The White Company
by
Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 9 out of 9



Cantabrian mountaineers and the ill-omened knoll is still pointed
out by fathers to their children as the "Altura de los Inglesos,"
where the men from across the sea fought the great fight with the
knights of the south. The last arrow was quickly shot, nor could
the slingers hurl their stones, so close were friend and foe.
From side to side stretched the thin line of the English, lightly
armed and quick-footed, while against it stormed and raged the
pressing throng of fiery Spaniards and of gallant Bretons. The
clink of crossing sword-blades, the dull thudding of heavy blows,
the panting and gasping of weary and wounded men, all rose
together in a wild, long-drawn note, which swelled upwards to the
ears of the wondering peasants who looked down from the edges of
the cliffs upon the swaying turmoil of the battle beneath them.
Back and forward reeled the leopard banner, now borne up the
slope by the rush and weight of the onslaught, now pushing
downwards again as Sir Nigel, Burley, and Black Simon with their
veteran men-at arms, flung themselves madly into the fray.
Alleyne, at his lord's right hand, found himself swept hither and
thither in the desperate struggle, exchanging savage thrusts one
instant with a Spanish cavalier, and the next torn away by the
whirl of men and dashed up against some new antagonist. To the
right Sir Oliver, Aylward, Hordle John, and the bowmen of the
Company fought furiously against the monkish Knights of Santiago,
who were led up the hill by their prior--a great, deep-chested
man, who wore a brown monastic habit over his suit of mail.
Three archers he slew in three giant strokes, but Sir Oliver
flung his arms round him, and the two, staggering and straining,
reeled backwards and fell, locked in each other's grasp, over the
edge of the steep cliff which flanked the hill. In vain his
knights stormed and raved against the thin line which barred
their path: the sword of Aylward and the great axe of John
gleamed in the forefront of the battle and huge jagged pieces of
rock, hurled by the strong arms of the bowmen, crashed and
hurtled amid their ranks. Slowly they gave back down the hill,
the archers still hanging upon their skirts, with a long litter
of writhing and twisted figures to mark the course which they
had taken. At the same instant the Welshmen upon the left, led
on by the Scotch earl, had charged out from among the rocks which
sheltered them, and by the fury of their outfall had driven the
Spaniards in front of them in headlong flight down the hill. In
the centre only things seemed to be going ill with the defenders.
Black Simon was down--dying, as he would wish to have died, like
a grim old wolf in its lair with a ring of his slain around him.
Twice Sir Nigel had been overborne, and twice Alleyne had fought
over him until he had staggered to his feet once more. Burley
lay senseless, stunned by a blow from a mace, and half of the
men-at-arms lay littered upon the ground around him. Sir Nigel's
shield was broken, his crest shorn, his armor cut and smashed,
and the vizor torn from his helmet; yet he sprang hither and
thither with light foot and ready hand, engaging two Bretons and
a Spaniard at the same instant--thrusting, stooping, dashing in,
springing out--while Alleyne still fought by his side, stemming
with a handful of men the fierce tide which surged up against
them. Yet it would have fared ill with them had not the archers
from either side closed in upon the flanks of the attackers, and
pressed them very slowly and foot by foot down the long slope,
until they were on the plain once more, where their fellows were
already rallying for a fresh assault.

But terrible indeed was the cost at which the last had been
repelled. Of the three hundred and seventy men who had held the
crest, one hundred and seventy-two were left standing, many of
whom were sorely wounded and weak from loss of blood. Sir Oliver
Buttesthorn, Sir Richard Causton, Sir Simon Burley, Black Simon,
Johnston, a hundred and fifty archers, and forty-seven
men-at-arms had fallen, while the pitiless hail of stones
was already whizzing and piping once more about their ears,
threatening every instant to further reduce their numbers.

Sir Nigel looked about him at his shattered ranks, and his face
flushed with a soldier's pride.

"By St. Paul!" he cried, "I have fought in many a little
bickering, but never one that I would be more loth to have missed
than this. But you are wounded, Alleyne?"

"It is nought," answered his squire, stanching the blood which
dripped from a sword-cut across his forehead.

