Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 4 out of 8
woodcraft, and great his anxiety lest he confuse a spay with a
brocket, or either with a hind. At last when they came to the
reedy edge of the Wey the old knight and his daughter reined up
their horses. Nigel looked back at them ere he entered the dark
Chantry woods, and saw them still gazing after him and waving
their hands. Then the path wound amongst the trees and they were
lost to sight; but long afterwards when a clearing exposed once
more the Shalford meadows Nigel saw that the old man upon the gray
cob was riding slowly toward Saint Catharine's Hill, but that the
girl was still where he had seen her last, leaning forward in her
saddle and straining her eyes to pierce the dark forest which
screened her lover from her view. It was but a fleeting glance
through a break in the foliage, and yet in after days of stress
and toil in far distant lands it was that one little picture - the
green meadow, the reeds, the slow blue-winding river, and the
eager bending graceful figure upon the white horse - which was the
clearest and the dearest image of that England which he had left
But if Nigel's friends had learned that this was the morning of
his leaving, his enemies too were on the alert. The two comrades
had just emerged from the Chantry woods and were beginning the
ascent of that curving path which leads upward to the old Chapel
of the Martyr when with a hiss like an angry snake a long white
arrow streaked under Pommers and struck quivering in the grassy
turf. A second whizzed past Nigel's ear, as he tried to turn; but
Aylward struck the great war-horse a sharp blow over the haunches,
and it had galloped some hundreds of yards before its rider could
pull it up. Aylward followed as hard as he could ride, bending
low over his horse's neck, while arrows whizzed all around him.
"By Saint Paul!" said Nigel, tugging at his bridle and white with
anger, "they shall not chase me across the country as though I was
a frighted doe. Archer, how dare you to lash my horse when I
would have turned and ridden in upon them?"
"It is well that I did so," said Aylward, "or by these ten finger-
bones! our journey would have begun and ended on the same day. As
I glanced round I saw a dozen of them at the least amongst the
brushwood. See now how the light glimmers upon their steel caps
yonder in the bracken under the great beech-tree. Nay, I pray
you, my fair lord, do not ride forward. What chance has a man in
the open against all these who lie at their ease in the underwood?
If you will not think of yourself, then consider your horse, which
would have a cloth-yard shaft feathered in its hide ere it could
reach the wood."
Nigel chafed in impotent anger. "Am I to be shot at like a
popinjay at a fair, by any reaver or outlaw that seeks a mark for
his bow?" he cried. "By Saint Paul! Aylward, I will put on my
harness and go further into the matter. Help me to untruss, I
"Nay, my fair lord, I will not help you to your own downfall. It
is a match with cogged dice betwixt a horseman on the moor and
archers amid the forest. But these men are no outlaws, or they
would not dare to draw their bows within a league of the sheriff
"Indeed, Aylward, I think that you speak truth," said Nigel." It
may be that these are the men of Paul de la Fosse of Shalford,
whom I have giver, little cause to love me. Ah! there is indeed
the very man himself."
They sat their horses with their backs to the long slope which
leads up to the old chapel on the hill. In front of them was the
dark ragged edge of the wood, with a sharp twinkle of steel here
and there in its shadows which spoke of these lurking foes. But
now there was a long moot upon a horn, and at once a score of
russet-clad bowmen ran forward from amid the trees, spreading out
into a scattered line and closing swiftly in upon the travelers.
In the midst of them, upon a great gray horse, sat a small
misshapen man, waving and cheering as one sets hounds on a badger,
turning his head this way and that as he whooped and pointed,
urging his bowmen onward up the slope.
"Draw them on, my fair lord! Draw them on until we have them out
on the down!" cried Aylward, his eyes shining with joy. "Five
hundred paces more, and then we may be on terms with them. Nay,
linger not, but keep them always just clear of arrowshot until our
turn has come."
Nigel shook and trembled with eagerness, as with his hand on his
sword-hilt he looked at the line of eager hurrying men. But it
flashed through his mind what Chandos had said of the cool head
which is better for the warrior than the hot heart. Aylward's
words were true and wise. He turned Pommers' head therefore, and
amid a cry of derision from behind them the comrades trotted over
the down. The bowmen broke into a run, while their leader
screamed and waved more madly than before. Aylward cast many a
glance at them over his shoulder.
"Yet a little farther! Yet a little farther still!" he muttered.
"The wind is towards them and the fools have forgot that I can
overshoot them by fifty paces. Now, my good lord, I pray you for
one instant to hold the horses, for my weapon is of more avail
this day, than thine can be. They may make sorry cheer ere they
gain the shelter of the wood once more."
He had sprung from his horse, and with a downward wrench of his
arm and a push with his knee he slipped the string into the upper
nock of his mighty war-bow. Then in a flash he notched his shaft
and drew it to the pile, his keen blue eyes glowing fiercely
behind it from under his knotted brows. With thick legs planted
sturdily apart, his body laid to the bow, his left arm motionless
as wood, his right bunched into a double curve of swelling muscles
as he stretched the white well-waxed string, he looked so keen and
fierce a fighter that the advancing line stopped for an instant at
the sight of him. Two or three loosed off their arrows, but the
shafts flew heavily against the head wind, and snaked along the
hard turf some score of paces short of the mark. One only, a
short bandy-legged man, whose squat figure spoke of enormous
muscular strength, ran swiftly in and then drew so strong a bow
that the arrow quivered in the ground at Aylward's very feet.
"It is Black Will of Lynchmere," said the bowman. "Many a match
have I shot with him, and I know well that no other man on the
Surrey marches could have sped such a shaft. I trust that you are
houseled and shriven, Will, for I have known you so long that I
would not have your damnation upon my soul."
He raised his bow as he spoke, and the string twanged with a rich
deep musical note. Aylward leaned upon his bow-stave as he keenly
watched the long swift flight of his shaft, skimming smoothly down
"On him, on him! No, over him, by my hilt!" he cried. "There is
more wind than I had thought. Nay, nay, friend, now that I have
the length of you, you can scarce hope to loose again."
Black Will had notched an arrow and was raising his bow when
Aylward's second shaft passed through the shoulder of his drawing
arm. With a shout of anger and pain he dropped his weapon, and
dancing in his fury he shook his fist and roared curses at his
"I could slay him; but I will not, for good bowmen are not so
common," said Aylward. "And now, fair sir, we must on, for they
are spreading round on either side, and if once they get behind
us, then indeed our journey has come to a sudden end. But ere we
go I would send a shaft through yonder horseman who leads them
"Nay, Aylward, I pray you to leave him," said Nigel. "Villain as
he is, he is none the less a gentleman of coat-armor, and should
die by some other weapon than thine."
"As you will," said Aylward, with a clouded brow. "I have been
told that in the late wars many a French prince and baron has not
been too proud to take his death wound from an English yeoman's
shaft, and that nobles of England have been glad enough to stand
by and see it done."
Nigel shook his head sadly. "It is sooth you say, archer, and
indeed it is no new thing, for that good knight Richard of the
Lion Heart met his end in such a lowly fashion, and so also did
Harold the Saxon. But this is a private matter, and I would not
have you draw your bow against him. Neither can I ride at him
myself, for he is weak in body, though dangerous in spirit.
Therefore, we will go upon our way, since there is neither profit
nor honor to be gained, nor any hope of advancement."
Aylward, having unstrung his bow, had remounted his horse during
this conversation, and the two rode swiftly past the little squat
Chapel of the Martyr and over the brow of the hill. From the
summit they looked back. The injured archer lay upon the ground,
with several of his comrades gathered in a knot around him.
Others ran aimlessly up the hill, but were already far behind.
The leader sat motionless upon his horse, and as he saw them look
back he raised his hand and shrieked his curses at them. An
instant later the curve of the ground had hid them from view. So,
amid love and hate, Nigel bade adieu to the home of his youth.
And now the comrades were journeying upon that old, old road which
runs across the south of England and yet never turns toward
London, for the good reason that the place was a poor hamlet when
first the road was laid. From Winchester, the Saxon capital, to
Canterbury, the holy city of Kent, ran that ancient highway, and
on from Canterbury to the narrow straits where, on a clear day,
the farther shore can be seen. Along this track as far back as
history can trace the metals of the west have been carried and
passed the pack-horses which bore the goods which Gaul sent in
exchange. Older than the Christian faith and older than the
Romans, is the old road. North and south are the woods and the
marshes, so that only on the high dry turf of the chalk land could
a clear track be found. The Pilgrim's Way, it still is called;
but the pilgrims were the last who ever trod it, for it was
already of immemorial age before the death of Thomas a Becket gave
a new reason why folk should journey to the scene of his murder.
>From the hill of Weston Wood the travelers could see the long
white band which dipped and curved and rose over the green
downland, its course marked even in the hollows by the line of the
old yew-trees which flanked it. Neither Nigel nor Aylward had
wandered far from their own country, and now they rode with light
hearts and eager eyes taking note of all the varied pictures of
nature and of man which passed before them. To their left was a
hilly country, a land of rolling heaths and woods, broken here and
there into open spaces round the occasional farm-house of a
franklin. Hackhurst Down, Dunley Hill, and Ranmore Common swelled
and sank, each merging into the other. But on the right, after
passing the village of Shere and the old church of Gomshall, the
whole south country lay like a map at their feet. There was the
huge wood of the Weald, one unbroken forest of oak-trees
stretching away to the South Downs, which rose olive-green against
the deep blue sky. Under this great canopy of trees strange folk
lived and evil deeds were done. In its recesses were wild tribes,
little changed from their heathen ancestors, who danced round the
altar of Thor, and well was it for the peaceful traveler that he
could tread the high open road of the chalk land with no need to
wander into so dangerous a tract, where soft clay, tangled forest
and wild men all barred his progress.
But apart from the rolling country upon the left and the great
forest-hidden plain upon the right, there was much upon the road
itself to engage the attention of the wayfarers. It was crowded
with people. As far as their eyes could carry they could see the
black dots scattered thickly upon the thin white band, sometimes
single, sometimes several abreast, sometimes in moving crowds,
where a drove of pilgrims held together for mutual protection, or
a nobleman showed his greatness by the number of retainers who
trailed at his heels. At that time the main roads were very
crowded, for there, were many wandering people in the land. Of
all sorts and kinds, they passed in an unbroken stream before the
eyes of Nigel and of Aylward, alike only in the fact that one and
all were powdered from their hair to their shoes with the gray
dust of the chalk.
