present myself to him as a suitor for this
fair hand. But, Joan, I love thee -- I would lay down my life to serve
thee -- and I know that thou mayest one day be in peril from him who is
also mine own bitter foe. Wilt thou then give me the right to fight for
thee, to hold this hand before all the world and do battle for its
owner, as only he may hope to do who holds it, as I do this moment, by
that owner's free will? Give me but leave to call it mine, and I will
dare all and do all to win it. Sweet Mistress Joan, my words are few and
poor; but could my heart speak for me, it would plead eloquent music.
Thou art the sun and star of my life. Tell me, may I hope some day to
win thy love?"

Joan had readily surrendered her hand to his clasp, and doubtless this
had encouraged Raymond to proceed in his tale of love.

He certainly had not intended thus to commit himself, poor and unknown
and portionless as he was, with everything still to win; but a power
stronger than he could resist drew him on from word to word and phrase
to phrase, and a lovely colour mantled in Joan's cheek as he proceeded,
till at last she put forth her other hand and laid it in his, saying:

"Raymond, I love thee now. My heart is thine and thine alone. Go forth,
if thou wilt, and win honour and renown -- but thou wilt never win a
higher honour and glory than I have seen thee winning day by day and
hour by hour here in this very house -- and come back when and as thou
wilt. Thou wilt find me waiting for thee --ever ready, ever the same. I
am thine for life or death. When thou callest me I will come."

It was a bold pledge for a maiden to give in those days of harsh
parental rule; yet Joan gave it without shrinking or fear. That this
informal betrothal might be long before it could hope to be consummated,
both the lovers well knew; that there might be many dangers lying before
them, they did not attempt to deny. It was no light matter to have thus
plighted their troth, when Raymond was still poor and nameless, and
Joan, in her father's estimation, plighted to the Sanghurst. But both
possessed brave and resolute spirits, that did not shrink or falter; and
joyfully happy in the security of their great love, they could afford
for a time to forget the world.

Raymond drew from within his doublet the half ring he had always carried
about with him, and placed it upon the finger of his love. Joan, on her
side, drew from her neck a black agate heart she had always worn there,
and gave it to Raymond, who put it upon the silver cord which had
formerly supported his circlet of the double ring.

"So long as I live that heart shall hang there," he said. "Never believe
that I am dead until thou seest the heart brought thee by another. While
I live I part not with it."

"Nor I with thy ring," answered Joan, proudly turning her hand about
till the firelight flashed upon it.

And then they drew closer together, and whispered together, as lovers
love to do, of the golden future lying before them; and Raymond told of
his mother and her dying words, and his love, in spite of all that had
passed there, for the old house of Basildene, and asked Joan if they two
together would be strong enough to remove the curse which had been cast
over the place by the evil deeds of its present owners.

"Methinks thou couldst well do that thyself, my faithful knight,"
answered Joan, with a great light in her eyes; "for methinks all evil
must fly thy presence, as night flies from the beams of day. Art thou
not pledged to a high and holy service? and hast thou not proved ere now
how nobly thou canst keep that pledge?"

At that moment John stirred in his sleep and opened his eyes. There was
in them that slightly bewildered look that comes when the mind has been
very far away in some distant dreamland, and where the weakened
faculties have hardly the strength to reassert themselves.

"Joan," he said -- "Joan, art thou there? art thou safe?"

She rose and bent over him smilingly.

"Here by thy side, good John, and perfectly safe. Where should I be?"

"And Raymond too?"

"Raymond too. What ails thee, John, that thou art so troubled?"

He smiled slightly as he looked round more himself.

"It must have been a dream, but it was a strangely vivid one. Belike it
was our talk of a short while back; for I thought thou wast fleeing from
the malice of the Sanghurst, and that Raymond was in his power, awaiting
his malignant rage and vengeance. I know not how it would have ended --
I was glad to wake. I fear me, sweet Joan, that thou wilt yet have a
hard battle ere thou canst cast loose from the toil spread for thee by
yon bad man."

Joan threw back her head with a queenly gesture.

"Fear not for me, kind John, for now I am no longer alone to fight my
battle. I have Raymond for my faithful knight and champion. Raymond and
I have plighted our troth this very day. Let Peter Sanghurst do his
worst; it will take a stronger hand than his to sunder love like ours!"

John's pale face kindled with sympathy and satisfaction. He looked from
one to the other and held out his thin hands.

"My heart's wishes and blessings be with you both," he said. "I have so
many times thought of some such thing, and longed to see it
accomplished. There may be clouds athwart your path, but there will be
sunshine behind the cloud. Joan, thou hast chosen thy knight worthily
and well. It may be that men will never call him knight. It may be that
he will not have trophies rich and rare to lay at thy feet. But thou and
I know well that there is a knighthood not of this world, and in that
order of chivalry his spurs have already been won, and he will not, with
thee at his side, ever be tempted to forget his high and holy calling.
For thou wilt be the guiding star of his life; and thou too art
dedicated to serve."

There was silence for a few moments in the quiet room. John lay back on
his pillows panting somewhat, and with that strange unearthly light they
had seen there before deepening in his eyes. They had observed that look
often of late -- as though he saw right through them and beyond to a
glory unspeakable, shut out for the time from their view. Joan put out
her hand and took that of Raymond, as if there was assurance in the warm
human clasp. But their eyes were still fixed upon John's face, which was
changing every moment.

He had done much to form both their minds, this weakly scion of the De
Brocas house, whose life was held by those who bore his name to be
nothing but a failure. It was from him they had both imbibed those
thoughts and aspirations which had been the first link drawing them
together, and which had culminated in an act of the highest
self-sacrifice and devotion. And now it seemed to him, as he lay there
looking at them, the two beings upon earth that he loved the best (for
Raymond was more to him than a brother, and Joan the one woman whom, had
things gone otherwise with him, he would fain have made his wife), that
he might well leave his work in their hands -- that they would carry on
to completion the nameless labour of love which he had learned to look
upon as the highest form of chivalry.

"Raymond," he said faintly.

Raymond came and bent down over him.

"I am close beside thee, John."

"I know it. I feel it. I am very happy. Raymond, thou wilt not forget me?"

"Never, John, never."

"I have been very happy in thy brotherly love and friendship. It has
been very sweet to me. Raymond, thou wilt not forget thy vow? Thou wilt
ever be true to that higher life that we have spoken of so oft together?"

Raymond's face was full of deep and steadfast purpose.

"I will be faithful, I will be true," he answered. "God helping me, I
will be true to the vow we have made together. Joan shall be my witness
now, as I make it anew to thee here."

"Not for fame or glory or praise of man alone," murmured John, his voice
growing fainter and fainter, "but first for the glory of God and His
honour, and then for the poor, the feeble, the helpless, the needy. To
be a champion to such as have none to help them, to succour the
distressed, to comfort the mourner, to free those who are wrongfully
oppressed, even though kings be the oppressors -- that is the true
courage, the true chivalry; that is the service to which thou, my
brother, art pledged."

Raymond bent his head, whilst Joan's clasp tightened on his hand. They
both knew that John was dying, but they had looked too often upon death
to fear it now. They did not summon any one to his side. No priest was
to be found at that time, and John had not long since received the
Sacrament with one who had lately died in the house. There was no
restlessness or pain in his face, only a great peace and rest. His voice
died away, but he still looked at Raymond, as though to the last he
would fain see before his eyes the face he had grown to love best upon
earth.

His breath grew shorter and shorter. Raymond thought he made a sign to
him to bend his head nearer. Stooping over him, he caught the
faintly-whispered words:

"Tell my father not to grieve that I did not die a knight. He has his
other sons; and I have been very happy. Tell him that -- happier, I
trow, than any of them --"

There were a brief silence and a slight struggle for breath, then one
whispered phrase:

"I will arise and go to my Father --"

Those were the last words spoken by John de Brocas.



    CHAPTER XXII. THE BLACK VISOR.


"Brother, this is like old times," said Gaston, his hand upon Raymond's
shoulder as they stood side by side in the extreme prow of the vessel
that was conveying them once again towards the sunny south of France.

The salt spray dashed in their faces, the hum of the cordage overhead
was in their ears, and their thoughts had gone back to that day, now
nigh upon eight years back, when they, as unknown and untried boys, had
started forth to see the world together.

Gaston's words broke the spell of silence, and Raymond turned his head
to scan the stalwart form beside him with a look of fond admiration and
pride.

"Nay, scarce like those old days, Sir Gaston de Brocas," he answered,
speaking the name with significant emphasis; and Gaston laughed and
tossed back his leonine head with a gesture of mingled pride and
impatience as he said:

"Tush, Brother! I scarce know how to prize my knighthood now that thou
dost not share it with me -- thou so far more truly knightly and worthy.
I had ever planned that we had been together in that as in all else. Why
wert thou not with me that day when we vanquished the navy of proud
Spain? The laurels are scarce worth the wearing that thou wearest not
with me."

For Gaston was now indeed a knight. He had fought beside the Prince in
the recent engagement at sea, when a splendid naval victory had been
obtained over the Spanish fleet. He had performed prodigies of valour on
that occasion, and had been instrumental in the taking of many rich
prizes. And when the royal party had returned to Windsor, Gaston had
been named, with several more youthful gentlemen, to receive knighthood
at the hands of the Prince of Wales. Whereupon Master Bernard de Brocas
had stood forward and told the story of the parentage of the twin
brothers, claiming kinship with them, and speaking in high praise of
Raymond, who, since the death of John, had been employed by his uncle in
a variety of small matters that used to be John's province to see to. In
every point the Gascon youth had shown aptitude and ability beyond the
average, and had won high praise from his clerical kinsman, who was more
the statesman than the parish priest.

Very warmly had the de Brocas brothers been welcomed by their kinsmen;
and as they laid no claim to any lands or revenues in the possession of
other members of the family, not the least jealousy or ill-will was
excited by their rise in social status. All that Gaston asked of the
King was liberty some day, when the hollow truce with France should be
broken, and when the King's matters were sufficiently settled to permit
of private enterprise amongst his own servants, to gather about him a
company of bold kindred spirits, and strive to wrest back from the
treacherous and rapacious Sieur de Navailles the ancient castle of Saut,
which by every law of right should belong to his own family.

The King listened graciously to this petition, and gave Gaston full
encouragement to hope to regain his fathers' lost inheritance. But of
Basildene no word was spoken then; for the shrewd Master Bernard had
warned Raymond that the time had not yet come to prosecute that claim --
and indeed the neglected old house, crumbling to the dust and environed
by an evil reputation which effectually kept all men away from it,
seemed scarce worth the struggle it would cost to wrest it from the
keeping of Peter Sanghurst.

This worthy, since his father's death, had entered upon a totally new
course of existence. He had appeared at Court, sumptuously dressed, and
with a fairly large following. He had ingratiated himself with the King
by a timely loan of gold (for the many drains upon Edward's resources
kept him always short of money for his household and family expenses),
and was playing the part of a wealthy and liberal man. It was whispered
of him, as it had been of his father, that he had some secret whereby to
fill his coffers with gold whenever they were empty, and this reputation
gave him a distinct prestige with his comrades and followers. He was not
accused of black magic, like his father. His secret was supposed to have
been inherited by him, not bought with the price of his soul. It
surrounded him with a faint halo of mystery, but it was mystery that did
him good rather than harm. The King himself took favourable notice of
one possessed of such a golden secret, and for the present the Sanghurst
was better left in undisturbed possession of his ill-gotten gains.

Raymond had learned the difficult lesson of patience, and accepted his
uncle's advice. It was the easier to be patient since he knew that Joan
was for the present safe from the persecutions of her hated suitor. Joan
had been summoned to go to her father almost immediately upon the death
of John de Brocas. He had sent for her to Woodcrych, and she had
travelled thither at once with the escort sent to fetch her.

Raymond had heard from her once since that time. In the letter she had
contrived to send him she had told him that her mother was dead, having
fallen a victim to the dreaded distemper she had fled to avoid, but
which had nevertheless seized her almost immediately upon her arrival at
her husband's house. He too had been stricken, but had recovered; and
his mind having been much affected by his illness and trouble, he had
resolved upon a pilgrimage to Rome, in which his daughter was to
accompany him. She did not know how long they would be absent from
England, and save for the separation from her true love, she was glad to
go. Her brother would return to the Court, and only she and her father
would take the journey. She had heard nothing all these weeks of the
dreaded foe, and hoped he might have passed for ever from her life.

And in this state matters stood with the brothers as the vessel bore
them through the tossing blue waves that bright May morning, every
plunge of the well-fitted war sloop bringing them nearer and nearer to
the well-known and well-loved harbour of Bordeaux.

Yet it was on no private errand that they were bound, though Gaston
could not approach the familiar shores of Gascony without thinking of
that long-cherished hope of his now taking so much more solid a shape.

The real object of this small expedition was, however, the relief of the
town of St. Jean d'Angely, belonging to the English King, which had been
blockaded for some time by the French monarch. The distressed
inhabitants had contrived to send word to Edward of their strait, and he
had despatched the Earl of Warwick with a small picked army to its relief.

The Gascon twins had been eager to join this small contingent, and had
volunteered for the service. Gaston was put in command of a band of fine
soldiers, and his brother took service with him.

This was the first time for several years that Raymond had been in arms,
for of late his avocations had been of a more peaceful nature. But he
possessed all the soldier instincts of his race, and by his brother's
side would go joyfully into battle again.

He did not know many of the knights and gentlemen serving in this small
expedition, nor did Gaston either, for that matter. It was too small an
undertaking to attract the flower of Edward's chivalry, and the Black
Death had made many gaps in the ranks of the comrades the boys had first
known when they had fought under the King's banner. But the satisfaction
of being together again made amends for all else. Indeed they scarce had
eyes for any but each other, and had so much to tell and to ask that the
voyage was all too short for them.

Amongst those on board Raymond had frequently noticed the figure of a
tall man always in full armour, and always wearing his visor down, so
that none might see his face. His armour was of fine workmanship, light
and strong, and seemed in no way to incommode him. There was no device
upon it, save some serpents cunningly inlaid upon the breastplate, and
the visor was richly chased and inlaid with black, so that the whole
effect was gloomy and almost sinister. Raymond had once or twice asked
the name of the Black Visor, as men called him, but none had been able
to tell him. It was supposed that he was under some vow -- a not very
uncommon thing in the days of chivalry -- and that he might not remove
his visor until he had performed some gallant feat of arms.

Sometimes it had seemed to the youth as though the dark eyes looking out
through the holes in that black covering were fixed more frequently upon
himself than upon any one else; and if he caught full for a moment the
fiery gleam, he would wonder for the instant it lasted where and when he
had seen those eyes before. But his mind was not in any sense of the
word concerned with the Black Visor, and it was only now and then he
gave him a passing thought.

And now the good vessel was slipping through the still waters of the
magnificent harbour of Bordeaux. The deck was all alive with the bustle
of speedy landing, and the Gascon brothers were scanning the familiar
landmarks and listening with delight to the old familiar tongue.

Familiar faces there were none to be seen, it is true. The boys were too
much of foreigners now to have many old friends in the queenly city. But
the whole place was homelike to them, and would be so to their lives'
ends. Moreover, they hoped ere they took ship again to have time and
opportunity to revisit old haunts and see their foster parents and the
good priest once more; but for the present their steps were turned
northward towards the gallant little beleaguered town which had appealed
to the English King for aid.

A few days were spent at Bordeaux collecting provisions for the town,
and mustering the reinforcements which the loyal city was always ready
and eager to supply in answer to any demand on the part of the Roy Outremer.

The French King had died the previous year, and his son John, formerly
Duke of Normandy, was now upon the throne; but the situation between the
two nations had by no means changed, and indeed the bitter feeling
between them was rather increased than diminished by the many petty
breaches of faith on one side or another, of which this siege of St.
Jean d'Angely was an example.

On the whole the onus of breaking the truce rested more with the French
than the English. But a mere truce, where no real peace is looked for on
either side, is but an unsatisfactory state of affairs at best; and
although both countries were sufficiently exhausted by recent wars and
the ravages of the plague to desire the interlude prolonged, yet
hostilities of one kind or another never really ceased, and the
struggles between the rival lords of Brittany and their heroic wives
always kept the flame of war smouldering.

Gascony as a whole was always loyal to the English cause, and Bordeaux
too well knew what she owed to the English trade ever to be backward
when called upon by the English King. Speedily a fine band of soldiers
was assembled, and at dawn one day the march northward was commenced.

The little army mustered some five thousand men, all well fed and in
capital condition for the march. Raymond rode by his brother's side well
in the van, and he noticed presently, amongst the new recruits who had
joined them, another man of very tall stature, who also wore a black
visor over his face. He was plainly a friend to the unknown knight (if
knight he were) who had sailed in their vessel, for they rode side by
side deep in talk; and behind them, in close and regular array, rode a
number of their immediate followers, all wearing a black tuft in their
steel caps and a black band round their arm.

However, there was nothing very noteworthy in this. Many men had
followers marked by some distinctive badge, and the sombre little
contingent excited small notice. They all looked remarkably fine
soldiers, and appeared to be under excellent discipline. More than that
was not asked of any man, and the Gascons were well known to be amongst
the best soldiers of the day.

The early start and the long daylight enabled the gallant little band to
push on in the one day to the banks of the Charente, and within a few
miles of St. Jean itself. There, however, a halt was called, for the
French were in a remarkably good position, and it was necessary to take
counsel how they might best be attacked.

In the first place there was the river to be crossed, and the one bridge
was in the hands of the enemy, who had fortified it, and would be able
to hold it against great odds. They were superior in numbers to their
assailants, and probably knew their advantage.

Gaston, who well understood the French nature, was the first to make a
likely suggestion.

"Let us appear to retreat," he said. "They will then see our small
numbers, and believe that we are flying through fear of them. Doubtless
they will at once rush out to pursue and attack us, and after we have
drawn them from their strong position, we can turn again upon them and
slay them, or drive them into the river."

This suggestion was received with great favour, and it was decided to
act upon it that very day. There were still several hours of daylight
before them, and the men, who had had wine and bread distributed to
them, were full of eagerness for the fray.

The French, who were quite aware of the strength of their own position,
and very confident of ultimate victory, were narrowly watching the
movements of the English, whose approach had been for some time expected
by them. They were certain that they could easily withstand the
onslaught of the whole body, if these were bold enough to attack, and
they well knew how terribly thinned would the English ranks become
before they could hope to cross the bridge and march upon the main body
of the French army encamped before the town.

Great, then, was the exultation of the French when they saw how much
terror they had inspired in the heart of the foe. They were eagerly
observing their movements; they saw that a council had been called
amongst the chiefs, and that deliberations had been entered into by
them. But so valiant were the English in fight, and so many were the
victories they had obtained with numbers far inferior to those of the
foe, that there was a natural sense of uncertainty as to the result of a
battle, even when all the chances of the war seemed to be against the
foreign foe. But when the trumpets actually sounded the retreat, and
they saw the whole body moving slowly away, then indeed did they feel
that triumph was near, and a great shout of derision and anger rose up
in the still evening air.

"To horse, men, and after them!" was the word given, and a cry of fierce
joy went up from the whole army. "My Lords of England, you will not get
off in that way. You have come hither by your own will; you shall not
leave until you have paid your scot."

No great order was observed as the Frenchmen sprang to horse and
galloped across the bridge, and so after the retreating foe. Every man
was eager to bear his share in the discomfiture of the English
contingent, and hardly staying to arm themselves fully, the eager,
hot-headed French soldiers, horse and foot, swung along in any sort of
order, only eager to cut to pieces the flower of the English chivalry
(as their leaders had dubbed this little band), and inflict a dark stain
upon the honour of Edward's brilliant arms.

In the ranks of this same English contingent, now in rapid and orderly
retreat, there was to the full as much exultation and lust of battle as
in the hearts of their pursuing foes. Every man grasped his weapon and
set his teeth firmly, the footmen marching steadily onwards at a rapid
and swinging pace, whilst the horsemen, who brought up the rear -- for
they were to be the first to charge when the trumpet sounded the advance
-- kept turning their heads to watch the movement of the foe, and sent
up a brief huzzah as they saw that their ruse had proved successful, and
that their foes were coming fast after them.

"Keep thou by my side in the battle today, Raymond," said Gaston, as he
looked to the temper of his weapons and glanced backwards over his
shoulder. "Thou hast been something more familiar with the pen than the
sword of late -- and thy faithful esquire likewise. Fight, then, by my
side, and together we will meet and overcome the foe. They will fight
like wolves, I doubt not, for they will be bitterly wrathful when they
see the trick we have played upon them. Wherefore quit not my side, be
the fighting never so hot, for I would have thee ever with me."

"I wish for nothing better for myself," answered Raymond, with a fond
proud glance at the stalwart Gaston, who now towered a full head taller
above him, and was a very king amongst men.

He was mounted on a fine black war horse, who had carried his master
victoriously through many charges before today. Raymond's horse was much
lighter in build, a wiry little barb with a distinct Arab strain,
fearless in battle, and fleet as the wind, but without the weight or
solidity of Gaston's noble charger. Indeed, Gaston had found some fault
with the creature's lack of weight for withstanding the onslaught of
cavalry charge; but he suited Raymond so well in other ways that the
latter had declined to make any change, and told his brother smilingly
that his great Lucifer had weight and strength for both.

Scarcely had Gaston given this charge to his brother before the trumpets
sounded a new note, and at once the compact little body of horse and
foot halted, wheeled round, and put themselves in position for the
advance. Another blast from those same trumpets, given with all the
verve and joyousness of coming victory, and the horses of their own
accord sprang forward to the attack. Then the straggling and dismayed
body of Frenchmen who had been pushing on in advance of their fellows to
fall upon the flying English, found themselves opposed to one of those
magnificent cavalry charges which made the glory and the terror of the
English arms throughout the reign of the great Edward.

Vainly trying to rally themselves, and with shouts of "St. Dennis!" "St.
Dennis!" the Frenchmen rushed upon their foes; and the detachments from
behind coming up quickly, the engagement became general at once, and was
most hotly contested on both sides.

Gaston was one of the foremost to charge into the ranks of the French,
and singling out the tallest and strongest adversary he could see, rode
full upon him, and was quickly engaged in a fierce hand-to-hand
conflict. Raymond was close beside him, and soon found himself engaged
in parrying the thrusts of several foes. But Roger was quickly at his
side, taking his own share of hard blows; and as the foot and horse from
behind pressed on after the impetuous leaders, and more and more
detachments from the French army came up to assist their comrades, the
melee became very thick, and in the crush it was impossible to see what
was happening except just in front, and to avoid the blows levelled at
him was all that Raymond was able to think of for many long minutes --
minutes that seemed more like hours.

When the press became a little less thick about him, Raymond looked
round for his brother, but could not see him. A body of riders, moving
in a compact wedge, had forced themselves in between himself and Gaston.
He saw the white plume in his brother's helmet waving at some distance
away to the left, but when he tried to rein in his horse and reach him,
he still found himself surrounded by the same phalanx of mounted
soldiers, who kept pressing him by sheer weight on and on away to the
right, though the tide of battle was most distinctly rolling to the
left. The French were flying promiscuously back to their lines, and the
English soldiers were in hot pursuit.

Raymond was no longer amid foes. He had long since ceased to have to use
his sword either for attack or defence, but he could not check the
headlong pace of his mettlesome little barb, nor could he by any
exertion of strength turn the creature's head in any other direction. As
he was in the midst of those he looked upon as friends, he had no
uneasiness as to his own position, even though entirely separated from
Gaston and Roger, who generally kept close at his side. He was so little
used of late to the manoeuvres of war, that he fancied this headlong
gallop, in which he was taking an involuntary part, might be the result
of military tactics, and that he should see its use presently.

But as he and his comrades flew over the ground, and the din of the
battle died away in his ears, and the last of the evening sunlight faded
from the sky, a strange sense of coming ill fell upon Raymond's spirit.
Again he made a most resolute and determined effort to check the fiery
little creature he rode, who seemed as if his feet were furnished with
wings, so fast he spurned the ground beneath his hoofs.

Then for the first time the youth found that this mad pace was caused by
regular goading from the silent riders who surrounded him. Turning in
his saddle he saw that these men were one and all engaged in pricking
and spurring on the impetuous little steed; and as he cast a keen and
searching look at these strange riders, he saw that they all wore in
their steel caps the black tuft of the followers of the Black Visor and
his sable-coated companion, and that these two leaders rode themselves a
little distance behind.

Greatly astonished at the strange thing that was befalling him, yet not,
so far, alarmed for his personal safety, Raymond drew his sword and
looked steadily round at the ring of men surrounding him.

"Cease to interfere with my horse, gentlemen," he said, in stern though
courteous accents. "It may be your pleasure thus to ride away from the
battle, but it is not mine; and I will ask of you to let me take my way
whilst you take yours. Why you desire my company I know not, but I do
not longer desire yours; wherefore forbear!"

Not a word or a sign was vouchsafed him in answer; but as he attempted
to rein back his panting horse, now fairly exhausted with the struggle
between the conflicting wills of so many persons, the dark silent riders
continued to urge him forward with open blows and pricks from sword
point, till, as he saw that his words were still unheeded, a dangerous
glitter shone in Raymond's eyes.

"Have a care how you molest me, gentlemen!" he said, in clear, ringing
tones. "Ye are carrying a jest (if jest it be meant for) a little too
far. The next who dares to touch my horse must defend himself from my
sword."

And then a sudden change came over the bearing of his companions. A
dozen swords sprang from their scabbards. A score of harsh voices
replied to these words in fierce accents of defiance. One -- two --
three heavy blows fell upon his head; and though he set his teeth and
wheeled about to meet and grapple with his foes, he felt from the first
moment that he had no chance whatever against such numbers, and that the
only thing to do was to sell his life as dearly as he could.

There was no time to ask or even to wonder at the meaning of this
mysterious attack. All he could do was to strive to shield his head from
the blows that rained upon him, and breathe a prayer for succour in the
midst of his urgent need.

And then he heard a voice speaking in accents of authority: where had he
heard that voice before?

"Hold, men! have I not warned you to do him no hurt? Kill him not, but
take him alive."

That was the last thing Raymond remembered. His next sensation was of
falling and strangulation. Then a blackness swam before his eyes, and
sense and memory alike fled.



    CHAPTER XXIII. IN THE HANDS OF HIS FOE.


How long that blackness and darkness lasted Raymond never really knew.
It seemed to him that he awoke from it at occasional long intervals,
always to find himself dreaming of rapid motion, as though he were being
transported through the air with considerable speed. But there was no
means of telling in what direction he moved, nor in what company. His
senses were clouded and dull. He did not know what was real and what
part of a dream. He had no recollection of any of the events immediately
preceding this sudden and extraordinary journey, and after a brief
period of bewilderment would sink back into the black abyss of
unconsciousness from which he had been roused for a few moments.

At last, after what seemed to him an enormous interval -- for he knew
not whether hours, days, or even years had gone by whilst he had
remained in this state of unconscious apathy, he slowly opened his eyes,
to find that the black darkness had given place to a faint murky light,
and that he was no longer being carried rapidly onwards, but was lying
still upon a heap of straw in some dim place, the outlines of which only
became gradually visible to him.

Raymond was very weak, and weakness exercises a calming and numbing
effect upon the senses. He felt no alarm at finding himself in this
strange place, but after gazing about him without either recollection or
comprehension, he turned round upon his bed of straw, which was by no
means the worst resting place he had known in his wanderings, and
quickly fell into a sound sleep.

When he awoke some hours later, the place was lighter than it had been,
for a ray of sunlight had penetrated through the loophole high above his
head, and illuminated with tolerable brightness the whole of the dim
retreat in which he found himself. Raymond raised himself upon his elbow
and looked wonderingly around him.

"What in the name of all the Holy Saints has befallen me?" he
questioned, speaking half aloud in the deep stillness, glad to break the
oppressive silence, if it were only by the sound of his own voice. "I
feel as though a leaden weight were pressing down my limbs, and my head
is throbbing as though a hammer were beating inside it. I can scarce
frame my thoughts as I will. What was I doing last, before this strange
thing befell me?"

He put his hand to his head and strove to think; but for a time memory
eluded him, and his bewilderment grew painfully upon him. Then he espied
a pitcher of water and some coarse food set not far away, and he rose
with some little difficulty and dragged his stiffened limbs across the
stone floor till he reached the spot where this provision stood.

"Sure, this be something of the prisoner's fare," he said, as he raised
the pitcher to his lips; "yet I will refresh myself as best I may.
Perchance I shall then regain my scattered senses and better understand
what has befallen me."

He ate and drank slowly, and it was as he hoped. The nourishment he
sorely needed helped to dispel the clouds of weakness and faintness
which had hindered the working of his mind before, and a ray of light
penetrated the mists about him.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, "I have it now! We were in battle together -- Gaston
and I rode side by side. I recollect it all now. We were separated in
the press, and I was carried off by the followers of the Black Visor.
Strange! He was in our ranks. He is a friend, and not a foe. How came
it, then, that his men-at-arms made such an error as to set upon me? Was
it an error? Did I not hear him, or his huge companion, give some order
for my capture to his men before their blades struck me down? It is
passing strange. I comprehend it not. But Gaston will be here anon to
make all right. There must be some strange error. Sure I must have been
mistaken for some other man."

Raymond was not exactly uneasy, though a little bewildered and disturbed
in mind by the strangeness of the adventure. It seemed certain to him
that there must have been some mistake. That he was at present a
prisoner could not be doubted, from the nature of the place in which he
was shut up, and the silence and gloom about him; but unless he had been
abandoned by his first captors, and had fallen into the hands of the
French, he believed that his captivity would speedily come to an end
when the mistake concerning his identity was explained. If indeed he
were in the power of some French lord, there might be a little longer
delay, as a ransom would no doubt have to be found for him ere he could
be released. But then Gaston was at liberty, and Gaston had now powerful
friends and no mean share in some of the prizes which had been taken by
sea and land. He would quickly accomplish his brother's deliverance when
once he heard of his captivity; and there would be no difficulty in
sending him a message, as his captor's great desire would doubtless be
to obtain as large a ransom as he was able to extort.

"They had done better had they tried to seize upon Gaston himself," said
Raymond, with a half smile. "He would have been a prize better worth the
taking. But possibly he would have proved too redoubtable a foe.
Methinks my arm has somewhat lost its strength or cunning, else should I
scarce have fallen so easy a prey. I ought to have striven harder to
have kept by Gaston's side; but I know not now how we came to be
separated. And Roger, too, who has ever been at my side in all times of
strife and danger, how came he to be sundered from me likewise? It must
have been done by the fellows who bore me off -- the followers of the
Black Visor. Strange, very strange! I know not what to think of it. But
when next my jailer comes he will doubtless tell me where I am and what
is desired of me."

