The White Company
by
Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 4 out of 9



comforts. Then came two-score more archers, ten more
men-at-arms, and finally a rear guard of twenty bowmen, with big
John towering in the front rank and the veteran Aylward marching
by the side, his battered harness and faded surcoat in strange
contrast with the snow-white jupons and shining brigandines of
his companions. A quick cross-fire of greetings and questions
and rough West Saxon jests flew from rank to rank, or were
bandied about betwixt the marching archers and the gazing crowd.

"Hola, Gaffer Higginson!" cried Aylward, as he spied the portly
figure of the village innkeeper. "No more of thy nut-brown, mon
gar. We leave it behind us."

"By St. Paul, no!" cried the other. "You take it with you.
Devil a drop have you left in the great kilderkin. It was time
for you to go."

"If your cask is leer, I warrant your purse is full, gaffer,"
shouted Hordle John. "See that you lay in good store of the best
for our home-coming."

"See that you keep your throat whole for the drinking of it
archer," cried a voice, and the crowd laughed at the rough
pleasantry.

"If you will warrant the beer, I will warrant the throat," said
John composedly.

"Close up the ranks!" cried Aylward. "En avant, mes enfants!
Ah, by my finger bones, there is my sweet Mary from the Priory
Mill! Ma foi, but she is beautiful! Adieu, Mary ma cherie! Mon
coeur est toujours a toi. Brace your belt, Watkins, man, and
swing your shoulders as a free companion should. By my hilt!
your jerkins will be as dirty as mine ere you clap eyes on
Hengistbury Head again."

The Company had marched to the turn of the road ere Sir Nigel
Loring rode out from the gateway, mounted on Pommers, his great
black war-horse, whose ponderous footfall on the wooden
drawbridge echoed loudly from the gloomy arch which spanned it.
Sir Nigel was still in his velvet dress of peace, with flat
velvet cap of maintenance, and curling ostrich feather clasped in
a golden brooch. To his three squires riding behind him it
looked as though he bore the bird's egg as well as its feather,
for the back of his bald pate shone like a globe of ivory. He
bore no arms save the long and heavy sword which hung at his
saddle-bow; but Terlake carried in front of him the high
wivern-crested bassinet, Ford the heavy ash spear with
swallow-tail pennon, while Alleyne was entrusted with the
emblazoned shield. The Lady Loring rode her palfrey at her
lord's bridle-arm, for she would see him as far as the edge of
the forest, and ever and anon she turned her hard-lined face up
wistfully to him and ran a questioning eye over his apparel and
appointments.

"I trust that there is nothing forgot," she said, beckoning to
Alleyne to ride on her further side. "I trust him to you,
Edricson. Hosen, shirts, cyclas, and under-jupons are in the
brown basket on the left side of the mule. His wine he takes hot
when the nights are cold, malvoisie or vernage, with as much
spice as would cover the thumb-nail. See that he hath a change
if he come back hot from the tilting. There is goose-grease in a
box, if the old scars ache at the turn of the weather. Let his
blankets be dry and----"

"Nay, my heart's life," the little knight interrupted, "trouble
not now about such matters. Why so pale and wan, Edricson? Is it
not enow to make a man's heart dance to see this noble Company,
such valiant men-at-arms, such lusty archers? By St. Paul! I
would be ill to please if I were not blithe to see the red roses
flying at the head of so noble a following!"

"The purse I have already given you, Edricson," continue the
lady. "There are in it twenty-three marks, one noble, three
shillings and fourpence, which is a great treasure for one man to
carry. And I pray you to bear in mind, Edricson, that he hath
two pair of shoes, those of red leather for common use, and the
others with golden toe-chains, which he may wear should he chance
to drink wine with the Prince or with Chandos."

"My sweet bird," said Sir Nigel, "I am right loth to part from
you, but we are now at the fringe of the forest, and it is not
right that I should take the chatelaine too far from her trust."

"But oh, my dear lord," she cried with a trembling lip, "let me
bide with you for one furlong further--or one and a half perhaps.
You may spare me this out of the weary miles that you will
journey along."

"Come, then, my heart's comfort," he answered. "But I must crave
a gage from thee. It is my custom, dearling, and hath been since
I have first known thee, to proclaim by herald in such camps,
townships, or fortalices as I may chance to visit, that my
lady-love, being beyond compare the fairest and sweetest in
Christendom, I should deem it great honor and kindly condescension
if any cavalier would run three courses against me with sharpened
lances, should he chance to have a lady whose claim he was
willing to advance. I pray you then my fair dove, that you will
vouchsafe to me one of those doeskin gloves, that I may wear it
as the badge of her whose servant I shall ever be."

"Alack and alas for the fairest and sweetest!" she cried. "Fair
and sweet I would fain be for your dear sake, my lord, but old I
am and ugly, and the knights would laugh should you lay lance in
rest in such a cause."

"Edricson," quoth Sir Nigel, "you have young eyes, and mine are
somewhat bedimmed. Should you chance to see a knight laugh, or
smile, or even, look you, arch his brows, or purse his mouth, or
in any way show surprise that I should uphold the Lady Mary, you
will take particular note of his name, his coat-armor, and his
lodging. Your glove, my life's desire!"

The Lady Mary Loring slipped her hand from her yellow leather
gauntlet, and he, lifting it with dainty reverence, bound it to
the front of his velvet cap.

"It is with mine other guardian angels," quoth he, pointing at
the saints' medals which hung beside it. "And now, my dearest,
you have come far enow. May the Virgin guard and prosper thee!
One kiss!" He bent down from his saddle, and then, striking
spurs into his horse's sides, he galloped at top speed after his
men, with his three squires at his heels. Half a mile further,
where the road topped a hill, they looked back, and the Lady Mary
on her white palfrey was still where they had left her. A moment
later they were on the downward slope, and she had vanished from
their view.



CHAPTER XIV.

HOW SIR NIGEL SOUGHT FOR A WAYSIDE VENTURE.


For a time Sir Nigel was very moody and downcast, with bent brows
and eyes upon the pommel of his saddle. Edricson and Terlake
rode behind him in little better case, while Ford, a careless and
light-hearted youth, grinned at the melancholy of his companions,
and flourished his lord's heavy spear, making a point to right
and a point to left, as though he were a paladin contending
against a host of assailants. Sir Nigel happened, however, to
turn himself in his saddle-Ford instantly became as stiff and as
rigid as though he had been struck with a palsy. The four rode
alone, for the archers had passed a curve in the road, though
Alleyne could still hear the heavy clump, clump of their
marching, or catch a glimpse of the sparkle of steel through the
tangle of leafless branches.

"Ride by my side, friends, I entreat of you," said the knight,
reining in his steed that they might come abreast of him. "For,
since it hath pleased you to follow me to the wars, it were well
that you should know how you may best serve me. I doubt not,
Terlake, that you will show yourself a worthy son of a valiant
father; and you, Ford, of yours; and you, Edricson, that you are
mindful of the old-time house from which all men know that you
are sprung. And first I would have you bear very steadfastly in
mind that our setting forth is by no means for the purpose of
gaining spoil or exacting ransom, though it may well happen that
such may come to us also. We go to France, and from thence I
trust to Spain, in humble search of a field in which we may win
advancement and perchance some small share of glory. For this
purpose I would have you know that it is not my wont to let any
occasion pass where it is in any way possible that honor may be
gained. I would have you bear this in mind, and give great heed
to it that you may bring me word of all cartels, challenges,
wrongs, tyrannies, infamies, and wronging of damsels. Nor is any
occasion too small to take note of, for I have known such trifles
as the dropping of a gauntlet, or the flicking of a breadcrumb,
when well and properly followed up, lead to a most noble
spear-running. But, Edricson, do I not see a cavalier who rides
down yonder road amongst the nether shaw? It would be well,
perchance, that you should give him greeting from me. And,
should he be of gentle blood it may be that he would care to
exchange thrusts with me."

"Why, my lord," quoth Ford, standing in his stirrups and shading
his eyes, "it is old Hob Davidson, the fat miller of Milton!"

"Ah, so it is, indeed," said Sir Nigel, puckering his cheeks;
"but wayside ventures are not to be scorned, for I have seen no
finer passages than are to be had from such chance meetings, when
cavaliers are willing to advance themselves. I can well remember
that two leagues from the town of Rheims I met a very valiant and
courteous cavalier of France, with whom I had gentle and most
honorable contention for upwards of an hour. It hath ever
grieved me that I had not his name, for he smote upon me with a
mace and went upon his way ere I was in condition to have much
speech with him; but his arms were an allurion in chief above a
fess azure. I was also on such an occasion thrust through the
shoulder by Lyon de Montcourt, whom I met on the high road
betwixt Libourne and Bordeaux. I met him but the once, but I
have never seen a man for whom I bear a greater love and esteem.
And so also with the squire Le Bourg Capillet, who would have
been a very valiant captain had he lived."

"He is dead then?" asked Alleyne Edricson.

"Alas! it was my ill fate to slay him in a bickering which broke
out in a field near the township of Tarbes. I cannot call to
mind how the thing came about, for it was in the year of the
Prince's ride through Languedoc, when there was much fine
skirmishing to be had at barriers. By St. Paul! I do not think
that any honorable cavalier could ask for better chance of
advancement than might be had by spurring forth before the army
and riding to the gateways of Narbonne, or Bergerac or Mont
Giscar, where some courteous gentleman would ever be at wait to
do what he might to meet your wish or ease you of your vow. Such
a one at Ventadour ran three courses with me betwixt daybreak and
sunrise, to the great exaltation of his lady."

"And did you slay him also, my lord?" asked Ford with reverence.

"I could never learn, for he was carried within the barrier, and
as I had chanced to break the bone of my leg it was a great
unease for me to ride or even to stand. Yet, by the goodness of
heaven and the pious intercession of the valiant St. George, I
was able to sit my charger in the ruffle of Poictiers, which was
no very long time afterwards. But what have we here? A very
fair and courtly maiden, or I mistake."

It was indeed a tall and buxom country lass, with a basket of
spinach-leaves upon her head, and a great slab of bacon tucked
under one arm. She bobbed a frightened curtsey as Sir Nigel
swept his velvet hat from his head and reined up his great
charger.

"God be with thee, fair maiden!" said he.

"God guard thee, my lord!" she answered, speaking in the broadest
West Saxon speech, and balancing herself first on one foot and
then on the other in her bashfulness.

"Fear not, my fair damsel," said Sir Nigel, "but tell me if
perchance a poor and most unworthy knight can in any wise be of
service to you. Should it chance that you have been used
despitefully, it may be that I may obtain justice for you."

"Lawk no, kind sir," she answered, clutching her bacon the
tighter, as though some design upon it might be hid under this
knightly offer. "I be the milking wench o' fairmer Arnold, and
he be as kind a maister as heart could wish."

