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A March on London by G. A. Henty

Part 6 out of 6

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a loud voice:

"Sir Hugh Calverley, a valiant and puissant knight of England, desires
speech with Sir Robert De Beaulieu, a brave and gentle knight of
Flanders."

"I am Sir Robert De Beaulieu. Pray tell Sir Hugh Calverley to do me the
courtesy to wait for me a quarter of an hour, and I will then issue forth
and speak to him."

At the end of that time Sir Robert rode out, and crossed the bridge which
had been lowered across the ditch for the passage of the soldiers engaged
in collecting the dead. He was followed by two esquires and four men-at-
arms, the latter bearing something behind them on their horses. The two
knights saluted each other courteously, and Sir Hugh introduced his two
companions to Sir Robert.

"I am glad, indeed," the latter said to Calverley, "thus to have the
opportunity of meeting one of the most famous knights in Europe. My men-
at-arms are bearers of the armour of Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir Albert De
Courcy, who are, I believe, knights riding in your train. I promised them
that I would send the armour on the first opportunity, and am glad indeed
that the occasion has come so speedily."

He and Sir Hugh had both dismounted after saluting each other, and the
latter held out his mailed hand to the Fleming.

"Sir Robert De Beaulieu," he said, "I have heard of you as a brave and
honourable knight, and you have in this matter proved yourself to be a
chivalrous and generous one in thus rendering up the spoil fairly won by
you, without ransom; but it is not our custom to be outdone in
generosity. The armour is of no ordinary value, and, as these knights of
mine were made prisoners while covering my removal when insensible and
helpless, I feel that the debt is mine as well as theirs. They have begged
me to give you these two chains, both, as you see, of value, and of the
best Italian work. To these I add, as a token of my esteem for you, this
casket, which was given to me by Don Pedro of Spain when I rode with the
Black Prince to aid him in his struggle with Don Henry. As you will see by
the parchment attached to the casket, it contains a nail of the true
cross, brought from Palestine by a Spanish grandee who was knight
commander of the Spanish branch of the Knights Templar. I pray you to
accept it, not as part of the ransom for my knights' armour, but as a
proof of my esteem for one who has shown himself a flower of knightly
courtesy."

"It would be churlish, Sir Hugh Calverley, for me to refuse so noble a
gift thus courteously tendered. I shall prize it beyond any in my
possession, not only for its own value and holiness, but as the gift of so
noble and famous a knight. As to the chains, I pray you to return them to
your brave young knights. Never did I see men who bore themselves more
gallantly, and Sir Edgar, especially, withstood with honour a score of us
for some time, and at last he yielded, not because he was conquered, but
to save further bloodshed. They are young, and may, like enough, some day
be again made prisoners. In that case they may find the chains, which are
of singular beauty, of value to them; therefore, I pray you, hand them
back to them again as a token of how warmly I appreciate their bravery and
conduct."

"Right gladly will I do so. As you put it in that way, Sir Robert, they
will appreciate the gift as much as I do, and, as you say, maybe the
chains will be useful to them some day, for they are not of those who
battle for spoil, and, like myself, have refused all share in that which
the army has taken in Flanders, holding that we had no cause of dispute
with your people, and that our assault upon them was unfairly and unjustly
made."

After some more compliments had been exchanged, the two knights grasped
each other's hands courteously, remounted, and then saluting again, rode
off. While the conversation had been going on, Sir Robert's men-at-arms
had handed over the armour to the three retainers who had ridden behind
Sir Hugh and his two knights.

Edgar and Albert were delighted at regaining their armour. It would have
been impossible for them to have replaced the harness by similar suits,
and, moreover, they felt that they would have been humiliated had they, on
their return to England, been obliged to confess to Sir Robert Gaiton that
they had lost the splendid presents that he had given them. They were less
pleased at the return of their chains, but Sir Hugh assured them that it
would be an act of discourtesy were they to send them back to De Beaulieu.

There was now nothing to detain them longer in the camp, and taking leave
of Sir Hugh, they started the next morning, with Hal Carter and the other
surviving retainers, and rode by easy stages to Gravelines, where they
took ship for Dover. Instead of riding directly home, they journeyed to
London, as they were bearers of a letter from Sir Hugh Calverley to the
council, and one also to the king. The latter received them with marked
pleasure.

"What! back from the wars, sir knights?" he said, as they handed him Sir
Hugh's letter. "Surely Calverley might have chosen as his messengers some
whose swords could have been better spared."

"We were chosen, your Majesty, because we had the misfortune to be taken
prisoners at Ypres, and it was a condition of our release that we should
take no further part in the campaign, and as we were returning in
consequence, Sir Hugh committed to us this letter to yourself, and one to
the council."

"Prisoners!" the king said, with a laugh; "that you had got yourselves
killed would not have surprised me, but that you should surrender never
entered my mind."

The two young knights coloured.

"It cannot be said that Sir Albert surrendered," Edgar said, "seeing that
he was insensible from his wounds. As for myself, your Majesty, as I and
one of my men-at-arms stood alone on the walls of Ypres surrounded by
foes, I trust that your Majesty will see that it was wiser for me to
yield, and so to have the opportunity of fighting again some day under
your royal banner, than to give away my life uselessly."

"Assuredly, assuredly," the young king said, hastily. "I did but jest, Sir
Edgar, for I know that so long as a chance of victory remained, you would
not lower your sword. However, let me see what the stout knight says. I
know already that he does not approve of the way in which the war is being
carried on; and, indeed, had we thought that the headstrong bishop would
have disregarded Sir Hugh's counsel and embroiled us with the Flemings,
whom we regard as our allies, we should not have placed him at the head of
the army, for though it is but, as the bishop maintains, a church army,
and not an English army, Europe will assuredly hold us responsible for its
doings."

He cut with his dagger the silk that bound the roll of parchment together.

