Infomotions, Inc.The White Company / Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930



Author: Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930
Title: The White Company
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): alleyne; nigel; hordle john; alleyne edricson; nigel loring
Contributor(s): Ross, James [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 152,945 words (average) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 73 (easy)
Identifier: etext903
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Title: The White Company

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

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                     THE WHITE COMPANY

                  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle




   CONTENTS.


   I.       How the Black Sheep came forth from the Fold
   II.      How Alleyne Edricson came out into the World
   III.     How Hordle John cozened the Fuller of Lymington
   IV.      How the Bailiff of Southampton Slew the Two Masterless Men
   IV.      How a Strange Company Gathered at the "Pied Merlin"
   VI.      How Samkin Aylward Wagered his Feather-bed
   VII.     How the Three Comrades Journeyed through the Woodlands
   VIII.    The Three Friends
   IX.      How Strange Things Befell in Minstead Wood
   X.       How Hordle John Found a Man whom he Might Follow
   XI.      How a Young Shepherd had a Perilous Flock
   XII.     How Alleyne Learned More than he could Teach
   XIII.    How the White Company set forth to the Wars
   XIV.     How Sir Nigel sought for a Wayside Venture
   XV.      How the Yellow Cog sailed forth from Lepe
   XVI.     How the Yellow Cog fought the Two Rover Galleys
   XVII.    How the Yellow Cog crossed the Bar of Gironde
   XVIII.   How Sir Nigel Loring put a Patch upon his Eye
   XIX.     How there was Stir at the Abbey of St. Andrew's
   XX.      How Alleyne Won his Place in an Honorable Guild
   XXI.     How Agostino Pisano Risked his Head
   XXII.    How the Bowmen held Wassail at the "Rose de Guienne"
   XXIII.   How England held the Lists at Bordeaux
   XXIV.    How a Champion came forth from the East
   XXV.     How Sir Nigel wrote to Twynham Castle
   XXVI.    How the Three Comrades Gained a Mighty Treasure
   XXVII.   How Roger Club-foot was Passed into Paradise
   XXVIII.  How the Comrades came over the Marches of France
   XXIX.    How the Blessed Hour of Sight Came to the Lady Tiphaine
   XXX.     How the Brushwood Men came to the Chateau of Villefranche
   XXXI.    How Five Men held the Keep of Villefranche
   XXXII.   How the Company took Counsel Round the Fallen Tree
   XXXIII.  How the Army made the Passage of Roncesvalles
   XXXIV.   How the Company Made Sport in the Vale of Pampeluna
   XXXV.    How Sir Nigel Hawked at an Eagle
   XXXVI.   How Sir Nigel Took the Patch from his Eye
   XXXVII.  How the White Company came to be Disbanded
   XXXVIII.  Of the Home-coming to Hampshire




CHAPTER I.

HOW THE BLACK SHEEP CAME FORTH FROM THE FOLD.


The great bell of Beaulieu was ringing.  Far away through the
forest might be heard its musical clangor and swell.  Peat-cutters
on Blackdown and fishers upon the Exe heard the distant throbbing
rising and falling upon the sultry summer air.  It was a common
sound in those parts--as common as the chatter of the jays and
the booming of the bittern.  Yet the fishers and the peasants
raised their heads and looked questions at each other, for the
angelus had already gone and vespers was still far off.  Why
should the great bell of Beaulieu toll when the shadows were
neither short nor long?

All round the Abbey the monks were trooping in.  Under the long
green-paved avenues of gnarled oaks and of lichened beeches the
white-robed brothers gathered to the sound.  From the vine-yard
and the vine-press, from the bouvary or ox-farm, from the marl-pits
and salterns, even from the distant iron-works of Sowley and the
outlying grange of St. Leonard's, they had all turned their steps
homewards.  It had been no sudden call.  A swift messenger had
the night before sped round to the outlying dependencies of the
Abbey, and had left the summons for every monk to be back in the
cloisters by the third hour after noontide.  So urgent a message
had not been issued within the memory of old lay-brother
Athanasius, who had cleaned the Abbey knocker since the year
after the Battle of Bannockburn.

A stranger who knew nothing either of the Abbey or of its immense
resources might have gathered from the appearance of the brothers
some conception of the varied duties which they were called upon
to perform, and of the busy, wide-spread life which centred in
the old monastery.  As they swept gravely in by twos and by
threes, with bended heads and muttering lips there were few who
did not bear upon them some signs of their daily toil.  Here were
two with wrists and sleeves all spotted with the ruddy grape
juice.  There again was a bearded brother with a broad-headed axe
and a bundle of faggots upon his shoulders, while beside him
walked another with the shears under his arm and the white wool
still clinging to his whiter gown.  A long, straggling troop
bore spades and mattocks while the two rearmost of all staggered
along under a huge basket o' fresh-caught carp, for the morrow
was Friday, and there were fifty platters to be filled and as
many sturdy trenchermen behind them.  Of all the throng there was
scarce one who was not labor-stained and weary, for Abbot
Berghersh was a hard man to himself and to others.

Meanwhile, in the broad and lofty chamber set apart for occasions
of import, the Abbot himself was pacing impatiently backwards and
forwards, with his long white nervous hands clasped in front of
him.  His thin, thought-worn features and sunken, haggard cheeks
bespoke one who had indeed beaten down that inner foe whom every
man must face, but had none the less suffered sorely in the
contest.  In crushing his passions he had well-nigh crushed
himself.  Yet, frail as was his person there gleamed out ever and
anon from under his drooping brows a flash of fierce energy,
which recalled to men's minds that he came of a fighting stock,
and that even now his twin-brother, Sir Bartholomew Berghersh,
was one of the most famous of those stern warriors who had
planted the Cross of St. George before the gates of Paris.  With
lips compressed and clouded brow, he strode up and down the oaken
floor, the very genius and impersonation of asceticism, while the
great bell still thundered and clanged above his head.  At last
the uproar died away in three last, measured throbs, and ere
their echo had ceased the Abbot struck a small gong which
summoned a lay-brother to his presence.

"Have the brethren come?" he asked, in the Anglo-French dialect
used in religious houses.

"They are here," the other answered, with his eyes cast down and
his hands crossed upon his chest.

"All?"

"Two and thirty of the seniors and fifteen of the novices, most
holy father.  Brother Mark of the Spicarium is sore smitten with
a fever and could not come.  He said that--"

"It boots not what he said.  Fever or no, he should have come at
my call.  His spirit must be chastened, as must that of many more
in this Abbey.  You yourself, brother Francis, have twice raised
your voice, so it hath come to my ears, when the reader in the
refectory hath been dealing with the lives of God's most blessed
saints.  What hast thou to say?"

The lay-brother stood meek and silent, with his arms still
crossed in front of him.

"One thousand Aves and as many Credos, said standing with arms
outstretched before the shrine of the Virgin, may help thee to
remember that the Creator hath given us two ears and but one
mouth, as a token that there is twice the work for the one as for
the other.  Where is the master of the novices?"

"He is without, most holy father."

"Send him hither."

The sandalled feet clattered over the wooden floor, and the
iron-bound door creaked upon its hinges.  In a few moments it
opened again to admit a short square monk with a heavy, composed
face and an authoritative manner.

"You have sent for me, holy father?"

"Yes, brother Jerome, I wish that this matter be disposed of with
as little scandal as may be, and yet it is needful that the
example should be a public one."  The Abbot spoke in Latin now,
as a language which was more fitted by its age and solemnity to
convey the thoughts of two high dignitaries of the order.

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

"Woman! woman!" groaned the Abbot.  "Well has the holy Chrysostom
termed them _radix malorum_.  From Eve downwards, what good hath
come from any of them?  Who brings the plaint?"

"It is brother Ambrose."

"A holy and devout young man."

"A light and a pattern to every novice."

"Let the matter be brought to an issue then according to our old-time
monastic habit.  Bid the chancellor and the sub-chancellor lead
in the brothers according to age, together with brother John, the
accused, and brother Ambrose, the accuser."

"And the novices?"

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

The Abbot was left to himself once more, and bent his thin gray
face over his illuminated breviary.  So he remained while the
senior monks filed slowly and sedately into the chamber seating
themselves upon the long oaken benches which lined the wall on
either side.  At the further end, in two high chairs as large as
that of the Abbot, though hardly as elaborately carved, sat the
master of the novices and the chancellor, the latter a broad and
portly priest, with dark mirthful eyes and a thick outgrowth of
crisp black hair all round his tonsured head.  Between them stood
a lean, white-faced brother who appeared to be ill at ease,
shifting his feet from side to side and tapping his chin
nervously with the long parchment roll which he held in his hand.
The Abbot, from his point of vantage, looked down on the two long
lines of faces, placid and sun-browned for the most part, with
the large bovine eyes and unlined features which told of their
easy, unchanging existence.  Then he turned his eager fiery gaze
upon the pale-faced monk who faced him.

"This plaint is thine, as I learn, brother Ambrose," said he.
"May the holy Benedict, patron of our house, be present this day
and aid us in our findings!  How many counts are there?"

"Three, most holy father," the brother answered in a low and
quavering voice.

"Have you set them forth according to rule?"

"They are here set down, most holy father, upon a cantle of
sheep-skin."

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

At this order a lay-brother swung open the door, and two other
lay-brothers entered leading between them a young novice of the
order.  He was a man of huge stature, dark-eyed and red-headed,
with a peculiar half-humorous, half-defiant expression upon his
bold, well-marked features.  His cowl was thrown back upon his
shoulders, and his gown, unfastened at the top, disclosed a
round, sinewy neck, ruddy and corded like the bark of the fir.
Thick, muscular arms, covered with a reddish down, protruded from
the wide sleeves of his habit, while his white shirt, looped up
upon one side, gave a glimpse of a huge knotty leg, scarred and
torn with the scratches of brambles.  With a bow to the Abbot,
which had in it perhaps more pleasantry than reverence, the
novice strode across to the carved prie-dieu which had been set
apart for him, and stood silent and erect with his hand upon the
gold bell which was used in the private orisons of the Abbot's
own household.  His dark eyes glanced rapidly over the assembly,
and finally settled with a grim and menacing twinkle upon the
face of his accuser.

The chancellor rose, and having slowly unrolled the
parchment-scroll, proceeded to read it out in a thick and pompous
voice, while a subdued rustle and movement among the brothers
bespoke the interest with which they followed the proceedings.

"Charges brought upon the second Thursday after the Feast of the
Assumption, in the year of our Lord thirteen hundred and sixty-six,
against brother John, formerly known as Hordle John, or John
of Hordle, but now a novice in the holy monastic order of the
Cistercians.  Read upon the same day at the Abbey of Beaulieu in
the presence of the most reverend Abbot Berghersh and of the
assembled order.

"The charges against the said brother John are the following,
namely, to wit:

"First, that on the above-mentioned Feast of the Assumption,
small beer having been served to the novices in the proportion of
one quart to each four, the said brother John did drain the pot
at one draught to the detriment of brother Paul, brother Porphyry
and brother Ambrose, who could scarce eat their none-meat of
salted stock-fish on account of their exceeding dryness."

At this solemn indictment the novice raised his hand and twitched
his lip, while even the placid senior brothers glanced across at
each other and coughed to cover their amusement.  The Abbot alone
sat gray and immutable, with a drawn face and a brooding eye.

"Item, that having been told by the master of the novices that he
should restrict his food for two days to a single three-pound
loaf of bran and beans, for the greater honoring and glorifying
of St. Monica, mother of the holy Augustine, he was heard by
brother Ambrose and others to say that he wished twenty thousand
devils would fly away with the said Monica, mother of the holy
Augustine, or any other saint who came between a man and his
meat.  Item, that upon brother Ambrose reproving him for this
blasphemous wish, he did hold the said brother face downwards
over the piscatorium or fish-pond for a space during which the
said brother was able to repeat a pater and four aves for the
better fortifying of his soul against impending death."

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

"Item, that between nones and vespers on the feast of James the
Less the said brother John was observed upon the Brockenhurst
road, near the spot which is known as Hatchett's Pond in converse
with a person of the other sex, being a maiden of the name of
Mary Sowley, the daughter of the King's verderer.  Item, that
after sundry japes and jokes the said brother John did lift up
the said Mary Sowley and did take, carry, and convey her across a
stream, to the infinite relish of the devil and the exceeding
detriment of his own soul, which scandalous and wilful falling
away was witnessed by three members of our order."

A dead silence throughout the room, with a rolling of heads and
upturning of eyes, bespoke the pious horror of the community.

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

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

"That can I," answered the accuser.  "So too can brother
Porphyry, who was with me, and brother Mark of the Spicarium, who
hath been so much stirred and inwardly troubled by the sight that
he now lies in a fever through it."

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

"Nay, she smiled sweetly upon him and thanked him.  I can vouch
it and so can brother Porphyry."

"Canst thou?" cried the Abbot, in a high, tempestuous tone.
"Canst thou so?  Hast forgotten that the five-and-thirtieth rule
of the order is that in the presence of a woman the face should
be ever averted and the eyes cast down?  Hast forgot it, I say?
If your eyes were upon your sandals, how came ye to see this
smile of which ye prate?  A week in your cells, false brethren, a
week of rye-bread and lentils, with double lauds and double
matins, may help ye to remembrance of the laws under which ye
live."

At this sudden outflame of wrath the two witnesses sank their
faces on to their chests, and sat as men crushed.  The Abbot
turned his angry eyes away from them and bent them upon the
accused, who met his searching gaze with a firm and composed
face.

"What hast thou to say, brother John, upon these weighty things
which are urged against you?"

"Little enough, good father, little enough," said the novice,
speaking English with a broad West Saxon drawl.  The brothers,
who were English to a man, pricked up their ears at the sound of
the homely and yet unfamiliar speech; but the Abbot flushed red
with anger, and struck his hand upon the oaken arm of his chair.

"What talk is this?" he cried.  "Is this a tongue to be used
within the walls of an old and well-famed monastery?  But grace
and learning have ever gone hand in hand, and when one is lost it
is needless to look for the other."

"I know not about that," said brother John.  "I know only that
the words come kindly to my mouth, for it was the speech of my
fathers before me.  Under your favor, I shall either use it now
or hold my peace."

The Abbot patted his foot and nodded his head, as one who passes
a point but does not forget it.

"For the matter of the ale," continued brother John, "I had come
in hot from the fields and had scarce got the taste of the thing
before mine eye lit upon the bottom of the pot.  It may be, too,
that I spoke somewhat shortly concerning the bran and the beans,
the same being poor provender and unfitted for a man of my
inches.  It is true also that I did lay my hands upon this
jack-fool of a brother Ambrose, though, as you can see, I did him
little scathe.  As regards the maid, too, it is true that I did
heft her over the stream, she having on her hosen and shoon,
whilst I had but my wooden sandals, which could take no hurt from
the water.  I should have thought shame upon my manhood, as well
as my monkhood, if I had held back my hand from her."  He glanced
around as he spoke with the half-amused look which he had worn
during the whole proceedings.

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

He rose, and the two long lines of brothers followed his example,
looking sideways with scared faces at the angry prelate.

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

The sentence appeared a terrible one to the older monks, who had
become so used to the safe and regular life of the Abbey that
they would have been as helpless as children in the outer world.
From their pious oasis they looked dreamily out at the desert of
life, a place full of stormings and strivings--comfortless,
restless, and overshadowed by evil.  The young novice, however,
appeared to have other thoughts, for his eyes sparkled and his
smile broadened.  It needed but that to add fresh fuel to the
fiery mood of the prelate.

"So much for thy spiritual punishment," he cried.  "But it is to
thy grosser feelings that we must turn in such natures as thine,
and as thou art no longer under the shield of holy church there
is the less difficulty.  Ho there! lay-brothers--Francis, Naomi,
Joseph--seize him and bind his arms!  Drag him forth, and let the
foresters and the porters scourge him from the precincts!"

As these three brothers advanced towards him to carry out the
Abbot's direction, the smile faded from the novice's face, and he
glanced right and left with his fierce brown eyes, like a bull at
a baiting.  Then, with a sudden deep-chested shout, he tore up
the heavy oaken prie-dieu and poised it to strike, taking two
steps backward the while, that none might take him at a vantage.

"By the black rood of Waltham!" he roared, "if any knave among
you lays a finger-end upon the edge of my gown, I will crush his
skull like a filbert!"  With his thick knotted arms, his
thundering voice, and his bristle of red hair, there was
something so repellent in the man that the three brothers flew
back at the very glare of him; and the two rows of white monks
strained away from him like poplars in a tempest.  The Abbot only
sprang forward with shining eyes; but the chancellor and the
master hung upon either arm and wrested him back out of danger's
way.

"He is possessed of a devil!" they shouted.  "Run, brother
Ambrose, brother Joachim!  Call Hugh of the Mill, and Woodman
Wat, and Raoul with his arbalest and bolts.  Tell them that we
are in fear of our lives!  Run, run! for the love of the Virgin!"

But the novice was a strategist as well as a man of action.
Springing forward, he hurled his unwieldy weapon at brother
Ambrose, and, as desk and monk clattered on to the floor
together, he sprang through the open door and down the winding
stair.  Sleepy old brother Athanasius, at the porter's cell, had
a fleeting vision of twinkling feet and flying skirts; but before
he had time to rub his eyes the recreant had passed the lodge,
and was speeding as fast as his sandals could patter along the
Lyndhurst Road.



CHAPTER II.

HOW ALLEYNE EDRICSON CAME OUT INTO THE WORLD.


Never had the peaceful atmosphere of the old Cistercian house
been so rudely ruffled.  Never had there been insurrection so
sudden, so short, and so successful.  Yet the Abbot Berghersh was
a man of too firm a grain to allow one bold outbreak to imperil
the settled order of his great household.  In a few hot and
bitter words, he compared their false brother's exit to the
expulsion of our first parents from the garden, and more than
hinted that unless a reformation occurred some others of the
community might find themselves in the same evil and perilous
case.  Having thus pointed the moral and reduced his flock to a
fitting state of docility, he dismissed them once more to their
labors and withdrew himself to his own private chamber, there to
seek spiritual aid in the discharge of the duties of his high
office.

The Abbot was still on his knees, when a gentle tapping at the
door of his cell broke in upon his orisons.

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

He was a thin-faced, yellow-haired youth, rather above the middle
size, comely and well shapen, with straight, lithe figure and
eager, boyish features.  His clear, pensive gray eyes, and quick,
delicate expression, spoke of a nature which had unfolded far
from the boisterous joys and sorrows of the world.  Yet there was
a set of the mouth and a prominence of the chin which relieved
him of any trace of effeminacy.  Impulsive he might be,
enthusiastic, sensitive, with something sympathetic and adaptive
in his disposition; but an observer of nature's tokens would have
confidently pledged himself that there was native firmness and
strength underlying his gentle, monk-bred ways.

The youth was not clad in monastic garb, but in lay attire,
though his jerkin, cloak and hose were all of a sombre hue, as
befitted one who dwelt in sacred precincts.  A broad leather
strap hanging from his shoulder supported a scrip or satchel such
as travellers were wont to carry.  In one hand he grasped a thick
staff pointed and shod with metal, while in the other he held his
coif or bonnet, which bore in its front a broad pewter medal
stamped with the image of Our Lady of Rocamadour.

"Art ready, then, fair son?" said the Abbot.  "This is indeed a
day of comings and of goings.  It is strange that in one twelve
hours the Abbey should have cast off its foulest weed and should
now lose what we are fain to look upon as our choicest blossom."

"You speak too kindly, father," the youth answered.  "If I had my
will I should never go forth, but should end my days here in
Beaulieu.  It hath been my home as far back as my mind can carry
me, and it is a sore thing for me to have to leave it."

"Life brings many a cross," said the Abbot gently.  "Who is
without them?  Your going forth is a grief to us as well as to
yourself.  But there is no help.  I had given my foreword and
sacred promise to your father, Edric the Franklin, that at the
age of twenty you should be sent out into the world to see for
yourself how you liked the savor of it.  Seat thee upon the
settle, Alleyne, for you may need rest ere long."

The youth sat down as directed, but reluctantly and with
diffidence.  The Abbot stood by the narrow window, and his long
black shadow fell slantwise across the rush-strewn floor.

"Twenty years ago," he said, "your father, the Franklin of
Minstead, died, leaving to the Abbey three hides of rich land in
the hundred of Malwood, and leaving to us also his infant son on
condition that we should rear him until he came to man's estate.
This he did partly because your mother was dead, and partly
because your elder brother, now Socman of Minstead, had already
given sign of that fierce and rude nature which would make him no
fit companion for you.  It was his desire and request, however,
that you should not remain in the cloisters, but should at a ripe
age return into the world."

"But, father," interrupted the young man "it is surely true that
I am already advanced several degrees in clerkship?"

"Yes, fair son, but not so far as to bar you from the garb you
now wear or the life which you must now lead.  You have been
porter?"

"Yes, father."

"Exorcist?"

"Yes, father."

"Reader?"

"Yes, father."

"Acolyte?"

"Yes, father."

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

"No, father."

"Then you are free to follow a worldly life.  But let me hear,
ere you start, what gifts you take away with you from Beaulieu?
Some I already know.  There is the playing of the citole and the
rebeck.  Our choir will be dumb without you.  You carve too?"

The youth's pale face flushed with the pride of the skilled
workman.  "Yes, holy father," he answered.  "Thanks to good
brother Bartholomew, I carve in wood and in ivory, and can do
something also in silver and in bronze.  From brother Francis I
have learned to paint on vellum, on glass, and on metal, with a
knowledge of those pigments and essences which can preserve the
color against damp or a biting air.  Brother Luke hath given me
some skill in damask work, and in the enamelling of shrines,
tabernacles, diptychs and triptychs.  For the rest, I know a
little of the making of covers, the cutting of precious stones,
and the fashioning of instruments."

"A goodly list, truly," cried the superior with a smile.  "What
clerk of Cambrig or of Oxenford could say as much?  But of thy
reading--hast not so much to show there, I fear?"

"No, father, it hath been slight enough.  Yet, thanks to our good
chancellor, I am not wholly unlettered.  I have read Ockham,
Bradwardine, and other of the schoolmen, together with the
learned Duns Scotus and the book of the holy Aquinas."

"But of the things of this world, what have you gathered from
your reading?  From this high window you may catch a glimpse over
the wooden point and the smoke of Bucklershard of the mouth of
the Exe, and the shining sea.  Now, I pray you Alleyne, if a man
were to take a ship and spread sail across yonder waters, where
might he hope to arrive?"

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

"True.  And how if, after reaching the King's possessions, he
still journeyed on to the eastward?"

"He would then come upon that part of France which is still in
dispute, and he might hope to reach the famous city of Avignon,
where dwells our blessed father, the prop of Christendom."

"And then?"

"Then he would pass through the land of the Almains and the great
Roman Empire, and so to the country of the Huns and of the
Lithuanian pagans, beyond which lies the great city of
Constantine and the kingdom of the unclean followers of Mahmoud."

"And beyond that, fair son?"

"Beyond that is Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the great river
which hath its source in the Garden of Eden."

"And then?"

"Nay, good father, I cannot tell.  Methinks the end of the world
is not far from there."

"Then we can still find something to teach thee, Alleyne," said
the Abbot complaisantly.  "Know that many strange nations lie
betwixt there and the end of the world.  There is the country of
the Amazons, and the country of the dwarfs, and the country of
the fair but evil women who slay with beholding, like the
basilisk.  Beyond that again is the kingdom of Prester John and
of the great Cham.  These things I know for very sooth, for I had
them from that pious Christian and valiant knight, Sir John de
Mandeville, who stopped twice at Beaulieu on his way to and from
Southampton, and discoursed to us concerning what he had seen
from the reader's desk in the refectory, until there was many a
good brother who got neither bit nor sup, so stricken were they
by his strange tales."

"I would fain know, father," asked the young man, "what there may
be at the end of the world?"

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

"To my brother's at Minstead.  If he be indeed an ungodly and
violent man, there is the more need that I should seek him out
and see whether I cannot turn him to better ways."

The Abbot shook his head.  "The Socman of Minstead hath earned an
evil name over the country side," he said.  "If you must go to
him, see at least that he doth not turn you from the narrow path
upon which you have learned to tread.  But you are in God's
keeping, and Godward should you ever look in danger and in
trouble.  Above all, shun the snares of women, for they are ever
set for the foolish feet of the young.  Kneel down, my child, and
take an old man's blessing."

Alleyne Edricson bent his head while the Abbot poured out his
heartfelt supplication that Heaven would watch over this young
soul, now going forth into the darkness and danger of the world.
It was no mere form for either of them.  To them the outside life
of mankind did indeed seem to be one of violence and of sin,
beset with physical and still more with spiritual danger.
Heaven, too, was very near to them in those days.  God's direct
agency was to be seen in the thunder and the rainbow, the
whirlwind and the lightning.  To the believer, clouds of angels
and confessors, and martyrs, armies of the sainted and the
saved, were ever stooping over their struggling brethren upon
earth, raising, encouraging, and supporting them.  It was then
with a lighter heart and a stouter courage that the young man
turned from the Abbot's room, while the latter, following him to
the stair-head, finally commended him to the protection of the
holy Julian, patron of travellers.

Underneath, in the porch of the Abbey, the monks had gathered to
give him a last God-speed.  Many had brought some parting token
by which he should remember them.  There was brother Bartholomew
with a crucifix of rare carved ivory, and brother Luke with a
white-backed psalter adorned with golden bees, and brother
Francis with the "Slaying of the Innocents" most daintily set
forth upon vellum.  All these were duly packed away deep in the
traveller's scrip, and above them old pippin-faced brother
Athanasius had placed a parcel of simnel bread and rammel cheese,
with a small flask of the famous blue-sealed Abbey wine.  So,
amid hand-shakings and laughings and blessings, Alleyne Edricson
turned his back upon Beaulieu.

At the turn of the road he stopped and gazed back.  There was the
wide-spread building which he knew so well, the Abbot's house,
the long church, the cloisters with their line of arches, all
bathed and mellowed in the evening sun.  There too was the broad
sweep of the river Exe, the old stone well, the canopied niche of
the Virgin, and in the centre of all the cluster of white-robed
figures who waved their hands to him.  A sudden mist swam up
before the young man's eyes, and he turned away upon his journey
with a heavy heart and a choking throat.



CHAPTER III.

HOW HORDLE JOHN COZENED THE FULLER OF LYMINGTON.


It is not, however, in the nature of things that a lad of twenty,
with young life glowing in his veins and all the wide world
before him, should spend his first hours of freedom in mourning
for what he had left.  Long ere Alleyne was out of sound of the
Beaulieu bells he was striding sturdily along, swinging his staff
and whistling as merrily as the birds in the thicket.  It was an
evening to raise a man's heart.  The sun shining slantwise
through the trees threw delicate traceries across the road, with
bars of golden light between.  Away in the distance before and
behind, the green boughs, now turning in places to a coppery
redness, shot their broad arches across the track.  The still
summer air was heavy with the resinous smell of the great forest.
Here and there a tawny brook prattled out from among the
underwood and lost itself again in the ferns and brambles upon
the further side.  Save the dull piping of insects and the sough
of the leaves, there was silence everywhere--the sweet restful
silence of nature.

And yet there was no want of life--the whole wide wood was full
of it.  Now it was a lithe, furtive stoat which shot across the
path upon some fell errand of its own; then it was a wild cat
which squatted upon the outlying branch of an oak and peeped at
the traveller with a yellow and dubious eye.  Once it was a wild
sow which scuttled out of the bracken, with two young sounders at
her heels, and once a lordly red staggard walked daintily out
from among the tree trunks, and looked around him with the
fearless gaze of one who lived under the King's own high
protection.  Alleyne gave his staff a merry flourish, however,
and the red deer bethought him that the King was far off, so
streaked away from whence he came.

The youth had now journeyed considerably beyond the furthest
domains of the Abbey.  He was the more surprised therefore when,
on coming round a turn in the path, he perceived a man clad in
the familiar garb of the order, and seated in a clump of heather
by the roadside.  Alleyne had known every brother well, but this
was a face which was new to him--a face which was very red and
puffed, working this way and that, as though the man were sore
perplexed in his mind.  Once he shook both hands furiously in the
air, and twice he sprang from his seat and hurried down the road.
When he rose, however, Alleyne observed that his robe was much
too long and loose for him in every direction, trailing upon the
ground and bagging about his ankles, so that even with trussed-up
skirts he could make little progress.  He ran once, but the long
gown clogged him so that he slowed down into a shambling walk,
and finally plumped into the heather once more.

"Young friend," said he, when Alleyne was abreast of him, "I fear
from thy garb that thou canst know little of the Abbey of
Beaulieu."

"Then you are in error, friend," the clerk answered, "for I have
spent all my days within its walls."

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

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

"Wrong, quotha?" cried the other, jumping out of the heather.
"Wrong! why he hath stolen every plack of clothing off my back,
if that be a wrong, and hath left me here in this sorry frock of
white falding, so that I have shame to go back to my wife, lest
she think that I have donned her old kirtle.  Harrow and alas
that ever I should have met him!"

"But how came this?" asked the young clerk, who could scarce keep
from laughter at the sight of the hot little man so swathed in
the great white cloak.

"It came in this way," he said, sitting down once more:  "I was
passing this way, hoping to reach Lymington ere nightfall when I
came on this red-headed knave seated even where we are sitting
now.  I uncovered and louted as I passed thinking that he might
be a holy man at his orisons, but he called to me and asked me if
I had heard speak of the new indulgence in favor of the
Cistercians.  `Not I,' I answered.  `Then the worse for thy
soul!' said he; and with that he broke into a long tale how that
on account of the virtues of the Abbot Berghersh it had been
decreed by the Pope that whoever should wear the habit of a monk
of Beaulieu for as long as he might say the seven psalms of David
should be assured of the kingdom of Heaven.  When I heard this I
prayed him on my knees that he would give me the use of his gown,
which after many contentions he at last agreed to do, on my
paying him three marks towards the regilding of the image of
Laurence the martyr.  Having stripped his robe, I had no choice
but to let him have the wearing of my good leathern jerkin and
hose, for, as he said, it was chilling to the blood and unseemly
to the eye to stand frockless whilst I made my orisons.  He had
scarce got them on, and it was a sore labor, seeing that my
inches will scarce match my girth--he had scarce got them on, I
say, and I not yet at the end of the second psalm, when he bade
me do honor to my new dress, and with that set off down the road
as fast as feet would carry him.  For myself, I could no more run
than if I had been sown in a sack; so here I sit, and here I am
like to sit, before I set eyes upon my clothes again."

"Nay, friend, take it not so sadly," said Alleyne, clapping the
disconsolate one upon the shoulder.  "Canst change thy robe for a
jerkin once more at the Abbey, unless perchance you have a friend
near at hand."

"That have I," he answered, "and close; but I care not to go nigh
him in this plight, for his wife hath a gibing tongue, and will
spread the tale until I could not show my face in any market from
Fordingbridge to Southampton.  But if you, fair sir, out of your
kind charity would be pleased to go a matter of two bow-shots out
of your way, you would do me such a service as I could scarce
repay."

"With all my heart," said Alleyne readily.

"Then take this pathway on the left, I pray thee, and then the
deer-track which passes on the right.  You will then see under a
great beech-tree the hut of a charcoal-burner.  Give him my name,
good sir, the name of Peter the fuller, of Lymington, and ask him
for a change of raiment, that I may pursue my journey without
delay.  There are reasons why he would be loth to refuse me."

Alleyne started off along the path indicated, and soon found the
log-hut where the burner dwelt.  He was away faggot-cutting in
the forest, but his wife, a ruddy bustling dame, found the
needful garments and tied them into a bundle.  While she busied
herself in finding and folding them, Alleyne Edricson stood by
the open door looking in at her with much interest and some
distrust, for he had never been so nigh to a woman before.  She
had round red arms, a dress of some sober woollen stuff, and a
brass brooch the size of a cheese-cake stuck in the front of it.

"Peter the fuller!" she kept repeating.  "Marry come up! if I
were Peter the fuller's wife I would teach him better than to
give his clothes to the first knave who asks for them.  But he
was always a poor, fond, silly creature, was Peter, though we are
beholden to him for helping to bury our second son Wat, who was a
'prentice to him at Lymington in the year of the Black Death.
But who are you, young sir?"

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

"Aye, indeed!  Hast been brought up at the Abbey then.  I could
read it from thy reddened cheek and downcast eye.  Hast learned
from the monks, I trow, to fear a woman as thou wouldst a
lazar-house.  Out upon them! that they should dishonor their own
mothers by such teaching.  A pretty world it would be with all
the women out of it."

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

"Amen and amen!  But thou art a pretty lad, and the prettier for
thy modest ways.  It is easy to see from thy cheek that thou hast
not spent thy days in the rain and the heat and the wind, as my
poor Wat hath been forced to do."

"I have indeed seen little of life, good dame."

"Wilt find nothing in it to pay for the loss of thy own
freshness.  Here are the clothes, and Peter can leave them when
next he comes this way.  Holy Virgin! see the dust upon thy
doublet!  It were easy to see that there is no woman to tend to
thee.  So!--that is better.  Now buss me, boy."

Alleyne stooped and kissed her, for the kiss was the common
salutation of the age, and, as Erasmus long afterwards remarked,
more used in England than in any other country.  Yet it sent the
blood to his temples again, and he wondered, as he turned away,
what the Abbot Berghersh would have answered to so frank an
invitation.  He was still tingling from this new experience when
he came out upon the high-road and saw a sight which drove all
other thoughts from his mind.

Some way down from where he had left him the unfortunate Peter
was stamping and raving tenfold worse than before.  Now, however,
instead of the great white cloak, he had no clothes on at all,
save a short woollen shirt and a pair of leather shoes.  Far down
the road a long-legged figure was running, with a bundle under
one arm and the other hand to his side, like a man who laughs
until he is sore.

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

"Who then?" cried Alleyne.

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

"Stay though, my friend, it was his gown," objected Alleyne.

"It boots not.  He hath them all--gown, jerkin, hosen and all.
Gramercy to him that he left me the shirt and the shoon.  I doubt
not that he will be back for them anon."

"But how came this?" asked Alleyne, open-eyed with astonishment.

"Are those the clothes?  For dear charity's sake give them to me.
Not the Pope himself shall have these from me, though he sent the
whole college of cardinals to ask it.  How came it?  Why, you had
scarce gone ere this loathly John came running back again, and,
when I oped mouth to reproach him, he asked me whether it was
indeed likely that a man of prayer would leave his own godly
raiment in order to take a layman's jerkin.  He had, he said, but
gone for a while that I might be the freer for my devotions.  On
this I plucked off the gown, and he with much show of haste did
begin to undo his points; but when I threw his frock down he
clipped it up and ran off all untrussed, leaving me in this sorry
plight.  He laughed so the while, like a great croaking frog,
that I might have caught him had my breath not been as short as
his legs were long."

The young man listened to this tale of wrong with all the
seriousness that he could maintain; but at the sight of the pursy
red-faced man and the dignity with which he bore him, the
laughter came so thick upon him that he had to lean up against a
tree-trunk.  The fuller looked sadly and gravely at him; but
finding that he still laughed, he bowed with much mock politeness
and stalked onwards in his borrowed clothes.  Alleyne watched him
until he was small in the distance, and then, wiping the tears
from his eyes, he set off briskly once more upon his journey.



CHAPTER IV.

HOW THE BAILIFF OF SOUTHAMPTON SLEW THE TWO MASTERLESS MEN.


The road along which he travelled was scarce as populous as most
other roads in the kingdom, and far less so than those which lie
between the larger towns.  Yet from time to time Alleyne met
other wayfarers, and more than once was overtaken by strings of
pack mules and horsemen journeying in the same direction as
himself.  Once a begging friar came limping along in a brown
habit, imploring in a most dolorous voice to give him a single
groat to buy bread wherewith to save himself from impending
death.  Alleyne passed him swiftly by, for he had learned from
the monks to have no love for the wandering friars, and, besides,
there was a great half-gnawed mutton bone sticking out of his
pouch to prove him a liar.  Swiftly as he went, however, he could
not escape the curse of the four blessed evangelists which the
mendicant howled behind him.  So dreadful are his execrations
that the frightened lad thrust his fingers into his ear-holes,
and ran until the fellow was but a brown smirch upon the yellow
road.

Further on, at the edge of the woodland, he came upon a chapman
and his wife, who sat upon a fallen tree.  He had put his pack
down as a table, and the two of them were devouring a great
pasty, and washing it down with some drink from a stone jar.  The
chapman broke a rough jest as he passed, and the woman called
shrilly to Alleyne to come and join them, on which the man,
turning suddenly from mirth to wrath, began to belabor her with
his cudgel.  Alleyne hastened on, lest he make more mischief, and
his heart was heavy as lead within him.  Look where he would, he
seemed to see nothing but injustice and violence and the
hardness of man to man.

But even as he brooded sadly over it and pined for the sweet
peace of the Abbey, he came on an open space dotted with holly
bushes, where was the strangest sight that he had yet chanced
upon.  Near to the pathway lay a long clump of greenery, and from
behind this there stuck straight up into the air four human legs
clad in parti-colored hosen, yellow and black.  Strangest of all
was when a brisk tune struck suddenly up and the four legs began
to kick and twitter in time to the music.  Walking on tiptoe
round the bushes, he stood in amazement to see two men bounding
about on their heads, while they played, the one a viol and the
other a pipe, as merrily and as truly as though they were seated
in a choir.  Alleyne crossed himself as he gazed at this
unnatural sight, and could scarce hold his ground with a steady
face, when the two dancers, catching sight of him, came bouncing
in his direction.  A spear's length from him, they each threw a
somersault into the air, and came down upon their feet with
smirking faces and their hands over their hearts.

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

"A gift, my prince!" shouted the other.  "Any trifle will serve--a
purse of gold, or even a jewelled goblet."

Alleyne thought of what he had read of demoniac possession--the
jumpings, the twitchings, the wild talk.  It was in his mind to
repeat over the exorcism proper to such attacks; but the two
burst out a-laughing at his scared face, and turning on to their
heads once more, clapped their heels in derision.

"Hast never seen tumblers before?" asked the elder, a black-browed,
swarthy man, as brown and supple as a hazel twig.  "Why shrink
from us, then, as though we were the spawn of the Evil One?"

"Why shrink, my honey-bird?  Why so afeard, my sweet cinnamon?"
exclaimed the other, a loose-jointed lanky youth with a dancing,
roguish eye.

"Truly, sirs, it is a new sight to me," the clerk answered.
"When I saw your four legs above the bush I could scarce credit
my own eyes.  Why is it that you do this thing?"

"A dry question to answer," cried the younger, coming back on to
his feet.  "A most husky question, my fair bird!  But how?  A
flask, a flask!--by all that is wonderful!"  He shot out his hand
as he spoke, and plucking Alleyne's bottle out of his scrip, he
deftly knocked the neck off, and poured the half of it down his
throat.  The rest he handed to his comrade, who drank the wine,
and then, to the clerk's increasing amazement, made a show of
swallowing the bottle, with such skill that Alleyne seemed to see
it vanish down his throat.  A moment later, however, he flung it
over his head, and caught it bottom downwards upon the calf of
his left leg.

"We thank you for the wine, kind sir," said he, "and for the
ready courtesy wherewith you offered it.  Touching your question,
we may tell you that we are strollers and jugglers, who, having
performed with much applause at Winchester fair, are now on our
way to the great Michaelmas market at Ringwood.  As our art is a
very fine and delicate one, however, we cannot let a day go by
without exercising ourselves in it, to which end we choose some
quiet and sheltered spot where we may break our journey.  Here
you find us; and we cannot wonder that you, who are new to
tumbling, should be astounded, since many great barons, earls,
marshals and knight, who have wandered as far as the Holy Land,
are of one mind in saying that they have never seen a more noble
or gracious performance.  If you will be pleased to sit upon that
stump, we will now continue our exercise."

Alleyne sat down willingly as directed with two great bundles on
either side of him which contained the strollers' dresses--doublets
of flame-colored silk and girdles of leather, spangled with brass
and tin.  The jugglers were on their heads once more, bounding
about with rigid necks, playing the while in perfect time and
tune.  It chanced that out of one of the bundles there stuck the
end of what the clerk saw to be a cittern, so drawing it forth,
he tuned it up and twanged a harmony to the merry lilt which the
dancers played.  On that they dropped their own instruments, and
putting their hands to the ground they hopped about faster and
faster, ever shouting to him to play more briskly, until at last
for very weariness all three had to stop.

"Well played, sweet poppet!" cried the younger.  "Hast a rare
touch on the strings."

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

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

Both opened their eyes at this, and stared at Alleyne with as
much amazement as he had shown at them.

"You have a fine trick of ear then," said one.  "We have long
wished to meet such a man.  Wilt join us and jog on to Ringwood?
Thy duties shall be light, and thou shalt have two-pence a day
and meat for supper every night."

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

"Nay, it may not be.  I have other work to do.  I have tarried
with you over long," quoth Alleyne, and resolutely set forth upon
his journey once more.  They ran behind him some little way,
offering him first fourpence and then sixpence a day, but he only
smiled and shook his head, until at last they fell away from him.
Looking back, he saw that the smaller had mounted on the
younger's shoulders, and that they stood so, some ten feet high,
waving their adieus to him.  He waved back to them, and then
hastened on, the lighter of heart for having fallen in with these
strange men of pleasure.

Alleyne had gone no great distance for all the many small
passages that had befallen him.  Yet to him, used as he was to a
life of such quiet that the failure of a brewing or the altering
of an anthem had seemed to be of the deepest import, the quick
changing play of the lights and shadows of life was strangely
startling and interesting.  A gulf seemed to divide this brisk
uncertain existence from the old steady round of work and of
prayer which he had left behind him.  The few hours that had
passed since he saw the Abbey tower stretched out in his memory
until they outgrew whole months of the stagnant life of the
cloister.  As he walked and munched the soft bread from his
scrip, it seemed strange to him to feel that it was still warm
from the ovens of Beaulieu.

When he passed Penerley, where were three cottages and a barn, he
reached the edge of the tree country, and found the great barren
heath of Blackdown stretching in front of him, all pink with
heather and bronzed with the fading ferns.  On the left the woods
were still thick, but the road edged away from them and wound
over the open.  The sun lay low in the west upon a purple cloud,
whence it threw a mild, chastening light over the wild moorland
and glittered on the fringe of forest turning the withered leaves
into flakes of dead gold, the brighter for the black depths
behind them.  To the seeing eye decay is as fair as growth, and
death as life.  The thought stole into Alleyne's heart as he
looked upon the autumnal country side and marvelled at its
beauty.  He had little time to dwell upon it however, for there
were still six good miles between him and the nearest inn.  He
sat down by the roadside to partake of his bread and cheese, and
then with a lighter scrip he hastened upon his way.

There appeared to be more wayfarers on the down than in the
forest.  First he passed two Dominicans in their long black
dresses, who swept by him with downcast looks and pattering lips,
without so much as a glance at him.  Then there came a gray
friar, or minorite, with a good paunch upon him, walking slowly
and looking about him with the air of a man who was at peace with
himself and with all men.  He stopped Alleyne to ask him whether
it was not true that there was a hostel somewhere in those parts
which was especially famous for the stewing of eels.  The clerk
having made answer that he had heard the eels of Sowley well
spoken of, the friar sucked in his lips and hurried forward.
Close at his heels came three laborers walking abreast, with
spade and mattock over their shoulders.  They sang some rude
chorus right tunefully as they walked, but their English was so
coarse and rough that to the ears of a cloister-bred man it
sounded like a foreign and barbarous tongue.  One of them carried
a young bittern which they had caught upon the moor, and they
offered it to Alleyne for a silver groat.  Very glad he was to
get safely past them, for, with their bristling red beards and
their fierce blue eyes, they were uneasy men to bargain with upon
a lonely moor.

Yet it is not always the burliest and the wildest who are the
most to be dreaded.  The workers looked hungrily at him, and then
jogged onwards upon their way in slow, lumbering Saxon style.  A
worse man to deal with was a wooden-legged cripple who came
hobbling down the path, so weak and so old to all appearance that
a child need not stand in fear of him.  Yet when Alleyne had
passed him, of a sudden, out of pure devilment, he screamed out a
curse at him, and sent a jagged flint stone hurtling past his
ear.  So horrid was the causeless rage of the crooked creature,
that the clerk came over a cold thrill, and took to his heels
until he was out of shot from stone or word.  It seemed to him
that in this country of England there was no protection for a man
save that which lay in the strength of his own arm and the speed
of his own foot.  In the cloisters he had heard vague talk of the
law--the mighty law which was higher than prelate or baron, yet
no sign could he see of it.  What was the benefit of a law
written fair upon parchment, he wondered, if there were no
officers to enforce it.  As it fell out, however, he had that
very evening, ere the sun had set, a chance of seeing how stern
was the grip of the English law when it did happen to seize the
offender.

A mile or so out upon the moor the road takes a very sudden dip
into a hollow, with a peat-colored stream running swiftly down
the centre of it.  To the right of this stood, and stands to this
day, an ancient barrow, or burying mound, covered deeply in a
bristle of heather and bracken.  Alleyne was plodding down the
slope upon one side, when he saw an old dame coming towards him
upon the other, limping with weariness and leaning heavily upon a
stick.  When she reached the edge of the stream she stood
helpless, looking to right and to left for some ford.  Where the
path ran down a great stone had been fixed in the centre of the
brook, but it was too far from the bank for her aged and
uncertain feet.  Twice she thrust forward at it, and twice she
drew back, until at last, giving up in despair, she sat herself
down by the brink and wrung her hands wearily.  There she still
sat when Alleyne reached the crossing.

"Come, mother," quoth he, "it is not so very perilous a passage."

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

"That is easily amended," said he cheerily, and picking her
lightly up, for she was much worn with time, he passed across
with her.  He could not but observe, however, that as he placed
her down her knees seemed to fail her, and she could scarcely
prop herself up with her staff.

"You are weak, mother," said he.  "Hast journeyed far, I wot."

"From Wiltshire, friend," said she, in a quavering voice; "three
days have I been on the road.  I go to my son, who is one of the
King's regarders at Brockenhurst.  He has ever said that he would
care for me in mine old age."

"And rightly too, mother, since you cared for him in his youth.
But when have you broken fast?"

"At Lyndenhurst; but alas! my money is at an end, and I could but
get a dish of bran-porridge from the nunnery.  Yet I trust that I
may be able to reach Brockenhurst to-night, where I may have all
that heart can desire; for oh! sir, but my son is a fine man,
with a kindly heart of his own, and it is as good as food to me
to think that he should have a doublet of Lincoln green to his
back and be the King's own paid man."

"It is a long road yet to Brockenhurst," said Alleyne; "but here
is such bread and cheese as I have left, and here, too, is a
penny which may help you to supper.  May God be with you!"

"May God be with you, young man!" she cried.  "May He make your
heart as glad as you have made mine!"  She turned away, still
mumbling blessings, and Alleyne saw her short figure and her long
shadow stumbling slowly up the slope.

He was moving away himself, when his eyes lit upon a strange
sight, and one which sent a tingling through his skin.  Out of
the tangled scrub on the old overgrown barrow two human faces
were looking out at him; the sinking sun glimmered full upon
them, showing up every line and feature.  The one was an oldish
man with a thin beard, a crooked nose, and a broad red smudge
from a birth-mark over his temple; the other was a negro, a thing
rarely met in England at that day, and rarer still in the quiet
southland parts.  Alleyne had read of such folk, but had never
seen one before, and could scarce take his eyes from the fellow's
broad pouting lip and shining teeth.  Even as he gazed, however,
the two came writhing out from among the heather, and came down
towards him with such a guilty, slinking carriage, that the clerk
felt that there was no good in them, and hastened onwards upon
his way.

He had not gained the crown of the slope, when he heard a sudden
scuffle behind him and a feeble voice bleating for help.  Looking
round, there was the old dame down upon the roadway, with her red
whimple flying on the breeze, while the two rogues, black and
white, stooped over her, wresting away from her the penny and
such other poor trifles as were worth the taking.  At the sight
of her thin limbs struggling in weak resistance, such a glow of
fierce anger passed over Alleyne as set his head in a whirl.
Dropping his scrip, he bounded over the stream once more, and
made for the two villains, with his staff whirled over his
shoulder and his gray eyes blazing with fury.

The robbers, however, were not disposed to leave their victim
until they had worked their wicked will upon her.  The black man,
with the woman's crimson scarf tied round his swarthy head, stood
forward in the centre of the path, with a long dull-colored knife
in his hand, while the other, waving a ragged cudgel, cursed at
Alleyne and dared him to come on.  His blood was fairly aflame,
however, and he needed no such challenge.  Dashing at the black
man, he smote at him with such good will that the other let his
knife tinkle into the roadway, and hopped howling to a safer
distance.  The second rogue, however, made of sterner stuff,
rushed in upon the clerk, and clipped him round the waist with a
grip like a bear, shouting the while to his comrade to come round
and stab him in the back.  At this the negro took heart of
grace, and picking up his dagger again he came stealing with
prowling step and murderous eye, while the two swayed backwards
and forwards, staggering this way and that.  In the very midst of
the scuffle, however, whilst Alleyne braced himself to feel the
cold blade between his shoulders, there came a sudden scurry of
hoofs, and the black man yelled with terror and ran for his life
through the heather.  The man with the birth-mark, too, struggled
to break away, and Alleyne heard his teeth chatter and felt his
limbs grow limp to his hand.  At this sign of coming aid the
clerk held on the tighter, and at last was able to pin his man
down and glanced behind him to see where all the noise was coming
from.

Down the slanting road there was riding a big, burly man, clad in
a tunic of purple velvet and driving a great black horse as hard
as it could gallop.  He leaned well over its neck as he rode, and
made a heaving with his shoulders at every bound as though he
were lifting the steed instead of it carrying him.  In the rapid
glance Alleyne saw that he had white doeskin gloves, a curling
white feather in his flat velvet cap, and a broad gold,
embroidered baldric across his bosom.  Behind him rode six
others, two and two, clad in sober brown jerkins, with the long
yellow staves of their bows thrusting out from behind their right
shoulders.  Down the hill they thundered, over the brook and up
to the scene of the contest.

"Here is one!" said the leader, springing down from his reeking
horse, and seizing the white rogue by the edge of his jerkin.
"This is one of them.  I know him by that devil's touch upon his
brow.  Where are your cords, Peterkin?  So!  Bind him hand and
foot.  His last hour has come.  And you, young man, who may you
be?"

"I am a clerk, sir, travelling from Beaulieu."

"A clerk!" cried the other.  "Art from Oxenford or from
Cambridge?  Hast thou a letter from the chancellor of thy college
giving thee a permit to beg?  Let me see thy letter."  He had a
stern, square face, with bushy side whiskers and a very
questioning eye.

"I am from Beaulieu Abbey, and I have no need to beg," said
Alleyne, who was all of a tremble now that the ruffle was over.

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

"No, sir, I do not."

"I am the law!"--nodding his head solemnly.  "I am the law of
England and the mouthpiece of his most gracious and royal
majesty, Edward the Third."

Alleyne louted low to the King's representative.  "Truly you came
in good time, honored sir," said he.  "A moment later and they
would have slain me."

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

"The black man fled over to that side," said Alleyne, pointing
towards the barrow.

"He could not have gone far, sir bailiff," cried one of the
archers, unslinging his bow.  "He is in hiding somewhere, for he
knew well, black paynim as he is, that our horses' four legs
could outstrip his two."

"Then we shall have him," said the other.  "It shall never be
said, whilst I am bailiff of Southampton, that any waster,
riever, draw-latch or murtherer came scathless away from me and
my posse.  Leave that rogue lying.  Now stretch out in line, my
merry ones, with arrow on string, and I shall show you such sport
as only the King can give.  You on the left, Howett, and Thomas
of Redbridge upon the right.  So!  Beat high and low among the
heather, and a pot of wine to the lucky marksman."

As it chanced, however, the searchers had not far to seek.  The
negro had burrowed down into his hiding-place upon the barrow,
where he might have lain snug enough, had it not been for the red
gear upon his head.  As he raised himself to look over the
bracken at his enemies, the staring color caught the eye of the
bailiff, who broke into a long screeching whoop and spurred
forward sword in hand.  Seeing himself discovered, the man rushed
out from his hiding-place, and bounded at the top of his speed
down the line of archers, keeping a good hundred paces to the
front of them.  The two who were on either side of Alleyne bent
their bows as calmly as though they were shooting at the popinjay
at the village fair.

"Seven yards windage, Hal," said one, whose hair was streaked
with gray.

"Five," replied the other, letting loose his string.  Alleyne
gave a gulp in his throat, for the yellow streak seemed to pass
through the man; but he still ran forward.

"Seven, you jack-fool," growled the first speaker, and his bow
twanged like a harp-string.  The black man sprang high up into
the air, and shot out both his arms and his legs, coming down all
a-sprawl among the heather.  "Right under the blade bone!" quoth
the archer, sauntering forward for his arrow.

"The old hound is the best when all is said," quoth the bailiff
of Southampton, as they made back for the roadway.  "That means a
quart of the best malmsey in Southampton this very night, Matthew
Atwood.  Art sure that he is dead?"

"Dead as Pontius Pilate, worshipful sir."

"It is well.  Now, as to the other knave.  There are trees and to
spare over yonder, but we have scarce leisure to make for them.
Draw thy sword, Thomas of Redbridge, and hew me his head from his
shoulders."

"A boon, gracious sir, a boon!" cried the condemned man.

"What then?" asked the bailiff.

"I will confess to my crime.  It was indeed I and the black cook,
both from the ship `La Rose de Gloire,' of Southampton, who did
set upon the Flanders merchant and rob him of his spicery and his
mercery, for which, as we well know, you hold a warrant against
us."

"There is little merit in this confession," quoth the bailiff
sternly.  "Thou hast done evil within my bailiwick, and must
die."

"But, sir," urged Alleyne, who was white to the lips at these
bloody doings, "he hath not yet come to trial."

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

"I have in my shoe, most worshipful sir, a strip of wood which
belonged once to the bark wherein the blessed Paul was dashed up
against the island of Melita.  I bought it for two rose nobles
from a shipman who came from the Levant.  The boon I crave is
that you will place it in my hands and let me die still grasping
it.  In this manner, not only shall my own eternal salvation be
secured, but thine also, for I shall never cease to intercede for
thee."

At the command of the bailiff they plucked off the fellow's shoe,
and there sure enough at the side of the instep, wrapped in a
piece of fine sendall, lay a long, dark splinter of wood.  The
archers doffed caps at the sight of it, and the bailiff crossed
himself devoutly as he handed it to the robber.

"If it should chance," he said, "that through the surpassing
merits of the blessed Paul your sin-stained soul should gain a
way into paradise, I trust that you will not forget that
intercession which you have promised.  Bear in mind too, that it
is Herward the bailiff for whom you pray, and not Herward the
sheriff, who is my uncle's son.  Now, Thomas, I pray you
dispatch, for we have a long ride before us and sun has already
set."

Alleyne gazed upon the scene--the portly velvet-clad official, the
knot of hard-faced archers with their hands to the bridles of
their horses, the thief with his arms trussed back and his
doublet turned down upon his shoulders.  By the side of the track
the old dame was standing, fastening her red whimple once more
round her head.  Even as he looked one of the archers drew his
sword with a sharp whirr of steel and stept up to the lost man.
The clerk hurried away in horror; but, ere he had gone many
paces, he heard a sudden, sullen thump, with a choking,
whistling sound at the end of it.  A minute later the bailiff and
four of his men rode past him on their journey back to
Southampton, the other two having been chosen as grave-diggers.
As they passed Alleyne saw that one of the men was wiping his
sword-blade upon the mane of his horse.  A deadly sickness came
over him at the sight, and sitting down by the wayside he burst
out weeping, with his nerves all in a jangle.  It was a terrible
world thought he, and it was hard to know which were the most to
be dreaded, the knaves or the men of the law.



CHAPTER V.

HOW A STRANGE COMPANY GATHERED AT THE "PIED MERLIN."


The night had already fallen, and the moon was shining between
the rifts of ragged, drifting clouds, before Alleyne Edricson,
footsore and weary from the unwonted exercise, found himself in
front of the forest inn which stood upon the outskirts of
Lyndhurst.  The building was long and low, standing back a little
from the road, with two flambeaux blazing on either side of the
door as a welcome to the traveller.  From one window there thrust
forth a long pole with a bunch of greenery tied to the end of
it--a sign that liquor was to be sold within.  As Alleyne walked
up to it he perceived that it was rudely fashioned out of beams
of wood, with twinkling lights all over where the glow from
within shone through the chinks.  The roof was poor and thatched;
but in strange contrast to it there ran all along under the eaves
a line of wooden shields, most gorgeously painted with chevron,
bend, and saltire, and every heraldic device.  By the door a
horse stood tethered, the ruddy glow beating strongly upon his
brown head and patient eyes, while his body stood back in the
shadow.

Alleyne stood still in the roadway for a few minutes reflecting
upon what he should do.  It was, he knew, only a few miles
further to Minstead, where his brother dwelt.  On the other hand,
he had never seen this brother since childhood, and the reports
which had come to his ears concerning him were seldom to his
advantage.  By all accounts he was a hard and a bitter man.

It might be an evil start to come to his door so late and claim
the shelter of his roof.  Better to sleep here at this inn, and
then travel on to Minstead in the morning.  If his brother would
take him in, well and good.

He would bide with him for a time and do what he might to serve
him.  If, on the other hand, he should have hardened his heart
against him, he could only go on his way and do the best he might
by his skill as a craftsman and a scrivener.  At the end of a
year he would be free to return to the cloisters, for such had
been his father's bequest.  A monkish upbringing, one year in the
world after the age of twenty, and then a free selection one way
or the other--it was a strange course which had been marked out
for him.  Such as it was, however, he had no choice but to follow
it, and if he were to begin by making a friend of his brother he
had best wait until morning before he knocked at his dwelling.

The rude plank door was ajar, but as Alleyne approached it there
came from within such a gust of rough laughter and clatter of
tongues that he stood irresolute upon the threshold.  Summoning
courage, however, and reflecting that it was a public dwelling,
in which he had as much right as any other man, he pushed it open
and stepped into the common room.

Though it was an autumn evening and somewhat warm, a huge fire of
heaped billets of wood crackled and sparkled in a broad, open
grate, some of the smoke escaping up a rude chimney, but the
greater part rolling out into the room, so that the air was thick
with it, and a man coming from without could scarce catch his
breath.  On this fire a great cauldron bubbled and simmered,
giving forth a rich and promising smell.  Seated round it were a
dozen or so folk, of all ages and conditions, who set up such a
shout as Alleyne entered that he stood peering at them through
the smoke, uncertain what this riotous greeting might portend.

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

"'Tis the law of the `Pied Merlin,'" shouted another.  "Ho
there, Dame Eliza!  Here is fresh custom come to the house, and
not a drain for the company."

"I will take your orders, gentles; I will assuredly take your
orders," the landlady answered, bustling in with her hands full
of leathern drinking-cups.  "What is it that you drink, then?
Beer for the lads of the forest, mead for the gleeman, strong
waters for the tinker, and wine for the rest.  It is an old
custom of the house, young sir.  It has been the use at the `Pied
Merlin' this many a year back that the company should drink to
the health of the last comer.  Is it your pleasure to humor it?"

"Why, good dame," said Alleyne, "I would not offend the customs
of your house, but it is only sooth when I say that my purse is a
thin one.  As far as two pence will go, however, I shall be right
glad to do my part."

"Plainly said and bravely spoken, my suckling friar," roared a
deep voice, and a heavy hand fell upon Alleyne's shoulder.
Looking up, he saw beside him his former cloister companion the
renegade monk, Hordle John.

"By the thorn of Glastonbury! ill days are coming upon Beaulieu,"
said he.  "Here they have got rid in one day of the only two men
within their walls--for I have had mine eyes upon thee,
youngster, and I know that for all thy baby-face there is the
making of a man in thee.  Then there is the Abbot, too.  I am no
friend of his, nor he of mine; but he has warm blood in his
veins.  He is the only man left among them.  The others, what are
they?"

"They are holy men," Alleyne answered gravely.

"Holy men?  Holy cabbages!  Holy bean-pods!  What do they do but
live and suck in sustenance and grow fat?  If that be holiness, I
could show you hogs in this forest who are fit to head the
calendar.  Think you it was for such a life that this good arm
was fixed upon my shoulder, or that head placed upon your neck?
There is work in the world, man, and it is not by hiding behind
stone walls that we shall do it."

"Why, then, did you join the brothers?" asked Alleyne.

"A fair enough question; but it is as fairly answered.  I joined
them because Margery Alspaye, of Bolder, married Crooked Thomas
of Ringwood, and left a certain John of Hordle in the cold, for
that he was a ranting, roving blade who was not to be trusted in
wedlock.  That was why, being fond and hot-headed, I left the
world; and that is why, having had time to take thought, I am
right glad to find myself back in it once more.  Ill betide the
day that ever I took off my yeoman's jerkin to put on the white
gown!"

Whilst he was speaking the landlady came in again, bearing a
broad platter, upon which stood all the beakers and flagons
charged to the brim with the brown ale or the ruby wine.  Behind
her came a maid with a high pile of wooden plates, and a great
sheaf of spoons, one of which she handed round to each of the
travellers.  Two of the company, who were dressed in the
weather-stained green doublet of foresters, lifted the big pot
off the fire, and a third, with a huge pewter ladle, served out a
portion of steaming collops to each guest.  Alleyne bore his
share and his ale-mug away with him to a retired trestle in the
corner, where he could sup in peace and watch the strange scene,
which was so different to those silent and well-ordered meals to
which he was accustomed.

The room was not unlike a stable.  The low ceiling, smoke-blackened
and dingy, was pierced by several square trap-doors with rough-hewn
ladders leading up to them.  The walls of bare unpainted planks
were studded here and there with great wooden pins, placed at
irregular intervals and heights, from which hung over-tunics,
wallets, whips, bridles, and saddles.  Over the fireplace were
suspended six or seven shields of wood, with coats-of-arms rudely
daubed upon them, which showed by their varying degrees of
smokiness and dirt that they had been placed there at different
periods.  There was no furniture, save a single long dresser
covered with coarse crockery, and a number of wooden benches and
trestles, the legs of which sank deeply into the soft clay floor,
while the only light, save that of the fire, was furnished by
three torches stuck in sockets on the wall, which flickered and
crackled, giving forth a strong resinous odor.  All this was
novel and strange to the cloister-bred youth; but most
interesting of all was the motley circle of guests who sat eating
their collops round the blaze.  They were a humble group of
wayfarers, such as might have been found that night in any inn
through the length and breadth of England; but to him they
represented that vague world against which he had been so
frequently and so earnestly warned.  It did not seem to him from
what he could see of it to be such a very wicked place after all.

Three or four of the men round the fire were evidently
underkeepers and verderers from the forest, sunburned and
bearded, with the quick restless eye and lithe movements of the
deer among which they lived.  Close to the corner of the chimney
sat a middle-aged gleeman, clad in a faded garb of Norwich cloth,
the tunic of which was so outgrown that it did not fasten at the
neck and at the waist.  His face was swollen and coarse, and his
watery protruding eyes spoke of a life which never wandered very
far from the wine-pot.  A gilt harp, blotched with many stains
and with two of its strings missing, was tucked under one of his
arms, while with the other he scooped greedily at his platter.
Next to him sat two other men of about the same age, one with a
trimming of fur to his coat, which gave him a dignity which was
evidently dearer to him than his comfort, for he still drew it
round him in spite of the hot glare of the faggots.  The other,
clad in a dirty russet suit with a long sweeping doublet, had a
cunning, foxy face with keen, twinkling eyes and a peaky beard.
Next to him sat Hordle John, and beside him three other rough
unkempt fellows with tangled beards and matted hair--free laborers
from the adjoining farms, where small patches of freehold
property had been suffered to remain scattered about in the heart
of the royal demesne.  The company was completed by a peasant in
a rude dress of undyed sheepskin, with the old-fashioned
galligaskins about his legs, and a gayly dressed young man with
striped cloak jagged at the edges and parti-colored hosen, who
looked about him with high disdain upon his face, and held a blue
smelling-flask to his nose with one hand, while he brandished a
busy spoon with the other.  In the corner a very fat man was
lying all a-sprawl upon a truss, snoring stertorously, and
evidently in the last stage of drunkenness.

"That is Wat the limner," quoth the landlady, sitting down beside
Alleyne, and pointing with the ladle to the sleeping man.  "That
is he who paints the signs and the tokens.  Alack and alas that
ever I should have been fool enough to trust him!  Now, young man,
what manner of a bird would you suppose a pied merlin to be--that
being the proper sign of my hostel?"

"Why," said Alleyne, "a merlin is a bird of the same form as an
eagle or a falcon.  I can well remember that learned brother
Bartholomew, who is deep in all the secrets of nature, pointed
one out to me as we walked together near Vinney Ridge."

"A falcon or an eagle, quotha?  And pied, that is of two several
colors.  So any man would say except this barrel of lies.  He
came to me, look you, saying that if I would furnish him with a
gallon of ale, wherewith to strengthen himself as he worked, and
also the pigments and a board, he would paint for me a noble pied
merlin which I might hang along with the blazonry over my door.
I, poor simple fool, gave him the ale and all that he craved,
leaving him alone too, because he said that a man's mind must be
left untroubled when he had great work to do.  When I came back
the gallon jar was empty, and he lay as you see him, with the
board in front of him with this sorry device."  She raised up a
panel which was leaning against the wall, and showed a rude
painting of a scraggy and angular fowl, with very long legs and a
spotted body.

"Was that," she asked, "like the bird which thou hast seen?"

Alleyne shook his head, smiling.

"No, nor any other bird that ever wagged a feather.  It is most
like a plucked pullet which has died of the spotted fever.  And
scarlet too!  What would the gentles Sir Nicholas Boarhunte, or
Sir Bernard Brocas, of Roche Court, say if they saw such a
thing--or, perhaps, even the King's own Majesty himself, who
often has ridden past this way, and who loves his falcons as he
loves his sons?  It would be the downfall of my house."

"The matter is not past mending," said Alleyne.  "I pray you,
good dame, to give me those three pigment-pots and the brush, and
I shall try whether I cannot better this painting."

Dame Eliza looked doubtfully at him, as though fearing some other
stratagem, but, as he made no demand for ale, she finally brought
the paints, and watched him as he smeared on his background,
talking the while about the folk round the fire.

"The four forest lads must be jogging soon," she said.  "They
bide at Emery Down, a mile or more from here.  Yeomen prickers
they are, who tend to the King's hunt.  The gleeman is called
Floyting Will.  He comes from the north country, but for many
years he hath gone the round of the forest from Southampton to
Christchurch.  He drinks much and pays little but it would make
your ribs crackle to hear him sing the `Jest of Hendy Tobias.'
Mayhap he will sing it when the ale has warmed him."

"Who are those next to him?" asked Alleyne, much interested.
"He of the fur mantle has a wise and reverent face."

"He is a seller of pills and salves, very learned in humors, and
rheums, and fluxes, and all manner of ailments.  He wears, as you
perceive, the vernicle of Sainted Luke, the first physician, upon
his sleeve.  May good St. Thomas of Kent grant that it may be
long before either I or mine need his help!  He is here to-night
for herbergage, as are the others except the foresters.  His
neighbor is a tooth-drawer.  That bag at his girdle is full of
the teeth that he drew at Winchester fair.  I warrant that there
are more sound ones than sorry, for he is quick at his work and a
trifle dim in the eye.  The lusty man next him with the red head
I have not seen before.  The four on this side are all workers,
three of them in the service of the bailiff of Sir Baldwin
Redvers, and the other, he with the sheepskin, is, as I hear, a
villein from the midlands who hath run from his master.  His year
and day are well-nigh up, when he will be a free man."

"And the other?" asked Alleyne in a whisper.  "He is surely some
very great man, for he looks as though he scorned those who were
about him."

The landlady looked at him in a motherly way and shook her head.
"You have had no great truck with the world," she said, "or you
would have learned that it is the small men and not the great who
hold their noses in the air.  Look at those shields upon my wall
and under my eaves.  Each of them is the device of some noble
lord or gallant knight who hath slept under my roof at one time
or another.  Yet milder men or easier to please I have never
seen: eating my bacon and drinking my wine with a merry face, and
paying my score with some courteous word or jest which was dearer
to me than my profit.  Those are the true gentles.  But your
chapman or your bearward will swear that there is a lime in the
wine, and water in the ale, and fling off at the last with a
curse instead of a blessing.  This youth is a scholar from
Cambrig, where men are wont to be blown out by a little
knowledge, and lose the use of their hands in learning  the laws
of the Romans.  But I must away to lay down the beds.  So may the
saints keep you and prosper you in your undertaking!"

Thus left to himself, Alleyne drew his panel of wood where the
light of one of the torches would strike full upon it, and worked
away with all the pleasure of the trained craftsman, listening
the while to the talk which went on round the fire.  The peasant
in the sheepskins, who had sat glum and silent all evening, had
been so heated by his flagon of ale that he was talking loudly
and angrily with clenched hands and flashing eyes.

"Sir Humphrey Tennant of Ashby may till his own fields for me,"
he cried.  "The castle has thrown its shadow upon the cottage
over long.  For three hundred years my folk have swinked and
sweated, day in and day out, to keep the wine on the lord's table
and the harness on the lord's back.  Let him take off his plates
and delve himself, if delving must be done."

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

"He would have sold me with his acres," the other cried, in a
voice which was hoarse with passion.  "`The man, the woman and
their litter'--so ran the words of the dotard bailiff.  Never a
bullock on the farm was sold more lightly.  Ha! he may wake some
black night to find the flames licking about his ears--for fire
is a good friend to the poor man, and I have seen a smoking heap
of ashes where over night there stood just such another
castlewick as Ashby."

"This is a lad of mettle!" shouted another of the laborers.  He
dares to give tongue to what all men think.  Are we not all from
Adam's loins, all with flesh and blood, and with the same mouth
that must needs have food and drink?  Where all this difference
then between the ermine cloak and the leathern tunic, if what
they cover is the same?"

"Aye, Jenkin," said another, "our foeman is under the stole and
the vestment as much as under the helmet and plate of proof.  We
have as much to fear from the tonsure as from the hauberk.
Strike at the noble and the priest shrieks, strike at priest and
the noble lays his hand upon glaive.  They are twin thieves who
live upon our labor."

"It would take a clever man to live upon thy labor, Hugh,"
remarked one of the foresters, "seeing that the half of thy time
is spent in swilling mead at the `Pied Merlin.'"

"Better that than stealing the deer that thou art placed to
guard, like some folk I know."

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

"Nay, gentles, gentles!" cried Dame Eliza, in a singsong heedless
voice, which showed that such bickerings were nightly things
among her guests.  "No brawling or brabbling, gentles!  Take heed
to the good name of the house."

"Besides, if it comes to the cropping of ears, there are other
folk who may say their say," quoth the third laborer.  "We are
all freemen, and I trow that a yeoman's cudgel is as good as a
forester's knife.  By St. Anselm! it would be an evil day if we
had to bend to our master's servants as well as to our masters."

"No man is my master save the King," the woodman answered.  "Who
is there, save a false traitor, who would refuse to serve the
English king?"

"I know not about the English king," said the man Jenkin.  "What
sort of English king is it who cannot lay his tongue to a word of
English?  You mind last year when he came down to Malwood, with
his inner marshal and his outer marshal, his justiciar, his
seneschal, and his four and twenty guardsmen.  One noontide I was
by Franklin Swinton's gate, when up he rides with a yeoman
pricker at his heels.  `Ouvre,' he cried, `ouvre,' or some such
word, making signs for me to open the gate; and then `Merci,' as
though he were adrad of me.  And you talk of an English king?"

"I do not marvel at it," cried the Cambrig scholar, speaking in
the high drawling voice which was common among his class.  "It is
not a tongue for men of sweet birth and delicate upbringing.  It
is a foul, snorting, snarling manner of speech.  For myself, I
swear by the learned Polycarp that I have most ease with Hebrew,
and after that perchance with Arabian."

"I will not hear a word said against old King Ned," cried Hordle
John in a voice like a bull.  "What if he is fond of a bright eye
and a saucy face.  I know one of his subjects who could match him
at that.  If he cannot speak like an Englishman I trow that he
can fight like an Englishman, and he was hammering at the gates
of Paris while ale-house topers were grutching and grumbling at
home."

This loud speech, coming from a man of so formidable an
appearance, somewhat daunted the disloyal party, and they fell
into a sullen silence, which enabled Alleyne to hear something of
the talk which was going on in the further corner between the
physician, the tooth-drawer and the gleeman.

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

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

"Not to be eaten," cried the physician, in high disdain.  "Why
should any man eat such a thing?"

"Why indeed?" asked the gleeman, taking a long drain at his
tankard.

"It is to be placed on the sore or swelling.  For the rat, mark
you, being a foul-living creature, hath a natural drawing or
affinity for all foul things, so that the noxious humors pass
from the man into the unclean beast."

"Would that cure the black death, master?" asked Jenkin.

"Aye, truly would it, my fair son."

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

"How that then?" asked Hordle John.

"Why, friend, it is easy to see that you have not worked with
your hands or you would not need to ask.  When half the folk in
the country were dead it was then that the other half could pick
and choose who they would work for, and for what wage.  That is
why I say that the murrain was the best friend that the borel
folk ever had."

"True, Jenkin," said another workman; "but it is not all good
that is brought by it either.  We well know that through it
corn-land has been turned into pasture, so that flocks of sheep
with perchance a single shepherd wander now where once a hundred
men had work and wage."

"There is no great harm in that," remarked the tooth-drawer, "for
the sheep give many folk their living.  There is not only the
herd, but the shearer and brander, and then the dresser, the
curer, the dyer, the fuller, the webster, the merchant, and a
score of others."

"If it come to that."  said one of the foresters, "the tough meat
of them will wear folks teeth out, and there is a trade for the
man who can draw them."

A general laugh followed this sally at the dentist's expense, in
the midst of which the gleeman placed his battered harp upon his
knee, and began to pick out a melody upon the frayed strings.

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

"Aye, aye, the `Lasses of Lancaster,'" one suggested.

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

"Or the `Jest of Hendy Tobias.'"

To all these suggestions the jongleur made no response, but sat
with his eye fixed abstractedly upon the ceiling, as one who
calls words to his mind.  Then, with a sudden sweep across the
strings, he broke out into a song so gross and so foul that ere
he had finished a verse the pure-minded lad sprang to his feet
with the blood tingling in his face.

"How can you sing such things?" he cried.  "You, too, an old man
who should be an example to others."

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

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

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

"Shall it be a litany, my good clerk?" shouted a third; "or would
a hymn be good enough to serve?"

The jongleur had put down his harp in high dudgeon.  "Am I to be
preached to by a child?" he cried, staring across at Alleyne with
an inflamed and angry countenance.  "Is a hairless infant to
raise his tongue against me, when I have sung in every fair from
Tweed to Trent, and have twice been named aloud by the High Court
of the Minstrels at Beverley?  I shall sing no more to-night."

"Nay, but you will so," said one of the laborers.  "Hi, Dame
Eliza, bring a stoup of your best to Will to clear his throat.
Go forward with thy song, and if our girl-faced clerk does not
love it he can take to the road and go whence he came."

"Nay, but not too last," broke in Hordle John.  "There are two
words in this matter.  It may be that my little comrade has been
over quick in reproof, he having gone early into the cloisters
and seen little of the rough ways and words of the world.  Yet
there is truth in what he says, for, as you know well, the song
was not of the cleanest.  I shall stand by him, therefore, and he
shall neither be put out on the road, nor shall his ears be
offended indoors."

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

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

"And so belabored as to be scarce able to crawl along it," cried
a third.

"Nay, I shall go!  I shall go!" said Alleyne hurriedly, as Hordle
John began to slowly roll up his sleeve, and bare an arm like a
leg of mutton.  "I would not have you brawl about me."

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

Both the foresters and the laborers had risen from their bench,
and Dame Eliza and the travelling doctor had flung themselves
between the two parties with soft words and soothing gestures,
when the door of the "Pied Merlin" was flung violently open, and
the attention of the company was drawn from their own quarrel to
the new-comer who had burst so unceremoniously upon them.



CHAPTER VI.

HOW SAMKIN AYLWARD WAGERED HIS FEATHER-BED.


He was a middle-sized man, of most massive and robust build, with
an arching chest and extraordinary breadth of shoulder.  His
shaven face was as brown as a hazel-nut, tanned and dried by the
weather, with harsh, well-marked features, which were not
improved by a long white scar which stretched from the corner of
his left nostril to the angle of the jaw.  His eyes were bright
and searching, with something of menace and of authority in their
quick glitter, and his mouth was firm-set and hard, as befitted
one who was wont to set his face against danger.  A straight
sword by his side and a painted long-bow jutting over his
shoulder proclaimed his profession, while his scarred brigandine
of chain-mail and his dinted steel cap showed that he was no
holiday soldier, but one who was even now fresh from the wars.  A
white surcoat with the lion of St. George in red upon the centre
covered his broad breast, while a sprig of new-plucked broom at
the side of his head-gear gave a touch of gayety and grace to his
grim, war-worn equipment.

"Ha!" he cried, blinking like an owl in the sudden glare.  "Good
even to you, comrades!  Hola! a woman, by my soul!" and in an
instant he had clipped Dame Eliza round the waist and was kissing
her violently.  His eye happening to wander upon the maid,
however, he instantly abandoned the mistress and danced off after
the other, who scurried in confusion up one of the ladders, and
dropped the heavy trap-door upon her pursuer.  He then turned
back and saluted the landlady once more with the utmost relish
and satisfaction.

"La petite is frightened," said he.  "Ah, c'est l'amour, l'amour!
Curse this trick of French, which will stick to my throat.  I
must wash it out with some good English ale.  By my hilt!
camarades, there is no drop of French blood in my body, and I am
a true English bowman, Samkin Aylward by name; and I tell you,
mes amis, that it warms my very heart-roots to set my feet on the
dear old land once more.  When I came off the galley at Hythe,
this very day, I down on my bones, and I kissed the good brown
earth, as I kiss thee now, ma belle, for it was eight long years
since I had seen it.  The very smell of it seemed life to me.
But where are my six rascals?  Hola, there!  En avant!"

At the order, six men, dressed as common drudges, marched
solemnly into the room, each bearing a huge bundle upon his head.
They formed in military line, while the soldier stood in front of
them with stern eyes, checking off their several packages.

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

"Here, worthy sir," answered the first of the bearers, laying a
great package down in the corner.

"Number two--seven ells of red Turkey cloth and nine ells of
cloth of gold.  Put it down by the other.  Good dame, I prythee
give each of these men a bottrine of wine or a jack of ale.
Three--a full piece of white Genoan velvet with twelve ells of
purple silk.  Thou rascal, there is dirt on the hem!  Thou hast
brushed it against some wall, coquin!"

"Not I, most worthy sir," cried the carrier, shrinking away from
the fierce eyes of the bowman.

"I say yes, dog!  By the three kings!  I have seen a man gasp out
his last breath for less.  Had you gone through the pain and
unease that I have done to earn these things you would be at more
care.  I swear by my ten finger-bones that there is not one of
them that hath not cost its weight in French blood!  Four--an
incense-boat, a ewer of silver, a gold buckle and a cope worked
in pearls.  I found them, camarades, at the Church of St. Denis
in the harrying of Narbonne, and I took them away with me lest
they fall into the hands of the wicked.  Five--a cloak of fur
turned up with minever, a gold goblet with stand and cover, and a
box of rose-colored sugar.  See that you lay them together.
Six--a box of monies, three pounds of Limousine gold-work, a pair
of boots, silver tagged, and, lastly, a store of naping linen.
So, the tally is complete!  Here is a groat apiece, and you may go."

"Go whither, worthy sir?" asked one of the carriers.

"Whither?  To the devil if ye will.  What is it to me?  Now, ma
belle, to supper.  A pair of cold capons, a mortress of brawn, or
what you will, with a flask or two of the right Gascony.  I have
crowns in my pouch, my sweet, and I mean to spend them.  Bring in
wine while the food is dressing.  Buvons my brave lads; you shall
each empty a stoup with me."

Here was an offer which the company in an English inn at that or
any other date are slow to refuse.  The flagons were re-gathered
and came back with the white foam dripping over their edges.  Two
of the woodmen and three of the laborers drank their portions off
hurriedly and trooped off together, for their homes were distant
and the hour late.  The others, however, drew closer, leaving the
place of honor to the right of the gleeman to the free-handed
new-comer.  He had thrown off his steel cap and his brigandine,
and had placed them with his sword, his quiver and his painted
long-bow, on the top of his varied heap of plunder in the corner.
Now, with his thick and somewhat bowed legs stretched in front of
the blaze, his green jerkin thrown open, and a great quart pot
held in his corded fist, he looked the picture of comfort and of
good-fellowship.  His hard-set face had softened, and the thick
crop of crisp brown curls which had been hidden by his helmet
grew low upon his massive neck.  He might have been forty years
of age, though hard toil and harder pleasure had left their grim
marks upon his features.  Alleyne had ceased painting his pied
merlin, and sat, brush in hand, staring with open eyes at a type
of man so strange and so unlike any whom he had met.  Men had
been good or had been bad in his catalogue, but here was a man
who was fierce one instant and gentle the next, with a curse on
his lips and a smile in his eye.  What was to be made of such a
man as that?

It chanced that the soldier looked up and saw the questioning
glance which the young clerk threw upon him.  He raised his
flagon and drank to him, with a merry flash of his white teeth.

"A toi, mon garcon," he cried.  "Hast surely never seen a
man-at-arms, that thou shouldst stare so?"

"I never have," said Alleyne frankly, "though I have oft heard
talk of their deeds."

"By my hilt!" cried the other, "if you were to cross the narrow
sea you would find them as thick as bees at a tee-hole.  Couldst
not shoot a bolt down any street of Bordeaux, I warrant, but you
would pink archer, squire, or knight.  There are more
breastplates than gaberdines to be seen, I promise you."

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

"Where there is as much more waiting for any brave lad to pick it
up.  Where a good man can always earn a good wage, and where he
need look upon no man as his paymaster, but just reach his hand
out and help himself.  Aye, it is a goodly and a proper life.
And here I drink to mine old comrades, and the saints be with
them!  Arouse all together, me, enfants, under pain of my
displeasure.  To Sir Claude Latour and the White Company!"

"Sir Claude Latour and the White Company!" shouted the
travellers, draining off their goblets.

"Well quaffed, mes braves!  It is for me to fill your cups again,
since you have drained them to my dear lads of the white jerkin.
Hola! mon ange, bring wine and ale.  How runs the old stave?--

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

He roared out the catch in a harsh, unmusical voice, and ended
with a shout of laughter.  "I trust that I am a better bowman
than a minstrel," said he.

"Methinks I have some remembrance of the lilt," remarked the
gleeman, running his fingers over the strings, "Hoping that it
will give thee no offence, most holy sir"--with a vicious snap at
Alleyne--"and with the kind permit of the company, I will even
venture upon it."

Many a time in the after days Alleyne Edricson seemed to see that
scene, for all that so many which were stranger and more stirring
were soon to crowd upon him.  The fat, red-faced gleeman, the
listening group, the archer with upraised finger beating in time
to the music, and the huge sprawling figure of Hordle John, all
thrown into red light and black shadow by the flickering fire in
the centre--memory was to come often lovingly back to it.  At the
time he was lost in admiration at the deft way in which the
jongleur disguised the loss of his two missing strings, and the
lusty, hearty fashion in which he trolled out his little ballad
of the outland bowmen, which ran in some such fashion as this:

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

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

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

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

"Well sung, by my hilt!" shouted the archer in high delight.
"Many a night have I heard that song, both in the old war-time
and after in the days of the White Company, when Black Simon of
Norwich would lead the stave, and four hundred of the best bowmen
that ever drew string would come roaring in upon the chorus.  I
have seen old John Hawkwood, the same who has led half the
Company into Italy, stand laughing in his beard as he heard it,
until his plates rattled again.  But to get the full smack of it
ye must yourselves be English bowmen, and be far off upon an
outland soil."

Whilst the song had been singing Dame Eliza and the maid had
placed a board across two trestles, and had laid upon it the
knife, the spoon, the salt, the tranchoir of bread, and finally
the smoking dish which held the savory supper.  The archer
settled himself to it like one who had known what it was to find
good food scarce; but his tongue still went as merrily as his
teeth.

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

"And the wage?" asked a laborer.

"You see what the wage brings," he answered.  "I eat of the best,
and I drink deep.  I treat my friend, and I ask no friend to
treat me.  I clap a silk gown on my girl's back.  Never a
knight's lady shall be better betrimmed and betrinketed.  How of
all that, mon garcon?  And how of the heap of trifles that you
can see for yourselves in yonder corner?  They are from the South
French, every one, upon whom I have been making war.  By my hilt!
camarades, I think that I may let my plunder speak for itself."

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

"Tete bleu! yes, indeed.  Then there is the chance of a ransom.
Why, look you, in the affair at Brignais some four years back,
when the companies slew James of Bourbon, and put his army to the
sword, there was scarce a man of ours who had not count, baron,
or knight.  Peter Karsdale, who was but a common country lout
newly brought over, with the English fleas still hopping under
his doublet, laid his great hands upon the Sieur Amaury de
Chatonville, who owns half Picardy, and had five thousand crowns
out of him, with his horse and harness.  'Tis true that a French
wench took it all off Peter as quick as the Frenchman paid it;
but what then?  By the twang of string! it would be a bad thing
if money was not made to be spent; and how better than on
woman--eh, ma belle?"

"It would indeed be a bad thing if we had not our brave archers
to bring wealth and kindly customs into the country," quoth Dame
Eliza, on whom the soldier's free and open ways had made a deep
impression.

