Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 8
"By Saint Paul!" said he, "I never thought to find honorable
advancement under the roof of an abbey, but perchance there may,
be some room for it ere you hale me to your prison."
The chapter-house was in an uproar. Never in the long and
decorous history of the Abbey had such a scene been witnessed
within its walls. The monks themselves seemed for an instant to
be infected by this spirit of daring revolt. Their own lifelong
fetters hung more loosely as they viewed this unheard-of defiance
of authority. They broke from their seats on either side and
huddled half-scared, half-fascinated, in a large half-circle round
the defiant captive, chattering, pointing, grimacing, a scandal
for all time. Scourges should fall and penance be done for many a
long week before the shadow of that day should pass from Waverley.
But meanwhile there was no effort to bring them back to their
rule. Everything was chaos and disorder. The Abbot had left his
seat of justice and hurried angrily forward, to be engulfed and
hustled in the crowd of his own monks like a sheep-dog who finds
himself entangled amid a flock.
Only the sacrist stood clear. He had taken shelter behind the
half-dozen archers, who looked with some approval and a good deal
of indecision at this bold fugitive from justice.
"On him!" cried the sacrist. "Shall he defy the authority of the
court, or shall one man hold six of you at bay? Close in upon him
and seize him. You, Baddlesmere, why do you hold back?"
The man in question, a tall bushy-bearded fellow, clad like the
others in green jerkin and breeches with high brown boots,
advanced slowly, sword in hand, against Nigel. His heart was not
in the business, for these clerical courts were not popular, and
everyone had a tender heart for the fallen fortunes of the house
of Loring and wished well to its young heir.
"Come, young sir, you have caused scathe enough," said he. "Stand
forth and give yourself up!"
"Come and fetch me, good fellow," said Nigel, with a dangerous
The archer ran in. There was a rasp of steel, a blade flickered
like a swift dart of flame, and the man staggered back, with blood
running down his forearm and dripping from his fingers. He wrung
them and growled a Saxon oath.
"By the black rood of Bromeholm!" he cried, "I had as soon put my
hand down a fox's earth to drag up a vixen from her cubs."
"Standoff!" said Nigel curtly. "I would not hurt you; but by
Saint Paul! I will not be handled, or some one will be hurt in
So fierce was his eye and so menacing his blade as he crouched in
the narrow bay of the window that the little knot of archers were
at a loss what to do. The Abbot had forced his way through the
crowd and stood, purple with outraged dignity, at their side.
"He is outside the law," said he. "He hath shed blood in a court
of justice, and for such a sin there is no forgiveness. I will
not have my court so flouted and set at naught. He who draws the
sword, by the sword also let him perish. Forester Hugh lay a
shaft to your bow!"
The man, who was one of the Abbey's lay servants, put his weight
upon his long bow and slipped the loose end of the string into the
upper notch. Then, drawing one of the terrible three-foot arrows,
steel-tipped and gaudily winged, from his waist, he laid it to the
"Now draw your bow and hold it ready!" cried the furious Abbot.
"Squire Nigel, it is not for Holy Church to shed blood, but there
is naught but violence which will prevail against the violent, and
on your head be the sin. Cast down the sword which you hold in
"Will you give me freedom to leave your Abbey?"
"When you have abided your sentence and purged your sin."
"Then I had rather die where I stand than give up my sword."
A dangerous flame lit in the Abbot's eyes. He came of a fighting
Norman stock, like so many of those fierce prelates who, bearing a
mace lest they should be guilty of effusion of blood, led their
troops into battle, ever remembering that it was one of their own
cloth and dignity who, crosier in hand, had turned the long-drawn
bloody day of Hastings. The soft accent of the churchman was gone
and it was the hard voice of a soldier which said -
"One minute I give you, and no more. Then when I cry 'Loose!'
drive me an arrow through his body."
The shaft was fitted, the bow was bent, and the stern eyes of the
woodman were fixed on his mark. Slowly the minute passed, while
Nigel breathed a prayer to his three soldier saints, not that they
should save his body in this life, but that they should have a
kindly care for his soul in the next. Some thought of a fierce
wildcat sally crossed his mind, but once out of his corner he was
lost indeed. Yet at the last he would have rushed among his
enemies, and his body was bent for the spring, when with a deep
sonorous hum, like a breaking harp-string, the cord of the bow was
cloven in twain, and the arrow tinkled upon the tiled floor. At
the same moment a young curly-headed bowman, whose broad shoulders
and deep chest told of immense strength, as clearly as his frank,
laughing face and honest hazel eyes did of good humor and courage,
sprang forward sword in hand and took his place by Nigel's side.
"Nay, comrades!" said he. "Samkin Aylward cannot stand by and see
a gallant man shot down like a bull at the end of a baiting. Five
against one is long odds; but two against four is better, and by
my finger-bones! Squire Nigel and I leave this room together, be
it on our feet or no."
The formidable appearance of this ally and his high reputation
among his fellows gave a further chill to the lukewarm ardor of
the attack. Aylward's left arm was passed through his strung bow,
and he was known from Woolmer Forest to the Weald as the quickest,
surest archer that ever dropped a running deer at tenscore paces.
"Nay, Baddlesmere, hold your fingers from your string-case, or I
may chance to give your drawing hand a two months' rest," said
Aylward. "Swords, if you will, comrades, but no man strings his
bow till I have loosed mine."
Yet the angry hearts of both Abbot and sacrist rose higher with a
"This is an ill day for your father, Franklin Aylward, who holds
the tenancy of Crooksbury," said the sacrist. "He will rue it
that ever he begot a son who will lose him his acres and his
"My father is a bold yeoman, and would rue it evermore that ever
his son should stand by while foul work was afoot," said Aylward
stoutly. "Fall on, comrades! We are waiting."
Encouraged by promises of reward if they should fall in the
service of the Abbey, and by threats of penalties if they should
hold back, the four archers were about to close, when a singular
interruption gave an entirely new turn to the proceedings.
At the door of the chapter-house, while these fiery doings had
been afoot, there had assembled a mixed crowd of lay brothers,
servants and varlets who had watched the development of the drama
with the interest and delight with which men hail a sudden break
in a dull routine. Suddenly there was an agitation at the back of
this group, then a swirl in the center, and finally the front rank
was violently thrust aside, and through the gap there emerged a
strange and whimsical figure, who from the instant of his
appearance dominated both chapter-house and Abbey, monks, prelates
and archers, as if he were their owner and their master.
He was a man somewhat above middle age, with thin lemon-colored
hair, a curling mustache, a tufted chin of the same hue, and a
high craggy face, all running to a great hook of the nose, like
the beak of an eagle. His skin was tanned a brown-red by much
exposure to the wind and sun. In height he was tall, and his
figure was thin and loose-jointed, but stringy and hard-bitten.
One eye was entirely covered by its lid, which lay flat over an
empty socket, but the other danced and sparkled with a most
roguish light, darting here and there with a twinkle of humor and
criticism and intelligence, the whole fire of his soul bursting
through that one narrow cranny.
His dress was as noteworthy as his person. A rich purple doublet
and cloak was marked on the lapels with a strange scarlet device
shaped like a wedge. Costly lace hung round his shoulders, and
amid its soft folds there smoldered the dull red of a heavy golden
chain. A knight's belt at his waist and a knight's golden spurs
twinkling from his doeskin riding-boots proclaimed his rank, and
on the wrist of his left gauntlet there sat a demure little hooded
falcon of a breed which in itself was a mark of the dignity of the
owner. Of weapons he had none, but a mandolin was slung by a
black silken band over his back, and the high brown end projected
above his shoulder. Such was the man, quaint, critical,
masterful, with a touch of what is formidable behind it, who now
surveyed the opposing groups of armed men and angry monks with an
eye which commanded their attention.
"Excusez!" said he, in a lisping French. "Excusez, mes amis! I
had thought to arouse from prayer or meditation, but never have I
seen such a holy exercise as this under an abbey's roof, with
swords for breviaries and archers for acolytes. I fear that I
have come amiss, and yet I ride on an errand from one who permits
The Abbot, and possibly the sacrist also, had begun to realize
that events had gone a great deal farther than they had intended,
and that without an extreme scandal it was no easy matter for them
to save their dignity and the good name of Waverley. Therefore,
in spite of the debonair, not to say disrespectful, bearing of the
newcomer, they rejoiced at his appearance and intervention.
"I am the Abbot of Waverley, fair son," said the prelate. "If
your message deal with a public matter it may be fitly repeated in
the chapter-house; if not I will give you audience in my own
chamber; for it is clear to me that you are a gentle man of blood
and coat-armor who would not lightly break in upon the business of
our court - a business which, as you have remarked, is little
welcome to men of peace like myself and the brethren of the rule
of Saint Bernard."
"Pardieu! Father Abbot," said the stranger. "One had but to
glance at you and your men to see that the business was indeed
little to your taste, and it may be even less so when I say that
rather than see this young person in the window, who hath a noble
bearing, further molested by these archers, I will myself
adventure my person on his behalf."
The Abbot's smile turned to a frown at these frank words. "It
would become you better, sir, to deliver the message of which you
say that you are the bearer, than to uphold a prisoner against the
rightful judgment of a court."
The stranger swept the court with his questioning eye. "The
message is not for you, good father Abbot. It is for one whom I
know not. I have been to his house, and they have sent me hither.
The name is Nigel Loring."
"It is for me, fair sir."
"I had thought as much. I knew your father, Eustace Loring, and
though he would have made two of you, yet he has left his stamp
plain enough upon your face."
"You know not the truth of this matter," said the Abbot. "If you
are a loyal man, you will stand aside, for this young man hath
grievously offended against the law, and it is for the King's
lieges to give us their support."
"And you have haled him up for judgment," cried the stranger with
much amusement. "It is as though a rookery sat in judgment upon a
falcon. I warrant that you have found it easier to judge than to
punish. Let me tell you, father Abbot, that this standeth not
aright. When powers such as these were given to the like of you,
they were given that you might check a brawling underling or
correct a drunken woodman, and not that you might drag the best
blood in England to your bar and set your archers on him if he
questioned your findings."