The king read the letter carefully, and when he concluded said:

"Truly, young sirs, you have borne yourselves right gallantly and well;
Sir Hugh Calverley speaks strongly indeed in your favour, and says that he
owes his freedom if not his life to you. And now, tell me, think you that
Ypres will be taken?"

"I fear not, your Majesty," Edgar said. "I thought that the siege of
Oudenarde was worse conducted than anything I had ever read of, but the
siege of Ypres is to the full as faulty. The place is strong and stoutly
defended, and it can only be taken by regular works erected against it and
machines placed to batter a breach. Nothing of this sort has been
attempted. The troops march valiantly against the walls, but they throw
away their lives in vain; and if, as is said, the French king is marching
to its assistance with a strong army, there will be naught for us but to
retreat to the ports unless strong aid arrives from England."

"But the bishop has some eight thousand Englishmen and twenty thousand
Ghentois," the king said. "Surely we might fight and win, as our
grandfathers did at Crcy."

"Yes, sire; but the English army at Crcy was commanded by a king, and was
composed of good fighting men, with a great number of knights and nobles
to lead them. The army in Flanders is commanded by a bishop, and there are
many of the men who have gone over for the sake of plunder, and they will
make but a poor stand in battle."

"My uncle of Lancaster has gathered a large force, and is ready to cross
over to their aid," the king said.

"So we have heard by the way, sire, and if he joins the bishop all may be
well, for his authority would be paramount, but at present he has not
crossed, and unless he arrives before the King of France, things will
assuredly go badly with the bishop."

"I have no doubt that Sir Hugh has set forth these matters in his letter
to the council," the king said, "but assuredly Lancaster should be there
in time. And now, tell me how you made your escape from Ypres."

Edgar related the circumstances.

"Your captor was an honourable gentleman," the king said, "and it is well
that you escaped, for these Flemish burghers are masterful men and might
well have murdered you. I must now to the council; I have summoned it to
assemble. Have you been home yet?"

"No, sire. Our first duty was to bring you the letters, but, with your
permission, we shall ride down into Kent tomorrow."

"Do you know that your friend Van Voorden has again returned to London? He
found that he could do naught in Flanders, which at present is wholly at
the orders of the King of France."

They rode first to Sir Robert Gaiton's house, where, as always, they were
welcomed most warmly, and Albert narrated their adventures in Flanders,
and how they still owned the armour he had given them.

After staying there for some time they went to the house where Van Voorden
was lodging, having obtained his address from Sir Robert Gaiton. They had
not seen him since they had parted from him in Ghent, a year before.

"I thought you intended to settle in Flanders, Mynheer," Edgar said, after
the first greetings were over.

"I hoped to do so, and after I left Antwerp I went to Louvain and took a
house there, but when the King of France defeated and killed Van
Artevelde, and all Flanders save Ghent came under his power, the country
was no longer safe for me. It was known, of course, that I was for many
years here, and that I had done all in my power to effect a league between
Ghent and England, so three months ago I crossed hither, leaving my wife
and daughter at Louvain. I stopped for a short time at Ghent, and had much
to do with bringing it about that Ghent should send an army to assist the
English; but I fear that the doings of the bishop's troops--the sacking of
towns by them--has so set the Flemings against England that there is no
hope of a general alliance being made with Flanders.

"There were other things for which I wished to come over. I had hoped to
return before this, but matters seem to be going on but badly, and if the
King of France and his army defeat or drive out the bishop, his power will
be greater than ever in Flanders, and in that case I shall send for my
wife and daughter to come over again, and establish myself here finally."

On taking leave of them he handed a wooden box to each, saying:

"I pray you not to open these until you reach home."

The next day Edgar and Albert rode down into Kent. Great was the surprise
that their presence excited when they arrived at De Courcy's castle. Aline
ran down into the courtyard and embraced her brother warmly, and then, as
was the custom, held up her cheek to be kissed by Edgar.

"What, tired of the wars already?" she said, laughing. "Or have you killed
all your enemies? or how is it that you are here?"

"We have been prisoners, Aline," her brother said, "and have been bound to
take no farther part in the war."

"Prisoners!" she repeated; "you are joking with me, Albert. Surely you and
Edgar would never have surrendered unharmed?"

"Nor did we, Aline. I was cut down and stunned by the blow of a mace, and
was lying insensible."

"And what was Edgar doing?" she asked, looking reproachfully at him.

"Edgar was not near me when I was struck down, Aline, but no sooner did I
fall than he, with his man-at-arms, Hal Carter, stood over me and kept at
bay a host of knights and soldiers, and slew so many that they were glad
at last to give him terms of surrender."

The girl's face flushed, and she would have spoken had not Sir Ralph and
her mother at that moment issued from the door.

"Why! what brings you home, lads?" Sir Ralph asked, heartily.

"They have been taken prisoners, father," Aline interposed, "and Albert
has been wounded, and they have both been obliged to give their parole not
to serve again through the war."

"That is bad news indeed," the knight said. "It means another farm gone,
and perhaps two, to pay for Albert's ransom. However, it is the fortune of
war. Now come in and tell us all about it; but doubtless you are both
hungry, and the matter will keep till you have dined. The meal is already
on the table. You are not looking much the worse for your wounds, Albert,"
his father went on as they seated themselves at table.

"I have been healed of them for the last month, father. I was brought down
by the blow of a mace, which would have finished me had it not been for
the good work put into my helmet by the Milanese armourer. Also I had a
wound on the neck, but fortunately it was not very deep."

"And did you come out of it scatheless, Edgar?"

"Nearly scatheless, for I knew not that I had been wounded until the fight
was over, and it was but a pike thrust that entered at the shoulder-joint
and cut the flesh thence to the neck. It was but an affair of a bandage
and a bit of plaster. The only one seriously hurt was Hal Carter--it was
some three weeks before he began to mend. He had half a dozen wounds.
Another of my men was killed and two of Albert's."

