The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 6 out of 9

experience and wisdom of war.

"By my faith! Sir John," said the prince as he rode through the
winding streets on his way to the list, "I should have been glad
to have splintered a lance to-day. You have seen me hold a spear
since I had strength to lift one, and should know best whether I
do not merit a place among this honorable company."

"There is no better seat and no truer lance, sire," said Chandos;
"but, if I may say so without fear of offence, it were not
fitting that you should join in this debate."

"And why, Sir John?"

"Because, sire, it is not for you to take part with Gascons
against English, or with English against Gascons, seeing that you
are lord of both. We are not too well loved by the Gascons now,
and it is but the golden link of your princely coronet which
holds us together. If that be snapped I know not what would

"Snapped, Sir John!" cried the prince, with an angry sparkle in
his dark eyes. "What manner of talk is this? You speak as
though the allegiance of our people were a thing which might be
thrown off or on like a falcon's jessel."

"With a sorry hack one uses whip and spur, sire," said Chandos;
"but with a horse of blood and spirit a good cavalier is gentle
and soothing, coaxing rather than forcing. These folk are
strange people, and you must hold their love, even as you have it
now, for you will get from their kindness what all the pennons in
your army could not wring from them."

"You are over-grave to-day, John," the prince answered. "We may
keep such questions for our council-chamber. But how now, my
brothers of Spain, and of Majorca, what think you of this

"I look to see some handsome joisting," said Don Pedro, who rode
with the King of Majorca upon the right of the prince, while
Chandos was on the left. "By St. James of Compostella! but these
burghers would bear some taxing. See to the broadcloth and
velvet that the rogues bear upon their backs! By my troth! if
they were my subjects they would be glad enough to wear falding
and leather ere I had done with them. But mayhap it is best to
let the wool grow long ere you clip it."

"It is our pride," the prince answered coldly, "that we rule over
freemen and not slaves."

"Every man to his own humor," said Pedro carelessly. "Carajo!
there is a sweet face at yonder window! Don Fernando, I pray you
to mark the house, and to have the maid brought to us at the

"Nay, brother, nay!" cried the prince impatiently. "I have had
occasion to tell you more than once that things are not ordered
in this way in Aquitaine."

"A thousand pardons, dear friend," the Spaniard answered quickly,
for a flush of anger had sprung to the dark cheek of the English
prince. "You make my exile so like a home that I forget at times
that I am not in very truth back in Castile. Every land hath
indeed its ways and manners; but I promise you, Edward, that when
you are my guest in Toledo or Madrid you shall not yearn in vain
for any commoner's daughter on whom you may deign to cast your

"Your talk, sire," said the prince still more coldly, "is not
such as I love to hear from your lips. I have no taste for such
amours as you speak of, and I have sworn that my name shall be
coupled with that of no woman save my ever dear wife."

"Ever the mirror of true chivalry!" exclaimed Pedro, while James
of Majorca, frightened at the stern countenance of their all-powerful
protector, plucked hard at the mantle of his brother

"Have a care, cousin," he whispered; "for the sake of the Virgin
have a care, for you have angered him."

"Pshaw! fear not," the other answered in the same low tone. "If
I miss one stoop I will strike him on the next. Mark me else.
Fair cousin," he continued, turning to the prince, "these be rare
men-at-arms and lusty bowmen. It would be hard indeed to match

"They have Journeyed far, sire, but they have never yet found
their match."

"Nor ever will, I doubt not. I feel myself to be back upon my
throne when I look at them. But tell me, dear coz, what shall we
do next, when we have driven this bastard Henry from the kingdom
which he hath filched?"

"We shall then compel the King of Aragon to place our good friend
and brother James of Majorca upon the throne."

"Noble and generous prince!" cried the little monarch.

"That done," said King Pedro, glancing out of the corners of his
eyes at the young conqueror, "we shall unite the forces of
England, of Aquitaine, of Spain and of Majorca. It would be
shame to us if we did not do some great deed with such forces
ready to our hand."

"You say truly, brother," cried the prince, his eyes kindling at
the thought. "Methinks that we could not do anything more
pleasing to Our Lady than to drive the heathen Moors out of the

"I am with you, Edward, as true as hilt to blade. But, by St.
James! we shall not let these Moors make mock at us from over the
sea. We must take ship and thrust them from Africa."

"By heaven, yes!" cried the prince. "And it is the dream of my
heart that our English pennons shall wave upon the Mount of
Olives, and the lions and lilies float over the holy city."

"And why not, dear coz? Your bowmen have cleared a path to
Paris, and why not to Jerusalem? Once there, your arms might

"Nay, there is more to be done," cried the prince, carried away
by the ambitious dream. "There is still the city of Constantine
to be taken, and war to be waged against the Soldan of Damascus.
And beyond him again there is tribute to be levied from the Cham
of Tartary and from the kingdom of Cathay. Ha! John, what say
you? Can we not go as far eastward as Richard of the Lion

"Old John will bide at home, sire," said the rugged soldier. "By
my soul! as long as I am seneschal of Aquitaine I will find
enough to do in guarding the marches which you have entrusted to
me. It would be a blithe day for the King of France when he
heard that the seas lay between him and us."

"By my soul! John," said the prince, "I have never known you turn
laggard before."

"The babbling hound, sire, is not always the first at the mort,"
the old knight answered.

"Nay, my true-heart! I have tried you too often not to know.
But, by my soul! I have not seen so dense a throng since the day
that we brought King John down Cheapside."

It was indeed an enormous crowd which covered the whole vast
plain from the line of vineyards to the river bank. From the
northern gate the prince and his companions looked down at a dark
sea of heads, brightened here and there by the colored hoods of
the women, or by the sparkling head-pieces of archers and
men-at-arms. In the centre of this vast assemblage the lists
seemed but a narrow strip of green marked out with banners and
streamers, while a gleam of white with a flutter of pennons at
either end showed where the marquees were pitched which served as
the dressing-rooms of the combatants. A path had been staked off
from the city gate to the stands which had been erected for the
court and the nobility. Down this, amid the shouts of the
enormous multitude, the prince cantered with his two attendant
kings, his high officers of state, and his long train of lords
and ladies, courtiers, counsellors, and soldiers, with toss of
plume and flash of jewel, sheen of silk and glint of gold--as
rich and gallant a show as heart could wish. The head of the
cavalcade had reached the lists ere the rear had come clear of
the city gate, for the fairest and the bravest had assembled from
all the broad lands which are watered by the Dordogne and the
Garonne. Here rode dark-browed cavaliers from the sunny south,
fiery soldiers from Gascony, graceful courtiers of Limousin or
Saintonge, and gallant young Englishmen from beyond the seas.
Here too were the beautiful brunettes of the Gironde, with eyes
which out-flashed their jewels, while beside them rode their
blonde sisters of England, clear cut and aquiline, swathed in
swans'-down and in ermine, for the air was biting though the sun
was bright. Slowly the long and glittering train wound into the
lists, until every horse had been tethered by the varlets in
waiting, and every lord and lady seated in the long stands which
stretched, rich in tapestry and velvet and blazoned arms, on
either side of the centre of the arena.

The holders of the lists occupied the end which was nearest to
the city gate. There, in front of their respective pavilions,
flew the martlets of Audley, the roses of Loring, the scarlet
bars of Wake, the lion of the Percies and the silver wings of
the Beauchamps, each supported by a squire clad in hanging green
stuff to represent so many Tritons, and bearing a huge
conch-shell in their left hands. Behind the tents the great
war-horses, armed at all points, champed and reared, while their
masters sat at the doors of their pavilions, with their helmets
upon their knees, chatting as to the order of the day's doings.
The English archers and men-at-arms had mustered at that end of
the lists, but the vast majority of the spectators were in favor
of the attacking party, for the English had declined in
popularity ever since the bitter dispute as to the disposal of
the royal captive after the battle of Poictiers. Hence the
applause was by no means general when the herald-at-arms
proclaimed, after a flourish of trumpets, the names and styles of
the knights who were prepared, for the honor of their country and
for the love of their ladies, to hold the field against all who
might do them the favor to run a course with them. On the other
hand, a deafening burst of cheering greeted the rival herald,
who, advancing from the other end of the lists, rolled forth the
well-known titles of the five famous warriors who had accepted
the defiance.

"Faith, John," said the prince, "it sounds as though you were
right. Ha! my grace D'Armagnac, it seems that our friends on
this side will not grieve if our English champions lose the day."

"It may be so, sire," the Gascon nobleman answered. "I have
little doubt that in Smithfield or at Windsor an English crowd
would favor their own countrymen."

"By my faith! that's easily seen," said the prince, laughing,
"for a few score English archers at yonder end are bellowing as
though they would out-shout the mighty multitude. I fear that
they will have little to shout over this tourney, for my gold
vase has small prospect of crossing the water. What are the
conditions, John?"

"They are to tilt singly not less than three courses, sire, and
the victory to rest with that party which shall have won the
greater number of courses, each pair continuing till one or other
have the vantage. He who carries himself best of the victors
hath the prize, and he who is judged best of the other party hath
a jewelled clasp. Shall I order that the nakirs sound, sire?"

The prince nodded, and the trumpets rang out, while the champions
rode forth one after the other, each meeting his opponent in the
centre of the lists. Sir William Beauchamp went down before the
practiced lance of the Captal de Buch. Sir Thomas Percy won the
vantage over the Lord of Mucident, and the Lord Audley struck Sir
Perducas d'Albret from the saddle. The burly De Clisson,
however, restored the hopes of the attackers by beating to the
ground Sir Thomas Wake of Yorkshire. So far, there was little to
choose betwixt challengers and challenged.

"By Saint James of Santiago!" cried Don Pedro, with a tinge of
color upon his pale cheeks, "win who will, this has been a most
notable contest."

"Who comes next for England, John?" asked the prince in a voice
which quivered with excitement.

"Sir Nigel Loring of Hampshire, sire."

"Ha! he is a man of good courage, and skilled in the use of all

"He is indeed, sire. But his eyes, like my own, are the worse
for wars. Yet he can tilt or play his part at hand-strokes as
merrily as ever. It was he, sire, who won the golden crown which
Queen Philippa, your royal mother, gave to be jousted for by all
the knights of England after the harrying of Calais. I have
heard that at Twynham Castle there is a buffet which groans
beneath the weight of his prizes."