There were monks journeying from one cell to another, Benedictines
with their black gowns looped up to show their white skirts,
Carthusians in white, and pied Cistercians. Friars also of the
three wandering orders - Dominicans in black, Carmelites in white
and Franciscans in gray. There was no love lost between the
cloistered monks and the free friars, each looking on the other as
a rival who took from him the oblations of the faithful; so they
passed on the high road as cat passes dog, with eyes askance and
Then besides the men of the church there were the men of trade,
the merchant in dusty broadcloth and Flanders hat riding at the
head of his line of pack-horses. He carried Cornish tin,
Welt-country wool, or Sussex iron if he traded eastward, or if his
head should be turned westward then he bore with him the velvets
of Genoa, the ware of Venice, the wine of France, or the armor of
Italy and Spain. Pilgrims were everywhere, poor people for the
most part, plodding wearily along with trailing feet and bowed
heads, thick staves in their hands and bundles over their
shoulders. Here and there on a gaily caparisoned palfrey, or in
the greater luxury of a horse-litter, some West-country lady might
be seen making her easy way to the shrine of Saint Thomas.
Besides all these a constant stream of strange vagabonds drifted
along the road: minstrels who wandered from fair to fair, a foul
and pestilent crew; jugglers and acrobats, quack doctors and
tooth-drawers, students and beggars, free workmen in search of
better wages, and escaped bondsmen who would welcome any wages at
all. Such was the throng which set the old road smoking in a haze
of white dust from Winchester to the narrow sea.
But of all the wayfarers those which interested Nigel most were
the soldiers. Several times they passed little knots of archers
or men-at-arms, veterans from France, who had received their
discharge and were now making their way to their southland homes.
They were half drunk all of them, for the wayfarers treated them
to beer at the frequent inns and ale-stakes which lined the road,
so that they cheered and sang lustily as they passed. They roared
rude pleasantries at Aylward, who turned in his saddle and shouted
his opinion of them until they were out of hearing.
Once, late in the afternoon, they overtook a body of a hundred
archers all marching together with two knights riding at their
head. They were passing from Guildford Castle to Reigate Castle,
where they were in garrison. Nigel rode with the knights for some
distance, and hinted that if either was in search of honorable
advancement, or wished to do some small deed, or to relieve
himself of any vow, it might be possible to find some means of
achieving it. They were both, however, grave and elderly men,
intent upon their business and with no mind for fond wayside
adventures, so Nigel quickened his pace and left them behind.
They had left Boxhill and Headley Heath upon the left, and the
towers of Reigate were rising amid the trees in front of them,
when they overtook a large, cheery, red-faced man, with a forked
beard, riding upon a good horse and exchanging a nod or a merry
word with all who passed him. With him they rode nearly as far as
Bletchingley, and Nigel laughed much to hear him talk; but always
under the raillery there was much earnestness and much wisdom in
all his words. He rode at his ease about the country, he said,
having sufficient money to keep him from want and to furnish him
for the road. He could speak all the three languages of England,
the north, the middle and the south, so that he was at home with
the people of every shire and could hear their troubles and their
joys. In all parts in town and in country there was unrest, he
said; for the poor folk were weary of their masters both of the
Church and State, and soon there would be such doings in England
as had never been seen before.
But above all this man was earnest against the Church its enormous
wealth, its possession of nearly one-third of the whole land of
the country, its insatiable greed for more at the very time when
it claimed to be poor and lowly. The monks and friars, too, he
lashed with his tongue: their roguish ways, their laziness and
their cunning. He showed how their wealth and that of the haughty
lord must always be founded upon the toil of poor humble Peter the
Plowman, who worked and strove in rain and cold out in the fields,
the butt and laughing-stock of everyone, and still bearing up the
whole world upon his weary shoulders. He had set it all out in a
fair parable; so now as he rode he repeated some of the verses,
chanting them and marking time with his forefinger, while Nigel
and Aylward on either side of him with their heads inclined inward
listened with the same attention, but with very different feelings
- Nigel shocked at such an attack upon authority, and Aylward
chuckling as he heard the sentiments of his class so shrewdly
expressed. At last the stranger halted his horse outside the
"Five Angels" at Gatton.
"It is a good inn, and I know the ale of old," said he. "When I
had finished that `Dream of Piers the Plowman from which I have
recited to you, the last verses were thus:
"`Now have I brought my little booke to an ende
God's blessing be on him who a drinke will me sende' -
I pray you come in with me and share it."
"Nay," said Nigel, "we must on our way, for we have far to go.
But give me your name, my friend, for indeed we have passed a
merry hour listening to your words."
"Have a care!" the stranger answered, shaking his head. "You and
your class will not spend a merry hour when these words are turned
into deeds and Peter the Plowman grows weary of swinking in the
fields and takes up his bow and his staff in order to set this
land in order."
"By Saint Paul! I expect that we shall bring Peter to reason and
also those who have put such evil thoughts into his head," said
Nigel. "So once more I ask your name, that I may know it if ever
I chance to hear that you have been hanged?"
The stranger laughed good-humoredly. "You can call me Thomas
Lackland," said he. "I should be Thomas Lack-brain if I were
indeed to give my true name, since a good many robbers, some in
black gowns and some in steel, would be glad to help me upwards in
the way you speak of. So good-day to you, Squire, and to you
also, archer, and may you find your way back with whole bones from
That night the comrades slept in Godstone Priory, and early next
morning they were well upon their road down the Pilgrim's Way. At
Titsey it was said that a band of villeins were out in Westerham
Wood and had murdered three men the day before; so that Nigel had
high hopes of an encounter; but the brigands showed no sign,
though the travelers went out of their way to ride their horses
along the edges of the forest. Farther on they found traces of
their work, for the path ran along the hillside at the base of a
chalk quarry, and there in the cutting a man was lying dead. From
his twisted limbs and shattered frame it was easy to see that he
had been thrown over from above, while his pockets turned outward
showed the reason for his murder. The comrades rode past without
too close a survey, for dead men were no very uncommon objects on
the King's highway, and if sheriff or bailiff should chance upon
you near the body you might find yourself caught in the meshes of
Near Sevenoaks their road turned out of the old Canterbury way and
pointed south toward the coast, leaving the chalk lands and coming
down into the clay of the Weald. It was a wretched, rutted
mule-track running through thick forests with occasional clearings
in which lay the small Kentish villages, where rude shock-headed
peasants with smocks and galligaskins stared with bold, greedy
eyes at the travelers. Once on the right they caught a distant
view of the Towers of Penshurst, and once they heard the deep
tolling of the bells of Bayham Abbey, but for the rest of their
day's journey savage peasants and squalid cottages were all that
met their eyes, with endless droves of pigs who fed upon the
litter of acorns. The throng of travelers who crowded the old
road were all gone, and only here and there did they meet or
overtake some occasional merchant or messenger bound for Battle
Abbey, Pevensey Castle or the towns of the south.
That night they slept in a sordid inn, overrun with rats and with
fleas, one mile south of the hamlet of Mayfield. Aylward
scratched vigorously and cursed with fervor. Nigel lay without
movement or sound. To the man who had learned the old rule of
chivalry there were no small ills in life. It was beneath the
dignity of his soul to stoop to observe them. Cold and heat,
hunger and thirst, such things did not exist for the gentleman.
The armor of his soul was so complete that it was proof not only
against the great ills of life but even against the small ones; so
the flea-bitten Nigel lay grimly still while Aylward writhed upon
They were now but a short distance from their destination; but
they had hardly started on their journey through the forest next
morning, when an adventure befell them which filled Nigel with the
Along the narrow winding path between the great oak trees there
rode a dark sallow man in a scarlet tabard who blew so loudly upon
a silver trumpet that they heard the clanging call long before
they set eyes on him. Slowly he advanced, pulling up every fifty
paces to make the forest ring with another warlike blast. The
comrades rode forward to meet him.
"I pray you," said Nigel, "to tell me who you are and why you blow
upon this trumpet."
The fellow shook his head, so Nigel repeated the question in
French, the common language of chivalry, spoken at that age by
every gentleman in Western Europe.
The man put his lips to the trumpet and blew another long note
before he answered. "I am Gaston de Castrier," said he, "the
humble Squire of the most worthy and valiant knight Raoul de
Tubiers, de Pestels, de Grimsard, de Mersac, de Leoy, de Bastanac,
who also writes himself Lord of Pons. It is his order that I ride
always a mile in front of him to prepare all to receive him, and
he desires me to blow upon a trumpet not out of vainglory, but out
of greatness of spirit, so that none may be ignorant of his coming
should they desire to encounter him."
Nigel sprang from his horse with a cry of joy, and began to
unbutton his doublet. "Quick, Aylward, quick!" he said. "He
comes, a knight errant comes! Was there ever such a chance of
worshipfully winning worship? Untruss the harness whilst I loose
my clothes! Good sir, I beg you to warn your noble and valiant
master that a poor Squire of England would implore him to take
notice of him and to do some small deed upon him as he passes."
But already the Lord of Pons had come in sight. He was a huge man
upon an enormous horse, so that together they seemed to fill up
the whole long dark archway under the oaks. He was clad in full
armor of a brazen hue with only his face exposed, and of this face
there was little visible save a pair of arrogant eyes and a great
black beard, which flowed through the open vizor and down over his
breastplate. To the crest of his helmet was tied a small brown
glove, nodding and swinging above him. He bore a long lance with
a red square banner at the end, charged with a black boar's head,
and the same symbol was engraved upon his shield. Slowly he rode
through the forest, ponderous, menacing, with dull thudding of his
charger's hoofs and constant clank of metal, while always in front
of him came the distant peal of the silver trumpet calling all men
to admit his majesty and to clear his path ere they be cleared
Never in his dreams had so perfect a vision come to cheer Nigel's
heart, and as he struggled with his clothes, glancing up
continually at this wondrous traveler, he pattered forth prayers
of thanksgiving to the good Saint Paul who had shown such loving-
kindness to his unworthy servant and thrown him in the path of so
excellent and debonair a gentleman.
But alas! how often at the last instant the cup is dashed from the
lips! This joyful chance was destined to change suddenly to
unexpected and grotesque disaster - disaster so strange and so
complete that through all his life Nigel flushed crimson when he
thought of it. He was busily stripping his hunting-costume, and
with feverish haste he had doffed boots, hat, hose, doublet and
cloak, so that nothing remained save a pink jupon and pair of
silken drawers. At the same time Aylward was hastily unbuckling
the load with the intention of handing his master his armor piece
by piece, when the Squire gave one last challenging peal from his
silver trumpet into the very ear of the spare horse.