"It is well," said he, and with a shake of the bridle rode on
down the woodland path. "I would have you bear in mind," he
continued to his squires, "that gentle courtesy is not, as is the
base use of so many false knights, to be shown only to maidens of
high degree, for there is no woman so humble that a true knight
may not listen to her tale of wrong. But here comes a cavalier
who is indeed in haste. Perchance it would be well that we
should ask him whither he rides, for it may be that he is one who
desires to advance himself in chivalry."

The bleak, hard, wind-swept road dipped down in front of them
into a little valley, and then, writhing up the heathy slope upon
the other side, lost itself among the gaunt pine-trees. Far away
between the black lines of trunks the quick glitter of steel
marked where the Company pursued its way. To the north stretched
the tree country, but to the south, between two swelling downs, a
glimpse might be caught of the cold gray shimmer of the sea, with
the white fleck of a galley sail upon the distant sky-line. Just
in front of the travellers a horseman was urging his steed up the
slope, driving it on with whip and spur as one who rides for a
set purpose. As he clattered up, Alleyne could see that the roan
horse was gray with dust and flecked with foam, as though it had
left many a mile behind it. The rider was a stern-faced man,
hard of mouth and dry of eye, with a heavy sword clanking at his
side, and a stiff white bundle swathed in linen balanced across
the pommel of his saddle.

"The king's messenger," he bawled as he came up to them. "The
messenger of the king. Clear the causeway for the king's own
man."

"Not so loudly, friend," quoth the little knight, reining his
horse half round to bar the path. "I have myself been the king's
man for thirty years or more, but I have not been wont to halloo
about it on a peaceful highway."

"I ride in his service," cried the other, "and I carry that which
belongs to him. You bar my path at your peril."

"Yet I have known the king's enemies claim to ride in his same,"
said Sir Nigel. "The foul fiend may lurk beneath a garment of
light. We must have some sign or warrant of your mission."

"Then must I hew a passage," cried the stranger, with his
shoulder braced round and his hand upon his hilt. "I am not to
be stopped on the king's service by every gadabout."

"Should you be a gentleman of quarterings and coat-armor," lisped
Sir Nigel, "I shall be very blithe to go further into the matter
with you. If not, I have three very worthy squires, any one of
whom would take the thing upon himself, and debate it with you in
a very honorable way."

The man scowled from one to the other, and his hand stole away
from his sword.

"You ask me for a sign," he said. "Here is a sign for you, since
you must have one." As he spoke he whirled the covering from the
object in front of him and showed to their horror that it was a
newly-severed human leg. "By God's tooth!" he continued, with a
brutal laugh, "you ask me if I am a man of quarterings, and it is
even so, for I am officer to the verderer's court at Lyndhurst.
This thievish leg is to hang at Milton, and the other is already
at Brockenhurst, as a sign to all men of what comes of being
over-fond of venison pasty."

"Faugh!" cried Sir Nigel. "Pass on the other side of the road,
fellow, and let us have the wind of you. We shall trot our
horses, my friends, across this pleasant valley, for, by Our
Lady! a breath of God's fresh air is right welcome after such a
sight."

"We hoped to snare a falcon," said he presently, "but we netted a
carrion-crow. Ma foi! but there are men whose hearts are tougher
than a boar's hide. For me, I have played the old game of war
since ever I had hair on my chin, and I have seen ten thousand
brave men in one day with their faces to the sky, but I swear by
Him who made me that I cannot abide the work of the butcher."

"And yet, my fair lord," said Edricson, "there has, from what I
hear, been much of such devil's work in France."

"Too much, too much," he answered. "But I have ever observed
that the foremost in the field are they who would scorn to
mishandle a prisoner. By St. Paul! it is not they who carry the
breach who are wont to sack the town, but the laggard knaves who
come crowding in when a way has been cleared for them. But what
is this among the trees?"

"It is a shrine of Our Lady," said Terlake, "and a blind beggar
who lives by the alms of those who worship there."

"A shrine!" cried the knight. "Then let us put up an orison."
Pulling off his cap, and clasping his hands, he chanted in a
shrill voice: "Benedictus dominus Deus meus, qui docet manus
meas ad proelium, et digitos meos ad bellum." A strange figure
he seemed to his three squires, perched on his huge horse, with
his eyes upturned and the wintry sun shimmering upon his bald
head. "It is a noble prayer," he remarked, putting on his hat
again, "and it was taught to me by the noble Chandos himself.
But how fares it with you, father? Methinks that I should have
ruth upon you, seeing that I am myself like one who looks through
a horn window while his neighbors have the clear crystal. Yet,
by St. Paul! there is a long stride between the man who hath a
horn casement and him who is walled in on every hand."

"Alas! fair sir," cried the blind old man, "I have not seen the
blessed blue of heaven this two-score years, since a levin flash
burned the sight out of my head."

"You have been blind to much that is goodly and fair," quoth Sir
Nigel, "but you have also been spared much that is sorry and
foul. This very hour our eyes have been shocked with that which
would have left you unmoved. But, by St. Paul! we must on, or
our Company will think that they have lost their captain somewhat
early in the venture. Throw the man my purse, Edricson, and let
us go."

Alleyne, lingering behind, bethought him of the Lady Loring's
counsel, and reduced the noble gift which the knight had so
freely bestowed to a single penny, which the beggar with many
mumbled blessings thrust away into his wallet. Then, spurring
his steed, the young squire rode at the top of his speed after
his companions, and overtook them just at the spot where the
trees fringe off into the moor and the straggling hamlet of
Hordle lies scattered on either side of the winding and
deeply-rutted track. The Company was already well-nigh through
the village; but, as the knight and his squires closed up upon
them, they heard the clamor of a strident voice, followed by a
roar of deep-chested laughter from the ranks of the archers.
Another minute brought them up with the rear-guard, where every
man marched with his beard on his shoulder and a face which was
agrin with merriment. By the side of the column walked a huge
red-headed bowman, with his hands thrown out in argument and
expostulation, while close at his heels followed a little
wrinkled woman who poured forth a shrill volley of abuse, varied
by an occasional thwack from her stick, given with all the force
of her body, though she might have been beating one of the forest
trees for all the effect that she seemed likely to produce.

"I trust, Aylward," said Sir Nigel gravely, as he rode up, "that
this doth not mean that any violence hath been offered to women.
If such a thing happened, I tell you that the man shall hang,
though he were the best archer that ever wore brassart."

"Nay, my fair lord," Aylward answered with a grin, "it is
violence which is offered to a man. He comes from Hordle, and
this is his mother who hath come forth to welcome him."

"You rammucky lurden," she was howling, with a blow between each
catch of her breath, "you shammocking, yaping, over-long
good-for-nought. I will teach thee! I will baste thee! Aye, by my
faith!"

"Whist, mother," said John, looking back at her from the tail of
his eye, "I go to France as an archer to give blows and to take
them."

"To France, quotha?" cried the old dame. "Bide here with me, and
I shall warrant you more blows than you are like to get in
France. If blows be what you seek, you need not go further than
Hordle."

"By my hilt! the good dame speaks truth," said Aylward. "It
seems to be the very home of them."

"What have you to say, you clean-shaved galley-beggar?" cried the
fiery dame, turning upon the archer. "Can I not speak with my
own son but you must let your tongue clack? A soldier, quotha,
and never a hair on his face. I have seen a better soldier with
pap for food and swaddling clothes for harness."

"Stand to it, Aylward," cried the archers, amid a fresh burst of
laughter.

"Do not thwart her, comrade," said big John. "She hath a proper
spirit for her years and cannot abide to be thwarted. It is
kindly and homely to me to hear her voice and to feel that she is
behind me. But I must leave you now, mother, for the way is
over-rough for your feet; but I will bring you back a silken
gown, if there be one in France or Spain, and I will bring Jinny
a silver penny; so good-bye to you, and God have you in His
keeping!" Whipping up the little woman, he lifted her lightly to
his lips, and then, taking his place in the ranks again, marched
on with the laughing Company.

"That was ever his way," she cried, appealing to Sir Nigel, who
reined up his horse and listened with the greatest courtesy. "He
would jog on his own road for all that I could do to change him.
First he must be a monk forsooth, and all because a wench was
wise enough to turn her back on him. Then he joins a rascally
crew and must needs trapse off to the wars, and me with no one to
bait the fire if I be out, or tend the cow if I be home. Yet I
have been a good mother to him. Three hazel switches a day have
I broke across his shoulders, and he takes no more notice than
you have seen him to-day."

"Doubt not that he will come back to you both safe and
prosperous, my fair dame," quoth Sir Nigel. "Meanwhile it
grieves me that as I have already given my purse to a beggar up
the road I----"

"Nay, my lord," said Alleyne, "I still have some moneys
remaining."

"Then I pray you to give them to this very worthy woman." He
cantered on as he spoke, while Alleyne, having dispensed two more
pence, left the old dame standing by the furthest cottage of
Hordle, with her shrill voice raised in blessings instead of
revilings.

There were two cross-roads before they reached the Lymington
Ford, and at each of then Sir Nigel pulled up his horse, and
waited with many a curvet and gambade, craning his neck this way
and that to see if fortune would send him a venture. Crossroads
had, as he explained, been rare places for knightly spear-runnings,
and in his youth it was no uncommon thing for a cavalier to
abide for weeks at such a point, holding gentle debate with all
comers, to his own advancement and the great honor of his lady.
The times were changed, however, and the forest tracks wound away
from them deserted and silent, with no trample of war-horse or
clang of armor which might herald the approach of an
adversary--so that Sir Nigel rode on his way disconsolate. At
the Lymington River they splashed through the ford, and lay in
the meadows on the further side to eat the bread and salt meat
which they carried upon the sumpter horses. Then, ere the sun
was on the slope of the heavens, they had deftly trussed up
again, and were swinging merrily upon their way, two hundred feet
moving like two.

There is a third cross-road where the track from Boldre runs down
to the old fishing village of Pitt's Deep. Down this, as they
came abreast of it, there walked two men, the one a pace or two
behind the other. The cavaliers could not but pull up their
horses to look at them, for a stranger pair were never seen
journeying together. The first was a misshapen, squalid man with
cruel, cunning eyes and a shock of tangled red hair, bearing in
his hands a small unpainted cross, which he held high so that all
men might see it. He seemed to be in the last extremity of
fright, with a face the color of clay and his limbs all ashake as
one who hath an ague. Behind him, with his toe ever rasping upon
the other's heels, there walked a very stern, black-bearded man
with a hard eye and a set mouth. He bore over his shoulder a
great knotted stick with three jagged nails stuck in the head of
it, and from time to time he whirled it up in the air with a
quivering arm, as though he could scarce hold back from dashing
his companion's brains out. So in silence they walked under the
spread of the branches on the grass-grown path from Boldre.