"I pray that my vase may join them," said the prince. "But here
is the cavalier of Germany, and by my soul! he looks like a man
of great valor and hardiness. Let them run their full three
courses, for the issue is over-great to hang upon one."

As the prince spoke, amid a loud flourish of trumpets and the
shouting of the Gascon party, the last of the assailants rode
gallantly into the lists. He was a man of great size, clad in
black armor without blazonry or ornament of any kind, for all
worldly display was forbidden by the rules of the military
brotherhood to which he belonged. No plume or nobloy fluttered
from his plain tilting salade, and even his lance was devoid of
the customary banderole. A white mantle fluttered behind him,
upon the left side of which was marked the broad black cross
picked out with silver which was the well-known badge of the
Teutonic Order. Mounted upon a horse as large, as black, and as
forbidding as himself, he cantered slowly forward, with none of
those prancings and gambades with which a cavalier was accustomed
to show his command over his charger. Gravely and sternly he
inclined his head to the prince, and took his place at the
further end of the arena.

He had scarce done so before Sir Nigel rode out from the holders'
enclosure, and galloping at full speed down the lists, drew his
charger up before the prince's stand with a jerk which threw it
back upon its haunches. With white armor, blazoned shield, and
plume of ostrich-feathers from his helmet, he carried himself in
so jaunty and joyous a fashion, with tossing pennon and curveting
charger, that a shout of applause ran the full circle of the arena.
With the air of a man who hastes to a joyous festival, he waved
his lance in salute, and reining the pawing horse round without
permitting its fore-feet to touch the ground, he hastened back to
his station.

A great hush fell over the huge multitude as the two last
champions faced each other. A double issue seemed to rest upon
their contest, for their personal fame was at stake as well as
their party's honor. Both were famous warriors, but as their
exploits had been performed in widely sundered countries, they
had never before been able to cross lances. A course between
such men would have been enough in itself to cause the keenest
interest, apart from its being the crisis which would decide who
should be the victors of the day. For a moment they waited--the
German sombre and collected, Sir Nigel quivering in every fibre
with eagerness and fiery resolution. Then, amid a long-drawn
breath from the spectators, the glove fell from the marshal's
hand, and the two steel-clad horsemen met like a thunderclap in
front of the royal stand. The German, though he reeled for an
instant before the thrust of the Englishman, struck his opponent
so fairly upon the vizor that the laces burst, the plumed helmet
flew to pieces, and Sir Nigel galloped on down the lists with his
bald head shimmering in the sunshine. A thousand waving scarves
and tossing caps announced that the first bout had fallen to the
popular party.

The Hampshire knight was not a man to be disheartened by a
reverse. He spurred back to the pavilion, and was out in a few
instants with another helmet. The second course was so equal
that the keenest judges could not discern any vantage. Each
struck fire from the other's shield, and each endured the jarring
shock as though welded to the horse beneath him. In the final
bout, however, Sir Nigel struck his opponent with so true an aim
that the point of the lance caught between the bars of his vizor
and tore the front of his helmet out, while the German, aiming
somewhat low, and half stunned by the shock, had the misfortune
to strike his adversary upon the thigh, a breach of the rules of
the tilting-yard, by which he not only sacrificed his chances of
success, but would also have forfeited his horse and his armor,
had the English knight chosen to claim them. A roar of applause
from the English soldiers, with an ominous silence from the vast
crowd who pressed round the barriers, announced that the balance
of victory lay with the holders. Already the ten champions had
assembled in front of the prince to receive his award, when a
harsh bugle call from the further end of the lists drew all eyes
to a new and unexpected arrival.



The Bordeaux lists were, as has already been explained, situated
upon the plain near the river upon those great occasions when the
tilting-ground in front of the Abbey of St. Andrew's was deemed
to be too small to contain the crowd. On the eastern side of
this plain the country-side sloped upwards, thick with vines in
summer, but now ridged with the brown bare enclosures. Over the
gently rising plain curved the white road which leads inland,
usually flecked with travellers, but now with scarce a living
form upon it, so completely had the lists drained all the
district of its inhabitants. Strange it was to see such a vast
concourse of people, and then to look upon that broad, white,
empty highway which wound away, bleak and deserted, until it
narrowed itself to a bare streak against the distant uplands.

Shortly after the contest had begun, any one looking from the
lists along this road might have remarked, far away in the
extreme distance, two brilliant and sparkling points which
glittered and twinkled in the bright shimmer of the winter sun.
Within an hour these had become clearer and nearer, until they
might be seen to come from the reflection from the head-pieces of
two horsemen who were riding at the top of their speed in the
direction of Bordeaux. Another half-hour had brought them so
close that every point of their bearing and equipment could be
discerned. The first was a knight in full armor, mounted upon a
brown horse with a white blaze upon breast and forehead. He was
a short man of great breadth of shoulder, with vizor closed, and
no blazonry upon his simple white surcoat or plain black shield.
The other, who was evidently his squire and attendant, was
unarmed save for the helmet upon his head, but bore in his right
hand a very long and heavy oaken spear which belonged to his
master. In his left hand the squire held not only the reins of
his own horse but those of a great black war-horse, fully
harnessed, which trotted along at his side. Thus the three
horses and their two riders rode swiftly to the lists, and it was
the blare of the trumpet sounded by the squire as his lord rode
into the arena which had broken in upon the prize-giving and
drawn away the attention and interest of the spectators.

"Ha, John!" cried the prince, craning his neck, "who is this
cavalier, and what is it that he desires?"

"On my word, sire," replied Chandos, with the utmost surprise
upon his face, "it is my opinion that he is a Frenchman."

"A Frenchman!" repeated Don Pedro. "And how can you tell that,
my Lord Chandos, when he has neither coat-armor, crest, or

"By his armor, sire, which is rounder at elbow and at shoulder
than any of Bordeaux or of England. Italian he might be were his
bassinet more sloped, but I will swear that those plates were
welded betwixt this and Rhine. Here comes his squire, however,
and we shall hear what strange fortune hath brought him over the

As he spoke the attendant cantered up the grassy enclosure, and
pulling up his steed in front of the royal stand, blew a second
fanfare upon his bugle. He was a raw-boned, swarthy-cheeked man,
with black bristling beard and a swaggering bearing.

Having sounded his call, he thrust the bugle into his belt, and,
pushing his way betwixt the groups of English and of Gascon
knights, he reined up within a spear's length of the royal party.

"I come," he shouted in a hoarse, thick voice, with a strong
Breton accent, "as squire and herald from my master, who is a
very valiant pursuivant-of-arms, and a liegeman to the great and
powerful monarch, Charles, king of the French. My master has
heard that there is jousting here, and prospect of honorable
advancement, so he has come to ask that some English cavalier
will vouchsafe for the love of his lady to run a course with
sharpened lances with him, or to meet him with sword, mace,
battle-axe, or dagger. He bade me say, however, that he would
fight only with a true Englishman, and not with any mongrel who
is neither English nor French, but speaks with the tongue of the
one, and fights under the banner of the other."

"Sir!" cried De Clisson, with a voice of thunder, while his
countrymen clapped their hands to their swords. The squire,
however, took no notice of their angry faces, but continued with
his master's message.

"He is now ready, sire," he said, "albeit his destrier has
travelled many miles this day, and fast, for we were in fear lest
we come too late for the jousting."

"Ye have indeed come too late," said the prince, "seeing that the
prize is about to be awarded; yet I doubt not that one of these
gentlemen will run a course for the sake of honor with this
cavalier of France."

"And as to the prize, sire," quoth Sir Nigel, "I am sure that I
speak for all when I say this French knight hath our leave to
bear it away with him if he can fairly win it."

"Bear word of this to your master," said the prince, "and ask him
which of these five Englishmen he would desire to meet. But
stay; your master bears no coat-armor, and we have not yet heard
his name."

"My master, sire, is under vow to the Virgin neither to reveal
his name nor to open his vizor until he is back upon French
ground once more."

"Yet what assurance have we," said the prince, "that this is not
some varlet masquerading in his master's harness, or some caitiff
knight, the very touch of whose lance might bring infamy upon an
honorable gentleman?"

"It is not so, sire," cried the squire earnestly. "There is no
man upon earth who would demean himself by breaking a lance with
my master."

"You speak out boldly, squire," the prince answered; "but unless
I have some further assurance of your master's noble birth and
gentle name I cannot match the choicest lances of my court
against him."

"You refuse, sire?"

"I do refuse."

"Then, sire, I was bidden to ask you from my master whether you
would consent if Sir John Chandos, upon hearing my master's name,
should assure you that he was indeed a man with whom you might
yourself cross swords without indignity."

"I ask no better," said the prince.

"Then I must ask, Lord Chandos, that you will step forth. I have
your pledge that the name shall remain ever a secret, and that
you will neither say nor write one word which might betray it.
The name is----" He stooped down from his horse and whispered
something into the old knight's ear which made him start with
surprise, and stare with much curiosity at the distant Knight,
who was sitting his charger at the further end of the arena.

"Is this indeed sooth?" he exclaimed.

"It is, my lord, and I swear it by St. Ives of Brittany."

"I might have known it," said Chandos, twisting his moustache,
and still looking thoughtfully at the cavalier.

"What then, Sir John?" asked the prince.

"Sire, this is a knight whom it is indeed great honor to meet,
and I would that your grace would grant me leave to send my
squire for my harness, for I would dearly love to run a course
with him.

"Nay, nay, Sir John, you have gained as much honor as one man can
bear, and it were hard if you could not rest now. But I pray
you, squire, to tell your master that he is very welcome to our
court, and that wines and spices will be served him, if he would
refresh himself before jousting."

"My master will not drink," said the squire.

"Let him then name the gentleman with whom he would break a

"He would contend with these five knights, each to choose such
weapons as suit him best."

"I perceive," said the prince, "that your master is a man of
great heart and high of enterprise. But the sun already is low
in the west, and there will scarce be light for these courses. I
pray you, gentlemen, to take your places, that we may see whether
this stranger's deeds are as bold as his words."

