Part 6 out of 8
insuperable obstacle would be removed from his path.
And Raymond saw the purpose in a moment. His quick and sharpened
intelligence showed all to him in a flash. Not to save himself from any
fate would he so disgrace his manhood -- prove unworthy in the hour of
trial, deny his love, and by so doing deny himself the right to bear all
for her dear sake.
Flinging the pen to the ground and turning upon Sanghurst with a great
light in his eyes, he told him how he read his base purpose, his black
treachery, and dared him to do his worst.
"My worst, mad boy, my worst!" cried the furious man, absolutely foaming
at the mouth as he drew back, looking almost like a venomous snake
couched for a spring. "Is that, then, thy answer -- thy unchangeable
answer to the only loophole I offer thee of escaping the full vengeance
awaiting thee from thy two most relentless foes? Bethink thee well how
thou repeatest such words. Yet once again I bid thee pause. Take but
that pen and do as I bid thee --"
"I will not!" answered Raymond, throwing back his head in a gesture of
noble, fearless defiance; "I will not do thy vile bidding. Joan is my
true love, my faithful and loving lady. Her heart is mine and mine is
hers, and her faithful knight I will live and die. Do your worst. I defy
you to your face. There is a God above who can yet deliver me out of
your hand if He will. If not -- if it be His will that I suffer in a
righteous cause -- I will do it with a soul unseared by coward
falsehood. There is my answer; you will get none other. Now do with me
what you will. I fear you not."
Peter Sanghurst's aspect changed. The fury died out, to be replaced by a
perfectly cold and calm malignity a hundred times more terrible. He
stooped and picked up the pen, replacing it with the parchment and
inkhorn in a pouch at his girdle. Then throwing off entirely the long
monk's habit which he had worn on his entrance, he advanced step by step
upon Raymond, the glitter in his eye being terrible to see.
Raymond did not move. He was already standing against the wall at the
farthest limit of the cell. His foe slowly advanced upon him, and
suddenly put out two long, powerful arms, and gripped him round the body
in a clasp against which it was vain to struggle. Lifting him from his
feet, he carried him into the middle of the chamber, and setting him
down, but still encircling him with that bear-like embrace, he stamped
thrice upon the stone floor, which gave out a hollow sound beneath his feet.
The next moment there was a sound of strange creaking and groaning, as
though some ponderous machinery were being set in motion. There was a
sickening sensation, as though the very ground beneath his feet were
giving way, and the next instant Raymond became aware that this indeed
was the case. The great flagstone upon which he and his captor were
standing was sinking, sinking, sinking into the very heart of the earth,
as it seemed; and as they vanished together into the pitchy darkness, to
the accompaniment of that same strange groaning and creaking, Raymond
heard a hideous laugh in his ear.
"This is how his victims are carried to the Lord of Navailles's torture
chamber. Ha-ha! ha-ha! This is how they go down thither. Whether they
ever come forth again is quite another matter!"
CHAPTER XXIV. GASTON'S QUEST.
When Gaston missed his brother from his side in the triumphant turning
of the tables upon the French, he felt no uneasiness. The battle was
going so entirely in favour of the English arms, and the discomfited
French were making so small a stand, that the thought of peril to
Raymond never so much as entered his head. In the waning light it was
difficult to distinguish one from another, and for aught he knew his
brother might be quite close at hand. They were engaged in taking
prisoners such of their enemies as were worthy to be carried off; and
when they had completely routed the band and made captive their leaders,
it was quite dark, and steps were taken to encamp for the night.
Then it was that Gaston began to wonder why he still saw nothing either
of Raymond or of the faithful Roger, who was almost like his shadow. He
asked all whom he met if anything had been seen of his brother, but the
answer was always the same -- nobody knew anything about him. Nobody
appeared to have seen him since the brothers rode into battle side by
side; and the young knight began to feel thoroughly uneasy.
Of course there had been some killed and wounded in the battle upon both
sides, though the English loss was very trifling. Still it might have
been Raymond's fate to be borne down in the struggle, and Gaston,
calling some of his own personal attendants about him, and bidding them
take lanterns in their hands, went forth to look for his brother upon
the field where the encounter had taken place.
The field was a straggling one, as the combat had taken the character of
a rout at the end, and the dead and wounded lay at long intervals apart.
Gaston searched and searched, his heart growing heavier as he did so,
for his brother was very dear to him, and he felt a pang of bitter
self-reproach at having left him, however inadvertently, to bear the
brunt of the battle alone. But search as he would he found nothing
either of Raymond or Roger, and a new fear entered into his mind.
"Can he have been taken prisoner?"
This did not seem highly probable. The French, bold enough at the outset
when they had believed themselves secure of an easy victory, had changed
their front mightily when they had discovered the trap set for them by
their foes, and in the end had thought of little save how to save their
own lives. They would scarce have burdened themselves with prisoners,
least of all with one who did not even hold the rank of knight. This
disappearance of his brother was perplexing Gaston not a little. He
looked across the moonlit plain, now almost as light as day, a cloud of
pain and bewilderment upon his face.
"By Holy St. Anthony, where can the boy be?" he cried.
Then one of his men-at-arms came up and spoke.
"When we were pursuing the French here to the left, back towards their
own lines, I saw a second struggle going on away to the right. The
knight with the black visor seemed to be leading that pursuit, and
though I could not watch it, as I had my own work to do here, I know
that some of our men took a different line, there along by yon ridge to
"Let us go thither and search there," said Gaston, with prompt decision,
"for plainly my brother is not here. It may be he has been following
another flying troop. We will up and after him. Look well as you ride if
there be any prostrate figures lying in the path. I fear me he may have
been wounded in the rout, else surely he would not have stayed away so
Turning his horse round, and closely followed by his men, Gaston rode
off in the direction pointed out by his servant. It became plain that
there had been fighting of some sort along this line, for a few dead and
wounded soldiers, all Frenchmen, lay upon the ground at intervals.
Nothing, however, could be seen of Raymond, and for a while nothing of
Roger either; but just as Gaston was beginning to despair of finding
trace of either, he beheld in the bright moonlight a figure staggering
along in a blind and helpless fashion towards them, and spurring rapidly
forward to meet it, he saw that it was Roger.
Roger truly, but Roger in pitiable plight. His armour was gone. His
doublet had been half stripped from off his back. He was bleeding from
more than one wound, and in his eyes was a fixed and glassy stare, like
that of one walking in sleep. His face was ghastly pale, and his breath
came in quick sobs and gasps.
"Roger, is it thou?" cried Gaston, in accents of quick alarm. "I have
been seeking thee everywhere. Where is thy master? Where is my brother?"
"Gone! gone! gone!" cried Roger, in a strange and despairing voice.
"Carried off by his bitterest foes! Gone where we shall never see him more!"
There was something in the aspect of the youth and in his lamentable
words that sent an unwonted shiver through Gaston's frame; but he was
quick to recover himself, and answered hastily:
"Boy, thou art distraught! Tell me where my brother has gone. I will
after him and rescue him. He cannot be very far away. Quick -- tell me
what has befallen him!"
"He has been carried off -- more I know not. He has been carried off by
"Treachery! Whose treachery? Who has carried him off?"
"The knight of the Black Visor."
"The Black Visor! Nay; thou must be deceived thyself! The Black Visor is
one of our own company."
"Ay verily, and that is why he succeeded where an open foe had failed.
None guessed with what purpose he came when he and his men pushed their
way in a compact wedge, and sundered my young master from your side,
sir, driving him farther and farther from all beside, till he and I (who
had managed to keep close beside him) were far away from all the world
beside, galloping as if for dear life in a different direction. Then it
was that they threw off the pretence of being friends -- that they set
upon him and overpowered him, that they beat off even me from holding
myself near at hand, and carried me bound in another direction. I was
given in charge to four stalwart troopers, all wearing the black badge
of their master. They bound my bands and my feet, and bore me along I
knew not whither. I lost sight of my master. Him they took at headlong
speed in another direction. I had been wounded in the battle. I was
wounded by these men, struggling to follow your brother. I swooned in my
saddle, and knew no more till a short hour ago, when I woke to find
myself lying, still bound, upon a heap of straw in some outhouse of a
farm. I heard the voices of my captors singing snatches of songs not far
away; but they were paying no heed to their captive, and I made shift to
slacken my bonds and slip out into the darkness of the wood.
"I knew not where I was; but the moon told me how to bend my steps to
find the English camp again. I, in truth, have escaped -- have come to
bring you word of his peril; but ah, I fear, I fear that we shall never
see him more! They will kill him -- they will kill him! He is in the
hands of his deadliest foes!"
"If we know where he is, we can rescue him without delay!" cried Gaston,
who was not a little perplexed at the peculiar nature of the adventure
which had befallen his brother.
To be taken captive and carried off by one of the English knights (if
indeed the Black Visor were a knight) was a most extraordinary thing to
have happened. Gaston, who knew little enough of his brother's past
history in detail, and had no idea that he had called down upon himself
any particular enmity, was utterly at a loss to understand the story,
nor was Roger in a condition to give any farther explanation. He
tottered as he stood, and Gaston ordered his servants to mount him upon
one of their horses and bring him quietly along, whilst he himself
turned and galloped back to the camp to prosecute inquiries there.
"Who is the Black Visor?" -- that was the burden of his inquiries, and
it was long before he could obtain an answer to this question. The
leaders of the expedition were full of their own plans and had little
attention to bestow upon Gaston or his strange story. The loss of a
single private gentleman from amongst their muster was nothing to excite
them, and their own position was giving them much more concern. They had
taken many prisoners. They believed that they had done amply enough to
raise the siege of St. Jean d'Angely (though in this they proved
themselves mistaken), and they were anxious to get safely back to
Bordeaux with their spoil before any misadventure befell them.
Gaston cared nothing now for the expedition; his heart was with his
brother, his mind was full of anxious questioning. Roger's story plainly
showed that Raymond was in hostile hands. But the perplexity of the
matter was that Gaston had no idea of the name or rank of his brother's
enemy and captor.
At last he came upon a good-natured knight who had been courteous to the
brothers in old days. He listened with interest to Gaston's tale, and
bid him wait a few minutes whilst he went to try to discover the name
and rank of the Black Visor. He was certain that he had heard it, though
he could not recollect at a moment's notice what he had heard. He did
not keep Gaston waiting long, but returned quickly to him.
"The Black Visor is one Peter Sanghurst of Basildene, a gentleman in
favour with the King, and one likely to rise to high honour. Men whisper
that he has some golden secret which, if it be so, will make of him a
great man one of these days. It is he who has been in our company,
always wearing his black visor. Men say he is under some vow, and until
the vow is accomplished no man may look upon his face."
Gaston drew his breath hard, and a strange gleam came into his eyes.
"Peter Sanghurst of Basildene!" he exclaimed, and then fell into a deep
What did it all mean? What had Raymond told him from time to time about
the enmity of this man? Did not Gaston himself well remember the
adventure of long ago, when he and his brother had entered Basildene by
stealth and carried thence the wretched victim of the sorcerer's art?
Was not that the beginning of an enmity which had never been altogether
laid to sleep? Had he not heard whispers from time to time all pointing
to the conclusion that Sanghurst had neither forgotten nor forgiven, and
that he felt his possession of Basildene threatened by the existence of
the brothers whose right it was? Had not Raymond placed himself almost
under vow to win back his mother's lost inheritance? And might it not be
possible that this knowledge had come to the ears of the present owner?