"By St. Paul!" quoth the knight, "but this is a passing strange
sight, and perchance some very perilous and honorable venture may
arise from it. I pray you, Edricson, to ride up to them and to
ask them the cause of it."

There was no need, however, for him to move, for the twain came
swiftly towards them until they were within a spear's length,
when the man with the cross sat himself down sullenly upon a
tussock of grass by the wayside, while the other stood beside him
with his great cudgel still hanging over his head. So intent was
he that he raised his eyes neither to knight nor squires, but
kept them ever fixed with a savage glare upon his comrade.

"I pray you, friend," said Sir Nigel, "to tell us truthfully who
you are, and why you follow this man with such bitter enmity?

"So long as I am within the pale of the king's law," the stranger
answered, "I cannot see why I should render account to every
passing wayfarer."

"You are no very shrewd reasoner, fellow," quoth the knight; "for
if it be within the law for you to threaten him with your club,
then it is also lawful for me to threaten you with my sword."

The man with the cross was down in an instant on his knees upon
the ground, with hands clasped above him and his face shining
with hope. "For dear Christ's sake, my fair lord," he cried in a
crackling voice, "I have at my belt a bag with a hundred rose
nobles, and I will give it to you freely if you will but pass
your sword through this man's body."

"How, you foul knave?" exclaimed Sir Nigel hotly. "Do you think
that a cavalier's arm is to be bought like a packman's ware. By
St. Paul! I have little doubt that this fellow hath some very
good cause to hold you in hatred."

"Indeed, my fair sir, you speak sooth," quoth he with the club,
while the other seated himself once more by the wayside. "For
this man is Peter Peterson, a very noted rieve, draw-latch, and
murtherer, who has wrought much evil for many years in the parts
about Winchester. It was but the other day, upon the feasts of
the blessed Simon and Jude, that he slew my younger brother
William in Bere Forest--for which, by the black thorn of
Glastonbury! I shall have his heart's blood, though I walk behind
him to the further end of earth."

"But if this be indeed so," asked Sir Nigel, "why is it that you
have come with him so far through the forest?"

"Because I am an honest Englishman, and will take no more than
the law allows. For when the deed was done this foul and base
wretch fled to sanctuary at St. Cross, and I, as you may think,
after him with all the posse. The prior, however, hath so
ordered that while he holds this cross no man may lay hand upon
him without the ban of church, which heaven forfend from me or
mine. Yet, if for an instant he lay the cross aside, or if he
fail to journey to Pitt's Deep, where it is ordered that he shall
take ship to outland parts, or if he take not the first ship, or
if until the ship be ready he walk not every day into the sea as
far as his loins, then he becomes outlaw, and I shall forthwith
dash out his brains."

At this the man on the ground snarled up at him like a rat, while
the other clenched his teeth, and shook his club, and looked down
at him with murder in his eyes. Knight and squire gazed from
rogue to avenger, but as it was a matter which none could mend
they tarried no longer, but rode upon their way. Alleyne,
looking back, saw that the murderer had drawn bread and cheese
from his scrip, and was silently munching it, with the protecting
cross still hugged to his breast, while the other, black and
grim, stood in the sunlit road and threw his dark shadow athwart
him.



CHAPTER XV.

HOW THE YELLOW COG SAILED FORTH FROM LEPE.


That night the Company slept at St. Leonard's, in the great
monastic barns and spicarium--ground well known both to Alleyne
and to John, for they were almost within sight of the Abbey of
Beaulieu. A strange thrill it gave to the young squire to see
the well-remembered white dress once more, and to hear the
measured tolling of the deep vespers bell. At early dawn they
passed across the broad, sluggish, reed-girt stream--men, horses,
and baggage in the flat ferry barges--and so journeyed on through
the fresh morning air past Exbury to Lepe. Topping the heathy
down, they came of a sudden full in sight of the old sea-port--a
cluster of houses, a trail of blue smoke, and a bristle of masts.
To right and left the long blue curve of the Solent lapped in a
fringe of foam upon the yellow beach. Some way out from the town
a line of pessoners, creyers, and other small craft were rolling
lazily on the gentle swell. Further out still lay a great
merchant-ship, high ended, deep waisted, painted of a canary
yellow, and towering above the fishing-boats like a swan among
ducklings.

"By St. Paul!" said the knight, "our good merchant of Southampton
hath not played us false, for methinks I can see our ship down
yonder. He said that she would be of great size and of a yellow
shade."

"By my hilt, yes!" muttered Aylward; "she is yellow as a kite's
claw, and would carry as many men as there are pips in a
pomegranate."

"It is as well," remarked Terlake; "for methinks, my fair lord,
that we are not the only ones who are waiting a passage to
Gascony. Mine eye catches at times a flash and sparkle among
yonder houses which assuredly never came from shipman's jacket or
the gaberdine of a burgher."

"I can also see it," said Alleyne, shading his eyes with his
hand. "And I can see men-at-arms in yonder boats which ply
betwixt the vessel and the shore. But methinks that we are very
welcome here, for already they come forth to meet us."

A tumultuous crowd of fishermen, citizens, and women had indeed
swarmed out from the northern gate, and approached them up the
side of the moor, waving their hands and dancing with joy, as
though a great fear had been rolled back from their minds. At
their head rode a very large and solemn man with a long chin and
a drooping lip. He wore a fur tippet round his neck and a heavy
gold chain over it, with a medallion which dangled in front of
him.

"Welcome, most puissant and noble lord," he cried, doffing his
bonnet to Black Simon. "I have heard of your lordship's valiant
deeds, and in sooth they might be expected from your lordship's
face and bearing. Is there any small matter in which I may
oblige you?"

"Since you ask me," said the man-at-arms, "I would take it kindly
if you could spare a link or two of the chain which hangs round
your neck."

"What, the corporation chain!" cried the other in horror. "The
ancient chain of the township of Lepe! This is but a sorry jest,
Sir Nigel."

"What the plague did you ask me for then?" said Simon. "But if
it is Sir Nigel Loring with whom you would speak, that is he upon
the black horse."

The Mayor of Lepe gazed with amazement on the mild face and
slender frame of the famous warrior.

"Your pardon, my gracious lord," he cried. "You see in me the
mayor and chief magistrate of the ancient and powerful town of
Lepe. I bid you very heartily welcome, and the more so as you
are come at a moment when we are sore put to it for means of
defence.'

"Ha!" cried Sir Nigel, pricking up his ears.

"Yes, my lord, for the town being very ancient and the walls as
old as the town, it follows that they are very ancient too. But
there is a certain villainous and bloodthirsty Norman pirate
hight Tete-noire, who, with a Genoan called Tito Caracci,
commonly known as Spade-beard, hath been a mighty scourge upon
these coasts. Indeed, my lord, they are very cruel and
black-hearted men, graceless and ruthless, and if they should
come to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe then--"

"Then good-bye to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe," quoth
Ford, whose lightness of tongue could at times rise above his awe
of Sir Nigel.

The knight, however, was too much intent upon the matter in hand
to give heed to the flippancy of his squire. "Have you then
cause," he asked, "to think that these men are about to venture
an attempt upon you?"

"They have come in two great galleys," answered the mayor, "with
two bank of oars on either side, and great store of engines of
war and of men-at-arms. At Weymouth and at Portland they have
murdered and ravished. Yesterday morning they were at Cowes, and
we saw the smoke from the burning crofts. To-day they lie at
their ease near Freshwater, and we fear much lest they come upon
us and do us a mischief."

"We cannot tarry," said Sir Nigel, riding towards the town, with
the mayor upon his left side; "the Prince awaits us at Bordeaux,
and we may not be behind the general muster. Yet I will promise
you that on our way we shall find time to pass Freshwater and to
prevail upon these rovers to leave you in peace."

"We are much beholden to you!" cried the mayor "But I cannot see,
my lord, how, without a war-ship, you may venture against these
men. With your archers, however, you might well hold the town
and do them great scath if they attempt to land."

"There is a very proper cog out yonder," said Sir Nigel, "it
would be a very strange thing if any ship were not a war-ship
when it had such men as these upon her decks. Certes, we shall
do as I say, and that no later than this very day."

"My lord," said a rough-haired, dark-faced man, who walked by the
knight's other stirrup, with his head sloped to catch all that he
was saying. "By your leave, I have no doubt that you are skilled
in land fighting and the marshalling of lances, but, by my soul!
you will find it another thing upon the sea. I am the master-shipman
of this yellow cog, and my name is Goodwin Hawtayne. I have
sailed since I was as high as this staff, and I have fought
against these Normans and against the Genoese, as well as the
Scotch, the Bretons, the Spanish, and the Moors. I tell you,
sir, that my ship is over light and over frail for such work, and
it will but end in our having our throats cut, or being sold as
slaves to the Barbary heathen."

"I also have experienced one or two gentle and honorable ventures
upon the sea," quoth Sir Nigel, "and I am right blithe to have so
fair a task before us. I think, good master-shipman, that you
and I may win great honor in this matter, and I can see very
readily that you are a brave and stout man."

"I like it not," said the other sturdily. "In God's name, I like
it not. And yet Goodwin Hawtayne is not the man to stand back
when his fellows are for pressing forward. By my soul! be it
sink or swim, I shall turn her beak into Freshwater Bay, and if
good Master Witherton, of Southampton, like not my handling of
his ship then he may find another master-shipman."

They were close by the old north gate of the little town, and
Alleyne, half turning in his saddle, looked back at the motley
crowd who followed. The bowmen and men-at-arms had broken their
ranks and were intermingled with the fishermen and citizens,
whose laughing faces and hearty gestures bespoke the weight of
care from which this welcome arrival had relieved them. Here and
there among the moving throng of dark jerkins and of white
surcoats were scattered dashes of scarlet and blue, the whimples
or shawls of the women. Aylward, with a fishing lass on either
arm, was vowing constancy alternately to her on the right and her
on the left, while big John towered in the rear with a little
chubby maiden enthroned upon his great shoulder, her soft white
arm curled round his shining headpiece. So the throng moved on,
until at the very gate it was brought to a stand by a wondrously
fat man, who came darting forth from the town with rage in every
feature of his rubicund face.

"How now, Sir Mayor?" he roared, in a voice like a bull. "How
now, Sir Mayor? How of the clams and the scallops?"

"By Our Lady! my sweet Sir Oliver," cried the mayor. "I have had
so much to think of, with these wicked villains so close upon us,
that it had quite gone out of my head."

"Words, words!" shouted the other furiously. "Am I to be put off
with words? I say to you again, how of the clams and scallops?"

"My fair sir, you flatter me," cried the mayor. "I am a peaceful
trader, and I am not wont to be so shouted at upon so small a
matter."

"Small!" shrieked the other. "Small! Clams and scallops! Ask me
to your table to partake of the dainty of the town, and when I
come a barren welcome and a bare board! Where is my spear-bearer?"