The Abbot was little used to hear such words of reproof uttered in
so stern a voice under his own abbey roof and before his listening
monks. "You may perchance find that an Abbey court has more
powers than you wot of, Sir Knight," said he, "if knight indeed
you be who are so uncourteous and short in your speech. Ere we go
further, I would ask your name and style?"
The stranger laughed. "It is easy to see that you are indeed men
of peace," said he proudly. "Had I shown this sign," and he
touched the token upon his lapels, "whether on shield or pennon,
in the marches of France or Scotland, there is not a cavalier but
would have known the red pile of Chandos."
Chandos, John Chandos, the flower of English chivalry, the pink of
knight-errantry, the hero already of fifty desperate enterprises,
a man known and honored from end to end of Europe! Nigel gazed at
him as one who sees a vision. The archers stood back abashed,
while the monks crowded closer to stare at the famous soldier of
the French wars. The Abbot abated his tone, and a smile came to
his angry face.
"We are indeed men of peace, Sir John, and little skilled in
warlike blazonry," said he; " yet stout as are our Abbey walls,
they are not so thick that the fame of your exploits has not
passed through them and reached our ears. If it be your pleasure
to take an interest in this young and misguided Squire, it is not
for us to thwart your kind intention or to withhold such grace as
you request. I am glad indeed that he hath one who can set him so
fair an example for a friend."
"I thank you for your courtesy, good father Abbot," said Chandos
carelessly. "This young Squire has, however, a better friend than
myself, one who is kinder to those he loves and more terrible to
those he hates. It is from him I bear a message."
"I pray you, fair and honored sir," said Nigel, "that you will
tell me what is the message that you bear."
"The message, mon ami, is that your friend comes into these parts
and would have a night's lodging at the manor house of Tilford for
the love and respect that he bears your family."
"Nay, he is most welcome," said Nigel, "and yet I hope that he is
one who can relish a soldier's fare and sleep under a humble roof,
for indeed we can but give our best, poor as it is."
"He is indeed a soldier and a good one," Chandos answered,
laughing, " and I warrant he has slept in rougher quarters than
"I have few friends, fair sir," said Nigel, with a puzzled face.
"I pray you give me this gentleman's name."
"His name is Edward."
"Sir Edward Mortimer of Kent, perchance, or is it Sir Edward
Brocas of whom the Lady Ermyntrude talks?"
"Nay, he is known as Edward only, and if you ask a second name it
is Plantagenet, for he who comes to seek the shelter of your roof
is your liege lord and mine, the King's high majesty, Edward of
VI. IN WHICH LADY ERMYNTRUDE OPENS THE IRON COFFER
AS in a dream Nigel heard these stupendous and incredible words.
As in a dream also he had a vision of a smiling and conciliatory
Abbot, of an obsequious sacrist, and of a band of archers who
cleared a path for him and for the King's messenger through the
motley crowd who had choked the entrance of the Abbey court. A
minute later he was walking by the side of Chandos through the
peaceful cloister, and in front in the open archway of the great
gate was the broad yellow road between its borders of green
meadow-land. The spring air was the sweeter and the more fragrant
for that chill dread of dishonor and captivity which had so
recently frozen his ardent heart. He had already passed the
portal when a hand plucked at his sleeve and he turned to find
himself confronted by the brown honest face and hazel eyes of the
archer who had interfered in his behalf.
" Well," said Aylward, "what have you to say to me, young sir?"
"What can I say, my good fellow, save that I thank you with all my
heart? By Saint Paul! if you had been my blood brother you could
not have stood by me more stoutly."
"Nay! but this is not enough."
Nigel colored with vexation, and the more so as Chandos was
listening with his critical smile to their conversation. "If you
had heard what was said in the court," said he, "you would
understand that I am not blessed at this moment with much of this
world's gear. The black death and the monks have between them
been heavy upon our estate. Willingly would I give you a handful
of gold for your assistance, since that is what you seem to crave;
but indeed I have it not, and so once more I say that you must be
satisfied with my thanks."
"Your gold is nothing to me," said Aylward shortly, "nor would you
buy my loyalty if you filled my wallet with rose nobles, so long
as you were not a man after my own heart. But I have seen you
back the yellow horse, and I have seen you face the Abbot of
Waverley, and you are such a master as I would very gladly serve
if you have by chance a place for such a man. I have seen your
following, and I doubt not that they were stout fellows in your
grandfather's time; but which of them now would draw a bow-string
to his ear? Through you I have left the service of the Abbey of
Waverley, and where can I look now for a post? If I stay here I
am all undone like a fretted bow-string."
"Nay, there can be no difficulty there," said Chandos. "Padieu!
a roistering, swaggering dare-devil archer is worth his price on
the French border. There are two hundred such who march behind my
own person, and I would ask nothing better than to see you among
"I thank you, noble sir, for your offer," said Aylward, " and I
had rather follow your banner than many another one, for it is
well known that it goes ever forward, and I have heard enough of
the wars to know that there are small pickings for the man who
lags behind. Yet, if the Squire will have me, I would choose to
fight under the five roses of Loring, for though I was born in the
hundred of Easebourne and the rape of Chichester, yet I have grown
up and learned to use the longbow in these parts, and as the free
son of a free franklin I had rather serve my own neighbor than a
"My good fellow," said Nigel, "I have told you that I could in no
wise reward you for such service."
"If you will but take me to the wars I will see to my own reward,"
said Aylward. "Till then I ask for none, save a corner of your
table and six feet of your floor, for it is certain that the only
reward I would get from the Abbey for this day's work would be the
scourge for my back and the stocks for my ankles. Samkin Aylward
is your man, Squire Nigel, from this hour on, and by these ten
finger-bones he trusts the Devil will fly away with him if ever he
gives you cause to regret it!" So saying he raised his hand to
his steel cap in salute, slung his great yellow bow over his back,
and followed on some paces in the rear of his new master.
"Pardieu! I have arrived a la bonne heure," said Chandos. "I
rode from Windsor and came to your manor house, to find it empty
save for a fine old dame, who old me of your troubles. From her I
walked across to the Abbey, and none too soon, for what with
cloth-yard shafts for your body, and bell, book and candle for
your soul, it was no very cheerful outlook. But here is the very
dame herself, if I mistake not."
It was indeed the formidable figure of the Lady Ermyntrude, gaunt,
bowed and leaning on her staff, which had emerged from the door of
the manor-house and advanced to greet them. She croaked with
laughter, and shook her stick at the great building as she heard
of the discomfiture of the Abbey court. Then she led the way into
the hall where the best which she could provide had been laid out
for their illustrious guest. There was Chandos blood in her own
veins, traceable back through the de Greys, de Multons, de
Valences, de Montagues and other high and noble strains, so that
the meal had been eaten and cleared before she had done tracing
the network of intermarriages and connections, with quarterings,
impalements, lozenges and augmentations by which the blazonry of
the two families might be made to show a common origin. Back to
the Conquest and before it there was not a noble family-tree every
twig and bud of which was not familiar to the Dame Ermyntrude.
And now when the trestles were cleared and the three were left
alone in the hall, Chandos broke his message to the lady. "King
Edward hath ever borne in mind that noble knight your son Sir
Eustace," said he. "He will journey to Southampton next week, and
I am his harbinger. He bade me say, noble and honored lady, that
he would come from Guildford in any easy stage so that he might
spend one night under your roof."
The old dame flushed with pleasure, and then turned white with
vexation at the words. "It is in truth great honor to the house
of Loring," said she, "yet our roof is now humble and, as you have
seen, our fare is plain. The King knows not that we are so poor.
I fear lest we seem churlish and niggard in his eyes."
But Chandos reasoned away her fears. The King's retinue would
journey on to Farnham Castle. There were no ladies in his party.
Though he was King, still he was a hardy soldier, and cared little
for his ease. In any case, since he had declared his coming, they
must make the best of it. Finally, with all delicacy, Chandos
offered his own purse if it would help in the matter. But already
the Lady Ermyntrude had recovered her composure.
"Nay, fair kinsman, that may not be," said she. "I will make such
preparation as I may for the King. He will bear in mind that if
the house of Loring can give nothing else, they have always held
their blood and their lives at his disposal."
Chandos was to ride on to Farnham Castle and beyond, but he
expressed his desire to have a warm bath ere he left Tilford, for
like most of his fellow-knights, he was much addicted to simmering
in the hottest water that he could possibly endure. The bath
therefore, a high hooped arrangement like a broader but shorter
churn, was carried into the privacy of the guest-chamber, and
thither it was that Nigel was summoned to hold him company while
he stewed and sweltered in his tub.
Nigel perched himself upon the side of the high bed, swinging his
legs over the edge and gazing with wonder and amusement at the
quaint face, the ruffled yellow hair, and the sinewy shoulders of
the famous warrior, dimly seen amid a pillar of steam. He was in
a mood for talk; so Nigel with eager lips plied him with a
thousand questions about the wars, hanging upon every word which
came back to him, like those of the ancient oracles, out of the
mist and the cloud. To Chandos himself, the old soldier for whom
war had lost its freshness, it was a renewal of his own ardent
youth to listen to Nigel's rapid questions and to mark the rapt
attention with which he listened.
"Tell me of the Welsh, honored sir," asked the Squire. "What
manner of soldiers are the Welsh?"
"They are very valiant men of war," said Chandos, splashing about
in his tub. "There is good skirmishing to be had in their valleys
if you ride with a small following. They flare up like a
furzebush in the flames, but if for a short space you may abide
the heat of it, then there is a chance that it may be cooler."
"And the Scotch?" asked Nigel. "You have made war upon them also,
as I understand."
"The Scotch knights have no masters in the world, and he who can
hold his own with the best of them, be it a Douglas, a Murray or a
Seaton, has nothing more to learn. Though you be a hard man, you
will always meet as hard a one if you ride northward. If the
Welsh be like the furze fire, then, padieu! the Scotch are the
peat, for they will smolder and you will never come to the end of
them. I have had many happy hours on the marches of Scotland, for
even if there be no war the Percies of Alnwick or the Governor of
Carlisle can still raise a little bickering with the border
"I bear in mind that my father was wont to say that they were very
"No better in the world, for the spears are twelve foot long and
they hold them in very thick array; but their archers are weak,
save only the men of Ettrick and Selkirk who come from the forest.