Gaston ground his teeth in rage as he realized what might be the meaning
of this cowardly attack. Treachery and cowardice were the two vices most
hateful in his eyes, and this vile attack upon an unsuspecting comrade
filled him with the bitterest rage as well as with the greatest anxiety.
Plain indeed was it that Raymond had been carried off; but whither? To
England? that scarce seemed possible. It would be a daring thing indeed
to bring an English subject back to his native land a prisoner. Yet
where else could Peter Sanghurst carry a captive? He might have friends
amongst the French; but who would be sufficiently interested in his
affairs to give shelter to him and his prisoner, when it might lead to
trouble perhaps with the English King?
One thought of relief there was in the matter. Plainly it was not
Raymond's death that was to be compassed. If they had wished to kill
him, they would have done so upon the battlefield and have left him
there, where his death would have excited no surprise or question. No;
it was something more than this that was wanted, and Gaston felt small
difficulty in guessing what that aim and object was.
"He is to be held for ransom, and his ransom will be our claim upon
Basildene. We both shall be called upon to renounce that, and then
Raymond will go free. Well, if that be the only way, Basildene must go.
But perchance it may be given to me to save the inheritance and rescue
Raymond yet. Would that I knew whither they had carried him! But surely
he may be traced and followed. Some there must be who will be able to
give me news of them."
Of one thing Gaston was perfectly assured, and that was that he must now
act altogether independently, gain permission to quit the expedition,
and pursue his own investigations with his own followers. He had no
difficulty in arranging this matter. The leaders had already resolved
upon returning to Bordeaux immediately, and taking ship with their spoil
and prisoners for England. Had Gaston not had other matters of his own
to think of, he would most likely have urged a farther advance upon the
beleaguered town, to make sure that it was sufficiently relieved. As it
was, he had no thoughts but for his brother's peril; and his anxieties
were by no means relieved by the babble of words falling from Roger's
lips when he returned to see how it fared with him.
Roger appeared to the kindly soldiers, who had made a rude couch for him
and were tending him with such skill as they possessed, to be talking in
the random of delirium, and they paid little heed to his words. But as
Gaston stood by he was struck by the strange fixity of the youth's eyes,
by the rigidity of his muscles, and by the coherence and significance of
It was not a disconnected babble that passed his lips; it was the
description of some scene upon which he appeared to be looking. He spoke
of horsemen galloping through the night, of the Black Visor in the midst
and his gigantic companion by his side. He spoke of the unconscious
captive they carried in their midst -- the captive the youth struggled
frantically to join, that they might share together whatever fate was to
The soldiers naturally believed he was wandering, and speaking of his
own ride with his captors; but Gaston listened with different feelings.
He remembered well what he had once heard about this boy and the strange
gift he possessed, or was said to possess, of seeing what went on at a
distance when he had been in the power of the sorcerer. Might it not be
that this gift was not only exercised at the will of another, but might
be brought into play by the tension of anxiety evoked by a great strain
upon the boy's own nervous system? Gaston did not phrase the question
thus, but he well knew the devotion with which Roger regarded Raymond,
and it seemed quite possible to him that in this crisis of his life, his
body weakened by wounds and fatigue, his mind strained by grief and
anxiety as to the fate of him he loved more than life, his spirit had
suddenly taken that ascendency over his body which of old it had
possessed, and that he was really and truly following in that strange
trance-like condition every movement of the party of which Raymond was
At any rate, whether he were right or not in this surmise, Gaston
resolved that he would not lose a word of these almost ceaseless
utterings, and dismissing his men to get what rest they could, he sat
beside Roger, and listened with attention to every word he spoke.
Roger lay with his eyes wide open in the same fixed and glassy stare. He
spoke of a halt made at a wayside inn, of the rousing up with the
earliest stroke of dawn of the keeper of this place, of the inside of
the bare room, and the hasty refreshment set before the impatient
"He sits down, they both sit down, and then he laughs -- ah, where have
I heard that laugh before?" and a look of strange terror sweeps over the
youth's face. "'I may now remove my visor -- my vow is fulfilled! My
enemy is in my hands. My Lord of Navailles, I drink this cup to your
good health and the success of our enterprise. We have the victim in our
own hands. We can wring from him every concession we desire before we
offer him for ransom.'"
Gaston gave a great start. What did this mean? Well indeed he remembered
the Sieur de Navailles, the hereditary foe of the De Brocas. Was it,
could it be possible, that he was concerned in this capture? Had their
two foes joined together to strive to win all at one blow? He must
strive to find this out. Could it be possible that Roger really saw and
heard all these things? or was it but the fantasy of delirium? Raymond
might have spoken to him of the Lord of Navailles as a foe, and in his
dreams he might be mixing one thought with the other.
Suddenly Roger uttered a sharp cry and pressed his hands before his
eyes. "It is he! it is he!" he cried, with a gasping utterance. "He has
removed the mask from his face. It is he -- Peter Sanghurst -- and he is
smiling -- that smile. Oh, I know what it means! He has cruel, evil
thoughts in his mind. O my master, my master!"
Gaston started to his feet. Here was corroboration indeed. Roger no more
knew who the Black Visor was than he had done himself an hour back. Yet
he now saw the face of Peter Sanghurst, the very man he himself had
discovered the Black Visor to be. This indeed showed that Roger was
truly looking upon some distant scene, and a strange thrill ran through
Gaston as he realized this mysterious fact.
"And the other, Peter Sanghurst's companion -- what of him? what
likeness does he bear?" asked Gaston quickly.
"He is a very giant in stature," was the answer, "with a swarthy skin,
black eyes that burn in their sockets, and a coal-black beard that falls
below his waist. He has a sear upon his left cheek, and he has lost two
fingers upon the left hand. He speaks in a voice like rolling waves, and
in a language that is half English and half the Gascon tongue."
"In very truth the Sieur de Navailles!" whispered Gaston to himself.
With every faculty on the alert, he sat beside Roger's bed, listening to
every word of his strange babble of talk. He described how they took to
horse, fresh horses being provided for the whole company, as though all
had been planned beforehand, and how they galloped at headlong pace away
-- away -- away, ever faster, ever more furiously, as though resolved to
gain their destination at all cost.
The day dawned, but Roger lay still in this trance, and Gaston would not
have him disturbed. Until he could know whither his brother had been
carried, it was useless to strive to seek and overtake him. If in very
truth Roger was in some mysterious fashion watching over him, he would,
doubtless, be able to tell whither at length the captive was taken. Then
they would to horse and pursue. But they must learn all they could first.
The hours passed by. Roger still talked at intervals. If questioned he
answered readily -- always of the same hard riding, the changes of
horses, the captive carried passive in the midst of the troop.
Then he began to speak words that arrested Gaston's attention. He spoke
of natural features well known to him: he described a grim fortress, so
placed as to be impregnable to foes from without. There were the wide
moat, the huge natural mound, the solid wall, the small loopholes.
Gaston held his breath to hear: he knew every feature of the place so
described. Was it not the ancient Castle of Saut -- his own inheritance,
as he had been brought up to call it? Roger had never seen it; he was
almost assured of that. What he was describing was something seen with
that mysterious second sight of his, nothing that had ever impressed
itself upon his waking senses.
It was all true, then. Raymond had indeed been taken captive by the two
bitter enemies of the house of De Brocas. Peter Sanghurst had doubtless
heard of the feud between the two houses, and of the claim set up by
Gaston for the establishment of his own rights upon the lands of the
foe, and had resolved to make common cause with the Navailles against
the brothers. It was possible that they would have liked to get both
into their clutches, but that they feared to attack so stalwart a foe as
Gaston; or else they might have believed that the possession of the
person of Raymond would be sufficient for their purpose. The tie between
the twin brothers was known to be strong. It was likely enough that were
Raymond's ransom fixed at even an exorbitant sum, the price would be
paid by the brother, who well knew that the Tower of Saut was strong
enough to defy all attacks from without, and that any person
incarcerated in its dungeons would be absolutely at the mercy of its
cruel and rapacious lord.
The King of England had his hands full enough as it was without taking
up the quarrel of every wronged subject. What was done would have to be
done by himself and his own followers; and Gaston set his teeth hard as
he realized this, and went forth to give his own orders for the morrow.
At the first glimpse of coming day they were to start forth for the
south, and by hard riding might hope to reach Saut by the evening of the
second day. Gaston could muster some score of armed men, and they would
be like enough to pick up many stragglers on the way, who would be ready
enough to join any expedition promising excitement and adventure. To
take the Castle of Saut by assault would, as Gaston well knew, be
impossible; but he cherished a hope that it might fall into his hands
through strategy if he were patient, and if Roger still retained that
marvellous faculty of second-sight which revealed to his eyes things
hidden from the vision of others.
He slept all that night without moving or speaking, and when he awoke in
the morning it was in a natural state, and at first he appeared to have
no recollection of what had occurred either to himself or to Raymond.
But as sense and memory returned to him, so did also the shadow of some
terrible doom hanging over his beloved young master; and though he was
still weak and ill, and very unfit for the long journey on horseback
through the heat of a summer's day, he would not hear of being left
behind, and was the one to urge upon the others all the haste possible
as they rode along southward after the foes who had captured Raymond.
On, on, on! there were no halts save for the needful rest and
refreshment, or to try to get fresh horses to carry them forward. A fire
seemed to burn in Gaston's veins as well as in those of Roger; and the
knowledge that they were on the track of the fugitives gave fresh ardour
to the pursuit at every halting place.
Only a few hours were allowed for rest and sleep during the darkest hour
of the short night, and then on -- on -- ever on, urged by an
overmastering desire to know what was happening to the prisoner behind
those gloomy walls.
Roger's sleep that night had been disturbed by hideous visions. He did
not appear to know or see anything that was passing; but a deep gloom
hung upon his spirit, and he many times woke shivering and crying out
with horror at he knew not what; whilst Gaston lay broad awake, a
strange sense of darkness and depression upon his own senses. He could
scarce restrain himself from springing up and summoning his weary
followers to get to horse and ride forth at all risks to the very doors
of Saut, and only with the early dawn of day did any rest or refreshment
fall upon his spirit.
Roger looked more himself as they rode forth in the dawn.
"Methinks we are near him now," he kept saying; "my heart is lighter
than it was. We will save him yet -- I am assured of it! He is not dead;
I should surely know it if he were. We are drawing nearer every step. We
may be with him ere nightfall."
"The walls of Saut lie betwixt us," said Gaston, rather grimly, but he
looked sternly resolute, as though it would take strong walls indeed to
keep him from his brother when they were so near.
The country was beginning to grow familiar to him. He picked up
followers in many places as he passed through. The name of De Brocas was
loved here; that of De Navailles was loathed, and hated, and feared.
Evening was drawing on. The woods were looking their loveliest in all
the delicate beauty of their fresh young green. Gaston, riding some
fifty yards ahead with Roger beside him, looked keenly about him, with
vivid remembrance of every winding of the woodland path. Soon, as he
knew, the grim Castle of Saut would break upon his vision -- away there
in front and slightly to the right, where the ground fell away to the
river and rose on the opposite bank, crowned with those frowning walls.
He was riding so carelessly that when his horse suddenly swerved and
shied violently, he was for a moment almost unseated; but quickly
recovering himself, he looked round to see what had frightened the
animal, and himself gave almost as violent a start as the beast had done.
And yet what he saw was nothing very startling: only the light figure of
a young girl -- a girl fair of face and light of foot as a veritable
forest nymph -- such as indeed she looked springing out from the
overhanging shade of that dim place.
