The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 9
"I shall not vex you, nor even speak," she said; "but I would
fain keep with you while we are in the wood."
"Nay, you cannot vex me," he answered, all warm again at the very
sight of her. "It was my rough words which vexed you; but I have
been thrown among men all my life, and indeed, with all the will,
I scarce know how to temper my speech to a lady's ear."
"Then unsay it," cried she quickly; "say that I was right to wish
to have vengeance on the Socman."
"Nay, I cannot do that," he answered gravely.
"Then who is ungentle and unkind now?" she cried in triumph.
"How stern and cold you are for one so young! Art surely no mere
clerk, but bishop or cardinal at the least. Shouldst have
crozier for staff and mitre for cap. Well, well, for your sake I
will forgive the Socman and take vengeance on none but on my own
wilful self who must needs run into danger's path. So will that
please you, sir?"
"There spoke your true self," said he; "and you will find more
pleasure in such forgiveness than in any vengeance."
She shook her head, as if by no means assured of it, and then
with a sudden little cry, which had more of surprise than of joy
in it, "Here is Bertrand with the horses!"
Down the glade there came a little green-clad page with laughing
eyes, and long curls floating behind him. He sat perched on a
high bay horse, and held on to the bridle of a spirited black
palfrey, the hides of both glistening from a long run.
"I have sought you everywhere, dear Lady Maude," said he in a
piping voice, springing down from his horse and holding the
stirrup. "Troubadour galloped as far as Holmhill ere I could
catch him. I trust that you have had no hurt or scath?" He shot
a questioning glance at Alleyne as he spoke.
"No, Bertrand," said she, "thanks to this courteous stranger.
And now, sir," she continued, springing into her saddle, "it is
not fit that I leave you without a word more. Clerk or no, you
have acted this day as becomes a true knight. King Arthur and
all his table could not have done more. It may be that, as some
small return, my father or his kin may have power to advance your
interest. He is not rich, but he is honored and hath great
friends. Tell me what is your purpose, and see if he may not aid
"Alas! lady, I have now no purpose. I have but two friends in
the world, and they have gone to Christchurch, where it is likely
I shall join them."
"And where is Christchurch?"
"At the castle which is held by the brave knight, Sir Nigel
Loring, constable to the Earl of Salisbury."
To his surprise she burst out a-laughing, and, spurring her
palfrey, dashed off down the glade, with her page riding behind
her. Not one word did she say, but as she vanished amid the
trees she half turned in her saddle and waved a last greeting.
Long time he stood, half hoping that she might again come back to
him; but the thud of the hoofs had died away, and there was no
sound in all the woods but the gentle rustle and dropping of the
leaves. At last he turned away and made his way back to the
high-road--another person from the light-hearted boy who had left
it a short three hours before.
HOW HORDLE JOHN FOUND A MAN WHOM HE MIGHT FOLLOW.
If he might not return to Beaulieu within the year, and if his
brother's dogs were to be set upon him if he showed face upon
Minstead land, then indeed he was adrift upon earth. North,
south, east, and west--he might turn where he would, but all was
equally chill and cheerless. The Abbot had rolled ten silver
crowns in a lettuce-leaf and hid them away in the bottom of his
scrip, but that would be a sorry support for twelve long months.
In all the darkness there was but the one bright spot of the
sturdy comrades whom he had left that morning; if he could find
them again all would be well. The afternoon was not very
advanced, for all that had befallen him. When a man is afoot at
cock-crow much may be done in the day. If he walked fast he
might yet overtake his friends ere they reached their
destination. He pushed on therefore, now walking and now
running. As he journeyed he bit into a crust which remained from
his Beaulieu bread, and he washed it down by a draught from a
It was no easy or light thing to journey through this great
forest, which was some twenty miles from east to west and a good
sixteen from Bramshaw Woods in the north to Lymington in the
south. Alleyne, however, had the good fortune to fall in with a
woodman, axe upon shoulder, trudging along in the very direction
that he wished to go. With his guidance he passed the fringe of
Bolderwood Walk, famous for old ash and yew, through Mark Ash
with its giant beech-trees, and on through the Knightwood groves,
where the giant oak was already a great tree, but only one of
many comely brothers. They plodded along together, the woodman
and Alleyne, with little talk on either side, for their thoughts
were as far asunder as the poles. The peasant's gossip had been
of the hunt, of the bracken, of the gray-headed kites that had
nested in Wood Fidley, and of the great catch of herring brought
back by the boats of Pitt's Deep. The clerk's mind was on his
brother, on his future--above all on this strange, fierce,
melting, beautiful woman who had broken so suddenly into his
life, and as suddenly passed out of it again. So _distrait_ was he
and so random his answers, that the woodman took to whistling,
and soon branched off upon the track to Burley, leaving Alleyne
upon the main Christchurch road.
Down this he pushed as fast as he might, hoping at every turn and
rise to catch sight of his companions of the morning. From
Vinney Ridge to Rhinefield Walk the woods grow thick and dense up
to the very edges of the track, but beyond the country opens up
into broad dun-colored moors, flecked with clumps of trees, and
topping each other in long, low curves up to the dark lines of
forest in the furthest distance. Clouds of insects danced and
buzzed in the golden autumn light, and the air was full of the
piping of the song-birds. Long, glinting dragonflies shot across
the path, or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.
Once a white-necked sea eagle soared screaming high over the
traveller's head, and again a flock of brown bustards popped up
from among the bracken, and blundered away in their clumsy
fashion, half running, half flying, with strident cry and whirr
There were folk, too, to be met upon the road--beggars and
couriers, chapmen and tinkers--cheery fellows for the most part,
with a rough jest and homely greeting for each other and for
Alleyne. Near Shotwood he came upon five seamen, on their way
from Poole to Southampton--rude red-faced men, who shouted at him
in a jargon which he could scarce understand, and held out to him
a great pot from which they had been drinking--nor would they let
him pass until he had dipped pannikin in and taken a mouthful,
which set him coughing and choking, with the tears running down
his cheeks. Further on he met a sturdy black-bearded man,
mounted on a brown horse, with a rosary in his right hand and a
long two-handed sword jangling against his stirrup-iron. By his
black robe and the eight-pointed cross upon his sleeve, Alleyne
recognized him as one of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of
Jerusalem, whose presbytery was at Baddesley. He held up two
fingers as he passed, with a "_Benedic, fili mi!_" whereat
Alleyne doffed hat and bent knee, looking with much reverence at
one who had devoted his life to the overthrow of the infidel.
Poor simple lad! he had not learned yet that what men are and
what men profess to be are very wide asunder, and that the
Knights of St. John, having come into large part of the riches of
the ill-fated Templars, were very much too comfortable to think
of exchanging their palace for a tent, or the cellars of England
for the thirsty deserts of Syria. Yet ignorance may be more
precious than wisdom, for Alleyne as he walked on braced himself
to a higher life by the thought of this other's sacrifice, and
strengthened himself by his example which he could scarce have
done had he known that the Hospitaller's mind ran more upon
malmsey than on Mamelukes, and on venison rather than victories.
As he pressed on the plain turned to woods once more in the
region of Wilverley Walk, and a cloud swept up from the south
with the sun shining through the chinks of it. A few great drops
came pattering loudly down, and then in a moment the steady swish
of a brisk shower, with the dripping and dropping of the leaves.
Alleyne, glancing round for shelter, saw a thick and lofty
holly-bush, so hollowed out beneath that no house could have been
drier. Under this canopy of green two men were already squatted,
who waved their hands to Alleyne that he should join them. As he
approached he saw that they had five dried herrings laid out in
front of them, with a great hunch of wheaten bread and a leathern
flask full of milk, but instead of setting to at their food they
appeared to have forgot all about it, and were disputing together
with flushed faces and angry gestures. It was easy to see by
their dress and manner that they were two of those wandering
students who formed about this time so enormous a multitude in
every country in Europe. The one was long and thin, with
melancholy features, while the other was fat and sleek, with a
loud voice and the air of a man who is not to be gainsaid.
"Come hither, good youth," he cried, "come hither! _Vultus
ingenui puer_. Heed not the face of my good coz here. _Foenum
habet in cornu_, as Don Horace has it; but I warrant him harmless
for all that."
"Stint your bull's bellowing!" exclaimed the other. "If it come
to Horace, I have a line in my mind: _Loquaces si sapiat_----How
doth it run? The English o't being that a man of sense should
ever avoid a great talker. That being so, if all were men of
sense then thou wouldst be a lonesome man, coz."
"Alas! Dicon, I fear that your logic is as bad as your
philosophy or your divinity--and God wot it would be hard to say
a worse word than that for it. For, hark ye: granting, _propter
argumentum_, that I am a talker, then the true reasoning runs that
since all men of sense should avoid me, and thou hast not avoided
me, but art at the present moment eating herrings with me under a
holly-bush, ergo you are no man of sense, which is exactly what I
have been dinning into your long ears ever since I first clapped
eyes on your sunken chops."
"Tut, tut!" cried the other. "Your tongue goes like the clapper
of a mill-wheel. Sit down here, friend, and partake of this
herring. Understand first, however, that there are certain
conditions attached to it."
"I had hoped," said Alleyne, falling into the humor of the twain,
"that a tranchoir of bread and a draught of milk might be
attached to it."
"Hark to him, hark to him!" cried the little fat man. "It is
even thus, Dicon! Wit, lad, is a catching thing, like the itch
or the sweating sickness. I exude it round me; it is an aura. I
tell you, coz, that no man can come within seventeen feet of me
without catching a spark. Look at your own case. A duller man
never stepped, and yet within the week you have said three things
which might pass, and one thing the day we left Fordingbridge
which I should not have been ashamed of myself."
"Enough, rattle-pate, enough!" said the other. "The milk you
shall have and the bread also, friend, together with the herring,
but you must hold the scales between us."
"If he hold the herring he holds the scales, my sapient brother,"
cried the fat man. "But I pray you, good youth, to tell us
whether you are a learned clerk, and, if so, whether you have
studied at Oxenford or at Paris."
"I have some small stock of learning," Alleyne answered, picking
at his herring, "but I have been at neither of these places. I
was bred amongst the Cistercian monks at Beaulieu Abbey."
"Pooh, pooh!" they cried both together. "What sort of an
upbringing is that?"
"_Non cuivis contingit adire Corinthum_," quoth Alleyne.
"Come, brother Stephen, he hath some tincture of letters," said
the melancholy man more hopefully. "He may be the better judge,
since he hath no call to side with either of us. Now, attention,
friend, and let your ears work as well as your nether jaw. _Judex
damnatur_--you know the old saw. Here am I upholding the good
fame of the learned Duns Scotus against the foolish quibblings
and poor silly reasonings of Willie Ockham."
