Part 4 out of 5
"They are but doing what we ourselves should do did French garrisons hold
our castles at home, and I deem them in no way to be blamed for the efforts
which they make to slay us. In self-defence, of course, we must do our
best, and must kill in order that we may not ourselves be slain; but when
they are once routed, let them go to their homes. Poor people, the miseries
which this war has brought upon them are great, and there is no wonder that
they hate us."
This leniency on Walter's part was not without good effect. When the
country people found that the garrison of the castle of Pres did not carry
fire and sword through the villages around, that they took only sufficient
for their needs, and behaved with courtesy to all, their animosity to a
great extent subsided. No longer did the women and children of the little
villages fly to the woods when they saw the gleam of Walter's approaching
spears, but remained at their avocations, and answered willingly enough the
questions which he asked them as to whether they had heard aught of the
movements of French troops. So far as possible, Walter refrained from
seizing the cattle or stores of grain of the poorer classes, taking such as
he needed from the lands of the wealthy proprietors, all of whom had left
the country, and were either with the French army or sheltering in Paris.
Five of his best mounted men Walter chose as messengers, and one rode each
day to New Town with the news which had been gathered, returning on the
following day, and then resting his horse for three days before again
Night and day sentries were placed on the walls, for although Walter heard
nothing of any body gathering in his immediate vicinity, a force might at
any moment issue from Amiens and appear suddenly before the place. Such was
indeed what really took place, and at daybreak one morning Walter was
aroused by the news that the sentinels saw a large body of men rapidly
approaching. The horse of the messenger next on duty stood, as usual,
saddled and bridled in readiness, and without a moment's delay Walter
ordered the man to mount and ride to the prince, and to give news that the
castle was assailed, but by how large a force he could not as yet say.
The instant the messenger had started through the gates Walter ascended to
the walls; he saw at once that the party was a strong one; for although
still at some distance, and but dimly seen in the gray morning light, he
judged that it must contain at least a thousand men-at-arms. At this moment
a call from the sentry on the other side of the castle was heard, and
hastening thither, Walter saw that another body nearly as numerous as the
first were approaching from the side of Calais, having made a detour so as
to place themselves between the castle and the army, to which news would
naturally be sent of their coming. Walter watched his messenger, who had
now ridden half a mile towards the approaching body. Suddenly he saw him
turn his horse and ride off at right angles to the road.
"He sees them," he said, "and is going to try to ride round them. I fear
that there is but little hope of his escaping, seeing that they are between
him and Calais, and that assuredly some among them must be as well or
better mounted than himself." As he spoke a party of horsemen were seen to
detach themselves from the flank of the French column and to gallop off at
full speed to intercept the messenger; the latter diverged more and more
from his course, but he was constantly headed off by his pursuers, and at
last, seeing the impossibility of getting through them, he again turned his
horse's head and galloped off towards the castle, which he reached a few
hundred yards only in advance of his foes.
"I could not help it, Sir Walter," he said, as he galloped in at the gate.
"I found that although Robin is fast, some of those horsemen had the turn
of speed of me, and that it was impossible that I could get through; so
deeming that I should do more service by coming to strike a blow here than
by having my throat cut out in the fields, I made the best of my way
"Quite right, Martin!" Walter said. "I should have been grieved had you
thrown your life away needlessly. I saw from the first that your escape was
cut off. And now, men, each to his place; but first pile up the stones
against the gate, and then let each man take a good meal, for it is like
enough to be long before we get a chance of doing so again."
Again ascending to the walls Walter saw that the first body of men-at-arms
he had perceived was followed at a distance by a strong force of footmen
having with them some large wagons.
"I fear," he said to Ralph, "that they have brought machines with them from
Amiens, and in that case they will not be long in effecting a breach, for
doubtless they know that the walls are but weak. We shall have to fight
stoutly, for it may be days before the news of our leaguer reaches the
camp. However, I trust that the prince will, by tomorrow night, when he
finds that two days have elapsed without the coming of my usual messenger,
suspect that we are besieged and will sally forth to our assistance. And
now let us to breakfast, for we shall need all our strength today, and you
may be sure that French will lose no time in attacking, seeing that
assistance may shortly arrive from Calais."
There were but few preparations to be made. Each man had had his post
assigned to him on the walls in case of an attack, and piles of stones had
been collected in readiness to cast down upon the heads of those attempting
an assault. Cauldrons were carried up to the walls and filled with water,
and great fires were lighted under them. In half an hour the French
infantry had reached the spot, but another two hours elapsed before any
hostile movement was made, the leaders of the assailants giving their men
that time to rest after their long march. Then a stir was visible among
them, and they were seen to form in four columns, each about a thousand
strong, which advanced simultaneously against opposite sides of the castle.
As soon as their intentions were manifest Walter divided his little force,
and these, gathering in four groups upon the walls, prepared to resist the
assault. To four of his most trusty men-at-arms he assigned the command of
these parties, he himself and Ralph being thus left free to give their aid
where it was most needed.
The assailants were well provided with scaling-ladders, and advanced with a
number of crossbow-men in front, who speedily opened a hot fire on the
walls. Walter ordered his archers to bide their time, and not to fire a
shot till certain that every shaft would tell. They accordingly waited
until the French arrived within fifty yards of the wall, when the arrows
began to rain among them with deadly effect, scarce one but struck its mark
- the face of an enemy. Even the closed vizors of the knights and chief
men-at-arms did not avail to protect their wearers; the shafts pierced
between the bars or penetrated the slits left open for sight, and many fell
slain by the first volley. But their numbers were far too great to allow
the columns being checked by the fire of so small a number of archers; the
front ranks, indeed, pressed forward more eagerly than before, being
anxious to reach the foot of the wall, where they would be in comparative
shelter from the arrows.
The archers disturbed themselves in no way at the reaching of the wall by
the heads of the columns; but continued to shoot fast and true into the
mass behind them, and as these were, for the most part, less completely
armed than their leaders, numbers fell under the fire of the sixty English
bowmen. It was the turn of the men-at-arms now. Immediately the assailants
poured into the dry moat and sought to raise their ladders the men-at-arms
hurled down the masses of stones piled in readiness, while some poured
buckets of boiling water over them. In spite of the loss they were
suffering the French raised their ladders, and, covering their heads with
their shields, the leaders strove to gain the walls. As they did so, some
of the archers took post in the flanking towers, and as with uplifted arms
the assailants climbed the ladders, the archers smote them above the joints
of their armour beneath the arm-pits, while the men-at-arms with pike and
battle-axe hewed down those who reached the top of the ladders. Walter and
Ralph hastened from point to point encouraging the men and joining in the
defence where the pressure was hottest; and at last, after two hours of
vain effort and suffering great loss, the assailants drew off and the
garrison had breathing time.
"Well done, my men!" Walter said, cheeringly; "they have had a lesson which
they will remember, and if so be that they have brought with them no
machines we may hold out against them for any time."
It was soon manifest, however, that along with the scaling-ladders the
enemy had brought one of their war-machines. Men were seen dragging massive
beams of timber towards the walls, and one of the wagons was drawn forward
and upset on its side at a distance of sixty yards from the wall, not,
however, without those who drew it suffering much from the arrows of the
bowmen. Behind the shelter thus formed the French began to put together the
machine, whose beams soon raised themselves high above the wagon.
In the meantime groups of men dragged great stones laid upon a sort of hand
sledge to the machine, and late in the afternoon it began to cast its
missiles against the wall. Against these Walter could do little. He had no
sacks, which, filled with earth, he might have lowered to cover the part of
the walls assailed, and beyond annoying those working the machines by
flights of arrows shot high in the air, so as to descend point downwards
among them, he could do nothing.
The wall crumbled rapidly beneath the blows of the great stones, and Walter
saw that by the following morning a breach would be effected. When night
fell he called his men together and asked if any would volunteer to carry
news through the enemy to the prince. The enterprise seemed well-nigh
hopeless, for the French, as if foreseeing that such an attempt might be
made, had encamped in a complete circle round the castle, as was manifest
by the position of their fires. Several men stepped forward, and Walter
chose three light and active men - archers - to attempt the enterprise.
These stripped off their steel caps and breastpieces, so that they might
move more quickly, and when the French fires burned low and all was quiet
save the creak of the machine and the dull heavy blows of the stones
against the wall, the three men were lowered by ropes at different points,
and started on their enterprise. A quarter of an hour later the garrison
heard shouts and cries, and knew that a vigilant watch had been set by the
French, and that one, if not all, of their friends had fallen into their
hands. All night long the machine continued to play.
An hour before daylight, when he deemed that the enemy's vigilance would be
relaxed, Walter caused himself with Ralph and twelve of his men-at-arms to
be lowered by ropes from the wall. Each rope had a loop at the bottom in
which one foot was placed, and knots were tied in order to give a better
grasp for the hands. They were lowered at a short distance from the spot at
which the machine was at work; all were armed with axes, and they made
their way unperceived until within a few yards of the wagon. Then there was
a cry of alarm, and in a moment they rushed forward among the enemy. The
men working the machine were instantly cut down, and Walter and his party
fell upon the machine, cutting the ropes and smashing the wheels and
pulleys and hewing away at the timber itself. In a minute or two, however,
they were attacked by the enemy, the officer in command having bade a
hundred men lie down to sleep close behind the machine in case the garrison
should attempt a sortie. Walter called upon Ralph and four of the men-
at-arms to stand beside him while the others continued their work of
destruction. The French came up in a tumultuous body, but, standing so far
apart that they could wield their axes, the English dealt such destruction
among their first assailants that these for a time recoiled. As fresh
numbers came up, encouraged by their leader they renewed the attack, and in
spite of the most tremendous efforts Walter and his party were driven back.
By this time, however, so much damage had been done to the machine that it
would be some hours before it could be repaired, even if spare ropes and
other appliances had been brought with it from Amiens; so that, reinforced
by the working party, Walter was again able to hold his ground and after
repulsing a fresh onslaught of the enemy he gave the word for his men to
retire at full speed.
The French were so surprised by the sudden disappearance of their foes that
it was a moment or two before they started in pursuit, and Walter and his
men had gained some thirty yards before the pursuit really commenced.
The night was a dark one, and they considerably increased this advantage
before they reach the foot of the wall, where the ropes were hanging.
"Has each of you found his rope?" Walter asked.
As soon as an affirmative answer was given he placed his foot in the loop
and shouted to the men above to draw up, and before the enraged enemy could
reach the spot the whole party were already some yards above their heads.
The archers opened fire upon the French, doing, in spite of the darkness,
considerable execution, for the men had snatched up their arms at the
sudden alarm, and had joined the fray in such haste that many of them had
not had time to put on their steel caps. There was noise and bustle in the
enemy's camp, for the whole force were now under arms, and in their anger
at the sudden blow which had been struck them some bodies of men even moved
forward towards the walls as if they intended to renew the assault of the
previous day; but the showers of arrows with which they were greeted cooled
their ardour and they presently retired out of reach of bowshot. There was
a respite now for the besiegers. No longer every few minutes did a heavy
stone strike the walls.
The morning's light enabled the defenders of the castle to see the extent
of the damage which the battering machine had effected. None too soon had
they put a stop to its work, for had it continued its operations another
hour or two would have effected a breach.
Already large portions of the wall facing it had fallen, and other portions
were so seriously damaged that a few more blows would have levelled them.
"At any rate," Walter said to Ralph, "we have gained a respite; but even
now I fear that if the Black Prince comes not until tomorrow he will arrive
The French, apparently as well aware as the garrison of the necessity for
haste, laboured at the repair of the machine. Bodies of men started to cut
down trees to supply the place of the beams which had been rendered
useless. Scarcely had the assault ceased when horsemen were despatched in
various directions to seek for fresh ropes, and by dint of the greatest
exertions the machine was placed in position to renew its attack shortly
By two o'clock several large portions of the damaged wall had fallen, and
the debris formed a slope by which an assaulting column could rush to the
bridge. As soon as this was manifest the French force formed for the
assault and rushed forward in solid column.
