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  • 1891
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experience and wisdom of war.

“By my faith! Sir John,” said the prince as he rode through the winding streets on his way to the list, “I should have been glad to have splintered a lance to-day. You have seen me hold a spear since I had strength to lift one, and should know best whether I do not merit a place among this honorable company.”

“There is no better seat and no truer lance, sire,” said Chandos; “but, if I may say so without fear of offence, it were not fitting that you should join in this debate.”

“And why, Sir John?”

“Because, sire, it is not for you to take part with Gascons against English, or with English against Gascons, seeing that you are lord of both. We are not too well loved by the Gascons now, and it is but the golden link of your princely coronet which holds us together. If that be snapped I know not what would follow.”

“Snapped, Sir John!” cried the prince, with an angry sparkle in his dark eyes. “What manner of talk is this? You speak as though the allegiance of our people were a thing which might be thrown off or on like a falcon’s jessel.”

“With a sorry hack one uses whip and spur, sire,” said Chandos; “but with a horse of blood and spirit a good cavalier is gentle and soothing, coaxing rather than forcing. These folk are strange people, and you must hold their love, even as you have it now, for you will get from their kindness what all the pennons in your army could not wring from them.”

“You are over-grave to-day, John,” the prince answered. “We may keep such questions for our council-chamber. But how now, my brothers of Spain, and of Majorca, what think you of this challenge?”

“I look to see some handsome joisting,” said Don Pedro, who rode with the King of Majorca upon the right of the prince, while Chandos was on the left. “By St. James of Compostella! but these burghers would bear some taxing. See to the broadcloth and velvet that the rogues bear upon their backs! By my troth! if they were my subjects they would be glad enough to wear falding and leather ere I had done with them. But mayhap it is best to let the wool grow long ere you clip it.”

“It is our pride,” the prince answered coldly, “that we rule over freemen and not slaves.”

“Every man to his own humor,” said Pedro carelessly. “Carajo! there is a sweet face at yonder window! Don Fernando, I pray you to mark the house, and to have the maid brought to us at the abbey.”

“Nay, brother, nay!” cried the prince impatiently. “I have had occasion to tell you more than once that things are not ordered in this way in Aquitaine.”

“A thousand pardons, dear friend,” the Spaniard answered quickly, for a flush of anger had sprung to the dark cheek of the English prince. “You make my exile so like a home that I forget at times that I am not in very truth back in Castile. Every land hath indeed its ways and manners; but I promise you, Edward, that when you are my guest in Toledo or Madrid you shall not yearn in vain for any commoner’s daughter on whom you may deign to cast your eye.”

“Your talk, sire,” said the prince still more coldly, “is not such as I love to hear from your lips. I have no taste for such amours as you speak of, and I have sworn that my name shall be coupled with that of no woman save my ever dear wife.”

“Ever the mirror of true chivalry!” exclaimed Pedro, while James of Majorca, frightened at the stern countenance of their all-powerful protector, plucked hard at the mantle of his brother exile.

“Have a care, cousin,” he whispered; “for the sake of the Virgin have a care, for you have angered him.”

“Pshaw! fear not,” the other answered in the same low tone. “If I miss one stoop I will strike him on the next. Mark me else. Fair cousin,” he continued, turning to the prince, “these be rare men-at-arms and lusty bowmen. It would be hard indeed to match them.”

“They have Journeyed far, sire, but they have never yet found their match.”

“Nor ever will, I doubt not. I feel myself to be back upon my throne when I look at them. But tell me, dear coz, what shall we do next, when we have driven this bastard Henry from the kingdom which he hath filched?”

“We shall then compel the King of Aragon to place our good friend and brother James of Majorca upon the throne.”

“Noble and generous prince!” cried the little monarch.

“That done,” said King Pedro, glancing out of the corners of his eyes at the young conqueror, “we shall unite the forces of England, of Aquitaine, of Spain and of Majorca. It would be shame to us if we did not do some great deed with such forces ready to our hand.”

“You say truly, brother,” cried the prince, his eyes kindling at the thought. “Methinks that we could not do anything more pleasing to Our Lady than to drive the heathen Moors out of the country.”

“I am with you, Edward, as true as hilt to blade. But, by St. James! we shall not let these Moors make mock at us from over the sea. We must take ship and thrust them from Africa.”

“By heaven, yes!” cried the prince. “And it is the dream of my heart that our English pennons shall wave upon the Mount of Olives, and the lions and lilies float over the holy city.”

“And why not, dear coz? Your bowmen have cleared a path to Paris, and why not to Jerusalem? Once there, your arms might rest.”

“Nay, there is more to be done,” cried the prince, carried away by the ambitious dream. “There is still the city of Constantine to be taken, and war to be waged against the Soldan of Damascus. And beyond him again there is tribute to be levied from the Cham of Tartary and from the kingdom of Cathay. Ha! John, what say you? Can we not go as far eastward as Richard of the Lion Heart?”

“Old John will bide at home, sire,” said the rugged soldier. “By my soul! as long as I am seneschal of Aquitaine I will find enough to do in guarding the marches which you have entrusted to me. It would be a blithe day for the King of France when he heard that the seas lay between him and us.”

“By my soul! John,” said the prince, “I have never known you turn laggard before.”

“The babbling hound, sire, is not always the first at the mort,” the old knight answered.

“Nay, my true-heart! I have tried you too often not to know. But, by my soul! I have not seen so dense a throng since the day that we brought King John down Cheapside.”

It was indeed an enormous crowd which covered the whole vast plain from the line of vineyards to the river bank. From the northern gate the prince and his companions looked down at a dark sea of heads, brightened here and there by the colored hoods of the women, or by the sparkling head-pieces of archers and men-at-arms. In the centre of this vast assemblage the lists seemed but a narrow strip of green marked out with banners and streamers, while a gleam of white with a flutter of pennons at either end showed where the marquees were pitched which served as the dressing-rooms of the combatants. A path had been staked off from the city gate to the stands which had been erected for the court and the nobility. Down this, amid the shouts of the enormous multitude, the prince cantered with his two attendant kings, his high officers of state, and his long train of lords and ladies, courtiers, counsellors, and soldiers, with toss of plume and flash of jewel, sheen of silk and glint of gold–as rich and gallant a show as heart could wish. The head of the cavalcade had reached the lists ere the rear had come clear of the city gate, for the fairest and the bravest had assembled from all the broad lands which are watered by the Dordogne and the Garonne. Here rode dark-browed cavaliers from the sunny south, fiery soldiers from Gascony, graceful courtiers of Limousin or Saintonge, and gallant young Englishmen from beyond the seas. Here too were the beautiful brunettes of the Gironde, with eyes which out-flashed their jewels, while beside them rode their blonde sisters of England, clear cut and aquiline, swathed in swans’-down and in ermine, for the air was biting though the sun was bright. Slowly the long and glittering train wound into the lists, until every horse had been tethered by the varlets in waiting, and every lord and lady seated in the long stands which stretched, rich in tapestry and velvet and blazoned arms, on either side of the centre of the arena.

The holders of the lists occupied the end which was nearest to the city gate. There, in front of their respective pavilions, flew the martlets of Audley, the roses of Loring, the scarlet bars of Wake, the lion of the Percies and the silver wings of the Beauchamps, each supported by a squire clad in hanging green stuff to represent so many Tritons, and bearing a huge conch-shell in their left hands. Behind the tents the great war-horses, armed at all points, champed and reared, while their masters sat at the doors of their pavilions, with their helmets upon their knees, chatting as to the order of the day’s doings. The English archers and men-at-arms had mustered at that end of the lists, but the vast majority of the spectators were in favor of the attacking party, for the English had declined in popularity ever since the bitter dispute as to the disposal of the royal captive after the battle of Poictiers. Hence the applause was by no means general when the herald-at-arms proclaimed, after a flourish of trumpets, the names and styles of the knights who were prepared, for the honor of their country and for the love of their ladies, to hold the field against all who might do them the favor to run a course with them. On the other hand, a deafening burst of cheering greeted the rival herald, who, advancing from the other end of the lists, rolled forth the well-known titles of the five famous warriors who had accepted the defiance.

“Faith, John,” said the prince, “it sounds as though you were right. Ha! my grace D’Armagnac, it seems that our friends on this side will not grieve if our English champions lose the day.”

“It may be so, sire,” the Gascon nobleman answered. “I have little doubt that in Smithfield or at Windsor an English crowd would favor their own countrymen.”

“By my faith! that’s easily seen,” said the prince, laughing, “for a few score English archers at yonder end are bellowing as though they would out-shout the mighty multitude. I fear that they will have little to shout over this tourney, for my gold vase has small prospect of crossing the water. What are the conditions, John?”

“They are to tilt singly not less than three courses, sire, and the victory to rest with that party which shall have won the greater number of courses, each pair continuing till one or other have the vantage. He who carries himself best of the victors hath the prize, and he who is judged best of the other party hath a jewelled clasp. Shall I order that the nakirs sound, sire?”

The prince nodded, and the trumpets rang out, while the champions rode forth one after the other, each meeting his opponent in the centre of the lists. Sir William Beauchamp went down before the practiced lance of the Captal de Buch. Sir Thomas Percy won the vantage over the Lord of Mucident, and the Lord Audley struck Sir Perducas d’Albret from the saddle. The burly De Clisson, however, restored the hopes of the attackers by beating to the ground Sir Thomas Wake of Yorkshire. So far, there was little to choose betwixt challengers and challenged.

“By Saint James of Santiago!” cried Don Pedro, with a tinge of color upon his pale cheeks, “win who will, this has been a most notable contest.”

“Who comes next for England, John?” asked the prince in a voice which quivered with excitement.

“Sir Nigel Loring of Hampshire, sire.”

“Ha! he is a man of good courage, and skilled in the use of all weapons.”

“He is indeed, sire. But his eyes, like my own, are the worse for wars. Yet he can tilt or play his part at hand-strokes as merrily as ever. It was he, sire, who won the golden crown which Queen Philippa, your royal mother, gave to be jousted for by all the knights of England after the harrying of Calais. I have heard that at Twynham Castle there is a buffet which groans beneath the weight of his prizes.”