In an instant it had taken to its heels, the precious armor upon
its back, and thundered away down the road which they had
traversed. Aylward jumped upon his mare, drove his prick spurs
into her sides and galloped after the runaway as hard as he could
ride. Thus it came about that in an instant Nigel was shorn of
all his little dignity, had lost his two horses, his attendant and
his outfit, and found himself a lonely and unarmed man standing in
his shirt and drawers upon the pathway down which the burly figure
of the Lord of Pons was slowly advancing.
The knight errant, whose mind had been filled by the thought of
the maiden whom he had left behind at St. Jean - the same whose
glove dangled from his helmet - had observed nothing that had
occurred. Hence, all that met his eyes was a noble yellow horse,
which was tethered by the track, and a small young man, who
appeared to be a lunatic since he had undressed hastily in the
heart of the forest, and stood now with an eager anxious face clad
in his underlinen amid the scattered debris of his garments. Of
such a person the high Lord of Pons could take no notice, and so
he pursued his inexorable way, his arrogant eyes looking out into
the distance and his thoughts set intently upon the maiden of St.
Jean. He was dimly aware that the little crazy man in the
undershirt ran a long way beside him in his stockings, begging,
imploring and arguing.
"Just one hour, most fair sir, just one hour at the longest, and a
poor Squire of England shall ever hold himself your debtor! Do
but condescend to rein your horse until my harness comes back to
me! Will you not stoop to show me some small deed of arms? I
implore you, fair sir, to spare me a little of your time and a
handstroke or two ere you go upon your way!"
Lord de Pons motioned impatiently with his gauntleted hand, as one
might brush away an importunate fly, but when at last Nigel became
desperate in his clamor he thrust his spurs into his great
war-horse, and clashing like a pair of cymbals he thundered off
through the forest. So he rode upon his majestic way, until two
days later he was slain by Lord Reginald Cobham in a field near
When after a long chase Aylward secured the spare horse and
brought it back, he found his master seated upon a fallen tree,
his face buried in his hands and his mind clouded with humiliation
and grief. Nothing was said, for the matter was beyond words, and
so in moody silence they rode upon their way.
But soon they came upon a scene which drew Nigel's thoughts away
from his bitter trouble, for in front of them there rose the
towers of a great building with a small gray sloping village
around it, and they learned from a passing hind that this was the
hamlet and Abbey of Battle. Together they drew rein upon the low
ridge and looked down into that valley of death from which even
now the reek of blood seems to rise. Down beside that sinister
lake and amid those scattered bushes sprinkled over the naked
flank of the long ridge was fought that long-drawn struggle
betwixt two most noble foes with broad England as the prize of
victory. Here, up and down the low hill, hour by hour the grim
struggle had waxed and waned, until the Saxon army had died where
it stood, King, court, house-carl and fyrdsman, each in their
ranks even as they had fought. And now, after all the stress and
toil, the tyranny, the savage revolt, the fierce suppression, God
had made His purpose complete, for here were Nigel the Norman and
Aylward the Saxon with good-fellowship in their hearts and a
common respect in their minds, with the same banner and the same
cause, riding forth to do battle for their old mother England.
And now the long ride drew to an end. In front of them was the
blue sea, flecked with the white sails of ships. Once more the
road passed upward from the heavy-wooded plain to the springy turf
of the chalk downs. Far to the right rose the grim fortalice of
Pevensey, squat and powerful, like one great block of rugged
stone, the parapet twinkling with steel caps and crowned by the
royal banner of England. A flat expanse of reeded marshland lay
before them, out of which rose a single wooded hill, crowned with
towers, with a bristle of masts rising out of the green plain some
distance to the south of it. Nigel looked at it with his hand
shading his eyes, and then urged Pommers to a trot. The town was
Winchelsea, and there amid that cluster of houses on the hill the
gallant Chandos must be awaiting him.
XIV. HOW NIGEL CHASED THE RED FERRET
They passed a ferry, wound upward by a curving path, and then,
having satisfied a guard of men-at-arms, were admitted through the
frowning arch of the Pipewell Gate. There waiting for them, in
the middle of the east street, the sun gleaming upon his lemon-
colored beard, and puckering his single eye, stood Chandos
himself, his legs apart, his hands behind his back, and a
welcoming smile upon hiss quaint high-nosed face. Behind him a
crowd of little boys were gazing with reverent eyes at the famous
"Welcome, Nigel!" said he, "and you also, good archer! I chanced
to be walking on the city wall, and I thought from the color of
your horse that it was indeed you upon the Udimore Road. How have
you fared, young squire errant? Have you held bridges or rescued
damsels or slain oppressors on your way from Tilford?"
"Nay, my fair lord, I have accomplished nothing; but I once had
hopes - " Nigel flushed at the remembrance.
"I will give you more than hopes, Nigel. I will put you where you
can dip both arms to the elbow into danger and honor, where peril
will sleep with you at night and rise with you in the morning and
the very air you breathe be laden with it. Are you ready for
that, young sir?"
"I can but pray, fair lord, that my spirit will rise to it."
Chandos smiled his approval and laid his thin brown hand on the
youth's shoulder. "Good!" said he. "It is the mute hound which
bites the hardest. The babbler is ever the hang-back. Bide with
me here, Nigel, and walk upon the ramparts. Archer, do you lead
the horses to the `Sign of the Broom Pod' in the high street, and
tell my varlets to see them aboard the cog Thomas before
nightfall. We sail at the second hour after curfew. Come hither,
Nigel, to the crest of the corner turret, for from it I will show
you what you have never seen."
It was but a dim and distant white cloud upon the blue water seen
far off over the Dungeness Point, and yet the sight of it flushed
the young Squire's cheeks and sent the blood hot through his
veins. It was the fringe of France, that land of chivalry and
glory, the stage where name and fame were to be won. With burning
eyes he gazed across at it, his heart rejoicing to think that the
hour was at hand when he might tread that sacred soil. Then his
gaze crossed the immense stretch of the blue sea, dotted over with
the sails of fishing-boats, until it rested upon the double harbor
beneath packed with vessels of every size and shape, from the
pessoners and creyers which plied up and down the coast to the
great cogs and galleys which were used either as war-ships or
merchantmen as the occasion served. One of them was at that
instant passing out to sea, a huge galleass, with trumpets blowing
and nakers banging, the flag of Saint George flaunting over the
broad purple sail, and the decks sparkling from end to end with
steel. Nigel gave a cry of pleasure at the splendor of the sight.
"Aye, lad," said Chandos, "it is the Trinity of Rye, the very ship
on which I fought at Sluys. Her deck ran blood from stem to stern
that day. But turn your eyes this way, I beg you, and tell me if
you see aught strange about this town."
Nigel looked down at the noble straight street, at the Roundel
Tower, at the fine church of Saint Thomas, and the other fair
buildings of Winchelsea. "It is all new," said he - "church,
castle, houses, all are new."
"You are right, fair son. My grandfather can call to mind the
time when only the conies lived upon this rock. The town was down
yonder by the sea, until one night the waves rose upon it and not
a house was left. See, yonder is Rye, huddling also on a hill,
the two towns like poor sheep when the waters are out. But down
there under the blue water and below the Camber Sand lies the true
Winchelsea - tower, cathedral, walls and all, even as my
grandfather knew it, when the first Edward was young upon the
For an hour or more Chandos paced upon the ramparts with his young
Squire at his elbow and talked to him of his duties and of the
secrets and craft of warfare, Nigel drinking in and storing in his
memory every word from so revered a teacher. Many a time in after
life, in stress and in danger, he strengthened himself by the
memory of that slow walk with the blue sea on one side and the
fair town on the other, when the wise soldier and noble-hearted
knight poured forth his precept and advice as the master workman
to the apprentice.
"Perhaps, fair son," said he, "you are like so many other lads who
ride to the wars, and know so much already that it is waste of
breath to advise them?"
"Nay, my fair lord, I know nothing save that I would fain do my
duty and either win honorable advancement or die worshipful on the
"You are wise to be humble," said Chandos; "for indeed he who
knows most of war knows best that there is much to learn. As
there is a mystery of the rivers and a mystery of woodcraft, even
so there is a mystery of warfare by which battles may be lost and
gained; for all nations are brave, and where the brave meets the
brave it is he who is crafty and war-wise who will win the day.
The best hound will run at fault if he be ill laid on, and the
best hawk will fly at check if he be badly loosed, and even so the
bravest army may go awry if it be ill handled. There are not in
Christendom better knights and squires than those of the French,
and yet we have had the better of them, for in our Scottish Wars
and elsewhere we have learned more of this same mystery of which I
"And wherein lies our wisdom, honored sir?" asked Nigel. "I also
would fain be war-wise and learn to fight with my wits as well as
with my sword."
Chandos shook his head and smiled. "It is in the forest and on
the down that you learn to fly the hawk and loose the hound," said
he. "So also it is in camp and on the field that the mystery of
war can be learned. There only has every great captain come to be
its master. To start he must have a cool head, quick to think,
soft as wax before his purpose is formed, hard as steel when once
he sees it before him. Ever alert he must be, and cautious also,
but with judgment to turn his caution into rashness where a large
gain may be put against a small stake. An eye for country also,
for the trend of the rivers, the slope of the hills, the cover of
the woods, and the light green of the bog-land."
Poor Nigel, who had trusted to his lance and to Pommers to break
his path to glory, stood aghast at this list of needs. "Alas!" he
cried. "How am I to gain all this? - I, who could scarce learn
to read or write though the good Father Matthew broke a hazel
stick a day across my shoulders? "
"You will gain it, fair son, where others have gained it before
you. You have that which is the first thing of all, a heart of
fire from which other colder hearts may catch a spark. But you
must have knowledge also of that which warfare has taught us in
olden times. We know, par exemple, that horsemen alone cannot
hope to win against good foot-soldiers. Has it not been tried at
Courtrai, at Stirling, and again under my own eyes at Crecy, where
the chivalry of France went down before our bowmen?"
Nigel stared at him, with a perplexed brow. "Fair sir, my heart
grows heavy as I hear you. Do you then say that our chivalry can
make no head against archers, billmen and the like?"
"Nay, Nigel, for it has also been very clearly shown that the best
foot-soldiers unsupported cannot hold their own against the mailed
"To whom then is the victory?" asked Nigel.
"To him who can mix his horse and foot, using each to strengthen
the other. Apart they are weak. Together they are strong. The
archer who can weaken the enemy's line, the horseman who can break
it when it is weakened, as was done at Falkirk and Duplin, there
is the secret of our strength. Now touching this same battle of
Falkirk, I pray you for one instant to give it your attention."