Walter had made the best preparation possible for the defence. In the
courtyard behind the breach his men had since morning been driving a circle
of piles, connected by planks fastened to them. These were some five feet
high, and along the top and in the face next to the breach sharp-pointed
spikes and nails had been driven, rendering it difficult in the extreme for
anyone to climb over. As the column of the assailants approached Walter
placed his archers on the walls on either side of the breach, while he
himself, with his men-at-arms, took his station in the gap and faced the
coming host. The breach was some ten yards wide, but it was only for about
half this width that the mound of broken stones rendered it possible for
their enemies to assault, consequently there was but a space of some
fifteen feet in width to be defended. Regardless of the flights of arrows,
the French, headed by their knights and squires, advanced to the assault,
and clambering up the rough stones attacked the defenders.
Walter, with Ralph and three of his best men-at-arms, stood in the front
line and received the first shock of the assault. The roughness and
steepness of the mound prevented the French from attacking in regular
order, and the very eagerness of the knights and squires who came first in
contact with their enemies was a hindrance to them. When the columns were
seen gathering for the assault Walter had scattered several barrels full of
oil and tar which he found in the cellars over the mound in front of the
breach, rendering it greasy and slippery, and causing the assailants to
slip and stagger and many to fall as they pressed forward to the assault.
Before the fight commenced he had encouraged his soldiers by recalling to
them how a mere handful of men had at Cressy withstood for hours the
desperate efforts of the whole of the French army to break through their
line, and all were prepared to fight to the death.
The struggle was a desperate one. Served by their higher position, and by
the difficulties which the French encountered from the slipperiness of the
ground and their own fierce ardour to attack, Walter and his little band
for a long time resisted every effort. He with his sword and Ralph with his
heavy mace did great execution, and they were nobly seconded by their
men-at-arms. As fast as one fell another took his place. The breach in
front of them was cumbered with dead and red with blood. Still the French
poured upwards in a wave, and the sheer weight of their numbers and the
fatigue caused by the tremendous exertions the defenders were making began
to tell. Step by step the English were driven back, and Walter saw that the
defence could not much longer be continued. He bade one of his men-at-arms
at once order the archers to cease firing, and, leaving the walls, to take
refuge in the keep, and thence to open fire upon the French as they poured
through the breach.
When he found that this movement had been accomplished Walter bade the
men-at- arms fall back gradually. A gap had been left in the wooden fence
sufficient for one at a time to pass, and through this the men-at-arms
retired one by one to the keep until only Walter and five others were left.
With these Walter flung himself suddenly upon the assailants and forced
them a few feet down the slope. Then he gave the word, and all sprang
back, and leaping down from the wall into the courtyard ran through the
barrier, Walter and Ralph being the last to pass as the French with
exulting shouts leapt down from the breach. There was another fierce fight
at the barrier. Walter left Ralph to defend this with a few men-at- arms
while he saw that all was in readiness for closing the door rapidly in the
keep. Then he ran back again. He was but just in time. Ralph indeed could
for a long time have held the narrow passage, but the barriers themselves
were yielding. The French were pouring in through the breach, and as those
behind could not see the nature of the obstacle which arrested the advance
of their companions they continued to push forward, and by their weight
pressed those in front against the spikes in the barrier. Many perished
miserably on these. Others, whose armour protected them from this fate,
were crushed to death by the pressure; but this was now so great that the
timbers were yielding. Walter, seeing that in another moment they would be
levelled, gave the word, sprang back with Ralph and his party, and entered
the keep just as with a crash the barrier fell and the French poured in a
crowd into the courtyard. Bolting the door the defenders of the keep piled
against it the stones which had been laid in readiness.
The door was on the first floor, and was approached by a narrow flight of
stone steps, up which but two abreast could advance. In their first fury
the French poured up these steps, but from the loopholes which commanded it
the English bowmen shot so hard that their arrows pierced the strongest
armour. Smitten through vizor and armour, numbers of the bravest of the
assailants fell dead. Those who gained the top of the steps were assailed
by showers of boiling oil from an upper chamber which projected over the
door, and whose floor was pierced for this purpose, while from the top of
the keep showers of stones were poured down. After losing great numbers in
this desperate effort at assault the French drew off for a while, while
their leaders held council as to the best measures to be taken for the
capture of the keep.
After a time Walter from the summit saw several bodies of men detach
themselves from the crowd still without the castle and proceed into the
country. Two hours later they were seen returning laden with trunks of
trees. These were dragged through the breach, and were, in spite of the
efforts of the archers and of the men-at-arms with their stones, placed so
as to form a sort of penthouse against one side of the keep. Numbers of the
soldiers now poured up with sacks and all kinds of vessels which they had
gathered from the surrounding villages, filled with earth. This was thrown
over the beams until it filled all the crevices between them and formed a
covering a foot thick, so that neither boiling oil nor water poured from
above could penetrate to injure those working beneath its shelter. When all
was ready a strong body armed with picks and crowbars entered the penthouse
and began to labour to cut away the wall of the keep itself.
"Their commander knows his business," Walter said, "and the device is an
excellent one. We can do nothing, and it only depends upon the strength of
the wall how long we can hold out. The masonry is by no means good, and
before nightfall, unless aid comes, there will be nought for us but death
CHAPTER XVI: A PRISONER
As long as it was light an anxious look-out was kept from the top of the
keep towards Calais. There was nothing to be done. The besiegers who had
entered the walls were ensconced in the various buildings in the courtyard
or placed behind walls so as to be out of arrow-shot from above, and were
in readiness to repel any sortie which might be made to interfere with the
work going on under the penthouse. But no sortie was possible, for to
effect this it would be necessary to remove the stones from the door, and
before this could be accomplished the besiegers would have rallied in
overwhelming force, nor could a sortie have effected anything beyond the
slaying of the men actually engaged in the work. The beams of the
penthouse were too strong and too heavily weighted with earth to be
removed, and the attempt would only have entailed useless slaughter. The
penthouse was about forty feet in length, and the assailants were piercing
three openings, each of some six feet in width, leaving two strong
supporting pillars between them. Anxiously the garrison within listened to
the sounds of work, which became louder and louder as the walls crumbled
before the stroke of pickaxe and crowbar.
"I shall hold out until the last moment," Walter said to Ralph, "in hopes
of relief, but before they burst in I shall sound a parley. To resist
further would be a vain sacrifice of life."
Presently a movement could be seen among the stones, and then almost
simultaneously two apertures appeared. The chamber into which the openings
were made was a large one, being used as the common room of the garrison.
Here twenty archers, and the remaining men-at-arms - of whom nearly
one-half had fallen in the defence of the breach - were gathered, and the
instant the orifices appeared the archers began to send their arrows
through them. Then Walter ascended to another chamber, and ordered the
trumpeter to sound a parley.
The sound was repeated by the assailants' trumpeter.
"Who commands the force?" Walter asked.
"I, Guy, Count of Evreux."
"I am Sir Walter Somers," the young knight continued. "I wish to ask terms
for the garrison.
"You must surrender unconditionally," the count replied from the courtyard.
"In ten minutes we shall have completely pierced your walls, and you will
be at our mercy."
"You may pierce our walls," Walter replied, "but it will cost you many
lives before you force your way in; we will defend the hold from floor to
floor, and you know how desperate men can fight. It will cost you scores of
lives before you win your way to the summit of this keep; but if I have
your knightly word that the lives of all within these walls shall be
spared, then will I open the door and lay down our arms.
A consultation took place between the leaders below. There was truth in
Walter's words that very many lives would be sacrificed before the
resistance of so gallant a garrison could be overcome. Every minute was of
importance, for it was possible that at any moment aid might arrive from
Calais, and that the table would be turned upon the besiegers.
Therefore, after a short parley among themselves, the count replied:
"You have fought as a gallant knight and gentleman, Sir Walter Somers, and
have wrought grievous harm upon my leading. I should grieve that so brave a
knight should lose his life in a useless resistance. Therefore I agree to
your terms, and swear upon my knightly honour that upon your surrendering
yourselves prisoners of war, the lives of all within these walls shall be
Walter at once gave the order. The stones were removed and the door thrown
open, and leading his men Walter descended the steps into the courtyard,
which was now illuminated with torches, and handed his sword to the Count
"You promised me, count," a tall knight standing by his side said, "that if
he were taken alive, the commander of this castle should be my prisoner."
"I did so, Sir Phillip Holbeaut. When you proposed this adventure to me,
and offered to place your following at my command, I agreed to the request
you made me; but mind," he said sternly, "my knightly word has been given
for his safety. See that he receives fair and gentle treatment at your
hand. I would not that aught should befall so brave a knight."
"I seek him no harm," the knight said angrily; "but I know that he is one
of the knights of the Black Prince's own suite, and that his ransom will be
freely paid, and as my coffers are low from the expenses of the war, I
would fain replenish them at the expense of the English prince."
"I said not that I doubted you, Sir Phillip," the count said calmly; "but
as the knight surrendered on my word, it was needful that I should warn you
to treat him as I myself should do did he remain in my hands, and to give
him fair treatment until duly ransomed."
"I should be glad, count," Walter said, "if you will suffer me to take with
me as companion in my captivity this man-at-arms. He is strongly attached
to me, and we have gone through many perils together; it will lighten my
captivity to have him by my side."
"Surely I will do so, Sir Walter, and wish that your boon had been a larger
one. The rest I will take back with me to Amiens, there to hold until
exchanged for some of those who at various times have fallen into your
king's hands. And now to work, men; lose not a moment in stripping the
castle of all that you choose to carry away, then apply fire to the
storehouses, granaries, and the hold itself. I would not that it remained
standing to serve as an outpost for the English."
The horses were brought from the stables. Walter and Ralph took their
horses by the bridle, and followed Sir Phillip Holbeaut through the now
open gates of the castle to the spot where the horses of the besiegers were
picketed. The knight, and his own men-at-arms, who had at the beginning of
the day numbered a hundred and fifty, but who were now scarcely two-thirds
of that strength, at once mounted with their prisoners, and rode off from
the castle. A few minutes later a glare of light burst out from behind
them. The count's orders had been obeyed; fire had been applied to the
stores of forage, and soon the castle of Pres was wrapped in flames.
"I like not our captor's manner," Ralph said to Walter as they rode along
side by side.
"I agree with you, Ralph. I believe that the reason which he gave the count
for his request was not a true one, though, indeed, I can see no other
motive which he could have for seeking to gain possession of me. Sir
Phillip, although a valiant knight, bears but an indifferent reputation. I
have heard that he is a cruel master to his serfs, and that when away
fighting in Germany he behaved so cruelly to the peasantry that even the
Germans, who are not nice in their modes of warfare, cried out against him.
It is an evil fortune that has thrown us into his hands; still, although
grasping and avaricious, he can hardly demand for a simple knight any
inordinate ransom. The French themselves would cry out did he do so, seeing
that so large a number of their own knights are in our hands, and that the
king has ample powers of retaliation; however, we need not look on the dark
side. It is not likely that our captivity will be a long one, for the
prince, who is the soul of generosity, will not haggle over terms, but will
pay my ransom as soon as he hears into whose hands I have fallen, while
there are scores of men-at-arms prisoners, whom he can exchange for you.
Doubtless Sir Phillip will send you over, as soon as he arrives at his
castle, with one of his own followers to treat for my ransom.