“I pray that my vase may join them,” said the prince. “But here is the cavalier of Germany, and by my soul! he looks like a man of great valor and hardiness. Let them run their full three courses, for the issue is over-great to hang upon one.”

As the prince spoke, amid a loud flourish of trumpets and the shouting of the Gascon party, the last of the assailants rode gallantly into the lists. He was a man of great size, clad in black armor without blazonry or ornament of any kind, for all worldly display was forbidden by the rules of the military brotherhood to which he belonged. No plume or nobloy fluttered from his plain tilting salade, and even his lance was devoid of the customary banderole. A white mantle fluttered behind him, upon the left side of which was marked the broad black cross picked out with silver which was the well-known badge of the Teutonic Order. Mounted upon a horse as large, as black, and as forbidding as himself, he cantered slowly forward, with none of those prancings and gambades with which a cavalier was accustomed to show his command over his charger. Gravely and sternly he inclined his head to the prince, and took his place at the further end of the arena.

He had scarce done so before Sir Nigel rode out from the holders’ enclosure, and galloping at full speed down the lists, drew his charger up before the prince’s stand with a jerk which threw it back upon its haunches. With white armor, blazoned shield, and plume of ostrich-feathers from his helmet, he carried himself in so jaunty and joyous a fashion, with tossing pennon and curveting charger, that a shout of applause ran the full circle of the arena. With the air of a man who hastes to a joyous festival, he waved his lance in salute, and reining the pawing horse round without permitting its fore-feet to touch the ground, he hastened back to his station.

A great hush fell over the huge multitude as the two last champions faced each other. A double issue seemed to rest upon their contest, for their personal fame was at stake as well as their party’s honor. Both were famous warriors, but as their exploits had been performed in widely sundered countries, they had never before been able to cross lances. A course between such men would have been enough in itself to cause the keenest interest, apart from its being the crisis which would decide who should be the victors of the day. For a moment they waited–the German sombre and collected, Sir Nigel quivering in every fibre with eagerness and fiery resolution. Then, amid a long-drawn breath from the spectators, the glove fell from the marshal’s hand, and the two steel-clad horsemen met like a thunderclap in front of the royal stand. The German, though he reeled for an instant before the thrust of the Englishman, struck his opponent so fairly upon the vizor that the laces burst, the plumed helmet flew to pieces, and Sir Nigel galloped on down the lists with his bald head shimmering in the sunshine. A thousand waving scarves and tossing caps announced that the first bout had fallen to the popular party.

The Hampshire knight was not a man to be disheartened by a reverse. He spurred back to the pavilion, and was out in a few instants with another helmet. The second course was so equal that the keenest judges could not discern any vantage. Each struck fire from the other’s shield, and each endured the jarring shock as though welded to the horse beneath him. In the final bout, however, Sir Nigel struck his opponent with so true an aim that the point of the lance caught between the bars of his vizor and tore the front of his helmet out, while the German, aiming somewhat low, and half stunned by the shock, had the misfortune to strike his adversary upon the thigh, a breach of the rules of the tilting-yard, by which he not only sacrificed his chances of success, but would also have forfeited his horse and his armor, had the English knight chosen to claim them. A roar of applause from the English soldiers, with an ominous silence from the vast crowd who pressed round the barriers, announced that the balance of victory lay with the holders. Already the ten champions had assembled in front of the prince to receive his award, when a harsh bugle call from the further end of the lists drew all eyes to a new and unexpected arrival.

CHAPTER XXIV.

HOW A CHAMPION CAME FORTH FROM THE EAST.

The Bordeaux lists were, as has already been explained, situated upon the plain near the river upon those great occasions when the tilting-ground in front of the Abbey of St. Andrew’s was deemed to be too small to contain the crowd. On the eastern side of this plain the country-side sloped upwards, thick with vines in summer, but now ridged with the brown bare enclosures. Over the gently rising plain curved the white road which leads inland, usually flecked with travellers, but now with scarce a living form upon it, so completely had the lists drained all the district of its inhabitants. Strange it was to see such a vast concourse of people, and then to look upon that broad, white, empty highway which wound away, bleak and deserted, until it narrowed itself to a bare streak against the distant uplands.

Shortly after the contest had begun, any one looking from the lists along this road might have remarked, far away in the extreme distance, two brilliant and sparkling points which glittered and twinkled in the bright shimmer of the winter sun. Within an hour these had become clearer and nearer, until they might be seen to come from the reflection from the head-pieces of two horsemen who were riding at the top of their speed in the direction of Bordeaux. Another half-hour had brought them so close that every point of their bearing and equipment could be discerned. The first was a knight in full armor, mounted upon a brown horse with a white blaze upon breast and forehead. He was a short man of great breadth of shoulder, with vizor closed, and no blazonry upon his simple white surcoat or plain black shield. The other, who was evidently his squire and attendant, was unarmed save for the helmet upon his head, but bore in his right hand a very long and heavy oaken spear which belonged to his master. In his left hand the squire held not only the reins of his own horse but those of a great black war-horse, fully harnessed, which trotted along at his side. Thus the three horses and their two riders rode swiftly to the lists, and it was the blare of the trumpet sounded by the squire as his lord rode into the arena which had broken in upon the prize-giving and drawn away the attention and interest of the spectators.

“Ha, John!” cried the prince, craning his neck, “who is this cavalier, and what is it that he desires?”

“On my word, sire,” replied Chandos, with the utmost surprise upon his face, “it is my opinion that he is a Frenchman.”

“A Frenchman!” repeated Don Pedro. “And how can you tell that, my Lord Chandos, when he has neither coat-armor, crest, or blazonry?”

“By his armor, sire, which is rounder at elbow and at shoulder than any of Bordeaux or of England. Italian he might be were his bassinet more sloped, but I will swear that those plates were welded betwixt this and Rhine. Here comes his squire, however, and we shall hear what strange fortune hath brought him over the marches.”

As he spoke the attendant cantered up the grassy enclosure, and pulling up his steed in front of the royal stand, blew a second fanfare upon his bugle. He was a raw-boned, swarthy-cheeked man, with black bristling beard and a swaggering bearing.

Having sounded his call, he thrust the bugle into his belt, and, pushing his way betwixt the groups of English and of Gascon knights, he reined up within a spear’s length of the royal party.

“I come,” he shouted in a hoarse, thick voice, with a strong Breton accent, “as squire and herald from my master, who is a very valiant pursuivant-of-arms, and a liegeman to the great and powerful monarch, Charles, king of the French. My master has heard that there is jousting here, and prospect of honorable advancement, so he has come to ask that some English cavalier will vouchsafe for the love of his lady to run a course with sharpened lances with him, or to meet him with sword, mace, battle-axe, or dagger. He bade me say, however, that he would fight only with a true Englishman, and not with any mongrel who is neither English nor French, but speaks with the tongue of the one, and fights under the banner of the other.”

“Sir!” cried De Clisson, with a voice of thunder, while his countrymen clapped their hands to their swords. The squire, however, took no notice of their angry faces, but continued with his master’s message.

“He is now ready, sire,” he said, “albeit his destrier has travelled many miles this day, and fast, for we were in fear lest we come too late for the jousting.”

“Ye have indeed come too late,” said the prince, “seeing that the prize is about to be awarded; yet I doubt not that one of these gentlemen will run a course for the sake of honor with this cavalier of France.”

“And as to the prize, sire,” quoth Sir Nigel, “I am sure that I speak for all when I say this French knight hath our leave to bear it away with him if he can fairly win it.”

“Bear word of this to your master,” said the prince, “and ask him which of these five Englishmen he would desire to meet. But stay; your master bears no coat-armor, and we have not yet heard his name.”

“My master, sire, is under vow to the Virgin neither to reveal his name nor to open his vizor until he is back upon French ground once more.”

“Yet what assurance have we,” said the prince, “that this is not some varlet masquerading in his master’s harness, or some caitiff knight, the very touch of whose lance might bring infamy upon an honorable gentleman?”

“It is not so, sire,” cried the squire earnestly. “There is no man upon earth who would demean himself by breaking a lance with my master.”

“You speak out boldly, squire,” the prince answered; “but unless I have some further assurance of your master’s noble birth and gentle name I cannot match the choicest lances of my court against him.”

“You refuse, sire?”

“I do refuse.”

“Then, sire, I was bidden to ask you from my master whether you would consent if Sir John Chandos, upon hearing my master’s name, should assure you that he was indeed a man with whom you might yourself cross swords without indignity.”

“I ask no better,” said the prince.

“Then I must ask, Lord Chandos, that you will step forth. I have your pledge that the name shall remain ever a secret, and that you will neither say nor write one word which might betray it. The name is—-” He stooped down from his horse and whispered something into the old knight’s ear which made him start with surprise, and stare with much curiosity at the distant Knight, who was sitting his charger at the further end of the arena.

“Is this indeed sooth?” he exclaimed.

“It is, my lord, and I swear it by St. Ives of Brittany.”

“I might have known it,” said Chandos, twisting his moustache, and still looking thoughtfully at the cavalier.

“What then, Sir John?” asked the prince.

“Sire, this is a knight whom it is indeed great honor to meet, and I would that your grace would grant me leave to send my squire for my harness, for I would dearly love to run a course with him.

“Nay, nay, Sir John, you have gained as much honor as one man can bear, and it were hard if you could not rest now. But I pray you, squire, to tell your master that he is very welcome to our court, and that wines and spices will be served him, if he would refresh himself before jousting.”

“My master will not drink,” said the squire.

“Let him then name the gentleman with whom he would break a spear.”

“He would contend with these five knights, each to choose such weapons as suit him best.”

“I perceive,” said the prince, “that your master is a man of great heart and high of enterprise. But the sun already is low in the west, and there will scarce be light for these courses. I pray you, gentlemen, to take your places, that we may see whether this stranger’s deeds are as bold as his words.”

