Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 8
"Let us hope that his charger may be broken in ere they venture to
ride out between two armies," remarked the Prince. "They might
mistake the hardness of his horse's mouth for a softness of the
rider's heart. See where he rides, still clearing every bush upon
"By the rood!" said the King, "if the bold Hubert has not
increased his repute as a jouster he has gained great honor as a
horseman. But the bridge is still closed, Walter. How say you
now? Is this young Squire never to be unhorsed, or is your King
himself to lay lance in rest ere his way can be cleared? By the
head of Saint Thomas! I am in the very mood to run a course with
this gentle youth."
"Nay, nay, sire, too much honor hath already been done him!" said
Manny, looking angrily at the motionless horseman. "That this
untried boy should be able to say that in one evening he has
unhorsed my Squire, and seen the back of one of the bravest
knights in England is surely enough to turn his foolish head.
Fetch me a spear, Robert! I will see what I can make of him."
The famous knight took the spear when it was brought to him as a
master-workman takes a tool. He balanced it, shook it once or
twice in the air, ran his eyes down it for a flaw in the wood, and
then finally having made sure of its poise and weight laid it
carefully in rest under his arm. Then gathering up his bridle so
as to have his horse under perfect command, and covering himself
with the shield, which was slung round his neck, he rode out to do
Now, Nigel, young and inexperienced, all Nature's aid will not
help you against the mixed craft and strength of such a warrior.
The day will come when neither Manny nor even Chandos could sweep
you from your saddle; but now, even had you some less cumbrous
armor, your chance were small. Your downfall is near; but as you
see the famous black chevrons on a golden ground your gallant
heart which never knew fear is only filled with joy and amazement
at the honor done you. Your downfall is near, and yet in your
wildest dreams you would never guess how strange your downfall is
Again with a dull thunder of hoofs the horses gallop over the soft
water-meadow. Again with a clash of metal the two riders meet.
It is Nigel now, taken clean in the face of his helmet with the
blunted spear, who flies backward off his horse and falls clanging
on the grass.
But good heavens! what is this? Manny has thrown up his hands in
horror and the lance has dropped from his nerveless fingers. From
all sides, with cries of dismay, with oaths and shouts and
ejaculations to the saints, the horsemen ride wildly in. Was ever
so dreadful, so sudden, so complete, an end to a gentle passage at
arms? Surely their eyes must be at fault? Some wizard's trick
has been played upon them to deceive their senses. But no, it was
only too clear. There on the greensward lay the trunk of the
stricken cavalier, and there, a good dozen yards beyond, lay his
"By the Virgin!" cried Manny wildly, as he jumped from his horse,
"I would give my last gold piece that the work of this evening
should be undone! How came it? What does it mean? Hither, my
Lord Bishop, for surely it smacks of witchcraft and the Devil."
With a white face the Bishop had sprung down beside the prostrate
body, pushing through the knot of horrified knights and squires.
"I fear that the last offices of the Holy Church come too late,"
said he in a quivering voice. "Most unfortunate young man! How
sudden an end! In medio vitae, as the Holy Book has it - one
moment in the pride of his youth, the next his head torn from his
body. Now God and his saints have mercy upon me and guard me from
The last prayer was shot out of the Bishop with an energy and
earnestness unusual in his orisons. It was caused by the sudden
outcry of one of the Squires who, having lifted the helmet from
the ground, cast it down again with a scream of horror.
"It is empty!" he cried. "It weighs as light as a feather."
"'Fore God, it is true!" cried Manny, laying his hand on it.
"There is no one in it. With what have I fought, father Bishop?
Is it of this world or of the next?"
The Bishop had clambered on his horse the better to consider the
point. "If the foul fiend is abroad," said he, "my place is over
yonder by the King's side. Certes that sulphur-colored horse hath
a very devilish look. I could have sworn that I saw both smoke
and flame from its nostrils. The beast is fit to bear a suit of
armor which rides and fights and yet hath no man within it."
"Nay, not too fast, father Bishop," said one of the knights. "It
may be all that you say and yet come from a human workshop. When
I made a campaign in South Germany I have seen at Nuremberg a
cunning figure, devised by an armorer, which could both ride and
wield a sword. If this be such a one - "
"I thank you all for your very gentle courtesy," said a booming
voice from the figure upon the ground.
At the words even the valiant Manny sprang into his saddle. Some
rode madly away from the horrid trunk. A few of the boldest
"Most of all," said the voice, "would I thank the most noble
knight, Sir Walter Manny, that he should deign to lay aside his
greatness and condescend to do a deed of arms upon so humble a
"'Fore God!" said Manny, " if this be the Devil, then the Devil
hath a very courtly tongue. I will have him out of his armor, if
he blast me!"
So saying he sprang once more from his horse and plunging his hand
down the slit in the collapsed gorget he closed it tightly upon a
fistful of Nigel's yellow curls. The groan that came forth was
enough to convince him that it was indeed a man who lurked within.
At the same time his eyes fell upon the hole in the mail corselet
which had served the Squire as a vizor, and he burst into
deep-chested mirth. The King, the Prince and Chandos, who had
watched the scene from a distance, too much amused by it to
explain or interfere, rode up weary with laughter, now that all
"Let him out!" said the King, with his hand to his side. "I pray
you to unlace him and let him out! I have shared in many a
spear-running, but never have I been nearer falling from my horse
than as I watched this one. I feared the fall had struck him
senseless, since he lay so still."
Nigel had indeed lain with all the breath shaken from his body,
and as he was unaware that his helmet had been carried off, he had
not understood either the alarm or the amusement that he had
caused. Now freed from the great hauberk in which he had been
shut like a pea in a pod, he stood blinking in the light, blushing
deeply with shame that the shifts to which his poverty had reduced
him should be exposed to all these laughing courtiers. It was the
King who brought him comfort.
"You have shown that you can use your father's weapons," said he,
" and you have proved also that you are the worthy bearer of his
name and his arms, for you have within you that spirit for which
he was famous. But I wot that neither he nor you would suffer a
train of hungry men to starve before your door; so lead on, I pray
you, and if the meat be as good as this grace before it, then it
will be a feast indeed."
X. HOW THE KING GREETED HIS SENESCHAL OF CALAIS
It would have fared ill with the good name of Tilford Manor house
and with the housekeeping of the aged Dame Ermyntrude had the
King's whole retinue, with his outer and inner marshal, his
justiciar, his chamberlain and his guard, all gathered under the
one roof. But by the foresight and the gentle management of
Chandos this calamity was avoided, so that some were quartered at
the great Abbey and others passed on to enjoy the hospitality of
Sir Roger FitzAlan at Farnham Castle. Only the King himself, the
Prince, Manny, Chandos, Sir Hubert de Burgh, the Bishop and two or
three more remained behind as the guests of the Lorings.
But small as was the party and humble the surroundings, the King
in no way relaxed that love of ceremony, of elaborate form and of
brilliant coloring which was one of his characteristics. The
sumpter-mules were unpacked, squires ran hither and thither, baths
smoked in the bed-chambers, silks and satins were unfolded, gold
chains gleamed and clinked, so that when at last, to the long
blast of two court trumpeters, the company took their seats at the
board, it was the brightest, fairest scene which those old black
rafters had ever spanned.
The great influx of foreign knights who had come in their splendor
from all parts of Christendom to take part in the opening of the
Round Tower of Windsor six years before, and to try their luck and
their skill at the tournament connected with it, had deeply
modified the English fashions of dress. The old tunic, over-tunic
and cyclas were too sad and simple for the new fashions, so now
strange and brilliant cote-hardies, pourpoints, courtepies,
paltocks, hanselines and many other wondrous garments,
parti-colored or diapered, with looped, embroidered or escalloped
edges, flamed and glittered round the King. He himself, in black
velvet and gold, formed a dark rich center to the finery around
him. On his right sat the Prince, on his left the Bishop, while
Dame Ermyntrude marshaled the forces of the household outside,
alert and watchful, pouring in her dishes and her flagons at the
right moment, rallying her tired servants, encouraging the van,
hurrying the rear, hastening up her reserves, the tapping of her
oak stick heard everywhere the pressure was the greatest.
Behind the King, clad in his best, but looking drab and sorry amid
the brilliant costumes round him, Nigel himself, regardless of an
aching body and a twisted knee, waited upon his royal guests, who
threw many a merry jest at him over their shoulders as they still
chuckled at the adventure of the bridge.
"By the rood!" said King Edward, leaning back, with a chicken bone
held daintily between the courtesy fingers of his left hand, "the
play is too good for this country stage. You must to Windsor with
me, Nigel, and bring with you this great suit of harness in which
you lurk. There you shall hold the lists with your eyes in your
midriff, and unless some one cleave you to the waist I see not how
any harm can befall you. Never have I seen so small a nut in so
great a shell."
The Prince, looking back with laughing eyes, saw by Nigel's
flushed and embarrassed face that his poverty hung heavily upon
him. " Nay," said he kindly, "such a workman is surely worthy of
"And it is for his master to see that he has them," added the
King. "The court armorer will look to it that the next time your
helmet is carried away, Nigel, your head shall be inside it."
Nigel, red to the roots of his flaxen hair, stammered out some
words of thanks.
John Chandos, however, had a fresh suggestion, and he cocked a
roguish eye as he made it: "Surely, my liege, your bounty is
little needed in this case. It is the ancient law of arms that if
two cavaliers start to joust, and one either by maladdress or
misadventure fail to meet the shock, then his arms become the
property of him who still holds the lists. This being so,
methinks, Sir Hubert de Burgh, that the fine hauberk of Milan and
the helmet of Bordeaux steel in which you rode to Tilford should
remain with our young host as some small remembrance of your
The suggestion raised a general chorus of approval and laughter,
in which all joined, save only Sir Hubert himself, who, flushed
with anger, fixed his baleful eyes upon Chandos' mischievous and
"I said that I did not play that foolish game, and I know nothing
of its laws," said he; "but you know well, John, that if you would
have a bout with sharpened spear or sword, where two ride to the
ground, and only one away from it, you have not far to go to find
"Nay, nay, would you ride to the ground? Surely you had best
walk, Hubert," said Chandos. "On your feet I know well that I
should not see your back as we have seen it to-day. Say what you
will, your horse has played you false, and I claim your suit of
harness for Nigel Loring."