"While I," quoth the other loudly, "do maintain the good sense
and extraordinary wisdom of that most learned William against the
crack-brained fantasies of the muddy Scotchman, who hath hid such
little wit as he has under so vast a pile of words, that it is
like one drop of Gascony in a firkin of ditch-water. Solomon his
wisdom would not suffice to say what the rogue means."
"Certes, Stephen Hapgood, his wisdom doth not suffice," cried the
other. "It is as though a mole cried out against the morning
star, because he could not see it. But our dispute, friend, is
concerning the nature of that subtle essence which we call
thought. For I hold with the learned Scotus that thought is in
very truth a thing, even as vapor or fumes, or many other
substances which our gross bodily eyes are blind to. For, look
you, that which produces a thing must be itself a thing, and if a
man's thought may produce a written book, then must thought
itself be a material thing, even as the book is. Have I
expressed it? Do I make it plain?"
"Whereas I hold," shouted the other, "with my revered preceptor,
_doctor, praeclarus et excellentissimus_, that all things are but
thought; for when thought is gone I prythee where are the things
then? Here are trees about us, and I see them because I think I
see them, but if I have swooned, or sleep, or am in wine, then,
my thought having gone forth from me, lo the trees go forth also.
How now, coz, have I touched thee on the raw?"
Alleyne sat between them munching his bread, while the twain
disputed across his knees, leaning forward with flushed faces and
darting hands, in all the heat of argument. Never had he heard
such jargon of scholastic philosophy, such fine-drawn
distinctions, such cross-fire of major and minor, proposition,
syllogism, attack and refutation. Question clattered upon answer
like a sword on a buckler. The ancients, the fathers of the
Church, the moderns, the Scriptures, the Arabians, were each sent
hurtling against the other, while the rain still dripped and the
dark holly-leaves glistened with the moisture. At last the fat
man seemed to weary of it, for he set to work quietly upon his
meal, while his opponent, as proud as the rooster who is left
unchallenged upon the midden, crowed away in a last long burst of
quotation and deduction. Suddenly, however, his eyes dropped
upon his food, and he gave a howl of dismay.
"You double thief!" he cried, "you have eaten my herrings, and I
without bite or sup since morning."
"That," quoth the other complacently, "was my final argument, my
crowning effort, or _peroratio_, as the orators have it. For, coz,
since all thoughts are things, you have but to think a pair of
herrings, and then conjure up a pottle of milk wherewith to wash
"A brave piece of reasoning," cried the other, "and I know of but
one reply to it." On which, leaning forward, he caught his
comrade a rousing smack across his rosy cheek. "Nay, take it not
amiss," he said, "since all things are but thoughts, then that
also is but a thought and may be disregarded."
This last argument, however, by no means commended itself to the
pupil of Ockham, who plucked a great stick from the ground and
signified his dissent by smiting the realist over the pate with
it. By good fortune, the wood was so light and rotten that it
went to a thousand splinters, but Alleyne thought it best to
leave the twain to settle the matter at their leisure, the more
so as the sun was shining brightly once more. Looking back down
the pool-strewn road, he saw the two excited philosophers waving
their hands and shouting at each other, but their babble soon
became a mere drone in the distance, and a turn in the road hid
them from his sight.
And now after passing Holmesley Walk and the Wooton Heath, the
forest began to shred out into scattered belts of trees, with
gleam of corn-field and stretch of pasture-land between. Here
and there by the wayside stood little knots of wattle-and-daub
huts with shock-haired laborers lounging by the doors and
red-cheeked children sprawling in the roadway. Back among the
groves he could see the high gable ends and thatched roofs of the
franklins' houses, on whose fields these men found employment, or
more often a thick dark column of smoke marked their position and
hinted at the coarse plenty within. By these signs Alleyne knew
that he was on the very fringe of the forest, and therefore no
great way from Christchurch. The sun was lying low in the west
and shooting its level rays across the long sweep of rich green
country, glinting on the white-fleeced sheep and throwing long
shadows from the red kine who waded knee-deep in the juicy
clover. Right glad was the traveller to see the high tower of
Christchurch Priory gleaming in the mellow evening light, and
gladder still when, on rounding a corner, he came upon his
comrades of the morning seated astraddle upon a fallen tree.
They had a flat space before them, on which they alternately
threw little square pieces of bone, and were so intent upon
their occupation that they never raised eye as he approached
them. He observed with astonishment, as he drew near, that the
archer's bow was on John's back, the archer's sword by John's
side, and the steel cap laid upon the tree-trunk between them.
"Mort de ma vie!" Aylward shouted, looking down at the dice.
"Never had I such cursed luck. A murrain on the bones! I have
not thrown a good main since I left Navarre. A one and a three!
En avant, camarade!"
"Four and three," cried Hordle John, counting on his great
fingers, "that makes seven. Ho, archer, I have thy cap! Now
have at thee for thy jerkin!"
"Mon Dieu!" he growled, "I am like to reach Christchurch in my
shirt." Then suddenly glancing up, "Hola, by the splendor of
heaven, here is our cher petit! Now, by my ten finger bones!
this is a rare sight to mine eyes." He sprang up and threw his
arms round Alleyne's neck, while John, no less pleased, but more
backward and Saxon in his habits, stood grinning and bobbing by
the wayside, with his newly won steel cap stuck wrong side
foremost upon his tangle of red hair.
"Hast come to stop?" cried the bowman, patting Alleyne all over
in his delight. "Shall not get away from us again!"
"I wish no better," said he, with a pringling in the eyes at this
"Well said, lad!" cried big John. "We three shall to the wars
together, and the devil may fly away with the Abbot of Beaulieu!
But your feet and hosen are all besmudged. Hast been in the
water, or I am the more mistaken."
"I have in good sooth," Alleyne answered, and then as they
journeyed on their way he told them the many things that had
befallen him, his meeting with the villein, his sight of the
king, his coming upon his brother, with all the tale of the black
welcome and of the fair damsel. They strode on either side, each
with an ear slanting towards him, but ere he had come to the end
of his story the bowman had spun round upon his heel, and was
hastening back the way they had come, breathing loudly through
"What then?" asked Alleyne, trotting after him and gripping at
"I am back for Minstead, lad."
"And why, in the name of sense?"
"To thrust a handful of steel into the Socman. What! hale a
demoiselle against her will, and then loose dogs at his own
brother! Let me go!"
"Nenny, nenny!" cried Alleyne, laughing. "There was no scath
done. Come back, friend"--and so, by mingled pushing and
entreaties, they got his head round for Christchurch once more.
Yet he walked with his chin upon his shoulder, until, catching
sight of a maiden by a wayside well, the smiles came back to his
face and peace to his heart.
"But you," said Alleyne, "there have been changes with you also.
Why should not the workman carry his tools? Where are bow and
sword and cap--and why so warlike, John?"
"It is a game which friend Aylward hath been a-teaching of me."
"And I found him an over-apt pupil," grumbled the bowman. "He
hath stripped me as though I had fallen into the hands of the
tardvenus. But, by my hilt! you must render them back to me,
camarade, lest you bring discredit upon my mission, and I will
pay you for them at armorers' prices."
"Take them back, man, and never heed the pay," said John. "I did
but wish to learn the feel of them, since I am like to have such
trinkets hung to my own girdle for some years to come."
"Ma foi, he was born for a free companion!" cried Aylward, "He hath
the very trick of speech and turn of thought. I take them back
then, and indeed it gives me unease not to feel my yew-stave
tapping against my leg bone. But see, mes garcons, on this side
of the church rises the square and darkling tower of Earl
Salisbury's castle, and even from here I seem to see on yonder
banner the red roebuck of the Montacutes."
"Red upon white," said Alleyne, shading his eyes; "but whether
roebuck or no is more than I could vouch. How black is the great
tower, and how bright the gleam of arms upon the wall! See below
the flag, how it twinkles like a star!"
"Aye, it is the steel head-piece of the watchman," remarked the
archer. "But we must on, if we are to be there before the
drawbridge rises at the vespers bugle; for it is likely that sir
Nigel, being so renowned a soldier, may keep hard discipline
within the walls, and let no man enter after sundown." So
saying, he quickened his pace, and the three comrades were soon
close to the straggling and broad-spread town which centered
round the noble church and the frowning castle.
It chanced on that very evening that Sir Nigel Loring, having
supped before sunset, as was his custom, and having himself
seen that Pommers and Cadsand, his two war-horses, with the
thirteen hacks, the five jennets, my lady's three palfreys, and
the great dapple-gray roussin, had all their needs supplied, had
taken his dogs for an evening breather. Sixty or seventy of
them, large and small, smooth and shaggy--deer-hound, boar-hound,
blood-hound, wolf-hound, mastiff, alaun, talbot, lurcher,
terrier, spaniel--snapping, yelling and whining, with score of
lolling tongues and waving tails, came surging down the narrow
lane which leads from the Twynham kennels to the bank of Avon.
Two russet-clad varlets, with loud halloo and cracking whips,
walked thigh-deep amid the swarm, guiding, controlling, and
urging. Behind came Sir Nigel himself, with Lady Loring upon his
arm, the pair walking slowly and sedately, as befitted both their
age and their condition, while they watched with a smile in their
eyes the scrambling crowd in front of them. They paused,
however, at the bridge, and, leaning their elbows upon the
stonework, they stood looking down at their own faces in the
glassy stream, and at the swift flash of speckled trout against
the tawny gravel.
Sir Nigel was a slight man of poor stature, with soft lisping
voice and gentle ways. So short was he that his wife, who was no
very tall woman, had the better of him by the breadth of three
fingers. His sight having been injured in his early wars by a
basketful of lime which had been emptied over him when he led the
Earl of Derby's stormers up the breach at Bergerac, he had
contracted something of a stoop, with a blinking, peering
expression of face. His age was six and forty, but the constant
practice of arms, together with a cleanly life, had preserved
his activity and endurance unimpaired, so that from a distance he
seemed to have the slight limbs and swift grace of a boy. His
face, however, was tanned of a dull yellow tint, with a leathery,
poreless look, which spoke of rough outdoor doings, and the
little pointed beard which he wore, in deference to the
prevailing fashion, was streaked and shot with gray. His
features were small, delicate, and regular, with clear-cut,
curving nose, and eyes which jutted forward from the lids. His
dress was simple and yet spruce. A Flandrish hat of beevor,
bearing in the band the token of Our Lady of Embrun, was drawn
low upon the left side to hide that ear which had been partly
shorn from his head by a Flemish man-at-arms in a camp broil
before Tournay. His cote-hardie, or tunic, and trunk-hosen were
of a purple plum color, with long weepers which hung from either
sleeve to below his knees. His shoes were of red leather,
daintily pointed at the toes, but not yet prolonged to the
extravagant lengths which the succeeding reign was to bring into
fashion. A gold-embroidered belt of knighthood encircled his
loins, with his arms, five roses gules on a field argent,
cunningly worked upon the clasp. So stood Sir Nigel Loring upon
the bridge of Avon, and talked lightly with his lady.