The unknown knight had sat like a statue of steel, looking neither to the right nor to the left during these preliminaries. He had changed from the horse upon which he had ridden, and bestrode the black charger which his squire had led beside him. His immense breadth, his stern composed appearance, and the mode in which he handled his shield and his lance, were enough in themselves to convince the thousands of critical spectators that he was a dangerous opponent. Aylward, who stood in the front row of the archers with Simon, big John, and others of the Company, had been criticising the proceedings from the commencement with the ease and freedom of a man who had spent his life under arms and had learned in a hard school to know at a glance the points of a horse and his rider. He stared now at the stranger with a wrinkled brow and the air of a man who is striving to stir his memory.

“By my hilt! I have seen the thick body of him before to-day. Yet I cannot call to mind where it could have been. At Nogent belike, or was it at Auray? Mark me, lads, this man will prove to be one of the best lances of France, and there are no better in the world.”

“It is but child’s play, this poking game,” said John. “I would fain try my hand at it, for, by the black rood! I think that it might be amended.”

“What then would you do, John?” asked several.

“There are many things which might be done,” said the forester thoughtfully. “Methinks that I would begin by breaking my spear.”

“So they all strive to do.”

“Nay, but not upon another man’s shield. I would break it over my own knee.”

“And what the better for that, old beef and bones?” asked Black Simon.

“So I would turn what is but a lady’s bodkin of a weapon into a very handsome club.”

“And then, John?”

“Then I would take the other’s spear into my arm or my leg, or where it pleased him best to put it, and I would dash out his brains with my club.”

“By my ten finger-bones! old John,” said Aylward, “I would give my feather-bed to see you at a spear-running. This is a most courtly and gentle sport which you have devised.”

“So it seems to me,” said John seriously. “Or, again, one might seize the other round the middle, pluck him off his horse and bear him to the pavilion, there to hold him to ransom.”

“Good!” cried Simon, amid a roar of laughter from all the archers round. “By Thomas of Kent I we shall make a camp-marshal of thee, and thou shalt draw up rules for our jousting. But, John, who is it that you would uphold in this knightly and pleasing fashion?”

“What mean you?”

“Why, John, so strong and strange a tilter must fight for the brightness of his lady’s eyes or the curve of her eyelash, even as Sir Nigel does for the Lady Loring.”

“I know not about that,” said the big archer, scratching his head in perplexity. “Since Mary hath played me false, I can scarce fight for her.”

“Yet any woman will serve.”

“There is my mother then,” said John. “She was at much pains at my upbringing, and, by my soul! I will uphold the curve of her eyelashes, for it tickleth my very heart-root to think of her. But who is here?”

“It is Sir William Beauchamp. He is a valiant man, but I fear that he is scarce firm enough upon the saddle to bear the thrust of such a tilter as this stranger promises to be.”

Aylward’s words were speedily justified, for even as he spoke the two knights met in the centre of the lists. Beauchamp struck his opponent a shrewd blow upon the helmet, but was met with so frightful a thrust that he whirled out of his saddle and rolled over and over upon the ground. Sir Thomas Percy met with little better success, for his shield was split, his vambrace torn and he himself wounded slightly in the side. Lord Audley and the unknown knight struck each other fairly upon the helmet; but, while the stranger sat as firm and rigid as ever upon his charger, the Englishman was bent back to his horse’s cropper by the weight of the blow, and had galloped half-way down the lists ere he could recover himself. Sir Thomas Wake was beaten to the ground with a battle-axe–that being the weapon which he had selected–and had to be carried to his pavilion. These rapid successes, gained one after the other over four celebrated warriors, worked the crowd up to a pitch of wonder and admiration. Thunders of applause from the English soldiers, as well as from the citizens and peasants, showed how far the love of brave and knightly deeds could rise above the rivalries of race.

“By my soul! John,” cried the prince, with his cheek flushed and his eyes shining, “this is a man of good courage and great hardiness. I could not have thought that there was any single arm upon earth which could have overthrown these four champions.”

“He is indeed, as I have said, sire, a knight from whom much honor is to be gained. But the lower edge of the sun is wet, and it will be beneath the sea ere long.”

“Here is Sir Nigel Loring, on foot and with his sword,” said the prince. “I have heard that he is a fine swordsman.”

“The finest in your army, sire,” Chandos answered. “Yet I doubt not that he will need all his skill this day.”

As he spoke, the two combatants advanced from either end in full armor with their two-handed swords sloping over their shoulders. The stranger walked heavily and with a measured stride, while the English knight advanced as briskly as though there was no iron shell to weigh down the freedom of his limbs. At four paces distance they stopped, eyed each other for a moment, and then in an instant fell to work with a clatter and clang as though two sturdy smiths were busy upon their anvils. Up and down went the long, shining blades, round and round they circled in curves of glimmering light, crossing, meeting, disengaging, with flash of sparks at every parry. Here and there bounded Sir Nigel, his head erect, his jaunty plume fluttering in the air, while his dark opponent sent in crashing blow upon blow, following fiercely up with cut and with thrust, but never once getting past the practised blade of the skilled swordsman. The crowd roared with delight as Sir Nigel would stoop his head to avoid a blow, or by some slight movement of his body allow some terrible thrust to glance harmlessly past him. Suddenly, however, his time came. The Frenchman, whirling up his sword, showed for an instant a chink betwixt his shoulder piece and the rerebrace which guarded his upper arm. In dashed Sir Nigel, and out again so swiftly that the eye could not follow the quick play of his blade, but a trickle of blood from the stranger’s shoulder, and a rapidly widening red smudge upon his white surcoat, showed where the thrust had taken effect. The wound was, however, but a slight one, and the Frenchman was about to renew his onset, when, at a sign from the prince, Chandos threw down his baton, and the marshals of the lists struck up the weapons and brought the contest to an end.

“It were time to check it,” said the prince, smiling, “for Sir Nigel is too good a man for me to lose, and, by the five holy wounds! if one of those cuts came home I should have fears for our champion. What think you, Pedro?”

“I think, Edward, that the little man was very well able to take care of himself. For my part, I should wish to see so well matched a pair fight on while a drop of blood remained in their veins.”

“We must have speech with him. Such a man must not go from my court without rest or sup. Bring him hither, Chandos, and, certes, if the Lord Loring hath resigned his claim upon this goblet, it is right and proper that this cavalier should carry it to France with him as a sign of the prowess that he has shown this day.”

As he spoke, the knight-errant, who had remounted his warhorse, galloped forward to the royal stand, with a silken kerchief bound round his wounded arm. The setting sun cast a ruddy glare upon his burnished arms, and sent his long black shadow streaming behind him up the level clearing. Pulling up his steed, he slightly inclined his head, and sat in the stern and composed fashion with which he had borne himself throughout, heedless of the applauding shouts and the flutter of kerchiefs from the long lines of brave men and of fair women who were looking down upon him.

“Sir knight,” said the prince, “we have all marvelled this day at this great skill and valor with which God has been pleased to endow you. I would fain that you should tarry at our court, for a time at least, until your hurt is healed and your horses rested..”

“My hurt is nothing, sire, nor are my horses weary,” returned the stranger in a deep, stern voice.

“Will you not at least hie back to Bordeaux with us, that you may drain a cup of muscadine and sup at our table?”

“I will neither drink your wine nor sit at your table,” returned the other. “I bear no love for you or for your race, and there is nought that I wish at your hands until the day when I see the last sail which bears you back to your island vanishing away against the western sky.”

“These are bitter words, sir knight,” said Prince Edward, with an angry frown.

“And they come from a bitter heart,” answered the unknown knight. “How long is it since there has been peace in my hapless country? Where are the steadings, and orchards, and vineyards, which made France fair? Where are the cities which made her great? From Providence to Burgundy we are beset by every prowling hireling in Christendom, who rend and tear the country which you have left too weak to guard her own marches. Is it not a by-word that a man may ride all day in that unhappy land without seeing thatch upon roof or hearing the crow of cock? Does not one fair kingdom content you, that you should strive so for this other one which has no love for you? Pardieu! a true Frenchman’s words may well be bitter, for bitter is his lot and bitter his thoughts as he rides through his thrice unhappy country.”

“Sir knight,” said the prince, “you speak like a brave man, and our cousin of France is happy in having a cavalier who is so fit to uphold his cause either with tongue or with sword. But if you think such evil of us, how comes it that you have trusted yourselves to us without warranty or safe-conduct?”

“Because I knew that you would be here, sire. Had the man who sits upon your right been ruler of this land, I had indeed thought twice before I looked to him for aught that was knightly or generous.” With a soldierly salute, he wheeled round his horse, and, galloping down the lists, disappeared amid the dense crowd of footmen and of horsemen who were streaming away from the scene of the tournament.

“The insolent villain!” cried Pedro, glaring furiously after him. “I have seen a man’s tongue torn from his jaws for less. Would it not be well even now, Edward, to send horsemen to hale him back? Bethink you that it may be one of the royal house of France, or at least some knight whose loss would be a heavy blow to his master. Sir William Felton, you are well mounted, gallop after the caitiff, I pray you.”

“Do so, Sir William,” said the prince, “and give him this purse of a hundred nobles as a sign of the respect which I bear for him; for, by St. George! he has served his master this day even as I would wish liegeman of mine to serve me.” So saying, the prince turned his back upon the King of Spain, and springing upon his horse, rode slowly homewards to the Abbey of Saint Andrew’s.

CHAPTER XXV.

HOW SIR NIGEL WROTE TO TWYNHAM CASTLE.

On the morning after the jousting, when Alleyne Edricson went, as was his custom, into his master’s chamber to wait upon him in his dressing and to curl his hair, he found him already up and very busily at work. He sat at a table by the window, a deer-hound on one side of him and a lurcher on the other, his feet tucked away under the trestle on which he sat, and his tongue in his cheek, with the air of a man who is much perplexed. A sheet of vellum lay upon the board in front of him, and he held a pen in his hand, with which he had been scribbling in a rude schoolboy hand. So many were the blots, however, and so numerous the scratches and erasures, that he had at last given it up in despair, and sat with his single uncovered eye cocked upwards at the ceiling, as one who waits upon inspiration.