For one instant they looked into each other's faces with a glance of
quick recognition, and then clasping her hands together, the girl
exclaimed in the Gascon tongue:
"The Holy Saints be praised! You have come, you have come! Ah, how I
have prayed that help might come! And my prayers have been heard!"
CHAPTER XXV. THE FAIRY OF THE FOREST
Gaston sat motionless in his saddle, gazing at the apparition as though
fascinated. He had seen this woodland nymph before. He had spoken with
her, had sat awhile beside her, and her presence had inspired feelings
within him to which he had hitherto been a complete stranger. As he
gazed now into that lovely face, anxious, glad, fearful, all in one, and
yet beaming with joy at the encounter, he felt as if indeed the denizens
of another sphere had interposed to save his brother, and from that
moment he felt a full assurance that Raymond would be rescued.
Recovering himself as by an effort, he sprang from his saddle and stood
beside the girl.
"Lady," he said, in gentle accents, that trembled slightly through the
intensity of his emotion -- "fairest lady, who thou art I know not, but
this I know, that thou comest ever as a messenger of mercy. Once it was
to warn me of peril to come; now it is to tell us of one who lies in
sore peril. Lady, tell me that I am not wrong in this -- that thou
comest to give me news of my brother!"
Her liquid eyes were full of light. She did not shrink from him, or play
with his feelings as on a former occasion. Her face expressed a serious
gravity and earnestness of purpose which added tenfold to her charms.
Gaston, deeply as his feelings were stirred with anxious care for his
brother's fate, could not help his heart going out to this exquisite
young thing standing before him with trustful upturned face.
Who she was he knew not and cared not. She was the one woman in the
world for him. He had thought so when he had found her in the forest in
wayward tricksy mood; he knew it without doubt now that he saw her at
his side, her sweet face full of deep and womanly feeling, her arch
shyness all forgotten in the depth and resolution of her resolve.
"I do!" she answered, in quick, short sentences that sounded like the
tones of a silver bell. "You are Gaston de Brocas, and he, the prisoner,
is your twin brother Raymond. I know all. I have heard them talk in
their cups, when they forget that I am growing from a child to a woman.
I have long ceased to be a child. I think that I have grown old in that
terrible place. I have heard words -- oh, that make my blood run cold!
that make me wish I had never been born into a world where such things
are possible! In my heart I have registered a vow. I have vowed that if
ever the time should come when I might save one wretched victim from my
savage uncle's power -- even at the risk of mine own life -- I would do
it. I have warned men away from here. I have done a little, times and
again, to save them from a snare laid for them. But never once have I
had power to rescue from his relentless clutch the victim he had once
enclosed in his net, for never have I had help from without. But when I
heard them speak of Raymond de Brocas -- when I knew that it was he, thy
brother, of whom some such things were spoken -- then I felt that I
should indeed go mad could I not save him from such fate."
"What fate?" asked Gaston breathlessly; but she went on as though she
had not heard.
"I thought of thee as I had seen thee in the wood. I said in my heart,
'He is noble, he is brave. He will rest not night nor day whilst his
brother lies a captive in these cruel hands. I have but to watch and to
wait. He will surely come. And when he comes, I will show him the black
hole in the wall -- the dark passage to the moat -- and he will dare to
enter where never man has entered before. He will save his brother, and
my vow will be fulfilled!'"
Gaston drew his breath hard, and a light leaped into his eyes.
"Thou knowest a secret way by which the Tower of Saut may be entered --
is that so, Lady?"
"I know a way by which many a wretched victim has left it," answered the
girl, whose dark violet eyes were dilated by the depth of her emotion.
"I know not if any man ever entered by that way. But my heart told me
that there was one who would not shrink from the task, be the peril
never so great. I will see that the men-at-arms have drink enough to
turn their heads. I have a concoction of herbs which if mingled with
strong drink will cause such sleep to fall upon men that a thunderbolt
falling at their feet would scarce awaken them. I will see that thou
hast the chance thou needest. The rest wilt thou do without a thought of
"Fear to go where Raymond is -- to share his fate if I may not rescue
him!" cried Gaston. "Nay, sweet lady, that would be indeed a craven
fear, unworthy of any true knight. But tell me more. I have many times
wandered round the Tower of Saut in my boyhood, when its lord and master
was away. Methinks I know every loophole and gate by heart. But the
gates are so closely guarded, and the windows are so narrow and high up
in the walls, that I know not how they may be entered from without."
"True: yet there is one way of which doubtless thou knowest naught, for,
as I have said, men go forth that way, but enter not by it; and the
trick is known only to a few chosen souls, for the victims who pass out
seek not to come again. They drop with sullen plash into the black
waters of the moat, and the river, which mingles its clearer water with
the sluggish stream encircling the Tower, bears thence towards the
hungry sea the burden thus entrusted to its care."
Gaston shivered slightly.
"Thou speakest of the victims done to death within yon gloomy walls. I
have heard dark tales of such ere now."
"Thou hast heard nothing darker than the truth," said the girl, her
slight frame quivering with repressed emotion and a deep and terrible
sense of helpless indignation and pity. "I have heard stories that have
made my blood run cold in my veins. Men have been done to death in a
fashion I dare not speak of. There is a terrible room scarce raised
above the level of the moat, into which I was once taken, and the memory
of which has haunted me ever since. It is within the great mound upon
which the Tower is built; and above it is the dungeon in which the
victim is confined. There is some strange and wondrous device by which
he may be carried down and raised again to his own prison house when his
captor has worked his hideous will upon him. And if he dies, as many do,
upon the fearful engines men have made to inflict torture upon each
other, then there is this narrow stairway, and this still narrower
passage down to the sullen waters of the moat.
"The opening is just at the level of the water. It looks so small from
the opposite side, that one would think it but the size to admit the
passage of a dog; you would think it was caused by the loosening of some
stone in the wall -- no more. But yet it is large enough to admit the
passage of a human body; and where a body has passed out, sure a body
may pass in. There is no lock upon the door from the underground passage
to the moat; for what man would be so bold as find his way into the
Castle by the grim dungeons which hold such terrible secrets? If thou
hast the courage to enter thus, none will bar thy passage --"
"If!" echoed Gaston, whose hand was clenched and his whole face
quivering with emotion as he realized the fearful peril which menaced
his brother. "There is no such thing as a doubt. Raymond is there. I
come to save him."
The girl's eyes flashed with answering fire. She clasped her hands
together, and cried, with something like a sob in her voice:
"I knew it! I knew it! I knew that thou wert a true knight that thou
wouldst brave all to save him."
"I am his brother," said Gaston simply, "his twin brother. Who should
save him but I? Tell me, have I come in time? Have they dared to lay a
finger upon him yet?"
"Dared!" repeated the girl, with a curious inflection in her voice. "Of
what should they be afraid here in this tower, which has ever withstood
the attacks of foes, which no man may enter without first storming the
walls and forcing the gates? Thinkest thou that they fear God or man?
Nay, they know not what such fear is; and therein lies our best hope."
"How so?" asked Gaston quickly.
"Marry, for two reasons: one being that they keep but small guard over
the place, knowing its strength and remoteness; the other, that being
thus secure, they are in no haste to carry out their devil's work. They
will first let their prisoner recover of his hurts, that he slip not too
soon from their power, as weaklier victims ofttimes do."
"Then they have done naught to him as yet?" asked Gaston, in feverish
haste. "What hurts speakest thou of? Was he wounded in the fight, or
when they surrounded him and carried him off captive?"
"Not wounded, as I have heard, but sorely battered and bruised; and he
was brought hither unconscious, and lay long as one dead. When he
refused to do the bidding of Peter Sanghurst, they took him down to yon
fearsome chamber; but, as I heard when I sat at the hoard with mine
uncle and that wicked man, they had scarce laid hands upon him, to bend
his spirit to their will through their hellish devices, before he fell
into a deep swoon from which they could not rouse him; and afraid that
he would escape their malice by a merciful death, and that they would
lose the very vengeance they had taken such pains to win, they took him
back to his cell; and there he lies, tended not unskilfully by my old
nurse, who is ever brought to the side of the sick in this place. Once I
made shift to slip in behind her when the warder was off his guard, and
to whisper in his ear a word of hope. But we are too close watched to do
aught but by stealth, and Annette is never suffered to approach the
prison alone. She is conducted thither by a grim warder, who waits
beside her till she has done her office, and then takes her away. They
do not know how we loathe and hate their wicked, cruel deeds; but they
know that women have ere this been known to pity helpless victims, and
they have an eye to us ever."
Gaston drew his breath more freely. Raymond, then, was for the moment
safe. No grievous bodily hurt had been done him as yet; and here outside
his prison was his brother, and one as devoted as though the tie of
blood bound them together, ready to dare all to save him from the hands
of his cruel foes.
"They are in no great haste," said the maiden; "they feel themselves so
strong. They say that no man can so much as discover where thy brother
has been spirited, still less snatch him from their clasp. They know the
French King will not stir to help a subject of the Roy Outremer, They
know that Edward of England is far away, and that he still avoids an
open breach of the truce. They are secure in the undisturbed possession
of their captive. I have heard them say that had he a hundred brothers
all working without to obtain his release, the walls of the Tower of
Saut would defy their utmost efforts."
"That we shall see," answered Gaston, with a fierce gleam in his eye;
and then his face softened as he said, "Now that we have for our ally
the enchanted princess of the Castle, many things may be done that else
would be hard of achievement."
His ardent look sent a flush of colour through the girl's transparent
skin, but her eyes did not waver as she looked frankly back at him.
"Nay; I am no princess, and I have no enchantments -- would that I had,
if they could be used in offices of pity and mercy! I am but a
portionless maiden, an orphan, an alien. Ofttimes I weep to think that I
too did not die when my parents did, in that terrible scourge which has
devastated the world, which I hear that you of England call the Black
"Who art thou then, fair maid?" questioned Gaston, who was all this time
cautiously approaching the Tower of Saut by a winding and unfrequented
path well known to his companion. Roger had been told to wait till the
other riders came up, and conduct them with great secrecy and caution
along the same path.
Their worst fears for Raymond partially set at rest, and the hope of a
speedy rescue acting upon their minds like a charm, Gaston was able to
think of other things, and was eager to know more of the lovely girl who
had twice shown herself to him in such unexpected fashion.
It was a simple little story that she told, but it sounded strangely
entrancing from her lips. Her name, she said, was Constanza, and her
father had been one of a noble Spanish house, weakened and finally
ruined by the ceaseless internal strife carried on between the proud
nobles of the fiery south. Her mother was the sister of the Sieur do
Navailles, and he had from time to time given aid to her father in his
troubles with his enemies. The pestilence which had of late devastated
almost the whole of Europe, had visited the southern countries some time
before it had invaded more northerly latitudes; and about a year before
Gaston's first encounter with the nymph of the wood, it had laid waste
the districts round and about her home, and had carried off both her
parents and her two brothers in the space of a few short days.
Left alone in that terrible time of trouble, surrounded by enemies eager
to pounce upon the little that remained of the wide domain which had
once owned her father's sway, Constanza, in her desperation, naturally
turned to her uncle as the one protector that she knew. He had always
showed himself friendly towards her father. He had from time to time
lent him substantial assistance in his difficulties; and when he had
visited at her home, he had shown himself kindly disposed in a rough
fashion to the little maiden who flitted like a fairy about the wide
marble halls. Annette, her nurse, who had come with her mother from
France when she had left that country on her nuptials, was a Gascon
woman, and had taught the language of the country to her young mistress.