"These gentlemen of Spain seem to be most courteous and worthy
people. I see that they are already forming to continue this
debate with us. Form up the bowmen two deep instead of four. By
my faith! some very brave men have gone from among us. Aylward,
you are a trusty soldier, for all that your shoulder has never
felt accolade, nor your heels worn the gold spurs. Do you take
charge of the right; I will hold the centre, and you, my Lord of
Angus, the left."

"Ho! for Sir Samkin Aylward!" cried a rough voice among the
archers, and a roar of laughter greeted their new leader.

"By my hilt!" said the old bowman, "I never thought to lead a
wing in a stricken field. Stand close, camarades, for, by these
finger-bones! we must play the man this day."

"Come hither, Alleyne," said Sir Nigel, walking back to the edge
of the cliff which formed the rear of their position. "And you,
Norbury," he continued, beckoning to the squire of Sir Oliver,
"do you also come here."

The two squires hurried across to him, and the three stood
looking down into the rocky ravine which lay a hundred and fifty
feet beneath them.

"The prince must hear of how things are with us," said the
knight. "Another onfall we may withstand, but they are many and
we are few, so that the time must come when we can no longer form
line across the hill. Yet if help were brought us we might hold
the crest until it comes. See yonder horses which stray among
the rocks beneath us?"

"I see them, my fair lord."

"And see yonder path which winds along the hill upon the further
end of the valley?"

"I see it."

"Were you on those horses, and riding up yonder track, steep and
rough as it is, I think that ye might gain the valley beyond.
Then on to the prince, and tell him how we fare."

"But, my fair lord, how can we hope to reach the horses?" asked
Norbury.

"Ye cannot go round to them, for they would be upon ye ere ye
could come to them. Think ye that ye have heart enough to
clamber down this cliff?"

"Had we but a rope."

"There is one here. It is but one hundred feet long, and for the
rest ye must trust to God and to your fingers. Can you try it,
Alleyne?"

"With all my heart, my dear lord, but how can I leave you in such
a strait?"

"Nay, it is to serve me that ye go. And you, Norbury?"

The silent squire said nothing, but he took up the rope, and,
having examined it, he tied one end firmly round a projecting
rock. Then he cast off his breast-plate, thigh pieces, and
greaves, while Alleyne followed his example.

"Tell Chandos, or Calverley, or Knolles, should the prince have
gone forward," cried Sir Nigel. "Now may God speed ye, for ye
are brave and worthy men."

It was, indeed, a task which might make the heart of the bravest
sink within him. The thin cord dangling down the face of the
brown cliff seemed from above to reach little more than half-way
down it. Beyond stretched the rugged rock, wet and shining, with
a green tuft here and there thrusting out from it, but little
sign of ridge or foothold. Far below the jagged points of the
boulders bristled up, dark and menacing. Norbury tugged thrice
with all his strength upon the cord, and then lowered himself
over the edge, while a hundred anxious faces peered over at him
as he slowly clambered downwards to the end of the rope. Twice
he stretched out his foot, and twice he failed to reach the point
at which he aimed, but even as he swung himself for a third
effort a stone from a sling buzzed like a wasp from amid the
rocks and struck him full upon the side of his head. His grasp
relaxed, his feet slipped, and in an instant he was a crushed and
mangled corpse upon the sharp ridges beneath him.

"If I have no better fortune," said Alleyne, leading Sir Nigel
aside. "I pray you, my dear lord, that you will give my humble
service to the Lady Maude, and say to her that I was ever her
true servant and most unworthy cavalier."