“By Saint Paul!” he cried, as Alleyne entered, “you are the man who will stand by me in this matter. I have been in sore need of you, Alleyne.”

“God be with you, my fair lord!” the squire answered. “I trust that you have taken no hurt from all that you have gone through yesterday.”

“Nay; I feel the fresher for it, Alleyne. It has eased my joints, which were somewhat stiff from these years of peace. I trust, Alleyne, that thou didst very carefully note and mark the bearing and carriage of this knight of France; for it is time, now when you are young, that you should see all that is best, and mould your own actions in accordance. This was a man from whom much honor might be gained, and I have seldom met any one for whom I have conceived so much love and esteem. Could I but learn his name, I should send you to him with my cartel, that we might have further occasion to watch his goodly feats of arms.”

“It is said, my fair lord, that none know his name save only the Lord Chandos, and that he is under vow not to speak it. So ran the gossip at the squires’ table.”

“Be he who he might, he was a very hardy gentleman. But I have a task here, Alleyne, which is harder to me than aught that was set before me yesterday.”

“Can I help you, my lord?”

“That indeed you can. I have been writing my greetings to my sweet wife; for I hear that a messenger goes from the prince to Southampton within the week, and he would gladly take a packet for me. I pray you, Alleyne, to cast your eyes upon what I have written, and see it they are such words as my lady will understand. My fingers, as you can see, are more used to iron and leather than to the drawing of strokes and turning of letters. What then? Is there aught amiss, that you should stare so?”

“It is this first word, my lord. In what tongue were you pleased to write?”

“In English; for my lady talks it more than she doth French.

“Yet this is no English word, my sweet lord. Here are four t’s and never a letter betwixt them.”

“By St. Paul! it seemed strange to my eye when I wrote it,” said Sir Nigel. “They bristle up together like a clump of lances. We must break their ranks and set them farther apart. The word is `that.’ Now I will read it to you, Alleyne, and you shall write it out fair; for we leave Bordeaux this day, and it would be great joy to me to think that the Lady Loring had word from me.”

Alleyne sat down as ordered, with a pen in his hand and a fresh sheet of parchment before him, while Sir Nigel slowly spelled out his letter, running his forefinger on from word to word.

“That my heart is with thee, my dear sweeting, is what thine own heart will assure thee of. All is well with us here, save that Pepin hath the mange on his back, and Pommers hath scarce yet got clear of his stiffness from being four days on ship-board, and the more so because the sea was very high, and we were like to founder on account of a hole in her side, which was made by a stone cast at us by certain sea-rovers, who may the saints have in their keeping, for they have gone from amongst us, as has young Terlake, and two-score mariners and archers, who would be the more welcome here as there is like to be a very fine war, with much honor and all hopes of advancement, for which I go to gather my Company together, who are now at Montaubon, where they pillage and destroy; yet I hope that, by God’s help, I may be able to show that I am their master, even as, my sweet lady, I am thy servant.”

“How of that, Alleyne?” continued Sir Nigel, blinking at his squire, with an expression of some pride upon his face. “Have I not told her all that hath befallen us?”

“You have said much, my fair lord; and yet, if I may say so, it is somewhat crowded together, so that my Lady Loring can, mayhap, scarce follow it. Were it in shorter periods—-“

“Nay, it boots me not how you marshal them, as long as they are all there at the muster. Let my lady have the words, and she will place them in such order as pleases her best. But I would have you add what it would please her to know.”

“That will I,” said Alleyne, blithely, and bent to the task.

“My fair lady and mistress,” he wrote, “God hath had us in His keeping, and my lord is well and in good cheer. He hath won much honor at the jousting before the prince, when he alone was able to make it good against a very valiant man from France. Touching the moneys, there is enough and to spare until we reach Montaubon. Herewith, my fair lady, I send my humble regards, entreating you that you will give the same to your daughter, the Lady Maude. May the holy saints have you both in their keeping is ever the prayer of thy servant,

“ALLEYNE EDRICSON.”

“That is very fairly set forth,” said Sir Nigel, nodding his bald head as each sentence was read to him. “And for thyself, Alleyne, if there be any dear friend to whom you would fain give greeting, I can send it for thee within this packet.”

“There is none,” said Alleyne, sadly.

“Have you no kinsfolk, then?”

“None, save my brother.”

“Ha! I had forgotten that there was ill blood betwixt you. But are there none in all England who love thee?”

“None that I dare say so.”

“And none whom you love?”

“Nay, I will not say that,” said Alleyne.

Sir Nigel shook his head and laughed softly to himself, “I see how it is with you,” he said. “Have I not noted your frequent sighs and vacant eye? Is she fair?”

“She is indeed,” cried Alleyne from his heart, all tingling at this sudden turn of the talk.

“And good?”

“As an angel.”

“And yet she loves you not?”

“Nay, I cannot say that she loves another.”

“Then you have hopes?”

“I could not live else.”

“Then must you strive to be worthy of her love. Be brave and pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so, whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to be honored by a maiden’s love, which is, in sooth, the highest guerdon which a true knight can hope for.”

“Indeed, my lord, I do so strive,” said Alleyne; “but she is so sweet, so dainty, and of so noble a spirit, that I fear me that I shall never be worthy of her.”

“By thinking so you become worthy. Is she then of noble birth?”

“She is, my lord,” faltered Alleyne.

“Of a knightly house?”

“Yes.”

“Have a care, Alleyne, have a care!” said Sir Nigel, kindly. “The higher the steed the greater the fall. Hawk not at that which may be beyond thy flight.”

“My lord, I know little of the ways and usages of the world,” cried Alleyne, “but I would fain ask your rede upon the matter. You have known my father and my kin: is not my family one of good standing and repute?”

“Beyond all question.”

“And yet you warn me that I must not place my love too high.”

“Were Minstead yours, Alleyne, then, by St. Paul! I cannot think that any family in the land would not be proud to take you among them, seeing that you come of so old a strain. But while the Socman lives—-Ha, by my soul! if this is not Sir Oliver’s step I am the more mistaken.”

As he spoke, a heavy footfall was heard without, and the portly knight flung open the door and strode into the room.

“Why, my little coz,” said he, “I have come across to tell you that I live above the barber’s in the Rue de la Tour, and that there is a venison pasty in the oven and two flasks of the right vintage on the table. By St. James! a blind man might find the place, for one has but to get in the wind from it, and follow the savory smell. Put on your cloak, then, and come, for Sir Walter Hewett and Sir Robert Briquet, with one or two others, are awaiting us.”

“Nay, Oliver, I cannot be with you, for I must to Montaubon this day.”

“To Montaubon? But I have heard that your Company is to come with my forty Winchester rascals to Dax.”

“If you will take charge of them, Oliver. For I will go to Montaubon with none save my two squires and two archers. Then, when I have found the rest of my Company I shall lead them to Dax. We set forth this morning.”

“Then I must back to my pasty,” said Sir Oliver. “You will find us at Dax, I doubt not, unless the prince throw me into prison, for he is very wroth against me.”

“And why, Oliver?”

“Pardieu! because I have sent my cartel, gauntlet, and defiance to Sir John Chandos and to Sir William Felton.”

“To Chandos? In God’s name, Oliver, why have you done this?”

“Because he and the other have used me despitefully.”

“And how?”

“Because they have passed me over in choosing those who should joust for England. Yourself and Audley I could pass, coz, for you are mature men; but who are Wake, and Percy, and Beauchamp? By my soul! I was prodding for my food into a camp-kettle when they were howling for their pap. Is a man of my weight and substance to be thrown aside for the first three half-grown lads who have learned the trick of the tilt-yard? But hark ye, coz, I think of sending my cartel also to the prince.”

“Oliver! Oliver! You are mad!”

“Not I, i’ faith! I care not a denier whether he be prince or no. By Saint James! I see that your squire’s eyes are starting from his head like a trussed crab. Well, friend, we are all three men of Hampshire, and not lightly to be jeered at.”

“Has he jeered at you than?”

“Pardieu! yes, `Old Sir Oliver’s heart is still stout,’ said one of his court. `Else had it been out of keeping with the rest of him,’ quoth the prince. `And his arm is strong,’ said another. `So is the backbone of his horse,’ quoth the prince. This very day I will send him my cartel and defiance.”

“Nay, nay, my dear Oliver,” said Sir Nigel, laying his hand upon his angry friend’s arm. “There is naught in this, for it was but saying that you were a strong and robust man, who had need of a good destrier. And as to Chandos and Felton, bethink you that if when you yourself were young the older lances had ever been preferred, how would you then have had the chance to earn the good name and fame which you now bear? You do not ride as light as you did, Oliver, and I ride lighter by the weight of my hair, but it would be an ill thing if in the evening of our lives we showed that our hearts were less true and loyal than of old. If such a knight as Sir Oliver Buttesthorn may turn against his own prince for the sake of a light word, then where are we to look for steadfast faith and constancy?”

“Ah! my dear little coz, it is easy to sit in the sunshine and preach to the man in the shadow. Yet you could ever win me over to your side with that soft voice of yours. Let us think no more of it then. But, holy Mother! I had forgot the pasty, and it will be as scorched as Judas Iscariot! Come, Nigel, lest the foul fiend get the better of me again.”

“For one hour, then; for we march at mid-day. Tell Aylward, Alleyne, that he is to come with me to Montaubon, and to choose one archer for his comrade. The rest will to Dax when the prince starts, which will be before the feast of the Epiphany. Have Pommers ready at mid-day with my sycamore lance, and place my harness on the sumpter mule.”

With these brief directions, the two old soldiers strode off together, while Alleyne hastened to get all in order for their journey.

CHAPTER XXVI.