With his whip he began to trace a plan of the Scottish battle upon
the dust, and Nigel with knitted brows was trying hard to muster
his small stock of brains and to profit by the lecture, when their
conversation was interrupted by a strange new arrival.
It was a very stout little man, wheezy and purple with haste, who
scudded down the rampart as if he were blown by the wind, his
grizzled hair flying and his long black gown floating behind him.
He was clad in the dress of a respectable citizen, a black jerkin
trimmed with sable, a black-velvet beaver hat and a white feather.
At the sight of Chandos he gave a cry of joy and quickened his
pace so that when he did at last reach him he could only stand
gasping and waving his hands.
"Give yourself time, good Master Wintersole, give yourself time!"
said Chandos in a soothing voice.
"The papers!" gasped the little man. "Oh, my Lord Chandos, the
papers - "
"What of the papers, my worthy sir?"
"I swear by our good patron Saint Leonard, it is no fault of mine!
I had locked them in my coffer. But the lock was forced and the
A shadow of anger passed over the soldier's keen face.
"How now, Master Mayor? Pull your wits together and do not stand
there babbling like a three-year child. Do you say that some one
hath taken the papers?"
"It is sooth, fair sir! Thrice I have been Mayor of the town, and
fifteen years burgess and jurat, but never once has any public
matter gone awry through me. Only last month there came an order
from Windsor on a Tuesday for a Friday banquet, a thousand soles,
four thousand plaice, two thousand mackerel, five hundred crabs, a
thousand lobsters, five thousand whiting - "
"I doubt not, Master Mayor, that you are an excellent fishmonger;
but the matter concerns the papers I gave into your keeping.
Where are they?"
"Taken, fair sir-gone!"
"And who hath dared to take them?"
"Alas! I know not. It was but for as long as you would say an
angelus that I left the chamber, and when I came back there was
the coffer, broken and empty, upon my table."
"Do you suspect no one?"
"There was a varlet who hath come with the last few days into my
employ. He is not to be found, and I have sent horsemen along
both the Udimore road and that to Rye, that they may seize him.
By the help of Saint Leonard they can scarce miss him, for one can
tell him a bow-shot off by his hair."
"Is it red?" asked Chandos eagerly. "Is it fox-red, and the man a
small man pocked with sun-spots, and very quick in his movements?"
"It is the man himself."
Chandos shook his clenched hand with annoyance, and then set off
swiftly down the street.
"It is Peter the Red Ferret once more!" said he. "I knew him of
old in France, where he has done us more harm than a company of
men-at-arms. He speaks English as he speaks French, and he is of
such daring and cunning that nothing is secret from him. In all
France there is no more dangerous man, for though he is a
gentleman of blood and coat-armor he takes the part of a spy,
because it hath the more danger and therefore the more honor."
"But, my fair lord," cried the Mayor, as he hurried along, keeping
pace with the long strides of the soldier, "I knew that you warned
me to take all care of the papers; but surely there was no matter
of great import in it? It was but to say what stores were to be
sent after you to Calais?"
"Is that not everything?" cried Chandos impatiently. "Can you not
see, oh foolish Master Wintersole, that the French suspect we are
about to make some attempt and that they have sent Peter the Red
Ferret, as they have sent him many times before, to get tidings of
whither we are bound? Now that he knows that the stores are for
Calais, then the French near Calais will take his warning, and so
the King's whole plan come to nothing."
"Then he will fly by water. We can stop him yet. He has not an
"It may be that a boat awaits him at Rye or Hythe; but it is more
like that he has all ready to depart from here. Ah, see yonder!
I'll warrant that the Red Ferret is on board!"
Chandos had halted in front of his inn, and now he pointed down to
the outer harbor, which lay two miles off across the green plain.
It was connected by a long winding canal with the inner dock at
the base of the hill, upon which the town was built. Between the
two horns formed by the short curving piers a small schooner was
running out to sea, dipping and rising before a sharp southerly
"It is no Winchelsea boat," said the Mayor. "She is longer and
broader in the beam than ours."
"Horses! bring horses!" cried Chandos. "Come, Nigel, let us go
further into the matter."
A busy crowd of varlets, archers, and men-at-arms swarmed round
the gateway of the "Sign of the Broom Pod," singing, shouting, and
jostling in rough good-fellowship. The sight of the tall thin
figure of Chandos brought order amongst them, and a few minutes
later the horses were ready and saddled. A breakneck ride down a
steep declivity, and then a gallop of two miles over the sedgy
plain carried them to the outer harbor. A dozen vessels were
lying there, ready to start for Bordeaux or Rochelle, and the quay
was thick with sailors, laborers and townsmen and heaped with
wine-barrels and wool-packs.
"Who is warden here?" asked Chandos, springing from his horse.
"Badding! Where is Cock Badding? Badding is warden!" shouted the
A moment later a short swarthy man, bull-necked and deep-chested,
pushed through the people. He was clad in rough russet wool with
a scarlet cloth tied round his black curly head. His sleeves were
rolled up to his shoulders, and his brown arms, all stained with
grease and tar, were like two thick gnarled branches from an oaken
stump. His savage brown face was fierce and frowning, and was
split from chin to temple with the long white wale of an
"How now, gentles, will you never wait your turn?" he rumbled in a
deep angry voice. "Can you not see that we are warping the Rose
of Guienne into midstream for the ebb-tide? Is this a time to
break in upon us? Your goods will go aboard in due season, I
promise you; so ride back into the town and find such pleasure as
you may, while I and my mates do our work without let or
"It is the gentle Chandos!" cried some one in the crowd. "It is
the good Sir John."
The rough harbor-master changed his gruffness to smiles in an
instant. "Nay, Sir John, what would you? I pray you to hold me
excused if I was short of speech, but we port-wardens are sore
plagued with foolish young lordlings, who get betwixt us and our
work and blame us because we do not turn an ebb-tide into a flood,
or a south wind into a north. I pray you to tell me how I can
"That boat!" said Chandos, pointing to the already distant sail
rising and falling on the waves. "What is it?"
Cock Badding shaded his keen eyes with his strong brows hand.
"She has but just gone out," said he. "She is La Pucelle, a small
wine-sloop from Gascony, home-bound and laden with barrel-staves."
"I pray you did any man join her at the very last?"
"Nay, I know not. I saw no one."
"But I know," cried a seaman in the crowd. "I was standing at the
wharf-side and was nigh knocked into the water by a little
redheaded fellow, who breathed as though he had run from the town.
Ere I had time to give him a cuff he had jumped aboard, the ropes
were cast off, and her nose was seaward."
In a few words Chandos made all clear to Badding, the crowd
pressing eagerly round.
"Aye, aye!" cried a seaman, "the good Sir John is right. See how
she points. It is Picardy and not Gascony that she will fetch
this journey in spite of her wine-staves."
"Then we must lay her aboard!" cried Cock Badding. "Come, lads,
here is my own Marie Rose ready to cast off. Who's for a trip
with a fight at the end of it?"
There was a rush for the boat; but the stout little seaman picked
his men. "Go back, Jerry! Your heart is good, but you are
overfat for the work. You, Luke, and you, Thomas, and the two
Deedes, and William of Sandgate. You will work the boat. And now
we need a few men of their hands. Do you come, little sir?"
"I pray you, my dear lord, to let me go!" cried Nigel.
"Yes, Nigel, you can go, and I will bring your gear over to Calais
"I will join you there, fair sir, and with the help of Saint Paul
I will bring this Red Ferret with me."
"Aboard, aboard! Time passes!" cried Badding impatiently, while
already his seamen were hauling on the line and raising the
mainsail. "Now then, sirrah! who are you? It was Aylward, who
had followed Nigel and was pushing his way aboard.
"Where my master goes I go also," cried Aylward, "so stand clear,
master-shipman, or you may come by a hurt."
"By Saint Leonard! archer," said Cock Badding, "had I more time I
would give you a lesson ere I leave land. Stand back and give
place to others!"
"Nay, stand back and give place to me!" cried Aylward, and seizing
Badding round the waist he slung him into the dock.
There was a cry of anger from the crowd, for Badding was the hero
of all the Cinque Ports and had never yet met his match in
manhood. The epitaph still lingers in which it was said that he
"could never rest until he had foughten his fill." When,
therefore, swimming like a duck, he reached a rope and pulled
himself hand over hand up to the quay, all stood aghast to see
what fell fate would befall this bold stranger. But Badding
laughed loudly, dashing the saltwater from his eyes and hair.
"You have fairly won your place, archer," said he. "You are the
very man for our work. Where is Black Simon of Norwich?"
A tall dark young man with a long, stern, lean face came forward.
"I am with you, Cock," said he, "and I thank you for my place."
"You can come, Hugh Baddlesmere, and you, Hal Masters, and you,
Dicon of Rye. That is enough. Now off, in God's name, or it will
be night ere we can come up with them!"
Already the head-sails and the main-sail had been raised, while a
hundred willing hands poled her off from the wharf. Now the wind
caught her; heeling over, and quivering with eagerness like an
unleashed hound she flew through the opening and out into the
Channel. She was a famous little schooner, the Marie Rose of
Winchelsea, and under her daring owner Cock Badding, half trader
and half pirate, had brought back into port many a rich cargo
taken in mid-Channel, and paid for in blood rather than money.
Small as she was, her great speed and the fierce character of her
master had made her a name of terror along the French coast, and
many a bulky Eastlander or Fleming as he passed the narrow seas
had scanned the distant Kentish shore, fearing lest that
ill-omened purple sail with a gold Christopher upon it should
shoot out suddenly from the dim gray cliffs. Now she was clear of
the land, with the wind on her larboard quarter, every inch of
canvas set, and her high sharp bows smothered in foam, as she dug
through the waves.
Cock Badding trod the deck with head erect and jaunty bearing,
glancing up at the swelling sails and then ahead at the little
tilted white triangle, which stood out clear and hard against the
bright blue sky. Behind was the lowland of the Camber marshes,
with the bluffs of Rye and Winchelsea, and the line of cliffs
behind them. On the larboard bow rose the great white walls of
Folkestone and of Dover, and far on the distant sky-line the gray
shimmer of those French cliffs for which the fugitives were
"By Saint Paul!" cried Nigel, looking with eager eyes over the
tossing waters, "it seems to me, Master Badding, that already we
draw in upon them."
The master measured the distance with his keen steady gaze, and
then looked up at the sinking sun. " We have still four hours of
daylight," said he; "but if we do not lay her aboard ere darkness
falls she will save herself, for the nights are as black as a
wolf's mouth, and if she alter her course I know not how we may
"Unless, indeed, you might guess to which port she was bound and
reach it before her."