"A toi, ma cherie!" said he, with his hand over his heart.
"Hola! there is la petite peeping from behind the door.  A toi,
aussi, ma petite!  Mon Dieu! but the lass has a good color!"

"There is one thing, fair sir," said the Cambridge student in his
piping voice, "which I would fain that you would make more clear.
As I understand it, there was peace made at the town of Bretigny
some six years back between our most gracious monarch and the
King of the French.  This being so, it seems most passing strange
that you should talk so loudly of war and of companies when there
is no quarrel between the French and us."

"Meaning that I lie," said the archer, laying down his knife.

"May heaven forfend!" cried the student hastily.  "_Magna est
veritas sed rara_, which means in the Latin tongue that archers
are all honorable men.  I come to you seeking knowledge, for it
is my trade to learn."

"I fear that you are yet a 'prentice to that trade," quoth the
soldier; "for there is no child over the water but could answer
what you ask.  Know then that though there may be peace between
our own provinces and the French, yet within the marches of
France there is always war, for the country is much divided
against itself, and is furthermore harried by bands of flayers,
skinners, Brabacons, tardvenus, and the rest of them.  When every
man's grip is on his neighbor's throat, and every five-sous-piece
of a baron is marching with tuck of drum to fight whom he will,
it would be a strange thing if five hundred brave English boys
could not pick up a living.  Now that Sir John Hawkwood hath gone
with the East Anglian lads and the Nottingham woodmen into the
service of the Marquis of Montferrat to fight against the Lord of
Milan, there are but ten score of us left, yet I trust that I may
be able to bring some back with me to fill the ranks of the White
Company.  By the tooth of Peter! it would be a bad thing if I
could not muster many a Hamptonshire man who would be ready to
strike in under the red flag of St. George, and the more so if
Sir Nigel Loring, of Christchurch, should don hauberk once more
and take the lead of us."

"Ah, you would indeed be in luck then," quoth a woodman; "for it
is said that, setting aside the prince, and mayhap good old Sir
John Chandos, there was not in the whole army a man of such tried
courage."

"It is sooth, every word of it," the archer answered.  "I have
seen him with these two eyes in a stricken field, and never did
man carry himself better.  Mon Dieu! yes, ye would not credit it
to look at him, or to hearken to his soft voice, but from the
sailing from Orwell down to the foray to Paris, and that is clear
twenty years, there was not a skirmish, onfall, sally, bushment,
escalado or battle, but Sir Nigel was in the heart of it.  I go
now to Christchurch with a letter to him from Sir Claude Latour
to ask him if he will take the place of Sir John Hawkwood; and
there is the more chance that he will if I bring one or two
likely men at my heels.  What say you, woodman: wilt leave the
bucks to loose a shaft at a nobler mark?"

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

"You, then, young sir?" asked the archer.

"Nay, I am a man of peace," said Alleyne Edricson.  "Besides, I
have other work to do."

"Peste!" growled the soldier, striking his flagon on the board
until the dishes danced again.  "What, in the name of the devil,
hath come over the folk?  Why sit ye all moping by the fireside,
like crows round a dead horse, when there is man's work to be
done within a few short leagues of ye?  Out upon you all, as a
set of laggards and hang-backs!  By my hilt I believe that the
men of England are all in France already, and that what is left
behind are in sooth the women dressed up in their paltocks and
hosen."

"Archer," quoth Hordle John, "you have lied more than once and
more than twice; for which, and also because I see much in you to
dislike, I am sorely tempted to lay you upon your back."

"By my hilt! then, I have found a man at last!" shouted the
bowman.  "And, 'fore God, you are a better man than I take you
for if you can lay me on my back, mon garcon.  I have won the ram
more times than there are toes to my feet, and for seven long
years I have found no man in the Company who could make my jerkin
dusty."

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

"Pasques Dieu!" cried the archer, loosening his jerkin, and
eyeing his foeman over with the keen glance of one who is a judge
of manhood.  "I have only once before seen such a body of a man.
By your leave, my red-headed friend, I should be right sorry to
exchange buffets with you; and I will allow that there is no man
in the Company who would pull against you on a rope; so let that
be a salve to your pride.  On the other hand I should judge that
you have led a life of ease for some months back, and that my
muscle is harder than your own.  I am ready to wager upon myself
against you if you are not afeard."

"Afeard, thou lurden!" growled big John.  "I never saw the face
yet of the man that I was afeard of.  Come out, and we shall see
who is the better man."

"But the wager?"

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

"Nought to wager!" cried the soldier.  "Why, you have that which
I covet above all things.  It is that big body of thine that I am
after.  See, now, mon garcon.  I have a French feather-bed there,
which I have been at pains to keep these years back.  I had it at
the sacking of Issodun, and the King himself hath not such a bed.
If you throw me, it is thine; but, if I throw you, then you are
under a vow to take bow and bill and hie with me to France, there
to serve in the White Company as long as we be enrolled."

"A fair wager!" cried all the travellers, moving back their
benches and trestles, so as to give fair field for the wrestlers.

"Then you may bid farewell to your bed, soldier," said Hordle
John.

"Nay; I shall keep the bed, and I shall have you to France in
spite of your teeth, and you shall live to thank me for it.  How
shall it be, then, mon enfant?  Collar and elbow, or close-lock,
or catch how you can?"

"To the devil with your tricks," said John, opening and shutting
his great red hands.  "Stand forth, and let me clip thee."

"Shalt clip me as best you can then," quoth the archer, moving
out into the open space, and keeping a most wary eye upon his
opponent.  He had thrown off his green jerkin, and his chest was
covered only by a pink silk jupon, or undershirt, cut low in the
neck and sleeveless.  Hordle John was stripped from his waist
upwards, and his huge body, with his great muscles swelling out
like the gnarled roots of an oak, towered high above the soldier.
The other, however, though near a foot shorter, was a man of
great strength; and there was a gloss upon his white skin which
was wanting in the heavier limbs of the renegade monk.  He was
quick on his feet, too, and skilled at the game; so that it was
clear, from the poise of head and shine of eye, that he counted
the chances to be in his favor.  It would have been hard that
night, through the whole length of England, to set up a finer
pair in face of each other.

Big John stood waiting in the centre with a sullen, menacing eye,
and his red hair in a bristle, while the archer paced lightly and
swiftly to the right and the left with crooked knee and hands
advanced.  Then with a sudden dash, so swift and fierce that the
eye could scarce follow it, he flew in upon his man and locked
his leg round him.  It was a grip that, between men of equal
strength, would mean a fall; but Hordle John tore him off from
him as he might a rat, and hurled him across the room, so that
his head cracked up against the wooden wall.

"Ma foi!" cried the bowman, passing his fingers through his
curls, "you were not far from the feather-bed then, mon gar.  A
little more and this good hostel would have a new window."

Nothing daunted, he approached his man once more, but this time
with more caution than before.  With a quick feint he threw the
other off his guard, and then, bounding upon him, threw his legs
round his waist and his arms round his bull-neck, in the hope of
bearing him to the ground with the sudden shock.  With a bellow
of rage, Hordle John squeezed him limp in his huge arms; and
then, picking him up, cast him down upon the floor with a force
which might well have splintered a bone or two, had not the
archer with the most perfect coolness clung to the other's
forearms to break his fall.  As it was, he dropped upon his feet
and kept his balance, though it sent a jar through his frame
which set every joint a-creaking.  He bounded back from his
perilous foeman; but the other, heated by the bout, rushed madly
after him, and so gave the practised wrestler the very vantage
for which he had planned.  As big John flung himself upon him,
the archer ducked under the great red hands that clutched for
him, and, catching his man round the thighs, hurled him over his
shoulder--helped as much by his own mad rush as by the trained
strength of the heave.  To Alleyne's eye, it was as if John had
taken unto himself wings and flown.  As he hurtled through the
air, with giant limbs revolving, the lad's heart was in his
mouth; for surely no man ever yet had such a fall and came
scathless out of it.  In truth, hardy as the man was, his neck
had been assuredly broken had he not pitched head first on the
very midriff of the drunken artist, who was slumbering so
peacefully in the corner, all unaware of these stirring doings.
The luckless limner, thus suddenly brought out from his dreams,
sat up with a piercing yell, while Hordle John bounded back into
the circle almost as rapidly as he had left it.

"One more fall, by all the saints!" he cried, throwing out his
arms.

"Not I," quoth the archer, pulling on his clothes, "I have come
well out of the business.  I would sooner wrestle with the great
bear of Navarre."

"It was a trick," cried John.

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

"Oh, for that," said the other, "I count it not a fly; for I had
promised myself a good hour ago that I should go with thee, since
the life seems to be a goodly and proper one.  Yet I would fain
have had the feather-bed."

"I doubt it not, mon ami," quoth the archer, going back to his
tankard.  "Here is to thee, lad, and may we be good comrades to
each other!  But, hola! what is it that ails our friend of the
wrathful face?"

The unfortunate limner had been sitting up rubbing himself
ruefully and staring about with a vacant gaze, which showed that
he knew neither where he was nor what had occurred to him.
Suddenly, however, a flash of intelligence had come over his
sodden features, and he rose and staggered for the door.  "'Ware
the ale!" he said in a hoarse whisper, shaking a warning finger
at the company.  "Oh, holy Virgin, 'ware the ale!" and slapping
his hands to his injury, he flitted off into the darkness, amid a
shout of laughter, in which the vanquished joined as merrily as
the victor.  The remaining forester and the two laborers were
also ready for the road, and the rest of the company turned to
the blankets which Dame Eliza and the maid had laid out for them
upon the floor.  Alleyne, weary with the unwonted excitements of
the day, was soon in a deep slumber broken only by fleeting
visions of twittering legs, cursing beggars, black robbers, and
the many strange folk whom he had met at the "Pied Merlin."



CHAPTER VII.

HOW THE THREE COMRADES JOURNEYED THROUGH THE WOODLANDS.


At early dawn the country inn was all alive, for it was rare
indeed that an hour of daylight would be wasted at a time when
lighting was so scarce and dear.  Indeed, early as it was when
Dame Eliza began to stir, it seemed that others could be earlier
still, for the door was ajar, and the learned student of
Cambridge had taken himself off, with a mind which was too intent
upon the high things of antiquity to stoop to consider the
four-pence which he owed for bed and board.  It was the shrill
out-cry of the landlady when she found her loss, and the clucking
of the hens, which had streamed in through the open door, that
first broke in upon the slumbers of the tired wayfarers.

Once afoot, it was not long before the company began to disperse.
A sleek mule with red trappings was brought round from some
neighboring shed for the physician, and he ambled away with much
dignity upon his road to Southampton.  The tooth-drawer and the
gleeman called for a cup of small ale apiece, and started off
together for Ringwood fair, the old jongleur looking very yellow
in the eye and swollen in the face after his overnight potations.
The archer, however, who had drunk more than any man in the room,
was as merry as a grig, and having kissed the matron and chased
the maid up the ladder once more, he went out to the brook, and
came back with the water dripping from his face and hair.

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

"To Minstead," quoth he.  "My brother Simon Edricson is socman
there, and I go to bide with him for a while.  I prythee, let me
have my score, good dame."

"Score, indeed!" cried she, standing with upraised hands in front
of the panel on which Alleyne had worked the night before.  "Say,
rather what it is that I owe to thee, good youth.  Aye, this is
indeed a pied merlin, and with a leveret under its claws, as I am
a living woman.  By the rood of Waltham! but thy touch is deft
and dainty."

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

"Aye, and the open beak."

"And the ruffled wing," added Hordle John.

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

The young clerk flushed with pleasure at this chorus of praise,
rude and indiscriminate indeed, and yet so much heartier and less
grudging than any which he had ever heard from the critical
brother Jerome, or the short-spoken Abbot.  There was, it would
seem, great kindness as well as great wickedness in this world,
of which he had heard so little that was good.  His hostess would
hear nothing of his paying either for bed or for board, while the
archer and Hordle John placed a hand upon either shoulder and led
him off to the board, where some smoking fish, a dish of spinach,
and a jug of milk were laid out for their breakfast.

"I should not be surprised to learn, mon camarade," said the
soldier, as he heaped a slice of fish upon Alleyne's tranchoir of
bread, "that you could read written things, since you are so
ready with your brushes and pigments."

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

The bowman looked at him with great respect.  "Think of that!"
said he.  "And you with not a hair to your face, and a skin like
a girl.  I can shoot three hundred and fifty paces with my little
popper there, and four hundred and twenty with the great war-bow;
yet I can make nothing of this, nor read my own name if you were
to set `Sam Aylward' up against me.  In the whole Company there
was only one man who could read, and he fell down a well at the
taking of Ventadour, which proves what the thing is not suited to
a soldier, though most needful to a clerk."

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

"Here, then, is something to try upon," quoth the archer, pulling
a square of parchment from the inside of his tunic.  It was tied
securely with a broad band of purple silk, and firmly sealed at
either end with a large red seal.  John pored long and earnestly
over the inscription upon the back, with his brows bent as one
who bears up against great mental strain.

"Not having read much of late," he said, "I am loth to say too
much about what this may be.  Some might say one thing and some
another, just as one bowman loves the yew, and a second will not
shoot save with the ash.  To me, by the length and the look of
it, I should judge this to be a verse from one of the Psalms."

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

"Why, it is written in the French tongue," said Alleyne, "and in
a right clerkly hand.  This is how it runs:  `A le moult puissant
et moult honorable chevalier, Sir Nigel Loring de Christchurch,
de son tres fidele ami Sir Claude Latour, capitaine de la
Compagnie blanche, chatelain de Biscar, grand seigneur de
Montchateau, vavaseur de le renomme Gaston, Comte de Foix, tenant
les droits de la haute justice, de la milieu, et de la basse.'
Which signifies in our speech: `To the very powerful and very
honorable knight, Sir Nigel Loring of Christchurch, from his very
faithful friend Sir Claude Latour, captain of the White Company,
chatelain of Biscar, grand lord of Montchateau and vassal to the
renowned Gaston, Count of Foix, who holds the rights of the high
justice, the middle and the low.'"

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

"I can see now that it is even so," said John, examining the
parchment again.  "Though I scarce understand this high, middle
and low."

"By my hilt! you would understand it if you were Jacques
Bonhomme.  The low justice means that you may fleece him, and the
middle that you may torture him, and the high that you may slay
him.  That is about the truth of it.  But this is the letter
which I am to take; and since the platter is clean it is time
that we trussed up and were afoot.  You come with me, mon gros
Jean; and as to you, little one, where did you say that you
journeyed?"

"To Minstead."

"Ah, yes.  I know this forest country well, though I was born
myself in the Hundred of Easebourne, in the Rape of Chichester,
hard by the village of Midhurst.  Yet I have not a word to say
against the Hampton men, for there are no better comrades or
truer archers in the whole Company than some who learned to loose
the string in these very parts.  We shall travel round with you
to Minstead lad, seeing that it is little out of our way."

"I am ready," said Alleyne, right pleased at the thought of such
company upon the road.

"So am not I.  I must store my plunder at this inn, since the
hostess is an honest woman.  Hola! ma cherie, I wish to leave
with you my gold-work, my velvet, my silk, my feather bed, my
incense-boat, my ewer, my naping linen, and all the rest of it.
I take only the money in a linen bag, and the box of rose colored
sugar which is a gift from my captain to the Lady Loring.  Wilt
guard my treasure for me?"

"It shall be put in the safest loft, good archer.  Come when you
may, you shall find it ready for you."

"Now, there is a true friend!" cried the bowman, taking her hand.
"There is a bonne amie!  English land and English women, say I,
and French wine and French plunder.  I shall be back anon, mon
ange.  I am a lonely man, my sweeting, and I must settle some day
when the wars are over and done.  Mayhap you and I----Ah,
mechante, mechante!  There is la petite peeping from behind the
door.  Now, John, the sun is over the trees; you must be brisker
than this when the bugleman blows `Bows and Bills.'"

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

"Then we must be off.  Adieu, ma vie!  The two livres shall
settle the score and buy some ribbons against the next kermesse.
Do not forget Sam Aylward, for his heart shall ever be thine
alone--and thine, ma petite!  So, marchons, and may St. Julian
grant us as good quarters elsewhere!"

The sun had risen over Ashurst and Denny woods, and was shining
brightly, though the eastern wind had a sharp flavor to it, and
the leaves were flickering thickly from the trees.  In the High
Street of Lyndhurst the wayfarers had to pick their way, for the
little town was crowded with the guardsmen, grooms, and yeomen
prickers who were attached to the King's hunt.  The King himself
was staying at Castle Malwood, but several of his suite had been
compelled to seek such quarters as they might find in the wooden
or wattle-and-daub cottages of the village.  Here and there a
small escutcheon, peeping from a glassless window, marked the
night's lodging of knight or baron.  These coats-of-arms could be
read, where a scroll would be meaningless, and the bowman, like
most men of his age, was well versed in the common symbols of
heraldry.

"There is the Saracen's head of Sir Bernard Brocas," quoth he.
"I saw him last at the ruffle at Poictiers some ten years back,
when he bore himself like a man.  He is the master of the King's
horse, and can sing a right jovial stave, though in that he
cannot come nigh to Sir John Chandos, who is first at the board
or in the saddle.  Three martlets on a field azure, that must be
one of the Luttrells.  By the crescent upon it, it should be the
second son of old Sir Hugh, who had a bolt through his ankle at
the intaking of Romorantin, he having rushed into the fray ere
his squire had time to clasp his solleret to his greave.  There
too is the hackle which is the old device of the De Brays.  I
have served under Sir Thomas de Bray, who was as jolly as a pie,
and a lusty swordsman until he got too fat for his harness."

So the archer gossiped as the three wayfarers threaded their way
among the stamping horses, the busy grooms, and the knots of
pages and squires who disputed over the merits of their masters'
horses and deer-hounds.  As they passed the old church, which
stood upon a mound at the left-hand side of the village street
the door was flung open, and a stream of worshippers wound down
the sloping path, coming from the morning mass, all chattering
like a cloud of jays.  Alleyne bent knee and doffed hat at the
sight of the open door; but ere he had finished an ave his
comrades were out of sight round the curve of the path, and he
had to run to overtake them."

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

"My friend," said Hordle John, "I have prayed so much during the
last two months, not only during the day, but at matins, lauds,
and the like, when I could scarce keep my head upon my shoulders
for nodding, that I feel that I have somewhat over-prayed
myself."

"How can a man have too much religion?" cried Alleyne earnestly.
"It is the one thing that availeth.  A man is but a beast as he
lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and
sleeping.  It is only when he raises himself, and concerns
himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in
very truth a man.  Bethink ye how sad a thing it would be that
the blood of the Redeemer should be spilled to no purpose."

"Bless the lad, if he doth not blush like any girl, and yet
preach like the whole College of Cardinals," cried the archer.

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

"Prettily said, mon garcon.  Touching that same slaying of the
Redeemer, it was a bad business.  A good padre in France read to
us from a scroll the whole truth of the matter.  The soldiers
came upon him in the garden.  In truth, these Apostles of His may
have been holy men, but they were of no great account as
men-at-arms.  There was one, indeed, Sir Peter, who smote out
like a true man; but, unless he is belied, he did but clip a
varlet's ear, which was no very knightly deed.  By these ten
finger-bones!  had I been there with Black Simon of Norwich, and
but one score picked men of the Company, we had held them in
play.  Could we do no more, we had at least filled the false
knight, Sir Judas, so full of English arrows that he would curse
the day that ever he came on such an errand."

The young clerk smiled at his companion's earnestness.  "Had He
wished help," he said, "He could have summoned legions of
archangels from heaven, so what need had He of your poor bow and
arrow?  Besides, bethink you of His own words--that those who
live by the sword shall perish by the sword."

"And how could man die better?" asked the archer.  "If I had my
wish, it would be to fall so--not, mark you, in any mere skirmish
of the Company, but in a stricken field, with the great lion
banner waving over us and the red oriflamme in front, amid the
shouting of my fellows and the twanging of the strings.  But let
it be sword, lance, or bolt that strikes me down: for I should
think it shame to die from an iron ball from the fire-crake or
bombard or any such unsoldierly weapon, which is only fitted to
scare babes with its foolish noise and smoke."

"I have heard much even in the quiet cloisters of these new and
dreadful engines," quoth Alleyne.  "It is said, though I can
scarce bring myself to believe it, that they will send a ball
twice as far as a bowman can shoot his shaft, and with such force
as to break through armor of proof."

"True enough, my lad.  But while the armorer is thrusting in his
devil's-dust, and dropping his ball, and lighting his flambeau, I
can very easily loose six shafts, or eight maybe, so he hath no
great vantage after all.  Yet I will not deny that at the
intaking of a town it is well to have good store of bombards.  I
am told that at Calais they made dints in the wall that a man
might put his head into.  But surely, comrades, some one who is
grievously hurt hath passed along this road before us."

All along the woodland track there did indeed run a scattered
straggling trail of blood-marks, sometimes in single drops, and
in other places in broad, ruddy gouts, smudged over the dead
leaves or crimsoning the white flint stones.

"It must be a stricken deer," said John.

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

They stood listening all three with sidelong heads.  Through the
silence of the great forest there came a swishing, whistling
sound, mingled with the most dolorous groans, and the voice of a
man raised in a high quavering kind of song.  The comrades
hurried onwards eagerly, and topping the brow of a small rising
they saw upon the other side the source from which these strange
noises arose.

A tall man, much stooped in the shoulders, was walking slowly
with bended head and clasped hands in the centre of the path.  He
was dressed from head to foot in a long white linen cloth, and a
high white cap with a red cross printed upon it.  His gown was
turned back from his shoulders, and the flesh there was a sight
to make a man wince, for it was all beaten to a pulp, and the
blood was soaking into his gown and trickling down upon the
ground.  Behind him walked a smaller man with his hair touched
with gray, who was clad in the same white garb.  He intoned a
long whining rhyme in the French tongue, and at the end of every
line he raised a thick cord, all jagged with pellets of lead, and
smote his companion across the shoulders until the blood spurted
again.  Even as the three wayfarers stared, however, there was a
sudden change, for the smaller man, having finished his song,
loosened his own gown and handed the scourge to the other, who
took up the stave once more and lashed his companion with all the
strength of his bare and sinewy arm.  So, alternately beating and
beaten, they made their dolorous way through the beautiful woods
and under the amber arches of the fading beech-trees, where the
calm strength and majesty of Nature might serve to rebuke the
foolish energies and misspent strivings of mankind.

Such a spectacle was new to Hordle John or to Alleyne Edricson;
but the archer treated it lightly, as a common matter enough.

"These are the Beating Friars, otherwise called the Flagellants,"
quoth he.  "I marvel that ye should have come upon none of them
before, for across the water they are as common as gallybaggers.
I have heard that there are no English among them, but that they
are from France, Italy and Bohemia.  En avant, camarades! that we
may have speech with them."

As they came up to them, Alleyne could hear the doleful dirge
which the beater was chanting, bringing down his heavy whip at
the end of each line, while the groans of the sufferer formed a
sort of dismal chorus.  It was in old French, and ran somewhat in
this way:

        Or avant, entre nous tous freres
        Battons nos charognes bien fort
        En remembrant la grant misere
        De Dieu et sa piteuse mort
        Qui fut pris en la gent amere
        Et vendus et trais a tort
        Et bastu sa chair, vierge et dere
        Au nom de ce battons plus fort.

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

"Truly, holy fathers," said the archer in French as they came
abreast of them, "you have beaten enough for to-day.  The road is
all spotted like a shambles at Martinmas.  Why should ye
mishandle yourselves thus?"

"C'est pour vos peches--pour vos peches," they droned, looking at
the travellers with sad lack-lustre eyes, and then bent to their
bloody work once more without heed to the prayers and persuasions
which were addressed to them.  Finding all remonstrance useless,
the three comrades hastened on their way, leaving these strange
travellers to their dreary task.

"Mort Dieu!" cried the bowman, "there is a bucketful or more of
my blood over in France, but it was all spilled in hot fight, and
I should think twice before I drew it drop by drop as these
friars are doing.  By my hilt! our young one here is as white as
a Picardy cheese.  What is amiss then, mon cher?"

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

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

"Not so, friend," quoth big John; "it is not weakness of heart
for I know the lad well.  His heart is as good as thine or mine
but he hath more in his pate than ever you will carry under that
tin pot of thine, and as a consequence he can see farther into
things, so that they weigh upon him more."

"Surely to any man it is a sad sight," said Alleyne, "to see
these holy men, who have done no sin themselves, suffering so for
the sins of others.  Saints are they, if in this age any may
merit so high a name."

"I count them not a fly," cried Hordle John; "for who is the
better for all their whipping and yowling?  They are like other
friars, I trow, when all is done.  Let them leave their backs
alone, and beat the pride out of their hearts."

"By the three kings! there is sooth in what you say," remarked
the archer.  "Besides, methinks if I were le bon Dieu, it would
bring me little joy to see a poor devil cutting the flesh off his
bones; and I should think that he had but a small opinion of me,
that he should hope to please me by such provost-marshal work.
No, by my hilt! I should look with a more loving eye upon a jolly
archer who never harmed a fallen foe and never feared a hale
one."

"Doubtless you mean no sin," said Alleyne.  "If your words are
wild, it is not for me to judge them.  Can you not see that there
are other foes in this world besides Frenchmen, and as much glory
to be gained in conquering them?  Would it not be a proud day for
knight or squire if he could overthrow seven adversaries in the
lists?  Yet here are we in the lists of life, and there come the
seven black champions against us Sir Pride, Sir Covetousness, Sir
Lust, Sir Anger, Sir Gluttony, Sir Envy, and Sir Sloth.  Let a
man lay those seven low, and he shall have the prize of the day,
from the hands of the fairest queen of beauty, even from the
Virgin-Mother herself.  It is for this that these men mortify
their flesh, and to set us an example, who would pamper
ourselves overmuch.  I say again that they are God's own saints,
and I bow my head to them."

"And so you shall, mon petit," replied the archer.  "I have not
heard a man speak better since old Dom Bertrand died, who was at
one time chaplain to the White Company.  He was a very valiant
man, but at the battle of Brignais he was spitted through the
body by a Hainault man-at-arms.  For this we had an
excommunication read against the man, when next we saw our holy
father at Avignon; but as we had not his name, and knew nothing
of him, save that he rode a dapple-gray roussin, I have feared
sometimes that the blight may have settled upon the wrong man."

"Your Company has been, then, to bow knee before our holy father,
the Pope Urban, the prop and centre of Christendom?" asked
Alleyne, much interested.  "Perchance you have yourself set eyes
upon his august face?"

"Twice I saw him," said the archer.  "He was a lean little rat of
a man, with a scab on his chin.  The first time we had five
thousand crowns out of him, though he made much ado about it.
The second time we asked ten thousand, but it was three days
before we could come to terms, and I am of opinion myself that we
might have done better by plundering the palace.  His chamberlain
and cardinals came forth, as I remember, to ask whether we would
take seven thousand crowns with his blessing and a plenary
absolution, or the ten thousand with his solemn ban by bell, book
and candle.  We were all of one mind that it was best to have the
ten thousand with the curse; but in some way they prevailed upon
Sir John, so that we were blest and shriven against our will.
Perchance it is as well, for the Company were in need of it about
that time."

The pious Alleyne was deeply shocked by this reminiscence.
Involuntarily he glanced up and around to see if there were any
trace of those opportune levin-flashes and thunderbolts which, in
the "Acta Sanctorum," were wont so often to cut short the loose
talk of the scoffer.  The autumn sun streamed down as brightly as
ever, and the peaceful red path still wound in front of them
through the rustling, yellow-tinted forest, Nature seemed to be
too busy with her own concerns to heed the dignity of an outraged
pontiff.  Yet he felt a sense of weight and reproach within his
breast, as though he had sinned himself in giving ear to such
words.  The teachings of twenty years cried out against such
license.  It was not until he had thrown himself down before one
of the many wayside crosses, and had prayed from his heart both
for the archer and for himself, that the dark cloud rolled back
again from his spirit.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE THREE FRIENDS.


His companions had passed on whilst he was at his orisons; but
his young blood and the fresh morning air both invited him to a
scamper.  His staff in one hand and his scrip in the other, with
springy step and floating locks, he raced along the forest path,
as active and as graceful as a young deer.  He had not far to go,
however; for, on turning a corner, he came on a roadside cottage
with a wooden fence-work around it, where stood big John and
Aylward the bowman, staring at something within.  As he came up
with them, he saw that two little lads, the one about nine years
of age and the other somewhat older, were standing on the plot in
front of the cottage, each holding out a round stick in their
left hands, with their arms stiff and straight from the shoulder,
as silent and still as two small statues.  They were pretty,
blue-eyed, yellow-haired lads, well made and sturdy, with bronzed
skins, which spoke of a woodland life.

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

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

"Nay, they are training their left arms, that they may have a
steady grasp of the bow.  So my own father trained me, and six
days a week I held out his walking-staff till my arm was heavy as
lead.  Hola, mes enfants! how long will you hold out?"

"Until the sun is over the great lime-tree, good master," the
elder answered.

"What would ye be, then?  Woodmen?  Verderers?"

"Nay, soldiers," they cried both together.

"By the beard of my father! but ye are whelps of the true breed.
Why so keen, then, to be soldiers?"

"That we may fight the Scots," they answered.  "Daddy will send
us to fight the Scots."

"And why the Scots, my pretty lads?  We have seen French and
Spanish galleys no further away than Southampton, but I doubt
that it will be some time before the Scots find their way to
these parts."

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

"Aye, lads, it was that," said a deep voice from behind Alleyne's
shoulder.  Looking round, the wayfarers saw a gaunt, big-boned
man, with sunken cheeks and a sallow face, who had come up behind
them.  He held up his two hands as he spoke, and showed that the
thumbs and two first fingers had been torn away from each of
them.

"Ma foi, camarade!" cried Aylward.  "Who hath served thee in so
shameful a fashion?"

"It is easy to see, friend, that you were born far from the
marches of Scotland," quoth the stranger, with a bitter smile.
"North of Humber there is no man who would not know the handiwork
of Devil Douglas, the black Lord James."

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

"I am a man of the north country, from the town of Beverley and
the wapentake of Holderness," he answered.  "There was a day
when, from Trent to Tweed, there was no better marksman than
Robin Heathcot.  Yet, as you see, he hath left me, as he hath
left many another poor border archer, with no grip for bill or
bow.  Yet the king hath given me a living here in the southlands,
and please God these two lads of mine will pay off a debt that
hath been owing over long.  What is the price of daddy's thumbs,
boys?"

"Twenty Scottish lives," they answered together.

"And for the fingers?"

"Half a score."

"When they can bend my war-bow, and bring down a squirrel at a
hundred paces, I send them to take service under Johnny Copeland,
the Lord of the Marches and Governor of Carlisle.  By my soul!  I
would give the rest of my fingers to see the Douglas within
arrow-flight of them."

"May you live to see it," quoth the bowman.  "And hark ye, mes
enfants, take an old soldier's rede and lay your bodies to the
bow, drawing from hip and thigh as much as from arm.  Learn also,
I pray you, to shoot with a dropping shaft; for though a bowman
may at times be called upon to shoot straight and fast, yet it is
more often that he has to do with a town-guard behind a wall, or
an arbalestier with his mantlet raised when you cannot hope to do
him scathe unless your shaft fall straight upon him from the
clouds.  I have not drawn string for two weeks, but I may be able
to show ye how such shots should be made."  He loosened his
long-bow, slung his quiver round to the front, and then glanced
keenly round for a fitting mark.  There was a yellow and withered
stump some way off, seen under the drooping branches of a lofty
oak.  The archer measured the distance with his eye; and then,
drawing three shafts, he shot them off with such speed that the
first had not reached the mark ere the last was on the string.
Each arrow passed high over the oak; and, of the three, two stuck
fair into the stump; while the third, caught in some wandering
puff of wind, was driven a foot or two to one side.

"Good!" cried the north countryman.  "Hearken to him lads!  He is
a master bowman.  Your dad says amen to every word he says."

"By my hilt!" said Aylward, "if I am to preach on bowmanship, the
whole long day would scarce give me time for my sermon.  We have
marksmen in the Company who will notch with a shaft every
crevice and joint of a man-at-arm's harness, from the clasp of
his bassinet to the hinge of his greave.  But, with your favor,
friend, I must gather my arrows again, for while a shaft costs a
penny a poor man can scarce leave them sticking in wayside
stumps.  We must, then, on our road again, and I hope from my
heart that you may train these two young goshawks here until they
are ready for a cast even at such a quarry as you speak of."

Leaving the thumbless archer and his brood, the wayfarers struck
through the scattered huts of Emery Down, and out on to the broad
rolling heath covered deep in ferns and in heather, where droves
of the half-wild black forest pigs were rooting about amongst the
hillocks.  The woods about this point fall away to the left and
the right, while the road curves upwards and the wind sweeps
keenly over the swelling uplands.  The broad strips of bracken
glowed red and yellow against the black peaty soil, and a queenly
doe who grazed among them turned her white front and her great
questioning eyes towards the wayfarers.  Alleyne gazed in
admiration at the supple beauty of the creature; but the archer's
fingers played with his quiver, and his eyes glistened with the
fell instinct which urges a man to slaughter.

"Tete Dieu!" he growled, "were this France, or even Guienne, we
should have a fresh haunch for our none-meat.  Law or no law, I
have a mind to loose a bolt at her."

"I would break your stave across my knee first," cried John,
laying his great hand upon the bow.  "What! man, I am
forest-born, and I know what comes of it.  In our own township of
Hordle two have lost their eyes and one his skin for this very
thing.  On my troth, I felt no great love when I first saw you,
but since then I have conceived over much regard for you to wish
to see the verderer's flayer at work upon you."

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

As they advanced, the path still tended upwards, running from
heath into copses of holly and yew, and so back into heath again.
It was joyful to hear the merry whistle of blackbirds as they
darted from one clump of greenery to the other.  Now and again a
peaty amber colored stream rippled across their way, with ferny
over-grown banks, where the blue kingfisher flitted busily from
side to side, or the gray and pensive heron, swollen with trout
and dignity, stood ankle-deep among the sedges.  Chattering jays
and loud wood-pigeons flapped thickly overhead, while ever and
anon the measured tapping of Nature's carpenter, the great green
woodpecker, sounded from each wayside grove.  On either side, as
the path mounted, the long sweep of country broadened and
expanded, sloping down on the one side through yellow forest and
brown moor to the distant smoke of Lymington and the blue misty
channel which lay alongside the sky-line, while to the north the
woods rolled away, grove topping grove, to where in the furthest
distance the white spire of Salisbury stood out hard and clear
against the cloudless sky.  To Alleyne whose days had been spent
in the low-lying coastland, the eager upland air and the wide
free country-side gave a sense of life and of the joy of living
which made his young blood tingle in his veins.  Even the heavy
John was not unmoved by the beauty of their road, while the
bowman whistled lustily or sang snatches of French love songs in
a voice which might have scared the most stout-hearted maiden
that ever hearkened to serenade.

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

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

"I would not say nay to that.  By my hilt! I shall never be said
to be traitor to the little king.  Let a man love the sex.
Pasques Dieu! they are made to be loved, les petites, from
whimple down to shoe-string!  I am right glad, mon garcon, to see
that the good monks have trained thee so wisely and so well."

"Nay, I meant not worldly love, but rather that his heart should
soften towards those who have wronged him."

The archer shook his head.  "A man should love those of his own
breed," said he.  "But it is not nature that an English-born man
should love a Scot or a Frenchman.  Ma foi! you have not seen a
drove of Nithsdale raiders on their Galloway nags, or you would
not speak of loving them.  I would as soon take Beelzebub himself
to my arms.  I fear, mon gar., that they have taught thee but
badly at Beaulieu, for surely a bishop knows more of what is
right and what is ill than an abbot can do, and I myself with
these very eyes saw the Bishop of Lincoln hew into a Scottish
hobeler with a battle-axe, which was a passing strange way of
showing him that he loved him."

Alleyne scarce saw his way to argue in the face of so decided an
opinion on the part of a high dignitary of the Church.  "You have
borne arms against the Scots, then?" he asked.

"Why, man, I first loosed string in battle when I was but a lad,
younger by two years than you, at Neville's Cross, under the Lord
Mowbray.  Later, I served under the Warden of Berwick, that very
John Copeland of whom our friend spake, the same who held the
King of Scots to ransom.  Ma foi! it is rough soldiering, and a
good school for one who would learn to be hardy and war-wise."

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

"For axemen and for spearmen I have not seen their match," the
archer answered.  "They can travel, too, with bag of meal and
gridiron slung to their sword-belt, so that it is ill to follow
them.  There are scant crops and few beeves in the borderland,
where a man must reap his grain with sickle in one fist and brown
bill in the other.  On the other hand, they are the sorriest
archers that I have ever seen, and cannot so much as aim with the
arbalest, to say nought of the long-bow.  Again, they are mostly
poor folk, even the nobles among them, so that there are few who
can buy as good a brigandine of chain-mail as that which I am
wearing, and it is ill for them to stand up against our own
knights, who carry the price of five Scotch farms upon their
chest and shoulders.  Man for man, with equal weapons, they are
as worthy and valiant men as could be found in the whole of
Christendom."

"And the French?" asked Alleyne, to whom the archer's light
gossip had all the relish that the words of the man of action
have for the recluse.

"The French are also very worthy men.  We have had great good
fortune in France, and it hath led to much bobance and camp-fire
talk, but I have ever noticed that those who know the most have
the least to say about it.  I have seen Frenchmen fight both in
open field, in the intaking and the defending of towns or
castlewicks, in escalados, camisades, night forays, bushments,
sallies, outfalls, and knightly spear-runnings.  Their knights
and squires, lad, are every whit as good as ours, and I could
pick out a score of those who ride behind Du Guesclin who would
hold the lists with sharpened lances against the best men in the
army of England.  On the other hand, their common folk are so
crushed down with gabelle, and poll-tax, and every manner of
cursed tallage, that the spirit has passed right out of them.  It
is a fool's plan to teach a man to be a cur in peace, and think
that he will be a lion in war.  Fleece them like sheep and sheep
they will remain.  If the nobles had not conquered the poor folk
it is like enough that we should not have conquered the nobles."

"But they must be sorry folk to bow down to the rich in such a
fashion," said big John.  "I am but a poor commoner of England
myself, and yet I know something of charters, liberties
franchises, usages, privileges, customs, and the like.  If these
be broken, then all men know that it is time to buy arrow-heads."

"Aye, but the men of the law are strong in France as well as the
men of war.  By my hilt! I hold that a man has more to fear there
from the ink-pot of the one than from the iron of the other.
There is ever some cursed sheepskin in their strong boxes to
prove that the rich man should be richer and the poor man poorer.
It would scarce pass in England, but they are quiet folk over the
water."

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

"I have seen the low countryman in arms, and I have nought to say
against him.  Heavy and slow is he by nature, and is not to be brought
into battle for the sake of a lady's eyelash or the twang of a
minstrel's string, like the hotter blood of the south.  But ma foi!
lay hand on his wool-bales, or trifle with his velvet of Bruges, and
out buzzes every stout burgher, like bees from the tee-hole, ready to
lay on as though it were his one business in life.  By our lady! they
have shown the French at Courtrai and elsewhere that they are as deft
in wielding steel as in welding it."

"And the men of Spain?"

"They too are very hardy soldiers, the more so as for many
hundred years they have had to fight hard against the cursed
followers of the black Mahound, who have pressed upon them from
the south, and still, as I understand, hold the fairer half of
the country.  I had a turn with them upon the sea when they came
over to Winchelsea and the good queen with her ladies sat upon
the cliffs looking down at us, as if it had been joust or
tourney.  By my hilt! it was a sight that was worth the seeing,
for all that was best in England was out on the water that day.
We went forth in little ships and came back in great galleys--for
of fifty tall ships of Spain, over two score flew the Cross of
St. George ere the sun had set.  But now, youngster, I have
answered you freely, and I trow it is time what you answered me.
Let things be plat and plain between us.  I am a man who shoots
straight at his mark.  You saw the things I had with me at yonder
hostel: name which you will, save only the box of rose-colored
sugar which I take to the Lady Loring, and you shall have it if
you will but come with me to France."

"Nay," said Alleyne, "I would gladly come with ye to France or
where else ye will, just to list to your talk, and because ye are
the only two friends that I have in the whole wide world outside
of the cloisters; but, indeed, it may not be, for my duty is
towards my brother, seeing that father and mother are dead, and
he my elder.  Besides, when ye talk of taking me to France, ye do
not conceive how useless I should be to you, seeing that neither
by training nor by nature am I fitted for the wars, and there
seems to be nought but strife in those parts."

"That comes from my fool's talk," cried the archer; "for being a
man of no learning myself, my tongue turns to blades and targets,
even as my hand does.  Know then that for every parchment in
England there are twenty in France.  For every statue, cut gem,
shrine, carven screen, or what else might please the eye of a
learned clerk, there are a good hundred to our one.  At the
spoiling of Carcasonne I have seen chambers stored with writing,
though not one man in our Company could read them.  Again, in
Arles and Nimes, and other towns that I could name, there are the
great arches and fortalices still standing which were built of
old by giant men who came from the south.  Can I not see by your
brightened eye how you would love to look upon these things?
Come then with me, and, by these ten finger-bones! there is not
one of them which you shall not see."

"I should indeed love to look upon them," Alleyne answered; "but
I have come from Beaulieu for a purpose, and I must be true to my
service, even as thou art true to thine."

"Bethink you again, mon ami," quoth Aylward, "that you might do
much good yonder, since there are three hundred men in the
Company, and none who has ever a word of grace for them, and yet
the Virgin knows that there was never a set of men who were in
more need of it.  Sickerly the one duty may balance the other.
Your brother hath done without you this many a year, and, as I
gather, he hath never walked as far as Beaulieu to see you during
all that time, so he cannot be in any great need of you."

"Besides," said John, "the Socman of Minstead is a by-word
through the forest, from Bramshaw Hill to Holmesley Walk.  He is
a drunken, brawling, perilous churl, as you may find to your
cost."

"The more reason that I should strive to mend him," quoth
Alleyne.  "There is no need to urge me, friends, for my own
wishes would draw me to France, and it would be a joy to me if I
could go with you.  But indeed and indeed it cannot be, so here I
take my leave of you, for yonder square tower amongst the trees
upon the right must surely be the church of Minstead, and I may
reach it by this path through the woods."

"Well, God be with thee, lad!" cried the archer, pressing Alleyne
to his heart.  "I am quick to love, and quick to hate and 'fore
God I am loth to part."

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

"Nay, nay," he answered; "ye must not bide for me, for where I go
I stay."

"Yet it may be as well that you should know whither we go," said
the archer.  "We shall now journey south through the woods until
we come out upon the Christchurch road, and so onwards, hoping
to-night to reach the castle of Sir William Montacute, Earl of
Salisbury, of which Sir Nigel Loring is constable.  There we
shall bide, and it is like enough that for a month or more you
may find us there, ere we are ready for our viage back to
France."

It was hard indeed for Alleyne to break away from these two new
but hearty friends, and so strong was the combat between his
conscience and his inclinations that he dared not look round,
lest his resolution should slip away from him.  It was not until
he was deep among the tree trunks that he cast a glance
backwards, when he found that he could still see them through the
branches on the road above him.  The archer was standing with
folded arms, his bow jutting from over his shoulder, and the sun
gleaming brightly upon his head-piece and the links of his
chain-mail.  Beside him stood his giant recruit, still clad in
the home-spun and ill-fitting garments of the fuller of
Lymington, with arms and legs shooting out of his scanty garb.
Even as Alleyne watched them they turned upon their heels and
plodded off together upon their way.



CHAPTER IX.

HOW STRANGE THINGS BEFELL IN MINSTEAD WOOD.


The path which the young clerk had now to follow lay through a
magnificent forest of the very heaviest timber, where the giant
bowls of oak and of beech formed long aisles in every direction,
shooting up their huge branches to build the majestic arches of
Nature's own cathedral.  Beneath lay a broad carpet of the
softest and greenest moss, flecked over with fallen leaves, but
yielding pleasantly to the foot of the traveller.  The track
which guided him was one so seldom used that in places it lost
itself entirely among the grass, to reappear as a reddish rut
between the distant tree trunks.  It was very still here in the
heart of the woodlands.  The gentle rustle of the branches and
the distant cooing of pigeons were the only sounds which broke in
upon the silence, save that once Alleyne heard afar off a merry
call upon a hunting bugle and the shrill yapping of the hounds.

It was not without some emotion that he looked upon the scene
around him, for, in spite of his secluded life, he knew enough of
the ancient greatness of his own family to be aware that the time
had been when they had held undisputed and paramount sway over
all that tract of country.  His father could trace his pure Saxon
lineage back to that Godfrey Malf who had held the manors of
Bisterne and of Minstead at the time when the Norman first set
mailed foot upon English soil.  The afforestation of the
district, however, and its conversion into a royal demesne had
clipped off a large section of his estate, while other parts had
been confiscated as a punishment for his supposed complicity in
an abortive Saxon rising.  The fate of the ancestor had been
typical of that of his descendants.  During three hundred years
their domains had gradually contracted, sometimes through royal
or feudal encroachment, and sometimes through such gifts to the
Church as that with which Alleyne's father had opened the doors
of Beaulieu Abbey to his younger son.  The importance of the
family had thus dwindled, but they still retained the old Saxon
manor-house, with a couple of farms and a grove large enough to
afford pannage to a hundred pigs--"sylva de centum porcis," as
the old family parchments describe it.  Above all, the owner of
the soil could still hold his head high as the veritable Socman
of Minstead--that is, as holding the land in free socage, with
no feudal superior, and answerable to no man lower than the king.
Knowing this, Alleyne felt some little glow of worldly pride as
he looked for the first time upon the land with which so many
generations of his ancestors had been associated.  He pushed on
the quicker, twirling his staff merrily, and looking out at every
turn of the path for some sign of the old Saxon residence.  He
was suddenly arrested, however, by the appearance of a wild-looking
fellow armed with a club, who sprang out from behind a tree and
barred his passage.  He was a rough, powerful peasant, with cap
and tunic of untanned sheepskin, leather breeches, and
galligaskins round legs and feet.

"Stand!" he shouted, raising his heavy cudgel to enforce the
order.  "Who are you who walk so freely through the wood?
Whither would you go, and what is your errand?"

"Why should I answer your questions, my friend?" said Alleyne,
standing on his guard.

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

"No longer ago than last night at the `Pied Merlin,'" the clerk
answered, recognizing the escaped serf who had been so outspoken
as to his wrongs.

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

"Naught of any price."

"How can I tell that, clerk?  Let me see."

"Not I."

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

"I will part with neither without fight."

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

"Hadst asked me in the name of charity I would have given
freely," cried Alleyne.  "As it stands, not one farthing shall
you have with my free will, and when I see my brother, the
Socman of Minstead, he will raise hue and cry from vill to vill,
from hundred to hundred, until you are taken as a common robber
and a scourge to the country."

The outlaw sank his club.  "The Socman's brother!" he gasped.
"Now, by the keys of Peter!  I had rather that hand withered and
tongue was palsied ere I had struck or miscalled you.  If you are
the Socman's brother you are one of the right side, I warrant,
for all your clerkly dress."

"His brother I am," said Alleyne.  "But if I were not, is that
reason why you should molest me on the king's ground?"

"I give not the pip of an apple for king or for noble," cried the
serf passionately.  "Ill have I had from them, and ill I shall
repay them.  I am a good friend to my friends, and, by the
Virgin! an evil foeman to my foes."

"And therefore the worst of foemen to thyself," said Alleyne.
"But I pray you, since you seem to know him, to point out to me
the shortest path to my brother's house."

The serf was about to reply, when the clear ringing call of a
bugle burst from the wood close behind them, and Alleyne caught
sight for an instant of the dun side and white breast of a lordly
stag glancing swiftly betwixt the distant tree trunks.  A minute
later came the shaggy deer-hounds, a dozen or fourteen of them,
running on a hot scent, with nose to earth and tail in air.  As
they streamed past the silent forest around broke suddenly into
loud life, with galloping of hoofs, crackling of brushwood, and
the short, sharp cries of the hunters.  Close behind the pack
rode a fourrier and a yeoman-pricker, whooping on the laggards
and encouraging the leaders, in the shrill half-French jargon
which was the language of venery and woodcraft.  Alleyne was
still gazing after them, listening to the loud "Hyke-a-Bayard!
Hyke-a-Pomers!  Hyke-a-Lebryt!" with which they called upon their
favorite hounds, when a group of horsemen crashed out through the
underwood at the very spot where the serf and he were standing.

The one who led was a man between fifty and sixty years of age,
war-worn and weather-beaten, with a broad, thoughtful forehead
and eyes which shone brightly from under his fierce and overhung
brows.  His beard, streaked thickly with gray, bristled forward
from his chin, and spoke of a passionate nature, while the long,
finely cut face and firm mouth marked the leader of men.  His
figure was erect and soldierly, and he rode his horse with the
careless grace of a man whose life had been spent in the saddle.
In common garb, his masterful face and flashing eye would have
marked him as one who was born to rule; but now, with his silken
tunic powdered with golden fleurs-de-lis, his velvet mantle lined
with the royal minever, and the lions of England stamped in
silver upon his harness, none could fail to recognize the noble
Edward, most warlike and powerful of all the long line of
fighting monarchs who had ruled the Anglo-Norman race.  Alleyne
doffed hat and bowed head at the sight of him, but the serf
folded his hands and leaned them upon his cudgel, looking with
little love at the knot of nobles and knights-in-waiting who rode
behind the king.

"Ha!" cried Edward, reining up for an instant his powerful black
steed.  "Le cerf est passe? Non? Ici, Brocas; tu parles Anglais."

"The deer, clowns?" said a hard-visaged, swarthy-faced man, who
rode at the king's elbow.  "If ye have headed it back it is as
much as your ears are worth."

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

"It is well," cried Edward, still speaking in French: for, though
he could understand English, he had never learned to express
himself in so barbarous and unpolished a tongue.  "By my faith,
sirs," he continued, half turning in his saddle to address his
escort, "unless my woodcraft is sadly at fault, it is a stag of
six tines and the finest that we have roused this journey.  A
golden St. Hubert to the man who is the first to sound the mort."
He shook his bridle as he spoke, and thundered away, his knights
lying low upon their horses and galloping as hard as whip and
spur would drive them, in the hope of winning the king's prize.
Away they drove down the long green glade--bay horses, black and
gray, riders clad in every shade of velvet, fur, or silk, with
glint of brazen horn and flash of knife and spear.  One only
lingered, the black-browed Baron Brocas, who, making a gambade
which brought him within arm-sweep of the serf, slashed him
across the face with his riding-whip.  "Doff, dog, doff," he
hissed, "when a monarch deigns to lower his eyes to such as
you!"--then spurred through the underwood and was gone, with a
gleam of steel shoes and flutter of dead leaves.

The villein took the cruel blow without wince or cry, as one to
whom stripes are a birthright and an inheritance.  His eyes
flashed, however, and he shook his bony hand with a fierce wild
gesture after the retreating figure.

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

"Forbear!" cried Alleyne.  "Mix not God's name with these
unhallowed threats!  And yet it was a coward's blow, and one to
stir the blood and loose the tongue of the most peaceful.  Let me
find some soothing simples and lay them on the weal to draw the
sting."

"Nay, there is but one thing that can draw the sting, and that
the future may bring to me.  But, clerk, if you would see your
brother you must on, for there is a meeting to-day, and his merry
men will await him ere the shadows turn from west to east.  I
pray you not to hold him back, for it would be an evil thing if
all the stout lads were there and the leader a-missing.  I would
come with you, but sooth to say I am stationed here and may not
move.  The path over yonder, betwixt the oak and the thorn,
should bring you out into his nether field."

Alleyne lost no time in following the directions of the wild,
masterless man, whom he left among the trees where he had found
him.  His heart was the heavier for the encounter, not only
because all bitterness and wrath were abhorrent to his gentle
nature, but also because it disturbed him to hear his brother
spoken of as though he were a chief of outlaws or the leader of a
party against the state.  Indeed, of all the things which he had
seen yet in the world to surprise him there was none more strange
than the hate which class appeared to bear to class.  The talk of
laborer, woodman and villein in the inn had all pointed to the
wide-spread mutiny, and now his brother's name was spoken as
though he were the very centre of the universal discontent.  In
good truth, the commons throughout the length and breadth of the
land were heart-weary of this fine game of chivalry which had
been played so long at their expense.  So long as knight and
baron were a strength and a guard to the kingdom they might be
endured, but now, when all men knew that the great battles in
France had been won by English yeomen and Welsh stabbers, warlike
fame, the only fame to which his class had ever aspired, appeared
to have deserted the plate-clad horsemen.  The sports of the
lists had done much in days gone by to impress the minds of the
people, but the plumed and unwieldy champion was no longer an
object either of fear or of reverence to men whose fathers and
brothers had shot into the press at Crecy or Poitiers, and seen
the proudest chivalry in the world unable to make head against
the weapons of disciplined peasants.  Power had changed hands.
The protector had become the protected, and the whole fabric of
the feudal system was tottering to a fall.  Hence the fierce
mutterings of the lower classes and the constant discontent,
breaking out into local tumult and outrage, and culminating some
years later in the great rising of Tyler.  What Alleyne saw and
wondered at in Hampshire would have appealed equally to the
traveller in any other English county from the Channel to the
marches of Scotland.

He was following the track, his misgivings increasing with every
step which took him nearer to that home which he had never seen,
when of a sudden the trees began to thin and the sward to spread
out onto a broad, green lawn, where five cows lay in the sunshine
and droves of black swine wandered unchecked.  A brown forest
stream swirled down the centre of this clearing, with a rude
bridge flung across it, and on the other side was a second field
sloping up to a long, low-lying wooden house, with thatched roof
and open squares for windows.  Alleyne gazed across at it with
flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes--for this, he knew, must be the
home of his fathers.  A wreath of blue smoke floated up through a
hole in the thatch, and was the only sign of life in the place,
save a great black hound which lay sleeping chained to the
door-post.  In the yellow shimmer of the autumn sunshine it lay
as peacefully and as still as he had oft pictured it to himself
in his dreams.

He was roused, however, from his pleasant reverie by the sound of
voices, and two people emerged from the forest some little way to
his right and moved across the field in the direction of the
bridge.  The one was a man with yellow flowing beard and very
long hair of the same tint drooping over his shoulders; his dress
of good Norwich cloth and his assured bearing marked him as a man
of position, while the sombre hue of his clothes and the absence
of all ornament contrasted with the flash and glitter which had
marked the king's retinue.  By his side walked a woman, tall and
slight and dark, with lithe, graceful figure and clear-cut,
composed features.  Her jet-black hair was gathered back under a
light pink coif, her head poised proudly upon her neck, and her
step long and springy, like that of some wild, tireless woodland
creature.  She held her left hand in front of her, covered with a
red velvet glove, and on the wrist a little brown falcon, very
fluffy and bedraggled, which she smoothed and fondled as she
walked.  As she came out into the sunshine, Alleyne noticed that
her light gown, slashed with pink, was all stained with earth and
with moss upon one side from shoulder to hem.  He stood in the
shadow of an oak staring at her with parted lips, for this woman
seemed to him to be the most beautiful and graceful creature that
mind could conceive of.  Such had he imagined the angels, and
such he had tried to paint them in the Beaulieu missals; but here
there was something human, were it only in the battered hawk and
discolored dress, which sent a tingle and thrill through his
nerves such as no dream of radiant and stainless spirit had ever
yet been able to conjure up.  Good, quiet, uncomplaining mother
Nature, long slighted and miscalled, still bides her time and
draws to her bosom the most errant of her children.

The two walked swiftly across the meadow to the narrow bridge, he
in front and she a pace or two behind.  There they paused, and
stood for a few minutes face to face talking earnestly.  Alleyne
had read and had heard of love and of lovers.  Such were these,
doubtless--this golden-bearded man and the fair damsel with the
cold, proud face.  Why else should they wander together in the
woods, or be so lost in talk by rustic streams?  And yet as he
watched, uncertain whether to advance from the cover or to choose
some other path to the house, he soon came to doubt the truth of
this first conjecture.  The man stood, tall and square, blocking
the entrance to the bridge, and throwing out his hands as he
spoke in a wild eager fashion, while the deep tones of his stormy
voice rose at times into accents of menace and of anger.  She
stood fearlessly in front of him, still stroking her bird; but
twice she threw a swift questioning glance over her shoulder, as
one who is in search of aid.  So moved was the young clerk by
these mute appeals, that he came forth from the trees and crossed
the meadow, uncertain what to do, and yet loth to hold back from
one who might need his aid.  So intent were they upon each other
that neither took note of his approach; until, when he was close
upon them, the man threw his arm roughly round the damsel's waist
and drew her towards him, she straining her lithe, supple figure
away and striking fiercely at him, while the hooded hawk screamed
with ruffled wings and pecked blindly in its mistress's defence.
Bird and maid, however, had but little chance against their
assailant who, laughing loudly, caught her wrist in one hand
while he drew her towards him with the other.

"The best rose has ever the longest thorns," said he.  "Quiet,
little one, or you may do yourself a hurt.  Must pay Saxon toll
on Saxon land, my proud Maude, for all your airs and graces."

"You boor!" she hissed.  "You base underbred clod!  Is this your
care and your hospitality?  I would rather wed a branded serf
from my father's fields.  Leave go, I say----Ah! good youth,
Heaven has sent you.  Make him loose me!  By the honor of your
mother, I pray you to stand by me and to make this knave loose
me."

"Stand by you I will, and that blithely."  said Alleyne.
"Surely, sir, you should take shame to hold the damsel against
her will."

The man turned a face upon him which was lion-like in its
strength and in its wrath.  With his tangle of golden hair, his
fierce blue eyes, and his large, well-marked features, he was the
most comely man whom Alleyne had ever seen, and yet there was
something so sinister and so fell in his expression that child or
beast might well have shrunk from him.  His brows were drawn, his
cheek flushed, and there was a mad sparkle in his eyes which
spoke of a wild, untamable nature.

"Young fool!" he cried, holding the woman still to his side,
though every line of her shrinking figure spoke her abhorrence.
"Do you keep your spoon in your own broth.  I rede you to go on
your way, lest worse befall you.  This little wench has come with
me and with me she shall bide."

"Liar!" cried the woman; and, stooping her head, she suddenly bit
fiercely into the broad brown hand which held her.  He whipped it
back with an oath, while she tore herself free and slipped behind
Alleyne, cowering up against him like the trembling leveret who
sees the falcon poising for the swoop above him.

"Stand off my land!" the man said fiercely, heedless of the blood
which trickled freely from his fingers.  "What have you to do
here?  By your dress you should be one of those cursed clerks who
overrun the land like vile rats, poking and prying into other
men's concerns, too caitiff to fight and too lazy to work.  By
the rood! if I had my will upon ye, I should nail you upon the
abbey doors, as they hang vermin before their holes.  Art neither
man nor woman, young shaveling.  Get thee back to thy fellows ere
I lay hands upon you: for your foot is on my land, and I may slay
you as a common draw-latch."

"Is this your land, then?" gasped Alleyne.

"Would you dispute it, dog?  Would you wish by trick or quibble
to juggle me out of these last acres?  Know, base-born knave,
that you have dared this day to stand in the path of one whose
race have been the advisers of kings and the leaders of hosts,
ere ever this vile crew of Norman robbers came into the land, or
such half-blood hounds as you were let loose to preach that the
thief should have his booty and the honest man should sin if he
strove to win back his own."

"You are the Socman of Minstead?"

"That am I; and the son of Edric the Socman, of the pure blood of
Godfrey the thane, by the only daughter of the house of Aluric,
whose forefathers held the white-horse banner at the fatal fight
where our shield was broken and our sword shivered.  I tell you,
clerk, that my folk held this land from Bramshaw Wood to the
Ringwood road; and, by the soul of my father! it will be a
strange thing if I am to be bearded upon the little that is left
of it.  Begone, I say, and meddle not with my affair."

"If you leave me now," whispered the woman, "then shame forever
upon your manhood."

"Surely, sir," said Alleyne, speaking in as persuasive and
soothing a way as he could, "if your birth is gentle, there is
the more reason that your manners should be gentle too.  I am
well persuaded that you did but jest with this lady, and that you
will now permit her to leave your land either alone or with me as
a guide, if she should need one, through the wood.  As to birth,
it does not become me to boast, and there is sooth in what you
say as to the unworthiness of clerks, but it is none the less
true that I am as well born as you."

"Dog!" cried the furious Socman, "there is no man in the south
who can say as much."

"Yet can I," said Alleyne smiling; "for indeed I also am the son
of Edric the Socman, of the pure blood of Godfrey the thane, by
the only daughter of Aluric of Brockenhurst.  Surely, dear
brother," he continued, holding out his hand, "you have a warmer
greeting than this for me.  There are but two boughs left upon
this old, old Saxon trunk."

His elder brother dashed his hand aside with an oath, while an
expression of malignant hatred passed over his passion-drawn
features.  "You are the young cub of Beaulieu, then," said he.
"I might have known it by the sleek face and the slavish manner
too monk-ridden and craven in spirit to answer back a rough word.
Thy father, shaveling, with all his faults, had a man's heart;
and there were few who could look him in the eyes on the day of
his anger.  But you!  Look there, rat, on yonder field where the
cows graze, and on that other beyond, and on the orchard hard by
the church.  Do you know that all these were squeezed out of your
dying father by greedy priests, to pay for your upbringing in the
cloisters?  I, the Socman, am shorn of my lands that you may
snivel Latin and eat bread for which you never did hand's turn.
You rob me first, and now you would come preaching and whining,
in search mayhap of another field or two for your priestly
friends.  Knave! my dogs shall be set upon you; but, meanwhile,
stand out of my path, and stop me at your peril!"  As he spoke he
rushed forward, and, throwing the lad to one side, caught the
woman's wrist.  Alleyne, however, as active as a young deer-hound,
sprang to her aid and seized her by the other arm, raising
his iron-shod staff as he did so.

"You may say what you will to me," he said between his clenched
teeth--"it may be no better than I deserve; but, brother or no, I
swear by my hopes of salvation that I will break your arm if you
do not leave hold of the maid."

There was a ring in his voice and a flash in his eyes which
promised that the blow would follow quick at the heels of the
word.  For a moment the blood of the long line of hot-headed
thanes was too strong for the soft whisperings of the doctrine of
meekness and mercy.  He was conscious of a fierce wild thrill
through his nerves and a throb of mad gladness at his heart, as
his real human self burst for an instant the bonds of custom and
of teaching which had held it so long.  The socman sprang back,
looking to left and to right for some stick or stone which might
serve him for weapon; but finding none, he turned and ran at the
top of his speed for the house, blowing the while upon a shrill
whistle.

"Come!" gasped the woman.  "Fly, friend, ere he come back."

"Nay, let him come!" cried Alleyne.  "I shall not budge a foot
for him or his dogs."

"Come, come!" she cried, tugging at his arm.  "I know the man: he
will kill you.  Come, for the Virgin's sake, or for my sake, for
I cannot go and leave you here."

"Come, then," said he; and they ran together to the cover of the
woods.  As they gained the edge of the brushwood, Alleyne,
looking back, saw his brother come running out of the house
again, with the sun gleaming upon his hair and his beard.  He
held something which flashed in his right hand, and he stooped at
the threshold to unloose the black hound.

"This way!" the woman whispered, in a low eager voice.  "Through
the bushes to that forked ash.  Do not heed me; I can run as fast
as you, I trow.  Now into the stream--right in, over ankles, to
throw the dog off, though I think it is but a common cur, like
its master."  As she spoke, she sprang herself into the shallow
stream and ran swiftly up the centre of it, with the brown water
bubbling over her feet and her hand out-stretched toward the
clinging branches of bramble or sapling.  Alleyne followed close
at her heels, with his mind in a whirl at this black welcome and
sudden shifting of all his plans and hopes.  Yet, grave as were
his thoughts, they would still turn to wonder as he looked at the
twinkling feet of his guide and saw her lithe figure bend this
way and that, dipping under boughs, springing over stones, with a
lightness and ease which made it no small task for him to keep up
with her.  At last, when he was almost out of breath, she
suddenly threw herself down upon a mossy bank, between two
holly-bushes, and looked ruefully at her own dripping feet and
bedraggled skirt.

"Holy Mary!" said she, "what shall I do?  Mother will keep me to
my chamber for a month, and make me work at the tapestry of the
nine bold knights.  She promised as much last week, when I fell
into Wilverley bog, and yet she knows that I cannot abide
needle-work."

Alleyne, still standing in the stream, glanced down at the
graceful pink-and-white figure, the curve of raven-black hair,
and the proud, sensitive face which looked up frankly and
confidingly at his own.

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

"Not so.  We are well off his land now, nor can he tell in this
great wood which way we have taken.  But you--you had him at your
mercy.  Why did you not kill him?"

"Kill him!  My brother!"

"And why not?"--with a quick gleam of her white teeth.  "He would
have killed you.  I know him, and I read it in his eyes.  Had I
had your staff I would have tried--aye, and done it, too."  She
shook her clenched white hand as she spoke, and her lips
tightened ominously.

"I am already sad in heart for what I have done," said he,
sitting down on the bank, and sinking his face into his hands.
"God help me!--all that is worst in me seemed to come uppermost.
Another instant, and I had smitten him: the son of my own mother,
the man whom I have longed to take to my heart.  Alas! that I
should still be so weak."

"Weak!" she exclaimed, raising her black eyebrows.  "I do not
think that even my father himself, who is a hard judge of
manhood, would call you that.  But it is, as you may think, sir,
a very pleasant thing for me to hear that you are grieved at what
you have done, and I can but rede that we should go back
together, and you should make your peace with the Socman by
handing back your prisoner.  It is a sad thing that so small a
thing as a woman should come between two who are of one blood."

Simple Alleyne opened his eyes at this little spurt of feminine
bitterness.  "Nay, lady," said he, "that were worst of all.  What
man would be so caitiff and thrall as to fail you at your need?
I have turned my brother against me, and now, alas!  I appear to
have given you offence also with my clumsy tongue.  But, indeed,
lady, I am torn both ways, and can scarce grasp in my mind what
it is that has befallen."

"Nor can I marvel at that," said she, with a little tinkling
laugh.  "You came in as the knight does in the jongleur's
romances, between dragon and damsel, with small time for the
asking of questions.  Come," she went on, springing to her feet,
and smoothing down her rumpled frock, "let us walk through the
shaw together, and we may come upon Bertrand with the horses.  If
poor Troubadour had not cast a shoe, we should not have had this
trouble.  Nay, I must have your arm: for, though I speak lightly,
now that all is happily over I am as frightened as my brave
Roland.  See how his chest heaves, and his dear feathers all
awry--the little knight who would not have his lady mishandled."
So she prattled on to her hawk, while Alleyne walked by her side,
stealing a glance from time to time at this queenly and wayward
woman.  In silence they wandered together over the velvet turf
and on through the broad Minstead woods, where the old
lichen-draped beeches threw their circles of black shadow upon
the sunlit sward.

"You have no wish, then, to hear my story?" said she, at last.

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

"Oh!" she cried tossing her head, "if it is of so little interest
to you, we had best let it bide."

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

"You have a right to know it, if you have lost a brother's favor
through it.  And yet----Ah well, you are, as I understand, a
clerk, so I must think of you as one step further in orders, and
make you my father-confessor.  Know then that this man has been a
suitor for my hand, less as I think for my own sweet sake than
because he hath ambition and had it on his mind that he might
improve his fortunes by dipping into my father's strong
box--though the Virgin knows that he would have found little
enough therein.  My father, however, is a proud man, a gallant
knight and tried soldier of the oldest blood, to whom this man's
churlish birth and low descent----Oh, lackaday! I had forgot that
he was of the same strain as yourself."

"Nay, trouble not for that," said Alleyne, "we are all from good
mother Eve."

"Streams may spring from one source, and yet some be clear and
some be foul," quoth she quickly.  "But, to be brief over the
matter, my father would have none of his wooing, nor in sooth
would I.  On that he swore a vow against us, and as he is known
to be a perilous man, with many outlaws and others at his back,
my father forbade that I should hawk or hunt in any part of the
wood to the north of the Christchurch road.  As it chanced,
however, this morning my little Roland here was loosed at a
strong-winged heron, and page Bertrand and I rode on, with no
thoughts but for the sport, until we found ourselves in Minstead
woods.  Small harm then, but that my horse Troubadour trod with a
tender foot upon a sharp stick, rearing and throwing me to the
ground.  See to my gown, the third that I have befouled within
the week.  Woe worth me when Agatha the tire-woman sets eyes upon
it!"

"And what then, lady?" asked Alleyne.

"Why, then away ran Troubadour, for belike I spurred him in
falling, and Bertrand rode after him as hard as hoofs could bear
him.  When I rose there was the Socman himself by my side, with
the news that I was on his land, but with so many courteous words
besides, and such gallant bearing, that he prevailed upon me to
come to his house for shelter, there to wait until the page
return.  By the grace of the Virgin and the help of my patron St.
Magdalen, I stopped short ere I reached his door, though, as you
saw, he strove to hale me up to it.  And then--ah-h-h-h!"--she
shivered and chattered like one in an ague-fit.

"What is it?" cried Alleyne, looking about in alarm.

"Nothing, friend, nothing!  I was but thinking how I bit into his
hand.  Sooner would I bite living toad or poisoned snake.  Oh, I
shall loathe my lips forever!  But you--how brave you were, and
how quick!  How meek for yourself, and how bold for a stranger!
If I were a man, I should wish to do what you have done."

"It was a small thing," he answered, with a tingle of pleasure at
these sweet words of praise.  "But you--what will you do?"

"There is a great oak near here, and I think that Bertrand will
bring the horses there, for it is an old hunting-tryst of ours.
Then hey for home, and no more hawking to-day!  A twelve-mile
gallop will dry feet and skirt."

"But your father?"

"Not one word shall I tell him.  You do not know him; but I can
tell you he is not a man to disobey as I have disobeyed him.  He
would avenge me, it is true, but it is not to him that I shall
look for vengeance.  Some day, perchance, in joust or in tourney,
knight may wish to wear my colors, and then I shall tell him that
if he does indeed crave my favor there is wrong unredressed, and
the wronger the Socman of Minstead.  So my knight shall find a
venture such as bold knights love, and my debt shall be paid, and
my father none the wiser, and one rogue the less in the world.
Say, is not that a brave plan?"

"Nay, lady, it is a thought which is unworthy of you.  How can
such as you speak of violence and of vengeance.  Are none to be
gentle and kind, none to be piteous and forgiving?  Alas! it is a
hard, cruel world, and I would that I had never left my abbey
cell.  To hear such words from your lips is as though I heard an
angel of grace preaching the devil's own creed."

She started from him as a young colt who first feels the bit.
"Gramercy for your rede, young sir!" she said, with a little
curtsey.  "As I understand your words, you are grieved that you
ever met me, and look upon me as a preaching devil.  Why, my
father is a bitter man when he is wroth, but hath never called me
such a name as that.  It may be his right and duty, but certes it
is none of thine.  So it would be best, since you think so lowly
of me, that you should take this path to the left while I keep on
upon this one; for it is clear that I can be no fit companion for
you."  So saying, with downcast lids and a dignity which was
somewhat marred by her bedraggled skirt, she swept off down the
muddy track, leaving Alleyne standing staring ruefully after her.
He waited in vain for some backward glance or sign of relenting,
but she walked on with a rigid neck until her dress was only a
white flutter among the leaves.  Then, with a sunken head and a
heavy heart, he plodded wearily down the other path, wroth with
himself for the rude and uncouth tongue which had given offence
where so little was intended.

He had gone some way, lost in doubt and in self-reproach, his
mind all tremulous with a thousand new-found thoughts and fears
and wonderments, when of a sudden there was a light rustle of the
leaves behind him, and, glancing round, there was this graceful,
swift-footed creature, treading in his very shadow, with her
proud head bowed, even as his was--the picture of humility and
repentance.

"I shall not vex you, nor even speak," she said; "but I would
fain keep with you while we are in the wood."

"Nay, you cannot vex me," he answered, all warm again at the very
sight of her.  "It was my rough words which vexed you; but I have
been thrown among men all my life, and indeed, with all the will,
I scarce know how to temper my speech to a lady's ear."

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

"Nay, I cannot do that," he answered gravely.

"Then who is ungentle and unkind now?" she cried in triumph.
"How stern and cold you are for one so young!  Art surely no mere
clerk, but bishop or cardinal at the least.  Shouldst have
crozier for staff and mitre for cap.  Well, well, for your sake I
will forgive the Socman and take vengeance on none but on my own
wilful self who must needs run into danger's path.  So will that
please you, sir?"

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

She shook her head, as if by no means assured of it, and then
with a sudden little cry, which had more of surprise than of joy
in it, "Here is Bertrand with the horses!"

Down the glade there came a little green-clad page with laughing
eyes, and long curls floating behind him.  He sat perched on a
high bay horse, and held on to the bridle of a spirited black
palfrey, the hides of both glistening from a long run.

"I have sought you everywhere, dear Lady Maude," said he in a
piping voice, springing down from his horse and holding the
stirrup.  "Troubadour galloped as far as Holmhill ere I could
catch him.  I trust that you have had no hurt or scath?" He shot
a questioning glance at Alleyne as he spoke.

"No, Bertrand," said she, "thanks to this courteous stranger.
And now, sir," she continued, springing into her saddle, "it is
not fit that I leave you without a word more.  Clerk or no, you
have acted this day as becomes a true knight.  King Arthur and
all his table could not have done more.  It may be that, as some
small return, my father or his kin may have power to advance your
interest.  He is not rich, but he is honored and hath great
friends.  Tell me what is your purpose, and see if he may not aid
it."

"Alas! lady, I have now no purpose.  I have but two friends in
the world, and they have gone to Christchurch, where it is likely
I shall join them."

"And where is Christchurch?"

"At the castle which is held by the brave knight, Sir Nigel
Loring, constable to the Earl of Salisbury."

To his surprise she burst out a-laughing, and, spurring her
palfrey, dashed off down the glade, with her page riding behind
her.  Not one word did she say, but as she vanished amid the
trees she half turned in her saddle and waved a last greeting.
Long time he stood, half hoping that she might again come back to
him; but the thud of the hoofs had died away, and there was no
sound in all the woods but the gentle rustle and dropping of the
leaves.  At last he turned away and made his way back to the
high-road--another person from the light-hearted boy who had left
it a short three hours before.



CHAPTER X.

HOW HORDLE JOHN FOUND A MAN WHOM HE MIGHT FOLLOW.


If he might not return to Beaulieu within the year, and if his
brother's dogs were to be set upon him if he showed face upon
Minstead land, then indeed he was adrift upon earth.  North,
south, east, and west--he might turn where he would, but all was
equally chill and cheerless.  The Abbot had rolled ten silver
crowns in a lettuce-leaf and hid them away in the bottom of his
scrip, but that would be a sorry support for twelve long months.
In all the darkness there was but the one bright spot of the
sturdy comrades whom he had left that morning; if he could find
them again all would be well.  The afternoon was not very
advanced, for all that had befallen him.  When a man is afoot at
cock-crow much may be done in the day.  If he walked fast he
might yet overtake his friends ere they reached their
destination.  He pushed on therefore, now walking and now
running.  As he journeyed he bit into a crust which remained from
his Beaulieu bread, and he washed it down by a draught from a
woodland stream.

It was no easy or light thing to journey through this great
forest, which was some twenty miles from east to west and a good
sixteen from Bramshaw Woods in the north to Lymington in the
south.  Alleyne, however, had the good fortune to fall in with a
woodman, axe upon shoulder, trudging along in the very direction
that he wished to go.  With his guidance he passed the fringe of
Bolderwood Walk, famous for old ash and yew, through Mark Ash
with its giant beech-trees, and on through the Knightwood groves,
where the giant oak was already a great tree, but only one of
many comely brothers.  They plodded along together, the woodman
and Alleyne, with little talk on either side, for their thoughts
were as far asunder as the poles.  The peasant's gossip had been
of the hunt, of the bracken, of the gray-headed kites that had
nested in Wood Fidley, and of the great catch of herring brought
back by the boats of Pitt's Deep.  The clerk's mind was on his
brother, on his future--above all on this strange, fierce,
melting, beautiful woman who had broken so suddenly into his
life, and as suddenly passed out of it again.  So _distrait_ was he
and so random his answers, that the woodman took to whistling,
and soon branched off upon the track to Burley, leaving Alleyne
upon the main Christchurch road.

Down this he pushed as fast as he might, hoping at every turn and
rise to catch sight of his companions of the morning.  From
Vinney Ridge to Rhinefield Walk the woods grow thick and dense up
to the very edges of the track, but beyond the country opens up
into broad dun-colored moors, flecked with clumps of trees, and
topping each other in long, low curves up to the dark lines of
forest in the furthest distance.  Clouds of insects danced and
buzzed in the golden autumn light, and the air was full of the
piping of the song-birds.  Long, glinting dragonflies shot across
the path, or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.
Once a white-necked sea eagle soared screaming high over the
traveller's head, and again a flock of brown bustards popped up
from among the bracken, and blundered away in their clumsy
fashion, half running, half flying, with strident cry and whirr
of wings.

There were folk, too, to be met upon the road--beggars and
couriers, chapmen and tinkers--cheery fellows for the most part,
with a rough jest and homely greeting for each other and for
Alleyne.  Near Shotwood he came upon five seamen, on their way
from Poole to Southampton--rude red-faced men, who shouted at him
in a jargon which he could scarce understand, and held out to him
a great pot from which they had been drinking--nor would they let
him pass until he had dipped pannikin in and taken a mouthful,
which set him coughing and choking, with the tears running down
his cheeks.  Further on he met a sturdy black-bearded man,
mounted on a brown horse, with a rosary in his right hand and a
long two-handed sword jangling against his stirrup-iron.  By his
black robe and the eight-pointed cross upon his sleeve, Alleyne
recognized him as one of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of
Jerusalem, whose presbytery was at Baddesley.  He held up two
fingers as he passed, with a "_Benedic, fili mi!_" whereat
Alleyne doffed hat and bent knee, looking with much reverence at
one who had devoted his life to the overthrow of the infidel.
Poor simple lad! he had not learned yet that what men are and
what men profess to be are very wide asunder, and that the
Knights of St. John, having come into large part of the riches of
the ill-fated Templars, were very much too comfortable to think
of exchanging their palace for a tent, or the cellars of England
for the thirsty deserts of Syria.  Yet ignorance may be more
precious than wisdom, for Alleyne as he walked on braced himself
to a higher life by the thought of this other's sacrifice, and
strengthened himself by his example which he could scarce have
done had he known that the Hospitaller's mind ran more upon
malmsey than on Mamelukes, and on venison rather than victories.

As he pressed on the plain turned to woods once more in the
region of Wilverley Walk, and a cloud swept up from the south
with the sun shining through the chinks of it.  A few great drops
came pattering loudly down, and then in a moment the steady swish
of a brisk shower, with the dripping and dropping of the leaves.
Alleyne, glancing round for shelter, saw a thick and lofty
holly-bush, so hollowed out beneath that no house could have been
drier.  Under this canopy of green two men were already squatted,
who waved their hands to Alleyne that he should join them.  As he
approached he saw that they had five dried herrings laid out in
front of them, with a great hunch of wheaten bread and a leathern
flask full of milk, but instead of setting to at their food they
appeared to have forgot all about it, and were disputing together
with flushed faces and angry gestures.  It was easy to see by
their dress and manner that they were two of those wandering
students who formed about this time so enormous a multitude in
every country in Europe.  The one was long and thin, with
melancholy features, while the other was fat and sleek, with a
loud voice and the air of a man who is not to be gainsaid.

"Come hither, good youth," he cried, "come hither!  _Vultus
ingenui puer_.  Heed not the face of my good coz here.  _Foenum
habet in cornu_, as Don Horace has it; but I warrant him harmless
for all that."

"Stint your bull's bellowing!" exclaimed the other.  "If it come
to Horace, I have a line in my mind:  _Loquaces si sapiat_----How
doth it run?  The English o't being that a man of sense should
ever avoid a great talker.  That being so, if all were men of
sense then thou wouldst be a lonesome man, coz."

"Alas!  Dicon, I fear that your logic is as bad as your
philosophy or your divinity--and God wot it would be hard to say
a worse word than that for it.  For, hark ye: granting, _propter
argumentum_, that I am a talker, then the true reasoning runs that
since all men of sense should avoid me, and thou hast not avoided
me, but art at the present moment eating herrings with me under a
holly-bush, ergo you are no man of sense, which is exactly what I
have been dinning into your long ears ever since I first clapped
eyes on your sunken chops."

"Tut, tut!" cried the other.  "Your tongue goes like the clapper
of a mill-wheel.  Sit down here, friend, and partake of this
herring.  Understand first, however, that there are certain
conditions attached to it."

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

"Hark to him, hark to him!" cried the little fat man.  "It is
even thus, Dicon!  Wit, lad, is a catching thing, like the itch
or the sweating sickness.  I exude it round me; it is an aura.  I
tell you, coz, that no man can come within seventeen feet of me
without catching a spark.  Look at your own case.  A duller man
never stepped, and yet within the week you have said three things
which might pass, and one thing the day we left Fordingbridge
which I should not have been ashamed of myself."

"Enough, rattle-pate, enough!" said the other.  "The milk you
shall have and the bread also, friend, together with the herring,
but you must hold the scales between us."

"If he hold the herring he holds the scales, my sapient brother,"
cried the fat man.  "But I pray you, good youth, to tell us
whether you are a learned clerk, and, if so, whether you have
studied at Oxenford or at Paris."

"I have some small stock of learning," Alleyne answered, picking
at his herring, "but I have been at neither of these places.  I
was bred amongst the Cistercian monks at Beaulieu Abbey."

"Pooh, pooh!" they cried both together.  "What sort of an
upbringing is that?"

"_Non cuivis contingit adire Corinthum_," quoth Alleyne.

"Come, brother Stephen, he hath some tincture of letters," said
the melancholy man more hopefully.  "He may be the better judge,
since he hath no call to side with either of us.  Now, attention,
friend, and let your ears work as well as your nether jaw.  _Judex
damnatur_--you know the old saw.  Here am I upholding the good
fame of the learned Duns Scotus against the foolish quibblings
and poor silly reasonings of Willie Ockham."

"While I," quoth the other loudly, "do maintain the good sense
and extraordinary wisdom of that most learned William against the
crack-brained fantasies of the muddy Scotchman, who hath hid such
little wit as he has under so vast a pile of words, that it is
like one drop of Gascony in a firkin of ditch-water.  Solomon his
wisdom would not suffice to say what the rogue means."

"Certes, Stephen Hapgood, his wisdom doth not suffice," cried the
other.  "It is as though a mole cried out against the morning
star, because he could not see it.  But our dispute, friend, is
concerning the nature of that subtle essence which we call
thought.  For I hold with the learned Scotus that thought is in
very truth a thing, even as vapor or fumes, or many other
substances which our gross bodily eyes are blind to.  For, look
you, that which produces a thing must be itself a thing, and if a
man's thought may produce a written book, then must thought
itself be a material thing, even as the book is.  Have I
expressed it?  Do I make it plain?"

"Whereas I hold," shouted the other, "with my revered preceptor,
_doctor, praeclarus et excellentissimus_, that all things are but
thought; for when thought is gone I prythee where are the things
then?  Here are trees about us, and I see them because I think I
see them, but if I have swooned, or sleep, or am in wine, then,
my thought having gone forth from me, lo the trees go forth also.
How now, coz, have I touched thee on the raw?"

Alleyne sat between them munching his bread, while the twain
disputed across his knees, leaning forward with flushed faces and
darting hands, in all the heat of argument.  Never had he heard
such jargon of scholastic philosophy, such fine-drawn
distinctions, such cross-fire of major and minor, proposition,
syllogism, attack and refutation.  Question clattered upon answer
like a sword on a buckler.  The ancients, the fathers of the
Church, the moderns, the Scriptures, the Arabians, were each sent
hurtling against the other, while the rain still dripped and the
dark holly-leaves glistened with the moisture.  At last the fat
man seemed to weary of it, for he set to work quietly upon his
meal, while his opponent, as proud as the rooster who is left
unchallenged upon the midden, crowed away in a last long burst of
quotation and deduction.  Suddenly, however, his eyes dropped
upon his food, and he gave a howl of dismay.

"You double thief!" he cried, "you have eaten my herrings, and I
without bite or sup since morning."

"That," quoth the other complacently, "was my final argument, my
crowning effort, or _peroratio_, as the orators have it.  For, coz,
since all thoughts are things, you have but to think a pair of
herrings, and then conjure up a pottle of milk wherewith to wash
them down."

"A brave piece of reasoning," cried the other, "and I know of but
one reply to it."  On which, leaning forward, he caught his
comrade a rousing smack across his rosy cheek.  "Nay, take it not
amiss," he said, "since all things are but thoughts, then that
also is but a thought and may be disregarded."

This last argument, however, by no means commended itself to the
pupil of Ockham, who plucked a great stick from the ground and
signified his dissent by smiting the realist over the pate with
it.  By good fortune, the wood was so light and rotten that it
went to a thousand splinters, but Alleyne thought it best to
leave the twain to settle the matter at their leisure, the more
so as the sun was shining brightly once more.  Looking back down
the pool-strewn road, he saw the two excited philosophers waving
their hands and shouting at each other, but their babble soon
became a mere drone in the distance, and a turn in the road hid
them from his sight.