HOW THE THREE COMRADES GAINED A MIGHTY TREASURE

It was a bright, crisp winter’s day when the little party set off from Bordeaux on their journey to Montaubon, where the missing half of their Company had last been heard of. Sir Nigel and Ford had ridden on in advance, the knight upon his hackney, while his great war-horse trotted beside his squire. Two hours later Alleyne Edricson followed; for he had the tavern reckoning to settle, and many other duties which fell to him as squire of the body. With him came Aylward and Hordle John, armed as of old, but mounted for their journey upon a pair of clumsy Landes horses, heavy-headed and shambling, but of great endurance, and capable of jogging along all day, even when between the knees of the huge archer, who turned the scale at two hundred and seventy pounds. They took with them the sumpter mules, which carried in panniers the wardrobe and table furniture of Sir Nigel; for the knight, though neither fop nor epicure, was very dainty in small matters, and loved, however bare the board or hard the life, that his napery should still be white and his spoon of silver.

There had been frost during the night, and the white hard road rang loud under their horses’ irons as they spurred through the east gate of the town, along the same broad highway which the unknown French champion had traversed on the day of the jousts. The three rode abreast, Alleyne Edricson with his eyes cast down and his mind distrait, for his thoughts were busy with the conversation which he had had with Sir Nigel in the morning. Had he done well to say so much, or had he not done better to have said more? What would the knight have said had he confessed to his love for the Lady Maude? Would he cast him off in disgrace, or might he chide him as having abused the shelter of his roof? It had been ready upon his tongue to tell him all when Sir Oliver had broken in upon them. Perchance Sir Nigel, with his love of all the dying usages of chivalry, might have contrived some strange ordeal or feat of arms by which his love should be put to the test. Alleyne smiled as he wondered what fantastic and wondrous deed would be exacted from him. Whatever it was, he was ready for it, whether it were to hold the lists in the court of the King of Tartary, to carry a cartel to the Sultan of Baghdad, or to serve a term against the wild heathen of Prussia. Sir Nigel had said that his birth was high enough for any lady, if his fortune could but be amended. Often had Alleyne curled his lip at the beggarly craving for land or for gold which blinded man to the higher and more lasting issues of life. Now it seemed as though it were only by this same land and gold that he might hope to reach his heart’s desire. But then, again, the Socman of Minstead was no friend to the Constable of Twynham Castle. It might happen that, should he amass riches by some happy fortune of war, this feud might hold the two families aloof. Even if Maude loved him, he knew her too well to think that she would wed him without the blessing of her father. Dark and murky was it all, but hope mounts high in youth, and it ever fluttered over all the turmoil of his thoughts like a white plume amid the shock of horsemen.

If Alleyne Edricson had enough to ponder over as he rode through the bare plains of Guienne, his two companions were more busy with the present and less thoughtful of the future. Aylward rode for half a mile with his chin upon his shoulder, looking back at a white kerchief which fluttered out of the gable window of a high house which peeped over the corner of the battlements. When at last a dip of the road hid it from his view, he cocked his steel cap, shrugged his broad shoulders, and rode on with laughter in his eyes, and his weather-beaten face all ashine with pleasant memories. John also rode in silence, but his eyes wandered slowly from one side of the road to the other, and he stared and pondered and nodded his head like a traveller who makes his notes and saves them up for the re-telling.

“By the rood!” he broke out suddenly, slapping his thigh with his great red hand, “I knew that there was something a-missing, but I could not bring to my mind what it was.”

“What was it then?” asked Alleyne, coming with a start out of his reverie.

“Why, it is the hedgerows,” roared John, with a shout of laughter. “The country is all scraped as clear as a friar’s poll. But indeed I cannot think much of the folk in these parts. Why do they not get to work and dig up these long rows of black and crooked stumps which I see on every hand? A franklin of Hampshire would think shame to have such litter upon his soil.”

“Thou foolish old John!” quoth Aylward. “You should know better, since I have heard that the monks of Beaulieu could squeeze a good cup of wine from their own grapes. Know then that if these rows were dug up the wealth of the country would be gone, and mayhap there would be dry throats and gaping mouths in England, for in three months’ time these black roots will blossom and snoot and burgeon, and from them will come many a good ship-load of Medoc and Gascony which will cross the narrow seas. But see the church in the hollow, and the folk who cluster in the churchyard! By my hilt! it is a burial, and there is a passing bell!” He pulled off his steel cap as he spoke and crossed himself, with a muttered prayer for the repose of the dead.

“There too,” remarked Alleyne, as they rode on again, “that which seems to the eye to be dead is still full of the sap of life, even as the vines were. Thus God hath written Himself and His laws very broadly on all that is around us, if our poor dull eyes and duller souls could but read what He hath set before us.”

“Ha! mon petit,” cried the bowman, “you take me back to the days when you were new fledged, as sweet a little chick as ever pecked his way out of a monkish egg. I had feared that in gaining our debonair young man-at-arms we had lost our soft-spoken clerk. In truth, I have noted much change in you since we came from Twynham Castle.”

“Surely it would be strange else, seeing that I have lived in a world so new to me. Yet I trust that there are many things in which I have not changed. If I have turned to serve an earthly master, and to carry arms for an earthly king, it would be an ill thing if I were to lose all thought of the great high King and Master of all, whose humble and unworthy servant I was ere ever I left Beaulieu. You, John, are also from the cloisters, but I trow that you do not feel that you have deserted the old service in taking on the new.”

“I am a slow-witted man,” said John, “and, in sooth, when I try to think about such matters it casts a gloom upon me. Yet I do not look upon myself as a worse man in an archer’s jerkin than I was in a white cowl, if that be what you mean.”

“You have but changed from one white company to the other,” quoth Aylward. “But, by these ten finger-bones! it is a passing strange thing to me to think that it was but in the last fall of the leaf that we walked from Lyndhurst together, he so gentle and maidenly, and you, John, like a great red-limbed overgrown moon-calf; and now here you are as sprack a squire and as lusty an archer as ever passed down the highway from Bordeaux, while I am still the same old Samkin Aylward, with never a change, save that I have a few more sins on my soul and a few less crowns in my pouch. But I have never yet heard, John, what the reason was why you should come out of Beaulieu.”

“There were seven reasons,” said John thoughtfully. “The first of them was that they threw me out.”

“Ma foi! camarade, to the devil with the other six! That is enough for me and for thee also. I can see that they are very wise and discreet folk at Beaulieu. Ah! mon ange, what have you in the pipkin?”

“It is milk, worthy sir,” answered the peasant-maid, who stood by the door of a cottage with a jug in her hand. “Would it please you, gentles, that I should bring you out three horns of it?”

“Nay, ma petite, but here is a two-sous piece for thy kindly tongue and for the sight of thy pretty face. Ma foi! but she has a bonne mine. I have a mind to bide and speak with her.”

“Nay, nay, Aylward,” cried Alleyne. “Sir Nigel will await us, and he in haste.”

“True, true, camarade! Adieu, ma cherie! mon coeur est toujours a toi. Her mother is a well-grown woman also. See where she digs by the wayside. Ma foi! the riper fruit is ever the sweeter. Bon jour, ma belle dame! God have you in his keeping! Said Sir Nigel where he would await us?”

“At Marmande or Aiguillon. He said that we could not pass him, seeing that there is but the one road.”

“Aye, and it is a road that I know as I know the Midhurst parish butts,” quoth the bowman. “Thirty times have I journeyed it, forward and backward, and, by the twang of string! I am wont to come back this way more laden than I went. I have carried all that I had into France in a wallet, and it hath taken four sumpter-mules to carry it back again. God’s benison on the man who first turned his hand to the making of war! But there, down in the dingle, is the church of Cardillac, and you may see the inn where three poplars grow beyond the village. Let us on, for a stoup of wine would hearten us upon our way.”

The highway had lain through the swelling vineyard country, which stretched away to the north and east in gentle curves, with many a peeping spire and feudal tower, and cluster of village houses, all clear cut and hard in the bright wintry air. To their right stretched the blue Garonne, running swiftly seawards, with boats and barges dotted over its broad bosom. On the other side lay a strip of vineyard, and beyond it the desolate and sandy region of the Landes, all tangled with faded gorse and heath and broom, stretching away in unbroken gloom to the blue hills which lay low upon the furthest sky-line. Behind them might still be seen the broad estuary of the Gironde, with the high towers of Saint Andre and Saint Remi shooting up from the plain. In front, amid radiating lines of poplars, lay the riverside townlet of Cardillac–gray walls, white houses, and a feather of blue smoke.

“This is the `Mouton d’Or,'” said Aylward, as they pulled up their horses at a whitewashed straggling hostel. “What ho there!” he continued, beating upon the door with the hilt of his sword. “Tapster, ostler, varlet, hark hither, and a wannion on your lazy limbs! Ha! Michel, as red in the nose as ever! Three jacks of the wine of the country, Michel–for the air bites shrewdly. I pray you, Alleyne, to take note of this door, for I have a tale concerning it.”

“Tell me, friend,” said Alleyne to the portly red-faced inn-keeper, “has a knight and a squire passed this way within the hour?”

“Nay, sir, it would be two hours back. Was he a small man, weak in the eyes, with a want of hair, and speaks very quiet when he is most to be feared?”

“The same,” the squire answered. “But I marvel how you should know how he speaks when he is in wrath, for he is very gentle-minded with those who are beneath him.”

“Praise to the saints! it was not I who angered him,” said the fat Michel.

“Who, then?”

“It was young Sieur de Crespigny of Saintonge, who chanced to be here, and made game of the Englishman, seeing that he was but a small man and hath a face which is full of peace. But indeed this good knight was a very quiet and patient man, for he saw that the Sieur de Crespigny was still young and spoke from an empty head, so he sat his horse and quaffed his wine, even as you are doing now, all heedless of the clacking tongue.” And what then, Michel?”