"Your tongue is overlong, John, and I am weary of its endless
clack!" said Sir Hubert, his yellow mustache bristling from a
scarlet face. "If you claim my harness, do you yourself come and
take it. If there is a moon in the sky you may try this very
night when the board is cleared."
"Nay, fair sirs," cried the King, smiling from one to the other,
"this matter must be followed no further. Do you fill a bumper of
Gascony, John, and you also, Hubert. Now pledge each other, I
pray you, as good and loyal comrades who would scorn to fight save
in your King's quarrel. We can spare neither of you while there
is so much work for brave hearts over the sea. As to this matter
of the harness, John Chandos speaks truly where it concerns a
joust in the lists, but we hold that such a law is scarce binding
in this, which was but a wayside passage and a gentle trial of
arms. On the other hand, in the case of your Squire, Master
Manny, there can be no doubt that his suit is forfeit."
"It is a grievous hearing for him, my liege," said Walter Manny;
"for he is a poor man and hath been at sore pains to fit himself
for the wars. Yet what you say shall be done, fair sire. So, if
you will come to me in the morning, Squire Loring, John
Widdicombe's suit will be handed over to you."
"Then with the King's leave, I will hand it back to him," said
Nigel, troubled and stammering; "for indeed I had rather never
ride to the wars than take from a brave man his only suit of
"There spoke your father's spirit!" cried the King. "By the rood!
Nigel, I like you full well. Let the matter bide in my hands.
But I marvel much that Sir Aymery the Lombard hath not come to us
yet from Windsor."
>From the moment of his arrival at Tilford, again and again King
Edward had asked most eagerly whether Sir Aymery had come, and
whether there was any news of him, so that the courtiers glanced
at each other in wonder. For Aymery was known to all of them as a
famous mercenary of Italy, lately appointed Governor of Calais,
and this sudden and urgent summons from the King might well mean
some renewal of the war with France, which was the dearest wish of
every soldier. Twice the King had stopped his meal and sat with
sidelong head; his wine-cup in his hand, listening attentively
when some sound like the clatter of hoofs was heard from outside;
but the third time there could be no mistake. The tramp and
jingle of the horses broke loud upon the ear, and ended in hoarse
voices calling out of the darkness, which were answered by the
archers posted as sentries without the door.
"Some traveler has indeed arrived, my liege," said Nigel. "What
is your royal will?"
"It can be but Aymery," the King answered, "for it was only to him
that I left the message that he should follow me hither. Bid him
come in, I pray you, and make him very welcome at your board."
Nigel cast open the door, plucking a torch from its bracket as he
did so. Half a dozen men-at-arms sat on their horses outside, but
one had dismounted, a short, squat, swarthy man with a rat face
and quick, restless brown eyes which peered eagerly past Nigel
into the red glare of the well-lit hall.
"I am Sir Aymery of Pavia," he whispered. "For God's sake, tell
me! is the King within?"
"He is at table, fair sir, and he bids you to enter."
"One moment, young man, one moment, and a secret word in your ear.
Wot you why it is that the King has sent for me?"
Nigel read terror in the dark cunning eyes which glanced in
sidelong fashion into his. "Nay, I know not."
"I would I knew - I would I was sure ere I sought his presence."
"You have but to cross the threshold, fair sir, and doubtless you
will learn from the King's own lips."
Sir Aymery seemed to gather himself as one who braces for a spring
into ice-cold water. Then he crossed with a quick stride from the
darkness into the light. The King stood up and held out his hand
with a smile upon his long handsome face, and yet it seemed to the
Italian that it was the lips which smiled but not the eyes.
"Welcome!" cried Edward. "Welcome to our worthy and faithful
Seneschal of Calais! Come, sit here before me at the board, for I
have sent for you that I may hear your news from over the sea, and
thank you for the care that you have taken of that which is as
dear to me as wife or child. Set a place for Sir Aymery there,
and give him food and drink, for he has ridden fast and far in our
Throughout the long feast which the skill of the Lady Ermyntrude
had arranged, Edward chatted lightly with the Italian as well as
with the barons near him. Finally, when the last dish was removed
and the gravy-soaked rounds of coarse bread which served as plates
had been cast to the dogs, the wine-flagons were passed round; and
old Weathercote the minstrel entered timidly with his harp in the
hope that he might be allowed to play before the King's majesty.
But Edward had other, sport afoot.
"I pray you, Nigel, to send out the servants, so that we may be
alone. I would have two men-at-arms at every door lest we be
disturbed in our debate, for it is a matter of privacy. And now,
Sir Aymery, these noble lords as well as I, your master, would
fain hear from your own lips how all goes forward in France."
The Italian's face was calm; but he looked restlessly from one to
another along the line of his listeners.
"So far as I know, my liege, all is quiet on the French marches,"
"You have not heard then that they have mustered or gathered to a
head with the intention of breaking the truce and making some
attempt upon our dominions?"
"Nay, sire, I have heard nothing of it."
"You set my mind much at ease, Aymery," said the King; "for if
nothing has come to your ears, then surely it cannot be. It was
said that the wild Knight de Chargny had come down to St. Omer
with his eyes upon my precious jewel and his mailed hands ready to
"Nay, sire, let him come. He will find the jewel safe in its
strong box, with a goodly guard over it."
"You are the guard over my jewel, Aymery."
"Yes, sire, I am the guard."
"And you are a faithful guard and one whom I can trust, are you
not? You would not barter away that which is so dear to me when I
have chosen you out of all my army to hold it for me?"
"Nay, sire, what reasons can there be for such questions? They
touch my honor very nearly. You know that I would part with
Calais only when I parted with my soul."
"Then you know nothing of de Chargny's attempt?"
"Liar and villain!" yelled the King, springing to his feet and
dashing his fist upon the table until the glasses rattled again.
"Seize him, archers! Seize him this instant! Stand close by
either elbow, lest he do himself a mischief! Now do you dare to
tell me to my face, you perjured Lombard, that you know nothing of
de Chargny and his plans?"
"As God is my witness I know nothing of him!" The man's lips were
white, and he spoke in a thin, sighing, reedy voice, his eyes
wincing away from the fell gaze of the angry King.
Edward laughed bitterly, and drew a paper from his breast. "You
are the judges in this case, you, my fair son, and you, Chandos,
and you, Manny, and you, Sir Hubert, and you also, my Lord Bishop.
By my sovereign power I make you a court that you may deal justice
upon this man, for by God's eyes I will not stir from this room
until I have sifted the matter to the bottom. And first I would
read you this letter. It is superscribed to Sir Aymery of Pavia,
nomme Le Lombard, Chateau de Calais. Is not that your name and
style, you rogue?"
"It is my name, sire; but no such letter has come to me."
"Else had your villainy never been disclosed. It is signed
`Isidore de Chargny'. What says my enemy de Chargny to my trusted
servant? Listen! `We could not come with the last moon, for we
have not gathered sufficient strength, nor have we been able to
collect the twenty thousand crowns which are your price. But with
the next turn of the moon in the darkest hour we will come and you
will be paid your money at the small postern gate with the
rowan-bush beside it.' Well, rogue, what say you now?"
"It is a forgery!" gasped the Italian.
"I pray you that you will let me see it, sire," said Chandos. "De
Chargny was my prisoner, and so many letters passed ere his ransom
was paid that his script is well-known to me. Yes, yes, I will
swear that this is indeed his. If my salvation were at stake I
could swear it."
"If it were indeed written by de Chargny it was to dishonor me,"
cried Sir Aymery.
"Nay, nay!" said the young Prince. "We all know de Chargny and
have fought against him. Many faults he has, a boaster and a
brawler, but a braver man and one of greater heart and higher of
enterprise does not ride beneath the lilies of France. Such a man
would never stoop to write a letter for the sake of putting
dishonor upon one of knightly rank. I, for one, will never
A gruff murmur from the others showed that they were of one mind
with the Prince. The light of the torches from the walls beat
upon the line of stern faces at the high table. They had sat like
flint, and the Italian shrank from their inexorable eyes. He
looked swiftly round, but armed men choked every entrance. The
shadow of death had fallen athwart his soul.
"This letter," said the King, "was given by de Chargny to one Dom
Beauvais, a priest of St. Omer, to carry into Calais. The said
priest, smelling a reward, brought it to one who is my faithful
servant, and so it came to me. Straightway I sent for this man
that he should come to me. Meanwhile the priest has returned so
that de Chargny may think that his message is indeed delivered."
"I know nothing of it," said the Italian doggedly, licking his dry
A dark flush mounted to the King's forehead, and his eyes were
gorged with his wrath. "No more of this, for God's dignity!" he
cried. "Had we this fellow at the Tower, a few turns of the rack
would tear a confession from his craven soul. But why should we
need his word for his own guilt? You have seen, my lords, you
have heard! How say you, fair son? Is the man guilty?"
"Sire, he is guilty."
"And you, John? And you, Walter? And you, Hubert? And you, my
Lord Bishop? You are all of one mind, then. He is guilty of the
betrayal of his trust. And the punishment?"
"It can only be death," said the Prince, and each in turn the
others nodded their agreement.
"Aymery of Pavia, you have heard your doom," said Edward, leaning
his chin upon his hand and glooming at the cowering Italian.
"Step forward, you archer at the door, you with the black beard.
Draw your sword! Nay, you white-faced rogue, I would not dishonor
this roof-tree by your blood. It is your heels, not your head,
that we want. Hack off these golden spurs of knighthood with your
sword, archer! 'Twas I who gave them, and I who take them back.
Ha! they fly across the hall, and with them every bond betwixt
you and the worshipful order whose sign and badge they are! Now
lead him out on the heath afar from the house where his carrion
can best lie, and hew his scheming head from his body as a warning
to all such traitors!"