And now after passing Holmesley Walk and the Wooton Heath, the
forest began to shred out into scattered belts of trees, with
gleam of corn-field and stretch of pasture-land between.  Here
and there by the wayside stood little knots of wattle-and-daub
huts with shock-haired laborers lounging by the doors and
red-cheeked children sprawling in the roadway.  Back among the
groves he could see the high gable ends and thatched roofs of the
franklins' houses, on whose fields these men found employment, or
more often a thick dark column of smoke marked their position and
hinted at the coarse plenty within.  By these signs Alleyne knew
that he was on the very fringe of the forest, and therefore no
great way from Christchurch.  The sun was lying low in the west
and shooting its level rays across the long sweep of rich green
country, glinting on the white-fleeced sheep and throwing long
shadows from the red kine who waded knee-deep in the juicy
clover.  Right glad was the traveller to see the high tower of
Christchurch Priory gleaming in the mellow evening light, and
gladder still when, on rounding a corner, he came upon his
comrades of the morning seated astraddle upon a fallen tree.
They had a flat space before them, on which they alternately
threw little square pieces of bone, and were so intent upon
their occupation that they never raised eye as he approached
them.  He observed with astonishment, as he drew near, that the
archer's bow was on John's back, the archer's sword by John's
side, and the steel cap laid upon the tree-trunk between them.

"Mort de ma vie!" Aylward shouted, looking down at the dice.
"Never had I such cursed luck.  A murrain on the bones!  I have
not thrown a good main since I left Navarre.  A one and a three!
En avant, camarade!"

"Four and three," cried Hordle John, counting on his great
fingers, "that makes seven.  Ho, archer, I have thy cap!  Now
have at thee for thy jerkin!"

"Mon Dieu!" he growled, "I am like to reach Christchurch in my
shirt."  Then suddenly glancing up, "Hola, by the splendor of
heaven, here is our cher petit!  Now, by my ten finger bones!
this is a rare sight to mine eyes."  He sprang up and threw his
arms round Alleyne's neck, while John, no less pleased, but more
backward and Saxon in his habits, stood grinning and bobbing by
the wayside, with his newly won steel cap stuck wrong side
foremost upon his tangle of red hair.

"Hast come to stop?" cried the bowman, patting Alleyne all over
in his delight.  "Shall not get away from us again!"

"I wish no better," said he, with a pringling in the eyes at this
hearty greeting.

"Well said, lad!" cried big John.  "We three shall to the wars
together, and the devil may fly away with the Abbot of Beaulieu!
But your feet and hosen are all besmudged.  Hast been in the
water, or I am the more mistaken."

"I have in good sooth," Alleyne answered, and then as they
journeyed on their way he told them the many things that had
befallen him, his meeting with the villein, his sight of the
king, his coming upon his brother, with all the tale of the black
welcome and of the fair damsel.  They strode on either side, each
with an ear slanting towards him, but ere he had come to the end
of his story the bowman had spun round upon his heel, and was
hastening back the way they had come, breathing loudly through
his nose.

"What then?" asked Alleyne, trotting after him and gripping at
his jerkin.

"I am back for Minstead, lad."

"And why, in the name of sense?"

"To thrust a handful of steel into the Socman.  What! hale a
demoiselle against her will, and then loose dogs at his own
brother!  Let me go!"

"Nenny, nenny!" cried Alleyne, laughing.  "There was no scath
done.  Come back, friend"--and so, by mingled pushing and
entreaties, they got his head round for Christchurch once more.
Yet he walked with his chin upon his shoulder, until, catching
sight of a maiden by a wayside well, the smiles came back to his
face and peace to his heart.

"But you," said Alleyne, "there have been changes with you also.
Why should not the workman carry his tools?  Where are bow and
sword and cap--and why so warlike, John?"

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

"And I found him an over-apt pupil," grumbled the bowman.  "He
hath stripped me as though I had fallen into the hands of the
tardvenus.  But, by my hilt! you must render them back to me,
camarade, lest you bring discredit upon my mission, and I will
pay you for them at armorers' prices."

"Take them back, man, and never heed the pay," said John.  "I did
but wish to learn the feel of them, since I am like to have such
trinkets hung to my own girdle for some years to come."

"Ma foi, he was born for a free companion!" cried Aylward, "He hath
the very trick of speech and turn of thought.  I take them back
then, and indeed it gives me unease not to feel my yew-stave
tapping against my leg bone.  But see, mes garcons, on this side
of the church rises the square and darkling tower of Earl
Salisbury's castle, and even from here I seem to see on yonder
banner the red roebuck of the Montacutes."

"Red upon white," said Alleyne, shading his eyes; "but whether
roebuck or no is more than I could vouch.  How black is the great
tower, and how bright the gleam of arms upon the wall!  See below
the flag, how it twinkles like a star!"

"Aye, it is the steel head-piece of the watchman," remarked the
archer.  "But we must on, if we are to be there before the
drawbridge rises at the vespers bugle; for it is likely that sir
Nigel, being so renowned a soldier, may keep hard discipline
within the walls, and let no man enter after sundown."  So
saying, he quickened his pace, and the three comrades were soon
close to the straggling and broad-spread town which centered
round the noble church and the frowning castle.

It chanced on that very evening that Sir Nigel Loring, having
supped before sunset, as was his custom, and having himself
seen that Pommers and Cadsand, his two war-horses, with the
thirteen hacks, the five jennets, my lady's three palfreys, and
the great dapple-gray roussin, had all their needs supplied, had
taken his dogs for an evening breather.  Sixty or seventy of
them, large and small, smooth and shaggy--deer-hound, boar-hound,
blood-hound, wolf-hound, mastiff, alaun, talbot, lurcher,
terrier, spaniel--snapping, yelling and whining, with score of
lolling tongues and waving tails, came surging down the narrow
lane which leads from the Twynham kennels to the bank of Avon.
Two russet-clad varlets, with loud halloo and cracking whips,
walked thigh-deep amid the swarm, guiding, controlling, and
urging.  Behind came Sir Nigel himself, with Lady Loring upon his
arm, the pair walking slowly and sedately, as befitted both their
age and their condition, while they watched with a smile in their
eyes the scrambling crowd in front of them.  They paused,
however, at the bridge, and, leaning their elbows upon the
stonework, they stood looking down at their own faces in the
glassy stream, and at the swift flash of speckled trout against
the tawny gravel.

Sir Nigel was a slight man of poor stature, with soft lisping
voice and gentle ways.  So short was he that his wife, who was no
very tall woman, had the better of him by the breadth of three
fingers.  His sight having been injured in his early wars by a
basketful of lime which had been emptied over him when he led the
Earl of Derby's stormers up the breach at Bergerac, he had
contracted something of a stoop, with a blinking, peering
expression of face.  His age was six and forty, but the constant
practice of arms, together with a cleanly life, had preserved
his activity and endurance unimpaired, so that from a distance he
seemed to have the slight limbs and swift grace of a boy.  His
face, however, was tanned of a dull yellow tint, with a leathery,
poreless look, which spoke of rough outdoor doings, and the
little pointed beard which he wore, in deference to the
prevailing fashion, was streaked and shot with gray.  His
features were small, delicate, and regular, with clear-cut,
curving nose, and eyes which jutted forward from the lids.  His
dress was simple and yet spruce.  A Flandrish hat of beevor,
bearing in the band the token of Our Lady of Embrun, was drawn
low upon the left side to hide that ear which had been partly
shorn from his head by a Flemish man-at-arms in a camp broil
before Tournay.  His cote-hardie, or tunic, and trunk-hosen were
of a purple plum color, with long weepers which hung from either
sleeve to below his knees.  His shoes were of red leather,
daintily pointed at the toes, but not yet prolonged to the
extravagant lengths which the succeeding reign was to bring into
fashion.  A gold-embroidered belt of knighthood encircled his
loins, with his arms, five roses gules on a field argent,
cunningly worked upon the clasp.  So stood Sir Nigel Loring upon
the bridge of Avon, and talked lightly with his lady.

And, certes, had the two visages alone been seen, and the
stranger been asked which were the more likely to belong to the
bold warrior whose name was loved by the roughest soldiery of
Europe, he had assuredly selected the lady's.  Her face was large
and square and red, with fierce, thick brows, and the eyes of one
who was accustomed to rule.  Taller and broader than her husband,
her flowing gown of sendall, and fur-lined tippet, could not
conceal the gaunt and ungraceful outlines of her figure.  It was
the age of martial women.  The deeds of black Agnes of Dunbar, of
Lady Salisbury and of the Countess of Montfort, were still fresh
in the public minds.  With such examples before them the wives of
the English captains had become as warlike as their mates, and
ordered their castles in their absence with the prudence and
discipline of veteran seneschals.  Right easy were the Montacutes
of their Castle of Twynham, and little had they to dread from
roving galley or French squadron, while Lady Mary Loring had the
ordering of it.  Yet even in that age it was thought that, though
a lady might have a soldier's heart, it was scarce as well that
she should have a soldier's face.  There were men who said that
of all the stern passages and daring deeds by which Sir Nigel
Loring had proved the true temper of his courage, not the least
was his wooing and winning of so forbidding a dame.

"I tell you, my fair lord," she was saying, "that it is no fit
training for a demoiselle: hawks and hounds, rotes and citoles
singing a French rondel, or reading the Gestes de Doon de
Mayence, as I found her yesternight, pretending sleep, the
artful, with the corner of the scroll thrusting forth from under
her pillow.  Lent her by Father Christopher of the priory,
forsooth--that is ever her answer.  How shall all this help her
when she has castle of her own to keep, with a hundred mouths all
agape for beef and beer?"

"True, my sweet bird, true," answered the knight, picking a
comfit from his gold drageoir.  "The maid is like the young
filly, which kicks heels and plunges for very lust of life.  Give
her time, dame, give her time."

"Well, I know that my father would have given me, not time, but a
good hazel-stick across my shoulders.  Ma foi!  I know not what
the world is coming to, when young maids may flout their elders.
I wonder that you do not correct her, my fair lord."

"Nay, my heart's comfort, I never raised hand to woman yet, and
it would be a passing strange thing if I began on my own flesh
and blood.  It was a woman's hand which cast this lime into mine
eyes, and though I saw her stoop, and might well have stopped her
ere she threw, I deemed it unworthy of my knighthood to hinder or
balk one of her sex."

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

"And so would I, since you would have been the nearer me my own.
But I doubt not that you are right, and that Maude's wings need
clipping, which I may leave in your hands when I am gone, for, in
sooth, this peaceful life is not for me, and were it not for your
gracious kindness and loving care I could not abide it a week.  I
hear that there is talk of warlike muster at Bordeaux once more,
and by St. Paul! it would be a new thing if the lions of England
and the red pile of Chandos were to be seen in the field, and the
roses of Loring were not waving by their side."

"Now woe worth me but I feared it!" cried she, with the color all
struck from her face.  "I have noted your absent mind, your
kindling eye, your trying and riveting of old harness.  Consider
my sweet lord, that you have already won much honor, that we have
seen but little of each other, that you bear upon your body the
scar of over twenty wounds received in I know not how many bloody
encounters.  Have you not done enough for honor and the public
cause?"

"My lady, when our liege lord, the king, at three score years,
and my Lord Chandos at three-score and ten, are blithe and ready
to lay lance in rest for England's cause, it would ill be-seem me
to prate of service done.  It is sooth that I have received seven
and twenty wounds.  There is the more reason that I should be
thankful that I am still long of breath and sound in limb.  I
have also seen some bickering and scuffling.  Six great land
battles I count, with four upon sea, and seven and fifty onfalls,
skirmishes and bushments.  I have held two and twenty towns, and
I have been at the intaking of thirty-one.  Surely then it would
be bitter shame to me, and also to you, since my fame is yours,
that I should now hold back if a man's work is to be done.
Besides, bethink you how low is our purse, with bailiff and reeve
ever croaking of empty farms and wasting lands.  Were it not for
this constableship which the Earl of Salisbury hath bestowed
upon us we could scarce uphold the state which is fitting to our
degree.  Therefore, my sweeting, there is the more need that I
should turn to where there is good pay to be earned and brave
ransoms to be won."

"Ah, my dear lord," quoth she, with sad, weary eyes.  "I thought
that at last I had you to mine own self, even though your youth
had been spent afar from my side.  Yet my voice, as I know well,
should speed you on to glory and renown, not hold you back when
fame is to be won.  Yet what can I say, for all men know that
your valor needs the curb and not the spur.  It goes to my heart
that you should ride forth now a mere knight bachelor, when there
is no noble in the land who hath so good a claim to the square
pennon, save only that you have not the money to uphold it."

"And whose fault that, my sweet bird?" said he.

"No fault, my fair lord, but a virtue: for how many rich ransoms
have you won, and yet have scattered the crowns among page and
archer and varlet, until in a week you had not as much as would
buy food and forage.  It is a most knightly largesse, and yet
withouten money how can man rise?"

"Dirt and dross!" cried he.

"What matter rise or fall, so that duty be done and honor gained.
Banneret or bachelor, square pennon or forked, I would not give a
denier for the difference, and the less since Sir John Chandos,
chosen flower of English chivalry, is himself but a humble
knight.  But meanwhile fret not thyself, my heart's dove, for it
is like that there may be no war waged, and we must await the
news.  But here are three strangers, and one, as I take it, a
soldier fresh from service.  It is likely that he may give us
word of what is stirring over the water."

Lady Loring, glancing up, saw in the fading light three
companions walking abreast down the road, all gray with dust, and
stained with travel, yet chattering merrily between themselves.
He in the midst was young and comely, with boyish open face and
bright gray eyes, which glanced from right to left as though he
found the world around him both new and pleasing.  To his right
walked a huge red-headed man, with broad smile and merry twinkle,
whose clothes seemed to be bursting and splitting at every seam,
as though he were some lusty chick who was breaking bravely from
his shell.  On the other side, with his knotted hand upon the
young man's shoulder, came a stout and burly archer, brown and
fierce eyed, with sword at belt and long yellow yew-stave
peeping over his shoulder.  Hard face, battered head piece,
dinted brigandine, with faded red lion of St. George ramping on a
discolored ground, all proclaimed as plainly as words that he was
indeed from the land of war.  He looked keenly at Sir Nigel as he
approached, and then, plunging his hand under his breastplate, he
stepped up to him with a rough, uncouth bow to the lady.

"Your pardon, fair sir," said he, "but I know you the moment I
clap eyes on you, though in sooth I have seen you oftener in
steel than in velvet.  I have drawn string besides you at La
Roche-d'Errien, Romorantin, Maupertuis, Nogent, Auray, and other
places."

"Then, good archer, I am right glad to welcome you to Twynham
Castle, and in the steward's room you will find provant for
yourself and comrades.  To me also your face is known, though
mine eyes play such tricks with me that I can scarce be sure of
my own squire.  Rest awhile, and you shall come to the hall anon
and tell us what is passing in France, for I have heard that it
is likely that our pennons may flutter to the south of the great
Spanish mountains ere another year be passed."

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

This little speech had cost the blunt bowman much pains and
planning; but he might have spared his breath, for the lady was
quite as much absorbed as her lord in the letter, which they held
between them, a hand on either corner, spelling it out very
slowly, with drawn brows and muttering lips.  As they read it,
Alleyne, who stood with Hordle John a few paces back from their
comrade, saw the lady catch her breath, while the knight laughed
softly to himself.

"You see, dear heart," said he, "that they will not leave the old
dog in his kennel when the game is afoot.  And what of this White
Company, archer?"

"Ah, sir, you speak of dogs," cried Aylward; "but there are a
pack of lusty hounds who are ready for any quarry, if they have
but a good huntsman to halloo them on.  Sir, we have been in the
wars together, and I have seen many a brave following but never
such a set of woodland boys as this.  They do but want you at
their head, and who will bar the way to them!"

"Pardieu!" said Sir Nigel, "if they are all like their messenger,
they are indeed men of whom a leader may be proud.  Your name,
good archer?"

"Sam Aylward, sir, of the Hundred of Easebourne and the Rape of
Chichester."

"And this giant behind you?"

"He is big John, of Hordle, a forest man, who hath now taken
service in the Company."

"A proper figure of a man at-arms," said the little knight.
"Why, man, you are no chicken, yet I warrant him the stronger
man.  See to that great stone from the coping which hath fallen
upon the bridge.  Four of my lazy varlets strove this day to
carry it hence.  I would that you two could put them to shame by
budging it, though I fear that I overtask you, for it is of a
grievous weight."

He pointed as he spoke to a huge rough-hewn block which lay by
the roadside, deep sunken from its own weight in the reddish
earth.  The archer approached it, rolling back the sleeves of his
jerkin, but with no very hopeful countenance, for indeed it was a
mighty rock.  John, however, put him aside with his left hand,
and, stooping over the stone, he plucked it single-handed from
its soft bed and swung it far into the stream.  There it fell
with mighty splash, one jagged end peaking out above the surface,
while the waters bubbled and foamed with far-circling eddy.

"Good lack!" cried Sir Nigel, and "Good lack!" cried his lady,
while John stood laughing and wiping the caked dirt from his
fingers.

"I have felt his arms round my ribs," said the bowman, "and they
crackle yet at the thought of it.  This other comrade of mine is
a right learned clerk, for all that he is so young, hight
Alleyne, the son of Edric, brother to the Socman of Minstead."

"Young man," quoth Sir Nigel, sternly, "if you are of the same
way of thought as your brother, you may not pass under portcullis
of mine."

"Nay, fair sir," cried Aylward hastily, "I will be pledge for it
that they have no thought in common; for this very day his
brother hath set his dogs upon him, and driven him from his
lands."

"And are you, too, of the White Company?" asked Sir Nigel.  "Hast
had small experience of war, if I may judge by your looks and
bearing."

"I would fain to France with my friends here," Alleyne answered;
"but I am a man of peace--a reader, exorcist, acolyte, and
clerk."

"That need not hinder," quoth Sir Nigel.

"No, fair sir," cried the bowman joyously.  "Why, I myself have
served two terms with Arnold de Cervolles, he whom they called
the archpriest.  By my hilt! I have seen him ere now, with monk's
gown trussed to his knees, over his sandals in blood in the
fore-front of the battle.  Yet, ere the last string had twanged,
he would be down on his four bones among the stricken, and have
them all houseled and shriven, as quick as shelling peas.  Ma
foi!  there were those who wished that he would have less care
for their souls and a little more for their bodies!"

"It is well to have a learned clerk in every troop," said Sir
Nigel.  "By St. Paul, there are men so caitiff that they think
more of a scrivener's pen than of their lady's smile, and do
their devoir in hopes that they may fill a line in a chronicle or
make a tag to a jongleur's romance.  I remember well that, at the
siege of Retters, there was a little, sleek, fat clerk of the
name of Chaucer, who was so apt at rondel, sirvente, or tonson,
that no man dare give back a foot from the walls, lest he find it
all set down in his rhymes and sung by every underling and varlet
in the camp.  But, my soul's bird, you hear me prate as though
all were decided, when I have not yet taken counsel either with
you or with my lady mother.  Let us to the chamber, while these
strangers find such fare as pantry and cellar may furnish."

"The night air strikes chill," said the lady, and turned down the
road with her hand upon her lord's arm.  The three comrades
dropped behind and followed: Aylward much the lighter for having
accomplished his mission, Alleyne full of wonderment at the
humble bearing of so renowned a captain, and John loud with
snorts and sneers, which spoke his disappointment and contempt.

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

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

"By whom, Sir Samson the strong?"

"By thee, Sir Balaam the false prophet."

"By my hilt!" cried the archer, I though I be not Balaam, yet I
hold converse with the very creature that spake to him.  What is
amiss, then, and how have I played you false?"

"Why, marry, did you not say, and Alleyne here will be my
witness, that, if I would hie to the wars with you, you would
place me under a leader who was second to none in all England for
valor?  Yet here you bring me to a shred of a man, peaky and
ill-nourished, with eyes like a moulting owl, who must needs,
forsooth, take counsel with his mother ere he buckle sword to
girdle."

"Is that where the shoe galls?" cried the bowman, and laughed
aloud.  "I will ask you what you think of him three months hence,
if we be all alive; for sure I am that----"

Aylward's words were interrupted by an extraordinary hubbub which
broke out that instant some little way down the street in the
direction of the Priory.  There was deep-mouthed shouting of men,
frightened shrieks of women, howling and barking of curs, and
over all a sullen, thunderous rumble, indescribably menacing and
terrible.  Round the corner of the narrow street there came
rushing a brace of whining dogs with tails tucked under their
legs, and after them a white-faced burgher, with outstretched
hands and wide-spread fingers, his hair all abristle and his eyes
glinting back from one shoulder to the other, as though some
great terror were at his very heels.  "Fly, my lady, fly!" he
screeched, and whizzed past them like bolt from bow; while close
behind came lumbering a huge black bear, with red tongue lolling
from his mouth, and a broken chain jangling behind him.  To right
and left the folk flew for arch and doorway.  Hordle John caught
up the Lady Loring as though she had been a feather, and sprang
with her into an open porch; while Aylward, with a whirl of
French oaths, plucked at his quiver and tried to unsling his bow.
Alleyne, all unnerved at so strange and unwonted a sight, shrunk
up against the wall with his eyes fixed upon the frenzied
creature, which came bounding along with ungainly speed, looking
the larger in the uncertain light, its huge jaws agape, with
blood and slaver trickling to the ground.  Sir Nigel alone,
unconscious to all appearance of the universal panic, walked
with unfaltering step up the centre of the road, a silken
handkerchief in one hand and his gold comfit-box in the other.
It sent the blood cold through Alleyne's veins to see that as
they came together--the man and the beast--the creature reared
up, with eyes ablaze with fear and hate, and whirled its great
paws above the knight to smite him to the earth.  He, however,
blinking with puckered eyes, reached up his kerchief, and flicked
the beast twice across the snout with it.  "Ah, saucy! saucy,"
quoth he, with gentle chiding; on which the bear, uncertain and
puzzled, dropped its four legs to earth again, and, waddling
back, was soon swathed in ropes by the bear-ward and a crowd of
peasants who had been in close pursuit.

A scared man was the keeper; for, having chained the brute to a
stake while he drank a stoup of ale at the inn, it had been
baited by stray curs, until, in wrath and madness, it had plucked
loose the chain, and smitten or bitten all who came in its path.
Most scared of all was he to find that the creature had come nigh
to harm the Lord and Lady of the castle, who had power to place
him in the stretch-neck or to have the skin scourged from his
shoulders.  Yet, when he came with bowed head and humble entreaty
for forgiveness, he was met with a handful of small silver from
Sir Nigel, whose dame, however, was less charitably disposed,
being much ruffled in her dignity by the manner in which she had
been hustled from her lord's side.

As they passed through the castle gate, John plucked at Aylward's
sleeve, and the two fell behind.

"I must crave your pardon, comrade," said he, bluntly.  "I was a
fool not to know that a little rooster may be the gamest.  I
believe that this man is indeed a leader whom we may follow."



CHAPTER XI.

HOW A YOUNG SHEPHERD HAD A PERILOUS FLOCK.


Black was the mouth of Twynham Castle, though a pair of torches
burning at the further end of the gateway cast a red glare over
the outer bailey, and sent a dim, ruddy flicker through the
rough-hewn arch, rising and falling with fitful brightness.  Over
the door the travellers could discern the escutcheon of the
Montacutes, a roebuck gules on a field argent, flanked on either
side by smaller shields which bore the red roses of the veteran
constable.  As they passed over the drawbridge, Alleyne marked
the gleam of arms in the embrasures to right and left, and they
had scarce set foot upon the causeway ere a hoarse blare burst
from a bugle, and, with screech of hinge and clank of chain, the
ponderous bridge swung up into the air, drawn by unseen hands.
At the same instant the huge portcullis came rattling down from
above, and shut off the last fading light of day.  Sir Nigel and
his lady walked on in deep talk, while a fat under-steward took
charge of the three comrades, and led them to the buttery, where
beef, bread, and beer were kept ever in readiness for the
wayfarer.  After a hearty meal and a dip in the trough to wash
the dust from them, they strolled forth into the bailey, where
the bowman peered about through the darkness at wall and at keep,
with the carping eyes of one who has seen something of sieges,
and is not likely to be satisfied.  To Alleyne and to John,
however, it appeared to be as great and as stout a fortress as
could be built by the hands of man.

Erected by Sir Balwin de Redvers in the old fighting days of the
twelfth century, when men thought much of war and little of
comfort, Castle Twynham had been designed as a stronghold pure
and simple, unlike those later and more magnificent structures
where warlike strength had been combined with the magnificence of
a palace.  From the time of the Edwards such buildings as Conway
or Caernarvon castles, to say nothing of Royal Windsor, had shown
that it was possible to secure luxury in peace as well as
security in times of trouble.  Sir Nigel's trust, however, still
frowned above the smooth-flowing waters of the Avon, very much as
the stern race of early Anglo-Normans had designed it.  There
were the broad outer and inner bailies, not paved, but sown with
grass to nourish the sheep and cattle which might be driven in on
sign of danger.  All round were high and turreted walls, with at
the corner a bare square-faced keep, gaunt and windowless,
rearing up from a lofty mound, which made it almost inaccessible
to an assailant.  Against the bailey-walls were rows of frail
wooden houses and leaning sheds, which gave shelter to the
archers and men-at-arms who formed the garrison.  The doors of
these humble dwellings were mostly open, and against the yellow
glare from within Alleyne could see the bearded fellows cleaning
their harness, while their wives would come out for a gossip,
with their needlework in their hands, and their long black
shadows streaming across the yard.  The air was full of the clack
of their voices and the merry prattling of children, in strange
contrast to the flash of arms and constant warlike challenge from
the walls above.

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

"And so say I," said Alleyne.

"Nay, there you are wide of the clout," the bowman said gravely.
"By my hilt! I have seen a stronger fortalice carried in a summer
evening.  I remember such a one in Picardy, with a name as long
as a Gascon's pedigree.  It was when I served under Sir Robert
Knolles, before the days of the Company; and we came by good
plunder at the sacking of it.  I had myself a great silver bowl,
with two goblets, and a plastron of Spanish steel.  Pasques Dieu!
there are some fine women over yonder!  Mort de ma vie! see to
that one in the doorway!  I will go speak to her.  But whom have
we here?"

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

"My name, friend," quoth the bowman.

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

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

"And where from, old blood and bones?" asked the bowman.

"I am in service here.  Tell me, comrade, is it sooth that we
shall have another fling at these Frenchmen?  It is so rumored in
the guard-room, and that Sir Nigel will take the field once
more."

"It is like enough, mon gar., as things go."

"Now may the Lord be praised!" cried the other.  "This very night
will I set apart a golden ouche to be offered on the shrine of my
name-saint.  I have pined for this, Aylward, as a young maid
pines for her lover."

"Art so set on plunder then?  Is the purse so light that there is
not enough for a rouse?  I have a bag at my belt, camarade, and
you have but to put your fist into it for what you want.  It was
ever share and share between us."

"Nay, friend, it is not the Frenchman's gold, but the Frenchman's
blood that I would have.  I should not rest quiet in the grave,
coz, if I had not another turn at them.  For with us in France it
has ever been fair and honest war--a shut fist for the man, but a
bended knee for the woman.  But how was it at Winchelsea when
their galleys came down upon it some few years back?  I had an
old mother there, lad, who had come down thither from the
Midlands to be the nearer her son.  They found her afterwards by
her own hearthstone, thrust through by a Frenchman's bill.  My
second sister, my brother's wife, and her two children, they
were but ash-heaps in the smoking ruins of their house.  I will
not say that we have not wrought great scath upon France, but
women and children have been safe from us.  And so, old friend,
my heart is hot within me, and I long to hear the old battle-cry
again, and, by God's truth! if Sir Nigel unfurls his pennon,
here is one who will be right glad to feel the saddle-flaps under
his knees."

"We have seen good work together, old war-dog," quoth Aylward;
"and, by my hilt! we may hope to see more ere we die.  But we are
more like to hawk at the Spanish woodcock than at the French
heron, though certes it is rumored that Du Guesclin with all the
best lances of France have taken service under the lions and
towers of Castile.  But, comrade, it is in my mind that there is
some small matter of dispute still open between us."

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

"On which, friend, we vowed that we should settle the point when
next we came together.  Hast thy sword, I see, and the moon
throws glimmer enough for such old night-birds as we.  On guard,
mon gar.!  I have not heard clink of steel this month or more."

"Out from the shadow then," said the other, drawing his sword.
"A vow is a vow, and not lightly to be broken."

"A vow to the saints," cried Alleyne, "is indeed not to be set
aside; but this is a devil's vow, and, simple clerk as I am, I am
yet the mouthpiece of the true church when I say that it were
mortal sin to fight on such a quarrel.  What! shall two grown men
carry malice for years, and fly like snarling curs at each
other's throats?"

"No malice, my young clerk, no malice," quoth Black Simon, "I
have not a bitter drop in my heart for mine old comrade; but the
quarrel, as he hath told you, is still open and unsettled.  Fall
on, Aylward!"

"Not whilst I can stand between you," cried Alleyne, springing
before the bowman.  "It is shame and sin to see two Christian
Englishmen turn swords against each other like the frenzied
bloodthirsty paynim."

"And, what is more," said Hordle John, suddenly appearing out of
the buttery with the huge board upon which the pastry was rolled,
"if either raise sword I shall flatten him like a Shrovetide
pancake.  By the black rood!  I shall drive him into the earth,
like a nail into a door, rather than see you do scath to each
other."

"'Fore God, this is a strange way of preaching peace," cried
Black Simon.  "You may find the scath yourself, my lusty friend,
if you raise your great cudgel to me.  I had as lief have the
castle drawbridge drop upon my pate."

"Tell me, Aylward," said Alleyne earnestly, with his hands
outstretched to keep the pair asunder, "what is the cause of
quarrel, that we may see whether honorable settlement may not be
arrived at?"

The bowman looked down at his feet and then up at the moons
"Parbleu!" he cried, "the cause of quarrel?  Why, mon petit, it
was years ago in Limousin, and how can I bear in mind what was
the cause of it?  Simon there hath it at the end of his tongue."

"Not I, in troth," replied the other; "I have had other things to
think of.  There was some sort of bickering over dice, or wine,
or was it a woman, coz?"

"Pasques Dieu! but you have nicked it," cried Aylward.  "It was
indeed about a woman; and the quarrel must go forward, for I am
still of the same mind as before."

"What of the woman, then?" asked Simon.  "May the murrain strike
me if I can call to mind aught about her."

"It was La Blanche Rose, maid at the sign of the `Trois Corbeaux'
at Limoges.  Bless her pretty heart!  Why, mon gar., I loved
her."

"So did a many," quoth Simon.  "I call her to mind now.  On the
very day that we fought over the little hussy, she went off with
Evan ap Price, a long-legged Welsh dagsman.  They have a hostel
of their own now, somewhere on the banks of the Garonne, where
the landlord drinks so much of the liquor that there is little
left for the customers."

"So ends our quarrel, then," said Aylward, sheathing his sword.
"A Welsh dagsman, i' faith!  C'etait mauvais gout, camarade, and
the more so when she had a jolly archer and a lusty man-at-arms
to choose from."

"True, old lad.  And it is as well that we can compose our
differences honorably, for Sir Nigel had been out at the first
clash of steel; and he hath sworn that if there be quarrelling in
the garrison he would smite the right hand from the broilers.
You know him of old, and that he is like to be as good as his
word."

"Mort-Dieu! yes.  But there are ale, mead, and wine in the
buttery, and the steward a merry rogue, who will not haggle over
a quart or two.  Buvons, mon gar., for it is not every day that
two old friends come together."

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

"The Lord Loring commands," said the boy, "that you will follow
me to the great chamber, and await him there."

"But my comrades?"

"His commands were for you alone."

Alleyne followed the messenger to the east end of the courtyard,
where a broad flight of steps led up to the doorway of the main
hall, the outer wall of which is washed by the waters of the
Avon.  As designed at first, no dwelling had been allotted to the
lord of the castle and his family but the dark and dismal
basement story of the keep.  A more civilized or more effeminate
generation, however, had refused to be pent up in such a cellar,
and the hall with its neighboring chambers had been added for
their accommodation.  Up the broad steps Alleyne went, still
following his boyish guide, until at the folding oak doors the
latter paused, and ushered him into the main hall of the castle.

On entering the room the clerk looked round; but, seeing no one,
he continued to stand, his cap in his hand, examining with the
greatest interest a chamber which was so different to any to
which he was accustomed.  The days had gone by when a nobleman's
hall was but a barn-like, rush-strewn enclosure, the common
lounge and eating-room of every inmate of the castle.  The
Crusaders had brought back with them experiences of domestic
luxuries, of Damascus carpets and rugs of Aleppo, which made them
impatient of the hideous bareness and want of privacy which they
found in their ancestral strongholds.  Still stronger, however,
had been the influence of the great French war; for, however well
matched the nations might be in martial exercises, there could be
no question but that our neighbors were infinitely superior to us
in the arts of peace.  A stream of returning knights, of wounded
soldiers, and of unransomed French noblemen, had been for a
quarter of a century continually pouring into England, every one
of whom exerted an influence in the direction of greater domestic
refinement, while shiploads of French furniture from Calais,
Rouen, and other plundered towns, had supplied our own artisans
with models on which to shape their work.  Hence, in most English
castles, and in Castle Twynham among the rest, chambers were to
be found which would seem to be not wanting either in beauty or
in comfort.

In the great stone fireplace a log fire was spurting and
crackling, throwing out a ruddy glare which, with the four
bracket-lamps which stood at each corner of the room, gave a
bright and lightsome air to the whole apartment.  Above was a
wreath-work of blazonry, extending up to the carved and corniced
oaken roof; while on either side stood the high canopied chairs
placed for the master of the house and for his most honored
guest.  The walls were hung all round with most elaborate and
brightly colored tapestry, representing the achievements of Sir
Bevis of Hampton, and behind this convenient screen were stored
the tables dormant and benches which would be needed for banquet
or high festivity.  The floor was of polished tiles, with a
square of red and black diapered Flemish carpet in the centre;
and many settees, cushions, folding chairs, and carved bancals
littered all over it.  At the further end was a long black buffet
or dresser, thickly covered with gold cups, silver salvers, and
other such valuables.  All this Alleyne examined with curious
eyes; but most interesting of all to him was a small ebony table
at his very side, on which, by the side of a chess-board and the
scattered chessmen, there lay an open manuscript written in a
right clerkly hand, and set forth with brave flourishes and
devices along the margins.  In vain Alleyne bethought him of
where he was, and of those laws of good breeding and decorum
which should restrain him: those colored capitals and black even
lines drew his hand down to them, as the loadstone draws the
needle, until, almost before he knew it, he was standing with the
romance of Garin de Montglane before his eyes, so absorbed in its
contents as to be completely oblivious both of where he was and
why he had come there.

He was brought back to himself, however, by a sudden little
ripple of quick feminine laughter.  Aghast, he dropped the
manuscript among the chessmen and stared in bewilderment round
the room.  It was as empty and as still as ever.  Again he
stretched his hand out to the romance, and again came that
roguish burst of merriment.  He looked up at the ceiling, back at
the closed door, and round at the stiff folds of motionless
tapestry.  Of a sudden, however, he caught a quick shimmer from
the corner of a high-backed bancal in front of him, and, shifting
a pace or two to the side, saw a white slender hand, which held a
mirror of polished silver in such a way that the concealed
observer could see without being seen.  He stood irresolute,
uncertain whether to advance or to take no notice; but, even as
he hesitated, the mirror was whipped in, and a tall and stately
young lady swept out from behind the oaken screen, with a dancing
light of mischief in her eyes.  Alleyne started with astonishment
as he recognized the very maiden who had suffered from his
brother's violence in the forest.  She no longer wore her gay
riding-dress, however, but was attired in a long sweeping robe of
black velvet of Bruges, with delicate tracery of white lace at
neck and at wrist, scarce to be seen against her ivory skin.
Beautiful as she had seemed to him before, the lithe charm of her
figure and the proud, free grace of her bearing were enhanced now
by the rich simplicity of her attire.

"Ah, you start," said she, with the same sidelong look of
mischief, "and I cannot marvel at it.  Didst not look to see the
distressed damosel again.  Oh that I were a minstrel, that I
might put it into rhyme, with the whole romance--the luckless
maid, the wicked socman, and the virtuous clerk!  So might our
fame have gone down together for all time, and you be numbered
with Sir Percival or Sir Galahad, or all the other rescuers of
oppressed ladies."

"What I did," said Alleyne, "was too small a thing for thanks;
and yet, if I may say it without offence, it was too grave and
near a matter for mirth and raillery.  I had counted on my
brother's love, but God has willed that it should be otherwise.
It is a joy to me to see you again, lady, and to know that you
have reached home in safety, if this be indeed your home."

"Yes, in sooth, Castle Twynham is my home, and Sir Nigel Loring
my father, I should have told you so this morning, but you said
that you were coming thither, so I bethought me that I might hold
it back as a surprise to you.  Oh dear, but it was brave to see
you!" she cried, bursting out a-laughing once more, and standing
with her hand pressed to her side, and her half-closed eyes
twinkling with amusement.  "You drew back and came forward with
your eyes upon my book there, like the mouse who sniffs the
cheese and yet dreads the trap."

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

"Nay, it warmed my very heart to see it.  So glad was I, that I
laughed for very pleasure.  My fine preacher can himself be
tempted then, thought I; he is not made of another clay to the
rest of us."

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

"And to what end?" she asked sharply.  "If you are, as I
understand, to shut yourself forever in your cell within the four
walls of an abbey, then of what use would it be were your prayer
to be answered?"

"The use of my own salvation."

She turned from him with a pretty shrug and wave.  "Is that all?"
she said.  "Then you are no better than Father Christopher and
the rest of them.  Your own, your own, ever your own!  My father
is the king's man, and when he rides into the press of fight he
is not thinking ever of the saving of his own poor body; he recks
little enough if he leave it on the field.  Why then should you,
who are soldiers of the Spirit, be ever moping or hiding in cell
or in cave, with minds full of your own concerns, while the
world, which you should be mending, is going on its way, and
neither sees nor hears you?  Were ye all as thoughtless of your
own souls as the soldier is of his body, ye would be of more
avail to the souls of others."

"There is sooth in what you say, lady," Alleyne answered; "and
yet I scarce can see what you would have the clergy and the
church to do."

"I would have them live as others and do men's work in the world,
preaching by their lives rather than their words.  I would have
them come forth from their lonely places, mix with the borel
folks, feel the pains and the pleasures, the cares and the
rewards, the temptings and the stirrings of the common people.
Let them toil and swinken, and labor, and plough the land, and
take wives to themselves----"

"Alas! alas!" cried Alleyne aghast, "you have surely sucked this
poison from the man Wicliffe, of whom I have heard such evil
things."

"Nay, I know him not.  I have learned it by looking from my own
chamber window and marking these poor monks of the priory, their
weary life, their profitless round.  I have asked myself if the
best which can be done with virtue is to shut it within high
walls as though it were some savage creature.  If the good will
lock themselves up, and if the wicked will still wander free,
then alas for the world!"

Alleyne looked at her in astonishment, for her cheek was flushed,
her eyes gleaming, and her whole pose full of eloquence and
conviction.  Yet in an instant she had changed again to her old
expression of merriment leavened with mischief.

"Wilt do what I ask?" said she.

"What is it, lady?"

"Oh, most ungallant clerk!  A true knight would never have asked,
but would have vowed upon the instant.  'Tis but to bear me out
in what I say to my father."

"In what?"

"In saying, if he ask, that it was south of the Christchurch road
that I met you.  I shall be shut up with the tire-women else, and
have a week of spindle and bodkin, when I would fain be galloping
Troubadour up Wilverley Walk, or loosing little Roland at the
Vinney Ridge herons."

"I shall not answer him if he ask."

"Not answer!  But he will have an answer.  Nay, but you must not
fail me, or it will go ill with me."

"But, lady," cried poor Alleyne in great distress, "how can I say
that it was to the south of the road when I know well that it was
four miles to the north."

"You will not say it?"

"Surely you will not, too, when you know that it is not so?"

"Oh, I weary of your preaching!" she cried, and swept away with a
toss of her beautiful head, leaving Alleyne as cast down and
ashamed as though he had himself proposed some infamous thing.
She was back again in an instant, however, in another of her
varying moods.

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

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

"And you shall see how worthy a pupil I am.  Father, I am much
beholden to this young clerk, who was of service to me and helped
me this very morning in Minstead Woods, four miles to the north
of the Christchurch road, where I had no call to be, you having
ordered it otherwise."  All this she reeled off in a loud voice,
and then glanced with sidelong, questioning eyes at Alleyne for
his approval.

Sir Nigel, who had entered the room with a silvery-haired old
lady upon his arm, stared aghast at this sudden outburst of
candor.

"Maude, Maude!" said he, shaking his head, "it is more hard for
me to gain obedience from you than from the ten score drunken
archers who followed me to Guienne.  Yet, hush! little one, for
your fair lady-mother will be here anon, and there is no need
that she should know it.  We will keep you from the provost-marshal
this journey.  Away to your chamber, sweeting, and keep a
blithe face, for she who confesses is shriven.  And now, fair
mother," he continued, when his daughter had gone, "sit you here
by the fire, for your blood runs colder than it did.  Alleyne
Edricson, I would have a word with you, for I would fain that you
should take service under me.  And here in good time comes my
lady, without whose counsel it is not my wont to decide aught of
import; but, indeed, it was her own thought that you should
come."

"For I have formed a good opinion of you, and can see that you
are one who may be trusted," said the Lady Loring.  "And in good
sooth my dear lord hath need of such a one by his side, for he
recks so little of himself that there should be one there to look
to his needs and meet his wants.  You have seen the cloisters; it
were well that you should see the world too, ere you make choice
for life between them."

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

"Then your father was a man of good counsel," said she, "and you
cannot carry out his will better than by going on this path,
where all that is noble and gallant in England will be your
companions."

"You can ride?" asked Sir Nigel, looking at the youth with
puckered eyes.

"Yes, I have ridden much at the abbey."

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

"On citole, flute and rebeck."

"Good!  You can read blazonry?"

"Indifferent well."

"Then read this," quoth Sir Nigel, pointing upwards to one of the
many quarterings which adorned the wall over the fireplace.

"Argent," Alleyne answered, "a fess azure charged with three
lozenges dividing three mullets sable.  Over all, on an
escutcheon of the first, a jambe gules."

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

"I have served all my life, my lord."

"Canst carve too?"

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

"A model truly!  Wilt make a squire of squires.  But tell me, I
pray, canst curl hair?"

"No, my lord, but I could learn."

"It is of import," said he, "for I love to keep my hair well
ordered, seeing that the weight of my helmet for thirty years
hath in some degree frayed it upon the top."  He pulled off his
velvet cap of maintenance as he spoke, and displayed a pate which
was as bald as an egg, and shone bravely in the firelight.  "You
see," said he, whisking round, and showing one little strip where
a line of scattered hairs, like the last survivors in some fatal
field, still barely held their own against the fate which had
fallen upon their comrades; "these locks need some little oiling
and curling, for I doubt not that if you look slantwise at my
head, when the light is good, you will yourself perceive that
there are places where the hair is sparse."

"It is for you also to bear the purse," said the lady; "for my
sweet lord is of so free and gracious a temper that he would give
it gayly to the first who asked alms of him.  All these things,
with some knowledge of venerie, and of the management of horse,
hawk and hound, with the grace and hardihood and courtesy which
are proper to your age, will make you a fit squire for Sir Nigel
Loring."

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

"Modesty and a humble mind," said she, "are the very first and
rarest gifts in page or squire.  Your words prove that you have
these, and all the rest is but the work of use and time.  But
there is no call for haste.  Rest upon it for the night, and let
your orisons ask for guidance in the matter.  We knew your father
well, and would fain help his son, though we have small cause to
love your brother the Socman, who is forever stirring up strife
in the county."

"We can scare hope," said Nigel, "to have all ready for our start
before the feast of St. Luke, for there is much to be done in the
time.  You will have leisure, therefore, if it please you to take
service under me, in which to learn your devoir.  Bertrand, my
daughter's page, is hot to go; but in sooth he is over young for
such rough work as may be before us."

"And I have one favor to crave from you," added the lady of the
castle, as Alleyne turned to leave their presence.  "You have, as
I understand, much learning which you have acquired at Beaulieu."

"Little enough, lady, compared with those who were my teachers."

"Yet enough for my purpose, I doubt not.  For I would have you
give an hour or two a day whilst you are with us in discoursing
with my daughter, the Lady Maude; for she is somewhat backward, I
fear, and hath no love for letters, save for these poor fond
romances, which do but fill her empty head with dreams of
enchanted maidens and of errant cavaliers.  Father Christopher
comes over after nones from the priory, but he is stricken with
years and slow of speech, so that she gets small profit from his
teaching.  I would have you do what you can with her, and with
Agatha my young tire-woman, and with Dorothy Pierpont."

And so Alleyne found himself not only chosen as squire to a
knight but also as squire to three damosels, which was even
further from the part which he had thought to play in the world.
Yet he could but agree to do what he might, and so went forth
from the castle hall with his face flushed and his head in a
whirl at the thought of the strange and perilous paths which his
feet were destined to tread.



CHAPTER XII.

HOW ALLEYNE LEARNED MORE THAN HE COULD TEACH.


And now there came a time of stir and bustle, of furbishing of
arms and clang of hammer from all the southland counties.  Fast
spread the tidings from thorpe to thorpe and from castle to
castle, that the old game was afoot once more, and the lions and
lilies to be in the field with the early spring.  Great news this
for that fierce old country, whose trade for a generation had
been war, her exports archers and her imports prisoners.  For six
years her sons had chafed under an unwonted peace.  Now they flew
to their arms as to their birthright.  The old soldiers of Crecy,
of Nogent, and of Poictiers were glad to think that they might
hear the war-trumpet once more, and gladder still were the hot
youth who had chafed for years under the martial tales of their
sires.  To pierce the great mountains of the south, to fight the
tamers of the fiery Moors, to follow the greatest captain of the
age, to find sunny cornfields and vineyards, when the marches of
Picardy and Normandy were as rare and bleak as the Jedburgh
forests--here was a golden prospect for a race of warriors.  From
sea to sea there was stringing of bows in the cottage and clang
of steel in the castle.

Nor did it take long for every stronghold to pour forth its
cavalry, and every hamlet its footmen.  Through the late autumn
and the early winter every road and country lane resounded with
nakir and trumpet, with the neigh of the war-horse and the
clatter of marching men.  From the Wrekin in the Welsh marches to
the Cotswolds in the west or Butser in the south, there was no
hill-top from which the peasant might not have seen the bright
shimmer of arms, the toss and flutter of plume and of pensil.
From bye-path, from woodland clearing, or from winding moor-side
track these little rivulets of steel united in the larger roads
to form a broader stream, growing ever fuller and larger as it
approached the nearest or most commodious seaport.  And there all
day, and day after day, there was bustle and crowding and labor,
while the great ships loaded up, and one after the other spread
their white pinions and darted off to the open sea, amid the
clash of cymbals and rolling of drums and lusty shouts of those
who went and of those who waited.  From Orwell to the Dart there
was no port which did not send forth its little fleet, gay with
streamer and bunting, as for a joyous festival.  Thus in the
season of the waning days the might of England put forth on to
the waters.

In the ancient and populous county of Hampshire there was no lack
of leaders or of soldiers for a service which promised either
honor or profit.  In the north the Saracen's head of the Brocas
and the scarlet fish of the De Roches were waving over a strong
body of archers from Holt, Woolmer, and Harewood forests.  De
Borhunte was up in the east, and Sir John de Montague in the
west.  Sir Luke de Ponynges, Sir Thomas West, Sir Maurice de
Bruin, Sir Arthur Lipscombe, Sir Walter Ramsey, and stout Sir
Oliver Buttesthorn were all marching south with levies from
Andover, Arlesford, Odiham and Winchester, while from Sussex came
Sir John Clinton, Sir Thomas Cheyne, and Sir John Fallislee, with
a troop of picked men-at-arms, making for their port at
Southampton.  Greatest of all the musters, however, was that of
Twynham Castle, for the name and the fame of Sir Nigel Loring
drew towards him the keenest and boldest spirits, all eager to
serve under so valiant a leader.  Archers from the New Forest and
the Forest of Bere, billmen from the pleasant country which is
watered by the Stour, the Avon, and the Itchen, young cavaliers
from the ancient Hampshire houses, all were pushing for
Christchurch to take service under the banner of the five
scarlet roses.

And now, could Sir Nigel have shown the bachelles of land which
the laws of rank required, he might well have cut his forked
pennon into a square banner, and taken such a following into the
field as would have supported the dignity of a banneret.  But
poverty was heavy upon him, his land was scant, his coffers
empty, and the very castle which covered him the holding of
another.  Sore was his heart when he saw rare bowmen and
war-hardened spearmen turned away from his gates, for the lack of
the money which might equip and pay them.  Yet the letter which
Aylward had brought him gave him powers which he was not slow to
use.  In it Sir Claude Latour, the Gascon lieutenant of the White
Company, assured him that there remained in his keeping enough to
fit out a hundred archers and twenty men-at-arms, which, joined
to the three hundred veteran companions already in France, would
make a force which any leader might be proud to command.
Carefully and sagaciously the veteran knight chose out his men
from the swarm of volunteers.  Many an anxious consultation he
held with Black Simon, Sam Aylward, and other of his more
experienced followers, as to who should come and who should stay.
By All Saints' day, however ere the last leaves had fluttered to
earth in the Wilverley and Holmesley glades, he had filled up his
full numbers, and mustered under his banner as stout a following
of Hampshire foresters as ever twanged their war-bows.  Twenty
men-at-arms, too, well mounted and equipped, formed the cavalry
of the party, while young Peter Terlake of Fareham, and Walter
Ford of Botley, the martial sons of martial sires, came at their
own cost to wait upon Sir Nigel and to share with Alleyne
Edricson the duties of his squireship.

Yet, even after the enrolment, there was much to be done ere the
party could proceed upon its way.  For armor, swords, and lances,
there was no need to take much forethought, for they were to be
had both better and cheaper in Bordeaux than in England.  With
the long-bow, however, it was different.  Yew staves indeed might
be got in Spain, but it was well to take enough and to spare with
them.  Then three spare cords should be carried for each bow,
with a great store of arrow-heads, besides the brigandines of
chain mail, the wadded steel caps, and the brassarts or arm-guards,
which were the proper equipment of the archer.  Above
all, the women for miles round were hard at work cutting the
white surcoats which were the badge of the Company, and adorning
them with the red lion of St. George upon the centre of the
breast.  When all was completed and the muster called in the
castle yard the oldest soldier of the French wars was fain to
confess that he had never looked upon a better equipped or more
warlike body of men, from the old knight with his silk jupon,
sitting his great black war-horse in the front of them, to Hordle
John, the giant recruit, who leaned carelessly upon a huge black
bow-stave in the rear.  Of the six score, fully half had seen
service before, while a fair sprinkling were men who had followed
the wars all their lives, and had a hand in those battles which
had made the whole world ring with the fame and the wonder of the
island infantry.

Six long weeks were taken in these preparations, and it was close
on Martinmas ere all was ready for a start.  Nigh two months had
Alleyne Edricson been in Castle Twynham--months which were fated
to turn the whole current of his life, to divert it from that
dark and lonely bourne towards which it tended, and to guide it
into freer and more sunlit channels.  Already he had learned to
bless his father for that wise provision which had made him seek
to know the world ere he had ventured to renounce it.

For it was a different place from that which he had pictured--very
different from that which he had heard described when the
master of the novices held forth to his charges upon the ravening
wolves who lurked for them beyond the peaceful folds of Beaulieu.
There was cruelty in it, doubtless, and lust and sin and sorrow;
but were there not virtues to atone, robust positive virtues
which did not shrink from temptation, which held their own in all
the rough blasts of the work-a-day world? How colorless by
contrast appeared the sinlessness which came from inability to
sin, the conquest which was attained by flying from the enemy!
Monk-bred as he was, Alleyne had native shrewdness and a mind
which was young enough to form new conclusions and to outgrow old
ones.  He could not fail to see that the men with whom he was
thrown in contact, rough-tongued, fierce and quarrelsome as they
were, were yet of deeper nature and of more service in the world
than the ox-eyed brethren who rose and ate and slept from year's
end to year's end in their own narrow, stagnant circle of
existence.  Abbot Berghersh was a good man, but how was he better
than this kindly knight, who lived as simple a life, held as
lofty and inflexible an ideal of duty, and did with all his
fearless heart whatever came to his hand to do? In turning from
the service of the one to that of the other, Alleyne could not
feel that he was lowering his aims in life.  True that his gentle
and thoughtful nature recoiled from the grim work of war, yet in
those days of martial orders and militant brotherhoods there was
no gulf fixed betwixt the priest and the soldier.  The man of God
and the man of the sword might without scandal be united in the
same individual.  Why then should he, a mere clerk, have scruples
when so fair a chance lay in his way of carrying out the spirit
as well as the letter of his father's provision.  Much struggle
it cost him, anxious spirit-questionings and midnight prayings,
with many a doubt and a misgiving; but the issue was that ere he
had been three days in Castle Twynham he had taken service under
Sir Nigel, and had accepted horse and harness, the same to be
paid for out of his share of the profits of the expedition.
Henceforth for seven hours a day he strove in the tilt-yard to
qualify himself to be a worthy squire to so worthy a knight.
Young, supple and active, with all the pent energies from years
of pure and healthy living, it was not long before he could
manage his horse and his weapon well enough to earn an approving
nod from critical men-at-arms, or to hold his own against Terlake
and Ford, his fellow-servitors.

But were there no other considerations which swayed him from the
cloisters towards the world? So complex is the human spirit that
it can itself scarce discern the deep springs which impel it to
action.  Yet to Alleyne had been opened now a side of life of
which he had been as innocent as a child, but one which was of
such deep import that it could not fail to influence him in
choosing his path.  A woman, in monkish precepts, had been the
embodiment and concentration of what was dangerous and evil--a
focus whence spread all that was to be dreaded and avoided.  So
defiling was their presence that a true Cistercian might not
raise his eyes to their face or touch their finger-tips under ban
of church and fear of deadly sin.  Yet here, day after day for an
hour after nones, and for an hour before vespers, he found
himself in close communion with three maidens, all young, all
fair, and all therefore doubly dangerous from the monkish
standpoint.  Yet he found that in their presence he was conscious
of a quick sympathy, a pleasant ease, a ready response to all
that was most gentle and best in himself, which filled his soul
with a vague and new-found joy.

And yet the Lady Maude Loring was no easy pupil to handle.  An
older and more world-wise man might have been puzzled by her
varying moods, her sudden prejudices, her quick resentment at all
constraint and authority.  Did a subject interest her, was there
space in it for either romance or imagination, she would fly
through it with her subtle, active mind, leaving her two
fellow-students and even her teacher toiling behind her.  On the
other hand, were there dull patience needed with steady toil and
strain of memory, no single fact could by any driving be fixed in
her mind.  Alleyne might talk to her of the stories of old gods
and heroes, of gallant deeds and lofty aims, or he might hold
forth upon moon and stars, and let his fancy wander over the
hidden secrets of the universe, and he would have a rapt listener
with flushed cheeks and eloquent eyes, who could repeat after him
the very words which had fallen from his lips.  But when it came
to almagest and astrolabe, the counting of figures and reckoning
of epicycles, away would go her thoughts to horse and hound, and
a vacant eye and listless face would warn the teacher that he had
lost his hold upon his scholar.  Then he had but to bring out the
old romance book from the priory, with befingered cover of
sheepskin and gold letters upon a purple ground, to entice her
wayward mind back to the paths of learning.

At times, too, when the wild fit was upon her, she would break
into pertness and rebel openly against Alleyne's gentle firmness.
Yet he would jog quietly on with his teachings, taking no heed to
her mutiny, until suddenly she would be conquered by his
patience, and break into self-revilings a hundred times stronger
than her fault demanded.  It chanced however that, on one of
these mornings when the evil mood was upon her, Agatha the young
tire-woman, thinking to please her mistress, began also to toss
her head and make tart rejoinder to the teacher's questions.  In
an instant the Lady Maude had turned upon her two blazing eyes
and a face which was blanched with anger.

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

"You would dare!" repeated the lady in a choking voice.  "You, a
graceless baggage, a foolish lack-brain, with no thought above
the hemming of shifts.  And he so kindly and hendy and
long-suffering!  You would--ha, you may well flee the room!"

She had spoken with a rising voice, and a clasping and opening of
her long white fingers, so that it was no marvel that ere the
speech was over the skirts of Agatha were whisking round the door
and the click of her sobs to be heard dying swiftly away down the
corridor.

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

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

"Nay, nay, no one has misused me," he answered.  "But the fault
lies in your hot and bitter words.  You have called her a baggage
and a lack-brain, and I know not what."

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

Such was a sample of the sudden janglings which marred the peace
of that little class.  As the weeks passed, however, they became
fewer and less violent, as Alleyne's firm and constant nature
gained sway and influence over the Lady Maude.  And yet, sooth to
say, there were times when he had to ask himself whether it was
not the Lady Maude who was gaining sway and influence over him.
If she were changing, so was he.  In drawing her up from the
world, he was day by day being himself dragged down towards it.
In vain he strove and reasoned with himself as to the madness of
letting his mind rest upon Sir Nigel's daughter.  What was he--a
younger son, a penniless clerk, a squire unable to pay for his
own harness--that he should dare to raise his eyes to the
fairest maid in Hampshire? So spake reason; but, in spite of all,
her voice was ever in his ears and her image in his heart.
Stronger than reason, stronger than cloister teachings, stronger
than all that might hold him back, was that old, old tyrant who
will brook no rival in the kingdom of youth.

And yet it was a surprise and a shock to himself to find how
deeply she had entered into his life; how completely those vague
ambitions and yearnings which had filled his spiritual nature
centred themselves now upon this thing of earth.  He had scarce
dared to face the change which had come upon him, when a few
sudden chance words showed it all up hard and clear, like a
lightning flash in the darkness.

He had ridden over to Poole, one November day, with his
fellow-squire, Peter Terlake, in quest of certain yew-staves from
Wat Swathling, the Dorsetshire armorer.  The day for their
departure had almost come, and the two youths spurred it over the
lonely downs at the top of their speed on their homeward course,
for evening had fallen and there was much to be done.  Peter was
a hard, wiry, brown faced, country-bred lad who looked on the
coming war as the schoolboy looks on his holidays.  This day,
however, he had been sombre and mute, with scarce a word a mile
to bestow upon his comrade.

"Tell me Alleyne Edricson," he broke out, suddenly, as they
clattered along the winding track which leads over the
Bournemouth hills, "has it not seemed to you that of late the
Lady Maude is paler and more silent than is her wont?"

"It may be so," the other answered shortly.

"And would rather sit distrait by her oriel than ride gayly to
the chase as of old.  Methinks, Alleyne, it is this learning
which you have taught her that has taken all the life and sap
from her.  It is more than she can master, like a heavy spear to a
light rider."

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

"By our Lady! and withouten disrespect," quoth Terlake, "it is in
my mind that her lady-mother is more fitted to lead a company to
a storming than to have the upbringing of this tender and
milk-white maid.  Hark ye, lad Alleyne, to what I never told man
or woman yet.  I love the fair Lady Maude, and would give the
last drop of my heart's blood to serve her."  He spoke with a
gasping voice, and his face flushed crimson in the moonlight.

Alleyne said nothing, but his heart seemed to turn to a lump of
ice in his bosom.

"My father has broad acres," the other continued, "from Fareham
Creek to the slope of the Portsdown Hill.  There is filling of
granges, hewing of wood, malting of grain, and herding of sheep
as much as heart could wish, and I the only son.  Sure am I that
Sir Nigel would be blithe at such a match."

"But how of the lady?" asked Alleyne, with dry lips.

"Ah, lad, there lies my trouble.  It is a toss of the head and a
droop of the eyes if I say one word of what is in my mind.
'Twere as easy to woo the snow-dame that we shaped last winter in
our castle yard.  I did but ask her yesternight for her green
veil, that I might bear it as a token or lambrequin upon my helm;
but she flashed out at me that she kept it for a better man, and
then all in a breath asked pardon for that she had spoke so
rudely.  Yet she would not take back the words either, nor would
she grant the veil.  Has it seemed to thee, Alleyne, that she
loves any one?"

"Nay, I cannot say," said Alleyne, with a wild throb of sudden
hope in his heart.

"I have thought so, and yet I cannot name the man.  Indeed, save
myself, and Walter Ford, and you, who are half a clerk, and
Father Christopher of the Priory, and Bertrand the page, who is
there whom she sees?"

"I cannot tell," quoth Alleyne shortly; and the two squires rode
on again, each intent upon his own thoughts.

Next day at morning lesson the teacher observed that his pupil
was indeed looking pale and jaded, with listless eyes and a weary
manner.  He was heavy-hearted to note the grievous change in her.

"Your mistress, I fear, is ill, Agatha," he said to the tire-woman,
when the Lady Maude had sought her chamber.

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

"Pray God not!" he cried.  "But tell me, Agatha, what it is that
ails her?"

"Methinks that I could lay my hand upon another who is smitten
with the same trouble," said she, with the same sidelong look.
"Canst not give a name to it, and thou so skilled in leech-craft?"

"Nay, save that she seems aweary."

"Well, bethink you that it is but three days ere you will all be
gone, and Castle Twynham be as dull as the Priory.  Is there not
enough there to cloud a lady's brow?"

"In sooth, yes," he answered; "I had forgot that she is about to
lose her father."

"Her father!" cried the tire-woman, with a little trill of
laughter.  "Oh simple, simple!"  And she was off down the passage
like arrow from bow, while Alleyne stood gazing after her,
betwixt hope and doubt, scarce daring to put faith in the meaning
which seemed to underlie her words.



CHAPTER XIII.

HOW THE WHITE COMPANY SET FORTH TO THE WARS.


St. Luke's day had come and had gone, and it was in the season of
Martinmas, when the oxen are driven in to the slaughter, that the
White Company was ready for its journey.  Loud shrieked the
brazen bugles from keep and from gateway, and merry was the
rattle of the war-drum, as the men gathered in the outer bailey,
with torches to light them, for the morn had not yet broken.
Alleyne, from the window of the armory, looked down upon the
strange scene--the circles of yellow flickering light, the lines
of stern and bearded faces, the quick shimmer of arms, and the
lean heads of the horses.  In front stood the bow-men, ten deep,
with a fringe of under-officers, who paced hither and thither
marshalling the ranks with curt precept or short rebuke.  Behind
were the little clump of steel-clad horsemen, their lances
raised, with long pensils drooping down the oaken shafts.  So
silent and still were they, that they might have been
metal-sheathed statues, were it not for the occasional quick,
impatient stamp of their chargers, or the rattle of chamfron
against neck-plates as they tossed and strained.  A spear's
length in front of them sat the spare and long-limbed figure of
Black Simon, the Norwich fighting man, his fierce, deep-lined
face framed in steel, and the silk guidon marked with the five
scarlet roses slanting over his right shoulder.  All round, in
the edge of the circle of the light, stood the castle servants,
the soldiers who were to form the garrison, and little knots of
women, who sobbed in their aprons and called shrilly to their
name-saints to watch over the Wat, or Will, or Peterkin who had
turned his hand to the work of war.

The young squire was leaning forward, gazing at the stirring and
martial scene, when he heard a short, quick gasp at his shoulder,
and there was the Lady Maude, with her hand to her heart, leaning
up against the wall, slender and fair, like a half-plucked lily.
Her face was turned away from him, but he could see, by the sharp
intake of her breath, that she was weeping bitterly.

"Alas! alas!" he cried, all unnerved at the sight, "why is it
that you are so sad, lady?"

"It is the sight of these brave men," she answered; "and to think
how many of them go and how few are like to find their way back.
I have seen it before, when I was a little maid, in the year of
the Prince's great battle.  I remember then how they mustered in
the bailey, even as they do now, and my lady-mother holding me in
her arms at this very window that I might see the show."

"Please God, you will see them all back ere another year be out,"
said he.

She shook her head, looking round at him with flushed cheeks and
eyes that sparkled in the lamp-light.  "Oh, but I hate myself for
being a woman!" she cried, with a stamp of her little foot.
"What can I do that is good?  Here I must bide, and talk and sew
and spin, and spin and sew and talk.  Ever the same dull round,
with nothing at the end of it.  And now you are going too, who
could carry my thoughts out of these gray walls, and raise my
mind above tapestry and distaffs.  What can I do? I am of no more
use or value than that broken bowstave."

"You are of such value to me," he cried, in a whirl of hot,
passionate words, "that all else has become nought.  You are my
heart, my life, my one and only thought.  Oh, Maude, I cannot
live without you, I cannot leave you without a word of love.  All
is changed to me since I have known you.  I am poor and lowly and
all unworthy of you; but if great love may weigh down such
defects, then mine may do it.  Give me but one word of hope to
take to the wars with me--but one.  Ah, you shrink, you shudder!
My wild words have frightened you."

Twice she opened her lips, and twice no sound came from them.  At
last she spoke in a hard and measured voice, as one who dare not
trust herself to speak too freely.

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

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

"And then your brother," she continued with a little laugh,
disregarding his question.  "Methinks this hath become a family
custom amongst the Edricsons.  Nay, I am sorry; I did not mean a
jibe.  But, indeed, Alleyne, this hath come suddenly upon me, and
I scarce know what to say."

"Say some word of hope, however distant--some kind word that I
may cherish in my heart."

"Nay, Alleyne, it were a cruel kindness, and you have been too
good and true a friend to me that I should use you despitefully.
There cannot be a closer link between us.  It is madness to think
of it.  Were there no other reasons, it is enough that my father
and your brother would both cry out against it."

"My brother, what has he to do with it? And your father----"

"Come, Alleyne, was it not you who would have me act fairly to
all men, and, certes, to my father amongst them?"

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

Her eyes softened upon him, and a kind answer was on her lips,
when a hoarse shout, with the clatter of arms and stamping of
steeds, rose up from the bailey below.  At the sound her face set
her eyes sparkled, and she stood with flushed cheek and head
thrown back--a woman's body, with a soul of fire.

"My father hath gone down," she cried.  "Your place is by his
side.  Nay, look not at me, Alleyne.  It is no time for dallying.
Win my father's love, and all may follow.  It is when the brave
soldier hath done his devoir that he hopes for his reward,
Farewell, and may God be with you!" She held out her white, slim
hand to him, but as he bent his lips over it she whisked away and
was gone, leaving in his outstretched hand the very green veil
for which poor Peter Terlake had craved in vain.  Again the
hoarse cheering burst out from below, and he heard the clang of
the rising portcullis.  Pressing the veil to his lips, he thrust
it into the bosom of his tunic, and rushed as fast as feet could
bear him to arm himself and join the muster.

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

The Christchurch townsfolk stood huddled about the Bridge of
Avon, the women pulling tight their shawls and the men swathing
themselves in their gaberdines, while down the winding path from
the castle came the van of the little army, their feet clanging
on the hard, frozen road.  First came Black Simon with his
banner, bestriding a lean and powerful dapple-gray charger, as
hard and wiry and warwise as himself.  After him, riding three
abreast, were nine men-at-arms, all picked soldiers, who had
followed the French wars before, and knew the marches of Picardy
as they knew the downs of their native Hampshire.  They were
armed to the teeth with lance, sword, and mace, with square
shields notched at the upper right-hand corner to serve as a
spear-rest.  For defence each man wore a coat of interlaced
leathern thongs, strengthened at the shoulder, elbow, and upper
arm with slips of steel.  Greaves and knee-pieces were also of
leather backed by steel, and their gauntlets and shoes were of
iron plates, craftily jointed.  So, with jingle of arms and
clatter of hoofs, they rode across the Bridge of Avon, while the
burghers shouted lustily for the flag of the five roses and its
gallant guard.

Close at the heels of the horses came two-score archers bearded
and burly, their round targets on their backs and their long
yellow bows, the most deadly weapon that the wit of man had yet
devised, thrusting forth from behind their shoulders.  From each
man's girdle hung sword or axe, according to his humor, and over
the right hip there jutted out the leathern quiver with its
bristle of goose, pigeon, and peacock feathers.  Behind the
bowmen strode two trumpeters blowing upon nakirs, and two
drummers in parti-colored clothes.  After them came twenty-seven
sumpter horses carrying tent-poles, cloth, spare arms, spurs,
wedges, cooking kettles, horse-shoes, bags of nails and the
hundred other things which experience had shown to be needful in
a harried and hostile country.  A white mule with red trappings,
led by a varlet, carried Sir Nigel's own napery and table
comforts.  Then came two-score more archers, ten more
men-at-arms, and finally a rear guard of twenty bowmen, with big
John towering in the front rank and the veteran Aylward marching
by the side, his battered harness and faded surcoat in strange
contrast with the snow-white jupons and shining brigandines of
his companions.  A quick cross-fire of greetings and questions
and rough West Saxon jests flew from rank to rank, or were
bandied about betwixt the marching archers and the gazing crowd.

"Hola, Gaffer Higginson!" cried Aylward, as he spied the portly
figure of the village innkeeper.  "No more of thy nut-brown, mon
gar.  We leave it behind us."

"By St. Paul, no!" cried the other.  "You take it with you.
Devil a drop have you left in the great kilderkin.  It was time
for you to go."

"If your cask is leer, I warrant your purse is full, gaffer,"
shouted Hordle John.  "See that you lay in good store of the best
for our home-coming."

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

"If you will warrant the beer, I will warrant the throat," said
John composedly.

"Close up the ranks!" cried Aylward.  "En avant, mes enfants!
Ah, by my finger bones, there is my sweet Mary from the Priory
Mill!  Ma foi, but she is beautiful!  Adieu, Mary ma cherie!   Mon
coeur est toujours a toi.  Brace your belt, Watkins, man, and
swing your shoulders as a free companion should.  By my hilt!
your jerkins will be as dirty as mine ere you clap eyes on
Hengistbury Head again."

The Company had marched to the turn of the road ere Sir Nigel
Loring rode out from the gateway, mounted on Pommers, his great
black war-horse, whose ponderous footfall on the wooden
drawbridge echoed loudly from the gloomy arch which spanned it.
Sir Nigel was still in his velvet dress of peace, with flat
velvet cap of maintenance, and curling ostrich feather clasped in
a golden brooch.  To his three squires riding behind him it
looked as though he bore the bird's egg as well as its feather,
for the back of his bald pate shone like a globe of ivory.  He
bore no arms save the long and heavy sword which hung at his
saddle-bow; but Terlake carried in front of him the high
wivern-crested bassinet, Ford the heavy ash spear with
swallow-tail pennon, while Alleyne was entrusted with the
emblazoned shield.  The Lady Loring rode her palfrey at her
lord's bridle-arm, for she would see him as far as the edge of
the forest, and ever and anon she turned her hard-lined face up
wistfully to him and ran a questioning eye over his apparel and
appointments.

"I trust that there is nothing forgot," she said, beckoning to
Alleyne to ride on her further side.  "I trust him to you,
Edricson.  Hosen, shirts, cyclas, and under-jupons are in the
brown basket on the left side of the mule.  His wine he takes hot
when the nights are cold, malvoisie or vernage, with as much
spice as would cover the thumb-nail.  See that he hath a change
if he come back hot from the tilting.  There is goose-grease in a
box, if the old scars ache at the turn of the weather.  Let his
blankets be dry and----"

"Nay, my heart's life," the little knight interrupted, "trouble
not now about such matters.  Why so pale and wan, Edricson? Is it
not enow to make a man's heart dance to see this noble Company,
such valiant men-at-arms, such lusty archers?  By St. Paul!  I
would be ill to please if I were not blithe to see the red roses
flying at the head of so noble a following!"

"The purse I have already given you, Edricson," continue the
lady.  "There are in it twenty-three marks, one noble, three
shillings and fourpence, which is a great treasure for one man to
carry.  And I pray you to bear in mind, Edricson, that he hath
two pair of shoes, those of red leather for common use, and the
others with golden toe-chains, which he may wear should he chance
to drink wine with the Prince or with Chandos."

"My sweet bird," said Sir Nigel, "I am right loth to part from
you, but we are now at the fringe of the forest, and it is not
right that I should take the chatelaine too far from her trust."

"But oh, my dear lord," she cried with a trembling lip, "let me
bide with you for one furlong further--or one and a half perhaps.
You may spare me this out of the weary miles that you will
journey along."

"Come, then, my heart's comfort," he answered.  "But I must crave
a gage from thee.  It is my custom, dearling, and hath been since
I have first known thee, to proclaim by herald in such camps,
townships, or fortalices as I may chance to visit, that my
lady-love, being beyond compare the fairest and sweetest in
Christendom, I should deem it great honor and kindly condescension
if any cavalier would run three courses against me with sharpened
lances, should he chance to have a lady whose claim he was
willing to advance.  I pray you then my fair dove, that you will
vouchsafe to me one of those doeskin gloves, that I may wear it
as the badge of her whose servant I shall ever be."

"Alack and alas for the fairest and sweetest!" she cried.  "Fair
and sweet I would fain be for your dear sake, my lord, but old I
am and ugly, and the knights would laugh should you lay lance in
rest in such a cause."

"Edricson," quoth Sir Nigel, "you have young eyes, and mine are
somewhat bedimmed.  Should you chance to see a knight laugh, or
smile, or even, look you, arch his brows, or purse his mouth, or
in any way show surprise that I should uphold the Lady Mary, you
will take particular note of his name, his coat-armor, and his
lodging.  Your glove, my life's desire!"

The Lady Mary Loring slipped her hand from her yellow leather
gauntlet, and he, lifting it with dainty reverence, bound it to
the front of his velvet cap.

"It is with mine other guardian angels," quoth he, pointing at
the saints' medals which hung beside it.  "And now, my dearest,
you have come far enow.  May the Virgin guard and prosper thee!
One kiss!"  He bent down from his saddle, and then, striking
spurs into his horse's sides, he galloped at top speed after his
men, with his three squires at his heels.  Half a mile further,
where the road topped a hill, they looked back, and the Lady Mary
on her white palfrey was still where they had left her.  A moment
later they were on the downward slope, and she had vanished from
their view.



CHAPTER XIV.

HOW SIR NIGEL SOUGHT FOR A WAYSIDE VENTURE.


For a time Sir Nigel was very moody and downcast, with bent brows
and eyes upon the pommel of his saddle.  Edricson and Terlake
rode behind him in little better case, while Ford, a careless and
light-hearted youth, grinned at the melancholy of his companions,
and flourished his lord's heavy spear, making a point to right
and a point to left, as though he were a paladin contending
against a host of assailants.  Sir Nigel happened, however, to
turn himself in his saddle-Ford instantly became as stiff and as
rigid as though he had been struck with a palsy.  The four rode
alone, for the archers had passed a curve in the road, though
Alleyne could still hear the heavy clump, clump of their
marching, or catch a glimpse of the sparkle of steel through the
tangle of leafless branches.

"Ride by my side, friends, I entreat of you," said the knight,
reining in his steed that they might come abreast of him.  "For,
since it hath pleased you to follow me to the wars, it were well
that you should know how you may best serve me.  I doubt not,
Terlake, that you will show yourself a worthy son of a valiant
father; and you, Ford, of yours; and you, Edricson, that you are
mindful of the old-time house from which all men know that you
are sprung.  And first I would have you bear very steadfastly in
mind that our setting forth is by no means for the purpose of
gaining spoil or exacting ransom, though it may well happen that
such may come to us also.  We go to France, and from thence I
trust to Spain, in humble search of a field in which we may win
advancement and perchance some small share of glory.  For this
purpose I would have you know that it is not my wont to let any
occasion pass where it is in any way possible that honor may be
gained.  I would have you bear this in mind, and give great heed
to it that you may bring me word of all cartels, challenges,
wrongs, tyrannies, infamies, and wronging of damsels.  Nor is any
occasion too small to take note of, for I have known such trifles
as the dropping of a gauntlet, or the flicking of a breadcrumb,
when well and properly followed up, lead to a most noble
spear-running.  But, Edricson, do I not see a cavalier who rides
down yonder road amongst the nether shaw? It would be well,
perchance, that you should give him greeting from me.  And,
should he be of gentle blood it may be that he would care to
exchange thrusts with me."

"Why, my lord," quoth Ford, standing in his stirrups and shading
his eyes, "it is old Hob Davidson, the fat miller of Milton!"

"Ah, so it is, indeed," said Sir Nigel, puckering his cheeks;
"but wayside ventures are not to be scorned, for I have seen no
finer passages than are to be had from such chance meetings, when
cavaliers are willing to advance themselves.  I can well remember
that two leagues from the town of Rheims I met a very valiant and
courteous cavalier of France, with whom I had gentle and most
honorable contention for upwards of an hour.  It hath ever
grieved me that I had not his name, for he smote upon me with a
mace and went upon his way ere I was in condition to have much
speech with him; but his arms were an allurion in chief above a
fess azure.  I was also on such an occasion thrust through the
shoulder by Lyon de Montcourt, whom I met on the high road
betwixt Libourne and Bordeaux.  I met him but the once, but I
have never seen a man for whom I bear a greater love and esteem.
And so also with the squire Le Bourg Capillet, who would have
been a very valiant captain had he lived."

"He is dead then?" asked Alleyne Edricson.

"Alas! it was my ill fate to slay him in a bickering which broke
out in a field near the township of Tarbes.  I cannot call to
mind how the thing came about, for it was in the year of the
Prince's ride through Languedoc, when there was much fine
skirmishing to be had at barriers.  By St. Paul! I do not think
that any honorable cavalier could ask for better chance of
advancement than might be had by spurring forth before the army
and riding to the gateways of Narbonne, or Bergerac or Mont
Giscar, where some courteous gentleman would ever be at wait to
do what he might to meet your wish or ease you of your vow.  Such
a one at Ventadour ran three courses with me betwixt daybreak and
sunrise, to the great exaltation of his lady."

"And did you slay him also, my lord?" asked Ford with reverence.

"I could never learn, for he was carried within the barrier, and
as I had chanced to break the bone of my leg it was a great
unease for me to ride or even to stand.  Yet, by the goodness of
heaven and the pious intercession of the valiant St. George, I
was able to sit my charger in the ruffle of Poictiers, which was
no very long time afterwards.  But what have we here?  A very
fair and courtly maiden, or I mistake."

It was indeed a tall and buxom country lass, with a basket of
spinach-leaves upon her head, and a great slab of bacon tucked
under one arm.  She bobbed a frightened curtsey as Sir Nigel
swept his velvet hat from his head and reined up his great
charger.

"God be with thee, fair maiden!" said he.

"God guard thee, my lord!" she answered, speaking in the broadest
West Saxon speech, and balancing herself first on one foot and
then on the other in her bashfulness.

"Fear not, my fair damsel," said Sir Nigel, "but tell me if
perchance a poor and most unworthy knight can in any wise be of
service to you.  Should it chance that you have been used
despitefully, it may be that I may obtain justice for you."

"Lawk no, kind sir," she answered, clutching her bacon the
tighter, as though some design upon it might be hid under this
knightly offer.  "I be the milking wench o' fairmer Arnold, and
he be as kind a maister as heart could wish."

"It is well," said he, and with a shake of the bridle rode on
down the woodland path.  "I would have you bear in mind," he
continued to his squires, "that gentle courtesy is not, as is the
base use of so many false knights, to be shown only to maidens of
high degree, for there is no woman so humble that a true knight
may not listen to her tale of wrong.  But here comes a cavalier
who is indeed in haste.  Perchance it would be well that we
should ask him whither he rides, for it may be that he is one who
desires to advance himself in chivalry."

The bleak, hard, wind-swept road dipped down in front of them
into a little valley, and then, writhing up the heathy slope upon
the other side, lost itself among the gaunt pine-trees.  Far away
between the black lines of trunks the quick glitter of steel
marked where the Company pursued its way.  To the north stretched
the tree country, but to the south, between two swelling downs, a
glimpse might be caught of the cold gray shimmer of the sea, with
the white fleck of a galley sail upon the distant sky-line.  Just
in front of the travellers a horseman was urging his steed up the
slope, driving it on with whip and spur as one who rides for a
set purpose.  As he clattered up, Alleyne could see that the roan
horse was gray with dust and flecked with foam, as though it had
left many a mile behind it.  The rider was a stern-faced man,
hard of mouth and dry of eye, with a heavy sword clanking at his
side, and a stiff white bundle swathed in linen balanced across
the pommel of his saddle.

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

"Not so loudly, friend," quoth the little knight, reining his
horse half round to bar the path.  "I have myself been the king's
man for thirty years or more, but I have not been wont to halloo
about it on a peaceful highway."

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

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

"Then must I hew a passage," cried the stranger, with his
shoulder braced round and his hand upon his hilt.  "I am not to
be stopped on the king's service by every gadabout."

"Should you be a gentleman of quarterings and coat-armor," lisped
Sir Nigel, "I shall be very blithe to go further into the matter
with you.  If not, I have three very worthy squires, any one of
whom would take the thing upon himself, and debate it with you in
a very honorable way."

The man scowled from one to the other, and his hand stole away
from his sword.

"You ask me for a sign," he said.  "Here is a sign for you, since
you must have one."  As he spoke he whirled the covering from the
object in front of him and showed to their horror that it was a
newly-severed human leg.  "By God's tooth!" he continued, with a
brutal laugh, "you ask me if I am a man of quarterings, and it is
even so, for I am officer to the verderer's court at Lyndhurst.
This thievish leg is to hang at Milton, and the other is already
at Brockenhurst, as a sign to all men of what comes of being
over-fond of venison pasty."

"Faugh!" cried Sir Nigel.  "Pass on the other side of the road,
fellow, and let us have the wind of you.  We shall trot our
horses, my friends, across this pleasant valley, for, by Our
Lady! a breath of God's fresh air is right welcome after such a
sight."

"We hoped to snare a falcon," said he presently, "but we netted a
carrion-crow.  Ma foi! but there are men whose hearts are tougher
than a boar's hide.  For me, I have played the old game of war
since ever I had hair on my chin, and I have seen ten thousand
brave men in one day with their faces to the sky, but I swear by
Him who made me that I cannot abide the work of the butcher."

"And yet, my fair lord," said Edricson, "there has, from what I
hear, been much of such devil's work in France."

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

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

"A shrine!" cried the knight.  "Then let us put up an orison."
Pulling off his cap, and clasping his hands, he chanted in a
shrill voice:  "Benedictus dominus Deus meus, qui docet manus
meas ad proelium, et digitos meos ad bellum."  A strange figure
he seemed to his three squires, perched on his huge horse, with
his eyes upturned and the wintry sun shimmering upon his bald
head.  "It is a noble prayer," he remarked, putting on his hat
again, "and it was taught to me by the noble Chandos himself.
But how fares it with you, father?  Methinks that I should have
ruth upon you, seeing that I am myself like one who looks through
a horn window while his neighbors have the clear crystal.  Yet,
by St. Paul! there is a long stride between the man who hath a
horn casement and him who is walled in on every hand."

"Alas! fair sir," cried the blind old man, "I have not seen the
blessed blue of heaven this two-score years, since a levin flash
burned the sight out of my head."

"You have been blind to much that is goodly and fair," quoth Sir
Nigel, "but you have also been spared much that is sorry and
foul.  This very hour our eyes have been shocked with that which
would have left you unmoved.  But, by St. Paul! we must on, or
our Company will think that they have lost their captain somewhat
early in the venture.  Throw the man my purse, Edricson, and let
us go."

Alleyne, lingering behind, bethought him of the Lady Loring's
counsel, and reduced the noble gift which the knight had so
freely bestowed to a single penny, which the beggar with many
mumbled blessings thrust away into his wallet.  Then, spurring
his steed, the young squire rode at the top of his speed after
his companions, and overtook them just at the spot where the
trees fringe off into the moor and the straggling hamlet of
Hordle lies scattered on either side of the winding and
deeply-rutted track.  The Company was already well-nigh through
the village; but, as the knight and his squires closed up upon
them, they heard the clamor of a strident voice, followed by a
roar of deep-chested laughter from the ranks of the archers.
Another minute brought them up with the rear-guard, where every
man marched with his beard on his shoulder and a face which was
agrin with merriment.  By the side of the column walked a huge
red-headed bowman, with his hands thrown out in argument and
expostulation, while close at his heels followed a little
wrinkled woman who poured forth a shrill volley of abuse, varied
by an occasional thwack from her stick, given with all the force
of her body, though she might have been beating one of the forest
trees for all the effect that she seemed likely to produce.

"I trust, Aylward," said Sir Nigel gravely, as he rode up, "that
this doth not mean that any violence hath been offered to women.
If such a thing happened, I tell you that the man shall hang,
though he were the best archer that ever wore brassart."

"Nay, my fair lord," Aylward answered with a grin, "it is
violence which is offered to a man.  He comes from Hordle, and
this is his mother who hath come forth to welcome him."

"You rammucky lurden," she was howling, with a blow between each
catch of her breath, "you shammocking, yaping, over-long
good-for-nought.  I will teach thee!  I will baste thee!  Aye, by my
faith!"

"Whist, mother," said John, looking back at her from the tail of
his eye, "I go to France as an archer to give blows and to take
them."

"To France, quotha?" cried the old dame.  "Bide here with me, and
I shall warrant you more blows than you are like to get in
France.  If blows be what you seek, you need not go further than
Hordle."

"By my hilt! the good dame speaks truth," said Aylward.  "It
seems to be the very home of them."

"What have you to say, you clean-shaved galley-beggar?" cried the
fiery dame, turning upon the archer.  "Can I not speak with my
own son but you must let your tongue clack? A soldier, quotha,
and never a hair on his face.  I have seen a better soldier with
pap for food and swaddling clothes for harness."

"Stand to it, Aylward," cried the archers, amid a fresh burst of
laughter.