“Well, messieurs, it chanced that the Sieur de Crespigny, having said this and that, for the laughter of the varlets, cried out at last about the glove that the knight wore in his coif, asking if it was the custom in England for a man to wear a great archer’s glove in his cap. Pardieu! I have never seen a man get off his horse as quick as did that stranger Englishman. Ere the words were past the other’s lips he was beside him, his face nigh touching, and his breath hot upon his cheeks. `I think, young sir,’ quoth he softly, looking into the other’s eyes, `that now that I am nearer you will very clearly see that the glove is not an archer’s glove.’ `Perchance not,’ said the Sieur de Crespigny with a twitching lip. `Nor is it large, but very small,’ quoth the Englishman. `Less large than I had thought,’ said the other, looking down, for the knight’s gaze was heavy upon his eyelids. `And in every way such a glove as might be worn by the fairest and sweetest lady in England,’ quoth the Englishman. `It may be so,’ said the Sieur de Crespigny, turning his face from him. `I am myself weak in the eyes, and have often taken one thing for another,’ quoth the knight, as he sprang back into his saddle and rode off, leaving the Sieur de Crespigny biting his nails before the door. Ha! by the five wounds, many men of war have drunk my wine, but never one was more to my fancy than this little Englishman.”

“By my hilt! he is our master, Michel,” quoth Aylward, “and such men as we do not serve under a laggart. But here are four deniers, Michel, and God be with you! En avant, camarades! for we have a long road before us.”

At a brisk trot the three friends left Cardillac and its wine-house behind them, riding without a halt past St. Macaire, and on by ferry over the river Dorpt. At the further side the road winds through La Reolle, Bazaille, and Marmande, with the sunlit river still gleaming upon the right, and the bare poplars bristling up upon either side. John and Alleyne rode silent on either side, but every inn, farm-steading, or castle brought back to Aylward some remembrance of love, foray, or plunder, with which to beguile the way.

“There is the smoke from Bazas, on the further side of Garonne,” quoth he. “There were three sisters yonder, the daughters of a farrier, and, by these ten finger-bones! a man might ride for a long June day and never set eyes upon such maidens. There was Marie, tall and grave, and Blanche petite and gay, and the dark Agnes, with eyes that went through you like a waxed arrow. I lingered there as long as four days, and was betrothed to them all; for it seemed shame to set one above her sisters, and might make ill blood in the family. Yet, for all my care, things were not merry in the house, and I thought it well to come away. There, too, is the mill of Le Souris. Old Pierre Le Caron, who owned it, was a right good comrade, and had ever a seat and a crust for a weary archer. He was a man who wrought hard at all that he turned his hand to; but he heated himself in grinding bones to mix with his flour, and so through over-diligence he brought a fever upon himself and died.”

“Tell me, Aylward,” said Alleyne, “what was amiss with the door of yonder inn that you should ask me to observe it.”

“Pardieu! yes, I had well-nigh forgot. What saw you on yonder door?”

“I saw a square hole, through which doubtless the host may peep when he is not too sure of those who knock.”

“And saw you naught else?”

“I marked that beneath this hole there was a deep cut in the door, as though a great nail had been driven in.”

“And naught else?”

“No.”

“Had you looked more closely you might have seen that there was a stain upon the wood. The first time that I ever heard my comrade Black Simon laugh was in front of that door. I heard him once again when he slew a French squire with his teeth, he being unarmed and the Frenchman having a dagger.”

“And why did Simon laugh in front of the inn-door!” asked John.

“Simon is a hard and perilous man when he hath the bitter drop in him; and, by my hilt! he was born for war, for there is little sweetness or rest in him. This inn, the `Mouton d’Or,’ was kept in the old days by one Francois Gourval, who had a hard fist and a harder heart. It was said that many and many an archer coming from the wars had been served with wine with simples in it, until he slept, and had then been stripped of all by this Gourval. Then on the morrow, if he made complaint, this wicked Gourval would throw him out upon the road or beat him, for he was a very lusty man, and had many stout varlets in his service. This chanced to come to Simon’s ears when we were at Bordeaux together, and he would have it that we should ride to Cardillac with a good hempen cord, and give this Gourval such a scourging as he merited. Forth we rode then, but when we came to the Mouton d’Or,’ Gourval had had word of our coming and its purpose, so that the door was barred, nor was there any way into the house. `Let us in, good Master Gourval!’ cried Simon, and `Let us in, good Master Gourval!’ cried I, but no word could we get through the hole in the door, save that he would draw an arrow upon us unless we went on our way. `Well, Master Gourval,’ quoth Simon at last, `this is but a sorry welcome, seeing that we have ridden so far just to shake you by the hand.’ `Canst shake me by the hand without coming in,’ said Gourval. `And how that?’ asked Simon. `By passing in your hand through the hole,’ said he. `Nay, my hand is wounded,’ quoth Simon, `and of such a size that I cannot pass it in.’ `That need not hinder,’ said Gourval, who was hot to be rid of us, `pass in your left hand.’ `But I have something for thee, Gourval,’ said Simon. `What then?’ he asked. `There was an English archer who slept here last week of the name of Hugh of Nutbourne.’ `We have had many rogues here,’ said Gourval. `His conscience hath been heavy within him because he owes you a debt of fourteen deniers, having drunk wine for which he hath never paid. For the easing of his soul, he asked me to pay the money to you as I passed.’ Now this Gourval was very greedy for money, so he thrust forth his hand for the fourteen deniers, but Simon had his dagger ready and he pinned his hand to the door. `I have paid the Englishman’s debt, Gourval!’ quoth he, and so rode away, laughing so that he could scarce sit his horse, leaving mine host still nailed to his door. Such is the story of the hole which you have marked, and of the smudge upon the wood. I have heard that from that time English archers have been better treated in the auberge of Cardillac. But what have we here by the wayside?”

“It appears to be a very holy man,” said Alleyne.

“And, by the rood! he hath some strange wares,” cried John. “What are these bits of stone, and of wood, and rusted nails, which are set out in front of him?”

The man whom they had remarked sat with his back against a cherry-tree, and his legs shooting out in front of him, like one who is greatly at his ease. Across his thighs was a wooden board, and scattered over it all manner of slips of wood and knobs of brick and stone, each laid separate from the other, as a huckster places his wares. He was dressed in a long gray gown, and wore a broad hat of the same color, much weather-stained, with three scallop-shells dangling from the brim. As they approached, the travellers observed that he was advanced in years, and that his eyes were upturned and yellow.

“Dear knights and gentlemen,” he cried in a high crackling voice, “worthy Christian cavaliers, will ye ride past and leave an aged pilgrim to die of hunger? The sight hast been burned from mine eyes by the sands of the Holy Land, and I have had neither crust of bread nor cup of wine these two days past.”

“By my hilt! father,” said Aylward, looking keenly at him, “it is a marvel to me that thy girdle should have so goodly a span and clip thee so closely, if you have in sooth had so little to place within it.”

“Kind stranger,” answered the pilgrim, “you have unwittingly spoken words which are very grievous to me to listen to. Yet I should be loth to blame you, for I doubt not that what you said was not meant to sadden me, nor to bring my sore affliction back to my mind. It ill becomes me to prate too much of what I have endured for the faith, and yet, since you have observed it, I must tell you that this thickness and roundness of the waist is caused by a dropsy brought on by over-haste in journeying from the house of Pilate to the Mount of Olives.”

“There, Aylward,” said Alleyne, with a reddened cheek, “let that curb your blunt tongue. How could you bring a fresh pang to this holy man, who hath endured so much and hath journeyed as far as Christ’s own blessed tomb?”

“May the foul fiend strike me dumb!” cried the bowman in hot repentance; but both the palmer and Alleyne threw up their hands to stop him.

“I forgive thee from my heart, dear brother,” piped the blind man. “But, oh, these wild words of thine are worse to mine ears than aught which you could say of me.”

“Not another word shall I speak,” said Aylward; “but here is a franc for thee and I crave thy blessing.”

“And here is another,” said Alleyne.

“And another,” cried Hordle John.

But the blind palmer would have none of their alms. “Foolish, foolish pride!” he cried, beating upon his chest with his large brown hand. “Foolish, foolish pride! How long then will it be ere I can scourge it forth? Am I then never to conquer it? Oh, strong, strong are the ties of flesh, and hard it is to subdue the spirit! I come, friends, of a noble house, and I cannot bring myself to touch this money, even though it be to save me from the grave.”

“Alas! father,” said Alleyne, “how then can we be of help to thee?”

“I had sat down here to die,” quoth the palmer; “but for many years I have carried in my wallet these precious things which you see set forth now before me. It were sin, thought I, that my secret should perish with me. I shall therefore sell these things to the first worthy passers-by, and from them I shall have money enough to take me to the shrine of Our Lady at Rocamadour, where I hope to lay these old bones.”

“What are these treasures, then, father?” asked Hordle John. “I can but see an old rusty nail, with bits of stone and slips of wood.”

“My friend,” answered the palmer, “not all the money that is in this country could pay a just price for these wares of mine. This nail,” he continued, pulling off his hat and turning up his sightless orbs, “is one of those wherewith man’s salvation was secured. I had it, together with this piece of the true rood, from the five-and-twentieth descendant of Joseph of Arimathea, who still lives in Jerusalem alive and well, though latterly much afflicted by boils. Aye, you may well cross yourselves, and I beg that you will not breathe upon it or touch it with your fingers.”

“And the wood and stone, holy father?” asked Alleyne, with bated breath, as he stared awe-struck at his precious relics.

“This cantle of wood is from the true cross, this other from Noah his ark, and the third is from the door-post of the temple of the wise King Solomon. This stone was thrown at the sainted Stephen, and the other two are from the Tower of Babel. Here, too, is part of Aaron’s rod, and a lock of hair from Elisha the prophet.”

“But, father,” quoth Alleyne, “the holy Elisha was bald, which brought down upon him the revilements of the wicked children.”

“It is very true that he had not much hair,” said the palmer quickly, “and it is this which makes this relic so exceeding precious. Take now your choice of these, my worthy gentlemen, and pay such a price as your consciences will suffer you to offer; for I am not a chapman nor a huckster, and I would never part with them, did I not know that I am very near to my reward.”