The Italian, who had slipped from his chair to his knees, uttered
a cry of despair, as an archer seized him by either shoulder.
Writhing out of their grip, he threw himself upon the floor and
clutched at the King's feet.
"Spare me, my most dread lord, spare me, I beseech you! In the
name of Christ's passion, I implore your grace and pardon!
Bethink you, my good and dear lord, how many years I have served
under your banners and how many services I have rendered. Was it
not I who found the ford upon the Seine two days before the great
battle? Was it not I also who marshaled the attack at the
intaking of Calais? I have a wife and four children in Italy,
great King; and it was the thought of them which led me to fall
from my duty, for this money would have allowed me to leave the
wars and to see them once again. Mercy, my liege, mercy, I
The English are a rough race, but not a cruel one. The King sat
with a face of doom; but the others looked askance and fidgeted in
"Indeed, my fair liege," said Chandos, "I pray you that you will
abate somewhat of your anger."
Edward shook his head curtly. "Be silent, John. It shall be as I
"I pray you, my dear and honored liege, not to act with overmuch
haste in the matter," said Manny. "Bind him and hold him until
the morning, for other counsels may prevail."
"Nay, I have spoken. Lead him out!"
But the trembling man clung to the King's knees in such a fashion
that the archers could not disengage his convulsive grip. "Listen
to me a moment, I implore you! Give me but one minute to plead
with you, and then do what you will."
The King leaned back in his chair. "Speak and have done," said
"You must spare me, my noble liege. For your own sake I say that
you must spare me, for I can set you in the way of such a knightly
adventure as will gladden your heart. Bethink you, sire, that
this de Chargny and his comrades know nothing of their plans
having gone awry. If I do but send them a message they will
surely come to the postern gate. Then, if we have placed our
bushment with skill we shall have such a capture and such a ransom
as will fill your coffers. He and his comrades should be worth a
good hundred thousand crowns."
Edward spurned the Italian away from him with his foot until he
sprawled among the rushes, but even as he lay there like a wounded
snake his dark eyes never left the King's face.
"You double traitor! You would sell Calais to de Chargny, and
then in turn you would sell de Chargny to me. How dare you
suppose that I or any noble knight had such a huckster's soul as
to think only of ransoms where honor is to be won? Could I or any
true man be so caitiff and so thrall? You have sealed your own
doom. Lead him out!"
"One instant, I pray you, my fair and most sweet lord," cried the
Prince. "Assuage your wrath yet a little while, for this man's
rede deserves perhaps more thought than we have given it. He has
turned your noble soul sick with his talk of ransoms; but look at
it, I pray you, from the side of honor, and where could we find
such hope of worshipfully winning worship? I pray you to let me
put my body in this adventure, for it is one from which, if
rightly handled, much advancement is to be gained."
Edward looked with sparkling eyes at the noble youth at his side.
"Never was hound more keen on the track of a stricken hart than
you on the hope of honor, fair son," said he. "How do you
conceive the matter in your mind?"
"De Chargny and his men will be such as are worth going far to
meet, for he will have the pick of France under his banner that
night. If we did as this man says and awaited him with the same
number of lances, then I cannot think that there is any spot in
Christendom where one would rather be than in Calais that night."
"By the rood, fair son, you are right!" cried the King, his face
shining with the thought. "Now which of you, John Chandos or
Walter Manny, will take the thing in charge?" He looked
mischievously from one to the other like a master who dangles a
bone betwixt two fierce old hounds. All they had to say was in
their burning, longing eyes. "Nay, John, you must not take it
amiss; but it is Walter's turn, and he shall have it."
"Shall we not all go under your banner, sire, or that of the
"Nay, it is not fitting that the royal banners of England should
be advanced in so small an adventure. And yet, if you have space
in your ranks for two more cavaliers, both the Prince and I would
ride with you that night."
The young man stooped and kissed his father's hand.
"Take this man in your charge, Walter, and do with him as you
will. Guard well lest he betray us once again. Take him from my
sight, for his breath poisons the room. And now, Nigel, if that
worthy graybeard of thine would fain twang his harp or sing to us
- but what in God's name would you have?"
He had turned, to find his young host upon his knee and his flaxen
head bent in entreaty.
"What is it, man? What do you crave?"
"A boon, fair liege!"
"Well, well, am I to have no peace to-night, with a traitor
kneeling to me in front, and a true man on his knees behind? Out
with it, Nigel. What would you have?"
"To come with you to Calais."
"By the rood! your request is fair enough, seeing that our plot
is hatched beneath your very roof. How say you, Walter? Will you
take him, armor and all?" asked King Edward.
"Say rather will you take me?" said Chandos. "We two are rivals
in honor, Walter, but I am very sure that you would not hold me
"Nay, John, I will be proud to have the best lance in Christendom
beneath my banner."
"And I to follow so knightly a leader. But Nigel Loring is my
Squire, and so he comes with us also."
"Then that is settled," said the King, "and now there is no need
for hurry, since there can be no move until the moon has changed.
So I pray you to pass the flagon once again, and to drink with me
to the good knights of France. May they be of great heart and
high of enterprise when we all meet once more within the castle
wall of Calais!"
XI. IN THE HALL OF THE KNIGHT OF DUPLIN
The King had come and had gone. Tilford Manor house stood once
more dark and silent, but joy and contentment reigned within its
walls. In one night every trouble had fallen away like some dark
curtain which had shut out the sun. A princely sum of money had
come from the King's treasurer, given in such fashion that there
could be no refusal. With a bag of gold pieces at his saddle-bow
Nigel rode once more into Guildford, and not a beggar on the way
who had not cause to bless his name.
There he had gone first to the goldsmith and had bought back cup
and salver and bracelet, mourning with the merchant over the evil
chance that gold and gold-work had for certain reasons which only
those in the trade could fully understand gone up in value during
the last week, so that already fifty gold pieces had to be paid
more than the price which Nigel had received. In vain the
faithful Aylward fretted and fumed and muttered a prayer that the
day would come when he might feather a shaft in the merchant's
portly paunch. The money had to be paid.
Thence Nigel hurried to Wat the armorer's and there he bought that
very suit for which he had yearned so short a time before. Then
and there he tried it on in the booth, Wat and his boy walking
round him with spanner and wrench, fixing bolts and twisting
"How is that, my fair sir?" cried the armorer as he drew the
bassinet over the head and fastened it to the camail which
extended to the shoulders. "I swear by Tubal Cain that it fits
you as the shell fits the crab! A finer suit never came from
Italy or Spain."
Nigel stood in front of a burnished shield which served as a
mirror, and he turned this way and that, preening himself like a
little shining bird. His smooth breastplate, his wondrous joints
with their deft protection by the disks at knee and elbow and
shoulder, the beautifully flexible gauntlets and sollerets, the
shirt of mail and the close-fitting greave-plates were all things
of joy and of beauty in his eyes. He sprang about the shop to
show his lightness, and then running out he placed his hand on the
pommel and vaulted into Pommers' saddle, while Wat and his boy
applauded in the doorway.
Then springing off and running into the shop again he clanked down
upon his knees before the image of the Virgin upon the smithy
wall. There from his heart he prayed that no shadow or stain
should come upon his soul or his honor whilst these arms incased
his body, and that he might be strengthened to use them for noble
and godly ends. A strange turn this to a religion of peace, and
yet for many a century the sword and the faith had upheld each
other and in a darkened world the best ideal of the soldier had
turned in some dim groping fashion toward the light. "Benedictus
dominus deus meus qui docet manus meas ad Praelium et digitos meos
ad bellum!" There spoke the soul of the knightly soldier.
So the armor was trussed upon the armorer's mule and went back
with them to Tilford, where Nigel put it on once more for the
pleasure of the Lady Ermyntrude, who clapped her skinny hands and
shed tears of mingled pain and joy - pain that she should lose
him, joy that he should go so bravely to the wars. As to her own
future, it had been made easy for her, since it was arranged that
a steward should look to the Tilford estate whilst she had at her
disposal a suite of rooms in royal Windsor, where with other
venerable dames of her own age and standing she could spend the
twilight of her days discussing long-forgotten scandals and
whispering sad things about the grandfathers and the grandmothers
of the young courtiers all around them. There Nigel might leave
her with an easy mind when he turned his face to France.
But there was one more visit to be paid and one more farewell to
be spoken ere Nigel could leave the moorlands where he had dwelled
so long. That evening he donned his brightest tunic, dark purple
velvet of Genoa, with trimming of miniver, his hat with the
snow-white feather curling round the front, and his belt of
embossed silver round his loins. Mounted on lordly Pommers, with
his hawk upon wrist and his sword by his side, never did fairer
young gallant or one more modest in mind set forth upon such an
errand. It was but the old Knight of Duplin to whom he would say
farewell; but the Knight of Duplin had two daughters, Edith and
Mary, and Edith was the fairest maid in all the heather-country.
Sir John Buttesthorn, the Knight of Duplin, was so called because
he had been present at that strange battle, some eighteen years
before, when the full power of Scotland had been for a moment
beaten to the ground by a handful of adventurers and mercenaries,
marching under the banner of no nation, but fighting in their own
private quarrel. Their exploit fills no pages of history, for it
is to the interest of no nation to record it, and yet the rumor
and fame of the great fight bulked large in those times, for it
was on that day when the flower of Scotland was left dead upon the
field, that the world first understood that a new force had arisen
in war, and that the English archer, with his robust courage and
his skill with the weapon which he had wielded from his boyhood,
was a power with which even the mailed chivalry of Europe had
seriously to reckon.
Sir John after his return from Scotland had become the King's own
head huntsman, famous through all England for his knowledge of
venery, until at last, getting overheavy for his horses, he had
settled in modest comfort into the old house of Cosford upon the
eastern slope of the Hindhead hill. Here, as his face grew redder
and his beard more white, he spent the evening of his days, amid
hawks and hounds, a flagon of spiced wine ever at his elbow, and
his swollen foot perched upon a stool before him. There it was
that many an old comrade broke his journey as he passed down the
rude road which led from London to Portsmouth, and thither also
came the young gallants of the country to hear the stout knight's
tales of old wars, or to learn, from him that lore of the forest
and the chase which none could teach so well as he.