"Now let us hear all about it," Sir Ralph said when the meal was over;
"that you bore yourselves well I have no doubt, but I would fain hear the
details of the matter."

Albert told the whole story of the assault and the escape, interrupted by
Edgar, who protested that Albert was always belittling his own doings, and
giving him credit when everything had been done equally by them both.

"You blame Albert unjustly, Edgar," Sir Ralph said when the story was
concluded. "Albert has behaved well, but he has neither your strength,
your skill, nor your quickness. It was you who thought of carrying the
broken ladder to another spot, and so taking the besieged on the wall by
surprise, and you were the first to mount it. It was you who, when you saw
that the case had become altogether hopeless, ordered the soldiers to save
themselves, while you held the enemy at bay. Albert would like enough have
been killed, had you not so stoutly defended him that they gave terms of
surrender to you both. You, again, had the idea of making your escape
along the roofs, and took the lead in it. There is all credit due to
Albert that he well seconded you, but it was you who led. Again, it is
probable that neither he nor your man-at-arms would have been able to
cross those half-frozen ditches, had you not first broken the ice for them
and then dragged them over. You have done wonders for Albert, but you
could not accomplish miracles. You have transformed him from a weakling
into a brave young knight, of whom I am proud, but you cannot give him
your strength or your quickness. If you go on as you have began, Edgar,
you will become a famous captain. He will remain, and will be content to
remain, your companion and lieutenant. What have you in those boxes that
were strapped behind your saddles?"

"I know not, Sir Ralph," Albert said. "They were given to us by Mynheer
Van Voorden, and he charged us not to open them until we arrived here."

"It is a mystery, then!" Aline exclaimed. "Let us send for them and open
them at once. I am glad one of the boxes was not given to me to take care
of, for I am afraid I should never have had the patience to wait until I
arrived here before opening it."

Sir Ralph ordered the boxes to be brought in. "They are light enough," he
said, "and I should judge from their weight that they contain papers of
some sort. Open yours first, Albert."

They were fastened by three skeins of silk, the Fleming's seal being
affixed to the knots.

"Cut them, Albert!" Aline exclaimed, as her brother proceeded to break the
seals and untie the knots.

"No, no," he said; "silk is not to be picked up on the wayside, and it
will be little trouble to undo them."

Indeed, in a minute he had unfastened the knots and raised the lid. At the
top lay a piece of paper, on which was written, _A slight testimony of
gratitude for inestimable services rendered to yours gratefully, John Van
Voorden_. Underneath was a roll of parchment.

"What have we here?" Sir Ralph said. Albert ran his eye over the crabbed
black-letter writing, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Now, then, Albert," Aline exclaimed, impatiently, "don't keep it all to
yourself. We are burning to know what it is all about!"

Albert made no reply, but continued to read. "It is an assignment to me,"
he said, at last, in a low and agitated voice, "of the lands, castle,
messuages, tenements, etc., of Cliffe."

Sir Ralph leapt to his feet. "A princely gift, Albert! The lands are four
times as large as mine, and as I have heard, a fair castle has been rising
there for months past. Art sure that there is no mistake?"

"There can be no mistake in the deed, father; but can I accept such a gift
at the hands of the Fleming?"

"That you can, my son, and without any hesitation. Van Voorden is known to
be the richest Fleming in England. He has on various occasions lent vast
sums to the king and council, and noble as the gift is, it is one that he
can doubtless well afford. You have saved the lives of himself, his wife,
and daughter, and he may well feel grateful. He told me when he gave you
that suit of armour that it was no recognition of what he felt he owed
you, and that he hoped in the future to discharge the debt more worthily.
Now, Edgar, let us see what is in your box."

Edgar had been quietly untying the knots of the silk, and the box was
already open. The words on the top were similar to those in Albert's box.

"Please read it, Albert," he said, handing over the parchment. "You can
decipher the characters better than I can." Albert read it through to
himself.

"'Tis similar to mine," he said, "and assigns you the land, manors, the
castle, and all rights and privileges thereto appertaining of the hundred
of Hoo."

"Bravo, bravo!" Sir Ralph exclaimed. "Another noble gift, and fully equal
to that of Albert. This Fleming is a very prince. I congratulate you,
Edgar, with all my heart. I had heard that Sir John Evesham had sold his
estates, which comprise the whole hundred of Hoo, a year since, in order
to live at Court, but none seemed to know who was the purchaser. I heard,
too, that a large number of men had been employed in building a castle on
the heights looking down the Medway past Upnor to Chatham. Why, lads, if
you ever win to the rank of knight banneret, you will have land enough to
support the dignity, and to take the field with two or three knights and a
fair following of men-at-arms in your train. I have gained good sums for
the ransom of prisoners, but I never had the luck to save the life of a
Flemish merchant and his family."

"It seems well-nigh impossible," Edgar said.

"You must remember, Edgar, that these rich Flemings are the bankers of
half the princes in Europe. You, who have been in their houses, know that
they live in comfort and luxury such as none of our nobles possess. They
could find the money for a king's ransom, or pay beforehand the taxes of a
country. If a king can grant estates like these to his favourites, and not
only the king, but many of our nobles can do so, it is not strange that
one of the richest of these Flemings should make such gifts to those who
have saved his life without feeling that he has in any way overpaid the
service."

"I must be riding on now," Edgar said, "to carry this wonderful news to my
father."

While they had been dining, Hal Carter had been getting a hearty meal in
the kitchen, where he and Albert's two retainers were surrounded by all
the men-at-arms, who were anxious to hear the details of the expedition.
When Edgar sent down for his horse, Sir Ralph went down with him to the
courtyard, and as Hal brought the horses round, the old knight put his
hand upon his shoulder.

"My brave fellow," he said, "I have heard how you stood with your master
across my son's body, and how doughtily you fought. Do not forget that I
am your debtor, but for the present I can only say that I thank you for
the part you played."