The old knight said no word, but he put a hand on either
shoulder, and kissed his squire, with the tears shining in his
eyes. Alleyne sprang to the rope, and sliding swiftly down, soon
found himself at its extremity. From above it seemed as though
rope and cliff were well-nigh touching, but now, when swinging a
hundred feet down, the squire found that he could scarce reach
the face of the rock with his foot, and that it was as smooth as
glass, with no resting-place where a mouse could stand. Some
three feet lower, however, his eye lit upon a long jagged crack
which slanted downwards, and this he must reach if he would save
not only his own poor life, but that of the eight-score men
above him. Yet it were madness to spring for that narrow slit
with nought but the wet, smooth rock to cling to. He swung for a
moment, full of thought, and even as he hung there another of the
hellish stones sang through his curls, and struck a chip from the
face of the cliff. Up he clambered a few feet, drew up the loose
end after him, unslung his belt, held on with knee and with elbow
while he spliced the long, tough leathern belt to the end of the
cord: then lowering himself as far as he could go, he swung
backwards and forwards until his hand reached the crack, when he
left the rope and clung to the face of the cliff. Another stone
struck him on the side, and he heard a sound like a breaking
stick, with a keen stabbing pain which shot through his chest.
Yet it was no time now to think of pain or ache. There was his
lord and his eight-score comrades, and they must be plucked from
the jaws of death. On he clambered, with his hand shuffling down
the long sloping crack, sometimes bearing all his weight upon his
arms, at others finding some small shelf or tuft on which to rest
his foot. Would he never pass over that fifty feet? He dared not
look down and could but grope slowly onwards, his face to the
cliff, his fingers clutching, his feet scraping and feeling for a
support. Every vein and crack and mottling of that face of rock
remained forever stamped upon his memory. At last, however, his
foot came upon a broad resting-place and he ventured to cast a
glance downwards. Thank God! he had reached the highest of those
fatal pinnacles upon which his comrade had fallen. Quickly now he
sprang from rock to rock until his feet were on the ground, and
he had his hand stretched out for the horse's rein, when a
sling-stone struck him on the head, and he dropped senseless upon
the ground.

An evil blow it was for Alleyne, but a worse one still for him
who struck it. The Spanish slinger, seeing the youth lie slain,
and judging from his dress that he was no common man, rushed
forward to plunder him, knowing well that the bowmen above him
had expended their last shaft. He was still three paces,
however, from his victim's side when John upon the cliff above
plucked up a huge boulder, and, poising it for an instant,
dropped it with fatal aim upon the slinger beneath him. It
struck upon his shoulder, and hurled him, crushed and screaming,
to the ground, while Alleyne, recalled to his senses by these
shrill cries in his very ear, staggered on to his feet, and gazed
wildly about him. His eyes fell upon the horses, grazing upon
the scanty pasture, and in an instant all had come back to
him--his mission, his comrades, the need for haste. He was
dizzy, sick, faint, but he must not die, and he must not tarry,
for his life meant many lives that day. In an instant he was in
his saddle and spurring down the valley. Loud rang the swift
charger's hoofs over rock and reef, while the fire flew from the
stroke of iron, and the loose stones showered up behind him. But
his head was whirling round, the blood was gushing from his brow,
his temple, his mouth. Ever keener and sharper was the deadly
pain which shot like a red-hot arrow through his side. He felt
that his eye was glazing, his senses slipping from him, his grasp
upon the reins relaxing. Then with one mighty effort, he called
up all his strength for a single minute. Stooping down, he
loosened the stirrup-straps, bound his knees tightly to his
saddle-flaps, twisted his hands in the bridle, and then, putting
the gallant horse's head for the mountain path, he dashed the
spurs in and fell forward fainting with his face buried in the
coarse, black mane.

Little could he ever remember of that wild ride. Half conscious,
but ever with the one thought beating in his mind, he goaded the
horse onwards, rushing swiftly down steep ravines over huge
boulders, along the edges of black abysses. Dim memories he had
of beetling cliffs, of a group of huts with wondering faces at
the doors, of foaming, clattering water, and of a bristle of
mountain beeches. Once, ere he had ridden far, he heard behind
him three deep, sullen shouts, which told him that his comrades
had set their faces to the foe once more. Then all was blank,
until he woke to find kindly blue English eyes peering down upon
him and to hear the blessed sound of his country's speech.
They were but a foraging party--a hundred archers and as many
men-at-arms--but their leader was Sir Hugh Calverley, and he was
not a man to bide idle when good blows were to be had not three
leagues from him. A scout was sent flying with a message to the
camp, and Sir Hugh, with his two hundred men, thundered off to the
rescue. With them went Alleyne, still bound to his saddle, still
dripping with blood, and swooning and recovering, and swooning
once again. On they rode, and on, until, at last, topping a
ridge, they looked down upon the fateful valley. Alas! and alas!
for the sight that met their eyes.