But sooth to say, whatever the old knight might think, it was not
merely his old tales and older wine which drew the young men to
Cosford, but rather the fair face of his younger daughter, or the
strong soul and wise counsel of the elder. Never had two more
different branches sprung from the same trunk. Both were tall and
of a queenly graceful figure. But there all resemblance began and
Edith was yellow as the ripe corn, blue-eyed, winning,
mischievous, with a chattering tongue, a merry laugh, and a smile
which a dozen of young gallants, Nigel of Tilford at their head,
could share equally amongst them. Like a young kitten she played
with all things that she found in life, and. some there were who
thought that already the claws could be felt amid the patting of
her velvet touch.
Mary was dark as night, grave-featured, plain-visaged, with steady
brown eyes looking bravely at the world from under a strong black
arch of brows. None could call her beautiful, and when her fair
sister cast her arm round her and placed her cheek against hers,
as was her habit when company was there, the fairness of the one
and the plainness of the other leaped visibly to the eyes of all,
each the clearer for that hard contrast. And yet, here and there,
there was one who, looking at her strange, strong face, and at the
passing gleams far down in her dark eyes, felt that this silent
woman with her proud bearing and her queenly grace had in her
something of strength, of reserve and of mystery which was more to
them than all the dainty glitter of her sister.
Such were the ladies of Cosford toward whom Nigel Loring rode that
night with doublet of Genoan velvet and the new white feather in
He had ridden over Thursley Ridge past that old stone where in
days gone by at the place of Thor the wild Saxons worshiped their
war-god. Nigel looked at it with a wary eye and spurred Pommers
onward as he passed it, for still it was said that wild fires
danced round it on the moonless nights, and they who had ears for
such things could hear the scream and sob of those whose lives had
been ripped from them that the fiend might be honored. Thor's
stone, Thor's jumps, Thor's punch-bowl - the whole country-side
was one grim monument to the God of Battles, though the pious
monks had changed his uncouth name for that of the Devil his
father, so that it was the Devil's jumps and the Devil's
punch-bowl of which they spoke. Nigel glanced back at the old
gray boulder, and he felt for an instant a shudder pass through
his stout heart. Was it the chill of the evening air, or was it
that some inner voice had whispered to him of the day when he also
might lie bound on such a rock and have such a blood-stained pagan
crew howling around him.
An instant later the rock and his vague fear and all things else
had passed from his mind, for there, down the yellow sandy path,
the setting sun gleaming on her golden hair, her lithe figure
bending and swaying with every heave of the cantering horse, was
none other than the same fair Edith, whose face had come so often
betwixt him and his sleep. His blood rushed hot to his face at
the sight, for fearless of all else, his spirit was attracted and
yet daunted by the delicate mystery of woman. To his pure and
knightly soul not Edith alone, but every woman, sat high and
aloof, enthroned and exalted, with a thousand mystic excellencies
and virtues which raised her far above the rude world of man.
There was joy in contact with them; and yet there was fear, fear
lest his own unworthiness, his untrained tongue or rougher ways
should in some way break rudely upon this delicate and tender
thing. Such was his thought as the white horse cantered toward
him; but a moment later his vague doubts were set at rest by the
frank voice of the young girl, who waved her whip in merry
"Hail and well met, Nigel!" she cried. "Whither away this
evening? Sure I am that it is not to see your friends of Cosford,
for when did you ever don so brave a doublet for us? Come, Nigel,
her name, that I may hate her for ever."
"Nay, Edith," said the young Squire, laughing back at the laughing
girl. "I was indeed coming to Cosford."
"Then we shall ride back together, for I will go no farther. How
think you that I am looking?"
Nigel's answer was in his eyes as he glanced at the fair flushed
face, the golden hair, the sparkling eyes and the daintily
graceful figure set off in a scarlet-and-black riding-dress. "You
are as fair as ever, Edith."
"Oh, cold of speech! Surely you were bred for the cloisters, and
not for a lady's bower, Nigel. Had I asked such a question from
young Sir George Brocas or the Squire of Fernhurst, he would have
raved from here to Cosford. They are both more to my taste than
you are, Nigel."
"It is the worse for me, Edith," said Nigel ruefully.
"Nay, but you must not lose heart."
"Have I not already lost it?" said he.
"That is better," she cried, laughing. "You can be quick enough
when you choose, Master Malapert. But you are more fit to speak
of high and weary matters with my sister Mary. She will have none
of the prattle and courtesy of Sir George, and yet I love them
well. But tell me, Nigel, why do you come to Cosford tonight?"
"To bid you farewell."
"Nay, Edith, you and your sister Mary and the good knight your
"Sir George would have said that he had come for me alone. Indeed
you are but a poor courtier beside him. But is it true, Nigel,
that you go to France?"
"It was so rumored after the King had been to Tilford. The story
goes that the King goes to France and you in his train. Is that
"Yes, Edith, it is true."
"Tell me, then, to what part you go, and when?"
"That, alas! I may not say."
"Oh, in sooth!" She tossed her fair head and rode onward in
silence, with compressed lips and angry eyes.
Nigel glanced at her in surprise and dismay. "Surely, Edith,"
said he at last, "you have overmuch regard for my honor that you
should wish me to break the word that I have given?"
"Your honor belongs to you, and my likings belong to me," said
she. "You hold fast to the one, and I will do the same by the
They rode in silence through Thursley village. Then a thought
came to her mind and in an instant her anger was forgotten and she
was hot on a new scent.
"What would you do if I were injured, Nigel? I have heard my
father say that small as you are there is no man in these parts
could stand against you. Would you be my champion if I suffered
"Surely I or any man of gentle blood would be the champion of any
woman who had suffered wrong."
"You or any and I or any - what sort of speech is that? Is it a
compliment, think you, to be mixed with a drove in that fashion?
My question was of you and me. If I were wronged would you be my
"Try me and see, Edith!"
"Then I will do so, Nigel. Either Sir George Brocas or the Squire
of Fernhurst would gladly do what I ask, and yet I am of a mind,
Nigel, to turn to you."
"I pray you to tell me what it is."
" You know Paul de la Fosse of Shalford?"
"You mean the small man with the twisted back?"
"He is no smaller than yourself, Nigel, and as to his back there
are many folk that I know who would be glad to have his face."
"Nay, I am no judge of that, and I spoke out of no discourtesy.
What of the man?"
"He has flouted me, Nigel, and I would have revenge."
"What - on that poor twisted creature?"
"I tell you that he has flouted me!"
"I should have thought that a true cavalier would have flown to my
aid, withouten all these questions. But I will tell you, since I
needs must. Know then that he was one of those who came around me
and professed to be my own. Then, merely because he thought that
there were others who were as dear to me as himself he left me,
and now he pays court to Maude Twynham, the little freckle-faced
hussy in his village."
"But how has this hurt you, since he was no man of thine?"
"He was one of my men, was he not? And he has made game of me to
his wench. He has told her things about me. He has made me
foolish in her eyes. Yes, yes, I can read it in her saffron face
and in her watery eyes when we meet at the church door on Sundays.
She smiles - yes, smiles at me! Nigel, go to him! Do not slay
him, nor even wound him, but lay his face open with thy riding-
whip, and then come back to me and tell me how I can serve you."
Nigel's face was haggard with the strife within, for desire ran
hot in every vein, and yet reason shrank with horror. "By Saint
Paul! Edith," he cried, "I see no honor nor advancement of any
sort in this thing which you have asked me to do. Is it for me to
strike one who is no better than a cripple? For my manhood I
could not do such a deed, and I pray you, dear lady, that you will
set me some other task."
Her eyes flashed at him in contempt. "And you are a man-at-arms!"
she cried, laughing in bitter scorn. "You are afraid of a little
man who can scarce walk. Yes, yes, say what you will, I shall
ever believe that you have heard of his skill at fence and of his
great spirit, and that your heart has failed you! You are right,
Nigel. He is indeed a perilous man. Had you done what I asked he
would have slain you, and so you have shown your wisdom."
Nigel flushed and winced under the words, but he said no more, for
his mind was fighting hard within him, striving to keep that high
image of woman which seemed for a moment to totter on the edge of
a fall. Together in silence, side by side, the little man and the
stately woman, the yellow charger and the white jennet, passed up
the sandy winding track with the gorse and the bracken head-high
on either side. Soon a path branched off through a gateway marked
with the boar-heads of the Buttesthorns, and there was the low
widespread house heavily timbered, loud with the barking of dogs.
The ruddy Knight limped forth with outstretched hand and roaring
"What how, Nigel! Good welcome and all hail! I had thought that
you had given over poor friends like us, now that the King had
made so much of you. The horses, varlets, or my crutch will be
across you! Hush, Lydiard! Down, Pelamon! I can scarce hear my
voice for your yelping. Mary, a cup of wine for young Squire
She stood framed in the doorway, tall, mystic, silent, with
strange, wistful face and deep soul shining in her dark,
questioning eyes. Nigel kissed the hand that she held out, and
all his faith in woman and his reverence came back to him as he
looked at her. Her sister had slipped behind her and her fair
elfish face smiled her forgiveness of Nigel over Mary's shoulder.
The Knight of Duplin leaned his weight upon the young man's arm
and limped his way across the great high-roofed hall to his
capacious oaken chair. "Come, come, the stool, Edith!" he cried.
"As God is my help, that girl's mind swarms with gallants as a
granary with rats. Well, Nigel, I hear strange tales of your
spear-running at Tilford and of the visit of the King. How seemed
he? And my old friend Chandos - many happy hours in the woodlands
have we had together - and Manny too, he was ever a bold and a
hard rider - what news of them all?"