It was natural that the woman should be disposed to return to her native
land at this crisis; and for Constanza to attempt to hold her own -- a
timid maiden against a score of rapacious foes -- was obviously out of
the question. Together they had fled, taking with them such family
jewels as could easily be carried upon their persons, and disguised as
peasants they had reached and crossed the frontier, and found their way
to Saut, where the Lord of Navailles generally spent such of his time as
was not occupied in forays against his neighbours, or in following the
fortunes either of the French or English King, as best suited the fancy
of the moment.
He had received his niece not unkindly, but with complete indifference,
and had soon ceased to think about her in any way. She had a home
beneath his roof. She had her own apartments, and she was welcome to
occupy herself as she chose. Sometimes, when he was in a better humour
than usual, he would give her a rough caress. More frequently he swore
at her for being a useless girl, when she might, as a boy, have been of
some good in the world. He had no intention of providing her with any
marriage portion, so that it was superfluous to attempt to seek out a
husband for her. She and Annette were occasionally of use when there was
sickness within the walls of the Castle, or when he or his followers
came in weary and wounded from some hard fighting. On the whole he did
not object to her presence at Saut, and her own little bower was not
devoid of comfort, and even of luxury.
But for all that, the girl was often sick at heart with all that she saw
and heard around her, and was unconsciously pining for some life, she
scarce knew what, but a life that should be different from the one she
was doomed to now.
"Sometimes I think that I will retire to a Convent and shut myself up
there," she said to Gaston, her eyes looking far away over the wooded
plain before them; "and yet I love my liberty. I love to roam the forest
glades -- to hear the songs of the bird, and to feel the fresh winds of
heaven about me. Methinks I should pine and die shut up within high
walls, without the liberty to rove as I will. And then I am not
/devote/. I love not to spend long hours upon my knees. I feel nearest
to the Blessed Saints and the Holy Mother of God out here in these
woods, where no ribald shouts of mirth or blasphemous oaths can reach
me. But the Sisters live shut behind high walls, and they love best to
tell their beads beside the shrine of some Saint within their dim
chapels. They were good to us upon our journey. I love and reverence the
holy Sisters, and yet I do not know how I could be one of them. I fear
me they would soon send me forth, saying that I was not fit for their life."
"Nay, truly such a life is not for thee!" cried Gaston, with unwonted
heat. "Sweet maiden, thou wert never made to pine away behind walls that
shelter such as cannot stand against the trials and troubles of life.
For it is not so with thee. Thou hast courage; thou hast a noble heart
and a strong will. There is other work for thee to do. Lady, thou hast
this day made me thy humble slave for ever. My brother once free, as by
thy aid I trust he will be ere another day has dawned, and I will repay
thy service by claiming as my reward the right to call myself thine own
true knight. Sweet Constanza, I will live and, if need be, die for thee.
Thou wilt henceforth be the light of my path, the star of my life. Lady,
thy face hath haunted me ever since that day, so long gone by, when I
saw thee first, scarce knowing if thou wert a creature of flesh and
blood or a sprite of the woodland and water. Fair women have I looked
upon ere now, but none so fair as thee. Let me but call myself thy true
and faithful knight, and the day will come when I will stand boldly
forth and make thee mine before all the world!"
Gaston had never meant to speak thus when he and his companion first
began this walk through the winding woodland path. Then his thoughts had
been filled with his brother and him alone, and there had been no space
for other matters to intrude upon him. But with a mind more at rest as
to Raymond's immediate fate, he could not but be aware of the intense
fascination exercised upon him by his companion; and before he well knew
what he was saying, he was pouring into her ears these ardent
protestations of devotion.
Her fair face flushed, and the liquid eyes, so full of softness and
fire, fell before his ardent gaze. The little hand he had taken in his
own quivered in his strong clasp, and Gaston felt with a thrill of
ecstatic joy that it faintly returned the pressure of his fingers.
"Lady, sweetest Lady!" he repeated, his words growing more and more
rapid as his emotion deepened, "let me hear thee say that thou wilt
grant me leave to call myself thy true knight! Let me hear from those
sweet lips that there is none before me who has won the love of this
The maid was quivering from head to foot. Such words were like a new
language to her, and yet her heart gave a ready and sweet response. Had
she not sung of knightly wooers in the soft songs of her childhood, and
had she not dreamed her own innocent dreams of him who would one day
come to seek her? And had not that dream lover always worn the knightly
mien, the proud and handsome face, of him she had seen but once, and
that for one brief hour alone? Was it hard to give to him the answer he
asked? And yet how could she frame her lips aright to tell him she had
loved him ere he had asked her love?
"Fair Sir, how should a lonely maid dwelling in these wild woods know
aught of that knightly love of which our troubadours so sweetly sing? I
have scarce seen the face of any since I have come to these solitudes;
only the rough and terrible faces of those wild soldiers and savages who
follow mine uncle when he rideth forth on his forays."
Gaston's heart gave a throb of joy; but it was scarce the moment to
press his suit farther. Who could tell what the next few hours might
bring forth? He might himself fall a victim, ere another day had passed,
to the ancient foe of his house. It was enough for the present to know
that the fair girl's heart was free.
He raised the hand he held and pressed his lips upon it, saying in
"From henceforth -- my brother once standing free without these walls --
I am thy true knight and champion, Lady. Give me, I pray thee, that knot
of ribbon at thy neck. Let me place it in my head piece, and feel that I
am thine indeed for life or death."
With a hand that trembled, but not from hesitation, Constanza unfastened
the simple little knot she wore as her sole ornament, and gave it to
Gaston. They exchanged one speaking glance, but no word passed their lips.
By this time they had approached very near to the Tower, although the
thick growth of the trees hindered them from seeing it, as it also
concealed them from the eyes of any persons who might be upon the walls.
The evening light was now fast waning. Upon the tops of the heights the
sun still shone, but here in the wooded hollow, beside the sullen waters
of the moat, twilight had already fallen, and soon it would be dark as
night itself. The moon rose late, and for a space there would be no
light save that of the stars.
Constanza laid her finger upon her lips, and made a sign demanding
caution. Gaston understood that he was warned not to speak, and to tread
cautiously, which he did, stealing along after his fairy-like companion,
and striving to emulate her dainty, bird-like motions. He could see by
the glint of water that they were skirting along beside the moat, but he
had never approached so near to it before, and he knew not where they
Some men might have feared treachery, but such an idea never entered
Gaston's head. Little as he knew of his companion, he knew that she was
true and loyal, that she was beloved by him, and that her heart was
already almost won.
Presently the girl stopped and laid her hand upon his arm.
"This is the place," she whispered. "Come very softly to the water's
edge, and I will show you the dark hole opposite, just above the
waterline, where entrance can be made. There be no loopholes upon this
side of the Tower, and no watchman is needed where there be no foothold
for man to scale the wall beneath.
"Look well across the moat. Seest thou yon black mark, that looks no
larger than my hand? That is the entrance to a tunnel which slopes
upward until it reaches a narrow doorway in the thickness of the solid
wall whereby the underground chamber may be reached. Once there, thou
wilt see let into the wall a great wheel with iron spokes projecting
from it. Set that wheel in motion, and a portion of the flooring of the
chamber above will descend. When it has reached the ground, thou canst
ascend by reversing the wheel, leaving always some one in the chamber
below to work the wheel, which will enable thee to bring thy brother
down again. That accomplished, all that remains will be to creep again
through the narrow passage to the moat and swim across once more. Thou
"Ay, truly. Raymond and I have been called fishes from our childhood. We
swam in the great mill pool almost ere we could well run alone. Many of
my stout fellows behind are veritable water rats. If my brother be not
able to save himself, there will be a dozen stout arms ready to support
him across the moat.
"And what will be the hour when this attempt must be made? What if the
very moment I reached my brother his jailer should come to him, and the
alarm be given through the Castle ere we could get him thence?"
"That it must be my office to prevent," answered the girl, with quiet
resolution. "I have thought many times of some such thing as this,
hoping as it seemed where no hope was, and Annette and I have taken
counsel together. Leave it to me to see that all the Castle is filled
with feasting and revelry. I will see that the mead which circulates
tonight be so mingled with Annette's potion that it will work in the
brains of the men till they forget all but rioting and sleep. For mine
uncle and his saturnine guest, I have other means of keeping them in the
great banqueting hall, far away from the lonely Tower where their
prisoner lies languishing. They shall be so well served at the board
this night, that no thought of aught beside the pleasure of the table
shall enter to trouble their heads. And at ten of the clock, if I come
not again to warn thee, cross fearlessly the great moat, and do as I
have bid thee. But if thou hearest from the Castle wall the hooting of
an owl thrice repeated like this" -- and the girl put her hands to her
mouth, and gave forth so exact an mutation of an owl's note that Gaston
started to hear it -- "thrice times thrice, so that there can be no
mistake, then tarry here on this side; stir not till I come again. It
will be a danger signal to tell that all is not well. But if at the hour
of ten thou hast heard naught, then go forward, and fear not. Thy
brother will be alone, and all men far away from the Tower. Take him,
and go forth; and the Blessed Saints bless and protect you all."
She stretched forth her hand and placed it in his. There was a sudden
sadness in her face. Gaston caught her hand and pressed it to his lips,
but he had more to say than a simple word of parting.
"But I shall see thee again, sweet Constanza? Am I not thy true knight?
Shall I not owe to thee a debt I know not how to pay? Thou wilt not send
me forth without a word of promise of another meeting? When can I see
thee again to tell thee how we have fared?"
"Thou must not dream of loitering here once thy object is secured,"
answered the girl, speaking very firmly and almost sternly, though there
was a deep sadness in her eyes. "It will not be many hours ere they find
their captive has escaped them, and they will rouse the whole country
after you. Nay, to linger is certain death; it must not be thought of.
In Bordeaux, and there alone, wilt thou be safe. It is thither that thou
must fly, for thither alone will the Sieur de Navailles fear to follow
you. For me, I must remain here, as I have done these many years. It
will not be worse than it hath ever been."
"And thinkest thou that I will leave thee thus to languish after thou
hast restored to me my brother?" asked Gaston hotly. "Nay, lady, think
not that of thine own true knight! I will come again. I vow it! First
will I to the English King, and tell in his ears a tale which shall
arouse all his royal wrath. And then will I come again. It may not be
this year, but it shall be ere long. I will come to claim mine own; and
all that is mine shall be thine. Sweet Lady, wouldst thou look coldly
upon me did I come with banners unfurled and men in arms against him
thou callest thine uncle? For the lands he holds were ours once, and the
English King has promised that they shall one day be restored, as they
should have been long ago had not this usurper kept his iron clutch upon
them in defiance of his feudal lord. Lady, sweet Constanza, tell me that
thou wilt not call me thy foe if I come as a foe to the Lord of Navailles!"
"Methinks thou couldst never be my foe," answered Constanza in a low
voice, pressing her hands closely together; "and though he be mine
uncle, and though he has given me a home beneath his roof, he has made
it to me an abode of terror, and I know that he is feared and hated far
and wide, and that his evil deeds are such that none may trust or love
him. I would not show ingratitude for what he hath done for me; but he
has been paid many times over. He has had all my jewels, and of these
many were all but priceless; and he gives me but the food I eat and the
raiment I wear. I should bless the day that set me free from this life
beneath his roof. There be moments when I say in mine heart that I
cannot live longer in such an evil place -- when I have no heart left
and no hope."