“Aylward,” said Alleyne excitedly, “This is such a chance as few folk have twice in one life. The nail I must have, and I will give it to the abbey of Beaulieu, so that all the folk in England may go thither to wonder and to pray.”

“And I will have the stone from the temple,” cried Hordle John. “What would not my old mother give to have it hung over her bed?”

“And I will have Aaron’s rod,” quoth Aylward. “I have but five florins in the world, and here are four of them.”

“Here are three more,” said John.

“And here are five more,” added Alleyne. “Holy father, I hand you twelve florins, which is all that we can give, though we well know how poor a pay it is for the wondrous things which you sell us.”

“Down, pride, down!” cried the pilgrim, still beating upon his chest. “Can I not bend myself then to take this sorry sum which is offered me for that which has cost me the labors of a life. Give me the dross! Here are the precious relics, and, oh, I pray you that you will handle them softly and with reverence, else had I rather left my unworthy bones here by the wayside.”

With doffed caps and eager hands, the comrades took their new and precious possessions, and pressed onwards upon their journey, leaving the aged palmer still seated under the cherry-tree. They rode in silence, each with his treasure in his hand, glancing at it from time to time, and scarce able to believe that chance had made them sole owners of relics of such holiness and worth that every abbey and church in Christendom would have bid eagerly for their possession. So they journeyed, full of this good fortune, until opposite the town of Le Mas, where John’s horse cast a shoe, and they were glad to find a wayside smith who might set the matter to rights. To him Aylward narrated the good hap which had befallen them; but the smith, when his eyes lit upon the relics, leaned up against his anvil and laughed, with his hand to his side, until the tears hopped down his sooty cheeks.

“Why, masters,” quoth he, “this man is a coquillart, or seller of false relics, and was here in the smithy not two hours ago. This nail that he hath sold you was taken from my nail-box, and as to the wood and the stones, you will see a heap of both outside from which he hath filled his scrip.”

“Nay, nay,” cried Alleyne, “this was a holy man who had journeyed to Jerusalem, and acquired a dropsy by running from the house of Pilate to the Mount of Olives.”

“I know not about that,” said the smith; “but I know that a man with a gray palmer’s hat and gown was here no very long time ago, and that he sat on yonder stump and ate a cold pullet and drank a flask of wine. Then he begged from me one of my nails, and filling his scrip with stones, he went upon his way. Look at these nails, and see if they are not the same as that which he has sold you.”

“Now may God save us!” cried Alleyne, all aghast. “Is there no end then to the wickedness of humankind? He so humble, so aged, so loth to take our money–and yet a villain and a cheat. Whom can we trust or believe in?”

“I will after him,” said Aylward, flinging himself into the saddle. “Come, Alleyne, we may catch him ere John’s horse be shod.”

Away they galloped together, and ere long they saw the old gray palmer walking slowly along in front of them. He turned, however, at the sound of their hoofs, and it was clear that his blindness was a cheat like all the rest of him, for he ran swiftly through a field and so into a wood, where none could follow him. They hurled their relics after him, and so rode back to the blacksmith’s the poorer both in pocket and in faith.

CHAPTER XXVII.

HOW ROGER CLUB-FOOT WAS PASSED INTO PARADISE.

It was evening before the three comrades came into Aiguillon, There they found Sir Nigel Loring and Ford safely lodged at the sign of the “Baton Rouge,” where they supped on good fare and slept between lavender-scented sheets. It chanced, however, that a knight of Poitou, Sir Gaston d’Estelle, was staying there on his way back from Lithuania, where he had served a term with the Teutonic knights under the land-master of the presbytery of Marienberg. He and Sir Nigel sat late in high converse as to bushments, outfalls, and the intaking of cities, with many tales of warlike men and valiant deeds. Then their talk turned to minstrelsy, and the stranger knight drew forth a cittern, upon which he played the minne-lieder of the north, singing the while in a high cracked voice of Hildebrand and Brunhild and Siegfried, and all the strength and beauty of the land of Almain. To this Sir Nigel answered with the romances of Sir Eglamour, and of Sir Isumbras, and so through the long winter night they sat by the crackling wood-fire answering each other’s songs until the crowing cocks joined in their concert. Yet, with scarce an hour of rest, Sir Nigel was as blithe and bright as ever as they set forth after breakfast upon their way.

“This Sir Gaston is a very worthy man,” said he to his squires as they rode from the “Baton Rouge.” “He hath a very strong desire to advance himself, and would have entered upon some small knightly debate with me, had he not chanced to have his arm-bone broken by the kick of a horse. I have conceived a great love for him, and I have promised him that when his bone is mended I will exchange thrusts with him. But we must keep to this road upon the left.”

“Nay, my fair lord,” quoth Aylward. “The road to Montaubon is over the river, and so through Quercy and the Agenois.”

“True, my good Aylward; but I have learned from this worthy knight, who hath come over the French marches, that there is a company of Englishmen who are burning and plundering in the country round Villefranche. I have little doubt, from what he says, that they are those whom we seek.”

“By my hilt! it is like enough,” said Aylward. “By all accounts they had been so long at Montaubon, that there would be little there worth the taking. Then as they have already been in the south, they would come north to the country of the Aveyron.”

“We shall follow the Lot until we come to Cahors, and then cross the marches into Villefranche,” said Sir Nigel. “By St. Paul! as we are but a small band, it is very likely that we may have some very honorable and pleasing adventure, for I hear that there is little peace upon the French border.”

All morning they rode down a broad and winding road, barred with the shadows of poplars. Sir Nigel rode in front with his squires, while the two archers followed behind with the sumpter mule between them. They had left Aiguillon and the Garonne far to the south, and rode now by the tranquil Lot, which curves blue and placid through a gently rolling country. Alleyne could not but mark that, whereas in Guienne there had been many townlets and few castles, there were now many castles and few houses. On either hand gray walls and square grim keeps peeped out at every few miles from amid the forests while the few villages which they passed were all ringed round with rude walls, which spoke of the constant fear and sudden foray of a wild frontier land. Twice during the morning there came bands of horsemen swooping down upon them from the black gateways of wayside strongholds, with short, stern questions as to whence they came and what their errand. Bands of armed men clanked along the highway, and the few lines of laden mules which carried the merchandise of the trader were guarded by armed varlets, or by archers hired for the service.

“The peace of Bretigny hath not made much change in these parts,” quoth Sir Nigel, “for the country is overrun with free companions and masterless men. Yonder towers, between the wood and the hill, mark the town of Cahors, and beyond it is the land of France. But here is a man by the wayside, and as he hath two horses and a squire I make little doubt that he is a knight. I pray you, Alleyne, to give him greeting from me, and to ask him for his titles and coat-armor. It may be that I can relieve him of some vow, or perchance he hath a lady whom he would wish to advance.”

“Nay, my fair lord,” said Alleyne, “these are not horses and a squire, but mules and a varlet. The man is a mercer, for he hath a great bundle beside him.”

“Now, God’s blessing on your honest English voice!” cried the stranger, pricking up his ears at the sound of Alleyne’s words. “Never have I heard music that was so sweet to mine ear. Come, Watkin lad, throw the bales over Laura’s back! My heart was nigh broke, for it seemed that I had left all that was English behind me, and that I would never set eyes upon Norwich market square again.” He was a tall, lusty, middle-aged man with a ruddy face, a brown forked beard shot with gray, and a broad Flanders hat set at the back of his head. His servant, as tall as himself, but gaunt and raw-boned, had swung the bales on the back of one mule, while the merchant mounted upon the other and rode to join the party. It was easy to see, as he approached, from the quality of his dress and the richness of his trappings, that he was a man of some wealth and position.

“Sir knight,” said he, “my name is David Micheldene, and I am a burgher and alderman of the good town of Norwich, where I live five doors from the church of Our Lady, as all men know on the banks of Yare. I have here my bales of cloth which I carry to Cahors–woe worth the day that ever I started on such an errand! I crave your gracious protection upon the way for me, my servant, and my mercery; for I have already had many perilous passages, and have now learned that Roger Club-foot, the robber-knight of Quercy, is out upon the road in front of me. I hereby agree to give you one rose-noble if you bring me safe to the inn of the `Angel’ in Cahors, the same to be repaid to me or my heirs if any harm come to me or my goods.”

“By Saint Paul!” answered Sir Nigel, “I should be a sorry knight if I ask pay for standing by a countryman in a strange land. You may ride with me and welcome, Master Micheldene, and your varlet may follow with my archers.”

“God’s benison upon thy bounty!” cried the stranger. “Should you come to Norwich you may have cause to remember that you have been of service to Alderman Micheldene. It is not very far to Cahors, for surely I see the cathedral towers against the sky-line; but I have heard much of this Roger Clubfoot, and the more I hear the less do I wish to look upon his face. Oh, but I am sick and weary of it all, and I would give half that I am worth to see my good dame sitting in peace beside me, and to hear the bells of Norwich town.”

“Your words are strange to me,” quoth Sir Nigel, “for you have the appearance of a stout man, and I see that you wear a sword by your side.”

“Yet it is not my trade,” answered the merchant. “I doubt not that if I set you down in my shop at Norwich you might scarce tell fustian from falding, and know little difference between the velvet of Genoa and the three-piled cloth of Bruges. There you might well turn to me for help. But here on a lone roadside, with thick woods and robber-knights, I turn to you, for it is the business to which you have been reared.”

“There is sooth in what you say, Master Micheldene,” said Sir Nigel, “and I trust that we may come upon this Roger Clubfoot, for I have heard that he is a very stout and skilful soldier, and a man from whom much honor is to be gained.”

“He is a bloody robber,” said the trader, curtly, “and I wish I saw him kicking at the end of a halter.”

“It is such men as he,” Sir Nigel remarked, “who give the true knight honorable deeds to do, whereby he may advance himself.”

“It is such men as he,” retorted Micheldene, “who are like rats in a wheat-rick or moths in a woolfels, a harm and a hindrance to all peaceful and honest men.”

“Yet, if the dangers of the road weigh so heavily upon you, master alderman, it is a great marvel to me that you should venture so far from home.”