And, certes, had the two visages alone been seen, and the
stranger been asked which were the more likely to belong to the
bold warrior whose name was loved by the roughest soldiery of
Europe, he had assuredly selected the lady's. Her face was large
and square and red, with fierce, thick brows, and the eyes of one
who was accustomed to rule. Taller and broader than her husband,
her flowing gown of sendall, and fur-lined tippet, could not
conceal the gaunt and ungraceful outlines of her figure. It was
the age of martial women. The deeds of black Agnes of Dunbar, of
Lady Salisbury and of the Countess of Montfort, were still fresh
in the public minds. With such examples before them the wives of
the English captains had become as warlike as their mates, and
ordered their castles in their absence with the prudence and
discipline of veteran seneschals. Right easy were the Montacutes
of their Castle of Twynham, and little had they to dread from
roving galley or French squadron, while Lady Mary Loring had the
ordering of it. Yet even in that age it was thought that, though
a lady might have a soldier's heart, it was scarce as well that
she should have a soldier's face. There were men who said that
of all the stern passages and daring deeds by which Sir Nigel
Loring had proved the true temper of his courage, not the least
was his wooing and winning of so forbidding a dame.
"I tell you, my fair lord," she was saying, "that it is no fit
training for a demoiselle: hawks and hounds, rotes and citoles
singing a French rondel, or reading the Gestes de Doon de
Mayence, as I found her yesternight, pretending sleep, the
artful, with the corner of the scroll thrusting forth from under
her pillow. Lent her by Father Christopher of the priory,
forsooth--that is ever her answer. How shall all this help her
when she has castle of her own to keep, with a hundred mouths all
agape for beef and beer?"
"True, my sweet bird, true," answered the knight, picking a
comfit from his gold drageoir. "The maid is like the young
filly, which kicks heels and plunges for very lust of life. Give
her time, dame, give her time."
"Well, I know that my father would have given me, not time, but a
good hazel-stick across my shoulders. Ma foi! I know not what
the world is coming to, when young maids may flout their elders.
I wonder that you do not correct her, my fair lord."
"Nay, my heart's comfort, I never raised hand to woman yet, and
it would be a passing strange thing if I began on my own flesh
and blood. It was a woman's hand which cast this lime into mine
eyes, and though I saw her stoop, and might well have stopped her
ere she threw, I deemed it unworthy of my knighthood to hinder or
balk one of her sex."
"The hussy!" cried Lady Loring clenching her broad right hand.
"I would I had been at the side of her!"
"And so would I, since you would have been the nearer me my own.
But I doubt not that you are right, and that Maude's wings need
clipping, which I may leave in your hands when I am gone, for, in
sooth, this peaceful life is not for me, and were it not for your
gracious kindness and loving care I could not abide it a week. I
hear that there is talk of warlike muster at Bordeaux once more,
and by St. Paul! it would be a new thing if the lions of England
and the red pile of Chandos were to be seen in the field, and the
roses of Loring were not waving by their side."
"Now woe worth me but I feared it!" cried she, with the color all
struck from her face. "I have noted your absent mind, your
kindling eye, your trying and riveting of old harness. Consider
my sweet lord, that you have already won much honor, that we have
seen but little of each other, that you bear upon your body the
scar of over twenty wounds received in I know not how many bloody
encounters. Have you not done enough for honor and the public
"My lady, when our liege lord, the king, at three score years,
and my Lord Chandos at three-score and ten, are blithe and ready
to lay lance in rest for England's cause, it would ill be-seem me
to prate of service done. It is sooth that I have received seven
and twenty wounds. There is the more reason that I should be
thankful that I am still long of breath and sound in limb. I
have also seen some bickering and scuffling. Six great land
battles I count, with four upon sea, and seven and fifty onfalls,
skirmishes and bushments. I have held two and twenty towns, and
I have been at the intaking of thirty-one. Surely then it would
be bitter shame to me, and also to you, since my fame is yours,
that I should now hold back if a man's work is to be done.
Besides, bethink you how low is our purse, with bailiff and reeve
ever croaking of empty farms and wasting lands. Were it not for
this constableship which the Earl of Salisbury hath bestowed
upon us we could scarce uphold the state which is fitting to our
degree. Therefore, my sweeting, there is the more need that I
should turn to where there is good pay to be earned and brave
ransoms to be won."
"Ah, my dear lord," quoth she, with sad, weary eyes. "I thought
that at last I had you to mine own self, even though your youth
had been spent afar from my side. Yet my voice, as I know well,
should speed you on to glory and renown, not hold you back when
fame is to be won. Yet what can I say, for all men know that
your valor needs the curb and not the spur. It goes to my heart
that you should ride forth now a mere knight bachelor, when there
is no noble in the land who hath so good a claim to the square
pennon, save only that you have not the money to uphold it."
"And whose fault that, my sweet bird?" said he.
"No fault, my fair lord, but a virtue: for how many rich ransoms
have you won, and yet have scattered the crowns among page and
archer and varlet, until in a week you had not as much as would
buy food and forage. It is a most knightly largesse, and yet
withouten money how can man rise?"
"Dirt and dross!" cried he.
"What matter rise or fall, so that duty be done and honor gained.
Banneret or bachelor, square pennon or forked, I would not give a
denier for the difference, and the less since Sir John Chandos,
chosen flower of English chivalry, is himself but a humble
knight. But meanwhile fret not thyself, my heart's dove, for it
is like that there may be no war waged, and we must await the
news. But here are three strangers, and one, as I take it, a
soldier fresh from service. It is likely that he may give us
word of what is stirring over the water."
Lady Loring, glancing up, saw in the fading light three
companions walking abreast down the road, all gray with dust, and
stained with travel, yet chattering merrily between themselves.
He in the midst was young and comely, with boyish open face and
bright gray eyes, which glanced from right to left as though he
found the world around him both new and pleasing. To his right
walked a huge red-headed man, with broad smile and merry twinkle,
whose clothes seemed to be bursting and splitting at every seam,
as though he were some lusty chick who was breaking bravely from
his shell. On the other side, with his knotted hand upon the
young man's shoulder, came a stout and burly archer, brown and
fierce eyed, with sword at belt and long yellow yew-stave
peeping over his shoulder. Hard face, battered head piece,
dinted brigandine, with faded red lion of St. George ramping on a
discolored ground, all proclaimed as plainly as words that he was
indeed from the land of war. He looked keenly at Sir Nigel as he
approached, and then, plunging his hand under his breastplate, he
stepped up to him with a rough, uncouth bow to the lady.
"Your pardon, fair sir," said he, "but I know you the moment I
clap eyes on you, though in sooth I have seen you oftener in
steel than in velvet. I have drawn string besides you at La
Roche-d'Errien, Romorantin, Maupertuis, Nogent, Auray, and other
"Then, good archer, I am right glad to welcome you to Twynham
Castle, and in the steward's room you will find provant for
yourself and comrades. To me also your face is known, though
mine eyes play such tricks with me that I can scarce be sure of
my own squire. Rest awhile, and you shall come to the hall anon
and tell us what is passing in France, for I have heard that it
is likely that our pennons may flutter to the south of the great
Spanish mountains ere another year be passed."
"There was talk of it in Bordeaux," answered the archer, "and I
saw myself that the armorers and smiths were as busy as rats in a
wheat-rick. But I bring you this letter from the valiant Gascon
knight, Sir Claude Latour. And to you, Lady," he added after a
pause, "I bring from him this box of red sugar of Narbonne, with
every courteous and knightly greeting which a gallant cavalier
may make to a fair and noble dame."
This little speech had cost the blunt bowman much pains and
planning; but he might have spared his breath, for the lady was
quite as much absorbed as her lord in the letter, which they held
between them, a hand on either corner, spelling it out very
slowly, with drawn brows and muttering lips. As they read it,
Alleyne, who stood with Hordle John a few paces back from their
comrade, saw the lady catch her breath, while the knight laughed
softly to himself.
"You see, dear heart," said he, "that they will not leave the old
dog in his kennel when the game is afoot. And what of this White
"Ah, sir, you speak of dogs," cried Aylward; "but there are a
pack of lusty hounds who are ready for any quarry, if they have
but a good huntsman to halloo them on. Sir, we have been in the
wars together, and I have seen many a brave following but never
such a set of woodland boys as this. They do but want you at
their head, and who will bar the way to them!"
"Pardieu!" said Sir Nigel, "if they are all like their messenger,
they are indeed men of whom a leader may be proud. Your name,
"Sam Aylward, sir, of the Hundred of Easebourne and the Rape of
"And this giant behind you?"
"He is big John, of Hordle, a forest man, who hath now taken
service in the Company."
"A proper figure of a man at-arms," said the little knight.
"Why, man, you are no chicken, yet I warrant him the stronger
man. See to that great stone from the coping which hath fallen
upon the bridge. Four of my lazy varlets strove this day to
carry it hence. I would that you two could put them to shame by
budging it, though I fear that I overtask you, for it is of a
He pointed as he spoke to a huge rough-hewn block which lay by
the roadside, deep sunken from its own weight in the reddish
earth. The archer approached it, rolling back the sleeves of his
jerkin, but with no very hopeful countenance, for indeed it was a
mighty rock. John, however, put him aside with his left hand,
and, stooping over the stone, he plucked it single-handed from
its soft bed and swung it far into the stream. There it fell
with mighty splash, one jagged end peaking out above the surface,
while the waters bubbled and foamed with far-circling eddy.
"Good lack!" cried Sir Nigel, and "Good lack!" cried his lady,
while John stood laughing and wiping the caked dirt from his
"I have felt his arms round my ribs," said the bowman, "and they
crackle yet at the thought of it. This other comrade of mine is
a right learned clerk, for all that he is so young, hight
Alleyne, the son of Edric, brother to the Socman of Minstead."
"Young man," quoth Sir Nigel, sternly, "if you are of the same
way of thought as your brother, you may not pass under portcullis
"Nay, fair sir," cried Aylward hastily, "I will be pledge for it
that they have no thought in common; for this very day his
brother hath set his dogs upon him, and driven him from his
"And are you, too, of the White Company?" asked Sir Nigel. "Hast
had small experience of war, if I may judge by your looks and
"I would fain to France with my friends here," Alleyne answered;
"but I am a man of peace--a reader, exorcist, acolyte, and
"That need not hinder," quoth Sir Nigel.