"But thou wilt have hope now!" cried Gaston ardently. "Thou wilt know
that I am coming to claim mine own, and with it this little hand, more
precious to me than all else besides. Sweetest Constanza, tell me that I
shall still find thee as thou art when I come to claim thee! I shall not
come to find thee the bride of another?"
He could not see her face in the dimness, but he felt her hand flutter
in his clasp like a bird in the hand of one who has tamed it, and whom
it trusts and loves. The next moment his arm was about her slight
figure, and her head drooped for a moment upon his shoulder.
"I shall be waiting," she whispered, scarce audibly. "How could I love
another, when thou hast called thyself my knight?"
He pressed a passionate kiss upon her brow.
"If this is indeed farewell for the present hour, it is a sweet one, my
beloved. I little thought, as I journeyed hither today, what I was to
find. Farewell, farewell, my lady love, my princess, my bride. Farewell,
but not for ever. I will come again anon, and then we will be no more
parted, for thou shalt reign in these grim walls, and no more dark tales
of horror shall be breathed of them. I will come again; I will surely
come. Trust me, and fear not!"
She stood beside him in the gathering darkness, and he could almost hear
the fluttering of her heart. It was a moment full of sweetness for both,
even though the shadow of parting was hanging over them.
A slight rustle amongst the underwood near to them caused them to spring
apart; and the girl fled from him, speeding away with the grace and
silent fleetness of a deer. Gaston made a stride towards the place
whence the sound had proceeded, and found himself face to face with Roger.
"The men are all at hand," he whispered. "I would not have them approach
too close till I knew your pleasure. They are all within the wood, all
upon the alert lest any foe be nigh; but all seems silent as the grave,
and not a light gleams from the Tower upon this side. Shall I bid them
remain where they are? or shall I bring them hither to you beside the
"Let them remain where they are for a while and see that the horses be
well fed and cared for. At ten o'clock, if all be well, the attempt to
enter the Tower is to be made; and once the prisoner is safe and in our
keeping, we must to Bordeaux as fast as horse will take us. The Sieur de
Navailles will raise the whole country after us. We must be beyond the
reach of his clutches ere we draw rein again."
CHAPTER XXVI. THE RESCUE OF RAYMOND.
The appointed hour had arrived. No signal had fallen upon Gaston's
listening ears; no note of warning had rung through the still night air.
From the direction of the Castle sounds of distant revelry arose at
intervals -- sounds which seemed to show that nothing in the shape of
watch or ward was being thought of by its inmates; and also that
Constanza's promise had been kept, and potations of unwonted strength
had been served out to the men.
Now the appointed hour had come and gone, and Gaston commenced his
preparations for the rescue of his brother. That he might be going to
certain death if he failed, or if he had been betrayed, did not weigh
with him for a moment. If Constanza were false to him, better death than
the destruction of his hopes and his trust. In any case he would share
his brother's fate sooner than leave him in the relentless hands of
these cruel foes.
He had selected six of his stoutest followers, all of them excellent
swimmers, to accompany him across the moat; and Roger, as a matter of
course, claimed to be one of the party. To Roger's mysterious power of
vision they owed their rapid tracing of Raymond to this lonely spot. It
was indeed his right to make one of the rescue party if he desired to be
allowed to do so.
The rest of their number were to remain upon this farther side of the
moat, and the horses were all in readiness, rested and refreshed, about
half-a-mile off under the care of several stout fellows, all stanch to
their master's interests. The story they had heard from Gaston of what
had been devised against his brother filled the honest soldiers with
wrath and indignation. Rough and savage as they might show themselves in
open warfare, deliberate and diabolical cruelty was altogether foreign
to their nature. And they all felt towards Raymond a sense of protecting
and reverent tenderness, such as all may feel towards a being of finer
mould and loftier nature.
Raymond had the faculty of inspiring in those about him this reverential
tenderness; and not one of those stalwart fellows who were silently
laying aside their heavy mail, and such of their garments as would be
likely to hinder them in their swim across the moat, but felt a deep
loathing and hatred towards the lord of this grim Tower, and an
overmastering resolve to snatch his helpless victim from his cruel
hands, or perish in the attempt.
All their plans had been very carefully made. Lanterns and the
wherewithal for kindling them were bound upon the heads of some of the
swimmers; and though they laid aside most of their defensive armour and
their heavy riding boots, they wore their stout leather jerkins, that
were almost as serviceable against foeman's steel, and their weapons,
save the most cumbersome, were carried either in their belts or fastened
across their shoulders.
Dark though it had become, Gaston had not lost cognizance of the spot
whither they were to direct their course; and one by one the strong
swimmers plunged into the sullen waters without causing so much as a
ripple or plash, which might betray their movements to suspicious ears
upon the battlements (if indeed any sort of watch were kept, which
appeared doubtful). They swam with that perfect silence possible only to
those who are thoroughly at home in the water, till they had crossed the
dark moat and had reached the perpendicular wall of the Tower, which
rose sheer upon the farther side -- so sheer that not even the foot of
mountain goat could have scaled its rough-hewn side.
But Gaston knew what he had to search for, and with outstretched hand he
swam silently along the solid masonry, feeling for that aperture just
above watermark which he had seen before the daylight faded. It took him
some little time to find it, but at last it was discovered, and with a
muttered word of command to the men who silently followed in his wake,
he drew himself slowly out of the water, to find himself in a very
narrow rounded aperture like a miniature tunnel, which trended slightly
upwards, and would only admit the passage of one human being at a time,
and then only upon hands and knees.
It was pitchy dark in this tunnel, and there was no space in which to
attempt to kindle a light. Once the thought came into Gaston's head that
if he were falling into a treacherous pitfall laid for him with diabolic
ingenuity by his foes, nothing could well be better than to entrap him
into such a place as this, where it would be almost impossible to go
forward or back, and quite out of his power to strike a single blow for
liberty or life.
But he shook off the chill sense of fear as unworthy and unknightly. His
Constanza was true; of that he was assured. The only possible doubt was
whether she herself were being used as an unconscious tool in the hands
of subtle and perfectly unscrupulous men.
But even so Gaston had no choice but to advance. He had come to rescue
his brother or to die with him. If the latter, he would try at least to
sell his life dearly. But he was fully persuaded that his efforts would
be crowned with success.
He had time to think many such things as he slowly crept along the low
passage in the black darkness. It seemed long before his hand came in
contact with the door he had been told he should presently reach, and
this door, as Constanza had said, yielded to his touch, and he felt
rather than saw that he had emerged into a wider space beyond.
This place, whatever it was, was not wholly dark, though so very dim
that it was impossible to make out anything save the dull red glow of
what might be some embers on a distant hearth. Gaston did not speak a
word, but waited till all his companions had reached this more open
space, and had risen to their feet and grasped their weapons. Then all
held their breath, and listened for any sound that might by chance
reveal the presence of hidden foes, till they started at the sound of
Roger's voice speaking softly but with complete assurance.
"There is no one here," he said. "We are quite alone. Let me kindle a
torch and show you."
Roger, as Gaston had before observed, possessed a cat-like faculty of
seeing in the dark. Whether it was natural to him, or had been acquired
during those days spent almost entirely underground in the sorcerer's
vaulted chamber at Basildene, the youth himself scarcely knew. But he
was able to distinguish objects clearly in gloom which no ordinary eye
could penetrate; and now he walked fearlessly forward and stirred up the
smouldering embers, whose dull red glow all could see, into a quick,
bright, palpitating flame which illumined every corner of the strange
place into which they had penetrated.
Gaston and his men looked wonderingly around them, as they lighted their
lanterns at the fire and flashed them here and there into all the dark
corners, as though to assure themselves that there were no ambushed foes
lurking in the grim recesses of that circular room. But Roger had been
quite right. There was nothing living in that silent place. Not so much
as a loophole in the wall admitted any air or light from the outer
world, or could do so even in broad noon. The chamber was plainly
hollowed out in the mass of earth and masonry of which the foundations
of the Tower were composed, and if any air were admitted (as there must
have been, else men could not breathe down there), it was by some device
not easily discovered at a first glance.
It was in truth a strange and terrible place -- the dank walls, down
which the damp moisture slowly trickled, hung round with instruments of
various forms, all designed with a terrible purpose, and from their look
but too often used.
Gaston's face assumed a look of dark wrath and indignation as his quick
eyes roved round this evil place, and he set his teeth hard together as
he muttered to himself:
"Heaven send that the Prince himself may one day look upon the vile
secrets of this charnel house! I would that he and his royal father
might know what deeds of darkness are even now committed in lands that
own their sway! Would that I had that wicked wretch here in my power at
this moment! Well does he deserve to be torn in pieces by his own
hideous engines. And in this very place does he design to do to death my
brother! May God pardon me if I sin in the thought, but death by the
sword is too good for such a miscreant!"
Words very similar to these were being bandied about in fierce
undertones by the men who had accompanied Gaston, and who had never seen
such a chamber as this before. Great would have been their satisfaction
to let its owner taste something of the agony he had too often inflicted
upon helpless victims thrown into his power. But this being out of the
question, the next matter was the rescue of the captive they had come to
save; and they looked eagerly at their young leader to know what was the
next step to be taken.
Gaston was searching for the wheel by which the mechanism could be set
in motion which would enable him to reach his brother's prison house. It
was easily found from the description given him by Constanza. He set his
men to work to turn the wheel, and at once became aware of the groaning
and grating sound that attends the motion of clumsy machinery. Gazing
eagerly up into the dun roof above him, he saw slowly descending a
portion of the stonework of which it was formed. It was a clever enough
contrivance for those unskilled days, and showed a considerable
ingenuity on the part of some owner of the Castle of Saut.
When the great slab had descended to the floor below, Gaston stepped
upon it, Roger placing himself at his side, and with a brief word to his
men to reverse the action of the wheel, and to lower the slab again a
few minutes later, he prepared for his strange passage upwards to his
brother's lonely cell.
Roger held a lantern in his hand, and the faces of the pair were full of
anxious expectation. Suppose Raymond had been removed from that upper
prison? Suppose he had succumbed either to the cruelty of his foes or to
the fever resulting from his injuries received on the day of the battle?
A hundred fears possessed Gaston's soul as the strange transit through
the air was being accomplished -- a transit so strange that he felt as
though he must surely be dreaming. But there was only one thing to be
done -- to persevere in the quest, and trust to the Holy Saints and the
loving mercy of Blessed Mary's Son to grant him success in this his
Up, up into the darkness of the vaulted roof he passed, and then a
yawning hole above their heads, which looked too small to admit the
passage of the slab upon which they stood, swallowed them up, and they
found themselves passing upwards through a shaft which only just
admitted the block upon which they stood. Up and up they went, and now
the creaking sound grew louder, and the motion grew perceptibly slower.
They were no longer in a narrow shaft; a black space opened before their
eyes. The motion ceased altogether with a grinding sensation and a jerk,
and out of the darkness of a wider space, pitchy dark to their eyes,
came the sound of a familiar voice.
"Gaston -- Brother!"
Gaston sprang forward into the darkness, heedless of all but the sound
of that voice. The next moment he was clasping his brother in his arms,
his own emotion so great that he dared not trust his voice to speak;
whilst Raymond, holding him fast in a passionate clasp, whispered in his
ear a breathless question.
"Thou too a prisoner in this terrible place, my Gaston? O brother -- my
brother -- I trusted that I might have died for us both!"
