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In the Days of Chivalry by Evelyn Everett-Green

Part 2 out of 8

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No, this is a matter for my arm to settle. I will collect around me a
band of our bravest youths -- they shall all be youths like myself. Our
good John knows well the country around our Palace of Guildford -- in
truth I know it indifferently well myself. We will sally forth together
-- my father will grant me leave to go thither with a body of youths of
my own choosing -- and thence we will scour the forests, scatter or slay
these vile disturbers of the peace, restore the lost maidens to their
homes, and make recompense to our poor subjects for all they have
suffered at their hands."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI. THE PRINCE'S EXPLOIT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VII. THE RECTOR'S HOUSE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nay, verily not."

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

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

"Thou wouldst laugh were I to tell thee."

"Try me and see."

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VIII. THE VISIT TO THE WOODMAN.

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

Raymond turned an eager face upon his brother.

"Hast seen it, Gaston?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And did he come?"

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

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

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

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

"Did he return to Basildene?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER IX. JOAN VAVASOUR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But John laid a detaining hand upon his arm.

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

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

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

"Who then will help or counsel us?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER X. BASILDENE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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