"It would have been strange, indeed, Sir Ralph, had I not hit my hardest,
for my own life depended upon it, and it was not like that I should draw
back a foot when Sir Albert, whom I love only next to my master, was lying
there; but, indeed, it was a right merry fight, the only one that came up
to my expectations of what a stiffly fought _mle_ would be. I would not
have missed it for anything."

CHAPTER XIX

WELL SETTLED

"Well, well, well," Mr. Ormskirk exclaimed when Edgar brought the story of
all that had happened since he had been away to an end, "indeed you
surprise me. I know that many knights fit out parties and go to the wars,
not so much for honour and glory as for the spoils and ransoms they may
gain, and that after Crcy and Poictiers, there was not a single soldier
but came back laden with booty and with rich jewels, gold chains, and
costly armour, gathered from the host of French nobles who fell on those
fields; while knights who were fortunate enough to capture counts, earls,
or princes, gained ransoms that enabled them to purchase estates, and live
without occasion to go further to the wars during their lives. But I never
thought that you would benefit by such a chance. As it is to my mind more
honourable to save life than to take it, I rejoice that you have come to
your fortune, not by the slaying of enemies, but by the saving the lives
of a man, his wife, and daughter, who are rich enough to reward you.

"Assuredly, if a man like Mynheer Van Voorden had fallen into the hands of
the Count of Flanders, the latter would have extracted from him, as the
price of his freedom, a sum many times larger than that which he has
expended on the purchase of these two estates, and the building of the
castles. Well, Edgar, I congratulate you heartily. You can now ride to the
wars when the king's banner is spread to the winds, and do your duty to
your country, but there will be no occasion for you to become a mere
knight adventurer--a class I detest, ever ready to sell their swords to
the highest bidder, and to kill men, against whom they have no cause of
complaint, as indifferently as a butcher would strike down a bullock with
a pole-axe.

"Between these men and those who fight simply in the wars of their own
country, the gulf is a wide one, as wide as that betwixt a faithful house-
dog and a roving wolf. When are you going to receive your new acquisition,
or are you intending to ride first to London to thank the Fleming for his
noble gift?"

"Assuredly, we should have first ridden to London, father, but we each
found in the bottom of our boxes a short letter which we had at first
overlooked. The letters were the same, save for our names. Mine ran:--

"'_Dear Sir Edgar,

"'It has given me very great pleasure to prepare this little surprise for
you. I pray you, do not mar it in any way by returning me thanks. The gift
is as naught in comparison with the service rendered. I am proceeding to
the North to-morrow on business with Earl Percy, and shall not return for
some weeks. When we meet next, I pray you, let there be no word of thanks
concerning this affair, for I consider myself still greatly your debtor.
You will find an agent of mine at your castle. He has been there some
time, has made the acquaintance of all the vassals and others, and will
introduce you to them as their lord. He has my instructions either to
remain there to manage your affairs for six months, or for any less time
you may choose. But methinks you will do well to keep him for that time,
as he is a good man of business, and you will need such an one until you
have mastered all the details, and can take matters entirely in your own
hands._'

"So you see, father, we shall be free to start to-morrow. Sir Ralph, Lady
De Courcy, and Mistress Aline will ride with us, and I trust that you will
come also. We shall first go to Cliffe, which will be on our road, and,
indeed, I believe that for some distance Albert's lands join mine. Then we
shall go on to my castle--it sounds absurd, doesn't it, father?--and
doubtless we shall be able to stay in Hoo, or if not, 'tis but two or
three miles to Stroud, where we are sure to find good lodging."

"I should like to ride with you, Edgar, but it is years since I have
bestridden a horse."

"We shall ride but slowly, father, for Dame De Courcy loves not for her
palfrey to go beyond a walk. If you like you could bestride Hal Carter's
horse, which is a strong and steady animal, and he can walk alongside, so
as to be ready to catch the rein if it be needed. He will be very glad to
go, for the honest fellow is in the highest delight at the news of my good
fortune."

"I think that I could do that, Edgar, yet I will not go by Cliffe, but
straight to Hoo. I can then travel as I like, and shall not have to join
in talk with Dame De Courcy nor the others, nor feel that my bad
horsemanship makes me a jest."

"Very well, father, perhaps that would be the pleasantest way for you."

"If I get there before you, Edgar, I shall stop at a tavern in the main
street of Hoo. There is sure to be one there; and will rest until you come
along. If Hal Carter learns that you have passed through before my
arrival, I will come straight on to the castle."

Accordingly, early the next morning, Mr. Ormskirk started with Hal, and
Edgar, after seeing them fairly on their way, rode over to the De
Courcys'. All were in readiness for the start.

"Is not Mr. Ormskirk coming with us?" Dame De Courcy asked. "Recluse
though he is, I thought he would surely tear himself from his books on
such an occasion."

"He has done so, dame, and is already on the road to Hoo, under the charge
of Hal Carter. 'Tis so many years since he has bestridden a horse that he
said that he should be ill at ease riding with such a party, and that he
would therefore go on quietly, with Hal walking beside him, and would join
us when we came to Hoo."

They mounted at once. Dame De Courcy rode on a pillion behind Sir Ralph.
Aline bestrode--for side-saddles had not yet come into use--her own pony.
Two retainers followed, one leading a sumpter horse, with two panniers
well filled with provisions and wine, together with some women's gear, in
case the weather should turn bad, and a change be required at the halting-
place for the night. They started briskly, and Edgar was glad that his
father had gone on alone; the pace would have sorely discomposed him.
Alternately walking and going at a canter they arrived in three hours at
Cliffe.

"There is your castle, Albert!" Aline exclaimed. "It seems well-nigh, if
not quite, finished, and is strongly posted on that hill, overlooking the
whole country from Dartford to Sheerness. You will need a chatelaine
before long, brother mine."