"A prisoner? nay, Raymond, no prisoner; but as thy rescuer I come. What,
believest thou not? Then shalt thou soon see with thine own eyes.
"But let me look first upon thy face. I would see what these miscreants
have done to thee. Thou feelest more like a creature of skin and bone
than one of sturdy English flesh and blood.
"The light, Roger!
"Ay, truly, Roger is here with me. It is to him in part we owe it that
we are here this night. Raymond, Raymond, thou art sorely changed! Thou
lookest more spirit-like than ever! Thou hast scarce strength to stand
alone! What have they done to thee, my brother?"
But Raymond could scarce find strength to answer. The revulsion of
feeling was too much for him. When he had heard that terrible sound, and
had seen the slab in the floor sink out of sight, he had sprung from his
bed of straw, ready to face his cruel foes when they came for him, yet
knowing but too well what was in store for him when he was carried down
below, as he had been once before. Then when, instead of the cruel
mocking countenance of Peter Sanghurst, he had seen the noble, loving
face of his brother, and had believed that he, too, had fallen into the
power of their deadly foes, it had seemed to him as though a bitterness
greater than that of death had fallen upon him, and the rebound of
feeling when Gaston had declared himself had been so great, that the
whole place swam before his eyes, and the floor seemed to reel beneath
"We will get him away from this foul place!" cried Gaston, with flaming
eyes, as he looked into the white and sharpened face of his brother, and
felt how feebly the light frame leaned against the stalwart arm
He half led, half carried Raymond the few paces towards the slab in the
floor which formed the link with the region beneath, and the next minute
Raymond felt himself sinking down as he had done once before; only then
it had been in the clasp of his most bitter foe that he had been carried
to that infernal spot.
The recollection made him shiver even now in Gaston's strong embrace,
and the young knight felt the quiver and divined the cause.
"Fear nothing now, my brother," he said. "Though we be on our way to
that fearful place, it is for us the way to light and liberty. Our own
good fellows are awaiting us there. I trow not all the hireling knaves
within this Castle wall should wrest thee from us now."
"I fear naught now that thou art by my side, Gaston," answered Raymond,
in low tones. "If thou art not in peril thyself, I could wish nothing
better than to die with thine arm about mine."
"Nay, but thou shalt live!" cried Gaston, with energy, scarce
understanding that after the long strain of such a captivity as
Raymond's had been it was small wonder that he had grown to think death
well-nigh better and sweeter than life. "Thou shalt live to take
vengeance upon thy foes, and to recompense them sevenfold for what they
have done to thee. I will tell this story in the ears of the King
himself. This is not the last time that I shall stand within the walls
By this time the heavy slab had again descended, and around it were
gathered the eager fellows, who received their young master's brother
with open arms and subdued shouts of triumph and joy. But he, though he
smiled his thanks, looked round him with eyes dilated by the remembrance
of some former scene there, and Gaston set his teeth hard, and shook
back his head with a gesture that boded little good for the Sieur de
Navailles upon a future day.
"Come men; we may not tarry!" he said. "No man knows what fancy may
enter into the head of the master of this place. Turn the wheel again;
send up the slab to its right place. Let them have no clue to trace the
flight of their victim. Leave everything as we found it, and follow me
He was all anxiety now to get his brother from the shadow of this
hideous place. The whiteness of Raymond's face, the hollowness of his
eyes, the lines of suffering traced upon his brow in a few short days,
all told a tale only too easily read.
The rough fellows treated him tenderly as they might have treated a
little child. They felt that he had been through some ordeal from which
they themselves would have shrunk with a terror they would have been
ashamed to admit; and that despite the youth's fragile frame and
ethereal face that looked little like that of a mailed warrior, a hero's
heart beat in his breast, and he had the spirit to do and to dare what
they themselves might have quailed from and fled before.
The transit through the narrow tunnel presented no real difficulty, and
soon the sullen waters of the moat were troubled by the silent passage
of seven instead of six swimmers. The shock of the cold plunge revived
Raymond; and the sense of space above him, the star-spangled sky
overhead, the free sweet air around him, even the unfettered use of his
weakened limbs, as he swam with his brother's strong supporting arm
about him, acted upon him like a tonic. He hardly knew whether or not it
was a dream; whether he were in the body or out of the body; whether he
should awake to find himself in his gloomy cell, or under the cruel
hands of his foes in that dread chamber he had visited once before.
He knew not, and at that moment he cared not. Gaston's arm was about
him, Gaston's voice was in his ear. Whatever came upon him later could
not destroy the bliss of the present moment.
A score of eager hands were outstretched to lift the light frame from
Gaston's arm as the brothers drew to the edge of the moat. It was no
time to speak, no time to ask or answer questions. At any moment some
unguarded movement or some crashing of the boughs underfoot might awaken
the suspicions of those within the walls. It was enough that the secret
expedition had been crowned with success -- that the captive was now
released and in their own hands.
Raymond was almost fainting now with excitement and fatigue, but
Gaston's muscles seemed as if made of iron. Though the past days had
been for him days of great anxiety and fatigue, though he had scarce
eaten or slept since the rapid march upon the besieging army around St.
Jean d'Angely, he seemed to know neither fatigue nor feebleness. The arm
upholding Raymond's drooping frame seemed as the arm of a giant. The
young knight felt as though he could have carried that light weight even
to Bordeaux, and scarce have felt fatigue.
But there was no need for that. Nigh at hand the horses were waiting,
saddled and bridled, well fed and well rested, ready to gallop steadily
all through the summer night. The moon had risen now, and filtered in
through the young green of the trees with a clear and fitful radiance.
The forest was like a fairy scene; and over the minds of both brothers
stole the softening remembrance of such woodland wonders in the days
gone by, when as little lads, full of curiosity and love of adventure,
they had stolen forth at night into the forest together to see if they
could discover the fairies at their play, or the dwarfs and gnomes busy
beneath the surface of the earth.
To Raymond it seemed indeed as though all besides might well be a dream.
He knew not which of the fantastic images impressed upon his brain was
the reality, and which the work of imagination. A sense of restful
thankfulness -- the release from some great and terrible fear -- had
stolen upon him, he scarce knew how or why. He did not wish to think or
puzzle out what had befallen him. He was with Gaston once more; surely
that was enough.
But Gaston's mind was hard at work. From time to time he turned an
anxious look upon his brother, and he saw well how ill and weary he was,
how he swayed in the saddle, though supported by cleverly-adjusted
leather thongs, and how unfit he was for the long ride that lay before
them. And yet that ride must be taken. They must be out of reach of
their implacable foe as quickly as might be. In the unsettled state of
the country no place would afford a safe harbour for them till Bordeaux
itself was reached. Fain would he have made for the shelter of the old
home in the mill, or of Father Anselm's hospitable home, but he knew
that those would be the first places searched by the emissaries of the
Navailles. Even as it was these good people might be in some peril, and
they must certainly not be made aware of the proximity of the De Brocas
But if not there, whither could Raymond be transported? To carry him to
England in this exhausted state might be fatal to him; for no man knew
when once on board ship how contrary the wind might blow, and the
accommodation for a sick man upon shipboard was of the very rudest. No;
before the voyage could be attempted Raymond must have rest and care in
some safe place of shelter. And where could that shelter be found?
As Gaston thus mused a sudden light came upon him, and turning to Roger
he asked of him a question:
"Do not some of these fellows of our company come from Bordeaux; and
have they not left it of late to follow the English banner?"
"Ay, verily," answered Roger quickly. "There be some of them who came
forth thence expressly to fight under the young knight of De Brocas. The
name of De Brocas is as dear to many of those Gascon soldiers as that of
Navailles is hated and cursed."
"Send then to me one of those fellows who best knows the city," said
Gaston; and in a few more minutes a trooper rode up to his side.
"Good fellow," said Gaston, "if thou knowest well you city whither we
are bound, tell me if thou hast heard aught of one Father Paul, who has
been sent to many towns in this and other realms by his Holiness the
Pope, to restore amongst the Brethren of his order the forms and habits
which have fallen something into disuse of late? I heard a whisper as we
passed through the city a week back now that he was there. Knowest thou
if this be true?"
"It was true enow, Sir Knight, a few days back," answered the man, "and
I trow you may find him yet at the Cistercian Monastery within the city
walls. He had but just arrived thither ere the English ships came, and
men say that he had much to do ere he sallied forth again."
"Good," answered Gaston, in a tone of satisfaction; and when the trooper
had dropped back to his place again, the young knight turned to his
brother and said cheerily:
"Courage, good lad; keep but up thy heart, my brother, for I have heard
good news for thee. Father Paul is in the city of Bordeaux, and it is in
his kindly charge that I will leave thee ere I go to England with my
tale to lay before the King."
Raymond was almost too far spent to rejoice over any intelligence,
however welcome; yet a faint smile crossed his face as the sense of
Gaston's words penetrated to his understanding. It was plain that there
was no time to lose if they were to get him to some safe shelter before
his strength utterly collapsed, and long before Bordeaux was reached he
had proved unable to keep his seat in the saddle, and a litter had been
contrived for him in which he could lie at length, carried between four
of the stoutest horsemen.
They were now in more populous and orderly regions, where the forest was
thinner and townships more frequent. The urgent need for haste had
slightly diminished, and though still anxious to reach their
destination, the party was not in fear of an instant attack from a
The Navailles would scarce dare to fall upon the party in the
neighbourhood of so many of the English King's fortified cities; and
before the sun set they hoped to be within the environs of Bordeaux
itself -- a hope in which they were not destined to be disappointed.
Nor was Gaston disappointed of his other hope; for scarce had they
obtained admission for their unconscious and invalided comrade within
the walls of the Cistercian Monastery, and Gaston was still eagerly
pouring into the Prior's ears the story of his brother's capture and
imprisonment, when the door of the small room into which the strangers
had been taken was slowly opened to admit a tall, gaunt figure, and
Father Paul himself stood before them. He gave Gaston one long,
searching look; but he never forgot a face, and greeted him by name as
Sir Gaston de Brocas, greatly to the surprise of the youth, who thought
he would neither be recognized nor known by the holy Father. Then
passing him quickly by, the monk leaned over the couch upon which
Raymond had been laid -- a hard oaken bench -- covered by the cloak of
the man who had borne him in.
Raymond's eyes were closed; his face, with the sunset light lying full
upon it, showed very hollow and white and worn. Even in the repose of a
profound unconsciousness it wore a look of lofty purpose, together with
an expression of purity and devotion impossible to describe. Gaston and
the Prior both turned to look as Father Paul bent over the prostrate
figure with an inarticulate exclamation such as he seldom uttered, and
Gaston felt a sudden thrill of cold fear run through him.
"He is not dead?" he asked, in a passionate whisper; and the Father
looked up to answer:
"Nay, Sir Knight, he is not dead. A little rest, a little tendance, a
little of our care, and he will be restored to the world again. Better
perhaps were it not so - better perchance for him. For his is not the
nature to battle with impunity against the evil of the world. Look at
him as he lies there: is that face of one that can look upon the deeds
of these vile days and not suffer keenest pain? To fight and to vanquish
is thy lot, young warrior; but what is his? To tread the thornier path
of life and win the hero's crown, not by deeds of glory and renown, but
by that higher and holier path of suffering and renunciation which One
chose that we might know He had been there before us. Thou mayest live
to be one of this world's heroes, boy; but in the world to come it will
be thy brother who will wear the victor's crown."
"I truly believe it," answered Gaston, drawing a deep breath; "but yet
we cannot spare him from this world. I give him into thy hands, my
Father, that thou mayest save him for us here."