"Nay, Sir Oliver, Sir Oliver!" cried Sir Nigel, laughing.

Let your anger be appeased, since instead of this dish you come
upon an old friend and comrade."

"By St. Martin of Tours!" shouted the fat knight, his wrath all
changed in an instant to joy, "if it is not my dear little game
rooster of the Garonne. Ah, my sweet coz, I am right glad to see
you. What days we have seen together!"

"Aye, by my faith," cried Sir Nigel, with sparkling eyes, "we
have seen some valiant men, and we have shown our pennons in some
noble skirmishes. By St. Paul! we have had great joys in
France."

"And sorrows also," quoth the other. "I have some sad memories
of the land. Can you recall that which befell us at Libourne?"

"Nay, I cannot call to mind that we ever so much as drew sword at
the place."

"Man, man," cried Sir Oliver, "your mind still runs on nought but
blades and bassinets. Hast no space in thy frame for the softer
joys. Ah, even now I can scarce speak of it unmoved. So noble a
pie, such tender pigeons, and sugar in the gravy instead of salt!
You were by my side that day, as were Sir Claude Latour and the
Lord of Pommers."

"I remember it," said Sir Nigel, laughing, "and how you harried
the cook down the street, and spoke of setting fire to the inn.
By St. Paul! most worthy mayor, my old friend is a perilous man,
and I rede you that you compose your difference with him on such
terms as you may."

"The clams and scallops shall be ready within the hour," the
mayor answered. "I had asked Sir Oliver Buttesthorn to do my
humble board the honor to partake at it of the dainty upon which
we take some little pride, but in sooth this alarm of pirates
hath cast such a shadow on my wits that I am like one distrait.
But I trust, Sir Nigel, that you will also partake of none-meat
with me?"

"I have overmuch to do," Sir Nigel answered, "for we must be
aboard, horse and man, as early as we may. How many do you
muster, Sir Oliver?"

"Three and forty. The forty are drunk, and the three are but
indifferent sober. I have them all safe upon the ship."

"They had best find their wits again, for I shall have work for
every man of them ere the sun set. It is my intention, if it
seems good to you, to try a venture against these Norman and
Genoese rovers."

"They carry caviare and certain very noble spices from the Levant
aboard of ships from Genoa," quoth Sir Oliver. "We may come to
great profit through the business. I pray you, master-shipman,
that when you go on board you pour a helmetful of sea-water over
any of my rogues whom you may see there."

Leaving the lusty knight and the Mayor of Lepe, Sir Nigel led the
Company straight down to the water's edge, where long lines of
flat lighters swiftly bore them to their vessel. Horse after
horse was slung by main force up from the barges, and after
kicking and plunging in empty air was dropped into the deep waist
of the yellow cog, where rows of stalls stood ready for their
safe keeping. Englishmen in those days were skilled and prompt
in such matters, for it was so not long before that Edward had
embarked as many as fifty thousand men in the port of Orwell,
with their horses and their baggage, all in the space of
four-and-twenty hours. So urgent was Sir Nigel on the shore,
and so prompt was Goodwin Hawtayne on the cog, that Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn had scarce swallowed his last scallop ere the peal of
the trumpet and clang of nakir announced that all was ready and
the anchor drawn. In the last boat which left the shore the two
commanders sat together in the sheets, a strange contrast to one
another, while under the feet of the rowers was a litter of huge
stones which Sir Nigel had ordered to be carried to the cog.
These once aboard, the ship set her broad mainsail, purple in
color, and with a golden St. Christopher bearing Christ upon his
shoulder in the centre of it. The breeze blew, the sail bellied,
over heeled the portly vessel, and away she plunged through the
smooth blue rollers, amid the clang of the minstrels on her poop
and the shouting of the black crowd who fringed the yellow beach.
To the left lay the green Island of Wight, with its long, low,
curving hills peeping over each other's shoulders to the sky-line;
to the right the wooded Hampshire coast as far as eye could
reach; above a steel-blue heaven, with a wintry sun shimmering
down upon them, and enough of frost to set the breath a-smoking.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel gayly, as he stood upon the poop
and looked on either side of him, "it is a land which is very
well worth fighting for, and it were pity to go to France for
what may be had at home. Did you not spy a crooked man upon the
beach?"

"Nay, I spied nothing," grumbled Sir Oliver, "for I was hurried
down with a clam stuck in my gizzard and an untasted goblet of
Cyprus on the board behind me."

"I saw him, my fair lord," said Terlake, "an old man with one
shoulder higher than the other."

"'Tis a sign of good fortune," quoth Sir Nigel. "Our path was
also crossed by a woman and by a priest, so all should be well
with us. What say you, Edricson?"

"I cannot tell, my fair lord. The Romans of old were a very wise
people, yet, certes, they placed their faith in such matters.
So, too, did the Greeks, and divers other ancient peoples who
were famed for their learning. Yet of the moderns there are many
who scoff at all omens."

"There can be no manner of doubt about it," said Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn, "I can well remember that in Navarre one day it
thundered on the left out of a cloudless sky. We knew that ill
would come of it, nor had we long to wait. Only thirteen days
after, a haunch of prime venison was carried from my very tent
door by the wolves, and on the same day two flasks of old vernage
turned sour and muddy."

"You may bring my harness from below," said Sir Nigel to his
squires, "and also, I pray you, bring up Sir Oliver's and we
shall don it here. Ye may then see to your own gear; for this
day you will, I hope, make a very honorable entrance into the
field of chivalry, and prove yourselves to be very worthy and
valiant squires. And now, Sir Oliver, as to our dispositions:
would it please you that I should order them or will you?"

"You, my cockerel, you. By Our Lady! I am no chicken, but I
cannot claim to know as much of war as the squire of Sir Walter
Manny. Settle the matter to your own liking."

"You shall fly your pennon upon the fore part, then, and I upon
the poop. For foreguard I shall give you your own forty men,
with two-score archers. Two-score men, with my own men-at-arms
and squires, will serve as a poop-guard. Ten archers, with
thirty shipmen, under the master, may hold the waist while ten
lie aloft with stones and arbalests. How like you that?"

"Good, by my faith, good! But here comes my harness, and I must
to work, for I cannot slip into it as I was wont when first I set
my face to the wars."

Meanwhile there had been bustle and preparation in all parts of
the great vessel. The archers stood in groups about the decks,
new-stringing their bows, and testing that they were firm at the
nocks. Among them moved Aylward and other of the older soldiers,
with a few whispered words of precept here and of warning there.

"Stand to it, my hearts of gold," said the old bowman as he
passed from knot to knot. "By my hilt! we are in luck this
journey. Bear in mind the old saying of the Company."

"What is that, Aylward?" cried several, leaning on their bows and
laughing at him.

"'Tis the master-bowyer's rede: `Every bow well bent. Every
shaft well sent. Every stave well nocked. Every string well
locked.' There, with that jingle in his head, a bracer on his
left hand, a shooting glove on his right, and a farthing's-worth
of wax in his girdle, what more doth a bowman need?"

"It would not be amiss," said Hordle John, "if under his girdle
he had tour farthings'-worth of wine."

"Work first, wine afterwards, mon camarade. But it is time that
we took our order, for methinks that between the Needle rocks and
the Alum cliffs yonder I can catch a glimpse of the topmasts of
the galleys. Hewett, Cook, Johnson, Cunningham, your men are of
the poop-guard. Thornbury, Walters, Hackett, Baddlesmere, you
are with Sir Oliver on the forecastle. Simon, you bide with your
lord's banner; but ten men must go forward."

Quietly and promptly the men took their places, lying flat upon
their faces on the deck, for such was Sir Nigel's order. Near
the prow was planted Sir Oliver's spear, with his arms--a boar's
head gules upon a field of gold. Close by the stern stood Black
Simon with the pennon of the house of Loring. In the waist
gathered the Southampton mariners, hairy and burly men, with
their jerkins thrown off, their waists braced tight, swords,
mallets, and pole-axes in their hands. Their leader, Goodwin
Hawtayne, stood upon the poop and talked with Sir Nigel, casting
his eye up sometimes at the swelling sail, and then glancing
back at the two seamen who held the tiller.

"Pass the word," said Sir Nigel, "that no man shall stand to arms
or draw his bow-string until my trumpeter shall sound. It would
be well that we should seem to be a merchant-ship from
Southampton and appear to flee from them."

"We shall see them anon," said the master-shipman. "Ha, said I
not so? There they lie, the water-snakes, in Freshwater Bay; and
mark the reek of smoke from yonder point, where they have been at
their devil's work. See how their shallops pull from the land!
They have seen us and called their men aboard. Now they draw
upon the anchor. See them like ants upon the forecastle! They
stoop and heave like handy ship men. But, my fair lord, these
are no niefs. I doubt but we have taken in hand more than we can
do. Each of these ships is a galeasse, and of the largest and
swiftest make."

"I would I had your eyes," said Sir Nigel, blinking at the pirate
galleys. "They seem very gallant ships, and I trust that we
shall have much pleasance from our meeting with them. It would
be well to pass the word that we should neither give nor take
quarter this day. Have you perchance a priest or friar aboard
this ship, Master Hawtayne?"

"No, my fair lord."

"Well, well, it is no great matter for my Company, for they were
all houseled and shriven ere we left Twynham Castle; and Father
Christopher of the Priory gave me his word that they were as fit
to march to heaven as to Gascony. But my mind misdoubts me as to
these Winchester men who have come with Sir Oliver, for they
appear to be a very ungodly crew. Pass the word that the men
kneel, and that the under-officers repeat to them the pater, the
ave, and the credo."

With a clank of arms, the rough archers and seamen took to their
knees, with bent heads and crossed hands, listening to the hoarse
mutter from the file-leaders. It was strange to mark the hush;
so that the lapping of the water, the straining of the sail, and
the creaking of the timbers grew louder of a sudden upon the ear.
Many of the bowmen had drawn amulets and relics from their
bosoms, while he who possessed some more than usually sanctified
treasure passed it down the line of his comrades, that all might
kiss and reap the virtue.

The yellow cog had now shot out from the narrow waters of the
Solent, and was plunging and rolling on the long heave of the
open channel. The wind blew freshly from the east, with a very
keen edge to it; and the great sail bellied roundly out, laying
the vessel over until the water hissed beneath her lee bulwarks.
Broad and ungainly, she floundered from wave to wave, dipping her
round bows deeply into the blue rollers, and sending the white
flakes of foam in a spatter over her decks. On her larboard
quarter lay the two dark galleys, which had already hoisted sail,
and were shooting out from Freshwater Bay in swift pursuit, their
double line of oars giving them a vantage which could not fail to
bring them up with any vessel which trusted to sails alone. High
and bluff the English cog; long, black and swift the pirate
galleys, like two fierce lean wolves which have seen a lordly
and unsuspecting stag walk past their forest lair.