After riding for some hours the troop halted their weary horses in a wood,
and lighting fires, cooked their food, and then lay down until morning. Sir
Phillip exchanged but few words with his captive; as, having removed his
helm, he sat by the fire, Walter had an opportunity of seeing his
countenance. It did not belie his reputation. His face had a heavy and
brutal expression which was not decreased by the fashion of his hair, which
was cut quite short, and stood up without parting all over his
bullet-shaped head; he had a heavy and bristling moustache which was cut
short in a line with his lips.
"It is well," Walter thought to himself, "that it is my ransom rather than
my life which is dear to that evil-looking knight; for, assuredly, he is
not one to hesitate did fortune throw a foe into his hands."
At daybreak the march was resumed, and was continued until they reached the
castle of Sir Phillip Holbeaut, which stood on a narrow tongue of land
formed by a sharp bend of the Somme.
On entering the castle the knight gave an order to his followers, and the
prisoners were at once led to a narrow cell beneath one of the towers.
Walter looked round indignantly when he arrived there.
"This is a dungeon for a felon," he exclaimed, "not the apartment for a
knight who has been taken captive in fair fight. Tell your master that he
is bound to award me honourable treatment, and that unless he removes me
instantly from this dungeon to a proper apartment, and treats me with all
due respect and courtesy, I will, when I regain liberty, proclaim him a
The men-at-arms made no reply; but, locking the door behind them, left the
"What can this mean, Ralph?" Walter exclaimed. "We are in the lowest
dungeon, and below the level of the river. See how damp are the walls, and
the floor is thick with slimy mud. The river must run but just below that
loophole, and in times of flood probably enters here."
Phillip of Holbeaut, on dismounting, ascended to an upper chamber, where a
man in the dress of a well-to-do citizen was sitting.
"Well, Sir Phillip," he exclaimed, rising to his feet as the other entered,
"The news is bad," the knight growled. "This famous scheme of yours has
cost me fifty of my best men. I would I had had nothing to do with it."
"But this Walter Somers," the other exclaimed, "what of him? He has not
escaped surely! The force which marched from Amiens was large enough to
have eaten him and his garrison.
"He has not escaped," the knight replied.
"Then he is killed!" the other said eagerly.
"No; nor is he killed. He is at present a prisoner in a dungeon below,
together with a stout knave whom he begged might accompany him until
"All is well then," the other exclaimed. "Never mind the loss of your men.
The money which I have promised you for this business will hire you two
hundred such knaves; but why didst not knock him on head at once?"
"It was not so easy to knock him on the head," Sir Phillip growled. "It
cost us five hundred men to capture the outer walls, and to have fought our
way into the keep, held, as it was, by men who would have contested every
foot of the ground, was not a job for which any of us had much stomach,
seeing what the first assaults had cost us; so the count took them all to
quarter. The rest he carried with him to Amiens; but their leader,
according to the promise which he made me, he handed over to me as my share
of the day's booty, giving me every charge that he should receive good and
"Which, no doubt, you will observe," the other said, with an ugly laugh.
"It is a bad business," the knight exclaimed angrily, "and were it not for
our friendship, in Spain, and the memory of sundry deeds which we did
together, not without profit to our purses, I would rather that you were
thrown over the battlements into the river than I had taken a step in this
business. However, none can say that Phillip of Holbeaut ever deserted a
friend who had proved true to him, not to mention that the sum which you
promised me for my aid in this matter will, at present time, prove
wondrously convenient. Yet I foresee that it will bring me into trouble
with the Count of Evreux. Ere many days a demand will come for the fellow
to be delivered on ransom."
"And what will you say?" the other asked.
"I shall say what is the truth," the knight replied, "though I may add
something that is not wholly so. I shall say that he was drowned in the
Somme. I shall add that it happened as he was trying to make his escape,
contrary to the parole he had given; but in truth he will be drowned in the
dungeon in which I have placed him, which has rid me of many a troublesome
prisoner before now. The river is at ordinary times but two feet below the
loophole; and when its tide is swelled by rain it often rises above the
sill, and then there is an end of any one within. They can doubt my word;
but there are not many who would care to do so openly; none who would do so
for the sake of an unknown English knight. And as for any complaints on the
part of the Black Prince, King Phillip has shown over and over again how
little the complaints of Edward himself move him."
"It were almost better to knock him on head at once," the other said
thoughtfully; "the fellow has as many lives as a cat.
"If he had as many as nine cats," the knight replied, "it would not avail
him. But I will have no violence. The water will do your work as well as a
poinard, and I will not have it said, even among such ruffians as mine,
that I slew a captured knight. The other will pass as an accident, and I
care not what my men may think as long as they can say nothing for a
surety. The count may storm as much as he will, and may even lay a
complaint against me before the king; but in times like the present, even a
simple knight who can lead two hundred good fighting men into the field is
not to be despised, and the king is likely to be easily satisfied with my
replies to any question that may be raised. Indeed, it would seem contrary
to reason that I should slay a captive against whom I have no cause of
quarrel, and so forfeit the ransom which I should get for him."
"But suppose that a messenger should come offering ransom before the river
happens to rise?"
"Then I shall anticipate matters, and shall say that what I know will
happen has already taken place. Do not be uneasy, Sir James. You have my
word in the matter, and now I have gone so far I shall carry it through.
From the moment when I ordered him into that dungeon his fate was sealed,
and in truth, when I gave the order I did so to put an end to the
indecision in which my mind had been all night. Once in there he could not
be allowed to come out alive, for his report of such treatment would do me
more harm among those of my own station in France than any rumours touching
his end could do. It is no uncommon affair for one to remove an enemy from
one's path; but cruelty to a knightly prisoner would be regarded with
horror. Would you like to have a look at him?"
The other hesitated. "No," he replied. "Against him personally I have no
great grudge. He has thwarted my plans, and stands now grievously in the
way of my making fresh ones; but as he did so from no ill-will towards
myself, but as it were by hazard, I have no personal hatred towards him,
though I would fain remove him from my path. Besides, I tell you fairly,
that even in that dungeon where you have thrown him I shall not feel that
he is safe until you send me word that he is dead. He has twice already got
out of scrapes when other men would have been killed. Both at Vannes and at
Ghent he escaped in a marvellous way; and but a few weeks since, by the
accident of his having a coat of mail under his doublet he saved his life
from as fair a blow as ever was struck. Therefore I would not that he knew
aught of my having a hand in this matter, for if after having seen me he
made his escape I could never show my face in England again. I should
advise you to bid three or four men always enter his cell together, for he
and that man-of-arms who follows him like a shadow are capable of playing
any desperate trick to escape.
"That matter is easily enough managed," Sir Phillip said grimly, "by no one
entering the dungeon at all. The river may be slow of rising, though in
sooth the sky looks overcast now, and it is already at its usual winter
level; and whether he dies from lack of water or from a too abundant supply
matters but little to me; only, as I told you I will give no orders for him
to be killed. Dost remember that Jew we carried off from Seville and kept
without water until he agreed to pay us a ransom which made us both rich
for six months? That was a rare haul, and I would that rich Jews were
plentiful in this country.
"Yes, those were good times," the other said, "although I own that I have
not done badly since the war began, having taken a count and three knights
prisoners, and put them to ransom, and having reaped a goodly share of
plunder from your French burghers, else indeed I could not have offered you
so round a sum to settle this little matter for me. There are not many
French knights who have earned a count's ransom in the present war. And now
I will take horse; here is one-half of the sum I promised you, in gold
nobles. I will send you the remainder on the day when I get news from you
that the matter is finished."
"Have your money ready in a week's time," the knight replied, taking the
bag of gold which the other placed on the table, "for by that time you will
hear from me. I hope this will not be the last business which we may do
together; there ought to be plenty of good chances in a war like this. Any
time that you can send me word of an intended foray by a small party under
a commander whose ransom would be a high one I will share what I get with
you; and similarly I will let you know of any rich prize who may be pounced
upon on the same terms.
"Agreed!" the other said. "We may do a good business together in that way.
But you lie too far away. If you move up as near as you can to Calais and
let me know your whereabouts, so that I could send or ride to you in a few
hours, we might work together with no small profit."
"I will take the field as soon as this affair of yours is settled," the
knight replied; "and the messenger who brings you the news shall tell you
where I may be found. And now, while your horse is being got ready, let us
drink a stoup of wine together in memory of old times, though, for myself,
these wines of ours are poor and insipid beside the fiery juice of
While this conversation, upon which their fate so much depended, had been
going on, Walter and Ralph had been discussing the situation, and had
arrived at a tolerably correct conclusion.
"This conduct on the part of this brutal French knight, Ralph, is so
strange that methinks it cannot be the mere outcome of his passions or of
hate against me as an Englishman, but of some deeper motive; and we were
right in thinking that in bargaining for my person with the Count of Evreux
it was more than my ransom which he sought. Had that been his only object
he would never have thrown us into this noisome dungeon, for my report of
such treatment would bring dishonour upon him in the eyes of every knight
and noble in France as well as in England. It must be my life he aims at,
although what grudge he can have against me it passes me to imagine. It may
be that at Cressy or elsewhere some dear relative of his may have fallen by
my sword; and yet were it so, men nourish no grudge for the death of those
killed in fair fight. But this boots not at present. It is enough for us
that it is my life which he aims at, and I fear, Ralph, that yours must be
included with mine, since he would never let a witness escape to carry the
foul tale against him. This being so, the agreement on which I surrendered
is broken, and I am free to make my escape if I can, and methinks the
sooner that be attempted the better.
So let us work to plan how we may best get out of this place. After our
escape from that well at Vannes we need not despair about breaking out from
this dungeon of Holbeaut."
"We might overpower the guard who brings our food," Ralph said.
"There is that chance," Walter rejoined, "but I think it is a poor one.
They may be sure that this dishonourable treatment will have rendered us
desperate, and they will take every precaution and come well armed. It may
be, too, that they will not come at all, but that they intend us to die of
starvation, or perchance to be drowned by the floods, which it is easy to
see often make their way in here. No, our escape, if escape there be, must
be made through that loophole above. Were that bar removed, methinks it is
wide enough for us to squeeze through. Doubtless such a hazard has not
occurred to them, seeing that it is nigh twelve feet above the floor, and
that a single man could by no possibility reach it, but with two of us
there is no difficulty. Now, Ralph, do you stand against the wall. I will
climb upon your shoulders, and standing there can reach the bar, and so
haul myself up and look out."
This was soon done, and Walter seizing the bar, hauled himself up so that
he could see through the loophole.
"It is as I thought," he said. "The waters of the Somme are but a foot
below the level of this window; the river is yellow and swollen, and a few
hours' heavy rain would bring it above the level of this sill. Stand
steady, Ralph, I am coming down again."
When he reached the ground, he said:
"Take off your belt, Ralph; if we buckle that and mine together, passing it
round the bar, it will make a loop upon which we can stand at the window
and see how best we can loosen the bar. Constantly wet as it is, it is
likely that the mortar will have softened, in which case we shall have
little difficulty in working it out."
The plan was at once put into execution; the belts were fastened together
and Walter standing on Ralph's shoulders passed one end around the bar and
buckled it to the other, thus making a loop some three feet in length;
putting a foot in this he was able to stand easily at the loophole.
"It is put in with mortar at the top, Ralph, and the mortar has rotted with
the wet, but at the bottom lead was poured in when the bar was set and this
must be scooped out before it can be moved. Fortunately the knight gave no
orders to his men to remove our daggers when we were thrust in here, and
these will speedily dig out the lead; but I must come down first, for the
strap prevents my working at the foot of the bar. We must tear off a strip
of our clothing and make a shift to fasten the strap half-way up the bar so
as not to slip down with our weight."