CHAPTER XXVII. PETER SANGHURST'S WOOING.
"Joan -- sweetest mistress -- at last I find you; at last my eyes behold
again those peerless charms for which they have pined and hungered so
long! Tell me, have you no sweet word of welcome for him whose heart you
hold between those fair hands, to do with it what you will?"
Joan, roused from her reverie by those smoothly-spoken words, uttered in
a harsh and grating voice, turned quickly round to find herself face to
face with Peter Sanghurst -- the man she had fondly hoped had passed out
of her life for ever.
Joan and her father, after a considerable period spent in wanderings in
foreign lands (during which Sir Hugh had quite overcome the melancholy
and sense of panic into which he had been thrown by the scourge of the
Black Death and his wife's sudden demise as one of its victims), had at
length returned to Woodcrych. The remembrance of the plague was fast
dying out from men's minds. The land was again under cultivation; and
although labour was still scarce and dear, and continued to be so for
many, many years, whilst the attempts at legislation on this point only
produced riot and confusion (culminating in the next reign in the
notable rebellion of Wat Tyler, and leading eventually to the
emancipation of the English peasantry), things appeared to be returning
to their normal condition, and men began to resume their wonted apathy
of mind, and to cease to think of the scourge as the direct visitation
Sir Hugh had been one of those most alarmed by the ravages of the
plague. He was full of the blind superstition of a thoroughly
irreligious man, and he knew well that he had been dabbling in forbidden
arts, and had been doing things that were supposed in those days to make
a man peculiarly the prey of the devil after death. Thus when the Black
Death had visited the country, and he had heard on all sides that it was
the visitation of God for the sins of the nations, he had been seized
with a panic which had been some years in cooling, and he had made
pilgrimages and had paid a visit to his Holiness the Pope in order to
feel that he had made amends for any wrongdoing in his previous life.
He had during this fit of what was rather panic than repentance avoided
Woodcrych sedulously, as the place where these particular sins which
frightened him now had been committed. He had thus avoided any encounter
with Peter Sanghurst, and Joan had hoped that the shadow of that evil
man was not destined to cross her path again. But, unluckily for her
hopes, a reaction had set in in her father's feelings. His blind,
unreasoning terror had now given place to an equally wild and reckless
confidence and assurance. The Black Death had come and gone, and had
passed him by (he now said) doing him no harm. He had obtained the
blessing of the Pope, and felt in his heart that he could set the
Almighty at defiance. His revenues, much impoverished through the
effects of the plague, made the question of expenditure the most
pressing one of the hour; and the knight had come to Woodcrych with the
distinct intention of prosecuting those studies in alchemy and magic
which a year or two back he had altogether forsworn.
Old Sanghurst was dead, he knew -- the devil had claimed one of his own.
But the son was living still, and was to be heard of, doubtless, at
Basildene. Peter Sanghurst was posing in the world as a wealthy man,
surrounded by a halo of mystery which gave him distinction and commanded
respect. Sir Hugh felt that he might be a very valuable ally, and began
to regret now that his fears had made him so long an exile from his
country and a wanderer from home.
Many things might have happened in that interval. What more likely than
that Sanghurst had found a wife, and that his old affection for Joan
would by now be a thing of the past? The knight fumed a good deal as he
thought of neglected opportunities. But there was just the chance that
Sanghurst might be faithful to his old love, whilst surely Joan would
have forgotten her girlish caprice, and cease to attempt a foolish
resistance to her father's will. Had he been as much in earnest then as
he now was, the marriage would long ago have been consummated. But in
old days he had not felt so confident of the wealth of the Sanghursts as
he now did, and had been content to let matters drift. Now he could
afford to drift no longer. Joan had made no marriage for herself, she
was unwed at an age when most girls are wives and mothers, and Sir Hugh
was growing weary of her company. He wished to plunge once again into a
life of congenial dissipation, and into those researches for magic
wealth which had always exercised so strong a fascination over him; and
the first step necessary for both these objects appeared to be to marry
off his daughter, and that, if possible, to the man who was supposed to
be in possession of these golden secrets.
Joan, however, knew nothing of the hopes and wishes filling her father's
mind. She was glad to come back to the home she had always loved the
best of her father's residences, and which was so much associated in her
mind with her youthful lover.
She believed that so near to Guildford she would be sure to hear news of
Raymond. Master Bernard de Brocas would know where he was; he might even
be living beneath his uncle's roof. The very thought sent quick thrills
of happiness through her. Her face was losing its thoughtful gravity of
expression, and warming and brightening into new beauty. She had almost
forgotten the proximity of Basildene, and Peter Sanghurst's hateful
suit, so long had been the time since she had seen him last, until the
sound of his voice, breaking in upon a happy reverie, brought all the
old disgust and horror back again, and she turned to face him with eyes
that flashed with lambent fire.
Yet as she stood there in the entrance to that leafy bower which was her
favourite retreat at Woodcrych, Peter Sanghurst felt as though he had
never before seen so queenly a creature, and said in his heart that she
had grown tenfold more lovely during the years of her wanderings.
Joan was now no mere strip of a girl. She was three-and-twenty, and had
all the grace of womanhood mingling with the free, untrammelled energy
of youth. Her step was as light, her movements as unfettered, as in the
days of her childhood; yet now she moved with an unconscious stately
grace which caused her to be remarked wherever she went; and her face,
always beautiful, with its regular features, liquid dark eyes, and full,
noble expression, had taken an added depth and sweetness and
thoughtfulness which rendered it remarkable and singularly attractive.
Joan inspired a considerable amount of awe in the breasts of those
youthful admirers who had flitted round her sometimes during the days of
her wanderings; but she had never given any of them room to hope to be
more to her than the passing acquaintance of an hour. She had received
proffers of life-long devotion with a curious gentle courtesy almost
like indifference, and had smiled upon none of those who had paid her court.
Her father had let her do as she would. No suitor wealthy enough to
excite his cupidity had appeared at Joan's feet. He intended to make a
wealthy match for her before she grew much older; but the right person
had not yet appeared, and time slipped by almost unheeded.
Now she found herself once again face to face with Peter Sanghurst, and
realized that he was renewing, or about to renew, that hateful suit
which she trusted had passed from his mind altogether. The face she
turned towards him, with the glowing autumn sunshine full upon it, was
scarcely such as could be called encouraging to an ardent lover. But
Peter Sanghurst only smiled as she stood there in her proud young
beauty, the russet autumn tints framing her noble figure in vivid colours.
"I have taken you by surprise, sweet lady," he said; "it is long since
"Long indeed, Master Peter -- or should I say Sir Peter? It hath been
told to me that you have been in the great world; but whether or not
your gallantry has won you your spurs I know not."
Was there something of covert scorn in the tones of her cold voice?
Sanghurst could not tell, but every smallest stab inflicted upon his
vanity or pride by this beautiful creature was set down in the account
he meant to settle with her when once she was in his power. His feelings
towards her were strangely mixed. He loved her passionately in a fierce,
wild fashion, coveting the possession of that beauty which maddened
whilst it charmed him. She enchained and enthralled him, yet she stung
him to the quick by her calm contempt and resolute avoidance of him. He
was determined she should be his, come what might; but when once he had
won the mastery over her, he would make her suffer for every pang of
wounded pride or jealousy she had inflicted upon him. The cruelty of the
man's nature showed itself even in his love, and he hated even whilst he
loved her; for he knew that she was infinitely his superior, and that
she had read the vileness of his nature, and had learned to shrink from
him, as purity always shrinks from contact with what is foul and false.
Even her question stung his vanity, and there was a savage gleam in his
eye as he answered:
"Nay, my spurs are still to be won; for what was it to me whether I won
them or not unless I might wear them as your true knight? Sweetest
mistress, these weary years have been strangely long and dark since the
light of your presence has been withdrawn from us. Now that the sun has
risen once again upon Woodcrych, let it shine likewise upon Basildene.
Mistress Joan, I come to you with your father's sanction. You doubtless
know how many years I have wooed you -- how many years I have lived for
you and for you alone. I have waited even as the patriarch of old for
his wife. The time has now come when I have the right to approach you as
a lover. Sweet lady, tell me that you will reward my patience -- that I
shall not sue in vain."
Peter Sanghurst bent the knee before her; but she was acute enough to
detect the undercurrent of mockery in his tone. He came as a professed
suppliant; but he came with her father's express sanction, and Joan had
lived long enough to know how very helpless a daughter was if her
father's mind were once made up to give her hand in marriage. Her safety
in past days had been that Sir Hugh was not really resolved upon the
point. He had always been divided between the desire to conciliate the
old sorcerer and the fear lest his professed gifts should prove but
illusive; and when he was in this mood of uncertainty, Joan's steady and
resolute resistance had not been without effect. But she knew that he
owed large sums of money to the Sanghursts, who had made frequent
advances when he had been in difficulties, and it was likely enough that
the day of reckoning had now come, and that her hand was to be the price
of the cancelled bonds.
Her father had for some days been dropping hints that had raised
uneasiness in her mind. This sudden appearance of Peter Sanghurst,
coupled with his confident words, showed to Joan only too well how
For a moment she stood silent, battling with her fierce loathing and
disgust, her fingers toying with the gold circlet her lover had placed
upon her finger. The very thought of Raymond steadied her nerves, and
gave her calmness and courage. She knew that she was in a sore strait;
but hers was a spirit to rise rather than sink before peril and adversity.
"Master Peter Sanghurst," she answered, calmly and steadily, "I thought
that I had given you answer before, when you honoured me by your suit.
My heart is not mine to give, and if it were it could never be yours. I
pray you take that answer and be gone. From my lips you can never have
A fierce gleam was in his eye, but his voice was still smooth and bland.
"Sweet lady," he said, "it irks me sore to give you pain; but I have yet
another message for you. Think you that I should have dared to come with
this offer of my heart and hand if I had not known that he to whom thy
heart is pledged lies stiff and cold in the grip of death -- nay, has
long since mouldered to ashes in the grave?"
Joan turned deadly pale. She had not known that her secret had passed
beyond her own possession. How came Peter Sanghurst to speak of her as
having a lover? Was it all guesswork? True, he had been jealous of
Raymond in old days. Was this all part of a preconcerted and diabolical
plot against her happiness?
Her profound distrust of this man, and her conviction of his entire
unscrupulousness, helped to steady her nerves. If she had so wily a foe
to deal with, she had need of all her own native shrewdness and
capacity. After a few moments, which seemed hours to her from the
concentrated thought pressed into them, she spoke quietly and calmly:
"Of whom speak you, Sir? Who is it that lies dead and cold?"
"Your lover, Raymond de Brocas," answered Sanghurst, rising to his feet
and confronting Joan with a gaze of would-be sympathy, though his eyes
were steely bright and full of secret malice -- "your lover, who died in
my arms after the skirmish of which you may have heard, when the English
army routed the besieging force around St. Jean d'Angely; and in dying
he gave me a charge for you, sweet lady, which I have been longing ever
since to deliver, but until today have lacked the opportunity."
Joan's eyes were fixed upon him wide with distrust. She was in absolute
ignorance of Raymond's recent movements. But in those days that was the
fate of those who did not live in close contiguity. She had been a rover
in the world, and so perchance had he. All that Sanghurst said might be
true for aught she could allege to the contrary.