The unknown knight had sat like a statue of steel, looking
neither to the right nor to the left during these preliminaries.
He had changed from the horse upon which he had ridden, and
bestrode the black charger which his squire had led beside him.
His immense breadth, his stern composed appearance, and the mode
in which he handled his shield and his lance, were enough in
themselves to convince the thousands of critical spectators that
he was a dangerous opponent. Aylward, who stood in the front row
of the archers with Simon, big John, and others of the Company,
had been criticising the proceedings from the commencement with
the ease and freedom of a man who had spent his life under arms
and had learned in a hard school to know at a glance the points
of a horse and his rider. He stared now at the stranger with a
wrinkled brow and the air of a man who is striving to stir his

"By my hilt! I have seen the thick body of him before to-day.
Yet I cannot call to mind where it could have been. At Nogent
belike, or was it at Auray? Mark me, lads, this man will prove to
be one of the best lances of France, and there are no better in
the world."

"It is but child's play, this poking game," said John. "I would
fain try my hand at it, for, by the black rood! I think that it
might be amended."

"What then would you do, John?" asked several.

"There are many things which might be done," said the forester
thoughtfully. "Methinks that I would begin by breaking my

"So they all strive to do."

"Nay, but not upon another man's shield. I would break it over
my own knee."

"And what the better for that, old beef and bones?" asked Black

"So I would turn what is but a lady's bodkin of a weapon into a
very handsome club."

"And then, John?"

"Then I would take the other's spear into my arm or my leg, or
where it pleased him best to put it, and I would dash out his
brains with my club."

"By my ten finger-bones! old John," said Aylward, "I would give
my feather-bed to see you at a spear-running. This is a most
courtly and gentle sport which you have devised."

"So it seems to me," said John seriously. "Or, again, one might
seize the other round the middle, pluck him off his horse and
bear him to the pavilion, there to hold him to ransom."

"Good!" cried Simon, amid a roar of laughter from all the archers
round. "By Thomas of Kent I we shall make a camp-marshal of
thee, and thou shalt draw up rules for our jousting. But, John,
who is it that you would uphold in this knightly and pleasing

"What mean you?"

"Why, John, so strong and strange a tilter must fight for the
brightness of his lady's eyes or the curve of her eyelash, even
as Sir Nigel does for the Lady Loring."

"I know not about that," said the big archer, scratching his head
in perplexity. "Since Mary hath played me false, I can scarce
fight for her."

"Yet any woman will serve."

"There is my mother then," said John. "She was at much pains at
my upbringing, and, by my soul! I will uphold the curve of her
eyelashes, for it tickleth my very heart-root to think of her.
But who is here?"

"It is Sir William Beauchamp. He is a valiant man, but I fear
that he is scarce firm enough upon the saddle to bear the thrust
of such a tilter as this stranger promises to be."

Aylward's words were speedily justified, for even as he spoke the
two knights met in the centre of the lists. Beauchamp struck his
opponent a shrewd blow upon the helmet, but was met with so
frightful a thrust that he whirled out of his saddle and rolled
over and over upon the ground. Sir Thomas Percy met with little
better success, for his shield was split, his vambrace torn and
he himself wounded slightly in the side. Lord Audley and the
unknown knight struck each other fairly upon the helmet; but,
while the stranger sat as firm and rigid as ever upon his
charger, the Englishman was bent back to his horse's cropper by
the weight of the blow, and had galloped half-way down the lists
ere he could recover himself. Sir Thomas Wake was beaten to the
ground with a battle-axe--that being the weapon which he had
selected--and had to be carried to his pavilion. These rapid
successes, gained one after the other over four celebrated
warriors, worked the crowd up to a pitch of wonder and
admiration. Thunders of applause from the English soldiers, as
well as from the citizens and peasants, showed how far the love
of brave and knightly deeds could rise above the rivalries of

"By my soul! John," cried the prince, with his cheek flushed and
his eyes shining, "this is a man of good courage and great
hardiness. I could not have thought that there was any single
arm upon earth which could have overthrown these four champions."

"He is indeed, as I have said, sire, a knight from whom much
honor is to be gained. But the lower edge of the sun is wet, and
it will be beneath the sea ere long."

"Here is Sir Nigel Loring, on foot and with his sword," said the
prince. "I have heard that he is a fine swordsman."

"The finest in your army, sire," Chandos answered. "Yet I doubt
not that he will need all his skill this day."

As he spoke, the two combatants advanced from either end in full
armor with their two-handed swords sloping over their shoulders.
The stranger walked heavily and with a measured stride, while the
English knight advanced as briskly as though there was no iron
shell to weigh down the freedom of his limbs. At four paces
distance they stopped, eyed each other for a moment, and then in
an instant fell to work with a clatter and clang as though two
sturdy smiths were busy upon their anvils. Up and down went the
long, shining blades, round and round they circled in curves of
glimmering light, crossing, meeting, disengaging, with flash of
sparks at every parry. Here and there bounded Sir Nigel, his
head erect, his jaunty plume fluttering in the air, while his
dark opponent sent in crashing blow upon blow, following
fiercely up with cut and with thrust, but never once getting past
the practised blade of the skilled swordsman. The crowd roared
with delight as Sir Nigel would stoop his head to avoid a blow,
or by some slight movement of his body allow some terrible thrust
to glance harmlessly past him. Suddenly, however, his time came.
The Frenchman, whirling up his sword, showed for an instant a
chink betwixt his shoulder piece and the rerebrace which guarded
his upper arm. In dashed Sir Nigel, and out again so swiftly
that the eye could not follow the quick play of his blade, but a
trickle of blood from the stranger's shoulder, and a rapidly
widening red smudge upon his white surcoat, showed where the
thrust had taken effect. The wound was, however, but a slight
one, and the Frenchman was about to renew his onset, when, at a
sign from the prince, Chandos threw down his baton, and the
marshals of the lists struck up the weapons and brought the
contest to an end.

"It were time to check it," said the prince, smiling, "for Sir
Nigel is too good a man for me to lose, and, by the five holy
wounds! if one of those cuts came home I should have fears for
our champion. What think you, Pedro?"

"I think, Edward, that the little man was very well able to take
care of himself. For my part, I should wish to see so well
matched a pair fight on while a drop of blood remained in their

"We must have speech with him. Such a man must not go from my
court without rest or sup. Bring him hither, Chandos, and,
certes, if the Lord Loring hath resigned his claim upon this
goblet, it is right and proper that this cavalier should carry it
to France with him as a sign of the prowess that he has shown
this day."

As he spoke, the knight-errant, who had remounted his warhorse,
galloped forward to the royal stand, with a silken kerchief bound
round his wounded arm. The setting sun cast a ruddy glare upon
his burnished arms, and sent his long black shadow streaming
behind him up the level clearing. Pulling up his steed, he
slightly inclined his head, and sat in the stern and composed
fashion with which he had borne himself throughout, heedless of
the applauding shouts and the flutter of kerchiefs from the long
lines of brave men and of fair women who were looking down upon

"Sir knight," said the prince, "we have all marvelled this day at
this great skill and valor with which God has been pleased to
endow you. I would fain that you should tarry at our court, for
a time at least, until your hurt is healed and your horses

"My hurt is nothing, sire, nor are my horses weary," returned the
stranger in a deep, stern voice.

"Will you not at least hie back to Bordeaux with us, that you may
drain a cup of muscadine and sup at our table?"

"I will neither drink your wine nor sit at your table," returned
the other. "I bear no love for you or for your race, and there
is nought that I wish at your hands until the day when I see the
last sail which bears you back to your island vanishing away
against the western sky."

"These are bitter words, sir knight," said Prince Edward, with an
angry frown.

"And they come from a bitter heart," answered the unknown knight.
"How long is it since there has been peace in my hapless country?
Where are the steadings, and orchards, and vineyards, which made
France fair? Where are the cities which made her great? From
Providence to Burgundy we are beset by every prowling hireling in
Christendom, who rend and tear the country which you have left
too weak to guard her own marches. Is it not a by-word that a
man may ride all day in that unhappy land without seeing thatch
upon roof or hearing the crow of cock? Does not one fair kingdom
content you, that you should strive so for this other one which
has no love for you? Pardieu! a true Frenchman's words may well
be bitter, for bitter is his lot and bitter his thoughts as he
rides through his thrice unhappy country."

"Sir knight," said the prince, "you speak like a brave man, and
our cousin of France is happy in having a cavalier who is so fit
to uphold his cause either with tongue or with sword. But if you
think such evil of us, how comes it that you have trusted
yourselves to us without warranty or safe-conduct?"

"Because I knew that you would be here, sire. Had the man who
sits upon your right been ruler of this land, I had indeed
thought twice before I looked to him for aught that was knightly
or generous." With a soldierly salute, he wheeled round his
horse, and, galloping down the lists, disappeared amid the dense
crowd of footmen and of horsemen who were streaming away from the
scene of the tournament.

"The insolent villain!" cried Pedro, glaring furiously after him.
"I have seen a man's tongue torn from his jaws for less. Would
it not be well even now, Edward, to send horsemen to hale him
back? Bethink you that it may be one of the royal house of
France, or at least some knight whose loss would be a heavy blow
to his master. Sir William Felton, you are well mounted, gallop
after the caitiff, I pray you."

"Do so, Sir William," said the prince, "and give him this purse
of a hundred nobles as a sign of the respect which I bear for
him; for, by St. George! he has served his master this day even
as I would wish liegeman of mine to serve me." So saying, the
prince turned his back upon the King of Spain, and springing upon
his horse, rode slowly homewards to the Abbey of Saint Andrew's.



On the morning after the jousting, when Alleyne Edricson went, as
was his custom, into his master's chamber to wait upon him in his
dressing and to curl his hair, he found him already up and very
busily at work. He sat at a table by the window, a deer-hound on
one side of him and a lurcher on the other, his feet tucked away
under the trestle on which he sat, and his tongue in his cheek,
with the air of a man who is much perplexed. A sheet of vellum
lay upon the board in front of him, and he held a pen in his
hand, with which he had been scribbling in a rude schoolboy hand.
So many were the blots, however, and so numerous the scratches
and erasures, that he had at last given it up in despair, and
sat with his single uncovered eye cocked upwards at the ceiling,
as one who waits upon inspiration.