"No, fair sir," cried the bowman joyously. "Why, I myself have
served two terms with Arnold de Cervolles, he whom they called
the archpriest. By my hilt! I have seen him ere now, with monk's
gown trussed to his knees, over his sandals in blood in the
fore-front of the battle. Yet, ere the last string had twanged,
he would be down on his four bones among the stricken, and have
them all houseled and shriven, as quick as shelling peas. Ma
foi! there were those who wished that he would have less care
for their souls and a little more for their bodies!"
"It is well to have a learned clerk in every troop," said Sir
Nigel. "By St. Paul, there are men so caitiff that they think
more of a scrivener's pen than of their lady's smile, and do
their devoir in hopes that they may fill a line in a chronicle or
make a tag to a jongleur's romance. I remember well that, at the
siege of Retters, there was a little, sleek, fat clerk of the
name of Chaucer, who was so apt at rondel, sirvente, or tonson,
that no man dare give back a foot from the walls, lest he find it
all set down in his rhymes and sung by every underling and varlet
in the camp. But, my soul's bird, you hear me prate as though
all were decided, when I have not yet taken counsel either with
you or with my lady mother. Let us to the chamber, while these
strangers find such fare as pantry and cellar may furnish."
"The night air strikes chill," said the lady, and turned down the
road with her hand upon her lord's arm. The three comrades
dropped behind and followed: Aylward much the lighter for having
accomplished his mission, Alleyne full of wonderment at the
humble bearing of so renowned a captain, and John loud with
snorts and sneers, which spoke his disappointment and contempt.
"What ails the man?" asked Aylward in surprise.
"I have been cozened and bejaped," quoth he gruffly.
"By whom, Sir Samson the strong?"
"By thee, Sir Balaam the false prophet."
"By my hilt!" cried the archer, I though I be not Balaam, yet I
hold converse with the very creature that spake to him. What is
amiss, then, and how have I played you false?"
"Why, marry, did you not say, and Alleyne here will be my
witness, that, if I would hie to the wars with you, you would
place me under a leader who was second to none in all England for
valor? Yet here you bring me to a shred of a man, peaky and
ill-nourished, with eyes like a moulting owl, who must needs,
forsooth, take counsel with his mother ere he buckle sword to
"Is that where the shoe galls?" cried the bowman, and laughed
aloud. "I will ask you what you think of him three months hence,
if we be all alive; for sure I am that----"
Aylward's words were interrupted by an extraordinary hubbub which
broke out that instant some little way down the street in the
direction of the Priory. There was deep-mouthed shouting of men,
frightened shrieks of women, howling and barking of curs, and
over all a sullen, thunderous rumble, indescribably menacing and
terrible. Round the corner of the narrow street there came
rushing a brace of whining dogs with tails tucked under their
legs, and after them a white-faced burgher, with outstretched
hands and wide-spread fingers, his hair all abristle and his eyes
glinting back from one shoulder to the other, as though some
great terror were at his very heels. "Fly, my lady, fly!" he
screeched, and whizzed past them like bolt from bow; while close
behind came lumbering a huge black bear, with red tongue lolling
from his mouth, and a broken chain jangling behind him. To right
and left the folk flew for arch and doorway. Hordle John caught
up the Lady Loring as though she had been a feather, and sprang
with her into an open porch; while Aylward, with a whirl of
French oaths, plucked at his quiver and tried to unsling his bow.
Alleyne, all unnerved at so strange and unwonted a sight, shrunk
up against the wall with his eyes fixed upon the frenzied
creature, which came bounding along with ungainly speed, looking
the larger in the uncertain light, its huge jaws agape, with
blood and slaver trickling to the ground. Sir Nigel alone,
unconscious to all appearance of the universal panic, walked
with unfaltering step up the centre of the road, a silken
handkerchief in one hand and his gold comfit-box in the other.
It sent the blood cold through Alleyne's veins to see that as
they came together--the man and the beast--the creature reared
up, with eyes ablaze with fear and hate, and whirled its great
paws above the knight to smite him to the earth. He, however,
blinking with puckered eyes, reached up his kerchief, and flicked
the beast twice across the snout with it. "Ah, saucy! saucy,"
quoth he, with gentle chiding; on which the bear, uncertain and
puzzled, dropped its four legs to earth again, and, waddling
back, was soon swathed in ropes by the bear-ward and a crowd of
peasants who had been in close pursuit.
A scared man was the keeper; for, having chained the brute to a
stake while he drank a stoup of ale at the inn, it had been
baited by stray curs, until, in wrath and madness, it had plucked
loose the chain, and smitten or bitten all who came in its path.
Most scared of all was he to find that the creature had come nigh
to harm the Lord and Lady of the castle, who had power to place
him in the stretch-neck or to have the skin scourged from his
shoulders. Yet, when he came with bowed head and humble entreaty
for forgiveness, he was met with a handful of small silver from
Sir Nigel, whose dame, however, was less charitably disposed,
being much ruffled in her dignity by the manner in which she had
been hustled from her lord's side.
As they passed through the castle gate, John plucked at Aylward's
sleeve, and the two fell behind.
"I must crave your pardon, comrade," said he, bluntly. "I was a
fool not to know that a little rooster may be the gamest. I
believe that this man is indeed a leader whom we may follow."
HOW A YOUNG SHEPHERD HAD A PERILOUS FLOCK.
Black was the mouth of Twynham Castle, though a pair of torches
burning at the further end of the gateway cast a red glare over
the outer bailey, and sent a dim, ruddy flicker through the
rough-hewn arch, rising and falling with fitful brightness. Over
the door the travellers could discern the escutcheon of the
Montacutes, a roebuck gules on a field argent, flanked on either
side by smaller shields which bore the red roses of the veteran
constable. As they passed over the drawbridge, Alleyne marked
the gleam of arms in the embrasures to right and left, and they
had scarce set foot upon the causeway ere a hoarse blare burst
from a bugle, and, with screech of hinge and clank of chain, the
ponderous bridge swung up into the air, drawn by unseen hands.
At the same instant the huge portcullis came rattling down from
above, and shut off the last fading light of day. Sir Nigel and
his lady walked on in deep talk, while a fat under-steward took
charge of the three comrades, and led them to the buttery, where
beef, bread, and beer were kept ever in readiness for the
wayfarer. After a hearty meal and a dip in the trough to wash
the dust from them, they strolled forth into the bailey, where
the bowman peered about through the darkness at wall and at keep,
with the carping eyes of one who has seen something of sieges,
and is not likely to be satisfied. To Alleyne and to John,
however, it appeared to be as great and as stout a fortress as
could be built by the hands of man.
Erected by Sir Balwin de Redvers in the old fighting days of the
twelfth century, when men thought much of war and little of
comfort, Castle Twynham had been designed as a stronghold pure
and simple, unlike those later and more magnificent structures
where warlike strength had been combined with the magnificence of
a palace. From the time of the Edwards such buildings as Conway
or Caernarvon castles, to say nothing of Royal Windsor, had shown
that it was possible to secure luxury in peace as well as
security in times of trouble. Sir Nigel's trust, however, still
frowned above the smooth-flowing waters of the Avon, very much as
the stern race of early Anglo-Normans had designed it. There
were the broad outer and inner bailies, not paved, but sown with
grass to nourish the sheep and cattle which might be driven in on
sign of danger. All round were high and turreted walls, with at
the corner a bare square-faced keep, gaunt and windowless,
rearing up from a lofty mound, which made it almost inaccessible
to an assailant. Against the bailey-walls were rows of frail
wooden houses and leaning sheds, which gave shelter to the
archers and men-at-arms who formed the garrison. The doors of
these humble dwellings were mostly open, and against the yellow
glare from within Alleyne could see the bearded fellows cleaning
their harness, while their wives would come out for a gossip,
with their needlework in their hands, and their long black
shadows streaming across the yard. The air was full of the clack
of their voices and the merry prattling of children, in strange
contrast to the flash of arms and constant warlike challenge from
the walls above.
"Methinks a company of school lads could hold this place against
an army," quoth John.
"And so say I," said Alleyne.
"Nay, there you are wide of the clout," the bowman said gravely.
"By my hilt! I have seen a stronger fortalice carried in a summer
evening. I remember such a one in Picardy, with a name as long
as a Gascon's pedigree. It was when I served under Sir Robert
Knolles, before the days of the Company; and we came by good
plunder at the sacking of it. I had myself a great silver bowl,
with two goblets, and a plastron of Spanish steel. Pasques Dieu!
there are some fine women over yonder! Mort de ma vie! see to
that one in the doorway! I will go speak to her. But whom have
"Is there an archer here hight Sam Aylward?" asked a gaunt
man-at-arms, clanking up to them across the courtyard.
"My name, friend," quoth the bowman.
"Then sure I have no need to tell thee mine," said the other.
"By the rood! if it is not Black Simon of Norwich!" cried
Aylward. "A mon coeur, camarade, a mon coeur! Ah, but I am
blithe to see thee!" The two fell upon each other and hugged
"And where from, old blood and bones?" asked the bowman.
"I am in service here. Tell me, comrade, is it sooth that we
shall have another fling at these Frenchmen? It is so rumored in
the guard-room, and that Sir Nigel will take the field once
"It is like enough, mon gar., as things go."
"Now may the Lord be praised!" cried the other. "This very night
will I set apart a golden ouche to be offered on the shrine of my
name-saint. I have pined for this, Aylward, as a young maid
pines for her lover."
"Art so set on plunder then? Is the purse so light that there is
not enough for a rouse? I have a bag at my belt, camarade, and
you have but to put your fist into it for what you want. It was
ever share and share between us."
"Nay, friend, it is not the Frenchman's gold, but the Frenchman's
blood that I would have. I should not rest quiet in the grave,
coz, if I had not another turn at them. For with us in France it
has ever been fair and honest war--a shut fist for the man, but a
bended knee for the woman. But how was it at Winchelsea when
their galleys came down upon it some few years back? I had an
old mother there, lad, who had come down thither from the
Midlands to be the nearer her son. They found her afterwards by
her own hearthstone, thrust through by a Frenchman's bill. My
second sister, my brother's wife, and her two children, they
were but ash-heaps in the smoking ruins of their house. I will
not say that we have not wrought great scath upon France, but
women and children have been safe from us. And so, old friend,
my heart is hot within me, and I long to hear the old battle-cry
again, and, by God's truth! if Sir Nigel unfurls his pennon,
here is one who will be right glad to feel the saddle-flaps under
"We have seen good work together, old war-dog," quoth Aylward;
"and, by my hilt! we may hope to see more ere we die. But we are
more like to hawk at the Spanish woodcock than at the French
heron, though certes it is rumored that Du Guesclin with all the
best lances of France have taken service under the lions and
towers of Castile. But, comrade, it is in my mind that there is
some small matter of dispute still open between us."
"'Fore God, it is sooth!" cried the other; "I had forgot it.