I pray you to open the lattice, Nigel, for the steam is overthick.
Now in Wales it is the spearmen who are weak, and there are no
archers in these islands like the men of Gwent with their bows of
elm, which shoot with such power that I have known a cavalier to
have his horse killed when the shaft had passed through his mail
breeches, his thigh and his saddle. And yet, what is the most
strongly shot arrow to these new balls of iron driven by the fire-
powder which will crush a man's armor as an egg is crushed by a
stone? Our fathers knew them not."
"Then the better for us," cried Nigel, "since there is at least
one honorable venture which is all our own."
Chandos chuckled and turned upon the flushed youth a twinkling and
sympathetic eye. "You have a fashion of speech which carries me
back to the old men whom I met in my boyhood," said he. "There
were some of the real old knight-errants left in those days, and
they spoke as you do. Young as you are, you belong to another
age. Where got you that trick of thought and word?"
"I have had only one to teach me, the Lady Ermyntrude."
"Pardieu! she has trained a proper young hawk ready to stoop at a
lordly quarry," said Chandos. "I would that I had the first
unhooding of you. Will you not ride with me to the wars?"
The tears brimmed over from Nigel's eyes, and he wrung the gaunt
hand extended from the bath. "By Saint Paul! what could I ask
better in the world? I fear to leave her, for she has none other
to care for her. But if it can in any way be arranged - "
"The King's hand may smooth it out. Say no more until he is here.
But if you wish to ride with me - "
"What could man wish for more? Is there a Squire in England who
would not serve under the banner of Chandos! Whither do you go,
fair sir? And when do you go? Is it to Scotland? Is it to
Ireland? Is it to France? But alas, alas!"
The eager face had clouded. For the instant he had forgotten that
a suit of armor was as much beyond his means as a service of gold
plate. Down in a twinkling came all his high hopes to the ground.
Oh, these sordid material things, which come between our dreams
and their fulfilment! The Squire of such a knight must dress with
the best. Yet all the fee simple of Tilford would scarce suffice
for one suit of plate.
Chandos, with his quick wit and knowledge of the world, had
guessed the cause of this sudden change. " If you fight under my
banner it is for me to find the weapons," said he. "Nay, I will
not be denied."
But Nigel shook his head sadly. " It may not be. The Lady
Ermyntrude would sell this old house and every acre round it, ere
she would permit me to accept this gracious bounty which you
offer. Yet I do not despair, for only last week I won for myself
a noble war-horse for which I paid not a penny, so perchance a
suit of armor may also come my way."
"And how won you the horse?"
"It was given me by the monks of Waverley."
"This is wonderful. Pardieu! I should have expected, from what I
had seen, that they would have given you little save their
"They had no use for the horse, and they gave it to me."
"Then we have only to find some one who has no use for a suit of
armor and will give it to you. Yet I trust that you will think
better of it and let me, since that good lady proves that I am
your kinsman, fit you for the wars."
"I thank you, noble sir, and if I should turn to anyone it would
indeed be to you; but there are other ways which I would try
first. But I pray you, goon Sir John, to tell me of some of your
noble spear-runnings against the French, for the whole land rings
with the tale of your deeds and I have heard that in one morning
three champions have fallen before your lance. Was it not so?"
"That it was indeed so these scars upon my body will prove; but
these were the follies of my youth."
"How can you call them follies? Are they not the means by which
honorable advancement may be gained and one's lady exalted?"
"It is right that you should think so, Nigel. At your age a man
should have a hot head and a high heart. I also had both and
fought for my lady's glove or for my vow or for the love of
fighting. But as one grows older and commands men one has other
things to think of. One thinks less of one's own honor and more
of the safety of the army. It is not your own spear, your own
sword, your own arm, which will turn the tide of fight; but a cool
head may save a stricken field. He who knows when his horsemen
should charge and when they should fight on foot, he who can mix
his archers with his men-at-arms in such a fashion that each can
support the other, he who can hold up his reserve and pour it into
the battle when it may turn the tide, he who has a quick eye for
boggy land and broken ground - that is the man who is of more
worth to an army than Roland, Oliver and all the paladins."
"Yet if his knights fail him, honored sir, all his head-work will
"True enough, Nigel; so may every Squire ride to the wars with his
soul on fire, as yours is now. But I must linger no longer, for
the King's service must be done. I will dress, and when I have
bid farewell to the noble Dame Ermyntrude I will on to Farnham;
but you will see me here again on the day that the King comes."
So Chandos went his way that evening, walking his horse through
the peaceful lanes and twanging his citole as he went, for he
loved music and was famous for his merry songs. The cottagers
came from their huts and laughed and clapped as the rich full
voice swelled and sank to the cheery tinkling of the strings.
There were few who saw him pass that would have guessed that the
quaint one-eyed man with the yellow hair was the toughest fighter
and craftiest man of war in Europe. Once only, as he entered
Farnham, an old broken man-at-arms ran out in his rags and
clutched at his horse as a dog gambols round his master. Chandos
threw him a kind word and a gold coin as he passed on to the
In the meanwhile young Nigel and the Lady Ermyntrude, left alone
with their difficulties, looked blankly in each other's faces.
"The cellar is well nigh empty," said Nigel. "There are two
firkins of small beer and a tun of canary. How can we set such
drink before the King and his court?"
"We must have some wine of Bordeaux. With that and the mottled
cow's calf and the fowls and a goose, we can set forth a
sufficient repast if he stays only for the one night. How many
will be with him?"
"A dozen, at the least."
The old dame wrung her hands in despair. "Nay, take it not to
heart, dear lady!" said Nigel. "We have but to say the word and
the King would stop at Waverley, where he and his court would find
all that they could wish."
"Never!" cried the Lady Ermyntrude. "It would be shame and
disgrace to us forever if the King were to pass our door when he
has graciously said that he was fain to enter in. Nay, I will do
it. Never did I think that I would be forced to this, but I know
that he would wish it, and I will do it."
She went to the old iron coffer, and taking a small key from her
girdle she unlocked it. The rusty hinges, screaming shrilly as
she threw back the lid, proclaimed how seldom it was that she had
penetrated into the sacred recesses of her treasure-chest. At the
top were some relics of old finery: a silken cloak spangled with
golden stars, a coif of silver filigree, a roll of Venetian lace.
Beneath were little packets tied in silk which the old lady
handled with tender care: a man's hunting-glove, a child's shoe, a
love-knot done in faded green ribbon, some letters in rude rough
script, and a vernicle of Saint Thomas. Then from the very bottom
of the box she drew three objects, swathed in silken cloth, which
she uncovered and laid upon the table. The one was a bracelet of
rough gold studded with uncut rubies, the second was a gold
salver, and the third was a high goblet of the same metal.
"You have heard me speak of these, Nigel, but never before have
you seen them, for indeed I have not opened the hutch for fear
that we might be tempted in our great need to turn them into
money. I have kept them out of my sight and even out of my
thoughts. But now it is the honor of the house which calls, and
even these must go. This goblet was that which my husband, Sir
Nele Loring, won after the intaking of Belgrade when he and his
comrades held the lists from matins to vespers against the flower
of the French chivalry. The salver was given him by the Earl of
Pembroke in memory of his valor upon the field of Falkirk."
"And the bracelet, dear lady?"
"You will not laugh, Nigel?"
"Nay, why should I laugh?"
"The bracelet was the prize for the Queen of Beauty which was
given to me before all the high-born ladies of England by Sir Nele
Loring a month before our marriage - the Queen of Beauty, Nigel -
I, old and twisted, as you see me. Five strong men went down
before his lance ere he won that trinket for me. And now in my
last years - "
" Nay, dear and honored lady, we will not part with it."
"Yes, Nigel, he would have it so. I can hear his whisper in my
ear. Honor to him was everything - the rest nothing. Take it
from me, Nigel, ere my heart weakens. Tomorrow you will ride with
it to Guildford; you will see Thorold the goldsmith; and you will
raise enough money to pay for all that we shall need for the
King's coming." She turned her face away to hide the quivering of
her wrinkled features, and the crash of the iron lid covered the
sob which burst from her overwrought soul.
VII. HOW NIGEL WENT MARKETING TO GUILDFORD
It was on a bright June morning that young Nigel, with youth and
springtime to make his heart light, rode upon his errand from
Tilford to Guildford town. Beneath him was his great yellow
warhorse, caracoling and curveting as be went, as blithe and free
of spirit as his master. In all England one would scarce have
found upon that morning so high-mettled and so debonair a pair.
The sandy road wound through groves of fir, where the breeze came
soft and fragrant with resinous gums, or over heathery downs,
which rolled away to north and to south, vast and untenanted, for
on the uplands the soil was poor and water scarce. Over
Crooksbury Common he passed, and then across the great Heath of
Puttenham, following a sandy path which wound amid the bracken and
the heather, for he meant to strike the Pilgrims' Way where it
turned eastward from Farnham and from Seale. As he rode he
continually felt his saddle-bag with his hand, for in it, securely
strapped, he had placed the precious treasures of the Lady
Ermyntrude. As he saw the grand tawny neck tossing before him,
and felt the easy heave of the great horse and heard the muffled
drumming of his hoofs, he could have sung and shouted with the joy
Behind him, upon the little brown pony which had been Nigel's
former mount, rode Samkin Aylward the bowman, who had taken upon
himself the duties of personal attendant and body-guard. His
great shoulders and breadth of frame seemed dangerously top-heavy
upon the tiny steed, but he ambled along, whistling a merry lilt
and as lighthearted as his master. There was no countryman who
had not a nod and no woman who had not a smile for the jovial
bowman, who rode for the most part with his face over his
shoulder, staring at the last petticoat which had passed him.
Once only he met with a harsher greeting. It was from a tall,
white-headed, red-faced man whom they met upon the moor.