"Do not thwart her, comrade," said big John.  "She hath a proper
spirit for her years and cannot abide to be thwarted.  It is
kindly and homely to me to hear her voice and to feel that she is
behind me.  But I must leave you now, mother, for the way is
over-rough for your feet; but I will bring you back a silken
gown, if there be one in France or Spain, and I will bring Jinny
a silver penny; so good-bye to you, and God have you in His
keeping!"  Whipping up the little woman, he lifted her lightly to
his lips, and then, taking his place in the ranks again, marched
on with the laughing Company.

"That was ever his way," she cried, appealing to Sir Nigel, who
reined up his horse and listened with the greatest courtesy.  "He
would jog on his own road for all that I could do to change him.
First he must be a monk forsooth, and all because a wench was
wise enough to turn her back on him.  Then he joins a rascally
crew and must needs trapse off to the wars, and me with no one to
bait the fire if I be out, or tend the cow if I be home.  Yet I
have been a good mother to him.  Three hazel switches a day have
I broke across his shoulders, and he takes no more notice than
you have seen him to-day."

"Doubt not that he will come back to you both safe and
prosperous, my fair dame," quoth Sir Nigel.  "Meanwhile it
grieves me that as I have already given my purse to a beggar up
the road I----"

"Nay, my lord," said Alleyne, "I still have some moneys
remaining."

"Then I pray you to give them to this very worthy woman." He
cantered on as he spoke, while Alleyne, having dispensed two more
pence, left the old dame standing by the furthest cottage of
Hordle, with her shrill voice raised in blessings instead of
revilings.

There were two cross-roads before they reached the Lymington
Ford, and at each of then Sir Nigel pulled up his horse, and
waited with many a curvet and gambade, craning his neck this way
and that to see if fortune would send him a venture.  Crossroads
had, as he explained, been rare places for knightly spear-runnings,
 and in his youth it was no uncommon thing for a cavalier to
abide for weeks at such a point, holding gentle debate with all
comers, to his own advancement and the great honor of his lady.
The times were changed, however, and the forest tracks wound away
from them deserted and silent, with no trample of war-horse or
clang of armor which might herald the approach of an
adversary--so that Sir Nigel rode on his way disconsolate.  At
the Lymington River they splashed through the ford, and lay in
the meadows on the further side to eat the bread and salt meat
which they carried upon the sumpter horses.  Then, ere the sun
was on the slope of the heavens, they had deftly trussed up
again, and were swinging merrily upon their way, two hundred feet
moving like two.

There is a third cross-road where the track from Boldre runs down
to the old fishing village of Pitt's Deep.  Down this, as they
came abreast of it, there walked two men, the one a pace or two
behind the other.  The cavaliers could not but pull up their
horses to look at them, for a stranger pair were never seen
journeying together.  The first was a misshapen, squalid man with
cruel, cunning eyes and a shock of tangled red hair, bearing in
his hands a small unpainted cross, which he held high so that all
men might see it.  He seemed to be in the last extremity of
fright, with a face the color of clay and his limbs all ashake as
one who hath an ague.  Behind him, with his toe ever rasping upon
the other's heels, there walked a very stern, black-bearded man
with a hard eye and a set mouth.  He bore over his shoulder a
great knotted stick with three jagged nails stuck in the head of
it, and from time to time he whirled it up in the air with a
quivering arm, as though he could scarce hold back from dashing
his companion's brains out.  So in silence they walked under the
spread of the branches on the grass-grown path from Boldre.

"By St. Paul!" quoth the knight, "but this is a passing strange
sight, and perchance some very perilous and honorable venture may
arise from it.  I pray you, Edricson, to ride up to them and to
ask them the cause of it."

There was no need, however, for him to move, for the twain came
swiftly towards them until they were within a spear's length,
when the man with the cross sat himself down sullenly upon a
tussock of grass by the wayside, while the other stood beside him
with his great cudgel still hanging over his head.  So intent was
he that he raised his eyes neither to knight nor squires, but
kept them ever fixed with a savage glare upon his comrade.

"I pray you, friend," said Sir Nigel, "to tell us truthfully who
you are, and why you follow this man with such bitter enmity?

"So long as I am within the pale of the king's law," the stranger
answered, "I cannot see why I should render account to every
passing wayfarer."

"You are no very shrewd reasoner, fellow," quoth the knight; "for
if it be within the law for you to threaten him with your club,
then it is also lawful for me to threaten you with my sword."

The man with the cross was down in an instant on his knees upon
the ground, with hands clasped above him and his face shining
with hope.  "For dear Christ's sake, my fair lord," he cried in a
crackling voice, "I have at my belt a bag with a hundred rose
nobles, and I will give it to you freely if you will but pass
your sword through this man's body."

"How, you foul knave?" exclaimed Sir Nigel hotly.  "Do you think
that a cavalier's arm is to be bought like a packman's ware.  By
St. Paul! I have little doubt that this fellow hath some very
good cause to hold you in hatred."

"Indeed, my fair sir, you speak sooth," quoth he with the club,
while the other seated himself once more by the wayside.  "For
this man is Peter Peterson, a very noted rieve, draw-latch, and
murtherer, who has wrought much evil for many years in the parts
about Winchester.  It was but the other day, upon the feasts of
the blessed Simon and Jude, that he slew my younger brother
William in Bere Forest--for which, by the black thorn of
Glastonbury! I shall have his heart's blood, though I walk behind
him to the further end of earth."

"But if this be indeed so," asked Sir Nigel, "why is it that you
have come with him so far through the forest?"

"Because I am an honest Englishman, and will take no more than
the law allows.  For when the deed was done this foul and base
wretch fled to sanctuary at St. Cross, and I, as you may think,
after him with all the posse.  The prior, however, hath so
ordered that while he holds this cross no man may lay hand upon
him without the ban of church, which heaven forfend from me or
mine.  Yet, if for an instant he lay the cross aside, or if he
fail to journey to Pitt's Deep, where it is ordered that he shall
take ship to outland parts, or if he take not the first ship, or
if until the ship be ready he walk not every day into the sea as
far as his loins, then he becomes outlaw, and I shall forthwith
dash out his brains."

At this the man on the ground snarled up at him like a rat, while
the other clenched his teeth, and shook his club, and looked down
at him with murder in his eyes.  Knight and squire gazed from
rogue to avenger, but as it was a matter which none could mend
they tarried no longer, but rode upon their way.  Alleyne,
looking back, saw that the murderer had drawn bread and cheese
from his scrip, and was silently munching it, with the protecting
cross still hugged to his breast, while the other, black and
grim, stood in the sunlit road and threw his dark shadow athwart
him.



CHAPTER XV.

HOW THE YELLOW COG SAILED FORTH FROM LEPE.


That night the Company slept at St. Leonard's, in the great
monastic barns and spicarium--ground well known both to Alleyne
and to John, for they were almost within sight of the Abbey of
Beaulieu.  A strange thrill it gave to the young squire to see
the well-remembered white dress once more, and to hear the
measured tolling of the deep vespers bell.  At early dawn they
passed across the broad, sluggish, reed-girt stream--men, horses,
and baggage in the flat ferry barges--and so journeyed on through
the fresh morning air past Exbury to Lepe.  Topping the heathy
down, they came of a sudden full in sight of the old sea-port--a
cluster of houses, a trail of blue smoke, and a bristle of masts.
To right and left the long blue curve of the Solent lapped in a
fringe of foam upon the yellow beach.  Some way out from the town
a line of pessoners, creyers, and other small craft were rolling
lazily on the gentle swell.  Further out still lay a great
merchant-ship, high ended, deep waisted, painted of a canary
yellow, and towering above the fishing-boats like a swan among
ducklings.

"By St. Paul!" said the knight, "our good merchant of Southampton
hath not played us false, for methinks I can see our ship down
yonder.  He said that she would be of great size and of a yellow
shade."

"By my hilt, yes!" muttered Aylward; "she is yellow as a kite's
claw, and would carry as many men as there are pips in a
pomegranate."

"It is as well," remarked Terlake; "for methinks, my fair lord,
that we are not the only ones who are waiting a passage to
Gascony.  Mine eye catches at times a flash and sparkle among
yonder houses which assuredly never came from shipman's jacket or
the gaberdine of a burgher."

"I can also see it," said Alleyne, shading his eyes with his
hand.  "And I can see men-at-arms in yonder boats which ply
betwixt the vessel and the shore.  But methinks that we are very
welcome here, for already they come forth to meet us."

A tumultuous crowd of fishermen, citizens, and women had indeed
swarmed out from the northern gate, and approached them up the
side of the moor, waving their hands and dancing with joy, as
though a great fear had been rolled back from their minds.  At
their head rode a very large and solemn man with a long chin and
a drooping lip.  He wore a fur tippet round his neck and a heavy
gold chain over it, with a medallion which dangled in front of
him.

"Welcome, most puissant and noble lord," he cried, doffing his
bonnet to Black Simon.  "I have heard of your lordship's valiant
deeds, and in sooth they might be expected from your lordship's
face and bearing.  Is there any small matter in which I may
oblige you?"

"Since you ask me," said the man-at-arms, "I would take it kindly
if you could spare a link or two of the chain which hangs round
your neck."

"What, the corporation chain!" cried the other in horror.  "The
ancient chain of the township of Lepe!  This is but a sorry jest,
Sir Nigel."

"What the plague did you ask me for then?" said Simon.  "But if
it is Sir Nigel Loring with whom you would speak, that is he upon
the black horse."

The Mayor of Lepe gazed with amazement on the mild face and
slender frame of the famous warrior.

"Your pardon, my gracious lord," he cried.  "You see in me the
mayor and chief magistrate of the ancient and powerful town of
Lepe.  I bid you very heartily welcome, and the more so as you
are come at a moment when we are sore put to it for means of
defence.'

"Ha!" cried Sir Nigel, pricking up his ears.

"Yes, my lord, for the town being very ancient and the walls as
old as the town, it follows that they are very ancient too.  But
there is a certain villainous and bloodthirsty Norman pirate
hight Tete-noire, who, with a Genoan called Tito Caracci,
commonly known as Spade-beard, hath been a mighty scourge upon
these coasts.  Indeed, my lord, they are very cruel and
black-hearted men, graceless and ruthless, and if they should
come to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe then--"

"Then good-bye to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe," quoth
Ford, whose lightness of tongue could at times rise above his awe
of Sir Nigel.

The knight, however, was too much intent upon the matter in hand
to give heed to the flippancy of his squire.  "Have you then
cause," he asked, "to think that these men are about to venture
an attempt upon you?"

"They have come in two great galleys," answered the mayor, "with
two bank of oars on either side, and great store of engines of
war and of men-at-arms.  At Weymouth and at Portland they have
murdered and ravished.  Yesterday morning they were at Cowes, and
we saw the smoke from the burning crofts.  To-day they lie at
their ease near Freshwater, and we fear much lest they come upon
us and do us a mischief."

"We cannot tarry," said Sir Nigel, riding towards the town, with
the mayor upon his left side; "the Prince awaits us at Bordeaux,
and we may not be behind the general muster.  Yet I will promise
you that on our way we shall find time to pass Freshwater and to
prevail upon these rovers to leave you in peace."

"We are much beholden to you!" cried the mayor "But I cannot see,
my lord, how, without a war-ship, you may venture against these
men.  With your archers, however, you might well hold the town
and do them great scath if they attempt to land."

"There is a very proper cog out yonder," said Sir Nigel, "it
would be a very strange thing if any ship were not a war-ship
when it had such men as these upon her decks.  Certes, we shall
do as I say, and that no later than this very day."

"My lord," said a rough-haired, dark-faced man, who walked by the
knight's other stirrup, with his head sloped to catch all that he
was saying.  "By your leave, I have no doubt that you are skilled
in land fighting and the marshalling of lances, but, by my soul!
you will find it another thing upon the sea.  I am the master-shipman
of this yellow cog, and my name is Goodwin Hawtayne.  I have
sailed since I was as high as this staff, and I have fought
against these Normans and against the Genoese, as well as the
Scotch, the Bretons, the Spanish, and the Moors.  I tell you,
sir, that my ship is over light and over frail for such work, and
it will but end in our having our throats cut, or being sold as
slaves to the Barbary heathen."

"I also have experienced one or two gentle and honorable ventures
upon the sea," quoth Sir Nigel, "and I am right blithe to have so
fair a task before us.  I think, good master-shipman, that you
and I may win great honor in this matter, and I can see very
readily that you are a brave and stout man."

"I like it not," said the other sturdily.  "In God's name, I like
it not.  And yet Goodwin Hawtayne is not the man to stand back
when his fellows are for pressing forward.  By my soul! be it
sink or swim, I shall turn her beak into Freshwater Bay, and if
good Master Witherton, of Southampton, like not my handling of
his ship then he may find another master-shipman."

They were close by the old north gate of the little town, and
Alleyne, half turning in his saddle, looked back at the motley
crowd who followed.  The bowmen and men-at-arms had broken their
ranks and were intermingled with the fishermen and citizens,
whose laughing faces and hearty gestures bespoke the weight of
care from which this welcome arrival had relieved them.  Here and
there among the moving throng of dark jerkins and of white
surcoats were scattered dashes of scarlet and blue, the whimples
or shawls of the women.  Aylward, with a fishing lass on either
arm, was vowing constancy alternately to her on the right and her
on the left, while big John towered in the rear with a little
chubby maiden enthroned upon his great shoulder, her soft white
arm curled round his shining headpiece.  So the throng moved on,
until at the very gate it was brought to a stand by a wondrously
fat man, who came darting forth from the town with rage in every
feature of his rubicund face.

"How now, Sir Mayor?" he roared, in a voice like a bull.  "How
now, Sir Mayor?  How of the clams and the scallops?"

"By Our Lady! my sweet Sir Oliver," cried the mayor.  "I have had
so much to think of, with these wicked villains so close upon us,
that it had quite gone out of my head."

"Words, words!" shouted the other furiously.  "Am I to be put off
with words?  I say to you again, how of the clams and scallops?"

"My fair sir, you flatter me," cried the mayor.  "I am a peaceful
trader, and I am not wont to be so shouted at upon so small a
matter."

"Small!" shrieked the other.  "Small!  Clams and scallops!  Ask me
to your table to partake of the dainty of the town, and when I
come a barren welcome and a bare board!  Where is my spear-bearer?"

"Nay, Sir Oliver, Sir Oliver!" cried Sir Nigel, laughing.

Let your anger be appeased, since instead of this dish you come
upon an old friend and comrade."

"By St. Martin of Tours!" shouted the fat knight, his wrath all
changed in an instant to joy, "if it is not my dear little game
rooster of the Garonne.  Ah, my sweet coz, I am right glad to see
you.  What days we have seen together!"

"Aye, by my faith," cried Sir Nigel, with sparkling eyes, "we
have seen some valiant men, and we have shown our pennons in some
noble skirmishes.  By St. Paul! we have had great joys in
France."

"And sorrows also," quoth the other.  "I have some sad memories
of the land.  Can you recall that which befell us at Libourne?"

"Nay, I cannot call to mind that we ever so much as drew sword at
the place."

"Man, man," cried Sir Oliver, "your mind still runs on nought but
blades and bassinets.  Hast no space in thy frame for the softer
joys.  Ah, even now I can scarce speak of it unmoved.  So noble a
pie, such tender pigeons, and sugar in the gravy instead of salt!
You were by my side that day, as were Sir Claude Latour and the
Lord of Pommers."

"I remember it," said Sir Nigel, laughing, "and how you harried
the cook down the street, and spoke of setting fire to the inn.
By St. Paul! most worthy mayor, my old friend is a perilous man,
and I rede you that you compose your difference with him on such
terms as you may."

"The clams and scallops shall be ready within the hour," the
mayor answered.  "I had asked Sir Oliver Buttesthorn to do my
humble board the honor to partake at it of the dainty upon which
we take some little pride, but in sooth this alarm of pirates
hath cast such a shadow on my wits that I am like one distrait.
But I trust, Sir Nigel, that you will also partake of none-meat
with me?"

"I have overmuch to do," Sir Nigel answered, "for we must be
aboard, horse and man, as early as we may.  How many do you
muster, Sir Oliver?"

"Three and forty.  The forty are drunk, and the three are but
indifferent sober.  I have them all safe upon the ship."

"They had best find their wits again, for I shall have work for
every man of them ere the sun set.  It is my intention, if it
seems good to you, to try a venture against these Norman and
Genoese rovers."

"They carry caviare and certain very noble spices from the Levant
aboard of ships from Genoa," quoth Sir Oliver.  "We may come to
great profit through the business.  I pray you, master-shipman,
that when you go on board you pour a helmetful of sea-water over
any of my rogues whom you may see there."

Leaving the lusty knight and the Mayor of Lepe, Sir Nigel led the
Company straight down to the water's edge, where long lines of
flat lighters swiftly bore them to their vessel.  Horse after
horse was slung by main force up from the barges, and after
kicking and plunging in empty air was dropped into the deep waist
of the yellow cog, where rows of stalls stood ready for their
safe keeping.  Englishmen in those days were skilled and prompt
in such matters, for it was so not long before that Edward had
embarked as many as fifty thousand men in the port of Orwell,
with their horses and their baggage, all in the space of
four-and-twenty hours.  So urgent was Sir Nigel on the shore,
and so prompt was Goodwin Hawtayne on the cog, that Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn had scarce swallowed his last scallop ere the peal of
the trumpet and clang of nakir announced that all was ready and
the anchor drawn.  In the last boat which left the shore the two
commanders sat together in the sheets, a strange contrast to one
another, while under the feet of the rowers was a litter of huge
stones which Sir Nigel had ordered to be carried to the cog.
These once aboard, the ship set her broad mainsail, purple in
color, and with a golden St. Christopher bearing Christ upon his
shoulder in the centre of it.  The breeze blew, the sail bellied,
over heeled the portly vessel, and away she plunged through the
smooth blue rollers, amid the clang of the minstrels on her poop
and the shouting of the black crowd who fringed the yellow beach.
To the left lay the green Island of Wight, with its long, low,
curving hills peeping over each other's shoulders to the sky-line;
to the right the wooded Hampshire coast as far as eye could
reach; above a steel-blue heaven, with a wintry sun shimmering
down upon them, and enough of frost to set the breath a-smoking.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel gayly, as he stood upon the poop
and looked on either side of him, "it is a land which is very
well worth fighting for, and it were pity to go to France for
what may be had at home.  Did you not spy a crooked man upon the
beach?"

"Nay, I spied nothing," grumbled Sir Oliver, "for I was hurried
down with a clam stuck in my gizzard and an untasted goblet of
Cyprus on the board behind me."

"I saw him, my fair lord," said Terlake, "an old man with one
shoulder higher than the other."

"'Tis a sign of good fortune," quoth Sir Nigel.  "Our path was
also crossed by a woman and by a priest, so all should be well
with us.  What say you, Edricson?"

"I cannot tell, my fair lord.  The Romans of old were a very wise
people, yet, certes, they placed their faith in such matters.
So, too, did the Greeks, and divers other ancient peoples who
were famed for their learning.  Yet of the moderns there are many
who scoff at all omens."

"There can be no manner of doubt about it," said Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn, "I can well remember that in Navarre one day it
thundered on the left out of a cloudless sky.  We knew that ill
would come of it, nor had we long to wait.  Only thirteen days
after, a haunch of prime venison was carried from my very tent
door by the wolves, and on the same day two flasks of old vernage
turned sour and muddy."

"You may bring my harness from below," said Sir Nigel to his
squires, "and also, I pray you, bring up Sir Oliver's and we
shall don it here.  Ye may then see to your own gear; for this
day you will, I hope, make a very honorable entrance into the
field of chivalry, and prove yourselves to be very worthy and
valiant squires.  And now, Sir Oliver, as to our dispositions:
would it please you that I should order them or will you?"

"You, my cockerel, you.  By Our Lady! I am no chicken, but I
cannot claim to know as much of war as the squire of Sir Walter
Manny.  Settle the matter to your own liking."

"You shall fly your pennon upon the fore part, then, and I upon
the poop.  For foreguard I shall give you your own forty men,
with two-score archers.  Two-score men, with my own men-at-arms
and squires, will serve as a poop-guard.  Ten archers, with
thirty shipmen, under the master, may hold the waist while ten
lie aloft with stones and arbalests.  How like you that?"

"Good, by my faith, good!  But here comes my harness, and I must
to work, for I cannot slip into it as I was wont when first I set
my face to the wars."

Meanwhile there had been bustle and preparation in all parts of
the great vessel.  The archers stood in groups about the decks,
new-stringing their bows, and testing that they were firm at the
nocks.  Among them moved Aylward and other of the older soldiers,
with a few whispered words of precept here and of warning there.

"Stand to it, my hearts of gold," said the old bowman as he
passed from knot to knot.  "By my hilt! we are in luck this
journey.  Bear in mind the old saying of the Company."

"What is that, Aylward?" cried several, leaning on their bows and
laughing at him.

"'Tis the master-bowyer's rede: `Every bow well bent.  Every
shaft well sent.  Every stave well nocked.  Every string well
locked.'  There, with that jingle in his head, a bracer on his
left hand, a shooting glove on his right, and a farthing's-worth
of wax in his girdle, what more doth a bowman need?"

"It would not be amiss," said Hordle John, "if under his girdle
he had tour farthings'-worth of wine."

"Work first, wine afterwards, mon camarade.  But it is time that
we took our order, for methinks that between the Needle rocks and
the Alum cliffs yonder I can catch a glimpse of the topmasts of
the galleys.  Hewett, Cook, Johnson, Cunningham, your men are of
the poop-guard.  Thornbury, Walters, Hackett, Baddlesmere, you
are with Sir Oliver on the forecastle.  Simon, you bide with your
lord's banner; but ten men must go forward."

Quietly and promptly the men took their places, lying flat upon
their faces on the deck, for such was Sir Nigel's order.  Near
the prow was planted Sir Oliver's spear, with his arms--a boar's
head gules upon a field of gold.  Close by the stern stood Black
Simon with the pennon of the house of Loring.  In the waist
gathered the Southampton mariners, hairy and burly men, with
their jerkins thrown off, their waists braced tight, swords,
mallets, and pole-axes in their hands.  Their leader, Goodwin
Hawtayne, stood upon the poop and talked with Sir Nigel, casting
his eye up sometimes at the swelling sail, and then glancing
back at the two seamen who held the tiller.

"Pass the word," said Sir Nigel, "that no man shall stand to arms
or draw his bow-string until my trumpeter shall sound.  It would
be well that we should seem to be a merchant-ship from
Southampton and appear to flee from them."

"We shall see them anon," said the master-shipman.  "Ha, said I
not so?  There they lie, the water-snakes, in Freshwater Bay; and
mark the reek of smoke from yonder point, where they have been at
their devil's work.  See how their shallops pull from the land!
They have seen us and called their men aboard.  Now they draw
upon the anchor.  See them like ants upon the forecastle!  They
stoop and heave like handy ship men.  But, my fair lord, these
are no niefs.  I doubt but we have taken in hand more than we can
do.  Each of these ships is a galeasse, and of the largest and
swiftest make."

"I would I had your eyes," said Sir Nigel, blinking at the pirate
galleys.  "They seem very gallant ships, and I trust that we
shall have much pleasance from our meeting with them.  It would
be well to pass the word that we should neither give nor take
quarter this day.  Have you perchance a priest or friar aboard
this ship, Master Hawtayne?"

"No, my fair lord."

"Well, well, it is no great matter for my Company, for they were
all houseled and shriven ere we left Twynham Castle; and Father
Christopher of the Priory gave me his word that they were as fit
to march to heaven as to Gascony.  But my mind misdoubts me as to
these Winchester men who have come with Sir Oliver, for they
appear to be a very ungodly crew.  Pass the word that the men
kneel, and that the under-officers repeat to them the pater, the
ave, and the credo."

With a clank of arms, the rough archers and seamen took to their
knees, with bent heads and crossed hands, listening to the hoarse
mutter from the file-leaders.  It was strange to mark the hush;
so that the lapping of the water, the straining of the sail, and
the creaking of the timbers grew louder of a sudden upon the ear.
Many of the bowmen had drawn amulets and relics from their
bosoms, while he who possessed some more than usually sanctified
treasure passed it down the line of his comrades, that all might
kiss and reap the virtue.

The yellow cog had now shot out from the narrow waters of the
Solent, and was plunging and rolling on the long heave of the
open channel.  The wind blew freshly from the east, with a very
keen edge to it; and the great sail bellied roundly out, laying
the vessel over until the water hissed beneath her lee bulwarks.
Broad and ungainly, she floundered from wave to wave, dipping her
round bows deeply into the blue rollers, and sending the white
flakes of foam in a spatter over her decks.  On her larboard
quarter lay the two dark galleys, which had already hoisted sail,
and were shooting out from Freshwater Bay in swift pursuit, their
double line of oars giving them a vantage which could not fail to
bring them up with any vessel which trusted to sails alone.  High
and bluff the English cog; long, black and swift the pirate
galleys, like two fierce lean wolves which have seen a lordly
and unsuspecting stag walk past their forest lair.

"Shall we turn, my fair lord, or shall we carry on?" asked the
master-shipman, looking behind him with anxious eyes.

"Nay, we must carry on and play the part of the helpless
merchant."

"But your pennons?  They will see that we have two knights with
us."

"Yet it would not be to a knight's honor or good name to lower
his pennon.  Let them be, and they will think that we are a
wine-ship for Gascony, or that we bear the wool-bales of some
mercer of the Staple.  Ma foi, but they are very swift!  They
swoop upon us like two goshawks on a heron.  Is there not some
symbol or device upon their sails?"

"That on the right," said Edricson, "appears to have the head of
an Ethiop upon it."

"'Tis the badge of Tete-noire, the Norman," cried a seaman-mariner.
"I have seen it before, when he harried us at Winchelsea.  He is
a wondrous large and strong man, with no ruth for man, woman, or
beast.  They say that he hath the strength of six; and, certes,
he hath the crimes of six upon his soul.  See, now, to the poor
souls who swing at either end of his yard-arm!"

At each end of the yard there did indeed hang the dark figure of
a man, jolting and lurching with hideous jerkings of its limbs at
every plunge and swoop of the galley.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel, "and by the help of St. George and
Our Lady, it will be a very strange thing if our black-headed
friend does not himself swing thence ere he be many hours older.
But what is that upon the other galley?"

"It is the red cross of Genoa.  This Spade-beard is a very noted
captain, and it is his boast that there are no seamen and no
archers in the world who can compare with those who serve the
Doge Boccanegra."

"That we shall prove," said Goodwin Hawtayne; "but it would be
well, ere they close with us, to raise up the mantlets and
pavises as a screen against their bolts."  He shouted a hoarse
order, and his seamen worked swiftly and silently, heightening
the bulwarks and strengthening them.  The three ship's anchors
were at Sir Nigel's command carried into the waist, and tied to
the mast, with twenty feet of cable between, each under the care
of four seamen.  Eight others were stationed with leather
water-bags to quench any fire-arrows which might come aboard,
while others were sent up the mast, to lie along the yard and
drop stones or shoot arrows as the occasion served.

"Let them be supplied with all that is heavy and weighty in the
ship," said Sir Nigel.

"Then we must send them up Sir Oliver Buttesthorn," quoth Ford.

The knight looked at him with a face which struck the smile from
his lips.  "No squire of mine," he said, "shall ever make jest of
a belted knight.  And yet," he added, his eyes softening, "I know
that it is but a boy's mirth, with no sting in it.  Yet I should
ill do my part towards your father if I did not teach you to curb
your tongue-play."

"They will lay us aboard on either quarter, my lord," cried the
master.  "See how they stretch out from each other!  The Norman
hath a mangonel or a trabuch upon the forecastle.  See, they bend
to the levers!  They are about to loose it."

"Aylward," cried the knight, "pick your three trustiest archers,
and see if you cannot do something to hinder their aim.  Methinks
they are within long arrow flight."

"Seventeen score paces," said the archer, running his eye
backwards and forwards.  "By my ten finger-bones! it would be a
strange thing if we could not notch a mark at that distance.
Here, Watkin of Sowley, Arnold, Long Williams, let us show the
rogues that they have English bowmen to deal with."

The three archers named stood at the further end of the poop,
balancing themselves with feet widely spread and bows drawn,
until the heads of the cloth-yard arrows were level with the
centre of the stave.  "You are the surer, Watkin," said Aylward,
standing by them with shaft upon string.  "Do you take the rogue
with the red coif.  You two bring down the man with the head-piece,
and I will hold myself ready if you miss.  Ma foi! they are about
to loose her.  Shoot, mes garcons, or you will be too late."

The throng of pirates had cleared away from the great wooden
catapult, leaving two of their number to discharge it.  One in a
scarlet cap bent over it, steadying the jagged rock which was
balanced on the spoon-shaped end of the long wooden lever.  The
other held the loop of the rope which would release the catch and
send the unwieldy missile hurtling through the air.  So for an
instant they stood, showing hard and clear against the white sail
behind them.  The next, redcap had fallen across the stone with
an arrow between his ribs; and the other, struck in the leg and
in the throat, was writhing and spluttering upon the ground.  As
he toppled backwards he had loosed the spring, and the huge beam
of wood, swinging round with tremendous force, cast the corpse of
his comrade so close to the English ship that its mangled and
distorted limbs grazed their very stern.  As to the stone, it
glanced off obliquely and fell midway between the vessels.  A
roar of cheering and of laughter broke from the rough archers and
seamen at the sight, answered by a yell of rage from their
pursuers.

"Lie low, mes enfants," cried Aylward, motioning with his left
hand.  "They will learn wisdom.  They are bringing forward shield
and mantlet.  We shall have some pebbles about our ears ere
long."



CHAPTER XVI.

HOW THE YELLOW COG FOUGHT THE TWO ROVER GALLEYS.


The three vessels had been sweeping swiftly westwards, the cog
still well to the front, although the galleys were slowly drawing
in upon either quarter.  To the left was a hard skyline unbroken
by a sail.  The island already lay like a cloud behind them,
while right in front was St. Alban's Head, with Portland looming
mistily in the farthest distance.  Alleyne stood by the tiller,
looking backwards, the fresh wind full in his teeth, the crisp
winter air tingling on his face and blowing his yellow curls from
under his bassinet.  His cheeks were flushed and his eyes
shining, for the blood of a hundred fighting Saxon ancestors was
beginning to stir in his veins.

"What was that?" he asked, as a hissing, sharp-drawn voice seemed
to whisper in his ear.  The steersman smiled, and pointed with
his foot to where a short heavy cross-bow quarrel stuck quivering
in the boards.  At the same instant the man stumbled forward upon
his knees, and lay lifeless upon the deck, a blood-stained
feather jutting out from his back.  As Alleyne stooped to raise
him, the air seemed to be alive with the sharp zip-zip of the
bolts, and he could hear them pattering on the deck like apples
at a tree-shaking.

"Raise two more mantlets by the poop-lanthorn," said Sir Nigel
quietly.

"And another man to the tiller," cried the master-shipman.

"Keep them in play, Aylward, with ten of your men," the knight
continued.  "And let ten of Sir Oliver's bowmen do as much for
the Genoese.  I have no mind as yet to show them how much they
have to fear from us."

Ten picked shots under Aylward stood in line across the broad
deck, and it was a lesson to the young squires who had seen
nothing of war to note how orderly and how cool were these old
soldiers, how quick the command, and how prompt the carrying out,
ten moving like one.  Their comrades crouched beneath the
bulwarks, with many a rough jest and many a scrap of criticism or
advice.  "Higher, Wat, higher!" "Put thy body into it, Will!"
"Forget not the wind, Hal!" So ran the muttered chorus, while
high above it rose the sharp twanging of the strings, the hiss
of the shafts, and the short "Draw your arrow!  Nick your arrow!
Shoot wholly together!" from the master-bowman.

And now both mangonels were at work from the galleys, but so
covered and protected that, save at the moment of discharge, no
glimpse could be caught of them.  A huge brown rock from the
Genoese sang over their heads, and plunged sullenly into the
slope of a wave.  Another from the Norman whizzed into the waist,
broke the back of a horse, and crashed its way through the side
of the vessel.  Two others, flying together, tore a great gap in
the St. Christopher upon the sail, and brushed three of Sir
Oliver's men-at-arms from the forecastle.  The master-shipman
looked at the knight with a troubled face.

"They keep their distance from us," said he.  "Our archery is
over-good, and they will not close.  What defence can we make
against the stones?"

"I think I may trick them," the knight answered cheerfully, and
passed his order to the archers.  Instantly five of them threw up
their hands and fell prostrate upon the deck.  One had already
been slain by a bolt, so that there were but four upon their
feet.

"That should give them heart," said Sir Nigel, eyeing the
galleys, which crept along on either side, with a slow, measured
swing of their great oars, the water swirling and foaming under
their sharp stems.

"They still hold aloof," cried Hawtayne.

"Then down with two more," shouted their leader.  "That will do.
Ma foi! but they come to our lure like chicks to the fowler.  To
your arms, men!  The pennon behind me, and the squires round the
pennon.  Stand fast with the anchors in the waist, and be ready
for a cast.  Now blow out the trumpets, and may God's benison be
with the honest men!"

As he spoke a roar of voices and a roll of drums came from either
galley, and the water was lashed into spray by the hurried beat
of a hundred oars.  Down they swooped, one on the right, one on
the left, the sides and shrouds black with men and bristling with
weapons.  In heavy clusters they hung upon the forecastle all
ready for a spring-faces white, faces brown, faces yellow, and
faces black, fair Norsemen, swarthy Italians, fierce rovers from
the Levant, and fiery Moors from the Barbary States, of all hues
and countries, and marked solely by the common stamp of a
wild-beast ferocity.  Rasping up on either side, with oars
trailing to save them from snapping, they poured in a living
torrent with horrid yell and shrill whoop upon the defenceless
merchantman.

But wilder yet was the cry, and shriller still the scream, when
there rose up from the shadow of those silent bulwarks the long
lines of the English bowmen, and the arrows whizzed in a deadly
sleet among the unprepared masses upon the pirate decks.  From
the higher sides of the cog the bowmen could shoot straight down,
at a range which was so short as to enable a cloth-yard shaft to
pierce through mail-coats or to transfix a shield, though it were
an inch thick of toughened wood.  One moment Alleyne saw the
galley's poop crowded with rushing figures, waving arms, exultant
faces; the next it was a blood-smeared shambles, with bodies
piled three deep upon each other, the living cowering behind the
dead to shelter themselves from that sudden storm-blast of
death.  On either side the seamen whom Sir Nigel had chosen for
the purpose had cast their anchors over the side of the galleys,
so that the three vessels, locked in an iron grip, lurched
heavily forward upon the swell.

And now set in a fell and fierce fight, one of a thousand of
which no chronicler has spoken and no poet sung.  Through all the
centuries and over all those southern waters nameless men have
fought in nameless places, their sole monuments a protected coast
and an unravaged country-side.

Fore and aft the archers had cleared the galleys' decks, but from
either side the rovers had poured down into the waist, where the
seamen and bowmen were pushed back and so mingled with their foes
that it was impossible for their comrades above to draw string to
help them.  It was a wild chaos where axe and sword rose and
fell, while Englishman, Norman, and Italian staggered and reeled
on a deck which was cumbered with bodies and slippery with blood.
The clang of blows, the cries of the stricken, the short, deep
shout of the islanders, and the fierce whoops of the rovers, rose
together in a deafening tumult, while the breath of the panting
men went up in the wintry air like the smoke from a furnace.  The
giant Tete-noire, towering above his fellows and clad from head
to foot in plate of proof, led on his boarders, waving a huge
mace in the air, with which he struck to the deck every man who
approached him.  On the other side, Spade-beard, a dwarf in
height, but of great breadth of shoulder and length of arm, had
cut a road almost to the mast, with three-score Genoese men-at-arms
close at his heels.  Between these two formidable assailants the
seamen were being slowly wedged more closely together, until they
stood back to back under the mast with the rovers raging upon
every side of them.

But help was close at hand.  Sir Oliver Buttesthorn with his
men-at-arms had swarmed down from the forecastle, while Sir
Nigel, with his three squires, Black Simon, Aylward, Hordle John,
and a score more, threw themselves from the poop and hurled
themselves into the thickest of the fight.  Alleyne, as in duty
bound, kept his eyes fixed ever on his lord and pressed forward
close at his heels.  Often had he heard of Sir Nigel's prowess
and skill with all knightly weapons, but all the tales that had
reached his ears fell far short of the real quickness and
coolness of the man.  It was as if the devil was in him, for he
sprang here and sprang there, now thrusting and now cutting,
catching blows on his shield, turning them with his blade,
stooping under the swing of an axe, springing over the sweep of a
sword, so swift and so erratic that the man who braced himself
for a blow at him might find him six paces off ere he could bring
it down.  Three pirates had fallen before him, and he had wounded
Spade-beard in the neck, when the Norman giant sprang at him from
the side with a slashing blow from his deadly mace.  Sir Nigel
stooped to avoid it, and at the same instant turned a thrust from
the Genoese swordsman, but, his foot slipping in a pool of blood,
he fell heavily to the ground.  Alleyne sprang in front of the
Norman, but his sword was shattered and he himself beaten to the
ground by a second blow from the ponderous weapon.  Ere the
pirate chief could repeat it, however, John's iron grip fell upon
his wrist, and he found that for once he was in the hands of a
stronger man than himself.

Fiercely he strove to disengage his weapon, but Hordle John bent
his arm slowly back until, with a sharp crack, like a breaking
stave, it turned limp in his grasp, and the mace dropped from the
nerveless fingers.  In vain he tried to pluck it up with the
other hand.  Back and back still his foeman bent him, until, with
a roar of pain and of fury, the giant clanged his full length
upon the boards, while the glimmer of a knife before the bars of
his helmet warned him that short would be his shrift if he moved.

Cowed and disheartened by the loss of their leader, the Normans
had given back and were now streaming over the bulwarks on to
their own galley, dropping a dozen at a time on to her deck.  But
the anchor still held them in its crooked claw, and Sir Oliver
with fifty men was hard upon their heels.  Now, too, the archers
had room to draw their bows once more, and great stones from the
yard of the cog came thundering and crashing among the flying
rovers.  Here and there they rushed with wild screams and curses,
diving under the sail, crouching behind booms, huddling into
corners like rabbits when the ferrets are upon them, as helpless
and as hopeless.  They were stern days, and if the honest
soldier, too poor for a ransom, had no prospect of mercy upon the
battle-field, what ruth was there for sea robbers, the enemies of
humankind, taken in the very deed, with proofs of their crimes
still swinging upon their yard-arm.

But the fight had taken a new and a strange turn upon the other
side.  Spade-beard and his men had given slowly back, hard
pressed by Sir Nigel, Aylward, Black Simon, and the poop-guard.
Foot by foot the Italian had retreated, his armor running blood
at every joint, his shield split, his crest shorn, his voice
fallen away to a mere gasping and croaking.  Yet he faced his
foemen with dauntless courage, dashing in, springing back,
sure-footed, steady-handed, with a point which seemed to menace
three at once.  Beaten back on to the deck of his own vessel, and
closely followed by a dozen Englishmen, he disengaged himself
from them, ran swiftly down the deck, sprang back into the cog
once more, cut the rope which held the anchor, and was back in an
instant among his crossbow-men.  At the same time the Genoese
sailors thrust with their oars against the side of the cog, and a
rapidly widening rift appeared between the two vessels.

"By St. George!" cried Ford, "we are cut off from Sir Nigel."

"He is lost," gasped Terlake.  "Come, let us spring for it." The
two youths jumped with all their strength to reach the departing
galley.  Ford's feet reached the edge of the bulwarks, and his
hand clutching a rope he swung himself on board.  Terlake fell
short, crashed in among the oars, and bounded off into the sea.
Alleyne, staggering to the side, was about to hurl himself after
him, but Hordle John dragged him back by the girdle.

"You can scarce stand, lad, far less jump," said he.  "See how
the blood rips from your bassinet."

"My place is by the flag," cried Alleyne, vainly struggling to
break from the other's hold.

"Bide here, man.  You would need wings ere you could reach Sir
Nigel's side."

The vessels were indeed so far apart now that the Genoese could
use the full sweep of their oars, and draw away rapidly from the
cog.

"My God, but it is a noble fight!" shouted big John, clapping his
hands.  "They have cleared the poop, and they spring into the
waist.  Well struck, my lord!  Well struck, Aylward!  See to
Black Simon, how he storms among the shipmen!  But this Spade-beard
is a gallant warrior.  He rallies his men upon the forecastle.
He hath slain an archer.  Ha! my lord is upon him.  Look to it,
Alleyne!  See to the whirl and glitter of it!"

"By heaven, Sir Nigel is down!" cried the squire.

"Up!" roared John.  "It was but a feint.  He bears him back.  He
drives him to the side.  Ah, by Our Lady, his sword is through
him!  They cry for mercy.  Down goes the red cross, and up
springs Simon with the scarlet roses!"

The death of the Genoese leader did indeed bring the resistance
to an end.  Amid a thunder of cheering from cog and from galleys
the forked pennon fluttered upon the forecastle, and the galley,
sweeping round, came slowly back, as the slaves who rowed it
learned the wishes of their new masters.

The two knights had come aboard the cog, and the grapplings
having been thrown off, the three vessels now moved abreast
through all the storm and rush of the fight Alleyne had been
aware of the voice of Goodwin Hawtayne, the master-shipman, with
his constant "Hale the bowline!  Veer the sheet!" and strange it
was to him to see how swiftly the blood-stained sailors turned
from the strife to the ropes and back.  Now the cog's head was
turned Francewards, and the shipman walked the deck, a peaceful
master-mariner once more.

"There is sad scath done to the cog, Sir Nigel," said he.  "Here
is a hole in the side two ells across, the sail split through the
centre, and the wood as bare as a friar's poll.  In good sooth, I
know not what I shall say to Master Witherton when I see the
Itchen once more."

"By St. Paul! it would be a very sorry thing if we suffered you
to be the worse of this day's work," said Sir Nigel.  "You shall
take these galleys back with you, and Master Witherton may sell
them.  Then from the moneys he shall take as much as may make
good the damage, and the rest he shall keep until our home-coming,
when every man shall have his share.  An image of silver fifteen
inches high I have vowed to the Virgin, to be placed in her
chapel within the Priory, for that she was pleased to allow me to
come upon this Spade-beard, who seemed to me from what I have
seen of him to be a very sprightly and valiant gentleman.  But
how fares it with you, Edricson?"

"It is nothing, my fair lord," said Alleyne, who had now loosened
his bassinet, which was cracked across by the Norman's blow.
Even as he spoke, however, his head swirled round, and he fell to
the deck with the blood gushing from his nose and mouth.

"He will come to anon," said the knight, stooping over him and
passing his fingers through his hair.  "I have lost one very
valiant and gentle squire this day.  I can ill afford to lose
another.  How many men have fallen?"

"I have pricked off the tally," said Aylward, who had come aboard
with his lord.  "There are seven of the Winchester men, eleven
seamen, your squire, young Master Terlake, and nine archers."

"And of the others?"

"They are all dead--save only the Norman knight who stands behind
you.  What would you that we should do with him?"

"He must hang on his own yard," said Sir Nigel.  "It was my vow
and must be done."

The pirate leader had stood by the bulwarks, a cord round his
arms, and two stout archers on either side.  At Sir Nigel's words
he started violently, and his swarthy features blanched to a
livid gray.

"How, Sir Knight?" he cried in broken English.  "Que dites vous?
To hang, le mort du chien!  To hang!"

"It is my vow," said Sir Nigel shortly.  "From what I hear, you
thought little enough of hanging others."

"Peasants, base roturiers," cried the other.  "It is their
fitting death.  Mais Le Seigneur d'Andelys, avec le sang des rois
dans ses veins!  C'est incroyable!"

Sir Nigel turned upon his heel, while two seamen cast a noose
over the pirate's neck.  At the touch of the cord he snapped the
bonds which bound him, dashed one of the archers to the deck, and
seizing the other round the waist sprang with him into the sea.

"By my hilt, he is gone!" cried Aylward, rushing to the side.
"They have sunk together like a stone."

"I am right glad of it," answered Sir Nigel; "for though it was
against my vow to loose him, I deem that he has carried himself
like a very gentle and debonnaire cavalier."



CHAPTER XVII.

HOW THE YELLOW COG CROSSED THE BAR OF GIRONDE.


For two days the yellow cog ran swiftly before a northeasterly
wind, and on the dawn of the third the high land of Ushant lay
like a mist upon the shimmering sky-line.  There came a plump of
rain towards mid-day and the breeze died down, but it freshened
again before nightfall, and Goodwin Hawtayne veered his sheet and
held head for the south.  Next morning they had passed Belle
Isle, and ran through the midst of a fleet of transports
returning from Guienne.  Sir Nigel Loring and Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn at once hung their shields over the side, and
displayed their pennons as was the custom, noting with the
keenest interest the answering symbols which told the names of
the cavaliers who had been constrained by ill health or wounds to
leave the prince at so critical a time.

That evening a great dun-colored cloud banked up in the west, and
an anxious man was Goodwin Hawtayne, for a third part of his crew
had been slain, and half the remainder were aboard the galleys,
so that, with an injured ship, he was little fit  to meet such a
storm as sweeps over those waters.  All night it blew in short
fitful puffs, heeling the great cog over until the water curled
over her lee bulwarks.  As the wind still freshened the yard was
lowered half way down the mast in the morning.  Alleyne,
wretchedly ill and weak, with his head still ringing from the
blow which he had received, crawled up upon deck.  Water-swept and
aslant, it was preferable to the noisome, rat-haunted dungeons
which served as cabins.  There, clinging to the stout halliards
of the sheet, he gazed with amazement at the long lines of black
waves, each with its curling ridge of foam, racing in endless
succession from out the inexhaustible west.  A huge sombre cloud,
flecked with livid blotches, stretched over the whole seaward
sky-line, with long ragged streamers whirled out in front of it.
Far behind them the two galleys labored heavily, now sinking
between the rollers until their yards were level with the waves,
and again shooting up with a reeling, scooping motion until every
spar and rope stood out hard against the sky.  On the left the
low-lying land stretched in a dim haze, rising here and there
into a darker blur which marked the higher capes and headlands.
The land of France!  Alleyne's eyes shone as he gazed upon it.
The land of France!--the very words sounded as the call of a
bugle in the ears of the youth of England.  The land where their
fathers had bled, the home of chivalry and of knightly deeds, the
country of gallant men, of courtly women, of princely buildings,
of the wise, the polished and the sainted.  There it lay, so
still and gray beneath the drifting wrack--the home of things
noble and of things shameful--the theatre where a new name might
be made or an old one marred.  From his bosom to his lips came
the crumpled veil, and he breathed a vow that if valor and
goodwill could raise him to his lady's side, then death alone
should hold him back from her.  His thoughts were still in the
woods of Minstead and the old armory of Twynham Castle, when the
hoarse voice of the master-shipman brought them back once more to
the Bay of Biscay.

"By my troth, young sir," he said, "you are as long in the face
as the devil at a christening, and I cannot marvel at it, for I
have sailed these waters since I was as high as this whinyard,
and yet I never saw more sure promise of an evil night."

"Nay, I had other things upon my mind," the squire answered.

"And so has every man," cried Hawtayne in an injured voice.  "Let
the shipman see to it.  It is the master-shipman's affair.  Put
it all upon good Master Hawtayne!  Never had I so much care since
first I blew trumpet and showed cartel at the west gate of
Southampton."

"What is amiss then?" asked Alleyne, for the man's words were as
gusty as the weather.

"Amiss, quotha?  Here am I with but half my mariners, and a hole
in the ship where that twenty-devil stone struck us big enough to
fit the fat widow of Northam through.  It is well enough on this
tack, but I would have you tell me what I am to do on the other.
We are like to have salt water upon us until we be found pickled
like the herrings in an Easterling's barrels."

"What says Sir Nigel to it?"

"He is below pricking out the coat-armor of his mother's uncle.
`Pester me not with such small matters!' was all that I could get
from him.  Then there is Sir Oliver.  `Fry them in oil with a
dressing of Gascony,' quoth he, and then swore at me because I
had not been the cook.  `Walawa,' thought I, `mad master, sober
man'--so away forward to the archers.  Harrow and alas!  but they
were worse than the others."

"Would they not help you then?"

"Nay, they sat tway and tway at a board, him that they call
Aylward and the great red-headed man who snapped the Norman's
arm-bone, and the black man from Norwich, and a score of others,
rattling their dice in an archer's gauntlet for want of a box.
`The ship can scarce last much longer, my masters,' quoth I.
`That is your business, old swine's-head,' cried the black
galliard.  `Le diable t'emporte,' says Aylward.  `A five, a four
and the main,' shouted the big man, with a voice like the flap of
a sail.  Hark to them now, young sir, and say if I speak not
sooth."

As he spoke, there sounded high above the shriek of the gale and
the straining of the timbers a gust of oaths with a roar of
deep-chested mirth from the gamblers in the forecastle.

"Can I be of avail?" asked Alleyne.  "Say the word and the thing
is done, if two hands may do it."

"Nay, nay, your head I can see is still totty, and i' faith
little head would you have, had your bassinet not stood your
friend.  All that may be done is already carried out, for we have
stuffed the gape with sails and corded it without and within.
Yet when we bale our bowline and veer the sheet our lives will
hang upon the breach remaining blocked.  See how yonder headland
looms upon us through the mist!  We must tack within three arrow
flights, or we may find a rock through our timbers.  Now, St.
Christopher be praised! here is Sir Nigel, with whom I may
confer."

"I prythee that you will pardon me," said the knight, clutching
his way along the bulwark.  "I would not show lack of courtesy
toward a worthy man, but I was deep in a matter of some weight,
concerning which, Alleyne, I should be glad of your rede.  It
touches the question of dimidiation or impalement in the coat of
mine uncle, Sir John Leighton of Shropshire, who took unto wife
the widow of Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell.  The case has been
much debated by pursuivants and kings-of-arms.  But how is it
with you, master shipman?"

"Ill enough, my fair lord.  The cog must go about anon, and I
know not how we may keep the water out of her."

"Go call Sir Oliver!" said Sir Nigel, and presently the portly
knight made his way all astraddle down the slippery deck.

"By my soul, master-shipman, this passes all patience!" he cried
wrathfully.  "If this ship of yours must needs dance and skip
like a clown at a kermesse, then I pray you that you will put me
into one of these galeasses.  I had but sat down to a flask of
malvoisie and a mortress of brawn, as is my use about this hour,
when there comes a cherking, and I find my wine over my legs and
the flask in my lap, and then as I stoop to clip it there comes
another cursed cherk, and there is a mortress of brawn stuck fast
to the nape of my neck.  At this moment I have two pages coursing
after it from side to side, like hounds behind a leveret.  Never
did living pig gambol more lightly.  But you have sent for me,
Sir Nigel?"

"I would fain have your rede, Sir Oliver, for Master Hawtayne
hath fears that when we veer there may come danger from the hole
in our side."

"Then do not veer," quoth Sir Oliver hastily.  "And now, fair
sir, I must hasten back to see how my rogues have fared with the
brawn."

"Nay, but this will scarce suffice," cried the shipman.  "If we
do not veer we will be upon the rocks within the hour."

"Then veer," said Sir Oliver.  "There is my rede; and now, Sir
Nigel, I must crave----"

At this instant, however, a startled shout rang out from two
seamen upon the forecastle.  "Rocks!" they yelled, stabbing into
the air with their forefingers.  "Rocks beneath our very bows!"
Through the belly of a great black wave, not one hundred paces to
the front of them, there thrust forth a huge jagged mass of brown
stone, which spouted spray as though it were some crouching
monster, while a dull menacing boom and roar filled the air.

"Yare! yare!" screamed Goodwin Hawtayne, flinging himself upon
the long pole which served as a tiller.  "Cut the halliard!  Haul
her over!  Lay her two courses to the wind!"

Over swung the great boom, and the cog trembled and quivered
within five spear-lengths of the breakers.

"She can scarce draw clear," cried Hawtayne, with his eyes from
the sail to the seething line of foam.  "May the holy Julian
stand by us and the thrice-sainted Christopher!"

"If there be such peril, Sir Oliver," quoth Sir Nigel, "it would
be very knightly and fitting that we should show our pennons.  I
pray you.  Edricson, that you will command my guidon-bearer to
put forward my banner."

"And sound the trumpets!" cried Sir Oliver.  "In manus tuas,
Domine!  I am in the keeping of James of Compostella, to whose
shrine I shall make pilgrimage, and in whose honor I vow that I
will eat a carp each year upon his feast-day.  Mon Dieu, but the
waves roar!  How is it with us now, master-shipman?"

"We draw!  We draw!" cried Hawtayne, with his eyes still fixed
upon the foam which hissed under the very bulge of the side.
"Ah, Holy Mother, be with us now!"

As he spoke the cog rasped along the edge of the reef, and a long
white curling sheet of wood was planed off from her side from
waist to poop by a jutting horn of the rock.  At the same instant
she lay suddenly over, the sail drew full, and she plunged
seawards amid the shoutings of the seamen and the archers.

"The Virgin be praised!" cried the shipman, wiping his brow.
"For this shall bell swing and candle burn when I see Southampton
Water once more.  Cheerily, my hearts!  Pull yarely on the
bowline!"

"By my soul! I would rather have a dry death," quoth Sir Oliver.
"Though, Mort Dieu! I have eaten so many fish that it were but
justice that the fish should eat me.  Now I must back to the
cabin, for I have matters there which crave my attention."

"Nay, Sir Oliver, you had best bide with us, and still show your
ensign," Sir Nigel answered; "for, if I understand the matter
aright, we have but turned from one danger to the other."

"Good Master Hawtayne," cried the boatswain, rushing aft, "the
water comes in upon us apace.  The waves have driven in the sail
wherewith we strove to stop the hole."  As he spoke the seamen
came swarming on to the poop and the forecastle to avoid the
torrent which poured through the huge leak into the waist.  High
above the roar of the wind and the clash of the sea rose the
shrill half-human cries of the horses, as they found the water
rising rapidly around them.

"Stop it from without!" cried Hawtayne, seizing the end of the
wet sail with which the gap had been plugged.  "Speedily, my
hearts, or we are gone!"  Swiftly they rove ropes to the corners,
and then, rushing forward to the bows, they lowered them under
the keel, and drew them tight in such a way that the sail should
cover the outer face of the gap.  The force of the rush of water
was checked by this obstacle, but it still squirted plentifully
from every side of it.  At the sides the horses were above the
belly, and in the centre a man from the poop could scarce touch
the deck with a seven-foot spear.  The cog lay lower in the water
and the waves splashed freely over the weather bulwark.

"I fear that we can scarce bide upon this tack," cried Hawtayne;
"and yet the other will drive us on the rocks."

"Might we not haul down sail and wait for better times?"
suggested Sir Nigel.

"Nay, we should drift upon the rocks.  Thirty years have I been
on the sea, and never yet in greater straits.  Yet we are in the
hands of the Saints."

"Of whom," cried Sir Oliver, "I look more particularly to St.
James of Compostella, who hath already befriended us this day,
and on whose feast I hereby vow that I shall eat a second carp,
if he will but interpose a second time."

The wrack had thickened to seaward, and the coast was but a
blurred line.  Two vague shadows in the offing showed where the
galeasses rolled and tossed upon the great Atlantic rollers,
Hawtayne looked wistfully in their direction.

"If they would but lie closer we might find safety, even should
the cog founder.  You will bear me out with good Master Witherton
of Southampton that I have done all that a shipman might.  It
would be well that you should doff camail and greaves, Sir Nigel,
for, by the black rood! it is like enough that we shall have to
swim for it."

"Nay," said the little knight, "it would be scarce fitting that a
cavalier should throw off his harness for the fear of every puff
of wind and puddle of water.  I would rather that my Company
should gather round me here on the poop, where we might abide
together whatever God may be pleased to send.  But, certes,
Master Hawtayne, for all that my sight is none of the best, it is
not the first time that I have seen that headland upon the left."

The seaman shaded his eyes with his hand, and gazed earnestly
through the haze and spray.  Suddenly he threw up his arms and
shouted aloud in his joy.

"'Tis the point of La Tremblade!" he cried.  "I had not thought
that we were as far as Oleron.  The Gironde lies before us, and
once over the bar, and under shelter of the Tour de Cordouan, all
will be well with us.  Veer again, my hearts, and bring her to
try with the main course!"

The sail swung round once more, and the cog, battered and torn
and well-nigh water-logged, staggered in for this haven of
refuge.  A bluff cape to the north and a long spit to the south
marked the mouth of the noble river, with a low-lying island of
silted sand in the centre, all shrouded and curtained by the
spume of the breakers.  A line of broken water traced the
dangerous bar, which in clear day and balmy weather has cracked
the back of many a tall ship.

"There is a channel," said Hawtayne, "which was shown to me by
the Prince's own pilot.  Mark yonder tree upon the bank, and see
the tower which rises behind it.  If these two be held in a line,
even as we hold them now, it may be done, though our ship draws
two good ells more than when she put forth."

"God speed you, Master Hawtayne!" cried Sir Oliver.  "Twice have
we come scathless out of peril, and now for the third time I
commend me to the blessed James of Compostella, to whom I vow----"

"Nay, nay, old friend," whispered Sir Nigel.  "You are like to
bring a judgment upon us with these vows, which no living man
could accomplish.  Have I not already heard you vow to eat two
carp in one day, and now you would venture upon a third?"

"I pray you that you will order the Company to lie down," cried
Hawtayne, who had taken the tiller and was gazing ahead with a
fixed eye.  "In three minutes we shall either be lost or in
safety."

Archers and seamen lay flat upon the deck, waiting in stolid
silence for whatever fate might come.  Hawtayne bent his weight
upon the tiller, and crouched to see under the bellying sail.
Sir Oliver and Sir Nigel stood erect with hands crossed in front
of the poop.  Down swooped the great cog into the narrow channel
which was the portal to safety.  On either bow roared the shallow
bar.  Right ahead one small lane of black swirling water marked
the pilot's course.  But true was the eye and firm the hand which
guided.  A dull scraping came from beneath, the vessel quivered
and shook, at the waist, at the quarter, and behind sounded that
grim roaring of the waters, and with a plunge the yellow cog was
over the bar and speeding swiftly up the broad and tranquil
estuary of the Gironde.



CHAPTER XVIII.

HOW SIR NIGEL LORING PUT A PATCH UPON HIS EYE.


It was on the morning of Friday, the eight-and-twentieth day of
November, two days before the feast of St. Andrew, that the cog
and her two prisoners, after a weary tacking up the Gironde and
the Garonne, dropped anchor at last in front of the noble city of
Bordeaux.  With wonder and admiration, Alleyne, leaning over the
bulwarks, gazed at the forest of masts, the swarm of boats
darting hither and thither on the bosom of the broad curving
stream, and the gray crescent-shaped city which stretched with
many a tower and minaret along the western shore.  Never had he
in his quiet life seen so great a town, nor was there in the
whole of England, save London alone, one which might match it in
size or in wealth.  Here came the merchandise of all the fair
countries which are watered by the Garonne and the Dordogne--the
cloths of the south, the skins of Guienne, the wines of the
Medoc--to be borne away to Hull, Exeter, Dartmouth, Bristol or
Chester, in exchange for the wools and woolfels of England.  Here
too dwelt those famous smelters and welders who had made the
Bordeaux steel the most trusty upon earth, and could give a
temper to lance or to sword which might mean dear life to its
owner.  Alleyne could see the smoke of their forges reeking up
in the clear morning air.  The storm had died down now to a
gentle breeze, which wafted to his ears the long-drawn stirring
bugle-calls which sounded from the ancient ramparts.

"Hola, mon petit!" said Aylward, coming up to where he stood.
"Thou art a squire now, and like enough to win the golden spurs,
while I am still the master-bowman, and master-bowman I shall
bide.  I dare scarce wag my tongue so freely with you as when we
tramped together past Wilverley Chase, else I might be your guide
now, for indeed I know every house in Bordeaux as a friar knows
the beads on his rosary."

"Nay, Aylward," said Alleyne, laying his hand upon the sleeve of
his companion's frayed jerkin, "you cannot think me so thrall as
to throw aside an old friend because I have had some small share
of good fortune.  I take it unkind that you should have thought
such evil of me."

"Nay, mon gar.  'Twas but a flight shot to see if the wind blew
steady, though I were a rogue to doubt it."

"Why, had I not met you, Aylward, at the Lynhurst inn, who can
say where I had now been!  Certes, I had not gone to Twynham
Castle, nor become squire to Sir Nigel, nor met----" He paused
abruptly and flushed to his hair, but the bowman was too busy
with his own thoughts to notice his young companion's
embarrassment.

"It was a good hostel, that of the `Pied Merlin,'" he remarked.
"By my ten finger bones! when I hang bow on nail and change my
brigandine for a tunic, I might do worse than take over the dame
and her business."

"I thought," said Alleyne, "that you were betrothed to some one
at Christchurch."

"To three," Aylward answered moodily, "to three.  I fear I may
not go back to Christchurch.  I might chance to see hotter
service in Hampshire than I have ever done in Gascony.  But mark
you now yonder lofty turret in the centre, which stands back from
the river and hath a broad banner upon the summit.  See the
rising sun flashes full upon it and sparkles on the golden
lions.  'Tis the royal banner of England, crossed by the prince's
label.  There he dwells in the Abbey of St. Andrew, where he hath
kept his court these years back.  Beside it is the minster of the
same saint, who hath the town under his very special care."

"And how of yon gray turret on the left?"

"'Tis the fane of St. Michael, as that upon the right is of
St. Remi.  There, too, above the poop of yonder nief, you see the
towers of Saint Croix and of Pey Berland.  Mark also the mighty
ramparts which are pierced by the three water-gates, and sixteen
others to the landward side."

"And how is it, good Aylward, that there comes so much music from
the town?  I seem to hear a hundred trumpets, all calling in
chorus."

"It would be strange else, seeing that all the great lords of
England and of Gascony are within the walls, and each would have
his trumpeter blow as loud as his neighbor, lest it might be
thought that his dignity had been abated.  Ma foi! they make as
much louster as a Scotch army, where every man fills himself with
girdle-cakes, and sits up all night to blow upon the toodle-pipe.
See all along the banks how the pages water the horses, and there
beyond the town how they gallop them over the plain!  For every
horse you see a belted knight hath herbergage in the town, for,
as I learn, the men-at-arms and archers have already gone forward
to Dax."

"I trust, Aylward," said Sir Nigel, coming upon deck, "that the
men are ready for the land.  Go tell them that the boats will be
for them within the hour."

The archer raised his hand in salute, and hastened forward.  In
the meantime Sir Oliver had followed his brother knight, and the
two paced the poop together, Sir Nigel in his plum-colored velvet
suit with flat cap of the same, adorned in front with the Lady
Loring's glove and girt round with a curling ostrich feather.
The lusty knight, on the other hand, was clad in the very latest
mode, with cote-hardie, doublet, pourpoint, court-pie, and paltock
of olive-green, picked out with pink and jagged at the edges.  A
red chaperon or cap, with long hanging cornette, sat daintily on
the back of his black-curled head, while his gold-hued shoes were
twisted up _a la poulaine_, as though the toes were shooting forth
a tendril which might hope in time to entwine itself around his
massive leg.

"Once more, Sir Oliver," said Sir Nigel, looking shorewards with
sparkling eyes, "do we find ourselves at the gate of honor, the
door which hath so often led us to all that is knightly and
worthy.  There flies the prince's banner, and it would be well
that we haste ashore and pay our obeisance to him.  The boats
already swarm from the bank."

"There is a goodly hostel near the west gate, which is famed for
the stewing of spiced pullets," remarked Sir Oliver.  "We might
take the edge of our hunger off ere we seek the prince, for
though his tables are gay with damask and silver he is no
trencherman himself, and hath no sympathy for those who are his
betters."

"His betters!"

"His betters before the tranchoir, lad.  Sniff not treason where
none is meant.  I have seen him smile in his quiet way because I
had looked for the fourth time towards the carving squire.  And
indeed to watch him dallying with a little gobbet of bread, or
sipping his cup of thrice-watered wine, is enough to make a man
feel shame at his own hunger.  Yet war and glory, my good friend,
though well enough in their way, will not serve to tighten such a
belt as clasps my waist."

"How read you that coat which hangs over yonder galley, Alleyne?"
asked Sir Nigel.

"Argent, a bend vert between cotises dancette gules."

"It is a northern coat.  I have seen it in the train of the
Percies.  From the shields, there is not one of these vessels
which hath not knight or baron aboard.  I would mine eyes were
better.  How read you this upon the left?"

"Argent and azure, a barry wavy of six."

"Ha, it is the sign of the Wiltshire Stourtons!  And there beyond
I see the red and silver of the Worsleys of Apuldercombe, who
like myself are of Hampshire lineage.  Close behind us is the
moline cross of the gallant William Molyneux, and beside it the
bloody chevrons of the Norfork Woodhouses, with the amulets of
the Musgraves of Westmoreland.  By St. Paul! it would be a very
strange thing if so noble a company were to gather without some
notable deed of arms arising from it.  And here is our boat, Sir
Oliver, so it seems best to me that we should go to the abbey
with our squires, leaving Master Hawtayne to have his own way in
the unloading."

The horses both of knights and squires were speedily lowered into
a broad lighter, and reached the shore almost as soon as their
masters.  Sir Nigel bent his knee devoutly as he put foot on
land, and taking a small black patch from his bosom he bound it
tightly over his left eye.

"May the blessed George and the memory of my sweet lady-love
raise high my heart!" quoth he.  "And as a token I vow that I
will not take this patch from my eye until I have seen something
of this country of Spain, and done such a small deed as it lies
in me to do.  And this I swear upon the cross of my sword and
upon the glove of my lady."

"In truth, you take me back twenty years, Nigel," quoth Sir
Oliver, as they mounted and rode slowly through the water-gate.
"After Cadsand, I deem that the French thought that we were an
army of the blind, for there was scarce a man who had not closed
an eye for the greater love and honor of his lady.  Yet it goes
hard with you that you should darken one side, when with both
open you can scarce tell a horse from a mule.  In truth, friend,
I think that you step over the line of reason in this matter."

"Sir Oliver Buttesthorn," said the little knight shortly, "I
would have you to understand that, blind as I am, I can yet see
the path of honor very clearly, and that that is the road upon
which I do not crave another man's guidance."

"By my soul," said Sir Oliver, "you are as tart as verjuice this
morning!  If you are bent upon a quarrel with me I must leave you
to your humor and drop into the `Tete d'Or' here, for I marked a
varlet pass the door who bare a smoking dish, which had,
methought, a most excellent smell."

"Nenny, nenny," cried his comrade, laying his hand upon his knee;
"we have known each other over long to fall out, Oliver, like two
raw pages at their first epreuves.  You must come with me first
to the prince, and then back to the hostel; though sure I am that
it would grieve his heart that any gentle cavalier should turn
from his board to a common tavern.  But is not that my Lord
Delewar who waves to us?  Ha! my fair lord, God and Our Lady be
with you!  And there is Sir Robert Cheney.  Good-morrow, Robert!
I am right glad to see you."

The two knights walked their horses abreast, while Alleyne and
Ford, with John Norbury, who was squire to Sir Oliver, kept
some paces behind them, a spear's-length in front of Black Simon
and of the Winchester guidon-bearer.  Norbury, a lean, silent
man, had been to those parts before, and sat his horse with a
rigid neck; but the two young squires gazed eagerly to right or
left, and plucked each other's sleeves to call attention to the
many strange things on every side of them.

"See to the brave stalls!" cried Alleyne.  "See to the noble
armor set forth, and the costly taffeta--and oh, Ford, see to
where the scrivener sits with the pigments and the ink-horns, and
the rolls of sheepskin as white as the Beaulieu napery!  Saw man
ever the like before?"

"Nay, man, there are finer stalls in Cheapside," answered Ford,
whose father had taken him to London on occasion of one of the
Smithfield joustings.  "I have seen a silversmith's booth there
which would serve to buy either side of this street.  But mark
these houses, Alleyne, how they thrust forth upon the top.  And
see to the coats-of-arms at every window, and banner or pensil on
the roof."

"And the churches!" cried Alleyne.  "The Priory at Christ church
was a noble pile, but it was cold and bare, methinks, by one of
these, with their frettings, and their carvings, and their
traceries, as though some great ivy-plant of stone had curled and
wantoned over the walls."

"And hark to the speech of the folk!" said Ford.  "Was ever such
a hissing and clacking? I wonder that they have not wit to learn
English now that they have come under the English crown.  By
Richard of Hampole! there are fair faces amongst them.  See the
wench with the brown whimple!  Out on you, Alleyne, that you
would rather gaze upon dead stone than on living flesh!"

It was little wonder that the richness and ornament, not only of
church and of stall, but of every private house as well, should
have impressed itself upon the young squires.  The town was now
at the height of its fortunes.  Besides its trade and its
armorers, other causes had combined to pour wealth into it.  War,
which had wrought evil upon so many fair cities around, had
brought nought but good to this one.  As her French sisters
decayed she increased, for here, from north, and from east, and
from south, came the plunder to be sold and the ransom money to
be spent.  Through all her sixteen landward gates there had set
for many years a double tide of empty-handed soldiers hurrying
Francewards, and of enriched and laden bands who brought their
spoils home.  The prince's court, too, with its swarm of noble
barons and wealthy knights, many of whom, in imitation of their
master, had brought their ladies and their children from England,
all helped to swell the coffers of the burghers.  Now, with this
fresh influx of noblemen and cavaliers, food and lodging were
scarce to be had, and the prince was hurrying forward his forces
to Dax in Gascony to relieve the overcrowding of his capital.

In front of the minster and abbey of St. Andrew's was a large
square crowded with priests, soldiers, women, friars, and
burghers, who made it their common centre for sight-seeing and
gossip.  Amid the knot of noisy and gesticulating townsfolk, many
small parties of mounted knights and squires threaded their way
towards the prince's quarters, where the huge iron-clamped doors
were thrown back to show that he held audience within.  Two-score
archers stood about the gateway, and beat back from time to time
with their bow-staves the inquisitive and chattering crowd who
swarmed round the portal.  Two knights in full armor, with lances
raised and closed visors, sat their horses on either side, while
in the centre, with two pages to tend upon him, there stood a
noble-faced man in flowing purple gown, who pricked off upon a
sheet of parchment the style and title of each applicant,
marshalling them in their due order, and giving to each the place
and facility which his rank demanded.  His long white beard and
searching eyes imparted to him an air of masterful dignity, which
was increased by his tabardlike vesture and the heraldic barret
cap with triple plume which bespoke his office.

"It is Sir William de Pakington, the prince's own herald and
scrivener," whispered Sir Nigel, as they pulled up amid the line
of knights who waited admission.  "Ill fares it with the man who
would venture to deceive him.  He hath by rote the name of every
knight of France or of England; and all the tree of his family,
with his kinships, coat-armor, marriages, augmentations,
abatements, and I know not what beside.  We may leave our horses
here with the varlets, and push forward with our squires."

Following Sir Nigel's counsel, they pressed on upon foot until
they were close to the prince's secretary, who was in high debate
with a young and foppish knight, who was bent upon making his way
past him.

"Mackworth!" said the king-at-arms.  "It is in my mind, young
sir, that you have not been presented before."

"Nay, it is but a day since I set foot in Bordeaux, but I feared
lest the prince should think it strange that I had not waited
upon him."

"The prince hath other things to think upon," quoth Sir William
de Pakington; "but if you be a Mackworth you must be a Mackworth
of Normanton, and indeed I see now that your coat is sable and
ermine."

"I am a Mackworth of Normanton," the other answered, with some
uneasiness of manner.

"Then you must be Sir Stephen Mackworth, for I learn that when
old Sir Guy died he came in for the arms and the name, the
war-cry and the profit."

"Sir Stephen is my elder brother, and I am Arthur, the second
son," said the youth.

"In sooth and in sooth!" cried the king-at-arms with scornful
eyes.  "And pray, sir second son, where is the cadency mark which
should mark your rank.  Dare you to wear your brother's coat
without the crescent which should stamp you as his cadet.  Away
to your lodgings, and come not nigh the prince until the armorer
hath placed the true charge upon your shield."  As the youth
withdrew in confusion, Sir William's keen eye singled out the
five red roses from amid the overlapping shields and cloud of
pennons which faced him.

"Ha!" he cried, "there are charges here which are above
counterfeit.  The roses of Loring and the boar's head of
Buttesthorn may stand back in peace, but by my faith! they are
not to be held back in war.  Welcome, Sir Oliver, Sir Nigel!
Chandos will be glad to his very heart-roots when he sees you.
This way, my fair sirs.  Your squires are doubtless worthy the
fame of their masters.  Down this passage, Sir Oliver! Edricson!
Ha! one of the old strain of Hampshire Edricsons, I doubt not.
And Ford, they are of a south Saxon stock, and of good repute.
There are Norburys in Cheshire and in Wiltshire, and also, as I
have heard, upon the borders.  So, my fair sirs, and I shall see
that you are shortly admitted."

He had finished his professional commentary by flinging open a
folding door, and ushering the party into a broad hall, which was
filled with a great number of people who were waiting, like
themselves, for an audience.  The room was very spacious, lighted
on one side by three arched and mullioned windows, while opposite
was a huge fireplace in which a pile of faggots was blazing
merrily.  Many of the company had crowded round the flames, for
the weather was bitterly cold; but the two knights seated
themselves upon a bancal, with their squires standing behind
them.  Looking down the room, Alleyne marked that both floor and
ceiling were of the richest oak, the latter spanned by twelve
arching beams, which were adorned at either end by the lilies and
the lions of the royal arms.  On the further side was a small
door, on each side of which stood men-at-arms.  From time to time
an elderly man in black with rounded shoulders and a long white
wand in his hand came softly forth from this inner room, and
beckoned to one or other of the company, who doffed cap and
followed him.

The two knights were deep in talk, when Alleyne became aware of a
remarkable individual who was walking round the room in their
direction.  As he passed each knot of cavaliers every head turned
to look after him, and it was evident, from the bows and
respectful salutations on all sides, that the interest which he
excited was not due merely to his strange personal appearance.
He was tall and straight as a lance, though of a great age, for
his hair, which curled from under his velvet cap of maintenance,
was as white as the new-fallen snow.  Yet, from the swing of his
stride and the spring of his step, it was clear that he had not
yet lost the fire and activity of his youth.  His fierce
hawk-like face was clean shaven like that of a priest, save for a
long thin wisp of white moustache which drooped down half way to
his shoulder.  That he had been handsome might be easily judged
from his high aquiline nose and clear-cut chin; but his features
had been so distorted by the seams and scars of old wounds, and
by the loss of one eye which had been torn from the socket, that
there was little left to remind one of the dashing young knight
who had been fifty years ago the fairest as well as the boldest
of the English chivalry.  Yet what knight was there in that hall
of St. Andrew's who would not have gladly laid down youth, beauty,
and all that he possessed to win the fame of this man?  For who
could be named with Chandos, the stainless knight, the wise
councillor, the valiant warrior, the hero of Crecy, of
Winchelsea, of Poictiers, of Auray, and of as many other battles
as there were years to his life?

"Ha, my little heart of gold!" he cried, darting forward suddenly
and throwing his arms round Sir Nigel.  "I heard that you were
here and have been seeking you."

"My fair and dear lord," said the knight, returning the warrior's
embrace, "I have indeed come back to you, for where else shall I
go that I may learn to be a gentle and a hardy knight?"

"By my troth!" said Chandos with a smile, "it is very fitting
that we should be companions, Nigel, for since you have tied up
one of your eyes, and I have had the mischance to lose one of
mine, we have but a pair between us.  Ah, Sir Oliver! you were on
the blind side of me and I saw you not.  A wise woman hath made
prophecy that this blind side will one day be the death of me.
We shall go in to the prince anon; but in truth he hath much upon
his hands, for what with Pedro, and the King of Majorca, and the
King of Navarre, who is no two days of the same mind, and the
Gascon barons who are all chaffering for terms like so many
hucksters, he hath an uneasy part to play.  But how left you the
Lady Loring?"

"She was well, my fair lord, and sent her service and greetings
to you."

"I am ever her knight and slave.  And your journey, I trust that
it was pleasant?"

"As heart could wish.  We had sight of two rover galleys, and
even came to have some slight bickering with them."

"Ever in luck's way, Nigel!" quoth Sir John.  "We must hear the
tale anon.  But I deem it best that ye should leave your squires
and come with me, for, howsoe'er pressed the prince may be, I am
very sure that he would be loth to keep two old comrades-in-arms
upon the further side of the door.  Follow close behind me, and I
will forestall old Sir William, though I can scarce promise to
roll forth your style and rank as is his wont." So saying, he led
the way to the inner chamber, the two companions treading close
at his heels, and nodding to right and left as they caught sight
of familiar faces among the crowd.



CHAPTER XIX

HOW THERE WAS STIR AT THE ABBEY OF ST.  ANDREW'S.


The prince's reception-room, although of no great size, was
fitted up with all the state and luxury which the fame and power
of its owner demanded.  A high dais at the further end was roofed
in by a broad canopy of scarlet velvet spangled with silver
fleurs-de-lis, and supported at either corner by silver rods.
This was approached by four steps carpeted with the same
material, while all round were scattered rich cushions, oriental
mats and costly rugs of fur.  The choicest tapestries which the
looms of Arras could furnish draped the walls, whereon the
battles of Judas Maccabaeus were set forth, with the Jewish
warriors in plate of proof, with crest and lance and banderole,
as the naive artists of the day were wont to depict them.  A few
rich settles and bancals, choicely carved and decorated with
glazed leather hangings of the sort termed _or basane_, completed
the furniture of the apartment, save that at one side of the dais
there stood a lofty perch, upon which a cast of three solemn
Prussian gerfalcons sat, hooded and jesseled, as silent and
motionless as the royal fowler who stood beside them.

In the centre of the dais were two very high chairs with
dorserets, which arched forwards over the heads of the occupants,
the whole covered with light-blue silk thickly powdered with
golden stars.  On that to the right sat a very tall and well
formed man with red hair, a livid face, and a cold blue eye,
which had in it something peculiarly sinister and menacing.  He
lounged back in a careless position, and yawned repeatedly as
though heartily weary of the proceedings, stooping from time to
time to fondle a shaggy Spanish greyhound which lay stretched at
his feet.  On the other throne there was perched bolt upright,
with prim demeanor, as though he felt himself to be upon his
good behavior, a little, round, pippin faced person, who smiled
and bobbed to every one whose eye he chanced to meet.  Between
and a little in front of them on a humble charette or stool, sat
a slim, dark young man, whose quiet attire and modest manner
would scarce proclaim him to be the most noted prince in Europe.
A jupon of dark blue cloth, tagged with buckles and pendants of
gold, seemed but a sombre and plain attire amidst the wealth of
silk and ermine and gilt tissue of fustian with which he was
surrounded.  He sat with his two hands clasped round his knee,
his head slightly bent, and an expression of impatience and of
trouble upon his clear, well-chiselled features.  Behind the
thrones there stood two men in purple gowns, with ascetic,
clean-shaven faces, and half a dozen other high dignitaries and
office-holders of Aquitaine.  Below on either side of the steps
were forty or fifty barons, knights, and courtiers, ranged in a
triple row to the right and the left, with a clear passage in the
centre.

"There sits the prince," whispered Sir John Chandos, as they
entered.  "He on the right is Pedro, whom we are about to put
upon the Spanish throne.  The other is Don James, whom we purpose
with the aid of God to help to his throne in Majorca.  Now follow
me, and take it not to heart if he be a little short in his
speech, for indeed his mind is full of many very weighty
concerns."

The prince, however, had already observed their entrance, and,
springing to his feet, he had advanced with a winning smile and
the light of welcome in his eyes.

"We do not need your good offices as herald here, Sir John," said
he in a low but clear voice; "these valiant knights are very well
known to me.  Welcome to Aquitaine, Sir Nigel Loring and Sir
Oliver Buttesthorn.  Nay, keep your knee for my sweet father at
Windsor.  I would have your hands, my friends.  We are like to
give you some work to do ere you see the downs of Hampshire once
more.  Know you aught of Spain, Sir Oliver?"

"Nought, my sire, save that I have heard men say that there is a
dish named an olla which is prepared there, though I have never
been clear in my mind as to whether it was but a ragout such as
is to be found in the south, or whether there is some seasoning
such as fennel or garlic which is peculiar to Spain."

"Your doubts, Sir Oliver, shall soon be resolved," answered the
prince, laughing heartily, as did many of the barons who
surrounded them.  "His majesty here will doubtless order that you
have this dish hotly seasoned when we are all safely in Castile."

"I will have a hotly seasoned dish for some folk I know of,"
answered Don Pedro with a cold smile.

"But my friend Sir Oliver can fight right hardily without either
bite or sup," remarked the prince.  "Did I not see him at
Poictiers, when for two days we had not more than a crust of
bread and a cup of foul water, yet carrying himself most
valiantly.  With my own eyes I saw him in the rout sweep the head
from a knight of Picardy with one blow of his sword."

"The rogue got between me and the nearest French victual wain,"
muttered Sir Oliver, amid a fresh titter from those who were near
enough to catch his words.

"How many have you in your train?" asked the prince, assuming a
graver mien.

"I have forty men-at-arms, sire," said Sir Oliver.

"And I have one hundred archers and a score of lancers, but there
are two hundred men who wait for me on this side of the water
upon the borders of Navarre."

"And who are they, Sir Nigel?"

"They are a free company, sire, and they are called the White
Company."

To the astonishment of the knight, his words provoked a burst of
merriment from the barons round, in which the two kings and the
prince were fain to join.  Sir Nigel blinked mildly from one to
the other, until at last perceiving a stout black-bearded knight
at his elbow, whose laugh rang somewhat louder than the others,
he touched him lightly upon the sleeve.

"Perchance, my fair sir," he whispered, "there is some small vow
of which I may relieve you.  Might we not have some honorable
debate upon the matter.  Your gentle courtesy may perhaps grant
me an exchange of thrusts."

"Nay, nay, Sir Nigel," cried the prince, "fasten not the offence
upon Sir Robert Briquet, for we are one and all bogged in the
same mire.  Truth to say, our ears have just been vexed by the
doings of the same company, and I have even now made vow to hang
the man who held the rank of captain over it.  I little thought
to find him among the bravest of my own chosen chieftains.  But
the vow is now nought, for, as you have never seen your company,
it would be a fool's act to blame you for their doings."

"My liege," said Sir Nigel, "it is a very small matter that I
should be hanged, albeit the manner of death is somewhat more
ignoble than I had hoped for.  On the other hand, it would be a
very grievous thing that you, the Prince of England and the
flower of knighthood, should make a vow, whether in ignorance or
no, and fail to bring it to fulfilment."

"Vex not your mind on that," the prince answered, smiling.  "We
have had a citizen from Montauban here this very day, who told us
such a tale of sack and murder and pillage that it moved our
blood; but our wrath was turned upon the man who was in authority
over them."

"My dear and honored master," cried Nigel, in great anxiety, "I
fear me much that in your gentleness of heart you are straining
this vow which you have taken.  If there be so much as a shadow
of a doubt as to the form of it, it were a thousand times best----"

"Peace! peace!" cried the prince impatiently.  "I am very well
able to look to my own vows and their performance.  We hope to
see you both in the banquet-hall anon.  Meanwhile you will attend
upon us with our train."  He bowed, and Chandos, plucking Sir
Oliver by the sleeve, led them both away to the back of the press
of courtiers.

"Why, little coz," he whispered, "you are very eager to have your
neck in a noose.  By my soul! had you asked as much from our new
ally Don Pedro, he had not baulked you.  Between friends, there
is overmuch of the hangman in him, and too little of the prince.
But indeed this White Company is a rough band, and may take some
handling ere you find yourself safe in your captaincy."

"I doubt not, with the help of St. Paul, that I shall bring them
to some order," Sir Nigel answered.  "But there are many faces
here which are new to me, though others have been before me since
first I waited upon my dear master, Sir Walter.  I pray you to
tell me, Sir John, who are these priests upon the dais?"

"The one is the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Nigel, and the other the
Bishop of Agen."

"And the dark knight with gray-streaked beard?  By my troth, he
seems to be a man of much wisdom and valor."

"He is Sir William Felton, who, with my unworthy self, is the
chief counsellor of the prince, he being high steward and I the
seneschal of Aquitaine."

"And the knights upon the right, beside Don Pedro?"

"They are cavaliers of Spain who have followed him in his exile.
The one at his elbow is Fernando de Castro, who is as brave and
true a man as heart could wish.  In front to the right are the
Gascon lords.  You may well tell them by their clouded brows, for
there hath been some ill-will of late betwixt the prince and
them.  The tall and burly man is the Captal de Buch, whom I doubt
not that you know, for a braver knight never laid lance in rest.
That heavy-faced cavalier who plucks his skirts and whispers in
his ear is Lord Oliver de Clisson, known also as the butcher.  He
it is who stirs up strife, and forever blows the dying embers
into flame.  The man with the mole upon his cheek is the Lord
Pommers, and his two brothers stand behind him, with the Lord
Lesparre, Lord de Rosem, Lord de Mucident, Sir Perducas d'Albret,
the Souldich de la Trane, and others.  Further back are knights
from Quercy, Limousin, Saintonge, Poitou, and Aquitaine, with the
valiant Sir Guiscard d'Angle.  That is he in the rose-colored
doublet with the ermine."

"And the knights upon this side?"

"They are all Englishmen, some of the household and others who
like yourself, are captains of companies.  There is Lord Neville,
Sir Stephen Cossington, and Sir Matthew Gourney, with Sir Walter
Huet, Sir Thomas Banaster, and Sir Thomas Felton, who is the
brother of the high steward.  Mark well the man with the high
nose and flaxen beard who hath placed his hand upon the shoulder
of the dark hard-faced cavalier in the rust-stained jupon."