Nigel told to the old Knight all that had occurred, saying little
of his own success and much of his own failure, yet the eyes of
the dark woman burned the brighter as she sat at her tapestry and
Sir John followed the story with a running fire of oaths, prayers,
thumps with his great fist and flourishes of his crutch. "Well,
well, lad, you could scarce expect to hold your saddle against
Manny, and you have carried yourself well. We are proud of you,
Nigel, for you are our own man, reared in the heather country.
But indeed I take shame that you are not more skilled in the
mystery of the woods, seeing that I have had the teaching of you,
and that no one in broad England is my master at the craft. I
pray you to fill your cup again whilst I make use of the little
time that is left to us."
And straightway the old Knight began a long and weary lecture upon
the times of grace and when each beast and bird was seasonable,
with many anecdotes, illustrations, warnings and exceptions, drawn
from his own great experience. He spoke also of the several ranks
and grades of the chase: how the hare, hart and boar must ever
take precedence over the buck, the doe, the fox, the marten and
the roe, even as a knight banneret does over a knight, while these
in turn are of a higher class to the badger, the wildcat or the
otter, who are but the common populace of the world of beasts. Of
blood-stains also he spoke - how the skilled hunter may see at a
glance if blood be dark and frothy, which means a mortal hurt, or
thin and clear, which means that the arrow has struck a bone.
"By such signs," said he, "you will surely know whether to lay on
the hounds and cast down the blinks which hinder the stricken deer
in its flight. But above all I pray you, Nigel, to have a care in
the use of the terms of the craft, lest you should make some
blunder at table, so that those who are wiser may have the laugh
of you, and we who love you may be shamed."
"Nay, Sir John," said Nigel. "I think that after your teaching I
can hold my place with the others."
The old Knight shook his white head doubtfully. "There is so much
to be learned that there is no one who can be said to know all,"
said he. "For example, Nigel, it is sooth that for every
collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of
birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may
be confused with another."
"I know it, fair sir."
"You know it, Nigel, but you do not know each separate name, else
are you a wiser man than I had thought you. In truth - none can
say that they know all, though I have myself picked off eighty,
and six for a wager at court, and it is said that the chief
huntsman of the Duke of Burgundy has counted over a hundred - but
it is in my mind that he may have found them as he went, for there
was none to say him nay. Answer me now, lad, how would you say if
you saw ten badgers together in the forest?"
"A cete of badgers, fair sir."
"Good, Nigel - good, by my faith! And if you walk in Woolmer
Forest and see a swarm of foxes, how would you call it?"
"A skulk of foxes."
"And if they be lions?"
"Nay, fair sir, I am not like to meet several lions in Woolmer
"Aye, lad, but there are other forests besides Woolmer, and other
lands besides England, and who can tell how far afield such a
knight errant as Nigel of Tilford may go, when he sees worship to
be won? We will say that you were in the deserts of Nubia, and
that afterward at the court of the great Sultan you wished to say
that you had seen several lions, which is the first beast of the
chase, being the king of all animals. How then would you say it?"
Nigel scratched his head. "Surely, fair sir, I would be content
to say that I had seen a number of lions, if indeed I could say
aught after so wondrous an adventure."
"Nay, Nigel, a huntsman would have said that he had seen a pride
of lions, and so proved that he knew the language of the chase.
Now had it been boars instead of lions?"
"One says a singular of boars."
"And if they be swine?"
"Surely it is a herd of swine."
"Nay, nay, lad, it is indeed sad to see how little you know. Your
hands, Nigel, were always better than your head. No man of gentle
birth would speak of a herd of swine; that is the peasant speech.
If you drive them it is a herd. If you hunt them it is other.
What call you them, then, Edith?"
"Nay, I know not," said the girl listlessly. A crumpled note
brought in by a varlet was clinched in her right hand and her blue
eyes looked afar into the deep shadows of the roof.
"But you can tell us, Mary?"
"Surely, sweet sir, one talks of a sounder of swine."
The old Knight laughed exultantly. "Here is a pupil who never
brings me shame!" he cried. "Be it lore - of chivalry or heraldry
or woodcraft or what you will, I can always turn to Mary. Many a
man can she put to the blush."
"Myself among them," said Nigel.
"Ah, lad, you are a Solomon to some of them. Hark ye! only last
week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of
having seen a covey of pheasants in the wood. One such speech
would have been the ruin of a young Squire at the court. How
would you have said it, Nigel?"
"Surely, fair sir, it should be a nye of pheasants."
"Good, Nigel - a nye of pheasants, even as it is a gaggle of geese
or a badling of ducks, a fall of woodcock or a wisp of snipe. But
a covey of pheasants! What sort of talk is that? I made him sit
even where you are sitting, Nigel, and I saw the bottom of two
pots of Rhenish ere I let him up. Even then I fear that he had no
great profit from his lesson, for he was casting his foolish eyes
at Edith when he should have been turning his ears to her father.
But where is the wench?"
"She hath gone forth, father."
"She ever doth go forth when there is a chance of learning aught
that is useful indoors. But supper will soon be ready, and there
is a boar's ham fresh from the forest with which I would ask your
help, Nigel, and a side of venison from the King's own chase. The
tinemen and verderers have not forgotten me yet, and my larder is
ever full. Blow three moots on the horn, Mary, that the varlets
may set the table, for the growing shadow and my loosening belt
warn me that it is time."
XII. HOW NIGEL FOUGHT THE TWISTED MAN OF SHALFORD
In the days of which you read all classes, save perhaps the very
poor, fared better in meat and in drink than they have ever done
since. The country was covered with woodlands - there were
seventy separate forests in England alone, some of them covering
half a shire. Within these forests the great beasts of the chase
were strictly preserved, but the smaller game, the hares, the
rabbits, the birds, which swarmed round the coverts, found their
way readily into the poor man's pot. Ale was very cheap, and
cheaper still was the mead which every peasant could make for
himself out of the wild honey in the tree-trunks. There were many
tea-like drinks also, which were brewed by the poor at no expense:
mallow tea, tansy tea, and others the secret of which has passed.
Amid the richer classes there was rude profusion, great joints
ever on the sideboard, huge pies, beasts of the field and beasts
of the chase, with ale and rough French or Rhenish wines to wash
them down. But the very rich had attained to a high pitch of
luxury in their food, and cookery was a science in which the
ornamentation of the dish was almost as important as the dressing
of the food. It was gilded, it was silvered, it was painted, it
was surrounded with flame. From the boar and the peacock down to
such strange food as the porpoise and the hedgehog, every dish had
its own setting and its own sauce, very strange and very complex,
with flavorings of dates, currants, cloves, vinegar, sugar and
honey, of cinnamon, ground ginger, sandalwood, saffron, brawn and
pines. It was the Norman tradition to eat in moderation, but to
have a great profusion of the best and of the most delicate from
which to choose. From them came this complex cookery, so unlike
the rude and often gluttonous simplicity of the old Teutonic
Sir John Buttesthorn was of that middle class who fared in the old
fashion, and his great oak supper-table groaned beneath the
generous pasties, the mighty joints and the, great flagons. Below
were the household, above on a raised dais the family table, with
places ever ready for those frequent guests who dropped in from
the high road outside. Such a one had just come, an old priest,
journeying from the Abbey of Chertsey to the Priory of Saint John
at Midhurst. He passed often that way, and never without breaking
his journey at the hospitable board of Cosford.
"Welcome again, good Father Athanasius!" cried the burly Knight.
"Come sit here on my right and give me the news of the
country-side, for there is never a scandal but the priests are the
first to know it."
The priest, a kindly, quiet man, glanced at an empty place upon
the farther side of his host. "Mistress Edith?" said he.
"Aye, aye, where is the hussy?" cried her father impatiently.
"Mary, I beg you to have the horn blown again, that she may know
that the supper is on the table. What can the little owlet do
abroad at this hour of the night?"
There was trouble in the priest's gentle eyes as he touched the
Knight upon the sleeve. "I have seen Mistress Edith within this
hour," said he. "I fear that she will hear no horn that you may
blow, for she must be at Milford ere now."
"At Milford? What does she there?"
"I pray you, good Sir John, to abate your voice somewhat, for
indeed this matter is for our private discourse, since it touches
the honor of a lady."
"Her honor?" Sir John's ruddy face had turned redder still, as he
stared at the troubled features of the priest. "Her honor, say
you - the honor of my daughter? Make good those words, or never
set your foot over the threshold of Cosford again!"
"I trust that I have done no wrong, Sir John, but indeed I must
say what I have seen, else would I be a false friend and an
"Haste man, haste! What in the Devil's name have you seen?"
"Know you a little man, partly misshapen, named Paul de la Fosse?"
"I know him well. He is a man of noble family and coat-armour,
being the younger brother of Sir Eustace de la Fosse of Shalford.
Time was when I had thought that I might call him son, for there
was never a day that he did not pass with my girls, but I fear
that his crooked back sped him ill in his wooing."
"Alas, Sir John! It is his mind that is more crooked than his
back. He is a perilous man with women, for the Devil hath given
him such a tongue and such an eye that he charms them even as the
basilisk. Marriage may be in their mind, but never in his, so
that I could count a dozen and more whom he has led to their
undoing. It is his pride and his boast over the whole
"Well, well, and what is this to me or mine?"
"Even now, Sir John, as I rode my mule up the road I met this man
speeding toward his home. A woman rode by his side, and though
her face was hooded I heard her laugh as she passed me. That
laugh I have heard before, and it was under this very roof, from
the lips of Mistress Edith."
The Knight's knife dropped from his hand. But the debate had been
such that neither Mary nor Nigel could fail to have heard it. Mid
the rough laughter and clatter of voices from below the little
group at the high table had a privacy of their own.
"Fear not, father," said the girl - "indeed, the good Father
Athanasius hath fallen into error, and Edith will be with us anon.
I have heard her speak of this man many times of late, and always
with bitter words."
"It is true, sir," cried Nigel eagerly. "It was only this very
evening as we rode over Thursley Moor that Mistress Edith told me
that she counted him not a fly, and that she would be glad if he
were beaten for his evil deeds."