"Good-morrow, dear father!" cried Aylward. "How is it with you at
Crooksbury? And how are the new black cow and the ewes from Alton
and Mary the dairymaid and all your gear?"
"It ill becomes you to ask, you ne'er-do-weel," said the old man.
"You have angered the monks of Waverley, whose tenant I am, and
they would drive me out of my farm. Yet there are three more
years to run, and do what they may I will bide till then. But
little did I think that I should lose my homestead through you,
Samkin, and big as you are I would knock the dust out of that
green jerkin. with a good hazel switch if I had you at
"Then you shall do it to-morrow morning, good father, for I will
come and see you then. But indeed I did not do more at Waverley
than you would have done yourself. Look me in the eye, old
hothead, and tell me if you would have stood by while the last
Loring - look at him as he rides with his head in the air and his
soul in the clouds - was shot down before your very eyes at the
bidding of that fat monk! If you would, then I disown you as my
"Nay, Samkin, if it was like that, then perhaps what you did was
not so far amiss. But it is hard to lose the old farm when my
heart is buried deep in the good brown soil."
"Tut, man! there are three years to run, and what may not happen
in three years? Before that time I shall have gone to the wars,
and when I have opened a French strong box or two you can buy the
good brown soil and snap your fingers at Abbot John and his
bailiffs. Am I not as proper a man as Tom Withstaff of Churt?
And yet he came back after six months with his pockets full of
rose nobles and a French wench on either arm."
"God preserve us from the wenches, Samkin! But indeed I think
that if there is money to be gathered you are as likely to get
your fist full as any man who goes to the war. But hasten, lad,
hasten! Already your young master is over the brow."
Thus admonished, the archer waved his gauntleted hand to his
father, and digging his heels into the sides of his little pony
soon drew up with the Squire. Nigel glanced over his shoulder and
slackened speed until the pony's head was up to his saddle.
"Have I not heard, archer," said he, "that an outlaw has been
loose in these parts?"
"It is true, fair sir. He was villain to Sir Peter Mandeville,
but he broke his bonds and fled into the forests. Men call him
the `Wild Man of Puttenham.'"
"How comes it that he has not been hunted down? If the man be a
draw-latch and a robber it would be an honorable deed to clear the
country of such an evil."
"Twice the sergeants-at-arms from Guildford have come out against
him, but the fox has many earths, and it would puzzle you to get
him out of them."
"By Saint Paul! were my errand not a pressing one I would be
tempted to turn aside and seek him. Where lives he, then?"
"There is a great morass beyond Puttenham, and across it there are
caves in which he and his people lurk."
"His people? He hath a band?"
"There are several with him."
"It sounds a most honorable enterprise," said Nigel. "When the
King hath come and gone we will spare a day for the outlaws of
Puttenham. I fear there is little chance for us to see them on
"They prey upon the pilgrims who pass along the Winchester Road,
and they are well loved by the folk in these parts, for they rob
none of them and have an open hand for all who will help them."
"It is right easy to have an open hand with the money that you
have stolen," said Nigel; "but I fear that they will not try to
rob two men with swords at their girdles like you and me, so we
shall have no profit from them."
They had passed over the wild moors and had come down now into the
main road by which the pilgrims from the west of England made
their way to the national shrine at Canterbury. It passed from
Winchester, and up the beautiful valley of the Itchen until it
reached Farnham, where it forked into two branches, one of which
ran along the Hog's Back, while the second wound to the south and
came out at Saint Catherine's Hill where stands the Pilgrim
shrine, a gray old ruin now, but once so august, so crowded and so
affluent. It was this second branch upon which Nigel and Aylward
found themselves as they rode to Guildford.
No one, as it chanced, was going the same way as themselves, but
they met one large drove of pilgrims returning from their journey
with pictures of Saint Thomas and snails' shells or little leaden
ampullae in their hats and bundles of purchases over their
shoulders. They were a grimy, ragged, travel-stained crew, the
men walking, the women borne on asses. Man and beast, they limped
along as if it would be a glad day when they saw their homes once
more. These and a few beggars or minstrels, who crouched among
the heather on either side of the track in the hope of receiving
an occasional farthing from the passer-by, were the only folk they
met until they had reached the village of Puttenham. Already
there, was a hot sun and just breeze enough to send the dust
flying down the road, so they were glad to clear their throats
with a glass of beer at the ale-stake in the village, where the
fair alewife gave Nigel a cold farewell because he had no
attentions for her, and Aylward a box on the ear because he had
On the farther side of Puttenham the road runs through thick woods
of oak and beech, with a tangled undergrowth of fern and bramble.
Here they met a patrol of sergeants-at-arms, tall fellows,
well-mounted, clad in studded-leather caps and tunics, with lances
and swords. They walked their horses slowly on the shady side of
the road, and stopped as the travelers came up, to ask if they had
been molested on the way.
"Have a care," they added, "for the `Wild Man' and his wife are
out. Only yesterday they slew a merchant from the west and took a
"His wife, you say?"
"Yes, she is ever at his side, and has saved him many a time, for
if he has the strength it is she who has the wit. I hope to see
their heads together upon the green grass one of these mornings."
The patrol passed downward toward Farnham, and so, as it proved,
away from the robbers, who had doubtless watched them closely from
the dense brushwood which skirted the road. Coming round a curve,
Nigel and Aylward were aware of a tall and graceful woman who sat,
wringing her hands and weeping bitterly, upon the bank by the side
of the track. At such a sight of beauty in distress Nigel pricked
Pommers with the spur and in three bounds was at the side of the
"What ails you, fair dame?" he asked. "Is there any small matter
in which I may stand your friend, or is it possible that anyone
hath so hard a heart as to do you an injury."
She rose and turned upon him a face full of hope and entreaty.
"Oh, save my poor, poor father!" she cried. "Have you perchance
seen the way-wardens? They passed us, and I fear they are beyond
"Yes, they have ridden onward, but we may serve as well."
"Then hasten, hasten, I pray you! Even now they may be doing him
to death. They have dragged him into yonder grove and I have
heard his voice growing ever weaker in the distance. Hasten, I
Nigel sprang from his horse and tossed the rein to Aylward.
"Nay, let us go together. How many robbers were there, lady?"
"Two stout fellows."
"Then I come also."
"Nay, it is not possible," said Nigel. "The wood is too thick for
horses, and we cannot leave them in the road."
"I will guard them," cried the lady.
"Pommers is not so easily held. Do you bide here, Aylward, until
you hear from me. Stir not, I command you!" So saying, Nigel,
with the light, of adventure gleaming in his joyous eyes, drew his
sword and plunged swiftly into the forest.
Far and fast he ran, from glade to glade, breaking through the
bushes, springing over the brambles, light as a young deer,
peering this way and that, straining his ears for a sound, and
catching only the cry of the wood-pigeons. Still on he went, with
the constant thought of the weeping woman behind and of the
captured man in front. It was not until he was footsore and out
of breath that he stopped with his hand to his side, and
considered that his own business had still to be done, and that it
was time once more that he should seek the road to Guildford.
Meantime Aylward had found his own rough means of consoling the
woman in the road, who stood sobbing with her face against the
side of Pommers' saddle.
"Nay, weep not, my pretty one," said he. "It brings the tears to
my own eyes to see them stream from thine."
"Alas! good archer, he was the best of fathers, so gentle and so
kind! Had you but known him, you must have loved him."
"Tut, tut! he will suffer no scathe. Squire Nigel will bring him
back to you anon."
"No, no, I shall never see him more. Hold me, archer, or I fall!"
Aylward pressed his ready arm round the supple waist. The
fainting woman leaned with her hand upon his shoulder. Her pale
face looked past him, and it was some new light in her eyes, a
flash of expectancy, of triumph, of wicked joy, which gave him
sudden warning of his danger.
He shook her off and sprang to one side, but only just in time to
avoid a crashing blow from a great club in the hands of a man even
taller and stronger than himself. He had one quick vision of
great white teeth clenched in grim ferocity, a wild flying beard
and blazing wild-beast eyes. The next instant he had closed,
ducking his head beneath another swing of that murderous cudgel.
With his arms round the robber's burly body and his face buried in
his bushy beard, Aylward gasped and strained and heaved. Back and
forward in the dusty road the two men stamped and staggered, a
grim wrestling-match, with life for the prize. Twice the great
strength of the outlaw had Aylward nearly down, and twice with his
greater youth and skill the archer restored his grip and his
balance. Then at last his turn came. He slipped his leg behind
the other's knee, and, giving a mighty wrench, tore him across it.
With a hoarse shout the outlaw toppled backward and had hardly
reached the ground before Aylward had his knee upon his chest and
his short sword deep in his beard and pointed to his throat.
"By these ten finger-bones!" he gasped, "one more struggle and it
is your last!"
The man lay still enough, for he was half-stunned by the crashing
fall. Aylward looked round him, but the woman had disappeared.
At the first blow struck she had vanished into the forest. He
began to have fears for his master, thinking that he perhaps had
been lured into some deathtrap; but his forebodings were soon at
rest, for Nigel himself came hastening down the road, which he had
struck some distance from the spot where he left it.
"By Saint Paul!" he cried, "who is this man on whom you are
perched, and where is the lady who has honored us so far as to
crave our help? Alas, that I have been unable to find her
"As well for you, fair sir," said Aylward, "for I am of opinion
that her father was the Devil. This woman is, as I believe, the
wife of the `Wild Man of Puttenham,' and this is the `Wild Man'
himself who set upon me and tried to brain me with his club."
The outlaw, who had opened his eyes, looked with a scowl from his
captor to the new-comer. "You are in luck, archer," said he, "for
I have come to grips with many a man, but I cannot call to mind
any who have had the better of me."
"You have indeed the grip of a bear," said Aylward; "but it was a
coward deed that your wife should hold me while you dashed out my
brains with a stick. It is also a most villainous thing to lay a
snare for wayfarers by asking for their pity and assistance, so
that it was our own soft hearts which brought us into such danger.
The next who hath real need of our help may suffer for your sins."