"By Saint Paul!" he cried, as Alleyne entered, "you are the man
who will stand by me in this matter. I have been in sore need of
you, Alleyne."

"God be with you, my fair lord!" the squire answered. "I trust
that you have taken no hurt from all that you have gone through

"Nay; I feel the fresher for it, Alleyne. It has eased my
joints, which were somewhat stiff from these years of peace. I
trust, Alleyne, that thou didst very carefully note and mark the
bearing and carriage of this knight of France; for it is time,
now when you are young, that you should see all that is best, and
mould your own actions in accordance. This was a man from whom
much honor might be gained, and I have seldom met any one for
whom I have conceived so much love and esteem. Could I but learn
his name, I should send you to him with my cartel, that we might
have further occasion to watch his goodly feats of arms."

"It is said, my fair lord, that none know his name save only the
Lord Chandos, and that he is under vow not to speak it. So ran
the gossip at the squires' table."

"Be he who he might, he was a very hardy gentleman. But I have a
task here, Alleyne, which is harder to me than aught that was set
before me yesterday."

"Can I help you, my lord?"

"That indeed you can. I have been writing my greetings to my
sweet wife; for I hear that a messenger goes from the prince to
Southampton within the week, and he would gladly take a packet
for me. I pray you, Alleyne, to cast your eyes upon what I have
written, and see it they are such words as my lady will
understand. My fingers, as you can see, are more used to iron
and leather than to the drawing of strokes and turning of
letters. What then? Is there aught amiss, that you should
stare so?"

"It is this first word, my lord. In what tongue were you pleased
to write?"

"In English; for my lady talks it more than she doth French.

"Yet this is no English word, my sweet lord. Here are four t's
and never a letter betwixt them."

"By St. Paul! it seemed strange to my eye when I wrote it," said
Sir Nigel. "They bristle up together like a clump of lances. We
must break their ranks and set them farther apart. The word is
`that.' Now I will read it to you, Alleyne, and you shall write
it out fair; for we leave Bordeaux this day, and it would be
great joy to me to think that the Lady Loring had word from me."

Alleyne sat down as ordered, with a pen in his hand and a fresh
sheet of parchment before him, while Sir Nigel slowly spelled out
his letter, running his forefinger on from word to word.

"That my heart is with thee, my dear sweeting, is what thine own
heart will assure thee of. All is well with us here, save that
Pepin hath the mange on his back, and Pommers hath scarce yet got
clear of his stiffness from being four days on ship-board, and
the more so because the sea was very high, and we were like to
founder on account of a hole in her side, which was made by a
stone cast at us by certain sea-rovers, who may the saints have
in their keeping, for they have gone from amongst us, as has
young Terlake, and two-score mariners and archers, who would be
the more welcome here as there is like to be a very fine war,
with much honor and all hopes of advancement, for which I go to
gather my Company together, who are now at Montaubon, where they
pillage and destroy; yet I hope that, by God's help, I may be
able to show that I am their master, even as, my sweet lady, I am
thy servant."

"How of that, Alleyne?" continued Sir Nigel, blinking at his
squire, with an expression of some pride upon his face. "Have I
not told her all that hath befallen us?"

"You have said much, my fair lord; and yet, if I may say so, it
is somewhat crowded together, so that my Lady Loring can, mayhap,
scarce follow it. Were it in shorter periods----"

"Nay, it boots me not how you marshal them, as long as they are
all there at the muster. Let my lady have the words, and she
will place them in such order as pleases her best. But I would
have you add what it would please her to know."

"That will I," said Alleyne, blithely, and bent to the task.

"My fair lady and mistress," he wrote, "God hath had us in His
keeping, and my lord is well and in good cheer. He hath won much
honor at the jousting before the prince, when he alone was able
to make it good against a very valiant man from France. Touching
the moneys, there is enough and to spare until we reach
Montaubon. Herewith, my fair lady, I send my humble regards,
entreating you that you will give the same to your daughter, the
Lady Maude. May the holy saints have you both in their keeping
is ever the prayer of thy servant,


"That is very fairly set forth," said Sir Nigel, nodding his bald
head as each sentence was read to him. "And for thyself,
Alleyne, if there be any dear friend to whom you would fain give
greeting, I can send it for thee within this packet."

"There is none," said Alleyne, sadly.

"Have you no kinsfolk, then?"

"None, save my brother."

"Ha! I had forgotten that there was ill blood betwixt you. But
are there none in all England who love thee?"

"None that I dare say so."

"And none whom you love?"

"Nay, I will not say that," said Alleyne.

Sir Nigel shook his head and laughed softly to himself, "I see
how it is with you," he said. "Have I not noted your frequent
sighs and vacant eye? Is she fair?"

"She is indeed," cried Alleyne from his heart, all tingling at
this sudden turn of the talk.

"And good?"

"As an angel."

"And yet she loves you not?"

"Nay, I cannot say that she loves another."

"Then you have hopes?"

"I could not live else."

"Then must you strive to be worthy of her love. Be brave and
pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so,
whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to
be honored by a maiden's love, which is, in sooth, the highest
guerdon which a true knight can hope for."

"Indeed, my lord, I do so strive," said Alleyne; "but she is so
sweet, so dainty, and of so noble a spirit, that I fear me that I
shall never be worthy of her."

"By thinking so you become worthy. Is she then of noble birth?"

"She is, my lord," faltered Alleyne.

"Of a knightly house?"


"Have a care, Alleyne, have a care!" said Sir Nigel, kindly. "The
higher the steed the greater the fall. Hawk not at that which
may be beyond thy flight."

"My lord, I know little of the ways and usages of the world,"
cried Alleyne, "but I would fain ask your rede upon the matter.
You have known my father and my kin: is not my family one of good
standing and repute?"

"Beyond all question."

"And yet you warn me that I must not place my love too high."

"Were Minstead yours, Alleyne, then, by St. Paul! I cannot think
that any family in the land would not be proud to take you among
them, seeing that you come of so old a strain. But while the
Socman lives----Ha, by my soul! if this is not Sir Oliver's step
I am the more mistaken."

As he spoke, a heavy footfall was heard without, and the portly
knight flung open the door and strode into the room.

"Why, my little coz," said he, "I have come across to tell you
that I live above the barber's in the Rue de la Tour, and that
there is a venison pasty in the oven and two flasks of the right
vintage on the table. By St. James! a blind man might find the
place, for one has but to get in the wind from it, and follow the
savory smell. Put on your cloak, then, and come, for Sir Walter
Hewett and Sir Robert Briquet, with one or two others, are
awaiting us."

"Nay, Oliver, I cannot be with you, for I must to Montaubon this

"To Montaubon? But I have heard that your Company is to come
with my forty Winchester rascals to Dax."

"If you will take charge of them, Oliver. For I will go to
Montaubon with none save my two squires and two archers. Then,
when I have found the rest of my Company I shall lead them to
Dax. We set forth this morning."

"Then I must back to my pasty," said Sir Oliver. "You will find
us at Dax, I doubt not, unless the prince throw me into prison,
for he is very wroth against me."

"And why, Oliver?"

"Pardieu! because I have sent my cartel, gauntlet, and defiance
to Sir John Chandos and to Sir William Felton."

"To Chandos? In God's name, Oliver, why have you done this?"

"Because he and the other have used me despitefully."

"And how?"

"Because they have passed me over in choosing those who should
joust for England. Yourself and Audley I could pass, coz, for
you are mature men; but who are Wake, and Percy, and Beauchamp?
By my soul! I was prodding for my food into a camp-kettle when
they were howling for their pap. Is a man of my weight and
substance to be thrown aside for the first three half-grown lads
who have learned the trick of the tilt-yard? But hark ye, coz, I
think of sending my cartel also to the prince."

"Oliver! Oliver! You are mad!"

"Not I, i' faith! I care not a denier whether he be prince or no.
By Saint James! I see that your squire's eyes are starting from
his head like a trussed crab. Well, friend, we are all three men
of Hampshire, and not lightly to be jeered at."

"Has he jeered at you than?"

"Pardieu! yes, `Old Sir Oliver's heart is still stout,' said one
of his court. `Else had it been out of keeping with the rest of
him,' quoth the prince. `And his arm is strong,' said another.
`So is the backbone of his horse,' quoth the prince. This very
day I will send him my cartel and defiance."

"Nay, nay, my dear Oliver," said Sir Nigel, laying his hand upon
his angry friend's arm. "There is naught in this, for it was but
saying that you were a strong and robust man, who had need of a
good destrier. And as to Chandos and Felton, bethink you that if
when you yourself were young the older lances had ever been
preferred, how would you then have had the chance to earn the
good name and fame which you now bear? You do not ride as light
as you did, Oliver, and I ride lighter by the weight of my hair,
but it would be an ill thing if in the evening of our lives we
showed that our hearts were less true and loyal than of old. If
such a knight as Sir Oliver Buttesthorn may turn against his own
prince for the sake of a light word, then where are we to look
for steadfast faith and constancy?"

"Ah! my dear little coz, it is easy to sit in the sunshine and
preach to the man in the shadow. Yet you could ever win me over
to your side with that soft voice of yours. Let us think no more
of it then. But, holy Mother! I had forgot the pasty, and it
will be as scorched as Judas Iscariot! Come, Nigel, lest the
foul fiend get the better of me again."

"For one hour, then; for we march at mid-day. Tell Aylward,
Alleyne, that he is to come with me to Montaubon, and to choose
one archer for his comrade. The rest will to Dax when the prince
starts, which will be before the feast of the Epiphany. Have
Pommers ready at mid-day with my sycamore lance, and place my
harness on the sumpter mule."