"Aye, by St. Paul!" observed Sir Nigel, "they both bear the print
of their armor upon their cotes-hardies.  Methinks they are men
who breathe freer in a camp than a court."

"There are many of us who do that, Nigel," said Chandos, "and the
head of the court is, I dare warrant, among them.  But of these
two men the one is Sir Hugh Calverley, and the other is Sir
Robert Knolles."

Sir Nigel and Sir Oliver craned their necks to have the clearer
view of these famous warriors, the one a chosen leader of free
companies, the other a man who by his fierce valor and energy had
raised himself from the lowest ranks until he was second only to
Chandos himself in the esteem of the army.

"He hath no light hand in war, hath Sir Robert," said Chandos.
"If he passes through a country you may tell it for some years to
come.  I have heard that in the north it is still the use to call
a house which hath but the two gable ends left, without walls or
roof, a Knolles' mitre."

"I have often heard of him," said Nigel, "and I have hoped to be
so far honored as to run a course with him.  But hark, Sir John,
what is amiss with the prince?"

Whilst Chandos had been conversing with the two knights a
continuous stream of suitors had been ushered in, adventurers
seeking to sell their swords and merchants clamoring over some
grievance, a ship detained for the carriage of troops, or a tun
of sweet wine which had the bottom knocked out by a troop of
thirsty archers.  A few words from the prince disposed of each
case, and, if the applicant liked not the judgment, a quick
glance from the prince's dark eyes sent him to the door with the
grievance all gone out of him.  The younger ruler had sat
listlessly upon his stool with the two puppet monarchs enthroned
behind him, but of a sudden a dark shadow passed over his face,
and he sprang to his feet in one of those gusts of passion which
were the single blot upon his noble and generous character.

"How now, Don Martin de la Carra?" he cried.  "How now, sirrah?
What message do you bring to us from our brother of Navarre?"

The new-comer to whom this abrupt query had been addressed was a
tall and exceedingly handsome cavalier who had just been ushered
into the apartment.  His swarthy cheek and raven black hair spoke
of the fiery south, and he wore his long black cloak swathed
across his chest and over his shoulders in a graceful sweeping
fashion, which was neither English nor French.  With stately
steps and many profound bows, he advanced to the foot of the dais
before replying to the prince's question.

"My powerful and illustrious master," he began, "Charles, King of
Navarre, Earl of Evreux, Count of Champagne, who also writeth
himself Overlord of Bearn, hereby sends his love and greetings to
his dear cousin Edward, the Prince of Wales, Governor of
Aquitaine, Grand Commander of----"

"Tush! tush! Don Martin!" interrupted the prince, who had been
beating the ground with his foot impatiently during this stately
preamble.  "We already know our cousin's titles and style, and,
certes, we know our own.  To the point, man, and at once.  Are the
passes open to us, or does your master go back from his word
pledged to me at Libourne no later than last Michaelmas?"

"It would ill become my gracious master, sire, to go back from
promise given.  He does but ask some delay and certain conditions
and hostages----"

"Conditions!  Hostages!  Is he speaking to the Prince of England,
or is it to the bourgeois provost of some half-captured town!
Conditions, quotha?  He may find much to mend in his own
condition ere long.  The passes are, then, closed to us?"

"Nay, sire----"

"They are open, then?"

"Nay, sire, if you would but----"

"Enough, enough, Don Martin," cried the prince.  "It is a sorry
sight to see so true a knight pleading in so false a cause.  We
know the doings of our cousin Charles.  We know that while with
the right hand he takes our fifty thousand crowns for the holding
of the passes open, he hath his left outstretched to Henry of
Trastamare, or to the King of France, all ready to take as many
more for the keeping them closed.  I know our good Charles, and,
by my blessed name-saint the Confessor, he shall learn that I
know him.  He sets his kingdom up to the best bidder, like some
scullion farrier selling a glandered horse.  He is----"

"My lord," cried Don Martin, "I cannot stand there to hear such
words of my master.  Did they come from other lips, I should know
better how to answer them."

Don Pedro frowned and curled his lip, but the prince smiled and
nodded his approbation.

"Your bearing and your words, Don Martin, are such I should have
looked for in you," he remarked.  "You will tell the king, your
master, that he hath been paid his price and that if he holds to
his promise he hath my word for it that no scath shall come to
his people, nor to their houses or gear.  If, however, we have
not his leave, I shall come close at the heels of this message
without his leave, and bearing a key with me which shall open all
that he may close."  He stooped and whispered to Sir Robert
Knolles and Sir Huge Calverley, who smiled as men well pleased,
and hastened from the room.

"Our cousin Charles has had experience of our friendship," the
prince continued, "and now, by the Saints! he shall feel a touch
of our displeasure.  I send now a message to our cousin Charles
which his whole kingdom may read.  Let him take heed lest worse
befall him.  Where is my Lord Chandos?  Ha, Sir John, I commend
this worthy knight to your care.  You will see that he hath
refection, and such a purse of gold as may defray his charges,
for indeed it is great honor to any court to have within it so
noble and gentle a cavalier.  How say you, sire?" he asked,
turning to the Spanish refugee, while the herald of Navarre was
conducted from the chamber by the old warrior.

"It is not our custom in Spain to reward pertness in a
messenger," Don Pedro answered, patting the head of his
greyhound.  "Yet we have all heard the lengths to which your
royal generosity runs."

"In sooth, yes," cried the King of Majorca.

"Who should know it better than we?" said Don Pedro bitterly,
"since we have had to fly to you in our trouble as to the natural
protector of all who are weak."

"Nay, nay, as brothers to a brother," cried the prince, with
sparkling eyes.  "We doubt not, with the help of God, to see you
very soon restored to those thrones from which you have been so
traitorously thrust."

"When that happy day comes," said Pedro, "then Spain shall be to
you as Aquitaine, and, be your project what it may, you may ever
count on every troop and every ship over which flies the banner
of Castile."

"And," added the other, "upon every aid which the wealth and
power of Majorca can bestow."

"Touching the hundred thousand crowns in which I stand your
debtor," continued Pedro carelessly, "it can no doubt----"

"Not a word, sire, not a word!" cried the prince.  "It is not now
when you are in grief that I would vex your mind with such base
and sordid matters.  I have said once and forever that I am yours
with every bow-string of my army and every florin in my coffers."

"Ah! here is indeed a mirror of chivalry," said Don Pedro.  "I
think, Sir Fernando, since the prince's bounty is stretched so
far, that we may make further use of his gracious goodness to the
extent of fifty thousand crowns.  Good Sir William Felton, here,
will doubtless settle the matter with you."

The stout old English counsellor looked somewhat blank at this
prompt acceptance of his master's bounty.

"If it please you, sire," he said, "the public funds are at their
lowest, seeing that I have paid twelve thousand men of the
companies, and the new taxes--the hearth-tax and the
wine-tax--not yet come in.  If you could wait until the promised
help from England comes----"

"Nay, nay, my sweet cousin," cried Don Pedro.  "Had we known that
your own coffers were so low, or that this sorry sum could have
weighed one way or the other, we had been loth indeed----"

"Enough, sire, enough!" said the prince, flushing with vexation.
"If the public funds be, indeed, so backward, Sir William, there
is still, I trust, my own private credit, which hath never been
drawn upon for my own uses, but is now ready in the cause of a
friend in adversity.  Go, raise this money upon our own jewels,
if nought else may serve, and see that it be paid over to Don
Fernando."

"In security I offer----" cried Don Pedro.

"Tush! tush!" said the prince.  "I am not a Lombard, sire.  Your
kingly pledge is my security, without bond or seal.  But I have
tidings for you, my lords and lieges, that our brother of
Lancaster is on his way for our capital with four hundred lances
and as many archers to aid us in our venture.  When he hath come,
and when our fair consort is recovered in her health, which I
trust by the grace of God may be ere many weeks be past, we shall
then join the army at Dax, and set our banners to the breeze once
more."

A buzz of joy at the prospect of immediate action rose up from
the group of warriors.  The prince smiled at the martial ardor
which shone upon every face around him.

"It will hearten you to know," he continued, "that I have sure
advices that this Henry is a very valiant leader, and that he has
it in his power to make such a stand against us as promises to
give us much honor and pleasure.  Of his own people he hath
brought together, as I learn, some fifty thousand, with twelve
thousand of the French free companies, who are, as you know very
valiant and expert men-at-arms.  It is certain also, that the
brave and worthy Bertrand de Guesclin hath ridden into France to
the Duke of Anjou, and purposes to take back with him great
levies from Picardy and Brittany.  We hold Bertrand in high
esteem, for he has oft before been at great pains to furnish us
with an honorable encounter.  What think you of it, my worthy
Captal?  He took you at Cocherel, and, by my soul I you will have
the chance now to pay that score."

The Gascon warrior winced a little at the allusion, nor were his
countrymen around him better pleased, for on the only occasion
when they had encountered the arms of France without English aid
they had met with a heavy defeat.

"There are some who say, sire," said the burly De Clisson, "that
the score is already overpaid, for that without Gascon help
Bertrand had not been taken at Auray, nor had King John been
overborne at Poictiers."

"By heaven! but this is too much," cried an English nobleman.
"Methinks that Gascony is too small a cock to crow so lustily."

"The smaller cock, my Lord Audley, may have the longer spur,"
remarked the Captal de Buch.

"May have its comb clipped if it make over-much noise," broke in
an Englishman.

"By our Lady of Rocamadour!" cried the Lord of Mucident, "this is
more than I can abide.  Sir John Charnell, you shall answer to me
for those words!"

"Freely, my lord, and when you will," returned the Englishman
carelessly.

"My Lord de Clisson," cried Lord Audley, "you look some, what
fixedly in my direction.  By God's soul! I should be right glad
to go further into the matter with you."

"And you, my Lord of Pommers," said Sir Nigel, pushing his way to
the front, "it is in my mind that we might break a lance in
gentle and honorable debate over the question."

For a moment a dozen challenges flashed backwards and forwards at
this sudden bursting of the cloud which had lowered so long
between the knights of the two nations.  Furious and
gesticulating the Gascons, white and cold and sneering the
English, while the prince with a half smile glanced from one
party to the other, like a man who loved to dwell upon a fiery
scene, and yet dreaded least the mischief go so far that he might
find it beyond his control.

"Friends, friends!" he cried at last, "this quarrel must go no
further.  The man shall answer to me, be he Gascon or English,
who carries it beyond this room.  I have overmuch need for your
swords that you should turn them upon each other.  Sir John
Charnell, Lord Audley, you do not doubt the courage of our
friends of Gascony?"

"Not I, sire," Lord Audley answered.  "I have seen them fight too
often not to know that they are very hardy and valiant
gentlemen."

"And so say I," quoth the other Englishman; "but, certes, there
is no fear of our forgetting it while they have a tongue in their
heads."

"Nay, Sir John," said the prince reprovingly, "all peoples have
their own use and customs.  There are some who might call us cold
and dull and silent.  But you hear, my lords of Gascony, that
these gentlemen had no thought to throw a slur upon your honor or
your valor, so let all anger fade from your mind.  Clisson,
Captal, De Pommers, I have your word?"

"We are your subjects, sire," said the Gascon barons, though with
no very good grace.  "Your words are our law."

"Then shall we bury all cause of unkindness in a flagon of
Malvoisie," said the prince, cheerily.  "Ho, there! the doors of
the banquet-hall!  I have been over long from my sweet spouse but
I shall be back with you anon.  Let the sewers serve and the
minstrels play, while we drain a cup to the brave days that are
before us in the south!"  He turned away, accompanied by the two
monarchs, while the rest of the company, with many a compressed
lip and menacing eye, filed slowly through the side-door to the
great chamber in which the royal tables were set forth.



CHAPTER XX.

HOW ALLEYNE WON HIS PLACE IN AN HONORABLE GUILD.


Whilst the prince's council was sitting, Alleyne and Ford had
remained in the outer hall, where they were soon surrounded by a
noisy group of young Englishmen of their own rank, all eager to
hear the latest news from England.

"How is it with the old man at Windsor?" asked one.

"And how with the good Queen Philippa?"

"And how with Dame Alice Perrers?" cried a third.

"The devil take your tongue, Wat!" shouted a tall young man,
seizing the last speaker by the collar and giving him an
admonitory shake.  "The prince would take your head off for those
words."

"By God's coif!  Wat would miss it but little," said another.  "It
is as empty as a beggar's wallet."

"As empty as an English squire, coz," cried the first speaker.
"What a devil has become of the maitre-des-tables and his sewers?
They have not put forth the trestles yet."

"Mon Dieu! if a man could eat himself into knighthood, Humphrey,
you had been a banneret at the least," observed another, amid a
burst of laughter.

"And if you could drink yourself in, old leather-head, you had
been first baron of the realm," cried the aggrieved Humphrey.
"But how of England, my lads of Loring?"

"I take it," said Ford, "that it is much as it was when you were
there last, save that perchance there is a little less noise
there."

"And why less noise, young Solomon?"

"Ah, that is for your wit to discover."

"Pardieu! here is a paladin come over, with the Hampshire mud
still sticking to his shoes.  He means that the noise is less for
our being out of the country."

"They are very quick in these parts," said Ford, turning to
Alleyne.

"How are we to take this, sir?" asked the ruffling squire.

"You may take it as it comes," said Ford carelessly.

"Here is pertness!" cried the other.

"Sir, I honor your truthfulness," said Ford.

"Stint it, Humphrey," said the tall squire, with a burst of
laughter.  "You will have little credit from this gentleman, I
perceive.  Tongues are sharp in Hampshire, sir."

"And swords?"

"Hum! we may prove that.  In two days' time is the vepres du
tournoi, when we may see if your lance is as quick as your wit."

"All very well, Roger Harcomb," cried a burly, bull-necked young
man, whose square shoulders and massive limbs told of exceptional
personal strength.  "You pass too lightly over the matter.  We
are not to be so easily overcrowed.  The Lord Loring hath given
his proofs; but we know nothing of his squires, save that one of
them hath a railing tongue.  And how of you, young sir?" bringing
his heavy hand down on Alleyne's shoulder.

"And what of me, young sir?"

"Ma foi! this is my lady's page come over.  Your cheek will be
browner and your hand harder ere you see your mother again."

"If my hand is not hard, it is ready."

"Ready? Ready for what? For the hem of my lady's train?"

"Ready to chastise insolence, sir," cried Alleyne with hashing
eyes.

"Sweet little coz!" answered the burly squire.  "Such a dainty
color!  Such a mellow voice!  Eyes of a bashful maid, and hair
like a three years' babe!  Voila!"  He passed his thick fingers
roughly through the youth's crisp golden curls.

"You seek to force a quarrel, sir," said the young man, white
with anger.

"And what then?"

"Why, you do it like a country boor, and not like a gentle
squire.  Hast been ill bred and as ill taught.  I serve a master
who could show you how such things should he done."

"And how would he do it, O pink of squires?"

"He would neither be loud nor would he be unmannerly, but rather
more gentle than is his wont.  He would say, `Sir, I should take
it as an honor to do some small deed of arms against you, not for
mine own glory or advancement, but rather for the fame of my lady
and for the upholding of chivalry.'  Then he would draw his
glove, thus, and throw it on the ground; or, if he had cause to
think that he had to deal with a churl, he might throw it in his
face--as I do now!"

A buzz of excitement went up from the knot of squires as Alleyne,
his gentle nature turned by this causeless attack into fiery
resolution, dashed his glove with all his strength into the
sneering face of his antagonist.  From all parts of the hall
squires and pages came running, until a dense, swaying crowd
surrounded the disputants.

"Your life for this!" said the bully, with a face which was
distorted with rage.

"If you can take it," returned Alleyne.

"Good lad!" whispered Ford.  "Stick to it close as wax."

"I shall see justice," cried Norbury, Sir Oliver's silent
attendant.

"You brought it upon yourself, John Tranter," said the tall
squire, who had been addressed as Roger Harcomb.  "You must ever
plague the new-comers.  But it were shame if this went further.
The lad hath shown a proper spirit."

"But a blow! a blow!" cried several of the older squires.  "There
must be a finish to this."

"Nay; Tranter first laid hand upon his head," said Harcomb.  "How
say you, Tranter?  The matter may rest where it stands?"

"My name is known in these parts," said Tranter, proudly, "I can
let pass what might leave a stain upon another.  Let him pick up
his glove and say that he has done amiss."

"I would see him in the claws of the devil first," whispered
Ford.

"You hear, young sir?" said the peacemaker.  "Our friend will
overlook the matter if you do but say that you have acted in heat
and haste."

"I cannot say that," answered Alleyne.

"It is our custom, young sir, when new squires come amongst us
from England, to test them in some such way.  Bethink you that if
a man have a destrier or a new lance he will ever try it in time
of peace, lest in days of need it may fail him.  How much more
then is it proper to test those who are our comrades in arms."

"I would draw out if it may honorably be done," murmured Norbury
in Alleyne's ear.  "The man is a noted swordsman and far above
your strength."

Edricson came, however, of that sturdy Saxon blood which is very
slowly heated, but once up not easily to be cooled.  The hint of
danger which Norbury threw out was the one thing needed to harden
his resolution.

"I came here at the back of my master," he said, "and I looked on
every man here as an Englishman and a friend.  This gentleman
hath shown me a rough welcome, and if I have answered him in the
same spirit he has but himself to thank.  I will pick the glove
up; but, certes, I shall abide what I have done unless he first
crave my pardon for what he hath said and done."

Tranter shrugged his shoulders.  "You have done what you could to
save him, Harcomb," said he.  "We had best settle at once."

"So say I," cried Alleyne.

"The council will not break up until the banquet," remarked a
gray-haired squire.  "You have a clear two hours."

"And the place?"

"The tilting-yard is empty at this hour."

"Nay; it must not be within the grounds of the court, or it may
go hard with all concerned if it come to the ears of the prince."

"But there is a quiet spot near the river," said one youth.  "We
have but to pass through the abbey grounds, along the armory wall,
past the church of St. Remi, and so down the Rue des Apotres."

"En avant, then!" cried Tranter shortly, and the whole assembly
flocked out into the open air, save only those whom the special
orders of their masters held to their posts.  These unfortunates
crowded to the small casements, and craned their necks after the
throng as far as they could catch a glimpse of them.

Close to the banks of the Garonne there lay a little tract of
green sward, with the high wall of a prior's garden upon one side
and an orchard with a thick bristle of leafless apple-trees upon
the other.  The river ran deep and swift up to the steep bank;
but there were few boats upon it, and the ships were moored far
out in the centre of the stream.  Here the two combatants drew
their swords and threw off their doublets, for neither had any
defensive armor.  The duello with its stately etiquette had not
yet come into vogue, but rough and sudden encounters were as
common as they must ever be when hot-headed youth goes abroad
with a weapon strapped to its waist.  In such combats, as well as
in the more formal sports of the tilting-yard, Tranter had won a
name for strength and dexterity which had caused Norbury to utter
his well-meant warning.  On the other hand, Alleyne had used his
weapons in constant exercise and practice for every day for many
months, and being by nature quick of eye and prompt of hand, he
might pass now as no mean swordsman.  A strangely opposed pair
they appeared as they approached each other: Tranter dark and
stout and stiff, with hairy chest and corded arms, Alleyne a
model of comeliness and grace, with his golden hair and his skin
as fair as a woman's.  An unequal fight it seemed to most; but
there were a few, and they the most experienced, who saw
something in the youth's steady gray eye and wary step which left
the issue open to doubt.

"Hold, sirs, hold!" cried Norbury, ere a blow had been struck.
"This gentleman hath a two-handed sword, a good foot longer than
that of our friend."

"Take mine, Alleyne," said Ford.

"Nay, friends," he answered, "I understand the weight and balance
of mine own.  To work, sir, for our lord may need us at the
abbey!"

Tranter's great sword was indeed a mighty vantage in his favor.
He stood with his feet close together, his knees bent outwards,
ready for a dash inwards or a spring out.  The weapon he held
straight up in front of him with blade erect, so that he might
either bring it down with a swinging blow, or by a turn of the
heavy blade he might guard his own head and body.  A further
protection lay in the broad and powerful guard which crossed the
hilt, and which was furnished with a deep and narrow notch, in
which an expert swordsman might catch his foeman's blade, and by
a quick turn of his wrist might snap it across.  Alleyne, on the
other hand, must trust for his defence to his quick eye and
active foot--for his sword, though keen as a whetstone could
make it, was of a light and graceful build with a narrow, sloping
pommel and a tapering steel.

Tranter well knew his advantage and lost no time in putting it to
use.  As his opponent walked towards him he suddenly bounded
forward and sent in a whistling cut which would have severed the
other in twain had he not sprung lightly back from it.  So close
was it that the point ripped a gash in the jutting edge of his
linen cyclas.  Quick as a panther, Alleyne sprang in with a
thrust, but Tranter, who was as active as he was strong, had
already recovered himself and turned it aside with a movement of
his heavy blade.  Again he whizzed in a blow which made the
spectators hold their breath, and again Alleyne very quickly and
swiftly slipped from under it, and sent back two lightning
thrusts which the other could scarce parry.  So close were they
to each other that Alleyne had no time to spring back from the
next cut, which beat down his sword and grazed his forehead,
sending the blood streaming into his eyes and down his cheeks.
He sprang out beyond sword sweep, and the pair stood breathing
heavily, while the crowd of young squires buzzed their applause.

"Bravely struck on both sides!" cried Roger Harcomb.  "You have
both won honor from this meeting, and it would be sin and shame
to let it go further."

"You have done enough, Edricson," said Norbury.

"You have carried yourself well," cried several of the older
squires.

"For my part, I have no wish to slay this young man," said
Tranter, wiping his heated brow.

"Does this gentleman crave my pardon for having used me
despitefully?" asked Alleyne.

"Nay, not I."

"Then stand on your guard, sir!"  With a clatter and dash the
two blades met once more, Alleyne pressing in so as to keep
within the full sweep of the heavy blade, while Tranter as
continually sprang back to have space for one of his fatal cuts.
A three-parts-parried blow drew blood from Alleyne's left shoulder,
but at the same moment he wounded Tranter slightly upon the thigh.
Next instant, however, his blade had slipped into the fatal
notch, there was a sharp cracking sound with a tinkling upon the
ground, and he found a splintered piece of steel fifteen inches
long was all that remained to him of his weapon.

"Your life is in my hands!" cried Tranter, with a bitter smile.

"Nay, nay, he makes submission!" broke in several squires.

"Another sword!" cried Ford.

"Nay, sir," said Harcomb, "that is not the custom."

"Throw down your hilt, Edricson," cried Norbury.

"Never!" said Alleyne.  "Do you crave my pardon, sir?"

"You are mad to ask it."

"Then on guard again!" cried the young squire, and sprang in with
a fire and a fury which more than made up for the shortness of
his weapon.  It had not escaped him that his opponent was
breathing in short, hoarse gasps, like a man who is dizzy with
fatigue.  Now was the time for the purer living and the more
agile limb to show their value.  Back and back gave Tranter, ever
seeking time for a last cut.  On and on came Alleyne, his jagged
point now at his foeman's face, now at his throat, now at his
chest, still stabbing and thrusting to pass the line of steel
which covered him.  Yet his experienced foeman knew well that
such efforts could not be long sustained.  Let him relax for one
instant, and his death-blow had come.  Relax he must!  Flesh and
blood could not stand the strain.  Already the thrusts were less
fierce, the foot less ready, although there was no abatement of
the spirit in the steady gray eyes.  Tranter, cunning and wary
from years of fighting, knew that his chance had come.  He
brushed aside the frail weapon which was opposed to him, whirled
up his great blade, sprang back to get the fairer sweep--and
vanished into the waters of the Garonne.

So intent had the squires, both combatants and spectators, been
on the matter in hand, that all thought of the steep bank and
swift still stream had gone from their minds.  It was not until
Tranter, giving back before the other's fiery rush, was upon the
very brink, that a general cry warned him of his danger.  That
last spring, which he hoped would have brought the fight to a
bloody end, carried him clear of the edge, and he found himself
in an instant eight feet deep in the ice-cold stream.  Once and
twice his gasping face and clutching fingers broke up through the
still green water, sweeping outwards in the swirl of the current.
In vain were sword-sheaths, apple-branches and belts linked
together thrown out to him by his companions.  Alleyne had
dropped his shattered sword and was standing, trembling in every
limb, with his rage all changed in an instant to pity.  For the
third time the drowning man came to the surface, his hands full
of green slimy water-plants, his eyes turned in despair to the
shore.  Their glance fell upon Alleyne, and he could not
withstand the mute appeal which he read in them.  In an instant
he, too, was in the Garonne, striking out with powerful strokes
for his late foeman.

Yet the current was swift and strong, and, good swimmer as he
was, it was no easy task which Alleyne had set himself.  To
clutch at Tranter and to seize him by the hair was the work of a
few seconds, but to hold his head above water and to make their
way out of the current was another matter.  For a hundred strokes
he did not seem to gain an inch.  Then at last, amid a shout of
joy and praise from the bank, they slowly drew clear into more
stagnant water, at the instant that a rope, made of a dozen
sword-belts linked together by the buckles, was thrown by Ford
into their very hands.  Three pulls from eager arms, and the two
combatants, dripping and pale, were dragged up the bank, and lay
panting upon the grass.

John Tranter was the first to come to himself, for although he
had been longer in the water, he had done nothing during that
fierce battle with the current.  He staggered to his feet and
looked down upon his rescuer, who had raised himself upon his
elbow, and was smiling faintly at the buzz of congratulation and
of praise which broke from the squires around him.

"I am much beholden to you, sir," said Tranter, though in no very
friendly voice.  "Certes, I should have been in the river now but
for you, for I was born in Warwickshire, which is but a dry
county, and there are few who swim in those parts."

"I ask no thanks," Alleyne answered shortly.  "Give me your hand
to rise, Ford."

"The river has been my enemy," said Tranter, "but it hath been a
good friend to you, for it has saved your life this day."

"That is as it may be," returned Alleyne.

"But all is now well over," quoth Harcomb, "and no scath come of
it, which is more than I had at one time hoped for.  Our young
friend here hath very fairly and honestly earned his right to be
craftsman of the Honorable Guild of the Squires of Bordeaux.
Here is your doublet, Tranter."

"Alas for my poor sword which lies at the bottom of the Garonne!"
said the squire.

"Here is your pourpoint, Edricson," cried Norbury.  "Throw it
over your shoulders, that you may have at least one dry garment."

"And now away back to the abbey!" said several.

"One moment, sirs," cried Alleyne, who was leaning on Ford's
shoulder, with the broken sword, which he had picked up, still
clutched in his right hand.  "My ears may be somewhat dulled by
the water, and perchance what has been said has escaped me, but I
have not yet heard this gentleman crave pardon for the insults
which he put upon me in the hall."

"What! do you still pursue the quarrel?" asked Tranter.

"And why not, sir? I am slow to take up such things, but once
afoot I shall follow it while I have life or breath."

"Ma foi! you have not too much of either, for you are as white as
marble," said Harcomb bluntly.  "Take my rede, sir, and let it
drop, for you have come very well out from it."

"Nay," said Alleyne, "this quarrel is none of my making; but, now
that I am here, I swear to you that I shall never leave this spot
until I have that which I have come for: so ask my pardon, sir,
or choose another glaive and to it again."

The young squire was deadly white from his exertions, both on the
land and in the water.  Soaking and stained, with a smear of
blood on his white shoulder and another on his brow, there was
still in his whole pose and set of face the trace of an
inflexible resolution.  His opponent's duller and more material
mind quailed before the fire and intensity of a higher spiritual
nature.

"I had not thought that you had taken it so amiss," said he
awkwardly.  "It was but such a jest as we play upon each other,
and, if you must have it so, I am sorry for it."

"Then I am sorry too," quoth Alleyne warmly, "and here is my hand
upon it."

"And the none-meat horn has blown three times," quoth Harcomb, as
they all streamed in chattering groups from the ground.  "I know
not what the prince's maitre-de-cuisine will say or think.  By my
troth! master Ford, your friend here is in need of a cup of wine,
for he hath drunk deeply of Garonne water.  I had not thought
from his fair face that he had stood to this matter so shrewdly."

"Faith," said Ford, "this air of Bordeaux hath turned our
turtle-dove into a game-cock.  A milder or more courteous youth
never came out of Hampshire."

"His master also, as I understand, is a very mild and courteous
gentleman," remarked Harcomb; "yet I do not think that they are
either of them men with whom it is very safe to trifle."



CHAPTER XXI.

HOW AGOSTINO PISANO RISKED HIS HEAD.


Even the squires' table at the Abbey of St. Andrew's at Bordeaux
was on a very sumptuous scale while the prince held his court
there.  Here first, after the meagre fare of Beaulieu and the
stinted board of the Lady Loring, Alleyne learned the lengths to
which luxury and refinement might be pushed.  Roasted peacocks,
with the feathers all carefully replaced, so that the bird lay
upon the dish even as it had strutted in life, boars' heads with
the tusks gilded and the mouth lined with silver foil, jellies in
the shape of the Twelve Apostles, and a great pasty which formed
an exact model of the king's new castle at Windsor--these were a
few of the strange dishes which faced him.  An archer had brought
him a change of clothes from the cog, and he had already, with
the elasticity of youth, shaken off the troubles and fatigues of
the morning.  A page from the inner banqueting-hall had come with
word that their master intended to drink wine at the lodgings of
the Lord Chandos that night, and that he desired his squires to
sleep at the hotel of the "Half Moon" on the Rue des Apotres.
Thither then they both set out in the twilight after the long
course of juggling tricks and glee-singing with which the
principal meal was concluded.

A thin rain was falling as the two youths, with their cloaks over
their heads, made their way on foot through the streets of the
old town, leaving their horses in the royal stables.  An
occasional oil lamp at the corner of a street, or in the portico
of some wealthy burgher, threw a faint glimmer over the shining
cobblestones, and the varied motley crowd who, in spite of the
weather, ebbed and flowed along every highway.  In those
scattered circles of dim radiance might be seen the whole busy
panorama of life in a wealthy and martial city.  Here passed the
round-faced burgher, swollen with prosperity, his sweeping
dark-clothed gaberdine, flat velvet cap, broad leather belt and
dangling pouch all speaking of comfort and of wealth.  Behind him
his serving wench, her blue whimple over her head, and one hand
thrust forth to bear the lanthorn which threw a golden bar of
light along her master's path.  Behind them a group of
swaggering, half-drunken Yorkshire dalesmen, speaking a dialect
which their own southland countrymen could scarce comprehend,
their jerkins marked with the pelican, which showed that they had
come over in the train of the north-country Stapletons.  The
burgher glanced back at their fierce faces and quickened his
step, while the girl pulled her whimple closer round her, for
there was a meaning in their wild eyes, as they stared at the
purse and the maiden, which men of all tongues could understand.
Then came archers of the guard, shrill-voiced women of the camp,
English pages with their fair skins and blue wondering eyes,
dark-robed friars, lounging men-at-arms, swarthy loud-tongued
Gascon serving-men, seamen from the river, rude peasants of the
Medoc, and becloaked and befeathered squires of the court, all
jostling and pushing in an ever-changing, many-colored stream,
while English, French, Welsh, Basque, and the varied dialects of
Gascony and Guienne filled the air with their babel.  From time
to time the throng would be burst asunder and a lady's horse-litter
 would trot past towards the abbey, or there would come a knot of
torch-bearing archers walking in front of Gascon baron or English
knight, as he sought his lodgings after the palace revels.
Clatter of hoofs, clinking of weapons, shouts from the drunken
brawlers, and high laughter of women, they all rose up, like the
mist from a marsh, out of the crowded streets of the dim-lit
city.

One couple out of the moving throng especially engaged the
attention of the two young squires, the more so as they were
going in their own direction and immediately in front of them.
They consisted of a man and a girl, the former very tall with
rounded shoulders, a limp of one foot, and a large flat object
covered with dark cloth under his arm.  His companion was young
and straight, with a quick, elastic step and graceful bearing,
though so swathed in a black mantle that little could be seen of
her face save a flash of dark eyes and a curve of raven hair.
The tall man leaned heavily upon her to take the weight off his
tender foot, while he held his burden betwixt himself and the
wall, cuddling it jealously to his side, and thrusting forward
his young companion to act as a buttress whenever the pressure of
the crowd threatened to bear him away.  The evident anxiety of
the man, the appearance of his attendant, and the joint care with
which they defended their concealed possession, excited the
interest of the two young Englishmen who walked within hand-touch
of them.

"Courage, child!" they heard the tall man exclaim in strange
hybrid French.  "If we can win another sixty paces we are safe."

"Hold it safe, father," the other answered, in the same soft,
mincing dialect.  "We have no cause for fear."

"Verily, they are heathens and barbarians," cried the man; "mad,
howling, drunken barbarians!  Forty more paces, Tita mia, and I
swear to the holy Eloi, patron of all learned craftsmen, that I
will never set foot over my door again until the whole swarm are
safely hived in their camp of Dax, or wherever else they curse
with their presence.  Twenty more paces, my treasure: Ah, my God!
how they push and brawl!  Get in their way, Tita mia!  Put your
little elbow bravely out!  Set your shoulders squarely against
them, girl!  Why should you give way to these mad islanders?  Ah,
cospetto! we are ruined and destroyed!"

The crowd had thickened in front, so that the lame man and the
girl had come to a stand.  Several half-drunken English archers,
attracted, as the squires had been, by their singular appearance,
were facing towards them, and peering at them through the dim
light.

"By the three kings!" cried one, "here is an old dotard shrew to
have so goodly a crutch!  Use the leg that God hath given you,
man, and do not bear so heavily upon the wench."

"Twenty devils fly away with him!" shouted another.  "What, how,
man! are brave archers to go maidless while an old man uses one
as a walking-staff?"

"Come with me, my honey-bird!" cried a third, plucking at the
girl's mantle.

"Nay, with me, my heart's desire!" said the first.  "By St.
George! our life is short, and we should be merry while we may.
May I never see Chester Bridge again, if she is not a right
winsome lass!"

"What hath the old toad under his arm?" cried one of the others.
"He hugs it to him as the devil hugged the pardoner."

"Let us see, old bag of bones; let us see what it is that you
have under your arm!"  They crowded in upon him, while he,
ignorant of their language, could but clutch the girl with one
hand and the parcel with the other, looking wildly about in
search of help.

"Nay, lads, nay!" cried Ford, pushing back the nearest archer.
"This is but scurvy conduct.  Keep your hands off, or it will be
the worse for you."

"Keep your tongue still, or it will be the worse for you,"
shouted the most drunken of the archers.  "Who are you to spoil
sport?"

"A raw squire, new landed," said another.  "By St. Thomas of
Kent! we are at the beck of our master, but we are not to be
ordered by every babe whose mother hath sent him as far as
Aquitaine."

"Oh, gentlemen," cried the girl in broken French, "for dear
Christ's sake stand by us, and do not let these terrible men do
us an injury."

"Have no fears, lady," Alleyne answered.  "We shall see that all
is well with you.  Take your hand from the girl's wrist, you
north-country rogue!"

"Hold to her, Wat!" said a great black-bearded man-at-arms, whose
steel breast-plate glimmered in the dusk.  "Keep your hands from
your bodkins, you two, for that was my trade before you were
born, and, by God's soul! I will drive a handful of steel through
you if you move a finger."

"Thank God!" said Alleyne suddenly, as he spied in the lamp-light
a shock of blazing red hair which fringed a steel cap high above
the heads of the crowd.  "Here is John, and Aylward, too!  Help
us, comrades, for there is wrong being done to this maid and to
the old man."

"Hola, mon petit," said the old bowman, pushing his way through
the crowd, with the huge forester at his heels.  "What is all
this, then?  By the twang of string! I think that you will have
some work upon your hands if you are to right all the wrongs that
you may see upon this side of the water.  It is not to be thought
that a troop of bowmen, with the wine buzzing in their ears, will
be as soft-spoken as so many young clerks in an orchard.  When
you have been a year with the Company you will think less of such
matters.  But what is amiss here? The provost-marshal with his
archers is coming this way, and some of you may find yourselves
in the stretch-neck, if you take not heed."

"Why, it is old Sam Aylward of the White Company!" shouted the
man-at-arms.  "Why, Samkin, what hath come upon thee? I can call
to mind the day when you were as roaring a blade as ever called
himself a free companion.  By my soul! from Limoges to Navarre,
who was there who would kiss a wench or cut a throat as readily
as bowman Aylward of Hawkwood's company?"

"Like enough, Peter," said Aylward, "and, by my hilt! I may not
have changed so much.  But it was ever a fair loose and a clear
mark with me.  The wench must be willing, or the man must be
standing up against me, else, by these ten finger bones I either
were safe enough for me."

A glance at Aylward's resolute face, and at the huge shoulders of
Hordle John, had convinced the archers that there was little to
be got by violence.  The girl and the old man began to shuffle on
in the crowd without their tormentors venturing to stop them.
Ford and Alleyne followed slowly behind them, but Aylward caught
the latter by the shoulder.

"By my hilt! camarade," said he, "I hear that you have done great
things at the Abbey to-day, but I pray you to have a care, for it
was I who brought you into the Company, and it would be a black
day for me if aught were to befall you."

"Nay, Aylward, I will have a care."

"Thrust not forward into danger too much, mon petit.  In a little
time your wrist will be stronger and your cut more shrewd.  There
will be some of us at the `Rose de Guienne' to-night, which is
two doors from the hotel of the `Half Moon,' so if you would
drain a cup with a few simple archers you will be right welcome."

Alleyne promised to be there if his duties would allow, and then,
slipping through the crowd, he rejoined Ford, who was standing in
talk with the two strangers, who had now reached their own
doorstep.

"Brave young signor," cried the tall man, throwing his arms round
Alleyne, "how can we thank you enough for taking our parts
against those horrible drunken barbarians.  What should we have
done without you?  My Tita would have been dragged away, and my
head would have been shivered into a thousand fragments."

"Nay, I scarce think that they would have mishandled you so,"
said Alleyne in surprise.

"Ho, ho!" cried he with a high crowing laugh, "it is not the head
upon my shoulders that I think of.  Cospetto! no.  It is the head
under my arm which you have preserved."

"Perhaps the signori would deign to come under our roof, father,"
said the maiden.  "If we bide here, who knows that some fresh
tumult may not break out."

"Well said, Tita!  Well said, my girl!  I pray you, sirs, to
honor my unworthy roof so far.  A light, Giacomo!  There are five
steps up.  Now two more.  So!  Here we are at last in safety.
Corpo di Bacco!  I would not have given ten maravedi for my head
when those children of the devil were pushing us against the
wall.  Tita mia, you have been a brave girl, and it was better
that you should be pulled and pushed than that my head should be
broken."

"Yes indeed, father," said she earnestly.

"But those English!  Ach!  Take a Goth, a Hun, and a Vandal, mix
them together and add a Barbary rover; then take this creature
and make him drunk--and you have an Englishman.  My God I were
ever such people upon earth!  What place is free from them?  I
hear that they swarm in Italy even as they swarm here.
Everywhere you will find them, except in heaven."

"Dear father," cried Tita, still supporting the angry old man, as
he limped up the curved oaken stair.  "You must not forget that
these good signori who have preserved us are also English."

"Ah, yes.  My pardon, sirs!  Come into my rooms here.  There are
some who might find some pleasure in these paintings, but I learn
the art of war is the only art which is held in honor in your
island."

The low-roofed, oak-panelled room into which he conducted them
was brilliantly lit by four scented oil lamps.  Against the
walls, upon the table, on the floor, and in every part of the
chamber were great sheets of glass painted in the most brilliant
colors.  Ford and Edricson gazed around them in amazement, for
never had they seen such magnificent works of art.

"You like them then," the lame artist cried, in answer to the
look of pleasure and of surprise in their faces.  "There are then
some of you who have a taste for such trifling."

"I could not have believed it," exclaimed Alleyne.  "What color!
What outlines!  See to this martyrdom of the holy Stephen, Ford.
Could you not yourself pick up one of these stones which lie to
the hand of the wicked murtherers?"

"And see this stag, Alleyne, with the cross betwixt its horns.
By my faith!  I have never seen a better one at the Forest of
Bere."

"And the green of this grass--how bright and clear!  Why all the
painting that I have seen is but child's play beside this.  This
worthy gentleman must be one of those great painters of whom I
have oft heard brother Bartholomew speak in the old days at
Beaulieu."

The dark mobile face of the artist shone with pleasure at the
unaffected delight of the two young Englishmen.  His daughter had
thrown off her mantle and disclosed a face of the finest and most
delicate Italian beauty, which soon drew Ford's eyes from the
pictures in front of him.  Alleyne, however, continued with
little cries of admiration and of wonderment to turn from the
walls to the table and yet again to the walls.

"What think you of this, young sir?" asked the painter, tearing
off the cloth which concealed the flat object which he had borne
beneath his arm.  It was a leaf-shaped sheet of glass bearing
upon it a face with a halo round it, so delicately outlined, and
of so perfect a tint, that it might have been indeed a human face
which gazed with sad and thoughtful eyes upon the young squire.
He clapped his hands, with that thrill of joy which true art will
ever give to a true artist.

"It is great!" he cried.  "It is wonderful!  But I marvel, sir,
that you should have risked a work of such beauty and value by
bearing it at night through so unruly a crowd."

"I have indeed been rash," said the artist.  "Some wine, Tita,
from the Florence flask!  Had it not been for you, I tremble to
think of what might have come of it.  See to the skin tint: it is
not to be replaced, for paint as you will, it is not once in a
hundred times that it is not either burned too brown in the
furnace or else the color will not hold, and you get but a sickly
white.  There you can see the very veins and the throb of thee
blood.  Yes, diavolo! if it had broken, my heart would have
broken too.  It is for the choir window in the church of St.
Remi, and we had gone, my little helper and I, to see if it was
indeed of the size for the stonework.  Night had fallen ere we
finished, and what could we do save carry it home as best we
might?  But you, young sir, you speak as if you too knew
something of the art."

"So little that I scarce dare speak of it in your presence,"
Alleyne answered.  "I have been cloister-bred, and it was no very
great matter to handle the brush better than my brother novices."

"There are pigments, brush, and paper," said the old artist.  "I
do not give you glass, for that is another matter, and takes much
skill in the mixing of colors.  Now I pray you to show me a touch
of your art.  I thank you, Tita!  The Venetian glasses, cara mia,
and fill them to the brim.  A seat, signor!"

While Ford, in his English-French, was conversing with Tita in
her Italian French, the old man was carefully examining his
precious head to see that no scratch had been left upon its
surface.  When he glanced up again, Alleyne had, with a few bold
strokes of the brush, tinted in a woman's face and neck upon the
white sheet in front of him.

"Diavolo!" exclaimed the old artist, standing with his head on
one side, "you have power; yes, cospetto!  you have power, it is
the face of an angel!"

"It is the face of the Lady Maude Loring!" cried Ford, even more
astonished.

"Why, on my faith, it is not unlike her!" said Alleyne, in some
confusion.

"Ah!  a portrait!  So much the better.  Young man, I am Agostino
Pisano, the son of Andrea Pisano, and I say again that you have
power.  Further, I say, that, if you will stay with me, I will
teach you all the secrets of the glass-stainers' mystery: the
pigments and their thickening, which will fuse into the glass and
which will not, the furnace and the glazing--every trick and
method you shall know."

"I would be right glad to study under such a master," said
Alleyne; "but I am sworn to follow my lord whilst this war
lasts."

"War! war!" cried the old Italian.  "Ever this talk of war.  And
the men that you hold to be great--what are they?  Have I not
heard their names?  Soldiers, butchers, destroyers!  Ah, per
Bacco! we have men in Italy who are in very truth great.  You
pull down, you despoil; but they build up, they restore.  Ah, if
you could but see my own dear Pisa, the Duomo, the cloisters of
Campo Santo, the high Campanile, with the mellow throb of her
bells upon the warm Italian air!  Those are the works of great
men.  And I have seen them with my own eyes, these very eyes
which look upon you.  I have seen Andrea Orcagna, Taddeo Gaddi,
Giottino, Stefano, Simone Memmi--men whose very colors I am not
worthy to mix.  And I have seen the aged Giotto, and he in turn
was pupil to Cimabue, before whom there was no art in Italy, for
the Greeks were brought to paint the chapel of the Gondi at
Florence.  Ah, signori, there are the real great men whose names
will be held in honor when your soldiers are shown to have been
the enemies of humankind."

"Faith, sir," said Ford, "there is something to say for the
soldiers also, for, unless they be defended, how are all these
gentlemen whom you have mentioned to preserve the pictures which
they have painted?"

"And all these!" said Alleyne.  "Have you indeed done them
all?--and where are they to go?"

"Yes, signor, they are all from my hand.  Some are, as you see,
upon one sheet, and some are in many pieces which may fasten
together.  There are some who do but paint upon the glass, and
then, by placing another sheet of glass upon the top and
fastening it, they keep the air from their painting.  Yet I hold
that the true art of my craft lies as much in the furnace as in
the brush.  See this rose window, which is from the model of the
Church of the Holy Trinity at Vendome, and this other of the
`Finding of the Grail,' which is for the apse of the Abbey
church.  Time was when none but my countrymen could do these
things; but there is Clement of Chartres and others in France who
are very worthy workmen.  But, ah! there is that ever shrieking
brazen tongue which will not let us forget for one short hour
that it is the arm of the savage, and not the hand of the master,
which rules over the world."

A stern, clear bugle call had sounded close at hand to summon
some following together for the night.

"It is a sign to us as well," said Ford.  "I would fain stay here
forever amid all these beautiful things--" staring hard at the
blushing Tita as he spoke--"but we must be back at our lord's
hostel ere he reach it."  Amid renewed thanks and with promises
to come again, the two squires bade their leave of the old
Italian glass-stainer and his daughter.  The streets were clearer
now, and the rain had stopped, so they made their way quickly
from the Rue du Roi, in which their new friends dwelt, to the Rue
des Apotres, where the hostel of the "Half Moon" was situated.



CHAPTER XXII.

HOW THE BOWMEN HELD WASSAIL AT THE "ROSE DE GUIENNE."


"Mon Dieu!  Alleyne, saw you ever so lovely a face?" cried Ford
as they hurried along together.  "So pure, so peaceful, and so
beautiful!"

"In sooth, yes.  And the hue of the skin the most perfect that
ever I saw.  Marked you also how the hair curled round the brow?
It was wonder fine."

"Those eyes, too!" cried Ford.  "How clear and how tender--simple,
and yet so full of thought!"

"If there was a weakness it was in the chin," said Alleyne.

"Nay.  I saw none."

"It was well curved, it is true."

"Most daintily so."

"And yet----"

"What then, Alleyne?  Wouldst find flaw in the sun?"

"Well, bethink you, Ford, would not more power and expression
have been put into the face by a long and noble beard?"

"Holy Virgin!" cried Ford, "the man is mad.  A beard on the face
of little Tita!"

"Tita!  Who spoke of Tita?"

"Who spoke of aught else?"

"It was the picture of St. Remi, man, of which I have been
discoursing."

"You are indeed," cried Ford, laughing, "a Goth, Hun, and Vandal,
with all the other hard names which the old man called us.  How
could you think so much of a smear of pigments, when there was
such a picture painted by the good God himself in the very room
with you?  But who is this?"

"If it please you, sirs," said an archer, running across to them,
"Aylward and others would be right glad to see you.  They are
within here.  He bade me say to you that the Lord Loring will not
need your service to-night, as he sleeps with the Lord Chandos."

"By my faith!" said Ford, "we do not need a guide to lead us to
their presence."  As he spoke there came a roar of singing from
the tavern upon the right, with shouts of laughter and stamping
of feet.  Passing under a low door, and down a stone-flagged
passage, they found themselves in a long narrow hall lit up by a
pair of blazing torches, one at either end.  Trusses of straw had
been thrown down along the walls, and reclining on them were some
twenty or thirty archers, all of the Company, their steel caps
and jacks thrown off, their tunics open and their great limbs
sprawling upon the clay floor.  At every man's elbow stood his
leathern blackjack of beer, while at the further end a hogshead
with its end knocked in promised an abundant supply for the
future.  Behind the hogshead, on a half circle of kegs, boxes,
and rude settles, sat Aylward, John, Black Simon and three or
four other leading men of the archers, together with Goodwin
Hawtayne, the master-shipman, who had left his yellow cog in the
river to have a last rouse with his friends of the Company.  Ford
and Alleyne took their seats between Aylward and Black Simon,
without their entrance checking in any degree the hubbub which
was going on.

"Ale, mes camarades?" cried the bowman, "or shall it be wine?
Nay, but ye must have the one or the other.  Here, Jacques, thou
limb of the devil, bring a bottrine of the oldest vernage, and
see that you do not shake it.  Hast heard the news?"

"Nay," cried both the squires.

"That we are to have a brave tourney."

"A tourney?"

"Aye, lads.  For the Captal du Buch hath sworn that he will find
five knights from this side of the water who will ride over any
five Englishmen who ever threw leg over saddle; and Chandos hath
taken up the challenge, and the prince hath promised a golden
vase for the man who carries himself best, and all the court is
in a buzz over it."

"Why should the knights have all the sport?" growled Hordle John.
"Could they not set up five archers for the honor of Aquitaine
and of Gascony?"

"Or five men-at-arms," said Black Simon.

"But who are the English knights?" asked Hawtayne.

"There are three hundred and forty-one in the town," said
Aylward, "and I hear that three hundred and forty cartels and
defiances have already been sent in, the only one missing being
Sir John Ravensholme, who is in his bed with the sweating
sickness, and cannot set foot to ground."

"I have heard of it from one of the archers of the guard," cried
a bowman from among the straw; "I hear that the prince wished to
break a lance, but that Chandos would not hear of it, for the
game is likely to be a rough one."

"Then there is Chandos."

"Nay, the prince would not permit it.  He is to be marshal of the
lists, with Sir William Felton and the Duc d'Armagnac.  The
English will be the Lord Audley, Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Thomas
Wake, Sir William Beauchamp, and our own very good lord and
leader."

"Hurrah for him, and God be with him!" cried several.  "It is
honor to draw string in his service."

"So you may well say," said Aylward.  "By my ten finger-bones!
if you march behind the pennon of the five roses you are like to
see all that a good bowman would wish to see.  Ha! yes, mes
garcons, you laugh, but, by my hilt! you may not laugh when you
find yourselves where he will take you, for you can never tell
what strange vow he may not have sworn to.  I see that he has a
patch over his eye, even as he had at Poictiers.  There will come
bloodshed of that patch, or I am the more mistaken."

"How chanced it at Poictiers, good Master Aylward?" asked one of
the young archers, leaning upon his elbows, with his eyes fixed
respectfully upon the old bowman's rugged face.

"Aye, Aylward, tell us of it," cried Hordle John.

"Here is to old Samkin Aylward!" shouted several at the further
end of the room, waving their blackjacks in the air.

"Ask him!" said Aylward modestly, nodding towards Black Simon.
"He saw more than I did.  And yet, by the holy nails! there was
not very much that I did not see either."

"Ah, yes," said Simon, shaking his head, "it was a great day.  I
never hope to see such another.  There were some fine archers who
drew their last shaft that day.  We shall never see better men,
Aylward."

"By my hilt! no.  There was little Robby Withstaff, and Andrew
Salblaster, and Wat Alspaye, who broke the neck of the German.
Mon Dieu! what men they were!  Take them how you would, at long
butts or short, hoyles, rounds, or rovers, better bowmen never
twirled a shaft over their thumb-nails."

"But the fight, Aylward, the fight!" cried several impatiently.

"Let me fill my jack first, boys, for it is a thirsty tale.  It
was at the first fall of the leaf that the prince set forth, and
he passed through Auvergne, and Berry, and Anjou, and Touraine.
In Auvergne the maids are kind, but the wines are sour.  In Berry
it is the women that are sour, but the wines are rich.  Anjou,
however, is a very good land for bowmen, for wine and women are
all that heart could wish.  In Touraine I got nothing save a
broken pate, but at Vierzon I had a great good fortune, for I had
a golden pyx from the minster, for which I afterwards got nine
Genoan janes from the goldsmith in the Rue Mont Olive.  From
thence we went to Bourges, were I had a tunic of flame-colored
silk and a very fine pair of shoes with tassels of silk and drops
of silver."

"From a stall, Aylward?" asked one of the young archers.

"Nay, from a man's feet, lad.  I had reason to think that he
might not need them again, seeing that a thirty-inch shaft had
feathered in his back."

"And what then, Aylward?"

"On we went, coz, some six thousand of us, until we came to
Issodun, and there again a very great thing befell."

"A battle, Aylward?"

"Nay, nay; a greater thing than that.  There is little to be
gained out of a battle, unless one have the fortune to win a
ransom.  At Issodun I and three Welshmen came upon a house which
all others had passed, and we had the profit of it to ourselves.
For myself, I had a fine feather-bed--a thing which you will not
see in a long day's journey in England.  You have seen it,
Alleyne, and you, John.  You will bear me out that it is a noble
bed.  We put it on a sutler's mule, and bore it after the army.
It was on my mind that I would lay it by until I came to start
house of mine own, and I have it now in a very safe place near
Lyndhurst."

"And what then, master-bowman?" asked Hawtayne.  "By St.
Christopher! it is indeed a fair and goodly life which you have
chosen, for you gather up the spoil as a Warsash man gathers
lobsters, without grace or favor from any man."

"You are right, master-shipman," said another of the older
archers.  "It is an old bowyer's rede that the second feather of
a fenny goose is better than the pinion of a tame one.  Draw on
old lad, for I have come between you and the clout."

"On we went then," said Aylward, after a long pull at his
blackjack.  "There were some six thousand of us, with the prince
and his knights, and the feather-bed upon a sutler's mule in the
centre.  We made great havoc in Touraine, until we came into
Romorantin, where I chanced upon a gold chain and two bracelets
of jasper, which were stolen from me the same day by a black-eyed
wench from the Ardennes.  Mon Dieu! there are some folk who have
no fear of Domesday in them, and no sign of grace in their souls,
for ever clutching and clawing at another man's chattels."

"But the battle, Aylward, the battle!" cried several, amid a
burst of laughter.

"I come to it, my young war-pups.  Well, then, the King of France
had followed us with fifty thousand men, and he made great haste
to catch us, but when he had us he scarce knew what to do with
us, for we were so drawn up among hedges and vineyards that they
could not come nigh us, save by one lane.  On both sides were
archers, men-at-arms and knights behind, and in the centre the
baggage, with my feather-bed upon a sutler's mule.  Three hundred
chosen knights came straight for it, and, indeed, they were very
brave men, but such a drift of arrows met them that few came
back.  Then came the Germans, and they also fought very bravely,
so that one or two broke through the archers and came as far as
the feather-bed, but all to no purpose.  Then out rides our own
little hothead with the patch over his eye, and my Lord Audley
with his four Cheshire squires, and a few others of like kidney,
and after them went the prince and Chandos, and then the whole
throng of us, with axe and sword, for we had shot away our
arrows.  Ma foi! it was a foolish thing, for we came forth from
the hedges, and there was naught to guard the baggage had they
ridden round behind us.  But all went well with us, and the king
was taken, and little Robby Withstaff and I fell in with a wain
with twelve firkins of wine for the king's own table, and, by my
hilt! if you ask me what happened after that, I cannot answer
you, nor can little Robby Withstaff either."

"And next day?"

"By my faith!  we did not tarry long, but we hied back to
Bordeaux, where we came in safety with the King of France and
also the feather-bed.  I sold my spoil, mes garcons, for as many
gold-pieces as I could hold in my hufken, and for seven days I
lit twelve wax candles upon the altar of St. Andrew; for if you
forget the blessed when things are well with you, they are very
likely to forget you when you have need of them.  I have a score
of one hundred and nineteen pounds of wax against the holy
Andrew, and, as he was a very just man, I doubt not that I shall
have full weigh and measure when I have most need of it."

"Tell me, master Aylward," cried a young fresh-faced archer at
the further end of the room, "what was this great battle about?"

"Why, you jack-fool, what would it be about save who should wear
the crown of France?"

"I thought that mayhap it might be as to who should have this
feather-bed of thine."

"If I come down to you, Silas, I may lay my belt across your
shoulders," Aylward answered, amid a general shout of laughter.
"But it is time young chickens went to roost when they dare
cackle against their elders.  It is late, Simon."

"Nay, let us have another song."

"Here is Arnold of Sowley will troll as good a stave as any man
in the Company."

"Nay, we have one here who is second to none," said Hawtayne,
laying his hand upon big John's shoulder.  "I have heard him on
the cog with a voice like the wave upon the shore.  I pray you,
friend, to give us `The Bells of Milton,' or, if you will, `The
Franklin's Maid.'"

Hordle John drew the back of his hand across his mouth, fixed his
eyes upon the corner of the ceiling, and bellowed forth, in a
voice which made the torches flicker, the southland ballad for
which he had been asked:--

        The franklin he hath gone to roam,
        The franklin's maid she bides at home,
        But she is cold and coy and staid,
        And who may win the franklin's maid?

        There came a knight of high renown
        In bassinet and ciclatoun;
        On bended knee full long he prayed,
        He might not win the franklin's maid.

        There came a squire so debonair
        His dress was rich, his words were fair,
        He sweetly sang, he deftly played:
        He could not win the franklin's maid.

        There came a mercer wonder-fine
        With velvet cap and gaberdine;
        For all his ships, for all his trade
        He could not buy the franklin's maid.

        There came an archer bold and true,
        With bracer guard and stave of yew;
        His purse was light, his jerkin frayed;
        Haro, alas! the franklin's maid!

        Oh, some have laughed and some have cried
        And some have scoured the country-side!
        But off they ride through wood and glade,
        The bowman and the franklin's maid.

A roar of delight from his audience, with stamping of feet and
beating of blackjacks against the ground, showed how thoroughly
the song was to their taste, while John modestly retired into a
quart pot, which he drained in four giant gulps.  "I sang that
ditty in Hordle ale-house ere I ever thought to be an archer
myself," quoth he.

"Fill up your stoups!" cried Black Simon, thrusting his own
goblet into the open hogshead in front of him.  "Here is a last
cup to the White Company, and every brave boy who walks behind
the roses of Loring!"

"To the wood, the flax, and the gander's wing!" said an old
gray-headed archer on the right.

"To a gentle loose, and the King of Spain for a mark at fourteen
score!" cried another.

"To a bloody war!" shouted a fourth.  "Many to go and few to
come!"

"With the most gold to the best steel!" added a fifth.

"And a last cup to the maids of our heart!" cried Aylward.  "A
steady hand and a true eye, boys; so let two quarts be a bowman's
portion."  With shout and jest and snatch of song they streamed
from the room, and all was peaceful once more in the "Rose de
Guienne."



CHAPTER XXIII.

HOW ENGLAND HELD THE LISTS AT BORDEAUX.


So used were the good burghers of Bordeaux to martial display and
knightly sport, that an ordinary joust or tournament was an everyday
matter with them.  The fame and brilliancy of the prince's court had
drawn the knights-errant and pursuivants-of-arms from every part of
Europe.  In the long lists by the Garonne on the landward side of
the northern gate there had been many a strange combat, when the
Teutonic knight, fresh from the conquest of the Prussian heathen,
ran a course against the knight of Calatrava, hardened by continual
struggle against the Moors, or cavaliers from Portugal broke a
lance with Scandinavian warriors from the further shore of the great
Northern Ocean.  Here fluttered many an outland pennon, bearing
symbol and blazonry from the banks of the Danube, the wilds of
Lithuania and the mountain strongholds of Hungary; for chivalry
was of no clime and of no race, nor was any land so wild that the
fame and name of the prince had not sounded through it from
border to border.

Great, however, was the excitement through town and district when
it was learned that on the third Wednesday in Advent there would
be held a passage-at-arms in which five knights of England would
hold the lists against all comers.  The great concourse of
noblemen and famous soldiers, the national character of the
contest, and the fact that this was a last trial of arms before
what promised to be an arduous and bloody war, all united to make
the event one of the most notable and brilliant that Bordeaux had
ever seen.  On the eve of the contest the peasants flocked in
from the whole district of the Medoc, and the fields beyond the
walls were whitened with the tents of those who could find no
warmer lodging.  From the distant camp of Dax, too, and from
Blaye, Bourge, Libourne, St. Emilion, Castillon, St. Macaire,
Cardillac, Ryons, and all the cluster of flourishing towns which
look upon Bordeaux as their mother, there thronged an unceasing
stream of horsemen and of footmen, all converging upon the great
city.  By the morning of the day on which the courses were to be
run, not less than eighty people had assembled round the lists
and along the low grassy ridge which looks down upon the scene of
the encounter.

It was, as may well be imagined, no easy matter among so many
noted cavaliers to choose out five on either side who should have
precedence over their fellows.  A score of secondary combats had
nearly arisen from the rivalries and bad blood created by the
selection, and it was only the influence of the prince and the
efforts of the older barons which kept the peace among so many
eager and fiery soldiers.  Not till the day before the courses
were the shields finally hung out for the inspection of the
ladies and the heralds, so that all men might know the names of
the champions and have the opportunity to prefer any charge
against them, should there be stain upon them which should
disqualify them from taking part in so noble and honorable a
ceremony.

Sir Hugh Calverley and Sir Robert Knolles had not yet returned
from their raid into the marches of the Navarre, so that the
English party were deprived of two of their most famous lances.
Yet there remained so many good names that Chandos and Felton, to
whom the selection had been referred, had many an earnest
consultation, in which every feat of arms and failure or success
of each candidate was weighed and balanced against the rival
claims of his companions.  Lord Audley of Cheshire, the hero of
Poictiers, and Loring of Hampshire, who was held to be the
second lance in the army, were easily fixed upon.  Then, of the
younger men, Sir Thomas Percy of Northumberland, Sir Thomas Wake
of Yorkshire, and Sir William Beauchamp of Gloucestershire, were
finally selected to uphold the honor of England.  On the other
side were the veteran Captal de Buch and the brawny Olivier de
Clisson, with the free companion Sir Perducas d'Albret, the
valiant Lord of Mucident, and Sigismond von Altenstadt, of the
Teutonic Order.  The older soldiers among the English shook their
heads as they looked upon the escutcheons of these famous
warriors, for they were all men who had spent their lives upon
the saddle, and bravery and strength can avail little against
experience and wisdom of war.

"By my faith!  Sir John," said the prince as he rode through the
winding streets on his way to the list, "I should have been glad
to have splintered a lance to-day.  You have seen me hold a spear
since I had strength to lift one, and should know best whether I
do not merit a place among this honorable company."

"There is no better seat and no truer lance, sire," said Chandos;
"but, if I may say so without fear of offence, it were not
fitting that you should join in this debate."

"And why, Sir John?"

"Because, sire, it is not for you to take part with Gascons
against English, or with English against Gascons, seeing that you
are lord of both.  We are not too well loved by the Gascons now,
and it is but the golden link of your princely coronet which
holds us together.  If that be snapped I know not what would
follow."

"Snapped, Sir John!" cried the prince, with an angry sparkle in
his dark eyes.  "What manner of talk is this?  You speak as
though the allegiance of our people were a thing which might be
thrown off or on like a falcon's jessel."

"With a sorry hack one uses whip and spur, sire," said Chandos;
"but with a horse of blood and spirit a good cavalier is gentle
and soothing, coaxing rather than forcing.  These folk are
strange people, and you must hold their love, even as you have it
now, for you will get from their kindness what all the pennons in
your army could not wring from them."

"You are over-grave to-day, John," the prince answered.  "We may
keep such questions for our council-chamber.  But how now, my
brothers of Spain, and of Majorca, what think you of this
challenge?"

"I look to see some handsome joisting," said Don Pedro, who rode
with the King of Majorca upon the right of the prince, while
Chandos was on the left.  "By St. James of Compostella! but these
burghers would bear some taxing.  See to the broadcloth and
velvet that the rogues bear upon their backs!  By my troth! if
they were my subjects they would be glad enough to wear falding
and leather ere I had done with them.  But mayhap it is best to
let the wool grow long ere you clip it."

"It is our pride," the prince answered coldly, "that we rule over
freemen and not slaves."

"Every man to his own humor," said Pedro carelessly.  "Carajo!
there is a sweet face at yonder window!  Don Fernando, I pray you
to mark the house, and to have the maid brought to us at the
abbey."

"Nay, brother, nay!" cried the prince impatiently.  "I have had
occasion to tell you more than once that things are not ordered
in this way in Aquitaine."

"A thousand pardons, dear friend," the Spaniard answered quickly,
for a flush of anger had sprung to the dark cheek of the English
prince.  "You make my exile so like a home that I forget at times
that I am not in very truth back in Castile.  Every land hath
indeed its ways and manners; but I promise you, Edward, that when
you are my guest in Toledo or Madrid you shall not yearn in vain
for any commoner's daughter on whom you may deign to cast your
eye."

"Your talk, sire," said the prince still more coldly, "is not
such as I love to hear from your lips.  I have no taste for such
amours as you speak of, and I have sworn that my name shall be
coupled with that of no woman save my ever dear wife."

"Ever the mirror of true chivalry!" exclaimed Pedro, while James
of Majorca, frightened at the stern countenance of their all-powerful
protector, plucked hard at the mantle of his brother
exile.

"Have a care, cousin," he whispered; "for the sake of the Virgin
have a care, for you have angered him."

"Pshaw!  fear not," the other answered in the same low tone.  "If
I miss one stoop I will strike him on the next.  Mark me else.
Fair cousin," he continued, turning to the prince, "these be rare
men-at-arms and lusty bowmen.  It would be hard indeed to match
them."

"They have Journeyed far, sire, but they have never yet found
their match."

"Nor ever will, I doubt not.  I feel myself to be back upon my
throne when I look at them.  But tell me, dear coz, what shall we
do next, when we have driven this bastard Henry from the kingdom
which he hath filched?"

"We shall then compel the King of Aragon to place our good friend
and brother James of Majorca upon the throne."

"Noble and generous prince!" cried the little monarch.

"That done," said King Pedro, glancing out of the corners of his
eyes at the young conqueror, "we shall unite the forces of
England, of Aquitaine, of Spain and of Majorca.  It would be
shame to us if we did not do some great deed with such forces
ready to our hand."

"You say truly, brother," cried the prince, his eyes kindling at
the thought.  "Methinks that we could not do anything more
pleasing to Our Lady than to drive the heathen Moors out of the
country."

"I am with you, Edward, as true as hilt to blade.  But, by St.
James! we shall not let these Moors make mock at us from over the
sea.  We must take ship and thrust them from Africa."

"By heaven, yes!" cried the prince.  "And it is the dream of my
heart that our English pennons shall wave upon the Mount of
Olives, and the lions and lilies float over the holy city."

"And why not, dear coz?  Your bowmen have cleared a path to
Paris, and why not to Jerusalem?  Once there, your arms might
rest."

"Nay, there is more to be done," cried the prince, carried away
by the ambitious dream.  "There is still the city of Constantine
to be taken, and war to be waged against the Soldan of Damascus.
And beyond him again there is tribute to be levied from the Cham
of Tartary and from the kingdom of Cathay.  Ha! John, what say
you?  Can we not go as far eastward as Richard of the Lion
Heart?"

"Old John will bide at home, sire," said the rugged soldier.  "By
my soul! as long as I am seneschal of Aquitaine I will find
enough to do in guarding the marches which you have entrusted to
me.  It would be a blithe day for the King of France when he
heard that the seas lay between him and us."

"By my soul! John," said the prince, "I have never known you turn
laggard before."

"The babbling hound, sire, is not always the first at the mort,"
the old knight answered.

"Nay, my true-heart!  I have tried you too often not to know.
But, by my soul!  I have not seen so dense a throng since the day
that we brought King John down Cheapside."

It was indeed an enormous crowd which covered the whole vast
plain from the line of vineyards to the river bank.  From the
northern gate the prince and his companions looked down at a dark
sea of heads, brightened here and there by the colored hoods of
the women, or by the sparkling head-pieces of archers and
men-at-arms.  In the centre of this vast assemblage the lists
seemed but a narrow strip of green marked out with banners and
streamers, while a gleam of white with a flutter of pennons at
either end showed where the marquees were pitched which served as
the dressing-rooms of the combatants.  A path had been staked off
from the city gate to the stands which had been erected for the
court and the nobility.  Down this, amid the shouts of the
enormous multitude, the prince cantered with his two attendant
kings, his high officers of state, and his long train of lords
and ladies, courtiers, counsellors, and soldiers, with toss of
plume and flash of jewel, sheen of silk and glint of gold--as
rich and gallant a show as heart could wish.  The head of the
cavalcade had reached the lists ere the rear had come clear of
the city gate, for the fairest and the bravest had assembled from
all the broad lands which are watered by the Dordogne and the
Garonne.  Here rode dark-browed cavaliers from the sunny south,
fiery soldiers from Gascony, graceful courtiers of Limousin or
Saintonge, and gallant young Englishmen from beyond the seas.
Here too were the beautiful brunettes of the Gironde, with eyes
which out-flashed their jewels, while beside them rode their
blonde sisters of England, clear cut and aquiline, swathed in
swans'-down and in ermine, for the air was biting though the sun
was bright.  Slowly the long and glittering train wound into the
lists, until every horse had been tethered by the varlets in
waiting, and every lord and lady seated in the long stands which
stretched, rich in tapestry and velvet and blazoned arms, on
either side of the centre of the arena.

The holders of the lists occupied the end which was nearest to
the city gate.  There, in front of their respective pavilions,
flew the martlets of Audley, the roses of Loring, the scarlet
bars of Wake, the lion of the Percies and the silver wings of
the Beauchamps, each supported by a squire clad in hanging green
stuff to represent so many Tritons, and bearing a huge
conch-shell in their left hands.  Behind the tents the great
war-horses, armed at all points, champed and reared, while their
masters sat at the doors of their pavilions, with their helmets
upon their knees, chatting as to the order of the day's doings.
The English archers and men-at-arms had mustered at that end of
the lists, but the vast majority of the spectators were in favor
of the attacking party, for the English had declined in
popularity ever since the bitter dispute as to the disposal of
the royal captive after the battle of Poictiers.  Hence the
applause was by no means general when the herald-at-arms
proclaimed, after a flourish of trumpets, the names and styles of
the knights who were prepared, for the honor of their country and
for the love of their ladies, to hold the field against all who
might do them the favor to run a course with them.  On the other
hand, a deafening burst of cheering greeted the rival herald,
who, advancing from the other end of the lists, rolled forth the
well-known titles of the five famous warriors who had accepted
the defiance.

"Faith, John," said the prince, "it sounds as though you were
right.  Ha! my grace D'Armagnac, it seems that our friends on
this side will not grieve if our English champions lose the day."

"It may be so, sire," the Gascon nobleman answered.  "I have
little doubt that in Smithfield or at Windsor an English crowd
would favor their own countrymen."

"By my faith! that's easily seen," said the prince, laughing,
"for a few score English archers at yonder end are bellowing as
though they would out-shout the mighty multitude.  I fear that
they will have little to shout over this tourney, for my gold
vase has small prospect of crossing the water.  What are the
conditions, John?"

"They are to tilt singly not less than three courses, sire, and
the victory to rest with that party which shall have won the
greater number of courses, each pair continuing till one or other
have the vantage.  He who carries himself best of the victors
hath the prize, and he who is judged best of the other party hath
a jewelled clasp.  Shall I order that the nakirs sound, sire?"

The prince nodded, and the trumpets rang out, while the champions
rode forth one after the other, each meeting his opponent in the
centre of the lists.  Sir William Beauchamp went down before the
practiced lance of the Captal de Buch.  Sir Thomas Percy won the
vantage over the Lord of Mucident, and the Lord Audley struck Sir
Perducas d'Albret from the saddle.  The burly De Clisson,
however, restored the hopes of the attackers by beating to the
ground Sir Thomas Wake of Yorkshire.  So far, there was little to
choose betwixt challengers and challenged.

"By Saint James of Santiago!" cried Don Pedro, with a tinge of
color upon his pale cheeks, "win who will, this has been a most
notable contest."

"Who comes next for England, John?" asked the prince in a voice
which quivered with excitement.

"Sir Nigel Loring of Hampshire, sire."

"Ha! he is a man of good courage, and skilled in the use of all
weapons."

"He is indeed, sire.  But his eyes, like my own, are the worse
for wars.  Yet he can tilt or play his part at hand-strokes as
merrily as ever.  It was he, sire, who won the golden crown which
Queen Philippa, your royal mother, gave to be jousted for by all
the knights of England after the harrying of Calais.  I have
heard that at Twynham Castle there is a buffet which groans
beneath the weight of his prizes."

"I pray that my vase may join them," said the prince.  "But here
is the cavalier of Germany, and by my soul! he looks like a man
of great valor and hardiness.  Let them run their full three
courses, for the issue is over-great to hang upon one."

As the prince spoke, amid a loud flourish of trumpets and the
shouting of the Gascon party, the last of the assailants rode
gallantly into the lists.  He was a man of great size, clad in
black armor without blazonry or ornament of any kind, for all
worldly display was forbidden by the rules of the military
brotherhood to which he belonged.  No plume or nobloy fluttered
from his plain tilting salade, and even his lance was devoid of
the customary banderole.  A white mantle fluttered behind him,
upon the left side of which was marked the broad black cross
picked out with silver which was the well-known badge of the
Teutonic Order.  Mounted upon a horse as large, as black, and as
forbidding as himself, he cantered slowly forward, with none of
those prancings and gambades with which a cavalier was accustomed
to show his command over his charger.  Gravely and sternly he
inclined his head to the prince, and took his place at the
further end of the arena.

He had scarce done so before Sir Nigel rode out from the holders'
enclosure, and galloping at full speed down the lists, drew his
charger up before the prince's stand with a jerk which threw it
back upon its haunches.  With white armor, blazoned shield, and
plume of ostrich-feathers from his helmet, he carried himself in
so jaunty and joyous a fashion, with tossing pennon and curveting
charger, that a shout of applause ran the full circle of the arena.
With the air of a man who hastes to a joyous festival, he waved
his lance in salute, and reining the pawing horse round without
permitting its fore-feet to touch the ground, he hastened back to
his station.

A great hush fell over the huge multitude as the two last
champions faced each other.  A double issue seemed to rest upon
their contest, for their personal fame was at stake as well as
their party's honor.  Both were famous warriors, but as their
exploits had been performed in widely sundered countries, they
had never before been able to cross lances.  A course between
such men would have been enough in itself to cause the keenest
interest, apart from its being the crisis which would decide who
should be the victors of the day.  For a moment they waited--the
German sombre and collected, Sir Nigel quivering in every fibre
with eagerness and fiery resolution.  Then, amid a long-drawn
breath from the spectators, the glove fell from the marshal's
hand, and the two steel-clad horsemen met like a thunderclap in
front of the royal stand.  The German, though he reeled for an
instant before the thrust of the Englishman, struck his opponent
so fairly upon the vizor that the laces burst, the plumed helmet
flew to pieces, and Sir Nigel galloped on down the lists with his
bald head shimmering in the sunshine.  A thousand waving scarves
and tossing caps announced that the first bout had fallen to the
popular party.

The Hampshire knight was not a man to be disheartened by a
reverse.  He spurred back to the pavilion, and was out in a few
instants with another helmet.  The second course was so equal
that the keenest judges could not discern any vantage.  Each
struck fire from the other's shield, and each endured the jarring
shock as though welded to the horse beneath him.  In the final
bout, however, Sir Nigel struck his opponent with so true an aim
that the point of the lance caught between the bars of his vizor
and tore the front of his helmet out, while the German, aiming
somewhat low, and half stunned by the shock, had the misfortune
to strike his adversary upon the thigh, a breach of the rules of
the tilting-yard, by which he not only sacrificed his chances of
success, but would also have forfeited his horse and his armor,
had the English knight chosen to claim them.  A roar of applause
from the English soldiers, with an ominous silence from the vast
crowd who pressed round the barriers, announced that the balance
of victory lay with the holders.  Already the ten champions had
assembled in front of the prince to receive his award, when a
harsh bugle call from the further end of the lists drew all eyes
to a new and unexpected arrival.



CHAPTER XXIV.

HOW A CHAMPION CAME FORTH FROM THE EAST.


The Bordeaux lists were, as has already been explained, situated
upon the plain near the river upon those great occasions when the
tilting-ground in front of the Abbey of St. Andrew's was deemed
to be too small to contain the crowd.  On the eastern side of
this plain the country-side sloped upwards, thick with vines in
summer, but now ridged with the brown bare enclosures.  Over the
gently rising plain curved the white road which leads inland,
usually flecked with travellers, but now with scarce a living
form upon it, so completely had the lists drained all the
district of its inhabitants.  Strange it was to see such a vast
concourse of people, and then to look upon that broad, white,
empty highway which wound away, bleak and deserted, until it
narrowed itself to a bare streak against the distant uplands.

Shortly after the contest had begun, any one looking from the
lists along this road might have remarked, far away in the
extreme distance, two brilliant and sparkling points which
glittered and twinkled in the bright shimmer of the winter sun.
Within an hour these had become clearer and nearer, until they
might be seen to come from the reflection from the head-pieces of
two horsemen who were riding at the top of their speed in the
direction of Bordeaux.  Another half-hour had brought them so
close that every point of their bearing and equipment could be
discerned.  The first was a knight in full armor, mounted upon a
brown horse with a white blaze upon breast and forehead.  He was
a short man of great breadth of shoulder, with vizor closed, and
no blazonry upon his simple white surcoat or plain black shield.
The other, who was evidently his squire and attendant, was
unarmed save for the helmet upon his head, but bore in his right
hand a very long and heavy oaken spear which belonged to his
master.  In his left hand the squire held not only the reins of
his own horse but those of a great black war-horse, fully
harnessed, which trotted along at his side.  Thus the three
horses and their two riders rode swiftly to the lists, and it was
the blare of the trumpet sounded by the squire as his lord rode
into the arena which had broken in upon the prize-giving and
drawn away the attention and interest of the spectators.

"Ha, John!" cried the prince, craning his neck, "who is this
cavalier, and what is it that he desires?"

"On my word, sire," replied Chandos, with the utmost surprise
upon his face, "it is my opinion that he is a Frenchman."

"A Frenchman!" repeated Don Pedro.  "And how can you tell that,
my Lord Chandos, when he has neither coat-armor, crest, or
blazonry?"

"By his armor, sire, which is rounder at elbow and at shoulder
than any of Bordeaux or of England.  Italian he might be were his
bassinet more sloped, but I will swear that those plates were
welded betwixt this and Rhine.  Here comes his squire, however,
and we shall hear what strange fortune hath brought him over the
marches."

As he spoke the attendant cantered up the grassy enclosure, and
pulling up his steed in front of the royal stand, blew a second
fanfare upon his bugle.  He was a raw-boned, swarthy-cheeked man,
with black bristling beard and a swaggering bearing.

Having sounded his call, he thrust the bugle into his belt, and,
pushing his way betwixt the groups of English and of Gascon
knights, he reined up within a spear's length of the royal party.

"I come," he shouted in a hoarse, thick voice, with a strong
Breton accent, "as squire and herald from my master, who is a
very valiant pursuivant-of-arms, and a liegeman to the great and
powerful monarch, Charles, king of the French.  My master has
heard that there is jousting here, and prospect of honorable
advancement, so he has come to ask that some English cavalier
will vouchsafe for the love of his lady to run a course with
sharpened lances with him, or to meet him with sword, mace,
battle-axe, or dagger.  He bade me say, however, that he would
fight only with a true Englishman, and not with any mongrel who
is neither English nor French, but speaks with the tongue of the
one, and fights under the banner of the other."

"Sir!" cried De Clisson, with a voice of thunder, while his
countrymen clapped their hands to their swords.  The squire,
however, took no notice of their angry faces, but continued with
his master's message.

"He is now ready, sire," he said, "albeit his destrier has
travelled many miles this day, and fast, for we were in fear lest
we come too late for the jousting."

"Ye have indeed come too late," said the prince, "seeing that the
prize is about to be awarded; yet I doubt not that one of these
gentlemen will run a course for the sake of honor with this
cavalier of France."

"And as to the prize, sire," quoth Sir Nigel, "I am sure that I
speak for all when I say this French knight hath our leave to
bear it away with him if he can fairly win it."

"Bear word of this to your master," said the prince, "and ask him
which of these five Englishmen he would desire to meet.  But
stay; your master bears no coat-armor, and we have not yet heard
his name."

"My master, sire, is under vow to the Virgin neither to reveal
his name nor to open his vizor until he is back upon French
ground once more."

"Yet what assurance have we," said the prince, "that this is not
some varlet masquerading in his master's harness, or some caitiff
knight, the very touch of whose lance might bring infamy upon an
honorable gentleman?"

"It is not so, sire," cried the squire earnestly.  "There is no
man upon earth who would demean himself by breaking a lance with
my master."

"You speak out boldly, squire," the prince answered; "but unless
I have some further assurance of your master's noble birth and
gentle name I cannot match the choicest lances of my court
against him."

"You refuse, sire?"

"I do refuse."

"Then, sire, I was bidden to ask you from my master whether you
would consent if Sir John Chandos, upon hearing my master's name,
should assure you that he was indeed a man with whom you might
yourself cross swords without indignity."

"I ask no better," said the prince.

"Then I must ask, Lord Chandos, that you will step forth.  I have
your pledge that the name shall remain ever a secret, and that
you will neither say nor write one word which might betray it.
The name is----" He stooped down from his horse and whispered
something into the old knight's ear which made him start with
surprise, and stare with much curiosity at the distant Knight,
who was sitting his charger at the further end of the arena.

"Is this indeed sooth?" he exclaimed.

"It is, my lord, and I swear it by St. Ives of Brittany."

"I might have known it," said Chandos, twisting his moustache,
and still looking thoughtfully at the cavalier.

"What then, Sir John?" asked the prince.

"Sire, this is a knight whom it is indeed great honor to meet,
and I would that your grace would grant me leave to send my
squire for my harness, for I would dearly love to run a course
with him.

"Nay, nay, Sir John, you have gained as much honor as one man can
bear, and it were hard if you could not rest now.  But I pray
you, squire, to tell your master that he is very welcome to our
court, and that wines and spices will be served him, if he would
refresh himself before jousting."

"My master will not drink," said the squire.

"Let him then name the gentleman with whom he would break a
spear."

"He would contend with these five knights, each to choose such
weapons as suit him best."

"I perceive," said the prince, "that your master is a man of
great heart and high of enterprise.  But the sun already is low
in the west, and there will scarce be light for these courses.  I
pray you, gentlemen, to take your places, that we may see whether
this stranger's deeds are as bold as his words."

The unknown knight had sat like a statue of steel, looking
neither to the right nor to the left during these preliminaries.
He had changed from the horse upon which he had ridden, and
bestrode the black charger which his squire had led beside him.
His immense breadth, his stern composed appearance, and the mode
in which he handled his shield and his lance, were enough in
themselves to convince the thousands of critical spectators that
he was a dangerous opponent.  Aylward, who stood in the front row
of the archers with Simon, big John, and others of the Company,
had been criticising the proceedings from the commencement with
the ease and freedom of a man who had spent his life under arms
and had learned in a hard school to know at a glance the points
of a horse and his rider.  He stared now at the stranger with a
wrinkled brow and the air of a man who is striving to stir his
memory.

"By my hilt! I have seen the thick body of him before to-day.
Yet I cannot call to mind where it could have been.  At Nogent
belike, or was it at Auray? Mark me, lads, this man will prove to
be one of the best lances of France, and there are no better in
the world."

"It is but child's play, this poking game," said John.  "I would
fain try my hand at it, for, by the black rood!  I think that it
might be amended."

"What then would you do, John?" asked several.

"There are many things which might be done," said the forester
thoughtfully.  "Methinks that I would begin by breaking my
spear."

"So they all strive to do."

"Nay, but not upon another man's shield.  I would break it over
my own knee."

"And what the better for that, old beef and bones?" asked Black
Simon.

"So I would turn what is but a lady's bodkin of a weapon into a
very handsome club."

"And then, John?"

"Then I would take the other's spear into my arm or my leg, or
where it pleased him best to put it, and I would dash out his
brains with my club."

"By my ten finger-bones! old John," said Aylward, "I would give
my feather-bed to see you at a spear-running.  This is a most
courtly and gentle sport which you have devised."

"So it seems to me," said John seriously.  "Or, again, one might
seize the other round the middle, pluck him off his horse and
bear him to the pavilion, there to hold him to ransom."

"Good!" cried Simon, amid a roar of laughter from all the archers
round.  "By Thomas of Kent I we shall make a camp-marshal of
thee, and thou shalt draw up rules for our jousting.  But, John,
who is it that you would uphold in this knightly and pleasing
fashion?"

"What mean you?"

"Why, John, so strong and strange a tilter must fight for the
brightness of his lady's eyes or the curve of her eyelash, even
as Sir Nigel does for the Lady Loring."

"I know not about that," said the big archer, scratching his head
in perplexity.  "Since Mary hath played me false, I can scarce
fight for her."

"Yet any woman will serve."

"There is my mother then," said John.  "She was at much pains at
my upbringing, and, by my soul!  I will uphold the curve of her
eyelashes, for it tickleth my very heart-root to think of her.
But who is here?"

"It is Sir William Beauchamp.  He is a valiant man, but I fear
that he is scarce firm enough upon the saddle to bear the thrust
of such a tilter as this stranger promises to be."