"When the hand of the whole world is against you," said the outlaw
in a surly voice, "you must fight as best you can."
"You well deserve to be hanged, if only because you have brought
this woman, who is fair and gentle-spoken, to such a life," said
Nigel. "Let us tie him by the wrist to my stirrup leather,
Aylward, and we will lead him into Guildford."
The archer drew a spare bowstring from his case and had bound the
prisoner as directed, when Nigel gave a sudden start and cry of
"Holy Mary!" he cried. "Where is the saddle-bag?"
It had been cut away by a sharp knife. Only the two ends of strap
remained. Aylward and Nigel stared at each other in blank dismay.
Then the young Squire shook his clenched hands and pulled at his
yellow curls in his despair.
"The Lady Ermyntrude's bracelet! My grandfather's cup!" he cried.
"I would have died ere I lost them! What can I say to her? I
dare not return until I have found them. Oh, Aylward, Aylward!
how came you to let them be taken?"
The honest archer had pushed back his steel cap and was scratching
his tangled head. "Nay, I know nothing of it. You never said
that there was aught of price in the bag, else had I kept a better
eye upon it. Certes! it was not this fellow who took it, since I
have never had my hands from him. It can only be the woman who
fled with it while we fought."
Nigel stamped about the road in his perplexity. "I would follow
her to the world's end if I knew where I could find her, but to
search these woods for her is to look for a mouse in a
wheat-field. Good Saint George, thou who didst overcome the
Dragon, I pray you by that most honorable and knightly achievement
that you will be with me now! And you also, great Saint Julian,
patron of all wayfarers in distress! Two candles shall burn
before your shrine at Godalming, if you will but bring me back my
saddle-bag. What would I not give to have it back?"
"Will you give me my life?" asked the outlaw. "Promise that I go
free, and you shall have it back, if it be indeed true that my
wife has taken it."
"Nay, I cannot do that," said Nigel. "My honor would surely be
concerned, since my loss is a private one; but it would be to the
public scathe that you should go free. By Saint Paul! it would be
an ungentle deed if in order to save my own I let you loose upon
the gear of a hundred others."
"I will not ask you to let me loose," said the "Wild Man." "If
you will promise that my life be spared I will restore your bag."
"I cannot give such a promise, for it will lie with the Sheriff
and reeves of Guildford."
"Shall I have your word in my favor?"
"That I could promise you, if you will give back the bag, though I
know not how far my word may avail. But your words are vain, for
you cannot think that we will be so fond as to let you go in the
hope that you return?"
"I would not ask it," said the "Wild Man," "for I can get your bag
and yet never stir from the spot where I stand. Have I your
promise upon your honor and all that you hold dear that you will
ask for grace?"
"And that my wife shall be unharmed?"
"I promise it."
The outlaw laid back his head and uttered a long shrill cry like
the howl of a wolf. There was a silent pause, and then, clear and
shrill, there rose the same cry no great distance away in the
forest. Again the "Wild Man" called, and again his mate replied.
A third time he summoned, as the deer bells to the doe in the
greenwood. Then with a rustle of brushwood and snapping of twigs
the woman was before them once more, tall, pale, graceful,
wonderful. She glanced neither at Aylward nor Nigel, but ran to
the side of her husband.
"Dear and sweet lord," she cried, "I trust they have done you no
hurt. I waited by the old ash, and my heart sank when you came
"I have been taken at last, wife."
"Oh, cursed, cursed day! Let him go, kind, gentle sirs; do not
take him from me!"
"They will speak for me at Guildford," said the " Wild Man." "They
have sworn it. But hand them first the bag that you have taken."
She drew it out from under her loose cloak. "Here it is, gentle
sir. Indeed it went to my heart to take it, for you had mercy
upon me in my trouble. But now I am, as you see, in real and very
sore distress. Will you not have mercy now? Take ruth on us,
fair sir! On my knees I beg it of you, most gentle and kindly
Nigel had clutched his bag, and right glad he was to feel that the
treasures were all safe within it. " My proffer is given," said
he. "I will say what I can; but the issue rests with others. I
pray you to stand up, for indeed I cannot promise more."
"Then I must be content," said she, rising, with a composed face.
"I have prayed you to take ruth, and indeed I can do no more; but
ere I go back to the forest I would rede you to be on your guard
lest you lose your bag once more. Wot you how I took it, archer?
Nay, it was simple enough, and may happen again, so I make it
clear to you. I had this knife in my sleeve, and though it is
small it is very sharp. I slipped it down like this. Then when I
seemed to weep with my face against the saddle, I cut down like
this - "
In an instant she had shorn through the stirrup leather which
bound her man, and he, diving under the belly of the horse, had
slipped like a snake into the brushwood. In passing he had struck
Pommers from beneath, and the great horse, enraged and insulted,
was rearing high, with two men hanging to his bridle. When at
last he had calmed there was no sign left of the "Wild Man or of
his wife. In vain did Aylward, an arrow on his string, run here
and there among the great trees and peer down the shadowy glades.
When he returned he and his master cast a shamefaced glance at
"I trust that we are better soldiers than jailers," said Aylward,
as he climbed on his pony.
But Nigel's frown relaxed into a smile. "At least we have gained
back what we lost," said he. "Here I place it on the pommel of my
saddle, and I shall not take my eyes from it until we are safe in
So they jogged on together until passing Saint Catherine's shrine
they crossed the winding Wey once more, and so found themselves in
the steep high street with its heavy-caved gabled houses, its
monkish hospitium upon the left, where good ale may still be
quaffed, and its great square-keeped castle upon the right, no
gray and grim skeleton of ruin, but very quick and alert, with
blazoned banner flying free, and steel caps twinkling from the
battlement. A row of booths extended from the castle gate to the
high street, and two doors from the Church of the Trinity was that
of Thorold the goldsmith, a rich burgess and Mayor of the town.
He looked long and lovingly at the rich rubies and at the fine
work upon the goblet. Then he stroked his flowing gray beard as
he pondered whether he should offer fifty nobles or sixty, for he
knew well that he could sell them again for two hundred. If he
offered too much his profit would be reduced. If he offered too
little the youth might go as far as London with them, for they
were rare and of great worth. The young man was ill-clad, and his
eyes were anxious. Perchance he was hard pressed and was ignorant
of the value of what he bore. He would sound him.
"These things are old and out of fashion, fair sir," said he. "Of
the stones I can scarce say if they are of good quality or not,
but they are dull and rough. Yet, if your price be low I may add
them to my stock, though indeed this booth was made to sell and
not to buy. What do you ask?"
Nigel bent his brows in perplexity. Here was a game in which
neither his bold heart nor his active limbs could help him. It
was the new force mastering the old: the man of commerce
conquering the man of war - wearing him down and weakening him
through the centuries until he had him as his bond-servant and his
" know not what to ask, good sir," said Nigel. "It is not for
me, nor for any man who bears my name, to chaffer and to haggle.
You know the worth of these things, for it is your trade to do so.
The Lady Ermyntrude lacks money, and we must have it against the
King's coming, so give me that which is right and just, and we
will say no more."
The goldsmith smiled. The business was growing more simple and
more profitable. He had intended to offer fifty, but surely it
would be sinful waste to give more than twenty-five.
"I shall scarce know what to do with them when I have them," said
he. "Yet I should not grudge twenty nobles if it is a matter in
which the King is concerned."
Nigel's heart turned to lead. This sum would not buy one-half
what was needful. It was clear that the Lady Ermyntrude had
overvalued her treasures. Yet he could not return empty-handed,
so if twenty nobles was the real worth, as this good old man
assured him, then he must be thankful and take it.
"I am concerned by what you say," said he. "You know more of
these things than I can do. However, I will take - "
"A hundred and fifty," whispered Aylward's voice in his ear.
"A hundred and fifty," said Nigel, only too relieved to have found
the humblest guide upon these unwonted paths.
The goldsmith started. This youth was not the simple soldier that
he had seemed. That frank face, those blue eyes, were traps for
the unwary. Never had he been more taken aback in a bargain.
"This is fond talk and can lead to nothing, fair sir," said he,
turning away and fiddling with the keys of his strong boxes. "Yet
I have no wish to be hard on you. Take my outside price, which is
"And a hundred," whispered Aylward.
"And a hundred," said Nigel, blushing at his own greed.
"Well, well, take a hundred!" cried the merchant. "Fleece me,
skin me, leave me a loser, and take for your wares the full
"I should be shamed forever if I were to treat you so badly," said
Nigel. "You have spoken me fair, and I would not grind you down.
Therefore, I will gladly take one hundred - "
"And fifty," whispered Aylward.
"And fifty," said Nigel.
"By Saint John of Beverley!" cried the merchant. "I came hither
from the North Country, and they are said to be shrewd at a deal
in those parts; but I had rather bargain with a synagogue full of
Jews than with you, for all your gentle ways. Will you indeed
take no less than a hundred and fifty? Alas! you pluck from me my
profits of a month. It is a fell morning's work for me. I would
I had never seen you!" With groans and lamentations he paid the
gold pieces across the counter, and Nigel, hardly able to credit
his own good fortune, gathered them into the leather saddle-bag.
A moment later with flushed face he was in the street and pouring
out his thanks to Aylward.
"Alas, my fair lord! the man has robbed us now," said the archer.
" We could have had another twenty had we stood fast."
"How know you that, good Aylward?"
"By his eyes, Squire Loring. I wot I have little store of reading
where the parchment of a book or the pinching of a blazon is
concerned, but I can read men's eyes, and I never doubted that he
would give what he has given."
The two travelers had dinner at the monk's hospitium, Nigel at the
high table and Aylward among the commonalty. Then again they
roamed the high street on business intent. Nigel bought taffeta
for hangings, wine, preserves, fruit, damask table linen and many
other articles of need. At last he halted before the armorer's
shop at the castle-yard, staring at the fine suits of plate, the
engraved pectorals, the plumed helmets, the cunningly jointed
gorgets, as a child at a sweet-shop.