Yet how came it that Raymond should confide his dying message to his
sworn and most deadly foe? The story seemed to bear upon it the impress
of falsehood. Sanghurst, studying her face intently, appeared to read
"Lady," he said, "if you will but listen to my tale, methinks I can
convince you of the truth of my words. You think that because we were
rivals for your hand we were enemies, too? And so of old it was. But,
fair mistress, you may have heard how Raymond de Brocas soothed the
dying bed of my father, and tended him when all else, even his son, had
fled from his side; and albeit at the moment even that service did not
soften my hard heart, in the times that followed, when I was left alone
to muse on what had passed, I repented me of my old and bitter enmity,
and resolved, if ever we should meet again, to strive to make amends for
the past. I knew that he loved you, and that you loved him; and I vowed
I would keep away and let his suit prosper if it might. I appeal to you,
fair mistress, to say how that vow has been kept."
"I have certainly seen naught of you these past years," answered Joan.
"But I myself have been a wanderer."
"Had you not been, my vow would have been as sacredly kept," was the
quick reply. "I had resolved to see you no more, since I might never
call you mine. I strove to banish your image from my mind by going forth
into the world; and when this chance of fighting for the King arose, I
was one who sailed to the relief of the English garrison."
She made no response, but her clear gaze was slightly disconcerting; he
looked away and spoke rapidly.
"Raymond de Brocas was on board the vessel that bore us from England's
shores: ask if it be not so, an you believe me not. We were brothers in
arms, and foes no longer. I sought him out and told him all that was in
my heart. You know his nature -- brave, candid, fearless. He showed his
nobility of soul by giving to me the right hand of fellowship. Ere the
voyage ended we were friends in truth. When the day of battle came we
rode side by side against the foe."
Joan's interest was aroused. She knew Raymond well. She knew his
nobility of nature -- his generous impulse to forgive a past foe, to
bury all enmity. If Sanghurst had sought him with professions of
contrition, might he not have easily been believed? And yet was such an
one as this to be trusted?
"In the melee -- for the fighting was hard and desperate -- we were
separated: he carried one way and I another. When the French were driven
back or taken captive I sought for Raymond everywhere, but for long
without avail. At last I found him, wounded to the death. I might not
even move him to our lines. I could but give him drink and watch beside
him as he slowly sank.
"It was then he spoke of thee, Joan." Sanghurst's voice took a new tone,
and seemed to quiver slightly; he dropped the more formal address
hitherto observed, and lapsed into the familiar "thou." "The sole
trouble upon that pure soul was the thought of thee, left alone and
unprotected in this harsh world. He spoke of thee and that love he bore
thee, and I, who had also loved, but had resigned all my hopes for love
of him, could but listen and grieve with him. But he knew my secret --
his clear eyes had long ago divined it -- and in talking together of
thee, Joan, as we had many times done before, he had learned all there
was to know of my hopeless love. As he lay dying he seemed to be musing
of this; and one short half-hour before he breathed his last, he spoke
in these words --
"'Sanghurst, we have been rivals and foes, but now we are friends, and I
know that I did misjudge thee in past days, as methinks she did, too.'
(Joan, this is not so. It was not that ye misjudged me, but that I have
since repented of my evil ways in which erst I rejoiced.) 'But thou wilt
go to her now, and tell her what has befallen her lover. Tell her that I
died with her name on my lips, with thoughts of her in my heart. And
tell her also not to grieve too deeply for me. It may be that to die
thus, loving and beloved, is the happiest thing that can befall a man.
But tell her, too, that she must not grieve too bitterly -- that she
must not lead a widowed life because that I am taken from her. Give to
her this token, good comrade; she will know it. Tell her that he to whom
she gave it now restores it to her again, and restores it by the hand of
his best and truest friend, trusting that this trusty friend will some
day meet the reward he covets from the hand of her who once gave the
token to him upon whom the hand of death is resting. Give it her, and
tell her when you give it that her dying lover's hope is that she will
thus reward the patient, generous love of him who shall bring it to her.'"
As he spoke these words, Sanghurst, his eyes immovably fixed upon the
changing face of the beautiful girl, drew from his breast a small packet
and placed it within her trembling hands.
He knew he was playing a risky game, and that one false move might lose
him his one chance. It was all the veriest guesswork; but he believed he
had guessed aright. Whilst Raymond had been stretched upon the rack,
swooning from extremity of pain, Sanghurst's eyes, fixed in gloating
satisfaction upon the helpless victim, had been caught by the sight of
this token about his neck, secured by a strong silver cord. To possess
himself of the charm, or whatever it might be, had been but the work of
a moment. He had felt convinced that it was a lover's token, and had
been given to Raymond by Joan, and if so it might be turned to good
account, even if other means failed to bend the stubborn will of the
youth who looked so frail and fragile.
Raymond had escaped from his hands by a species of magic, as it had
seemed to the cruel captors, when he had tasted but a tithe of what they
had in store for him. Baffled and enraged as Sanghurst was, he had still
the precious token in his possession. If it had been given by Joan, she
would recognize it at once, and coupled with the supposed dying message
of her lover, surely it would not be without effect.
Eagerly then were his eyes fixed upon her face as she undid the packet,
and a gleam of triumph came into them as he saw a flash of recognition
when the little heart was disclosed to view.
Truly indeed did Joan's heart sink within her, and every drop of blood
ebbed from her cheek; for had not Raymond said that he would never part
from her gift whilst he had life? and how could Peter Sanghurst have
become possessed of it unless his tale were true? He might be capable of
robbing a dead body, but how would he have known that the token was
given by her?
A mist seemed to float before the girl's eyes. At that moment she was
unable to think or to reason. The one thought there was room for in her
mind was that Raymond was dead. If he were lost to her for ever, it was
little matter what became of herself.
Sanghurst's keen eyes, fixed upon her with an evil gleam, saw that the
charm was working. It had worked even beyond his hopes. He was so well
satisfied with the result of this day's work, that he would not even
press his suit upon her farther then. Let her have time to digest her
lover's dying words. When she had done so, he would come to her again.
"Sweet lady, I grieve that thou shouldst suffer though any words I have
been forced to speak; but it was a promise given to him who is gone to
deliver the message and the token. Lady, I take my leave of thee. I will
not intrude upon thy sacred sorrow. I, too, sorrow little less for him
who is gone. He was one of the brightest ornaments of these days of
chivalry and renown."
He caught her hand for a moment and pressed it to his lips, she scarce
seeming to know what he did or what he said; and then he turned away and
left her alone with her thoughts, a strangely malicious expression
crossing his face as he knew himself hidden from her eyes.
That same evening, when father and daughter were alone together in the
room they habitually occupied in the after part of the day, Sir Hugh
began to speak with unwonted decision and authority.
"Joan, child, has Peter Sanghurst been with thee today?"
"He has, my father."
"And has he told thee that he comes with my sanction as a lover, and
that thou and he are to wed ere the month is out?"
"He had not said so much as that," answered Joan, who spoke quietly and
dreamily, and with so little of the old ring of opposition in her voice
that her father looked at her in surprise.
She was very pale, and there was a look in her eyes he did not
understand; but the flush of anger or defiance he had thought to see did
not show itself. He began to think Sanghurst had spoken no more than the
truth in saying that Mistress Joan appeared to have withdrawn her
opposition to him as a husband.
"But so it is to be," answered her father, quickly and imperiously,
trying to seize this favourable moment to get the matter settled. "I
have long given way to thy whimsies -- far too long -- and here art thou
a woman grown, older than half the matrons round, yet never a wife as
they have long been. I will no more of it. It maketh thee and me alike
objects of ridicule. Peter Sanghurst is my very good friend. He has
helped me in many difficulties, and is ready to help me again. He has
money, and I have none. Listen, girl: this accursed plague has carried
off all my people, and labourers are asking treble and quadruple for
their work that which they have been wont to do. Sooner would I let the
crops rot upon the ground than be so mulcted by them. The King does what
he can, but the idle rogues set him at defiance; and there be many
beside me who will feel the grip of poverty for long years to come.
Peter Sanghurst has his wealth laid up in solid gold, not in fields and
woods that bring nothing without hands to till or tend them. Marry but
him, and Woodcrych shall be thy dower, and its broad acres and noble
manor will make of ye twain, with his gold, as prosperous a knight and
dame (for he will soon rise to that rank) as ye can wish to be. Girl, my
word is pledged, and I go not back from it. I have been patient with thy
fancies, but I will no more of them. Thou art mine own daughter, my own
flesh and blood, and thy hand is mine to give to whom I will. Peter
Sanghurst shall be thy lord whether thou wilt or no. I have said it; let
that be enough. It is thy part to obey."
Joan sat quite still and answered nothing. Her eyes were fixed upon the
dancing flames rushing up the wide chimney. She must have heard her
father's words, yet she gave no sign of having done so. But for that Sir
Hugh cared little. He was only too glad to be spared a weary battle of
words, or a long struggle with his high-spirited daughter, whose force
of character he had come to know. That she had yielded her will to his
at last seemed only right and natural, and of course she must have been
by this time aware that if her father was really resolved upon the
match, she was practically helpless to prevent it.
She was no longer a child; she was a woman who had seen much of the
world for the times she lived in. Doubtless she had begun to see that
she must now marry ere her beauty waned; and having failed to make a
grander match during her years of wandering, was glad enough to return
to her former lover, whose fidelity had doubtless touched her heart.
"Thou wilt have a home and a dowry, and a husband who has loved thee
long and faithfully," added Sir Hugh, who felt that he might now adopt a
more paternal tone, seeing he had not to combat foolish resistance.
"Thou hast been a good daughter, Joan; doubtless thou wilt make a good
Still no reply, though a faint smile seemed to curve Joan's lips. She
presently rose to her feet, and making a respectful reverence to her
father -- for daily embraces were not the order of the day -- glided
from the room as if to seek her couch.
"That is a thing well done!" breathed the knight, when he found himself
once more alone, "and done easier than I had looked for. Well, well, it
is a happy thing the wench has found her right senses. Methinks good
Peter must have been setting his charms to work, for she never could be
brought to listen to him of old. He has tamed her to some purpose now."
Meantime Joan had glided up the staircase of the hall, along several
winding passages, and up and down several irregular flights of narrow
steps, till she paused at the door of a room very dim within, but just
lighted by the gleam of a dying fire. As she stepped across the
threshold a voice out of the darkness accosted her.
"My ladybird, is it thou, and at such an hour? Tell me what has befallen
"The thing that thou and I have talked of before now, Bridget," answered
Joan, speaking rapidly in a strange low voice -- "the thing that thou
and I have planned a hundred times if the worst should befall us. It is
tenfold more needful now than before. Bridget, I must quit this house at
sunset tomorrow, and thou must have my disguise ready. I must to France,
to find out there the truth of a tale I have this day heard. Nat will go
with me -- he has said so a hundred times; and I have long had money
laid by for the day I ever knew might come. Thou knowest all. He is a
man of the sea; I am his son. We have planned it too oft to be taken
unawares by any sudden peril. Thus disguised, we may wander where we
will, molested by none. Lose no time. Rise and go to Nat this very
night. I myself must not be seen with him or with thee. I must conduct
myself as though each day to come were like the one past. But thou
knowest what to do. Thou wilt arrange all. God bless thee, my faithful
Bridget; and when I come back again, thou shalt not lack thy reward!"
"I want none else but thy love, my heart's delight," said the old nurse,
gathering the girl into her fond arms; and Joan hid her face for one
moment upon that faithful breast and gave way to a short burst of
weeping, which did much for her overcharged heart.
Then she silently stole away and went quietly to her own chamber.