Albert laughed, but coloured a little.

"Time enough to think of that, Aline."

"Nay, I am in earnest. Many are betrothed, if not married, long before
they attain your age."

"I may say the same to you, Aline. 'Tis the fashion now for girls to be
betrothed between twelve and fourteen. I have been wandering about and
fighting and have had no time to think of love-making."

Aline shrugged her shoulders. "You had better ask Sir Ralph and my mother
for their views about me, Albert. It is not for a maid to make her own
marriage, but a valiant knight like yourself can manage your own affairs,
Methought perhaps that you would have to tell us that the Fleming's fair
daughter was to assist you in the management of the castle that her father
has given you."

"Joanna Van Voorden!" Albert exclaimed, indignantly, while Edgar burst
into laughter; "why, she is well-nigh as big as her mother already, and
promises to be far bigger. Thank you, Aline; if the castle and estate had
been offered me on the condition that I married her, I would have had none
of them."

"Well, sir, shall I make another guess?" Aline asked, mischievously.

"No, no, Aline," Albert said, hastily. "No more guessing, if you please."

They had by this time approached the castle. "Look, father!" Aline
exclaimed, clapping her hands; "they must have been on the watch for us.
See! they are raising a flag on that staff on the turret, and see, there
are your arms blazoned on it."

"'Tis a goodly castle for its size," the knight said, as he drew rein and
turned his horse so that his dame might get a better view of it. "There is
a dry moat, which is lined with stonework. The walls are not very high,
but they are well defended by those flanking towers, and the place could
stand any sudden assault. I should say that it was about the same strength
as our own. So far as I can see, the other arrangements are quite
different. There is no keep, and it seems to me that the house is built
rather for comfort than for defence; the windows are large, and it looks
more like a Flemish house built within a castle wall than an English place
of strength. Now let us ride on," and they pressed their horses forward.
The gates were thrown open when they approached within a hundred yards;
the drawbridge over the moat had been already lowered.

"Ride you first, Albert," Sir Ralph said; "you are lord of the place."

As they came to the head of the drawbridge, a middle-aged man of grave
aspect, dressed in the garb of a citizen, appeared at the gate, and six
men-at-arms, in steel caps and body armour, armed with pike and sword,
drew up behind him.

The man bowed deeply to Albert. "Welcome to Cliffe Castle, sir knight," he
said. "I am Nicholas Hocht, and have, by the orders of my master, Mynheer
Van Voorden, been here for the last year to superintend the building of
this castle, and in carrying out his other commands respecting it, with
further orders to remain here, should you desire it, for the further space
of six months as your steward. I received a message from him yesterday,
saying that possibly you would be here to-day, and I must, therefore, have
everything in readiness for you. The warning was somewhat short, but I
have done my best, and I trust that you will pardon any shortcomings."

"I am much beholden to you, Master Hocht," Albert said. "You have done
well, indeed, for a fairer castle and one better placed no one could
desire."

The men-at-arms saluted as he rode on. Entering the gate, they were able
to see the house itself. It was, as Sir Ralph had said, rather a Flemish
house than a knightly castle; the lower range of windows were small and
heavily barred, but above there were large casements, pointed roofs, and
projecting gables. It had an air of comfort and brightness. On the top of
the broad steps leading to the great door were four retainers, all
similarly attired in doublets of russet cloth and orange hose. As soon as
the party alighted they ascended the steps, led by the steward. When they
entered the great hall a general exclamation of surprise broke from them.

They had expected to see bare walls and every sign of the place having
only just left the builders' hands; instead of this everything was
complete, the massive oak beams and panels of the ceilings were varnished,
the walls were wainscoted, the oak floor highly polished; Eastern rugs lay
here and there upon it, carved benches ran along the sides, and a large
banqueting table stood in the centre; rich curtains hung by the window,
and a huge fire was piled on the hearth.

"Why, this is a work of enchantment, Master Hocht," Dame Agatha said.

"I have had but little to do with it, lady," the steward replied. "The
woodwork was all made in London, to my master's orders, and I had but to
superintend its being placed in position."

He led them from room to room, their surprise and delight continually
increasing; all were furnished richly in the Flemish style with cabinets,
tables, settees, and armoires. There were hangings to the windows and rugs
on the floors; everything was ready for habitation, the linen presses were
full of table-cloths and napkins and sheets. The beds were ready for
sleeping in, with their great bags of soft feathers, their thick blankets
and silken coverlets. These more than anything else excited the dame's
admiration. Never had she seen beds approaching these in softness and
daintiness.

"With the exception of the furniture in the hall," Master Hocht explained,
"everything has come direct from Flanders, having been selected by Mynheer
Van Voorden himself, and sent by sea to Gravesend."

After having inspected the whole of the house they returned to the hall.
Here the table had been spread. A silver skewer, to act as a fork, an
article then unknown in England, was placed before each, and an admirable
repast was served, the steward himself officiating as carver, while the
four servitors carried the platters, which were of fine Flemish ware, to
the guests. Albert had begged his father to take the head of the table,
but the latter refused positively. He sat on one side of his son and his
dame on the other. Fish of several kinds, meats, and poultry were served.
All cut up their meat with their daggers, and carried it to their mouths
on the point of the skewer.

Albert and Edgar had learned the use of them in Flanders. Lady Agatha and
Aline said that they were charming, but Sir Ralph declared that he greatly
preferred using his fingers. After the meal was concluded, water was
brought round in a silver bowl, with a damask napkin for them to wipe
their fingers on.

"The wine is excellent," Sir Ralph said. "You can scarcely have purchased
this at Cliffe or Gravesend."

"It is from the cellar, Sir Ralph, which is well stocked with the wines of
France and Spain."