"Well, Squire Loring," said Wat the armorer, looking sidewise from
the furnace where he was tempering a sword blade, "what can I sell
you this morning? I swear to you by Tubal Cain, the father of all
workers in metal, that you might go from end to end of Cheapside
and never see a better suit than that which hangs from yonder
"And the price, armorer?"
"To anyone else, two hundred and fifty rose nobles. To you two
"And why cheaper to me, good fellow?"
"Because I fitted your father also for the wars, and a finer suit
never went out of my shop. I warrant that it turned many an edge
before he laid it aside. We worked in mail in those days, and I
had as soon have a well-made thick-meshed mail as any plates; but
a young knight will be in the fashion like any dame of the court,
and so it must be plate now, even though the price be trebled."
"Your rede is that the mail is as good?"
"I am well sure of it."
"Hearken then, armorer! I cannot at this moment buy a suit of
plate, and yet I sorely need steel harness on account of a small
deed which it is in my mind to do. Now I have at my home at
Tilford that very suit of mail of which you speak, with which my
father first rode to the wars. Could you not so alter it that it
should guard my limbs also?"
The armorer looked at Nigel's small upright figure and burst out
laughing. "You jest, Squire Loring! The suit was made for one
who was far above the common stature of man."
"Nay, I jest not. If it will but carry me through one spear-
running it will have served its purpose."
The armorer leaned back on his anvil and pondered while Nigel
stared anxiously at his sooty face.
"Right gladly would I lend you a suit of plate for this one
venture, Squire Loring, but I know well that if you should be
overthrown your harness becomes prize to the victor. I am a poor
man with many children, and I dare not risk the loss of it. But
as to what you say of the old suit of mail, is it indeed in good
"Most excellent, save only at the neck, which is much frayed."
"To shorten the limbs is easy. It is but to cut out a length of
the mail and then loop up the links. But to shorten the body-nay,
that is beyond the armorer's art."
"It was my last hope. Nay, good armorer, if you have indeed
served and loved my gallant father, then I beg you by his memory
that you will help me now."
The armorer threw down his heavy hammer with a crash upon the
floor. "It is not only that I loved your father, Squire Loring,
but it is that I have seen you, half armed as you were, ride
against the best of them at the Castle tiltyard. Last Martinmas
my heart bled for you when I saw how sorry was your harness, and
yet you held your own against the stout Sir Oliver with his Milan
suit: When go you to Tilford?"
"Heh, Jenkin, fetch out the cob!" cried the worthy Wat. "May my
right hand lose its cunning if I do not send you into battle in
your father's suit! To-morrow I must be back in my booth, but
today I give to you without fee and for the sake of the good-will
which I bear to your house. I will ride with you to Tilford, and
before night you shall see what Wat can do."
So it came about that there was a busy evening at the old Tilford
Manor-house, where the Lady Ermyntrude planned and cut and hung
the curtains for the hall, and stocked her cupboards with the good
things which Nigel had brought from Guildford.
Meanwhile the Squire and the armorer sat with their heads touching
and the old suit of mail with its gorget of overlapping plates
laid out across their knees. Again and again old Wat shrugged his
shoulders, as one who has been asked to do more than can be
demanded from mortal man. At last, at a suggestion from the
Squire, he leaned back in his chair and laughed long and loudly in
his bushy beard, while the Lady Ermyntrude glared her black
displeasure at such plebeian merriment. Then taking his fine
chisel and his hammer from his pouch of tools, the armorer, still
chuckling at his own thoughts, began to drive a hole through the
center of the steel tunic.
VIII. HOW THE KING HAWKED ON CROOKSBURY HEATH
The King and his attendants had shaken off the crowd who had
followed them from Guildford along the Pilgrims' Way and now, the
mounted archers having beaten off the more persistent of the
spectators, they rode at their ease in a long, straggling,
glittering train over the dark undulating plain of heather.
In the van was the King himself, for his hawks were with him and
he had some hope of sport. Edward at that time was a well-grown,
vigorous man in the very prime of his years, a keen sportsman, an
ardent gallant and a chivalrous soldier. He was a scholar too,
speaking Latin, French, German, Spanish, and even a little
So much had long been patent to the world, but only of recent
years had he shown other and more formidable characteristics: a
restless ambition which coveted his neighbor's throne, and a wise
foresight in matters of commerce, which engaged him now in
transplanting Flemish weavers and sowing the seeds of what for
many years was the staple trade of England. Each of these varied
qualities might have been read upon his face. The brow, shaded by
a crimson cap of maintenance, was broad and lofty. The large
brown eyes were ardent and bold. His chin was clean-shaven, and
the close-cropped dark mustache did not conceal the strong mouth,
firm, proud and kindly, but capable of setting tight in merciless
ferocity. His complexion was tanned to copper by a life spent in
field sports or in war, and he rode his magnificent black horse
carelessly and easily, as one who has grown up in the saddle. His
own color was black also, for his active; sinewy figure was set
off by close-fitting velvet of that hue, broken only by a belt of
gold, and by a golden border of open pods of the broom-plant.
With his high and noble bearing, his simple yet rich attire and
his splendid mount, he looked every inch a King.
The picture of gallant man on gallant horse was completed by the
noble Falcon of the Isles which fluttered along some twelve feet
above his head, "waiting on," as it was termed, for any quarry
which might arise. The second bird of the cast was borne upon the
gauntleted wrist of Raoul the chief falconer in the rear.
At the right side of the monarch and a little behind him rode a
youth some twenty years of age, tall, slim and dark, with noble
aquiline features and keen penetrating eyes which sparkled with
vivacity and affection as he answered the remarks of the King. He
was clad in deep crimson diapered with gold, and the trappings of
his white palfrey were of a magnificence which proclaimed the rank
of its rider. On his face, still free from mustache or beard,
there sat a certain gravity and majesty of expression which showed
that young as he was great affairs had been in his keeping and
that his thoughts and interests were those of the statesman and
the warrior. That great day when, little more than a school-boy,
he had led the van of the victorious army which had crushed the
power of France and Crecy, had left this stamp upon his features;
but stern as they were they had not assumed that tinge of
fierceness which in after years was to make "The Black Prince" a
name of terror on the marches of France. Not yet had the first
shadow of fell disease come to poison his nature ere it struck at
his life, as he rode that spring day, light and debonair, upon the
heath of Crooksbury.
On the left of the King, and so near to him that great intimacy
was implied, rode a man about his own age, with the broad face,
the projecting jaw and the flattish nose which are often the
outward indications of a pugnacious nature.
His complexion was crimson, his large blue eyes somewhat
prominent, and his whole appearance full-blooded and choleric. He
was short, but massively built, and evidently possessed of immense
strength. His voice, however, when he spoke was gentle and
lisping, while his manner was quiet and courteous. Unlike the
King or the Prince, he was clad in light armor and carried a sword
by his side and a mace at his saddle-bow, for he was acting as
Captain of the King's Guard, and a dozen other knights in steel
followed in the escort. No hardier soldier could Edward have at
his side, if, as was always possible in those lawless times,
sudden danger was to threaten, for this was the famous knight of
Hainault, now naturalized as an Englishman, Sir Walter Manny, who
bore as high a reputation for chivalrous valor and for gallant
temerity as Chandos himself.
Behind the knights, who were forbidden to scatter and must always
follow the King's person, there was a body of twenty or thirty
hobblers or mounted bowmen, together with several squires, unarmed
themselves but leading spare horses upon which the heavier part of
their knights' equipment was carried. A straggling tail of
falconers, harbingers, varlets, body-servants and huntsmen holding
hounds in leash completed the long and many-colored train which
rose and dipped on the low undulations of the moor.
Many weighty things were on the mind of Edward the King. There
was truce for the moment with France, but it was a truce broken by
many small deeds of arms, raids, surprises and ambushes upon
either side, and it was certain that it would soon dissolve again
into open war. Money must be raised, and it was no light matter
to raise it, now that the Commons had once already voted the tenth
lamb and the tenth sheaf. Besides, the Black Death had ruined the
country, the arable land was all turned to pasture, the laborer,
laughing at statutes, would not work under fourpence a day, and
all society was chaos. In addition, the Scotch were growling over
the border, there was the perennial trouble in half-conquered
Ireland, and his allies abroad in Flanders and in Brabant were
clamoring for the arrears of their subsidies.
All this was enough to make even a victorious monarch full of
care; but now Edward had thrown it all to the winds and was as
light-hearted as a boy upon a holiday. No thought had he for the
dunning of Florentine bankers or the vexatious conditions of those
busybodies at Westminster. He was out with his hawks, and his
thoughts and his talk should be of nothing else. The varlets beat
the heather and bushes as they passed, and whooped loudly as the
birds flew out.
"A magpie! A magpie!" cried the falconer.
"Nay, nay, it is not worthy of your talons, my brown-eyed queen,"
said the King, looking up at the great bird which flapped from
side to side above his head, waiting for the whistle which should
give her the signal. "The tercels, falconer - a cast of tercels!
Quick, man, quick! Ha! the rascal makes for wood! He puts in!
Well flown, brave peregrine! He makes his point. Drive him out
to thy comrade. Serve him, varlets! Beat the bushes! He breaks!
He breaks! Nay, come away then! You will see Master Magpie no
The bird had indeed, with the cunning of its race, flapped its way
through brushwood and bushes to the thicker woods beyond, so that
neither the hawk amid the cover nor its partner above nor the
clamorous beaters could harm it. The King laughed at the
mischance and rode on. Continually birds of various sorts were
flushed, and each was pursued by the appropriate hawk, the snipe
by the tercel, the partridge by the goshawk, even the lark by the
little merlin. But the King soon tired of this petty sport and
went slowly on his way, still with the magnificent silent
attendant flapping above his head.
"Is she not a noble bird, fair son?" he asked, glancing up as her
shadow fell upon him.
"She is indeed, sire. Surely no finer ever came from the isles of
"Perhaps not, and yet I have had a hawk from Barbary as good a
footer and a swifter flyer. An Eastern bird in yarak has no
"I had one once from the Holy Land," said de Manny. "It was
fierce and keen and swift as the Saracens themselves. They say of
old Saladin that in his day his breed of birds, of hounds and of
horses had no equal on earth."