The provost-marshal and his men tore us apart when last we met."
"On which, friend, we vowed that we should settle the point when
next we came together. Hast thy sword, I see, and the moon
throws glimmer enough for such old night-birds as we. On guard,
mon gar.! I have not heard clink of steel this month or more."
"Out from the shadow then," said the other, drawing his sword.
"A vow is a vow, and not lightly to be broken."
"A vow to the saints," cried Alleyne, "is indeed not to be set
aside; but this is a devil's vow, and, simple clerk as I am, I am
yet the mouthpiece of the true church when I say that it were
mortal sin to fight on such a quarrel. What! shall two grown men
carry malice for years, and fly like snarling curs at each
"No malice, my young clerk, no malice," quoth Black Simon, "I
have not a bitter drop in my heart for mine old comrade; but the
quarrel, as he hath told you, is still open and unsettled. Fall
"Not whilst I can stand between you," cried Alleyne, springing
before the bowman. "It is shame and sin to see two Christian
Englishmen turn swords against each other like the frenzied
"And, what is more," said Hordle John, suddenly appearing out of
the buttery with the huge board upon which the pastry was rolled,
"if either raise sword I shall flatten him like a Shrovetide
pancake. By the black rood! I shall drive him into the earth,
like a nail into a door, rather than see you do scath to each
"'Fore God, this is a strange way of preaching peace," cried
Black Simon. "You may find the scath yourself, my lusty friend,
if you raise your great cudgel to me. I had as lief have the
castle drawbridge drop upon my pate."
"Tell me, Aylward," said Alleyne earnestly, with his hands
outstretched to keep the pair asunder, "what is the cause of
quarrel, that we may see whether honorable settlement may not be
The bowman looked down at his feet and then up at the moons
"Parbleu!" he cried, "the cause of quarrel? Why, mon petit, it
was years ago in Limousin, and how can I bear in mind what was
the cause of it? Simon there hath it at the end of his tongue."
"Not I, in troth," replied the other; "I have had other things to
think of. There was some sort of bickering over dice, or wine,
or was it a woman, coz?"
"Pasques Dieu! but you have nicked it," cried Aylward. "It was
indeed about a woman; and the quarrel must go forward, for I am
still of the same mind as before."
"What of the woman, then?" asked Simon. "May the murrain strike
me if I can call to mind aught about her."
"It was La Blanche Rose, maid at the sign of the `Trois Corbeaux'
at Limoges. Bless her pretty heart! Why, mon gar., I loved
"So did a many," quoth Simon. "I call her to mind now. On the
very day that we fought over the little hussy, she went off with
Evan ap Price, a long-legged Welsh dagsman. They have a hostel
of their own now, somewhere on the banks of the Garonne, where
the landlord drinks so much of the liquor that there is little
left for the customers."
"So ends our quarrel, then," said Aylward, sheathing his sword.
"A Welsh dagsman, i' faith! C'etait mauvais gout, camarade, and
the more so when she had a jolly archer and a lusty man-at-arms
to choose from."
"True, old lad. And it is as well that we can compose our
differences honorably, for Sir Nigel had been out at the first
clash of steel; and he hath sworn that if there be quarrelling in
the garrison he would smite the right hand from the broilers.
You know him of old, and that he is like to be as good as his
"Mort-Dieu! yes. But there are ale, mead, and wine in the
buttery, and the steward a merry rogue, who will not haggle over
a quart or two. Buvons, mon gar., for it is not every day that
two old friends come together."
The old soldiers and Hordle John strode off together in all good
fellowship. Alleyne had turned to follow them, when he felt a
touch upon his shoulder, and found a young page by his side.
"The Lord Loring commands," said the boy, "that you will follow
me to the great chamber, and await him there."
"But my comrades?"
"His commands were for you alone."
Alleyne followed the messenger to the east end of the courtyard,
where a broad flight of steps led up to the doorway of the main
hall, the outer wall of which is washed by the waters of the
Avon. As designed at first, no dwelling had been allotted to the
lord of the castle and his family but the dark and dismal
basement story of the keep. A more civilized or more effeminate
generation, however, had refused to be pent up in such a cellar,
and the hall with its neighboring chambers had been added for
their accommodation. Up the broad steps Alleyne went, still
following his boyish guide, until at the folding oak doors the
latter paused, and ushered him into the main hall of the castle.
On entering the room the clerk looked round; but, seeing no one,
he continued to stand, his cap in his hand, examining with the
greatest interest a chamber which was so different to any to
which he was accustomed. The days had gone by when a nobleman's
hall was but a barn-like, rush-strewn enclosure, the common
lounge and eating-room of every inmate of the castle. The
Crusaders had brought back with them experiences of domestic
luxuries, of Damascus carpets and rugs of Aleppo, which made them
impatient of the hideous bareness and want of privacy which they
found in their ancestral strongholds. Still stronger, however,
had been the influence of the great French war; for, however well
matched the nations might be in martial exercises, there could be
no question but that our neighbors were infinitely superior to us
in the arts of peace. A stream of returning knights, of wounded
soldiers, and of unransomed French noblemen, had been for a
quarter of a century continually pouring into England, every one
of whom exerted an influence in the direction of greater domestic
refinement, while shiploads of French furniture from Calais,
Rouen, and other plundered towns, had supplied our own artisans
with models on which to shape their work. Hence, in most English
castles, and in Castle Twynham among the rest, chambers were to
be found which would seem to be not wanting either in beauty or
In the great stone fireplace a log fire was spurting and
crackling, throwing out a ruddy glare which, with the four
bracket-lamps which stood at each corner of the room, gave a
bright and lightsome air to the whole apartment. Above was a
wreath-work of blazonry, extending up to the carved and corniced
oaken roof; while on either side stood the high canopied chairs
placed for the master of the house and for his most honored
guest. The walls were hung all round with most elaborate and
brightly colored tapestry, representing the achievements of Sir
Bevis of Hampton, and behind this convenient screen were stored
the tables dormant and benches which would be needed for banquet
or high festivity. The floor was of polished tiles, with a
square of red and black diapered Flemish carpet in the centre;
and many settees, cushions, folding chairs, and carved bancals
littered all over it. At the further end was a long black buffet
or dresser, thickly covered with gold cups, silver salvers, and
other such valuables. All this Alleyne examined with curious
eyes; but most interesting of all to him was a small ebony table
at his very side, on which, by the side of a chess-board and the
scattered chessmen, there lay an open manuscript written in a
right clerkly hand, and set forth with brave flourishes and
devices along the margins. In vain Alleyne bethought him of
where he was, and of those laws of good breeding and decorum
which should restrain him: those colored capitals and black even
lines drew his hand down to them, as the loadstone draws the
needle, until, almost before he knew it, he was standing with the
romance of Garin de Montglane before his eyes, so absorbed in its
contents as to be completely oblivious both of where he was and
why he had come there.
He was brought back to himself, however, by a sudden little
ripple of quick feminine laughter. Aghast, he dropped the
manuscript among the chessmen and stared in bewilderment round
the room. It was as empty and as still as ever. Again he
stretched his hand out to the romance, and again came that
roguish burst of merriment. He looked up at the ceiling, back at
the closed door, and round at the stiff folds of motionless
tapestry. Of a sudden, however, he caught a quick shimmer from
the corner of a high-backed bancal in front of him, and, shifting
a pace or two to the side, saw a white slender hand, which held a
mirror of polished silver in such a way that the concealed
observer could see without being seen. He stood irresolute,
uncertain whether to advance or to take no notice; but, even as
he hesitated, the mirror was whipped in, and a tall and stately
young lady swept out from behind the oaken screen, with a dancing
light of mischief in her eyes. Alleyne started with astonishment
as he recognized the very maiden who had suffered from his
brother's violence in the forest. She no longer wore her gay
riding-dress, however, but was attired in a long sweeping robe of
black velvet of Bruges, with delicate tracery of white lace at
neck and at wrist, scarce to be seen against her ivory skin.
Beautiful as she had seemed to him before, the lithe charm of her
figure and the proud, free grace of her bearing were enhanced now
by the rich simplicity of her attire.
"Ah, you start," said she, with the same sidelong look of
mischief, "and I cannot marvel at it. Didst not look to see the
distressed damosel again. Oh that I were a minstrel, that I
might put it into rhyme, with the whole romance--the luckless
maid, the wicked socman, and the virtuous clerk! So might our
fame have gone down together for all time, and you be numbered
with Sir Percival or Sir Galahad, or all the other rescuers of
"What I did," said Alleyne, "was too small a thing for thanks;
and yet, if I may say it without offence, it was too grave and
near a matter for mirth and raillery. I had counted on my
brother's love, but God has willed that it should be otherwise.
It is a joy to me to see you again, lady, and to know that you
have reached home in safety, if this be indeed your home."
"Yes, in sooth, Castle Twynham is my home, and Sir Nigel Loring
my father, I should have told you so this morning, but you said
that you were coming thither, so I bethought me that I might hold
it back as a surprise to you. Oh dear, but it was brave to see
you!" she cried, bursting out a-laughing once more, and standing
with her hand pressed to her side, and her half-closed eyes
twinkling with amusement. "You drew back and came forward with
your eyes upon my book there, like the mouse who sniffs the
cheese and yet dreads the trap."
"I take shame," said Alleyne, "that I should have touched it."
"Nay, it warmed my very heart to see it. So glad was I, that I
laughed for very pleasure. My fine preacher can himself be
tempted then, thought I; he is not made of another clay to the
rest of us."
"God help me! I am the weakest of the weak," groaned Alleyne.
"I pray that I may have more strength."
"And to what end?" she asked sharply. "If you are, as I
understand, to shut yourself forever in your cell within the four
walls of an abbey, then of what use would it be were your prayer
to be answered?"
"The use of my own salvation."
She turned from him with a pretty shrug and wave. "Is that all?"
she said. "Then you are no better than Father Christopher and
the rest of them. Your own, your own, ever your own! My father
is the king's man, and when he rides into the press of fight he
is not thinking ever of the saving of his own poor body; he recks
little enough if he leave it on the field. Why then should you,
who are soldiers of the Spirit, be ever moping or hiding in cell
or in cave, with minds full of your own concerns, while the
world, which you should be mending, is going on its way, and
neither sees nor hears you? Were ye all as thoughtless of your
own souls as the soldier is of his body, ye would be of more
avail to the souls of others."
"There is sooth in what you say, lady," Alleyne answered; "and
yet I scarce can see what you would have the clergy and the
church to do."
"I would have them live as others and do men's work in the world,
preaching by their lives rather than their words. I would have
them come forth from their lonely places, mix with the borel
folks, feel the pains and the pleasures, the cares and the
rewards, the temptings and the stirrings of the common people.