"Well thought of, little master!" cried Badding. "If the news be
for the French outside Calais, then Ambleteuse would be nearest to
Saint Omer. But my sweeting sails three paces to that lubber's
two, and if the wind holds we shall have time and to spare. How
now, archer? You do not seem so eager as when you made your way
aboard this boat by slinging me into the sea."
Aylward sat on the upturned keel of a skiff which lay upon the
deck. He groaned sadly and held his, green face between his two
hands. "I would gladly sling you into the sea once more,
mastershipman," said he, "if by so doing I could get off this most
accursed vessel of thine. Or if you would wish to have your turn,
then I would thank you if you would lend me a hand over the side,
for indeed I am but a useless weight upon your deck. Little did I
think that Samkin Aylward could be turned into a weakling by an
hour of salt water. Alas the day that ever my foot wandered from
the good red heather of Crooksbury!"
Cock Badding laughed loud and long. "Nay, take it not to heart,
archer," he cried; "for better men than you or I have groaned upon
this deck. The Prince himself with ten of his chosen knights
crossed with me once, and eleven sadder faces I never saw. Yet
within a month they had shown at Crecy that they were no
weaklings, as you will do also, I dare swear, when the time comes.
Keep that thick head of thine down upon the planks, and all will
be well anon. But we raise her, we raise her with every blast of
It was indeed evident, even to the inexperienced eyes of Nigel,
that the Marie Rose was closing in swiftly upon the stranger. She
was a heavy, bluff-bowed, broad-sterned vessel which labored
clumsily through the seas. The swift, fierce little Winchelsea
boat swooping and hissing through the waters behind her was like
some keen hawk whizzing down wind at the back of a flapping
heavy-bodied duck. Half an hour before La Pucelle had been a
distant patch of canvas. Now they could see the black hull, and
soon the cut of her sails and the lines of her bulwarks. There
were at least a dozen men upon her deck, and the twinkle of
weapons from amongst them showed that they were preparing to
resist. Cock Badding began to muster his own forces.
He had a crew of seven rough, hardy mariners, who had been at his
back in many a skirmish. They were armed with short swords, but
Cock Badding carried a weapon peculiar to himself, a twenty-pound
blacksmith's hammer, the memory of which, as "Badding's cracker,"
still lingers in the Cinque Ports. Then there were the eager
Nigel, the melancholy Aylward, Black Simon who was a tried
swordsman, and three archers, Baddlesmere, Masters and Dicon of
Rye, all veterans of the French War. The numbers in the two
vessels might be about equal; but Badding as he glanced at the
bold harsh faces which looked to him for orders had little fear
for the result.
Glancing round, however, he saw something which was more dangerous
to his plans than the resistance of the enemy. The wind, which
had become more fitful and feebler, now fell suddenly away, until
the sails hung limp and straight above them. A belt of calm lay
along the horizon, and the waves around had smoothed down into a
long oily swell on which the two little vessels rose and fell.
The great boom of the Marie Rose rattled and jarred with every
lurch, and the high thin prow pointed skyward one instant and
seaward the next in a way that drew fresh groans from the unhappy
Aylward. In vain Cock Badding pulled on his sheets and tried hard
to husband every little wandering gust which ruffled for an
instant the sleek rollers. The French master was as adroit a
sailor, and his boom swung round also as each breath of wind came
up from astern.
At last even these fitful puffs died finally away, and a cloudless
sky overhung a glassy sea. The sun was almost upon the horizon
behind Dungeness Point, and the whole western heaven was bright
with the glory of the sunset, which blended sea and sky in one
blaze of ruddy light. Like rollers of molten gold, the long swell
heaved up Channel from the great ocean beyond. In the midst of
the immense beauty and peace of nature the two little dark specks
with the white sail and the purple rose and fell, so small upon
the vast shining bosom of the waters, and yet so charged with all
the unrest and the passion of life..
The experienced eye of the seaman told him that it was hopeless to
expect a breeze before nightfall. He looked across at the
Frenchman, which lay less than a quarter of a mile ahead, and
shook his gnarled list at the line of heads which could be seen
looking back over her stern. One of them waved a white kerchief
in derision, and Cock Badding swore a bitter oath at the sight.
"By Saint Leonard of Winchelsea," he cried, "I will rub my side up
against her yet! Out with the skiff, lads, and two of you to the
oars. Make fast the line to the mast, Will. Do you go in the
boat, Hugh, and I'll make the second. Now if we bend our backs to
it we may have them yet ere night cover them."
The little skiff was swiftly lowered over the side and the slack
end of the cable fastened to the after thwart. Cock Badding and
his comrades pulled as if they would snap their oars, and the
little vessel began slowly to lurch forward over the rollers. But
the next moment a larger skiff had splashed over the side of the
Frenchman, and no less than four seamen were hard at work under
her bows. If the Marie Rose advanced a yard the Frenchman was
going two. Again Cock Badding raved and shook his fist. He
clambered aboard, his face wet with sweat and dark with anger.
"Curse them! they have had the best of us!" he cried. "I can do
no more. Sir John has lost his papers, for indeed now that night
is at hand I can see no way in which we can gain them."
Nigel had leaned against the bulwark during these events, watching
with keen attention the doings of the sailors, and praying
alternately to Saint Paul, Saint George, and Saint Thomas for a
slant of wind which would put them along side their enemy. He was
silent; but his hot heart was simmering within him. His spirit
had risen even above the discomfort of the sea, and his mind was
too absorbed in his mission to have a thought for that which had
laid Aylward flat upon the deck. He had never doubted that Cock
Badding in one way or another would accomplish his end, but when
he heard his speech of despair he bounded off the bulwark and
stood before the seaman with his face flushed and all his soul
"By Saint Paul! master-shipman," he cried, "we should never hold
up our heads in honor if we did not go further into the matter!
Let us do some small deed this night upon the water, or let us
never see land again, for indeed we could not wish fairer prospect
of winning honorable advancement."
"With your leave, little master, you speak like a fool," said the
gruff seaman. "You and all your kind are as children when once
the blue water is beneath you. Can you not see that there is no
wind, and that the Frenchman can warp her as swiftly as we? What
then would you do?"
Nigel pointed to the boat which towed astern. "Let us venture
forth in her," said he, "and let us take this ship or die
worshipful in the attempt."
His bold and fiery words found their echo in the brave rough
hearts around him. There was a deep-chested shout from both
archers and seamen. Even Aylward sat up, with a wan smile upon
his green face.
But Cock Badding shook his head. "I have never met the man who
could lead where I would not follow," said he; "but by Saint
Leonard! this is a mad business, and I should be a fool if I were
to risk my men and my ship. Bethink you, little master, that the
skiff can hold only five, though you load her to the water's edge.
If there is a man yonder, there are fourteen, and you have to
climb their side from the boat. What chance would you have? Your
boat stove and you in the water - there is the end of it. No man
of mine goes on such a fool's errand, and so I swear!"
"Then, Master Badding, I must crave the loan of your skiff, for by
Saint Paul! the good Lord Chandos' papers are not to be so
lightly lost. If no one else will come, then I will go alone."
The shipman smiled at the words; but the smile died away from his
lips when Nigel, with features set like ivory and eyes as hard as
steel, pulled on the rope so as to bring the skiff under the
counter. It was very clear that he would do even as he said. At
the same time Aylward raised his bulky form from the deck, leaned
for a moment against the bulwarks, and then tottered aft to his
"Here is one that will go with you," said he, "or he would never
dare show his face to the girls of Tilford again. Come, archers,
let us leave these salt herrings in their pickle tub and try our
luck out on the water."
The three archers at once ranged themselves on the same side as
their comrade. They were bronzed, bearded men, short in stature,
as were most Englishmen of that day, but hardy, strong and skilled
with their weapons. Each drew his string from its waterproof case
and bent the huge arc of his war-bow as he fitted it into the
"Now, master, we are at your back," said they as they pulled and
tightened their sword-belts.
But already Cock Badding had been carried away by the hot lust of
battle and had thrown aside every fear and doubt which had clouded
him. To see a fight and not to be in it was more than he could
"Nay, have it your own way!" he cried, "and may Saint Leonard help
us, for a madder venture I have never seen! And yet it may be
worth the trial. But if it be done let me have the handling of
it, little master, for you know no more of a boat than I do of a
war-horse. The skiff can bear five and not a man more. Now, who
They had all caught fire, and there was not one who would be left
Badding picked up his hammer. "I will come myself," said he, "and
you also, little master, since it is your hot head that has
planned it. Then there is Black Simon, the best sword of the
Cinque Ports. Two archers can pull on the oars, and it may be
that they can pick off two or three of these Frenchmen before we
close with them. Hugh Baddlesmere, and you, Dicon of Rye - into
the boat with you!"
"What? " cried Aylward. "Am I to be left behind? I, who am the
Squire's own man? Ill fare the bowman who comes betwixt me and
"Nay, Aylward," said his master, "I order that you stay, for
indeed you are a sick man."
"But now that the waves have sunk I am myself again. Nay, fair
sir, I pray that you will not leave me behind."
"You must needs take the space of a better man; for what do you
know of the handling of a boat?" said Badding shortly. "No more
fool's talk, I pray you, for the night will soon fall. Stand
Aylward looked hard at the French boat. "I could swim ten times
up and down Frensham pond," said he, "and it will be strange if I
cannot go as far as that. By these finger-bones, Samkin Aylward
may be there as soon as you!"
The little boat with its five occupants pushed off from the side
of the schooner, and dipping and rising, made its slow way toward
the Frenchman. Badding and one archer had single oars, the second
archer was in the prow, while Black Simon and Nigel huddled into
the stern with the water lapping and hissing at their very elbows.
A shout of defiance rose from the Frenchmen, and they stood in a
line along the side of their vessel shaking their fists and waving
their weapons. Already the sun was level with Dungeness, and the
gray of evening was blurring sky and water into one dim haze. A
great silence hung over the broad expanse of nature, and no sound
broke it save the dip and splash of the oars and the slow deep
surge of the boat upon the swell. Behind them their comrades of
the Marie Rose stood motionless and silent, watching their
progress with eager eyes.
They were near enough now to have a good look at the Frenchmen.
One was a big swarthy man with a long black beard. He had a red
cap and an ax over his shoulder. There were ten other
hardy-looking fellows, all of them well armed, and there were
three who seemed to be boys.
"Shall we try a shaft upon them?" asked Hugh Baddlesmere. "They
are well within our bowshot."
"Only one of you can shoot at a time, for you have no footing,"
said Badding. "With one foot in the prow and one over the thwart
you will get your stance. Do what you may, and then we will close
in upon them."