"I trust, dear father, that the day may come when we shall lay our
hands on all three," said the Prince, looking with shining eyes
upon the King. "Is the Holy Land to lie forever in the grasp of
these unbelieving savages, or the Holy Temple to be defiled by
their foul presence? Ah! my dear and most sweet lord, give to me
a thousand lances with ten thousand bowmen like those I led at
Crecy, and I swear to you by God's soul that within a year I will
have done homage to you for the Kingdom of Jerusalem!"
The King laughed as he turned to Walter Manny. "Boys will still
be boys," said he.
"The French do not count me such!" cried the young Prince,
flushing with anger.
"Nay, fair son, there is no one sets you at a higher rate than
your father. But you have the nimble mind and quick fancy of
youth, turning over from the thing that is half done to a further
task beyond. How would we fare in Brittany and Normandy while my
young paladin with his lances and his bowmen was besieging Ascalon
or battering at Jerusalem?"
"Heaven would help in Heaven's work."
"From what I have heard of the past," said the King dryly, "I
cannot see that Heaven has counted for much as an ally in these
wars of the East. I speak with reverence, and yet it is but sooth
to say that Richard of the Lion Heart or Louis of France might
have found the smallest earthly principality of greater service to
him than all the celestial hosts. How say you to that, my Lord
A stout churchman who had ridden behind the King on a solid bay
cob, well-suited to his weight and dignity, jogged up to the
monarch's elbow. "How say you, sire? I was watching the goshawk
on the partridge and heard you not."
"Had I said that I would add two manors to the See of Chichester,
I warrant that you would have heard me, my Lord Bishop."
"Nay, fair lord, test the matter by saying so," cried the jovial
The King laughed aloud. "A fair counter, your reverence. By the
rood! you broke your lance that passage. But the question I
debated was this: How is it that since the Crusades have
manifestly been fought in God's quarrel, we Christians have had so
little comfort or support in fighting them. After all our efforts
and the loss of more men than could be counted, we are at last
driven from the country, and even the military orders which were
formed only for that one purpose can scarce hold a footing in the
islands of the Greek sea. There is not one seaport nor one
fortress in Palestine over which the flag of the Cross still
waves. Where then was our ally?"
"Nay, sire, you open a great debate which extends far beyond this
question of the Holy Land, though that may indeed be chosen as a
fair example. It is the question of all sin, of all suffering, of
all injustice - why it should pass without the rain of fire and
the lightnings of Sinai. The wisdom of God is beyond our
The King shrugged his shoulders. "This is an easy answer, my Lord
Bishop. You are a prince of the Church. It would fare ill with
an earthly prince who could give no better answer to the affairs
which concerned his realm."
"There are other considerations which might be urged, most
gracious sire. It is true that the Crusades were a holy
enterprise which might well expect the immediate blessing of God;
but the Crusaders - is it certain that they deserved such a
blessing? Have I not heard that their camp was the most dissolute
"Camps are camps all the world over, and you cannot in a moment
change a bowman into a saint. But the holy Louis was a crusader
after your own heart. Yet his men perished at Mansurah and he
himself at Tunis."
"Bethink you also that this world is but the antechamber of the
next," said the prelate. "By suffering and tribulation the soul
is cleansed, and the true victor may be he who by the patient
endurance of misfortune merits the happiness to come."
"If that be the true meaning of the Church's blessing, then I hope
that it will be long before it rests upon our banners in France,"
said the King. "But methinks that when one is out with a brave
horse and a good hawk one might find some other subject than
theology. Back to the birds, Bishop, or Raoul the falconer will
come to interrupt thee in thy cathedral."
Straightway the conversation came back to the mystery of the woods
and the mystery of the rivers, to the dark-eyed hawks and the
yellow-eyed, to hawks of the lure and hawks of the fist. The
Bishop was as steeped in the lore of falconry as the King, and the
others smiled as the two wrangled hard over disputed and technical
questions: if an eyas trained in the mews can ever emulate the
passage hawk taken wild, or how long the young hawks should be
placed at hack, and how long weathered before they are fully
Monarch and prelate were still deep in this learned discussion,
the Bishop speaking with a freedom and assurance which he would
never have dared to use in affairs of Church and State, for in all
ages there is no such leveler as sport. Suddenly, however, the
Prince, whose keen eyes had swept from time to time over the great
blue heaven, uttered a peculiar call and reined up his palfrey,
pointing at the same time into the air.
"A heron!" he cried. "A heron on passage!"
To gain the full sport of hawking a heron must not be put up from
its feeding-ground, where it is heavy with its meal, and has no
time to get its pace on before it is pounced upon by the more
active hawk, but it must be aloft, traveling from point to point,
probably from the fish-stream to the heronry. Thus to catch the
bird on passage was the prelude of all good sport. The object to
which the Prince had pointed was but a black dot in the southern
sky, but his strained eyes had not deceived him, and both Bishop
and King agreed that it was indeed a heron, which grew larger
every instant as it flew in their direction.
"Whistle him off, sire! Whistle off the gerfalcon!" cried the
"Nay, nay, he is overfar. She would fly at check."
"Now, sire, now!" cried the Prince, as the great bird with the
breeze behind him came sweeping down the sky.
The King gave the shrill whistle, and the well-trained hawk raked
out to the right and to the left to make sure which quarry she was
to follow. Then, spying the heron, she shot up in a swift
ascending curve to meet him.
"Well flown, Margot! Good bird!" cried the King, clapping his
hands to encourage the hawk, while the falconers broke into the
shrill whoop peculiar to the sport.
Going on her curve, the hawk would soon have crossed the path of
the heron; but the latter, seeing the danger in his front and
confident in his own great strength of wing and lightness of body,
proceeded to mount higher in the air, flying in such small rings
that to the spectators it almost seemed as if the bird was going
"He takes the air!" cried the King. "But strong as he flies, he
cannot out fly Margot. Bishop, I lay you ten gold pieces to one
that the heron is mine."
"I cover your wager, sire," said the Bishop. "I may not take gold
so won, and yet I warrant that there is an altar-cloth somewhere
in need of repairs."
"You have good store of altar-cloths, Bishop, if all the gold I
have seen you win at tables goes to the mending of them," said the
King. "Ah! by the rood, rascal, rascal! See how she flies at
The quick eyes of the Bishop had perceived a drift of rooks when
on their evening flight to the rookery were passing along the very
line which divided the hawk from the heron. A rook is a hard
temptation for a hawk to resist. In an instant the inconstant
bird had forgotten all about the great heron above her and was
circling over the rooks, flying westward with them as she singled
out the plumpest for her stoop.
"There is yet time, sire! Shall I cast off her mate?" cried the
"Or shall I show you, sire, how a peregrine may win where a
gerfalcon fails?" said the Bishop. "Ten golden pieces to one upon
"Done with you, Bishop!" cried the King, his brow dark with
vexation. "By the rood! if you were as learned in the fathers as
you are in hawks you would win to the throne of Saint Peter! Cast
off your peregrine and make your boasting good."
Smaller than the royal gerfalcon, the Bishop's bird was none the
less a swift and beautiful creature. From her perch upon his
wrist she had watched with fierce, keen eyes the birds in the
heaven, mantling herself from time to time in her eagerness. Now
when the button was undone and the leash uncast the peregrine
dashed off with a whir of her sharp-pointed wings, whizzing round
in a great ascending circle which mounted swiftly upward, growing
ever smaller as she approached that lofty point where, a mere
speck in the sky, the heron sought escape from its enemies. Still
higher and higher the two birds mounted, while the horsemen, their
faces upturned, strained their eyes in their efforts to follow
"She rings! She still rings!" cried the Bishop. "She is above
him! She has gained her pitch."
"Nay, nay, she is far below," said the King.
"By my soul, my Lord Bishop is right!" cried the Prince. "I
believe she is above. See! See! She swoops!"
"She binds! She binds!" cried a dozen voices as the two dots
blended suddenly into one.
There could be no doubt that they were falling rapidly, Already
they grew larger to the eye. Presently the heron disengaged
himself and flapped heavily away, the worse for, that deadly
embrace, while the peregrine, shaking her, plumage, ringed once
more so as to get high above the quarry and deal it a second and
more fatal blow. The Bishop smiled, for nothing, as it seemed,
could hinder his victory.
"Thy gold pieces shall be well spent, sire," said he. "What is
lost to the Church is gained by the loser."
But a most unlooked-for chance deprived the Bishop's altar cloth
of its costly mending. The King's gerfalcon having struck down a
rook, and finding the sport but tame, bethought herself suddenly
of that noble heron, which she still perceived fluttering over
Crooksbury Heath. How could she have been so weak as to allow
these silly, chattering rooks to entice her away from that lordly
bird? Even now it was not too late to atone for her mistake. In
a great spiral she shot upward until she was over the heron. But
what was this? Every fiber of her, from her crest to her deck
feathers, quivered with jealousy and rage at the sight of this
creature, a mere peregrine, who had dared to come between a royal
gerfalcon and her quarry. With one sweep of her great wings she
shot up until she was above her rival. The next instant -
"They crab! They crab!" cried the King, with a roar of laughter,
following them with his eyes as they bustled down through the air.
"Mend thy own altar-cloths, Bishop. Not a groat shall you have
from me this journey. Pull them apart, falconer, lest they do
each other an injury. And now, masters, let us on, for the sun
sinks toward the west."
The two hawks, which had come to the ground interlocked with
clutching talons and ruffled plumes, were torn apart and brought
back bleeding and panting to their perches, while the heron after
its perilous adventure flapped its way heavily onward to settle
safely in the heronry of Waverley. The cortege, who had scattered
in the excitement of the chase, came together again, and the
journey was once more resumed.
A horseman who had been riding toward them across the moor now
quickened his pace and closed swiftly upon them. As he came
nearer, the King and the Prince cried out joyously and waved their
hands in greeting.