The chances of war were so uncertain, and the captive of one day so
often became the victor of the next, that Raymond, who for all his
fragile look possessed a large fund of cool courage, did not feel
greatly disturbed by the ill-chance that had befallen him. Many French
knights were most chivalrous and courteous to their prisoners; some even
permitted them to go out on parole to collect their own ransoms,
trusting to their word of honour to return if they were unable to obtain
the stipulated sum. The English cause had many friends amongst the
French nobility, and friendships as well as enmities had resulted from
the English occupation of such large tracts of France.

So Raymond resolved to make the best of his incarceration whilst it
lasted, trusting that some happy accident would soon set him at large
again. With such a brother as Gaston on the outside of his prison wall,
it would be foolish to give way to despondency.

He looked curiously about at the cave-like place in which he found
himself. It appeared to be a natural chamber formed in the living rock.
It received a certain share of air and light from a long narrow loophole
high up overhead, and the place was tolerably fresh and dry, though its
proportions were by no means large. Still it was lofty, and it was wide
enough to admit of a certain but limited amount of exercise to its occupant.

Raymond found that he could make five paces along one side of it and
four along the other. Except the heap of straw, upon which he had been
laid, there was no plenishing of any kind to the cell. However, as it
was probably only a temporary resting place, this mattered the less.
Raymond had been worse lodged during some of his wanderings before now,
and for the two years that he had lived amongst the Cistercian Brothers,
he had scarcely been more luxuriously treated. His cell there had been
narrower than this place, his fare no less coarse than that he had just
partaken of, and his pallet bed scarce so comfortable as this truss of
straw.

"Father Paul often lay for weeks upon the bare stone floor," mused
Raymond, as he sat down again upon his bed. "Sure I need not grumble
that I have such a couch as this."

He was very stiff and bruised, as he found on attempting to move about,
but he had no actual wounds, and no bones were broken. His light strong
armour had protected him, or else his foes had been striving to vanquish
without seriously hurting him. He could feel that his head had been a
good deal battered about, for any consecutive thought tired him; but it
was something to have come off without worse injury, and sleep would
restore him quickly to his wonted strength.

He lay down upon the straw presently, and again he slept soundly and
peacefully. He woke up many hours later greatly refreshed, aroused by
some sound from the outside of his prison. The light had completely
faded from the loophole. The place was in pitchy darkness. There is
something a little terrible in black oppressive darkness -- the darkness
which may almost be felt; and Raymond was not sorry, since he had
awakened, to hear the sound of grating bolts, and then the slow creaking
of a heavy door upon its hinges.

A faint glimmer of light stole into the cell, and Raymund marked the
entrance of a tall dark figure habited like a monk, the cowl drawn so
far over the face as entirely to conceal the features. However, the
ecclesiastical habit was something of a comfort to Raymond, who had
spent so much of his time amongst monks, and he rose to his feet with a
respectful salutation in French.

The monk stepped within the cell, and drew the door behind him, turning
the heavy key in the lock. The small lantern he carried with him gave
only a very feeble light; but it was better than nothing, and enabled
Raymond to see the outline of the tall form, which looked almost
gigantic in the full religious habit.

"Welcome, Holy Father," said Raymond, still speaking in French. "Right
glad am I to look upon face of man again. I prithee tell me where I am,
and into whose hands I have fallen; for methinks there is some mistake
in the matter, and that they take me for one whom I am not."

"They take thee for one Raymond de Brocas, who lays claim, in thine own
or thy brother's person, to Basildene in England and Orthez and Saut in
Gascony," answered the monk, who spoke slowly in English and in a
strangely-muffled voice. "If thou be not he, say so, and prove it
without loss of time; for evil is purposed to Raymond de Brocas, and it
were a pity it should fall upon the wrong head."

A sudden shiver ran through Raymond's frame. Was there not something
familiar in the muffled sound of that English voice? was there not
something in the words and tone that sounded like a cruel sneer? Was it
his fancy that beneath the long habit of the monk he caught the glimpse
of some shining weapon? Was this some terrible dream come to his
disordered brain? Was he the victim of an illusion? or did this tall,
shadowy figure stand indeed before him?

For a moment Raymond's head seemed to swim, and then his nerves steadied
themselves, and he wondered if he might not be disquieting himself in
vain. Possibly, after all, this might be a holy man -- one who would
stand his friend in the future.

"Thou art English?" he asked quickly; "and if English, surely a friend
to thy countrymen?"

"I am English truly," was the low-toned answer, "and I am here to advise
thee for thy good."

"I thank thee for that at least. I will follow thy counsel, if I may
with honour."

It seemed as though a low laugh forced its way from under the heavy
cowl. The monk drew one step nearer.

"Thou hadst better not trouble thy head about honour. What good will thy
honour be to thee if they tear thee piecemeal limb from limb, or roast
thee to death over a slow fire, or rack thee till thy bones start from
their sockets? Let thy honour go to the winds, foolish boy, and think
only how thou mayest save thy skin. There be those around and about thee
who will have no mercy so long as thou provest obdurate. Bethink thee
well how thou strivest against them, for thou knowest little what may
well befall thee in their hands."

The blood seemed to run cold in Raymond's veins as he heard these
terrible words, spoken with a cool deliberation which did nothing
detract from their dread significance. Who was it who once -- nay, many
times in bygone years -- had threatened him with just that cool,
deliberate emphasis, seeming to gloat over the dark threats uttered, as
though they were to him full of a deep and cruel joy?

It seemed to the youth as though he were in the midst of some dark and
horrible dream from which he must speedily awake. He passed his hand
fiercely across his eyes and made a quick step towards the monk.

"Who and what art thou?" he asked, in stifled accents, for it seemed as
though a hideous oppression was upon him, and he scarce knew the sound
of his own voice; and then, with a harsh, grating laugh, the tall figure
recoiled a pace, and flung the cowl from his head, and with an
exclamation of astonishment and dismay Raymond recognized his implacable
foe and rival, Peter Sanghurst, whom last he had beheld within the walls
of Basildene.

"Thou here!" he exclaimed, and moved back as far as the narrow limits of
the cell would permit, as though from the presence of some noxious beast.

Peter Sanghurst folded his arms and gazed upon his youthful rival with a
gleam of cool, vindictive triumph in his cruel eyes that might well send
a thrill of chill horror through the lad's slight frame. When he spoke
it was with the satisfaction of one who gloats over a victim utterly and
entirely in his power.

"Ay, truly I am here; and thou art mine, body and soul, to do with what
I will; none caring what befalls thee, none to interpose between thee
and me. I have waited long for this hour, but I have not waited in vain.
I can read the future. I knew that one day thou wouldst be in my hands
-- that I might do my pleasure upon thee, whatsoever that pleasure might
be. Knowing that, I have been content to wait; only every day the debt
has been mounting up. Every time that thou, rash youth, hast dared to
try to thwart me, hast dared to strive to stand between me and the
object of my desires, a new score has been written down in the record I
have long kept against thee. Now the day of reckoning has come, and thou
wilt find the reckoning a heavy one. But thou shalt pay it -- every jot
and tittle shalt thou pay. Thou shalt not escape from my power until
thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."

The man's lips parted in a hideous smile which showed his white teeth,
sharp and pointed like the fangs of a wolf. Raymond felt his courage
rise with the magnitude of his peril. That some unspeakably terrible
doom was designed for him he could not doubt. The malignity and cruelty
of his foe were too well understood; but at least if he must suffer, he
would suffer in silence. His enemy should not have the satisfaction of
wringing from him one cry for mercy. He would die a thousand times
sooner than sue to him. He thought of Joan -- realizing that for her
sake he should be called upon, in some sort, to bear this suffering; and
even the bare thought sent a thrill of ecstasy through him. Any death
that was died for her would be sweet. And might not his be instrumental
in ridding her for ever of her hateful foe? Would not Gaston raise
heaven and earth to discover his brother? Surely he would, sooner or
later, find out what had befallen him; and then might Peter Sanghurst
strive in vain to flee from the vengeance he had courted: he would
assuredly fall by Gaston's hand, tracked down even to the ends of the earth.

Peter Sanghurst, his eyes fixed steadily on the face of his victim,
hoping to enjoy by anticipation his agonies of terror, saw only a gleam
of resolution and even of joy pass across his face, and he gnashed his
teeth in sudden rage at finding himself unable to dominate the spirit of
the youth, as he meant shortly to rack his body.

"Thou thinkest still to defy me, mad boy?" he asked. "Thou thinkest that
thy brother will come to thine aid? Let him try to trace thee if he can!
I defy him ever to learn where thou art. Wouldst know it thyself? Then
thou shalt do so, and thou wilt see thy case lost indeed. Thou art in
that Castle of Saut that thou wouldest fain call thine own -- that
castle which has never yet been taken by foe from without, and never
will be yet, so utterly impregnable is its position. Thou art in the
hands of the Lord of Navailles, who has his own score to settle with
thee, and who will not let thee go till thou hast resigned in thy
brother's name and thine own every one of those bold claims which, as he
has heard, have been made to the Roy Outremer by one or both of you. Now
doth thy spirit quail? now dost thou hope for succour from without? Bid
adieu to all such fond and idle hopes. Thou art here utterly alone, no
man knowing what has befallen thee. Thou art in the hands of thy two
bitterest foes, men who are known and renowned for their cruelty and
their evil deeds -- men who would crush to death a hundred such as thou
who dared to strive to bar their way. Now what sayest thou? how about
that boasted honour of thine? Thou hadst best hear reason ere thou hast
provoked thy foes too far, and make for thyself the best terms that thou
canst. Thou mayest yet save thyself something if thou wilt hear reason."

Raymond's face was set like a flint. He had no power to rid himself of
the presence of his foe, but yield one inch to persuasion or threat he
was resolved not to do. For one thing, his distrust of this man was so
great that he doubted if any concessions made by him would be of the
smallest value in obtaining him his release; for another, his pride rose
up in arms against yielding anything to fear that he would not yield
were he a free man in the midst of his friends. No: at all costs he
would stand firm. He could but die once, and what other men had borne
for their honour or their faith he could surely bear. His lofty young
face kindled and glowed with the enthusiasm of his resolution, and again
the adversary's face darkened with fury.

"Thou thinkest perhaps that I have forgot the art of torture since thou
wrested from me one victim? Thou shalt find that what he suffered at my
hands was but the tithe of what thou shalt endure. Thou hast heard
perchance of that chamber in the heart of the earth where the Lord of
Navailles welcomes his prisoners who have secrets worth the knowing, or
treasures hidden out of his reach? That chamber is not far from where
thou standest now, and there be willing hands to carry thee thither into
the presence of its Lord, who lets not his visitors escape him till he
has wrung from their reluctant lips every secret of which he desires the
key. And what are his clumsy engines to the devices and refinements of
torture that I can inflict when once that light frame is bound
motionless upon the rack, and stretched till not a muscle may quiver
save at my bidding? Rash boy, beware how thou provokest me to do my
worst; for once I have thee thus bound beneath my hands, then the devil
of hatred and cruelty which possesses me at times will come upon me, and
I shall not let thee go until I have done my worst. Bethink thee well
ere thou provokest me too far. Listen and be advised, ere it be too late
for repentance, and thy groans of abject submission fall upon unheeding
ears. None will befriend thee then. Thou mayest now befriend thyself. If
thou wilt not take the moment when it is thine, it may never be offered
thee again."

Raymond did not speak. He folded his arms and looked steadily across at
his foe. He knew himself perfectly and absolutely helpless. Every weapon
he possessed had been taken from him whilst he lay unconscious. His
armour had been removed. He had nothing upon him save his light summer
dress, and the precious heart hanging about his neck. Even the
satisfaction of making one last battle for his life was denied him. His
limbs were yet stiff and weak. His enemy would grip him as though he
were a child if he so much as attempted to cast himself upon him. All
that was now left for him was the silent dignity of endurance.

Sanghurst made one step forward and seized the arm of the lad in a grip
like that of a vice. So cruel was the grip that it was hard to restrain
a start of pain.

"Renounce Joan!" he hissed in the boy's ear; "renounce her utterly and
for ever! Write at my bidding such words as I shall demand of thee, and
thou shalt save thyself the worst of the agonies I will else inflict
upon thee. Basildene thou shalt never get -- I can defy thee there, do
as thou wilt; besides, if thou departest alive from this prison house,
thou wilt have had enough of striving to thwart the will of Peter
Sanghurst -- but Joan thou shalt renounce of thine own free will, and
shalt so renounce her that her love for thee will be crushed and killed!
Here is the inkhorn, and here the parchment. The ground will serve thee
for a table, and I will tell thee what to write. Take then the pen, and
linger not. Thou wouldst rejoice to write whatever words I bid thee
didst thou know what is even now preparing in yon chamber below thy
prison house. Take the pen and sit down. It is but a short half-hour's
task."

The strong man thrust the quill into the slight fingers of the boy; but
Raymond suddenly wrenched his hand away, and flung the frail weapon to
the other end of the cell. He saw the vile purpose in a moment. Peter
knew something of the nature of the woman he passionately desired to win
for his wife, and he well knew that no lies of his invention respecting
the falsity of her young lover would weigh one instant with her. Even
the death of his rival would help him in no whit, for Joan would cherish
the memory of the dead, and pay no heed to the wooing of the living.
There was but one thing that would give him the faintest hope, and that
was the destruction of her faith in Raymond. Let him be proved faithless
and unworthy, and her love and loyalty must of necessity receive a rude
shock. Sanghurst knew the world, and knew that broken faith was the one
thing a lofty-souled and pure-minded woman finds it hardest to forgive.
Raymond, false to his vows, would no longer be a rival in his way. He
might have a hard struggle to win the lady even then, but the one
insuperable obstacle would be removed from his path.

And Raymond saw the purpose in a moment. His quick and sharpened
intelligence showed all to him in a flash. Not to save himself from any
fate would he so disgrace his manhood -- prove unworthy in the hour of
trial, deny his love, and by so doing deny himself the right to bear all
for her dear sake.

Flinging the pen to the ground and turning upon Sanghurst with a great
light in his eyes, he told him how he read his base purpose, his black
treachery, and dared him to do his worst.

"My worst, mad boy, my worst!" cried the furious man, absolutely foaming
at the mouth as he drew back, looking almost like a venomous snake
couched for a spring. "Is that, then, thy answer -- thy unchangeable
answer to the only loophole I offer thee of escaping the full vengeance
awaiting thee from thy two most relentless foes? Bethink thee well how
thou repeatest such words. Yet once again I bid thee pause. Take but
that pen and do as I bid thee --"

"I will not!" answered Raymond, throwing back his head in a gesture of
noble, fearless defiance; "I will not do thy vile bidding. Joan is my
true love, my faithful and loving lady. Her heart is mine and mine is
hers, and her faithful knight I will live and die. Do your worst. I defy
you to your face. There is a God above who can yet deliver me out of
your hand if He will. If not -- if it be His will that I suffer in a
righteous cause -- I will do it with a soul unseared by coward
falsehood. There is my answer; you will get none other. Now do with me
what you will. I fear you not."

Peter Sanghurst's aspect changed. The fury died out, to be replaced by a
perfectly cold and calm malignity a hundred times more terrible. He
stooped and picked up the pen, replacing it with the parchment and
inkhorn in a pouch at his girdle. Then throwing off entirely the long
monk's habit which he had worn on his entrance, he advanced step by step
upon Raymond, the glitter in his eye being terrible to see.

Raymond did not move. He was already standing against the wall at the
farthest limit of the cell. His foe slowly advanced upon him, and
suddenly put out two long, powerful arms, and gripped him round the body
in a clasp against which it was vain to struggle. Lifting him from his
feet, he carried him into the middle of the chamber, and setting him
down, but still encircling him with that bear-like embrace, he stamped
thrice upon the stone floor, which gave out a hollow sound beneath his feet.

The next moment there was a sound of strange creaking and groaning, as
though some ponderous machinery were being set in motion. There was a
sickening sensation, as though the very ground beneath his feet were
giving way, and the next instant Raymond became aware that this indeed
was the case. The great flagstone upon which he and his captor were
standing was sinking, sinking, sinking into the very heart of the earth,
as it seemed; and as they vanished together into the pitchy darkness, to
the accompaniment of that same strange groaning and creaking, Raymond
heard a hideous laugh in his ear.

"This is how his victims are carried to the Lord of Navailles's torture
chamber. Ha-ha! ha-ha! This is how they go down thither. Whether they
ever come forth again is quite another matter!"



    CHAPTER XXIV. GASTON'S QUEST.


When Gaston missed his brother from his side in the triumphant turning
of the tables upon the French, he felt no uneasiness. The battle was
going so entirely in favour of the English arms, and the discomfited
French were making so small a stand, that the thought of peril to
Raymond never so much as entered his head. In the waning light it was
difficult to distinguish one from another, and for aught he knew his
brother might be quite close at hand. They were engaged in taking
prisoners such of their enemies as were worthy to be carried off; and
when they had completely routed the band and made captive their leaders,
it was quite dark, and steps were taken to encamp for the night.

Then it was that Gaston began to wonder why he still saw nothing either
of Raymond or of the faithful Roger, who was almost like his shadow. He
asked all whom he met if anything had been seen of his brother, but the
answer was always the same -- nobody knew anything about him. Nobody
appeared to have seen him since the brothers rode into battle side by
side; and the young knight began to feel thoroughly uneasy.

Of course there had been some killed and wounded in the battle upon both
sides, though the English loss was very trifling. Still it might have
been Raymond's fate to be borne down in the struggle, and Gaston,
calling some of his own personal attendants about him, and bidding them
take lanterns in their hands, went forth to look for his brother upon
the field where the encounter had taken place.

The field was a straggling one, as the combat had taken the character of
a rout at the end, and the dead and wounded lay at long intervals apart.
Gaston searched and searched, his heart growing heavier as he did so,
for his brother was very dear to him, and he felt a pang of bitter
self-reproach at having left him, however inadvertently, to bear the
brunt of the battle alone. But search as he would he found nothing
either of Raymond or Roger, and a new fear entered into his mind.

"Can he have been taken prisoner?"

This did not seem highly probable. The French, bold enough at the outset
when they had believed themselves secure of an easy victory, had changed
their front mightily when they had discovered the trap set for them by
their foes, and in the end had thought of little save how to save their
own lives. They would scarce have burdened themselves with prisoners,
least of all with one who did not even hold the rank of knight. This
disappearance of his brother was perplexing Gaston not a little. He
looked across the moonlit plain, now almost as light as day, a cloud of
pain and bewilderment upon his face.

"By Holy St. Anthony, where can the boy be?" he cried.

Then one of his men-at-arms came up and spoke.

"When we were pursuing the French here to the left, back towards their
own lines, I saw a second struggle going on away to the right. The
knight with the black visor seemed to be leading that pursuit, and
though I could not watch it, as I had my own work to do here, I know
that some of our men took a different line, there along by yon ridge to
the right."

"Let us go thither and search there," said Gaston, with prompt decision,
"for plainly my brother is not here. It may be he has been following
another flying troop. We will up and after him. Look well as you ride if
there be any prostrate figures lying in the path. I fear me he may have
been wounded in the rout, else surely he would not have stayed away so
long."

Turning his horse round, and closely followed by his men, Gaston rode
off in the direction pointed out by his servant. It became plain that
there had been fighting of some sort along this line, for a few dead and
wounded soldiers, all Frenchmen, lay upon the ground at intervals.
Nothing, however, could be seen of Raymond, and for a while nothing of
Roger either; but just as Gaston was beginning to despair of finding
trace of either, he beheld in the bright moonlight a figure staggering
along in a blind and helpless fashion towards them, and spurring rapidly
forward to meet it, he saw that it was Roger.

Roger truly, but Roger in pitiable plight. His armour was gone. His
doublet had been half stripped from off his back. He was bleeding from
more than one wound, and in his eyes was a fixed and glassy stare, like
that of one walking in sleep. His face was ghastly pale, and his breath
came in quick sobs and gasps.

"Roger, is it thou?" cried Gaston, in accents of quick alarm. "I have
been seeking thee everywhere. Where is thy master? Where is my brother?"

"Gone! gone! gone!" cried Roger, in a strange and despairing voice.
"Carried off by his bitterest foes! Gone where we shall never see him more!"

There was something in the aspect of the youth and in his lamentable
words that sent an unwonted shiver through Gaston's frame; but he was
quick to recover himself, and answered hastily:

"Boy, thou art distraught! Tell me where my brother has gone. I will
after him and rescue him. He cannot be very far away. Quick -- tell me
what has befallen him!"

"He has been carried off -- more I know not. He has been carried off by
foulest treachery."

"Treachery! Whose treachery? Who has carried him off?"

"The knight of the Black Visor."

"The Black Visor! Nay; thou must be deceived thyself! The Black Visor is
one of our own company."

"Ay verily, and that is why he succeeded where an open foe had failed.
None guessed with what purpose he came when he and his men pushed their
way in a compact wedge, and sundered my young master from your side,
sir, driving him farther and farther from all beside, till he and I (who
had managed to keep close beside him) were far away from all the world
beside, galloping as if for dear life in a different direction. Then it
was that they threw off the pretence of being friends -- that they set
upon him and overpowered him, that they beat off even me from holding
myself near at hand, and carried me bound in another direction. I was
given in charge to four stalwart troopers, all wearing the black badge
of their master. They bound my bands and my feet, and bore me along I
knew not whither. I lost sight of my master. Him they took at headlong
speed in another direction. I had been wounded in the battle. I was
wounded by these men, struggling to follow your brother. I swooned in my
saddle, and knew no more till a short hour ago, when I woke to find
myself lying, still bound, upon a heap of straw in some outhouse of a
farm. I heard the voices of my captors singing snatches of songs not far
away; but they were paying no heed to their captive, and I made shift to
slacken my bonds and slip out into the darkness of the wood.

"I knew not where I was; but the moon told me how to bend my steps to
find the English camp again. I, in truth, have escaped -- have come to
bring you word of his peril; but ah, I fear, I fear that we shall never
see him more! They will kill him -- they will kill him! He is in the
hands of his deadliest foes!"

"If we know where he is, we can rescue him without delay!" cried Gaston,
who was not a little perplexed at the peculiar nature of the adventure
which had befallen his brother.

To be taken captive and carried off by one of the English knights (if
indeed the Black Visor were a knight) was a most extraordinary thing to
have happened. Gaston, who knew little enough of his brother's past
history in detail, and had no idea that he had called down upon himself
any particular enmity, was utterly at a loss to understand the story,
nor was Roger in a condition to give any farther explanation. He
tottered as he stood, and Gaston ordered his servants to mount him upon
one of their horses and bring him quietly along, whilst he himself
turned and galloped back to the camp to prosecute inquiries there.

"Who is the Black Visor?" -- that was the burden of his inquiries, and
it was long before he could obtain an answer to this question. The
leaders of the expedition were full of their own plans and had little
attention to bestow upon Gaston or his strange story. The loss of a
single private gentleman from amongst their muster was nothing to excite
them, and their own position was giving them much more concern. They had
taken many prisoners. They believed that they had done amply enough to
raise the siege of St. Jean d'Angely (though in this they proved
themselves mistaken), and they were anxious to get safely back to
Bordeaux with their spoil before any misadventure befell them.

Gaston cared nothing now for the expedition; his heart was with his
brother, his mind was full of anxious questioning. Roger's story plainly
showed that Raymond was in hostile hands. But the perplexity of the
matter was that Gaston had no idea of the name or rank of his brother's
enemy and captor.

At last he came upon a good-natured knight who had been courteous to the
brothers in old days. He listened with interest to Gaston's tale, and
bid him wait a few minutes whilst he went to try to discover the name
and rank of the Black Visor. He was certain that he had heard it, though
he could not recollect at a moment's notice what he had heard. He did
not keep Gaston waiting long, but returned quickly to him.

"The Black Visor is one Peter Sanghurst of Basildene, a gentleman in
favour with the King, and one likely to rise to high honour. Men whisper
that he has some golden secret which, if it be so, will make of him a
great man one of these days. It is he who has been in our company,
always wearing his black visor. Men say he is under some vow, and until
the vow is accomplished no man may look upon his face."

Gaston drew his breath hard, and a strange gleam came into his eyes.

"Peter Sanghurst of Basildene!" he exclaimed, and then fell into a deep
reverie.

What did it all mean? What had Raymond told him from time to time about
the enmity of this man? Did not Gaston himself well remember the
adventure of long ago, when he and his brother had entered Basildene by
stealth and carried thence the wretched victim of the sorcerer's art?
Was not that the beginning of an enmity which had never been altogether
laid to sleep? Had he not heard whispers from time to time all pointing
to the conclusion that Sanghurst had neither forgotten nor forgiven, and
that he felt his possession of Basildene threatened by the existence of
the brothers whose right it was? Had not Raymond placed himself almost
under vow to win back his mother's lost inheritance? And might it not be
possible that this knowledge had come to the ears of the present owner?

Gaston ground his teeth in rage as he realized what might be the meaning
of this cowardly attack. Treachery and cowardice were the two vices most
hateful in his eyes, and this vile attack upon an unsuspecting comrade
filled him with the bitterest rage as well as with the greatest anxiety.

Plain indeed was it that Raymond had been carried off; but whither? To
England? that scarce seemed possible. It would be a daring thing indeed
to bring an English subject back to his native land a prisoner. Yet
where else could Peter Sanghurst carry a captive? He might have friends
amongst the French; but who would be sufficiently interested in his
affairs to give shelter to him and his prisoner, when it might lead to
trouble perhaps with the English King?

One thought of relief there was in the matter. Plainly it was not
Raymond's death that was to be compassed. If they had wished to kill
him, they would have done so upon the battlefield and have left him
there, where his death would have excited no surprise or question. No;
it was something more than this that was wanted, and Gaston felt small
difficulty in guessing what that aim and object was.

"He is to be held for ransom, and his ransom will be our claim upon
Basildene. We both shall be called upon to renounce that, and then
Raymond will go free. Well, if that be the only way, Basildene must go.
But perchance it may be given to me to save the inheritance and rescue
Raymond yet. Would that I knew whither they had carried him! But surely
he may be traced and followed. Some there must be who will be able to
give me news of them."

Of one thing Gaston was perfectly assured, and that was that he must now
act altogether independently, gain permission to quit the expedition,
and pursue his own investigations with his own followers. He had no
difficulty in arranging this matter. The leaders had already resolved
upon returning to Bordeaux immediately, and taking ship with their spoil
and prisoners for England. Had Gaston not had other matters of his own
to think of, he would most likely have urged a farther advance upon the
beleaguered town, to make sure that it was sufficiently relieved. As it
was, he had no thoughts but for his brother's peril; and his anxieties
were by no means relieved by the babble of words falling from Roger's
lips when he returned to see how it fared with him.

Roger appeared to the kindly soldiers, who had made a rude couch for him
and were tending him with such skill as they possessed, to be talking in
the random of delirium, and they paid little heed to his words. But as
Gaston stood by he was struck by the strange fixity of the youth's eyes,
by the rigidity of his muscles, and by the coherence and significance of
his words.

It was not a disconnected babble that passed his lips; it was the
description of some scene upon which he appeared to be looking. He spoke
of horsemen galloping through the night, of the Black Visor in the midst
and his gigantic companion by his side. He spoke of the unconscious
captive they carried in their midst -- the captive the youth struggled
frantically to join, that they might share together whatever fate was to
be his.

The soldiers naturally believed he was wandering, and speaking of his
own ride with his captors; but Gaston listened with different feelings.
He remembered well what he had once heard about this boy and the strange
gift he possessed, or was said to possess, of seeing what went on at a
distance when he had been in the power of the sorcerer. Might it not be
that this gift was not only exercised at the will of another, but might
be brought into play by the tension of anxiety evoked by a great strain
upon the boy's own nervous system? Gaston did not phrase the question
thus, but he well knew the devotion with which Roger regarded Raymond,
and it seemed quite possible to him that in this crisis of his life, his
body weakened by wounds and fatigue, his mind strained by grief and
anxiety as to the fate of him he loved more than life, his spirit had
suddenly taken that ascendency over his body which of old it had
possessed, and that he was really and truly following in that strange
trance-like condition every movement of the party of which Raymond was
the centre.

At any rate, whether he were right or not in this surmise, Gaston
resolved that he would not lose a word of these almost ceaseless
utterings, and dismissing his men to get what rest they could, he sat
beside Roger, and listened with attention to every word he spoke.

Roger lay with his eyes wide open in the same fixed and glassy stare. He
spoke of a halt made at a wayside inn, of the rousing up with the
earliest stroke of dawn of the keeper of this place, of the inside of
the bare room, and the hasty refreshment set before the impatient
travellers.

"He sits down, they both sit down, and then he laughs -- ah, where have
I heard that laugh before?" and a look of strange terror sweeps over the
youth's face. "'I may now remove my visor -- my vow is fulfilled! My
enemy is in my hands. My Lord of Navailles, I drink this cup to your
good health and the success of our enterprise. We have the victim in our
own hands. We can wring from him every concession we desire before we
offer him for ransom.'"

Gaston gave a great start. What did this mean? Well indeed he remembered
the Sieur de Navailles, the hereditary foe of the De Brocas. Was it,
could it be possible, that he was concerned in this capture? Had their
two foes joined together to strive to win all at one blow? He must
strive to find this out. Could it be possible that Roger really saw and
heard all these things? or was it but the fantasy of delirium? Raymond
might have spoken to him of the Lord of Navailles as a foe, and in his
dreams he might be mixing one thought with the other.

Suddenly Roger uttered a sharp cry and pressed his hands before his
eyes. "It is he! it is he!" he cried, with a gasping utterance. "He has
removed the mask from his face. It is he -- Peter Sanghurst -- and he is
smiling -- that smile. Oh, I know what it means! He has cruel, evil
thoughts in his mind. O my master, my master!"

Gaston started to his feet. Here was corroboration indeed. Roger no more
knew who the Black Visor was than he had done himself an hour back. Yet
he now saw the face of Peter Sanghurst, the very man he himself had
discovered the Black Visor to be. This indeed showed that Roger was
truly looking upon some distant scene, and a strange thrill ran through
Gaston as he realized this mysterious fact.

"And the other, Peter Sanghurst's companion -- what of him? what
likeness does he bear?" asked Gaston quickly.

"He is a very giant in stature," was the answer, "with a swarthy skin,
black eyes that burn in their sockets, and a coal-black beard that falls
below his waist. He has a sear upon his left cheek, and he has lost two
fingers upon the left hand. He speaks in a voice like rolling waves, and
in a language that is half English and half the Gascon tongue."

"In very truth the Sieur de Navailles!" whispered Gaston to himself.