In order to accomplish this Walter had to stand upon Ralph's head to gain
additional height. He presently, after several attempts, succeeded in
fixing the strap firmly against the bar half-way up, and then placing one
knee in the loop and putting an arm through the bar to steady himself, he
set to work at the lead. The sharp point of the dagger quickly cut out that
near the surface, but farther down the hole narrowed and the task was much
more difficult. Several times Ralph relieved him at the work, but at last
it was accomplished, and the bar was found to move slightly when they shook
it. There now remained only to loosen the cement above, and this was a
comparatively easy task; it crumbled quickly before the points of their
daggers, and the bar was soon free to move.
"Now," Walter said, "we have to find out whether the bar was first put in
from below or from above; one hole or the other must be a good deal deeper
than the iron, so that it was either shoved up or pushed down until the
other end could get under or over the other hole. I should think most
likely the hole is below, as if they held up the bar against the top, when
the lead was poured in it would fill up the space; so we will first of all
try to lift it. I must stand on your head again to enable me to be high
enough to try this."
"My head is strong enough, I warrant," Ralph replied, "but I will fold up
my jerkin, and put on it, for in truth you hurt me somewhat when you were
tying the strap to the bar."
All Walter's efforts did not succeed in raising the bar in the slightest,
and he therefore concluded that it had been inserted here and lifted while
the space was filled with lead. "It is best so," he said; "we should have
to cut away the stone either above or below, and can work much better
below. Now I will put my knee in the strap again and set to work. The stone
seems greatly softened by the wet, and will yield to our daggers readily
enough. It is already getting dark, and as soon as we have finished we can
As Walter had discovered, the stone was rotten with the action of the
weather, and although as they got deeper it became much harder, it yielded
to the constant chipping with their daggers, and in two hours Ralph, who at
the moment happened to be engaged, announced to Walter that his dagger had
found its way under the bottom of the bar. The groove was soon made deep
enough for the bar to be moved out; but another hour's work was necessary,
somewhat further to enlarge the upper hole, so as to allow the bar to have
sufficient play. Fortunately it was only inserted about an inch and a half
in the stone, and the amount to be cut away to give it sufficient play was
therefore not large. Then at last all was ready for their flight.
CHAPTER XVII: THE CAPTURE OF CALAIS
When the bar was once ready for removal the captives delayed not a minute,
for although it was now so late that there was little chance of a visit
being paid them, it was just possible that such might be the case, and that
it might occur to the knight that it would be safer to separate them.
"Now, Ralph, do you go first, since I am lighter and can climb up by means
of the strap, which you can hold from above; push the bar out and lay it
down quietly on the thickness of the wall. A splash might attract the
attention of the sentries, though I doubt whether it would, for the wind is
high and the rain falling fast. Unbuckle the strap before you move the bar,
as otherwise it might fall and I should have difficulty in handing it to
you again. Now, I am steady against the wall."
Ralph seized the bar and with a great effort pushed the bottom from him. It
moved through the groove without much difficulty, but it needed a great
wrench to free the upper end. However, it was done, and laying it quietly
down he pulled himself up and thrust himself through the loophole. It was
a desperate struggle to get through, for it was only just wide enough for
his head to pass, and he was so squarely built that his body with
difficulty followed. The wall was four feet wide, and as the loophole
widened considerably without, there was, when he had once passed through
from the inside, space enough for him to kneel down and lower one end of
the strap to Walter. The latter speedily climbed up, and getting through
the slit with much less trouble than Ralph had experienced - for although
in height and width of shoulder he was his equal, he was less in depth than
his follower - he joined him in the opening; Ralph sitting with his feet in
the water in order to make room for him.
The dungeon was upon the western side of the castle, and consequently the
stream would be with them in making for shore. It was pitch dark, but they
knew that the distance they would have to swim could not exceed forty or
"Keep along close by the wall, Ralph, if we once get out in the stream we
might lose our way; we will skirt the wall until it ends, then there is a
cut, for as you saw when we entered, the moat runs right across this neck.
If we keep a bit farther down and then land, we shall be fairly beyond the
Ralph slipped down into the water, and followed by Walter swam along at the
foot of the wall. They had already been deprived of their armour, but had
luckily contrived to retain their daggers in their belts, which they had
again girdled on before entering the water. The stream hurried them rapidly
along, and they had only to keep themselves afloat. They were soon at the
corner of the castle. A few strokes farther and they again felt the wall
which lined the moat. The stream still swept them along, they felt the
masonry come to an end, and bushes and shrubs lined the bank. They were
beyond the outer defences of the castle. Still a little farther they
proceeded down the stream in order to prevent the possibility of any noise
they might make in scrambling up being heard by the sentinels on the outer
postern. Then when they felt quite safe they grasped the bushes, and
speedily climbed the bank. Looking back at the castle they saw lights still
burning there. Short as was the time they had been in the water they were
both chilled to the bone, for it was the month of February, and the water
was bitterly cold.
"It cannot be more than nine o'clock now," Walter said, "for it is not more
than four hours since darkness fell. They are not likely to visit the
dungeon before eight or nine tomorrow, so we can rely upon twelve hours'
start, and if we make the best of our time we ought to be far on travelling
on a night like this through a strange country. I would that the stars were
shining. However, the direction of the wind and rain will be a guide to us,
and we shall soon strike the road we traveled yesterday, and can follow
that till morning."
They were not long before they found the track, and then started at a brisk
pace along it. All night they struggled on through wind and rain until the
first dawn enabled them to see the objects in the surrounding country; and
making for the forest which extended to within a mile of the road, they
entered deep into its shelter, and there utterly exhausted, threw
themselves down on the wet ground. After a few hours of uneasy sleep they
woke, and taking their place near the edge of the forest watched for the
passage of any party which might be in pursuit, but until nightfall none
"They have not discovered our flight," Ralph said at last, "or they would
have passed long before this. Sir Phillip doubtless imagines that we are
drowned. The water was within a few inches of the sill when we started, and
must soon have flooded the dungeon; and did he trouble to look in the
morning, which is unlikely enough seeing that he would be sure of our fate,
he would be unable to descend the stairs, and could not reach to the door,
and so discover that the bar had been removed. No; whatever his motive may
have been in compassing my death, he is doubtless satisfied that he has
attained it, and we need have no further fear of pursuit from him. The rain
has ceased, and I think that it will be a fine night; we will walk on, and
if we come across a barn will make free to enter it, and stripping off our
clothing to dry, will sleep in the hay, and pursue our journey in the
morning. From our travel-stained appearance any who may meet us will take
us for two wayfarers going to take service in the army at Amiens."
It was not until nearly midnight that they came upon such a place as they
sought, then after passing a little village they found a shed standing
apart. Entering it they found that it was tenanted by two cows. Groping
about they presently came upon a heap of forage, and taking off their outer
garments lay down on this, covering themselves thickly with it. The shed
was warm and comfortable and they were soon asleep, and awaking at daybreak
they found that their clothes had dried somewhat. The sun was not yet up
when they started, but it soon rose, and ere noon their garments had dried,
and they felt for the first time comfortable. They met but few people on
the road, and these passed them with ordinary salutations.
They had by this time left Amiens on the right, and by nightfall were well
on their way towards Calais. Early in the morning they had purchased some
bread at a village through which they passed; Walter's Norman-French being
easily understood, and exciting no surprise or suspicion. At nightfall they
slept in a shed within a mile of the ruins of the castle of Pres, and late
next evening entered the English encampment at New Town. After going to his
tent, where he and Ralph changed their garments and partook of a hearty
meal, Walter proceeded to the pavilion of the prince, who hailed his
entrance with the greatest surprise.
"Why Sir Walter," he exclaimed, "what good saint has brought you here? I
have but an hour since received a message from the Count of Evreux to the
effect that you were a prisoner in the bands of Sir Phillip de Holbeaut,
with whom I must treat for your ransom. I was purporting to send off a
herald tomorrow to ask at what sum he held you; and now you appear in flesh
and blood before us! But first, before you tell us your story, I must
congratulate you on your gallant defence of the Castle of Pres, which is
accounted by all as one of the most valiant deeds of the war. When two days
passed without a messenger from you coming hither, I feared that you were
beleaguered, and started that evening with six hundred men-at-arms. We
arrived at daybreak to finding only a smoking ruin. Luckily among the
crowd of dead upon the breach we found one of your men-at-arms who still
breathed, and after some cordial had been given him, and his wounds
stanched, he was able to tell us the story of the siege. But it needed not
his tale to tell us how staunchly you had defended the castle, for the
hundreds of dead who lay outside of the walls, and still more the mass who
piled the breach, and the many who lay in the castle-yard spoke for
themselves of the valour with which the castle had been defended. As the
keep was gutted by fire, and the man could tell us nought of what had
happened after he bad been stricken down at the breach, we knew not whether
you and your brave garrison had perished in the flames. We saw the
penthouse beneath which they had laboured to cut through the wall, but the
work had ceased before the holes were large enough for entry, and we hoped
that you might have seen that further resistance was in vain, and have made
terms for your lives; indeed we heard from the country people that certain
prisoners had been taken to Amiens. I rested one day at Pres, and the next
rode back here, and forthwith despatched a herald to the Count of Evreux at
Amiens asking for news of the garrison; but now he has returned with word
that twenty- four men-at-arms and fifty-eight archers are prisoners in the
count's hands, and that he is ready to exchange them against an equal
number of French prisoners; but that you, with a man-at-arms, were in the
keeping of Sir Phillip of Holbeaut, with whom I must treat for your ransom.
And now tell me how it is that I see you here. Has your captor, confiding
in your knightly word to send him the sum agreed upon, allowed you to
return? Tell me the sum and my treasurer shall tomorrow pay it over to a
herald, who shall carry it to Holbeaut."
"Thanks, your Royal Highness, for your generosity," Walter replied, "but
there is no ransom to be paid."
And he then proceeded to narrate the incidents of his captivity at Holbeaut
and his escape from the castle. His narration was frequently interrupted by
exclamations of surprise and indignation from the prince and knights
"Well, this well-nigh passes all belief," the prince exclaimed when he had
concluded. "It is an outrage upon all laws of chivalry and honour. What
could have induced this caitiff knight, instead of treating you with
courtesy and honour until your ransom arrived, to lodge you in a foul
dungeon, where, had you not made your escape, your death would have been
brought about that very night by the rising water? Could it be, think you,
that his brain is distraught by some loss or injury which may have befallen
him at our hands during the war and worked him up to a blind passion of
hatred against all Englishmen?"
"I think not that, your Royal Highness," Walter replied. "His manner was
cool and deliberate, and altogether free from any signs of madness.
Moreover, it would seem that he had specially marked me down beforehand,
since, as I have told you, he had bargained with the Count of Evreux for
the possession of my person should I escape with life at the capture of the
castle. It seems rather as if he must have had some private enmity against
me, although what the cause may be I cannot imagine, seeing that I have
never, to my knowledge, before met him, and have only heard his name by
"Whatever be the cause," the prince said, "we will have satisfaction for
it, and I will beg the king, my father, to write at once to Phillip of
Valois protesting against the treatment that you have received, and
denouncing Sir Phillip of Holbeaut as a base and dishonoured knight, whom,
should he fall into our hands, we will commit at once to the hangman.
Upon the following day Walter was called before the king, and related to
him in full the incidents of the siege and of his captivity and escape; and
the same day King Edward sent off a letter to Phillip of Valois denouncing
Sir Phillip Holbeaut as a dishonoured knight, and threatening retaliation
upon the French prisoners in his hands.
A fortnight later an answer was received from the King of France saying
that he had inquired into the matter, and had sent a seneschal, who had
questioned Sir Phillip Holbeaut and some of the men-at-arms in the castle,
and that he found that King Edward had been grossly imposed upon by a
fictitious tale. Sir Walter Somers had, he found, been treated with all
knightly courtesy, and believing him to be an honourable knight and true to
his word, but slight watch had been kept over him. He had basely taken
advantage of this trust, and with the man-at-arms with him had escaped from
the castle in order to avoid payment of his ransom, and had now invented
these gross and wicked charges against Sir Phillip Holbeaut as a cloak to
his own dishonour.