Let them toil and swinken, and labor, and plough the land, and
take wives to themselves----"
"Alas! alas!" cried Alleyne aghast, "you have surely sucked this
poison from the man Wicliffe, of whom I have heard such evil
"Nay, I know him not. I have learned it by looking from my own
chamber window and marking these poor monks of the priory, their
weary life, their profitless round. I have asked myself if the
best which can be done with virtue is to shut it within high
walls as though it were some savage creature. If the good will
lock themselves up, and if the wicked will still wander free,
then alas for the world!"
Alleyne looked at her in astonishment, for her cheek was flushed,
her eyes gleaming, and her whole pose full of eloquence and
conviction. Yet in an instant she had changed again to her old
expression of merriment leavened with mischief.
"Wilt do what I ask?" said she.
"What is it, lady?"
"Oh, most ungallant clerk! A true knight would never have asked,
but would have vowed upon the instant. 'Tis but to bear me out
in what I say to my father."
"In saying, if he ask, that it was south of the Christchurch road
that I met you. I shall be shut up with the tire-women else, and
have a week of spindle and bodkin, when I would fain be galloping
Troubadour up Wilverley Walk, or loosing little Roland at the
Vinney Ridge herons."
"I shall not answer him if he ask."
"Not answer! But he will have an answer. Nay, but you must not
fail me, or it will go ill with me."
"But, lady," cried poor Alleyne in great distress, "how can I say
that it was to the south of the road when I know well that it was
four miles to the north."
"You will not say it?"
"Surely you will not, too, when you know that it is not so?"
"Oh, I weary of your preaching!" she cried, and swept away with a
toss of her beautiful head, leaving Alleyne as cast down and
ashamed as though he had himself proposed some infamous thing.
She was back again in an instant, however, in another of her
"Look at that, my friend!" said she. "If you had been shut up in
abbey or in cell this day you could not have taught a wayward
maiden to abide by the truth. Is it not so? What avail is the
shepherd if he leaves his sheep."
"A sorry shepherd!" said Alleyne humbly. "But here is your noble
"And you shall see how worthy a pupil I am. Father, I am much
beholden to this young clerk, who was of service to me and helped
me this very morning in Minstead Woods, four miles to the north
of the Christchurch road, where I had no call to be, you having
ordered it otherwise." All this she reeled off in a loud voice,
and then glanced with sidelong, questioning eyes at Alleyne for
Sir Nigel, who had entered the room with a silvery-haired old
lady upon his arm, stared aghast at this sudden outburst of
"Maude, Maude!" said he, shaking his head, "it is more hard for
me to gain obedience from you than from the ten score drunken
archers who followed me to Guienne. Yet, hush! little one, for
your fair lady-mother will be here anon, and there is no need
that she should know it. We will keep you from the provost-marshal
this journey. Away to your chamber, sweeting, and keep a
blithe face, for she who confesses is shriven. And now, fair
mother," he continued, when his daughter had gone, "sit you here
by the fire, for your blood runs colder than it did. Alleyne
Edricson, I would have a word with you, for I would fain that you
should take service under me. And here in good time comes my
lady, without whose counsel it is not my wont to decide aught of
import; but, indeed, it was her own thought that you should
"For I have formed a good opinion of you, and can see that you
are one who may be trusted," said the Lady Loring. "And in good
sooth my dear lord hath need of such a one by his side, for he
recks so little of himself that there should be one there to look
to his needs and meet his wants. You have seen the cloisters; it
were well that you should see the world too, ere you make choice
for life between them."
"It was for that very reason that my father willed that I should
come forth into the world at my twentieth year," said Alleyne.
"Then your father was a man of good counsel," said she, "and you
cannot carry out his will better than by going on this path,
where all that is noble and gallant in England will be your
"You can ride?" asked Sir Nigel, looking at the youth with
"Yes, I have ridden much at the abbey."
"Yet there is a difference betwixt a friar's hack and a warrior's
destrier. You can sing and play?"
"On citole, flute and rebeck."
"Good! You can read blazonry?"
"Then read this," quoth Sir Nigel, pointing upwards to one of the
many quarterings which adorned the wall over the fireplace.
"Argent," Alleyne answered, "a fess azure charged with three
lozenges dividing three mullets sable. Over all, on an
escutcheon of the first, a jambe gules."
"A jambe gules erased," said Sir Nigel, shaking his head
solemnly. "Yet it is not amiss for a monk-bred man. I trust
that you are lowly and serviceable?"
"I have served all my life, my lord."
"Canst carve too?"
"I have carved two days a week for the brethren."
"A model truly! Wilt make a squire of squires. But tell me, I
pray, canst curl hair?"
"No, my lord, but I could learn."
"It is of import," said he, "for I love to keep my hair well
ordered, seeing that the weight of my helmet for thirty years
hath in some degree frayed it upon the top." He pulled off his
velvet cap of maintenance as he spoke, and displayed a pate which
was as bald as an egg, and shone bravely in the firelight. "You
see," said he, whisking round, and showing one little strip where
a line of scattered hairs, like the last survivors in some fatal
field, still barely held their own against the fate which had
fallen upon their comrades; "these locks need some little oiling
and curling, for I doubt not that if you look slantwise at my
head, when the light is good, you will yourself perceive that
there are places where the hair is sparse."
"It is for you also to bear the purse," said the lady; "for my
sweet lord is of so free and gracious a temper that he would give
it gayly to the first who asked alms of him. All these things,
with some knowledge of venerie, and of the management of horse,
hawk and hound, with the grace and hardihood and courtesy which
are proper to your age, will make you a fit squire for Sir Nigel
"Alas! lady," Alleyne answered, "I know well the great honor that
you have done me in deeming me worthy to wait upon so renowned a
knight, yet I am so conscious of my own weakness that I scarce
dare incur duties which I might be so ill-fitted to fulfil."
"Modesty and a humble mind," said she, "are the very first and
rarest gifts in page or squire. Your words prove that you have
these, and all the rest is but the work of use and time. But
there is no call for haste. Rest upon it for the night, and let
your orisons ask for guidance in the matter. We knew your father
well, and would fain help his son, though we have small cause to
love your brother the Socman, who is forever stirring up strife
in the county."
"We can scare hope," said Nigel, "to have all ready for our start
before the feast of St. Luke, for there is much to be done in the
time. You will have leisure, therefore, if it please you to take
service under me, in which to learn your devoir. Bertrand, my
daughter's page, is hot to go; but in sooth he is over young for
such rough work as may be before us."
"And I have one favor to crave from you," added the lady of the
castle, as Alleyne turned to leave their presence. "You have, as
I understand, much learning which you have acquired at Beaulieu."
"Little enough, lady, compared with those who were my teachers."
"Yet enough for my purpose, I doubt not. For I would have you
give an hour or two a day whilst you are with us in discoursing
with my daughter, the Lady Maude; for she is somewhat backward, I
fear, and hath no love for letters, save for these poor fond
romances, which do but fill her empty head with dreams of
enchanted maidens and of errant cavaliers. Father Christopher
comes over after nones from the priory, but he is stricken with
years and slow of speech, so that she gets small profit from his
teaching. I would have you do what you can with her, and with
Agatha my young tire-woman, and with Dorothy Pierpont."
And so Alleyne found himself not only chosen as squire to a
knight but also as squire to three damosels, which was even
further from the part which he had thought to play in the world.
Yet he could but agree to do what he might, and so went forth
from the castle hall with his face flushed and his head in a
whirl at the thought of the strange and perilous paths which his
feet were destined to tread.
HOW ALLEYNE LEARNED MORE THAN HE COULD TEACH.
And now there came a time of stir and bustle, of furbishing of
arms and clang of hammer from all the southland counties. Fast
spread the tidings from thorpe to thorpe and from castle to
castle, that the old game was afoot once more, and the lions and
lilies to be in the field with the early spring. Great news this
for that fierce old country, whose trade for a generation had
been war, her exports archers and her imports prisoners. For six
years her sons had chafed under an unwonted peace. Now they flew
to their arms as to their birthright. The old soldiers of Crecy,
of Nogent, and of Poictiers were glad to think that they might
hear the war-trumpet once more, and gladder still were the hot
youth who had chafed for years under the martial tales of their
sires. To pierce the great mountains of the south, to fight the
tamers of the fiery Moors, to follow the greatest captain of the
age, to find sunny cornfields and vineyards, when the marches of
Picardy and Normandy were as rare and bleak as the Jedburgh
forests--here was a golden prospect for a race of warriors. From
sea to sea there was stringing of bows in the cottage and clang
of steel in the castle.
Nor did it take long for every stronghold to pour forth its
cavalry, and every hamlet its footmen. Through the late autumn
and the early winter every road and country lane resounded with
nakir and trumpet, with the neigh of the war-horse and the
clatter of marching men. From the Wrekin in the Welsh marches to
the Cotswolds in the west or Butser in the south, there was no
hill-top from which the peasant might not have seen the bright
shimmer of arms, the toss and flutter of plume and of pensil.
From bye-path, from woodland clearing, or from winding moor-side
track these little rivulets of steel united in the larger roads
to form a broader stream, growing ever fuller and larger as it
approached the nearest or most commodious seaport. And there all
day, and day after day, there was bustle and crowding and labor,
while the great ships loaded up, and one after the other spread
their white pinions and darted off to the open sea, amid the
clash of cymbals and rolling of drums and lusty shouts of those
who went and of those who waited. From Orwell to the Dart there
was no port which did not send forth its little fleet, gay with
streamer and bunting, as for a joyous festival. Thus in the
season of the waning days the might of England put forth on to
In the ancient and populous county of Hampshire there was no lack
of leaders or of soldiers for a service which promised either
honor or profit. In the north the Saracen's head of the Brocas
and the scarlet fish of the De Roches were waving over a strong
body of archers from Holt, Woolmer, and Harewood forests. De
Borhunte was up in the east, and Sir John de Montague in the
west. Sir Luke de Ponynges, Sir Thomas West, Sir Maurice de
Bruin, Sir Arthur Lipscombe, Sir Walter Ramsey, and stout Sir
Oliver Buttesthorn were all marching south with levies from
Andover, Arlesford, Odiham and Winchester, while from Sussex came
Sir John Clinton, Sir Thomas Cheyne, and Sir John Fallislee, with
a troop of picked men-at-arms, making for their port at
Southampton. Greatest of all the musters, however, was that of
Twynham Castle, for the name and the fame of Sir Nigel Loring
drew towards him the keenest and boldest spirits, all eager to
serve under so valiant a leader. Archers from the New Forest and
the Forest of Bere, billmen from the pleasant country which is
watered by the Stour, the Avon, and the Itchen, young cavaliers
from the ancient Hampshire houses, all were pushing for
Christchurch to take service under the banner of the five
And now, could Sir Nigel have shown the bachelles of land which
the laws of rank required, he might well have cut his forked
pennon into a square banner, and taken such a following into the
field as would have supported the dignity of a banneret. But
poverty was heavy upon him, his land was scant, his coffers
empty, and the very castle which covered him the holding of
another. Sore was his heart when he saw rare bowmen and
war-hardened spearmen turned away from his gates, for the lack of
the money which might equip and pay them. Yet the letter which
Aylward had brought him gave him powers which he was not slow to
use. In it Sir Claude Latour, the Gascon lieutenant of the White
Company, assured him that there remained in his keeping enough to
fit out a hundred archers and twenty men-at-arms, which, joined
to the three hundred veteran companions already in France, would
make a force which any leader might be proud to command.