"Shall we turn, my fair lord, or shall we carry on?" asked the
master-shipman, looking behind him with anxious eyes.

"Nay, we must carry on and play the part of the helpless
merchant."

"But your pennons? They will see that we have two knights with
us."

"Yet it would not be to a knight's honor or good name to lower
his pennon. Let them be, and they will think that we are a
wine-ship for Gascony, or that we bear the wool-bales of some
mercer of the Staple. Ma foi, but they are very swift! They
swoop upon us like two goshawks on a heron. Is there not some
symbol or device upon their sails?"

"That on the right," said Edricson, "appears to have the head of
an Ethiop upon it."

"'Tis the badge of Tete-noire, the Norman," cried a seaman-mariner.
"I have seen it before, when he harried us at Winchelsea. He is
a wondrous large and strong man, with no ruth for man, woman, or
beast. They say that he hath the strength of six; and, certes,
he hath the crimes of six upon his soul. See, now, to the poor
souls who swing at either end of his yard-arm!"

At each end of the yard there did indeed hang the dark figure of
a man, jolting and lurching with hideous jerkings of its limbs at
every plunge and swoop of the galley.

"By St. Paul!" said Sir Nigel, "and by the help of St. George and
Our Lady, it will be a very strange thing if our black-headed
friend does not himself swing thence ere he be many hours older.
But what is that upon the other galley?"

"It is the red cross of Genoa. This Spade-beard is a very noted
captain, and it is his boast that there are no seamen and no
archers in the world who can compare with those who serve the
Doge Boccanegra."

"That we shall prove," said Goodwin Hawtayne; "but it would be
well, ere they close with us, to raise up the mantlets and
pavises as a screen against their bolts." He shouted a hoarse
order, and his seamen worked swiftly and silently, heightening
the bulwarks and strengthening them. The three ship's anchors
were at Sir Nigel's command carried into the waist, and tied to
the mast, with twenty feet of cable between, each under the care
of four seamen. Eight others were stationed with leather
water-bags to quench any fire-arrows which might come aboard,
while others were sent up the mast, to lie along the yard and
drop stones or shoot arrows as the occasion served.

"Let them be supplied with all that is heavy and weighty in the
ship," said Sir Nigel.

"Then we must send them up Sir Oliver Buttesthorn," quoth Ford.

The knight looked at him with a face which struck the smile from
his lips. "No squire of mine," he said, "shall ever make jest of
a belted knight. And yet," he added, his eyes softening, "I know
that it is but a boy's mirth, with no sting in it. Yet I should
ill do my part towards your father if I did not teach you to curb
your tongue-play."

"They will lay us aboard on either quarter, my lord," cried the
master. "See how they stretch out from each other! The Norman
hath a mangonel or a trabuch upon the forecastle. See, they bend
to the levers! They are about to loose it."

"Aylward," cried the knight, "pick your three trustiest archers,
and see if you cannot do something to hinder their aim. Methinks
they are within long arrow flight."

"Seventeen score paces," said the archer, running his eye
backwards and forwards. "By my ten finger-bones! it would be a
strange thing if we could not notch a mark at that distance.
Here, Watkin of Sowley, Arnold, Long Williams, let us show the
rogues that they have English bowmen to deal with."

The three archers named stood at the further end of the poop,
balancing themselves with feet widely spread and bows drawn,
until the heads of the cloth-yard arrows were level with the
centre of the stave. "You are the surer, Watkin," said Aylward,
standing by them with shaft upon string. "Do you take the rogue
with the red coif. You two bring down the man with the head-piece,
and I will hold myself ready if you miss. Ma foi! they are about
to loose her. Shoot, mes garcons, or you will be too late."

The throng of pirates had cleared away from the great wooden
catapult, leaving two of their number to discharge it. One in a
scarlet cap bent over it, steadying the jagged rock which was
balanced on the spoon-shaped end of the long wooden lever. The
other held the loop of the rope which would release the catch and
send the unwieldy missile hurtling through the air. So for an
instant they stood, showing hard and clear against the white sail
behind them. The next, redcap had fallen across the stone with
an arrow between his ribs; and the other, struck in the leg and
in the throat, was writhing and spluttering upon the ground. As
he toppled backwards he had loosed the spring, and the huge beam
of wood, swinging round with tremendous force, cast the corpse of
his comrade so close to the English ship that its mangled and
distorted limbs grazed their very stern. As to the stone, it
glanced off obliquely and fell midway between the vessels. A
roar of cheering and of laughter broke from the rough archers and
seamen at the sight, answered by a yell of rage from their
pursuers.

"Lie low, mes enfants," cried Aylward, motioning with his left
hand. "They will learn wisdom. They are bringing forward shield
and mantlet. We shall have some pebbles about our ears ere
long."



CHAPTER XVI.

HOW THE YELLOW COG FOUGHT THE TWO ROVER GALLEYS.


The three vessels had been sweeping swiftly westwards, the cog
still well to the front, although the galleys were slowly drawing
in upon either quarter. To the left was a hard skyline unbroken
by a sail. The island already lay like a cloud behind them,
while right in front was St. Alban's Head, with Portland looming
mistily in the farthest distance. Alleyne stood by the tiller,
looking backwards, the fresh wind full in his teeth, the crisp
winter air tingling on his face and blowing his yellow curls from
under his bassinet. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes
shining, for the blood of a hundred fighting Saxon ancestors was
beginning to stir in his veins.

"What was that?" he asked, as a hissing, sharp-drawn voice seemed
to whisper in his ear. The steersman smiled, and pointed with
his foot to where a short heavy cross-bow quarrel stuck quivering
in the boards. At the same instant the man stumbled forward upon
his knees, and lay lifeless upon the deck, a blood-stained
feather jutting out from his back. As Alleyne stooped to raise
him, the air seemed to be alive with the sharp zip-zip of the
bolts, and he could hear them pattering on the deck like apples
at a tree-shaking.

"Raise two more mantlets by the poop-lanthorn," said Sir Nigel
quietly.

"And another man to the tiller," cried the master-shipman.

"Keep them in play, Aylward, with ten of your men," the knight
continued. "And let ten of Sir Oliver's bowmen do as much for
the Genoese. I have no mind as yet to show them how much they
have to fear from us."

Ten picked shots under Aylward stood in line across the broad
deck, and it was a lesson to the young squires who had seen
nothing of war to note how orderly and how cool were these old
soldiers, how quick the command, and how prompt the carrying out,
ten moving like one. Their comrades crouched beneath the
bulwarks, with many a rough jest and many a scrap of criticism or
advice. "Higher, Wat, higher!" "Put thy body into it, Will!"
"Forget not the wind, Hal!" So ran the muttered chorus, while
high above it rose the sharp twanging of the strings, the hiss
of the shafts, and the short "Draw your arrow! Nick your arrow!
Shoot wholly together!" from the master-bowman.

And now both mangonels were at work from the galleys, but so
covered and protected that, save at the moment of discharge, no
glimpse could be caught of them. A huge brown rock from the
Genoese sang over their heads, and plunged sullenly into the
slope of a wave. Another from the Norman whizzed into the waist,
broke the back of a horse, and crashed its way through the side
of the vessel. Two others, flying together, tore a great gap in
the St. Christopher upon the sail, and brushed three of Sir
Oliver's men-at-arms from the forecastle. The master-shipman
looked at the knight with a troubled face.

"They keep their distance from us," said he. "Our archery is
over-good, and they will not close. What defence can we make
against the stones?"

"I think I may trick them," the knight answered cheerfully, and
passed his order to the archers. Instantly five of them threw up
their hands and fell prostrate upon the deck. One had already
been slain by a bolt, so that there were but four upon their
feet.

"That should give them heart," said Sir Nigel, eyeing the
galleys, which crept along on either side, with a slow, measured
swing of their great oars, the water swirling and foaming under
their sharp stems.

"They still hold aloof," cried Hawtayne.

"Then down with two more," shouted their leader. "That will do.
Ma foi! but they come to our lure like chicks to the fowler. To
your arms, men! The pennon behind me, and the squires round the
pennon. Stand fast with the anchors in the waist, and be ready
for a cast. Now blow out the trumpets, and may God's benison be
with the honest men!"

As he spoke a roar of voices and a roll of drums came from either
galley, and the water was lashed into spray by the hurried beat
of a hundred oars. Down they swooped, one on the right, one on
the left, the sides and shrouds black with men and bristling with
weapons. In heavy clusters they hung upon the forecastle all
ready for a spring-faces white, faces brown, faces yellow, and
faces black, fair Norsemen, swarthy Italians, fierce rovers from
the Levant, and fiery Moors from the Barbary States, of all hues
and countries, and marked solely by the common stamp of a
wild-beast ferocity. Rasping up on either side, with oars
trailing to save them from snapping, they poured in a living
torrent with horrid yell and shrill whoop upon the defenceless
merchantman.

But wilder yet was the cry, and shriller still the scream, when
there rose up from the shadow of those silent bulwarks the long
lines of the English bowmen, and the arrows whizzed in a deadly
sleet among the unprepared masses upon the pirate decks. From
the higher sides of the cog the bowmen could shoot straight down,
at a range which was so short as to enable a cloth-yard shaft to
pierce through mail-coats or to transfix a shield, though it were
an inch thick of toughened wood. One moment Alleyne saw the
galley's poop crowded with rushing figures, waving arms, exultant
faces; the next it was a blood-smeared shambles, with bodies
piled three deep upon each other, the living cowering behind the
dead to shelter themselves from that sudden storm-blast of
death. On either side the seamen whom Sir Nigel had chosen for
the purpose had cast their anchors over the side of the galleys,
so that the three vessels, locked in an iron grip, lurched
heavily forward upon the swell.

And now set in a fell and fierce fight, one of a thousand of
which no chronicler has spoken and no poet sung. Through all the
centuries and over all those southern waters nameless men have
fought in nameless places, their sole monuments a protected coast
and an unravaged country-side.

Fore and aft the archers had cleared the galleys' decks, but from
either side the rovers had poured down into the waist, where the
seamen and bowmen were pushed back and so mingled with their foes
that it was impossible for their comrades above to draw string to
help them. It was a wild chaos where axe and sword rose and
fell, while Englishman, Norman, and Italian staggered and reeled
on a deck which was cumbered with bodies and slippery with blood.
The clang of blows, the cries of the stricken, the short, deep
shout of the islanders, and the fierce whoops of the rovers, rose
together in a deafening tumult, while the breath of the panting
men went up in the wintry air like the smoke from a furnace. The
giant Tete-noire, towering above his fellows and clad from head
to foot in plate of proof, led on his boarders, waving a huge
mace in the air, with which he struck to the deck every man who
approached him. On the other side, Spade-beard, a dwarf in
height, but of great breadth of shoulder and length of arm, had
cut a road almost to the mast, with three-score Genoese men-at-arms
close at his heels. Between these two formidable assailants the
seamen were being slowly wedged more closely together, until they
stood back to back under the mast with the rovers raging upon
every side of them.