With every faculty on the alert, he sat beside Roger's bed, listening to
every word of his strange babble of talk. He described how they took to
horse, fresh horses being provided for the whole company, as though all
had been planned beforehand, and how they galloped at headlong pace away
-- away -- away, ever faster, ever more furiously, as though resolved to
gain their destination at all cost.

The day dawned, but Roger lay still in this trance, and Gaston would not
have him disturbed. Until he could know whither his brother had been
carried, it was useless to strive to seek and overtake him. If in very
truth Roger was in some mysterious fashion watching over him, he would,
doubtless, be able to tell whither at length the captive was taken. Then
they would to horse and pursue. But they must learn all they could first.

The hours passed by. Roger still talked at intervals. If questioned he
answered readily -- always of the same hard riding, the changes of
horses, the captive carried passive in the midst of the troop.

Then he began to speak words that arrested Gaston's attention. He spoke
of natural features well known to him: he described a grim fortress, so
placed as to be impregnable to foes from without. There were the wide
moat, the huge natural mound, the solid wall, the small loopholes.
Gaston held his breath to hear: he knew every feature of the place so
described. Was it not the ancient Castle of Saut -- his own inheritance,
as he had been brought up to call it? Roger had never seen it; he was
almost assured of that. What he was describing was something seen with
that mysterious second sight of his, nothing that had ever impressed
itself upon his waking senses.

It was all true, then. Raymond had indeed been taken captive by the two
bitter enemies of the house of De Brocas. Peter Sanghurst had doubtless
heard of the feud between the two houses, and of the claim set up by
Gaston for the establishment of his own rights upon the lands of the
foe, and had resolved to make common cause with the Navailles against
the brothers. It was possible that they would have liked to get both
into their clutches, but that they feared to attack so stalwart a foe as
Gaston; or else they might have believed that the possession of the
person of Raymond would be sufficient for their purpose. The tie between
the twin brothers was known to be strong. It was likely enough that were
Raymond's ransom fixed at even an exorbitant sum, the price would be
paid by the brother, who well knew that the Tower of Saut was strong
enough to defy all attacks from without, and that any person
incarcerated in its dungeons would be absolutely at the mercy of its
cruel and rapacious lord.

The King of England had his hands full enough as it was without taking
up the quarrel of every wronged subject. What was done would have to be
done by himself and his own followers; and Gaston set his teeth hard as
he realized this, and went forth to give his own orders for the morrow.

At the first glimpse of coming day they were to start forth for the
south, and by hard riding might hope to reach Saut by the evening of the
second day. Gaston could muster some score of armed men, and they would
be like enough to pick up many stragglers on the way, who would be ready
enough to join any expedition promising excitement and adventure. To
take the Castle of Saut by assault would, as Gaston well knew, be
impossible; but he cherished a hope that it might fall into his hands
through strategy if he were patient, and if Roger still retained that
marvellous faculty of second-sight which revealed to his eyes things
hidden from the vision of others.

He slept all that night without moving or speaking, and when he awoke in
the morning it was in a natural state, and at first he appeared to have
no recollection of what had occurred either to himself or to Raymond.
But as sense and memory returned to him, so did also the shadow of some
terrible doom hanging over his beloved young master; and though he was
still weak and ill, and very unfit for the long journey on horseback
through the heat of a summer's day, he would not hear of being left
behind, and was the one to urge upon the others all the haste possible
as they rode along southward after the foes who had captured Raymond.

On, on, on! there were no halts save for the needful rest and
refreshment, or to try to get fresh horses to carry them forward. A fire
seemed to burn in Gaston's veins as well as in those of Roger; and the
knowledge that they were on the track of the fugitives gave fresh ardour
to the pursuit at every halting place.

Only a few hours were allowed for rest and sleep during the darkest hour
of the short night, and then on -- on -- ever on, urged by an
overmastering desire to know what was happening to the prisoner behind
those gloomy walls.

Roger's sleep that night had been disturbed by hideous visions. He did
not appear to know or see anything that was passing; but a deep gloom
hung upon his spirit, and he many times woke shivering and crying out
with horror at he knew not what; whilst Gaston lay broad awake, a
strange sense of darkness and depression upon his own senses. He could
scarce restrain himself from springing up and summoning his weary
followers to get to horse and ride forth at all risks to the very doors
of Saut, and only with the early dawn of day did any rest or refreshment
fall upon his spirit.

Roger looked more himself as they rode forth in the dawn.

"Methinks we are near him now," he kept saying; "my heart is lighter
than it was. We will save him yet -- I am assured of it! He is not dead;
I should surely know it if he were. We are drawing nearer every step. We
may be with him ere nightfall."

"The walls of Saut lie betwixt us," said Gaston, rather grimly, but he
looked sternly resolute, as though it would take strong walls indeed to
keep him from his brother when they were so near.

The country was beginning to grow familiar to him. He picked up
followers in many places as he passed through. The name of De Brocas was
loved here; that of De Navailles was loathed, and hated, and feared.

Evening was drawing on. The woods were looking their loveliest in all
the delicate beauty of their fresh young green. Gaston, riding some
fifty yards ahead with Roger beside him, looked keenly about him, with
vivid remembrance of every winding of the woodland path. Soon, as he
knew, the grim Castle of Saut would break upon his vision -- away there
in front and slightly to the right, where the ground fell away to the
river and rose on the opposite bank, crowned with those frowning walls.

He was riding so carelessly that when his horse suddenly swerved and
shied violently, he was for a moment almost unseated; but quickly
recovering himself, he looked round to see what had frightened the
animal, and himself gave almost as violent a start as the beast had done.

And yet what he saw was nothing very startling: only the light figure of
a young girl -- a girl fair of face and light of foot as a veritable
forest nymph -- such as indeed she looked springing out from the
overhanging shade of that dim place.

For one instant they looked into each other's faces with a glance of
quick recognition, and then clasping her hands together, the girl
exclaimed in the Gascon tongue:

"The Holy Saints be praised! You have come, you have come! Ah, how I
have prayed that help might come! And my prayers have been heard!"



    CHAPTER XXV. THE FAIRY OF THE FOREST


Gaston sat motionless in his saddle, gazing at the apparition as though
fascinated. He had seen this woodland nymph before. He had spoken with
her, had sat awhile beside her, and her presence had inspired feelings
within him to which he had hitherto been a complete stranger. As he
gazed now into that lovely face, anxious, glad, fearful, all in one, and
yet beaming with joy at the encounter, he felt as if indeed the denizens
of another sphere had interposed to save his brother, and from that
moment he felt a full assurance that Raymond would be rescued.

Recovering himself as by an effort, he sprang from his saddle and stood
beside the girl.

"Lady," he said, in gentle accents, that trembled slightly through the
intensity of his emotion -- "fairest lady, who thou art I know not, but
this I know, that thou comest ever as a messenger of mercy. Once it was
to warn me of peril to come; now it is to tell us of one who lies in
sore peril. Lady, tell me that I am not wrong in this -- that thou
comest to give me news of my brother!"

Her liquid eyes were full of light. She did not shrink from him, or play
with his feelings as on a former occasion. Her face expressed a serious
gravity and earnestness of purpose which added tenfold to her charms.
Gaston, deeply as his feelings were stirred with anxious care for his
brother's fate, could not help his heart going out to this exquisite
young thing standing before him with trustful upturned face.

Who she was he knew not and cared not. She was the one woman in the
world for him. He had thought so when he had found her in the forest in
wayward tricksy mood; he knew it without doubt now that he saw her at
his side, her sweet face full of deep and womanly feeling, her arch
shyness all forgotten in the depth and resolution of her resolve.

"I do!" she answered, in quick, short sentences that sounded like the
tones of a silver bell. "You are Gaston de Brocas, and he, the prisoner,
is your twin brother Raymond. I know all. I have heard them talk in
their cups, when they forget that I am growing from a child to a woman.
I have long ceased to be a child. I think that I have grown old in that
terrible place. I have heard words -- oh, that make my blood run cold!
that make me wish I had never been born into a world where such things
are possible! In my heart I have registered a vow. I have vowed that if
ever the time should come when I might save one wretched victim from my
savage uncle's power -- even at the risk of mine own life -- I would do
it. I have warned men away from here. I have done a little, times and
again, to save them from a snare laid for them. But never once have I
had power to rescue from his relentless clutch the victim he had once
enclosed in his net, for never have I had help from without. But when I
heard them speak of Raymond de Brocas -- when I knew that it was he, thy
brother, of whom some such things were spoken -- then I felt that I
should indeed go mad could I not save him from such fate."

"What fate?" asked Gaston breathlessly; but she went on as though she
had not heard.

"I thought of thee as I had seen thee in the wood. I said in my heart,
'He is noble, he is brave. He will rest not night nor day whilst his
brother lies a captive in these cruel hands. I have but to watch and to
wait. He will surely come. And when he comes, I will show him the black
hole in the wall -- the dark passage to the moat -- and he will dare to
enter where never man has entered before. He will save his brother, and
my vow will be fulfilled!'"

Gaston drew his breath hard, and a light leaped into his eyes.

"Thou knowest a secret way by which the Tower of Saut may be entered --
is that so, Lady?"

"I know a way by which many a wretched victim has left it," answered the
girl, whose dark violet eyes were dilated by the depth of her emotion.
"I know not if any man ever entered by that way. But my heart told me
that there was one who would not shrink from the task, be the peril
never so great. I will see that the men-at-arms have drink enough to
turn their heads. I have a concoction of herbs which if mingled with
strong drink will cause such sleep to fall upon men that a thunderbolt
falling at their feet would scarce awaken them. I will see that thou
hast the chance thou needest. The rest wilt thou do without a thought of
fear."

"Fear to go where Raymond is -- to share his fate if I may not rescue
him!" cried Gaston. "Nay, sweet lady, that would be indeed a craven
fear, unworthy of any true knight. But tell me more. I have many times
wandered round the Tower of Saut in my boyhood, when its lord and master
was away. Methinks I know every loophole and gate by heart. But the
gates are so closely guarded, and the windows are so narrow and high up
in the walls, that I know not how they may be entered from without."

"True: yet there is one way of which doubtless thou knowest naught, for,
as I have said, men go forth that way, but enter not by it; and the
trick is known only to a few chosen souls, for the victims who pass out
seek not to come again. They drop with sullen plash into the black
waters of the moat, and the river, which mingles its clearer water with
the sluggish stream encircling the Tower, bears thence towards the
hungry sea the burden thus entrusted to its care."

Gaston shivered slightly.

"Thou speakest of the victims done to death within yon gloomy walls. I
have heard dark tales of such ere now."

"Thou hast heard nothing darker than the truth," said the girl, her
slight frame quivering with repressed emotion and a deep and terrible
sense of helpless indignation and pity. "I have heard stories that have
made my blood run cold in my veins. Men have been done to death in a
fashion I dare not speak of. There is a terrible room scarce raised
above the level of the moat, into which I was once taken, and the memory
of which has haunted me ever since. It is within the great mound upon
which the Tower is built; and above it is the dungeon in which the
victim is confined. There is some strange and wondrous device by which
he may be carried down and raised again to his own prison house when his
captor has worked his hideous will upon him. And if he dies, as many do,
upon the fearful engines men have made to inflict torture upon each
other, then there is this narrow stairway, and this still narrower
passage down to the sullen waters of the moat.

"The opening is just at the level of the water. It looks so small from
the opposite side, that one would think it but the size to admit the
passage of a dog; you would think it was caused by the loosening of some
stone in the wall -- no more. But yet it is large enough to admit the
passage of a human body; and where a body has passed out, sure a body
may pass in. There is no lock upon the door from the underground passage
to the moat; for what man would be so bold as find his way into the
Castle by the grim dungeons which hold such terrible secrets? If thou
hast the courage to enter thus, none will bar thy passage --"

"If!" echoed Gaston, whose hand was clenched and his whole face
quivering with emotion as he realized the fearful peril which menaced
his brother. "There is no such thing as a doubt. Raymond is there. I
come to save him."

The girl's eyes flashed with answering fire. She clasped her hands
together, and cried, with something like a sob in her voice:

"I knew it! I knew it! I knew that thou wert a true knight that thou
wouldst brave all to save him."

"I am his brother," said Gaston simply, "his twin brother. Who should
save him but I? Tell me, have I come in time? Have they dared to lay a
finger upon him yet?"

"Dared!" repeated the girl, with a curious inflection in her voice. "Of
what should they be afraid here in this tower, which has ever withstood
the attacks of foes, which no man may enter without first storming the
walls and forcing the gates? Thinkest thou that they fear God or man?
Nay, they know not what such fear is; and therein lies our best hope."

"How so?" asked Gaston quickly.

"Marry, for two reasons: one being that they keep but small guard over
the place, knowing its strength and remoteness; the other, that being
thus secure, they are in no haste to carry out their devil's work. They
will first let their prisoner recover of his hurts, that he slip not too
soon from their power, as weaklier victims ofttimes do."

"Then they have done naught to him as yet?" asked Gaston, in feverish
haste. "What hurts speakest thou of? Was he wounded in the fight, or
when they surrounded him and carried him off captive?"

"Not wounded, as I have heard, but sorely battered and bruised; and he
was brought hither unconscious, and lay long as one dead. When he
refused to do the bidding of Peter Sanghurst, they took him down to yon
fearsome chamber; but, as I heard when I sat at the hoard with mine
uncle and that wicked man, they had scarce laid hands upon him, to bend
his spirit to their will through their hellish devices, before he fell
into a deep swoon from which they could not rouse him; and afraid that
he would escape their malice by a merciful death, and that they would
lose the very vengeance they had taken such pains to win, they took him
back to his cell; and there he lies, tended not unskilfully by my old
nurse, who is ever brought to the side of the sick in this place. Once I
made shift to slip in behind her when the warder was off his guard, and
to whisper in his ear a word of hope. But we are too close watched to do
aught but by stealth, and Annette is never suffered to approach the
prison alone. She is conducted thither by a grim warder, who waits
beside her till she has done her office, and then takes her away. They
do not know how we loathe and hate their wicked, cruel deeds; but they
know that women have ere this been known to pity helpless victims, and
they have an eye to us ever."

Gaston drew his breath more freely. Raymond, then, was for the moment
safe. No grievous bodily hurt had been done him as yet; and here outside
his prison was his brother, and one as devoted as though the tie of
blood bound them together, ready to dare all to save him from the hands
of his cruel foes.

"They are in no great haste," said the maiden; "they feel themselves so
strong. They say that no man can so much as discover where thy brother
has been spirited, still less snatch him from their clasp. They know the
French King will not stir to help a subject of the Roy Outremer, They
know that Edward of England is far away, and that he still avoids an
open breach of the truce. They are secure in the undisturbed possession
of their captive. I have heard them say that had he a hundred brothers
all working without to obtain his release, the walls of the Tower of
Saut would defy their utmost efforts."

"That we shall see," answered Gaston, with a fierce gleam in his eye;
and then his face softened as he said, "Now that we have for our ally
the enchanted princess of the Castle, many things may be done that else
would be hard of achievement."

His ardent look sent a flush of colour through the girl's transparent
skin, but her eyes did not waver as she looked frankly back at him.

"Nay; I am no princess, and I have no enchantments -- would that I had,
if they could be used in offices of pity and mercy! I am but a
portionless maiden, an orphan, an alien. Ofttimes I weep to think that I
too did not die when my parents did, in that terrible scourge which has
devastated the world, which I hear that you of England call the Black
Death."

"Who art thou then, fair maid?" questioned Gaston, who was all this time
cautiously approaching the Tower of Saut by a winding and unfrequented
path well known to his companion. Roger had been told to wait till the
other riders came up, and conduct them with great secrecy and caution
along the same path.

Their worst fears for Raymond partially set at rest, and the hope of a
speedy rescue acting upon their minds like a charm, Gaston was able to
think of other things, and was eager to know more of the lovely girl who
had twice shown herself to him in such unexpected fashion.

It was a simple little story that she told, but it sounded strangely
entrancing from her lips. Her name, she said, was Constanza, and her
father had been one of a noble Spanish house, weakened and finally
ruined by the ceaseless internal strife carried on between the proud
nobles of the fiery south. Her mother was the sister of the Sieur do
Navailles, and he had from time to time given aid to her father in his
troubles with his enemies. The pestilence which had of late devastated
almost the whole of Europe, had visited the southern countries some time
before it had invaded more northerly latitudes; and about a year before
Gaston's first encounter with the nymph of the wood, it had laid waste
the districts round and about her home, and had carried off both her
parents and her two brothers in the space of a few short days.

Left alone in that terrible time of trouble, surrounded by enemies eager
to pounce upon the little that remained of the wide domain which had
once owned her father's sway, Constanza, in her desperation, naturally
turned to her uncle as the one protector that she knew. He had always
showed himself friendly towards her father. He had from time to time
lent him substantial assistance in his difficulties; and when he had
visited at her home, he had shown himself kindly disposed in a rough
fashion to the little maiden who flitted like a fairy about the wide
marble halls. Annette, her nurse, who had come with her mother from
France when she had left that country on her nuptials, was a Gascon
woman, and had taught the language of the country to her young mistress.
It was natural that the woman should be disposed to return to her native
land at this crisis; and for Constanza to attempt to hold her own -- a
timid maiden against a score of rapacious foes -- was obviously out of
the question. Together they had fled, taking with them such family
jewels as could easily be carried upon their persons, and disguised as
peasants they had reached and crossed the frontier, and found their way
to Saut, where the Lord of Navailles generally spent such of his time as
was not occupied in forays against his neighbours, or in following the
fortunes either of the French or English King, as best suited the fancy
of the moment.

He had received his niece not unkindly, but with complete indifference,
and had soon ceased to think about her in any way. She had a home
beneath his roof. She had her own apartments, and she was welcome to
occupy herself as she chose. Sometimes, when he was in a better humour
than usual, he would give her a rough caress. More frequently he swore
at her for being a useless girl, when she might, as a boy, have been of
some good in the world. He had no intention of providing her with any
marriage portion, so that it was superfluous to attempt to seek out a
husband for her. She and Annette were occasionally of use when there was
sickness within the walls of the Castle, or when he or his followers
came in weary and wounded from some hard fighting. On the whole he did
not object to her presence at Saut, and her own little bower was not
devoid of comfort, and even of luxury.

But for all that, the girl was often sick at heart with all that she saw
and heard around her, and was unconsciously pining for some life, she
scarce knew what, but a life that should be different from the one she
was doomed to now.

"Sometimes I think that I will retire to a Convent and shut myself up
there," she said to Gaston, her eyes looking far away over the wooded
plain before them; "and yet I love my liberty. I love to roam the forest
glades -- to hear the songs of the bird, and to feel the fresh winds of
heaven about me. Methinks I should pine and die shut up within high
walls, without the liberty to rove as I will. And then I am not
/devote/. I love not to spend long hours upon my knees. I feel nearest
to the Blessed Saints and the Holy Mother of God out here in these
woods, where no ribald shouts of mirth or blasphemous oaths can reach
me. But the Sisters live shut behind high walls, and they love best to
tell their beads beside the shrine of some Saint within their dim
chapels. They were good to us upon our journey. I love and reverence the
holy Sisters, and yet I do not know how I could be one of them. I fear
me they would soon send me forth, saying that I was not fit for their life."

"Nay, truly such a life is not for thee!" cried Gaston, with unwonted
heat. "Sweet maiden, thou wert never made to pine away behind walls that
shelter such as cannot stand against the trials and troubles of life.
For it is not so with thee. Thou hast courage; thou hast a noble heart
and a strong will. There is other work for thee to do. Lady, thou hast
this day made me thy humble slave for ever. My brother once free, as by
thy aid I trust he will be ere another day has dawned, and I will repay
thy service by claiming as my reward the right to call myself thine own
true knight. Sweet Constanza, I will live and, if need be, die for thee.
Thou wilt henceforth be the light of my path, the star of my life. Lady,
thy face hath haunted me ever since that day, so long gone by, when I
saw thee first, scarce knowing if thou wert a creature of flesh and
blood or a sprite of the woodland and water. Fair women have I looked
upon ere now, but none so fair as thee. Let me but call myself thy true
and faithful knight, and the day will come when I will stand boldly
forth and make thee mine before all the world!"

Gaston had never meant to speak thus when he and his companion first
began this walk through the winding woodland path. Then his thoughts had
been filled with his brother and him alone, and there had been no space
for other matters to intrude upon him. But with a mind more at rest as
to Raymond's immediate fate, he could not but be aware of the intense
fascination exercised upon him by his companion; and before he well knew
what he was saying, he was pouring into her ears these ardent
protestations of devotion.

Her fair face flushed, and the liquid eyes, so full of softness and
fire, fell before his ardent gaze. The little hand he had taken in his
own quivered in his strong clasp, and Gaston felt with a thrill of
ecstatic joy that it faintly returned the pressure of his fingers.

"Lady, sweetest Lady!" he repeated, his words growing more and more
rapid as his emotion deepened, "let me hear thee say that thou wilt
grant me leave to call myself thy true knight! Let me hear from those
sweet lips that there is none before me who has won the love of this
generous heart!"

The maid was quivering from head to foot. Such words were like a new
language to her, and yet her heart gave a ready and sweet response. Had
she not sung of knightly wooers in the soft songs of her childhood, and
had she not dreamed her own innocent dreams of him who would one day
come to seek her? And had not that dream lover always worn the knightly
mien, the proud and handsome face, of him she had seen but once, and
that for one brief hour alone? Was it hard to give to him the answer he
asked? And yet how could she frame her lips aright to tell him she had
loved him ere he had asked her love?

"Fair Sir, how should a lonely maid dwelling in these wild woods know
aught of that knightly love of which our troubadours so sweetly sing? I
have scarce seen the face of any since I have come to these solitudes;
only the rough and terrible faces of those wild soldiers and savages who
follow mine uncle when he rideth forth on his forays."

Gaston's heart gave a throb of joy; but it was scarce the moment to
press his suit farther. Who could tell what the next few hours might
bring forth? He might himself fall a victim, ere another day had passed,
to the ancient foe of his house. It was enough for the present to know
that the fair girl's heart was free.

He raised the hand he held and pressed his lips upon it, saying in
tenderest tones:

"From henceforth -- my brother once standing free without these walls --
I am thy true knight and champion, Lady. Give me, I pray thee, that knot
of ribbon at thy neck. Let me place it in my head piece, and feel that I
am thine indeed for life or death."

With a hand that trembled, but not from hesitation, Constanza unfastened
the simple little knot she wore as her sole ornament, and gave it to
Gaston. They exchanged one speaking glance, but no word passed their lips.

By this time they had approached very near to the Tower, although the
thick growth of the trees hindered them from seeing it, as it also
concealed them from the eyes of any persons who might be upon the walls.
The evening light was now fast waning. Upon the tops of the heights the
sun still shone, but here in the wooded hollow, beside the sullen waters
of the moat, twilight had already fallen, and soon it would be dark as
night itself. The moon rose late, and for a space there would be no
light save that of the stars.

Constanza laid her finger upon her lips, and made a sign demanding
caution. Gaston understood that he was warned not to speak, and to tread
cautiously, which he did, stealing along after his fairy-like companion,
and striving to emulate her dainty, bird-like motions. He could see by
the glint of water that they were skirting along beside the moat, but he
had never approached so near to it before, and he knew not where they
were going.

Some men might have feared treachery, but such an idea never entered
Gaston's head. Little as he knew of his companion, he knew that she was
true and loyal, that she was beloved by him, and that her heart was
already almost won.

Presently the girl stopped and laid her hand upon his arm.

"This is the place," she whispered. "Come very softly to the water's
edge, and I will show you the dark hole opposite, just above the
waterline, where entrance can be made. There be no loopholes upon this
side of the Tower, and no watchman is needed where there be no foothold
for man to scale the wall beneath.

"Look well across the moat. Seest thou yon black mark, that looks no
larger than my hand? That is the entrance to a tunnel which slopes
upward until it reaches a narrow doorway in the thickness of the solid
wall whereby the underground chamber may be reached. Once there, thou
wilt see let into the wall a great wheel with iron spokes projecting
from it. Set that wheel in motion, and a portion of the flooring of the
chamber above will descend. When it has reached the ground, thou canst
ascend by reversing the wheel, leaving always some one in the chamber
below to work the wheel, which will enable thee to bring thy brother
down again. That accomplished, all that remains will be to creep again
through the narrow passage to the moat and swim across once more. Thou
canst swim?"

"Ay, truly. Raymond and I have been called fishes from our childhood. We
swam in the great mill pool almost ere we could well run alone. Many of
my stout fellows behind are veritable water rats. If my brother be not
able to save himself, there will be a dozen stout arms ready to support
him across the moat.

"And what will be the hour when this attempt must be made? What if the
very moment I reached my brother his jailer should come to him, and the
alarm be given through the Castle ere we could get him thence?"

"That it must be my office to prevent," answered the girl, with quiet
resolution. "I have thought many times of some such thing as this,
hoping as it seemed where no hope was, and Annette and I have taken
counsel together. Leave it to me to see that all the Castle is filled
with feasting and revelry. I will see that the mead which circulates
tonight be so mingled with Annette's potion that it will work in the
brains of the men till they forget all but rioting and sleep. For mine
uncle and his saturnine guest, I have other means of keeping them in the
great banqueting hall, far away from the lonely Tower where their
prisoner lies languishing. They shall be so well served at the board
this night, that no thought of aught beside the pleasure of the table
shall enter to trouble their heads. And at ten of the clock, if I come
not again to warn thee, cross fearlessly the great moat, and do as I
have bid thee. But if thou hearest from the Castle wall the hooting of
an owl thrice repeated like this" -- and the girl put her hands to her
mouth, and gave forth so exact an mutation of an owl's note that Gaston
started to hear it -- "thrice times thrice, so that there can be no
mistake, then tarry here on this side; stir not till I come again. It
will be a danger signal to tell that all is not well. But if at the hour
of ten thou hast heard naught, then go forward, and fear not. Thy
brother will be alone, and all men far away from the Tower. Take him,
and go forth; and the Blessed Saints bless and protect you all."

She stretched forth her hand and placed it in his. There was a sudden
sadness in her face. Gaston caught her hand and pressed it to his lips,
but he had more to say than a simple word of parting.

"But I shall see thee again, sweet Constanza? Am I not thy true knight?
Shall I not owe to thee a debt I know not how to pay? Thou wilt not send
me forth without a word of promise of another meeting? When can I see
thee again to tell thee how we have fared?"

"Thou must not dream of loitering here once thy object is secured,"
answered the girl, speaking very firmly and almost sternly, though there
was a deep sadness in her eyes. "It will not be many hours ere they find
their captive has escaped them, and they will rouse the whole country
after you. Nay, to linger is certain death; it must not be thought of.
In Bordeaux, and there alone, wilt thou be safe. It is thither that thou
must fly, for thither alone will the Sieur de Navailles fear to follow
you. For me, I must remain here, as I have done these many years. It
will not be worse than it hath ever been."

"And thinkest thou that I will leave thee thus to languish after thou
hast restored to me my brother?" asked Gaston hotly. "Nay, lady, think
not that of thine own true knight! I will come again. I vow it! First
will I to the English King, and tell in his ears a tale which shall
arouse all his royal wrath. And then will I come again. It may not be
this year, but it shall be ere long. I will come to claim mine own; and
all that is mine shall be thine. Sweet Lady, wouldst thou look coldly
upon me did I come with banners unfurled and men in arms against him
thou callest thine uncle? For the lands he holds were ours once, and the
English King has promised that they shall one day be restored, as they
should have been long ago had not this usurper kept his iron clutch upon
them in defiance of his feudal lord. Lady, sweet Constanza, tell me that
thou wilt not call me thy foe if I come as a foe to the Lord of Navailles!"

"Methinks thou couldst never be my foe," answered Constanza in a low
voice, pressing her hands closely together; "and though he be mine
uncle, and though he has given me a home beneath his roof, he has made
it to me an abode of terror, and I know that he is feared and hated far
and wide, and that his evil deeds are such that none may trust or love
him. I would not show ingratitude for what he hath done for me; but he
has been paid many times over. He has had all my jewels, and of these
many were all but priceless; and he gives me but the food I eat and the
raiment I wear. I should bless the day that set me free from this life
beneath his roof. There be moments when I say in mine heart that I
cannot live longer in such an evil place -- when I have no heart left
and no hope."

"But thou wilt have hope now!" cried Gaston ardently. "Thou wilt know
that I am coming to claim mine own, and with it this little hand, more
precious to me than all else besides. Sweetest Constanza, tell me that I
shall still find thee as thou art when I come to claim thee! I shall not
come to find thee the bride of another?"

He could not see her face in the dimness, but he felt her hand flutter
in his clasp like a bird in the hand of one who has tamed it, and whom
it trusts and loves. The next moment his arm was about her slight
figure, and her head drooped for a moment upon his shoulder.

"I shall be waiting," she whispered, scarce audibly. "How could I love
another, when thou hast called thyself my knight?"

He pressed a passionate kiss upon her brow.

"If this is indeed farewell for the present hour, it is a sweet one, my
beloved. I little thought, as I journeyed hither today, what I was to
find. Farewell, farewell, my lady love, my princess, my bride. Farewell,
but not for ever. I will come again anon, and then we will be no more
parted, for thou shalt reign in these grim walls, and no more dark tales
of horror shall be breathed of them. I will come again; I will surely
come. Trust me, and fear not!"

She stood beside him in the gathering darkness, and he could almost hear
the fluttering of her heart. It was a moment full of sweetness for both,
even though the shadow of parting was hanging over them.

A slight rustle amongst the underwood near to them caused them to spring
apart; and the girl fled from him, speeding away with the grace and
silent fleetness of a deer. Gaston made a stride towards the place
whence the sound had proceeded, and found himself face to face with Roger.

"The men are all at hand," he whispered. "I would not have them approach
too close till I knew your pleasure. They are all within the wood, all
upon the alert lest any foe be nigh; but all seems silent as the grave,
and not a light gleams from the Tower upon this side. Shall I bid them
remain where they are? or shall I bring them hither to you beside the
water?"

"Let them remain where they are for a while and see that the horses be
well fed and cared for. At ten o'clock, if all be well, the attempt to
enter the Tower is to be made; and once the prisoner is safe and in our
keeping, we must to Bordeaux as fast as horse will take us. The Sieur de
Navailles will raise the whole country after us. We must be beyond the
reach of his clutches ere we draw rein again."



    CHAPTER XXVI. THE RESCUE OF RAYMOND.


The appointed hour had arrived. No signal had fallen upon Gaston's
listening ears; no note of warning had rung through the still night air.

From the direction of the Castle sounds of distant revelry arose at
intervals -- sounds which seemed to show that nothing in the shape of
watch or ward was being thought of by its inmates; and also that
Constanza's promise had been kept, and potations of unwonted strength
had been served out to the men.