But the wise priest shook his silvery locks. "Nay, there is ever
danger when a woman speaks like that. Hot hate is twin brother to
hot love. Why should she speak so if there were not some bond
"And yet," said Nigel, "what can have changed her thoughts m three
short hours? She was here in the hall with us since I came. By
Saint Paul, I will not believe it!"
Mary's face darkened. "I call to mind," said she, "that a note
was brought her by Hannekin the stable varlet when you were
talking to us, fair sir, of the terms of the chase. She read it
and went forth."
Sir John sprang to his feet, but sank into his chair again with a
groan. "Would that I were dead," he cried, "ere I saw dishonor
come upon my house, and am so tied with this accursed foot that I
can neither examine if it be true, nor yet avenge it! If my son
Oliver were here, then all would be well. Send me this stable
varlet that I may question him."
"I pray you, fair and honored sir," said Nigel, "that you will
take me for your son this night, that I may handle this matter in
the way which seems best. On jeopardy of my honor I will do all
that a man may."
"Nigel, I thank you. There is no man in Christendom to whom I
would sooner turn."
"But I would lean your mind in one matter, fair sir. This man,
Paul de la Fosse, owns broad acres, as I understand, and comes of
noble blood. There is no reason if things be as we fear that he
should not marry your daughter?"
"Nay, she could not wish for better."
"It is well. And first I would question this Hannekin; but it
shall be done in such a fashion that none shall know, for indeed
it is not a matter for the gossip of servants. But if you will
show me the man, Mistress Mary, I will take him out to tend my own
horse, and so I shall learn all that he has to tell."
Nigel was absent for some time, and when he returned the shadow
upon his face brought little hope to the anxious hearts at the
high table. "I have locked him in the stable loft, lest he talk
too much," said he, "for my questions must have shown him whence
the wind blew. It was indeed from this man that the note came,
and he had brought with him a spare horse for the lady."
The old Knight groaned, and his face sank upon his hands.
"Nay, father they watch you!" whispered Mary. "For the honor of
our house let us keep a bold face to all." Then, raising her
young clear voice, so that it sounded through the room: "If you
ride eastward, Nigel, I would fain go with you, that my sister may
not come back alone."
"We will ride together, Mary," said Nigel, rising; then in a lower
voice: "But we cannot go alone, and if we take a servant all is
known. I pray you to stay at home and leave the matter with me."
"Nay, Nigel, she may sorely need a woman's aid, and what woman
should it be save her own sister? I can take my tire-woman with
"Nay, I shall ride with you myself if your impatience can keep
within the powers of my mule," said the old priest.
"But it is not your road, father?"
"The only road of a true priest is that which leads to the good of
others. Come, my children, and we will go together."
And so it was that stout Sir John Buttesthorn, the aged Knight of
Duplin, was left alone at his own high table, pretending to eat,
pretending to drink, fidgeting in his seat, trying hard to seem
unconcerned with his mind and body in a fever, while below him his
varlets and handmaids laughed and jested, clattering their cups
and clearing their trenchers, all unconscious of the dark shadow
which threw its gloom over the lonely man upon the dais above.
Meantime the Lady Mary upon the white jennet which her sister had
ridden on the same evening, Nigel on his war-horse, and the priest
on the mule, clattered down the rude winding road which led to
London. The country on either side was a wilderness of heather
moors and of morasses from which came the strange crying of
night-fowl. A half-moon shone in the sky between the rifts of
hurrying clouds. The lady rode in silence, absorbed in the
thought of the task before them, the danger and the shame.
Nigel chatted in a low tone with the priest. From him he learned
more of the evil name of this man whom they followed. His house
at Shalford was a den of profligacy and vice. No woman could
cross that threshold and depart unstained. In some strange
fashion, inexplicable and yet common, the man, with all his evil
soul and his twisted body, had yet some strange fascination for
women, some mastery over them which compelled them to his will.
Again and again he had brought ruin to a household, again and
again his adroit tongue and his cunning wit had in some fashion
saved him from the punishment of his deeds. His family was great
in the county, and his kinsmen held favor with the King, so that
his neighbors feared to push things too far against him. Such was
the man, malignant and ravenous, who had stooped like some foul
night-hawk and borne away to his evil nest the golden beauty of
Cosford. Nigel said little as he listened, but he raised his
hunting-dagger to his tightened lips, and thrice he kissed the
cross of its handle.
They had passed over the moors and through the village of Milford
and the little township of Godalming, until their path turned
southward over the Pease marsh and crossed the meadows of
Shalford. There on the dark hillside glowed the red points of
light which marked the windows of the house which they sought. A
somber arched avenue of oak-trees led up to it, and then they were
in the moon-silvered clearing in front.
>From the shadow of the arched door there sprang two rough
serving-men, bearded and gruff, great cudgels in their hands, to
ask them who they were and what their errand. The Lady Mary had
slipped from her horse and was advancing to the door, but they
rudely barred her way.
"Nay, nay, our master needs no more!" cried one, with a hoarse
laugh. "Stand back, mistress, whoever you be! The house is shut,
and our lord sees no guests to-night."
"Fellow," said Nigel, speaking low and clear, "stand back from us!
Our errand is with your master."
"Bethink you, my children," cried the old priest, "would it not be
best perchance, that I go in to him and see whether the voice of
the Church may not soften this hard heart? I fear bloodshed if
"Nay, father, I pray you to stay here for the nonce," said Nigel.
"And you, Mary, do you bide with the good priest, for we know not
what may be within."
Again he turned to the door, and again the two men barred his
"Stand back, I say, back for your lives!" said Nigel. "By Saint
Paul! I should think it shame to soil my sword with such as you,
but my soul is set, and no man shall bar my path this night."
The men shrank from the deadly menace of that gentle voice.
"Hold!" said one of them, peering through the darkness, "is it not
Squire Loring of Tilford? "
"That is indeed my name."
"Had you spoken it I for one would not have stopped your way. Put
down your staff, Wat, for this is no stranger, but the Squire of
"As well for him," grumbled the other, lowering his cudgel with an
inward prayer of thanksgiving. "Had it been otherwise I should
have had blood upon my soul tonight. But our master said nothing
of neighbors when he ordered us to hold the door. I will enter
and ask him what is his will."
But already Nigel was past them and had pushed open the outer
door. Swift as he was, the Lady Mary was at his very heels, and
the two passed together into the hall beyond.
It was a great room, draped and curtained with black shadows, with
one vivid circle of light in the center, where two oil lamps shone
upon a small table. A meal was laid upon the table, but only two
were seated at it, and there were no servants in the room. At the
near end was Edith, her golden hair loose and streaming down over
the scarlet and black of her riding-dress.
At the farther end the light beat strongly upon the harsh face and
the high-drawn misshapen shoulders of the lord of the house. A
tangle of black hair surmounted a high rounded forehead, the
forehead of a thinker, with two deep-set cold gray eyes twinkling
sharply from under tufted brows. His nose was curved and sharp,
like the beak of some cruel bird, but below the whole of his
clean-shaven powerful face was marred by the loose slabbing mouth
and the round folds of the heavy chin. His knife in one hand and
a half-gnawed bone in the other, he looked fiercely up, like some
beast disturbed in his den, as the two intruders broke in upon his
Nigel stopped midway between the door and the table. His eyes and
those of Paul de la Fosse were riveted upon each other. But Mary,
with her woman's soul flooded over with love and pity, had rushed
forward and cast her arms round her younger sister. Edith had
sprung up from her chair, and with averted face tried to push the
other away from her.
"Edith, Edith! By the Virgin, I implore you to come back with us,
and to leave this wicked man!" cried Mary. "Dear sister, you
would not break our father's heart, nor bring his gray head in
dishonor to the grave! Come back Edith, come back and all is
But Edith pushed her away, and her fair cheeks were flushed with
her anger. "What right have you over me, Mary, you who are but
two years older, that you should follow me over the country-side
as though I were a runagate villain and you my mistress? Do you
yourself go back, and leave me to do that which seems best in my
But Mary still held her in her arms, and still strove to soften
the hard and angry heart. "Our mother is dead, Edith. I thank
God that she died ere she saw you under this roof! But I stand
for her, as I have done all my life, since I am indeed your elder.
It is with her voice that I beg and pray you that you will not
trust this man further, and that you will come back ere it be too
Edith writhed from her grasp, and stood flushed and defiant, with
gleaming, angry eyes fixed upon her sister. "You may speak evil
of him now," said she, "but there was a time when Paul de la Fosse
came to Cosford, and who so gentle and soft-spoken to him then as
wise, grave, sister Mary? But he has learned to love another; so
now he is the wicked man, and it is shame to be seen under his
roof! From what I see of my good pious sister and her cavalier it
is sin for another to ride at night with a man at your side, but
it comes easy enough to you. Look at your own eye, good sister,
ere you would take the speck from that of another."
Mary stood irresolute and greatly troubled, holding down her pride
and her anger, but uncertain how best to deal with this strong
"It is not a time for bitter words, dear sister," said she, and
again she laid her hand upon her sister's sleeve. "All that you
say may be true. There was indeed a time when this man was friend
to us both, and I know even as you do the power which he may have
to win a woman's heart. But I know him now, and you do not. I
know the evil that he has wrought, the dishonor that he has
brought, the perjury that lies upon his soul, the confidence
betrayed, the promise unfulfilled - all this I know. Am I to see
my own sister caught in the same well-used trap? Has it shut upon
you, child? Am I indeed already too late? For God's sake, tell
me, Edith, that it is not so?"
Edith plucked her sleeve from her sister and made two swift steps
to the head of the table. Paul de la Fosse still sat silent with
his eyes upon Nigel. Edith laid her hand upon his shoulder: "This
is the man I love, and the only man that I have ever loved. This
is my husband," said she.
At the word Mary gave a cry of joy.
"And is it so?" she cried. "Nay, then all is in honor, and God
will see to the rest. If you are man and wife before the altar,
then indeed why should I, or any other, stand between you? Tell
me that it is indeed so, and I return this moment to make your
father a happy man."
Edith pouted like a naughty child. "We are man and wife in the
eyes of God. Soon also we shall be wedded before all the world.