“And sometimes, sir knight, it is a marvel to myself. But I am a man who may grutch and grumble, but when I have set my face to do a thing I will not turn my back upon it until it be done. There is one, Francois Villet, at Cahors, who will send me wine-casks for my cloth-bales, so to Cahors I will go, though all the robber-knights of Christendom were to line the roads like yonder poplars.”

“Stoutly spoken, master alderman! But how have you fared hitherto?”

“As a lamb fares in a land of wolves. Five times we have had to beg and pray ere we could pass. Twice I have paid toll to the wardens of the road. Three times we have had to draw, and once at La Reolle we stood seer our wool-bales, Watkin and I, and we laid about us for as long as a man might chant a litany, slaying one rogue and wounding two others. By God’s coif! we are men of peace, but we are free English burghers, not to be mishandled either in our country or abroad. Neither lord, baron, knight, or commoner shall have as much as a strike of flax of mine whilst I have strength to wag this sword.”

“And a passing strange sword it is,” quoth Sir Nigel. “What make you, Alleyne, of these black lines which are drawn across the sheath?”

“I cannot tell what they are, my fair lord.”

“Nor can I,” said Ford.

The merchant chuckled to himself. “It was a thought of mine own,” said he; “for the sword was made by Thomas Wilson, the armorer, who is betrothed to my second daughter Margery. Know then that the sheath is one cloth-yard, in length, marked off according to feet and inches to serve me as a measuring wand. It is also of the exact weight of two pounds, so that I may use it in the balance.”

“By Saint Paul!” quoth Sir Nigel, “it is very clear to me that the sword is like thyself, good alderman, apt either for war or for peace. But I doubt not that even in England you have had much to suffer from the hands of robbers and outlaws.”

“It was only last Lammastide, sir knight, that I was left for dead near Reading as I journeyed to Winchester fair. Yet I had the rogues up at the court of pie-powder, and they will harm no more peaceful traders.”

“You travel much then!”

“To Winchester, Linn mart, Bristol fair, Stourbridge, and Bartholomew’s in London Town. The rest of the year you may ever find me five doors from the church of Our Lady, where I would from my heart that I was at this moment, for there is no air like Norwich air, and no water like the Yare, nor can all the wines of France compare with the beer of old Sam Yelverton who keeps the `Dun Cow.’ But, out and alack, here is an evil fruit which hangs upon this chestnut-tree!”

As he spoke they had ridden round a curve of the road and come upon a great tree which shot one strong brown branch across their path. From the centre of this branch there hung a man, with his head at a horrid slant to his body and his toes just touching the ground. He was naked save for a linen under shirt and pair of woollen drawers. Beside him on a green bank there sat a small man with a solemn face, and a great bundle of papers of all colors thrusting forth from the scrip which lay beside him. He was very richly dressed, with furred robes, a scarlet hood, and wide hanging sleeves lined with flame-colored silk. A great gold chain hung round his neck, and rings glittered from every finger of his hands. On his lap he had a little pile of gold and of silver, which he was dropping, coin by coin, into a plump pouch which hung from his girdle.

“May the saints be with you, good travellers!” he shouted, as the party rode up. “May the four Evangelists watch over you! May the twelve Apostles bear you up! May the blessed army of martyrs direct your feet and lead you to eternal bliss!”

“Gramercy for these good wishes!” said Sir Nigel. “But I perceive, master alderman, that this man who hangs here is, by mark of foot, the very robber-knight of whom we have spoken. But there is a cartel pinned upon his breast, and I pray you, Alleyne, to read it to me.”

The dead robber swung slowly to and fro in the wintry wind, a fixed smile upon his swarthy face, and his bulging eyes still glaring down the highway of which he had so long been the terror; on a sheet of parchment upon his breast was printed in rude characters;

ROGER PIED-BOT.

Par l’ordre du Senechal de
Castelnau, et de l’Echevin de Cahors, servantes fideles du
tres vaillant et tres puissant Edouard, Prince de Galles et
d’Aquitaine.
Ne touchez pas,
Ne coutez pas,
Ne depechez pas

“He took a sorry time in dying,” said the man who sat beside him. “He could stretch one toe to the ground and bear him self up, so that I thought he would never have done. Now at last, however, he is safely in paradise, and so I may jog on upon my earthly way.” He mounted, as he spoke, a white mule which had been grazing by the wayside, all gay with fustian of gold and silver bells, and rode onward with Sir Nigel’s party.

“How know you then that he is in paradise?” asked Sir Nigel. “All things are possible to God, but, certes, without a miracle, I should scarce expect to find the soul of Roger Clubfoot amongst the just.”

“I know that he is there because I have just passed him in there,” answered the stranger, rubbing his bejewelled hands together in placid satisfaction. “It is my holy mission to be a sompnour or pardoner. I am the unworthy servant and delegate of him who holds the keys. A contrite heart and ten nobles to holy mother Church may stave off perdition; but he hath a pardon of the first degree, with a twenty-five livre benison, so that I doubt if he will so much as feel a twinge of purgatory. I came up even as the seneschal’s archers were tying him up, and I gave him my fore-word that I would bide with him until he had passed. There were two leaden crowns among the silver, but I would not for that stand in the way of his salvation.”

“By Saint Paul!” said Sir Nigel, “if you have indeed this power to open and to shut the gates of hope, then indeed you stand high above mankind. But if you do but claim to have it, and yet have it not, then it seems to me, master clerk, that you may yourself find the gate barred when you shall ask admittance.”

“Small of faith! Small of faith!” cried the sompnour. “Ah, Sir Didymus yet walks upon earth! And yet no words of doubt can bring anger to mine heart, or a bitter word to my lip, for am I not a poor unworthy worker in the cause of gentleness and peace? Of all these pardons which I bear every one is stamped and signed by our holy father, the prop and centre of Christendom.”

“Which of them?” asked Sir Nigel.

“Ha, ha!” cried the pardoner, shaking a jewelled forefinger. “Thou wouldst be deep in the secrets of mother Church? Know then that I have both in my scrip. Those who hold with Urban shall have Urban’s pardon, while I have Clement’s for the Clementist–or he who is in doubt may have both, so that come what may he shall be secure. I pray you that you will buy one, for war is bloody work, and the end is sudden with little time for thought or shrift. Or you, sir, for you seem to me to be a man who would do ill to trust to your own merits.” This to the alderman of Norwich, who had listened to him with a frowning brow and a sneering lip.

“When I sell my cloth,” quoth he, “he who buys may weigh and feel and handle. These goods which you sell are not to be seen, nor is there any proof that you hold them. Certes, if mortal man might control God’s mercy, it would be one of a lofty and God-like life, and not one who is decked out with rings and chains and silks, like a pleasure-wench at a kermesse.

“Thou wicked and shameless man!” cried the clerk. “Dost thou dare to raise thy voice against the unworthy servant of mother Church?”

“Unworthy enough!” quoth David Micheldene. “I would have you to know, clerk, that I am a free English burgher, and that I dare say my mind to our father the Pope himself, let alone such a lacquey’s lacquey as you!”

“Base-born and foul-mouthed knave!” cried the sompnour. “You prate of holy things, to which your hog’s mind can never rise. Keep silence, lest I call a curse upon you!”

“Silence yourself!” roared the other. “Foul bird! we found thee by the gallows like a carrion-crow. A fine life thou hast of it with thy silks and thy baubles, cozening the last few shillings from the pouches of dying men. A fig for thy curse! Bide here, if you will take my rede, for we will make England too hot for such as you, when Master Wicliff has the ordering of it. Thou vile thief! it is you, and such as you, who bring an evil name upon the many churchmen who lead a pure and a holy life. Thou outside the door of heaven! Art more like to be inside the door of hell.”

At this crowning insult the sompnour, with a face ashen with rage, raised up a quivering hand and began pouring Latin imprecations upon the angry alderman. The latter, however, was not a man to be quelled by words, for he caught up his ell-measure sword-sheath and belabored the cursing clerk with it. The latter, unable to escape from the shower of blows, set spurs to his mule and rode for his life, with his enemy thundering behind him. At sight of his master’s sudden departure, the varlet Watkin set off after him, with the pack-mule beside him, so that the four clattered away down the road together, until they swept round a curve and their babble was but a drone in the distance. Sir Nigel and Alleyne gazed in astonishment at one another, while Ford burst out a-laughing.

“Pardieu!” said the knight, “this David Micheldene must be one of those Lollards about whom Father Christopher of the priory had so much to say. Yet he seemed to be no bad man from what I have seen of him.”

“I have heard that Wicliff hath many followers in Norwich,” answered Alleyne.

“By St. Paul! I have no great love for them,” quoth Sir Nigel. “I am a man who am slow to change; and, if you take away from me the faith that I have been taught, it would be long ere I could learn one to set in its place. It is but a chip here and a chip there, yet it may bring the tree down in time. Yet, on the other hand, I cannot but think it shame that a man should turn God’s mercy on and off, as a cellarman doth wine with a spigot.”

“Nor is it,” said Alleyne, “part of the teachings of that mother Church of which he had so much to say. There was sooth in what the alderman said of it.”

“Then, by St. Paul! they may settle it betwixt them,” quoth Sir Nigel. “For me, I serve God, the king and my lady; and so long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content. My creed shall ever be that of Chandos:

“Fais ce que dois–adviegne que peut, C’est commande au chevalier.”

CHAPTER XXVIII.

HOW THE COMRADES CAME OVER THE MARCHES OF FRANCE

After passing Cahors, the party branched away from the main road, and leaving the river to the north of them, followed a smaller track which wound over a vast and desolate plain. This path led them amid marshes and woods, until it brought them out into a glade with a broad stream swirling swiftly down the centre of it. Through this the horses splashed their way, and on the farther shore Sir Nigel announced to them that they were now within the borders of the land of France. For some miles they still followed the same lonely track, which led them through a dense wood, and then widening out, curved down to an open rolling country, such as they had traversed between Aiguillon and