The archer balanced himself in the rolling boat with the deftness
of a man who has been trained upon the sea, for he was born and
bred in the Cinque Ports. Carefully he nocked his arrow, strongly
he drew it, steadily he loosed it, but the boat swooped at the
instant, and it buried itself in the waves. The second passed
over the little ship, and the third struck in her black side.
Then in quick succession so quick that two shafts were often in
the air at the same instant - he discharged a dozen arrows, most
of which just cleared the bulwarks and dropped upon the deck.
There was a cry on the Frenchman, and the heads vanished from the
"Enough!" cried Badding. "One is down, and it may be two. Close
in, close in, in God's name, before they rally!"
He and the other bent to their oars; but at the same instant there
was a sharp zip in the air and a hard clear sound like a stone
striking a wall. Baddlesmere clapped his hand to his head,
groaned and fell forward out of the boat, leaving a swirl of blood
upon the surface. A moment later the same fierce hiss ended in a
loud wooden crash, and a short, thick crossbow-bolt was buried
deep in the side of their boat.
"Close in, close in!" roared Badding, tugging at his oar. "Saint
George for England! Saint Leonard for Winchelsea! Close in!"
But again that fatal crossbow twanged. Dicon of Rye fell back
with a shaft through his shoulder. "God help me, I can no more!"
Badding seized the oar from his hand; but it was only to sweep the
boat's head round and pull her back to the Marie Rose. The attack
"What now, master-shipman?" cried Nigel. "What has befallen to
stop us? Surely the matter does not end here?"
"Two down out of five," said Badding, "and twelve at the least
against us. The odds are too long, little master. Let us at
least go back, fill up once more, and raise a mantelet against the
bolts, for they have an arbalist which shoots both straight and
hard. But what we do we must do quickly, for the darkness falls
Their repulse had been hailed by wild yells of delight from the
Frenchmen, who danced with joy and waved their weapons madly over
their heads. But before their rejoicings had finished they saw
the little boat creeping out once more from the shadow of the
Marie Rose, a great wooden screen in her bows to protect her from
the arrows. Without a pause she came straight and fast for her
enemy. The wounded archer had been put on board, and Aylward
would have had his place had Nigel been able to see him upon the
deck. The third archer, Hal Masters, had sprung in, and one of
the seamen, Wat Finnis of Hythe. With their hearts hardened to
conquer or to die, the five ran alongside the Frenchman and sprang
upon her deck. At the same instant a great iron weight crashed
through the bottom of their skiff, and their feet had hardly left
her before she was gone. There was no hope and no escape save
The crossbowman stood under the mast, his terrible weapon at his
shoulder, the steel string stretched taut, the heavy bolt shining
upon the nut. One life at least he would claim out of this little
band. Just for one instant too long did he dwell upon his aim,
shifting from the seaman to Cock Badding, whose formidable
appearance showed him to be the better prize. In that second of
time Hal Masters' string twanged and his long arrow sped through
the arbalister's throat. He dropped on the deck, with blood and
curses pouring from his mouth.
A moment later Nigel's sword and Badding's hammer had each claimed
a victim and driven back the rush of assailants. The five were
safe upon the deck, but it was hard for them to keep a footing
there. The French seamen, Bretons and Normans, were stout,
powerful fellows, armed with axes and swords, fierce fighters and
brave men. They swarmed round the little band, attacking them
from all sides. Black Simon felled the black-bearded French
Captain, and at the same instant was cut over the head and lay
with his scalp open upon the deck. The seaman Wat of Hythe was
killed by a crashing blow from an ax. Nigel was struck down, but
was up again like a flash, and drove his sword through the man who
had felled him.
But Badding, Masters the archer and he had been hustled back to
the bulwark and were barely holding their own from minute to
minute against the fierce crowd who assailed them, when an arrow
coming apparently from the sea struck the foremost Frenchman to
the heart. A moment later a boat dashed up alongside and four
more men from the Marie Rose scrambled on to the blood-stained
deck. With one fierce rush the remaining Frenchmen were struck
down or were seized by their assailants. Nine prostrate men upon
the deck showed how fierce had been the attack, how desperate the
Badding leaned panting upon his blood-clotted hammer. "By Saint
Leonard!" he cried, " I thought that this little master had been
the death of us all. God wot you were but just in time, and how
you came I know not. This archer has had a hand in it, by the
look of him."
Aylward, still pale from his seasickness and dripping from head to
foot with water, had been the first man in the rescue party.
Nigel looked at him in amazement. "I sought you aboard the ship,
Aylward, but I could not lay eyes on you," said he.
"It was because I was in the water, fair sir, and by my hilt! it
suits my stomach better than being on it," he answered. "When you
first set forth I swam behind you, for I saw that the Frenchman's
boat hung by a rope, and I thought that while you kept him in play
I might gain it. I had reached it when you were driven back, so I
hid behind it in the water and said my prayers as I have not said
them for many a day. Then you came again, and no one had an eye
for me, so I clambered into it, cut the rope, took the oars which
I found there and brought her back for more men."
"By Saint Paul! you have acted very wisely and well," said Nigel,
"and I think that of all of us it is you who have won most honor
this day. But of all these men dead and alive I see none who
resembles that Red Ferret whom my Lord Chandos has described and
who has worked such despite upon us in the past: It would indeed
be an evil chance if he has in spite of all our pains made his way
to France in some other boat."
"That we shall soon find out," said Badding. "Come with me and we
will search the ship from truck to keel ere he escapes us."
There was a scuttle at the base of the mast which led down into
the body of the vessel, and the Englishmen were approaching this
when a strange sight brought them to a stand. A round brazen head
had appeared in the square dark opening. An instant afterward a
pair of shining shoulders followed. Then slowly the whole figure
of a man in complete plate-armor emerged on the deck. In his
gauntleted hand he carried a heavy steel mace. With this uplifted
he moved toward his enemies, silent save for the ponderous clank
of his footfall. It was an inhuman, machine-like figure, menacing
and terrible, devoid of all expression, slow-moving, inexorable
A sudden wave of terror passed over the English seamen. One of
them tried to pass and get behind the brazen man, but he was
pinned against the side by a quick movement and his brains dashed
out by a smashing blow from the heavy mace. Wild panic seized the
others, and they rushed back to the boat. Aylward strung an
arrow, but his bowstring was damp and the shaft rang loudly upon
the shining breast-plate and glanced off into the sea. Masters
struck the brazen head with a sword, but the blade snapped without
injuring the helmet, and an instant later the bowman was stretched
senseless on the deck. The seamen shrank from this terrible
silent creature and huddled in the stern, all the fight gone out
Again he raised his mace and was advancing on the helpless crowd
where the brave were encumbered and hampered by the weaklings,
when Nigel shook himself clear and bounded forward into the open,
his sword in his hand and a smile of welcome upon his lips.
The sun had set, and one long mauve gash across the western
Channel was closing swiftly into the dull grays of early night.
Above, a few stars began to faintly twinkle; yet the twilight was
still bright enough for an observer to see every detail of the
scene: the Marie Rose, dipping and rising on the long rollers
astern; the broad French boat with its white deck blotched with
blood and littered with bodies; the group of men in the stern,
some trying to advance and some seeking to escape - all a
confused, disorderly, struggling rabble.
Then betwixt them and the mast the two figures: the armed shining
man of metal, with hand upraised, watchful, silent, motionless,
and Nigel, bareheaded and crouching, with quick foot, eager eyes
and fearless happy face, moving this way and that, in and out, his
sword flashing like a gleam of light as he sought at all points
for some opening in the brazen shell before him.
It was clear to the man in armor that if he could but pen his
antagonist in a corner he would beat him down without fail. But
it was not to be done. The unhampered man had the advantage of
speed. With a few quick steps he could always glide to either
side and escape the clumsy rush. Aylward and Badding had sprung
out to Nigel's assistance; but he shouted to them to stand back,
with such authority and anger in his voice that their weapons
dropped to their sides. With staring eyes and set features they
stood watching that unequal fight.
Once it seemed that all was over with the Squire, for in springing
back from his enemy he tripped over one of the bodies which
strewed the deck and fell flat upon his back, but with a swift
wriggle he escaped the heavy blow which thundered down upon him,
and springing to his feet he bit deeply into the Frenchman's
helmet with a sweeping cut in return. Again the mace fell, and
this time Nigel had not quite cleared himself. His sword was
beaten down and the blow fell partly upon his left shoulder. He
staggered, and once more the iron club whirled upward to dash him
to the ground.
Quick as a flash it passed through his mind that he could not leap
beyond its reach. But he might get within it. In an instant he
had dropped his sword, and springing in he had seized the brazen
man round the waist. The mace was shortened and the handle jobbed
down once upon the bare flaxen head. 'Then, with a sonorous
clang, and a yell of delight from the spectators, Nigel with one
mighty wrench tore his enemy from the deck and hurled him down
upon his back. His own head was whirling and he felt that his
senses were slipping away, but already his hunting-knife was out
and pointing through the slit in the brazen helmet.
"Give yourself up, fair sir!" said he.
" Never to fishermen and to archers! I am a gentleman of coat-
armor. Kill me!"
"I also am a gentleman of coat-armor. I promise you quarter."
"Then, sir, I surrender myself to you."
The dagger tinkled down upon the deck. Seamen and archers ran
forward, to find Nigel half senseless upon his face. They drew
him off, and a few deft blows struck off the helmet of his enemy.
A head, sharp-featured, freckled and foxy-red, disclosed itself
beneath it. Nigel raised himself on his elbow for an instant.
"You are the Red Ferret?" said he.
"So my enemies call me," said the Frenchman, with a smile. "I
rejoice, sir, that I have fallen to so valiant and honorable a
" I thank you, fair sir," said Nigel feebly. " I also rejoice
that I have encountered so debonair a person, and I shall ever
bear in mind the pleasure which I have had from our meeting."
So saying, he laid his bleeding head upon his enemy's brazen front
and sank into a dead faint.
XV. HOW THE RED FERRET CAME TO COSFORD
The old chronicler in his "Gestes du Sieur Nigel" has bewailed his
broken narrative, which rose from the fact that out of thirty-one
years of warfare no less than seven were spent by his hero at one
time or another in the recovery from his wounds or from those
illnesses which arose from privation and fatigue. Here at the
very threshold of his career, on the eve of a great enterprise,
this very fate befell him.
Stretched upon a couch in a low-roofed and ill-furnished chamber,
which looks down from under the machicolated corner turret upon
the inner court of the Castle of Calais, he lay half-unconscious
and impotent, while great deeds were doing under his window.