Aylward's words were speedily justified, for even as he spoke the
two knights met in the centre of the lists.  Beauchamp struck his
opponent a shrewd blow upon the helmet, but was met with so
frightful a thrust that he whirled out of his saddle and rolled
over and over upon the ground.  Sir Thomas Percy met with little
better success, for his shield was split, his vambrace torn and
he himself wounded slightly in the side.  Lord Audley and the
unknown knight struck each other fairly upon the helmet; but,
while the stranger sat as firm and rigid as ever upon his
charger, the Englishman was bent back to his horse's cropper by
the weight of the blow, and had galloped half-way down the lists
ere he could recover himself.  Sir Thomas Wake was beaten to the
ground with a battle-axe--that being the weapon which he had
selected--and had to be carried to his pavilion.  These rapid
successes, gained one after the other over four celebrated
warriors, worked the crowd up to a pitch of wonder and
admiration.  Thunders of applause from the English soldiers, as
well as from the citizens and peasants, showed how far the love
of brave and knightly deeds could rise above the rivalries of
race.

"By my soul! John," cried the prince, with his cheek flushed and
his eyes shining, "this is a man of good courage and great
hardiness.  I could not have thought that there was any single
arm upon earth which could have overthrown these four champions."

"He is indeed, as I have said, sire, a knight from whom much
honor is to be gained.  But the lower edge of the sun is wet, and
it will be beneath the sea ere long."

"Here is Sir Nigel Loring, on foot and with his sword," said the
prince.  "I have heard that he is a fine swordsman."

"The finest in your army, sire," Chandos answered.  "Yet I doubt
not that he will need all his skill this day."

As he spoke, the two combatants advanced from either end in full
armor with their two-handed swords sloping over their shoulders.
The stranger walked heavily and with a measured stride, while the
English knight advanced as briskly as though there was no iron
shell to weigh down the freedom of his limbs.  At four paces
distance they stopped, eyed each other for a moment, and then in
an instant fell to work with a clatter and clang as though two
sturdy smiths were busy upon their anvils.  Up and down went the
long, shining blades, round and round they circled in curves of
glimmering light, crossing, meeting, disengaging, with flash of
sparks at every parry.  Here and there bounded Sir Nigel, his
head erect, his jaunty plume fluttering in the air, while his
dark opponent sent in crashing blow upon blow, following
fiercely up with cut and with thrust, but never once getting past
the practised blade of the skilled swordsman.  The crowd roared
with delight as Sir Nigel would stoop his head to avoid a blow,
or by some slight movement of his body allow some terrible thrust
to glance harmlessly past him.  Suddenly, however, his time came.
The Frenchman, whirling up his sword, showed for an instant a
chink betwixt his shoulder piece and the rerebrace which guarded
his upper arm.  In dashed Sir Nigel, and out again so swiftly
that the eye could not follow the quick play of his blade, but a
trickle of blood from the stranger's shoulder, and a rapidly
widening red smudge upon his white surcoat, showed where the
thrust had taken effect.  The wound was, however, but a slight
one, and the Frenchman was about to renew his onset, when, at a
sign from the prince, Chandos threw down his baton, and the
marshals of the lists struck up the weapons and brought the
contest to an end.

"It were time to check it," said the prince, smiling, "for Sir
Nigel is too good a man for me to lose, and, by the five holy
wounds! if one of those cuts came home I should have fears for
our champion.  What think you, Pedro?"

"I think, Edward, that the little man was very well able to take
care of himself.  For my part, I should wish to see so well
matched a pair fight on while a drop of blood remained in their
veins."

"We must have speech with him.  Such a man must not go from my
court without rest or sup.  Bring him hither, Chandos, and,
certes, if the Lord Loring hath resigned his claim upon this
goblet, it is right and proper that this cavalier should carry it
to France with him as a sign of the prowess that he has shown
this day."

As he spoke, the knight-errant, who had remounted his warhorse,
galloped forward to the royal stand, with a silken kerchief bound
round his wounded arm.  The setting sun cast a ruddy glare upon
his burnished arms, and sent his long black shadow streaming
behind him up the level clearing.  Pulling up his steed, he
slightly inclined his head, and sat in the stern and composed
fashion with which he had borne himself throughout, heedless of
the applauding shouts and the flutter of kerchiefs from the long
lines of brave men and of fair women who were looking down upon
him.

"Sir knight," said the prince, "we have all marvelled this day at
this great skill and valor with which God has been pleased to
endow you.  I would fain that you should tarry at our court, for
a time at least, until your hurt is healed and your horses
rested.."

"My hurt is nothing, sire, nor are my horses weary," returned the
stranger in a deep, stern voice.

"Will you not at least hie back to Bordeaux with us, that you may
drain a cup of muscadine and sup at our table?"

"I will neither drink your wine nor sit at your table," returned
the other.  "I bear no love for you or for your race, and there
is nought that I wish at your hands until the day when I see the
last sail which bears you back to your island vanishing away
against the western sky."

"These are bitter words, sir knight," said Prince Edward, with an
angry frown.

"And they come from a bitter heart," answered the unknown knight.
"How long is it since there has been peace in my hapless country?
Where are the steadings, and orchards, and vineyards, which made
France fair?  Where are the cities which made her great?  From
Providence to Burgundy we are beset by every prowling hireling in
Christendom, who rend and tear the country which you have left
too weak to guard her own marches.  Is it not a by-word that a
man may ride all day in that unhappy land without seeing thatch
upon roof or hearing the crow of cock?  Does not one fair kingdom
content you, that you should strive so for this other one which
has no love for you?  Pardieu! a true Frenchman's words may well
be bitter, for bitter is his lot and bitter his thoughts as he
rides through his thrice unhappy country."

"Sir knight," said the prince, "you speak like a brave man, and
our cousin of France is happy in having a cavalier who is so fit
to uphold his cause either with tongue or with sword.  But if you
think such evil of us, how comes it that you have trusted
yourselves to us without warranty or safe-conduct?"

"Because I knew that you would be here, sire.  Had the man who
sits upon your right been ruler of this land, I had indeed
thought twice before I looked to him for aught that was knightly
or generous."  With a soldierly salute, he wheeled round his
horse, and, galloping down the lists, disappeared amid the dense
crowd of footmen and of horsemen who were streaming away from the
scene of the tournament.

"The insolent villain!" cried Pedro, glaring furiously after him.
"I have seen a man's tongue torn from his jaws for less.  Would
it not be well even now, Edward, to send horsemen to hale him
back?  Bethink you that it may be one of the royal house of
France, or at least some knight whose loss would be a heavy blow
to his master.  Sir William Felton, you are well mounted, gallop
after the caitiff, I pray you."

"Do so, Sir William," said the prince, "and give him this purse
of a hundred nobles as a sign of the respect which I bear for
him; for, by St. George! he has served his master this day even
as I would wish liegeman of mine to serve me."  So saying, the
prince turned his back upon the King of Spain, and springing upon
his horse, rode slowly homewards to the Abbey of Saint Andrew's.



CHAPTER XXV.

HOW SIR NIGEL WROTE TO TWYNHAM CASTLE.


On the morning after the jousting, when Alleyne Edricson went, as
was his custom, into his master's chamber to wait upon him in his
dressing and to curl his hair, he found him already up and very
busily at work.  He sat at a table by the window, a deer-hound on
one side of him and a lurcher on the other, his feet tucked away
under the trestle on which he sat, and his tongue in his cheek,
with the air of a man who is much perplexed.  A sheet of vellum
lay upon the board in front of him, and he held a pen in his
hand, with which he had been scribbling in a rude schoolboy hand.
So many were the blots, however, and so numerous the scratches
and erasures, that he had at last given it up in despair, and
sat with his single uncovered eye cocked upwards at the ceiling,
as one who waits upon inspiration.

"By Saint Paul!" he cried, as Alleyne entered, "you are the man
who will stand by me in this matter.  I have been in sore need of
you, Alleyne."

"God be with you, my fair lord!" the squire answered.  "I trust
that you have taken no hurt from all that you have gone through
yesterday."

"Nay; I feel the fresher for it, Alleyne.  It has eased my
joints, which were somewhat stiff from these years of peace.  I
trust, Alleyne, that thou didst very carefully note and mark the
bearing and carriage of this knight of France; for it is time,
now when you are young, that you should see all that is best, and
mould your own actions in accordance.  This was a man from whom
much honor might be gained, and I have seldom met any one for
whom I have conceived so much love and esteem.  Could I but learn
his name, I should send you to him with my cartel, that we might
have further occasion to watch his goodly feats of arms."

"It is said, my fair lord, that none know his name save only the
Lord Chandos, and that he is under vow not to speak it.  So ran
the gossip at the squires' table."

"Be he who he might, he was a very hardy gentleman.  But I have a
task here, Alleyne, which is harder to me than aught that was set
before me yesterday."

"Can I help you, my lord?"

"That indeed you can.  I have been writing my greetings to my
sweet wife; for I hear that a messenger goes from the prince to
Southampton within the week, and he would gladly take a packet
for me.  I pray you, Alleyne, to cast your eyes upon what I have
written, and see it they are such words as my lady will
understand.  My fingers, as you can see, are more used to iron
and leather than to the drawing of strokes and turning of
letters.  What then?  Is there aught amiss, that you should
stare so?"

"It is this first word, my lord.  In what tongue were you pleased
to write?"

"In English; for my lady talks it more than she doth French.

"Yet this is no English word, my sweet lord.  Here are four t's
and never a letter betwixt them."

"By St. Paul!  it seemed strange to my eye when I wrote it," said
Sir Nigel.  "They bristle up together like a clump of lances.  We
must break their ranks and set them farther apart.  The word is
`that.' Now I will read it to you, Alleyne, and you shall write
it out fair; for we leave Bordeaux this day, and it would be
great joy to me to think that the Lady Loring had word from me."

Alleyne sat down as ordered, with a pen in his hand and a fresh
sheet of parchment before him, while Sir Nigel slowly spelled out
his letter, running his forefinger on from word to word.

"That my heart is with thee, my dear sweeting, is what thine own
heart will assure thee of.  All is well with us here, save that
Pepin hath the mange on his back, and Pommers hath scarce yet got
clear of his stiffness from being four days on ship-board, and
the more so because the sea was very high, and we were like to
founder on account of a hole in her side, which was made by a
stone cast at us by certain sea-rovers, who may the saints have
in their keeping, for they have gone from amongst us, as has
young Terlake, and two-score mariners and archers, who would be
the more welcome here as there is like to be a very fine war,
with much honor and all hopes of advancement, for which I go to
gather my Company together, who are now at Montaubon, where they
pillage and destroy; yet I hope that, by God's help, I may be
able to show that I am their master, even as, my sweet lady, I am
thy servant."

"How of that, Alleyne?" continued Sir Nigel, blinking at his
squire, with an expression of some pride upon his face.  "Have I
not told her all that hath befallen us?"

"You have said much, my fair lord; and yet, if I may say so, it
is somewhat crowded together, so that my Lady Loring can, mayhap,
scarce follow it.  Were it in shorter periods----"

"Nay, it boots me not how you marshal them, as long as they are
all there at the muster.  Let my lady have the words, and she
will place them in such order as pleases her best.  But I would
have you add what it would please her to know."

"That will I," said Alleyne, blithely, and bent to the task.

"My fair lady and mistress," he wrote, "God hath had us in His
keeping, and my lord is well and in good cheer.  He hath won much
honor at the jousting before the prince, when he alone was able
to make it good against a very valiant man from France.  Touching
the moneys, there is enough and to spare until we reach
Montaubon.  Herewith, my fair lady, I send my humble regards,
entreating you that you will give the same to your daughter, the
Lady Maude.  May the holy saints have you both in their keeping
is ever the prayer of thy servant,

        "ALLEYNE EDRICSON."

"That is very fairly set forth," said Sir Nigel, nodding his bald
head as each sentence was read to him.  "And for thyself,
Alleyne, if there be any dear friend to whom you would fain give
greeting, I can send it for thee within this packet."

"There is none," said Alleyne, sadly.

"Have you no kinsfolk, then?"

"None, save my brother."

"Ha! I had forgotten that there was ill blood betwixt you.  But
are there none in all England who love thee?"

"None that I dare say so."

"And none whom you love?"

"Nay, I will not say that," said Alleyne.

Sir Nigel shook his head and laughed softly to himself, "I see
how it is with you," he said.  "Have I not noted your frequent
sighs and vacant eye?  Is she fair?"

"She is indeed," cried Alleyne from his heart, all tingling at
this sudden turn of the talk.

"And good?"

"As an angel."

"And yet she loves you not?"

"Nay, I cannot say that she loves another."

"Then you have hopes?"

"I could not live else."

"Then must you strive to be worthy of her love.  Be brave and
pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so,
whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to
be honored by a maiden's love, which is, in sooth, the highest
guerdon which a true knight can hope for."

"Indeed, my lord, I do so strive," said Alleyne; "but she is so
sweet, so dainty, and of so noble a spirit, that I fear me that I
shall never be worthy of her."

"By thinking so you become worthy.  Is she then of noble birth?"

"She is, my lord," faltered Alleyne.

"Of a knightly house?"

"Yes."

"Have a care, Alleyne, have a care!" said Sir Nigel, kindly.  "The
higher the steed the greater the fall.  Hawk not at that which
may be beyond thy flight."

"My lord, I know little of the ways and usages of the world,"
cried Alleyne, "but I would fain ask your rede upon the matter.
You have known my father and my kin: is not my family one of good
standing and repute?"

"Beyond all question."

"And yet you warn me that I must not place my love too high."

"Were Minstead yours, Alleyne, then, by St. Paul!  I cannot think
that any family in the land would not be proud to take you among
them, seeing that you come of so old a strain.  But while the
Socman lives----Ha, by my soul! if this is not Sir Oliver's step
I am the more mistaken."

As he spoke, a heavy footfall was heard without, and the portly
knight flung open the door and strode into the room.

"Why, my little coz," said he, "I have come across to tell you
that I live above the barber's in the Rue de la Tour, and that
there is a venison pasty in the oven and two flasks of the right
vintage on the table.  By St. James! a blind man might find the
place, for one has but to get in the wind from it, and follow the
savory smell.  Put on your cloak, then, and come, for Sir Walter
Hewett and Sir Robert Briquet, with one or two others, are
awaiting us."

"Nay, Oliver, I cannot be with you, for I must to Montaubon this
day."

"To Montaubon?  But I have heard that your Company is to come
with my forty Winchester rascals to Dax."

"If you will take charge of them, Oliver.  For I will go to
Montaubon with none save my two squires and two archers.  Then,
when I have found the rest of my Company I shall lead them to
Dax.  We set forth this morning."

"Then I must back to my pasty," said Sir Oliver.  "You will find
us at Dax, I doubt not, unless the prince throw me into prison,
for he is very wroth against me."

"And why, Oliver?"

"Pardieu! because I have sent my cartel, gauntlet, and defiance
to Sir John Chandos and to Sir William Felton."

"To Chandos?  In God's name, Oliver, why have you done this?"

"Because he and the other have used me despitefully."

"And how?"

"Because they have passed me over in choosing those who should
joust for England.  Yourself and Audley I could pass, coz, for
you are mature men; but who are Wake, and Percy, and Beauchamp?
By my soul!  I was prodding for my food into a camp-kettle when
they were howling for their pap.  Is a man of my weight and
substance to be thrown aside for the first three half-grown lads
who have learned the trick of the tilt-yard? But hark ye, coz, I
think of sending my cartel also to the prince."

"Oliver!  Oliver!  You are mad!"

"Not I, i' faith!  I care not a denier whether he be prince or no.
By Saint James! I see that your squire's eyes are starting from
his head like a trussed crab.  Well, friend, we are all three men
of Hampshire, and not lightly to be jeered at."

"Has he jeered at you than?"

"Pardieu! yes, `Old Sir Oliver's heart is still stout,' said one
of his court.  `Else had it been out of keeping with the rest of
him,' quoth the prince.  `And his arm is strong,' said another.
`So is the backbone of his horse,' quoth the prince.  This very
day I will send him my cartel and defiance."

"Nay, nay, my dear Oliver," said Sir Nigel, laying his hand upon
his angry friend's arm.  "There is naught in this, for it was but
saying that you were a strong and robust man, who had need of a
good destrier.  And as to Chandos and Felton, bethink you that if
when you yourself were young the older lances had ever been
preferred, how would you then have had the chance to earn the
good name and fame which you now bear? You do not ride as light
as you did, Oliver, and I ride lighter by the weight of my hair,
but it would be an ill thing if in the evening of our lives we
showed that our hearts were less true and loyal than of old.  If
such a knight as Sir Oliver Buttesthorn may turn against his own
prince for the sake of a light word, then where are we to look
for steadfast faith and constancy?"

"Ah! my dear little coz, it is easy to sit in the sunshine and
preach to the man in the shadow.  Yet you could ever win me over
to your side with that soft voice of yours.  Let us think no more
of it then.  But, holy Mother!  I had forgot the pasty, and it
will be as scorched as Judas Iscariot!  Come, Nigel, lest the
foul fiend get the better of me again."

"For one hour, then; for we march at mid-day.  Tell Aylward,
Alleyne, that he is to come with me to Montaubon, and to choose
one archer for his comrade.  The rest will to Dax when the prince
starts, which will be before the feast of the Epiphany.  Have
Pommers ready at mid-day with my sycamore lance, and place my
harness on the sumpter mule."

With these brief directions, the two old soldiers strode off
together, while Alleyne hastened to get all in order for their
journey.



CHAPTER XXVI.

HOW THE THREE COMRADES GAINED A MIGHTY TREASURE


It was a bright, crisp winter's day when the little party set off
from Bordeaux on their journey to Montaubon, where the missing
half of their Company had last been heard of.  Sir Nigel and Ford
had ridden on in advance, the knight upon his hackney, while his
great war-horse trotted beside his squire.  Two hours later
Alleyne Edricson followed; for he had the tavern reckoning to
settle, and many other duties which fell to him as squire of the
body.  With him came Aylward and Hordle John, armed as of old,
but mounted for their journey upon a pair of clumsy Landes
horses, heavy-headed and shambling, but of great endurance, and
capable of jogging along all day, even when between the knees of
the huge archer, who turned the scale at two hundred and seventy
pounds.  They took with them the sumpter mules, which carried in
panniers the wardrobe and table furniture of Sir Nigel; for the
knight, though neither fop nor epicure, was very dainty in small
matters, and loved, however bare the board or hard the life, that
his napery should still be white and his spoon of silver.

There had been frost during the night, and the white hard road
rang loud under their horses' irons as they spurred through the
east gate of the town, along the same broad highway which the
unknown French champion had traversed on the day of the jousts.
The three rode abreast, Alleyne Edricson with his eyes cast down
and his mind distrait, for his thoughts were busy with the
conversation which he had had with Sir Nigel in the morning.  Had
he done well to say so much, or had he not done better to have
said more?  What would the knight have said had he confessed to
his love for the Lady Maude?  Would he cast him off in disgrace,
or might he chide him as having abused the shelter of his roof?
It had been ready upon his tongue to tell him all when Sir Oliver
had broken in upon them.  Perchance Sir Nigel, with his love of
all the dying usages of chivalry, might have contrived some
strange ordeal or feat of arms by which his love should be put to
the test.  Alleyne smiled as he wondered what fantastic and
wondrous deed would be exacted from him.  Whatever it was, he was
ready for it, whether it were to hold the lists in the court of
the King of Tartary, to carry a cartel to the Sultan of Baghdad,
or to serve a term against the wild heathen of Prussia.  Sir
Nigel had said that his birth was high enough for any lady, if
his fortune could but be amended.  Often had Alleyne curled his
lip at the beggarly craving for land or for gold which blinded
man to the higher and more lasting issues of life.  Now it
seemed as though it were only by this same land and gold that he
might hope to reach his heart's desire.  But then, again, the
Socman of Minstead was no friend to the Constable of Twynham
Castle.  It might happen that, should he amass riches by some
happy fortune of war, this feud might hold the two families
aloof.  Even if Maude loved him, he knew her too well to think
that she would wed him without the blessing of her father.  Dark
and murky was it all, but hope mounts high in youth, and it ever
fluttered over all the turmoil of his thoughts like a white plume
amid the shock of horsemen.

If Alleyne Edricson had enough to ponder over as he rode through
the bare plains of Guienne, his two companions were more busy
with the present and less thoughtful of the future.  Aylward rode
for half a mile with his chin upon his shoulder, looking back at
a white kerchief which fluttered out of the gable window of a
high house which peeped over the corner of the battlements.  When
at last a dip of the road hid it from his view, he cocked his
steel cap, shrugged his broad shoulders, and rode on with
laughter in his eyes, and his weather-beaten face all ashine with
pleasant memories.  John also rode in silence, but his eyes
wandered slowly from one side of the road to the other, and he
stared and pondered and nodded his head like a traveller who
makes his notes and saves them up for the re-telling.

"By the rood!" he broke out suddenly, slapping his thigh with his
great red hand, "I knew that there was something a-missing, but I
could not bring to my mind what it was."

"What was it then?" asked Alleyne, coming with a start out of his
reverie.

"Why, it is the hedgerows," roared John, with a shout of
laughter.  "The country is all scraped as clear as a friar's
poll.  But indeed I cannot think much of the folk in these parts.
Why do they not get to work and dig up these long rows of black
and crooked stumps which I see on every hand?  A franklin of
Hampshire would think shame to have such litter upon his soil."

"Thou foolish old John!" quoth Aylward.  "You should know better,
since I have heard that the monks of Beaulieu could squeeze a
good cup of wine from their own grapes.  Know then that if these
rows were dug up the wealth of the country would be gone, and
mayhap there would be dry throats and gaping mouths in England,
for in three months' time these black roots will blossom and
snoot and burgeon, and from them will come many a good ship-load
of Medoc and Gascony which will cross the narrow seas.  But see
the church in the hollow, and the folk who cluster in the
churchyard!  By my hilt! it is a burial, and there is a passing
bell!" He pulled off his steel cap as he spoke and crossed
himself, with a muttered prayer for the repose of the dead.

"There too," remarked Alleyne, as they rode on again, "that which
seems to the eye to be dead is still full of the sap of life,
even as the vines were.  Thus God hath written Himself and His
laws very broadly on all that is around us, if our poor dull eyes
and duller souls could but read what He hath set before us."

"Ha! mon petit," cried the bowman, "you take me back to the days
when you were new fledged, as sweet a little chick as ever pecked
his way out of a monkish egg.  I had feared that in gaining our
debonair young man-at-arms we had lost our soft-spoken clerk.  In
truth, I have noted much change in you since we came from Twynham
Castle."

"Surely it would be strange else, seeing that I have lived in a
world so new to me.  Yet I trust that there are many things in
which I have not changed.  If I have turned to serve an earthly
master, and to carry arms for an earthly king, it would be an ill
thing if I were to lose all thought of the great high King and
Master of all, whose humble and unworthy servant I was ere ever I
left Beaulieu.  You, John, are also from the cloisters, but I
trow that you do not feel that you have deserted the old service
in taking on the new."

"I am a slow-witted man," said John, "and, in sooth, when I try
to think about such matters it casts a gloom upon me.  Yet I do
not look upon myself as a worse man in an archer's jerkin than I
was in a white cowl, if that be what you mean."

"You have but changed from one white company to the other," quoth
Aylward.  "But, by these ten finger-bones! it is a passing
strange thing to me to think that it was but in the last fall of
the leaf that we walked from Lyndhurst together, he so gentle and
maidenly, and you, John, like a great red-limbed overgrown moon-calf;
and now here you are as sprack a squire and as lusty an archer as
ever passed down the highway from Bordeaux, while I am still the
same old Samkin Aylward, with never a change, save that I have
a few more sins on my soul and a few less crowns in my pouch.
But I have never yet heard, John, what the reason was why you
should come out of Beaulieu."

"There were seven reasons," said John thoughtfully.  "The first
of them was that they threw me out."

"Ma foi! camarade, to the devil with the other six!  That is
enough for me and for thee also.  I can see that they are very
wise and discreet folk at Beaulieu.  Ah! mon ange, what have you
in the pipkin?"

"It is milk, worthy sir," answered the peasant-maid, who stood by
the door of a cottage with a jug in her hand.  "Would it please
you, gentles, that I should bring you out three horns of it?"

"Nay, ma petite, but here is a two-sous piece for thy kindly
tongue and for the sight of thy pretty face.  Ma foi! but she has
a bonne mine.  I have a mind to bide and speak with her."

"Nay, nay, Aylward," cried Alleyne.  "Sir Nigel will await us,
and he in haste."

"True, true, camarade! Adieu, ma cherie! mon coeur est toujours a
toi.  Her mother is a well-grown woman also.  See where she digs by
the wayside.  Ma foi! the riper fruit is ever the sweeter.  Bon
jour, ma belle dame! God have you in his keeping!  Said Sir Nigel
where he would await us?"

"At Marmande or Aiguillon.  He said that we could not pass him,
seeing that there is but the one road."

"Aye, and it is a road that I know as I know the Midhurst parish
butts," quoth the bowman.  "Thirty times have I journeyed it,
forward and backward, and, by the twang of string!  I am wont to
come back this way more laden than I went.  I have carried all
that I had into France in a wallet, and it hath taken four
sumpter-mules to carry it back again.  God's benison on the man
who first turned his hand to the making of war!  But there, down
in the dingle, is the church of Cardillac, and you may see the
inn where three poplars grow beyond the village.  Let us on, for a
stoup of wine would hearten us upon our way."

The highway had lain through the swelling vineyard country, which
stretched away to the north and east in gentle curves, with many
a peeping spire and feudal tower, and cluster of village houses,
all clear cut and hard in the bright wintry air.  To their right
stretched the blue Garonne, running swiftly seawards, with boats
and barges dotted over its broad bosom.  On the other side lay a
strip of vineyard, and beyond it the desolate and sandy region of
the Landes, all tangled with faded gorse and heath and broom,
stretching away in unbroken gloom to the blue hills which lay low
upon the furthest sky-line.  Behind them might still be seen the
broad estuary of the Gironde, with the high towers of Saint Andre
and Saint Remi shooting up from the plain.  In front, amid
radiating lines of poplars, lay the riverside townlet of
Cardillac--gray walls, white houses, and a feather of blue smoke.

"This is the `Mouton d'Or,'" said Aylward, as they pulled up
their horses at a whitewashed straggling hostel.  "What ho
there!" he continued, beating upon the door with the hilt of his
sword.  "Tapster, ostler, varlet, hark hither, and a wannion on
your lazy limbs!  Ha!  Michel, as red in the nose as ever!  Three
jacks of the wine of the country, Michel--for the air bites
shrewdly.  I pray you, Alleyne, to take note of this door, for I
have a tale concerning it."

"Tell me, friend," said Alleyne to the portly red-faced inn-keeper,
"has a knight and a squire passed this way within the hour?"

"Nay, sir, it would be two hours back.  Was he a small man, weak
in the eyes, with a want of hair, and speaks very quiet when he
is most to be feared?"

"The same," the squire answered.  "But I marvel how you should
know how he speaks when he is in wrath, for he is very gentle-minded
with those who are beneath him."

"Praise to the saints! it was not I who angered him," said the
fat Michel.

"Who, then?"

"It was young Sieur de Crespigny of Saintonge, who chanced to be
here, and made game of the Englishman, seeing that he was but a
small man and hath a face which is full of peace.  But indeed
this good knight was a very quiet and patient man, for he saw
that the Sieur de Crespigny was still young and spoke from an
empty head, so he sat his horse and quaffed his wine, even as you
are doing now, all heedless of the clacking tongue." And what
then, Michel?"

"Well, messieurs, it chanced that the Sieur de Crespigny, having
said this and that, for the laughter of the varlets, cried out at
last about the glove that the knight wore in his coif, asking if
it was the custom in England for a man to wear a great archer's
glove in his cap.  Pardieu! I have never seen a man get off his
horse as quick as did that stranger Englishman.  Ere the words
were past the other's lips he was beside him, his face nigh
touching, and his breath hot upon his cheeks.  `I think, young
sir,' quoth he softly, looking into the other's eyes, `that now
that I am nearer you will very clearly see that the glove is not
an archer's glove.' `Perchance not,' said the Sieur de Crespigny
with a twitching lip.  `Nor is it large, but very small,' quoth
the Englishman.  `Less large than I had thought,' said the other,
looking down, for the knight's gaze was heavy upon his eyelids.
`And in every way such a glove as might be worn by the fairest
and sweetest lady in England,' quoth the Englishman.  `It may be
so,' said the Sieur de Crespigny, turning his face from him.  `I
am myself weak in the eyes, and have often taken one thing for
another,' quoth the knight, as he sprang back into his saddle and
rode off, leaving the Sieur de Crespigny biting his nails before
the door.  Ha! by the five wounds, many men of war have drunk my
wine, but never one was more to my fancy than this little
Englishman."

"By my hilt! he is our master, Michel," quoth Aylward, "and such
men as we do not serve under a laggart.  But here are four
deniers, Michel, and God be with you!  En avant, camarades!  for
we have a long road before us."

At a brisk trot the three friends left Cardillac and its wine-house
behind them, riding without a halt past St. Macaire, and on
by ferry over the river Dorpt.  At the further side the road
winds through La Reolle, Bazaille, and Marmande, with the sunlit
river still gleaming upon the right, and the bare poplars
bristling up upon either side.  John and Alleyne rode silent on
either side, but every inn, farm-steading, or castle brought back
to Aylward some remembrance of love, foray, or plunder, with
which to beguile the way.

"There is the smoke from Bazas, on the further side of Garonne,"
quoth he.  "There were three sisters yonder, the daughters of a
farrier, and, by these ten finger-bones! a man might ride for a
long June day and never set eyes upon such maidens.  There was
Marie, tall and grave, and Blanche petite and gay, and the dark
Agnes, with eyes that went through you like a waxed arrow.  I
lingered there as long as four days, and was betrothed to them
all; for it seemed shame to set one above her sisters, and might
make ill blood in the family.  Yet, for all my care, things were
not merry in the house, and I thought it well to come away.
There, too, is the mill of Le Souris.  Old Pierre Le Caron, who
owned it, was a right good comrade, and had ever a seat and a
crust for a weary archer.  He was a man who wrought hard at all
that he turned his hand to; but he heated himself in grinding
bones to mix with his flour, and so through over-diligence he
brought a fever upon himself and died."

"Tell me, Aylward," said Alleyne, "what was amiss with the door
of yonder inn that you should ask me to observe it."

"Pardieu! yes, I had well-nigh forgot.  What saw you on yonder
door?"

"I saw a square hole, through which doubtless the host may peep
when he is not too sure of those who knock."

"And saw you naught else?"

"I marked that beneath this hole there was a deep cut in the
door, as though a great nail had been driven in."

"And naught else?"

"No."

"Had you looked more closely you might have seen that there was a
stain upon the wood.  The first time that I ever heard my comrade
Black Simon laugh was in front of that door.  I heard him once
again when he slew a French squire with his teeth, he being
unarmed and the Frenchman having a dagger."

"And why did Simon laugh in front of the inn-door!" asked John.

"Simon is a hard and perilous man when he hath the bitter drop in
him; and, by my hilt! he was born for war, for there is little
sweetness or rest in him.  This inn, the `Mouton d'Or,' was kept
in the old days by one Francois Gourval, who had a hard fist and
a harder heart.  It was said that many and many an archer coming
from the wars had been served with wine with simples in it, until
he slept, and had then been stripped of all by this Gourval.
Then on the morrow, if he made complaint, this wicked Gourval
would throw him out upon the road or beat him, for he was a very
lusty man, and had many stout varlets in his service.  This
chanced to come to Simon's ears when we were at Bordeaux
together, and he would have it that we should ride to Cardillac
with a good hempen cord, and give this Gourval such a scourging
as he merited.  Forth we rode then, but when we came to the
Mouton d'Or,' Gourval had had word of our coming and its purpose,
so that the door was barred, nor was there any way into the
house.  `Let us in, good Master Gourval!' cried Simon, and `Let
us in, good Master Gourval!' cried I, but no word could we get
through the hole in the door, save that he would draw an arrow
upon us unless we went on our way.  `Well, Master Gourval,' quoth
Simon at last, `this is but a sorry welcome, seeing that we have
ridden so far just to shake you by the hand.' `Canst shake me by
the hand without coming in,' said Gourval.  `And how that?'
asked Simon.  `By passing in your hand through the hole,' said
he.  `Nay, my hand is wounded,' quoth Simon, `and of such a size
that I cannot pass it in.' `That need not hinder,' said Gourval,
who was hot to be rid of us, `pass in your left hand.' `But I
have something for thee, Gourval,' said Simon.  `What then?' he
asked.  `There was an English archer who slept here last week of
the name of Hugh of Nutbourne.' `We have had many rogues here,'
said Gourval.  `His conscience hath been heavy within him because
he owes you a debt of fourteen deniers, having drunk wine for
which he hath never paid.  For the easing of his soul, he asked
me to pay the money to you as I passed.' Now this Gourval was
very greedy for money, so he thrust forth his hand for the
fourteen deniers, but Simon had his dagger ready and he pinned
his hand to the door.  `I have paid the Englishman's debt,
Gourval!' quoth he, and so rode away, laughing so that he could
scarce sit his horse, leaving mine host still nailed to his door.
Such is the story of the hole which you have marked, and of the
smudge upon the wood.  I have heard that from that time English
archers have been better treated in the auberge of Cardillac.
But what have we here by the wayside?"

"It appears to be a very holy man," said Alleyne.

"And, by the rood! he hath some strange wares," cried John.
"What are these bits of stone, and of wood, and rusted nails,
which are set out in front of him?"

The man whom they had remarked sat with his back against a
cherry-tree, and his legs shooting out in front of him, like one
who is greatly at his ease.  Across his thighs was a wooden
board, and scattered over it all manner of slips of wood and
knobs of brick and stone, each laid separate from the other, as a
huckster places his wares.  He was dressed in a long gray gown,
and wore a broad hat of the same color, much weather-stained,
with three scallop-shells dangling from the brim.  As they
approached, the travellers observed that he was advanced in
years, and that his eyes were upturned and yellow.

"Dear knights and gentlemen," he cried in a high crackling voice,
"worthy Christian cavaliers, will ye ride past and leave an aged
pilgrim to die of hunger?  The sight hast been burned from mine
eyes by the sands of the Holy Land, and I have had neither crust
of bread nor cup of wine these two days past."

"By my hilt! father," said Aylward, looking keenly at him, "it is
a marvel to me that thy girdle should have so goodly a span and
clip thee so closely, if you have in sooth had so little to place
within it."

"Kind stranger," answered the pilgrim, "you have unwittingly
spoken words which are very grievous to me to listen to.  Yet I
should be loth to blame you, for I doubt not that what you said
was not meant to sadden me, nor to bring my sore affliction back
to my mind.  It ill becomes me to prate too much of what I have
endured for the faith, and yet, since you have observed it, I
must tell you that this thickness and roundness of the waist is
caused by a dropsy brought on by over-haste in journeying from
the house of Pilate to the Mount of Olives."

"There, Aylward," said Alleyne, with a reddened cheek, "let that
curb your blunt tongue.  How could you bring a fresh pang to this
holy man, who hath endured so much and hath journeyed as far as
Christ's own blessed tomb?"

"May the foul fiend strike me dumb!" cried the bowman in hot
repentance; but both the palmer and Alleyne threw up their hands
to stop him.

"I forgive thee from my heart, dear brother," piped the blind
man.  "But, oh, these wild words of thine are worse to mine ears
than aught which you could say of me."

"Not another word shall I speak," said Aylward; "but here is a
franc for thee and I crave thy blessing."

"And here is another," said Alleyne.

"And another," cried Hordle John.

But the blind palmer would have none of their alms.  "Foolish,
foolish pride!" he cried, beating upon his chest with his large
brown hand.  "Foolish, foolish pride!  How long then will it be
ere I can scourge it forth?  Am I then never to conquer it? Oh,
strong, strong are the ties of flesh, and hard it is to subdue
the spirit!  I come, friends, of a noble house, and I cannot
bring myself to touch this money, even though it be to save me
from the grave."

"Alas! father," said Alleyne, "how then can we be of help to
thee?"

"I had sat down here to die," quoth the palmer; "but for many
years I have carried in my wallet these precious things which you
see set forth now before me.  It were sin, thought I, that my
secret should perish with me.  I shall therefore sell these
things to the first worthy passers-by, and from them I shall have
money enough to take me to the shrine of Our Lady at Rocamadour,
where I hope to lay these old bones."

"What are these treasures, then, father?" asked Hordle John.  "I
can but see an old rusty nail, with bits of stone and slips of
wood."

"My friend," answered the palmer, "not all the money that is in
this country could pay a just price for these wares of mine.  This
nail," he continued, pulling off his hat and turning up his
sightless orbs, "is one of those wherewith man's salvation was
secured.  I had it, together with this piece of the true rood,
from the five-and-twentieth descendant of Joseph of Arimathea,
who still lives in Jerusalem alive and well, though latterly much
afflicted by boils.  Aye, you may well cross yourselves, and I
beg that you will not breathe upon it or touch it with your
fingers."

"And the wood and stone, holy father?" asked Alleyne, with bated
breath, as he stared awe-struck at his precious relics.

"This cantle of wood is from the true cross, this other from Noah
his ark, and the third is from the door-post of the temple of the
wise King Solomon.  This stone was thrown at the sainted Stephen,
and the other two are from the Tower of Babel.  Here, too, is
part of Aaron's rod, and a lock of hair from Elisha the prophet."

"But, father," quoth Alleyne, "the holy Elisha was bald, which
brought down upon him the revilements of the wicked children."

"It is very true that he had not much hair," said the palmer
quickly, "and it is this which makes this relic so exceeding
precious.  Take now your choice of these, my worthy gentlemen,
and pay such a price as your consciences will suffer you to
offer; for I am not a chapman nor a huckster, and I would never
part with them, did I not know that I am very near to my reward."

"Aylward," said Alleyne excitedly, "This is such a chance as few
folk have twice in one life.  The nail I must have, and I will
give it to the abbey of Beaulieu, so that all the folk in England
may go thither to wonder and to pray."

"And I will have the stone from the temple," cried Hordle John.
"What would not my old mother give to have it hung over her bed?"

"And I will have Aaron's rod," quoth Aylward.  "I have but five
florins in the world, and here are four of them."

"Here are three more," said John.

"And here are five more," added Alleyne.  "Holy father, I hand
you twelve florins, which is all that we can give, though we well
know how poor a pay it is for the wondrous things which you sell
us."

"Down, pride, down!" cried the pilgrim, still beating upon his
chest.  "Can I not bend myself then to take this sorry sum which
is offered me for that which has cost me the labors of a life.
Give me the dross!  Here are the precious relics, and, oh, I pray
you that you will handle them softly and with reverence, else had
I rather left my unworthy bones here by the wayside."

With doffed caps and eager hands, the comrades took their new and
precious possessions, and pressed onwards upon their journey,
leaving the aged palmer still seated under the cherry-tree.  They
rode in silence, each with his treasure in his hand, glancing at
it from time to time, and scarce able to believe that chance had
made them sole owners of relics of such holiness and worth that
every abbey and church in Christendom would have bid eagerly for
their possession.  So they journeyed, full of this good fortune,
until opposite the town of Le Mas, where John's horse cast a
shoe, and they were glad to find a wayside smith who might set
the matter to rights.  To him Aylward narrated the good hap which
had befallen them; but the smith, when his eyes lit upon the
relics, leaned up against his anvil and laughed, with his hand to
his side, until the tears hopped down his sooty cheeks.

"Why, masters," quoth he, "this man is a coquillart, or seller of
false relics, and was here in the smithy not two hours ago.  This
nail that he hath sold you was taken from my nail-box, and as to
the wood and the stones, you will see a heap of both outside from
which he hath filled his scrip."

"Nay, nay," cried Alleyne, "this was a holy man who had journeyed
to Jerusalem, and acquired a dropsy by running from the house of
Pilate to the Mount of Olives."

"I know not about that," said the smith; "but I know that a man
with a gray palmer's hat and gown was here no very long time ago,
and that he sat on yonder stump and ate a cold pullet and drank a
flask of wine.  Then he begged from me one of my nails, and
filling his scrip with stones, he went upon his way.  Look at
these nails, and see if they are not the same as that which he
has sold you."

"Now may God save us!" cried Alleyne, all aghast.  "Is there no
end then to the wickedness of humankind?  He so humble, so aged,
so loth to take our money--and yet a villain and a cheat.  Whom
can we trust or believe in?"

"I will after him," said Aylward, flinging himself into the
saddle.  "Come, Alleyne, we may catch him ere John's horse be
shod."

Away they galloped together, and ere long they saw the old gray
palmer walking slowly along in front of them.  He turned,
however, at the sound of their hoofs, and it was clear that his
blindness was a cheat like all the rest of him, for he ran
swiftly through a field and so into a wood, where none could
follow him.  They hurled their relics after him, and so rode back
to the blacksmith's the poorer both in pocket and in faith.



CHAPTER XXVII.

HOW ROGER CLUB-FOOT WAS PASSED INTO PARADISE.


It was evening before the three comrades came into Aiguillon,
There they found Sir Nigel Loring and Ford safely lodged at the
sign of the "Baton Rouge," where they supped on good fare and
slept between lavender-scented sheets.  It chanced, however, that
a knight of Poitou, Sir Gaston d'Estelle, was staying there on
his way back from Lithuania, where he had served a term with the
Teutonic knights under the land-master of the presbytery of
Marienberg.  He and Sir Nigel sat late in high converse as to
bushments, outfalls, and the intaking of cities, with many tales
of warlike men and valiant deeds.  Then their talk turned to
minstrelsy, and the stranger knight drew forth a cittern, upon
which he played the minne-lieder of the north, singing the while
in a high cracked voice of Hildebrand and Brunhild and Siegfried,
and all the strength and beauty of the land of Almain.  To this
Sir Nigel answered with the romances of Sir Eglamour, and of Sir
Isumbras, and so through the long winter night they sat by the
crackling wood-fire answering each other's songs until the
crowing cocks joined in their concert.  Yet, with scarce an hour
of rest, Sir Nigel was as blithe and bright as ever as they set
forth after breakfast upon their way.

"This Sir Gaston is a very worthy man," said he to his squires as
they rode from the "Baton Rouge."  "He hath a very strong desire
to advance himself, and would have entered upon some small
knightly debate with me, had he not chanced to have his arm-bone
broken by the kick of a horse.  I have conceived a great love for
him, and I have promised him that when his bone is mended I will
exchange thrusts with him.  But we must keep to this road upon
the left."

"Nay, my fair lord," quoth Aylward.  "The road to Montaubon is
over the river, and so through Quercy and the Agenois."

"True, my good Aylward; but I have learned from this worthy
knight, who hath come over the French marches, that there is a
company of Englishmen who are burning and plundering in the
country round Villefranche.  I have little doubt, from what he
says, that they are those whom we seek."

"By my hilt! it is like enough," said Aylward.  "By all accounts
they had been so long at Montaubon, that there would be little
there worth the taking.  Then as they have already been in the
south, they would come north to the country of the Aveyron."

"We shall follow the Lot until we come to Cahors, and then cross
the marches into Villefranche," said Sir Nigel.  "By St. Paul! as
we are but a small band, it is very likely that we may have some
very honorable and pleasing adventure, for I hear that there is
little peace upon the French border."

All morning they rode down a broad and winding road, barred with
the shadows of poplars.  Sir Nigel rode in front with his
squires, while the two archers followed behind with the sumpter
mule between them.  They had left Aiguillon and the Garonne far
to the south, and rode now by the tranquil Lot, which curves blue
and placid through a gently rolling country.  Alleyne could not
but mark that, whereas in Guienne there had been many townlets
and few castles, there were now many castles and few houses.  On
either hand gray walls and square grim keeps peeped out at every
few miles from amid the forests while the few villages which they
passed were all ringed round with rude walls, which spoke of the
constant fear and sudden foray of a wild frontier land.  Twice
during the morning there came bands of horsemen swooping down
upon them from the black gateways of wayside strongholds, with
short, stern questions as to whence they came and what their
errand.  Bands of armed men clanked along the highway, and the
few lines of laden mules which carried the merchandise of the
trader were guarded by armed varlets, or by archers hired for the
service.

"The peace of Bretigny hath not made much change in these parts,"
quoth Sir Nigel, "for the country is overrun with free companions
and masterless men.  Yonder towers, between the wood and the
hill, mark the town of Cahors, and beyond it is the land of
France.  But here is a man by the wayside, and as he hath two
horses and a squire I make little doubt that he is a knight.  I
pray you, Alleyne, to give him greeting from me, and to ask him
for his titles and coat-armor.  It may be that I can relieve him
of some vow, or perchance he hath a lady whom he would wish to
advance."

"Nay, my fair lord," said Alleyne, "these are not horses and a
squire, but mules and a varlet.  The man is a mercer, for he hath
a great bundle beside him."

"Now, God's blessing on your honest English voice!" cried the
stranger, pricking up his ears at the sound of Alleyne's words.
"Never have I heard music that was so sweet to mine ear.  Come,
Watkin lad, throw the bales over Laura's back!  My heart was nigh
broke, for it seemed that I had left all that was English behind
me, and that I would never set eyes upon Norwich market square
again."  He was a tall, lusty, middle-aged man with a ruddy face,
a brown forked beard shot with gray, and a broad Flanders hat set
at the back of his head.  His servant, as tall as himself, but
gaunt and raw-boned, had swung the bales on the back of one mule,
while the merchant mounted upon the other and rode to join the
party.  It was easy to see, as he approached, from the quality
of his dress and the richness of his trappings, that he was a man
of some wealth and position.

"Sir knight," said he, "my name is David Micheldene, and I am a
burgher and alderman of the good town of Norwich, where I live
five doors from the church of Our Lady, as all men know on the
banks of Yare.  I have here my bales of cloth which I carry to
Cahors--woe worth the day that ever I started on such an errand!
I crave your gracious protection upon the way for me, my servant,
and my mercery; for I have already had many perilous passages,
and have now learned that Roger Club-foot, the robber-knight of
Quercy, is out upon the road in front of me.  I hereby agree to
give you one rose-noble if you bring me safe to the inn of the
`Angel' in Cahors, the same to be repaid to me or my heirs if any
harm come to me or my goods."

"By Saint Paul!" answered Sir Nigel, "I should be a sorry knight
if I ask pay for standing by a countryman in a strange land.  You
may ride with me and welcome, Master Micheldene, and your varlet
may follow with my archers."

"God's benison upon thy bounty!" cried the stranger.  "Should you
come to Norwich you may have cause to remember that you have been
of service to Alderman Micheldene.  It is not very far to Cahors,
for surely I see the cathedral towers against the sky-line; but I
have heard much of this Roger Clubfoot, and the more I hear the
less do I wish to look upon his face.  Oh, but I am sick and
weary of it all, and I would give half that I am worth to see my
good dame sitting in peace beside me, and to hear the bells of
Norwich town."

"Your words are strange to me," quoth Sir Nigel, "for you have
the appearance of a stout man, and I see that you wear a sword by
your side."

"Yet it is not my trade," answered the merchant.  "I doubt not
that if I set you down in my shop at Norwich you might scarce
tell fustian from falding, and know little difference between the
velvet of Genoa and the three-piled cloth of Bruges.  There you
might well turn to me for help.  But here on a lone roadside,
with thick woods and robber-knights, I turn to you, for it is the
business to which you have been reared."

"There is sooth in what you say, Master Micheldene," said Sir
Nigel, "and I trust that we may come upon this Roger Clubfoot,
for I have heard that he is a very stout and skilful soldier, and
a man from whom much honor is to be gained."

"He is a bloody robber," said the trader, curtly, "and I wish I
saw him kicking at the end of a halter."

"It is such men as he," Sir Nigel remarked, "who give the true
knight honorable deeds to do, whereby he may advance himself."

"It is such men as he," retorted Micheldene, "who are like rats
in a wheat-rick or moths in a woolfels, a harm and a hindrance to
all peaceful and honest men."

"Yet, if the dangers of the road weigh so heavily upon you,
master alderman, it is a great marvel to me that you should
venture so far from home."

"And sometimes, sir knight, it is a marvel to myself.  But I am a
man who may grutch and grumble, but when I have set my face to do
a thing I will not turn my back upon it until it be done.  There
is one, Francois Villet, at Cahors, who will send me wine-casks
for my cloth-bales, so to Cahors I will go, though all the
robber-knights of Christendom were to line the roads like yonder
poplars."

"Stoutly spoken, master alderman!  But how have you fared
hitherto?"

"As a lamb fares in a land of wolves.  Five times we have had to
beg and pray ere we could pass.  Twice I have paid toll to the
wardens of the road.  Three times we have had to draw, and once
at La Reolle we stood seer our wool-bales, Watkin and I, and we
laid about us for as long as a man might chant a litany, slaying
one rogue and wounding two others.  By God's coif! we are men of
peace, but we are free English burghers, not to be mishandled
either in our country or abroad.  Neither lord, baron, knight, or
commoner shall have as much as a strike of flax of mine whilst I
have strength to wag this sword."

"And a passing strange sword it is," quoth Sir Nigel.  "What make
you, Alleyne, of these black lines which are drawn across the
sheath?"

"I cannot tell what they are, my fair lord."

"Nor can I," said Ford.

The merchant chuckled to himself.  "It was a thought of mine
own," said he; "for the sword was made by Thomas Wilson, the
armorer, who is betrothed to my second daughter Margery.  Know
then that the sheath is one cloth-yard, in length, marked off
according to feet and inches to serve me as a measuring wand.  It
is also of the exact weight of two pounds, so that I may use it
in the balance."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel, "it is very clear to me that
the sword is like thyself, good alderman, apt either for war or
for peace.  But I doubt not that even in England you have had
much to suffer from the hands of robbers and outlaws."

"It was only last Lammastide, sir knight, that I was left for
dead near Reading as I journeyed to Winchester fair.  Yet I had
the rogues up at the court of pie-powder, and they will harm no
more peaceful traders."

"You travel much then!"

"To Winchester, Linn mart, Bristol fair, Stourbridge, and
Bartholomew's in London Town.  The rest of the year you may ever
find me five doors from the church of Our Lady, where I would
from my heart that I was at this moment, for there is no air like
Norwich air, and no water like the Yare, nor can all the wines of
France compare with the beer of old Sam Yelverton who keeps the
`Dun Cow.'  But, out and alack, here is an evil fruit which hangs
upon this chestnut-tree!"

As he spoke they had ridden round a curve of the road and come
upon a great tree which shot one strong brown branch across their
path.  From the centre of this branch there hung a man, with his
head at a horrid slant to his body and his toes just touching the
ground.  He was naked save for a linen under shirt and pair of
woollen drawers.  Beside him on a green bank there sat a small
man with a solemn face, and a great bundle of papers of all
colors thrusting forth from the scrip which lay beside him.  He
was very richly dressed, with furred robes, a scarlet hood, and
wide hanging sleeves lined with flame-colored silk.  A great gold
chain hung round his neck, and rings glittered from every finger
of his hands.  On his lap he had a little pile of gold and of
silver, which he was dropping, coin by coin, into a plump pouch
which hung from his girdle.

"May the saints be with you, good travellers!" he shouted, as the
party rode up.  "May the four Evangelists watch over you!  May
the twelve Apostles bear you up!  May the blessed army of martyrs
direct your feet and lead you to eternal bliss!"

"Gramercy for these good wishes!" said Sir Nigel.  "But I
perceive, master alderman, that this man who hangs here is, by
mark of foot, the very robber-knight of whom we have spoken.  But
there is a cartel pinned upon his breast, and I pray you,
Alleyne, to read it to me."

The dead robber swung slowly to and fro in the wintry wind, a
fixed smile upon his swarthy face, and his bulging eyes still
glaring down the highway of which he had so long been the terror;
on a sheet of parchment upon his breast was printed in rude
characters;

                    ROGER PIED-BOT.

              Par l'ordre du Senechal de
              Castelnau, et de l'Echevin de
              Cahors, servantes fideles du
              tres vaillant et tres puissant
              Edouard, Prince de Galles et
              d'Aquitaine.
              Ne touchez pas,
              Ne coutez pas,
              Ne depechez pas

"He took a sorry time in dying," said the man who sat beside him.
"He could stretch one toe to the ground and bear him self up, so
that I thought he would never have done.  Now at last, however,
he is safely in paradise, and so I may jog on upon my earthly
way."  He mounted, as he spoke, a white mule which had been
grazing by the wayside, all gay with fustian of gold and silver
bells, and rode onward with Sir Nigel's party.

"How know you then that he is in paradise?" asked Sir Nigel.
"All things are possible to God, but, certes, without a miracle,
I should scarce expect to find the soul of Roger Clubfoot amongst
the just."

"I know that he is there because I have just passed him in
there," answered the stranger, rubbing his bejewelled hands
together in placid satisfaction.  "It is my holy mission to be a
sompnour or pardoner.  I am the unworthy servant and delegate of
him who holds the keys.  A contrite heart and ten nobles to holy
mother Church may stave off perdition; but he hath a pardon of
the first degree, with a twenty-five livre benison, so that I
doubt if he will so much as feel a twinge of purgatory.  I came
up even as the seneschal's archers were tying him up, and I gave
him my fore-word that I would bide with him until he had passed.
There were two leaden crowns among the silver, but I would not
for that stand in the way of his salvation."

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, "if you have indeed this power
to open and to shut the gates of hope, then indeed you stand high
above mankind.  But if you do but claim to have it, and yet have
it not, then it seems to me, master clerk, that you may yourself
find the gate barred when you shall ask admittance."

"Small of faith!  Small of faith!" cried the sompnour.  "Ah, Sir
Didymus yet walks upon earth!  And yet no words of doubt can
bring anger to mine heart, or a bitter word to my lip, for am I
not a poor unworthy worker in the cause of gentleness and peace?
Of all these pardons which I bear every one is stamped and signed
by our holy father, the prop and centre of Christendom."

"Which of them?" asked Sir Nigel.

"Ha, ha!" cried the pardoner, shaking a jewelled forefinger.  "Thou
wouldst be deep in the secrets of mother Church?  Know then that
I have both in my scrip.  Those who hold with Urban shall have
Urban's pardon, while I have Clement's for the Clementist--or he
who is in doubt may have both, so that come what may he shall be
secure.  I pray you that you will buy one, for war is bloody
work, and the end is sudden with little time for thought or
shrift.  Or you, sir, for you seem to me to be a man who would do
ill to trust to your own merits."  This to the alderman of
Norwich, who had listened to him with a frowning brow and a
sneering lip.

"When I sell my cloth," quoth he, "he who buys may weigh and feel
and handle.  These goods which you sell are not to be seen, nor
is there any proof that you hold them.  Certes, if mortal man
might control God's mercy, it would be one of a lofty and God-like
life, and not one who is decked out with rings and chains and
silks, like a pleasure-wench at a kermesse.

"Thou wicked and shameless man!" cried the clerk.  "Dost thou
dare to raise thy voice against the unworthy servant of mother
Church?"

"Unworthy enough!" quoth David Micheldene.  "I would have you to
know, clerk, that I am a free English burgher, and that I dare
say my mind to our father the Pope himself, let alone such a
lacquey's lacquey as you!"

"Base-born and foul-mouthed knave!" cried the sompnour.  "You
prate of holy things, to which your hog's mind can never rise.
Keep silence, lest I call a curse upon you!"

"Silence yourself!" roared the other.  "Foul bird! we found thee
by the gallows like a carrion-crow.  A fine life thou hast of it
with thy silks and thy baubles, cozening the last few shillings
from the pouches of dying men.  A fig for thy curse!  Bide here,
if you will take my rede, for we will make England too hot for
such as you, when Master Wicliff has the ordering of it.  Thou
vile thief! it is you, and such as you, who bring an evil name
upon the many churchmen who lead a pure and a holy life.  Thou
outside the door of heaven!  Art more like to be inside the door
of hell."

At this crowning insult the sompnour, with a face ashen with
rage, raised up a quivering hand and began pouring Latin
imprecations upon the angry alderman.  The latter, however, was
not a man to be quelled by words, for he caught up his ell-measure
sword-sheath and belabored the cursing clerk with it.  The
latter, unable to escape from the shower of blows, set spurs to
his mule and rode for his life, with his enemy thundering behind
him.  At sight of his master's sudden departure, the varlet
Watkin set off after him, with the pack-mule beside him, so that
the four clattered away down the road together, until they swept
round a curve and their babble was but a drone in the distance.
Sir Nigel and Alleyne gazed in astonishment at one another, while
Ford burst out a-laughing.

"Pardieu!" said the knight, "this David Micheldene must be one of
those Lollards about whom Father Christopher of the priory had so
much to say.  Yet he seemed to be no bad man from what I have
seen of him."

"I have heard that Wicliff hath many followers in Norwich,"
answered Alleyne.

"By St. Paul!  I have no great love for them," quoth Sir Nigel.
"I am a man who am slow to change; and, if you take away from me
the faith that I have been taught, it would be long ere I could
learn one to set in its place.  It is but a chip here and a chip
there, yet it may bring the tree down in time.  Yet, on the other
hand, I cannot but think it shame that a man should turn God's
mercy on and off, as a cellarman doth wine with a spigot."

"Nor is it," said Alleyne, "part of the teachings of that mother
Church of which he had so much to say.  There was sooth in what
the alderman said of it."

"Then, by St. Paul!  they may settle it betwixt them," quoth Sir
Nigel.  "For me, I serve God, the king and my lady; and so long
as I can keep the path of honor I am well content.  My creed
shall ever be that of Chandos:

        "Fais ce que dois--adviegne que peut,
         C'est commande au chevalier."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

HOW THE COMRADES CAME OVER THE MARCHES OF FRANCE


After passing Cahors, the party branched away from the main road,
and leaving the river to the north of them, followed a smaller
track which wound over a vast and desolate plain.  This path led
them amid marshes and woods, until it brought them out into a
glade with a broad stream swirling swiftly down the centre of it.
Through this the horses splashed their way, and on the farther
shore Sir Nigel announced to them that they were now within the
borders of the land of France.  For some miles they still
followed the same lonely track, which led them through a dense
wood, and then widening out, curved down to an open rolling
country, such as they had traversed between Aiguillon and
Cahors.

If it were grim and desolate upon the English border, however,
what can describe the hideous barrenness of this ten times
harried tract of France?  The whole face of the country was
scarred and disfigured, mottled over with the black blotches of
burned farm-steadings, and the gray, gaunt gable-ends of what had
been chateaux.  Broken fences, crumbling walls, vineyards
littered with stones, the shattered arches of bridges--look where
you might, the signs of ruin and rapine met the eye.  Here and
there only, on the farthest sky-line, the gnarled turrets of a
castle, or the graceful pinnacles of church or of monastery
showed where the forces of the sword or of the spirit had
preserved some small islet of security in this universal flood of
misery.  Moodily and in silence the little party rode along the
narrow and irregular track, their hearts weighed down by this
far-stretching land of despair.  It was indeed a stricken and a
blighted country, and a man might have ridden from Auvergne in
the north to the marches of Foix, nor ever seen a smiling village
or a thriving homestead.

From time to time as they advanced they saw strange lean figures
scraping and scratching amid the weeds and thistles, who, on
sight of the band of horsemen, threw up their arms and dived in
among the brushwood, as shy and as swift as wild animals.  More
than once, however, they came on families by the wayside, who
were too weak from hunger and disease to fly, so that they could
but sit like hares on a tussock, with panting chests and terror
in their eyes.  So gaunt were these poor folk, so worn and
spent--with bent and knotted frames, and sullen, hopeless,
mutinous faces--that it made the young Englishman heart-sick to
look upon them.  Indeed, it seemed as though all hope and light
had gone so far from them that it was not to be brought back; for
when Sir Nigel threw down a handful of silver among them there
came no softening of their lined faces, but they clutched
greedily at the coins, peering questioningly at him, and champing
with their animal jaws.  Here and there amid the brushwood the
travellers saw the rude bundle of sticks which served them as a
home--more like a fowl's nest than the dwelling-place of man.
Yet why should they build and strive, when the first adventurer
who passed would set torch to their thatch, and when their own
feudal lord would wring from them with blows and curses the last
fruits of their toil?  They sat at the lowest depth of human
misery, and hugged a bitter comfort to their souls as they
realized that they could go no lower.  Yet they had still the
human gift of speech, and would take council among themselves in
their brushwood hovels, glaring with bleared eyes and pointing
with thin fingers at the great widespread chateaux which ate like
a cancer into the life of the country-side.  When such men, who
are beyond hope and fear, begin in their dim minds to see the
source their woes, it may be an evil time for those who have
wronged them.  The weak man becomes strong when he has nothing,
for then only can he feel the wild, mad thrill of despair.  High
and strong the chateaux, lowly and weak the brushwood hut; but
God help the seigneur and his lady when the men of the brushwood
set their hands to the work of revenge!

Through such country did the party ride for eight or it might be
nine miles, until the sun began to slope down in the west and
their shadows to stream down the road in front of them.  Wary and
careful they must be, with watchful eyes to the right and the
left, for this was no man's land, and their only passports were
those which hung from their belts.  Frenchmen and Englishmen,
Gascon and Provencal, Brabanter, Tardvenu, Scorcher, Flayer, and
Free Companion, wandered and struggled over the whole of this
accursed district.  So bare and cheerless was the outlook, and so
few and poor the dwellings, that Sir Nigel began to have fears as
to whether he might find food and quarters for his little troop.
It was a relief to him, therefore, when their narrow track opened
out upon a larger road, and they saw some little way down it a
square white house with a great bunch of holly hung out at the
end of a stick from one of the upper windows.

"By St. Paul!" said he, "I am right glad; for I had feared that
we might have neither provant nor herbergage.  Ride on, Alleyne,
and tell this inn-keeper that an English knight with his party
will lodge with him this night."

Alleyne set spurs to his horse and reached the inn door a long
bow-shot before his companions.  Neither varlet nor ostler could
be seen, so he pushed open the door and called loudly for the
landlord.  Three times he shouted, but, receiving no reply, he
opened an inner door and advanced into the chief guest-room of
the hostel.

A very cheerful wood-fire was sputtering and cracking in an open
grate at the further end of the apartment.  At one side of this
fire, in a high-backed oak chair, sat a lady, her face turned
towards the door.  The firelight played over her features, and
Alleyne thought that he had never seen such queenly power, such
dignity and strength, upon a woman's face.  She might have been
five-and-thirty years of age, with aquiline nose, firm yet
sensitive mouth, dark curving brows, and deep-set eyes which
shone and sparkled with a shifting brilliancy.  Beautiful as she
was, it was not her beauty which impressed itself upon the
beholder; it was her strength, her power, the sense of wisdom
which hung over the broad white brow, the decision which lay in
the square jaw and delicately moulded chin.  A chaplet of pearls
sparkled amid her black hair, with a gauze of silver network
flowing back from it over her shoulders; a black mantle was
swathed round her, and she leaned back in her chair as one who is
fresh from a journey.

In the opposite corner there sat a very burly and broad-shouldered
man, clad in a black jerkin trimmed with sable, with a black
velvet cap with curling white feather cocked upon the side
of his head.  A flask of red wine stood at his elbow, and he
seemed to be very much at his ease, for his feet were stuck up on
a stool, and between his thighs he held a dish full of nuts.
These he cracked between his strong white teeth and chewed in a
leisurely way, casting the shells into the blaze.  As Alleyne
gazed in at him he turned his face half round and cocked an eye
at him over his shoulder.  It seemed to the young Englishman that
he had never seen so hideous a face, for the eyes were of the
lightest green, the nose was broken and driven inwards, while the
whole countenance was seared and puckered with wounds.  The
voice, too, when he spoke, was as deep and as fierce as the growl
of a beast of prey.

"Young man," said he, "I know not who you may be, and I am not
much inclined to bestir myself, but if it were not that I am bent
upon taking my ease, I swear, by the sword of Joshua! that I
would lay my dog-whip across your shoulders for daring to fill
the air with these discordant bellowings."

Taken aback at this ungentle speech, and scarce knowing how to
answer it fitly in the presence of the lady, Alleyne stood with
his hand upon the handle of the door, while Sir Nigel and his
companions dismounted.  At the sound of these fresh voices, and
of the tongue in which they spoke, the stranger crashed his dish
of nuts down upon the floor, and began himself to call for the
landlord until the whole house re-echoed with his roarings.  With
an ashen face the white-aproned host came running at his call,
his hands shaking and his very hair bristling with apprehension.
"For the sake of God, sirs," he whispered as he passed, "speak
him fair and do not rouse him!  For the love of the Virgin, be
mild with him!"

"Who is this, then?" asked Sir Nigel.

Alleyne was about to explain, when a fresh roar from the stranger
interrupted him.

"Thou villain inn-keeper," he shouted, "did I not ask you when I
brought my lady here whether your inn was clean?"

"You did, sire."

"Did I not very particularly ask you whether there were any
vermin in it?"

"You did, sire."

"And you answered me?"

"That there were not, sire."

"And yet ere I have been here an hour I find Englishmen crawling
about within it.  Where are we to be free from this pestilent
race?  Can a Frenchman upon French land not sit down in a French
auberge without having his ears pained by the clack of their
hideous talk?  Send them packing, inn-keeper, or it may be the
worse for them and for you."

"I will, sire, I will!" cried the frightened host, and bustled
from the room, while the soft, soothing voice of the woman was
heard remonstrating with her furious companion.

"Indeed, gentlemen, you had best go," said mine host.  "It is but
six miles to Villefranche, where there are very good quarters at
the sign of the `Lion Rouge.'"

"Nay," answered Sir Nigel, "I cannot go until I have seen more of
this person, for he appears to be a man from whom much is to be
hoped.  What is his name and title?"

"It is not for my lips to name it unless by his desire.  But I
beg and pray you, gentlemen, that you will go from my house, for
I know not what may come of it if his rage should gain the
mastery of him."

"By Saint Paul!" lisped Sir Nigel, "this is certainly a man whom
it is worth journeying far to know.  Go tell him that a humble
knight of England would make his further honorable acquaintance,
not from any presumption, pride, or ill-will, but for the
advancement of chivalry and the glory of our ladies.  Give him
greeting from Sir Nigel Loring, and say that the glove which I
bear in my cap belongs to the most peerless and lovely of her
sex, whom I am now ready to uphold against any lady whose claim
he might be desirous of advancing."

The landlord was hesitating whether to carry this message or no,
when the door of the inner room was flung open, and the stranger
bounded out like a panther from its den, his hair bristling and
his deformed face convulsed with anger.

"Still here!" he snarled.  "Dogs of England, must ye be lashed
hence?  Tiphaine, my sword!" He turned to seize his weapon, but
as he did so his gaze fell upon the blazonry of sir Nigel's
shield, and he stood staring, while the fire in his strange green
eyes softened into a sly and humorous twinkle.

"Mort Dieu!" cried he, "it is my little swordsman of Bordeaux.  I
should remember that coat-armor, seeing that it is but three days
since I looked upon it in the lists by Garonne.  Ah!  Sir Nigel,
Sir Nigel!  you owe me a return for this," and he touched his
right arm, which was girt round just under the shoulder with a
silken kerchief.

But the surprise of the stranger at the sight of Sir Nigel was as
nothing compared with the astonishment and the delight which
shone upon the face of the knight of Hampshire as he looked upon
the strange face of the Frenchman.  Twice he opened his mouth and
twice he peered again, as though to assure himself that his eyes
had not played him a trick.

"Bertrand!" he gasped at last.  "Bertrand du Guesclin!"

"By Saint Ives!" shouted the French soldier, with a hoarse roar
of laughter, "it is well that I should ride with my vizor down,
for he that has once seen my face does not need to be told my
name.  It is indeed I, Sir Nigel, and here is my hand! I give you
my word that there are but three Englishmen in this world whom I
would touch save with the sharp edge of the sword: the prince is
one, Chandos the second, and you the third; for I have heard much
that is good of you."

"I am growing aged, and am somewhat spent in the wars," quoth Sir
Nigel; "but I can lay by my sword now with an easy mind, for I
can say that I have crossed swords with him who hath the bravest
heart and the strongest arm of all this great kingdom of France.
I have longed for it, I have dreamed of it, and now I can scarce
bring my mind to understand that this great honor hath indeed
been mine."

"By the Virgin of Rennes! you have given me cause to be very
certain of it," said Du Guesclin, with a gleam of his broad white
teeth.

"And perhaps, most honored sir, it would please you to continue
the debate.  Perhaps you would condescend to go farther into the
matter.  God He knows that I am unworthy of such honor, yet I can
show my four-and-sixty quarterings, and I have been present at
some bickerings and scufflings during these twenty years."

"Your fame is very well known to me, and I shall ask my lady to
enter your name upon my tablets," said Sir Bertrand.  "There are
many who wish to advance themselves, and who bide their turn, for
I refuse no man who comes on such an errand.  At present it may
not be, for mine arm is stiff from this small touch, and I would
fain do you full honor when we cross swords again.  Come in with
me, and let your squires come also, that my sweet spouse, the
Lady Tiphaine, may say that she hath seen so famed and gentle a
knight."

Into the chamber they went in all peace and concord, where the
Lady Tiphaine sat like queen on throne for each in turn to be
presented to her.  Sooth to say, the stout heart of Sir Nigel,
which cared little for the wrath of her lion-like spouse, was
somewhat shaken by the calm, cold face of this stately dame, for
twenty years of camp-life had left him more at ease in the lists
than in a lady's boudoir.  He bethought him, too, as he looked at
her set lips and deep-set questioning eyes, that he had heard
strange tales of this same Lady Tiphaine du Guesclin.  Was it not
she who was said to lay hands upon the sick and raise them from
their couches when the leeches had spent their last nostrums?
Had she not forecast the future, and were there not times when in
the loneliness of her chamber she was heard to hold converse with
some being upon whom mortal eye never rested--some dark familiar
who passed where doors were barred and windows high?  Sir Nigel
sunk his eye and marked a cross on the side of his leg as he
greeted this dangerous dame, and yet ere five minutes had passed
he was hers, and not he only but his two young squires as well.
The mind had gone out of them, and they could but look at this
woman and listen to the words which fell from her lips--words
which thrilled through their nerves and stirred their souls like
the battle-call of a bugle.

Often in peaceful after-days was Alleyne to think of that scene
of the wayside inn of Auvergne.  The shadows of evening had
fallen, and the corners of the long, low, wood-panelled room were
draped in darkness.  The sputtering wood fire threw out a circle
of red flickering light which played over the little group of
wayfarers, and showed up every line and shadow upon their faces.
Sir Nigel sat with elbows upon knees, and chin upon hands, his
patch still covering one eye, but his other shining like a star,
while the ruddy light gleamed upon his smooth white head.  Ford
was seated at his left, his lips parted, his eyes staring, and a
fleck of deep color on either cheek, his limbs all rigid as one
who fears to move.  On the other side the famous French captain
leaned back in his chair, a litter of nut-shells upon his lap,
his huge head half buried in a cushion, while his eyes wandered
with an amused gleam from his dame to the staring, enraptured
Englishmen.  Then, last of all, that pale clear-cut face, that
sweet clear voice, with its high thrilling talk of the
deathlessness of glory, of the worthlessness of life, of the pain
of ignoble joys, and of the joy which lies in all pains which
lead to a noble end.  Still, as the shadows deepened, she spoke
of valor and virtue, of loyalty, honor, and fame, and still they
sat drinking in her words while the fire burned down and the red
ash turned to gray.

"By the sainted Ives!" cried Du Guesclin at last, "it is time
that we spoke of what we are to do this night, for I cannot think
that in this wayside auberge there are fit quarters for an
honorable company."

Sir Nigel gave a long sigh as he came back from the dreams of
chivalry and hardihood into which this strange woman's words had
wafted him.  "I care not where I sleep," said he; "but these are
indeed somewhat rude lodgings for this fair lady."

"What contents my lord contents me," quoth she.  "I perceive, Sir
Nigel, that you are under vow," she added, glancing at his
covered eye.

"It is my purpose to attempt some small deed," he answered.

"And the glove--is it your lady's?"

"It is indeed my sweet wife's."

"Who is doubtless proud of you."

"Say rather I of her," quoth he quickly.  "God He knows that I am
not worthy to be her humble servant.  It is easy, lady, for a man
to ride forth in the light of day, and do his devoir when all men
have eyes for him.  But in a woman's heart there is a strength
and truth which asks no praise, and can but be known to him whose
treasure it is."

The Lady Tiphaine smiled across at her husband.  "You have often
told me, Bertrand, that there were very gentle knights amongst
the English," quoth she.

"Aye, aye," said he moodily.  "But to horse, Sir Nigel, you and
yours and we shall seek the chateau of Sir Tristram de Rochefort,
which is two miles on this side of Villefranche.  He is Seneschal
of Auvergne, and mine old war companion."

"Certes, he would have a welcome for you," quoth Sir Nigel; "but
indeed he might look askance at one who comes without permit over
the marches."

"By the Virgin!  when he learns that you have come to draw away
these rascals he will be very blithe to look upon your face.
Inn-keeper, here are ten gold pieces.  What is over and above
your reckoning you may take off from your charges to the next
needy knight who comes this way.  Come then, for it grows late
and the horses are stamping in the roadway."

The Lady Tiphaine and her spouse sprang upon their steeds without
setting feet to stirrup, and away they jingled down the white
moonlit highway, with Sir Nigel at the lady's bridle-arm, and
Ford a spear's length behind them.  Alleyne had lingered for an
instant in the passage, and as he did so there came a wild outcry
from a chamber upon the left, and out there ran Aylward and John,
laughing together like two schoolboys who are bent upon a prank.
At sight of Alleyne they slunk past him with somewhat of a
shame-faced air, and springing upon their horses galloped after
their party.  The hubbub within the chamber did not cease,
however, but rather increased, with yells of: "A moi, mes amis!  A
moi, camarades!  A moi, l'honorable champion de l'Eveque de
Montaubon!  A la recousse de l'eglise sainte!" So shrill was the
outcry that both the inn-keeper and Alleyne, with every varlet
within hearing, rushed wildly to the scene of the uproar.

It was indeed a singular scene which met their eyes.  The room
was a long and lofty one, stone floored and bare, with a fire at
the further end upon which a great pot was boiling.  A deal table
ran down the centre, with a wooden wine-pitcher upon it and two
horn cups.  Some way from it was a smaller table with a single
beaker and a broken wine-bottle.  From the heavy wooden rafters
which formed the roof there hung rows of hooks which held up
sides of bacon, joints of smoked beef, and strings of onions for
winter use.  In the very centre of all these, upon the largest
hook of all, there hung a fat little red-faced man with enormous
whiskers, kicking madly in the air and clawing at rafters, hams,
and all else that was within hand-grasp.  The huge steel hook had
been passed through the collar of his leather jerkin, and there
he hung like a fish on a line, writhing, twisting, and screaming,
but utterly unable to free himself from his extraordinary
position.  It was not until Alleyne and the landlord had mounted
on the table that they were able to lift him down, when he sank
gasping with rage into a seat, and rolled his eyes round in every
direction.

"Has he gone?" quoth he.

"Gone?  Who?"

"He, the man with the red head, the giant man."

"Yes," said Alleyne, "he hath gone."

"And comes not back?"

"No."

"The better for him!" cried the little man, with a long sigh of
relief.  "Mon Dieu!  What! am I not the champion of the Bishop
of Montaubon?  Ah, could I have descended, could I have come down,
ere he fled!  Then you would have seen.  You would have beheld a
spectacle then.  There would have been one rascal the less upon
earth.  Ma, foi, yes!"

"Good master Pelligny," said the landlord, "these gentlemen have
not gone very fast, and I have a horse in the stable at your
disposal, for I would rather have such bloody doings as you
threaten outside the four walls of mine auberge."

"I hurt my leg and cannot ride," quoth the bishop's champion.  "I
strained a sinew on the day that I slew the three men at
Castelnau."

"God save you, master Pelligny!" cried the landlord.  "It must be
an awesome thing to have so much blood upon one's soul.  And yet
I do not wish to see so valiant a man mishandled, and so I will,
for friendship's sake, ride after this Englishman and bring him
back to you."

"You shall not stir," cried the champion, seizing the inn-keeper
in a convulsive grasp.  "I have a love for you, Gaston, and I
would not bring your house into ill repute, nor do such scath to
these walls and chattels as must befall if two such men as this
Englishman and I fall to work here."

"Nay, think not of me!"  cried the inn-keeper.  "What are my
walls when set against the honor of Francois Poursuivant d'Amour
Pelligny, champion of the Bishop of Montaubon.  My horse, Andre!"

"By the saints, no!  Gaston, I will not have it!  You have said
truly that it is an awesome thing to have such rough work upon
one's soul.  I am but a rude soldier, yet I have a mind.  Mon
Dieu!  I reflect, I weigh, I balance.  Shall I not meet this man
again?  Shall I not bear him in mind?  Shall I not know him by
his great paws and his red head?  Ma foi, yes!"

"And may I ask, sir," said Alleyne, "why it is that you call
yourself champion of the Bishop of Montaubon?"

"You may ask aught which it is becoming to me to answer.  The
bishop hath need of a champion, because, if any cause be set to
test of combat, it would scarce become his office to go down into
the lists with leather and shield and cudgel to exchange blows
with any varlet.  He looks around him then for some tried
fighting man, some honest smiter who can give a blow or take one.
It is not for me to say how far he hath succeeded, but it is
sooth that he who thinks that he hath but to do with the Bishop
of Montaubon, finds himself face to face with Francois Poursuivant
d'Amour Pelligny."

At this moment there was a clatter of hoofs upon the road, and a
varlet by the door cried out that one of the Englishmen was
coming back.  The champion looked wildly about for some corner of
safety, and was clambering up towards the window, when Ford's
voice sounded from without, calling upon Alleyne to hasten, or he
might scarce find his way.  Bidding adieu to landlord and to
champion, therefore, he set off at a gallop, and soon overtook
the two archers.

"A pretty thing this, John," said he.  "Thou wilt have holy
Church upon you if you hang her champions upon iron hooks in an
inn kitchen."

"It was done without thinking," he answered apologetically, while
Aylward burst into a shout of laughter.

"By my hilt! mon petit," said he, "you would have laughed also
could you have seen it.  For this man was so swollen with pride
that he would neither drink with us, nor sit at the same table
with us, nor as much as answer a question, but must needs talk to
the varlet all the time that it was well there was peace, and
that he had slain more Englishmen than there were tags to his
doublet.  Our good old John could scarce lay his tongue to French
enough to answer him, so he must needs reach out his great hand
to him and place him very gently where you saw him.  But we must
on, for I can scarce hear their hoofs upon the road."

"I think that I can see them yet," said Ford, peering down the
moonlit road.

"Pardieu! yes.  Now they ride forth from the shadow.  And yonder
dark clump is the Castle of Villefranche.  En avant camarades! or
Sir Nigel may reach the gates before us.  But hark, mes amis,
what sound is that?"

As he spoke the hoarse blast of a horn was heard from some woods
upon the right.  An answering call rung forth upon their left,
and hard upon it two others from behind them.

"They are the horns of swine-herds," quoth Aylward.  "Though why
they blow them so late I cannot tell."

"Let us on, then," said Ford, and the whole party, setting their
spurs to their horses, soon found themselves at the Castle of
Villefranche, where the drawbridge had already been lowered and
the portcullis raised in response to the summons of Du Guesclin.



CHAPTER XXIX.

HOW THE BLESSED HOUR OF SIGHT CAME TO THE LADY TIPHAINE.


Sir Tristram de Rochefort, Seneschal of Auvergne and Lord of
Villefranche, was a fierce and renowned soldier who had grown
gray in the English wars.  As lord of the marches and guardian of
an exposed country-side, there was little rest for him even in
times of so-called peace, and his whole life was spent in raids
and outfalls upon the Brabanters, late-comers, flayers, free
companions, and roving archers who wandered over his province.
At times he would come back in triumph, and a dozen corpses
swinging from the summit of his keep would warn evil-doers that
there was still a law in the land.  At others his ventures were
not so happy, and he and his troop would spur it over the
drawbridge with clatter of hoofs hard at their heels and whistle
of arrows about their ears.  Hard he was of hand and harder of
heart, hated by his foes, and yet not loved by those whom he
protected, for twice he had been taken prisoner, and twice his
ransom had been wrung by dint of blows and tortures out of the
starving peasants and ruined farmers.  Wolves or watch-dogs, it
was hard to say from which the sheep had most to fear.

The Castle of Villefranche was harsh and stern as its master.  A
broad moat, a high outer wall turreted at the corners, with a
great black keep towering above all--so it lay before them in the
moonlight.  By the light of two flambeaux, protruded through the
narrow slit-shaped openings at either side of the ponderous gate,
they caught a glimpse of the glitter of fierce eyes and of the
gleam of the weapons of the guard.  The sight of the two-headed
eagle of Du Guesclin, however, was a passport into any fortalice
in France, and ere they had passed the gate the old border knight
came running forwards with hands out-thrown to greet his famous
countryman.  Nor was he less glad to see Sir Nigel, when the
Englishman's errand was explained to him, for these archers had
been a sore thorn in his side and had routed two expeditions
which he had sent against them.  A happy day it would be for the
Seneschal of Auvergne when they should learn that the last yew
bow was over the marches.

The material for a feast was ever at hand in days when, if there
was grim want in the cottage, there was at least rude plenty in
the castle.  Within an hour the guests were seated around a board
which creaked under the great pasties and joints of meat, varied
by those more dainty dishes in which the French excelled, the
spiced ortolan and the truffled beccaficoes.  The Lady Rochefort,
a bright and laughter-loving dame, sat upon the left of her
warlike spouse, with Lady Tiphaine upon the right.  Beneath sat
Du Guesclin and Sir Nigel, with Sir Amory Monticourt, of the
order of the Hospitallers, and Sir Otto Harnit, a wandering
knight from the kingdom of Bohemia.  These with Alleyne and Ford,
four French squires, and the castle chaplain, made the company
who sat together that night and made good cheer in the Castle of
Villefranche.  The great fire crackled in the grate, the hooded
hawks slept upon their perches, the rough deer-hounds with
expectant eyes crouched upon the tiled floor; close at the elbows
of the guests stood the dapper little lilac-coated pages; the
laugh and jest circled round and all was harmony and comfort.
Little they recked of the brushwood men who crouched in their
rags along the fringe of the forest and looked with wild and
haggard eyes at the rich, warm glow which shot a golden bar of
light from the high arched windows of the castle.

Supper over, the tables dormant were cleared away as by magic and
trestles and bancals arranged around the blazing fire, for there
was a bitter nip in the air.  The Lady Tiphaine had sunk back in
her cushioned chair, and her long dark lashes drooped low over
her sparkling eyes.  Alleyne, glancing at her, noted that her
breath came quick and short, and that her cheeks had blanched to
a lily white.  Du Guesclin eyed her keenly from time to time, and
passed his broad brown fingers through his crisp, curly black
hair with the air of a man who is perplexed in his mind.

"These folk here," said the knight of Bohemia, "they do not seem
too well fed."

"Ah, canaille!" cried the Lord of Villefranche.  "You would
scarce credit it, and yet it is sooth that when I was taken at
Poictiers it was all that my wife and foster-brother could do to
raise the money from them for my ransom.  The sulky dogs would
rather have three twists of a rack, or the thumbikins for an
hour, than pay out a denier for their own feudal father and liege
lord.  Yet there is not one of them but hath an old stocking full
of gold pieces hid away in a snug corner."

"Why do they not buy food then?" asked Sir Nigel.  "By St. Paul!
it seemed to me their bones were breaking through their skin."

"It is their grutching and grumbling which makes them thin.  We
have a saying here, Sir Nigel, that if you pummel Jacques
Bonhomme he will pat you, but if you pat him he will pummel you.
Doubtless you find it so in England."

"Ma foi, no!" said Sir Nigel.  "I have two Englishmen of this
class in my train, who are at this instant, I make little doubt,
as full of your wine as any cask in your cellar.  He who
pummelled them might come by such a pat as he would be likely to
remember."

"I cannot understand it," quoth the seneschal, "for the English
knights and nobles whom I have met were not men to brook the
insolence of the base born."

"Perchance, my fair lord, the poor folk are sweeter and of a
better countenance in England," laughed the Lady Rochefort.
"Mon Dieu!  you cannot conceive to yourself how ugly they are!
Without hair, without teeth, all twisted and bent; for me, I
cannot think how the good God ever came to make such people.  I
cannot bear it, I, and so my trusty Raoul goes ever before me
with a cudgel to drive them from my path."

"Yet they have souls, fair lady, they have souls!" murmured the
chaplain, a white-haired man with a weary, patient face.

"So I have heard you tell them," said the lord of the castle;
"and for myself, father, though I am a true son of holy Church,
yet I think that you were better employed in saying your mass and
in teaching the children of my men-at-arms, than in going over
the country-side to put ideas in these folks' heads which would
never have been there but for you.  I have heard that you have
said to them that their souls are as good as ours, and that it is
likely that in another life they may stand as high as the oldest
blood of Auvergne.  For my part, I believe that there are so many
worthy knights and gallant gentlemen in heaven who know how such
things should be arranged, that there is little fear that we
shall find ourselves mixed up with base roturiers and swine-herds.
Tell your beads, father, and con your psalter, but do not
come between me and those whom the king has given to me!"

"God help them!" cried the old priest.  "A higher King than yours
has given them to me, and I tell you here in your own castle
hall, Sir Tristram de Rochefort, that you have sinned deeply in
your dealings with these poor folk, and that the hour will come,
and may even now be at hand, when God's hand will be heavy upon
you for what you have done."  He rose as he spoke, and walked
slowly from the room.

"Pest take him!" cried the French knight.  "Now, what is a man to
do with a priest, Sir Bertrand?--for one can neither fight him
like a man nor coax him like a woman."

"Ah, Sir Bertrand knows, the naughty one!" cried the Lady
Rochefort.  "Have we not all heard how he went to Avignon and
squeezed fifty thousand crowns out of the Pope."