"Truly, Albert," Dame Agatha said, "this is not a castle; it is a
veritable enchanted palace. Mynheer Van Voorden is like one of the good
genii the Saracens believe in, who can, at will, summon up from the ground
a vast palace, ready built and furnished. I trust that it will not at once
vanish as soon as we leave it. Were it to do so I should scarcely be more
surprised than I have been at its splendour and comfort."

"Do you tarry here to-night, Sir Albert?" the steward asked, as they rose
from the table.

"No, we are going to take horse at once and ride to Hoo."

"Will you take the men-at-arms with you? They have horses in the stables."

"Not to-day," Albert said. "We are a family party, and travelling
quietly."

As they rode into the street of Hoo, Mr. Ormskirk came out of a tavern,
where he had been resting. After greeting the ladies and Sir Ralph, he
said, "I had begun to think that you must have changed your minds, and
that you were not coming hither to-day. I expected you three hours ago."

"We have been viewing the marvels of an enchanted castle, Mr. Ormskirk,"
Dame Agatha said. "We will not tell you about them, for doubtless you will
see others like them here, and it would be a pity for me to prepare you
for what you are to see."

The castle was indeed in all respects an almost exact duplicate to that of
Cliffe. They were received as before by the Flemish steward. There were
the same number of men-at-arms and servitors, and the fittings and
furnishings were as perfect as those of Cliffe. After going over it, Edgar
drew Sir Ralph aside.

"Sir Ralph," he said, "the castle, perfect as it is, still lacks one
thing--a mistress. I have long hoped that the time would some day come
that I should ask you for the hand of Mistress Aline, but though I have
been fortunate, and have won rank and some distinction, I was but a
landless knight, and in no position to ask for your daughter's hand. That
obstacle has now been removed, and I pray you to give her to me. I love
her very truly. My thoughts have never wandered for a moment from her, and
I trust that I shall be able to make her happy. Unless the banner of
England is hoisted I shall go no more to the wars."

"I am in no way surprised at your request, Edgar," the knight said; "and,
indeed, for the past two years my dame and I have talked this over, and
hoped that it might be. I have during the past year had more than one
request for her hand, but have refused them, for her mother told me she
believed that Aline's fancy has long inclined towards you."

He called Dame Agatha to join him, and on hearing Edgar's request, she
heartily concurred with the knight.

"Nothing could please us better," she said. "We have long regarded you
almost as our son, and we need have no fear that Aline will thwart our
wishes and yours. Have you spoken to your father?"

"I spoke to him last night, lady, and told him what my hopes have long
been, and that Van Voorden's noble gift now rendered it possible for me to
speak; that it might be some time before it could be more than a
betrothal, since, although I had rank and land, I was still without money
to enable me to make the castle comfortable for her abode. Now that, owing
to the Fleming's generosity, this difficulty is also removed, I hope that
you will not think it necessary that our marriage should be delayed."

"I see no reason at all," Sir Ralph said. "Here is everything ready for
her, and no noble in England could offer so comfortable a home to his
bride. The castle lacks a mistress, and the sooner it has one the better.
Therefore, you can take her as soon as her mother can get her ready."

They now joined Albert, Aline, and Mr. Ormskirk, who had mounted to the
top of one of the turrets and were admiring the view.

"'Tis a fair home," Sir Ralph said.

"It is indeed, father."

"What say you to becoming its mistress, daughter? Sir Edgar has asked for
your hand, and has gained mine and your mother's hearty consent. What say
you?"

The girl coloured up to her forehead as her father spoke. "I am ready to
obey your orders, father," she said, in a low tone, "the more so as my
heart goes wholly with them."

"Take her, Edgar. 'Tis not often that a young knight gains castle, and
land, and bride in twenty-four hours. May your good luck continue all your
life."

"You have robbed me of my chatelaine, Edgar," Albert said, after the first
congratulations were over. "Aline had half promised to come and keep house
for me for the present."

"You must follow Edgar's example," Sir Ralph said. "Who is it to be, lad?"

"I had intended to speak to you shortly, father, but as you ask me I will
do so at once. I have seen no one whom I could love so well as Mistress
Ursula, daughter of Sir Robert Gaiton, and methinks that I am not
indifferent to her."

"She is a fair maid," Sir Ralph said, "and her father is a right good
fellow, though but a city knight. Still, others of higher rank than
yourself have married in the city, and as Sir Robert has no other
children, and is said to be one of the wealthiest of the London citizens,
she will doubtless come to you better dowered than will Aline, for, as
Edgar knows, my estates bring me in scarcely enough to keep up my castle
and to lay by sufficient to place my retainers in the field should the
king call on me for service. So be it then, my son. As we have settled to
sleep here to-night, it will be to-morrow afternoon before we get home.
The next day I will ride with you to London, and will ask Sir Robert for
his daughter's hand for you."

Not the least happy of the party at the castle was Hal Carter. He passed
the afternoon in walking, sometimes round the walls, sometimes going out
and making a circuit of the moat, or walking away short distances to
obtain views of the castle from various points. The news that his master
and Aline De Courcy would shortly be married raised his delight to the
highest pitch, for it pointed to an early occupation of the castle. The
thought that he, Hal Carter, was to be the captain of the men-at-arms in a
castle like this seemed to him a huge joke. It was but two years before
that he had been hunted as a rioter, and would have been executed if
caught. That so famous a leader as Sir Hugh Calverley should have praised
him greatly, and that he was now to have men under his command, seemed to
him as wonderful a thing as that his master, whom he had known as a young
boy, should stand high in the king's favour, and should be lord of a
castle and a wide estate.

"Of course, father," Edgar said, as early the next morning he took a turn
upon the battlements with him, "you will leave St. Alwyth and come here?"

"I don't think that I could do that, Edgar," Mr. Ormskirk said,
doubtfully.

"You will find it very lonely there, father; and, of course, we can fit
you up a laboratory here, and you can go on just the same way as you did
at home."