Now the appointed hour had come and gone, and Gaston commenced his
preparations for the rescue of his brother. That he might be going to
certain death if he failed, or if he had been betrayed, did not weigh
with him for a moment. If Constanza were false to him, better death than
the destruction of his hopes and his trust. In any case he would share
his brother's fate sooner than leave him in the relentless hands of
these cruel foes.

He had selected six of his stoutest followers, all of them excellent
swimmers, to accompany him across the moat; and Roger, as a matter of
course, claimed to be one of the party. To Roger's mysterious power of
vision they owed their rapid tracing of Raymond to this lonely spot. It
was indeed his right to make one of the rescue party if he desired to be
allowed to do so.

The rest of their number were to remain upon this farther side of the
moat, and the horses were all in readiness, rested and refreshed, about
half-a-mile off under the care of several stout fellows, all stanch to
their master's interests. The story they had heard from Gaston of what
had been devised against his brother filled the honest soldiers with
wrath and indignation. Rough and savage as they might show themselves in
open warfare, deliberate and diabolical cruelty was altogether foreign
to their nature. And they all felt towards Raymond a sense of protecting
and reverent tenderness, such as all may feel towards a being of finer
mould and loftier nature.

Raymond had the faculty of inspiring in those about him this reverential
tenderness; and not one of those stalwart fellows who were silently
laying aside their heavy mail, and such of their garments as would be
likely to hinder them in their swim across the moat, but felt a deep
loathing and hatred towards the lord of this grim Tower, and an
overmastering resolve to snatch his helpless victim from his cruel
hands, or perish in the attempt.

All their plans had been very carefully made. Lanterns and the
wherewithal for kindling them were bound upon the heads of some of the
swimmers; and though they laid aside most of their defensive armour and
their heavy riding boots, they wore their stout leather jerkins, that
were almost as serviceable against foeman's steel, and their weapons,
save the most cumbersome, were carried either in their belts or fastened
across their shoulders.

Dark though it had become, Gaston had not lost cognizance of the spot
whither they were to direct their course; and one by one the strong
swimmers plunged into the sullen waters without causing so much as a
ripple or plash, which might betray their movements to suspicious ears
upon the battlements (if indeed any sort of watch were kept, which
appeared doubtful). They swam with that perfect silence possible only to
those who are thoroughly at home in the water, till they had crossed the
dark moat and had reached the perpendicular wall of the Tower, which
rose sheer upon the farther side -- so sheer that not even the foot of
mountain goat could have scaled its rough-hewn side.

But Gaston knew what he had to search for, and with outstretched hand he
swam silently along the solid masonry, feeling for that aperture just
above watermark which he had seen before the daylight faded. It took him
some little time to find it, but at last it was discovered, and with a
muttered word of command to the men who silently followed in his wake,
he drew himself slowly out of the water, to find himself in a very
narrow rounded aperture like a miniature tunnel, which trended slightly
upwards, and would only admit the passage of one human being at a time,
and then only upon hands and knees.

It was pitchy dark in this tunnel, and there was no space in which to
attempt to kindle a light. Once the thought came into Gaston's head that
if he were falling into a treacherous pitfall laid for him with diabolic
ingenuity by his foes, nothing could well be better than to entrap him
into such a place as this, where it would be almost impossible to go
forward or back, and quite out of his power to strike a single blow for
liberty or life.

But he shook off the chill sense of fear as unworthy and unknightly. His
Constanza was true; of that he was assured. The only possible doubt was
whether she herself were being used as an unconscious tool in the hands
of subtle and perfectly unscrupulous men.

But even so Gaston had no choice but to advance. He had come to rescue
his brother or to die with him. If the latter, he would try at least to
sell his life dearly. But he was fully persuaded that his efforts would
be crowned with success.

He had time to think many such things as he slowly crept along the low
passage in the black darkness. It seemed long before his hand came in
contact with the door he had been told he should presently reach, and
this door, as Constanza had said, yielded to his touch, and he felt
rather than saw that he had emerged into a wider space beyond.

This place, whatever it was, was not wholly dark, though so very dim
that it was impossible to make out anything save the dull red glow of
what might be some embers on a distant hearth. Gaston did not speak a
word, but waited till all his companions had reached this more open
space, and had risen to their feet and grasped their weapons. Then all
held their breath, and listened for any sound that might by chance
reveal the presence of hidden foes, till they started at the sound of
Roger's voice speaking softly but with complete assurance.

"There is no one here," he said. "We are quite alone. Let me kindle a
torch and show you."

Roger, as Gaston had before observed, possessed a cat-like faculty of
seeing in the dark. Whether it was natural to him, or had been acquired
during those days spent almost entirely underground in the sorcerer's
vaulted chamber at Basildene, the youth himself scarcely knew. But he
was able to distinguish objects clearly in gloom which no ordinary eye
could penetrate; and now he walked fearlessly forward and stirred up the
smouldering embers, whose dull red glow all could see, into a quick,
bright, palpitating flame which illumined every corner of the strange
place into which they had penetrated.

Gaston and his men looked wonderingly around them, as they lighted their
lanterns at the fire and flashed them here and there into all the dark
corners, as though to assure themselves that there were no ambushed foes
lurking in the grim recesses of that circular room. But Roger had been
quite right. There was nothing living in that silent place. Not so much
as a loophole in the wall admitted any air or light from the outer
world, or could do so even in broad noon. The chamber was plainly
hollowed out in the mass of earth and masonry of which the foundations
of the Tower were composed, and if any air were admitted (as there must
have been, else men could not breathe down there), it was by some device
not easily discovered at a first glance.

It was in truth a strange and terrible place -- the dank walls, down
which the damp moisture slowly trickled, hung round with instruments of
various forms, all designed with a terrible purpose, and from their look
but too often used.

Gaston's face assumed a look of dark wrath and indignation as his quick
eyes roved round this evil place, and he set his teeth hard together as
he muttered to himself:

"Heaven send that the Prince himself may one day look upon the vile
secrets of this charnel house! I would that he and his royal father
might know what deeds of darkness are even now committed in lands that
own their sway! Would that I had that wicked wretch here in my power at
this moment! Well does he deserve to be torn in pieces by his own
hideous engines. And in this very place does he design to do to death my
brother! May God pardon me if I sin in the thought, but death by the
sword is too good for such a miscreant!"

Words very similar to these were being bandied about in fierce
undertones by the men who had accompanied Gaston, and who had never seen
such a chamber as this before. Great would have been their satisfaction
to let its owner taste something of the agony he had too often inflicted
upon helpless victims thrown into his power. But this being out of the
question, the next matter was the rescue of the captive they had come to
save; and they looked eagerly at their young leader to know what was the
next step to be taken.

Gaston was searching for the wheel by which the mechanism could be set
in motion which would enable him to reach his brother's prison house. It
was easily found from the description given him by Constanza. He set his
men to work to turn the wheel, and at once became aware of the groaning
and grating sound that attends the motion of clumsy machinery. Gazing
eagerly up into the dun roof above him, he saw slowly descending a
portion of the stonework of which it was formed. It was a clever enough
contrivance for those unskilled days, and showed a considerable
ingenuity on the part of some owner of the Castle of Saut.

When the great slab had descended to the floor below, Gaston stepped
upon it, Roger placing himself at his side, and with a brief word to his
men to reverse the action of the wheel, and to lower the slab again a
few minutes later, he prepared for his strange passage upwards to his
brother's lonely cell.

Roger held a lantern in his hand, and the faces of the pair were full of
anxious expectation. Suppose Raymond had been removed from that upper
prison? Suppose he had succumbed either to the cruelty of his foes or to
the fever resulting from his injuries received on the day of the battle?

A hundred fears possessed Gaston's soul as the strange transit through
the air was being accomplished -- a transit so strange that he felt as
though he must surely be dreaming. But there was only one thing to be
done -- to persevere in the quest, and trust to the Holy Saints and the
loving mercy of Blessed Mary's Son to grant him success in this his
endeavour.

Up, up into the darkness of the vaulted roof he passed, and then a
yawning hole above their heads, which looked too small to admit the
passage of the slab upon which they stood, swallowed them up, and they
found themselves passing upwards through a shaft which only just
admitted the block upon which they stood. Up and up they went, and now
the creaking sound grew louder, and the motion grew perceptibly slower.
They were no longer in a narrow shaft; a black space opened before their
eyes. The motion ceased altogether with a grinding sensation and a jerk,
and out of the darkness of a wider space, pitchy dark to their eyes,
came the sound of a familiar voice.

"Gaston -- Brother!"

Gaston sprang forward into the darkness, heedless of all but the sound
of that voice. The next moment he was clasping his brother in his arms,
his own emotion so great that he dared not trust his voice to speak;
whilst Raymond, holding him fast in a passionate clasp, whispered in his
ear a breathless question.

"Thou too a prisoner in this terrible place, my Gaston? O brother -- my
brother -- I trusted that I might have died for us both!"

"A prisoner? nay, Raymond, no prisoner; but as thy rescuer I come. What,
believest thou not? Then shalt thou soon see with thine own eyes.

"But let me look first upon thy face. I would see what these miscreants
have done to thee. Thou feelest more like a creature of skin and bone
than one of sturdy English flesh and blood.

"The light, Roger!

"Ay, truly, Roger is here with me. It is to him in part we owe it that
we are here this night. Raymond, Raymond, thou art sorely changed! Thou
lookest more spirit-like than ever! Thou hast scarce strength to stand
alone! What have they done to thee, my brother?"

But Raymond could scarce find strength to answer. The revulsion of
feeling was too much for him. When he had heard that terrible sound, and
had seen the slab in the floor sink out of sight, he had sprung from his
bed of straw, ready to face his cruel foes when they came for him, yet
knowing but too well what was in store for him when he was carried down
below, as he had been once before. Then when, instead of the cruel
mocking countenance of Peter Sanghurst, he had seen the noble, loving
face of his brother, and had believed that he, too, had fallen into the
power of their deadly foes, it had seemed to him as though a bitterness
greater than that of death had fallen upon him, and the rebound of
feeling when Gaston had declared himself had been so great, that the
whole place swam before his eyes, and the floor seemed to reel beneath
his feet.

"We will get him away from this foul place!" cried Gaston, with flaming
eyes, as he looked into the white and sharpened face of his brother, and
felt how feebly the light frame leaned against the stalwart arm
supporting it.

He half led, half carried Raymond the few paces towards the slab in the
floor which formed the link with the region beneath, and the next minute
Raymond felt himself sinking down as he had done once before; only then
it had been in the clasp of his most bitter foe that he had been carried
to that infernal spot.

The recollection made him shiver even now in Gaston's strong embrace,
and the young knight felt the quiver and divined the cause.

"Fear nothing now, my brother," he said. "Though we be on our way to
that fearful place, it is for us the way to light and liberty. Our own
good fellows are awaiting us there. I trow not all the hireling knaves
within this Castle wall should wrest thee from us now."

"I fear naught now that thou art by my side, Gaston," answered Raymond,
in low tones. "If thou art not in peril thyself, I could wish nothing
better than to die with thine arm about mine."

"Nay, but thou shalt live!" cried Gaston, with energy, scarce
understanding that after the long strain of such a captivity as
Raymond's had been it was small wonder that he had grown to think death
well-nigh better and sweeter than life. "Thou shalt live to take
vengeance upon thy foes, and to recompense them sevenfold for what they
have done to thee. I will tell this story in the ears of the King
himself. This is not the last time that I shall stand within the walls
of Saut!"

By this time the heavy slab had again descended, and around it were
gathered the eager fellows, who received their young master's brother
with open arms and subdued shouts of triumph and joy. But he, though he
smiled his thanks, looked round him with eyes dilated by the remembrance
of some former scene there, and Gaston set his teeth hard, and shook
back his head with a gesture that boded little good for the Sieur de
Navailles upon a future day.

"Come men; we may not tarry!" he said. "No man knows what fancy may
enter into the head of the master of this place. Turn the wheel again;
send up the slab to its right place. Let them have no clue to trace the
flight of their victim. Leave everything as we found it, and follow me
without delay."

He was all anxiety now to get his brother from the shadow of this
hideous place. The whiteness of Raymond's face, the hollowness of his
eyes, the lines of suffering traced upon his brow in a few short days,
all told a tale only too easily read.

The rough fellows treated him tenderly as they might have treated a
little child. They felt that he had been through some ordeal from which
they themselves would have shrunk with a terror they would have been
ashamed to admit; and that despite the youth's fragile frame and
ethereal face that looked little like that of a mailed warrior, a hero's
heart beat in his breast, and he had the spirit to do and to dare what
they themselves might have quailed from and fled before.

The transit through the narrow tunnel presented no real difficulty, and
soon the sullen waters of the moat were troubled by the silent passage
of seven instead of six swimmers. The shock of the cold plunge revived
Raymond; and the sense of space above him, the star-spangled sky
overhead, the free sweet air around him, even the unfettered use of his
weakened limbs, as he swam with his brother's strong supporting arm
about him, acted upon him like a tonic. He hardly knew whether or not it
was a dream; whether he were in the body or out of the body; whether he
should awake to find himself in his gloomy cell, or under the cruel
hands of his foes in that dread chamber he had visited once before.

He knew not, and at that moment he cared not. Gaston's arm was about
him, Gaston's voice was in his ear. Whatever came upon him later could
not destroy the bliss of the present moment.

A score of eager hands were outstretched to lift the light frame from
Gaston's arm as the brothers drew to the edge of the moat. It was no
time to speak, no time to ask or answer questions. At any moment some
unguarded movement or some crashing of the boughs underfoot might awaken
the suspicions of those within the walls. It was enough that the secret
expedition had been crowned with success -- that the captive was now
released and in their own hands.

Raymond was almost fainting now with excitement and fatigue, but
Gaston's muscles seemed as if made of iron. Though the past days had
been for him days of great anxiety and fatigue, though he had scarce
eaten or slept since the rapid march upon the besieging army around St.
Jean d'Angely, he seemed to know neither fatigue nor feebleness. The arm
upholding Raymond's drooping frame seemed as the arm of a giant. The
young knight felt as though he could have carried that light weight even
to Bordeaux, and scarce have felt fatigue.

But there was no need for that. Nigh at hand the horses were waiting,
saddled and bridled, well fed and well rested, ready to gallop steadily
all through the summer night. The moon had risen now, and filtered in
through the young green of the trees with a clear and fitful radiance.
The forest was like a fairy scene; and over the minds of both brothers
stole the softening remembrance of such woodland wonders in the days
gone by, when as little lads, full of curiosity and love of adventure,
they had stolen forth at night into the forest together to see if they
could discover the fairies at their play, or the dwarfs and gnomes busy
beneath the surface of the earth.

To Raymond it seemed indeed as though all besides might well be a dream.
He knew not which of the fantastic images impressed upon his brain was
the reality, and which the work of imagination. A sense of restful
thankfulness -- the release from some great and terrible fear -- had
stolen upon him, he scarce knew how or why. He did not wish to think or
puzzle out what had befallen him. He was with Gaston once more; surely
that was enough.

But Gaston's mind was hard at work. From time to time he turned an
anxious look upon his brother, and he saw well how ill and weary he was,
how he swayed in the saddle, though supported by cleverly-adjusted
leather thongs, and how unfit he was for the long ride that lay before
them. And yet that ride must be taken. They must be out of reach of
their implacable foe as quickly as might be. In the unsettled state of
the country no place would afford a safe harbour for them till Bordeaux
itself was reached. Fain would he have made for the shelter of the old
home in the mill, or of Father Anselm's hospitable home, but he knew
that those would be the first places searched by the emissaries of the
Navailles. Even as it was these good people might be in some peril, and
they must certainly not be made aware of the proximity of the De Brocas
brothers.

But if not there, whither could Raymond be transported? To carry him to
England in this exhausted state might be fatal to him; for no man knew
when once on board ship how contrary the wind might blow, and the
accommodation for a sick man upon shipboard was of the very rudest. No;
before the voyage could be attempted Raymond must have rest and care in
some safe place of shelter. And where could that shelter be found?

As Gaston thus mused a sudden light came upon him, and turning to Roger
he asked of him a question:

"Do not some of these fellows of our company come from Bordeaux; and
have they not left it of late to follow the English banner?"

"Ay, verily," answered Roger quickly. "There be some of them who came
forth thence expressly to fight under the young knight of De Brocas. The
name of De Brocas is as dear to many of those Gascon soldiers as that of
Navailles is hated and cursed."

"Send then to me one of those fellows who best knows the city," said
Gaston; and in a few more minutes a trooper rode up to his side.

"Good fellow," said Gaston, "if thou knowest well you city whither we
are bound, tell me if thou hast heard aught of one Father Paul, who has
been sent to many towns in this and other realms by his Holiness the
Pope, to restore amongst the Brethren of his order the forms and habits
which have fallen something into disuse of late? I heard a whisper as we
passed through the city a week back now that he was there. Knowest thou
if this be true?"

"It was true enow, Sir Knight, a few days back," answered the man, "and
I trow you may find him yet at the Cistercian Monastery within the city
walls. He had but just arrived thither ere the English ships came, and
men say that he had much to do ere he sallied forth again."

"Good," answered Gaston, in a tone of satisfaction; and when the trooper
had dropped back to his place again, the young knight turned to his
brother and said cheerily:

"Courage, good lad; keep but up thy heart, my brother, for I have heard
good news for thee. Father Paul is in the city of Bordeaux, and it is in
his kindly charge that I will leave thee ere I go to England with my
tale to lay before the King."

Raymond was almost too far spent to rejoice over any intelligence,
however welcome; yet a faint smile crossed his face as the sense of
Gaston's words penetrated to his understanding. It was plain that there
was no time to lose if they were to get him to some safe shelter before
his strength utterly collapsed, and long before Bordeaux was reached he
had proved unable to keep his seat in the saddle, and a litter had been
contrived for him in which he could lie at length, carried between four
of the stoutest horsemen.

They were now in more populous and orderly regions, where the forest was
thinner and townships more frequent. The urgent need for haste had
slightly diminished, and though still anxious to reach their
destination, the party was not in fear of an instant attack from a
pursuing foe.

The Navailles would scarce dare to fall upon the party in the
neighbourhood of so many of the English King's fortified cities; and
before the sun set they hoped to be within the environs of Bordeaux
itself -- a hope in which they were not destined to be disappointed.

Nor was Gaston disappointed of his other hope; for scarce had they
obtained admission for their unconscious and invalided comrade within
the walls of the Cistercian Monastery, and Gaston was still eagerly
pouring into the Prior's ears the story of his brother's capture and
imprisonment, when the door of the small room into which the strangers
had been taken was slowly opened to admit a tall, gaunt figure, and
Father Paul himself stood before them. He gave Gaston one long,
searching look; but he never forgot a face, and greeted him by name as
Sir Gaston de Brocas, greatly to the surprise of the youth, who thought
he would neither be recognized nor known by the holy Father. Then
passing him quickly by, the monk leaned over the couch upon which
Raymond had been laid -- a hard oaken bench -- covered by the cloak of
the man who had borne him in.

Raymond's eyes were closed; his face, with the sunset light lying full
upon it, showed very hollow and white and worn. Even in the repose of a
profound unconsciousness it wore a look of lofty purpose, together with
an expression of purity and devotion impossible to describe. Gaston and
the Prior both turned to look as Father Paul bent over the prostrate
figure with an inarticulate exclamation such as he seldom uttered, and
Gaston felt a sudden thrill of cold fear run through him.

"He is not dead?" he asked, in a passionate whisper; and the Father
looked up to answer:

"Nay, Sir Knight, he is not dead. A little rest, a little tendance, a
little of our care, and he will be restored to the world again. Better
perhaps were it not so - better perchance for him. For his is not the
nature to battle with impunity against the evil of the world. Look at
him as he lies there: is that face of one that can look upon the deeds
of these vile days and not suffer keenest pain? To fight and to vanquish
is thy lot, young warrior; but what is his? To tread the thornier path
of life and win the hero's crown, not by deeds of glory and renown, but
by that higher and holier path of suffering and renunciation which One
chose that we might know He had been there before us. Thou mayest live
to be one of this world's heroes, boy; but in the world to come it will
be thy brother who will wear the victor's crown."

"I truly believe it," answered Gaston, drawing a deep breath; "but yet
we cannot spare him from this world. I give him into thy hands, my
Father, that thou mayest save him for us here."



    CHAPTER XXVII. PETER SANGHURST'S WOOING.


"Joan -- sweetest mistress -- at last I find you; at last my eyes behold
again those peerless charms for which they have pined and hungered so
long! Tell me, have you no sweet word of welcome for him whose heart you
hold between those fair hands, to do with it what you will?"

Joan, roused from her reverie by those smoothly-spoken words, uttered in
a harsh and grating voice, turned quickly round to find herself face to
face with Peter Sanghurst -- the man she had fondly hoped had passed out
of her life for ever.

Joan and her father, after a considerable period spent in wanderings in
foreign lands (during which Sir Hugh had quite overcome the melancholy
and sense of panic into which he had been thrown by the scourge of the
Black Death and his wife's sudden demise as one of its victims), had at
length returned to Woodcrych. The remembrance of the plague was fast
dying out from men's minds. The land was again under cultivation; and
although labour was still scarce and dear, and continued to be so for
many, many years, whilst the attempts at legislation on this point only
produced riot and confusion (culminating in the next reign in the
notable rebellion of Wat Tyler, and leading eventually to the
emancipation of the English peasantry), things appeared to be returning
to their normal condition, and men began to resume their wonted apathy
of mind, and to cease to think of the scourge as the direct visitation
of God.

Sir Hugh had been one of those most alarmed by the ravages of the
plague. He was full of the blind superstition of a thoroughly
irreligious man, and he knew well that he had been dabbling in forbidden
arts, and had been doing things that were supposed in those days to make
a man peculiarly the prey of the devil after death. Thus when the Black
Death had visited the country, and he had heard on all sides that it was
the visitation of God for the sins of the nations, he had been seized
with a panic which had been some years in cooling, and he had made
pilgrimages and had paid a visit to his Holiness the Pope in order to
feel that he had made amends for any wrongdoing in his previous life.

He had during this fit of what was rather panic than repentance avoided
Woodcrych sedulously, as the place where these particular sins which
frightened him now had been committed. He had thus avoided any encounter
with Peter Sanghurst, and Joan had hoped that the shadow of that evil
man was not destined to cross her path again. But, unluckily for her
hopes, a reaction had set in in her father's feelings. His blind,
unreasoning terror had now given place to an equally wild and reckless
confidence and assurance. The Black Death had come and gone, and had
passed him by (he now said) doing him no harm. He had obtained the
blessing of the Pope, and felt in his heart that he could set the
Almighty at defiance. His revenues, much impoverished through the
effects of the plague, made the question of expenditure the most
pressing one of the hour; and the knight had come to Woodcrych with the
distinct intention of prosecuting those studies in alchemy and magic
which a year or two back he had altogether forsworn.

Old Sanghurst was dead, he knew -- the devil had claimed one of his own.
But the son was living still, and was to be heard of, doubtless, at
Basildene. Peter Sanghurst was posing in the world as a wealthy man,
surrounded by a halo of mystery which gave him distinction and commanded
respect. Sir Hugh felt that he might be a very valuable ally, and began
to regret now that his fears had made him so long an exile from his
country and a wanderer from home.

Many things might have happened in that interval. What more likely than
that Sanghurst had found a wife, and that his old affection for Joan
would by now be a thing of the past? The knight fumed a good deal as he
thought of neglected opportunities. But there was just the chance that
Sanghurst might be faithful to his old love, whilst surely Joan would
have forgotten her girlish caprice, and cease to attempt a foolish
resistance to her father's will. Had he been as much in earnest then as
he now was, the marriage would long ago have been consummated. But in
old days he had not felt so confident of the wealth of the Sanghursts as
he now did, and had been content to let matters drift. Now he could
afford to drift no longer. Joan had made no marriage for herself, she
was unwed at an age when most girls are wives and mothers, and Sir Hugh
was growing weary of her company. He wished to plunge once again into a
life of congenial dissipation, and into those researches for magic
wealth which had always exercised so strong a fascination over him; and
the first step necessary for both these objects appeared to be to marry
off his daughter, and that, if possible, to the man who was supposed to
be in possession of these golden secrets.

Joan, however, knew nothing of the hopes and wishes filling her father's
mind. She was glad to come back to the home she had always loved the
best of her father's residences, and which was so much associated in her
mind with her youthful lover.

She believed that so near to Guildford she would be sure to hear news of
Raymond. Master Bernard de Brocas would know where he was; he might even
be living beneath his uncle's roof. The very thought sent quick thrills
of happiness through her. Her face was losing its thoughtful gravity of
expression, and warming and brightening into new beauty. She had almost
forgotten the proximity of Basildene, and Peter Sanghurst's hateful
suit, so long had been the time since she had seen him last, until the
sound of his voice, breaking in upon a happy reverie, brought all the
old disgust and horror back again, and she turned to face him with eyes
that flashed with lambent fire.

Yet as she stood there in the entrance to that leafy bower which was her
favourite retreat at Woodcrych, Peter Sanghurst felt as though he had
never before seen so queenly a creature, and said in his heart that she
had grown tenfold more lovely during the years of her wanderings.

Joan was now no mere strip of a girl. She was three-and-twenty, and had
all the grace of womanhood mingling with the free, untrammelled energy
of youth. Her step was as light, her movements as unfettered, as in the
days of her childhood; yet now she moved with an unconscious stately
grace which caused her to be remarked wherever she went; and her face,
always beautiful, with its regular features, liquid dark eyes, and full,
noble expression, had taken an added depth and sweetness and
thoughtfulness which rendered it remarkable and singularly attractive.
Joan inspired a considerable amount of awe in the breasts of those
youthful admirers who had flitted round her sometimes during the days of
her wanderings; but she had never given any of them room to hope to be
more to her than the passing acquaintance of an hour. She had received
proffers of life-long devotion with a curious gentle courtesy almost
like indifference, and had smiled upon none of those who had paid her court.

Her father had let her do as she would. No suitor wealthy enough to
excite his cupidity had appeared at Joan's feet. He intended to make a
wealthy match for her before she grew much older; but the right person
had not yet appeared, and time slipped by almost unheeded.

Now she found herself once again face to face with Peter Sanghurst, and
realized that he was renewing, or about to renew, that hateful suit
which she trusted had passed from his mind altogether. The face she
turned towards him, with the glowing autumn sunshine full upon it, was
scarcely such as could be called encouraging to an ardent lover. But
Peter Sanghurst only smiled as she stood there in her proud young
beauty, the russet autumn tints framing her noble figure in vivid colours.

"I have taken you by surprise, sweet lady," he said; "it is long since
we met."

"Long indeed, Master Peter -- or should I say Sir Peter? It hath been
told to me that you have been in the great world; but whether or not
your gallantry has won you your spurs I know not."

Was there something of covert scorn in the tones of her cold voice?
Sanghurst could not tell, but every smallest stab inflicted upon his
vanity or pride by this beautiful creature was set down in the account
he meant to settle with her when once she was in his power. His feelings
towards her were strangely mixed. He loved her passionately in a fierce,
wild fashion, coveting the possession of that beauty which maddened
whilst it charmed him. She enchained and enthralled him, yet she stung
him to the quick by her calm contempt and resolute avoidance of him. He
was determined she should be his, come what might; but when once he had
won the mastery over her, he would make her suffer for every pang of
wounded pride or jealousy she had inflicted upon him. The cruelty of the
man's nature showed itself even in his love, and he hated even whilst he
loved her; for he knew that she was infinitely his superior, and that
she had read the vileness of his nature, and had learned to shrink from
him, as purity always shrinks from contact with what is foul and false.

Even her question stung his vanity, and there was a savage gleam in his
eye as he answered:

"Nay, my spurs are still to be won; for what was it to me whether I won
them or not unless I might wear them as your true knight? Sweetest
mistress, these weary years have been strangely long and dark since the
light of your presence has been withdrawn from us. Now that the sun has
risen once again upon Woodcrych, let it shine likewise upon Basildene.
Mistress Joan, I come to you with your father's sanction. You doubtless
know how many years I have wooed you -- how many years I have lived for
you and for you alone. I have waited even as the patriarch of old for
his wife. The time has now come when I have the right to approach you as
a lover. Sweet lady, tell me that you will reward my patience -- that I
shall not sue in vain."

Peter Sanghurst bent the knee before her; but she was acute enough to
detect the undercurrent of mockery in his tone. He came as a professed
suppliant; but he came with her father's express sanction, and Joan had
lived long enough to know how very helpless a daughter was if her
father's mind were once made up to give her hand in marriage. Her safety
in past days had been that Sir Hugh was not really resolved upon the
point. He had always been divided between the desire to conciliate the
old sorcerer and the fear lest his professed gifts should prove but
illusive; and when he was in this mood of uncertainty, Joan's steady and
resolute resistance had not been without effect. But she knew that he
owed large sums of money to the Sanghursts, who had made frequent
advances when he had been in difficulties, and it was likely enough that
the day of reckoning had now come, and that her hand was to be the price
of the cancelled bonds.

Her father had for some days been dropping hints that had raised
uneasiness in her mind. This sudden appearance of Peter Sanghurst,
coupled with his confident words, showed to Joan only too well how
matters stood.

For a moment she stood silent, battling with her fierce loathing and
disgust, her fingers toying with the gold circlet her lover had placed
upon her finger. The very thought of Raymond steadied her nerves, and
gave her calmness and courage. She knew that she was in a sore strait;
but hers was a spirit to rise rather than sink before peril and adversity.

"Master Peter Sanghurst," she answered, calmly and steadily, "I thought
that I had given you answer before, when you honoured me by your suit.
My heart is not mine to give, and if it were it could never be yours. I
pray you take that answer and be gone. From my lips you can never have
any other."

A fierce gleam was in his eye, but his voice was still smooth and bland.

"Sweet lady," he said, "it irks me sore to give you pain; but I have yet
another message for you. Think you that I should have dared to come with
this offer of my heart and hand if I had not known that he to whom thy
heart is pledged lies stiff and cold in the grip of death -- nay, has
long since mouldered to ashes in the grave?"

Joan turned deadly pale. She had not known that her secret had passed
beyond her own possession. How came Peter Sanghurst to speak of her as
having a lover? Was it all guesswork? True, he had been jealous of
Raymond in old days. Was this all part of a preconcerted and diabolical
plot against her happiness?

Her profound distrust of this man, and her conviction of his entire
unscrupulousness, helped to steady her nerves. If she had so wily a foe
to deal with, she had need of all her own native shrewdness and
capacity. After a few moments, which seemed hours to her from the
concentrated thought pressed into them, she spoke quietly and calmly:

"Of whom speak you, Sir? Who is it that lies dead and cold?"