Wounded in three places, and with his head splintered by the sharp
pommel of the Ferret's mace, he hovered betwixt life and death,
his shattered body drawing him downward, his youthful spirit
plucking him up.
As in some strange dream he was aware of that deed of arms within
the courtyard below. Dimly it came back to his memory afterwards
the sudden startled shout, the crash of metal, the slamming of
great gates, the roar of many voices, the clang, clang, clang, as
of fifty lusty smiths upon their anvils, and then at last the
dwindling of the hubbub, the low groans and sudden shrill cries to
the saints, the measured murmur of many voices, the heavy clanking
of armored feet.
Sometime in that fell struggle he must have drawn his weakened
body as far as the narrow window, and hanging to the iron bars
have looked down on the wild scene beneath him. In the red glare
of torches held from windows and from roof he saw the rush and
swirl of men below, the ruddy light shining back from glowing
brass and gleaming steel. As a wild vision it came to him
afterward, the beauty and the splendor, the flying lambrequins,
the jeweled crests, the blazonry and richness of surcoat and of
shield, where sable and gules, argent and vair, in every pattern
of saltire, bend or chevron, glowed beneath him like a drift of
many-colored blossoms, tossing, sinking, stooping into shadow,
springing into light. There glared the blood-red gules of
Chandos, and he saw the tall figure of his master, a thunderbolt
of war, raging in the van. There too were the three black
chevrons on the golden shield which marked the noble Manny. That
strong swordsman must surely be the royal Edward himself, since
only he and the black-armored swift-footed youth at his side were
marked by no symbol of heraldry. "Manny! Manny! George for
England!" rose the deep-throated bay, and ever the gallant
counter-cry: "A Chargny! A Chargny! Saint Denis for France!"
thundered amid the clash and thudding of the battle.
Such was the vague whirling memory still lingering in Nigel's mind
when at last the mists cleared away from it and he found himself
weak but clear on the low couch in the corner turret. Beside him,
crushing lavender betwixt his rough fingers and strewing it over
floor and sheets, was Aylward the archer. His longbow leaned at
the foot of the bed, and his steel cap was balanced on the top of
it, while he himself, sitting in his shirt sleeves, fanned off the
flies and scattered the fragrant herbs over his helpless master.
"By my hilt!" he cried with a sudden shout, every tooth in his
head gleaming with joy, "I thank the Virgin and all the saints for
this blessed sight! I had not dared to go back to Tilford had I
lost you. Three weeks have you lain there and babbled like a
babe, but now I see in your eyes that you are your own man again."
"I have indeed had some small hurt," said Nigel feebly; "but it is
shame and sorrow that I should lie here if there is work for my
hands. Whither go you, archer? "
"To tell the good Sir John that you are mending."
"Nay, bide with me a little longer, Aylward. I can call to mind
all that has passed. There was a bickering of small boats, was
there not, and I chanced upon a most worthy person and exchanged
handstrokes with him? He was my prisoner, was he not?"
"He was, fair sir."
"And where is he now?"
"Below in the castle."
A smile stole over Nigel's pale face. "I know what I will do with
him," said he.
"I pray you to rest, fair sir," said Aylward anxiously. "The
King's own leech saw you this morning, and he said that if the
bandage was torn from your head you would surely die."
"Nay, good archer, I will not move. But tell me what befell upon
"There is little to tell, fair sir. Had this Ferret not been his
own squire and taken so long a time to don his harness it is
likely that they would have had the better of us. He did not
reach the battle till his comrades were on their backs. Him we
took to the Marie Rose, because he was your man. The others were
of no worth, so we threw them into the sea."
"The quick and the dead?"
"Every man of them."
"It was an evil deed."
Aylward shrugged his shoulders. "I tried to save one boy," said
he; "but Cock Badding would not have it, and he had Black Simon
and the others at his back. `It is the custom of the Narrow
Seas,' said they: `Today for them; to-morrow for us.' - Then they
tore him from his hold and cast him screaming over the side. By
my hilt! I have no love for the sea and its customs, so I care
not if I never set foot on it again when it has once borne me back
"Nay, there are great happenings upon the sea, and many worthy
people to be found upon ships," said Nigel. "In all parts, if one
goes far enough upon the water, one would find those whom it would
be joy to meet. If one crosses over the Narrow Sea, as we have
done, we come on the French who are so needful to us; for how else
would we win worship? Or if you go south, then in time one may
hope to come to the land of the unbelievers, where there is fine
skirmishing and much honor for him who will venture his person.
Bethink you, archer, how fair a life it must be when one can ride
forth in search of advancement with some hope of finding many
debonair cavaliers upon the same quest, and then if one be
overborne one has died for the faith, and the gates of Heaven are
open before you. So also the sea to the north is a help to him
who seeks honor, for it leads to the country of the Eastlanders
and to those parts where the heathen still dwell who turn their
faces from the blessed Gospel. There also a man might find some
small deeds to do, and by Saint Paul! Aylward, if the French hold
the truce and the good Sir John permits us, I would fain go down
into those parts. The sea is a good friend to the cavalier, for
it takes him where he may fulfil his vows."
Aylward shook his head, for his memories were too recent; but he
said nothing, because at this instant the door opened and Chandos
entered. With joy in his face he stepped forward to the couch and
took Nigel's hand in his. Then he whispered a word in Aylward's
ear, who hurried from the room.
"Pardieu! this is a good sight," said the knight. "I trust that
you will soon be on your feet again."
"I crave your pardon, my honored lord, that I have been absent
from your side," said Nigel.
"In truth my heart was sore for you, Nigel; for you have missed
such a night as comes seldom in any man's life. All went even as
we had planned. The postern gate was opened, and a party made
their way in; but we awaited them, and all were taken or slain.
But the greater part of the French had remained without upon the
plain of Nieullet, so we took horse and went out against them.
When we drew near them they were surprised, but they made good
cheer among themselves, calling out to each other: `If we fly we
lose all. It is better to fight on, in the hopes that the day may
be ours.' This was heard by our people in the van, who cried out
to them: `By Saint George! you speak truth. Evil befall him who
thinks of flying!' So they held their ground like worthy people
for the space of an hour, and there were many there whom it is
always good to meet: Sir Geoffrey himself, and Sir Pepin de Werre,
with Sir John de Landas, old Ballieul of the Yellow Tooth, and his
brother Hector the Leopard. But above all Sir Eustace de
Ribeaumont was at great pains to meet us worthily, and he was at
handstrokes with the King for a long time. Then, when we had
slain or taken them, all the prisoners were brought to a feast
which was ready for them, and the knights of England waited upon
them at the table and made good cheer with them. And all this,
Nigel, we owe to you."
The Squire flushed with pleasure at the words. "Nay, most honored
lord, it was but a small thing which I have been able to do. But
I thank God and our Lady that I have done some service, since it
has pleased you to take me with you to the wars. Should it chance
But the words were cut short upon Nigel's lips, and he lay back
with amazed eyes staring from his pallid face. The door of his
little chamber had opened, and who was this, the tall stately man
with the noble presence, the high forehead, the long handsome
face, the dark, brooding eyes - who but the noble Edward of
"Ha, my little cock of Tilford Bridge, I still bear you in mind,"
said he. "Right glad I was to hear that you had found your wits
again, and I trust that I have not helped to make you take leave
of them once more."
Nigel's stare of astonishment had brought a smile to the King's
lips. Now the Squire stammered forth some halting words of
gratitude at the honor done to him.
"Nay, not a word," said the King. "But in sooth it is a joy to
my heart to see the son of my old comrade Eustace Loring carry
himself so bravely. Had this boat got before us with news of our
coming, then all our labor had been in vain, and no Frenchman
ventured to Calais that night. But above all I thank you for that
you have delivered into my hands one whom I had vowed to punish in
that he has caused us more scathe by fouler means than any living
man. Twice have I sworn that Peter the Red Ferret shall hang, for
all his noble blood and coat-armor, if ever he should fall into my
hands. Now at last his time has come; but I would not put him to
death until you, who had taken him, could be there to see it done.
Nay, thank me not, for I could do no less, seeing that it is to
you that I owe him."
But it was not thanks which Nigel was trying to utter. It was
hard to frame his words, and yet they must be said. "Sire," he
murmured, "it ill becomes me to cross your royal will - "
The dark Plantagenet wrath gathered upon the King's high brow and
gloomed in his fierce deep-set eyes. "By God's dignity! no man
has ever crossed it yet and lived unscathed. How now, young sir,
what mean such words, to which we are little wont? Have a care,
for this is no light thing which you venture."
"Sire," said Nigel, "in all matters in which I am a free man I am
ever your faithful liege, but some things there are which may not
"How?" cried the King. "In spite of my will?"
"In spite of your will, sire," said Nigel, sitting up on his
couch, with white face and blazing eyes.
"By the Virgin!" the angry King thundered, "we are come to a
pretty pass! You have been held too long at home, young man. The
overstabled horse will kick. The unweathered hawk will fly at
check. See to it, Master Chandos! He is thine to break, and I
hold you to it that you break him. And what is it that Edward of
England may not do, Master Loring?"
Nigel faced the King with a face as grim as his own. "You may not
put to death the Red Ferret."
"Pardieu! And why?"
"Because he is not thine to slay, sire. Because he is mine.
Because I promised him his life, and it is not for you, King
though you be, to constrain a man of gentle blood to break his
plighted word and lose his honor."
Chandos laid his soothing hand upon his Squire's shoulder.
"Excuse him, sire; he is weak from his wounds," said he. "Perhaps
we have stayed overlong, for the leech has ordered repose."
But the angry King was not easily to be appeased. "I am not wont
to be so browbeat," said he hotly. "This is your Squire, Master
John. How comes it that you can stand there and listen to his
pert talk, and say no word to chide him? Is this how you guide
your household? Have you not taught him that every promise given
is subject to the King's consent, and that with him only lie the
springs of life and death? If he is sick, you at least are hale.
Why stand you there in silence?"
"My liege," said Chandos gravely, "I have served you for over a
score of years, and have shed my blood through as many wounds in
your cause, so that you should not take my words amiss. But
indeed I should feel myself to be no true man if I did not tell
you that my Squire Nigel, though perchance he has spoken more
bluntly than becomes him, is none the less right in this matter,
and that you are wrong. For bethink you, sire - "
"Enough!" cried the King, more furious than ever. "Like master,
like man, and I might have known why it is that this saucy Squire
dares to bandy words with his sovereign lord. He does but give
out what he hath taken in. John, John, you grow overbold. But
this I tell you, and you also, young man, that as God is my help,
ere the sun has set this night the Red Ferret will hang as a
warning to all spies and traitors from the highest tower of
Calais, that every ship upon the Narrow Seas, and every man for
ten miles round may see him as he swings and know how heavy is the
hand of the English King. Do you bear it in mind, lest you also
may feel its weight!" With a glare like an angry lion he walked
from the room, and the iron-clamped door clanged loudly behind
Chandos and Nigel looked ruefully at each other. Then the knight
patted his Squire upon his bandaged head.