But help was close at hand. Sir Oliver Buttesthorn with his
men-at-arms had swarmed down from the forecastle, while Sir
Nigel, with his three squires, Black Simon, Aylward, Hordle John,
and a score more, threw themselves from the poop and hurled
themselves into the thickest of the fight. Alleyne, as in duty
bound, kept his eyes fixed ever on his lord and pressed forward
close at his heels. Often had he heard of Sir Nigel's prowess
and skill with all knightly weapons, but all the tales that had
reached his ears fell far short of the real quickness and
coolness of the man. It was as if the devil was in him, for he
sprang here and sprang there, now thrusting and now cutting,
catching blows on his shield, turning them with his blade,
stooping under the swing of an axe, springing over the sweep of a
sword, so swift and so erratic that the man who braced himself
for a blow at him might find him six paces off ere he could bring
it down. Three pirates had fallen before him, and he had wounded
Spade-beard in the neck, when the Norman giant sprang at him from
the side with a slashing blow from his deadly mace. Sir Nigel
stooped to avoid it, and at the same instant turned a thrust from
the Genoese swordsman, but, his foot slipping in a pool of blood,
he fell heavily to the ground. Alleyne sprang in front of the
Norman, but his sword was shattered and he himself beaten to the
ground by a second blow from the ponderous weapon. Ere the
pirate chief could repeat it, however, John's iron grip fell upon
his wrist, and he found that for once he was in the hands of a
stronger man than himself.

Fiercely he strove to disengage his weapon, but Hordle John bent
his arm slowly back until, with a sharp crack, like a breaking
stave, it turned limp in his grasp, and the mace dropped from the
nerveless fingers. In vain he tried to pluck it up with the
other hand. Back and back still his foeman bent him, until, with
a roar of pain and of fury, the giant clanged his full length
upon the boards, while the glimmer of a knife before the bars of
his helmet warned him that short would be his shrift if he moved.

Cowed and disheartened by the loss of their leader, the Normans
had given back and were now streaming over the bulwarks on to
their own galley, dropping a dozen at a time on to her deck. But
the anchor still held them in its crooked claw, and Sir Oliver
with fifty men was hard upon their heels. Now, too, the archers
had room to draw their bows once more, and great stones from the
yard of the cog came thundering and crashing among the flying
rovers. Here and there they rushed with wild screams and curses,
diving under the sail, crouching behind booms, huddling into
corners like rabbits when the ferrets are upon them, as helpless
and as hopeless. They were stern days, and if the honest
soldier, too poor for a ransom, had no prospect of mercy upon the
battle-field, what ruth was there for sea robbers, the enemies of
humankind, taken in the very deed, with proofs of their crimes
still swinging upon their yard-arm.

But the fight had taken a new and a strange turn upon the other
side. Spade-beard and his men had given slowly back, hard
pressed by Sir Nigel, Aylward, Black Simon, and the poop-guard.
Foot by foot the Italian had retreated, his armor running blood
at every joint, his shield split, his crest shorn, his voice
fallen away to a mere gasping and croaking. Yet he faced his
foemen with dauntless courage, dashing in, springing back,
sure-footed, steady-handed, with a point which seemed to menace
three at once. Beaten back on to the deck of his own vessel, and
closely followed by a dozen Englishmen, he disengaged himself
from them, ran swiftly down the deck, sprang back into the cog
once more, cut the rope which held the anchor, and was back in an
instant among his crossbow-men. At the same time the Genoese
sailors thrust with their oars against the side of the cog, and a
rapidly widening rift appeared between the two vessels.

"By St. George!" cried Ford, "we are cut off from Sir Nigel."

"He is lost," gasped Terlake. "Come, let us spring for it." The
two youths jumped with all their strength to reach the departing
galley. Ford's feet reached the edge of the bulwarks, and his
hand clutching a rope he swung himself on board. Terlake fell
short, crashed in among the oars, and bounded off into the sea.
Alleyne, staggering to the side, was about to hurl himself after
him, but Hordle John dragged him back by the girdle.

"You can scarce stand, lad, far less jump," said he. "See how
the blood rips from your bassinet."

"My place is by the flag," cried Alleyne, vainly struggling to
break from the other's hold.

"Bide here, man. You would need wings ere you could reach Sir
Nigel's side."

The vessels were indeed so far apart now that the Genoese could
use the full sweep of their oars, and draw away rapidly from the
cog.

"My God, but it is a noble fight!" shouted big John, clapping his
hands. "They have cleared the poop, and they spring into the
waist. Well struck, my lord! Well struck, Aylward! See to
Black Simon, how he storms among the shipmen! But this Spade-beard
is a gallant warrior. He rallies his men upon the forecastle.
He hath slain an archer. Ha! my lord is upon him. Look to it,
Alleyne! See to the whirl and glitter of it!"

"By heaven, Sir Nigel is down!" cried the squire.

"Up!" roared John. "It was but a feint. He bears him back. He
drives him to the side. Ah, by Our Lady, his sword is through
him! They cry for mercy. Down goes the red cross, and up
springs Simon with the scarlet roses!"

The death of the Genoese leader did indeed bring the resistance
to an end. Amid a thunder of cheering from cog and from galleys
the forked pennon fluttered upon the forecastle, and the galley,
sweeping round, came slowly back, as the slaves who rowed it
learned the wishes of their new masters.

The two knights had come aboard the cog, and the grapplings
having been thrown off, the three vessels now moved abreast
through all the storm and rush of the fight Alleyne had been
aware of the voice of Goodwin Hawtayne, the master-shipman, with
his constant "Hale the bowline! Veer the sheet!" and strange it
was to him to see how swiftly the blood-stained sailors turned
from the strife to the ropes and back. Now the cog's head was
turned Francewards, and the shipman walked the deck, a peaceful
master-mariner once more.

"There is sad scath done to the cog, Sir Nigel," said he. "Here
is a hole in the side two ells across, the sail split through the
centre, and the wood as bare as a friar's poll. In good sooth, I
know not what I shall say to Master Witherton when I see the
Itchen once more."

"By St. Paul! it would be a very sorry thing if we suffered you
to be the worse of this day's work," said Sir Nigel. "You shall
take these galleys back with you, and Master Witherton may sell
them. Then from the moneys he shall take as much as may make
good the damage, and the rest he shall keep until our home-coming,
when every man shall have his share. An image of silver fifteen
inches high I have vowed to the Virgin, to be placed in her
chapel within the Priory, for that she was pleased to allow me to
come upon this Spade-beard, who seemed to me from what I have
seen of him to be a very sprightly and valiant gentleman. But
how fares it with you, Edricson?"

"It is nothing, my fair lord," said Alleyne, who had now loosened
his bassinet, which was cracked across by the Norman's blow.
Even as he spoke, however, his head swirled round, and he fell to
the deck with the blood gushing from his nose and mouth.

"He will come to anon," said the knight, stooping over him and
passing his fingers through his hair. "I have lost one very
valiant and gentle squire this day. I can ill afford to lose
another. How many men have fallen?"

"I have pricked off the tally," said Aylward, who had come aboard
with his lord. "There are seven of the Winchester men, eleven
seamen, your squire, young Master Terlake, and nine archers."

"And of the others?"

"They are all dead--save only the Norman knight who stands behind
you. What would you that we should do with him?"

"He must hang on his own yard," said Sir Nigel. "It was my vow
and must be done."

The pirate leader had stood by the bulwarks, a cord round his
arms, and two stout archers on either side. At Sir Nigel's words
he started violently, and his swarthy features blanched to a
livid gray.

"How, Sir Knight?" he cried in broken English. "Que dites vous?
To hang, le mort du chien! To hang!"

"It is my vow," said Sir Nigel shortly. "From what I hear, you
thought little enough of hanging others."

"Peasants, base roturiers," cried the other. "It is their
fitting death. Mais Le Seigneur d'Andelys, avec le sang des rois
dans ses veins! C'est incroyable!"

Sir Nigel turned upon his heel, while two seamen cast a noose
over the pirate's neck. At the touch of the cord he snapped the
bonds which bound him, dashed one of the archers to the deck, and
seizing the other round the waist sprang with him into the sea.

"By my hilt, he is gone!" cried Aylward, rushing to the side.
"They have sunk together like a stone."

"I am right glad of it," answered Sir Nigel; "for though it was
against my vow to loose him, I deem that he has carried himself
like a very gentle and debonnaire cavalier."



CHAPTER XVII.

HOW THE YELLOW COG CROSSED THE BAR OF GIRONDE.


For two days the yellow cog ran swiftly before a northeasterly
wind, and on the dawn of the third the high land of Ushant lay
like a mist upon the shimmering sky-line. There came a plump of
rain towards mid-day and the breeze died down, but it freshened
again before nightfall, and Goodwin Hawtayne veered his sheet and
held head for the south. Next morning they had passed Belle
Isle, and ran through the midst of a fleet of transports
returning from Guienne. Sir Nigel Loring and Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn at once hung their shields over the side, and
displayed their pennons as was the custom, noting with the
keenest interest the answering symbols which told the names of
the cavaliers who had been constrained by ill health or wounds to
leave the prince at so critical a time.

That evening a great dun-colored cloud banked up in the west, and
an anxious man was Goodwin Hawtayne, for a third part of his crew
had been slain, and half the remainder were aboard the galleys,
so that, with an injured ship, he was little fit to meet such a
storm as sweeps over those waters. All night it blew in short
fitful puffs, heeling the great cog over until the water curled
over her lee bulwarks. As the wind still freshened the yard was
lowered half way down the mast in the morning. Alleyne,
wretchedly ill and weak, with his head still ringing from the
blow which he had received, crawled up upon deck. Water-swept and
aslant, it was preferable to the noisome, rat-haunted dungeons
which served as cabins. There, clinging to the stout halliards
of the sheet, he gazed with amazement at the long lines of black
waves, each with its curling ridge of foam, racing in endless
succession from out the inexhaustible west. A huge sombre cloud,
flecked with livid blotches, stretched over the whole seaward
sky-line, with long ragged streamers whirled out in front of it.
Far behind them the two galleys labored heavily, now sinking
between the rollers until their yards were level with the waves,
and again shooting up with a reeling, scooping motion until every
spar and rope stood out hard against the sky. On the left the
low-lying land stretched in a dim haze, rising here and there
into a darker blur which marked the higher capes and headlands.
The land of France! Alleyne's eyes shone as he gazed upon it.
The land of France!--the very words sounded as the call of a
bugle in the ears of the youth of England. The land where their
fathers had bled, the home of chivalry and of knightly deeds, the
country of gallant men, of courtly women, of princely buildings,
of the wise, the polished and the sainted. There it lay, so
still and gray beneath the drifting wrack--the home of things
noble and of things shameful--the theatre where a new name might
be made or an old one marred. From his bosom to his lips came
the crumpled veil, and he breathed a vow that if valor and
goodwill could raise him to his lady's side, then death alone
should hold him back from her. His thoughts were still in the
woods of Minstead and the old armory of Twynham Castle, when the
hoarse voice of the master-shipman brought them back once more to
the Bay of Biscay.