"It is good John Chandos!!" cried the King. "By the rood, John, I
have missed your merry songs this week or more! Glad I am to see
that you have your citole slung to your back. Whence come you
"I come from Tilford, sire, in the hope that I should meet your
"It was well thought of. Come, ride here between the Prince and
me, and we will believe that we are back in France with our war
harness on our backs once more. What is your news, Master John?"
Chandos' quaint face quivered with suppressed amusement and his
one eye twinkled like a star. "Have you had sport, my liege?"
"Poor sport, John. We flew two hawks on the same heron. They
crabbed, and the bird got free. But why do you smile so?"
"Because I hope to show you better sport ere you come to Tilford."
"For the hawk? For the hound?"
"A nobler sport than either."
"Is this a riddle, John? What mean you?"
"Nay, to tell all would be to spoil all. I say again that there
is rare sport betwixt here and Tilford, and I beg you, dear lord,
to mend your pace that we make the most of the daylight."
Thus adjured, the King set spurs to his horse, and the whole
cavalcade cantered over the heath in the direction which Chandos
showed. Presently as they came over a slope they saw beneath them
a winding river with an old high-backed bridge across it. On the
farther side was a village green with a fringe of cottages and one
dark manor house upon the side of the hill.
"This is Tilford, " said Chandos. "Yonder is the house of the
The King's expectations had been aroused and his face showed his
"Is this the sport that you have promised us, Sir John? How can
you make good your words?"
"I will make them good, my liege."
"Where then is the sport?"
"On the high crown of the bridge a rider in armor was seated,
lance in hand, upon a great yellow steed. Chandos touched the
King's arm and pointed. " That is the sport," said he.
IX. HOW NIGEL HELD THE BRIDGE AT TILFORD
The King looked at the motionless figure, at the little crowd of
hushed expectant rustics beyond the bridge, and finally at the
face of Chandos, which shone with amusement.
"What is this, John?" he asked.
"You remember Sir Eustace Loring, sire?"
"Indeed I could never forget him nor the manner of his death."
"He was a knight errant in his day."
"That indeed he was - none better have I known."
"So is his son Nigel, as fierce a young war-hawk as ever yearned
to use beak and claws; but held fast in the mews up to now. This
is his trial fight. There he stands at the bridge-head, as was
the wont in our fathers' time, ready to measure himself against
Of all Englishmen there was no greater knight errant than the King
himself, and none so steeped in every quaint usage of chivalry; so
that the situation was after his own heart.
"He is not yet a knight?"
"No, sire, only a Squire."
"Then he must bear himself bravely this day if he is to make good
what he has done. Is it fitting that a young untried Squire
should venture to couch his lance against the best in England?"
"He bath given me his cartel and challenge," said Chandos, drawing
a paper from his tunic. "Have I your permission, sire, to issue
"Surely, John, we have no cavalier more versed in the laws of
chivalry than yourself. You know this young man, and you are
aware how far he is worthy of the high honor which he asks. Let
us hear his defiance,"
The knights and squires of the escort, most of whom were veterans
of the French war, had been gazing with interest and some surprise
at the steel-clad figure in front of them. Now at a call from Sir
Walter Manny they assembled round the spot where the King and
Chandos had halted. Chandos cleared his throat and read from his
"`A tous seigneurs, chevaliers et escuyers,' so it is headed,
gentlemen. It is a message from the good Squire Nigel Loring of
Tilford, son of Sir Eustace Loring, of honorable memory. Squire
Loring awaits you in arms, gentlemen, yonder upon the crown of the
old bridge. Thus says he: `For the great desire that I, a most
humble and unworthy Squire, entertain, that I may come to the
knowledge of the noble gentlemen who ride with my royal master, I
now wait on the Bridge of the Way in the hope that some of them
may condescend to do some small deed of arms upon me, or that I
may deliver them from any vow which they may have taken. This I
say out of no esteem for myself, but solely that I may witness the
noble bearing of these famous cavaliers and admire their skill in
the handling of arms. Therefore, with the help of Saint George, I
will hold the bridge with sharpened lances against any or all who
may deign to present themselves while daylight lasts."
"What say you to this, gentlemen?" asked the King, looking round
with laughing eyes.
"Truly it is issued in very good form," said the Prince. "Neither
Claricieux nor Red Dragon nor any herald that ever wore tabard
could better it. Did he draw it of his own hand?"
"He hath a grim old grandmother who is one of the ancient breed,"
said Chandos. "I doubt not that the Dame Ermyntrude hath drawn a
challenge or two before now. But hark ye, sire, I would have a
word in your ear - and yours too, most noble Prince."
Leading them aside, Chandos whispered some explanations, which
ended by them all three bursting into a shout of laughter.
"By the rood! no honorable gentleman should be reduced to such
straits," said the King. "It behooves me to look to it. But how
now, gentlemen? This worthy cavalier still waits his answer."
The soldiers had all been buzzing together; but now Walter Manny
turned to the King with the result of their counsel.
"If it please your majesty," said he, "we are of opinion that this
Squire hath exceeded all bounds in desiring to break a spear with
a belted knight ere he has given his proofs. We do him sufficient
honor if a Squire ride against him, and with your consent I have
chosen my own body-squire, John Widdicombe, to clear the path for
us across the bridge."
"What you say, Walter, is right and fair," said the King. "Master
Chandos, you will tell our champion yonder what hath been
arranged. You will advise him also that it is our royal will that
this contest be not fought upon the bridge, since it is very clear
that it must end in one or both going over into the river, but
that he advance to the end of the bridge and fight upon the plain.
You will tell him also that a blunted lance is sufficient for such
an encounter, but that a hand-stroke or two with sword or mace may
well be exchanged, if both riders should keep their saddles. A
blast upon Raoul's horn shall be the signal to close."
Such ventures as these where an aspirant for fame would wait for
days at a cross-road, a ford, or a bridge, until some worthy
antagonist should ride that way, were very common in the old days
of adventurous knight erranty, and were still familiar to the
minds of all men because the stories of the romancers and the
songs of the trouveres were full of such incidents. Their actual
occurrence however had become rare. There was the more curiosity,
not unmixed with amusement, in the thoughts of the courtiers as
they watched Chandos ride down to the bridge and commented upon
the somewhat singular figure of the challenger. His build was
strange, and so also was his figure, for the limbs were short for
so tall a man. His head also was sunk forward as if he were lost
in thought or overcome with deep dejection.
"This is surely the Cavalier of the Heavy Heart," said Manny.
"What trouble has he, that he should hang his head?"
"Perchance he hath a weak neck," said the King.
"At least he hath no weak voice," the Prince remarked, as Nigel's
answer to Chandos came to their ears. "By our lady, he booms like
As Chandos rode back again to the King, Nigel exchanged the old
ash spear which had been his father's for one of the blunted
tournament lances which he took from the hands of a stout archer
in attendance. He then rode down to the end of the bridge where a
hundred-yard stretch of greensward lay in front of him. At the
same moment the Squire of Sir Walter Manny, who had been hastily
armed by his comrades, spurred forward and took up his position.
The King raised his hand; there was a clang from the falconer's
horn, and the two riders, with a thrust of their heels and a shake
of their bridles, dashed furiously at each other. In the center
the green strip of marshy meadowland, with the water squirting
from the galloping hoofs, and the two crouching men, gleaming
bright in the evening sun, on one side the half circle of
motionless horsemen, some in steel, some in velvet, silent and
attentive, dogs, hawks, and horses all turned to stone; on the
other the old peaked bridge, the blue lazy river, the group of
openmouthed rustics, and the dark old manor-house with one grim
face which peered from the upper window.
A good man was John Widdicombe, but he had met a better that day.
Before that yellow whirlwind of a horse and that rider who was
welded and riveted to his saddle his knees could not hold their
grip. Nigel and Pommers were one flying missile, with all their
weight and strength and energy centered on the steady end of the
lance. Had Widdicombe been struck by a thunderbolt he could not
have flown faster or farther from his saddle. Two full
somersaults did he make, his plates clanging like cymbals, ere he
lay prone upon his back.
For a moment the King looked grave at that prodigious fall. Then
smiling once more as Widdicombe staggered to his feet, he clapped
his hands loudly in applause. "A fair course and fairly run!" he
cried. "The five scarlet roses bear themselves in peace even as I
have seen them in war. How now, my good Walter? Have you another
Squire or will you clear a path for us yourself?"
Manny's choleric face had turned darker as he observed the
mischance of his representative. He beckoned now to a tall
knight, whose gaunt and savage face looked out from his open
bassinet as an eagle might from a cage of steel.
"Sir Hubert," said he, "I bear in mind the day when you overbore
the Frenchman at Caen. Will you not be our champion now?"
"When I fought the Frenchman, Walter, it was with naked weapons,"
said the knight sternly. "I am a soldier and I love a soldier's
work, but I care not for these tiltyard tricks which were invented
for nothing but to tickle the fancies of foolish women."
"Oh, most ungallant speech!" cried the King. "Had my good-consort
heard you she would have arraigned you to appear at a Court of
Love with a jury of virgins to answer for your sins. But I pray
you to take a tilting spear, good Sir Hubert!"
"I had as soon take a peacock's feather, my fair lord; but I will
do it, if you ask me. Here, page, hand me one of those sticks,
and let me see what I can do."
But Sir Hubert de Burgh was not destined to test either his skill
or his luck. The great bay horse which he rode was as unused to
this warlike play as was its master, and had none of its master's
stoutness of heart; so that when it saw the leveled lance, the
gleaming figure and the frenzied yellow horse rushing down upon
it, it swerved, turned and galloped furiously down the river-bank.
Amid roars of laughter from the rustics on the one side and from
the courtiers on the other, Sir Hubert was seen, tugging vainly at
his bridle, and bounding onward, clearing gorse-bushes and
heather-clumps, until he was but a shimmering, quivering gleam
upon the dark hillside. Nigel, who had pulled Pommers on to his
very haunches at the instant that his opponent turned, saluted
with his lance and trotted back to the bridge-head, where he
awaited his next assailant.
"The ladies would say that a judgment hath fallen upon our good
Sir Hubert for his impious words," said the King.
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