"Your lover, Raymond de Brocas," answered Sanghurst, rising to his feet
and confronting Joan with a gaze of would-be sympathy, though his eyes
were steely bright and full of secret malice -- "your lover, who died in
my arms after the skirmish of which you may have heard, when the English
army routed the besieging force around St. Jean d'Angely; and in dying
he gave me a charge for you, sweet lady, which I have been longing ever
since to deliver, but until today have lacked the opportunity."

Joan's eyes were fixed upon him wide with distrust. She was in absolute
ignorance of Raymond's recent movements. But in those days that was the
fate of those who did not live in close contiguity. She had been a rover
in the world, and so perchance had he. All that Sanghurst said might be
true for aught she could allege to the contrary.

Yet how came it that Raymond should confide his dying message to his
sworn and most deadly foe? The story seemed to bear upon it the impress
of falsehood. Sanghurst, studying her face intently, appeared to read
her thoughts.

"Lady," he said, "if you will but listen to my tale, methinks I can
convince you of the truth of my words. You think that because we were
rivals for your hand we were enemies, too? And so of old it was. But,
fair mistress, you may have heard how Raymond de Brocas soothed the
dying bed of my father, and tended him when all else, even his son, had
fled from his side; and albeit at the moment even that service did not
soften my hard heart, in the times that followed, when I was left alone
to muse on what had passed, I repented me of my old and bitter enmity,
and resolved, if ever we should meet again, to strive to make amends for
the past. I knew that he loved you, and that you loved him; and I vowed
I would keep away and let his suit prosper if it might. I appeal to you,
fair mistress, to say how that vow has been kept."

"I have certainly seen naught of you these past years," answered Joan.
"But I myself have been a wanderer."

"Had you not been, my vow would have been as sacredly kept," was the
quick reply. "I had resolved to see you no more, since I might never
call you mine. I strove to banish your image from my mind by going forth
into the world; and when this chance of fighting for the King arose, I
was one who sailed to the relief of the English garrison."

She made no response, but her clear gaze was slightly disconcerting; he
looked away and spoke rapidly.

"Raymond de Brocas was on board the vessel that bore us from England's
shores: ask if it be not so, an you believe me not. We were brothers in
arms, and foes no longer. I sought him out and told him all that was in
my heart. You know his nature -- brave, candid, fearless. He showed his
nobility of soul by giving to me the right hand of fellowship. Ere the
voyage ended we were friends in truth. When the day of battle came we
rode side by side against the foe."

Joan's interest was aroused. She knew Raymond well. She knew his
nobility of nature -- his generous impulse to forgive a past foe, to
bury all enmity. If Sanghurst had sought him with professions of
contrition, might he not have easily been believed? And yet was such an
one as this to be trusted?

"In the melee -- for the fighting was hard and desperate -- we were
separated: he carried one way and I another. When the French were driven
back or taken captive I sought for Raymond everywhere, but for long
without avail. At last I found him, wounded to the death. I might not
even move him to our lines. I could but give him drink and watch beside
him as he slowly sank.

"It was then he spoke of thee, Joan." Sanghurst's voice took a new tone,
and seemed to quiver slightly; he dropped the more formal address
hitherto observed, and lapsed into the familiar "thou." "The sole
trouble upon that pure soul was the thought of thee, left alone and
unprotected in this harsh world. He spoke of thee and that love he bore
thee, and I, who had also loved, but had resigned all my hopes for love
of him, could but listen and grieve with him. But he knew my secret --
his clear eyes had long ago divined it -- and in talking together of
thee, Joan, as we had many times done before, he had learned all there
was to know of my hopeless love. As he lay dying he seemed to be musing
of this; and one short half-hour before he breathed his last, he spoke
in these words --

"'Sanghurst, we have been rivals and foes, but now we are friends, and I
know that I did misjudge thee in past days, as methinks she did, too.'
(Joan, this is not so. It was not that ye misjudged me, but that I have
since repented of my evil ways in which erst I rejoiced.) 'But thou wilt
go to her now, and tell her what has befallen her lover. Tell her that I
died with her name on my lips, with thoughts of her in my heart. And
tell her also not to grieve too deeply for me. It may be that to die
thus, loving and beloved, is the happiest thing that can befall a man.
But tell her, too, that she must not grieve too bitterly -- that she
must not lead a widowed life because that I am taken from her. Give to
her this token, good comrade; she will know it. Tell her that he to whom
she gave it now restores it to her again, and restores it by the hand of
his best and truest friend, trusting that this trusty friend will some
day meet the reward he covets from the hand of her who once gave the
token to him upon whom the hand of death is resting. Give it her, and
tell her when you give it that her dying lover's hope is that she will
thus reward the patient, generous love of him who shall bring it to her.'"

As he spoke these words, Sanghurst, his eyes immovably fixed upon the
changing face of the beautiful girl, drew from his breast a small packet
and placed it within her trembling hands.

He knew he was playing a risky game, and that one false move might lose
him his one chance. It was all the veriest guesswork; but he believed he
had guessed aright. Whilst Raymond had been stretched upon the rack,
swooning from extremity of pain, Sanghurst's eyes, fixed in gloating
satisfaction upon the helpless victim, had been caught by the sight of
this token about his neck, secured by a strong silver cord. To possess
himself of the charm, or whatever it might be, had been but the work of
a moment. He had felt convinced that it was a lover's token, and had
been given to Raymond by Joan, and if so it might be turned to good
account, even if other means failed to bend the stubborn will of the
youth who looked so frail and fragile.

Raymond had escaped from his hands by a species of magic, as it had
seemed to the cruel captors, when he had tasted but a tithe of what they
had in store for him. Baffled and enraged as Sanghurst was, he had still
the precious token in his possession. If it had been given by Joan, she
would recognize it at once, and coupled with the supposed dying message
of her lover, surely it would not be without effect.

Eagerly then were his eyes fixed upon her face as she undid the packet,
and a gleam of triumph came into them as he saw a flash of recognition
when the little heart was disclosed to view.

Truly indeed did Joan's heart sink within her, and every drop of blood
ebbed from her cheek; for had not Raymond said that he would never part
from her gift whilst he had life? and how could Peter Sanghurst have
become possessed of it unless his tale were true? He might be capable of
robbing a dead body, but how would he have known that the token was
given by her?

A mist seemed to float before the girl's eyes. At that moment she was
unable to think or to reason. The one thought there was room for in her
mind was that Raymond was dead. If he were lost to her for ever, it was
little matter what became of herself.

Sanghurst's keen eyes, fixed upon her with an evil gleam, saw that the
charm was working. It had worked even beyond his hopes. He was so well
satisfied with the result of this day's work, that he would not even
press his suit upon her farther then. Let her have time to digest her
lover's dying words. When she had done so, he would come to her again.

"Sweet lady, I grieve that thou shouldst suffer though any words I have
been forced to speak; but it was a promise given to him who is gone to
deliver the message and the token. Lady, I take my leave of thee. I will
not intrude upon thy sacred sorrow. I, too, sorrow little less for him
who is gone. He was one of the brightest ornaments of these days of
chivalry and renown."

He caught her hand for a moment and pressed it to his lips, she scarce
seeming to know what he did or what he said; and then he turned away and
left her alone with her thoughts, a strangely malicious expression
crossing his face as he knew himself hidden from her eyes.

That same evening, when father and daughter were alone together in the
room they habitually occupied in the after part of the day, Sir Hugh
began to speak with unwonted decision and authority.

"Joan, child, has Peter Sanghurst been with thee today?"

"He has, my father."

"And has he told thee that he comes with my sanction as a lover, and
that thou and he are to wed ere the month is out?"

"He had not said so much as that," answered Joan, who spoke quietly and
dreamily, and with so little of the old ring of opposition in her voice
that her father looked at her in surprise.

She was very pale, and there was a look in her eyes he did not
understand; but the flush of anger or defiance he had thought to see did
not show itself. He began to think Sanghurst had spoken no more than the
truth in saying that Mistress Joan appeared to have withdrawn her
opposition to him as a husband.

"But so it is to be," answered her father, quickly and imperiously,
trying to seize this favourable moment to get the matter settled. "I
have long given way to thy whimsies -- far too long -- and here art thou
a woman grown, older than half the matrons round, yet never a wife as
they have long been. I will no more of it. It maketh thee and me alike
objects of ridicule. Peter Sanghurst is my very good friend. He has
helped me in many difficulties, and is ready to help me again. He has
money, and I have none. Listen, girl: this accursed plague has carried
off all my people, and labourers are asking treble and quadruple for
their work that which they have been wont to do. Sooner would I let the
crops rot upon the ground than be so mulcted by them. The King does what
he can, but the idle rogues set him at defiance; and there be many
beside me who will feel the grip of poverty for long years to come.
Peter Sanghurst has his wealth laid up in solid gold, not in fields and
woods that bring nothing without hands to till or tend them. Marry but
him, and Woodcrych shall be thy dower, and its broad acres and noble
manor will make of ye twain, with his gold, as prosperous a knight and
dame (for he will soon rise to that rank) as ye can wish to be. Girl, my
word is pledged, and I go not back from it. I have been patient with thy
fancies, but I will no more of them. Thou art mine own daughter, my own
flesh and blood, and thy hand is mine to give to whom I will. Peter
Sanghurst shall be thy lord whether thou wilt or no. I have said it; let
that be enough. It is thy part to obey."

Joan sat quite still and answered nothing. Her eyes were fixed upon the
dancing flames rushing up the wide chimney. She must have heard her
father's words, yet she gave no sign of having done so. But for that Sir
Hugh cared little. He was only too glad to be spared a weary battle of
words, or a long struggle with his high-spirited daughter, whose force
of character he had come to know. That she had yielded her will to his
at last seemed only right and natural, and of course she must have been
by this time aware that if her father was really resolved upon the
match, she was practically helpless to prevent it.

She was no longer a child; she was a woman who had seen much of the
world for the times she lived in. Doubtless she had begun to see that
she must now marry ere her beauty waned; and having failed to make a
grander match during her years of wandering, was glad enough to return
to her former lover, whose fidelity had doubtless touched her heart.

"Thou wilt have a home and a dowry, and a husband who has loved thee
long and faithfully," added Sir Hugh, who felt that he might now adopt a
more paternal tone, seeing he had not to combat foolish resistance.
"Thou hast been a good daughter, Joan; doubtless thou wilt make a good
wife too."

Still no reply, though a faint smile seemed to curve Joan's lips. She
presently rose to her feet, and making a respectful reverence to her
father -- for daily embraces were not the order of the day -- glided
from the room as if to seek her couch.

"That is a thing well done!" breathed the knight, when he found himself
once more alone, "and done easier than I had looked for. Well, well, it
is a happy thing the wench has found her right senses. Methinks good
Peter must have been setting his charms to work, for she never could be
brought to listen to him of old. He has tamed her to some purpose now."

Meantime Joan had glided up the staircase of the hall, along several
winding passages, and up and down several irregular flights of narrow
steps, till she paused at the door of a room very dim within, but just
lighted by the gleam of a dying fire. As she stepped across the
threshold a voice out of the darkness accosted her.

"My ladybird, is it thou, and at such an hour? Tell me what has befallen
thee."

"The thing that thou and I have talked of before now, Bridget," answered
Joan, speaking rapidly in a strange low voice -- "the thing that thou
and I have planned a hundred times if the worst should befall us. It is
tenfold more needful now than before. Bridget, I must quit this house at
sunset tomorrow, and thou must have my disguise ready. I must to France,
to find out there the truth of a tale I have this day heard. Nat will go
with me -- he has said so a hundred times; and I have long had money
laid by for the day I ever knew might come. Thou knowest all. He is a
man of the sea; I am his son. We have planned it too oft to be taken
unawares by any sudden peril. Thus disguised, we may wander where we
will, molested by none. Lose no time. Rise and go to Nat this very
night. I myself must not be seen with him or with thee. I must conduct
myself as though each day to come were like the one past. But thou
knowest what to do. Thou wilt arrange all. God bless thee, my faithful
Bridget; and when I come back again, thou shalt not lack thy reward!"

"I want none else but thy love, my heart's delight," said the old nurse,
gathering the girl into her fond arms; and Joan hid her face for one
moment upon that faithful breast and gave way to a short burst of
weeping, which did much for her overcharged heart.

Then she silently stole away and went quietly to her own chamber.



    CHAPTER XXVIII. GASTON'S SEARCH.


"He would get better far more quickly could the trouble be removed from
his mind."

Gaston raised his head quickly, and asked:

"What trouble?"

Father Paul's face, thin and worn as of old, with the same keen,
kindling glance of the deep-set eyes, softened almost into a smile as he
met the questioning glance of Gaston's eyes.

"Thou shouldst know more of such matters than I, my son, seeing that
thou art in youth's ardent prime, whilst I wear the garb of a monk. Sure
thou canst not have watched beside thy brother's sickbed all these long
weeks without knowing somewhat of the trouble in his mind?"

"I hear him moan and talk," answered Gaston; "but he knows not what he
says, and I know not either. He is always feeling at his neck, and
calling out for some lost token. And then he will babble on of things I
understand not. But how I may help him I know not. I have tarried long,
for I could not bear to leave him thus; and yet I am longing to carry to
the King my tale of outrage and wrong. With every week that passes my
chance of success grows less. For Peter Sanghurst may have been before
me, and may have told his own false version of the tale ere I may have
speech with King or Prince. I know not what to do -- to stay beside
Raymond, or to hasten to England ere time be farther flown. Holy Father,
wilt thou not counsel me? I feel that every day lost is a day lived in
vain, ere I be revenged upon Raymond's cruel foes!"

The youth's eyes flashed. He clenched his hands, and his teeth set
themselves fast together. He felt like an eagle caged, behind these
protecting walls. For his brother's sake he was right glad of the
friendly shelter; but for himself he was pining to be free.

And yet how was he to leave that dearly-loved brother, whose eyes
followed him so wistfully from place to place, who brightened up into
momentary life when he entered the room, and took so little heed of what
passed about him, unless roused by Gaston's touch or voice? Raymond had
been very, very near to the gates of death since he had been brought
into the Monastery, and even now, so prostrated was he by the long
attack of intermittent fever which had followed his wonderful escape
from Saut, that those about him scarce knew how the balance would turn.
The fever, which had at first run high and had been hard to subdue, had
now taken another turn, and only recurred at intervals of a few days;
but the patient was so fearfully exhausted by all he had undergone that
he seemed to have no strength to rally. He would lie in a sort of trance
of weakness when the fever was not upon him, scarce seeming to breathe
unless he was roused to wakefulness by some word or caress from Gaston;
whilst on the days when the fever returned, he would lie muttering
indistinctly to himself, sometimes breaking forth into eager rapid
speech difficult to follow, and often trying to rise and go forth upon
some errand, no one knew what, and struggling hard with those who held
him back.

Father Paul had watched over the first stages of the illness with the
utmost care and tenderness, after which his duties called him away, and
he had only returned some three days since. The long hot summer in
Bordeaux had been a very trying one for the patient, whose state
prohibited any attempt at removal to a cooler, fresher air. But as
August was merging into September, and the days were growing shorter and
the heat something less oppressive, it was hoped that there might be a
favourable change in the patient's state; and much was looked for also
from Father Paul's skill, which was accounted something very great.

Gaston and Roger had remained within the Monastery walls in close
attendance upon the patient; but the restraint had been terribly irksome
to the temper of the young knight, and he was panting to be free to
pursue his quest, and to tell his story in the King's ears. He could not
but dread that in his absence some harm might befall his Constanza.
Suppose those two remorseless men suspected her to be concerned in the
flight of their victim, what form might not their vengeance take? It was
a thing that would scarce bear thinking of. Yet what could he do to save
her and to win her until he could make an organized attack upon Saut,
armed with full authority from England's King?

And now that Father Paul was back, might it not be possible that this
could be done? Gaston felt torn in twain betwixt his love for his
brother and his love for his betrothed. Father Paul would be able to
advise him wisely and well.

The Father looked earnestly into the ardent and eager face of the youth,
and answered quietly:

"Methinks thou hast been here long enough, my son. Thou mayest do better
for Raymond by going forth upon the mission thou hast set thyself. But
first I would ask of thee a few questions. Who is this lady of whom thy
brother speaks so oft?"

"Lady?" questioned Gaston, his eyes opening wide in surprise. "Does he
indeed speak of a lady?"

The Father smiled at the question.

"Thy thoughts must have been as wandering as his if thou dost not know
as much as that," he said, with a look that brought the hot blood into
Gaston's cheek, for he well knew where his own thoughts had been whilst
he sat beside his brother, scarce heeding the ceaseless murmur which
babbled from his unconscious lips.

It had never occurred to him that he could learn aught by striving to
catch those indistinct utterances; and his mind had been full to
overflowing with his own affairs.

"I knew not that he spoke of any lady," said the young knight, wondering
for a moment, with love's irrational jealousy, whether Raymond could
have seen his Constanza and have lost his heart to her.

Had she not spoken of having slipped once into his cell to breathe in
his ear a word of hope? Might not even that passing glimpse at such a
time have been enough to subjugate his heart? He drew his breath hard,
and an anxious light gleamed in his eye. But the Father continued
speaking, and a load seemed to roll from his spirit with the next words.

"It is of a lady whose name is Joan that he speaks almost ceaselessly
when the fever fit is on him. Sometimes he speaks, too, of his cousin,
that John de Brocas who lost his life in the Black Death through his
ceaseless labours amongst the sick. He is in sore trouble, as it seems,
by the loss of some token given him by the lady. He fears that some foul
use may be made by his foes of this same token, which he would sooner
have died than parted from. If thou knowest who this lady is and where
she may be found, it would do more for thy brother to have news of her
than to receive all the skilled care of the best physicians in the
world. I misdoubt me whether we shall bring him back to life without her
aid. Wherefore, if thou knowest where she may be found, delay not to
seek her. Tell her her lover yet lives, and bring him some message from
her that may give him life and health."

Gaston's eyes lighted. To be given anything to do -- anything but this
weary, wearing waiting and watching for the change that never came --
put new life into him forthwith.

"It must sure be Mistress Joan Vavasour thou meanest, Father," he said.
"Raymond spoke much of her when we were on shipboard together. I knew
not that his heart was so deeply pledged; but I see it all now. It is of
her that he is dreaming night and day. It is the loss of her token that
is troubling him now.

"Stop! what have I heard? Methinks that this same Peter Sanghurst was
wooing Mistress Joan himself once. Sure I see another motive in his
dastard capture of my brother. Perchance he had in him not only a rival
for the lands of Basildene, but for the hand of the lady. Father, I see
it all! Would that I had seen it before! It is Peter Sanghurst who has
robbed Raymond of his token, and he may make cruel use of what he has
treacherously filched away. I must lose not a day nor an hour. I must to
England in the wake of this villain. Oh, why did I not understand
before? What may he not have done ere I can stop his false mouth? The
King shall hear all; the King shall be told all the tale! I trow he will
not tarry long in punishing the coward traitor!"

Father Paul was less certain how far the King would interest himself in
a private quarrel, but Peter Sanghurst's recent action with regard to
Raymond might possibly be such as to stir even the royal wrath. At least
it was time that some watch should be placed upon the movements of the
owner of Basildene, for he would be likely to make a most unscrupulous
use of any power he might possess to injure Raymond or gain any hold
over the lady they both loved.

Roger being called in to the conference, and giving his testimony
clearly enough as to the frequent intercourse which had existed between
Mistress Joan Vavasour and Raymond de Brocas, and the evident attraction
each bore for the other, the matter appeared placed beyond the
possibility of all doubt. Gaston's resolve was quickly taken, and he
only waited till his brother could be aroused to fuller consciousness,
to start forth upon his double quest after vengeance and after Joan.

"Brother," he said, taking Raymond's hands in his, and bending tenderly
over him, "I am going to leave thee, but only for a time. I am going to
England to find thy Joan, and to tell her that thou art living yet, and
how thou hast been robbed of thy token."

A new light shone suddenly in Raymond's eyes. It seemed as though some
of the mists of weakness rolled away, leaving to him a clearer
comprehension. He grasped his brother's hand with greater strength than
Gaston believed him to possess, and his lips parted in a flashing smile.

"Thou wilt seek her and find her? Knowest thou where she is?"

"No; but I will go to seek her. I shall get news of her at Guildford. I
will to our uncle's house forthwith. Sir Hugh Vavasour can easily be found."

"He has been wandering in foreign lands this long while," answered
Raymond. "I know not whether he may have returned home. Gaston, if thou
findest her, save her from the Sanghurst. Tell her that I yet live --
that for her sake I will live to protect her from that evil man. He has
robbed me of the pledge of her love; I am certain of it. It was a
trinket not worth the stealing, and I had it ever about my neck. It was
taken from me when I was a prisoner and at their mercy, when I did not
know what befell me. He has it -- I am assured of that -- and what evil
use he may make of it I know not. Ah, if thou canst but find her ere he
can reach her side!"

"I will find her," answered Gaston, firmly and cheerfully. "Fear not,
Raymond; I have had harder tasks than this to perform ere now. Be it thy
part to shake off this wasting sickness. I will seek out thy Joan, and
will bring her to thy side. But let her not find thee in such sorry
plight. Thou lookest yet rather a corpse than a man. Thou wouldst fright
her by thy wan looks an she came to thee now."

Wan and white and wasted did Raymond indeed appear, as though a breath
would blow him away. Upon his face was that faraway, ethereal look of
one who has been lingering long beside the portal of another world, and
scarce knows to which he belongs. It sometimes seemed as though the
angel song of the unseen realm was oftener heard and understood by him
than the voices of those about him. But the fever cloud was slowly
lifting from his brain, and today the first impulse to a real recovery
had been given by these few words with his brother.

Raymond's recollection of past events was coming back to him
connectedly, and the thought of Joan acted like a tonic upon him. For
her sake he would live; for her sake he would make a battle for his
life. Had he not vowed himself to her service? and did any woman stand
more in need of her lover's strong arm than the daughter of Sir Hugh
Vavasour?

Raymond had gauged the character of that knight before, and knew that he
would sell his daughter without scruple to any person who would make it
worth his while. It had been notorious in old days that the Sanghursts
had some peculiar hold upon him, and was it likely that Peter Sanghurst,
who was plainly resolved to make Joan his wife, would allow that power
to rest unused when it might be employed for the furtherance of his
purpose? To send Gaston forth upon the quest for Joan was much; but he
himself must fight this wasting sickness, that he might be ready to go
to her when the summons came that she was found, and was ready to
welcome her faithful knight.

From that hour Raymond began to amend; and although his progress was
slow, and seemed doubly slow to his impatience, it was steady and sure,
and he was as one given back from the dead.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Mistress Joan Vavasour, boy? why, all the world is making that inquiry.
How comes it that thou, by thine own account but just home from Gascony,
shouldst be likewise asking the same question?"

Master Bernard de Brocas turned his kindly face towards Gaston with a
look of shrewd inquiry in his eyes. His nephew had arrived but a short
half-hour at his house, somewhat jaded by rapid travelling, and after
hurriedly removing the stains of the journey from his person, was seated
before a well-supplied board, whilst the cleric sat beside him, always
eager for news, and exceedingly curious to know the history of the twin
brothers, who for the past six months seemed to have vanished from the
face of the earth. But for the moment Gaston was too intent upon asking
questions to have leisure to answer any.

"How?" he questioned; "what mean you, reverend Sir? Everybody asking
news of her? How comes that about?"

"Marry, for the reason that the lady hath disappeared these last three
weeks from her father's house, and none can tell whither she has fled,
or whether she has been spirited away, or what hath befallen her. Sir
Hugh is in a mighty taking, for he had just arranged a marriage betwixt
her and Peter Sanghurst, and the lady had given her consent (or so it is
said, albeit there be some who doubt the truth of that), and he is
sorely vexed to know what can have become of her."

"Peter Sanghurst! that arch-villain!" cried Gaston, involuntarily laying
his hand on the hilt of his dagger. "Mine uncle, I have come to ask
counsel of thee about that same miscreant. I am glad that he at least
has not fled the country. He shall not escape the fate he so richly merits."

And then, with flashing eyes and words eloquent through excess of
feeling, Gaston related the whole story of the past months: the
appearance on board the vessel of the Black Visor; the concerted action
against Raymond carried out by Sanghurst, thus disguised, and the Sieur
de Navailles; and the cruelty devised against him, from which he had
escaped only by something of a miracle.

And as Master Bernard de Brocas listened to this tale of treachery,
planned and carried out against one of his own name and race, an
answering light shone in his eyes, and he smote his palms together,
crying out in sudden wrath:

"Gaston, the King shall hear of this! Thou shalt tell to him the tale as
thou hast told it to me. He will not hear patiently of such indignities
offered to a subject of his, not though the King of France himself had
done it! That Sieur de Navailles is no friend to England. I know him
well, and his false, treacherous ways. I have heard much of him ere now,
and the King has his eye upon him. Gaston, this hollow truce cannot long
continue. The nobles and the King are alike weary of a peace which is no
peace, and which the King of France or his lords are continually
breaking. A very little, and the flame of war will burst out anew. It
may be that even this tale of thine may put the spark to the train (as
they say of these new artillery engines that are so astonishing men by
their smoke and noise), and that the Prince, when he hears of it, will
urge his father to march once more into France, and put an end to the
petty annoyances and treacherous attacks which are goading the royal
lion of England to wrath and fury."

"Pray Heaven it may!" cried Gaston, starting to his feet and pacing up
and down the hall. "Thou knowest, uncle mine, how the Prince and the
King did long ago confirm to me the rights of the De Brocas to the
ancient Castles of Orthez and Saut. If he would but give me his royal
warrant for mustering men and recovering mine own, I trow, be the walls
of Saut never so strong, that I would speedily make mine entrance within
them! Uncle, the Sieur de Navailles is hated and feared and reviled by
all men for miles around his walls. I trow that, even amongst those who
bear arms for him, some would be found who would gladly serve another
master. Stories of the punishments he is wont to inflict upon all who
fall beneath his displeasure have passed from mouth to mouth, and bitter
is the rage burning in the breasts of those whose helpless kinsfolk have
suffered through his tyrant cruelty. I trow an armed band, coming in the
name of the English King, could soon smoke that old fox out of his hole;
whilst all men would rejoice at his fall. Let me to the King -- let me
tell my tale! I burn to be on the wing once more! Where may his Majesty
be found?"

"Softly, softly, boy! We must think somewhat more of this. And we have
two foes, not one alone, to deal with. Peter Sanghurst is, as it were,
beneath our very hand. He is at Basildene, fuming like a wild thing at
the sudden disappearance of Mistress Joan. There be, nevertheless, some
who say that this wrath is all assumed; that he has captured the lady,
and holds her a prisoner in his hands, all the while pretending to know
naught of her. I know not what truth there may be in such rumours. The
Sanghurst bears an evil name, and many are the stories whispered about him."

"What!" almost shouted Gaston, in the fierceness of his excitement,
"Mistress Joan a prisoner in Basildene, the captive of that miscreant!
Uncle, let us lose not an hour! Let us forthwith to the King. He will
give us his royal warrant, and armed with that we will to Basildene, and
search for her there, and free her ere the set of sun. Oh, it would be
like him -- it would be all in a piece with his villainy! I cannot rest
nor breathe till I know all. Uncle, may we not set forth this very day
-- this same night?"

The worthy ecclesiastic laid a hand upon Gaston's shoulder.

"Boy," he said, "I will myself to the King this very day. The moon will
soon be up, and the way is familiar to me and my men. But thou shalt
tarry here. Thou hast travelled far today, and art weary and in need of
rest. Perchance, in this matter of the Sanghurst, I shall do better
without thee. Thou shalt see the King anon, and shalt tell him all thy
tale; but methinks this matter of Basildene had best be spoken of
betwixt him and me alone. Thou knowest that I have for long been in the
King's favour and confidence, and have managed many state matters for
him. Thou mayest therefore leave thy cause in my hands. I have all the
papers safe that thou broughtest from Gascony long since, and have left
in my care these many years. I have been awaiting my opportunity to lay
the matter of Basildene before the King, and now I trow that the hour
has come."

Gaston stopped short in his restless pacing, a bright light in his eyes.

"Thou thinkest to oust the Sanghurst thence -- to gain Basildene for
Raymond?"

"Ay, verily I do. It is your inheritance by right; the papers prove it.
Ye were deprived of it by force, and now the hour of restitution has
come. As to thee are secured the Gascon lands, when they can be wrested
from the hand of the foe, so shall Basildene be secured to Raymond,
albeit he has not won his spurs as thou hast done, boy, and that right
lustily. But I know much good of Raymond. He will worthily fill his
place. Go now to rest, boy, and leave this matter in mine hands. I
warrant thee the cause shall not suffer for being intrusted to me. Get
thee to rest. Fear not; and ere two days be passed thou shalt have
tidings of some sort from me."

Gaston would fain have been his uncle's companion on the road, but he
knew better than to insist. Master Bernard de Brocas well knew what he
was about, and was plainly deeply interested in the story he had heard.
Raymond had long been high in his favour. To cause to recoil upon the
head of the treacherous Sanghurst the vengeance he had plotted against
his own nephew, to punish him for his treachery -- to wrest from his
rapacious grasp the lands and the Manor of Basildene, was a task
peculiarly agreeable to the statesman, who knew well what he was about
and the master whom he served. Basildene was no great possession, but it
might be greatly increased in value, and there was rumour of buried
hoards there which might speedily restore the old house to more than its
former splendour. At any rate, its lands and revenues would be a modest
portion for a younger son, who still had the flower of his life before
him, and was like to rise in the King's favour. The romantic story of
his love, his sufferings, his rescue from the two foes of his house, was
certain to appeal to the King and his son, whilst the treachery of those
foes would equally rouse the royal wrath.

Master Bernard departed for Windsor with the rising of the moon; and
Gaston passed a restless night and day wondering what was passing at
Windsor, and feeling, when he retired to rest upon the second night, as
though his excitement of mind must drive slumber from his eyes. Nor did
sleep visit him till the tardy dawn stole in at the window, and when he
did sleep he slept long and soundly.

He was aroused by the sound of a great trampling in the courtyard below;
and springing quickly from his couch, he saw the place full of
men-at-arms, all wearing either the badge of the De Brocas or else that
of the Prince of Wales.

Throwing on his clothes in great haste, and scarce tarrying to buckle on
his sword, Gaston strode from his chamber and hastened down the great
staircase. At the foot of this stood one whom well he knew, and with an
inarticulate exclamation of delight he threw himself upon one knee
before the young Prince, and pressed his lips to the hand graciously
extended to him.