"By my troth, young sir," he said, "you are as long in the face
as the devil at a christening, and I cannot marvel at it, for I
have sailed these waters since I was as high as this whinyard,
and yet I never saw more sure promise of an evil night."

"Nay, I had other things upon my mind," the squire answered.

"And so has every man," cried Hawtayne in an injured voice. "Let
the shipman see to it. It is the master-shipman's affair. Put
it all upon good Master Hawtayne! Never had I so much care since
first I blew trumpet and showed cartel at the west gate of
Southampton."

"What is amiss then?" asked Alleyne, for the man's words were as
gusty as the weather.

"Amiss, quotha? Here am I with but half my mariners, and a hole
in the ship where that twenty-devil stone struck us big enough to
fit the fat widow of Northam through. It is well enough on this
tack, but I would have you tell me what I am to do on the other.
We are like to have salt water upon us until we be found pickled
like the herrings in an Easterling's barrels."

"What says Sir Nigel to it?"

"He is below pricking out the coat-armor of his mother's uncle.
`Pester me not with such small matters!' was all that I could get
from him. Then there is Sir Oliver. `Fry them in oil with a
dressing of Gascony,' quoth he, and then swore at me because I
had not been the cook. `Walawa,' thought I, `mad master, sober
man'--so away forward to the archers. Harrow and alas! but they
were worse than the others."

"Would they not help you then?"

"Nay, they sat tway and tway at a board, him that they call
Aylward and the great red-headed man who snapped the Norman's
arm-bone, and the black man from Norwich, and a score of others,
rattling their dice in an archer's gauntlet for want of a box.
`The ship can scarce last much longer, my masters,' quoth I.
`That is your business, old swine's-head,' cried the black
galliard. `Le diable t'emporte,' says Aylward. `A five, a four
and the main,' shouted the big man, with a voice like the flap of
a sail. Hark to them now, young sir, and say if I speak not
sooth."

As he spoke, there sounded high above the shriek of the gale and
the straining of the timbers a gust of oaths with a roar of
deep-chested mirth from the gamblers in the forecastle.

"Can I be of avail?" asked Alleyne. "Say the word and the thing
is done, if two hands may do it."

"Nay, nay, your head I can see is still totty, and i' faith
little head would you have, had your bassinet not stood your
friend. All that may be done is already carried out, for we have
stuffed the gape with sails and corded it without and within.
Yet when we bale our bowline and veer the sheet our lives will
hang upon the breach remaining blocked. See how yonder headland
looms upon us through the mist! We must tack within three arrow
flights, or we may find a rock through our timbers. Now, St.
Christopher be praised! here is Sir Nigel, with whom I may
confer."

"I prythee that you will pardon me," said the knight, clutching
his way along the bulwark. "I would not show lack of courtesy
toward a worthy man, but I was deep in a matter of some weight,
concerning which, Alleyne, I should be glad of your rede. It
touches the question of dimidiation or impalement in the coat of
mine uncle, Sir John Leighton of Shropshire, who took unto wife
the widow of Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell. The case has been
much debated by pursuivants and kings-of-arms. But how is it
with you, master shipman?"

"Ill enough, my fair lord. The cog must go about anon, and I
know not how we may keep the water out of her."

"Go call Sir Oliver!" said Sir Nigel, and presently the portly
knight made his way all astraddle down the slippery deck.

"By my soul, master-shipman, this passes all patience!" he cried
wrathfully. "If this ship of yours must needs dance and skip
like a clown at a kermesse, then I pray you that you will put me
into one of these galeasses. I had but sat down to a flask of
malvoisie and a mortress of brawn, as is my use about this hour,
when there comes a cherking, and I find my wine over my legs and
the flask in my lap, and then as I stoop to clip it there comes
another cursed cherk, and there is a mortress of brawn stuck fast
to the nape of my neck. At this moment I have two pages coursing
after it from side to side, like hounds behind a leveret. Never
did living pig gambol more lightly. But you have sent for me,
Sir Nigel?"

"I would fain have your rede, Sir Oliver, for Master Hawtayne
hath fears that when we veer there may come danger from the hole
in our side."

"Then do not veer," quoth Sir Oliver hastily. "And now, fair
sir, I must hasten back to see how my rogues have fared with the
brawn."

"Nay, but this will scarce suffice," cried the shipman. "If we
do not veer we will be upon the rocks within the hour."

"Then veer," said Sir Oliver. "There is my rede; and now, Sir
Nigel, I must crave----"

At this instant, however, a startled shout rang out from two
seamen upon the forecastle. "Rocks!" they yelled, stabbing into
the air with their forefingers. "Rocks beneath our very bows!"
Through the belly of a great black wave, not one hundred paces to
the front of them, there thrust forth a huge jagged mass of brown
stone, which spouted spray as though it were some crouching
monster, while a dull menacing boom and roar filled the air.

"Yare! yare!" screamed Goodwin Hawtayne, flinging himself upon
the long pole which served as a tiller. "Cut the halliard! Haul
her over! Lay her two courses to the wind!"

Over swung the great boom, and the cog trembled and quivered
within five spear-lengths of the breakers.

"She can scarce draw clear," cried Hawtayne, with his eyes from
the sail to the seething line of foam. "May the holy Julian
stand by us and the thrice-sainted Christopher!"

"If there be such peril, Sir Oliver," quoth Sir Nigel, "it would
be very knightly and fitting that we should show our pennons. I
pray you. Edricson, that you will command my guidon-bearer to
put forward my banner."

"And sound the trumpets!" cried Sir Oliver. "In manus tuas,
Domine! I am in the keeping of James of Compostella, to whose
shrine I shall make pilgrimage, and in whose honor I vow that I
will eat a carp each year upon his feast-day. Mon Dieu, but the
waves roar! How is it with us now, master-shipman?"

"We draw! We draw!" cried Hawtayne, with his eyes still fixed
upon the foam which hissed under the very bulge of the side.
"Ah, Holy Mother, be with us now!"

As he spoke the cog rasped along the edge of the reef, and a long
white curling sheet of wood was planed off from her side from
waist to poop by a jutting horn of the rock. At the same instant
she lay suddenly over, the sail drew full, and she plunged
seawards amid the shoutings of the seamen and the archers.

"The Virgin be praised!" cried the shipman, wiping his brow.
"For this shall bell swing and candle burn when I see Southampton
Water once more. Cheerily, my hearts! Pull yarely on the
bowline!"

"By my soul! I would rather have a dry death," quoth Sir Oliver.
"Though, Mort Dieu! I have eaten so many fish that it were but
justice that the fish should eat me. Now I must back to the
cabin, for I have matters there which crave my attention."

"Nay, Sir Oliver, you had best bide with us, and still show your
ensign," Sir Nigel answered; "for, if I understand the matter
aright, we have but turned from one danger to the other."

"Good Master Hawtayne," cried the boatswain, rushing aft, "the
water comes in upon us apace. The waves have driven in the sail
wherewith we strove to stop the hole." As he spoke the seamen
came swarming on to the poop and the forecastle to avoid the
torrent which poured through the huge leak into the waist. High
above the roar of the wind and the clash of the sea rose the
shrill half-human cries of the horses, as they found the water
rising rapidly around them.

"Stop it from without!" cried Hawtayne, seizing the end of the
wet sail with which the gap had been plugged. "Speedily, my
hearts, or we are gone!" Swiftly they rove ropes to the corners,
and then, rushing forward to the bows, they lowered them under
the keel, and drew them tight in such a way that the sail should
cover the outer face of the gap. The force of the rush of water
was checked by this obstacle, but it still squirted plentifully
from every side of it. At the sides the horses were above the
belly, and in the centre a man from the poop could scarce touch
the deck with a seven-foot spear. The cog lay lower in the water
and the waves splashed freely over the weather bulwark.

"I fear that we can scarce bide upon this tack," cried Hawtayne;
"and yet the other will drive us on the rocks."

"Might we not haul down sail and wait for better times?"
suggested Sir Nigel.

"Nay, we should drift upon the rocks. Thirty years have I been
on the sea, and never yet in greater straits. Yet we are in the
hands of the Saints."

"Of whom," cried Sir Oliver, "I look more particularly to St.
James of Compostella, who hath already befriended us this day,
and on whose feast I hereby vow that I shall eat a second carp,
if he will but interpose a second time."

The wrack had thickened to seaward, and the coast was but a
blurred line. Two vague shadows in the offing showed where the
galeasses rolled and tossed upon the great Atlantic rollers,
Hawtayne looked wistfully in their direction.

"If they would but lie closer we might find safety, even should
the cog founder. You will bear me out with good Master Witherton
of Southampton that I have done all that a shipman might. It
would be well that you should doff camail and greaves, Sir Nigel,
for, by the black rood! it is like enough that we shall have to
swim for it."

"Nay," said the little knight, "it would be scarce fitting that a
cavalier should throw off his harness for the fear of every puff
of wind and puddle of water. I would rather that my Company
should gather round me here on the poop, where we might abide
together whatever God may be pleased to send. But, certes,
Master Hawtayne, for all that my sight is none of the best, it is
not the first time that I have seen that headland upon the left."

The seaman shaded his eyes with his hand, and gazed earnestly
through the haze and spray. Suddenly he threw up his arms and
shouted aloud in his joy.

"'Tis the point of La Tremblade!" he cried. "I had not thought
that we were as far as Oleron. The Gironde lies before us, and
once over the bar, and under shelter of the Tour de Cordouan, all
will be well with us. Veer again, my hearts, and bring her to
try with the main course!"

The sail swung round once more, and the cog, battered and torn
and well-nigh water-logged, staggered in for this haven of
refuge. A bluff cape to the north and a long spit to the south
marked the mouth of the noble river, with a low-lying island of
silted sand in the centre, all shrouded and curtained by the
spume of the breakers. A line of broken water traced the
dangerous bar, which in clear day and balmy weather has cracked
the back of many a tall ship.

"There is a channel," said Hawtayne, "which was shown to me by
the Prince's own pilot. Mark yonder tree upon the bank, and see
the tower which rises behind it. If these two be held in a line,
even as we hold them now, it may be done, though our ship draws
two good ells more than when she put forth."

"God speed you, Master Hawtayne!" cried Sir Oliver. "Twice have
we come scathless out of peril, and now for the third time I
commend me to the blessed James of Compostella, to whom I vow----"

"Nay, nay, old friend," whispered Sir Nigel. "You are like to
bring a judgment upon us with these vows, which no living man
could accomplish. Have I not already heard you vow to eat two
carp in one day, and now you would venture upon a third?"