Walter was furious when he heard the contents of this letter, and the king
and Black Prince were no less indignant. Although they doubted him not for
a moment, Walter begged that Ralph might be brought before them and
examined strictly as to what had taken place, in order that they might see
that his statements tallied exactly with those he had made.
When this had been done Walter obtained permission from the king to
despatch a cartel to Sir Phillip de Holbeaut denouncing him as a perjured
and dishonoured knight and challenging him to meet him in mortal conflict
at any time and place that he might name. At the same time the king
despatched a letter to Phillip of Valois saying that the statements of the
French knight and followers were wholly untrue, and begging that a time
might be appointed for the meeting of the two knights in the lists.
To this King Phillip replied that he had ordered all private quarrels in
France to be laid aside during the progress of the war, and that so long as
an English foot remained upon French soil he would give no countenance to
his knights throwing away the lives which they owed to France, in private
"You must wait, Sir Walter, you see," the king said, "until you may
perchance meet him in the field of battle. In the mean time, to show how
lightly I esteem the foul charge brought against you, and how much I hold
and honour the bravery which you showed in defending the castle which my
son the prince entrusted to you, as well as upon other occasions, I hereby
promote you to the rank of knight-banneret."
Events now passed slowly before Calais. Queen Philippa and many of her
ladies crossed the Channel and joined her husband, and these added much to
the gaiety of the life in camp. The garrison at Calais was, it was known,
in the sorest straits for the want of food, and at last the news came that
the King of France, with a huge army of 200,000 men, was moving to its
relief. They had gathered at Hesdin, at which rendezvous the king had
arrived in the early part of April; but it was not until the 27th of July
that the whole army was collected, and marching by slow steps advanced
towards the English position.
King Edward had taken every precaution to guard all the approaches to the
city. The ground was in most places too soft and sandy to admit of the
construction of defensive works; but the fleet was drawn up close inshore
to cover the line of sand-hills by the sea with arrows and war machines,
while the passages of the marshes, which extended for a considerable
distance round the town, were guarded by the Earl of Lancaster and a body
of chosen troops, while the other approaches to the city were covered by
the English camp.
The French reconnoitering parties found no way open to attack the English
unless under grievous disadvantages. The Cardinals of Tusculum, St. John,
and St. Paul endeavoured to negotiate terms of peace, and commissioners on
both sides met. The terms offered by Phillip were, however, by no means so
favourable as Edward, after his own victorious operations and those of his
armies in Brittany and Guienne, had a right to expect and the negotiations
were broken off.
The following day the French king sent in a message to Edward saying that
he had examined the ground in every direction in order to advance and give
battle, but had found no means of doing so. He therefore summoned the king
to come forth from the marshy ground in which he was encamped and to fight
in the open plain; and he offered to send four French knights, who, with
four English of the same rank, should choose a fair plain in the
neighbourhood, according to the usages of chivalry. Edward had little over
30,000 men with him; but the same evening that Phillip's challenge was
received a body of 17,000 Flemings and English, detached from an army which
had been doing good service on the borders of Flanders, succeeded in
passing round the enemy's host and in effecting a junction with the king's
army. Early the next morning, after having consulted with his officers,
Edward returned an answer to the French king, saying that he agreed to his
proposal, and enclosed a safe-conduct for any four French knights who might
be appointed to arrange with the same number of English the place of
The odds were indeed enormous, the French being four to one; but Edward,
after the success of Cressy, which had been won by the Black Prince's
division, which bore a still smaller proportion to the force engaging it,
might well feel confident in the valour of his troops. His envoys, on
arriving at the French camp, found that Phillip had apparently changed his
mind. He declined to discuss the matter with which they were charged, and
spoke only of the terms upon which Edward would be willing to raise the
siege of Calais. As they had no authority on this subject the English
knights returned to their camp, where the news was received with great
disappointment, so confident did all feel in their power to defeat the huge
host of the French. But even greater was the astonishment the next morning
when, before daylight, the tents of the French were seen in one great
flame, and it was found that the king and all his host were retreating at
full speed. The Earls of Lancaster and Northampton, with a large body of
horse at once started in pursuit, and harassed the retreating army on its
march towards Amiens.
No satisfactory reasons ever have been assigned for this extraordinary step
on the part of the French king. He had been for months engaged in
collecting a huge army, and he had now an opportunity of fighting the
English in a fair field with a force four times as great as their own. The
only means indeed of accounting for his conduct is by supposing him
affected by temporary aberration of mind, which many other facts in his
history render not improbable. The fits of rage so frequently recorded of
him border upon madness, and a number of strange actions highly detrimental
to his own interests which he committed can only be accounted for as the
acts of a diseased mind. This view has been to some extent confirmed by the
fact that less than half a century afterwards insanity declared itself
among his descendants.
A few hours after the departure of the French the French standard was
lowered on the walls of Calais, and news was brought to Edward that the
governor was upon the battlements and desired to speak with some officers
of the besieging army. Sir Walter Manny and Lord Bisset were sent to
confer with him, and found that his object was to obtain the best terms he
could. The English knights, knowing the determination of the king on the
subject, were forced to tell him that no possibility existed of conditions
being granted, but that the king demanded their unconditional surrender,
reserving to himself entirely the right whom to pardon and whom to put to
The governor remonstrated on the severe terms, and said that rather than
submit to them he and his soldiers would sally out and die sword in hand.
Sir Walter Manny found the king inexorable. The strict laws of war in those
days justified the barbarous practise of putting to death the garrison of a
town captured under such circumstances. Calais had been for many years a
nest of pirates, and vessels issuing from its port had been a scourge to
the commerce of England and Flanders, and the king was fully determined to
punish it severely. Sir Walter Manny interceded long and boldly, and
represented to the king that none of his soldiers would willingly defend a
town on his behalf from the day on which he put to death the people of
Calais, as beyond doubt the French would retaliate in every succeeding
siege. The other nobles and knights joined their entreaties to those of Sir
Walter Manny, and the king finally consented to yield in some degree. He
demanded that six of the most notable burghers of the town, with bare heads
and feet, and with ropes about their necks and the keys of the fortress in
their hands, should deliver themselves up for execution. On these
conditions he agreed to spare the rest. With these terms Sir Walter Manny
returned to Sir John of Vienne.
The governor left the battlements, and proceeding to the market-place
ordered the bell to be rung. The famished and despairing citizens gathered
a haggard crowd to hear their doom. A silence followed the narration of the
hard conditions of surrender by the governor, and sobs and cries alone
broke the silence which succeeded. Then Eustace St. Pierre, the wealthiest
and most distinguished of the citizens, came forward and offered himself as
one of the victims, saying, "Sad pity and shame would it be to let all of
our fellow- citizens die of famine or the sword when means could be found
to save them." John of Aire, James and Peter De Vissant, and another whose
name has not come down to us, followed his example, and stripping to their
shirts set out for the camp, Sir John of Vienne, who, from a late wound,
was unable to walk, riding at their head on horseback. The whole population
accompanied them weeping bitterly until they came to the place where Sir
Walter Manny was awaiting them. Here the crowd halted, and the knight,
promising to do his best to save them, led them to the tent where the king
had assembled all his nobles around him. When the tidings came that the
burghers of Calais had arrived, Edward issued out with his retinue,
accompanied by Queen Philippa and the Black Prince.
"Behold, Sire," Sir Walter Manny said, "the representatives of the town of
The king made no reply while John of Vienne surrendered his sword, and
kneeling with the burghers, said, "Gentle lord and king; behold, we six who
were once the greatest citizens and merchants of Calais, bring you the keys
of the town and castle, and give ourselves up to your pleasure, placing
ourselves in the state in which you see us by our own free-will to save the
rest of the people of the city, who have already suffered many ills. We
pray you, therefore, to have pity and mercy upon us for the sake of your
All present were greatly affected at this speech, and at the aspect of men
who thus offered their lives for their fellow-citizens. The king's
countenance alone remained unchanged, and he ordered them to be taken to
instant execution. Then Sir Walter Manny and all the nobles with tears
besought the king to have mercy, not only for the sake of the citizens, but
for that of his own fame, which would be tarnished by so cruel a deed.
"Silence, Sir Walter!" cried the king. "Let the executioner be called. The
men of Calais have put to death so many of my subjects that I will also put
these men to death."
At this moment Queen Philippa, who had been weeping bitterly, cast herself
upon her knees before the king. "Oh, gentle lord," she cried, "since I have
repassed the seas to see you I have neither asked or required anything at
your hand; now, then, I pray you humbly, and require as a boon, that for
the sake of the Son of Mary, and for the love of me, you take these men to
The king stood for a moment in silence, and then said:
"Ah! lady, I would that you had been other where than here; but you beg of
me so earnestly I must not refuse you, though I grant your prayer with
pain. I give them to you; take them, and do your will."
Then the queen rose from her knees, and bidding the burghers rise, she
caused clothing and food to be given them, and sent them away free.
Sir Walter Manny, with a considerable body of men-at-arms, now took
possession of the town of Calais. The anger of the king soon gave way to
better feelings; all the citizens, without exception, were fed by his
bounty. Such of them as preferred to depart instead of swearing fealty to
the English monarch were allowed to carry away what effects they could bear
upon their persons and were conducted in safety to the French town of
Guisnes. Eustace de St. Pierre was granted almost all the possessions he
had formerly held in Calais, and also a considerable pension; and he and
all who were willing to remain were well and kindly treated. The number was
large, for the natural indignation which they felt at their base desertion
by the French king induced very many of the citizens to remain and become
subjects of Edward. The king issued a proclamation inviting English traders
and others to come across and take up their residence in Calais, bestowing
upon them the houses and lands of the French who had left. Very many
accepted the invitation, and Calais henceforth and for some centuries
became virtually an English town.
A truce was now, through the exertions of the pope's legates, made between
England and France, the terms agreed on being very similar to those of the
previous treaty; and when all his arrangements were finished Edward
returned with his queen to England, having been absent eighteen months,
during which time almost unbroken success had attended his arms, and the
English name had reached a position of respect and honour in the eyes of
Europe far beyond that at which it previously stood.
CHAPTER XVIII: THE BLACK DEATH
The court at Westminster during the few months which followed the capture
of Calais was the most brilliant in Europe. Tournaments and fetes followed
each other in rapid succession, and to these knights came from all parts.
So great was the reputation of King Edward that deputies came from Germany,
where the throne was now vacant, to offer the crown of that kingdom to him.
The king declined the offer, for it would have been impossible indeed for
him to have united the German crown with that of England, which he already
held, and that of France, which he claimed.
Some months after his return to England the Black Prince asked his father
as a boon that the hand of his ward Edith Vernon should be bestowed upon
the prince's brave follower Sir Walter Somers, and as Queen Philippa, in
the name of the lady's mother, seconded the request, the king at once
acceded to it. Edith was now sixteen, an age at which, in those days, a
young lady was considered to be marriageable, and the wedding took place
with great pomp and ceremony at Westminster; the king himself giving away
the bride, and bestowing, as did the prince and Queen Philippa, many costly
presents upon the young couple. After taking part in several of the
tournaments, Walter went with his bride and Dame Vernon down to their
estates, and were received with great rejoicing by the tenantry, the older
of whom well remembered Walter's father and mother, and were rejoiced at
finding that they were again to become the vassals of one of the old
family. Dame Vernon was greatly loved by her tenantry; but the latter had
looked forward with some apprehension to the marriage of the young heiress,
as the character of the knight upon whom the king might bestow her hand
would greatly affect the happiness and well being of his tenants.