"Nay, Gaston; thy friend and comrade, not thy sovereign!" cried the
handsome youth gaily, as he raised Gaston and looked smilingly into his
face, his own countenance alight with satisfaction and excitement. "Ah,
thou knowest not how glad I am to welcome thee once more! For the days
be coming soon when I must needs rally all my brave knights about me,
and go forth to France for a new career of glory there. But today
another task is ours, and not as thy Prince, but thy good comrade, have
I come. I will forth with thee to the den of this foul Sanghurst, and
together will we search his house for the lady men say he has so
cunningly spirited away; and if she be found indeed languishing in
captivity there, then in very truth shall the Sanghurst feel the wrath
of the royal Edward. He shall live to feel the iron hand of the King he
has outraged and defied! But he shall pay the forfeit of his life.
England shall be rid of one of her greatest villains when Peter
Sanghurst feels the halter about his neck!"



    CHAPTER XXIX. THE FALL OF THE SANGHURST.


"Is that the only answer you have for me, sweet lady?"

"The only one, Sir; and you will never have another. Strive as you will,
keep me imprisoned as long as you will, I will never yield. I will never
be yours; I belong to another --"

A fierce gleam was in Sanghurst's eyes, though he retained the suave
softness of speech that he had assumed all along.

"He is dead, fair mistress."

"Living or dead, I am yet his," answered Joan unfalteringly; "and were I
as free as air -- had I never pledged my faith to him -- I should yet
have none other answer for you. Think you that your evil deeds have not
been whispered in mine ear? Think you that this imprisonment in which
you think fit to keep me is like to win my heart?"

"Nay, sweetest lady, call it not by that harsh name. Could a princess
have been better served or tended than you have been ever since you came
beneath my humble roof? It is no imprisonment; it is but the watchful
care of one who loves you, and would fain save you from the peril into
which you had recklessly plunged. Lady, had you known the dangers of
travel in these wild and lawless days, you never would have left the
shelter of your father's house with but one attendant to protect you.
Think you that those peerless charms could ever have been hidden beneath
the dress of a peasant lad? Well was it for you, lady, that your true
love was first to follow and find you, ere some rude fellow had betrayed
the secret to his fellows, and striven to turn it to their advantage.
Here you are safe; and I have sent to your father to tell him you are
found and are secure. He, too, is searching for you; but soon he will
receive my message, and will come hastening hither. Then will our
marriage be solemnized with all due rites. Your obstinate resistance
will avail nothing to hinder our purpose. But I would fain win this
lovely hand by gentle means; and it will be better for thee, Joan
Vavasour, to lay down thine arms and surrender while there is yet time."

There was a distinct accent of menace in the last words, and the
underlying expression upon that smiling face was evil and threatening in
the extreme. But Joan's eyes did not falter beneath the searching gaze
of her would-be husband. Her face was set in lines of fearless
resolution. She still wore the rough blue homespun tunic of a peasant
lad, and her chestnut locks hung in heavy natural curls about her
shoulders. The distinction in dress between the sexes was much less
marked in those days than it has since become. Men of high degree
clothed themselves in flowing robes, and women of humble walk in life in
short kirtles; whilst the tunic was worn by boys and girls alike, though
there was a difference in the manner of the wearing, and it was
discarded by the girl in favour of a longer robe or sweeping supertunic
with the approach of womanhood. In the lower ranks of life, however, the
difference in dress between boy and girl was nothing very distinctive;
and the disguise had been readily effected by Joan, who had only to cut
somewhat shorter her flowing locks, clothe herself in the homespun tunic
and leather gaiters of a peasant boy, and place a cloth cap jauntily on
her flowing curls before she was transformed into as pretty a lad as one
could wish to see.

With the old henchman Nat to play the part of father, she had journeyed
fearlessly forth, and had made for the coast, which she would probably
have reached in safety had it not been for the acuteness of Peter
Sanghurst, who had guessed her purpose, had dogged her steps with the
patient sagacity of a bloodhound, and had succeeded in the end in
capturing his prize, and in bringing her back in triumph to Basildene.

He had not treated her badly. He had not parted her from the old servant
under whose escort she had travelled. Perhaps he felt he would have
other opportunities of avenging this insult to himself; perhaps there
was something in the light in Joan's eyes and in the way in which she
sometimes placed her hand upon the hilt of the dagger in her belt which
warned him not to try her too far. Joan was something of an enigma to
him still. She was like no other woman with whom he had ever come in
contact. He did not feel certain what she might say or do. It was rather
like treading upon the crust of some volcanic crater to have dealings
with her. At any moment something quite unforeseen might take place, and
cause a complete upheaval of all his plans. From policy, as well as from
his professed love, he had shown himself very guarded during the days of
their journey and her subsequent residence beneath the roof of
Basildene; but neither this show of submission and tenderness, nor
thinly-veiled threats and menaces, had sufficed to bend her will to his.
It had now come to this -- marry him of her own free will she would not.
Therefore the father must be summoned, and with him the priest, and the
ceremony should be gone through with or without the consent of the lady.
Such marriages were not so very unusual in days when daughters were
looked upon as mere chattels to be disposed of as their parents or
guardians desired. It was usual, indeed, to marry them off at an earlier
age, when reluctance had not developed into actual resistance; but still
it could be done easily enough whatever the lady might say or do.

Peter Sanghurst, confident that the game was now entirely in his own
hands, could even afford to be indulgent and patient. In days to come he
would be amply avenged for all the slights now inflicted upon him. He
often pictured the moment when he should tell to Joan the true story of
his possession of the love token she had bestowed upon Raymond. He
thought that she would suffer even more in the hearing of it than he had
done upon the rack; and his wife could not escape him as his other
victim had. He could wring her heartstrings as he had hoped to wring the
nerves of Raymond's sensitive frame, and none could deliver her out of
his hand.

But now he was still playing the farce of the suppliant lover, guessing
all the while that she knew as well as he what a farce the part was. He
strove to make her surrender, but was met by an invincible firmness.

"Do what you will, Peter Sanghurst," she said: "summon my father, call
the priest, do what you will, your wife I will never be. I have told you
so before; I tell it you again."

He smiled a smile more terrible than his frown.

"We shall see about that," was his reply, as he turned on his heel and
strode from the room.

When he was gone Joan turned suddenly towards the old man, who was all
this while standing with folded arms in a distant window, listening in
perfect silence to the dialogue. She made a few swift paces towards him
and looked into his troubled face.

"Nat," she said, in a low voice, "thou hast not forgotten thy promise
made to me?"

"My mistress, I have not forgotten."

"And thou wilt keep thy word?"

"I will keep it."

He spoke with manifest effort; but Joan heaved a sigh of relief. She
came one step nearer, and laid her soft hand upon the old servant's
shoulder, looking into his face with affectionate solicitude.

"I know not if I should ask it of thee; it may cost thee thy life."

"My life is naught, if I can but save thee from that monster, sweet
mistress; but oh, if it might be by another way!"

"Nay, say not so; methinks now this is the best, the sweetest way. I
shall the sooner find him, who will surely be waiting for me upon the
farther shore. One blow, and I shall be free for ever. O Nat, this world
is a sore place for helpless women to dwell in. Since he has gone, what
is there for me to live for? I almost long for the hour which shall set
my spirit free. They will let me see the Holy Father, who comes to wed
us. I shall receive the Absolution and the Blessing; and methinks I am
not unprepared. Death has no terrors for me: I have seen him come so oft
in the guise of a friend. Nay, weep not, good Nat; the day will come
when we all must die. Thou wouldst rather see me lying dead at thy feet
than the helpless captive of the Sanghurst, as else I must surely be?"

"Ay, lady," answered the old man, between his shut teeth, "ten thousand
times rather, else would not this fond hand strike the blow that will
lay thy fair young head in the dust. But sooner than know thee the wife
of yon vile miscreant, I would slay thee ten times over. Death is soon
past -- death comes but once; but a life of helpless misery and agony,
that I could not bear for thee. Let them do what they will to me, I will
set thee free first."

Joan raised the strong, wrinkled hand to her lips and kissed it, before
the old retainer well knew what she was doing. He withdrew it in some
confusion.

"Good Nat, I know not how to thank thee; but what I can do to save thee
I will. I do not think my father will suffer thee to be harmed if when I
am dead thou wilt give him this packet I now give to thee. In it I have
told him many things he would not listen to whilst I lived, but he will
read the words that have been penned by a hand that is cold and stiff in
death. To his old love for me I have appealed to stand thy friend,
telling him how and why the deed has been done, and thy hand raised
against me. I think he will protect and pardon thee -- I think it truly.

"How now, Nat? What seest thou? What hearest thou? Thy thoughts are not
with me and with my words. What is it? Why gazest thou thus from the
casement? What is there to see?"

"Armed men, my mistress -- armed men riding towards Basildene!" answered
the old man, in visible excitement. "I have seen the sunlight glinting
on their headpieces. I am certain sure there be soldiers riding to this
very door. What is their business? How have they come? Ah, lady, my
sweet mistress, pray Heaven they have come to set thee free! Pray Heaven
they have come as our deliverers!"

Joan started and ran to the casement. She was just in time to see the
flash of the November sunlight upon the steel caps of the last of the
band of horsemen whose approach had been observed by Nat. Only a very
small portion of the avenue leading to Basildene could be seen from
these upper casements, and the riders must have been close to the house
before their approach was marked by the old man.

Now Joan flung open the casement in great excitement, and leaned far out.

"Hark!" she exclaimed, in great excitement, "I hear the sound of heavy
blows, and of voices raised in stern command."

"Open in the King's name; open to the Prince of Wales!"

These words were distinctly borne to Joan's listening ears as she stood
with her head thrust through the lattice, every faculty absorbed in the
strain of eager desire to hear.

"The King! the Prince!" she cried, her breath coming thick and fast,
whilst her heart beat almost to suffocation. "O Nat, good Nat! what can
it mean? The Prince! what can have brought him hither?"

"Doubtless he comes to save thee, sweet lady," cried the old retainer,
to whom it seemed but natural that the heir of England should come forth
to save his fair young mistress from her fate.

But Joan shook her head, perplexed beyond measure, yet not able to
restrain the wildest hopes.

The Prince -- that noble youth so devoted to chivalry, so generous and
fearless, and the friend of the twin brothers, one of whom was her lost
Raymond! Oh, could it be that some rumour had reached his ears? Could it
be that he had come to set her free? It seemed scarce possible, and yet
what besides could have brought him hither? And at least with help so
near she could surely make her woeful case known to him!

For the first time for many days hope shot up in Joan's heart -- hope of
release from her hated lover by some other means than that of death; and
with that hope came surging up the love of life so deeply implanted in
human nature, the wild hope that her lover might yet live, that she had
been tricked and deceived by the false Sanghurst --all manner of vague
and unformed hopes, to which there was no time to give definite form
even in her thoughts. She was only conscious that a ray of golden
sunshine had fallen athwart her path, and that the darkness in which she
had been enwrapped was changing -- changing to what?

There were strange sounds in the house -- a tumult of men's voices, the
clash of arms, cries and shouts, and the tread of many feet upon the stairs.

Joan's colour came and went as she listened. Yes, surely she heard a
voice -- a voice that sent thrills all through her -- and yet it was not
Raymond's voice; it was deeper, louder, more authoritative. But the
footsteps were approaching, were mounting the turret stair, and Joan,
with a hasty movement, flung over her shoulders a sweeping supertunic
lined with fur, which Peter Sanghurst had placed in the room for her
use, but which she had not hitherto deigned to wear. She had but just
secured the buckle and girdle, and concealed her boy's garb by the means
of these rich folds of velvet, before a hand was upon the latch of the
door, and the same thrilling voice was speaking through the panels in
urgent accents.

"Lady -- Mistress Joan -- art thou there?"

"I am within this turret -- I am here, fair sir," answered Joan, as
calmly as her beating heart would allow. "But I cannot open to thee, for
I am but a captive here -- the captive of Peter Sanghurst."

"Now a prisoner bound, and answering for his sins before the Prince and
some of the highest nobles of the land. Lady, I and my men have come to
set thee free. I come to thee the bearer of a message from my brother --
from Raymond de Brocas. Give my stout fellows but a moment's grace to
batter down this strong door, and we will set thee free, and take thee
to the Prince, to bear witness against the false traitor, who stands in
craven terror before him below!"

But these last words were quite lost upon Joan. She had sunk, trembling
and white, upon a couch, overcome by the excess of joy with which she
had heard her lover's name pronounced. She heard heavy blows dealt upon
the oaken panels of the door. She knew that her deliverance was at hand;
but a mist was before her eyes, and she could think of nothing but those
wonderful words just spoken, until the woodwork fell inwards with a loud
crash, and Gaston, springing across the threshold, knelt at her feet.

"Lady, it is many years since we met, and then we met but seldom; but I
come from him whom thou lovest and therefore I know myself welcome. Fair
mistress, my brother has been sorely sick -- sick unto death -- or he
would be here himself to claim this fair hand. He has been sick in body
and sick in mind -- sick with fear lest that traitor and villain who
robbed him of your token should make foul use of it by deceiving thee
with tales of his death or falsity.

"Lady, he was robbed by Peter Sanghurst of that token. Sanghurst and our
ancient foe of Navailles leagued themselves together and carried off my
brother by treachery. He was their prisoner in the gloomy Tower of Saut.
They would have done him to death in cruel fashion had not we found a
way to save and rescue him from their hands. They had done him some hurt
even then, and they had robbed him of what had become almost dearer to
him than life itself; but he was saved from their malice. It was long
ere he could tell us of his loss, tell us of thee; for he lay sick of a
wasting fever for many a long month, and we knew not what the trouble
was that lay so sore upon him. But no sooner had he recovered so as to
speak more plainly than we learned all, and I have been seeking news of
thee ever since. I should have been here long ago but for the contrary
winds which kept us weeks at sea, unable to make the haven we sought.
But I trow I have not come too late. I find thee here at Basildene; but
sure thou art not the wife of him who calls himself its lord?"

"Wife! no -- ten thousand times no!" answered Joan, springing to her
feet, and looking superb in her stately beauty, the light of love and
happiness in her eyes, the flush of glad triumph on her cheek. "Sir
Knight, thou art Raymond's brother, thou art my saviour, and I will tell
thee all. I was fleeing from Sanghurst -- fleeing to France, to learn
for myself if the tale he told of Raymond's death were true; for sorely
did I misdoubt me if those false lips could speak truth. He guessed my
purpose, followed and brought me back hither a captive. To force me to
wed him has long been his resolve, and he has won my father to take his
side. He was about to summon my father and a priest and make me his
wife, here in this very place, and never let me stir thence till the
chain was bound about me. But I had a way of escape. Yon faithful
servant, who shared my perils and my wanderings, had given me his word
to strike me dead ere he would see me wedded to Sanghurst. No false vow
should ever have passed my lips; no mockery of marriage should ever have
been consummated. I have no fear of death. I only longed to die that I
might go to my Raymond, and be with him for ever."

"But now thou needest not die to be with him!" cried Gaston, enchanted
at once by her beauty, her fearless spirit, and her loyalty and devotion
to Raymond. "My brother lives! He lives for thee alone! I have come to
lead thee to him, if thou wilt go. But first, sweet mistress, let me
take thee to our Prince. It is our noble Prince who has come to see into
this matter his own royal self. I had scarce hoped for so much honour,
and yet I ever knew him for the soul of generosity and chivalry. Let me
lead thee to him. Tell him all thy tale. We have the craven foe in our
hands now, and this time he shall not escape us!"

Gaston ground his teeth, and his eyes flashed fire, as he thought of all
the wickedness of Peter Sanghurst. He was within the walls of Basildene,
his brother's rightful inheritance; the memory of the cruelty and the
treachery of this man was fresh in his mind. The Prince was hearing all
the tale; the Prince would judge and condemn. Gaston knew well what the
fate of the tyrant would be, and there was no room for aught in his
heart beside a great exultant triumph.

Giving his arm to Joan, who was looking absolutely radiant in her
stately beauty, he led her down into the hall below, where the Prince
was seated with some knights and nobles round him -- Master Bernard de
Brocas occupying a seat upon his right hand -- examining witnesses and
looking at the papers respecting the ownership of Basildene which were
now laid before him. At the lower end of the hall, his hands bound
behind him, and his person guarded by two strong troopers, stood Peter
Sanghurst, his face a chalky-white colour, his eyes almost starting from
his head with terror, all his old ease and assumption gone, the innate
cowardice of his nature showing itself in every look and every gesture.

A thoroughly cruel man is always at heart a coward, and Peter Sanghurst,
who had taken the liveliest delight in inflicting pain of every kind
upon those in his power, now stood shivering and almost fainting with
apprehension at the fate in store for himself. As plentiful evidence had
been given of his many acts of barbarity and tyranny, there had been
fierce threats passed from mouth to mouth that hanging was too good for
him -- that he ought to taste what he had inflicted on others; and the
wretched man stood there in an agony of apprehension, every particle of
his swaggering boldness gone, and without a vestige of real courage to
uphold him in the hour of his humiliation.

As the Prince saw the approach of Joan, he sprang to his feet, and all
the assembled nobles did the same. With that chivalrous courtesy for
which he became famous in history, the Prince bent the knee before the
lady, and taking her by the hand, led her to a seat of honour beside
himself, asking her of herself and her story, and listening with
respectful attention to every word she spoke.

Gaston then stood forward and told again his tale of Raymond's capture,
and deep murmurs of indignation ran through the hall as he did so. The
veins swelled upon the Prince's forehead as he heard the tale, and his
eyes emitted sparks of fierce light as they flashed from time to time
upon the trembling prisoner.

"Methinks we have heard enough, gentlemen," said he at length, as
Gaston's narrative drew to a close.

"Marshal, bring hither your prisoner.

"This man, gentlemen, is the hero of these brave deeds of valour of
which we have been hearing. This is the man who dares to waylay and
torture English subjects to wring from them treasure and gold; the man
who dares to bring this vilely-won wealth to purchase with it the favour
of England's King; the man who wages war on foreign soil with the
friends of England, and treacherously sells them into the hand of
England's foe; who deals with them as we have heard he dealt and would
have dealt with Raymond de Brocas had not Providence worked almost a
miracle in his defence. This is the man who, together with his father,
drove from this very house the lawful owner, because that she was a
gentle, tender woman, and was at that moment alone and unable to defend
herself from them. This is the man who is not ashamed to call himself
the master of Basildene, and who has striven to compass by the foulest
ends the death of the true owner of the property -- though Raymond de
Brocas braved the terrors of the Black Death to tend and soothe the last
dying agonies of that man's father. This is the man who would wed by
force this fair maiden, and strove to deceive her by the foulest tricks
and jugglery. Say, gentlemen, what is the desert of this miscreant? What
doom shall we award him as the recompense of his past life?"

A score of hideous suggestions were raised at once, and the miserable
Peter Sanghurst shook in his shoes as he saw the fierce, relentless
faces of the soldiers making a ring round him. Those were cruel days,
despite the softening influence of their vaunted chivalry, and the face
of the Prince was stern and black. It was plain that he had been deeply
roused by the story he had heard.

But Joan was there, and she was a woman; and vile as had been this man's
life, and deeply as he had injured her and him she loved tenfold more
than her own life, he was still a human creature, and a creature without
a hope either in this world or the world to come. She could not but pity
him as he stood there cowering and shuddering, and she turned swiftly
towards the Prince and spoke to him in a rapid undertone.

Young Edward listened, and the dark cloud passed from his brow. He was
keenly susceptible to the nobler emotions, and an appeal to his
generosity was not unheeded. Raising his hand in token that he demanded
silence, he turned towards the quaking criminal, and thus addressed him:

"Peter Sanghurst, you stand convicted of many and hideous crimes --
witchcraft, sorcery, treachery to your King, vile cruelty to his
subjects -- crimes for which death alone is scarce punishment enough.
You well merit a worse fate than the gallows. You well merit some of
those lingering agonies that you have inflicted upon your wretched
victims, and have rejoiced to witness. But we in England do not torture
our prisoners, and it is England's pride that this is so. This fair
lady, who owes you naught but grievous wrong, has spoken for you; she
says that were Raymond de Brocas here, he would join with her in praying
that your fate might be swift and merciful. Therefore I decree that you
are led forth without the gates of Basildene, and hanged upon the first
tree out of sight of its walls.

"See to it, marshal. Let there be no delay. It is not fit that such a
wretch should longer cumber the earth. Away with him, I say!"

The soldiers closed around the condemned man and bore him forth, one of
the marshals following to see the deed done. Joan had for a moment
covered her face with her hand, for even so it was rather terrible to
see this tyrant and oppressor led forth from his own house to an
ignominious death, and she was unused to such stern scenes. But those
around the table were already turning their attention to other matters,
and the Prince was addressing himself to certain men who had come into
the hall covered with cobweb and green mould.

"Has the treasure been found?" he asked.

"Yes, Sire," answered the leader of this strange-looking band. "It was
cleverly hidden, in all truth, in the cellars of the house, and we
should scarce have lighted on it but for the help of some of the people
here, who, so soon as they heard that their master was doomed to certain
death, were as eager to help us as they had been fearful before. It has
all been brought up for you to see; and a monstrous hoard it is. It must
almost be true, I trow, that the old man had the golden secret. So much
gold I have never seen in one place."

"It is ill-gotten gold," said the Prince, sternly, as he rose, and,
followed by the nobles and Master Bernard de Brocas, went to look at the
coffers containing the treasure hoarded up and amassed by the Sanghursts
during a long period of years. "But I trow since the Black Death has so
ravaged these parts, it would be idle to strive to seek out the owners,
and it would but raise a host of false claims that no man might sift.

"Master Bernard de Brocas, I award this treasure to Raymond de Brocas,
the true lord of Basildene, to whom and to whose heirs shall be secured
this house and all that belongs to it. Into your hands I now intrust the
gold and the lands, to be kept by you until the rightful owner appears
to lay claim to them. Let a part of this gold be spent upon making fit
this house for the reception of its master and this fair maiden, who
will one day be the mistress here with him. Let it be thy part, good
Master Bernard, to remove from these walls the curse which has been
brought upon them by the vile sorceries and cruelties of this wicked
father and more wicked son. Let Holy Church do her part to cleanse and
purify the place, and then let it be made meet for the reception of its
lord and lady when they shall return hither to receive their own."

The good Bernard's face glowed with satisfaction at this charge. It was
just such a one as pleased him best, and such as he was well able to
fulfil. Nobody more capable could well have been found for the
guardianship and restoration of Basildene; and with this hoard to draw
upon, the old house might well grow to a beauty and grandeur it had
never known before.

"Gracious Prince, I give you thanks on behalf of my nephew, and I will
gladly do all that I may to carry out your behest. The day will come
when Raymond de Brocas shall come in person to thank you for your
princely liberality and generosity."

"Tush, man, the gold is not mine; and some of it may have been come by
honestly, and belong fairly enough to the Sanghurst family. You say the
mother of these bold Gascon youths was a Sanghurst: it follows, then,
that Basildene and all pertaining to it should be theirs. Raymond de
Brocas has suffered much from the Sanghursts. By every law of right and
justice, it is he who should reap the reward, and find Basildene
restored to its former beauty before he comes to dwell within it."

"And he shall so find it if I have means to compass it," answered the
uncle, with glad pride.

His eye was then drawn to another part of the hall; for Sir Hugh
Vavasour had just come galloping up to the door in hot haste, having
heard all manner of strange rumours: the first being that his daughter
had been found, and was in hiding at Basildene; the second, which had
only just reached his ears, that Peter Sanghurst was dead -- hanged by
order of the Prince, and that Basildene had been formally granted as the
perpetual right of Raymond de Brocas and his heirs.

"And Raymond de Brocas is the plighted husband of thy daughter, good Sir
Hugh," said Master Bernard, coming up to help his old friend out of his
bewilderment -- "plighted, that is, by themselves, by the right of a
true and loyal love. Thy daughter will still be the Lady of Basildene,
and I think that thou wilt rather welcome my nephew as her lord than yon
miscreant, whose body is swinging on some tree not far away. Thou wert
something too willing, my friend, to sell thy daughter for wealth; but
fortune has been kind to her as well as to thee, and thou hast gained
for her the wealth, and yet hast not sacrificed her brave young heart.
Go to her now, and give her thy blessing, and tell her she may wed young
Raymond de Brocas so soon as he comes to claim her hand."



    CHAPTER XXX. WITH THE PRINCE.[i]


"Sanghurst dead! Joan free! her father's consent won! I the Lord of
Basildene! Gaston, thou takest away my breath! Art sure thou art not
mocking me?"

"Art sure that thou art indeed thyself, my lord of Basildene?" was
Gaston's merry response, as he looked his brother over from head to foot
with beaming face; "for, in sooth, I scarce should know thee for the
brother I left behind -- that wan and wasted creature, more like a
corpse than a man. The good Brothers have indeed done well by thee,
Raymond. Save that thou hast not lost thine old saintly look, which
stamps thee as something different from the rest of us, I should scarce
have thought it could be thee. This year spent in thine own native clime
has made a new man of thee!"

"In truth I think it has," answered Raymond, who was indeed wonderfully
changed from the time when Gaston had left him, rather more than ten
months before. "We had no snow and no cold in the winter gone by, and I
was able to take the air daily, and I grew strong wondrous fast. Thou
hadst told me to be patient, to believe that all was well if I heard
nothing from thee; and I strove to follow thy maxim, and that with good
success. I knew that thou wouldst not let me go on hoping if hope meant
but a bitterer awaking. I knew that silence must mean there was work
which thou wert doing. Many a time, as a white-winged vessel spread her
sails for England's shores, have I longed to step on board and follow
thee across the blue water to see how thou wast faring; but then came
always the thought that thou mightest be on thy way hither, and that
thou wouldst chide me for having left these sheltering walls. And so I
stayed on day after day, and week after week, until months had rolled
by; and I began to say within myself that, if thou camest not before the
autumn storms, I must e'en take ship and follow thee, for I could wait
no longer for news of thee -- and her."

"And here I am with news of her, and news that to me is almost better.
Raymond, I have not come hither alone. The Prince and the flower of our
English chivalry are here at Bordeaux this day. The hollow truce is at
an end. Insult upon insult has been heaped upon England's King by the
King of France, the King of Navarre (who called himself our ally till he
deserted us to join the French King, who will yet avenge upon him his
foul murder of Charles of Spain), and the Count of Blois in Brittany.
England has been patient. Edward has listened long to the pleadings of
the Pope, and has not rushed into war; but he cannot wait patiently for
ever. They have roused the lion at last, and he will not slumber again
till he has laid his foes in the dust.

"Listen, Raymond: the Prince is here in Bordeaux. The faithful Gascon
nobles -- the Lord of Pommiers, the Lord of Rosen, the Lord of Mucident,
and the Lord de l'Esparre -- have sent to England to say that if the
Prince will but come to lead them, they will make gallant war upon the
French King. John has long been striving to undermine England's power in
his kingdom, to rid himself of an enemy's presence in his country, to be
absolute lord over his vassals without their intermediate allegiance to
another master. It does not suffice that our great King does homage for
his lands in France (though he by rights is King of France himself). He
knows that here, in these sunny lands of the south, the Roy Outremer is
beloved as he has never been. He would fain rob our King of all his
lands; he is planning and plotting to do it."

"But the Roy Outremer is not to be caught asleep," cried Raymond, with a
kindling glance, "and John of France is to learn what it is to have
aroused the wrath of the royal Edward and of his brave people of England."

"Ay, verily; and our good Gascons are as forward in Edward's cause as
his English subjects," answered Gaston quickly. "They love our English
rule, they love our English ways; they will not tamely be transformed
into a mere fief of the French crown. They will fight for their feudal
lord, and stand stanchly by his banner. It is their express request that
brings the Prince hither today. The King is to land farther north -- at
Cherbourg methinks it was to be; whilst my Lord of Lancaster has set
sail for Brittany, to defend the Countess of Montford from the Count of
Blois, who has now paid his ransom and is free once more. His Majesty of
France will have enough to do to meet three such gallant foes in the field.

"And listen still farther, Raymond, for the Prince has promised this
thing to me -- that as he marches through the land, warring against the
French King, he will pause before the Castle of Saut and smoke out the
old fox, who has long been a traitor at heart to the English cause. And
the lands so long held by the Navailles are to be mine, Raymond -- mine.
And a De Brocas will reign once more at Saut, as of old! What dost thou
think of that?"

"Brother, I am glad at heart. It seemeth almost like a dream. Thou the
lord of Saut and I of Basildene! Would that she were living yet to see
the fulfilment of her dream!"

"Ay, truly I would she were. But, Raymond, thou wilt join the Prince's
standard; thou wilt march with us to strike a blow for England's honour
and glory? Basildene and fair Mistress Joan are safe. No harm will come
to them by thine absence. And thou owest all to the Prince. Surely thou
wilt not leave him in the hour of peril; thou wilt march beneath his
banner and take thy share of the peril and the glory?"

Gaston spoke with eager energy, looking affectionately into his
brother's face; and as he saw that look, Raymond felt that he could not
refuse his brother's request. For just a few moments he hesitated, for
the longing to see Joan once again and to clasp her in his arms was very
strong within him; but his brother's next words decided him.

"Thy brother and the Prince have won Basildene for thee; surely thou
wilt not leave us till Saut has yielded to me!"

Raymond held out his hand and grasped that of Gaston in a warm clasp.

"We will go forth together once again as brothers in arms," he said,
with brightening eyes. "It may be that our paths in life may henceforth
be divided; wherefore it behoves us in the time that remains to us to
cling the more closely together. I will go with thee, brother, as thy
faithful esquire and comrade, and we will win back for thee the right to
call the old lands thine. How often we have dreamed together in our
childhood of some such day! How far away it then appeared! and yet the
day has come."

"And thou wilt then see my Constanza," said Gaston, in low, exultant
tones -- "my lovely and gentle mistress, to whom thou, my brother, owest
thy life. It is meet that thou shouldst be one to help to set her free
from the tyranny of her rude uncle and the isolation of her dreary life
in yon grim castle walls. Thou hast seen her, hast thou not? Tell me,
was she not the fairest, the loveliest object thine eyes had ever looked
upon, saving of course (to thee) thine own beauteous lady?"

"Methought it was some angel visitor from the unseen world," answered
Raymond, "flitting into yon dark prison house, where it seemed that no
such radiant creature could dwell. There was fever in my blood, and all
I saw was through a misty veil, I scarce believed it more than a sweet
vision; but I will thank her now for the whispered word of hope breathed
in mine ear in the hour of my sorest need."

"Ay, that thou shalt do!" cried Gaston, with all a lover's delight in
the thought of the near meeting with the lady of his heart. "And when,
in days to come, thou and I shall bring our brides to Edward's Court,
men will all agree that two nobler, lovelier women never stepped this
earth before -- my fairy Constanza, a creature of fire and snow; thy
Joan, a veritable queen amongst women, stately, serene, full of dignity
and courage, and beautiful as she is noble."