"I pray you that you will order the Company to lie down," cried
Hawtayne, who had taken the tiller and was gazing ahead with a
fixed eye. "In three minutes we shall either be lost or in
safety."

Archers and seamen lay flat upon the deck, waiting in stolid
silence for whatever fate might come. Hawtayne bent his weight
upon the tiller, and crouched to see under the bellying sail.
Sir Oliver and Sir Nigel stood erect with hands crossed in front
of the poop. Down swooped the great cog into the narrow channel
which was the portal to safety. On either bow roared the shallow
bar. Right ahead one small lane of black swirling water marked
the pilot's course. But true was the eye and firm the hand which
guided. A dull scraping came from beneath, the vessel quivered
and shook, at the waist, at the quarter, and behind sounded that
grim roaring of the waters, and with a plunge the yellow cog was
over the bar and speeding swiftly up the broad and tranquil
estuary of the Gironde.



CHAPTER XVIII.

HOW SIR NIGEL LORING PUT A PATCH UPON HIS EYE.


It was on the morning of Friday, the eight-and-twentieth day of
November, two days before the feast of St. Andrew, that the cog
and her two prisoners, after a weary tacking up the Gironde and
the Garonne, dropped anchor at last in front of the noble city of
Bordeaux. With wonder and admiration, Alleyne, leaning over the
bulwarks, gazed at the forest of masts, the swarm of boats
darting hither and thither on the bosom of the broad curving
stream, and the gray crescent-shaped city which stretched with
many a tower and minaret along the western shore. Never had he
in his quiet life seen so great a town, nor was there in the
whole of England, save London alone, one which might match it in
size or in wealth. Here came the merchandise of all the fair
countries which are watered by the Garonne and the Dordogne--the
cloths of the south, the skins of Guienne, the wines of the
Medoc--to be borne away to Hull, Exeter, Dartmouth, Bristol or
Chester, in exchange for the wools and woolfels of England. Here
too dwelt those famous smelters and welders who had made the
Bordeaux steel the most trusty upon earth, and could give a
temper to lance or to sword which might mean dear life to its
owner. Alleyne could see the smoke of their forges reeking up
in the clear morning air. The storm had died down now to a
gentle breeze, which wafted to his ears the long-drawn stirring
bugle-calls which sounded from the ancient ramparts.

"Hola, mon petit!" said Aylward, coming up to where he stood.
"Thou art a squire now, and like enough to win the golden spurs,
while I am still the master-bowman, and master-bowman I shall
bide. I dare scarce wag my tongue so freely with you as when we
tramped together past Wilverley Chase, else I might be your guide
now, for indeed I know every house in Bordeaux as a friar knows
the beads on his rosary."

"Nay, Aylward," said Alleyne, laying his hand upon the sleeve of
his companion's frayed jerkin, "you cannot think me so thrall as
to throw aside an old friend because I have had some small share
of good fortune. I take it unkind that you should have thought
such evil of me."

"Nay, mon gar. 'Twas but a flight shot to see if the wind blew
steady, though I were a rogue to doubt it."

"Why, had I not met you, Aylward, at the Lynhurst inn, who can
say where I had now been! Certes, I had not gone to Twynham
Castle, nor become squire to Sir Nigel, nor met----" He paused
abruptly and flushed to his hair, but the bowman was too busy
with his own thoughts to notice his young companion's
embarrassment.

"It was a good hostel, that of the `Pied Merlin,'" he remarked.
"By my ten finger bones! when I hang bow on nail and change my
brigandine for a tunic, I might do worse than take over the dame
and her business."

"I thought," said Alleyne, "that you were betrothed to some one
at Christchurch."

"To three," Aylward answered moodily, "to three. I fear I may
not go back to Christchurch. I might chance to see hotter
service in Hampshire than I have ever done in Gascony. But mark
you now yonder lofty turret in the centre, which stands back from
the river and hath a broad banner upon the summit. See the
rising sun flashes full upon it and sparkles on the golden
lions. 'Tis the royal banner of England, crossed by the prince's
label. There he dwells in the Abbey of St. Andrew, where he hath
kept his court these years back. Beside it is the minster of the
same saint, who hath the town under his very special care."

"And how of yon gray turret on the left?"

"'Tis the fane of St. Michael, as that upon the right is of
St. Remi. There, too, above the poop of yonder nief, you see the
towers of Saint Croix and of Pey Berland. Mark also the mighty
ramparts which are pierced by the three water-gates, and sixteen
others to the landward side."

"And how is it, good Aylward, that there comes so much music from
the town? I seem to hear a hundred trumpets, all calling in
chorus."

"It would be strange else, seeing that all the great lords of
England and of Gascony are within the walls, and each would have
his trumpeter blow as loud as his neighbor, lest it might be
thought that his dignity had been abated. Ma foi! they make as
much louster as a Scotch army, where every man fills himself with
girdle-cakes, and sits up all night to blow upon the toodle-pipe.
See all along the banks how the pages water the horses, and there
beyond the town how they gallop them over the plain! For every
horse you see a belted knight hath herbergage in the town, for,
as I learn, the men-at-arms and archers have already gone forward
to Dax."

"I trust, Aylward," said Sir Nigel, coming upon deck, "that the
men are ready for the land. Go tell them that the boats will be
for them within the hour."

The archer raised his hand in salute, and hastened forward. In
the meantime Sir Oliver had followed his brother knight, and the
two paced the poop together, Sir Nigel in his plum-colored velvet
suit with flat cap of the same, adorned in front with the Lady
Loring's glove and girt round with a curling ostrich feather.
The lusty knight, on the other hand, was clad in the very latest
mode, with cote-hardie, doublet, pourpoint, court-pie, and paltock
of olive-green, picked out with pink and jagged at the edges. A
red chaperon or cap, with long hanging cornette, sat daintily on
the back of his black-curled head, while his gold-hued shoes were
twisted up _a la poulaine_, as though the toes were shooting forth
a tendril which might hope in time to entwine itself around his
massive leg.

"Once more, Sir Oliver," said Sir Nigel, looking shorewards with
sparkling eyes, "do we find ourselves at the gate of honor, the
door which hath so often led us to all that is knightly and
worthy. There flies the prince's banner, and it would be well
that we haste ashore and pay our obeisance to him. The boats
already swarm from the bank."

"There is a goodly hostel near the west gate, which is famed for
the stewing of spiced pullets," remarked Sir Oliver. "We might
take the edge of our hunger off ere we seek the prince, for
though his tables are gay with damask and silver he is no
trencherman himself, and hath no sympathy for those who are his
betters."

"His betters!"

"His betters before the tranchoir, lad. Sniff not treason where
none is meant. I have seen him smile in his quiet way because I
had looked for the fourth time towards the carving squire. And
indeed to watch him dallying with a little gobbet of bread, or
sipping his cup of thrice-watered wine, is enough to make a man
feel shame at his own hunger. Yet war and glory, my good friend,
though well enough in their way, will not serve to tighten such a
belt as clasps my waist."

"How read you that coat which hangs over yonder galley, Alleyne?"
asked Sir Nigel.

"Argent, a bend vert between cotises dancette gules."

"It is a northern coat. I have seen it in the train of the
Percies. From the shields, there is not one of these vessels
which hath not knight or baron aboard. I would mine eyes were
better. How read you this upon the left?"

"Argent and azure, a barry wavy of six."

"Ha, it is the sign of the Wiltshire Stourtons! And there beyond
I see the red and silver of the Worsleys of Apuldercombe, who
like myself are of Hampshire lineage. Close behind us is the
moline cross of the gallant William Molyneux, and beside it the
bloody chevrons of the Norfork Woodhouses, with the amulets of
the Musgraves of Westmoreland. By St. Paul! it would be a very
strange thing if so noble a company were to gather without some
notable deed of arms arising from it. And here is our boat, Sir
Oliver, so it seems best to me that we should go to the abbey
with our squires, leaving Master Hawtayne to have his own way in
the unloading."

The horses both of knights and squires were speedily lowered into
a broad lighter, and reached the shore almost as soon as their
masters. Sir Nigel bent his knee devoutly as he put foot on
land, and taking a small black patch from his bosom he bound it
tightly over his left eye.

"May the blessed George and the memory of my sweet lady-love
raise high my heart!" quoth he. "And as a token I vow that I
will not take this patch from my eye until I have seen something
of this country of Spain, and done such a small deed as it lies
in me to do. And this I swear upon the cross of my sword and
upon the glove of my lady."

"In truth, you take me back twenty years, Nigel," quoth Sir
Oliver, as they mounted and rode slowly through the water-gate.
"After Cadsand, I deem that the French thought that we were an
army of the blind, for there was scarce a man who had not closed
an eye for the greater love and honor of his lady. Yet it goes
hard with you that you should darken one side, when with both
open you can scarce tell a horse from a mule. In truth, friend,
I think that you step over the line of reason in this matter."

"Sir Oliver Buttesthorn," said the little knight shortly, "I
would have you to understand that, blind as I am, I can yet see
the path of honor very clearly, and that that is the road upon
which I do not crave another man's guidance."

"By my soul," said Sir Oliver, "you are as tart as verjuice this
morning! If you are bent upon a quarrel with me I must leave you
to your humor and drop into the `Tete d'Or' here, for I marked a
varlet pass the door who bare a smoking dish, which had,
methought, a most excellent smell."

"Nenny, nenny," cried his comrade, laying his hand upon his knee;
"we have known each other over long to fall out, Oliver, like two
raw pages at their first epreuves. You must come with me first
to the prince, and then back to the hostel; though sure I am that
it would grieve his heart that any gentle cavalier should turn
from his board to a common tavern. But is not that my Lord
Delewar who waves to us? Ha! my fair lord, God and Our Lady be
with you! And there is Sir Robert Cheney. Good-morrow, Robert!
I am right glad to see you."

The two knights walked their horses abreast, while Alleyne and
Ford, with John Norbury, who was squire to Sir Oliver, kept
some paces behind them, a spear's-length in front of Black Simon
and of the Winchester guidon-bearer. Norbury, a lean, silent
man, had been to those parts before, and sat his horse with a
rigid neck; but the two young squires gazed eagerly to right or
left, and plucked each other's sleeves to call attention to the
many strange things on every side of them.

"See to the brave stalls!" cried Alleyne. "See to the noble
armor set forth, and the costly taffeta--and oh, Ford, see to
where the scrivener sits with the pigments and the ink-horns, and
the rolls of sheepskin as white as the Beaulieu napery! Saw man
ever the like before?"

"Nay, man, there are finer stalls in Cheapside," answered Ford,
whose father had taken him to London on occasion of one of the
Smithfield joustings. "I have seen a silversmith's booth there


 


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