Sir James Carnegie had not returned to England after the fall of Calais; he
perceived that he was in grave disfavour with the Black Prince, and
guessed, as was the case, that some suspicion had fallen on him in
reference to the attack upon Walter in the camp, and to the strange attempt
which had been made to destroy him by Sir Phillip Holbeaut. He had,
therefore, for a time taken service with the Count of Savoy, and was away
from England, to the satisfaction of Walter and Dame Vernon, when the
marriage took place; for he had given proofs of such a malignity of
disposition that both felt, that although his succession to the estates was
now hopelessly barred, yet that he might at any moment attempt some
desperate deed to satisfy his feeling of disappointment and revenge.
In spite of the gaiety of the court of King Edward a cloud hung over the
kingdom; for it was threatened by a danger far more terrible than any
combination of foes - a danger which no gallantry upon the part of her king
or warriors availed anything. With a slow and terrible march the enemy was
advancing from the East, where countless hosts had been slain. India,
Arabia, Syria, and Armenia had been well-nigh depopulated. In no country
which the dread foe had invaded had less than two-thirds of the population
been slain; in some nine-tenths had perished. All sorts of portents were
reported to have accompanied its appearance in the East; where it was said
showers of serpents had fallen, strange and unknown insects had appeared in
the atmosphere, and clouds of sulphurous vapour had issued from the earth
and enveloped whole provinces and countries. For two or three years the
appearance of this scourge had been heralded by strange atmospheric
disturbances; heavy rains and unusual floods, storms of thunder and
lightning of unheard-of violence, hail-showers of unparalleled duration and
severity, had everywhere been experienced, while in Italy and Germany
violent earthquake shocks had been felt, and that at places where no
tradition existed of previous occurrences of the same kind.
From Asia it had spread to Africa and to Europe, affecting first the
sea-shores and creeping inland by the course of the rivers. Greece first
felt its ravages, and Italy was not long in experiencing them. In Venice
more than 100,000 persons perished in a few months, and thence spreading
over the whole peninsula, not a town escaped the visitation. At Florence
60,000 people were carried off, and at Lucca and Genoa, in Sicily,
Sardinia, and Corsica it raged with equal violence. France was assailed by
way of Provence, and Avignon suffered especially. Of the English college at
that place not an individual was left, and 120 persons died in a single day
in that small city. Paris lost upwards of 50,000 of its inhabitants, while
90,000 were swept away in Lubeck, and 1,200,000 died within a year of its
first appearance in Germany.
In England the march of the pestilence westward was viewed with deep
apprehension, and the approaching danger was brought home to the people by
the death of the Princess Joan, the king's second daughter. She was
affianced to Peter, the heir to the throne of Spain; and the bride, who had
not yet accomplished her fourteenth year, was sent over to Bordeaux with
considerable train of attendants in order to be united there to her
promised husband. Scarcely had she reached Bordeaux when she was attacked
by the pestilence and died in a few hours. A few days later the news spread
through the country that the disease had appeared almost simultaneously at
several of the seaports in the south-west of England. Thence with great
rapidity it spread through the kingdom; proceeding through Gloucestershire
and Oxfordshire it broke out in London, and the ravages were no less severe
than they had been on the Continent, the very lowest estimate being that
two-thirds of the population were swept away. Most of those attacked died
within a few hours of the seizure. If they survived for two days they
generally rallied, but even then many fell into a state of coma from which
they never awoke.
No words can describe the terror and dismay caused by this the most
destructive plague of which there is any record in history. No remedies
were of the slightest avail against it; flight was impossible, for the
loneliest hamlets suffered as severely as crowded towns, and frequently not
a single survivor was left. Men met the pestilence in various moods: the
brave with fortitude, the pious with resignation, the cowardly and
turbulent with outbursts of despair and fury. Among the lower classes the
wildest rumours gained credence. Some assigned the pestilence to
witchcraft, others declared that the waters of the wells and streams had
been poisoned. Serious riots occurred in many places, and great numbers of
people fell victims to the fury of the mob under the suspicion of being
connected in some way with the ravages of the pestilence. The Jews, ever
the objects of popular hostility, engendered by ignorance and superstition,
were among the chief sufferers. Bands of marauders wandered through the
country plundering the houses left empty by the death of all their
occupants, and from end to end death and suffering were universal.
Although all classes had suffered heavily the ravages of the disease were,
as is always the case, greater among the poor than among the rich, the
insanitary conditions of their life, and their coarser and commoner food
rendering them more liable to its influence; no rank, however, was
exempted, and no less than three Archbishops of Canterbury were carried off
in succession by the pestilence within a year of its appearance.
During the months which succeeded his marriage Sir Walter Somers lived
quietly and happily with his wife at Westerham. It was not until late in
the year that the plague approached the neighbourhood. Walter had
determined to await its approach there. He had paid a few short visits to
the court, where every effort was made by continuous gaiety to keep up the
spirits of the people and prevent them from brooding over the approaching
pestilence; but when it was at hand Walter and his wife agreed that they
would rather share the lot of their tenants, whom their presence and
example might support and cheer in their need, than return to face it in
London. One morning when they were at breakfast a frightened servant
brought in the news that the disease had appeared in the village, that
three persons had been taken ill on the previous night, that two had
already died, and that several others had sickened.
"The time has come, my children," Dame Vernon said calmly, "the danger so
long foreseen is at hand, now let us face it as we agreed to do. It has
been proved that flight is useless, since nowhere is there escape from the
plague; here, at least, there shall be no repetition of the terrible scenes
we have heard of elsewhere, where the living have fled in panic and allowed
the stricken to die unattended. We have already agreed that we will set the
example to our people by ourselves going down and administering to the
"It is hard," Walter said, rising and pacing up and down the room, "to let
Edith go into it."
"Edith will do just the same as you do," his wife said firmly. "Were it
possible that all in this house might escape, there might be a motive for
turning coward, but seeing that no household is spared, there is, as we
agreed, greater danger in flying from the pestilence than facing it
"You are right," he said, "but it wrings my heart to see you place yourself
"Were we out of danger here, Walter, it might be so," Edith replied gently;
"but since there is no more safety in the castle than in the cottage, we
must face death whether it pleases us or not, and it were best to do so
"So be it," Walter said; "may the God of heaven watch over us all! Now,
mother, do you and Edith busy yourselves in preparing broths, strengthening
drinks, and medicaments. I will go down at once to the village and see how
matters stand there and who are in need. We have already urged upon all our
people to face the danger bravely, and if die they must, to die bravely
like Christians, and not like coward dogs. When you have prepared your
soups and cordials come down and meet me in the village, bringing Mabel and
Janet, your attendants, to carry the baskets."
Ralph, who was now installed as major-domo in the castle, at once set out
with Walter. They found the village in a state of panic. Women were sitting
crying despairingly at their doors. Some were engaged in packing their
belongings in carts preparatory to flight, some wandered aimlessly about
wringing their hands, while others went to the church, whose bells were
mournfully tolling the dirge of the departed. Walter's presence soon
restored something like order and confidence; his resolute tone cheered the
timid and gave hope to the despairing. Sternly he rebuked those preparing
to fly, and ordered them instantly to replace their goods in their houses.
Then he went to the priest and implored him to cause the tolling of the
bell to cease.
"There is enough," he said, "in the real danger present to appall even the
bravest, and we need no bell to tell us that death is among us. The dismal
tolling is enough to unnerve the stoutest heart, and if we ring for all who
die its sounds will never cease while the plague is among us; therefore,
father, I implore you to discontinue it. Let there be services held daily
in the church, but I beseech you strive in your discourses to cheer the
people rather than to depress them, and to dwell more upon the joys that
await those who die as Christian men and women than upon the sorrows of
those who remain behind. My wife and mother will anon be down in the
village and will strive to cheer and comfort the people, and I look to you
for aid in this matter."
The priest, who was naturally a timid man, nevertheless nerved himself to
carry out Walter's suggestions, and soon the dismal tones of the bell
ceased to be heard in the village.
Walter despatched messengers to all the outlying farms desiring his tenants
to meet him that afternoon at the castle in order that measures might be
concerted for common aid and assistance. An hour later Dame Vernon and
Edith came down and visited all the houses where the plague had made its
appearance, distributing their soups, and by cheering and comforting words
raising the spirits of the relatives of the sufferers.
The names of all the women ready to aid in the general work of nursing were
taken down, and in the afternoon at the meeting at the castle the full
arrangements were completed. Work was to be carried on as usual in order to
occupy men's minds and prevent them from brooding over the ravages of the
plague. Information of any case that occurred was to be sent to the castle,
where soups and medicines were to be obtained. Whenever more assistance was
required than could be furnished by the inmates of a house another woman
was to be sent to aid. Boys were told off as messengers to fetch food and
other matters as required from the castle.
So, bravely and firmly, they prepared to meet the pestilence; it spread
with terrible severity. Scarce a house which did not lose some of its
inmates, while in others whole families were swept away. All day Walter and
his wife and Dame Vernon went from house to house, and although they could
do nothing to stem the progress of the pestilence, their presence and
example supported the survivors and prevented the occurrence of any of the
panic and disorder which in most places accompanied it.
The castle was not exempt from the scourge. First some of the domestics
were seized, and three men and four women died. Walter himself was
attacked, but he took it lightly, and three days after the seizure passed
into a state of convalescence. Dame Vernon was next attacked, and expired
six hours after the commencement of the seizure. Scarcely was Walter upon
his feet than Ralph, who had not for a moment left his bedside, was seized,
but he too, after being at death's door for some hours, turned the corner.
Lastly Edith sickened.
By this time the scourge had done its worst in the village, and
three-fifths of the population had been swept away. All the male retainers
in the castle had died, and the one female who survived was nursing her
dying mother in the village.
Edith's attack was a very severe one. Walter, alone now, for Ralph,
although convalescent, had not yet left his bed, sat by his wife's bedside
a prey to anxiety and grief; for although she had resisted the first attack
she was now, thirty-six hours after it had seized her, fast sinking.
Gradually her sight and power of speech faded, and she sank into the state
of coma which was the prelude of death, and lay quiet and motionless,
seeming as if life had already departed. Suddenly Walter was surprised by
the sound of many heavy feet ascending the stairs. He went out into the
ante-room to learn the cause of this strange tumult, when five armed men,
one of whom was masked, rushed into the room. Walter caught up his sword
from the table.
"Ruffians," he exclaimed, "how dare you desecrate the abode of death?"
Without a word the men sprang upon him. For a minute he defended himself
against their attacks, but he was still weak, his guard was beaten down,
and a blow felled him to the ground.
"Now settle her," the masked man exclaimed, and the band rushed into the
adjoining room. They paused, however, at the door at the sight of the
lifeless figure on the couch.
"We are saved that trouble," one said, "we have come too late."
The masked figure approached the couch and bent over the figure.
"Yes," he said, "she is dead, and so much the better."
Then he returned with the others to Walter.
"He breathes yet," he said. "He needs a harder blow than that you gave him
to finish him. Let him lie here for a while, while you gather your booty
together; then we will carry him off. There is scarcely a soul alive in the
country round, and none will note us as we pass. I would not despatch him
here, seeing that his body would be found with wounds upon it, and even in
these times some inquiry might be made; therefore it were best to finish
him elsewhere. When he is missed it will be supposed that he went mad at
the death of his wife, and has wandered out and died, may be in the woods,
or has drowned himself in a pond or stream. Besides, I would that before
he dies he should know what hand has struck the blow, and that my
vengeance, which he slighted and has twice escaped, has overtaken him at
After ransacking the principal rooms and taking all that was valuable, the
band of marauders lifted the still insensible body of Walter, and carrying
it down- stairs flung it across a horse. One of the ruffians mounted behind
it, and the others also getting into their saddles the party rode away.