"And thou art sure that she is safe?" questioned Raymond, his heart
still longing for the moment of reunion after the long separation,
albeit those were days when the separation of years was no infrequent
thing, even betwixt those most closely drawn by bonds of love. "There is
none else to come betwixt her and me? Her father will not strive to
sunder us more?"

"Her father is but too joyous to be free from the power of the
Sanghurst; and the Prince spoke words that brought the flush of shame
tingling to his face. An age of chivalry, and a man selling his daughter
for filthy lucre to one renowned for his evil deeds and remorseless
cruelties! A lady forced to flee her father's house and brave the perils
of the road to escape a terrible doom! I would thou hadst heard him,
Raymond our noble young Prince, with scorn in his voice and the light of
indignation in his eyes. And thy Joan stood beside him; he held her hand
the while, as though he would show to all men that the heir of England
was the natural protector of outraged womanhood, that the upholder of
chivalry would stand to his colours, and be the champion of every
distressed damsel throughout the length and the breadth of the land. And
the lady looked so proud and beautiful that I trow she might have had
suitors and to spare in that hour; but the Prince, still holding her
hand, told her father all the story of her plighted troth to thee --
that truest troth plight of changeless love. And he told him how that
Basildene and all its treasure had been secured to thee, and asked him
was he willing to give his daughter to the Lord of Basildene? And Sir
Hugh was but too glad that no more than this was asked of him, and in
presence of the Prince and of us all he pledged his daughter's hand to
thee, I standing as thy proxy, as I have told thee. And now thy Joan is
well-nigh as fully thine as though ye had joined your hands in holy
wedlock. Thou hast naught to fear from her father's act. He is but too
much rejoiced with the fashion in which all has turned out. His word is
pledged before the Prince; and moreover thou art the lord of Basildene
and its treasure, and what more did he ever desire? It was a share in
that gold for which he would have sold his daughter."

Raymond's face took a new look, one of shrinking and pain.

"I like not that treasure, Gaston," he said. "It is like the price of
blood. I would that the King had taken it for his own. It seemeth as
though it could never bring a blessing with it."

"Methinks it could in thy hands and Joan's," answered Gaston, with a
fond, proud glance at his brother's beautiful face; "and as the Prince
truly said, since this scourge has swept through the land, claiming a
full half of its inhabitants, it would be a hopeless task to try to
discover the real owners; and moreover a part may be the Sanghurst
store, which men have always said is no small thing, and which in very
truth is now thine. But thou canst speak to Father Paul of all that. The
Church will give thee holy counsel. Methinks that gold in thy hands
would ever be used so as to bring with it a blessing and not a curse.

"But come now with me to the Prince. He greatly desires to see thee
again. He has not forgot thee, brother mine, nor that exploit of thine
at the surrender of Calais."

Father Paul was not at that time within the Monastery walls, his duties
calling him hither and thither, sometimes in one land and sometimes in
another. Raymond had enjoyed a peaceful time of rest and mental
refreshment with the good monks, but he was more than ready to go forth
into the world again. Quiet and study were congenial to him, but the
life of a monk was not to his taste. He saw clearly the evils to which
such a calling was exposed, and how easy it was to forget the high
ideal, and fall into self indulgence, idleness, and sloth.

Not that the abuses which in the end caused the monastic system to fall
into such contempt were at that time greatly developed; but the germs of
the evil were there, and it needed a nature such as that of Father Paul
and men of his stamp to show how noble the life of devotion could be
made. Ordinary men fell into a routine existence, and were in danger of
letting their duties and even their devotions become purely mechanical.

Raymond said adieu to his hospitable entertainers with some natural
regrets, yet with a sense that there was a wider work for him to do in
the world than any he should ever find between Monastery walls. Even
apart from all thoughts of love and marriage, there was attraction for
him in the world of chivalry and warfare. His ambition took a different
form from that of the average youth of the day, but none the less for
that did it act upon him like a spur, driving him forth where strife and
conflict were being waged, and where hard blows were to be struck.

Gaston's brother was warmly welcomed in the camp of the Prince. Many
there were who remembered the dreamy-faced lad, who had seemed like a
young Saint Michael amongst them, and still bore about with him
something of that air of remoteness which was never without its effect
even upon the rudest of his companions. Indeed the ordeal through which
he had passed had left an indelible stamp upon him. If the face looked
older than of yore, it was not that the depth and spirituality of the
expression had in any wise diminished.

The two brothers standing together formed a perfect picture in
contrasted types -- the bronzed, stalwart soldier in his coat of mail,
looking every inch the brave knight he was; and the slim, pale-faced
Raymond, with the haunting eyes and wonderful smile, which irradiated
his face like a gleam of light from another world, bearing about with
him that which seemed to stamp him as somewhat different from his
fellows, and yet which always commanded from them not only admiration,
but affection and respect.

The Prince's greeting was warm and hearty. He felt towards Raymond all
that goodwill which naturally follows an act of generous interference on
behalf of an injured person. He made him sit beside him in his tent at
supper time, and tell him all his history; and the promise made to
Gaston with reference to the tyrant Lord of Saut was ratified anew as
the wine circulated at table. The chosen comrades of the Prince, who had
most of them known the twin brothers for many years, vowed themselves to
the enterprise with hearty goodwill; and had the Lord of Navailles been
there to hear, he might well have trembled for his safety, despite the
strong walls and deep moat that environed Saut.

"Let his walls be never so strong, I trow we can starve or smoke the old
fox out!" quoth young Edward, laughing. "There be many strong citadels,
many a fortified town, that will ere long open their gates at the
summons of England's Prince. How say ye, my gallant comrades? Shall the
old Tower of Saut defy English arms? Shall we own ourselves beaten by
any Sieur de Navailles?"

The shout with which these words were answered was answer sufficient.
The English and Gascon lords, assembled together under the banner of the
Prince, were bent on a career of glory and plunder. The inaction of the
long truce, with its perpetual sources of irritation and friction, had
been exasperating in the extreme. It was an immense relief to them to
feel that war had at last been declared, and that they could unfurl
their banners and march forth against their old enemy, and enrich
themselves for life at his expense.

With the march of the Prince through south France we have little concern
in this history. It was one long triumphal progress, not over and above
glorious from a military standpoint; for there were no real battles, and
the accumulation of plunder and the infliction of grievous damage upon
the French King's possessions seemed the chief object of the expedition.
Had there been any concerted resistance to the Prince's march, doubtless
he might have shown something of his great military talents in directing
his forces in battle; but as it was, the country appeared paralyzed at
his approach: place after place fell before him, or bought him off by a
heavy price; and though there were several citadels in the vanquished
towns which held out for France, the Prince seldom stayed to subdue
them, but contented himself with plundering and burning the town. Not a
very glorious style of warfare for those days of vaunted chivalry, yet
one, nevertheless, characteristic enough of the times. Every
undertaking, however small, gave scope for deeds of individual gallantry
and the exercise of individual acts of courtliness and chivalry; and
even the battles were often little more than a countless number of
hand-to-hand conflicts carried on by the individual members of the
opposing armies. The Prince and his chosen comrades, always on the watch
for opportunities of showing their prowess and of exercising their
knightly chivalry towards any miserable person falling in their own way,
were doubtless somewhat blinded to the ignoble side of such a campaign.

However that may be, Raymond often felt a sinking at heart as he saw
their path marked out by blazing villages and wasted fields; and almost
all his own energies were concentrated in striving to do what one man
could achieve to mitigate the horrors of war for some of its helpless
victims.

Narbonne, on the Gulf of Lions, was the last place attacked and taken by
the Prince, who then decided to return with his spoil to Bordeaux, and
pass the remainder of the winter in the capture of certain places that
would be useful to the English.

Nothing had all this time been spoken as to Saut, which lay out of the
line of their march in the heart of friendly Gascony. But the project
had by no means been abandoned, and the Prince was but waiting a
favourable opportunity to carry it into effect.

The Sieur de Navailles had not attempted to join the Prince's standard,
as so many of the Gascon nobles had done, but had held sullenly aloof,
probably watching and waiting to see the result of this expedition, but
by no means prepared to adventure his person into the hands of a feudal
lord against whom his own sword had more than once been drawn. He was
well aware, no doubt, that there were pages in his past history with
regard to his relations with France that would not bear inspection by
English eyes, and perhaps he trusted to the remoteness and obscurity of
his two castles to save him from the notice of the Prince.

The terror inspired by the English arms in France is a thing that must
always excite the wonder and curiosity of the readers of history. It was
displayed on and after the Battle of Crecy, when Edward's army, if
numbers counted for anything, ought to have been simply annihilated by
the vast musters of the French, who were in their own land surrounded by
friends, whilst the English were a small band in the midst of a hostile
and infuriated population. This same thing was seen again in the march
of the Prince of Wales, soon to be called the Black Prince, when city
after city bought him off, hopeless of resisting his progress; and when
the army mustered by the Count of Armagnac to oppose the retreat of the
English to Bordeaux with their spoil was seized with a panic after the
merest skirmish, and fled, leaving the Prince to pursue his way unmolested.

If the conduct of the English army was somewhat inglorious, certainly
the behaviour of their foes was still more so. The English were always
ready to fight if they could find an enemy to meet them. Possibly the
doubtful character of the Prince's first campaign was less his fault
than that of his pusillanimous enemies.

Bordeaux reached, however, and the Gascon soldiers dismissed to their
homes for the winter months, the Prince promising to lead them next year
upon a more glorious campaign, in which fresh spoil was to be won and
more victories achieved, there was time for the consideration of objects
of minor importance, and a breathing space wherein private interests
could be considered.

Gaston had repressed all impatience during the march of the Prince. He
had not looked that his own affairs should take the foremost place in
the Prince's scheme. Moreover, he saw well that it would give a false
colour to the expedition if the first march of the Prince had been into
Gascony; nor was the capture of so obscure a fortress as the Castle of
Saut a matter to engross the energies of the whole of the allied army.

But now that the army was partially disbanded, whilst the English
contingent was either in winter quarters in Bordeaux or engaged here and
there in the capture of such cities and fortresses as the Prince decided
worth the taking, the moment appeared to be favourable for that
long-wished-for capture of Saut; and Gaston, taking his brother aside
one day, eagerly opened to him his mind.

"Raymond, I have spoken to the Prince. He is ready and willing to give
me men at any time I ask him. Perchance he will even come himself, if
duty calls him not elsewhere. The thing is now in mine own hands.
Brother, when shall the attempt be made?"

Raymond smiled at the eager question.

"Sir Knight, thou art more the warrior than I. Thou best knowest the day
and the hour for such a matter."

Gaston passed his hand through his hair, and a softer light shone in his
eyes. His brother knew of whom he was thinking, and he was not surprised
at the next words.

"Raymond, methinks before I do aught else I must see her once more. My
heart is hungry for her. I think of her by day and dream of her by
night. Perchance there might be some more peaceful way of winning
entrance to Saut than by battering down the walls, and doing by hap some
hurt to the precious treasure within. Brother, wilt thou wander forth
with me once again -- thou and I, and a few picked men, in case of peril
by the way, to visit Saut by stealth? We would go by the way of Father
Anselm's and our old home. I have a fancy to see the dear old faces once
again. Thou hast, doubtless, seen them all this year that has passed by,
but I not for many an one."

"I saw Father Anselm in Bordeaux," answered Raymond; "and good Jean,
when he heard I was there, came all the way to visit me. But I
adventured not myself so near the den of Navailles. The Brothers would
not permit it. They feared lest I might fall again into his power.
Gladly, indeed, would I come and see them once again. I have pictured
many times how, when thou art Lord of Saut, I will bring my Joan to
visit thee, and show her to good Jean and Margot and saintly Father
Anselm. I would fain talk to them of that day. They ever feel towards us
as though we were their children in very truth."

There was no difficulty in obtaining the Prince's sanction to this
absence from Bordeaux. He gave the brothers free leave to carry out
their plan by any means they chose, promising if they sent him word at
any time that they were ready for the assault, he would either come
himself or send a picked band of veterans to their aid; and saying that
Gaston was to look upon himself as Lord of Saut, by mandate from the
English King, who would enforce his right by his royal power if any
usurping noble dared to dispute it with him.

Thus fortified by royal warrant, and with a heart beating high with hope
and love, Gaston set out with some two score soldiers as a bodyguard to
reconnoitre the land; and upon the evening of the second day, the
brothers saw, in the fast-fading light of the winter's day, the red
roofs of the old mill lying peacefully in the gathering shadows of the
early night.

Their men had been dismissed to find quarters in the village for
themselves, and Roger was their only attendant, as they drew rein before
the door of the mill, and saw the miller coming quickly round the angle
of the house to inquire what these strangers wanted there at such an hour.

"Jean!" cried Gaston, in his loud and hearty tones, the language of his
home springing easily to his lips, though the English tongue was now the
one in which his thoughts framed themselves. "Good Jean, dost thou not
know us?"

The beaming welcome on the miller's face was answer enough in itself;
and, indeed, he had time to give no other, for scarce had the words
passed Gaston's lips before there darted out from the open door of the
house a light and fairy-like form, and a silvery cry of rapture broke
from the lips of the winsome maiden, whilst Gaston leaped from his horse
with a smothered exclamation, and in another moment the light fairy form
seemed actually swallowed up in the embrace of those strong arms.

"Constanza my life -- my love!"

"O Gaston, Gaston! can it in very truth be thou?"

Raymond looked on in mute amaze, turning his eyes from the lovers
towards the miller, who was watching the encounter with a beaming face.

"What means it all?" asked the youth breathlessly.

"Marry, it means that the maiden has found her true knight," answered
Jean, all aglow with delight; but then, understanding better the drift
of Raymond's question, he turned his eyes upon him again, and said:

"You would ask how she came hither? Well, that is soon told. It was one
night nigh upon six months agone, and we had long been abed, when we
heard a wailing sound beneath our windows, and Margot declared there was
a maiden sobbing in the garden below. She went down to see, and then the
maid told her a strange, wild tale. She was of the kindred of the Sieur
de Navailles, she said, and was the betrothed wife of Gaston de Brocas;
and as we knew somewhat of her tale through Father Anselm, who had heard
of your captivity and rescue, we knew that she spoke the truth. She said
that since the escape, which had so perplexed the wicked lord, he had
become more fierce and cruel than before, and that he seemed in some
sort to suspect her, though of what she scarce knew. She told us that
his mind seemed to be deserting him, that she feared he was growing
lunatic. He was so fierce and wild at times that she feared for her own
life. She bore it as long as her maid, the faithful Annette, lived; but
in the summer she fell sick of a fever, and died -- the lady knew not if
it were not poison that had carried her off -- and a great terror seized
her. Not two days later, she fled from her gloomy home, and not knowing
where else to hide her head, she fled hither, trusting that her lover
would shortly come to free her from her uncle's tyranny, as he had
sworn, and believing that the home which had sheltered the infancy of
the De Brocas brothers would give her shelter till that day came."

"And you took her in and guarded her, and kept her safe from harm,"
cried Raymond, grasping the hand of the honest peasant and wringing it
hard. "It was like you to do it, kind, good souls! My brother will thank
you, in his own fashion, for such service. But I must thank you, too.
And where is Margot? for I trow she has been as a mother to the maid. I
would see her and thank her, for Gaston has no eyes nor ears for any one
but his fair lady."

Gaston, indeed, was like one in a dream. He could scarce believe the
evidence of his senses; and it was a pretty sight to see how the winsome
Constanza clung to him, and how it seemed as though she could not bear
to let her eyes wander for a moment from his face.

Only at night, when the brothers stood together in the room they had
occupied of yore, and clasped each other by the hand in warm
congratulation, did Raymond really know how this meeting affected the
object of their journey; then Gaston, looking grave and thoughtful,
spoke a few words of his purpose.

"The Sieur de Navailles is a raging madman. That I can well divine from
what Constanza says. Tomorrow we will to Saut, to see what we may
discover there on the spot. It may be we may have no bloody warfare to
wage; it may be that Saut may be won without the struggle we have
thought. His own people are terrified before him. Constanza thinks that
I have but to declare myself and show the King's warrant to be
proclaimed by all as Lord and Master of Saut."



    CHAPTER XXXI. THE SURRENDER OF SAUT.


"In the King's name!"

The old seneschal at the drawbridge eyed with glances of awed suspicion
the gallant young knight who had ridden so boldly up to the walls of
Saut and had bidden him lower the bridge. A few paces behind the leader
was a compact little body of horsemen, all well mounted and well armed,
though it was little their bright weapons could do against the solid
walls of the grim old fortress, girdled as it was with its wide and deep
moat. The pale sunshine of a winter's day shone upon the trappings of
the little band, and lighted up the stone walls with something of
unwonted brightness. It revealed to those upon the farther side of the
moat the perplexed countenance of the old seneschal, who did not meet
Gaston's bold demand for admittance with defiance or refusal, but stood
staring at the apparition, as if not knowing what to make of it; and
when the demand had been repeated somewhat more peremptorily, he still
stood doubtful and hesitating, saying over and over to himself the same
words:

"In the King's name! in the King's name!"

"Ay, fellow, in the King's name," repeated Gaston sternly. "Wilt thou
see his warrant? I have it here. Thou hadst best have a care how thou
settest at defiance the King's seal and signet. Knowest thou not that
his royal son is within a few leagues of this very spot?"

The old man only shook his head, as if scarce comprehending the drift of
these words, and presently he looked up to ask:

"Of which King speak you, good Sir Knight?"

"Of the English King, fellow, the only King I acknowledge! Whose servant
doth thy master call himself? Thou hadst better go and tell him that
King Edward of England has sent a message to him."

"Tell my master!" repeated the seneschal, with a strange gesture, as he
lifted his hand and touched his head. "To what good would that be? My
master understands no word that is said to him. He raves up and down the
hall day by day, taking note of naught about him. Thou hadst best have a
care how thou beardest him, Sir Knight. We go in terror of our very
lives through him."

"Ye need go no longer in that fear," cried Gaston, with a kindling of
the eyes, as he bared his noble head and looked forth at the old man
with his fearless glance, "for in me ye will find a master whom none
need fear who do their duty by him and by the King. Seneschal, I stand
here the lawful Lord of Saut -- lord by hereditary right, and by the
mandate of England's King, the Roy Outremer, as you call him. I am
Gaston de Brocas, of the old race who owned these lands long before the
false Navailles had set foot therein. I have come back armed with the
King's warrant to claim mine own.

"Say, men, will ye have me for your lord? or will ye continue to serve
yon raging madman till England's King sends an army to raze Saut to the
ground, and slay the rebellious horde within these ancient walls?"

Gaston had raised his voice as he had gone on speaking, for he saw that
the dialogue with the old seneschal had attracted the attention of a
number of men-at-arms, who had gradually mustered about the gate to hear
what was passing.

Gaston spoke his native dialect like one of themselves. The name of De
Brocas was known far and wide in that land, and was everywhere spoken
with affection and respect. The fierce rapacity of the Navailles was
equally feared and hated. Even the stout soldiers who had followed his
fortunes so long regarded him with fear and distrust. No man in those
days felt certain of his life. If he chanced to offend the madman, a
savage blow from that strong arm might fell him to the earth; whilst
some amongst their companions had from time to time mysteriously
disappeared, and their fate had never been disclosed.

A sense of fearfulness and uncertainty had long reigned at Saut. The mad
master had his own myrmidons in the Tower, who would do his bidding
whatever that bidding might be; and that there were dark secrets hidden
away in those underground dungeons and secret chambers everybody in the
Castle well knew. Hardly one of the men now gathered on the opposite
side of the moat but had awakened at some time or other from a horrid
dream, believing himself to have been spirited down into those gloomy
subterranean places, there to expiate some trifling offence, according
as their savage lord should give order. Many of these men had assisted
at scenes which seemed frightful to them when they pictured themselves
the victims of the cruelty of the fierce man they had long served, but
whom now they had grown to fear and distrust.

A sense of horror had long been hanging over Saut, and since the
disappearance of the maiden who once had brightened the grim place by
her presence, this horror had perceptibly deepened. Not one of all the
men-at-arms dared even to his fellow to propose the remedy. Each feared
that if he breathed what was in his own mind, the very walls would
whisper it in the ears of their lord, and that the offender would be
doomed to some horrible death, to act as a warning to others like-minded
with himself. Since the loss of his niece, almost as mysterious to him
as the escape of Raymond de Brocas from the prison, the clouds of doubt
and suspicion had closed more and more darkly round the miserable man,
who had let himself become the slave of his passions until these had
increased to absolute madness. His unbridled fury and fits of maniac
rage had estranged from him even the most attached of his old retainers,
and in proportion as he felt this with the instinct of cunning and
madness, the more did he exact from those about him protestations of
zeal and faithfulness, the more did he watch the words and actions of
his servants, and mark the smallest attempt on their part to restrain or
thwart him.

Small wonder was it, then, when Gaston de Brocas stood forth in the
sunshine, the King's warrant in his hand, words of good augury upon his
lips, and a compact little body of armed men at his back, proclaiming
himself the Lord of Saut, and inviting to his service the men who were
now trembling before the caprices and cruel cunning of a madman, that
they exchanged wondering glances, and spoke in eager whispers together,
fearful lest the Navailles should approach from behind ere they were
aware of it, and feeling that there was here such a chance of escape
from miserable bondage as might never occur again.

And whilst they still hesitated -- for the fear of treachery was never
absent from the minds of those bred up in habits and thoughts of
treachery -- another wonder happened. Out from the little knot a few
paces behind the young knight two more figures pressed forward, and the
men-at-arms rubbed their eyes and looked on in silent wonder: for one of
the pair was none other than the fairy maiden who had lived so long
amongst them, and had endeared herself even to these rude spirits by her
grace and sweetness and undefinable charm; the other, that youth with
the wonderful eyes and saint-like face who had been captured and borne
away to Saut after the battle before St. Jean d'Angely, and whose body
they all believed had long ago been lying beneath the sullen waters of
the moat, where so many victims of their lord's hatred had found their
last resting place.

And as they stared and looked at one another and stared again, a silvery
voice was uplifted, and they all held their breath to listen.

"My friends," said the lady, urging her palfrey till she reached
Gaston's side, and could feel his hand upon hers, "I have come hither
with this noble knight, Sir Gaston de Brocas, because he is my betrothed
husband and liege lord, and I have the right to be at his side even in
the hour of peril, but also because you all know me; and when I tell you
that every word he has spoken is true, I trow ye will believe it. There
he stands, the lawful Lord of Saut, and if ye will but own him as your
lord, you will find in him a wise, just, and merciful master, who will
protect you from the mad fury of yon miserable man whom now ye serve,
and will lead you to more glorious feats of arms than any ye have
dreamed of before. Hitherto ye have been little better than robbers and
outlaws. Have ye no wish for better things than ye have won under the
banner of Navailles?"

The men exchanged glances, and visibly wavered. They compared their
coarse and stained garments, their rusty arms and battered
accoutrements, with the brilliant appearance of the little band of
soldiers standing on the opposite side of the moat, their armour shining
in the sunlight, their steeds well fed and well groomed, arching their
necks and pawing the ground, every man and every horse showing plainly
that they came from a region of abundance of good things; whilst the
military precision of their aspect showed equally well that they would
be antagonists of no insignificant calibre, if the moment should come
when they were transformed from friends to foes.

Constanza saw the wavering and hesitation amongst her uncle's men. She
well knew their discontent at their own lot, their fearful distrust of
their lord. She knew, too, that it was probably some fear of treachery
alone that withheld them from making cause at once with the De Brocas --
treachery having been only too much practised amongst them by their own
fierce master -- and again her voice rang out clear and sweet.

"Men, listen again to me. I speak to counsel you for your good; for
fierce and cruel as ye have been to your foes, ye have ever been kind
and gentle to me when I was with you in these walls. What think ye to
gain by defying the great King of England? Think ye that he will spare
you if ye arouse him to anger by impotent resistance? What more could
King have done for you than send to be your lord a noble Gascon knight;
one of your own race and language; one who, as ye all must know, has a
far better right to hold these lands than any of the race of Navailles?
Here before you stands Sir Gaston de Brocas, offering you place in his
service if ye will but swear to him that allegiance he has the right to
claim. The offer is made in clemency and mercy, because he would not
that any should perish in futile resistance. Men, ye know that he comes
to this place with the King's mandate that Saut be given up to him. If
it be not peaceably surrendered, what think ye will happen next?

"I will tell you. Ye have heard of the Prince of Wales, son of the Roy
Outremer; doubtless even to these walls has come the news of that
triumphal march of his, where cities have surrendered or ransomed
themselves to him, and nothing has been able to stay the might of his
conquering arm. That noble Prince and valiant soldier is now not far
away. We have come from his presence, and are here with his knowledge
and sanction. If we win you over, and gain peaceable possession of these
walls, good; no harm will befall any living creature within them. But if
ye prove obdurate; if ye will not listen to the voice of reason; if ye
still hold with rebellious defiance to the lord ye have served, and who
has shown himself so little worthy of your service, then will the Prince
and his warriors come with all their wrath and might to inflict
chastisement upon you, and take vengeance upon you, as enemies of the King.

"Say, men, how can ye hope to resist the might of the Prince's arm? Say,
which will ye do -- be the free servants of Gaston de Brocas, or die
like rats in a hole for the sake of yon wicked madman, whose slaves ye
have long been? Which shall it be -- a De Brocas or a Navailles?"

Something in this last appeal stirred the hearts of the men. It seemed
as though a veil were torn from their eyes. They seemed to see all in a
moment the hopelessness of their position as vassals of Navailles, and
the folly of attempting resistance to one so infinitely more worthy to
be called their lord. It was no stranger coming amongst them -- it was
one of the ancient lords of the soil; and the sight of the youthful
knight, sitting there on his fine horse, with his fair lady beside him,
was enough to stir the pulses and awaken the enthusiasm of an ardent
race, even though the nobler instincts had been long sleeping in the
breasts of these men. They hated and distrusted their old lord with a
hatred he had well merited; and degraded as they had become in his
service, they had not yet sunk so low but that they could feel with the
keenness of instinct, rather than by any reasoning powers they
possessed, that this young knight was a man to be trusted and be loved
-- that if they became his vassals they would receive vastly different
treatment from any they had received from the Sieur de Navailles.

There was one long minute's pause, whilst looks and whispered words were
exchanged, and then a shout arose:

"De Brocas! De Brocas! We will live and die the servants of De Brocas!"
whilst at the same moment the drawbridge slowly descended, and Gaston,
at the head of his gallant little band, with Raymond and Constanza at
his side, rode proudly over the sounding planks, and found himself, for
the first time in his life, in the courtyard of the Castle of Saut.

"De Brocas! De Brocas!" shouted the men, all doubt and hesitation done
away with in a moment at sight of the gallant show thus made, enthusiasm
kindling in every breast as the sweet lady rained smiles and gracious
words upon the rough men, who had always had a soft spot in their heart
for her; whilst Raymond's earnest eyes and Gaston's courtly and
chivalrous bearing were not without effect upon the ruder natures of
these lonely residents of Saut. It seemed to them as though they had
been invaded by some denizens from another world, and murmurs of wonder
and reverent admiration mingled with the cheering with which Gaston de
Brocas was received as Lord of Saut.

But there was still one more person to be faced. The men had accepted
the sovereignty of a new lord, and were already rejoicing in the escape
from the dreaded tyranny they had not had the resolution to shake off
unprompted; but there was still the Sieur de Navailles to be dealt with,
and impotent as he might be in the desertion of his old followers, it
was necessary to see and speak with him, and decide what must be done
with the man who was believed by those about him to be little better
than a raging maniac.

"Where is your master?" asked Gaston of the old seneschal, who stood at
his bridle rein, his eyes wandering from his face to that of Raymond and
Constanza and back again; "I marvel that this tumult has not brought him
forth."

"The walls are thick," replied the old man, "and he lives for days
together in a world of his own, no sound or sight from without
penetrating his understanding. Then again he will awaken from his dream,
and show us that he has heard and seen far more than we have thought.
And if any man amongst us has dropped words that have incensed him --
well, there have been men who have disappeared from amongst us and have
never been seen more; and tales are whispered of horrid cries and groans
that have issued as from the very bowels of the earth each time
following their spiriting away."

Constanza shuddered, and a black frown crossed Gaston's face as he gave
one quick glance at his brother, who had so nearly shared that
mysterious and terrible doom.

"The man is a veritable fiend. He merits scant mercy at our hands. He
has black crimes upon his soul. Seneschal, lead on. Take us to him ye
once owned as sovereign lord. I trow ye will none of you lament the day
ye transferred your allegiance from yon miscreant to Gaston de Brocas!"

Another cheer, heartier than the last, broke from the lips of all the
men. They had been joined now by their comrades within the Castle, and
in the sense of freedom from the hateful tyranny of their old master all
were rejoicing and filled with enthusiasm.

For once they were free from all fear of treachery. Gaston's own picked
band of stalwart veterans was guarantee enough that might as well as
right was on the side of the De Brocas. The sight of those well-equipped
men-at-arms, all loyal and full of affectionate enthusiasm for their
youthful lord, showed these rude retainers how greatly to their
advantage would be this change of masters; and before Gaston had
dismounted and walked across the courtyard towards the portal of the
Castle, he felt, with a swelling of the heart that Raymond well
understood, that Saut was indeed his own.

"This is the way to the Sieur de Navailles," said the old seneschal, as
they passed beneath the frowning doorway into a vaulted stone hall. "He
spends whole days and nights pacing up and down like a wild beast in a
cage. He scarce leaves the hall, save when he wanders forth into the
forest, and that has not happened since the cold winds have blown hard.
You will find him within those doors, good gentlemen. Shall I make known
your presence to him?"

It was plain that the old man had no small fear of his master, and would
gladly be spared this office. Gaston looked round to see that some of
his own followers were close behind and on the alert, and then taking
Constanza's hand in his, and laying his right hand upon the hilt of his
sword, he signed to the seneschal to throw open the massive oaken doors,
and walked fearlessly in with Raymond at his side.

They found themselves in the ancient banqueting hall of the fortress --
a long, lofty, rather narrow room, with a heavily-raftered ceiling, two
huge fireplaces, one at either end, and a row of very narrow windows cut
in the great thickness of the wall occupying almost the whole of one
side of the place; whilst a long table was placed against the opposite
wall, with benches beside it, and another smaller table was placed upon
a small raised dais at the far end of the apartment. On this dais was
also set a heavy oaken chair, close beside the glowing hearth; and at
this moment it was plain that the occupant of the chair had been
disturbed by the commotion from without, and had suddenly risen to his
feet, for he stood grasping the oaken arms, his wild gray hair hanging
in matted masses about his seamed and wrinkled face, and his hollow
eyes, in which a fierce light blazed, turned upon the intruders in a
glare of impotent fury.