With these brief directions, the two old soldiers strode off
together, while Alleyne hastened to get all in order for their



It was a bright, crisp winter's day when the little party set off
from Bordeaux on their journey to Montaubon, where the missing
half of their Company had last been heard of. Sir Nigel and Ford
had ridden on in advance, the knight upon his hackney, while his
great war-horse trotted beside his squire. Two hours later
Alleyne Edricson followed; for he had the tavern reckoning to
settle, and many other duties which fell to him as squire of the
body. With him came Aylward and Hordle John, armed as of old,
but mounted for their journey upon a pair of clumsy Landes
horses, heavy-headed and shambling, but of great endurance, and
capable of jogging along all day, even when between the knees of
the huge archer, who turned the scale at two hundred and seventy
pounds. They took with them the sumpter mules, which carried in
panniers the wardrobe and table furniture of Sir Nigel; for the
knight, though neither fop nor epicure, was very dainty in small
matters, and loved, however bare the board or hard the life, that
his napery should still be white and his spoon of silver.

There had been frost during the night, and the white hard road
rang loud under their horses' irons as they spurred through the
east gate of the town, along the same broad highway which the
unknown French champion had traversed on the day of the jousts.
The three rode abreast, Alleyne Edricson with his eyes cast down
and his mind distrait, for his thoughts were busy with the
conversation which he had had with Sir Nigel in the morning. Had
he done well to say so much, or had he not done better to have
said more? What would the knight have said had he confessed to
his love for the Lady Maude? Would he cast him off in disgrace,
or might he chide him as having abused the shelter of his roof?
It had been ready upon his tongue to tell him all when Sir Oliver
had broken in upon them. Perchance Sir Nigel, with his love of
all the dying usages of chivalry, might have contrived some
strange ordeal or feat of arms by which his love should be put to
the test. Alleyne smiled as he wondered what fantastic and
wondrous deed would be exacted from him. Whatever it was, he was
ready for it, whether it were to hold the lists in the court of
the King of Tartary, to carry a cartel to the Sultan of Baghdad,
or to serve a term against the wild heathen of Prussia. Sir
Nigel had said that his birth was high enough for any lady, if
his fortune could but be amended. Often had Alleyne curled his
lip at the beggarly craving for land or for gold which blinded
man to the higher and more lasting issues of life. Now it
seemed as though it were only by this same land and gold that he
might hope to reach his heart's desire. But then, again, the
Socman of Minstead was no friend to the Constable of Twynham
Castle. It might happen that, should he amass riches by some
happy fortune of war, this feud might hold the two families
aloof. Even if Maude loved him, he knew her too well to think
that she would wed him without the blessing of her father. Dark
and murky was it all, but hope mounts high in youth, and it ever
fluttered over all the turmoil of his thoughts like a white plume
amid the shock of horsemen.

If Alleyne Edricson had enough to ponder over as he rode through
the bare plains of Guienne, his two companions were more busy
with the present and less thoughtful of the future. Aylward rode
for half a mile with his chin upon his shoulder, looking back at
a white kerchief which fluttered out of the gable window of a
high house which peeped over the corner of the battlements. When
at last a dip of the road hid it from his view, he cocked his
steel cap, shrugged his broad shoulders, and rode on with
laughter in his eyes, and his weather-beaten face all ashine with
pleasant memories. John also rode in silence, but his eyes
wandered slowly from one side of the road to the other, and he
stared and pondered and nodded his head like a traveller who
makes his notes and saves them up for the re-telling.

"By the rood!" he broke out suddenly, slapping his thigh with his
great red hand, "I knew that there was something a-missing, but I
could not bring to my mind what it was."

"What was it then?" asked Alleyne, coming with a start out of his

"Why, it is the hedgerows," roared John, with a shout of
laughter. "The country is all scraped as clear as a friar's
poll. But indeed I cannot think much of the folk in these parts.
Why do they not get to work and dig up these long rows of black
and crooked stumps which I see on every hand? A franklin of
Hampshire would think shame to have such litter upon his soil."

"Thou foolish old John!" quoth Aylward. "You should know better,
since I have heard that the monks of Beaulieu could squeeze a
good cup of wine from their own grapes. Know then that if these
rows were dug up the wealth of the country would be gone, and
mayhap there would be dry throats and gaping mouths in England,
for in three months' time these black roots will blossom and
snoot and burgeon, and from them will come many a good ship-load
of Medoc and Gascony which will cross the narrow seas. But see
the church in the hollow, and the folk who cluster in the
churchyard! By my hilt! it is a burial, and there is a passing
bell!" He pulled off his steel cap as he spoke and crossed
himself, with a muttered prayer for the repose of the dead.

"There too," remarked Alleyne, as they rode on again, "that which
seems to the eye to be dead is still full of the sap of life,
even as the vines were. Thus God hath written Himself and His
laws very broadly on all that is around us, if our poor dull eyes
and duller souls could but read what He hath set before us."

"Ha! mon petit," cried the bowman, "you take me back to the days
when you were new fledged, as sweet a little chick as ever pecked
his way out of a monkish egg. I had feared that in gaining our
debonair young man-at-arms we had lost our soft-spoken clerk. In
truth, I have noted much change in you since we came from Twynham

"Surely it would be strange else, seeing that I have lived in a
world so new to me. Yet I trust that there are many things in
which I have not changed. If I have turned to serve an earthly
master, and to carry arms for an earthly king, it would be an ill
thing if I were to lose all thought of the great high King and
Master of all, whose humble and unworthy servant I was ere ever I
left Beaulieu. You, John, are also from the cloisters, but I
trow that you do not feel that you have deserted the old service
in taking on the new."

"I am a slow-witted man," said John, "and, in sooth, when I try
to think about such matters it casts a gloom upon me. Yet I do
not look upon myself as a worse man in an archer's jerkin than I
was in a white cowl, if that be what you mean."

"You have but changed from one white company to the other," quoth
Aylward. "But, by these ten finger-bones! it is a passing
strange thing to me to think that it was but in the last fall of
the leaf that we walked from Lyndhurst together, he so gentle and
maidenly, and you, John, like a great red-limbed overgrown moon-calf;
and now here you are as sprack a squire and as lusty an archer as
ever passed down the highway from Bordeaux, while I am still the
same old Samkin Aylward, with never a change, save that I have
a few more sins on my soul and a few less crowns in my pouch.
But I have never yet heard, John, what the reason was why you
should come out of Beaulieu."

"There were seven reasons," said John thoughtfully. "The first
of them was that they threw me out."

"Ma foi! camarade, to the devil with the other six! That is
enough for me and for thee also. I can see that they are very
wise and discreet folk at Beaulieu. Ah! mon ange, what have you
in the pipkin?"

"It is milk, worthy sir," answered the peasant-maid, who stood by
the door of a cottage with a jug in her hand. "Would it please
you, gentles, that I should bring you out three horns of it?"

"Nay, ma petite, but here is a two-sous piece for thy kindly
tongue and for the sight of thy pretty face. Ma foi! but she has
a bonne mine. I have a mind to bide and speak with her."

"Nay, nay, Aylward," cried Alleyne. "Sir Nigel will await us,
and he in haste."

"True, true, camarade! Adieu, ma cherie! mon coeur est toujours a
toi. Her mother is a well-grown woman also. See where she digs by
the wayside. Ma foi! the riper fruit is ever the sweeter. Bon
jour, ma belle dame! God have you in his keeping! Said Sir Nigel
where he would await us?"

"At Marmande or Aiguillon. He said that we could not pass him,
seeing that there is but the one road."

"Aye, and it is a road that I know as I know the Midhurst parish
butts," quoth the bowman. "Thirty times have I journeyed it,
forward and backward, and, by the twang of string! I am wont to
come back this way more laden than I went. I have carried all
that I had into France in a wallet, and it hath taken four
sumpter-mules to carry it back again. God's benison on the man
who first turned his hand to the making of war! But there, down
in the dingle, is the church of Cardillac, and you may see the
inn where three poplars grow beyond the village. Let us on, for a
stoup of wine would hearten us upon our way."

The highway had lain through the swelling vineyard country, which
stretched away to the north and east in gentle curves, with many
a peeping spire and feudal tower, and cluster of village houses,
all clear cut and hard in the bright wintry air. To their right
stretched the blue Garonne, running swiftly seawards, with boats
and barges dotted over its broad bosom. On the other side lay a
strip of vineyard, and beyond it the desolate and sandy region of
the Landes, all tangled with faded gorse and heath and broom,
stretching away in unbroken gloom to the blue hills which lay low
upon the furthest sky-line. Behind them might still be seen the
broad estuary of the Gironde, with the high towers of Saint Andre
and Saint Remi shooting up from the plain. In front, amid
radiating lines of poplars, lay the riverside townlet of
Cardillac--gray walls, white houses, and a feather of blue smoke.

"This is the `Mouton d'Or,'" said Aylward, as they pulled up
their horses at a whitewashed straggling hostel. "What ho
there!" he continued, beating upon the door with the hilt of his
sword. "Tapster, ostler, varlet, hark hither, and a wannion on
your lazy limbs! Ha! Michel, as red in the nose as ever! Three
jacks of the wine of the country, Michel--for the air bites
shrewdly. I pray you, Alleyne, to take note of this door, for I
have a tale concerning it."

"Tell me, friend," said Alleyne to the portly red-faced inn-keeper,
"has a knight and a squire passed this way within the hour?"

"Nay, sir, it would be two hours back. Was he a small man, weak
in the eyes, with a want of hair, and speaks very quiet when he
is most to be feared?"

"The same," the squire answered. "But I marvel how you should
know how he speaks when he is in wrath, for he is very gentle-minded
with those who are beneath him."

"Praise to the saints! it was not I who angered him," said the
fat Michel.

"Who, then?"

"It was young Sieur de Crespigny of Saintonge, who chanced to be
here, and made game of the Englishman, seeing that he was but a
small man and hath a face which is full of peace. But indeed
this good knight was a very quiet and patient man, for he saw
that the Sieur de Crespigny was still young and spoke from an
empty head, so he sat his horse and quaffed his wine, even as you
are doing now, all heedless of the clacking tongue." And what
then, Michel?"