"Ma foi!" said Sir Nigel, looking with a mixture of horror and
admiration at Du Guesclin.  "Did not your heart sink within you?
Were you not smitten with fears?  Have you not felt a curse hang
over you?"

"I have not observed it," said the Frenchman carelessly.  "But by
Saint Ives!  Tristram, this chaplain of yours seems to me to be a
worthy man, and you should give heed to his words, for though I
care nothing for the curse of a bad pope, it would be a grief to
me to have aught but a blessing from a good priest."

"Hark to that, my fair lord," cried the Lady Rochefort.  "Take
heed, I pray thee, for I do not wish to have a blight cast over
me, nor a palsy of the limbs.  I remember that once before you
angered Father Stephen, and my tire-woman said that I lost more
hair in seven days than ever before in a month."

"If that be sign of sin, then, by Saint Paul!  I have much upon
my soul," said Sir Nigel, amid a general laugh.  "But in very
truth, Sir Tristram, if I may venture a word of counsel, I should
advise that you make your peace with this good man."

"He shall have four silver candlesticks," said the seneschal
moodily.  "And yet I would that he would leave the folk alone.
You cannot conceive in your mind how stubborn and brainless they
are.  Mules and pigs are full of reason beside them.  God He
knows that I have had great patience with them.  It was but last
week that, having to raise some money, I called up to the castle
Jean Goubert, who, as all men know, has a casketful of gold
pieces hidden away in some hollow tree.  I give you my word that
I did not so much as lay a stripe upon his fool's back, but after
speaking with him, and telling him how needful the money was to
me, I left him for the night to think over the matter in my
dungeon.  What think you that the dog did?  Why, in the morning
we found that he had made a rope from strips of his leathern
jerkin, and had hung himself to the bar of the window."

"For me, I cannot conceive such wickedness!" cried the lady.

"And there was Gertrude Le Boeuf, as fair a maiden as eye could
see, but as bad and bitter as the rest of them.  When young Amory
de Valance was here last Lammastide he looked kindly upon the
girl, and even spoke of taking her into his service.  What does
she do, with her dog of a father?  Why, they tie themselves
together and leap into the Linden Pool, where the water is five
spears'-lengths deep.  I give you my word that it was a great
grief to young Amory, and it was days ere he could cast it from
his mind.  But how can one serve people who are so foolish and so
ungrateful?"

Whilst the Seneschal of Villefranche had been detailing the evil
doings of his tenants, Alleyne had been unable to take his eyes
from the face of Lady Tiphaine.  She had lain back in her chair,
with drooping eyelids and bloodless face, so that he had feared
at first her journey had weighed heavily upon her, and that the
strength was ebbing out of her.  Of a sudden, however, there came
a change, for a dash of bright color flickered up on to either
cheek, and her lids were slowly raised again upon eyes which
sparkled with such lustre as Alleyne had never seen in human eyes
before, while their gaze was fixed intently, not on the company,
but on the dark tapestry which draped the wall.  So transformed
and so ethereal was her expression, that Alleyne, in his
loftiest dream of archangel or of seraph, had never pictured so
sweet, so womanly, and yet so wise a face.  Glancing at Du
Guesclin, Alleyne saw that he also was watching his wife closely,
and from the twitching of his features, and the beads upon his
brick-colored brow, it was easy to see that he was deeply
agitated by the change which he marked in her.

"How is it with you, lady?" he asked at last, in a tremulous
voice.

Her eyes remained fixed intently upon the wall, and there was a
long pause ere she answered him.  Her voice, too, which had been
so clear and ringing, was now low and muffled as that of one who
speaks from a distance.

"All is very well with me, Bertrand," said she.  "The blessed
hour of sight has come round to me again."

"I could see it come!  I could see it come!" he exclaimed,
passing his fingers through his hair with the same perplexed
expression as before.

"This is untoward, Sir Tristram," he said at last.  "And I scarce
know in what words to make it clear to you, and to your fair
wife, and to Sir Nigel Loring, and to these other stranger
knights.  My tongue is a blunt one, and fitter to shout word of
command than to clear up such a matter as this, of which I can
myself understand little.  This, however, I know, that my wife is
come of a very sainted race, whom God hath in His wisdom endowed
with wondrous powers, so that Tiphaine Raquenel was known
throughout Brittany ere ever I first saw her at Dinan.  Yet these
powers are ever used for good, and they are the gift of God and
not of the devil, which is the difference betwixt white magic and
black."

"Perchance it would be as well that we should send for Father
Stephen," said Sir Tristram.

"It would be best that he should come," cried the Hospitaller.

"And bring with him a flask of holy water," added the knight of
Bohemia.

"Not so, gentlemen," answered Sir Bertrand.  "It is not needful
that this priest should be called, and it is in my mind that in
asking for this ye cast some slight shadow or slur upon the good
name of my wife, as though it were still doubtful whether her
power came to her from above or below.  If ye have indeed such a
doubt I pray that you will say so, that we may discuss the matter
in a fitting way."

"For myself," said Sir Nigel, "I have heard such words fall from
the lips of this lady that I am of the opinion that there is no
woman, save only one, who can be in any way compared to her in
beauty and in goodness.  Should any gentleman think otherwise, I
should deem it great honor to run a small course with him, or
debate the matter in whatever way might be most pleasing to him."

"Nay, it would ill become me to cast a slur upon a lady who is
both my guest and the wife of my comrade-in-arms," said the
Seneschal of Villefranche.  "I have perceived also that on her
mantle there is marked a silver cross, which is surely sign
enough that there is nought of evil in these strange powers which
you say that she possesses."

This argument of the seneschal's appealed so powerfully to the
Bohemian and to the Hospitaller that they at once intimated that
their objections had been entirely overcome, while even the Lady
Rochefort, who had sat shivering and crossing herself, ceased to
cast glances at the door, and allowed her fears to turn to
curiosity.

"Among the gifts which have been vouchsafed to my wife," said Du
Guesclin, "there is the wondrous one of seeing into the future;
but it comes very seldom upon her, and goes as quickly, for none
can command it.  The blessed hour of sight, as she hath named it,
has come but twice since I have known her, and I can vouch for it
that all that she hath told me was true, for on the evening of
the Battle of Auray she said that the morrow would be an ill day
for me and for Charles of Blois.  Ere the sun had sunk again he
was dead, and I the prisoner of Sir John Chandos.  Yet it is not
every question that she can answer, but only those----"

"Bertrand, Bertrand!" cried the lady in the same mutterings far-away
voice, "the blessed hour passes.  Use it, Bertrand, while you may."

"I will, my sweet.  Tell me, then, what fortune comes upon me?"

"Danger, Bertrand--deadly, pressing danger--which creeps upon you
and you know it not."

The French soldier burst into a thunderous laugh, and his green
eyes twinkled with amusement.  "At what time during these twenty
years would not that have been a true word?" he cried.  "Danger
is in the air that I breathe.  But is this so very close,
Tiphaine?"

"Here--now--close upon you!" The words came out in broken,
strenuous speech, while the lady's fair face was writhed and
drawn like that of one who looks upon a horror which strikes, the
words from her lips.  Du Guesclin gazed round the tapestried
room, at the screens, the tables, the abace, the credence, the
buffet with its silver salver, and the half-circle of friendly,
wondering faces.  There was an utter stillness, save for the
sharp breathing of the Lady Tiphaine and for the gentle soughing
of the wind outside, which wafted to their ears the distant call
upon a swine-herd's horn.

"The danger may bide," said he, shrugging his broad shoulders.
"And now, Tiphaine, tell us what will come of this war in Spain."

"I can see little," she answered, straining her eyes and
puckering her brow, as one who would fain clear her sight.
"There are mountains, and dry plains, and flash of arms and
shouting of battle-cries.  Yet it is whispered to me that by
failure you will succeed."

"Ha!  Sir Nigel, how like you that?" quoth Bertrand, shaking his
head.  "It is like mead and vinegar, half sweet, half sour.  And
is there no question which you would ask my lady?"

"Certes there is.  I would fain know, fair lady, how all things
are at Twynham Castle, and above all how my sweet lady employs
herself."

"To answer this I would fain lay hand upon one whose thoughts
turn strongly to this castle which you have named.  Nay, my Lord
Loring, it is whispered to me that there is another here who hath
thought more deeply of it than you."

"Thought more of mine own home?" cried Sir Nigel.  "Lady, I fear
that in this matter at least you are mistaken."

"Not so, Sir Nigel.  Come hither, young man, young English squire
with the gray eyes!  Now give me your hand, and place it here
across my brow, that I may see that which you have seen.  What is
this that rises before me?  Mist, mist, rolling mist with a
square black tower above it.  See it shreds out, it thins, it
rises, and there lies a castle in green plain, with the sea
beneath it, and a great church within a bow-shot.  There are two
rivers which run through the meadows, and between them lie the
tents of the besiegers."

"The besiegers!" cried Alleyne, Ford, and Sir Nigel, all three in
a breath.

"Yes, truly, and they press hard upon the castle, for they are an
exceeding multitude and full of courage.  See how they storm and
rage against the gate, while some rear ladders, and others, line
after line, sweep the walls with their arrows.  They are many
leaders who shout and beckon, and one, a tall man with a golden
beard, who stands before the gate stamping his foot and hallooing
them on, as a pricker doth the hounds.  But those in the castle
fight bravely.  There is a woman, two women, who stand upon the
walls, and give heart to the men-at-arms.  They shower down
arrows, darts and great stones.  Ah! they have struck down the
tall leader, and the others give back.  The mist thickens and I
can see no more."

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, "I do not think that there can
be any such doings at Christchurch, and I am very easy of the
fortalice so long as my sweet wife hangs the key of the outer
bailey at the head of her bed.  Yet I will not deny that you have
pictured the castle as well as I could have done myself, and I am
full of wonderment at all that I have heard and seen."

"I would, Lady Tiphaine," cried the Lady Rochefort, "that you
would use your power to tell me what hath befallen my golden
bracelet which I wore when hawking upon the second Sunday of
Advent, and have never set eyes upon since."

"Nay, lady," said du Guesclin, "it does not befit so great and
wondrous a power to pry and search and play the varlet even to
the beautiful chatelaine of Villefranche.  Ask a worthy question,
and, with the blessing of God, you shall have a worthy answer."

"Then I would fain ask," cried one of the French squires, "as to
which may hope to conquer in these wars betwixt the English and
ourselves."

"Both will conquer and each will hold its own," answered the Lady
Tiphaine.

"Then we shall still hold Gascony and Guienne?" cried Sir Nigel.

The lady shook her head.  "French land, French blood, French
speech," she answered.  "They are French, and France shall have
them."

"But not Bordeaux?" cried Sir Nigel excitedly.

"Bordeaux also is for France."

"But Calais?"

"Calais too."

"Woe worth me then, and ill hail to these evil words!  If
Bordeaux and Calais be gone, then what is left for England?"

"It seems indeed that there are evil times coming upon your
country," said Du Guesclin.  "In our fondest hopes we never
thought to hold Bordeaux.  By Saint Ives! this news hath warmed
the heart within me.  Our dear country will then be very great in
the future, Tiphaine?"

"Great, and rich, and beautiful," she cried.  "Far down the
course of time I can see her still leading the nations, a wayward
queen among the peoples, great in war, but greater in peace,
quick in thought, deft in action, with her people's will for her
sole monarch, from the sands of Calais to the blue seas of the
south."

"Ha!" cried Du Guesclin, with his eyes flashing in triumph, "you
hear her, Sir Nigel?--and she never yet said word which was not
sooth."

The English knight shook his head moodily.  "What of my own poor
country?" said he.  "I fear, lady, that what you have said bodes
but small good for her."

The lady sat with parted lips, and her breath came quick and
fast.  "My God!" she cried, "what is this that is shown me?
Whence come they, these peoples, these lordly nations, these
mighty countries which rise up before me?  I look beyond, and
others rise, and yet others, far and farther to the shores of the
uttermost waters.  They crowd!  They swarm!  The world is given
to them, and it resounds with the clang of their hammers and the
ringing of their church bells.  They call them many names, and
they rule them this way or that but they are all English, for I
can hear the voices of the people.  On I go, and onwards over
seas where man hath never yet sailed, and I see a great land
under new stars and a stranger sky, and still the land is
England.  Where have her children not gone?  What have they not
done?  Her banner is planted on ice.  Her banner is scorched in
the sun.  She lies athwart the lands, and her shadow is over the
seas.  Bertrand, Bertrand! we are undone for the buds of her bud
are even as our choicest flower!" Her voice rose into a wild cry,
and throwing up her arms she sank back white and nerveless into
the deep oaken chair.

"It is over," said Du Guesclin moodily, as he raised her drooping
head with his strong brown hand.  "Wine for the lady, squire!
The blessed hour of sight hath passed."



CHAPTER XXX.

HOW THE BRUSHWOOD MEN CAME TO THE CHATEAU OF VILLEFRANCHE.


It was late ere Alleyne Edricson, having carried Sir Nigel the
goblet of spiced wine which it was his custom to drink after the
curling of his hair, was able at last to seek his chamber.  It
was a stone-flagged room upon the second floor, with a bed in a
recess for him, and two smaller pallets on the other side, on
which Aylward and Hordle John were already snoring.  Alleyne had
knelt down to his evening orisons, when there came a tap at his
door, and Ford entered with a small lamp in his hand.  His face
was deadly pale, and his hand shook until the shadows flickered
up and down the wall.

"What is it, Ford?" cried Alleyne, springing to his feet.

"I can scarce tell you," said he, sitting down on the side of the
couch, and resting his chin upon his hand.  "I know not what to
say or what to think."

"Has aught befallen you, then?"

"Yes, or I have been slave to my own fancy.  I tell you, lad,
that I am all undone, like a fretted bow-string.  Hark hither,
Alleyne! it cannot be that you have forgotten little Tita, the
daughter of the old glass-stainer at Bordeaux?"

"I remember her well."

"She and I, Alleyne, broke the lucky groat together ere we
parted, and she wears my ring upon her finger.  `Caro mio,' quoth
she when last we parted, `I shall be near thee in the wars, and
thy danger will be my danger.' Alleyne, as God is my help, as I
came up the stairs this night I saw her stand before me, her face
in tears, her hands out as though in warning--I saw it, Alleyne,
even as I see those two archers upon their couches.  Our very
finger-tips seemed to meet, ere she thinned away like a mist in
the sunshine."

"I would not give overmuch thought to it," answered Alleyne.  "Our
minds will play us strange pranks, and bethink you that these
words of the Lady Tiphaine Du Guesclin have wrought upon us and
shaken us."

Ford shook his head.  "I saw little Tita as clearly as though I
were back at the Rue des Apotres at Bordeaux," said he.

"But the hour is late, and I must go."

"Where do you sleep, then?"

"In the chamber above you.  May the saints be with us all!"  He
rose from the couch and left the chamber, while Alleyne could
hear his feet sounding upon the winding stair.  The young squire
walked across to the window and gazed out at the moonlit
landscape, his mind absorbed by the thought of the Lady Tiphaine,
and of the strange words that she had spoken as to what was going
forward at Castle Twynham.  Leaning his elbows upon the
stonework, he was deeply plunged in reverie, when in a moment his
thoughts were brought back to Villefranche and to the scene
before him.

The window at which he stood was in the second floor of that
portion of the castle which was nearest to the keep.  In front
lay the broad moat, with the moon lying upon its surface, now
clear and round, now drawn lengthwise as the breeze stirred the
waters.  Beyond, the plain sloped down to a thick wood, while
further to the left a second wood shut out the view.  Between the
two an open glade stretched, silvered in the moonshine, with the
river curving across the lower end of it.

As he gazed, he saw of a sudden a man steal forth from the wood
into the open clearing.  He walked with his head sunk, his
shoulders curved, and his knees bent, as one who strives hard to
remain unseen.  Ten paces from the fringe of trees he glanced
around, and waving his hand he crouched down, and was lost to
sight among a belt of furze-bushes.  After him there came a
second man, and after him a third, a fourth, and a fifth stealing
across the narrow open space and darting into the shelter of the
brushwood.  Nine-and-seventy Alleyne counted of these dark
figures flitting across the line of the moonlight.  Many bore
huge burdens upon their backs, though what it was that they
carried he could not tell at the distance.  Out of the one wood
and into the other they passed, all with the same crouching,
furtive gait, until the black bristle of trees had swallowed up
the last of them.

For a moment Alleyne stood in the window, still staring down at
the silent forest, uncertain as to what he should think of these
midnight walkers.  Then he bethought him that there was one
beside him who was fitter to judge on such a matter.  His fingers
had scarce rested upon Aylward's shoulder ere the bowman was on
his feet, with his hand outstretched to his sword.

"Qui va?" he cried.  "Hola! mon petit.  By my hilt! I thought
there had been a camisade.  What then, mon gar.?"

"Come hither by the window, Aylward," said Alleyne.  "I have seen
four-score men pass from yonder shaw across the glade, and nigh
every man of them had a great burden on his back.  What think you
of it?"

"I think nothing of it, mon camarade!  There are as many
masterless folk in this country as there are rabbits on Cowdray
Down, and there are many who show their faces by night but would
dance in a hempen collar if they stirred forth in the day.  On all
the French marches are droves of outcasts, reivers, spoilers, and
draw-latches, of whom I judge that these are some, though I
marvel that they should dare to come so nigh to the castle of the
seneschal.  All seems very quiet now," he added, peering out of
the window.

"They are in the further wood," said Alleyne.

"And there they may bide.  Back to rest, mon petit; for, by my
hilt! each day now will bring its own work.  Yet it would be well
to shoot the bolt in yonder door when one is in strange quarters.
So!" He threw himself down upon his pallet and in an instant was
fast asleep.

It might have been about three o'clock in the morning when
Alleyne was aroused from a troubled sleep by a low cry or
exclamation.  He listened, but, as he heard no more, he set it
down as the challenge of the guard upon the walls, and dropped
off to sleep once more.  A few minutes later he was disturbed by
a gentle creaking of his own door, as though some one were
pushing cautiously against it, and immediately afterwards he
heard the soft thud of cautious footsteps upon the stair which
led to the room above, followed by a confused noise and a muffled
groan.  Alleyne sat up on his couch with all his nerves in a
tingle, uncertain whether these sounds might come from a simple
cause--some sick archer and visiting leech perhaps--or whether
they might have a more sinister meaning.  But what danger could
threaten them here in this strong castle, under the care of
famous warriors, with high walls and a broad moat around them?
Who was there that could injure them?  He had well-nigh persuaded
himself that his fears were a foolish fancy, when his eyes fell
upon that which sent the blood cold to his heart and left him
gasping, with hands clutching at the counterpane.

Right in front of him was the broad window of the chamber, with
the moon shining brightly through it.  For an instant something
had obscured the light, and now a head was bobbing up and down
outside, the face looking in at him, and swinging slowly from one
side of the window to the other.  Even in that dim light there
could be no mistaking those features.  Drawn, distorted and
blood-stained, they were still those of the young fellow-squire
who had sat so recently upon his own couch.  With a cry of horror
Alleyne sprang from his bed and rushed to the casement, while the
two archers, aroused by the sound, seized their weapons and
stared about them in bewilderment.  One glance was enough to show
Edricson that his fears were but too true.  Foully murdered,
with a score of wounds upon him and a rope round his neck, his
poor friend had been cast from the upper window and swung slowly
in the night wind, his body rasping against the wall and his
disfigured face upon a level with the casement.

"My God!" cried Alleyne, shaking in every limb.  "What has come
upon us?  What devil's deed is this?"

"Here is flint and steel," said John stolidly.  "The lamp,
Aylward!  This moonshine softens a man's heart.  Now we may use
the eyes which God hath given us."

"By my hilt!" cried Aylward, as the yellow flame flickered up,
"it is indeed young master Ford, and I think that this seneschal
is a black villain, who dare not face us in the day but would
murther us in our sleep.  By the twang of string! if I do not
soak a goose's feather with his heart's blood, it will be no
fault of Samkin Aylward of the White Company."

"But, Aylward, think of the men whom I saw yesternight," said
Alleyne.  "It may not be the seneschal.  It may be that others
have come into the castle.  I must to Sir Nigel ere it be too
late.  Let me go, Aylward, for my place is by his side."

"One moment, mon gar.  Put that steel head-piece on the end of my
yew-stave.  So! I will put it first through the door; for it is
ill to come out when you can neither see nor guard yourself.
Now, camarades, out swords and stand ready!  Hola, by my hilt! it
is time that we were stirring!"

As he spoke, a sudden shouting broke forth in the castle, with
the scream of a woman and the rush of many feet.  Then came the
sharp clink of clashing steel, and a roar like that of an angry
lion--"Notre Dame Du Guesclin!  St. Ives!  St. Ives!" The bow-man
pulled back the bolt of the door, and thrust out the headpiece at
the end of the bow.  A clash, the clatter of the steel-cap upon
the ground, and, ere the man who struck could heave up for
another blow, the archer had passed his sword through his body.
"On, camarades, on!" he cried; and, breaking fiercely past two
men who threw themselves in his way, he sped down the broad
corridor in the direction of the shouting.

A sharp turning, and then a second one, brought them to the head
of a short stair, from which they looked straight down upon the
scene of the uproar.  A square oak-floored hall lay beneath them,
from which opened the doors of the principal guest-chambers.
This hall was as light as day, for torches burned in numerous
sconces upon the walls, throwing strange shadows from the tusked
or antlered heads which ornamented them.  At the very foot of the
stair, close to the open door of their chamber, lay the seneschal
and his wife: she with her head shorn from her shoulders, he
thrust through with a sharpened stake, which still protruded from
either side of his body.  Three servants of the castle lay dead
beside them, all torn and draggled, as though a pack of wolves
had been upon them.  In front of the central guest-chamber stood
Du Guesclin and Sir Nigel, half-clad and unarmored, with the mad
joy of battle gleaming in their eyes.  Their heads were thrown
back, their lips compressed, their blood-stained swords poised
over their right shoulders, and their left feet thrown out.
Three dead men lay huddled together in front of them: while a
fourth, with the blood squirting from a severed vessel, lay back
with updrawn knees, breathing in wheezy gasps.  Further back--all
panting together, like the wind in a tree--there stood a group of
fierce, wild creatures, bare-armed and bare-legged, gaunt,
unshaven, with deep-set murderous eyes and wild beast faces.
With their flashing teeth, their bristling hair, their mad
leapings and screamings, they seemed to Alleyne more like fiends
from the pit than men of flesh and blood.  Even as he looked,
they broke into a hoarse yell and dashed once more upon the two
knights, hurling themselves madly upon their sword-points;
clutching, scrambling, biting, tearing, careless of wounds if
they could but drag the two soldiers to earth.  Sir Nigel was
thrown down by the sheer weight of them, and Sir Bertrand with
his thunderous war-cry was swinging round his heavy sword to
clear a space for him to rise, when the whistle of two long
English arrows, and the rush of the squire and the two English
archers down the stairs, turned the tide of the combat.  The
assailants gave back, the knights rushed forward, and in a very
few moments the hall was cleared, and Hordle John had hurled the
last of the wild men down the steep steps which led from the end
of it.

"Do not follow them," cried Du Guesclin.  "We are lost if we
scatter.  For myself I care not a denier, though it is a poor
thing to meet one's end at the hands of such scum; but I have my
dear lady here, who must by no means be risked.  We have
breathing-space now, and I would ask you, Sir Nigel, what it is
that you would counsel?"

"By St. Paul!" answered Sir Nigel, "I can by no means understand
what hath befallen us, save that I have been woken up by your
battle-cry, and, rushing forth, found myself in the midst of this
small bickering.  Harrow and alas for the lady and the seneschal!
What dogs are they who have done this bloody deed?"

"They are the Jacks, the men of the brushwood.  They have the
castle, though I know not how it hath come to pass.  Look from
this window into the bailey."

"By heaven!" cried Sir Nigel, "it is as bright as day with the
torches.  The gates stand open, and there are three thousand of
them within the walls.  See how they rush and scream and wave!
What is it that they thrust out through the postern door?  My
God!  it is a man-at-arms, and they pluck him limb from limb like
hounds on a wolf.  Now another, and yet another.  They hold the
whole castle, for I see their faces at the windows.  See, there
are some with great bundles on their backs."

"It is dried wood from the forest.  They pile them against the
walls and set them in a blaze.  Who is this who tries to check
them?  By St. Ives! it is the good priest who spake for them in
the hall.  He kneels, he prays, he implores!  What! villains,
would ye raise hands against those who have befriended you?  Ah,
the butcher has struck him!  He is down!  They stamp him under
their feet!  They tear off his gown and wave it in the air!  See
now, how the flames lick up the walls!  Are there none left to
rally round us?  With a hundred men we might hold our own."

"Oh, for my Company!" cried Sir Nigel.  "But where is Ford,
Alleyne?"

"He is foully murdered, my fair lord."

"The saints receive him!  May he rest in peace!  But here come
some at last who may give us counsel, for amid these passages it
is ill to stir without a guide."

As he spoke, a French squire and the Bohemian knight came rushing
down the steps, the latter bleeding from a slash across his
forehead.

"All is lost!" he cried.  "The castle is taken and on fire, the
seneschal is slain, and there is nought left for us."

"On the contrary," quoth Sir Nigel, "there is much left to us,
for there is a very honorable contention before us, and a fair
lady for whom to give our lives.  There are many ways in which a
man might die, but none better than this."

"You can tell us, Godfrey," said Du Guesclin to the French
squire: "how came these men into the castle, and what succors can
we count upon?  By St. Ives!  if we come not quickly to some
counsel we shall be burned like young rooks in a nest."

The squire, a dark, slender stripling, spoke firmly and quickly,
as one who was trained to swift action.  "There is a passage
under the earth into the castle," said he, "and through it some
of the Jacks made their way, casting open the gates for the
others.  They have had help from within the walls, and the
men-at-arms were heavy with wine: they must have been slain in
their beds, for these devils crept from room to room with soft
step and ready knife.  Sir Amory the Hospitaller was struck down
with an axe as he rushed before us from his sleeping-chamber.
Save only ourselves, I do not think that there are any left
alive."

"What, then, would you counsel?"

"That we make for the keep.  It is unused, save in time of war,
and the key hangs from my poor lord and master's belt."

"There are two keys there."

"It is the larger.  Once there, we might hold the narrow stair;
and at least, as the walls are of a greater thickness, it would
be longer ere they could burn them.  Could we but carry the lady
across the bailey, all might be well with us."

"Nay; the lady hath seen something of the work of war," said
Tiphaine coming forth, as white, as grave, and as unmoved as
ever.  "I would not be a hamper to you, my dear spouse and
gallant friend.  Rest assured of this, that if all else fail I
have always a safeguard here"--drawing a small silver-hilted
poniard from her bosom--"which sets me beyond the fear of these
vile and blood-stained wretches."

"Tiphaine," cried Du Guesclin, "I have always loved you; and now,
by Our Lady of Rennes!  I love you more than ever.  Did I not know
that your hand will be as ready as your words I would myself turn
my last blow upon you, ere you should fall into their hands.
Lead on, Godfrey!  A new golden pyx will shine in the minster of
Dinan if we come safely through with it."

The attention of the insurgents had been drawn away from murder
to plunder, and all over the castle might be heard their cries
and whoops of delight as they dragged forth the rich tapestries,
the silver flagons, and the carved furniture.  Down in the
courtyard half-clad wretches, their bare limbs all mottled with
blood-stains, strutted about with plumed helmets upon their
heads, or with the Lady Rochefort's silken gowns girt round their
loins and trailing on the ground behind them.  Casks of choice
wine had been rolled out from the cellars, and starving peasants
squatted, goblet in hand, draining off vintages which De
Rochefort had set aside for noble and royal guests.  Others, with
slabs of bacon and joints of dried meat upon the ends of their
pikes, held them up to the blaze or tore at them ravenously with
their teeth.  Yet all order had not been lost amongst them, for
some hundreds of the better armed stood together in a silent
group, leaning upon their rude weapons and looking up at the
fire, which had spread so rapidly as to involve one whole side of
the castle.  Already Alleyne could hear the crackling and roaring
of the flames, while the air was heavy with heat and full of the
pungent whiff of burning wood.



CHAPTER XXXI.

HOW FIVE MEN HELD THE KEEP OF VILLEFRANCHE


Under the guidance of the French squire the party passed down two
narrow corridors.  The first was empty, but at the head of the
second stood a peasant sentry, who started off at the sight of
them, yelling loudly to his comrades.  "Stop him, or we are
undone!" cried Du Guesclin, and had started to run, when
Aylward's great war-bow twanged like a harp-string, and the man
fell forward upon his face, with twitching limbs and clutching
fingers.  Within five paces of where he lay a narrow and
little-used door led out into the bailey.  From beyond it came
such a Babel of hooting and screaming, horrible oaths and yet
more horrible laughter, that the stoutest heart might have shrunk
from casting down the frail barrier which faced them.

"Make straight for the keep!" said Du Guesclin, in a sharp, stern
whisper.  "The two archers in front, the lady in the centre, a
squire on either side, while we three knights shall bide behind
and beat back those who press upon us.  So!  Now open the door,
and God have us in his holy keeping!"

For a few moments it seemed that their object would be attained
without danger, so swift and so silent had been their movements.
They were half-way across the bailey ere the frantic, howling
peasants made a movement to stop them.  The few who threw
themselves in their way were overpowered or brushed aside, while
the pursuers were beaten back by the ready weapons of the three
cavaliers.  Unscathed they fought their way to the door of the
keep, and faced round upon the swarming mob, while the squire
thrust the great key into the lock.

"My God!" he cried, "it is the wrong key."

"The wrong key!"

"Dolt, fool that I am!  This is the key of the castle gate; the
other opens the keep.  I must back for it!"  He turned, with some
wild intention of retracing his steps, but at the instant a great
jagged rock, hurled by a brawny peasant, struck him full upon the
ear, and he dropped senseless to the ground.

"This is key enough for me!" quoth Hordle John, picking up the
huge stone, and hurling it against the door with all the strength
of his enormous body.  The lock shivered, the wood smashed, the
stone flew into five pieces, but the iron clamps still held the
door in its position.  Bending down, he thrust his great fingers
under it, and with a heave raised the whole mass of wood and iron
from its hinges.  For a moment it tottered and swayed, and then,
falling outward, buried him in its ruin, while his comrades
rushed into the dark archway which led to safety.

"Up the steps, Tiphaine!" cried Du Guesclin.  "Now round,
friends, and beat them back!"  The mob of peasants had surged in
upon their heels, but the two trustiest blades in Europe gleamed
upon that narrow stair, and four of their number dropped upon the
threshold.  The others gave back, and gathered in a half circle
round the open door, gnashing their teeth and shaking their
clenched hands at the defenders.  The body of the French squire
had been dragged out by them and hacked to pieces.  Three or four
others had pulled John from under the door, when he suddenly
bounded to his feet, and clutching one in either hand dashed
them together with such force that they fell senseless across
each other upon the ground.  With a kick and a blow he freed
himself from two others who clung to him, and in a moment he was
within the portal with his comrades.

Yet their position was a desperate one.  The peasants from far
and near had been assembled for this deed of vengeance, and not
less than six thousand were within or around the walls of the
Chateau of Villefranche.  Ill armed and half starved, they were
still desperate men, to whom danger had lost all fears: for what
was death that they should shun it to cling to such a life as
theirs?  The castle was theirs, and the roaring flames were
spurting through the windows and flickering high above the
turrets on two sides of the quadrangle.  From either side they
were sweeping down from room to room and from bastion to bastion
in the direction of the keep.  Faced by an army, and girt in by
fire, were six men and one woman; but some of them were men so
trained to danger and so wise in war that even now the combat was
less unequal than it seemed.  Courage and resource were penned in
by desperation and numbers, while the great yellow sheets of
flame threw their lurid glare over the scene of death.

"There is but space for two upon a step to give free play to our
sword-arms," said Du Guesclin.  "Do you stand with me, Nigel,
upon the lowest.  France and England will fight together this
night.  Sir Otto, I pray you to stand behind us with this young
squire.  The archers may go higher yet and shoot over our heads.
I would that we had our harness, Nigel."

"Often have I heard my dear Sir John Chandos say that a knight
should never, even when a guest, be parted from it.  Yet it will
be more honor to us if we come well out of it.  We have a vantage,
since we see them against the light and they can scarce see us.
It seems to me that they muster for an onslaught."

"If we can but keep them in play," said the Bohemian, "it is
likely that these flames may bring us succor if there be any true
men in the country."

"Bethink you, my fair lord," said Alleyne to Sir Nigel, "that we
have never injured these men, nor have we cause of quarrel
against them.  Would it not be well, if but for the lady's sake,
to speak them fair and see if we may not come to honorable terms
with them?"

"Not so, by St. Paul!" cried Sir Nigel.  "It does not accord with
mine honor, nor shall it ever be said that I, a knight of
England, was ready to hold parley with men who have slain a fair
lady and a holy priest."

"As well hold parley with a pack of ravening wolves," said the
French captain.  "Ha!  Notre Dame Du Guesclin!  Saint Ives!
Saint Ives!"

As he thundered forth his war-cry, the Jacks who had been
gathering before the black arch of the gateway rushed in madly in
a desperate effort to carry the staircase.  Their leaders were a
small man, dark in the face, with his beard done up in two
plaits, and another larger man, very bowed in the shoulders, with
a huge club studded with sharp nails in his hand.  The first had
not taken three steps ere an arrow from Aylward's bow struck him
full in the chest, and he fell coughing and spluttering across
the threshold.  The other rushed onwards, and breaking between Du
Guesclin and Sir Nigel he dashed out the brains of the Bohemian
with a single blow of his clumsy weapon.  With three swords
through him he still struggled on, and had almost won his way
through them ere he fell dead upon the stair.  Close at his heels
came a hundred furious peasants, who flung themselves again and
again against the five swords which confronted them.  It was cut
and parry and stab as quick as eye could see or hand act.  The
door was piled with bodies, and the stone floor was slippery with
blood.  The deep shout of Du Guesclin, the hard, hissing breath
of the pressing multitude, the clatter of steel, the thud of
falling bodies, and the screams of the stricken, made up such a
medley as came often in after years to break upon Alleyne's
sleep.  Slowly and sullenly at last the throng drew off, with
many a fierce backward glance, while eleven of their number lay
huddled in front of the stair which they had failed to win.

"The dogs have had enough," said Du Guesclin.

"By Saint Paul! there appear to be some very worthy and valiant
persons among them," observed Sir Nigel.  "They are men from
whom, had they been of better birth, much honor and advancement
might be gained.  Even as it is, it is a great pleasure to have
seen them.  But what is this that they are bringing forward?"

"It is as I feared," growled Du Guesclin.  "They will burn us
out, since they cannot win their way past us.  Shoot straight and
hard, archers; for, by St. Ives! our good swords are of little
use to us."

As he spoke, a dozen men rushed forward, each screening himself
behind a huge fardel of brushwood.  Hurling their burdens in one
vast heap within the portal, they threw burning torches upon the
top of it.  The wood had been soaked in oil, for in an instant it
was ablaze, and a long, hissing, yellow flame licked over the
heads of the defenders, and drove them further up to the first
floor of the keep.  They had scarce reached it, however, ere they
found that the wooden joists and planks of the flooring were
already on fire.  Dry and worm-eaten, a spark upon them became a
smoulder, and a smoulder a blaze.  A choking smoke filled the
air, and the five could scarce grope their way to the staircase
which led up to the very summit of the square tower.

Strange was the scene which met their eyes from this eminence.
Beneath them on every side stretched the long sweep of peaceful
country, rolling plain, and tangled wood, all softened and
mellowed in the silver moonshine.  No light, nor movement, nor
any sign of human aid could be seen, but far away the hoarse
clangor of a heavy bell rose and fell upon the wintry air.
Beneath and around them blazed the huge fire, roaring and
crackling on every side of the bailey, and even as they looked
the two corner turrets fell in with a deafening crash, and the
whole castle was but a shapeless mass, spouting flames and smoke
from every window and embrasure.  The great black tower upon
which they stood rose like a last island of refuge amid this sea
of fire but the ominous crackling and roaring below showed that
it would not be long ere it was engulfed also in the common ruin.
At their very feet was the square courtyard, crowded with the
howling and dancing peasants, their fierce faces upturned, their
clenched hands waving, all drunk with bloodshed and with
vengeance.  A yell of execration and a scream of hideous laughter
burst from the vast throng, as they saw the faces of the last
survivors of their enemies peering down at them from the height
of the keep.  They still piled the brushwood round the base of
the tower, and gambolled hand in hand around the blaze, screaming
out the doggerel lines which had long been the watchword of the
Jacquerie:

        Cessez, cessez, gens d'armes et pietons,
        De piller et manger le bonhomme
        Qui de longtemps Jacques Bonhomme
          Se nomme.

Their thin, shrill voices rose high above the roar of the flames
and the crash of the masonry, like the yelping of a pack of
wolves who see their quarry before them and know that they have
well-nigh run him down.

"By my hilt!" said Aylward to John, "it is in my mind that we
shall not see Spain this journey.  It is a great joy to me that I
have placed my feather-bed and other things of price with that
worthy woman at Lyndhurst, who will now have the use of them.  I
have thirteen arrows yet, and if one of them fly unfleshed, then,
by the twang of string!  I shall deserve my doom.  First at him
who flaunts with my lady's silken frock.  Clap in the clout, by
God! though a hand's-breadth lower than I had meant.  Now for the
rogue with the head upon his pike.  Ha! to the inch, John.  When
my eye is true, I am better at rovers than at long-butts or
hoyles.  A good shoot for you also, John!  The villain hath
fallen forward into the fire.  But I pray you, John, to loose
gently, and not to pluck with the drawing-hand, for it is a trick
that hath marred many a fine bowman."

Whilst the two archers were keeping up a brisk fire upon the mob
beneath them, Du Guesclin and his lady were consulting with Sir
Nigel upon their desperate situation.

"'Tis a strange end for one who has seen so many stricken
fields," said the French chieftain.  "For me one death is as
another, but it is the thought of my sweet lady which goes to my
heart."

"Nay, Bertrand, I fear it as little as you," said she.  "Had I my
dearest wish, it would be that we should go together."

"Well answered, fair lady!" cried Sir Nigel.  "And very sure I am
that my own sweet wife would have said the same.  If the end be
now come, I have had great good fortune in having lived in times
when so much glory was to be won, and in knowing so many valiant
gentlemen and knights.  But why do you pluck my sleeve, Alleyne?"

"If it please you, my fair lord, there are in this corner two
great tubes of iron, with many heavy balls, which may perchance
be those bombards and shot of which I have heard."

"By Saint Ives! it is true," cried Sir Bertrand, striding across
to the recess where the ungainly, funnel-shaped, thick-ribbed
engines were standing.  "Bombards they are, and of good size.  We
may shoot down upon them."

"Shoot with them, quotha?" cried Aylward in high disdain, for
pressing danger is the great leveller of classes.  "How is a man
to take aim with these fool's toys, and how can he hope to do
scath with them?"

"I will show you," answered Sir Nigel; "for here is the great box
of powder, and if you will raise it for me, John, I will show you
how it may be used.  Come hither, where the folk are thickest
round the fire.  Now, Aylward, crane thy neck and see what would
have been deemed an old wife's tale when we first turned our
faces to the wars.  Throw back the lid, John, and drop the box
into the fire!"

A deafening roar, a fluff of bluish light, and the great square
tower rocked and trembled from its very foundations, swaying this
way and that like a reed in the wind.  Amazed and dizzy, the
defenders, clutching at the cracking parapets for support, saw
great stones, burning beams of wood, and mangled bodies hurtling
past them through the air.  When they staggered to their feet
once more, the whole keep had settled down upon one side, so that
they could scarce keep their footing upon the sloping platform.
Gazing over the edge, they looked down upon the horrible
destruction which had been caused by the explosion.  For forty
yards round the portal the ground was black with writhing,
screaming figures, who struggled up and hurled themselves down
again, tossing this way and that, sightless, scorched, with fire
bursting from their tattered clothing.  Beyond this circle of
death their comrades, bewildered and amazed, cowered away from
this black tower and from these invincible men, who were most to
be dreaded when hope was furthest from their hearts.

"A sally, Du Guesclin, a sally!" cried Sir Nigel.  "By Saint
Paul! they are in two minds, and a bold rush may turn them." He
drew his sword as he spoke and darted down the winding stairs,
closely followed by his four comrades.  Ere he was at the first
floor, however, he threw up his arms and stopped.  "Mon Dieu!" he
said, "we are lost men!"

"What then?" cried those behind him.

"The wail hath fallen in, the stair is blocked, and the fire
still rages below.  By Saint Paul! friends, we have fought a very
honorable fight, and may say in all humbleness that we have done
our devoir, but I think that we may now go back to the Lady
Tiphaine and say our orisons, for we have played our parts in
this world, and it is time that we made ready for another."

The narrow pass was blocked by huge stones littered in wild
confusion over each other, with the blue choking smoke reeking up
through the crevices.  The explosion had blown in the wall and
cut off the only path by which they could descend.  Pent in, a
hundred feet from earth, with a furnace raging under them and a
ravening multitude all round who thirsted for their blood, it
seemed indeed as though no men had ever come through such peril
with their lives.  Slowly they made their way back to the summit,
but as they came out upon it the Lady Tiphaine darted forward and
caught her husband by the wrist.

"Bertrand," said she, "hush and listen!  I have heard the voices
of men all singing together in a strange tongue."

Breathless they stood and silent, but no sound came up to them,
save the roar of the flames and the clamor of their enemies.

"It cannot be, lady," said Du Guesclin.  "This night hath over
wrought you, and your senses play you false.  What men ere there
in this country who would sing in a strange tongue?"

"Hola!" yelled Aylward, leaping suddenly into the air with waving
hands and joyous face.  "I thought I heard it ere we went down,
and now I hear it again.  We are saved, comrades!  By these ten
finger-bones, we are saved!  It is the marching song of the White
Company.  Hush!"

With upraised forefinger and slanting head, he stood listening.
Suddenly there came swelling up a deep-voiced, rollicking chorus
from somewhere out of the darkness.  Never did choice or dainty
ditty of Provence or Languedoc sound more sweetly in the ears
than did the rough-tongued Saxon to the six who strained their
ears from the blazing keep:

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

"Ha, by my hilt!" shouted Aylward, "it is the dear old bow song
of the Company.  Here come two hundred as tight lads as ever
twirled a shaft over their thumbnails.  Hark to the dogs, how
lustily they sing!"

Nearer and clearer, swelling up out of the night, came the gay
marching lilt:

        What of the bow?
           The bow was made in England.
        Of true wood, of yew wood,
           The wood of English bows;
        For men who are free
        Love the old yew-tree
           And the land where the yew tree grows.

        What of the men?
           The men were bred in England,
        The bowmen, the yeomen,
           The lads of the dale and fell,
        Here's to you and to you,
        To the hearts that are true,
           And the land where the true hearts dwell.

"They sing very joyfully," said Du Guesclin, "as though they were
going to a festival."

"It is their wont when there is work to be done."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel, "it is in my mind that they
come too late, for I cannot see how we are to come down from this
tower."

"There they come, the hearts of gold!" cried Aylward.  "See, they
move out from the shadow.  Now they cross the meadow.  They are on
the further side of the moat.  Hola camarades, hola!  Johnston,
Eccles, Cooke, Harward, Bligh!  Would ye see a fair lady and two
gallant knights done foully to death?"

"Who is there?" shouted a deep voice from below.  "Who is this
who speaks with an English tongue?"

"It is I, old lad.  It is Sam Aylward of the Company; and here is
your captain, Sir Nigel Loring, and four others, all laid out to
be grilled like an Easterling's herrings."

"Curse me if I did not think that it was the style of speech of
old Samkin Aylward," said the voice, amid a buzz from the ranks.
"Wherever there are knocks going there is Sammy in the heart of
it.  But who are these ill-faced rogues who block the path?  To
your kennels, canaille!  What! you dare look us in the eyes?  Out
swords, lads, and give them the flat of them!  Waste not your
shafts upon such runagate knaves."

There was little fight left in the peasants, however, still dazed
by the explosion, amazed at their own losses and disheartened by
the arrival of the disciplined archers.  In a very few minutes
they were in full flight for their brushwood homes, leaving the
morning sun to rise upon a blackened and blood-stained ruin,
where it had left the night before the magnificent castle of the
Seneschal of Auvergne.  Already the white lines in the east were
deepening into pink as the archers gathered round the keep and
took counsel how to rescue the survivors.

"Had we a rope," said Alleyne, "there is one side which is not
yet on fire, down which we might slip."

"But how to get a rope?"

"It is an old trick," quoth Aylward.  "Hola! Johnston, cast me up
a rope, even as you did at Maupertuis in the war time."

The grizzled archer thus addressed took several lengths of rope
from his comrades, and knotting them firmly together, he
stretched them out in the long shadow which the rising sun threw
from the frowning keep.  Then he fixed the yew-stave of his bow
upon end and measured the long, thin, black line which it threw
upon the turf.

"A six-foot stave throws a twelve-foot shadow," he muttered.  "The
keep throws a shadow of sixty paces.  Thirty paces of rope will
be enow and to spare.  Another strand, Watkin!  Now pull at the
end that all may be safe.  So!  It is ready for them.'

"But how are they to reach it?" asked the young archer beside
him.

"Watch and see, young fool's-head," growled the old bowman.  He
took a long string from his pouch and fastened one end to an
arrow.

"All ready, Samkin?"

"Ready, camarade."

"Close to your hand then."  With an easy pull he sent the shaft
flickering gently up, falling upon the stonework within a foot of
where Aylward was standing.  The other end was secured to the
rope, so that in a minute a good strong cord was dangling from
the only sound side of the blazing and shattered tower.  The Lady
Tiphaine was lowered with a noose drawn fast under the arms, and
the other five slid swiftly down, amid the cheers and joyous
outcry of their rescuers.



CHAPTER XXXII.

HOW THE COMPANY TOOK COUNSEL ROUND THE FALLEN TREE.


"Where is Sir Claude Latour?" asked Sir Nigel, as his feet
touched ground.

"He is in camp, near Montpezat, two hours' march from here, my
fair lord," said Johnston, the grizzled bowman who commanded the
archers.

"Then we shall march thither, for I would fain have you all back
at Dax in time to be in the prince's vanguard."

"My lord," cried Alleyne, joyfully, "here are our chargers in the
field, and I see your harness amid the plunder which these rogues
have left behind them."

"By Saint Ives! you speak sooth, young squire," said Du Guesclin.
"There is my horse and my lady's jennet.  The knaves led them
from the stables, but fled without them.  Now, Nigel, it is great
joy to me to have seen one of whom I have often heard.  Yet we
must leave you now, for I must be with the King of Spain ere your
army crosses the mountains."

"I had thought that you were in Spain with the valiant Henry of
Trastamare."

"I have been there, but I came to France to raise succor for him.
I shall ride back, Nigel, with four thousand of the best lances
of France at my back, so that your prince may find he hath a task
which is worthy of him.  God be with you, friend, and may we meet
again in better times!"

"I do not think," said Sir Nigel, as he stood by Alleyne's side
looking after the French knight and his lady, "that in all
Christendom you will meet with a more stout-hearted man or a
fairer and sweeter dame.  But your face is pale and sad, Alleyne!
Have you perchance met with some hurt during the ruffle?"

"Nay, my fair lord, I was but thinking of my friend Ford, and how
he sat upon my couch no later than yesternight."

Sir Nigel shook his head sadly.  "Two brave squires have I lost,"
said he.  "I know not why the young shoots should be plucked, and
an old weed left standing, yet certes there must be come good
reason, since God hath so planned it.  Did you not note, Alleyne,
that the Lady Tiphaine did give us warning last night that danger
was coming upon us?"

"She did, my lord."

"By Saint Paul! my mind misgives me as to what she saw at Twynham
Castle.  And yet I cannot think that any Scottish or French
rovers could land in such force as to beleaguer the fortalice.
Call the Company together, Aylward; and let us on, for it will be
shame to us if we are not at Dax upon the trysting day."

The archers had spread themselves over the ruins, but a blast
upon a bugle brought them all back to muster, with such booty as
they could bear with them stuffed into their pouches or slung
over their shoulders.  As they formed into ranks, each man
dropping silently into his place, Sir Nigel ran a questioning eye
over them, and a smile of pleasure played over his face.  Tall
and sinewy, and brown, clear-eyed, hard-featured, with the stern
and prompt bearing of experienced soldiers, it would be hard
indeed for a leader to seek for a choicer following.  Here and
there in the ranks were old soldiers of the French wars, grizzled
and lean, with fierce, puckered features and shaggy, bristling
brows.  The most, however, were young and dandy archers, with
fresh English faces, their beards combed out, their hair curling
from under their close steel hufkens, with gold or jewelled
earrings gleaming in their ears, while their gold-spangled
baldrics, their silken belts, and the chains which many of them
wore round their thick brown necks, all spoke of the brave times
which they had had as free companions.  Each had a yew or hazel
stave slung over his shoulder, plain and serviceable with the
older men, but gaudily painted and carved at either end with the
others.  Steel caps, mail brigandines, white surcoats with the
red lion of St. George, and sword or battle-axe swinging from
their belts, completed this equipment, while in some cases the
murderous maule or five-foot mallet was hung across the
bowstave, being fastened to their leathern shoulder-belt by a
hook in the centre of the handle.  Sir Nigel's heart beat high as
he looked upon their free bearing and fearless faces.

For two hours they marched through forest and marshland, along
the left bank of the river Aveyron; Sir Nigel riding behind his
Company, with Alleyne at his right hand, and Johnston, the old
master bowman, walking by his left stirrup.  Ere they had reached
their journey's end the knight had learned all that he would know
of his men, their doings and their intentions.  Once, as they
marched, they saw upon the further bank of the river a body of
French men-at-arms, riding very swiftly in the direction of
Villefranche.

"It is the Seneschal of Toulouse, with his following," said
Johnston, shading his eyes with his hand.  "Had he been on this
side of the water he might have attempted something upon us."

"I think that it would be well that we should cross," said Sir
Nigel.  "It were pity to balk this worthy seneschal, should he
desire to try some small feat of arms."

"Nay, there is no ford nearer than Tourville," answered the old
archer.  "He is on his way to Villefranche, and short will be the
shrift of any Jacks who come into his hands, for he is a man of
short speech.  It was he and the Seneschal of Beaucaire who hung
Peter Wilkins, of the Company, last Lammastide; for which, by the
black rood of Waltham! they shall hang themselves, if ever they
come into our power.  But here are our comrades, Sir Nigel, and
here is our camp."

As he spoke, the forest pathway along which they marched opened
out into a green glade, which sloped down towards the river.
High, leafless trees girt it in on three sides, with a thick
undergrowth of holly between their trunks.  At the farther end of
this forest clearing there stood forty or fifty huts, built very
neatly from wood and clay, with the blue smoke curling out from
the roofs.  A dozen tethered horses and mules grazed around the
encampment, while a number of archers lounged about: some
shooting at marks, while others built up great wooden fires in
the open, and hung their cooking kettles above them.  At the
sight of their returning comrades there was a shout of welcome,
and a horseman, who had been exercising his charger behind the
camp, came cantering down to them.  He was a dapper, brisk man,
very richly clad, with a round, clean-shaven face, and very
bright black eyes, which danced and sparkled with excitement.

"Sir Nigel!" he cried.  "Sir Nigel Loring, at last!  By my soul
we have awaited you this month past.  Right welcome, Sir Nigel!
You have had my letter?"

"It was that which brought me here," said Sir Nigel.  "But
indeed, Sir Claude Latour, it is a great wonder to me that you
did not yourself lead these bowmen, for surely they could have
found no better leader?"

"None, none, by the Virgin of L'Esparre!" he cried, speaking in
the strange, thick Gascon speech which turns every _v_ into a
_b_.  "But you know what these islanders of yours are, Sir Nigel.
They will not be led by any save their own blood and race.  There
is no persuading them.  Not even I, Claude Latour Seigneur of
Montchateau, master of the high justice, the middle and the low,
could gain their favor.  They must needs hold a council and put
their two hundred thick heads together, and then there comes this
fellow Aylward and another, as their spokesmen, to say that they
will disband unless an Englishman of good name be set over them.
There are many of them, as I understand, who come from some great
forest which lies in Hampi, or Hampti--I cannot lay my tongue to
the name.  Your dwelling is in those parts, and so their thoughts
turned to you as their leader.  But we had hoped that you would
bring a hundred men with you."

"They are already at Dax, where we shall join them," said Sir
Nigel.  "But let the men break their fast, and we shall then take
counsel what to do."

"Come into my hut," said Sir Claude.  "It is but poor fare that I
can lay before you--milk, cheese, wine, and bacon--yet your
squire and yourself will doubtless excuse it.  This is my house
where the pennon flies before the door--a small residence to
contain the Lord of Montchateau."

Sir Nigel sat silent and distrait at his meal, while Alleyne
hearkened to the clattering tongue of the Gascon, and to his talk
of the glories of his own estate, his successes in love, and his
triumphs in war.

"And now that you are here, Sir Nigel," he said at last, "I have
many fine ventures all ready for us.  I have heard that Montpezat
is of no great strength, and that there are two hundred thousand
crowns in the castle.  At Castelnau also there is a cobbler who
is in my pay, and who will throw us a rope any dark night from
his house by the town wall.  I promise you that you shall thrust
your arms elbow-deep among good silver pieces ere the nights are
moonless again; for on every hand of us are fair women, rich
wine, and good plunder, as much as heart could wish."

"I have other plans," answered Sir Nigel curtly; "for I have come
hither to lead these bowmen to the help of the prince, our
master, who may have sore need of them ere he set Pedro upon the
throne of Spain.  It is my purpose to start this very day for Dax
upon the Adour, where he hath now pitched his camp."

The face of the Gascon darkened, and his eyes flashed with
resentment, "For me," he said, "I care little for this war, and I
find the life which I lead a very joyous and pleasant one.  I
will not go to Dax."

"Nay, think again, Sir Claude," said Sir Nigel gently; "for you
have ever had the name of a true and loyal knight.  Surely you
will not hold back now when your master hath need of you."

"I will not go to Dax," the other shouted.

"But your devoir--your oath of fealty?"

"I say that I will not go."

"Then, Sir Claude, I must lead the Company without you."

"If they will follow," cried the Gascon with a sneer.  "These are
not hired slaves, but free companions, who will do nothing save
by their own good wills.  In very sooth, my Lord Loring, they are
ill men to trifle with, and it were easier to pluck a bone from a
hungry bear than to lead a bowman out of a land of plenty and of
pleasure."

"Then I pray you to gather them together," said Sir Nigel, "and I
will tell them what is in my mind; for if I am their leader they
must to Dax, and if I am not then I know not what I am doing in
Auvergne.  Have my horse ready, Alleyne; for, by St. Paul! come
what may, I must be upon the homeward road ere mid-day."

A blast upon the bugle summoned the bowmen to counsel, and they
gathered in little knots and groups around a great fallen tree
which lay athwart the glade.  Sir Nigel sprang lightly upon the
trunk, and stood with blinking eye and firm lips looking down at
the ring of upturned warlike faces.

"They tell me, bowmen," said he, "that ye have grown so fond of
ease and plunder and high living that ye are not to be moved from
this pleasant country.  But, by Saint Paul!  I will believe no
such thing of you, for I can readily see that you are all very
valiant men, who would scorn to live here in peace when your
prince hath so great a venture before him.  Ye have chosen me as
a leader, and a leader I will be if ye come with me to Spain; and
I vow to you that my pennon of the five roses shall, if God give
me strength and life, be ever where there is most honor to be
gained.  But if it be your wish to loll and loiter in these
glades, bartering glory and renown for vile gold and ill-gotten
riches, then ye must find another leader; for I have lived in
honor, and in honor I trust that I shall die.  If there be forest
men or Hampshire men amongst ye, I call upon them to say whether
they will follow the banner of Loring."

"Here's a Romsey man for you!" cried a young bowman with a sprig
of evergreen set in his helmet.

"And a lad from Alresford!" shouted another.

"And from Milton!"

"And from Burley!"

"And from Lymington!"

"And a little one from Brockenhurst!" shouted a huge-limbed
fellow who sprawled beneath a tree.

"By my hilt! lads," cried Aylward, jumping upon the fallen trunk,
"I think that we could not look the girls in the eyes if we let
the prince cross the mountains and did not pull string to clear a
path for him.  It is very well in time of peace to lead such a
life as we have had together, but now the war-banner is in the
wind once more, and, by these ten finger-bones! if he go alone,
old Samkin Aylward will walk beside it."

These words from a man as popular as Aylward decided many of the
waverers, and a shout of approval burst from his audience.

"Far be it from me," said Sir Claude Latour suavely, "to persuade
you against this worthy archer, or against Sir Nigel Loring; yet
we have been together in many ventures, and perchance it may not
be amiss if I say to you what I think upon the matter."

"Peace for the little Gascon!" cried the archers.  "Let every man
have his word.  Shoot straight for the mark, lad, and fair play
for all."

"Bethink you, then," said Sir Claude, "that you go under a hard
rule, with neither freedom nor pleasure--and for what? For
sixpence a day, at the most; while now you may walk across the
country and stretch out either hand to gather in whatever you
have a mind for.  What do we not hear of our comrades who have
gone with Sir John Hawkwood to Italy?  In one night they have
held to ransom six hundred of the richest noblemen of Mantua.
They camp before a great city, and the base burghers come forth
with the keys, and then they make great spoil; or, if it please
them better, they take so many horse-loads of silver as a
composition; and so they journey on from state to state, rich and
free and feared by all.  Now, is not that the proper life for a
soldier?"

"The proper life for a robber!" roared Hordle John, in his
thundering voice.

"And yet there is much in what the Gascon says," said a swarthy
fellow in a weather-stained doublet; "and I for one would rather
prosper in Italy than starve in Spain."

"You were always a cur and a traitor, Mark Shaw," cried Aylward.
"By my hilt! if you will stand forth and draw your sword I will
warrant you that you will see neither one nor the other."

"Nay, Aylward," said Sir Nigel, "we cannot mend the matter by
broiling.  Sir Claude, I think that what you have said does you
little honor, and if my words aggrieve you I am ever ready to go
deeper into the matter with you.  But you shall have such men as
will follow you, and you may go where you will, so that you come
not with us.  Let all who love their prince and country stand
fast, while those who think more of a well-lined purse step forth
upon the farther side."

Thirteen bowmen, with hung heads and sheepish faces, stepped
forward with Mark Shaw and ranged themselves behind Sir Claude.
Amid the hootings and hissings of their comrades, they marched
off together to the Gascon's hut, while the main body broke up
their meeting and set cheerily to work packing their possessions,
furbishing their weapons, and preparing for the march which lay
before them.  Over the Tarn and the Garonne, through the vast
quagmires of Armagnac, past the swift-flowing Losse, and so down
the long valley of the Adour, there was many a long league to be
crossed ere they could join themselves to that dark war-cloud
which was drifting slowly southwards to the line of the snowy
peaks, beyond which the banner of England had never yet been
seen.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

HOW THE ARMY MADE THE PASSAGE OF RONCESVALLES.


The whole vast plain of Gascony and of Languedoc is an arid and
profitless expanse in winter save where the swift-flowing Adour
and her snow-fed tributaries, the Louts, the Oloron and the Pau,
run down to the sea of Biscay.  South of the Adour the jagged
line of mountains which fringe the sky-line send out long granite
claws, running down into the lowlands and dividing them into
"gaves" or stretches of valley.  Hillocks grow into hills, and
hills into mountains, each range overlying its neighbor, until
they soar up in the giant chain which raises its spotless and
untrodden peaks, white and dazzling, against the pale blue wintry
sky.

A quiet land is this--a land where the slow-moving Basque, with
his flat biretta-cap, his red sash and his hempen sandals, tills
his scanty farm or drives his lean flock to their hill-side
pastures.  It is the country of the wolf and the isard, of the
brown bear and the mountain-goat, a land of bare rock and of
rushing water.  Yet here it was that the will of a great prince
had now assembled a gallant army; so that from the Adour to the
passes of Navarre the barren valleys and wind-swept wastes were
populous with soldiers and loud with the shouting of orders and
the neighing of horses.  For the banners of war had been flung to
the wind once more, and over those glistening peaks was the
highway along which Honor pointed in an age when men had chosen
her as their guide.

And now all was ready for the enterprise.  From Dax to St. Jean
Pied-du-Port the country was mottled with the white tents of
Gascons, Aquitanians and English, all eager for the advance.  From
all sides the free companions had trooped in, until not less than
twelve thousand of these veteran troops were cantoned along the
frontiers of Navarre.  From England had arrived the prince's
brother, the Duke of Lancaster, with four hundred knights in his
train and a strong company of archers.  Above all, an heir to the
throne had been born in Bordeaux, and the prince might leave his
spouse with an easy mind, for all was well with mother and with
child.

The keys of the mountain passes still lay in the hands of the
shifty and ignoble Charles of Navarre, who had chaffered and
bargained both with the English and with the Spanish, taking
money from the one side to hold them open and from the other to
keep them sealed.  The mallet hand of Edward, however, had
shattered all the schemes and wiles of the plotter.  Neither
entreaty nor courtly remonstrance came from the English prince;
but Sir Hugh Calverley passed silently over the border with his
company, and the blazing walls of the two cities of Miranda and
Puenta de la Reyna warned the unfaithful monarch that there were
other metals besides gold, and that he was dealing with a man to
whom it was unsafe to lie.  His price was paid, his objections
silenced, and the mountain gorges lay open to the invaders.  From
the Feast of the Epiphany there was mustering and massing, until,
in the first week of February--three days after the White Company
joined the army--the word was given for a general advance through
the defile of Roncesvalles.  At five in the cold winter's morning
the bugles were blowing in the hamlet of St. Jean Pied-du-Port,
and by six Sir Nigel's Company, three hundred strong, were on
their way for the defile, pushing swiftly in the dim light up the
steep curving road; for it was the prince's order that they
should be the first to pass through, and that they should remain
on guard at the further end until the whole army had emerged from
the mountains.  Day was already breaking in the east, and the
summits of the great peaks had turned rosy red, while the valleys
still lay in the shadow, when they found themselves with the
cliffs on either hand and the long, rugged pass stretching away
before them.

Sir Nigel rode his great black war-horse at the head of his
archers, dressed in full armor, with Black Simon bearing his
banner behind him, while Alleyne at his bridle-arm carried his
blazoned shield and his well-steeled ashen spear.  A proud and
happy man was the knight, and many a time he turned in his saddle
to look at the long column of bowmen who swung swiftly along
behind him.

"By Saint Paul!  Alleyne," said he, "this pass is a very perilous
place, and I would that the King of Navarre had held it against
us, for it would have been a very honorable venture had it fallen
to us to win a passage.  I have heard the minstrels sing of one
Sir Roland who was slain by the infidels in these very parts."

"If it please you, my fair lord," said Black Simon, "I know
something of these parts, for I have twice served a term with the
King of Navarre.  There is a hospice of monks yonder, where you
may see the roof among the trees, and there it was that Sir
Roland was slain.  The village upon the left is Orbaiceta, and I
know a house therein where the right wine of Jurancon is to be
bought, if it would please you to quaff a morning cup."

"There is smoke yonder upon the right."

"That is a village named Les Aldudes, and I know a hostel there
also where the wine is of the best.  It is said that the inn-keeper
hath a buried treasure, and I doubt not, my fair lord, that if
you grant me leave I could prevail upon him to tell us where he
hath hid it."

"Nay, nay, Simon," said Sir Nigel curtly, "I pray you to forget
these free companion tricks.  Ha!  Edricson, I see that you stare
about you, and in good sooth these mountains must seem wondrous
indeed to one who hath but seen Butser or the Portsdown hill."

The broken and rugged road had wound along the crests of low
hills, with wooded ridges on either side of it over which peeped
the loftier mountains, the distant Peak of the South and the vast
Altabisca, which towered high above them and cast its black
shadow from left to right across the valley.  From where they now
stood they could look forward down a long vista of beech woods
and jagged rock-strewn wilderness, all white with snow, to where
the pass opened out upon the uplands beyond.  Behind them they
could still catch a glimpse of the gray plains of Gascony, and
could see her rivers gleaming like coils of silver in the
sunshine.  As far as eye could see from among the rocky gorges
and the bristles of the pine woods there came the quick twinkle
and glitter of steel, while the wind brought with it sudden
distant bursts of martial music from the great host which rolled
by every road and by-path towards the narrow pass of
Roncesvalles.  On the cliffs on either side might also be seen
the flash of arms and the waving of pennons where the force of
Navarre looked down upon the army of strangers who passed
through their territories.

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, blinking up at them, "I think
that we have much to hope for from these cavaliers, for they
cluster very thickly upon our flanks.  Pass word to the men,
Aylward, that they unsling their bows, for I have no doubt that
there are some very worthy gentlemen yonder who may give us some
opportunity for honorable advancement."

"I hear that the prince hath the King of Navarre as hostage,"
said Alleyne, "and it is said that he hath sworn to put him to
death if there be any attack upon us."

"It was not so that war was made when good King Edward first
turned his hand to it," said Sir Nigel sadly.  "Ah! Alleyne, I
fear that you will never live to see such things, for the minds
of men are more set upon money and gain than of old.  By Saint
Paul! it was a noble sight when two great armies would draw
together upon a certain day, and all who had a vow would ride
forth to discharge themselves of it.  What noble spear-runnings
have I not seen, and even in an humble way had a part in, when
cavaliers would run a course for the easing of their souls and
for the love of their ladies!  Never a bad word have I for the
French, for, though I have ridden twenty times up to their array,
I have never yet failed to find some very gentle and worthy
knight or squire who was willing to do what he might to enable me
to attempt some small feat of arms.  Then, when all cavaliers had
been satisfied, the two armies would come to hand-strokes, and
fight right merrily until one or other had the vantage.  By Saint
Paul! it was not our wont in those days to pay gold for the
opening of passes, nor would we hold a king as hostage lest his
people come to thrusts with us.  In good sooth, if the war is to
be carried out in such a fashion, then it is grief to me that I
ever came away from Castle Twynham, for I would not have left my
sweet lady had I not thought that there were deeds of arms to be
done."

"But surely, my fair lord," said Alleyne, "you have done some
great feats of arms since we left the Lady Loring."

"I cannot call any to mind," answered Sir Nigel.

"There was the taking of the sea-rovers, and the holding of the
keep against the Jacks."

"Nay, nay," said the knight, "these were not feats of arms, but
mere wayside ventures and the chances of travel.  By Saint Paul!
if it were not that these hills are over-steep for Pommers, I
would ride to these cavaliers of Navarre and see if there were
not some among them who would help me to take this patch from
mine eye.  It is a sad sight to see this very fine pass, which my
own Company here could hold against an army, and yet to ride
through it with as little profit as though it were the lane from
my kennels to the Avon."

All morning Sir Nigel rode in a very ill-humor, with his Company
tramping behind him.  It was a toilsome march over broken ground
and through snow, which came often as high as the knee, yet ere
the sun had begun to sink they had reached the spot where the
gorge opens out on to the uplands of Navarre, and could see the
towers of Pampeluna jutting up against the southern sky-line.
Here the Company were quartered in a scattered mountain hamlet,
and Alleyne spent the day looking down upon the swarming army
which poured with gleam of spears and flaunt of standards through
the narrow pass.

"Hola, mon gar.," said Aylward, seating himself upon a boulder by
his side.  "This is indeed a fine sight upon which it is good to
look, and a man might go far ere he would see so many brave men
and fine horses.  By my hilt! our little lord is wroth because we
have come peacefully through the passes, but I will warrant him
that we have fighting enow ere we turn our faces northward again.
It is said that there are four-score thousand men behind the King
of Spain, with Du Guesclin and all the best lances of France, who
have sworn to shed their heart's blood ere this Pedro come again
to the throne."

"Yet our own army is a great one," said Alleyne.

"Nay, there are but seven-and-twenty thousand men.  Chandos hath
persuaded the prince to leave many behind, and indeed I think
that he is right, for there is little food and less water in
these parts for which we are bound.  A man without his meat or a
horse without his fodder is like a wet bow-string, fit for
little.  But voila, mon petit, here comes Chandos and his
company, and there is many a pensil and banderole among yonder
squadrons which show that the best blood of England is riding
under his banners."

Whilst Aylward had been speaking, a strong column of archers had
defiled through the pass beneath them.  They were followed by a
banner-bearer who held high the scarlet wedge upon a silver field
which proclaimed the presence of the famous warrior.  He rode
himself within a spear's-length of his standard, clad from neck
to foot in steel, but draped in the long linen gown or parement
which was destined to be the cause of his death.  His plumed
helmet was carried behind him by his body-squire, and his head
was covered by a small purple cap, from under which his snow-white
hair curled downwards to his shoulders.  With his long beak-like
nose and his single gleaming eye, which shone brightly from under
a thick tuft of grizzled brow, he seemed to Alleyne to have
something of the look of some fierce old bird of prey.  For a
moment he smiled, as his eye lit upon the banner of the five
roses waving from the hamlet; but his course lay for Pampeluna,
and he rode on after the archers.

Close at his heels came sixteen squires, all chosen from the
highest families, and behind them rode twelve hundred English
knights, with gleam of steel and tossing of plumes, their harness
jingling, their long straight swords clanking against their
stirrup-irons, and the beat of their chargers' hoofs like the low
deep roar of the sea upon the shore.  Behind them marched six
hundred Cheshire and Lancashire archers, bearing the badge of the
Audleys, followed by the famous Lord Audley himself, with the
four valiant squires, Dutton of Dutton, Delves of Doddington,
Fowlehurst of Crewe, and Hawkestone of Wainehill, who had all won
such glory at Poictiers.  Two hundred heavily-armed cavalry rode
behind the Audley standard, while close at their heels came the
Duke of Lancaster with a glittering train, heralds tabarded with
the royal arms riding three deep upon cream-colored chargers in
front of him.  On either side of the young prince rode the two
seneschals of Aquitaine, Sir Guiscard d'Angle and Sir Stephen
Cossington, the one bearing the banner of the province and the
other that of Saint George.  Away behind him as far as eye could
reach rolled the far-stretching, unbroken river of steel--rank
after rank and column after column, with waving of plumes,
glitter of arms, tossing of guidons, and flash and flutter of
countless armorial devices.  All day Alleyne looked down upon the
changing scene, and all day the old bowman stood by his elbow,
pointing out the crests of famous warriors and the arms of noble
houses.  Here were the gold mullets of the Pakingtons, the sable
and ermine of the Mackworths, the scarlet bars of the Wakes,
the gold and blue of the Grosvenors, the cinque-foils of the
Cliftons, the annulets of the Musgraves, the silver pinions of
the Beauchamps, the crosses of the Molineaux, the bloody chevron of
the Woodhouses, the red and silver of the Worsleys, the swords of
the Clarks, the boars'-heads of the Lucies, the crescents of the
Boyntons, and the wolf and dagger of the Lipscombs.  So through
the sunny winter day the chivalry of England poured down through
the dark pass of Roncesvalles to the plains of Spain.

It was on a Monday that the Duke of Lancaster's division passed
safely through the Pyrenees.  On the Tuesday there was a bitter
frost, and the ground rung like iron beneath the feet of the
horses; yet ere evening the prince himself, with the main battle
of his army, had passed the gorge and united with his vanguard at
Pampeluna.  With him rode the King of Majorca, the hostage King
of Navarre, and the fierce Don Pedro of Spain, whose pale blue
eyes gleamed with a sinister light as they rested once more upon
the distant peaks of the land which had disowned him.  Under the
royal banners rode many a bold Gascon baron and many a hot-blooded
islander.  Here were the high stewards of Aquitaine, of Saintonge,
of La Rochelle, of Quercy, of Limousin, of Agenois, of Poitou,
and of Bigorre, with the banners and musters of their provinces.
Here also were the valiant Earl of Angus, Sir Thomas Banaster
with his garter over his greave, Sir Nele Loring, second cousin
to Sir Nigel, and a long column of Welsh footmen who marched under
the red banner of Merlin.  From dawn to sundown the long train
wound through the pass, their breath reeking up upon the frosty air
like the steam from a cauldron.

The weather was less keen upon the Wednesday, and the rear-guard
made good their passage, with the bombards and the wagon-train.
Free companions and Gascons made up this portion of the army to
the number of ten thousand men.  The fierce Sir Hugh Calverley,
with his yellow mane, and the rugged Sir Robert Knolles, with
their war-hardened and veteran companies of English bowmen,
headed the long column; while behind them came the turbulent
bands of the Bastard of Breteuil, Nandon de Bagerant, one-eyed
Camus, Black Ortingo, La Nuit and others whose very names seem to
smack of hard hands and ruthless deeds.  With them also were the
pick of the Gascon chivalry--the old Duc d'Armagnac, his nephew
Lord d'Albret, brooding and scowling over his wrongs, the giant
Oliver de Clisson, the Captal de Buch, pink of knighthood, the
sprightly Sir Perducas d'Albret, the red-bearded Lord d'Esparre,
and a long train of needy and grasping border nobles, with long
pedigrees and short purses, who had come down from their hill-side
strongholds, all hungering for the spoils and the ransoms of Spain.
By the Thursday morning the whole army was encamped in the Vale
of Pampeluna, and the prince had called his council to meet him
in the old palace of the ancient city of Navarre.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

HOW THE COMPANY MADE SPORT IN THE VALE OF PAMPELUNA.


Whilst the council was sitting in Pampeluna the White Company,
having encamped in a neighboring valley, close to the companies
of La Nuit and of Black Ortingo, were amusing themselves with
sword-play, wrestling, and shooting at the shields, which they
had placed upon the hillside to serve them as butts.  The younger
archers, with their coats of mail thrown aside, their brown or
flaxen hair tossing in the wind, and their jerkins turned back to
give free play to their brawny chests and arms, stood in lines,
each loosing his shaft in turn, while Johnston, Aylward, Black
Simon, and half-a-score of the elders lounged up and down with
critical eyes, and a word of rough praise or of curt censure for
the marksmen.  Behind stood knots of Gascon and Brabant
crossbowmen from the companies of Ortingo and of La Nuit, leaning
upon their unsightly weapons and watching the practice of the
Englishmen.

"A good shot, Hewett, a good shot!" said old Johnston to a young
bowman, who stood with his bow in his left hand, gazing with
parted lips after his flying shaft.  "You see, she finds the
ring, as I knew she would from the moment that your string
twanged."

"Loose it easy, steady, and yet sharp," said Aylward.  "By my
hilt! mon gar., it is very well when you do but shoot at a
shield, but when there is a man behind the shield, and he rides
at you with wave of sword and glint of eyes from behind his
vizor, you may find him a less easy mark."

"It is a mark that I have found before now," answered the young
bowman.

"And shall again, camarade, I doubt not.  But hola! Johnston, who
is this who holds his bow like a crow-keeper?"

"It is Silas Peterson, of Horsham.  Do not wink with one eye and
look with the other, Silas, and do not hop and dance after you
shoot, with your tongue out, for that will not speed it upon its
way.  Stand straight and firm, as God made you.  Move not the bow
arm, and steady with the drawing hand!"

"I' faith," said Black Simon, "I am a spearman myself, and am
more fitted for hand-strokes than for such work as this.  Yet I
have spent my days among bowmen, and I have seen many a brave
shaft sped.  I will not say but that we have some good marksmen
here, and that this Company would be accounted a fine body of
archers at any time or place.  Yet I do not see any men who bend
so strong a bow or shoot as true a shaft as those whom I have
known."

"You say sooth," said Johnston, turning his seamed and grizzled
face upon the man-at-arms.  "See yonder," he added, pointing to a
bombard which lay within the camp: "there is what hath done scath
to good bowmanship, with its filthy soot and foolish roaring
mouth.  I wonder that a true knight, like our prince, should
carry such a scurvy thing in his train.  Robin, thou red-headed
lurden, how oft must I tell thee not to shoot straight with a
quarter-wind blowing across the mark?"

"By these ten finger-bones! there were some fine bowmen at the
intaking of Calais," said Aylward.  "I well remember that, on
occasion of an outfall, a Genoan raised his arm over his mantlet,
and shook it at us, a hundred paces from our line.  There were
twenty who loosed shafts at him, and when the man was afterwards
slain it was found that he had taken eighteen through his
forearm."

"And I can call to mind," remarked Johnston, "that when the great
cog `Christopher,' which the French had taken from us, was moored
two hundred paces from the shore, two archers, little Robin
Withstaff and Elias Baddlesmere, in four shots each cut every
strand of her hempen anchor-cord, so that she well-nigh came upon
the rocks."

"Good shooting, i' faith rare shooting!" said Black Simon.  "But I
have seen you, Johnston, and you, Samkin Aylward, and one or two
others who are still with us, shoot as well as the best.  Was it
not you, Johnston, who took the fat ox at Finsbury butts against
the pick of London town?"

A sunburnt and black-eyed Brabanter had stood near the old
archers, leaning upon a large crossbow and listening to their
talk, which had been carried on in that hybrid camp dialect which
both nations could understand.  He was a squat, bull-necked man,
clad in the iron helmet, mail tunic, and woollen gambesson of his
class.  A jacket with hanging sleeves, slashed with velvet at the
neck and wrists, showed that he was a man of some consideration,
an under-officer, or file-leader of his company.

"I cannot think," said he, "why you English should be so fond of
your six-foot stick.  If it amuse you to bend it, well and good;
but why should I strain and pull, when my little moulinet will do
all for me, and better than I can do it for myself?"

"I have seen good shooting with the prod and with the latch,"
said Aylward, "but, by my hilt! camarade, with all respect to you
and to your bow, I think that is but a woman's weapon, which a
woman can point and loose as easily as a man."

"I know not about that," answered the Brabanter, "but this I
know, that though I have served for fourteen years, I have never
yet seen an Englishman do aught with the long-bow which I could
not do better with my arbalest.  By the three kings!  I would
even go further, and say that I have done things with my arbalest
which no Englishman could do with his long-bow."

"Well said, mon gar.," cried Aylward.  "A good cock has ever a
brave call.  Now, I have shot little of late, but there is
Johnston here who will try a round with you for the honor of the
Company."

"And I will lay a gallon of Jurancon wine upon the long-bow,"
said Black Simon, "though I had rather, for my own drinking, that
it were a quart of Twynham ale."

"I take both your challenge and your wager," said the man of
Brabant, throwing off his jacket and glancing keenly about him
with his black, twinkling eyes.  "I cannot see any fitting mark,
for I care not to waste a bolt upon these shields, which a
drunken boor could not miss at a village kermesse."

"This is a perilous man," whispered an English man-at-arms,
plucking at Aylward's sleeve.  "He is the best marksman of all
the crossbow companies and it was he who brought down the
Constable de Bourbon at Brignais, I fear that your man will come
by little honor with him."

"Yet I have seen Johnston shoot these twenty years, and I will
not flinch from it.  How say you, old war-hound, will you not have
a flight shot or two with this springald?"

"Tut, tut, Aylward," said the old bowman.  "My day is past, and
it is for the younger ones to hold what we have gained.  I take
it unkindly of thee, Samkin, that thou shouldst call all eyes
thus upon a broken bowman who could once shoot a fair shaft.  Let
me feel that bow, Wilkins!  It is a Scotch bow, I see, for the
upper nock is without and the lower within.  By the black rood!
it is a good piece of yew, well nocked, well strung, well waxed,
and very joyful to the feel.  I think even now that I might hit
any large and goodly mark with a bow like this.  Turn thy quiver
to me, Aylward.  I love an ash arrow pierced with cornel-wood for
a roving shaft."

"By my hilt! and so do I," cried Aylward.  "These three gander-winged
shafts are such."

"So I see, comrade.  It has been my wont to choose a saddle-backed
feather for a dead shaft, and a swine-backed for a smooth
flier.  I will take the two of them.  Ah! Samkin, lad, the eye
grows dim and the hand less firm as the years pass."

"Come then, are you not ready?" said the Brabanter, who had
watched with ill-concealed impatience the slow and methodic
movements of his antagonist.

"I will venture a rover with you, or try long-butts or hoyles,"
said old Johnston.  "To my mind the long-bow is a better weapon
than the arbalest, but it may be ill for me to prove it."

"So I think," quoth the other with a sneer.  He drew his moulinet
from his girdle, and fixing it to the windlass, he drew back the
powerful double cord until it had clicked into the catch.  Then
from his quiver he drew a short, thick quarrel, which he placed
with the utmost care upon the groove.  Word had spread of what
was going forward, and the rivals were already surrounded, not
only by the English archers of the Company, but by hundreds of
arbalestiers and men-at-arms from the bands of Ortingo and La
Nuit, to the latter of which the Brabanter belonged.

"There is a mark yonder on the hill," said he; "mayhap you can
discern it."

"I see something," answered Johnston, shading his eyes with his
hand; "but it is a very long shoot."

"A fair shoot--a fair shoot!  Stand aside, Arnaud, lest you find
a bolt through your gizzard.  Now, comrade, I take no flight
shot, and I give you the vantage of watching my shaft."

As he spoke he raised his arbalest to his shoulder and was about
to pull the trigger, when a large gray stork flapped heavily into
view skimming over the brow of the hill, and then soaring up into
the air to pass the valley.  Its shrill and piercing cries drew
all eyes upon it, and, as it came nearer, a dark spot which
circled above it resolved itself into a peregrine falcon, which
hovered over its head, poising itself from time to time, and
watching its chance of closing with its clumsy quarry.  Nearer
and nearer came the two birds, all absorbed in their own contest,
the stork wheeling upwards, the hawk still fluttering above it,
until they were not a hundred paces from the camp.  The Brabanter
raised his weapon to the sky, and there came the short, deep
twang of his powerful string.  His bolt struck the stork just
where its wing meets the body, and the bird whirled aloft in a
last convulsive flutter before falling wounded and flapping to
the earth.  A roar of applause burst from the crossbowmen; but at
the instant that the bolt struck its mark old Johnston, who had
stood listlessly with arrow on string, bent his bow and sped a
shaft through the body of the falcon.  Whipping the other from
his belt, he sent it skimming some few feet from the earth with
so true an aim that it struck and transfixed the stork for the
second time ere it could reach the ground.  A deep-chested shout
of delight burst from the archers at the sight of this double
feat, and Aylward, dancing with joy, threw his arms round the old
marksman and embraced him with such vigor that their mail tunics
clanged again.

"Ah! camarade," he cried, "you shall have a stoup with me for
this!  What then, old dog, would not the hawk please thee, but
thou must have the stork as well.  Oh, to my heart again!"

"It is a pretty piece of yew, and well strung," said Johnston
with a twinkle in his deep-set gray eyes.  "Even an old broken
bowman might find the clout with a bow like this."

"You have done very well," remarked the Brabanter in a surly
voice.  "But it seems to me that you have not yet shown yourself
to be a better marksman than I, for I have struck that at which I
aimed, and, by the three kings! no man can do more."

"It would ill beseem me to claim to be a better marksman,"
answered Johnston, "for I have heard great things of your skill.
I did but wish to show that the long-bow could do that which an
arbalest could not do, for you could not with your moulinet have
your string ready to speed another shaft ere the bird drop to the
earth."

"In that you have vantage," said the crossbowman.  "By Saint
James! it is now my turn to show you where my weapon has the
better of you.  I pray you to draw a flight shaft with all your
strength down the valley, that we may see the length of your
shoot."

"That is a very strong prod of yours," said Johnston, shaking his
grizzled head as he glanced at the thick arch and powerful
strings of his rival's arbalest.  "I have little doubt that you
can overshoot me, and yet I have seen bowmen who could send a
cloth-yard arrow further than you could speed a quarrel."

"So I have heard," remarked the Brabanter; "and yet it is a
strange thing that these wondrous bowmen are never where I chance
to be.  Pace out the distances with a wand at every five score,
and do you, Arnaud, stand at the fifth wand to carry back my
bolts to me."

A line was measured down the valley, and Johnston, drawing an
arrow to the very head, sent it whistling over the row of wands.

"Bravely drawn!  A rare shoot!" shouted the bystanders.

"It is well up to the fourth mark."

"By my hilt! it is over it," cried Aylward.  "I can see where
they have stooped to gather up the shaft."

"We shall hear anon," said Johnston quietly, and presently a
young archer came running to say that the arrow had fallen twenty
paces beyond the fourth wand.

"Four hundred paces and a score," cried Black Simon.  "I' faith,
it is a very long flight.  Yet wood and steel may do more than
flesh and blood."

The Brabanter stepped forward with a smile of conscious triumph,
and loosed the cord of his weapon.  A shout burst from his
comrades as they watched the swift and lofty flight of the heavy
bolt.

"Over the fourth!" groaned Aylward.  "By my hilt! I think that it
is well up to the fifth."

"It is over the fifth!" cried a Gascon loudly, and a comrade came
running with waving arms to say that the bolt had pitched eight
paces beyond the mark of the five hundred.

"Which weapon hath the vantage now?" cried the Brabanter,
Strutting proudly about with shouldered arbalest, amid the
applause of his companions.

"You can overshoot me," said Johnston gently.

"Or any other man who ever bent a long-bow," cried his victorious
adversary.

"Nay, not so fast," said a huge archer, whose mighty shoulders
and red head towered high above the throng of his comrades.  "I
must have a word with you ere you crow so loudly.  Where is my
little popper?  By sainted Dick of Hampole! it will be a strange
thing if I cannot outshoot that thing of thine, which to my eyes
is more like a rat-trap than a bow.  Will you try another flight,
or do you stand by your last?"

"Five hundred and eight paces will serve my turn," answered the
Brabanter, looking askance at this new opponent.

"Tut, John," whispered Aylward, "you never were a marksman.  Why
must you thrust your spoon into this dish?"