We do but wait until next Monday when Paul's brother, who is a
priest at St. Albans, will come to wed us. Already a messenger
has sped for him, and he will come, will he not, dear love?"
"He will come," said the master of Shalford, still with his eyes
fixed upon the silent Nigel.
"It is a lie; he will not come," said a voice from the door.
It was the old priest, who had followed the others as far as the
"He will not come," he repeated as he advanced into the room.
"Daughter, my daughter, hearken to the words of one who is indeed
old enough to be your earthly father. This lie has served before.
He has ruined others before you with it. The man has no brother
at Saint Albans. I know his brothers well, and there is no priest
among them. Before Monday, when it is all too late, you will have
found the truth as others have done before you. Trust him not,
but come with us!"
Paul de la Fosse looked up at her with a quick smile and patted
the hand upon his shoulder.
"Do you speak to them, Edith," said he.
Her eyes flashed with scorn as she surveyed them each in turn, the
woman, the youth and the priest.
"I have but one word to say to them," said she. "It is that they
go hence and trouble us no more. Am I not a free woman? Have I
not said that this is the only man I ever loved? I have loved him
long. He did not know it, and in despair he turned to another.
Now he knows all and never again can doubt come between us.
Therefore I will stay here at Shalford and come to Cosford no more
save upon the arm of my husband. Am I so weak that I would
believe the tales you tell against him? Is it hard for a jealous
woman and a wandering priest to agree upon a lie? No, no, Mary,
you can go hence and take your cavalier and your priest with you,
for here I stay, true to my love and safe in my trust upon his
"Well spoken, on my faith, my golden bird!" said the little master
of Shalford. "Let me add my own word to that which has been said.
You would not grant me any virtue in your unkindly speech, good
Lady Mary, and yet you must needs confess that at least I have
good store of patience, since I have not set my dogs upon your
friends who have come between me and my ease. But even to the
most virtuous there comes at last a time when poor human frailty
may prevail, and so I pray you to remove both yourself, your
priest and your valiant knight errant, lest perhaps there be more
haste and less dignity when at last you do take your leave. Sit
down, my fair love, and let us turn once more to our supper." He
motioned her to her chair, and he filled her wine-cup as well as
Nigel had said no word since he had entered the room, but his look
had never lost its set purpose, nor had his brooding eyes ever
wandered from the sneering face of the deformed master of
Shalford. Now he turned with swift decision to Mary and to the
"That is over," said he in a low voice. "You have done all that
you could, and now it is for me to play my part as well as I am
able. I pray you, Mary, and you, good father, that you will await
"Nay, Nigel, if there is danger - "
"It is easier for me, Mary, if you are not there. I pray you to
go. I can speak to this man more at my ease."
She looked at him with questioning eyes and then obeyed.
Nigel plucked at the priest's gown.
"I pray you, father, have you your book of offices with you?"
"Surely, Nigel, it is ever in my breast."
"Have it ready, father!"
"For what, my son?"
"There are two places you may mark; there is the service of
marriage and there is the prayer for the dying. Go with her,
father, and be ready at my call."
He closed the door behind them and was alone with this ill-matched
couple. They both turned in their chairs to look at him, Edith
with a defiant face, the man with a bitter smile upon his lips and
malignant hatred in his eyes.
"What," said he, "the knight errant still lingers? Have we not
heard of his thirst for glory? What new venture does he see that
he should tarry here?"
Nigel walked to the table.
"There is no glory and little venture," said he; "but I have come
for a purpose and I must do it. I learn from your own lips,
Edith, that you will not leave this man."
"If you have ears you have heard it."
"You are, as you have said, a free woman, and who can gainsay you?
But I have known you, Edith, since we played as boy and girl on
the heather-hills together. I will save you from this man's
cunning and from your own foolish weakness."
"What would you do?"
"There is a priest without. He will marry you now. I will see
you married ere I leave this hall."
"Or else?" sneered the man.
"Or else you never leave this hall alive. Nay, call not for your
servants or your dogs! By Saint Paul! I swear to you that this
matter lies between us three, and that if any fourth comes at your
call you, at least, shall never live to see what comes of it!
Speak then, Paul of Shalford! Will you wed this woman now, or
will you not?"
Edith was on her feet with outstretched arms between them. "Stand
back, Nigel! He is small and weak. You would not do him a hurt!
Did you not say so this very day? For God's sake, Nigel, do not
look at him so! There is death in your eyes."
"A snake may be small and weak, Edith, yet every honest man would
place his heel upon it. Do you stand back yourself, for my
purpose is set."
"Paul!" she turned her eyes to the pale sneering face. "Bethink
you, Paul! Why should you not do what he asks? What matter to
you whether it be now or on Monday? I pray you, dear Paul, for my
sake let him have his way! Your brother can read the service
again if it so please him. Let us wed now, Paul, and then all is
He had risen from his chair, and he dashed aside her appealing
hands. "You foolish woman," he snarled, "and you, my savior of
fair damsels, who are so bold against a cripple, you have both to
learn that if my body be weak there is the soul of my breed within
it! To marry because a boasting, ranting, country Squire would
have me do so - no, by the soul of God, I will die first! On
Monday I will marry, and no day sooner, so let that be your
"It is the answer that I wished," said Nigel, "for indeed I see no
happiness in this marriage, and the other may well be the better
way. Stand aside, Edith!" He gently forced her to one side and
drew his sword.
De la Fosse cried aloud at the sight. "I have no sword. You
would not murder me?" said he, leaning back with haggard-face and
burning eyes against his chair. The bright steel shone in the
lamp-light. Edith shrank back, her hand over her face.
"Take this sword!" said Nigel, and he turned the hilt to the
cripple. "Now!" he added, as he drew his hunting knife. "Kill me
if you can, Paul de la Fosse, for as God is my help I will do as
much for you!"
The woman, half swooning and yet spellbound and fascinated, looked
on at that strange combat. For a moment the cripple stood with an
air of doubt, the sword grasped in his nerveless fingers. Then as
he saw the tiny blade in Nigel's hand the greatness of the
advantage came home to him, and a cruel smile tightened his loose
lips. Slowly, step by step he advanced, his chin sunk upon his
chest, his eyes glaring from under the thick tangle of his brows
like fires through the brushwood. Nigel waited for him, his left
hand forward, his knife down by his hip, his face grave, still and
Nearer and nearer yet, with stealthy step, and then with a bound
and a cry of hatred and rage Paul de la Fosse had sped his blow.
It was well judged and well swung, but point would have been wiser
than edge against that supple body and those active feet. Quick
as a flash, Nigel had sprung inside the sweep of the blade, taking
a flesh wound on his left forearm, as he pressed it under the
hilt. The next instant the cripple was on the ground and Nigel's
dagger was at his throat.
"You dog!" he whispered. "I have you at my mercy! Quick ere I
strike, and for the last time! Will you marry or no?"
The crash of the fall and the sharp point upon his throat had
cowed the man's spirit. He looked up with a white face and the
sweat gleamed upon his forehead. There was terror in his eyes.
"Nay, take your knife from me!" he cried. "I cannot die like a
calf in the shambles."
"Will you marry?"
"Yes, yes, I will wed her! After all she is a good wench and I
might do worse. Let me up! I tell you I will marry her! What
more would you have?"
Nigel stood above him with his foot upon his misshapen body. He
had picked up his sword, and the point rested upon the cripple's
"Nay, you will bide where you are! If you are to live - and my
conscience cries loud against it - at least your wedding will be
such as your sins have deserved. Lie there, like the crushed worm
that you are!" Then he raised his voice. "Father Athanasius!" he
cried. "What ho! Father Athanasius!"
The old priest ran to the cry, and so did the Lady Mary. A
strange sight it was that met them now in the circle of light, the
frightened girl, half-unconscious against the table, the prostrate
cripple, and Nigel with foot and sword upon his body.
"Your book, father!" cried Nigel. "I know not if what we do is
good or ill; but we must wed them, for there is no way out."
But the girl by the table had given a great cry, and she was
clinging and sobbing with her arms round her sister's neck.
"Oh, Mary, I thank the Virgin that you have come! I thank the
Virgin that it is not too late! What did he say? He said that he
was a de la Fosse and that he would not be married at the
sword-point. My heart went out to him when he said it. But I, am
I not a Buttesthorn, and shall it be said that I would marry a man
who could be led to the altar with a knife at his throat? No, no,
I see him as he is! I know him now, the mean spirit, the lying
tongue! Can I not read in his eyes that he has indeed deceived
me, that he would have left me as you say that he has left others?
Take me home, Mary, my sister, for you have plucked me back this
night from the very mouth of Hell!"
And so it was that the master of Shalford, livid and brooding, was
left with his wine at his lonely table, while the golden beauty of
Cosford, hot with shame and anger, her fair face wet with tears,
passed out safe from the house of infamy into the great calm and
peace of the starry night.
XIII. HOW THE COMRADES JOURNEYED DOWN THE OLD, OLD ROAD
And now the season of the moonless nights was drawing nigh and the
King's design was ripe. Very secretly his preparations were made.
Already the garrison of Calais, which consisted of five hundred
archers and two hundred men-at-arms, could, if forewarned, resist
any attack made upon it. But it was the King's design not merely
to resist the attack, but to capture the attackers. Above all it
was his wish to find the occasion for one of those adventurous
passages of arms which had made his name famous throughout
Christendom as the very pattern and leader of knight-errant
But the affair wanted careful handling. The arrival of any,
reinforcements, or even the crossing of any famous soldier, would
have alarmed the French and warned them that their plot had been
discovered. Therefore it was in twos and threes in the creyers
and provision ships which were continually passing from shore to
shore that the chosen warriors and their squires were brought to
Calais. There they were passed at night through the water-gate
into the castle where they could lie hidden, unknown to the
townsfolk, until the hour for action had come.