They were mistaken, however, in supposing that the Lady Edith was dead. She
was indeed very nigh the gates of death, and had it not been for the
disturbance would assuredly have speedily entered them. The voice of her
husband raised in anger, the clash of steel, followed by the heavy fall,
had awakened her deadened brain. Consciousness had at once returned to her,
but as yet no power of movement. As at a great distance she had heard the
words of those who entered her chamber, and had understood their import.
More and more distinctly she heard their movements about the room as they
burst open her caskets and appropriated her jewels, but it was not until
silence was restored that the gathering powers of life asserted themselves;
then with a sudden rush the blood seemed to course through her veins, her
eyes opened, and her tongue was loosed, and with a scream she sprang up and
stood by the side of her bed.
Sustained as by a supernatural power she hurried into the next room. A pool
of blood on the floor showed her that what she had heard had not been a
dream or the fiction of a disordered brain. Snatching up a cloak of her
husband's which lay on a couch, she wrapped it round her, and with hurried
steps made her way along the passages until she reached the apartment
occupied by Ralph. The latter sprang up in bed with a cry of astonishment.
He had heard but an hour before from Walter that all hope was gone, and
thought for an instant that the appearance was an apparition from the dead.
The ghastly pallor of the face, the eyes burning with a strange light, the
flowing hair, and disordered appearance of the girl might well have alarmed
one living in even less superstitious times, and Ralph began to cross
himself hastily and to mutter a prayer when recalled to himself by the
sound of Edith's voice.
"Quick, Ralph!" she said, "arise and clothe yourself. Hasten, for your
life. My lord's enemies have fallen upon him and wounded him grievously,
even if they have not slain him, and have carried him away. They would have
slain me also had they not thought I was already dead. Arise and mount,
summon everyone still alive in the village, and follow these murderers. I
will pull the alarm-bell of the castle."
Ralph sprang from his bed as Edith left. He had heard the sound of many
footsteps in the knight's apartments, but had deemed them those of the
priest and his acolytes come to administer the last rites of the church to
his dying mistress. Rage and anxiety for his master gave strength to his
limbs. He threw on a few clothes and rushed down to the stables, where the
horses stood with great piles of forage and pails of water before them,
placed there two days before, by Walter when their last attendant died.
Without waiting to saddle it, Ralph sprang upon the back of one of the
animals, and taking the halters of four others started at a gallop down to
His news spread like wild fire, for the ringing of the alarm-bell of the
castle had drawn all to their doors and prepared them for something
strange. Some of the men had already taken their arms and were making their
way up to the castle when they met Ralph. There were but five men in the
village who had altogether escaped the pestilence; others had survived its
attacks, but were still weak. Horses there were in plenty. The five men
mounted at once, with three others who, though still weak, were able to
So great was the excitement that seven women who had escaped the disease
armed themselves with their husbands' swords and leaped on horseback,
declaring that, women though they were, they would strike a blow for their
beloved lord, who had been as an angel in the village during the plague.
Thus it was scarcely more than ten minutes after the marauders had left the
castle before a motley band, fifteen strong, headed by Ralph, rode off in
pursuit, while some of the women of the village hurried up to the castle to
comfort Edith with the tidings that the pursuit had already commenced.
Fortunately a lad in the fields had noticed the five men ride away from the
castle, and was able to point out the direction they had taken.
At a furious gallop Ralph and his companions tore across the country. Mile
after mile was passed. Once or twice they gained news from labourers in the
field of the passage of those before them, and knew that they were on the
right track. They had now entered a wild and sparsely inhabited country.
It was broken and much undulated, so that although they knew that the band
they were pursuing were but a short distance ahead they had not yet caught
sight of them, and they hoped that, having no reason to dread any immediate
pursuit, these would soon slacken their pace. This expectation was
realized, for on coming over a brow they saw the party halted at a
turf-burner's cottage in the hollow below. Three of the men had dismounted;
two of them were examining the hoof of one of the horses, which had
apparently cast a shoe or trodden upon a stone. Ralph had warned his party
to make no sound when they came upon the fugitives. The sound of the
horses' hoofs was deadened by the turf, and they were within a hundred
yards of the marauders before they were perceived; then Ralph uttered a
shout and brandishing their swords the party rode down at a headlong
The dismounted men leaped to their saddles and galloped off at full speed,
but their pursuers were now close upon them. Ralph and two of his
companions, who were mounted upon Walter's best horses, gained upon them at
every stride. Two of them were overtaken and run through.
The man who bore Walter before him, finding himself being rapidly
overtaken, threw his burden on to the ground just as the leader of the
party had checked his horse and was about to deliver a sweeping blow at the
With a curse at his follower for ridding himself of it, he again galloped
on. The man's act was unavailing to save himself, for he was overtaken and
cut down before he had ridden many strides; then Ralph and his party
instantly reined up to examine the state of Walter, and the two survivors
of the band of murderers continued their flight unmolested.
CHAPTER XIX: BY LAND AND SEA
Walter was raised from the ground, water was fetched from the cottage, and
the blood washed from his head by Ralph, aided by two of the women. It had
at once been seen that he was still living, and Ralph on examining the
wound joyfully declared that no great harm was done.
"Had Sir Walter been strong and well," he said, "such a clip as this would
not have knocked him from his feet, but he would have answered it with a
blow such as I have often seen him give in battle; but he was but barely
recovering and was as weak as a girl. He is unconscious from loss of blood
and weakness. I warrant me that when he opens his eyes and hears that the
lady Edith has risen from her bed and came to send me to his rescue, joy
will soon bring the blood into his cheeks again. Do one of you run to the
hut and see if they have any cordial waters; since the plague has been
raging there are few houses but have laid in a provision in case the
disease should seize them."
The man soon returned with a bottle of cordial water compounded of
rosemary, lavender, and other herbs. By this time Walter had opened his
eyes. The cordial was poured down his throat, and he was presently able to
"Be of good cheer, Sir Walter," Ralph said; "three of your rascally
assailants lie dead, and the other two have fled; but I have better news
still for you. Lady Edith, who you told me lay unconscious and dying, has
revived. The din of the conflict seems to have reached her ears and
recalled her to life, and the dear lady came to my room with the news that
you were carried off, and then, while I was throwing on my clothes, roused
the village to your assistance by ringing the alarm-bell. Rarely frightened
I was when she came in, for methought at first it was her spirit."
The good news, as Ralph had predicted, effectually roused Walter, and
rising to his feet he declared himself able to mount and ride back at once.
Ralph tried to persuade him to wait until they had formed a litter of
boughs, but Walter would not allow it.
"I would not tarry an instant," he said, "for Edith will be full of anxiety
until I return. Why, Ralph, do you think that I am a baby? Why, you
yourself were but this morning unable to walk across the room, and here you
have been galloping and fighting on my behalf."
"In faith," Ralph said, smiling, "until now I had forgotten that I had been
"You have saved my life, Ralph, you and my friends here, whom I thank with
all my heart for what they have done. I will speak more to them another
time, now I must ride home with all speed."
Walter now mounted; Ralph took his place on one side of him, and one of his
tenants on the other, lest he should be seized with faintness; then at a
hand- gallop they started back for the castle. Several women of the village
had, when they left, hurried up to the castle. They found Edith lying
insensible by the rope of the alarm-bell, having fainted when she had
accomplished her object. They presently brought her round; as she was now
suffering only from extreme weakness, she was laid on a couch, and cordials
and some soup were given to her. One of the women took her place at the
highest window to watch for the return of any belonging to the expedition.
Edith felt hopeful as to the result, for she thought that their assailants
would not have troubled to carry away the body of Walter had not life
remained in it, and she was sure that Ralph would press them so hotly that
sooner or later the abductors would be overtaken.
An hour and a half passed, and then the woman from above ran down with the
news that she could see three horsemen galloping together towards the
castle, with a number of others following in confused order behind.
"Then they have found my lord," Edith exclaimed joyfully, "for Ralph would
assuredly not return so quickly had they not done so. It's a good sign that
they are galloping, for had they been bearers of ill news they would have
returned more slowly; look out again and see if they are bearing one among
The woman, with some of her companions, hastened away, and in two or three
minutes ran down with the news that Sir Walter himself was one of the three
leading horsemen. In a few minutes Edith was clasped in her husband's
arms, and their joy, restored as they were from the dead to each other, was
indeed almost beyond words.
The plague now abated fast in Westerham, only two or three more persons
being attacked by it. As soon as Edith was sufficiently recovered to travel
Walter proceeded with her to London and there laid before the king and
prince a complaint against Sir James Carnegie for his attempt upon their
lives. Even in the trance in which she lay, Edith had recognized the voice
which had once been so familiar to her. Walter, too, was able to testify
against him, for the rough jolting on horseback had for a while restored
his consciousness, and he had heard words spoken, before relapsing into
insensibility from the continued bleeding of his wound, which enabled him
to swear to Sir James Carnegie as one of his abductors.
The king instantly ordered the arrest of the knight, but he could not be
found; unavailing search was made in every direction, and as nothing could
be heard of him it was concluded that he had left the kingdom. He was
proclaimed publicly a false and villainous knight, his estates were
confiscated to the crown, and he himself was outlawed. Then Walter and his
wife returned home and did their best to assist their tenants in struggling
through the difficulties entailed through the plague.
So terrible had been the mortality that throughout England there was a lack
of hands for field work, crops rotted in the ground because there were none
to harvest them, and men able to work demanded twenty times the wages which
had before been paid. So great was the trouble from this source that an
ordinance was passed by parliament enacting that severe punishment should
be dealt upon all who demanded wages above the standard price, and even
more severe penalties inflicted upon those who should consent to pay higher
wages. It was, however, many years before England recovered from the
terrible blow which had been dealt her from the pestilence.
While Europe had been ravaged by pestilence the adherents of France and
England had continued their struggle in Brittany in spite of the terms of
the truce, and this time King Edward was the first open aggressor, granting
money and assistance to the free companies, who pillaged and plundered in
the name of England. The truce expired at the end of 1348, but was
continued for short periods. It was, however, evident that both parties
were determined ere long to recommence hostilities. The French collected
large forces in Artois and Picardy, and Edward himself proceeded to
Sandwich to organize there another army for the invasion of France.
Phillip determined to strike the first blow, and, before the conclusion of
the truce, to regain possession of Calais. This town was commanded by a
Lombard officer named Almeric of Pavia. Free communication existed, in
consequence of the truce, between Calais and the surrounding country, and
Jeffrey de Charny, the governor of St. Omer, and one of the commissioners
especially appointed to maintain the truce, opened communications with the
Lombard captain. Deeming that like most mercenaries he would be willing to
change sides should his interest to do so be made clear, he offered him a
large sum of money to deliver the castle to the French.
The Lombard at once agreed to the project. Jeffrey de Charny arranged to be
within a certain distance of the town on the night of the 1st of January,
bringing with him sufficient forces to master all opposition if the way was
once opened to the interior of the town. It was further agreed that the
money was to be paid over by a small party of French who were to be sent
forward for the purpose of examining the castle, in order to ensure the
main body against treachery. As a hostage for the security of the
detachment, the son of the governor was to remain in the hands of the
French without, until the safe return of the scouting party.
Several weeks elapsed between the conclusion of the agreement and the date
fixed for its execution, and in the meantime the Lombard, either from
remorse or from a fear of the consequences which might arise from a
detection of the plot before its execution, or from the subsequent
vengeance of the English king, disclosed the whole transaction to Edward.