"Who are ye who thus dare to intrude upon me here? What is all this
tumult I hear in mine own halls?

"Seneschal, art thou there? Send hither to me my soldiers; bid them bind
these men, and carry them to the dungeons. I will see them there. Ha,
ha! I will talk with them there. I will deal with them there. What ho!
Send me the jailer and his assistants! Let them light the fires and heat
hot the irons. Let them prepare our welcome for guests to Saut. Ha, ha!
Ho, ho! These brave gallants shall taste our hospitality. Who brought
them in? Where were they found? Methinks they will prove a rich booty.
Would that good Peter Sanghurst were here to help me in the task of
entertaining these new guests!"

The man was a raving lunatic; that was plain to the most inexperienced
eye from the first moment. He knew not his own niece, he knew not the De
Brocas brothers, though Raymond's face must have been familiar to him
had he been in his right senses. He was still in fancy the undisputed
lord of these wide lands, scouring the country for English travellers or
prisoners of meaner mould; acting here in Gascony much the same part as
the Sanghursts had more cautiously done in England, and as the Barons of
both France and England had long done, though their day of irresponsible
and autocratic power was well-nigh at an end.

He glared upon the brothers and their attendants with savage fury, still
calling out to his men to carry them to the dungeons, still believing
them to be a band of travellers taken prisoners by his own orders,
raving and raging in his impotent fury till the gust of passion had worn
itself out, and in a sullen amaze he sank into his seat, still gazing
out from under his shaggy brows at the intruders, but the passion and
fury for a moment at an end.

"He will understand better what you say to him now, Sir Knight,"
whispered the old seneschal, who alone of the men belonging to the
Castle dared to enter the hall where their maniac master was. "His mind
comes back to him sometimes after he has raved himself quiet. We dread
his sullen moods almost more than his wild ones.

"Have a care how you approach him. He is as cunning as a fox, and as
crafty as he is cruel. He always has some weapon beneath his robe. Have
a care, I say, how you approach him."

Gaston nodded, but he was too fearless by nature to pay much heed to the
warning; he felt himself more than a match for that bowed-down old man.
Giving Constanza into Raymond's charge, he stepped boldly up to the
dais, and doffing his headpiece, addressed himself to his adversary in
firm though courteous accents.

"My Lord of Navailles," he said, "I am come to claim mine own. If thou
knowest me not, I will tell thee who I am -- Gaston de Brocas, the Lord
of Saut in mine own right, and by the mandate of the King which I hold
in mine hand. Long hast thou held lands to which thou hadst no right,
but the day has come when I claim mine own again, and am prepared to do
battle for it to the death. But here is no battle needed. Thine own men
have called me lord; they have obeyed the mandate of the King, and have
opened their gates to me. I stand here the Lord of Saut. Thy power and
thy reign are over for ever. Grossly hast thou abused that power when it
was thine. Now, like all tyrants, thou art finding that thy servants
fall away in the hour of peril, and that thou, who hast been a cruel
master, canst command no service from them in the time of need. I, and I
alone, am Lord of Saut. Hast thou aught to say ere thou yieldest
dominion to me?"

Did he understand? Those standing round and breathlessly watching the
curious scene could scarce be sure; but there was a look of
comprehension and of intense baffled rage and malice in those cavernous
eyes that sent a shiver through Constanza's light frame.

"Have a care, Gaston; have a care!" she cried, with sudden shrillness,
as she saw a quick movement of those knotted sinewy hands beneath the
coarse robe the old man wore; and in another moment both she and Raymond
had sprung forward, for there was a flash of keen steel, and the madman
had flung himself upon Gaston with inconceivable rapidity of motion.

For a moment there was a hideous scuffle. Blood was flowing, they knew
not whose. Gaston acted solely on the defensive. He would not raise his
hand against one who was old and lunatic, and near in blood to her whom
he held dear; but he wrestled valiantly in the iron grip of arms
stronger than his own, and he felt that some struggle was going on above
him, though for the moment his own breath seemed suspended, and his very
life pressed out of him.

Then came a sudden sense of release. His enemy had relaxed his bear-like
clasp. Gaston sprang to his feet to see his enemy falling backwards in a
helpless collapse, the hilt of a dagger clasped between his knotted
hands -- the sharp blade buried in his own heart.

"He has killed himself!" cried Constanza, with eyes dilated with horror,
as she sprang to Gaston's side. It had all been so quick that it was
hard to tell what had befallen in those few seconds of life-and-death
struggle. Gaston was bleeding from a slight flesh wound in the arm, but
that was the only hurt he had received; whilst his foe --

"He strove to plunge the dagger in thy breast, Gaston," said Raymond,
who was supporting the head of the dying man; "and failing that, he
thought to smother thee in his bear-like clasp, that has crushed the
life out of enemies before now, as we have ofttimes heard. When he felt
other foes around him unloosing that clasp, and knew himself balked of
his purpose, he clutched the weapon thou hadst dashed from his hand and
buried it in his own body. As he has lived, so has he died -- defiant to
the very end. But the madness-cloud may have hung long upon his spirit.
Perchance some of the worst of his crimes may not be laid to his charge."

As Raymond spoke, the dying man opened his eyes, and fixed them upon the
face bending over him. The light of sullen defiance which had shone
there but a few short moments ago changed to something strange and new
as he met the calm, compassionate glance of those expressive eyes now
fixed upon him. He seemed to give a slight start, and to strive to draw
himself away.

"Thou here!" he gasped -- "thou! Hast thou indeed come from the spirit
world to mock me in my last moments? I know thee now, Raymond de Brocas!
I have seen thee before -- thou knowest how and where. Methinks the very
angels of heaven must have spirited thee away. Why art thou here now?"

"To bid thee ask forgiveness for thy sins with thy dying breath,"
answered Raymond, gently yet firmly; "to bid thee turn thy thoughts for
one last moment towards thy Saviour, and though thou hast scorned and
rebelled against Him in life, to ask His pardoning mercy in death. He
has pardoned a dying miscreant ere now. Wilt thou not take upon thy lips
that dying thief's petition, and cry 'Lord, remember me;' or this
prayer, 'Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner'?"

A gray shadow was creeping over the rugged face, the lips seemed to
move, but no words came forth. There was no priest at hand to listen to
a dying confession, or to pronounce a priestly absolution, and yet
Raymond had spoken as if there might yet be mercy for an erring,
sin-stained soul, if it would but turn in its last agony to the
Crucified One -- the Saviour crucified for the sins of the whole world.

It must be remembered that there was less of priestcraft -- less of what
we now call popery -- in those earlier days than there came to be later
on; and the springs of truth, though somewhat tainted, were not
poisoned, as it were, at the very source, as they afterwards became.
Something of the purity of primitive times lingered in the minds of men,
and here and there were always found pure spirits upon whom the errors
of man obtained no hold -- spirits that seemed to rise superior to their
surroundings, and hold communion direct with heaven itself. Such a
nature and such a mind was Raymond's; and his clear, intense faith had
been strengthened and quickened by the vicissitudes through which he had
passed. He did not hesitate to point the dying soul straight to the
Saviour Himself, without mediation from the Blessed Virgin or the Holy
Saints. Love and revere these he might and did; but in the presence of
that mighty power of death, in that hour when flesh and heart do fail,
he felt as he had felt when he believed his own soul was to be called
away -- when it seemed as though no power could avail to save him from a
fearful fate -- that to God alone must the cry of the suffering soul be
raised; that into the Saviour's hands alone could the departing soul be
committed. He did not speak to others of these thoughts -- thoughts
which in later days came to be branded with the dreaded name of "heresy"
-- but he held them none the less surely in the depths of his own
spirit; and now, when all but he would have stood aside with pitiful
helplessness, certain that nothing could be done for the dying man in
absence of a priest, Raymond strove to lead his thoughts upwards, that
though his life had been black and evil, he might still die with his
face turned Godwards, with a cry for mercy on his lips.

Nor was this hope in vain; for at the last the old man raised himself
with a strength none believed him to possess, and raising his hand he
clasped that of Raymond, and said:

"Raymond de Brocas, I strove to compass thy death, and thou hast come to
me in mine hour of need, and spoken words of hope. If thou canst forgive
-- thou so cruelly treated, so vilely betrayed -- it may be that the
Saviour, whose servant thou art, can forgive yet greater crimes.

"Christ have mercy upon me! Lord have mercy upon me! Christ have mercy
upon me! My worldly possessions are fled: let them go; they are in good
hands. May Christ pardon my sins, and receive me at last to Himself!"

He looked earnestly at Raymond, who understood him, and whispered the
last prayers of the Church in his ear. A look of calm and peace fell
upon that wild and rugged face; and drawing one sigh, and slightly
turning himself towards his former foe, the old ruler of Saut fell
asleep, and died with the two De Brocas brothers standing beside him.



    CHAPTER XXXII. ON THE FIELD OF POITIERS.


The face of the Prince was dark and grave. He had posted his gallant
little army in the strongest position the country afforded; but his men
were ill-fed, and though brave as lions and eager for the battle, were
but a handful of troops compared with the vast French host opposed to them.

Eight thousand against fifty or even sixty thousand! Such an inequality
might well make the stoutest heart quail. But there was no fear in young
Edward's eyes, only a glance of stern anxiety slightly dashed with
regret; for the concessions just made to the Cardinal de Perigord, who
was earnestly striving to arrange terms between the rival armies and so
avoid the bloodshed of a battle, went sorely against the grain of the
warrior prince, and he was almost disposed to repent that he had been
induced to make them.

But his position was sufficiently critical, and defeat meant the
annihilation of the gallant little army who had followed his fortunes
through two campaigns, and who were to a man his devoted servants. He
had led them, according to promise, upon another long march of unopposed
plunder and victory, right into the very heart of France; whilst another
English army in Normandy and Brittany had been harassing the French
King, and averting his attention from the movements of his son.

Perhaps young Edward's half-matured plan had been to join the other
English forces in the north, for he was too much the general and the
soldier to think of marching upon Paris or of attacking the French army
with his own small host. Indeed, a few reverses had recently taught him
that he had already ventured almost too far into the heart of a hostile
country; and he was, in fact, retreating upon Bordeaux, believing the
French army to be behind him, when he discovered that it was in front of
him, intercepting his farther progress, and he was made aware of this
unwelcome fact by seeing the advance guard of his own army literally cut
to pieces by the French soldiers before he could come to their assistance.

Realizing at once the immense peril of his position, the Prince had
marched on till he reached a spot where he could post his men to some
advantage amongst hedges and bushes that gave them shelter, and would
serve to embarrass an attacking foe, and in particular any charge of
cavalry. The place selected was some six miles from Poitiers, and
possessed so many natural advantages that the Prince felt encouraged to
hope for a good issue to the day, albeit the odds were fearfully to his
disadvantage.

He had looked to be speedily attacked by the French King, who was in
person leading his host; but the Saturday passed away without any
advance, and on Sunday morning the good Cardinal de Perigord began to
strive to bring matters to a peaceable issue.

Brave as the young Prince was, and great as his reliance on his men had
always been, his position was perilous in the extreme, and he had been
willing to listen to the words of the Cardinal. Indeed, he had made
wonderful concessions to the messenger of peace, for he had at last
consented to give up all the places he had taken, to set free all
prisoners, and to swear not to take up arms against the King of France
for seven years; and now he stood looking towards the French host with a
frown of anxious perplexity upon his face, for the Cardinal had gone
back to the French King with this message, and already the Prince was
half repentant at having conceded so much. He had been persuaded rather
against his will, and he was wondering what his royal father would say
when he should hear.

He had been thinking rather of his brave soldiers' lives than his own
military renown, when he had let himself be won over by the good
Cardinal. Had he, after all, made a grand mistake?

His knights stood around, well understanding the conflict going on in
his breast, and sympathizing deeply with him in this crisis of his life,
but not knowing themselves what it were best to do. The sun was creeping
to the horizon before the Cardinal was seen returning, and his face was
grave and sorrowful as he was ushered into the presence of the Prince.

"My Liege," he said, in accents of regret, "it is but sorry news I have
to bring you. My royal master of his own will would have gladly listened
to the terms to which your consent has been won, save for the vicious
counsel of my lord Bishop of Chalons, Renaud Chauveau, who hates your
nation so sorely that he has begged the King, even upon his bended
knees, to slay every English soldier in this realm rather than suffer
them to escape just when they had fallen into his power, rather than
listen to overtures of submission without grasping the victory of blood
which God had put into his hands. Wherefore my liege the King has vowed
that he will consent to nothing unless you yourself, together with one
hundred of your knights, will give yourselves up into his hand without
condition."

Young Edward's eyes flashed fire. A look more like triumph than dismay
crossed his noble face. Looking at the sorrowful Cardinal, with the
light of battle in his eyes, he said in ringing tones:

"My Lord Cardinal, I thank you for your goodwill towards us. You are a
good and holy man, an ambassador of peace, and as such you are
fulfilling your Master's will. But I can listen no longer to your words.
Go back to the King of France, and tell him that I thank him for his
last demand, because it leaves me no choice but to fight him to the
death; and ten thousand times would I rather fight than yield, albeit
persuaded to submit to terms by your eloquent pleading. Return to your
lord, and tell him that Edward of England defies him, and will meet him
in battle so soon as it pleases him to make the attack. I fear him not.
The English have found no such mighty antagonists in the French that
they should fear them now.

"Go, my Lord Cardinal, and carry back my message of defiance. Ere
another sun has set I hope to meet John of France face to face in the
foremost of the fight!"

A shout of joy and triumph rose from a hundred throats as this answer
was listened to by the Prince's knights, and the cheer was taken up and
echoed by every soldier in the camp. It was the signal, as all knew
well, that negotiation had failed; and the good Cardinal went
sorrowfully back to the French lines, whilst the English soldiers
redoubled their efforts at trenching the ground and strengthening their
position -- efforts which had been carried on ceaselessly all through
this and the preceding day, regardless of the negotiations for peace,
which many amongst them hoped would prove abortive.

Then up to the Prince's side stepped bold Sir James Audley, who had been
his counsellor and adviser during the whole of the campaign, and by
whose advice the coming battle was being arranged.

"Sire," he said, bending the knee before his youthful lord, "I long ago
vowed a vow that if ever I should find myself upon the field of battle
with the King of England or his son, I would be foremost in the fight
for his defence. Sire, that day has now dawned -- or will dawn with
tomorrow's sun. Grant me, I pray you, leave to be the first to charge
into yon host, and so fulfil the vow long registered before God."

"Good Sir James, it shall be even as thou wilt," answered the Prince,
extending his hand. "But if thou goest thus into peril, sure thou wilt
not go altogether alone?"

"I will choose out four knightly comrades," answered Sir James, "and
together we will ride into the battle. I know well that there will be no
lack of brave men ready and willing to fight at my side. Gaston de
Brocas has claimed already to be one, and his brother ever strives to be
at his side. But he has yet his spurs to win, and I may but take with me
those who are knights already."

"Raymond de Brocas's spurs unwon!" cried the Prince, with kindling eye,
"and he the truest knight amongst us! Call him hither this moment to me.
Shame upon me that I have not ere this rewarded such pure and lofty
courage as his by that knighthood he so well merits!"

And then and there upon the field of Poitiers Raymond received his
knighthood, amid the cheers of the bystanders, from the hands of the
Prince, on the eve of one of England's most glorious victories.

Gaston's eyes were shining with pride as he led his brother back to
their tent as the last of the September daylight faded from the sky.

"I had set my heart on sending thee back to thy Joan with the spurs of
knighthood won," he said, affectionately pressing his brother's hands.
"And truly, as they all say, none were ever more truly won than thine
have been, albeit thou wilt ever be more the saint than the warrior."

Raymond's eyes were bright. For Joan's sake rather than his own he
rejoiced in his new honour; though every man prided himself upon that
welcome distinction, especially when bestowed by the hand of King or
Prince. And the thought of a speedy return to England and his true love
there was as the elixir of life to Raymond, who was counting the days
and hours before he might hope to set sail for his native land again.

He had remained with his brother at Saut all through the past winter.
Gaston and Constanza had been married at Bordeaux very shortly after the
death of old Navailles; and they had returned to Saut, their future
home, and Raymond had gone with them. Greatly as he longed for England
and Joan, his duty to the Prince kept him beside him till he should
obtain his dismissal to see after his own private affairs. The Prince
needed his faithful knights and followers about him in his projected
expedition of the present year; and Gaston required his brother's help
and counsel in setting to rights the affairs of his new kingdom, and in
getting into better order a long-neglected estate and its people.

There had been work enough to fill their minds and hands for the whole
time the Prince had been able to spare them from his side; and an
interchange of letters between him and his lady love had helped Raymond
to bear the long separation from her. She had assured him of her
changeless devotion, of her present happiness and wellbeing, and had
bidden him think first of his duty to the Prince, and second of his
desire to rejoin her. They owed much to the Prince: all their present
happiness and security were the outcome of his generous interposition on
their behalf. Raymond's worldly affairs were not suffering by his
absence. Master Bernard de Brocas was looking to that. He would find all
well on his return to England; and it were better he should do his duty
nobly by the Prince now, and return with him when they had subdued their
enemies, than hasten at once to her side. In days to come it would
grieve them to feel that they had at this juncture thought first of
themselves, when King and country should have taken the foremost place.

So Raymond had taken the counsel thus given, and now was one of those to
be foremost in the field on the morrow. No thought of fear was in his
heart or Gaston's; peril was too much the order of the day to excite any
but a passing sense of the uncertainty of human life. They had come
unscathed through so much, and Raymond had so long been said to bear a
charmed life, that he and Gaston had alike ceased to tremble before the
issue of a battle. Well armed and well mounted, and versed in every art
of attack and defence, the young knights felt no personal fear, and only
longed to come forth with honour from the contest, whatever else their
fate might be.

Monday morning dawned, and the two opposing armies were all in readiness
for the attack. The fighting began almost by accident by the bold action
of a Gascon knight, Eustace d'Ambrecicourt, who rode out alone towards
what was called the "battle of the marshals," and was met by Louis de
Recombes with his silver shield, whom he forthwith unhorsed. This
provoked a rapid advance of the marshals' battle, and the fighting began
in good earnest.

The moment this was soon to have taken place, the brave James Audley,
calling upon his four knights to follow him, dashed in amongst the
French in another part of the field, giving no quarter, taking no
prisoners, but performing such prodigies of valour as struck terror into
the breasts of the foe. The French army (with the exception of three
hundred horsemen, whose mission was to break the ranks of the bowmen)
had been ordered, on account of the nature of the ground, all to fight
on foot; and when the bold knight and his four chosen companions came
charging in upon them, wheeling their battle-axes round their heads and
flashing through the ranks like a meteor, the terrified and
impressionable Frenchmen cried out that St. George himself had appeared
to fight against them, and an unreasoning panic seized upon them.

Flights of arrows from the dreaded English longbow added immeasurably to
their distress and bewilderment. The three hundred horsemen utterly
failed in their endeavour to approach these archers, securely posted
behind the hedges, and protected by the trenches they had dug. The
arrows sticking in the horses rendered them perfectly wild and
unmanageable, and turning back upon their own comrades, they threw the
ranks behind into utter confusion, trampling to death many of the
footmen, and increasing the panic tenfold.

Then seeing the utter confusion of his foes, the Prince charged in
amongst them, dealing death and destruction wherever he went. The terror
of the French increased momentarily; and the division under the Duke of
Normandy, that had not even taken any part as yet in the battle, rushed
to their horses, mounted and fled without so much as striking a blow.

The King of France, however, behaved with far greater gallantry than
either his son or the majority of his knights and nobles, and the battle
that he led was long and fiercely contested.

If, as the chronicler tells us, one-fourth of his soldiers had shown the
same bravery as he did, the fortunes of the day would have been vastly
different; but though personally brave, he was no genius in war, and his
fatal determination to fight the battle on foot was a gross blunder in
military tactics. Even when he and his division were being charged by
the Prince of Wales at full gallop, at the head of two thousand lances,
the men all flushed with victory, John made his own men dismount, and
himself did the same, fighting with his axe like a common soldier;
whilst his little son Philip crouched behind him, narrowly watching his
assailants, and crying out words of warning to his father as he saw
blows dealt at him from right or left.

The French were driven back to the very gates of Poitiers, where a great
slaughter ensued; for those gates were now shut against them, and they
had nowhere else to fly. The battle had begun early in the morning, and
by noon the trumpets were sounding to recall the English from the
pursuit of their flying foes.

Such a victory and such vast numbers of noble prisoners almost
bewildered even the victors themselves; and the Prince was anxious to
assemble his knights once more about him, to learn some of the details
of the issue of the day. That the French King had either been killed or
made prisoner appeared certain, for it was confidently asserted that he
had not left the field; but for some time the confusion was so great
that it was impossible to ascertain what had actually happened, and the
Prince, who had gone to his tent to take some refreshment after the
labours of the day, had others than his high-born prisoners to think for.

"Who has seen Sir James Audley -- gallant Sir James?" he asked, looking
round upon the circle of faces about him and missing that of the one he
perhaps loved best amongst his knights. "Who has seen him since his
gallant charge that made all men hold their breath with wonder? I would
fain reward him for that gallant example he gave to our brave soldiers
at the beginning of the day."

News was soon brought that Sir James had been badly wounded, and had
been carried by his knights to his tent. The Prince would have gone to
visit him there; but news of this proposal having been brought to the
knight, he caused himself to be transported to the Prince's tent by his
knights, all of whom had escaped almost unscathed from their gallant
escapade. Thus it came about that Gaston and Raymond stood within the
royal tent, whilst the Prince bent over his faithful knight, and
promised as the reward for that day's gallantry that he should remain
his own knight for ever, and receive five hundred marks yearly from the
royal treasury.

Then, when poor Sir James, too spent and faint to remain longer, had
been carried hence by some of the bystanders, the Prince turned to the
twin brothers and grasped them by the hand.

"I greatly rejoice that ye have come forth unhurt from that fierce
strife in the which ye so boldly plunged. What can I do for you, brave
comrades, to show the gratitude of a King's son for all your faithful
service?"

"Sire," answered Gaston, "since you have asked us to claim our guerdon,
and since your foes are at your feet, your rival a prisoner in your
royal hands (if he be not a dead corpse), and the whole land subject to
you; since there be no further need in the present for us to fight for
you, and a time of peace seems like to follow upon this glorious day,
methinks my brother and I would fain request your royal permission to
retire for a while each to his own home, to regulate our private
concerns, and dwell awhile each with the wife of his choice. Thou
knowest that I have a wife but newly made mine, and that my brother only
tarries to fly to his betrothed bride till you have no farther need of
his sword. If ever the day dawns when King or Prince of England needs
the faithful service of Gascon swords, those of Raymond and Gaston de
Brocas will not be wanting to him. Yet in the present --"

"Ay, ay, I understand well: in the present there be bright eyes that are
more to you than glittering swords, and a service that is sweeter than
that of King or Prince. Nay, blush not, boy; I like you the better for
that the softer passions dwell in your breast with those of sterner
sort. Ye have well shown many a day ere now that ye possess the courage
of young lions, and that England will never call upon you in vain. But
now that times of peace and quiet seem like to fall upon us, get you to
your homes and your wives. May Heaven grant you joy and happiness in
both; and England's King and Prince will over have smiles of welcome for
you when ye bring to the Court the sweet ladies of your choice. Do I not
know them both? and do I not know that ye have both chosen worthily and
well?"

A tumult without the tent now announced the approach of the French King,
those who brought him disputing angrily together whose prisoner he was.
The Prince stepped out to receive his vanquished foe with that winning
courtesy so characteristic of one who so longed to see the revival of
the truer chivalry, and in the confusion which ensued Gaston and Raymond
slipped away to their own tent.

"And now," cried Gaston, clasping his brother's hand, "our day of
service is for the moment ended. Now for a space of peaceful repose and
of those domestic joys of which thou and I, brother, know so little."

"At last!" quoth Raymond, drawing a long breath, his eyes glowing and
kindling as he looked into his brother's face and then far beyond it in
the direction of the land of his adoption. "At last my task is done; my
duty to my Prince has been accomplished. Now I am free to go whither I
will. Now for England and my Joan!"



    CHAPTER XXXIII. "AT LAST!"


"At last, my love, at last!"

"Raymond! My own true lord -- my husband!"

"My life! my love!"

At last the dream had fulfilled itself; at last the long probation was
past. Raymond de Brocas and Joan Vavasour had been made man and wife by
good Master Bernard de Brocas in his church at Guildford, and in the
soft sunlight of an October afternoon were riding together in the
direction of Basildene, from henceforth to be their home.

Raymond had not yet seen Basildene. He had hurried to Joan's side the
moment that he left the ship which bore him from the shores of France,
and the marriage had been celebrated almost at once, there being no
reason for farther delay, and Sir Hugh being eager to be at the Court to
receive the triumphant young Prince when he should return to England
with his kingly captive.

All the land was ringing with the news of the glorious victory, of which
Raymond's vessel was the first to bring tidings. He himself, as having
been one of those who had taken part in the battle and having won his
spurs on the field of Poitiers, was regarded with no small admiration
and respect. But Raymond had thoughts of nothing but his beloved; and to
find her waiting for him, her loving heart as true to him as his was to
her, was happiness sweeter than any he had once dreamed could be his.

The time had flown by on golden wings. He scarce knew how to reckon its
flight. He and Joan lived in a world of their own -- a world that
reckons not time by our calendar, but has its own fashion of
computation; and hours that once had crept by leaden footed, now flew
past as if on wings. He and his love were together at last, soon to be
united in a bond that only death could sunder. And neither of them held
that it could be broken even by the stern cold hand of death. Such love
as theirs was not for time alone; it would last on and on through the
boundless cycles of eternity.

And now the holy vows had been spoken. At last the solemn ceremony was
over and past. Raymond and Joan were man and wife, and were riding side
by side through the whispering wood in the direction of Basildene.

Joan had not changed much since the day she and Raymond had plighted
their troth beside the dying bed of John de Brocas. As a young girl she
had looked older than her years; as a woman she looked scarce more.
Perhaps in those great dark eyes there was more of softness; weary
waiting had not dimmed their brightness, but had imparted just a touch
of wistfulness, which gave to them an added charm. The full, curved lips
were calmly resolute as of old, yet touched with a new sweetness and the
gracious beauty of a great happiness.

Raymond had changed more than she, having developed from the youth into
the man; retaining in a wonderful way the peculiar charm of his
boyhood's beauty, the ethereal purity of expression and slim grace of
figure, yet adding to these the dignity and purpose of a more advanced
age, and all the stateliness and power of one who has struggled and
suffered and battled in the world, and who has come forth from that
struggle with a stainless shield, and a name unsullied by the smallest
breath of slander.

Joan's eyes dwelt upon her husband's face with a proud, joyous light in
them. Once she laid her hand upon his as they rode, and said, in low
tones very full of feeling:

"Methinks I have found my Galahad at last. Methinks that thou hast found
a treasure as precious as the Holy Grail itself. Methinks no treasure
could be more precious than that which thou hast won."

He turned his eyes upon her tenderly.

"The treasure of thy love, my Joan?"

"I was not thinking of that," she answered; "we have loved each other so
long. I was thinking of that other treasure -- the love which has
enabled thee to triumph over evil, to forgive our enemies, to do good to
those that have hated us, to fight the Christian's battle as well as
that of England's King. I was thinking of that higher chivalry of which
in old days we have talked so much. Perchance we should give it now
another name. But thou hast been true and faithful in thy quest. Ah, how
proud I am of the stainless name of my knight!"

His fingers closed fast over hers, but he made no reply in words.
Raymond's nature was a silent one. Of his deepest feelings he spoke the
least. He had told his story to Joan; he knew that she understood all it
meant to him. It was happiness to feel that this was so without the need
of words. That union of soul was sweeter to him than even the possession
of the hand he held in his.

And so they rode on to Basildene.

But was this Basildene? Raymond passed his hand across his eyes, and
gazed and gazed again. Joan sat quietly in her saddle, watching him with
smiling eyes.

Basildene! yes, truly Basildene. There was the quaint old house with its
many gables and mullioned casements and twisted chimneys, its warm red
walls and timbered grounds around it; but where was the old look of
misery, decay, neglect, and blight? Who could look at that picturesque
old mansion, with its latticed casements glistening in the sun, and
think of aught but home-like comfort and peace? What had been done to
it? what spell had been at work? This was the Basildene of his boyhood's
dreams -- the Basildene that his mother had described to them. It was
not the Basildene of later years. How had the change come about?

"That has been our uncle's work these last two years," answered Joan,
who was watching the changes passing over her husband's face, and seemed
to read the unspoken thought of his heart. "He and I together have
planned it all, and the treasure has helped to carry all out. The hidden
hoard has brought a blessing at last, methinks, Raymond; for the chapel
has likewise been restored, and holy mass and psalm now ascend daily
from it. The wretched hovels around the gates, where miserable peasants
herded like swine in their sties, have been cleared away, and places fit
for human habitation have been erected in their stead. That fearful
quagmire, in which so many wretched travellers have lost their lives,
has been drained, and a causeway built across it. Basildene is becoming
a blessing to all around it; and so long as thou art lord here, my
Raymond, it will remain a blessing to all who come within shelter of its
walls."

He looked at her with his dreamy smile. His mind was going back in
review over all these long years since first the idea had formed itself
in his brain that they two -- Gaston and himself -- would win back
Basildene. How long those years seemed in retrospect, and yet how short!
How many changes they had seen! how many strange events in the checkered
career of the twin brothers!

"I would that Gaston were with me now; I would that he might see it."

"And so he shall, come next summer," answered Joan. "Is it not a promise
that he comes hither with his bride to see thy home and mine, Raymond,
and that we pass one of England's inclement winters in the softer air of
sunny France? You are such travellers, you brethren, that the journey is
but child's play to you; and I too have known something of travel, and
it hath no terrors for me. There shall be no sundering of the bond
betwixt the twin brothers of Basildene. Years shall only bind that bond
faster, for to their faithful love and devotion one to the other
Basildene owes its present weal, and we our present happiness."

"The twin brothers of Basildene," repeated Raymond dreamily, gazing
round him with smiling eyes, as he held Joan's hand fast in his. "My
mother, I wonder if thou canst see us now -- Gaston at Saut and Raymond
here at Basildene? Methinks if thou canst thou wilt rejoice in our
happiness. We have done what thou biddedst us. We have fought and we
have overcome. Thine own loved home has been won back by thine own sons,
and Raymond de Brocas is Lord of Basildene."

THE END.

i If any reader has taken the trouble to follow this story
closely, he may observe that the expedition of the Black Prince has been
slightly antedated. In order not to interrupt the continuity of the
fictitious narrative, the time spent in long-drawn and fruitless
negotiation at the conclusion of the truce has been omitted.






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