"Well, messieurs, it chanced that the Sieur de Crespigny, having
said this and that, for the laughter of the varlets, cried out at
last about the glove that the knight wore in his coif, asking if
it was the custom in England for a man to wear a great archer's
glove in his cap. Pardieu! I have never seen a man get off his
horse as quick as did that stranger Englishman. Ere the words
were past the other's lips he was beside him, his face nigh
touching, and his breath hot upon his cheeks. `I think, young
sir,' quoth he softly, looking into the other's eyes, `that now
that I am nearer you will very clearly see that the glove is not
an archer's glove.' `Perchance not,' said the Sieur de Crespigny
with a twitching lip. `Nor is it large, but very small,' quoth
the Englishman. `Less large than I had thought,' said the other,
looking down, for the knight's gaze was heavy upon his eyelids.
`And in every way such a glove as might be worn by the fairest
and sweetest lady in England,' quoth the Englishman. `It may be
so,' said the Sieur de Crespigny, turning his face from him. `I
am myself weak in the eyes, and have often taken one thing for
another,' quoth the knight, as he sprang back into his saddle and
rode off, leaving the Sieur de Crespigny biting his nails before
the door. Ha! by the five wounds, many men of war have drunk my
wine, but never one was more to my fancy than this little

"By my hilt! he is our master, Michel," quoth Aylward, "and such
men as we do not serve under a laggart. But here are four
deniers, Michel, and God be with you! En avant, camarades! for
we have a long road before us."

At a brisk trot the three friends left Cardillac and its wine-house
behind them, riding without a halt past St. Macaire, and on
by ferry over the river Dorpt. At the further side the road
winds through La Reolle, Bazaille, and Marmande, with the sunlit
river still gleaming upon the right, and the bare poplars
bristling up upon either side. John and Alleyne rode silent on
either side, but every inn, farm-steading, or castle brought back
to Aylward some remembrance of love, foray, or plunder, with
which to beguile the way.

"There is the smoke from Bazas, on the further side of Garonne,"
quoth he. "There were three sisters yonder, the daughters of a
farrier, and, by these ten finger-bones! a man might ride for a
long June day and never set eyes upon such maidens. There was
Marie, tall and grave, and Blanche petite and gay, and the dark
Agnes, with eyes that went through you like a waxed arrow. I
lingered there as long as four days, and was betrothed to them
all; for it seemed shame to set one above her sisters, and might
make ill blood in the family. Yet, for all my care, things were
not merry in the house, and I thought it well to come away.
There, too, is the mill of Le Souris. Old Pierre Le Caron, who
owned it, was a right good comrade, and had ever a seat and a
crust for a weary archer. He was a man who wrought hard at all
that he turned his hand to; but he heated himself in grinding
bones to mix with his flour, and so through over-diligence he
brought a fever upon himself and died."

"Tell me, Aylward," said Alleyne, "what was amiss with the door
of yonder inn that you should ask me to observe it."

"Pardieu! yes, I had well-nigh forgot. What saw you on yonder

"I saw a square hole, through which doubtless the host may peep
when he is not too sure of those who knock."

"And saw you naught else?"

"I marked that beneath this hole there was a deep cut in the
door, as though a great nail had been driven in."

"And naught else?"


"Had you looked more closely you might have seen that there was a
stain upon the wood. The first time that I ever heard my comrade
Black Simon laugh was in front of that door. I heard him once
again when he slew a French squire with his teeth, he being
unarmed and the Frenchman having a dagger."

"And why did Simon laugh in front of the inn-door!" asked John.

"Simon is a hard and perilous man when he hath the bitter drop in
him; and, by my hilt! he was born for war, for there is little
sweetness or rest in him. This inn, the `Mouton d'Or,' was kept
in the old days by one Francois Gourval, who had a hard fist and
a harder heart. It was said that many and many an archer coming
from the wars had been served with wine with simples in it, until
he slept, and had then been stripped of all by this Gourval.
Then on the morrow, if he made complaint, this wicked Gourval
would throw him out upon the road or beat him, for he was a very
lusty man, and had many stout varlets in his service. This
chanced to come to Simon's ears when we were at Bordeaux
together, and he would have it that we should ride to Cardillac
with a good hempen cord, and give this Gourval such a scourging
as he merited. Forth we rode then, but when we came to the
Mouton d'Or,' Gourval had had word of our coming and its purpose,
so that the door was barred, nor was there any way into the
house. `Let us in, good Master Gourval!' cried Simon, and `Let
us in, good Master Gourval!' cried I, but no word could we get
through the hole in the door, save that he would draw an arrow
upon us unless we went on our way. `Well, Master Gourval,' quoth
Simon at last, `this is but a sorry welcome, seeing that we have
ridden so far just to shake you by the hand.' `Canst shake me by
the hand without coming in,' said Gourval. `And how that?'
asked Simon. `By passing in your hand through the hole,' said
he. `Nay, my hand is wounded,' quoth Simon, `and of such a size
that I cannot pass it in.' `That need not hinder,' said Gourval,
who was hot to be rid of us, `pass in your left hand.' `But I
have something for thee, Gourval,' said Simon. `What then?' he
asked. `There was an English archer who slept here last week of
the name of Hugh of Nutbourne.' `We have had many rogues here,'
said Gourval. `His conscience hath been heavy within him because
he owes you a debt of fourteen deniers, having drunk wine for
which he hath never paid. For the easing of his soul, he asked
me to pay the money to you as I passed.' Now this Gourval was
very greedy for money, so he thrust forth his hand for the
fourteen deniers, but Simon had his dagger ready and he pinned
his hand to the door. `I have paid the Englishman's debt,
Gourval!' quoth he, and so rode away, laughing so that he could
scarce sit his horse, leaving mine host still nailed to his door.
Such is the story of the hole which you have marked, and of the
smudge upon the wood. I have heard that from that time English
archers have been better treated in the auberge of Cardillac.
But what have we here by the wayside?"

"It appears to be a very holy man," said Alleyne.

"And, by the rood! he hath some strange wares," cried John.
"What are these bits of stone, and of wood, and rusted nails,
which are set out in front of him?"

The man whom they had remarked sat with his back against a
cherry-tree, and his legs shooting out in front of him, like one
who is greatly at his ease. Across his thighs was a wooden
board, and scattered over it all manner of slips of wood and
knobs of brick and stone, each laid separate from the other, as a
huckster places his wares. He was dressed in a long gray gown,
and wore a broad hat of the same color, much weather-stained,
with three scallop-shells dangling from the brim. As they
approached, the travellers observed that he was advanced in
years, and that his eyes were upturned and yellow.

"Dear knights and gentlemen," he cried in a high crackling voice,
"worthy Christian cavaliers, will ye ride past and leave an aged
pilgrim to die of hunger? The sight hast been burned from mine
eyes by the sands of the Holy Land, and I have had neither crust
of bread nor cup of wine these two days past."

"By my hilt! father," said Aylward, looking keenly at him, "it is
a marvel to me that thy girdle should have so goodly a span and
clip thee so closely, if you have in sooth had so little to place
within it."

"Kind stranger," answered the pilgrim, "you have unwittingly
spoken words which are very grievous to me to listen to. Yet I
should be loth to blame you, for I doubt not that what you said
was not meant to sadden me, nor to bring my sore affliction back
to my mind. It ill becomes me to prate too much of what I have
endured for the faith, and yet, since you have observed it, I
must tell you that this thickness and roundness of the waist is
caused by a dropsy brought on by over-haste in journeying from
the house of Pilate to the Mount of Olives."

"There, Aylward," said Alleyne, with a reddened cheek, "let that
curb your blunt tongue. How could you bring a fresh pang to this
holy man, who hath endured so much and hath journeyed as far as
Christ's own blessed tomb?"

"May the foul fiend strike me dumb!" cried the bowman in hot
repentance; but both the palmer and Alleyne threw up their hands
to stop him.

"I forgive thee from my heart, dear brother," piped the blind
man. "But, oh, these wild words of thine are worse to mine ears
than aught which you could say of me."

"Not another word shall I speak," said Aylward; "but here is a
franc for thee and I crave thy blessing."

"And here is another," said Alleyne.

"And another," cried Hordle John.

But the blind palmer would have none of their alms. "Foolish,
foolish pride!" he cried, beating upon his chest with his large
brown hand. "Foolish, foolish pride! How long then will it be
ere I can scourge it forth? Am I then never to conquer it? Oh,
strong, strong are the ties of flesh, and hard it is to subdue
the spirit! I come, friends, of a noble house, and I cannot
bring myself to touch this money, even though it be to save me
from the grave."

"Alas! father," said Alleyne, "how then can we be of help to

"I had sat down here to die," quoth the palmer; "but for many
years I have carried in my wallet these precious things which you
see set forth now before me. It were sin, thought I, that my
secret should perish with me. I shall therefore sell these
things to the first worthy passers-by, and from them I shall have
money enough to take me to the shrine of Our Lady at Rocamadour,
where I hope to lay these old bones."

"What are these treasures, then, father?" asked Hordle John. "I
can but see an old rusty nail, with bits of stone and slips of

"My friend," answered the palmer, "not all the money that is in
this country could pay a just price for these wares of mine. This
nail," he continued, pulling off his hat and turning up his
sightless orbs, "is one of those wherewith man's salvation was
secured. I had it, together with this piece of the true rood,
from the five-and-twentieth descendant of Joseph of Arimathea,
who still lives in Jerusalem alive and well, though latterly much
afflicted by boils. Aye, you may well cross yourselves, and I
beg that you will not breathe upon it or touch it with your

"And the wood and stone, holy father?" asked Alleyne, with bated
breath, as he stared awe-struck at his precious relics.

"This cantle of wood is from the true cross, this other from Noah
his ark, and the third is from the door-post of the temple of the
wise King Solomon. This stone was thrown at the sainted Stephen,
and the other two are from the Tower of Babel. Here, too, is
part of Aaron's rod, and a lock of hair from Elisha the prophet."

"But, father," quoth Alleyne, "the holy Elisha was bald, which
brought down upon him the revilements of the wicked children."

"It is very true that he had not much hair," said the palmer
quickly, "and it is this which makes this relic so exceeding
precious. Take now your choice of these, my worthy gentlemen,
and pay such a price as your consciences will suffer you to
offer; for I am not a chapman nor a huckster, and I would never
part with them, did I not know that I am very near to my reward."