The king bade him continue to carry out his arrangements with De Charny,
leaving it to him to counteract the plot. Had he issued orders for the
rapid assembly of the army the French would have taken alarm. He therefore
sent private messengers to a number of knights and gentlemen of Kent and
Sussex to meet him with their retainers at Dover on the 31st of December.
Walter was one of those summoned, and although much surprised at the
secrecy with which he was charged, and of such a call being made while the
truce with France still existed, he repaired to Dover on the day named,
accompanied by Ralph and by twenty men, who were all who remained capable
of bearing arms on the estate.
He found the king himself with the Black Prince at Dover, where they had
arrived that day. Sir Walter Manny was in command of the force, which
consisted in all of 300 men-at-arms and 600 archers. A number of small
boats had been collected, and at midday on the 1st of January the little
expedition started, and arrived at Calais after nightfall.
In the chivalrous spirit of the times the king determined that Sir Walter
Manny should continue in command of the enterprise; he and the Black
Prince, disguised as simple knights, fighting under his banner.
In the meantime a considerable force had been collected at St. Omer, where
a large number of knights and gentlemen obeyed the summons of Jeffrey de
Charny. On the night appointed they marched for Calais, in number five
hundred lances and a corresponding number of footmen. They reached the
river and bridge of Nieullay a little after midnight, and messengers were
sent on to the governor, who was prepared to receive them. On their report
De Charny advanced still nearer to the town, leaving the bridge and
passages to the river guarded by a large body of crossbow-men under the
command of the Lord De Fiennes and a number of other knights. At a little
distance from the castle he was met by Almeric de Pavia, who yielded his
son as a hostage according to his promise, calculating, as was the case,
that he would be recaptured by the English. Then, having received the
greater portion of the money agreed upon, he led a party of the French over
the castle to satisfy them of his sincerity. Upon receiving their report
that all was quiet De Charny detached twelve knights and a hundred men-
at-arms to take possession of the castle, while he himself waited at one of
the gates of the town with the principal portion of his force.
No sooner had the French entered the castle than the drawbridge was raised.
The English soldiers poured out from their places of concealment, and the
party which had entered the castle were forced to lay down their arms. In
the meantime the Black Prince issued with a small body of troops from a
gate near the sea, while De Manny, with the king under his banner, marched
by the sally-port which led into the fields. A considerable detachment of
the division was despatched to dislodge the enemy at the bridge of
Nieullay, and the rest, joining the party of the Black Prince, advanced
rapidly upon the forces of Jeffrey de Charny which, in point of numbers,
was double their own strength.
Although taken in turn by surprise the French prepared steadily for the
attack. De Charny ordered them all to dismount and to shorten their lances
to pikes five feet in length. The English also dismounted and rushing
forward on foot a furious contest commenced. The ranks of both parties were
soon broken in the darkness, and the combatants separating into groups a
number of separate battles raged around the different banners.
For some hours the fight was continued with unabating obstinacy on both
sides. The king and the Black Prince fought with immense bravery, their
example encouraging even those of their soldiers who were ignorant of the
personality of the knights who were everywhere in front of the combat. King
Edward himself several times crossed swords with the famous Eustace de
Ribaumont, one of the most gallant knights in France. At length towards
daybreak the king, with only thirty companions, found himself again opposed
to De Ribaumont with a greatly superior force, and the struggle was renewed
Twice the king was beaten down on one knee by the thundering blows of the
French knight, twice he rose and renewed the attack, until De Charny,
seeing Sir Walter Manny's banner, beside which Edward fought, defended by
so small a force, also bore down to the attack, and in the struggle Edward
was separated from his opponent.
The combat now became desperate round the king, and Sir Guy Brian, who bore
De Manny's standard, though one of the strongest and most gallant knights
of the day, could scarce keep the banner erect. Still Edward fought on, and
in the excitement of the moment, forgetting his incognito, he accompanied
each blow with his customary war-cry - "Edward, St. George! Edward, St.
George!" At that battle-cry, which told the French men-at-arms that the
King of England was himself opposed to them, they recoiled for a moment.
The shout too reached the ears of the Prince of Wales, who had been
fighting with another group. Calling his knights around him he fell upon
the rear of De Charny's party and quickly cleared a space around the king.
The fight was now everywhere going against the French, and the English
redoubling their efforts the victory was soon complete, and scarcely one
French knight left the ground alive and free. In the struggle Edward again
encountered De Ribaumont, who, separated from him by the charge of De
Charny, had not heard the king's war-cry. The conflict between them was a
short one. The French knight saw that almost all his companions were dead
or captured, his party completely defeated, and all prospects of escape cut
off. He therefore soon dropped the point of his sword and surrendered to
his unknown adversary. In the meantime the troops which had been despatched
to the bridge of Nieullay had defeated the French forces left to guard the
passage and clear the ground towards St. Omer.
Early in the morning Edward entered Calais in triumph, taking with him
thirty French nobles as prisoners, while two hundred more remained dead on
the field. That evening a great banquet was held, at which the French
prisoners were present. The king presided at the banquet, and the French
nobles were waited upon by the Black Prince and his knights. After the
feast was concluded the king bestowed on De Ribaumont the chaplet of pearls
which he wore round his crown, hailing him as the most gallant of the
knights who had that day fought, and granting him freedom to return at once
to his friends, presenting him with two horses, and a purse to defray his
expenses to the nearest French town.
De Charny was afterwards ransomed, and after his return to France assembled
a body of troops and attacked the castle which Edward had bestowed upon
Almeric of Pavia, and capturing the Lombard, carried him to St. Omer, and
had him there publicly flayed alive as a punishment for his treachery.
Walter had as usual fought by the side of the Prince of Wales throughout
the battle of Calais and had much distinguished himself for his valour.
Ralph was severely wounded in the fight, but was able a month later to
rejoin Walter in England.
The battle of Calais and the chivalrous bearing of the king created great
enthusiasm and delight in England, and did much to rouse the people from
the state of grief into which they had been cast by the ravages of the
plague. The king did his utmost to maintain the spirit which had been
evoked, and the foundation of the order of the Garter, and the erection of
a splendid chapel at Windsor, and its dedication, with great ceremony, to
St. George, the patron saint of England, still further raised the renown of
the court of Edward throughout Europe as the centre of the chivalry of the
Notwithstanding many treaties which had taken place, and the near alliance
which had been well-nigh carried out between the royal families of England
and Spain, Spanish pirates had never ceased to carry on a series of
aggressions upon the English vessels trading in the Bay of Biscay. Ships
were every day taken, and the crews cruelly butchered in cold blood.
Edward's remonstrances proved vain, and when threats of retaliation were
held out by Edward, followed by preparations to carry those threats into
effect, Pedro the Cruel, who had now succeeded to the throne of Spain,
despatched strong reinforcements to the fleet which had already swept the
The great Spanish fleet sailed north, and capturing on its way a number of
English merchantmen, put into Sluys, and prepared to sail back in triumph
with the prizes and merchandise it had captured. Knowing, however, that
Edward was preparing to oppose them, the Spaniards filled up their
complement of men, strengthened themselves by all sorts of the war machines
then in use, and started on their return for Spain with one of the most
powerful armadas that had ever put to sea.
Edward had collected on the coast of Sussex a fleet intended to oppose
them, and had summoned all the military forces of the south of England to
accompany him; and as soon as he heard that the Spaniards were about to put
to sea he set out for Winchelsea, where the fleet was collected.
The queen accompanied him to the sea-coast, and the Black Prince, now in
his twentieth year, was appointed to command one of the largest of the
The fleet put to sea when they heard that the Spaniards had started, and
the hostile fleets were soon in sight of each other. The number of fighting
men on board the Spanish ships was ten times those of the English, and
their vessels were of vastly superior size and strength. They had,
moreover, caused their ships to be fitted at Sluys with large wooden
towers, which furnished a commanding position to their crossbow-men. The
wind was direct in their favour, and they could have easily avoided the
contest, but, confiding in their enormously superior force, they sailed
boldly forward to the attack.
The king himself led the English line, and directing his vessel towards a
large Spanish ship, endeavoured to run her down. The shock was tremendous,
but the enemy's vessel was stronger as well as larger than that of the
king; and as the two ships recoiled from each other it was found that the
water was rushing into the English vessel, and that she was rapidly
sinking. The Spanish passed on in the confusion, but the king ordered his
ship to be instantly laid alongside another which was following her, and to
be firmly lashed to her. Then with his knights he sprang on board the
Spaniard, and after a short but desperate fight cut down or drove the crew
overboard. The royal standard was hoisted on the prize, the sinking English
vessel was cast adrift, and the king sailed on to attack another adversary.
The battle now raged on all sides. The English strove to grapple with and
board the enemy, while the Spaniards poured upon them a shower of bolts and
quarrels from their cross-bows, hurled immense masses of stone from their
military engines, and, as they drew alongside, cast into them heavy bars of
iron, which pierced holes in the bottom of the ship.
Walter was on board the ship commanded by the Black Prince. This had been
steered towards one of the largest and most important of the Spanish
vessels. As they approached, the engines poured their missiles into them.
Several great holes were torn in the sides of the ship, which was already
sinking as she came alongside her foe.
"We must do our best, Sir Walter," the prince exclaimed, "for if we do not
capture her speedily our ship will assuredly sink beneath our feet."
The Spaniard stood far higher above the water than the English ship, and
the Black Prince and his knights in vain attempted to climb her sides,
while the seamen strove with pumps and buckets to keep the vessel afloat.
Every effort was in vain. The Spaniard's men-at-arms lined the bulwarks,
and repulsed every effort made by the English to climb up them, while those
on the towers rained down showers of bolts and arrows and masses of iron
and stone. The situation was desperate when the Earl of Lancaster, passing
by in his ship, saw the peril to which the prince was exposed, and, ranging
up on the other side of the Spaniard, strove to board her there. The
attention of the Spaniards being thus distracted, the prince and his
companions made another desperate effort, and succeeded in winning their
way on to the deck of the Spanish ship just as their own vessel sank
beneath their feet; after a few minutes' desperate fighting the Spanish
ship was captured.
The English were now everywhere getting the best of their enemies. Many of
the Spanish vessels had been captured or sunk, and after the fight had
raged for some hours, the rest began to disperse and seek safety in flight.
The English vessel commanded by Count Robert of Namur had towards night
engaged a Spanish vessel of more than twice its own strength. His
adversaries, seeing that the day was lost, set all sail, but looking upon
the little vessel beside them as a prey to be taken possession of at their
leisure, they fastened it tightly to their sides by the grappling irons,
and spreading all sail, made away. The Count and his men were unable to
free themselves, and were being dragged away, when a follower of the count
named Hennekin leapt suddenly on board the Spanish ship. With a bound he
reached the mast, and with a single blow with his sword cut the halyards
which supported the main-sail. The sail fell at once. The Spaniards rushed
to the spot to repair the disaster which threatened to delay their ship.
The count and his followers, seeing the bulwarks of the Spanish vessel for
the moment unguarded, poured in, and after a furious conflict captured the
vessel. By this time twenty-four of the enemy's vessels had been taken,
the rest were either sunk or in full flight, and Edward at once returned to
the English shore.
The fight had taken place within sight of land, and Queen Philippa, from
the windows of the abbey, which stood on rising ground, had seen the
approach of the vast Spanish fleet, and had watched the conflict until
night fell. She remained in suspense as to the result until the king
himself with the Black Prince and Prince John, afterwards known as John of
Gaunt, who, although but ten years of age, had accompanied the Black Prince
in his ship, rode up with the news of the victory.
This great sea-fight was one of the brightest and most honourable in the
annals of English history, for not even in the case of that other great
Spanish Armada which suffered defeat in English waters were the odds so
immense or the victory so thorough and complete. The result of the fight
was, that after some negotiations a truce of twenty years was concluded