"Easy and slow, Aylward.  There are very many things which I
cannot do, but there are also one or two which I have the trick
of.  It is in my mind that I can beat this shoot, if my bow will
but hold together."

"Go on, old babe of the woods!" "Have at it, Hampshire!" cried
the archers laughing.

"By my soul! you may grin," cried John.  "But I learned how to
make the long shoot from old Hob Miller of Milford." He took up a
great black bow, as he spoke, and sitting down upon the ground he
placed his two feet on either end of the stave.  With an arrow
fitted, he then pulled the string towards him with both hands
until the head of the shaft was level with the wood.  The great
bow creaked and groaned and the cord vibrated with the tension.

"Who is this fool's-head who stands in the way of my shoot?" said
he, craning up his neck from the ground.

"He stands on the further side of my mark," answered the
Brabanter, "so he has little to fear from you."

"Well, the saints assoil him!" cried John.  "Though I think he is
over-near to be scathed."  As he spoke he raised his two feet,
with the bow-stave upon their soles, and his cord twanged with a
deep rich hum which might be heard across the valley.  The
measurer in the distance fell flat upon his face, and then
jumping up again, he began to run in the opposite direction.

"Well shot, old lad!  It is indeed over his head," cried the
bowmen.

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Brabanter, "who ever saw such a shoot?"

"It is but a trick," quoth John.  "Many a time have I won a
gallon of ale by covering a mile in three flights down Wilverley
Chase."

"It fell a hundred and thirty paces beyond the fifth mark,"
shouted an archer in the distance.

"Six hundred and thirty paces!  Mon Dieu! but that is a shoot!
And yet it says nothing for your weapon, mon gros camarade, for
it was by turning yourself into a crossbow that you did it."

"By my hilt! there is truth in that," cried Aylward.  "And now,
friend, I will myself show you a vantage of the long-bow.  I pray
you to speed a bolt against yonder shield with all your force.
It is an inch of elm with bull's hide over it."

"I scarce shot as many shafts at Brignais," growled the man of
Brabant; "though I found a better mark there than a cantle of
bull's hide.  But what is this, Englishman?  The shield hangs not
one hundred paces from me, and a blind man could strike it."  He
screwed up his string to the furthest pitch, and shot his quarrel
at the dangling shield.  Aylward, who had drawn an arrow from his
quiver, carefully greased the head of it, and sped it at the same
mark.

"Run, Wilkins," quoth he, "and fetch me the shield."

Long were the faces of the Englishmen and broad the laugh of the
crossbowmen as the heavy mantlet was carried towards them, for
there in the centre was the thick Brabant bolt driven deeply into
the wood, while there was neither sign nor trace of the
cloth-yard shaft.

"By the three kings!" cried the Brabanter, "this time at least
there is no gainsaying which is the better weapon, or which the
truer hand that held it.  You have missed the shield,
Englishman."

"Tarry a bit!  tarry a bit, mon gar.!" quoth Aylward, and turning
round the shield he showed a round clear hole in the wood at the
back of it.  "My shaft has passed through it, camarade, and I
trow the one which goes through is more to be feared than that
which bides on the way."

The Brabanter stamped his foot with mortification, and was about
to make some angry reply, when Alleyne Edricson came riding up to
the crowds of archers.

"Sir Nigel will be here anon," said he, "and it is his wish to
speak with the Company."

In an instant order and method took the place of general
confusion.  Bows, steel caps, and jacks were caught up from the
grass.  A long cordon cleared the camp of all strangers, while
the main body fell into four lines with under-officers and
file-leaders in front and on either flank.  So they stood, silent
and motionless, when their leader came riding towards them, his
face shining and his whole small figure swelling with the news
which he bore.

"Great honor has been done to us, men," cried he: "for, of all
the army, the prince has chosen us out that we should ride
onwards into the lands of Spain to spy upon our enemies.  Yet, as
there are many of us, and as the service may not be to the liking
of all, I pray that those will step forward from the ranks who
have the will to follow me."

There was a rustle among the bowmen, but when Sir Nigel looked up
at them no man stood forward from his fellows, but the four lines
of men stretched unbroken as before.  Sir Nigel blinked at them
in amazement, and a look of the deepest sorrow shadowed his face.

"That I should live to see the day!" he cried, "What! not one----"

"My fair lord," whispered Alleyne, "they have all stepped
forward."

"Ah, by Saint Paul! I see how it is with them.  I could not think
that they would desert me.  We start at dawn to-morrow, and ye
are to have the horses of Sir Robert Cheney's company.  Be ready,
I pray ye, at early cock-crow."

A buzz of delight burst from the archers, as they broke their
ranks and ran hither and thither, whooping and cheering like boys
who have news of a holiday.  Sir Nigel gazed after them with a
smiling face, when a heavy hand fell upon his shoulder.

"What ho! my knight-errant of Twynham!" said a voice, "You are
off to Ebro, I hear; and, by the holy fish of Tobias! you must
take me under your banner."

"What!  Sir Oliver Buttesthorn!" cried Sir Nigel.  "I had heard
that you were come into camp, and had hoped to see you.  Glad and
proud shall I be to have you with me."

"I have a most particular and weighty reason for wishing to go,"
said the sturdy knight.

"I can well believe it," returned Sir Nigel; "I have met no man
who is quicker to follow where honor leads."

"Nay, it is not for honor that I go, Nigel."

"For what then?"

"For pullets."

"Pullets?"

"Yes, for the rascal vanguard have cleared every hen from the
country-side.  It was this very morning that Norbury, my squire,
lamed his horse in riding round in quest of one, for we have a
bag of truffles, and nought to eat with them.  Never have I seen
such locusts as this vanguard of ours.  Not a pullet shall we see
until we are in front of them; so I shall leave my Winchester
runagates to the care of the provost-marshal, and I shall hie
south with you, Nigel, with my truffles at my saddle-bow."

"Oliver, Oliver, I know you over-well," said Sir Nigel, shaking
his head, and the two old soldiers rode off together to their
pavilion.



CHAPTER XXXV.

HOW SIR NIGEL HAWKED AT AN EAGLE.


To the south of Pampeluna in the kingdom of Navarre there
stretched a high table-land, rising into bare, sterile hills,
brown or gray in color, and strewn with huge boulders of granite.
On the Gascon side of the great mountains there had been running
streams, meadows, forests, and little nestling villages.  Here, on
the contrary, were nothing but naked rocks, poor pasture, and
savage, stone-strewn wastes.  Gloomy defiles or barrancas
intersected this wild country with mountain torrents dashing and
foaming between their rugged sides.  The clatter of waters, the
scream of the eagle, and the howling of wolves the only sounds
which broke upon the silence in that dreary and inhospitable
region.

Through this wild country it was that Sir Nigel and his Company
pushed their way, riding at times through vast defiles where the
brown, gnarled cliffs shot up on either side of them, and the sky
was but a long winding blue slit between the clustering lines of
box which fringed the lips of the precipices; or, again leading
their horses along the narrow and rocky paths worn by the
muleteers upon the edges of the chasm, where under their very
elbows they could see the white streak which marked the _gave_
which foamed a thousand feet below them.  So for two days they
pushed their way through the wild places of Navarre, past Fuente,
over the rapid Ega, through Estella, until upon a winter's
evening the mountains fell away from in front of them, and they
saw the broad blue Ebro curving betwixt its double line or
homesteads and of villages.  The fishers of Viana were aroused
that night by rough voices speaking in a strange tongue, and ere
morning Sir Nigel and his men had ferried the river and were safe
upon the land of Spain.

All the next day they lay in a pine wood near to the town of
Logrono, resting their horses and taking counsel as to what
they should do.  Sir Nigel had with him Sir William Felton,
Sir Oliver Buttesthorn, stout old Sir Simon Burley, the Scotch
knight-errant, the Earl of Angus, and Sir Richard Causton, all
accounted among the bravest knights in the army, together with
sixty veteran men-at-arms, and three hundred and twenty archers.
Spies had been sent out in the morning, and returned after
nightfall to say that the King of Spain was encamped some
fourteen miles off in the direction of Burgos, having with him
twenty thousand horse and forty-five thousand foot.

A dry-wood fire had been lit, and round this the leaders
crouched, the glare beating upon their rugged faces, while the
hardy archers lounged and chatted amid the tethered horses, while
they munched their scanty provisions.

"For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I am of opinion that we
have already done that which we have come for.  For do we not now
know where the king is, and how great a following he hath, which
was the end of our journey."

"True," answered Sir William Felton, "but I have come on this
venture because it is a long time since I have broken a spear in
war, and, certes, I shall not go back until I have run a course
with some cavalier of Spain.  Let those go back who will, but I
must see more of these Spaniards ere I turn."

"I will not leave you, Sir William," returned Sir Simon Burley;
"and yet, as an old soldier and one who hath seen much of war, I
cannot but think that it is an ill thing for four hundred men to
find themselves between an army of sixty thousand on the one side
and a broad river on the other."

"Yet," said Sir Richard Causton, "we cannot for the honor of
England go back without a blow struck."

"Nor for the honor of Scotland either," cried the Earl of Angus.
"By Saint Andrew! I wish that I may never set eyes upon the water
of Leith again, if I pluck my horse's bridle ere I have seen this
camp of theirs."

"By Saint Paul! you have spoken very well," said Sir Nigel, "and
I have always heard that there were very worthy gentlemen among
the Scots, and fine skirmishing to be had upon their border.
Bethink you, Sir Simon, that we have this news from the lips of
common spies, who can scarce tell us as much of the enemy and of
his forces as the prince would wish to hear."

"You are the leader in this venture, Sir Nigel," the other
answered, "and I do but ride under your banner."

"Yet I would fain have your rede and counsel, Sir Simon.  But,
touching what you say of the river, we can take heed that we
shall not have it at the back of us, for the prince hath now
advanced to Salvatierra, and thence to Vittoria, so that if we
come upon their camp from the further side we can make good our
retreat."

"What then would you propose?" asked Sir Simon, shaking his
grizzled head as one who is but half convinced.

"That we ride forward ere the news reach them that we have
crossed the river.  In this way we may have sight of their army,
and perchance even find occasion for some small deed against
them."

"So be it, then," said Sir Simon Burley; and the rest of the
council having approved, a scanty meal was hurriedly snatched,
and the advance resumed under the cover of the darkness.  All
night they led their horses, stumbling and groping through wild
defiles and rugged valleys, following the guidance of a
frightened peasant who was strapped by the wrist to Black Simon's
stirrup-leather.  With the early dawn they found themselves in a
black ravine, with others sloping away from it on either side,
and the bare brown crags rising in long bleak terraces all round
them.

"If it please you, fair lord," said Black Simon, "this man hath
misled us, and since there is no tree upon which we may hang him,
it might be well to hurl him over yonder cliff."

The peasant, reading the soldier's meaning in his fierce eyes and
harsh accents dropped upon his knees, screaming loudly for mercy.

"How comes it, dog?" asked Sir William Felton in Spanish.  "Where
is this camp to which you swore that you would lead us?"

"By the sweet Virgin!  By the blessed Mother of God!" cried the
trembling peasant, "I swear to you that in the darkness I have
myself lost the path."

"Over the cliff with him!" shouted half a dozen voices; but ere
the archers could drag him from the rocks to which he clung Sir
Nigel had ridden up and called upon them to stop.

"How is this, sirs?" said he.  "As long as the prince doth me the
honor to entrust this venture to me, it is for me only to give
orders; and, by Saint Paul! I shall be right blithe to go very
deeply into the matter with any one to whom my words may give
offence.  How say you, Sir William?  Or you, my Lord of Angus?
Or you, Sir Richard?"

"Nay, nay, Nigel!" cried Sir William.  "This base peasant is too
small a matter for old comrades to quarrel over.  But he hath
betrayed us, and certes he hath merited a dog's death."

"Hark ye, fellow," said Sir Nigel.  "We give you one more chance
to find the path.  We are about to gain much honor, Sir William,
in this enterprise, and it would be a sorry thing if the first
blood shed were that of an unworthy boor.  Let us say our morning
orisons, and it may chance that ere we finish he may strike upon
the track."

With bowed heads and steel caps in hand, the archers stood at
their horse's heads, while Sir Simon Burley repeated the Pater,
the Ave, and the Credo.  Long did Alleyne bear the scene in
mind--the knot of knights in their dull leaden-hued armor, the
ruddy visage of Sir Oliver, the craggy features of the Scottish
earl, the shining scalp of Sir Nigel, with the dense ring of
hard, bearded faces and the long brown heads of the horses, all
topped and circled by the beetling cliffs.  Scarce had the last
deep "amen" broken from the Company, when, in an instant, there
rose the scream of a hundred bugles, with the deep rolling of
drums and the clashing of cymbals, all sounding together in one
deafening uproar.  Knights and archers sprang to arms, convinced
that some great host was upon them; but the guide dropped upon
his knees and thanked Heaven for its mercies.

"We have found them, caballeros!" he cried.  "This is their
morning call.  If ye will but deign to follow me, I will set them
before you ere a man might tell his beads."

As he spoke he scrambled down one of the narrow ravines, and,
climbing over a low ridge at the further end, he led them into a
short valley with a stream purling down the centre of it and a
very thick growth of elder and of box upon either side.  Pushing
their way through the dense brushwood, they looked out upon a
scene which made their hearts beat harder and their breath come
faster.

In front of them there lay a broad plain, watered by two winding
streams and covered with grass, stretching away to where, in the
furthest distance, the towers of Burgos bristled up against the
light blue morning sky.  Over all this vast meadow there lay a
great city of tents--thousands upon thousands of them, laid out
in streets and in squares like a well-ordered town.  High silken
pavilions or colored marquees, shooting up from among the crowd
of meaner dwellings, marked where the great lords and barons of
Leon and Castile displayed their standards, while over the white
roofs, as far as eye could reach, the waving of ancients, pavons,
pensils, and banderoles, with flash of gold and glow of colors,
proclaimed that all the chivalry of Iberia were mustered in the
plain beneath them.  Far off, in the centre of the camp, a huge
palace of red and white silk, with the royal arms of Castile
waiving from the summit, announced that the gallant Henry lay
there in the midst of his warriors.

As the English adventurers, peeping out from behind their
brushwood screen, looked down upon this wondrous sight they could
see that the vast army in front of them was already afoot.  The
first pink light of the rising sun glittered upon the steel caps
and breastplates of dense masses of slingers and of crossbowmen,
who drilled and marched in the spaces which had been left for
their exercise.  A thousand columns of smoke reeked up into the
pure morning air where the faggots were piled and the camp-kettles
 already simmering.  In the open plain clouds of light horse
galloped and swooped with swaying bodies and waving javelins,
after the fashion which the Spanish had adopted from their
Moorish enemies.  All along by the sedgy banks of the rivers
long lines of pages led their masters' chargers down to water,
while the knights themselves lounged in gayly-dressed groups
about the doors of their pavilions, or rode out, with their
falcons upon their wrists and their greyhounds behind them,
in quest of quail or of leveret.

"By my hilt! mon gar.!" whispered Aylward to Alleyne, as the
young squire stood with parted lips and wondering eyes, gazing
down at the novel scene before him, "we have been seeking them
all night, but now that we have found them I know not what we are
to do with them."

"You say sooth, Samkin," quoth old Johnston.  "I would that we
were upon the far side of Ebro again, for there is neither honor
nor profit to be gained here.  What say you, Simon?"

"By the rood!" cried the fierce man-at-arms, "I will see the
color of their blood ere I turn my mare's head for the mountains.
Am I a child, that I should ride for three days and nought but
words at the end of it?"

"Well said, my sweet honeysuckle!" cried Hordle John.  "I am with
you, like hilt to blade.  Could I but lay hands upon one of those
gay prancers yonder, I doubt not that I should have ransom enough
from him to buy my mother a new cow."

"A cow!" said Aylward.  "Say rather ten acres and a homestead on
the banks of Avon."

"Say you so? Then, by our Lady! here is for yonder one in the red
jerkin!"

He was about to push recklessly forward into the open, when Sir
Nigel himself darted in front of him, with his hand upon his
breast.

"Back!" said he.  "Our time is not yet come, and we must lie here
until evening.  Throw off your jacks and headpieces, least their
eyes catch the shine, and tether the horses among the rocks."

The order was swiftly obeyed, and in ten minutes the archers were
stretched along by the side of the brook, munching the bread and
the bacon which they had brought in their bags, and craning their
necks to watch the ever-changing scene beneath them.  Very quiet
and still they lay, save for a muttered jest or whispered order,
for twice during the long morning they heard bugle-calls from
amid the hills on either side of them, which showed that they had
thrust themselves in between the outposts of the enemy.  The
leaders sat amongst the box-wood, and took counsel together as to
what they should do; while from below there surged up the buzz of
voices, the shouting, the neighing of horses, and all the uproar
of a great camp.

"What boots it to wait?" said Sir William Felton.  "Let us ride
down upon their camp ere they discover us."

"And so say I," cried the Scottish earl; "for they do not know
that there is any enemy within thirty long leagues of them."

"For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I think that it is
madness, for you cannot hope to rout this great army; and where
are you to go and what are you to do when they have turned upon
you?  How say you, Sir Oliver Buttesthorn?"

"By the apple of Eve!" cried the fat knight, "it appears to me
that this wind brings a very savory smell of garlic and of onions
from their cooking-kettles.  I am in favor of riding down upon
them at once, if my old friend and comrade here is of the same
mind."

"Nay," said Sir Nigel, "I have a plan by which we may attempt
some small deed upon them, and yet, by the help of God, may be
able to draw off again; which, as Sir Simon Burley hath said,
would be scarce possible in any other way."

"How then, Sir Nigel?" asked several voices.

"We shall lie here all day; for amid this brushwood it is ill for
them to see us.  Then when evening comes we shall sally out upon
them and see if we may not gain some honorable advancement from
them."

"But why then rather than now?"

"Because we shall have nightfall to cover us when we draw off, so
that we may make our way back through the mountains.  I would
station a score of archers here in the pass, with all our pennons
jutting forth from the rocks, and as many nakirs and drums and
bugles as we have with us, so that those who follow us in the
fading light may think that the whole army of the prince is upon
them, and fear to go further.  What think you of my plan, Sir
Simon?"

"By my troth! I think very well of it," cried the prudent old
commander.  "If four hundred men must needs run a tilt against
sixty thousand, I cannot see how they can do it better or more
safely."

"And so say I," cried Felton, heartily.  "But I wish the day were
over, for it will be an ill thing for us if they chance to light
upon us."

The words were scarce out of his mouth when there came a clatter
of loose stones, the sharp clink of trotting hoofs, and a
dark-faced cavalier, mounted upon a white horse, burst through
the bushes and rode swiftly down the valley from the end which
was farthest from the Spanish camp.  Lightly armed, with his
vizor open and a hawk perched upon his left wrist, he looked
about him with the careless air of a man who is bent wholly upon
pleasure, and unconscious of the possibility of danger.
Suddenly, however, his eyes lit upon the fierce faces which
glared out at him from the brushwood.  With a cry of terror, he
thrust his spurs into his horse's sides and dashed for the narrow
opening of the gorge.  For a moment it seemed as though he would
have reached it, for he had trampled over or dashed aside the
archers who threw themselves in his way; but Hordle John seized
him by the foot in his grasp of iron and dragged him from the
saddle, while two others caught the frightened horse.

"Ho, ho!" roared the great archer.  "How many cows wilt buy my
mother, if I set thee free?"

"Hush that bull's bellowing!" cried Sir Nigel impatiently.  "Bring
the man here.  By St. Paul! it is not the first time that we have
met; for, if I mistake not, it is Don Diego Alvarez, who was once
at the prince's court."

"It is indeed I," said the Spanish knight, speaking in the French
tongue, "and I pray you to pass your sword through my heart, for
how can I live--I, a caballero of Castile--after being dragged
from my horse by the base hands of a common archer?"

"Fret not for that," answered Sir Nigel.  "For, in sooth, had he
not pulled you down, a dozen cloth-yard shafts had crossed each
other in your body."

"By St. James! it were better so than to be polluted by his
touch," answered the Spaniard, with his black eyes sparkling with
rage and hatred.  "I trust that I am now the prisoner of some
honorable knight or gentleman."

"You are the prisoner of the man who took you, Sir Diego,"
answered Sir Nigel.  "And I may tell you that better men than
either you or I have found themselves before now prisoners in the
hands of archers of England."

"What ransom, then, does he demand?" asked the Spaniard.

Big John scratched his red head and grinned in high delight when
the question was propounded to him.  "Tell him," said he, "that I
shall have ten cows and a bull too, if it be but a little one.
Also a dress of blue sendall for mother and a red one for Joan;
with five acres of pasture-land, two scythes, and a fine new
grindstone.  Likewise a small house, with stalls for the cows,
and thirty-six gallons of beer for the thirsty weather."

"Tut, tut!" cried Sir Nigel, laughing.  "All these things may be
had for money; and I think, Don Diego, that five thousand crowns
is not too much for so renowned a knight."

"It shall be duly paid him."

"For some days we must keep you with us; and I must crave leave
also to use your shield, your armor, and your horse."

"My harness is yours by the law of arms," said the Spaniard,
gloomily.

"I do but ask the loan of it.  I have need of it this day, but it
shall be duly returned to you.  Set guards, Aylward, with arrow
on string, at either end of the pass; for it may happen that some
other cavaliers may visit us ere the time be come." All day the
little band of Englishmen lay in the sheltered gorge, looking
down upon the vast host of their unconscious enemies.  Shortly
after mid-day, a great uproar of shouting and cheering broke out
in the camp, with mustering of men and calling of bugles.
Clambering up among the rocks, the companions saw a long rolling
cloud of dust along the whole eastern sky-line, with the glint
of spears and the flutter of pennons, which announced the
approach of a large body of cavalry.  For a moment a wild hope
came upon them that perhaps the prince had moved more swiftly
than had been planned, that he had crossed the Ebro, and that
this was his vanguard sweeping to the attack.

"Surely I see the red pile of Chandos at the head of yonder
squadron!" cried Sir Richard Causton, shading his eyes with his
hand.

"Not so," answered Sir Simon Burley, who had watched the
approaching host with a darkening face.  "It is even as I feared.
That is the double eagle of Du Guesclin."

"You say very truly," cried the Earl of Angus.  "These are the
levies of France, for I can see the ensigns of the Marshal
d'Andreghen, with that of the Lord of Antoing and of Briseuil,
and of many another from Brittany and Anjou."

"By St. Paul! I am very glad of it," said Sir Nigel.  "Of these
Spaniards I know nothing; but the French are very worthy
gentlemen, and will do what they can for our advancement."

"There are at the least four thousand of them, and all men-at-arms,"
cried Sir William Felton.  "See, there is Bertrand himself, beside
his banner, and there is King Henry, who rides to welcome him.
Now they all turn and come into the camp together."

As he spoke, the vast throng of Spaniards and of Frenchmen
trooped across the plain, with brandished arms and tossing
banners.  All day long the sound of revelry and of rejoicing from
the crowded camp swelled up to the ears of the Englishmen, and
they could see the soldiers of the two nations throwing
themselves into each other's arms and dancing hand-in-hand round
the blazing fires.  The sun had sunk behind a cloud-bank in the
west before Sir Nigel at last gave word that the men should
resume their arms and have their horses ready.  He had himself
thrown off his armor, and had dressed himself from head to foot
in the harness of the captured Spaniard.

"Sir William," said he, "it is my intention to attempt a small
deed, and I ask you therefore that you will lead this outfall
upon the camp.  For me, I will ride into their camp with my
squire and two archers.  I pray you to watch me, and to ride
forth when I am come among the tents.  You will leave twenty men
behind here, as we planned this morning, and you will ride back
here after you have ventured as far as seems good to you."

"I will do as you order, Nigel; but what is it that you propose
to do?"

"You will see anon, and indeed it is but a trifling matter.
Alleyne, you will come with me, and lead a spare horse by the
bridle.  I will have the two archers who rode with us through
France, for they are trusty men and of stout heart.  Let them
ride behind us, and let them leave their bows here among the
bushes for it is not my wish that they should know that we are
Englishmen.  Say no word to any whom we may meet, and, if any
speak to you, pass on as though you heard them not.  Are you
ready?"

"I am ready, my fair lord," said Alleyne.

"And I," "And I," cried Aylward and John.

"Then the rest I leave to your wisdom, Sir William; and if God
sends us fortune we shall meet you again in this gorge ere it be
dark."

So saying, Sir Nigel mounted the white horse of the Spanish
cavalier, and rode quietly forth from his concealment with his
three companions behind him, Alleyne leading his master's own
steed by the bridle.  So many small parties of French and Spanish
horse were sweeping hither and thither that the small band
attracted little notice, and making its way at a gentle trot
across the plain, they came as far as the camp without challenge
or hindrance.  On and on they pushed past the endless lines of
tents, amid the dense swarms of horsemen and of footmen, until
the huge royal pavilion stretched in front of them.  They were
close upon it when of a sudden there broke out a wild hubbub from
a distant portion of the camp, with screams and war-cries and all
the wild tumult of battle.  At the sound soldiers came rushing
from their tents, knights shouted loudly for their squires, and
there was mad turmoil on every hand of bewildered men and
plunging horses.  At the royal tent a crowd of gorgeously dressed
servants ran hither and thither in helpless panic for the guard
of soldiers who were stationed there had already ridden off in
the direction of the alarm.  A man-at-arms on either side of the
doorway were the sole protectors of the royal dwelling.

"I have come for the king," whispered Sir Nigel; "and, by Saint
Paul! he must back with us or I must bide here."

Alleyne and Aylward sprang from their horses, and flew at the two
sentries, who were disarmed and beaten down in an instant by so
furious and unexpected an attack.  Sir Nigel dashed into the
royal tent, and was followed by Hordle John as soon as the horses
had been secured.  From within came wild screamings and the clash
of steel, and then the two emerged once more, their swords and
forearms reddened with blood, while John bore over his shoulder
the senseless body of a man whose gay surcoat, adorned with the
lions and towers of Castile, proclaimed him to belong to the
royal house.  A crowd of white-faced sewers and pages swarmed at
their heels, those behind pushing forwards, while the foremost
shrank back from the fierce faces and reeking weapons of the
adventurers.  The senseless body was thrown across the spare
horse, the four sprang to their saddles, and away they thundered
with loose reins and busy spurs through the swarming camp.

But confusion and disorder still reigned among the Spaniards for
Sir William Felton and his men had swept through half their camp,
leaving a long litter of the dead and the dying to mark their
course.  Uncertain who were their attackers, and unable to tell
their English enemies from their newly-arrived Breton allies, the
Spanish knights rode wildly hither and thither in aimless fury.
The mad turmoil, the mixture of races, and the fading light, were
all in favor of the four who alone knew their own purpose among
the vast uncertain multitude.  Twice ere they reached open ground
they had to break their way through small bodies of horses, and
once there came a whistle of arrows and singing of stones about
their ears; but, still dashing onwards, they shot out from among
the tents and found their own comrades retreating for the
mountains at no very great distance from them.  Another five
minutes of wild galloping over the plain, and they were all back
in their gorge, while their pursuers fell back before the rolling
of drums and blare of trumpets, which seemed to proclaim that the
whole army of the prince was about to emerge from the mountain
passes.

"By my soul! Nigel," cried Sir Oliver, waving a great boiled ham
over his head, "I have come by something which I may eat with my
truffles!  I had a hard fight for it, for there were three of
them with their mouths open and the knives in their hands, all
sitting agape round the table, when I rushed in upon them.  How
say you, Sir William, will you not try the smack of the famed
Spanish swine, though we have but the brook water to wash it
down?"

"Later, Sir Oliver," answered the old soldier, wiping his grimed
face.  "We must further into the mountains ere we be in safety.
But what have we here, Nigel?"

"It is a prisoner whom I have taken, and in sooth, as he came
from the royal tent and wears the royal arms upon his jupon, I
trust that he is the King of Spain."

"The King of Spain!" cried the companions, crowding round in
amazement.

"Nay, Sir Nigel," said Felton, peering at the prisoner through
the uncertain light, "I have twice seen Henry of Transtamare, and
certes this man in no way resembles him."

"Then, by the light of heaven! I will ride back for him," cried
Sir Nigel.

"Nay, nay, the camp is in arms, and it would be rank madness.
Who are you, fellow?" he added in Spanish, "and how is it that
you dare to wear the arms of Castile?"

The prisoner was bent recovering the consciousness which had been
squeezed from him by the grip of Hordle John.  "If it please
you," he answered, "I and nine others are the body-squires of the
king, and must ever wear his arms, so as to shield him from even
such perils as have threatened him this night.  The king is at the
tent of the brave Du Guesclin, where he will sup to night.  But I
am a caballero of Aragon, Don Sancho Penelosa, and, though I be
no king, I am yet ready to pay a fitting price for my ransom."

"By Saint Paul! I will not touch your gold," cried Sir Nigel.  "Go
back to your master and give him greeting from Sir Nigel Loring
of Twynham Castle, telling him that I had hoped to make his
better acquaintance this night, and that, if I have disordered
his tent, it was but in my eagerness to know so famed and
courteous a knight.  Spur on, comrades! for we must cover many a
league ere we can venture to light fire or to loosen girth.  I had
hoped to ride without this patch to-night, but it seems that I
must carry it yet a little longer."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

HOW SIR NIGEL TOOK THE PATCH FROM HIS EYE.


It was a cold, bleak morning in the beginning of March, and the
mist was drifting in dense rolling clouds through the passes of
the Cantabrian mountains.  The Company, who had passed the night
in a sheltered gully, were already astir, some crowding round the
blazing fires and others romping or leaping over each other's
backs for their limbs were chilled and the air biting.  Here and
there, through the dense haze which surrounded them, there loomed
out huge pinnacles and jutting boulders of rock: while high above
the sea of vapor there towered up one gigantic peak, with the
pink glow of the early sunshine upon its snow-capped head.  The
ground was wet, the rocks dripping, the grass and ever-greens
sparkling with beads of moisture; yet the camp was loud with
laughter and merriment, for a messenger had ridden in from the
prince with words of heart-stirring praise for what they had
done, and with orders that they should still abide in the
forefront of the army.

Round one of the fires were clustered four or five of the leading
men of the archers, cleaning the rust from their weapons, and
glancing impatiently from time to time at a great pot which
smoked over the blaze.  There was Aylward squatting cross-legged
in his shirt, while he scrubbed away at his chain-mail
brigandine, whistling loudly the while.  On one side of him sat
old Johnston, who was busy in trimming the feathers of some
arrows to his liking; and on the other Hordle John, who lay with
his great limbs all asprawl, and his headpiece balanced upon his
uplifted foot.  Black Simon of Norwich crouched amid the rocks,
crooning an Eastland ballad to himself, while he whetted his
sword upon a flat stone which lay across his knees; while beside
him sat Alleyne Edricson, and Norbury, the silent squire of Sir
Oliver, holding out their chilled hands towards the crackling
faggots.

"Cast on another culpon, John, and stir the broth with thy
sword-sheath," growled Johnston, looking anxiously for the
twentieth time at the reeking pot.

"By my hilt!" cried Aylward, "now that John hath come by this
great ransom, he will scarce abide the fare of poor archer lads.
How say you, camarade?  When you see Hordle once more, there will
be no penny ale and fat bacon, but Gascon wines and baked meats
every day of the seven."

"I know not about that," said John, kicking his helmet up into
the air and catching it in his hand.  "I do but know that whether
the broth be ready or no, I am about to dip this into it."

"It simmers and it boils," cried Johnston, pushing his hard-lined
face through the smoke.  In an instant the pot had been plucked
from the blaze, and its contents had been scooped up in half a
dozen steel head-pieces, which were balanced betwixt their
owners' knees, while, with spoon and gobbet of bread, they
devoured their morning meal.

"It is ill weather for bows," remarked John at last, when, with a
long sigh, he drained the last drop from his helmet.  "My strings
are as limp as a cow's tail this morning."

"You should rub them with water glue," quoth Johnston.  "You
remember, Samkin, that it was wetter than this on the morning of
Crecy, and yet I cannot call to mind that there was aught amiss
with our strings."

"It is in my thoughts," said Black Simon, still pensively
grinding his sword, "that we may have need of your strings ere
sundown.  I dreamed of the red cow last night."

"And what is this red cow, Simon?" asked Alleyne.

"I know not, young sir; but I can only say that on the eve of
Cadsand, and on the eve of Crecy, and on the eve of Nogent, I
dreamed of a red cow; and now the dream has come upon me again,
so I am now setting a very keen edge to my blade."

"Well said, old war-dog!" cried Aylward.  "By my hilt! I pray
that your dream may come true, for the prince hath not set us out
here to drink broth or to gather whortle-berries.  One more fight,
and I am ready to hang up my bow, marry a wife, and take to the
fire corner.  But how now, Robin?  Whom is it that you seek?"

"The Lord Loring craves your attendance in his tent," said a
young archer to Alleyne.

The squire rose and proceeded to the pavilion, where he found the
knight seated upon a cushion, with his legs crossed in front of
him and a broad ribbon of parchment laid across his knees, over
which he was poring with frowning brows and pursed lips.

"It came this morning by the prince's messenger," said he, "and
was brought from England by Sir John Fallislee, who is new come
from Sussex.  What make you of this upon the outer side?"

"It is fairly and clearly written," Alleyne answered, "and it
signifies To Sir Nigel Loring, Knight Constable of Twynham
Castle, by the hand of Christopher, the servant of God at the
Priory of Christchurch."

"So I read it," said Sir Nigel.  "Now I pray you to read what is
set forth within."

Alleyne turned to the letter, and, as his eyes rested upon it,
his face turned pale and a cry of surprise and grief burst from
his lips.

"What then?" asked the knight, peering up at him anxiously.
"There is nought amiss with the Lady Mary or with the Lady
Maude?"

"It is my brother--my poor unhappy brother!" cried Alleyne, with
his hand to his brow.  "He is dead."

"By Saint Paul!  I have never heard that he had shown so much
love for you that you should mourn him so."

"Yet he was my brother--the only kith or kin that I had upon
earth.  Mayhap he had cause to be bitter against me, for his land
was given to the abbey for my upbringing.  Alas!  alas! and I
raised my staff against him when last we met!  He has been
slain--and slain, I fear, amidst crime and violence."

"Ha!" said Sir Nigel.  "Read on, I pray you."

"`God be with thee, my honored lord, and have thee in his holy
keeping.  The Lady Loring hath asked me to set down in writing
what hath befallen at Twynham, and all that concerns the death of
thy ill neighbor the Socman of Minstead.  For when ye had left
us, this evil man gathered around him all outlaws, villeins, and
masterless men, until they were come to such a force that they
slew and scattered the king's men who went against them.  Then,
coming forth from the woods, they laid siege to thy castle, and
for two days they girt us in and shot hard against us, with such
numbers as were a marvel to see.  Yet the Lady Loring held the
place stoutly, and on the second day the Socman was slain--by his
own men, as some think--so that we were delivered from their
hands; for which praise be to all the saints, and more especially
to the holy Anselm, upon whose feast it came to pass.  The Lady
Loring, and the Lady Maude, thy fair daughter, are in good
health; and so also am I, save for an imposthume of the toe-joint,
which hath been sent me for my sins.  May all the saints
preserve thee!'"

"It was the vision of the Lady Tiphaine," said Sir Nigel, after a
pause.  "Marked you not how she said that the leader was one with
a yellow beard, and how he fell before the gate.  But how came
it, Alleyne, that this woman, to whom all things are as crystal,
and who hath not said one word which has not come to pass, was
yet so led astray as to say that your thoughts turned to Twynham
Castle even more than my own?"

"My fair lord," said Alleyne, with a flush on his weather-stained
cheeks, "the Lady Tiphaine may have spoken sooth when she said
it; for Twynham Castle is in my heart by day and in my dreams by
night."

"Ha!" cried Sir Nigel, with a sidelong glance.

"Yes, my fair lord; for indeed I love your daughter, the Lady
Maude; and, unworthy as I am, I would give my heart's blood to
serve her."

"By St. Paul!  Edricson," said the knight coldly, arching his
eyebrows, "you aim high in this matter.  Our blood is very old."

"And mine also is very old," answered the squire.

"And the Lady Maude is our single child.  All our name and lands
centre upon her."

"Alas! that I should say it, but I also am now the only
Edricson."

"And why have I not heard this from you before, Alleyne? In
sooth, I think that you have used me ill."

"Nay, my fair lord, say not so; for I know not whether your
daughter loves me, and there is no pledge between us."

Sir Nigel pondered for a few moments, and then burst out a-laughing.
"By St. Paul!" said he, "I know not why I should mix in the matter;
 for I have ever found that the Lady Maude was very well able to
look to her own affairs.  Since first she could stamp her little
foot, she hath ever been able to get that for which she craved;
and if she set her heart on thee, Alleyne, and thou on her, I do
not think that this Spanish king, with his three-score thousand
men, could hold you apart.  Yet this I will say, that I would see
you a full knight ere you go to my daughter with words of love.
I have ever said that a brave lance should wed her; and, by my
soul!  Edricson, if God spare you, I think that you will acquit
yourself well.  But enough of such trifles, for we have our work
before us, and it will be time to speak of this matter when we
see the white cliffs of England once more.  Go to Sir William
Felton, I pray you, and ask him to come hither, for it is time
that we were marching.  There is no pass at the further end of the
valley, and it is a perilous place should an enemy come upon us."

Alleyne delivered his message, and then wandered forth from the
camp, for his mind was all in a whirl with this unexpected news,
and with his talk with Sir Nigel.  Sitting upon a rock, with his
burning brow resting upon his hands, he thought of his brother,
of their quarrel, of the Lady Maude in her bedraggled riding-dress,
of the gray old castle, of the proud pale face in the armory,
and of the last fiery words with which she had sped him on his way.
Then he was but a penniless, monk-bred lad, unknown and unfriended.
Now he was himself Socman of Minstead, the head of an old stock,
and the lord of an estate which, if reduced from its former size,
was still ample to preserve the dignity of his family.  Further,
he had become a man of experience, was counted brave among brave
men, had won the esteem and confidence of her father, and, above
all, had been listened to by him when he told him the secret of
his love.  As to the gaining of knighthood, in such stirring times
it was no great matter for a brave squire of gentle birth to aspire
to that honor.  He would leave his bones among these Spanish
ravines, or he would do some deed which would call the eyes of
men upon him.

Alleyne was still seated on the rock, his griefs and his joys
drifting swiftly over his mind like the shadow of clouds upon a
sunlit meadow, when of a sudden he became conscious of a low,
deep sound which came booming up to him through the fog.  Close
behind him he could hear the murmur of the bowmen, the occasional
bursts of hoarse laughter, and the champing and stamping of their
horses.  Behind it all, however, came that low-pitched, deep-toned
hum, which seemed to come from every quarter and to fill the whole
air.  In the old monastic days he remembered to have heard such a
sound when he had walked out one windy night at Bucklershard, and
had listened to the long waves breaking upon the shingly shore.
Here, however, was neither wind nor sea, and yet the dull murmur
rose ever louder and stronger out of the heart of the rolling sea
of vapor.  He turned and ran to the camp, shouting an alarm at the
top of his voice.

It was but a hundred paces, and yet ere he had crossed it every
bowman was ready at his horse's head, and the group of knights
were out and listening intently to the ominous sound.

"It is a great body of horse," said Sir William Felton, "and they
are riding very swiftly hitherwards."

"Yet they must be from the prince's army," remarked Sir Richard
Causton, "for they come from the north."

"Nay," said the Earl of Angus, "it is not so certain; for the
peasant with whom we spoke last night said that it was rumored
that Don Tello, the Spanish king's brother, had ridden with six
thousand chosen men to beat up the prince's camp.  It may be that
on their backward road they have come this way."

"By St. Paul!" cried Sir Nigel, "I think that it is even as you
say, for that same peasant had a sour face and a shifting eye, as
one who bore us little good will.  I doubt not that he has
brought these cavaliers upon us."

"But the mist covers us," said Sir Simon Burley.  "We have yet
time to ride through the further end of the pass."

"Were we a troop of mountain goats we might do so," answered Sir
William Felton, "but it is not to be passed by a company of
horsemen.  If these be indeed Don Tello and his men, then we must
bide where we are, and do what we can to make them rue the day
that they found us in their path."

"Well spoken, William!" cried Sir Nigel, in high delight.  "If
there be so many as has been said, then there will be much honor
to be gained from them and every hope of advancement.  But the
sound has ceased, and I fear that they have gone some other way."

"Or mayhap they have come to the mouth of the gorge, and are
marshalling their ranks.  Hush and hearken! for they are no great
way from us."

The Company stood peering into the dense fog-wreath, amidst a
silence so profound that the dripping of the water from the rocks
and the breathing of the horses grew loud upon the ear.  Suddenly
from out the sea of mist came the shrill sound of a neigh,
followed by a long blast upon a bugle.

"It is a Spanish call, my fair lord," said Black Simon.  "It is
used by their prickers and huntsmen when the beast hath not fled,
but is still in its lair."

"By my faith!" said Sir Nigel, smiling, "if they are in a humor
for venerie we may promise them some sport ere they sound the
mort over us.  But there is a hill in the centre of the gorge on
which we might take our stand."

"I marked it yester-night," said Felton, "and no better spot
could be found for our purpose, for it is very steep at the back.
It is but a bow-shot to the left, and, indeed, I can see the
shadow of it."

The whole Company, leading their horses, passed across to the
small hill which loomed in front of them out of the mist.  It was
indeed admirably designed for defence, for it sloped down in
front, all jagged and boulder-strewn, while it fell away in a
sheer cliff of a hundred feet or more.  On the summit was a small
uneven plateau, with a stretch across of a hundred paces, and a
depth of half as much again.

"Unloose the horses!" said Sir Nigel.  "We have no space for
them, and if we hold our own we shall have horses and to spare
when this day's work is done.  Nay, keep yours, my fair sirs, for
we may have work for them.  Aylward, Johnston, let your men form
a harrow on either side of the ridge.  Sir Oliver and you, my
Lord Angus, I give you the right wing, and the left to you, Sir
Simon, and to you, Sir Richard Causton.  I and Sir William Felton
will hold the centre with our men-at-arms.  Now order the ranks,
and fling wide the banners, for our souls are God's and our
bodies the king's, and our swords for Saint George and for
England!"

Sir Nigel had scarcely spoken when the mist seemed to thin in the
valley, and to shred away into long ragged clouds which trailed
from the edges of the cliffs.  The gorge in which they had camped
was a mere wedge-shaped cleft among the hills, three-quarters of
a mile deep, with the small rugged rising upon which they stood
at the further end, and the brown crags walling it in on three
sides.  As the mist parted, and the sun broke through, it gleamed
and shimmered with dazzling brightness upon the armor and
headpieces of a vast body of horsemen who stretched across the
barranca from one cliff to the other, and extended backwards
until their rear guard were far out upon the plain beyond.  Line
after line, and rank after rank, they choked the neck of the
valley with a long vista of tossing pennons, twinkling lances,
waving plumes and streaming banderoles, while the curvets and
gambades of the chargers lent a constant motion and shimmer to
the glittering, many-colored mass.  A yell of exultation, and a
forest of waving steel through the length and breadth of their
column, announced that they could at last see their entrapped
enemies, while the swelling notes of a hundred bugles and drums,
mixed with the clash of Moorish cymbals, broke forth into a proud
peal of martial triumph.  Strange it was to these gallant and
sparkling cavaliers of Spain to look upon this handful of men
upon the hill, the thin lines of bowmen, the knots of knights and
men-at-arms with armor rusted and discolored from long service,
and to learn that these were indeed the soldiers whose fame and
prowess had been the camp-fire talk of every army in Christendom.
Very still and silent they stood, leaning upon their bows, while
their leaders took counsel together in front of them.  No clang
of bugle rose from their stern ranks, but in the centre waved the
leopards of England, on the right the ensign of their Company
with the roses of Loring, and on the left, over three score of
Welsh bowmen, there floated the red banner of Merlin with the
boars'-heads of the Buttesthorns.  Gravely and sedately they
stood beneath the morning sun waiting for the onslaught of their
foemen.

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, gazing with puckered eye down
the valley, "there appear to be some very worthy people among
them.  What is this golden banner which waves upon the left?"

"It is the ensign of the Knights of Calatrava," answered Felton.

"And the other upon the right?"

"It marks the Knights of Santiago, and I see by his flag that
their grand-master rides at their head.  There too is the banner
of Castile amid yonder sparkling squadron which heads the main
battle.  There are six thousand men-at-arms with ten squadrons of
slingers as far as I may judge their numbers."

"There are Frenchmen among them, my fair lord," remarked Black
Simon.  "I can see the pennons of De Couvette, De Brieux, Saint
Pol, and many others who struck in against us for Charles of
Blois."

"You are right," said Sir William, "for I can also see them.
There is much Spanish blazonry also, if I could but read it.  Don
Diego, you know the arms of your own land.  Who are they who have
done us this honor?"

The Spanish prisoner looked with exultant eyes upon the deep and
serried ranks of his countrymen.

"By Saint James!" said he, "if ye fall this day ye fall by no
mean hands, for the flower of the knighthood of Castile ride
under the banner of Don Tello, with the chivalry of Asturias,
Toledo, Leon, Cordova, Galicia, and Seville.  I see the guidons
of Albornez, Cacorla, Rodriguez, Tavora, with the two great
orders, and the knights of France and of Aragon.  If you will
take my rede you will come to a composition with them, for they
will give you such terms as you have given me."

"Nay, by Saint Paul! it were pity if so many brave men were drawn
together, and no little deed of arms to come of it.  Ha! William,
they advance upon us; and, by my soul! it is a sight that is
worth coming over the seas to see."

As he spoke, the two wings of the Spanish host, consisting of the
Knights of Calatrava on the one side and of Santiago upon the
other, came swooping swiftly down the valley, while the main body
followed more slowly behind.  Five hundred paces from the English
the two great bodies of horse crossed each other, and, sweeping
round in a curve, retired in feigned confusion towards their
centre.  Often in bygone wars had the Moors tempted the hot-blooded
Spaniards from their places of strength by such pretended flights,
but there were men upon the hill to whom every ruse an trick of
war were as their daily trade and practice.  Again and even nearer
came the rallying Spaniards, and again with cry of fear and
stooping bodies they swerved off to right and left, but the
English still stood stolid and observant among their rocks.
The vanguard halted a long bow shot from the hill, and with
waving spears and vaunting shouts challenged their enemies to
come forth, while two cavaliers, pricking forward from the
glittering ranks, walked their horses slowly between the two
arrays with targets braced and lances in rest like the
challengers in a tourney.

"By Saint Paul!" cried Sir Nigel, with his one eye glowing like
an ember, "these appear to be two very worthy and debonair
gentlemen.  I do not call to mind when I have seen any people who
seemed of so great a heart and so high of enterprise.  We have our
horses, Sir William: shall we not relieve them of any vow which
they may have upon their souls?"

Felton's reply was to bound upon his charger, and to urge it down
the slope, while Sir Nigel followed not three spears'-lengths
behind him.  It was a rugged course, rocky and uneven, yet the
two knights, choosing their men, dashed onwards at the top of
their speed, while the gallant Spaniards flew as swiftly to meet
them.  The one to whom Felton found himself opposed was a tall
stripling with a stag's head upon his shield, while Sir Nigel's
man was broad and squat with plain steel harness, and a pink and
white torse bound round his helmet.  The first struck Felton on
the target with such force as to split it from side to side, but
Sir William's lance crashed through the camail which shielded
the Spaniard's throat, and he fell, screaming hoarsely, to the
ground.  Carried away by the heat and madness of fight, the
English knight never drew rein, but charged straight on into the
array of the knights of Calatrava.  Long time the silent ranks
upon the hill could see a swirl and eddy deep down in the heart
of the Spanish column, with a circle of rearing chargers and
flashing blades.  Here and there tossed the white plume of the
English helmet, rising and falling like the foam upon a wave,
with the fierce gleam and sparkle ever circling round it until at
last it had sunk from view, and another brave man had turned from
war to peace.

Sir Nigel, meanwhile, had found a foeman worthy of his steel for
his opponent was none other than Sebastian Gomez, the picked
lance of the monkish Knights of Santiago, who had won fame in a
hundred bloody combats with the Moors of Andalusia.  So fierce was
their meeting that their spears shivered up to the very grasp,
and the horses reared backwards until it seemed that they must
crash down upon their riders.  Yet with consummate horsemanship
they both swung round in a long curvet, and then plucking out
their swords they lashed at each other like two lusty smiths
hammering upon an anvil.  The chargers spun round each other,
biting and striking, while the two blades wheeled and whizzed and
circled in gleams of dazzling light.  Cut, parry, and thrust
followed so swiftly upon each other that the eye could not follow
them, until at last coming thigh to thigh, they cast their arms
around each other and rolled off their saddles to the ground.
The heavier Spaniard threw himself upon his enemy, and pinning
him down beneath him raised his sword to slay him, while a shout
of triumph rose from the ranks of his countrymen.  But the fatal
blow never fell, for even as his arm quivered before descending,
the Spaniard gave a shudder, and stiffening himself rolled
heavily over upon his side, with the blood gushing from his
armpit and from the slit of his vizor.  Sir Nigel sprang to his
feet with his bloody dagger in his left hand and gazed down upon
his adversary, but that fatal and sudden stab in the vital spot,
which the Spaniard had exposed by raising his arm, had proved
instantly mortal.  The Englishman leaped upon his horse and made
for the hill, at the very instant that a yell of rage from a
thousand voices and the clang of a score of bugles announced the
Spanish onset.

But the islanders were ready and eager for the encounter.  With
feet firmly planted, their sleeves rolled back to give free play
to their muscles, their long yellow bow-staves in their left
hands, and their quivers slung to the front, they had waited in
the four-deep harrow formation which gave strength to their
array, and yet permitted every man to draw his arrow freely
without harm to those in front.  Aylward and Johnston had been
engaged in throwing light tufts of grass into the air to gauge
the wind force, and a hoarse whisper passed down the ranks from
the file-leaders to the men, with scraps of advice and
admonition.

"Do not shoot outside the fifteen-score paces," cried Johnston.
"We may need all our shafts ere we have done with them."

"Better to overshoot than to undershoot," added Aylward.  "Better
to strike the rear guard than to feather a shaft in the earth."

"Loose quick and sharp when they come," added another.  "Let it be
the eye to the string, the string to the shaft, and the shaft to
the mark.  By Our Lady! their banners advance, and we must hold
our ground now if ever we are to see Southampton Water again."

Alleyne, standing with his sword drawn amidst the archers, saw a
long toss and heave of the glittering squadrons.  Then the front
ranks began to surge slowly forward, to trot, to canter, to
gallop, and in an instant the whole vast array was hurtling
onward, line after line, the air full of the thunder of their
cries, the ground shaking with the beat of their hoots, the
valley choked with the rushing torrent of steel, topped by the
waving plumes, the slanting spears and the fluttering banderoles.
On they swept over the level and up to the slope, ere they met
the blinding storm of the English arrows.  Down went the whole
ranks in a whirl of mad confusion, horses plunging and kicking,
bewildered men falling, rising, staggering on or back, while ever
new lines of horsemen came spurring through the gaps and urged
their chargers up the fatal slope.  All around him Alleyne could
hear the stern, short orders of the master-bowmen, while the air
was filled with the keen twanging of the strings and the swish
and patter of the shafts.  Right across the foot of the hill
there had sprung up a long wall of struggling horses and stricken
men, which ever grew and heightened as fresh squadrons poured on
the attack.  One young knight on a gray jennet leaped over his
fallen comrades and galloped swiftly up the hill, shrieking
loudly upon Saint James, ere he fell within a spear-length of the
English line, with the feathers of arrows thrusting out from
every crevice and joint of his armor.  So for five long minutes
the gallant horsemen of Spain and of France strove ever and again
to force a passage, until the wailing note of a bugle called them
back, and they rode slowly out of bow-shot, leaving their best
and their bravest in the ghastly, blood-mottled heap behind them.

But there was little rest for the victors.  Whilst the knights
had charged them in front the slingers had crept round upon
either flank and had gained a footing upon the cliffs and behind
the outlying rocks.  A storm of stones broke suddenly upon the
defenders, who, drawn up in lines upon the exposed summit,
offered a fair mark to their hidden foes.  Johnston, the old
archer, was struck upon the temple and fell dead without a groan,
while fifteen of his bowmen and six of the men-at-arms were
struck down at the same moment.  The others lay on their faces to
avoid the deadly hail, while at each side of the plateau a fringe
of bowmen exchanged shots with the slingers and crossbowmen
among the rocks, aiming mainly at those who had swarmed up the
cliffs, and bursting into laughter and cheers when a well-aimed
shaft brought one of their opponents toppling down from his lofty
perch.

"I think, Nigel," said Sir Oliver, striding across to the little
knight, "that we should all acquit ourselves better had we our
none-meat, for the sun is high in the heaven."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel, plucking the patch from his
eye, "I think that I am now clear of my vow, for this Spanish
knight was a person from whom much honor might be won.  Indeed, he
was a very worthy gentleman, of good courage, and great
hardiness, and it grieves me that he should have come by such a
hurt.  As to what you say of food, Oliver, it is not to be
thought of, for we have nothing with us upon the hill."

"Nigel!" cried Sir Simon Burley, hurrying up with consternation
upon his face, "Aylward tells me that there are not ten-score
arrows left in all their sheaves.  See! they are springing from
their horses, and cutting their sollerets that they may rush upon
us.  Might we not even now make a retreat?"

"My soul will retreat from my body first!" cried the little
knight.  "Here I am, and here I bide, while God gives me strength
to lift a sword."

"And so say I!" shouted Sir Oliver, throwing his mace high into
the air and catching it again by the handle.

"To your arms, men!" roared Sir Nigel.  "Shoot while you may, and
then out sword, and let us live or die together!"



CHAPTER XXXVII.

HOW THE WHITE COMPANY CAME TO BE DISBANDED.


Then up rose from the hill in the rugged Cantabrian valley a sound
such as had not been heard in those parts before, nor was again,
until the streams which rippled amid the rocks had been frozen by
over four hundred winters and thawed by as many returning
springs.  Deep and full and strong it thundered down the ravine,
the fierce battle-call of a warrior race, the last stern welcome
to whoso should join with them in that world-old game where the
stake is death.  Thrice it swelled forth and thrice it sank away,
echoing and reverberating amidst the crags.  Then, with set
faces, the Company rose up among the storm of stones, and looked
down upon the thousands who sped swiftly up the slope against
them.  Horse and spear had been set aside, but on foot, with
sword and battle-axe, their broad shields slung in front of them,
the chivalry of Spain rushed to the attack.

And now arose a struggle so fell, so long, so evenly sustained,
that even now the memory of it is handed down amongst the
Cantabrian mountaineers and the ill-omened knoll is still pointed
out by fathers to their children as the "Altura de los Inglesos,"
where the men from across the sea fought the great fight with the
knights of the south.  The last arrow was quickly shot, nor could
the slingers hurl their stones, so close were friend and foe.
From side to side stretched the thin line of the English, lightly
armed and quick-footed, while against it stormed and raged the
pressing throng of fiery Spaniards and of gallant Bretons.  The
clink of crossing sword-blades, the dull thudding of heavy blows,
the panting and gasping of weary and wounded men, all rose
together in a wild, long-drawn note, which swelled upwards to the
ears of the wondering peasants who looked down from the edges of
the cliffs upon the swaying turmoil of the battle beneath them.
Back and forward reeled the leopard banner, now borne up the
slope by the rush and weight of the onslaught, now pushing
downwards again as Sir Nigel, Burley, and Black Simon with their
veteran men-at arms, flung themselves madly into the fray.
Alleyne, at his lord's right hand, found himself swept hither and
thither in the desperate struggle, exchanging savage thrusts one
instant with a Spanish cavalier, and the next torn away by the
whirl of men and dashed up against some new antagonist.  To the
right Sir Oliver, Aylward, Hordle John, and the bowmen of the
Company fought furiously against the monkish Knights of Santiago,
who were led up the hill by their prior--a great, deep-chested
man, who wore a brown monastic habit over his suit of mail.
Three archers he slew in three giant strokes, but Sir Oliver
flung his arms round him, and the two, staggering and straining,
reeled backwards and fell, locked in each other's grasp, over the
edge of the steep cliff which flanked the hill.  In vain his
knights stormed and raved against the thin line which barred
their path: the sword of Aylward and the great axe of John
gleamed in the forefront of the battle and huge jagged pieces of
rock, hurled by the strong arms of the bowmen, crashed and
hurtled amid their ranks.  Slowly they gave back down the hill,
the archers still hanging upon their skirts, with a long litter
of writhing and twisted figures to mark the course which they
had taken.  At the same instant the Welshmen upon the left, led
on by the Scotch earl, had charged out from among the rocks which
sheltered them, and by the fury of their outfall had driven the
Spaniards in front of them in headlong flight down the hill.  In
the centre only things seemed to be going ill with the defenders.
Black Simon was down--dying, as he would wish to have died, like
a grim old wolf in its lair with a ring of his slain around him.
Twice Sir Nigel had been overborne, and twice Alleyne had fought
over him until he had staggered to his feet once more.  Burley
lay senseless, stunned by a blow from a mace, and half of the
men-at-arms lay littered upon the ground around him.  Sir Nigel's
shield was broken, his crest shorn, his armor cut and smashed,
and the vizor torn from his helmet; yet he sprang hither and
thither with light foot and ready hand, engaging two Bretons and
a Spaniard at the same instant--thrusting, stooping, dashing in,
springing out--while Alleyne still fought by his side, stemming
with a handful of men the fierce tide which surged up against
them.  Yet it would have fared ill with them had not the archers
from either side closed in upon the flanks of the attackers, and
pressed them very slowly and foot by foot down the long slope,
until they were on the plain once more, where their fellows were
already rallying for a fresh assault.

But terrible indeed was the cost at which the last had been
repelled.  Of the three hundred and seventy men who had held the
crest, one hundred and seventy-two were left standing, many of
whom were sorely wounded and weak from loss of blood.  Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn, Sir Richard Causton, Sir Simon Burley, Black Simon,
Johnston, a hundred and fifty archers, and forty-seven
men-at-arms had fallen, while the pitiless hail of stones
was already whizzing and piping once more about their ears,
threatening every instant to further reduce their numbers.

Sir Nigel looked about him at his shattered ranks, and his face
flushed with a soldier's pride.

"By St. Paul!" he cried, "I have fought in many a little
bickering, but never one that I would be more loth to have missed
than this.  But you are wounded, Alleyne?"

"It is nought," answered his squire, stanching the blood which
dripped from a sword-cut across his forehead.

"These gentlemen of Spain seem to be most courteous and worthy
people.  I see that they are already forming to continue this
debate with us.  Form up the bowmen two deep instead of four.  By
my faith! some very brave men have gone from among us.  Aylward,
you are a trusty soldier, for all that your shoulder has never
felt accolade, nor your heels worn the gold spurs.  Do you take
charge of the right; I will hold the centre, and you, my Lord of
Angus, the left."

"Ho! for Sir Samkin Aylward!" cried a rough voice among the
archers, and a roar of laughter greeted their new leader.

"By my hilt!" said the old bowman, "I never thought to lead a
wing in a stricken field.  Stand close, camarades, for, by these
finger-bones! we must play the man this day."

"Come hither, Alleyne," said Sir Nigel, walking back to the edge
of the cliff which formed the rear of their position.  "And you,
Norbury," he continued, beckoning to the squire of Sir Oliver,
"do you also come here."

The two squires hurried across to him, and the three stood
looking down into the rocky ravine which lay a hundred and fifty
feet beneath them.

"The prince must hear of how things are with us," said the
knight.  "Another onfall we may withstand, but they are many and
we are few, so that the time must come when we can no longer form
line across the hill.  Yet if help were brought us we might hold
the crest until it comes.  See yonder horses which stray among
the rocks beneath us?"

"I see them, my fair lord."

"And see yonder path which winds along the hill upon the further
end of the valley?"

"I see it."

"Were you on those horses, and riding up yonder track, steep and
rough as it is, I think that ye might gain the valley beyond.
Then on to the prince, and tell him how we fare."

"But, my fair lord, how can we hope to reach the horses?" asked
Norbury.

"Ye cannot go round to them, for they would be upon ye ere ye
could come to them.  Think ye that ye have heart enough to
clamber down this cliff?"

"Had we but a rope."

"There is one here.  It is but one hundred feet long, and for the
rest ye must trust to God and to your fingers.  Can you try it,
Alleyne?"

"With all my heart, my dear lord, but how can I leave you in such
a strait?"

"Nay, it is to serve me that ye go.  And you, Norbury?"

The silent squire said nothing, but he took up the rope, and,
having examined it, he tied one end firmly round a projecting
rock.  Then he cast off his breast-plate, thigh pieces, and
greaves, while Alleyne followed his example.

"Tell Chandos, or Calverley, or Knolles, should the prince have
gone forward," cried Sir Nigel.  "Now may God speed ye, for ye
are brave and worthy men."

It was, indeed, a task which might make the heart of the bravest
sink within him.  The thin cord dangling down the face of the
brown cliff seemed from above to reach little more than half-way
down it.  Beyond stretched the rugged rock, wet and shining, with
a green tuft here and there thrusting out from it, but little
sign of ridge or foothold.  Far below the jagged points of the
boulders bristled up, dark and menacing.  Norbury tugged thrice
with all his strength upon the cord, and then lowered himself
over the edge, while a hundred anxious faces peered over at him
as he slowly clambered downwards to the end of the rope.  Twice
he stretched out his foot, and twice he failed to reach the point
at which he aimed, but even as he swung himself for a third
effort a stone from a sling buzzed like a wasp from amid the
rocks and struck him full upon the side of his head.  His grasp
relaxed, his feet slipped, and in an instant he was a crushed and
mangled corpse upon the sharp ridges beneath him.

"If I have no better fortune," said Alleyne, leading Sir Nigel
aside.  "I pray you, my dear lord, that you will give my humble
service to the Lady Maude, and say to her that I was ever her
true servant and most unworthy cavalier."

The old knight said no word, but he put a hand on either
shoulder, and kissed his squire, with the tears shining in his
eyes.  Alleyne sprang to the rope, and sliding swiftly down, soon
found himself at its extremity.  From above it seemed as though
rope and cliff were well-nigh touching, but now, when swinging a
hundred feet down, the squire found that he could scarce reach
the face of the rock with his foot, and that it was as smooth as
glass, with no resting-place where a mouse could stand.  Some
three feet lower, however, his eye lit upon a long jagged crack
which slanted downwards, and this he must reach if he would save
not only his own poor life, but that of the eight-score men
above him.  Yet it were madness to spring for that narrow slit
with nought but the wet, smooth rock to cling to.  He swung for a
moment, full of thought, and even as he hung there another of the
hellish stones sang through his curls, and struck a chip from the
face of the cliff.  Up he clambered a few feet, drew up the loose
end after him, unslung his belt, held on with knee and with elbow
while he spliced the long, tough leathern belt to the end of the
cord: then lowering himself as far as he could go, he swung
backwards and forwards until his hand reached the crack, when he
left the rope and clung to the face of the cliff.  Another stone
struck him on the side, and he heard a sound like a breaking
stick, with a keen stabbing pain which shot through his chest.
Yet it was no time now to think of pain or ache.  There was his
lord and his eight-score comrades, and they must be plucked from
the jaws of death.  On he clambered, with his hand shuffling down
the long sloping crack, sometimes bearing all his weight upon his
arms, at others finding some small shelf or tuft on which to rest
his foot.  Would he never pass over that fifty feet? He dared not
look down and could but grope slowly onwards, his face to the
cliff, his fingers clutching, his feet scraping and feeling for a
support.  Every vein and crack and mottling of that face of rock
remained forever stamped upon his memory.  At last, however, his
foot came upon a broad resting-place and he ventured to cast a
glance downwards.  Thank God! he had reached the highest of those
fatal pinnacles upon which his comrade had fallen.  Quickly now he
sprang from rock to rock until his feet were on the ground, and
he had his hand stretched out for the horse's rein, when a
sling-stone struck him on the head, and he dropped senseless upon
the ground.

An evil blow it was for Alleyne, but a worse one still for him
who struck it.  The Spanish slinger, seeing the youth lie slain,
and judging from his dress that he was no common man, rushed
forward to plunder him, knowing well that the bowmen above him
had expended their last shaft.  He was still three paces,
however, from his victim's side when John upon the cliff above
plucked up a huge boulder, and, poising it for an instant,
dropped it with fatal aim upon the slinger beneath him.  It
struck upon his shoulder, and hurled him, crushed and screaming,
to the ground, while Alleyne, recalled to his senses by these
shrill cries in his very ear, staggered on to his feet, and gazed
wildly about him.  His eyes fell upon the horses, grazing upon
the scanty pasture, and in an instant all had come back to
him--his mission, his comrades, the need for haste.  He was
dizzy, sick, faint, but he must not die, and he must not tarry,
for his life meant many lives that day.  In an instant he was in
his saddle and spurring down the valley.  Loud rang the swift
charger's hoofs over rock and reef, while the fire flew from the
stroke of iron, and the loose stones showered up behind him.  But
his head was whirling round, the blood was gushing from his brow,
his temple, his mouth.  Ever keener and sharper was the deadly
pain which shot like a red-hot arrow through his side.  He felt
that his eye was glazing, his senses slipping from him, his grasp
upon the reins relaxing.  Then with one mighty effort, he called
up all his strength for a single minute.  Stooping down, he
loosened the stirrup-straps, bound his knees tightly to his
saddle-flaps, twisted his hands in the bridle, and then, putting
the gallant horse's head for the mountain path, he dashed the
spurs in and fell forward fainting with his face buried in the
coarse, black mane.

Little could he ever remember of that wild ride.  Half conscious,
but ever with the one thought beating in his mind, he goaded the
horse onwards, rushing swiftly down steep ravines over huge
boulders, along the edges of black abysses.  Dim memories he had
of beetling cliffs, of a group of huts with wondering faces at
the doors, of foaming, clattering water, and of a bristle of
mountain beeches.  Once, ere he had ridden far, he heard behind
him three deep, sullen shouts, which told him that his comrades
had set their faces to the foe once more.  Then all was blank,
until he woke to find kindly blue English eyes peering down upon
him and to hear the blessed sound of his country's speech.
They were but a foraging party--a hundred archers and as many
men-at-arms--but their leader was Sir Hugh Calverley, and he was
not a man to bide idle when good blows were to be had not three
leagues from him.  A scout was sent flying with a message to the
camp, and Sir Hugh, with his two hundred men, thundered off to the
rescue.  With them went Alleyne, still bound to his saddle, still
dripping with blood, and swooning and recovering, and swooning
once again.  On they rode, and on, until, at last, topping a
ridge, they looked down upon the fateful valley.  Alas! and alas!
for the sight that met their eyes.

There, beneath them, was the blood-bathed hill, and from the
highest pinnacle there flaunted the yellow and white banner with
the lions and the towers of the royal house of Castile.  Up the
long slope rushed ranks and ranks of men exultant, shouting, with
waving pennons and brandished arms.  Over the whole summit were
dense throngs of knights, with no enemy that could be seen to
face them, save only that at one corner of the plateau an eddy
and swirl amid the crowded mass seemed to show that all
resistance was not yet at an end.  At the sight a deep groan of
rage and of despair went up from the baffled rescuers, and,
spurring on their horses, they clattered down the long and
winding path which led to the valley beneath.

But they were too late to avenge, as they had been too late to
save.  Long ere they could gain the level ground, the Spaniards,
seeing them riding swiftly amid the rocks, and being ignorant of
their numbers, drew off from the captured hill, and, having
secured their few prisoners, rode slowly in a long column, with
drum-beating and cymbal-clashing, out of the valley.  Their rear
ranks were already passing out of sight ere the new-comers were
urging their panting, foaming horses up the slope which had been
the scene of that long drawn and bloody fight.

And a fearsome sight it was that met their eyes!  Across the
lower end lay the dense heap of men and horses where the first
arrow-storm had burst.  Above, the bodies of the dead and the
dying--French, Spanish, and Aragonese--lay thick and thicker,
until they covered the whole ground two and three deep in one
dreadful tangle of slaughter.  Above them lay the Englishmen in
their lines, even as they had stood, and higher yet upon the
plateau a wild medley of the dead of all nations, where the last
deadly grapple had left them.  In the further corner, under the
shadow of a great rock, there crouched seven bowmen, with great
John in the centre of them--all wounded, weary, and in sorry
case, but still unconquered, with their blood-stained weapons
waving and their voices ringing a welcome to their countrymen.
Alleyne rode across to John, while Sir Hugh Calverley followed
close behind him.

"By Saint George!" cried Sir Hugh, "I have never seen signs of so
stern a fight, and I am right glad that we have been in time to
save you."

"You have saved more than us," said John, pointing to the banner
which leaned against the rock behind him.

"You have done nobly," cried the old free companion, gazing with
a soldier's admiration at the huge frame and bold face of the
archer.  "But why is it, my good fellow, that you sit upon this
man."

"By the rood!  I had forgot him," John answered, rising and
dragging from under him no less a person than the Spanish
caballero, Don Diego Alvarez.  "This man, my fair lord, means to
me a new house, ten cows, one bull--if it be but a little one--a
grindstone, and I know not what besides; so that I thought it
well to sit upon him, lest he should take a fancy to leave me."

"Tell me, John," cried Alleyne faintly: "where is my dear lord,
Sir Nigel Loring?"

"He is dead, I fear.  I saw them throw his body across a horse
and ride away with it, but I fear the life had gone from him."

"Now woe worth me!  And where is Aylward?"

"He sprang upon a riderless horse and rode after Sir Nigel to
save him.  I saw them throng around him, and he is either taken
or slain."

"Blow the bugles!" cried Sir Hugh, with a scowling brow.  "We must
back to camp, and ere three days I trust that we may see these
Spaniards again.  I would fain have ye all in my company."

"We are of the White Company, my fair lord," said John.

"Nay, the White Company is here disbanded," answered Sir Hugh
solemnly, looking round him at the lines of silent figures, "Look
to the brave squire, for I fear that he will never see the sun
rise again."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

OF THE HOME-COMING TO HAMPSHIRE.


It was a bright July morning four months after that fatal fight
in the Spanish barranca.  A blue heaven stretched above, a green
rolling plain undulated below, intersected with hedge-rows and
flecked with grazing sheep.  The sun was yet low in the heaven,
and the red cows stood in the long shadow of the elms, chewing
the cud and gazing with great vacant eyes at two horsemen who
were spurring it down the long white road which dipped and curved
away back to where the towers and pinnacles beneath the flat-topped
hill marked the old town of Winchester.

Of the riders one was young, graceful, and fair, clad in plain
doublet and hosen of blue Brussels cloth, which served to show
his active and well-knit figure.  A flat velvet cap was drawn
forward to keep the glare from his eyes, and he rode with lips
compressed and anxious face, as one who has much care upon his
mind.  Young as he was, and peaceful as was his dress, the dainty
golden spurs which twinkled upon his heels proclaimed his
knighthood, while a long seam upon his brow and a scar upon his
temple gave a manly grace to his refined and delicate
countenance.  His comrade was a large, red-headed man upon a
great black horse, with a huge canvas bag slung from his
saddle-bow, which jingled and clinked with every movement of his
steed.  His broad, brown face was lighted up by a continual
smile, and he looked slowly from side to side with eyes which
twinkled and shone with delight.  Well might John rejoice, for
was he not back in his native Hampshire, had he not Don Diego's
five thousand crowns rasping against his knee, and above all was
he not himself squire now to Sir Alleyne Edricson, the young
Socman of Minstead lately knighted by the sword of the Black
Prince himself, and esteemed by the whole army as one of the most
rising of the soldiers of England.

For the last stand of the Company had been told throughout
Christendom wherever a brave deed of arms was loved, and honors
had flowed in upon the few who had survived it.  For two months
Alleyne had wavered betwixt death and life, with a broken rib and
a shattered head; yet youth and strength and a cleanly life were
all upon his side, and he awoke from his long delirium to find
that the war was over, that the Spaniards and their allies had
been crushed at Navaretta, and that the prince had himself heard
the tale of his ride for succor and had come in person to his
bedside to touch his shoulder with his sword and to insure that
so brave and true a man should die, if he could not live, within
the order of chivalry.  The instant that he could set foot to
ground Alleyne had started in search of his lord, but no word
could he hear of him, dead or alive, and he had come home now
sad-hearted, in the hope of raising money upon his estates and so
starting upon his quest once more.  Landing at London, he had
hurried on with a mind full of care, for he had heard no word
from Hampshire since the short note which had announced his
brother's death.

"By the rood!" cried John, looking around him exultantly, "where
have we seen since we left such noble cows, such fleecy sheep,
grass so green, or a man so drunk as yonder rogue who lies in the
gap of the hedge?"

"Ah, John," Alleyne answered wearily, "it is well for you, but I
never thought that my home-coming would be so sad a one.  My
heart is heavy for my dear lord and for Aylward, and I know not
how I may break the news to the Lady Mary and to the Lady Maude,
if they have not yet had tidings of it."

John gave a groan which made the horses shy.  "It is indeed a
black business," said he.  "But be not sad, for I shall give half
these crowns to my old mother, and half will I add to the money
which you may have, and so we shall buy that yellow cog wherein
we sailed to Bordeaux, and in it we shall go forth and seek Sir
Nigel."

Alleyne smiled, but shook his head.  "Were he alive we should
have had word of him ere now," said he.  "But what is this town
before us?"

"Why, it is Romsey!" cried John.  "See the tower of the old gray
church, and the long stretch of the nunnery.  But here sits a
very holy man, and I shall give him a crown for his prayers."

Three large stones formed a rough cot by the roadside, and beside
it, basking in the sun, sat the hermit, with clay-colored face,
dull eyes, and long withered hands.  With crossed ankles and
sunken head, he sat as though all his life had passed out of
him, with the beads slipping slowly through his thin, yellow
fingers.  Behind him lay the narrow cell, clay-floored and damp,
comfortless, profitless and sordid.  Beyond it there lay amid
the trees the wattle-and-daub hut of a laborer, the door open,
and the single room exposed to the view.  The man ruddy and
yellow-haired, stood leaning upon the spade wherewith he had
been at work upon the garden patch.  From behind him came the
ripple of a happy woman's laughter, and two young urchins darted
forth from the hut, bare-legged and towsy, while the mother,
stepping out, laid her hand upon her husband's arm and watched
the gambols of the children.  The hermit frowned at the untoward
noise which broke upon his prayers, but his brow relaxed as he
looked upon the broad silver piece which John held out to him.

"There lies the image of our past and of our future," cried
Alleyne, as they rode on upon their way.  "Now, which is better,
to till God's earth, to have happy faces round one's knee, and to
love and be loved, or to sit forever moaning over one's own soul,
like a mother over a sick babe?"

"I know not about that," said John, "for it casts a great cloud
over me when I think of such matters.  But I know that my crown
was well spent, for the man had the look of a very holy person.
As to the other, there was nought holy about him that I could
see, and it would be cheaper for me to pray for myself than to
give a crown to one who spent his days in digging for lettuces."

Ere Alleyne could answer there swung round the curve of the road
a lady's carriage drawn by three horses abreast with a postilion
upon the outer one.  Very fine and rich it was, with beams
painted and gilt, wheels and spokes carved in strange figures,
and over all an arched cover of red and white tapestry.
Beneath its shade there sat a stout and elderly lady in a pink
cote-hardie, leaning back among a pile of cushions, and plucking
out her eyebrows with a small pair of silver tweezers.  None
could seem more safe and secure and at her ease than this lady,
yet here also was a symbol of human life, for in an instant, even
as Alleyne reined aside to let the carriage pass, a wheel flew
out from among its fellows, and over it all toppled--carving,
tapestry and gilt--in one wild heap, with the horses plunging,
the postilion shouting, and the lady screaming from within.  In
an instant Alleyne and John were on foot, and had lifted her
forth all in a shake with fear, but little the worse for her
mischance.

"Now woe worth me!" she cried, "and ill fall on Michael Easover
of Romsey! for I told him that the pin was loose, and yet he must
needs gainsay me, like the foolish daffe that he is."

"I trust that you have taken no hurt, my fair lady," said
Alleyne, conducting her to the bank, upon which John had already
placed a cushion.

"Nay, I have had no scath, though I have lost my silver tweezers.
Now, lack-a-day! did God ever put breath into such a fool as
Michael Easover of Romsey?  But I am much beholden to you, gentle
sirs.  Soldiers ye are, as one may readily see.  I am myself a
soldier's daughter," she added, casting a somewhat languishing
glance at John, "and my heart ever goes out to a brave man."

"We are indeed fresh from Spain," quoth Alleyne.

"From Spain, say you?  Ah! it was an ill and sorry thing that so
many should throw away the lives that Heaven gave them.  In
sooth, it is bad for those who fall, but worse for those who bide
behind.  I have but now bid farewell to one who hath lost all in
this cruel war."

"And how that, lady?"

"She is a young damsel of these parts, and she goes now into a
nunnery.  Alack! it is not a year since she was the fairest maid
from Avon to Itchen, and now it was more than I could abide to
wait at Romsey Nunnery to see her put the white veil upon her
face, for she was made for a wife and not for the cloister.  Did
you ever, gentle sir, hear of a body of men called `The White
Company' over yonder?"

"Surely so," cried both the comrades.

"Her father was the leader of it, and her lover served under him
as squire.  News hath come that not one of the Company was left
alive, and so, poor lamb, she hath----"

"Lady!" cried Alleyne, with catching breath, "is it the Lady
Maude Loring of whom you speak?"

"It is, in sooth."

"Maude!  And in a nunnery!  Did, then, the thought of her
father's death so move her?"

"Her father!" cried the lady, smiling.  "Nay; Maude is a good
daughter, but I think it was this young golden-haired squire of
whom I have heard who has made her turn her back upon the world."

"And I stand talking here!" cried Alleyne wildly.  "Come, John,
come!"

Rushing to his horse, he swung himself into the saddle, and was
off down the road in a rolling cloud of dust as fast as his good
steed could bear him.

Great had been the rejoicing amid the Romsey nuns when the Lady
Maude Loring had craved admission into their order--for was she
not sole child and heiress of the old knight, with farms and
fiefs which she could bring to the great nunnery?  Long and
earnest had been the talks of the gaunt lady abbess, in which she
had conjured the young novice to turn forever from the world, and
to rest her bruised heart under the broad and peaceful shelter of
the church.  And now, when all was settled, and when abbess and
lady superior had had their will, it was but fitting that some
pomp and show should mark the glad occasion.  Hence was it that
the good burghers of Romsey were all in the streets, that gay
flags and flowers brightened the path from the nunnery to the
church, and that a long procession wound up to the old arched
door leading up the bride to these spiritual nuptials.  There was
lay-sister Agatha with the high gold crucifix, and the three
incense-bearers, and the two-and-twenty garbed in white, who cast
flowers upon either side of them and sang sweetly the while.
Then, with four attendants, came the novice, her drooping head
wreathed with white blossoms, and, behind, the abbess and her
council of older nuns, who were already counting in their minds
whether their own bailiff could manage the farms of Twynham, or
whether a reeve would be needed beneath him, to draw the utmost
from these new possessions which this young novice was about to
bring them.

But alas! for plots and plans when love and youth and nature,
and above all, fortune are arrayed against them.  Who is this
travel-stained youth who dares to ride so madly through the lines
of  staring burghers?  Why does he fling himself from his horse
and stare so strangely about him?  See how he has rushed through
the incense-bearers, thrust aside lay-sister Agatha, scattered the
two-and-twenty damosels who sang so sweetly--and he stands before
the novice with his hands out-stretched, and his face shining,
and the light of love in his gray eyes.  Her foot is on the very
lintel of the church, and yet he bars the way--and she, she
thinks no more of the wise words and holy rede of the lady
abbess, but she hath given a sobbing cry and hath fallen forward
with his arms around her drooping body and her wet cheek upon his
breast.  A sorry sight this for the gaunt abbess, an ill lesson
too for the stainless two-and-twenty who have ever been taught
that the way of nature is the way of sin.  But Maude and Alleyne
care little for this.  A dank, cold air comes out from the black
arch before them.  Without, the sun shines bright and the birds
are singing amid the ivy on the drooping beeches.  Their choice
is made, and they turn away hand-in-hand, with their backs to the
darkness and their faces to the light.

Very quiet was the wedding in the old priory church at
Christchurch, where Father Christopher read the service, and
there were few to see save the Lady Loring and John, and a dozen
bowmen from the castle.  The Lady of Twynham had drooped and
pined for weary months, so that her face was harsher and less
comely than before, yet she still hoped on, for her lord had come
through so many dangers that she could scarce believe that he
might be stricken down at last.  It had been her wish to start
for Spain and to search for him, but Alleyne had persuaded her
to let him go in her place.  There was much to look after, now
that the lands of Minstead were joined to those of Twynham, and
Alleyne had promised her that if she would but bide with his wife
he would never come back to Hampshire again until he had gained
some news, good or ill, of her lord and lover.

The yellow cog had been engaged, with Goodwin Hawtayne in
command, and a month after the wedding Alleyne rode down to
Bucklershard to see if she had come round yet from Southampton.
On the way he passed the fishing village of Pitt's Deep, and
marked that a little creyer or brig was tacking off the land, as
though about to anchor there.  On his way back, as he rode
towards the village, he saw that she had indeed anchored, and
that many boats were round her, bearing cargo to the shore.

A bow-shot from Pitt's Deep there was an inn a little back from
the road, very large and wide-spread, with a great green bush
hung upon a pole from one of the upper windows.  At this window
he marked, as he rode up, that a man was seated who appeared to
be craning his neck in his direction.  Alleyne was still looking
up at him, when a woman came rushing from the open door of the
inn, and made as though she would climb a tree, looking back the
while with a laughing face.  Wondering what these doings might
mean, Alleyne tied his horse to a tree, and was walking amid the
trunks towards the inn, when there shot from the entrance a
second woman who made also for the trees.  Close at her heels
came a burly, brown-faced man, who leaned against the door-post
and laughed loudly with his hand to his side, "Ah, mes belles!"
he cried, "and is it thus you treat me?  Ah, mes petites!  I
swear by these finger-bones that I would not hurt a hair of your
pretty heads; but I have been among the black paynim, and, by my
hilt! it does me good to look at your English cheeks.  Come,
drink a stoup of muscadine with me, mes anges, for my heart is
warm to be among ye again."

At the sight of the man Alleyne had stood staring, but at the
sound of his voice such a thrill of joy bubbled up in his heart
that he had to bite his lip to keep himself from shouting
outright.  But a deeper pleasure yet was in store.  Even as he
looked, the window above was pushed outwards, and the voice of
the man whom he had seen there came out from it.  "Aylward,"
cried the voice, "I have seen just now a very worthy person come
down the road, though my eyes could scarce discern whether he
carried coat-armor.  I pray you to wait upon him and tell him
that a very humble knight of England abides here, so that if he
be in need of advancement, or have any small vow upon his soul,
or desire to exalt his lady, I may help him to accomplish it."

Aylward at this order came shuffling forward amid the trees, and
in an instant the two men were clinging in each other's arms,
laughing and shouting and patting each other in their delight;
while old Sir Nigel came running with his sword, under the
impression that some small bickering had broken out, only to
embrace and be embraced himself, until all three were hoarse with
their questions and outcries and congratulations.

On their journey home through the woods Alleyne learnt their
wondrous story: how, when Sir Nigel came to his senses, he with
his fellow-captive had been hurried to the coast, and conveyed by
sea to their captor's castle; how upon the way they had been
taken by a Barbary rover, and how they exchanged their light
captivity for a seat on a galley bench and hard labor at the
pirate's oars; how, in the port at Barbary, Sir Nigel had slain
the Moorish captain, and had swum with Aylward to a small coaster
which they had taken, and so made their way to England with a
rich cargo to reward them for their toils.  All this Alleyne
listened to, until the dark keep of Twynham towered above them
in the gloaming, and they saw the red sun lying athwart the
rippling Avon.  No need to speak of the glad hearts at Twynham
Castle that night, nor of the rich offerings from out that
Moorish cargo which found their way to the chapel of Father
Christopher.

Sir Nigel Loring lived for many years, full of honor and laden
with every blessing.  He rode no more to the wars, but he found
his way to every jousting within thirty miles; and the Hampshire
youth treasured it as the highest honor when a word of praise
fell from him as to their management of their horses, or their
breaking of their lances.  So he lived and so he died, the most
revered and the happiest man in all his native shire.

For Sir Alleyne Edricson and for his beautiful bride the future
had also naught but what was good.  Twice he fought in France,
and came back each time laden with honors.  A high place at court
was given to him, and he spent many years at Windsor under the
second Richard and the fourth Henry--where he received the honor
of the Garter, and won the name of being a brave soldier, a
true-hearted gentleman, and a great lover and patron of every
art and science which refines or ennobles life.

As to John, he took unto himself a village maid, and settled in
Lyndhurst, where his five thousand crowns made him the richest
franklin for many miles around.  For many years he drank his ale
every night at the "Pied Merlin," which was now kept by his
friend Aylward, who had wedded the good widow to whom he had
committed his plunder.  The strong men and the bowmen of the
country round used to drop in there of an evening to wrestle a
fall with John or to shoot a round with Aylward; but, though a
silver shilling was to be the prize of the victory, it has never
been reported that any man earned much money in that fashion.  So
they lived, these men, in their own lusty, cheery fashion--rude
and rough, but honest, kindly and true.  Let us thank God if we
have outgrown their vices.  Let us pray to God that we may ever
hold their virtues.  The sky may darken, and the clouds may
gather, and again the day may come when Britain may have sore
need of her children, on whatever shore of the sea they be found.
Shall they not muster at her call?




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