Nigel had received word from Chandos to join him at "The Sign of
the Broom-Pod" in Winchelsea. Three days beforehand he and
Aylward rode from Tilford all armed and ready for the wars. Nigel
was in hunting-costume, blithe and gay, with his precious armor
and his small baggage trussed upon the back of a spare horse which
Aylward led by the bridle. The archer had himself a good black
mare, heavy and slow, but strong enough to be fit to carry his
powerful frame. In his brigandine of chain mail and his steel
cap, with straight strong sword by his side, his yel low long-bow
jutting over his shoulder, and his quiver of arrows supported by a
scarlet baldric, he was such a warrior as any knight might well be
proud to have in his train. All Tilford trailed behind them, as
they rode slowly over the long slope of heath land which skirts
the flank of Crooksbury Hill.
At the summit of the rise Nigel reined in Pommers and looked back
at the little village behind him. There was the old dark manor
house, with one bent figure leaning upon a stick and gazing dimly
after him from beside the door. He looked at the high-pitched
roof, the timbered walls, the long trail of swirling blue smoke
which rose from the single chimney, and the group of downcast old
servants who lingered at the gate, John the cook, Weathercote the
minstrel, and Red Swire the broken soldier. Over the river amid
the trees he could see the grim, gray tower of Waverley, and even
as he looked, the iron bell, which had so often seemed to be the
hoarse threatening cry of an enemy, clanged out its call to
prayer. Nigel doffed his velvet cap and prayed also - prayed that
peace might remain at home, and good warfare, in which honor and
fame should await him, might still be found abroad. Then, waving
his hand to the people, he turned his horse's head and rode slowly
eastward. A moment later Aylward broke from the group of archers
and laughing girls who clung to his bridle and his stirrup straps,
and rode on, blowing kisses over his shoulder. So at last the two
comrades, gentle and simple, were fairly started on their venture.
There are two seasons of color in those parts: the yellow, when
the country-side is flaming with the gorse-blossoms, and the
crimson, when all the long slopes are smoldering with the heather.
So it was now. Nigel looked back from time to time, as he rode
along the narrow track where the ferns and the ling brushed his
feet on either side, and as he looked it seemed to him that wander
where he might he would never see a fairer scene than that of his
own home. Far to the westward, glowing in the morning light,
rolled billow after billow of ruddy heather land, until they
merged into the dark shadows of Woolmer Forest and the pale clear
green of the Butser chalk downs. Never in his life had Nigel
wandered far beyond these limits, and the woodlands, the down and
the heather were dear to his soul. It gave him a pang in his
heart now as he turned his face away from them; but if home lay to
the westward, out there to the eastward was the great world of
adventure, the noble stage where each of his kinsmen in turn had
played his manly part and left a proud name behind.
How often he had longed for this day! And now it had come with no
shadow cast behind it. Dame Ermyntrude was under the King's
protection. The old servants had their future assured. The
strife with the monks of Waverley had been assuaged. He had a
noble horse under him, the best of weapons, and a stout follower
at his back. Above all he was bound on a gallant errand with the
bravest knight in England as his leader. All these thoughts
surged together in his mind, and he whistled and sang, as he rode,
out of the joy of his heart, while Pommers sidled and curveted in
sympathy with the mood of his master. Presently, glancing back,
he saw from Aylward's downcast eyes and Puckered brow that the
archer was clouded with trouble. He reined his horse to let him
come abreast of him.
"How now, Aylward?" said he. "Surely of all men in England you
and I should be the most blithe this morning, since we ride
forward with all hopes of honorable advancement. By Saint Paul!
ere we see these heather hills once more we shall either
worshipfully win worship, or we shall venture our persons in the
attempt. These be glad thoughts, and why should you be downcast?"
Aylward shrugged his broad shoulders, and a wry smile dawned upon
his rugged face. "I am indeed as limp as a wetted bowstring,"
said he. "It is the nature of a man that he should be sad when he
leaves the woman he loves."
"In truth, yes!" cried Nigel, and in a flash the dark eyes of Mary
Buttesthorn rose before him, and he heard her low, sweet, earnest
voice as he had heard it that night when they brought her frailer
sister back from Shalford Manor, a voice which made all that was
best and noblest in a man thrill within his soul. "Yet, bethink
you, archer, that what a woman loves in man is not his gross body,
but rather his soul, his honor, his fame, the deeds with which he
has made his life beautiful. Therefore you are winning love as
well as glory when you turn to the wars."
"It may be so," said Aylward; "but indeed it goes to my heart to
see the pretty dears weep, and I would fain weep as well to keep
them company. When Mary - or was it Dolly? - nay, it was Martha,
the red-headed girl from the mill - when she held tight to my
baldric it was like snapping my heart-string to pluck myself
"You speak of one name and then of another," said Nigel. "How is
she called then, this maid whom you love?"
Aylward pushed back his steel cap and scratched his bristling head
with some embarrassment. "Her name," said he, " is Mary Dolly
Martha Susan Jane Cicely Theodosia Agnes Johanna Kate."
Nigel laughed as Aylward rolled out this prodigious title. "I had
no right to take you to the wars," said he; "for by Saint Paul!
it is very clear that I have widowed half the parish. But I saw
your aged father the franklin. Bethink you of the joy that will
fill his heart when he hears that you have done some small deed in
France, and so won honor in the eyes of all."
"I fear that honor will not help him to pay his arrears of rent to
the sacrist of Waverley," said Aylward. "Out he will go on the
roadside, honor and all, if he does not find ten nobles by next
Epiphany. But if I could win a ransom or be at the storming of a
rich city, then indeed the old man would be proud of me. Thy
sword must help my spade, Samkin,' said he as he kissed me goodby.
Ah! it would indeed be a happy day for him and for all if I could
ride back with a saddle-bag full of gold pieces, and please God, I
shall dip my hand in somebody's pocket before I see Crooksbury
Hill once more!"
Nigel shook his head, for indeed it seemed hopeless to try to
bridge the gulf between them. Already they had made such good
progress along the bridle-path through the heather that the little
hill of Saint Catharine and the ancient shrine upon its summit
loomed up before them. Here they crossed the road from the south
to London, and at the crossing two wayfarers were waiting who
waved their hands in greeting, the one a tall, slender, dark woman
upon a white jennet, the other a very thick and red-faced old man,
whose weight seemed to curve the back of the stout gray cob which
"What how, Nigel!" he cried. "Mary has told me that you make a
start this morning, and we have waited here this hour and more on
the chance of seeing you pass. Come, lad, and have a last stoup
of English ale, for many a time amid the sour French wines you
will long for the white foam under your nose, and the good homely
twang of it."
Nigel had to decline the draft, for it meant riding into Guildford
town, a mile out of his course, but very gladly he agreed with
Mary that they should climb the path to the old shrine and offer a
last orison together. The knight and Aylward waited below with
the horses; and so it came about that Nigel and Mary found
themselves alone under the solemn old Gothic arches, in front of
the dark shadowed recess in which gleamed the golden reliquary of
the saint. In silence they knelt side by side in prayer, and then
came forth once more out of the gloom and the shadow into the
fresh sunlit summer morning. They stopped ere they descended the
path, and looked to right and left at the fair meadows and the
blue Wey curling down the valley.
"What have you prayed for, Nigel?" said she.
"I have prayed that God and His saints will hold my spirit high
and will send me back from France in such a fashion that I may
dare to come to you and to claim you for my own."
"Bethink you well what it is that you say, Nigel," said she.
"What you are to me only my own heart can tell; but I would never
set eyes upon your face again rather than abate by one inch that
height of honor and worshipful achievement to which you may
"Nay, my dear and most sweet lady, how should you abate it, since
it is the thought of you which will nerve my arm and uphold my
"Think once more, my fair lord, and hold yourself bound by no word
which you have said. Let it be as the breeze which blows past our
faces and is heard of no more. Your soul yearns for honor. To
that has it ever turned. Is there room in it for love also? or is
it possible that both shall live at their highest in one mind? Do
you not call to mind that Galahad and other great knights of old
have put women out of their lives that they might ever give their
whole soul and strength to the winning of honor? May it not be
that I shall be a drag upon you, that your heart may shrink from
some honorable task, lest it should bring risk and pain to me?
Think well before you answer, my fair lord, for indeed my very
heart would break if it should ever happen that through love of me
your high hopes and great promise should miss fulfilment."
Nigel looked at her with sparkling eyes. The soul which shone
through her dark face had transformed it for the moment into a
beauty more lofty and more rare than that of her shallow sister.
He bowed before the majesty of the woman, and pressed his lips to
her hand. "You are like a star upon my path which guides me on
the upward way," said he. "Our souls are set together upon the
finding of honor, and how shall we hold each other back when our
purpose is the same?"
She shook her proud head. "So it seems to you now, fair lord, but
it may be otherwise as the years pass. How shall you prove that I
am indeed a help and not a hindrance?"
"I will prove it by my deeds, fair and dear lady," said Nigel.
"Here at the shrine of the holy Catharine, on this, the Feast of
Saint Margaret, I take my oath that I will do three deeds in your
honor as a proof of my high love before I set eyes upon your face
again, and these three deeds shall stand as a proof to you that if
I love you dearly, still I will not let the thought of you stand
betwixt me and honorable achievement!"
Her face shone with her love and her pride. "I also make my
oath," said she, "and I do it in the name of the holy Catharine
whose shrine is hard by. I swear that I will hold myself for you
until these three deeds be done and we meet once more; also that
if - which may dear Christ forfend! you fall in doing them then I
shall take the veil in Shalford nunnery and look upon no man's
face again! Give me your hand, Nigel."
She had taken a little bangle of gold filigree work from her arm
and fastened it upon his sunburnt wrist, reading aloud to him the
engraved motto in old French: "Fais ce que dois, adviegne que
pourra - c'est commande au chevalier." Then for one moment they
fell into each other's arms and with kiss upon kiss, a loving man
and a tender woman, they swore their troth to each other. But the
old knight was calling impatiently from below and together they
hurried down the winding path to where the horses waited under the
As far as the Shalford crossing Sir John rode by Nigel's arm, and
many were the last injunctions which he gave him concerning
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