"Aylward," said Alleyne excitedly, "This is such a chance as few
folk have twice in one life. The nail I must have, and I will
give it to the abbey of Beaulieu, so that all the folk in England
may go thither to wonder and to pray."

"And I will have the stone from the temple," cried Hordle John.
"What would not my old mother give to have it hung over her bed?"

"And I will have Aaron's rod," quoth Aylward. "I have but five
florins in the world, and here are four of them."

"Here are three more," said John.

"And here are five more," added Alleyne. "Holy father, I hand
you twelve florins, which is all that we can give, though we well
know how poor a pay it is for the wondrous things which you sell

"Down, pride, down!" cried the pilgrim, still beating upon his
chest. "Can I not bend myself then to take this sorry sum which
is offered me for that which has cost me the labors of a life.
Give me the dross! Here are the precious relics, and, oh, I pray
you that you will handle them softly and with reverence, else had
I rather left my unworthy bones here by the wayside."

With doffed caps and eager hands, the comrades took their new and
precious possessions, and pressed onwards upon their journey,
leaving the aged palmer still seated under the cherry-tree. They
rode in silence, each with his treasure in his hand, glancing at
it from time to time, and scarce able to believe that chance had
made them sole owners of relics of such holiness and worth that
every abbey and church in Christendom would have bid eagerly for
their possession. So they journeyed, full of this good fortune,
until opposite the town of Le Mas, where John's horse cast a
shoe, and they were glad to find a wayside smith who might set
the matter to rights. To him Aylward narrated the good hap which
had befallen them; but the smith, when his eyes lit upon the
relics, leaned up against his anvil and laughed, with his hand to
his side, until the tears hopped down his sooty cheeks.

"Why, masters," quoth he, "this man is a coquillart, or seller of
false relics, and was here in the smithy not two hours ago. This
nail that he hath sold you was taken from my nail-box, and as to
the wood and the stones, you will see a heap of both outside from
which he hath filled his scrip."

"Nay, nay," cried Alleyne, "this was a holy man who had journeyed
to Jerusalem, and acquired a dropsy by running from the house of
Pilate to the Mount of Olives."

"I know not about that," said the smith; "but I know that a man
with a gray palmer's hat and gown was here no very long time ago,
and that he sat on yonder stump and ate a cold pullet and drank a
flask of wine. Then he begged from me one of my nails, and
filling his scrip with stones, he went upon his way. Look at
these nails, and see if they are not the same as that which he
has sold you."

"Now may God save us!" cried Alleyne, all aghast. "Is there no
end then to the wickedness of humankind? He so humble, so aged,
so loth to take our money--and yet a villain and a cheat. Whom
can we trust or believe in?"

"I will after him," said Aylward, flinging himself into the
saddle. "Come, Alleyne, we may catch him ere John's horse be

Away they galloped together, and ere long they saw the old gray
palmer walking slowly along in front of them. He turned,
however, at the sound of their hoofs, and it was clear that his
blindness was a cheat like all the rest of him, for he ran
swiftly through a field and so into a wood, where none could
follow him. They hurled their relics after him, and so rode back
to the blacksmith's the poorer both in pocket and in faith.



It was evening before the three comrades came into Aiguillon,
There they found Sir Nigel Loring and Ford safely lodged at the
sign of the "Baton Rouge," where they supped on good fare and
slept between lavender-scented sheets. It chanced, however, that
a knight of Poitou, Sir Gaston d'Estelle, was staying there on
his way back from Lithuania, where he had served a term with the
Teutonic knights under the land-master of the presbytery of
Marienberg. He and Sir Nigel sat late in high converse as to
bushments, outfalls, and the intaking of cities, with many tales
of warlike men and valiant deeds. Then their talk turned to
minstrelsy, and the stranger knight drew forth a cittern, upon
which he played the minne-lieder of the north, singing the while
in a high cracked voice of Hildebrand and Brunhild and Siegfried,
and all the strength and beauty of the land of Almain. To this
Sir Nigel answered with the romances of Sir Eglamour, and of Sir
Isumbras, and so through the long winter night they sat by the
crackling wood-fire answering each other's songs until the
crowing cocks joined in their concert. Yet, with scarce an hour
of rest, Sir Nigel was as blithe and bright as ever as they set
forth after breakfast upon their way.

"This Sir Gaston is a very worthy man," said he to his squires as
they rode from the "Baton Rouge." "He hath a very strong desire
to advance himself, and would have entered upon some small
knightly debate with me, had he not chanced to have his arm-bone
broken by the kick of a horse. I have conceived a great love for
him, and I have promised him that when his bone is mended I will
exchange thrusts with him. But we must keep to this road upon
the left."

"Nay, my fair lord," quoth Aylward. "The road to Montaubon is
over the river, and so through Quercy and the Agenois."

"True, my good Aylward; but I have learned from this worthy
knight, who hath come over the French marches, that there is a
company of Englishmen who are burning and plundering in the
country round Villefranche. I have little doubt, from what he
says, that they are those whom we seek."

"By my hilt! it is like enough," said Aylward. "By all accounts
they had been so long at Montaubon, that there would be little
there worth the taking. Then as they have already been in the
south, they would come north to the country of the Aveyron."

"We shall follow the Lot until we come to Cahors, and then cross
the marches into Villefranche," said Sir Nigel. "By St. Paul! as
we are but a small band, it is very likely that we may have some
very honorable and pleasing adventure, for I hear that there is
little peace upon the French border."

All morning they rode down a broad and winding road, barred with
the shadows of poplars. Sir Nigel rode in front with his
squires, while the two archers followed behind with the sumpter
mule between them. They had left Aiguillon and the Garonne far
to the south, and rode now by the tranquil Lot, which curves blue
and placid through a gently rolling country. Alleyne could not
but mark that, whereas in Guienne there had been many townlets
and few castles, there were now many castles and few houses. On
either hand gray walls and square grim keeps peeped out at every
few miles from amid the forests while the few villages which they
passed were all ringed round with rude walls, which spoke of the
constant fear and sudden foray of a wild frontier land. Twice
during the morning there came bands of horsemen swooping down
upon them from the black gateways of wayside strongholds, with
short, stern questions as to whence they came and what their
errand. Bands of armed men clanked along the highway, and the
few lines of laden mules which carried the merchandise of the
trader were guarded by armed varlets, or by archers hired for the

"The peace of Bretigny hath not made much change in these parts,"
quoth Sir Nigel, "for the country is overrun with free companions
and masterless men. Yonder towers, between the wood and the
hill, mark the town of Cahors, and beyond it is the land of
France. But here is a man by the wayside, and as he hath two
horses and a squire I make little doubt that he is a knight. I
pray you, Alleyne, to give him greeting from me, and to ask him
for his titles and coat-armor. It may be that I can relieve him
of some vow, or perchance he hath a lady whom he would wish to

"Nay, my fair lord," said Alleyne, "these are not horses and a
squire, but mules and a varlet. The man is a mercer, for he hath
a great bundle beside him."

"Now, God's blessing on your honest English voice!" cried the
stranger, pricking up his ears at the sound of Alleyne's words.
"Never have I heard music that was so sweet to mine ear. Come,
Watkin lad, throw the bales over Laura's back! My heart was nigh
broke, for it seemed that I had left all that was English behind
me, and that I would never set eyes upon Norwich market square
again." He was a tall, lusty, middle-aged man with a ruddy face,
a brown forked beard shot with gray, and a broad Flanders hat set
at the back of his head. His servant, as tall as himself, but
gaunt and raw-boned, had swung the bales on the back of one mule,
while the merchant mounted upon the other and rode to join the
party. It was easy to see, as he approached, from the quality
of his dress and the richness of his trappings, that he was a man
of some wealth and position.

"Sir knight," said he, "my name is David Micheldene, and I am a
burgher and alderman of the good town of Norwich, where I live
five doors from the church of Our Lady, as all men know on the
banks of Yare. I have here my bales of cloth which I carry to
Cahors--woe worth the day that ever I started on such an errand!
I crave your gracious protection upon the way for me, my servant,
and my mercery; for I have already had many perilous passages,
and have now learned that Roger Club-foot, the robber-knight of
Quercy, is out upon the road in front of me. I hereby agree to
give you one rose-noble if you bring me safe to the inn of the
`Angel' in Cahors, the same to be repaid to me or my heirs if any
harm come to me or my goods."

"By Saint Paul!" answered Sir Nigel, "I should be a sorry knight
if I ask pay for standing by a countryman in a strange land. You
may ride with me and welcome, Master Micheldene, and your varlet
may follow with my archers."

"God's benison upon thy bounty!" cried the stranger. "Should you
come to Norwich you may have cause to remember that you have been
of service to Alderman Micheldene. It is not very far to Cahors,
for surely I see the cathedral towers against the sky-line; but I
have heard much of this Roger Clubfoot, and the more I hear the
less do I wish to look upon his face. Oh, but I am sick and
weary of it all, and I would give half that I am worth to see my
good dame sitting in peace beside me, and to hear the bells of
Norwich town."

"Your words are strange to me," quoth Sir Nigel, "for you have
the appearance of a stout man, and I see that you wear a sword by
your side."

"Yet it is not my trade," answered the merchant. "I doubt not
that if I set you down in my shop at Norwich you might scarce
tell fustian from falding, and know little difference between the
velvet of Genoa and the three-piled cloth of Bruges. There you
might well turn to me for help. But here on a lone roadside,
with thick woods and robber-knights, I turn to you, for it is the
business to which you have been reared."

"There is sooth in what you say, Master Micheldene," said Sir
Nigel, "and I trust that we may come upon this Roger Clubfoot,
for I have heard that he is a very stout and skilful soldier, and
a man from whom much honor is to be gained."

"He is a bloody robber," said the trader, curtly, "and I wish I
saw him kicking at the end of a halter."

"It is such men as he," Sir Nigel remarked, "who give the true
knight honorable deeds to do, whereby he may advance himself."

"It is such men as he," retorted Micheldene, "who are like rats
in a wheat-rick or moths in a woolfels, a harm and a hindrance to
all peaceful and honest men."