"You have carried yourself right well, Nigel. I could not wish
for better. Fear not. All will be well."
"My fair and honored lord," cried Nigel, "I am heavy at heart, for
indeed I could do no other, and yet I have brought trouble upon
"Nay, the clouds will soon pass. If he does indeed slay this
Frenchman, you have done all that lay within your power, and your
mind may rest easy."
"I pray that it will rest easy in Paradise," said Nigel; "for at
the hour that I hear that I am dishonored and my prisoner slain I
tear this bandage from my head and so end all things. I will not
live when once my word is broken."
"Nay, fair son, you take this thing too heavily," said Chandos,
with a grave face. "When a man has done all he may there remains
no dishonor; but the King hath a kind heart for all his hot head,
and it may be that if I see him I will prevail upon him. Bethink
you how he swore to hang the six burghers of this very town, and
yet he pardoned them. So keep a high heart, fair son, and I will
come with good news ere evening."
For three hours, as the sinking sun traced the shadow higher and
ever higher upon the chamber wall, Nigel tossed feverishly upon
his couch, his ears straining for the footfall of Aylward or of
Chandos, bringing news of the fate of the prisoner. At last the
door flew open, and there before him stood the one man whom he
least expected, and yet would most gladly have seen. It was the
Red Ferret himself, free and joyous.
With swift furtive steps he was across the room and on his knees
beside the couch, kissing the pendent hand. "You have saved me,
most noble sir!" he cried. "The gallows was fixed and the rope
slung, when the good Lord Chandos told the King that you would die
by your own hand if I were slain. `Curse this mule-headed
Squire!' he cried. `In God's name let him have his prisoner, and
let him do what he will with him so long as he troubles me no
more!' So here I have come, fair sir, to ask you what I shall
"I pray you to sit beside me and be at your ease," said Nigel.
"In a few words I will tell you what I would have you do. Your
armor I will keep, that I may have some remembrance of my good
fortune in meeting so valiant a gentleman. We are of a size, and
I make little doubt that I can wear it. Of ransom I would ask a
"Nay, nay!" cried the Ferret. "It would be a sad thing if a man
of my position was worth less than five thousand."
"A thousand will suffice, fair sir, to pay my charges for the war.
You will not again play the spy, nor do us harm until the truce is
"That I will swear."
"And lastly there is a journey that you shall make."
The Frenchman's face lengthened. "Where you order I must go,"
said he; "but I pray you that it is not to the Holy Land."
"Nay," said Nigel; "but it is to a land which is holy to me. You
will make your way back to Southampton."
"I know it well. I helped to burn it down some years ago."
"I rede you to say nothing of that matter when you get there. You
will then journey as though to London until you come to a fair
town named Guildford."
"I have heard of it. The King hath a hunt there."
"The same. You will then ask for a house named Cosford, two
leagues from the town on the side of a long hill."
"I will bear it in mind."
"At Cosford you will see a good knight named Sir John Buttesthorn,
and you will ask to have speech with his daughter, the Lady Mary."
"I will do so; and what shall I say to the Lady Mary, who lives at
Cosford on the slope of a long hill two leagues from the fair town
"Say only that I sent my greeting, and that Saint Catharine has
been my friend - only that and nothing more. And now leave me, I
pray you, for my head is weary and I would fain have sleep."
Thus it came about that a month later on the eve of the Feast of
Saint Matthew, the Lady Mary, as she walked front Cosford gates,
met with a strange horseman, richly clad, a serving-man behind
him, looking shrewdly about him with quick blue eyes, which
twinkled from a red and freckled face. At sight of her he doffed
his hat and reined his horse.
"This house should be Cosford," said he. "Are you by chance the
Lady Mary who dwells there?"
The lady bowed her proud dark head.
"Then," said he, "Squire Nigel Loring sends you greeting and tells
you that Saint Catharine has been his friend." Then turning to
his servant he cried: "Heh, Raoul, our task is done! Your master
is a free man once more. Come, lad, come, the nearest port to
France! Hola! Hola! Hola!" And so without a word more the two,
master and man, set spurs to their horses and galloped like madmen
down the long slope of Hindhead, until as she looked after them
they were but two dark dots in the distance, waist-high in the
ling and the bracken.
She turned back to the house, a smile upon her face. Nigel had
sent her greeting. A Frenchman had brought it. His bringing it
had made him a freeman. And Saint Catherine had been Nigel's
friend. It was at her shrine that he had sworn that three deeds
should be done ere he should set eyes upon her again. In the
privacy of her room the Lady Mary sank upon her prie-dieu and
poured forth the thanks of her heart to the Virgin that one deed
was accomplished; but even as she did so her joy was overcast by
the thought of those two others which lay before him.
XVI. HOW THE KING'S COURT FEASTED IN CALAIS CASTLE
It was a bright sunshiny morning when Nigel found himself at last
able to leave his turret chamber and to walk upon the rampart of
the castle. There was a brisk northern wind, heavy and wet with
the salt of the sea, and he felt, as he turned his face to it,
fresh life and strength surging in his blood and bracing his
limbs. He took his hand from Aylward's supporting arm and stood
with his cap off, leaning on the rampart and breathing in the cool
strong air. Far off upon the distant sky-line, half hidden by the
heave of the waves, was the low white fringe of cliffs which
skirted England. Between him and them lay the broad blue Channel,
seamed and flecked with flashing foam, for a sharp sea was running
and the few ships in sight were laboring heavily. Nigel's eyes
traversed the wide-spread view, rejoicing in the change from the
gray wall of his cramped chamber. Finally they settled upon a
strange object at his very feet.
It was a long trumpet-shaped engine of leather and iron bolted
into a rude wooden stand and fitted with wheels. Beside it lay a
heap of metal slugs and lumps of stone. The end of the machine
was raised and pointed over the battlement. Behind it stood an
iron box which Nigel opened. It was filled with a black coarse
powder, like gritty charcoal.
"By Saint Paul!" said he, passing his hands over the engine, "I
have heard men talk of these things, but never before have I seen
one. It is none other than one of those wondrous new-made
"In sooth, it is even as you say," Aylward answered, looking at it
with contempt and dislike in his face. "I have seen them here
upon the ramparts, and have also exchanged a buffet or two with
him who had charge of them. He was jack-fool enough to think that
with this leather pipe he could outshoot the best archer in
Christendom. I lent him a cuff on the ear that laid him across
his foolish engine."
"It is a fearsome thing," said Nigel, who had stooped to examine
it. "We live in strange times when such things can be made. It
is loosed by fire, is it not, which springs from the black dust?"
"By my hilt! fair sir, I know not. And yet I call to mind that
ere we fell out this foolish bombardman did say something of the
matter. The fire-dust is within and so also is the ball. Then
you take more dust from this iron box and place it in the hole at
the farther end-so. It is now ready. I have never seen one
fired, but I wot that this one could be fired now."
"It makes a strange sound, archer, does it not?" said Nigel
"So I have heard, fair sir - even as the bow twangs, so it also
has a sound when you loose it."
"There is no one to hear, since we are alone upon the rampart, nor
can it do scathe, since it points to sea. I pray you to loose it
and I will listen to the sound." He bent over the bombard with an
attentive ear, while Aylward, stooping his earnest brown face over
the touch-hole, scraped away diligently with a flint and steel. A
moment later both he and Nigel were seated some distance off upon
the ground while amid the roar of the discharge and the thick
cloud of smoke they had a vision of the long black snakelike
engine shooting back upon the recoil. For a minute or more they
were struck motionless with astonishment while the reverberations
died away and the smoke wreaths curled slowly up to the blue
"Good lack!" cried Nigel at last, picking himself up and looking
round him. "Good lack, and Heaven be my aid! I thank the Virgin
that all stands as it did before. I thought that the castle had
"Such a bull's bellow I have never heard," cried Aylward, rubbing
his injured limbs. "One could hear it from Frensham Pond to
Guildford Castle. I would not touch one again - not for a hide of
the best land in Puttenham!"
"It may fare ill with your own hide, archer, if you do," said an
angry voice behind them. Chandos had stepped from the open door
of the corner turret and stood looking at them with a harsh gaze.
Presently, as the matter was made clear to him his face relaxed
into a smile.
"Hasten to the warden, archer, and tell him how it befell. You
will have the castle and the town in arms. I know not what the
King may think of so sudden an alarm. And you, Nigel, how in the
name of the saints came you to play the child like this?"
"I knew not its power, fair lord."
"By my soul, Nigel, I think that none of us know its power. I can
see the day when all that we delight in, the splendor and glory of
war, may all go down before that which beats through the plate of
steel as easily as the leathern jacket. I have bestrode my
warhorse in my armor and have looked down at the sooty, smoky
bombardman beside me, and I have thought that perhaps I was the
last of the old and he the first of the new; that there would come
a time when he and his engines would sweep you and me and the rest
of us from the field."
"But not yet, I trust, honored sir?"
"No, not yet, Nigel. You are still in time to win your spurs even
as your fathers did. How is your strength?"
"I am ready for any task, my good and honored lord."
"It is well, for work awaits us - good work, pressing work, work
of peril and of honor. Your eyes shine and your face flushes,
Nigel. I live my own youth over again as I look at you. Know
then that though there is truce with the French here, there is not
truce in Brittany where the houses of Blois and of Montfort still
struggle for the dukedom. Half Brittany fights for one, and half
for the other. The French have taken up the cause of Blois, and
we of Montfort, and it is such a war that many a great leader,
such as Sir Walter Manny, has first earned his name there. Of
late the war has gone against us, and the bloody hands of the
Rohans, of Gaptooth Beaumanoir, of Oliver the Flesher and others
have been heavy upon our people. The last tidings have been of
disaster, and the King's soul is dark with wrath for that his
friend and comrade Gilles de St. Pol has been done to death in the
Castle of La Brohiniere. He will send succors to the country, and
we go at their head. How like you that, Nigel?"
"My honored lord, what could I ask for better?"
"Then have your harness ready, for we start within the week. Our
path by land is blocked by the French, and we go by sea. This
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