"I do not see that I shall be more lonely than I have been for the last
two years, Edgar, and, indeed, as you know, even when you were at home I
lived very much my own life, and only saw you at meals and for an hour or
so of an evening; therefore, your being established here will make but
little difference in my life, and, indeed, whenever I feel lonely I can
ride over here for a day or two. I thank you all the same, Edgar; but, at
any rate, for the present I will continue to live at St. Alwyth. I have
the good prior, who often comes in for a talk with me in the evening, and
makes me heartily welcome should I, as I do sometimes, go to the monastery
for an hour after sunset. Sir Ralph never passes my door on his way down
to Dartford without dismounting and coming in. I am happy in my own life,
and as long as I have health and strength shall hope to continue it.
Should my interest in my work flag, or when I feel that I am getting too
old for useful work, which will, I trust, be not for many years yet, I
will then gladly come and end my days here."

So the matter was left for the time, and although Edgar more than once
tried to shake his father's determination, and Aline added her persuasions
to his, he failed to alter Mr. Ormskirk's resolution. Sir Ralph and Albert
returned from London after staying there for a few days. Sir Robert Gaiton
had consented willingly to his daughter's marriage with Albert, and had
announced his intention of giving her a dowry greater than that which most
nobles could have bestowed on a daughter. The king had expressed very
great satisfaction at hearing of the gift Master Van Voorden had bestowed
on the young knights, and took great interest in their approaching
marriages.

"They will then have enough land for a knight banneret's feu," he said;
"that pleases me much. I should, on the report of Sir Hugh Calverley, have
appointed them to that rank, but at present there are no estates in my
gift, and I waited till some might fall in before I appointed them. Now,
however, there is no further need for delay, and I will order the patent
appointing them to be made out at once, for they can now, if called upon
for service, take the field with the proper following of their rank. Has
Sir Edgar adopted any cognizance? Of course your son will take yours."

"I don't think that he has ever so much as thought of it, sire."

"I will talk it over with my heralds," the king said, "and see if we can
fix upon something appropriate, and that is not carried by any noble or
knight. When will the weddings be?"

"In two months' time, sire. Sir Robert Gaiton and his dame asked for that
time. My son will, of course, be married in London, and will be wed in St.
Paul's, I have not yet thought about my daughter's marriage, but it will
doubtless be at the chapel in the castle."

"'Tis a pity that they could not be married together here, Sir Ralph."

"I believe that my daughter's tastes and those of Sir Edgar would incline
to a quiet wedding, with just our neighbours and friends, and doubtless
Albert's would also lie that way; but in this matter Sir Robert must, of
course, carry out the arrangements as he wishes; and as an alderman and
like to be lord mayor in two years he would wish to make a brave show on
the occasion."

Before the time for the weddings approached came the news that things had
gone badly in Flanders. At the approach of the French army a council was
held among the leaders, and it was agreed that the allied army could not
fight with any hope of success against it. Accordingly, the men of Ghent
retired to their own city, and the English marched with great haste to the
coast and shut themselves up in Bruckburg, while the bishop himself
galloped as far as Bergues. Bruckburg surrendered on the arrival of the
French army, all the English being permitted to embark with the great
spoil that had been taken. Sir Hugh Calverley, whose advice throughout had
been always disregarded, had ridden to Gravelines with his small body of
men-at-arms and thence took ship to England. The bishop, on his arrival
home, was, with the knights who had been his councillors, very badly
received; for it was held that by their conduct and ignorance of affairs,
and by the manner in which they had behaved in Flanders, they had brought
great discredit upon England.

Sir Hugh Calverley, on the other hand, was received with honour, it being
well known that all that had been done had been contrary to his advice,
and that had this been followed the event would have turned out very
differently. The people at large, however, considered that the blame for
the ill ending of the expedition was due entirely to the delay on the part
of the Duke of Lancaster in crossing over with the army under him. It was
known that he had been altogether opposed to the expedition, which had
prevented the one he desired from sailing to Spain, and that he was minded
to bring ruin upon it by delaying, under many false pretences, from
crossing to France. He had been extremely unpopular before, but this added
very greatly to the ill-feeling with which he was regarded.

But, in truth, the bishop's expedition failed from its own weakness. In no
case could an army so collected and led have effected any great thing; but
the headstrong folly and arrogance of the bishop, and his unprovoked
attack upon the Flemings, precipitated matters, and the scornful neglect
of all the counsel tendered by the veteran knight who accompanied the
expedition, rendered it a shameful disaster.

The marriage of Sir Edgar with Aline was celebrated a fortnight before
that of the bride's brother. The ceremony took place at the castle of the
De Courcys, and was attended only by neighbours and friends, and by Sir
Robert Gaiton, who rode down from town and presented the bride with a
superb casket of jewels.

On the following day Sir Edgar with his wife rode to his castle at Hoo,
where for the first time his banner, with the cognizance chosen by the
king, a very simple one, being a sword with the words "_For King and
Honour_," was hoisted at their approach, while the banneret denoting
Edgar's new rank flew from another tower. The number of the men-at-arms
had been increased to ten, and great was Hal Carter's pride as he took his
place in front of them and saluted as Sir Edgar rode in. Ten days later
they started for London to attend Albert's wedding; which was celebrated
with much pomp in St. Paul's, the king himself and most of the nobles of
the Court being present.

Neither of the two young knights ever rode to the wars again, for in King
Richard's time the royal banner was never again raised in France; and yet
they were not without a share of fighting. Many depredations were
committed along the coasts and at the mouths of rivers by French
freebooters and lawless people, and the castles of Hoo and Cliffe were
well placed for preventing such incursions by men landing anywhere in the
Hundred, either from the Medway or the Thames. There was no fear of such
marauders sailing up the Medway past Hoo, for Upnor Castle barred the way,
and indeed Rochester was too large a place, defended as it was by its
castle, to be attacked by such pirates, but below Hoo a landing could be
effected anywhere, and boats with a few hands on board could row up the
creeks in the marshes, pounce upon a quiet hamlet, carry off anything of
value, and set the place on fire.