"Yet, if the dangers of the road weigh so heavily upon you,
master alderman, it is a great marvel to me that you should
venture so far from home."

"And sometimes, sir knight, it is a marvel to myself. But I am a
man who may grutch and grumble, but when I have set my face to do
a thing I will not turn my back upon it until it be done. There
is one, Francois Villet, at Cahors, who will send me wine-casks
for my cloth-bales, so to Cahors I will go, though all the
robber-knights of Christendom were to line the roads like yonder

"Stoutly spoken, master alderman! But how have you fared

"As a lamb fares in a land of wolves. Five times we have had to
beg and pray ere we could pass. Twice I have paid toll to the
wardens of the road. Three times we have had to draw, and once
at La Reolle we stood seer our wool-bales, Watkin and I, and we
laid about us for as long as a man might chant a litany, slaying
one rogue and wounding two others. By God's coif! we are men of
peace, but we are free English burghers, not to be mishandled
either in our country or abroad. Neither lord, baron, knight, or
commoner shall have as much as a strike of flax of mine whilst I
have strength to wag this sword."

"And a passing strange sword it is," quoth Sir Nigel. "What make
you, Alleyne, of these black lines which are drawn across the

"I cannot tell what they are, my fair lord."

"Nor can I," said Ford.

The merchant chuckled to himself. "It was a thought of mine
own," said he; "for the sword was made by Thomas Wilson, the
armorer, who is betrothed to my second daughter Margery. Know
then that the sheath is one cloth-yard, in length, marked off
according to feet and inches to serve me as a measuring wand. It
is also of the exact weight of two pounds, so that I may use it
in the balance."

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel, "it is very clear to me that
the sword is like thyself, good alderman, apt either for war or
for peace. But I doubt not that even in England you have had
much to suffer from the hands of robbers and outlaws."

"It was only last Lammastide, sir knight, that I was left for
dead near Reading as I journeyed to Winchester fair. Yet I had
the rogues up at the court of pie-powder, and they will harm no
more peaceful traders."

"You travel much then!"

"To Winchester, Linn mart, Bristol fair, Stourbridge, and
Bartholomew's in London Town. The rest of the year you may ever
find me five doors from the church of Our Lady, where I would
from my heart that I was at this moment, for there is no air like
Norwich air, and no water like the Yare, nor can all the wines of
France compare with the beer of old Sam Yelverton who keeps the
`Dun Cow.' But, out and alack, here is an evil fruit which hangs
upon this chestnut-tree!"

As he spoke they had ridden round a curve of the road and come
upon a great tree which shot one strong brown branch across their
path. From the centre of this branch there hung a man, with his
head at a horrid slant to his body and his toes just touching the
ground. He was naked save for a linen under shirt and pair of
woollen drawers. Beside him on a green bank there sat a small
man with a solemn face, and a great bundle of papers of all
colors thrusting forth from the scrip which lay beside him. He
was very richly dressed, with furred robes, a scarlet hood, and
wide hanging sleeves lined with flame-colored silk. A great gold
chain hung round his neck, and rings glittered from every finger
of his hands. On his lap he had a little pile of gold and of
silver, which he was dropping, coin by coin, into a plump pouch
which hung from his girdle.

"May the saints be with you, good travellers!" he shouted, as the
party rode up. "May the four Evangelists watch over you! May
the twelve Apostles bear you up! May the blessed army of martyrs
direct your feet and lead you to eternal bliss!"

"Gramercy for these good wishes!" said Sir Nigel. "But I
perceive, master alderman, that this man who hangs here is, by
mark of foot, the very robber-knight of whom we have spoken. But
there is a cartel pinned upon his breast, and I pray you,
Alleyne, to read it to me."

The dead robber swung slowly to and fro in the wintry wind, a
fixed smile upon his swarthy face, and his bulging eyes still
glaring down the highway of which he had so long been the terror;
on a sheet of parchment upon his breast was printed in rude


Par l'ordre du Senechal de
Castelnau, et de l'Echevin de
Cahors, servantes fideles du
tres vaillant et tres puissant
Edouard, Prince de Galles et
Ne touchez pas,
Ne coutez pas,
Ne depechez pas

"He took a sorry time in dying," said the man who sat beside him.
"He could stretch one toe to the ground and bear him self up, so
that I thought he would never have done. Now at last, however,
he is safely in paradise, and so I may jog on upon my earthly
way." He mounted, as he spoke, a white mule which had been
grazing by the wayside, all gay with fustian of gold and silver
bells, and rode onward with Sir Nigel's party.

"How know you then that he is in paradise?" asked Sir Nigel.
"All things are possible to God, but, certes, without a miracle,
I should scarce expect to find the soul of Roger Clubfoot amongst
the just."

"I know that he is there because I have just passed him in
there," answered the stranger, rubbing his bejewelled hands
together in placid satisfaction. "It is my holy mission to be a
sompnour or pardoner. I am the unworthy servant and delegate of
him who holds the keys. A contrite heart and ten nobles to holy
mother Church may stave off perdition; but he hath a pardon of
the first degree, with a twenty-five livre benison, so that I
doubt if he will so much as feel a twinge of purgatory. I came
up even as the seneschal's archers were tying him up, and I gave
him my fore-word that I would bide with him until he had passed.
There were two leaden crowns among the silver, but I would not
for that stand in the way of his salvation."

"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, "if you have indeed this power
to open and to shut the gates of hope, then indeed you stand high
above mankind. But if you do but claim to have it, and yet have
it not, then it seems to me, master clerk, that you may yourself
find the gate barred when you shall ask admittance."

"Small of faith! Small of faith!" cried the sompnour. "Ah, Sir
Didymus yet walks upon earth! And yet no words of doubt can
bring anger to mine heart, or a bitter word to my lip, for am I
not a poor unworthy worker in the cause of gentleness and peace?
Of all these pardons which I bear every one is stamped and signed
by our holy father, the prop and centre of Christendom."

"Which of them?" asked Sir Nigel.

"Ha, ha!" cried the pardoner, shaking a jewelled forefinger. "Thou
wouldst be deep in the secrets of mother Church? Know then that
I have both in my scrip. Those who hold with Urban shall have
Urban's pardon, while I have Clement's for the Clementist--or he
who is in doubt may have both, so that come what may he shall be
secure. I pray you that you will buy one, for war is bloody
work, and the end is sudden with little time for thought or
shrift. Or you, sir, for you seem to me to be a man who would do
ill to trust to your own merits." This to the alderman of
Norwich, who had listened to him with a frowning brow and a
sneering lip.

"When I sell my cloth," quoth he, "he who buys may weigh and feel
and handle. These goods which you sell are not to be seen, nor
is there any proof that you hold them. Certes, if mortal man
might control God's mercy, it would be one of a lofty and God-like
life, and not one who is decked out with rings and chains and
silks, like a pleasure-wench at a kermesse.

"Thou wicked and shameless man!" cried the clerk. "Dost thou
dare to raise thy voice against the unworthy servant of mother

"Unworthy enough!" quoth David Micheldene. "I would have you to
know, clerk, that I am a free English burgher, and that I dare
say my mind to our father the Pope himself, let alone such a
lacquey's lacquey as you!"

"Base-born and foul-mouthed knave!" cried the sompnour. "You
prate of holy things, to which your hog's mind can never rise.
Keep silence, lest I call a curse upon you!"

"Silence yourself!" roared the other. "Foul bird! we found thee
by the gallows like a carrion-crow. A fine life thou hast of it
with thy silks and thy baubles, cozening the last few shillings
from the pouches of dying men. A fig for thy curse! Bide here,
if you will take my rede, for we will make England too hot for
such as you, when Master Wicliff has the ordering of it. Thou
vile thief! it is you, and such as you, who bring an evil name
upon the many churchmen who lead a pure and a holy life. Thou
outside the door of heaven! Art more like to be inside the door
of hell."

At this crowning insult the sompnour, with a face ashen with
rage, raised up a quivering hand and began pouring Latin
imprecations upon the angry alderman. The latter, however, was
not a man to be quelled by words, for he caught up his ell-measure
sword-sheath and belabored the cursing clerk with it. The
latter, unable to escape from the shower of blows, set spurs to
his mule and rode for his life, with his enemy thundering behind
him. At sight of his master's sudden departure, the varlet
Watkin set off after him, with the pack-mule beside him, so that
the four clattered away down the road together, until they swept
round a curve and their babble was but a drone in the distance.
Sir Nigel and Alleyne gazed in astonishment at one another, while
Ford burst out a-laughing.

"Pardieu!" said the knight, "this David Micheldene must be one of
those Lollards about whom Father Christopher of the priory had so
much to say. Yet he seemed to be no bad man from what I have
seen of him."

"I have heard that Wicliff hath many followers in Norwich,"
answered Alleyne.

"By St. Paul! I have no great love for them," quoth Sir Nigel.
"I am a man who am slow to change; and, if you take away from me
the faith that I have been taught, it would be long ere I could
learn one to set in its place. It is but a chip here and a chip
there, yet it may bring the tree down in time. Yet, on the other
hand, I cannot but think it shame that a man should turn God's
mercy on and off, as a cellarman doth wine with a spigot."

"Nor is it," said Alleyne, "part of the teachings of that mother
Church of which he had so much to say. There was sooth in what
the alderman said of it."

"Then, by St. Paul! they may settle it betwixt them," quoth Sir
Nigel. "For me, I serve God, the king and my lady; and so long
as I can keep the path of honor I am well content. My creed
shall ever be that of Chandos:

"Fais ce que dois--adviegne que peut,
C'est commande au chevalier."



After passing Cahors, the party branched away from the main road,
and leaving the river to the north of them, followed a smaller
track which wound over a vast and desolate plain. This path led
them amid marshes and woods, until it brought them out into a
glade with a broad stream swirling swiftly down the centre of it.
Through this the horses splashed their way, and on the farther
shore Sir Nigel announced to them that they were now within the
borders of the land of France. For some miles they still
followed the same lonely track, which led them through a dense
wood, and then widening out, curved down to an open rolling
country, such as they had traversed between Aiguillon and


Back to Full Books