Carefully and sagaciously the veteran knight chose out his men
from the swarm of volunteers. Many an anxious consultation he
held with Black Simon, Sam Aylward, and other of his more
experienced followers, as to who should come and who should stay.
By All Saints' day, however ere the last leaves had fluttered to
earth in the Wilverley and Holmesley glades, he had filled up his
full numbers, and mustered under his banner as stout a following
of Hampshire foresters as ever twanged their war-bows. Twenty
men-at-arms, too, well mounted and equipped, formed the cavalry
of the party, while young Peter Terlake of Fareham, and Walter
Ford of Botley, the martial sons of martial sires, came at their
own cost to wait upon Sir Nigel and to share with Alleyne
Edricson the duties of his squireship.
Yet, even after the enrolment, there was much to be done ere the
party could proceed upon its way. For armor, swords, and lances,
there was no need to take much forethought, for they were to be
had both better and cheaper in Bordeaux than in England. With
the long-bow, however, it was different. Yew staves indeed might
be got in Spain, but it was well to take enough and to spare with
them. Then three spare cords should be carried for each bow,
with a great store of arrow-heads, besides the brigandines of
chain mail, the wadded steel caps, and the brassarts or arm-guards,
which were the proper equipment of the archer. Above
all, the women for miles round were hard at work cutting the
white surcoats which were the badge of the Company, and adorning
them with the red lion of St. George upon the centre of the
breast. When all was completed and the muster called in the
castle yard the oldest soldier of the French wars was fain to
confess that he had never looked upon a better equipped or more
warlike body of men, from the old knight with his silk jupon,
sitting his great black war-horse in the front of them, to Hordle
John, the giant recruit, who leaned carelessly upon a huge black
bow-stave in the rear. Of the six score, fully half had seen
service before, while a fair sprinkling were men who had followed
the wars all their lives, and had a hand in those battles which
had made the whole world ring with the fame and the wonder of the
Six long weeks were taken in these preparations, and it was close
on Martinmas ere all was ready for a start. Nigh two months had
Alleyne Edricson been in Castle Twynham--months which were fated
to turn the whole current of his life, to divert it from that
dark and lonely bourne towards which it tended, and to guide it
into freer and more sunlit channels. Already he had learned to
bless his father for that wise provision which had made him seek
to know the world ere he had ventured to renounce it.
For it was a different place from that which he had pictured--very
different from that which he had heard described when the
master of the novices held forth to his charges upon the ravening
wolves who lurked for them beyond the peaceful folds of Beaulieu.
There was cruelty in it, doubtless, and lust and sin and sorrow;
but were there not virtues to atone, robust positive virtues
which did not shrink from temptation, which held their own in all
the rough blasts of the work-a-day world? How colorless by
contrast appeared the sinlessness which came from inability to
sin, the conquest which was attained by flying from the enemy!
Monk-bred as he was, Alleyne had native shrewdness and a mind
which was young enough to form new conclusions and to outgrow old
ones. He could not fail to see that the men with whom he was
thrown in contact, rough-tongued, fierce and quarrelsome as they
were, were yet of deeper nature and of more service in the world
than the ox-eyed brethren who rose and ate and slept from year's
end to year's end in their own narrow, stagnant circle of
existence. Abbot Berghersh was a good man, but how was he better
than this kindly knight, who lived as simple a life, held as
lofty and inflexible an ideal of duty, and did with all his
fearless heart whatever came to his hand to do? In turning from
the service of the one to that of the other, Alleyne could not
feel that he was lowering his aims in life. True that his gentle
and thoughtful nature recoiled from the grim work of war, yet in
those days of martial orders and militant brotherhoods there was
no gulf fixed betwixt the priest and the soldier. The man of God
and the man of the sword might without scandal be united in the
same individual. Why then should he, a mere clerk, have scruples
when so fair a chance lay in his way of carrying out the spirit
as well as the letter of his father's provision. Much struggle
it cost him, anxious spirit-questionings and midnight prayings,
with many a doubt and a misgiving; but the issue was that ere he
had been three days in Castle Twynham he had taken service under
Sir Nigel, and had accepted horse and harness, the same to be
paid for out of his share of the profits of the expedition.
Henceforth for seven hours a day he strove in the tilt-yard to
qualify himself to be a worthy squire to so worthy a knight.
Young, supple and active, with all the pent energies from years
of pure and healthy living, it was not long before he could
manage his horse and his weapon well enough to earn an approving
nod from critical men-at-arms, or to hold his own against Terlake
and Ford, his fellow-servitors.
But were there no other considerations which swayed him from the
cloisters towards the world? So complex is the human spirit that
it can itself scarce discern the deep springs which impel it to
action. Yet to Alleyne had been opened now a side of life of
which he had been as innocent as a child, but one which was of
such deep import that it could not fail to influence him in
choosing his path. A woman, in monkish precepts, had been the
embodiment and concentration of what was dangerous and evil--a
focus whence spread all that was to be dreaded and avoided. So
defiling was their presence that a true Cistercian might not
raise his eyes to their face or touch their finger-tips under ban
of church and fear of deadly sin. Yet here, day after day for an
hour after nones, and for an hour before vespers, he found
himself in close communion with three maidens, all young, all
fair, and all therefore doubly dangerous from the monkish
standpoint. Yet he found that in their presence he was conscious
of a quick sympathy, a pleasant ease, a ready response to all
that was most gentle and best in himself, which filled his soul
with a vague and new-found joy.
And yet the Lady Maude Loring was no easy pupil to handle. An
older and more world-wise man might have been puzzled by her
varying moods, her sudden prejudices, her quick resentment at all
constraint and authority. Did a subject interest her, was there
space in it for either romance or imagination, she would fly
through it with her subtle, active mind, leaving her two
fellow-students and even her teacher toiling behind her. On the
other hand, were there dull patience needed with steady toil and
strain of memory, no single fact could by any driving be fixed in
her mind. Alleyne might talk to her of the stories of old gods
and heroes, of gallant deeds and lofty aims, or he might hold
forth upon moon and stars, and let his fancy wander over the
hidden secrets of the universe, and he would have a rapt listener
with flushed cheeks and eloquent eyes, who could repeat after him
the very words which had fallen from his lips. But when it came
to almagest and astrolabe, the counting of figures and reckoning
of epicycles, away would go her thoughts to horse and hound, and
a vacant eye and listless face would warn the teacher that he had
lost his hold upon his scholar. Then he had but to bring out the
old romance book from the priory, with befingered cover of
sheepskin and gold letters upon a purple ground, to entice her
wayward mind back to the paths of learning.
At times, too, when the wild fit was upon her, she would break
into pertness and rebel openly against Alleyne's gentle firmness.
Yet he would jog quietly on with his teachings, taking no heed to
her mutiny, until suddenly she would be conquered by his
patience, and break into self-revilings a hundred times stronger
than her fault demanded. It chanced however that, on one of
these mornings when the evil mood was upon her, Agatha the young
tire-woman, thinking to please her mistress, began also to toss
her head and make tart rejoinder to the teacher's questions. In
an instant the Lady Maude had turned upon her two blazing eyes
and a face which was blanched with anger.
"You would dare!" said she. "You would dare!" The frightened
tire-woman tried to excuse herself. "But my fair lady," she
stammered, "what have I done? I have said no more than I heard."
"You would dare!" repeated the lady in a choking voice. "You, a
graceless baggage, a foolish lack-brain, with no thought above
the hemming of shifts. And he so kindly and hendy and
long-suffering! You would--ha, you may well flee the room!"
She had spoken with a rising voice, and a clasping and opening of
her long white fingers, so that it was no marvel that ere the
speech was over the skirts of Agatha were whisking round the door
and the click of her sobs to be heard dying swiftly away down the
Alleyne stared open-eyed at this tigress who had sprung so
suddenly to his rescue. "There is no need for such anger," he
said mildly. "The maid's words have done me no scath. It is you
yourself who have erred."
"I know it," she cried, "I am a most wicked woman. But it is bad
enough that one should misuse you. Ma foi! I will see that there
is not a second one."
"Nay, nay, no one has misused me," he answered. "But the fault
lies in your hot and bitter words. You have called her a baggage
and a lack-brain, and I know not what."
"And you are he who taught me to speak the truth," she cried.
"Now I have spoken it, and yet I cannot please you. Lack-brain
she is, and lack-brain I shall call her."
Such was a sample of the sudden janglings which marred the peace
of that little class. As the weeks passed, however, they became
fewer and less violent, as Alleyne's firm and constant nature
gained sway and influence over the Lady Maude. And yet, sooth to
say, there were times when he had to ask himself whether it was
not the Lady Maude who was gaining sway and influence over him.
If she were changing, so was he. In drawing her up from the
world, he was day by day being himself dragged down towards it.
In vain he strove and reasoned with himself as to the madness of
letting his mind rest upon Sir Nigel's daughter. What was he--a
younger son, a penniless clerk, a squire unable to pay for his
own harness--that he should dare to raise his eyes to the
fairest maid in Hampshire? So spake reason; but, in spite of all,
her voice was ever in his ears and her image in his heart.
Stronger than reason, stronger than cloister teachings, stronger
than all that might hold him back, was that old, old tyrant who
will brook no rival in the kingdom of youth.
And yet it was a surprise and a shock to himself to find how
deeply she had entered into his life; how completely those vague
ambitions and yearnings which had filled his spiritual nature
centred themselves now upon this thing of earth. He had scarce
dared to face the change which had come upon him, when a few
sudden chance words showed it all up hard and clear, like a
lightning flash in the darkness.
He had ridden over to Poole, one November day, with his
fellow-squire, Peter Terlake, in quest of certain yew-staves from
Wat Swathling, the Dorsetshire armorer. The day for their
departure had almost come, and the two youths spurred it over the
lonely downs at the top of their speed on their homeward course,
for evening had fallen and there was much to be done. Peter was
a hard, wiry, brown faced, country-bred lad who looked on the
coming war as the schoolboy looks on his holidays. This day,
however, he had been sombre and mute, with scarce a word a mile
to bestow upon his comrade.