Such incursions had been carried far up the Thames and great damage done,
but as the ships of Fowey and other places were equally busy damaging
French commerce and ravaging their sea-coast, no complaints could be made
to France even during the very brief period when there was a truce between
the two countries. Not only from across the Channel did these marauders
come, but from the islands of Friesland and Zeeland, where the
inhabitants--hardy sailors to a man--were lawless and uncontrolled. After
having suffered several times from these pirates, and been moved by the
constant complaints of their tenants, Edgar and Albert went up to town and
laid the matter before the king and council, pointing out that these
attacks were becoming more frequent and general all along the coast, and
praying that measures might be adopted for putting a stop to them.

"But what do you propose should be done, sir knights?" the king asked.

"I would suggest, your Majesty, that either a few fast ships should be
placed at various points, such as the mouth of the Medway, Harwich, Dover,
Hastings, and Southampton, that might keep a watch for these pirates, or
else that some of your vassals round the coast should be appointed to keep
forces of some strength always under arms, just as the Percys are at all
times in readiness to repel the incursions of the Scots; but should you
and the council think this too weighty a plan, we would pray you to order
better protection for the Thames. It was but the other day some pirates
burnt six ships in Dartford Creek, and if they carry on these ravages
unpunished, they may grow bolder and will be sailing higher still, and may
cause an enormous loss to your merchants by setting fire to the vessels at
the wharves, or to those anchored out in the stream."

"The matter would be serious, assuredly," the king said, "and would cause
so great a trouble to the citizens of London that it would be well that
some means should be taken to prevent it. I will talk the matter over with
the council, sir knights, and will let you know in an hour's time whether
we can do aught in the matter."

When the young knights returned, the king said:

"There is a royal manor at Bromley at present vacant; 'tis of the value of
fifty-six pounds a year. This we will hand over to you jointly, upon your
undertaking to keep thirty men-at-arms fully equipped and ready for
service, each of you; and also that each of you shall maintain, at the
spots which may seem to you the most advisable, a galley with oars, in
which you can put out and attack these pirates."

Edgar begged permission to consult with his friend.

"You see, Albert, we have already each of us ten men-at-arms, and the
revenue of the manor should well-nigh, if not quite, pay the expenses of
the others. As to the galleys, we could keep them in the little creek
between Cliffe and Graves-end. It would give us employment, and should we
ever be called upon to take the field, the sixty men-at-arms will make a
good beginning for the force we should gather."

Albert assented, and, returning, they informed the council that they were
ready to undertake the charge of keeping thirty men-at-arms each, always
in readiness for service, and for fighting the pirates by land or water.
Returning home, preparations were speedily made, and the men enrolled and
drilled. A watch-tower was raised on an eminence that was visible from
both castles, and a look-out place also erected at the mouth of the
Medway. This was some sixty feet high. A great cresset was placed at the
summit ready for firing, and an arrangement made with the tenants, on
whose land it stood, that a man should be on watch night and day. His duty
would be to keep a vigilant eye on the river, and to light the beacon if
any suspicions vessels were seen coming up. The smoke by day or the fire
at night could be seen at both castles, and by a pre-arranged system
signals could then be exchanged between Edgar and Albert by means of the
watch-tower on the hill.

Albert had two large and fast galleys constructed, for his wife's dowry
enabled him to spend money more freely than Edgar. They had a good many
encounters with the freebooters. Two or three times strong parties that
had landed from ships were attacked by the garrisons of both castles,
joined by the tenantry near, and were driven to the boats with heavy loss.

Once the beacon from the mouth of the Medway signalled that three ships
had entered the mouth of that river. Edgar signalled to Cliffe, and when
at ten o'clock the French landed just below Hoo, thinking to make an easy
capture of the village, and, perhaps, even to carry the castle by
surprise, they were allowed to ascend the hill undisturbed, and were then
attacked by the sixty men-at-arms, led by the two knights, together with a
number of villagers and countrymen armed with bows and bills. Although
superior in numbers the French were driven down the hill with great
slaughter. Only a few succeeded in regaining their ships; but the tide had
not yet turned, and there was little wind. Boats were obtained at Upnor,
the vessels boarded, and all on board put to the sword.

Three or four sharp engagements also took place between the galleys and
the pirates ascending the Thames, and at various times rich prizes that
the pirates had taken higher up the river were recovered from them; so
that in time the depredations greatly abated, and the city of London
presented the two knights with costly swords and a vote of thanks for the
great services they had rendered to the city, and to those trading with
it.

They were both too happy in their homes to care to go often to Court, but
they viewed with pain the increasing unpopularity of the king, brought
about by his reckless extravagance, his life of pleasure, and the manner
in which he allowed himself to be dominated by unworthy favourites. Van
Voorden, who had permanently settled in England, often came down with his
wife and daughter to stay for a few days with them, and declared that he
had never laid out money so well as that which had established two such
happy households. The last few years of Mr. Ormskirk's life were spent at
Hoo, where he still dabbled a little in his former occupation, but never
succeeded in finding the elixir he had laboured so long to discover. On
the departure of the Flemish steward, Hal Carter was appointed to the
post, with the understanding that if his lord should ever ride to battle,
he was to revert to the command of the men-at-arms. Hal was ignorant of
figures, but he had a young assistant given him to manage this part of the
work, and his honesty, his acquaintance with farming, and his devotion to
his master, made up for any deficiency on that score. Both knights sent
contingents under their sons to fight at Agincourt, and were only
prevented from taking the field themselves by the entreaties of their
wives and daughters, and by the thought that it would be as well to give
their sons the opportunity of distinguishing themselves, as they
themselves had done, in their early youth.

THE END.

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