"Tell me Alleyne Edricson," he broke out, suddenly, as they
clattered along the winding track which leads over the
Bournemouth hills, "has it not seemed to you that of late the
Lady Maude is paler and more silent than is her wont?"
"It may be so," the other answered shortly.
"And would rather sit distrait by her oriel than ride gayly to
the chase as of old. Methinks, Alleyne, it is this learning
which you have taught her that has taken all the life and sap
from her. It is more than she can master, like a heavy spear to a
"Her lady-mother has so ordered it," said Alleyne.
"By our Lady! and withouten disrespect," quoth Terlake, "it is in
my mind that her lady-mother is more fitted to lead a company to
a storming than to have the upbringing of this tender and
milk-white maid. Hark ye, lad Alleyne, to what I never told man
or woman yet. I love the fair Lady Maude, and would give the
last drop of my heart's blood to serve her." He spoke with a
gasping voice, and his face flushed crimson in the moonlight.
Alleyne said nothing, but his heart seemed to turn to a lump of
ice in his bosom.
"My father has broad acres," the other continued, "from Fareham
Creek to the slope of the Portsdown Hill. There is filling of
granges, hewing of wood, malting of grain, and herding of sheep
as much as heart could wish, and I the only son. Sure am I that
Sir Nigel would be blithe at such a match."
"But how of the lady?" asked Alleyne, with dry lips.
"Ah, lad, there lies my trouble. It is a toss of the head and a
droop of the eyes if I say one word of what is in my mind.
'Twere as easy to woo the snow-dame that we shaped last winter in
our castle yard. I did but ask her yesternight for her green
veil, that I might bear it as a token or lambrequin upon my helm;
but she flashed out at me that she kept it for a better man, and
then all in a breath asked pardon for that she had spoke so
rudely. Yet she would not take back the words either, nor would
she grant the veil. Has it seemed to thee, Alleyne, that she
loves any one?"
"Nay, I cannot say," said Alleyne, with a wild throb of sudden
hope in his heart.
"I have thought so, and yet I cannot name the man. Indeed, save
myself, and Walter Ford, and you, who are half a clerk, and
Father Christopher of the Priory, and Bertrand the page, who is
there whom she sees?"
"I cannot tell," quoth Alleyne shortly; and the two squires rode
on again, each intent upon his own thoughts.
Next day at morning lesson the teacher observed that his pupil
was indeed looking pale and jaded, with listless eyes and a weary
manner. He was heavy-hearted to note the grievous change in her.
"Your mistress, I fear, is ill, Agatha," he said to the tire-woman,
when the Lady Maude had sought her chamber.
The maid looked aslant at him with laughing eyes. "It is not an
illness that kills," quoth she.
"Pray God not!" he cried. "But tell me, Agatha, what it is that
"Methinks that I could lay my hand upon another who is smitten
with the same trouble," said she, with the same sidelong look.
"Canst not give a name to it, and thou so skilled in leech-craft?"
"Nay, save that she seems aweary."
"Well, bethink you that it is but three days ere you will all be
gone, and Castle Twynham be as dull as the Priory. Is there not
enough there to cloud a lady's brow?"
"In sooth, yes," he answered; "I had forgot that she is about to
lose her father."
"Her father!" cried the tire-woman, with a little trill of
laughter. "Oh simple, simple!" And she was off down the passage
like arrow from bow, while Alleyne stood gazing after her,
betwixt hope and doubt, scarce daring to put faith in the meaning
which seemed to underlie her words.
HOW THE WHITE COMPANY SET FORTH TO THE WARS.
St. Luke's day had come and had gone, and it was in the season of
Martinmas, when the oxen are driven in to the slaughter, that the
White Company was ready for its journey. Loud shrieked the
brazen bugles from keep and from gateway, and merry was the
rattle of the war-drum, as the men gathered in the outer bailey,
with torches to light them, for the morn had not yet broken.
Alleyne, from the window of the armory, looked down upon the
strange scene--the circles of yellow flickering light, the lines
of stern and bearded faces, the quick shimmer of arms, and the
lean heads of the horses. In front stood the bow-men, ten deep,
with a fringe of under-officers, who paced hither and thither
marshalling the ranks with curt precept or short rebuke. Behind
were the little clump of steel-clad horsemen, their lances
raised, with long pensils drooping down the oaken shafts. So
silent and still were they, that they might have been
metal-sheathed statues, were it not for the occasional quick,
impatient stamp of their chargers, or the rattle of chamfron
against neck-plates as they tossed and strained. A spear's
length in front of them sat the spare and long-limbed figure of
Black Simon, the Norwich fighting man, his fierce, deep-lined
face framed in steel, and the silk guidon marked with the five
scarlet roses slanting over his right shoulder. All round, in
the edge of the circle of the light, stood the castle servants,
the soldiers who were to form the garrison, and little knots of
women, who sobbed in their aprons and called shrilly to their
name-saints to watch over the Wat, or Will, or Peterkin who had
turned his hand to the work of war.
The young squire was leaning forward, gazing at the stirring and
martial scene, when he heard a short, quick gasp at his shoulder,
and there was the Lady Maude, with her hand to her heart, leaning
up against the wall, slender and fair, like a half-plucked lily.
Her face was turned away from him, but he could see, by the sharp
intake of her breath, that she was weeping bitterly.
"Alas! alas!" he cried, all unnerved at the sight, "why is it
that you are so sad, lady?"
"It is the sight of these brave men," she answered; "and to think
how many of them go and how few are like to find their way back.
I have seen it before, when I was a little maid, in the year of
the Prince's great battle. I remember then how they mustered in
the bailey, even as they do now, and my lady-mother holding me in
her arms at this very window that I might see the show."
"Please God, you will see them all back ere another year be out,"
She shook her head, looking round at him with flushed cheeks and
eyes that sparkled in the lamp-light. "Oh, but I hate myself for
being a woman!" she cried, with a stamp of her little foot.
"What can I do that is good? Here I must bide, and talk and sew
and spin, and spin and sew and talk. Ever the same dull round,
with nothing at the end of it. And now you are going too, who
could carry my thoughts out of these gray walls, and raise my
mind above tapestry and distaffs. What can I do? I am of no more
use or value than that broken bowstave."
"You are of such value to me," he cried, in a whirl of hot,
passionate words, "that all else has become nought. You are my
heart, my life, my one and only thought. Oh, Maude, I cannot
live without you, I cannot leave you without a word of love. All
is changed to me since I have known you. I am poor and lowly and
all unworthy of you; but if great love may weigh down such
defects, then mine may do it. Give me but one word of hope to
take to the wars with me--but one. Ah, you shrink, you shudder!
My wild words have frightened you."
Twice she opened her lips, and twice no sound came from them. At
last she spoke in a hard and measured voice, as one who dare not
trust herself to speak too freely.
"This is over sudden," she said; "it is not so long since the
world was nothing to you. You have changed once; perchance you
may change again."
"Cruel!" he cried, "who hath changed me?"
"And then your brother," she continued with a little laugh,
disregarding his question. "Methinks this hath become a family
custom amongst the Edricsons. Nay, I am sorry; I did not mean a
jibe. But, indeed, Alleyne, this hath come suddenly upon me, and
I scarce know what to say."
"Say some word of hope, however distant--some kind word that I
may cherish in my heart."
"Nay, Alleyne, it were a cruel kindness, and you have been too
good and true a friend to me that I should use you despitefully.
There cannot be a closer link between us. It is madness to think
of it. Were there no other reasons, it is enough that my father
and your brother would both cry out against it."
"My brother, what has he to do with it? And your father----"
"Come, Alleyne, was it not you who would have me act fairly to
all men, and, certes, to my father amongst them?"
"You say truly," he cried, "you say truly. But you do not reject
me, Maude? You give me some ray of hope? I do not ask pledge or
promise. Say only that I am not hateful to you--that on some
happier day I may hear kinder words from you."
Her eyes softened upon him, and a kind answer was on her lips,
when a hoarse shout, with the clatter of arms and stamping of
steeds, rose up from the bailey below. At the sound her face set
her eyes sparkled, and she stood with flushed cheek and head
thrown back--a woman's body, with a soul of fire.
"My father hath gone down," she cried. "Your place is by his
side. Nay, look not at me, Alleyne. It is no time for dallying.
Win my father's love, and all may follow. It is when the brave
soldier hath done his devoir that he hopes for his reward,
Farewell, and may God be with you!" She held out her white, slim
hand to him, but as he bent his lips over it she whisked away and
was gone, leaving in his outstretched hand the very green veil
for which poor Peter Terlake had craved in vain. Again the
hoarse cheering burst out from below, and he heard the clang of
the rising portcullis. Pressing the veil to his lips, he thrust
it into the bosom of his tunic, and rushed as fast as feet could
bear him to arm himself and join the muster.
The raw morning had broken ere the hot spiced ale had been served
round and the last farewell spoken. A cold wind blew up from the
sea and ragged clouds drifted swiftly across the sky.
The Christchurch townsfolk stood huddled about the Bridge of
Avon, the women pulling tight their shawls and the men swathing
themselves in their gaberdines, while down the winding path from
the castle came the van of the little army, their feet clanging
on the hard, frozen road. First came Black Simon with his
banner, bestriding a lean and powerful dapple-gray charger, as
hard and wiry and warwise as himself. After him, riding three
abreast, were nine men-at-arms, all picked soldiers, who had
followed the French wars before, and knew the marches of Picardy
as they knew the downs of their native Hampshire. They were
armed to the teeth with lance, sword, and mace, with square
shields notched at the upper right-hand corner to serve as a
spear-rest. For defence each man wore a coat of interlaced
leathern thongs, strengthened at the shoulder, elbow, and upper
arm with slips of steel. Greaves and knee-pieces were also of
leather backed by steel, and their gauntlets and shoes were of
iron plates, craftily jointed. So, with jingle of arms and
clatter of hoofs, they rode across the Bridge of Avon, while the
burghers shouted lustily for the flag of the five roses and its
Close at the heels of the horses came two-score archers bearded
and burly, their round targets on their backs and their long
yellow bows, the most deadly weapon that the wit of man had yet
devised, thrusting forth from behind their shoulders. From each
man's girdle hung sword or axe, according to his humor, and over
the right hip there jutted out the leathern quiver with its
bristle of goose, pigeon, and peacock feathers. Behind the
bowmen strode two trumpeters blowing upon nakirs, and two
drummers in parti-colored clothes. After them came twenty-seven
sumpter horses carrying tent-poles, cloth, spare arms, spurs,
wedges, cooking kettles, horse-shoes, bags of nails and the
hundred other things which experience had shown to be needful in
a harried and hostile country. A white mule with red trappings,
led by a varlet, carried Sir Nigel's own napery and table
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