There, beneath them, was the blood-bathed hill, and from the
highest pinnacle there flaunted the yellow and white banner with
the lions and the towers of the royal house of Castile. Up the
long slope rushed ranks and ranks of men exultant, shouting, with
waving pennons and brandished arms. Over the whole summit were
dense throngs of knights, with no enemy that could be seen to
face them, save only that at one corner of the plateau an eddy
and swirl amid the crowded mass seemed to show that all
resistance was not yet at an end. At the sight a deep groan of
rage and of despair went up from the baffled rescuers, and,
spurring on their horses, they clattered down the long and
winding path which led to the valley beneath.

But they were too late to avenge, as they had been too late to
save. Long ere they could gain the level ground, the Spaniards,
seeing them riding swiftly amid the rocks, and being ignorant of
their numbers, drew off from the captured hill, and, having
secured their few prisoners, rode slowly in a long column, with
drum-beating and cymbal-clashing, out of the valley. Their rear
ranks were already passing out of sight ere the new-comers were
urging their panting, foaming horses up the slope which had been
the scene of that long drawn and bloody fight.

And a fearsome sight it was that met their eyes! Across the
lower end lay the dense heap of men and horses where the first
arrow-storm had burst. Above, the bodies of the dead and the
dying--French, Spanish, and Aragonese--lay thick and thicker,
until they covered the whole ground two and three deep in one
dreadful tangle of slaughter. Above them lay the Englishmen in
their lines, even as they had stood, and higher yet upon the
plateau a wild medley of the dead of all nations, where the last
deadly grapple had left them. In the further corner, under the
shadow of a great rock, there crouched seven bowmen, with great
John in the centre of them--all wounded, weary, and in sorry
case, but still unconquered, with their blood-stained weapons
waving and their voices ringing a welcome to their countrymen.
Alleyne rode across to John, while Sir Hugh Calverley followed
close behind him.

"By Saint George!" cried Sir Hugh, "I have never seen signs of so
stern a fight, and I am right glad that we have been in time to
save you."

"You have saved more than us," said John, pointing to the banner
which leaned against the rock behind him.

"You have done nobly," cried the old free companion, gazing with
a soldier's admiration at the huge frame and bold face of the
archer. "But why is it, my good fellow, that you sit upon this
man."

"By the rood! I had forgot him," John answered, rising and
dragging from under him no less a person than the Spanish
caballero, Don Diego Alvarez. "This man, my fair lord, means to
me a new house, ten cows, one bull--if it be but a little one--a
grindstone, and I know not what besides; so that I thought it
well to sit upon him, lest he should take a fancy to leave me."

"Tell me, John," cried Alleyne faintly: "where is my dear lord,
Sir Nigel Loring?"

"He is dead, I fear. I saw them throw his body across a horse
and ride away with it, but I fear the life had gone from him."

"Now woe worth me! And where is Aylward?"

"He sprang upon a riderless horse and rode after Sir Nigel to
save him. I saw them throng around him, and he is either taken
or slain."

"Blow the bugles!" cried Sir Hugh, with a scowling brow. "We must
back to camp, and ere three days I trust that we may see these
Spaniards again. I would fain have ye all in my company."

"We are of the White Company, my fair lord," said John.

"Nay, the White Company is here disbanded," answered Sir Hugh
solemnly, looking round him at the lines of silent figures, "Look
to the brave squire, for I fear that he will never see the sun
rise again."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

OF THE HOME-COMING TO HAMPSHIRE.


It was a bright July morning four months after that fatal fight
in the Spanish barranca. A blue heaven stretched above, a green
rolling plain undulated below, intersected with hedge-rows and
flecked with grazing sheep. The sun was yet low in the heaven,
and the red cows stood in the long shadow of the elms, chewing
the cud and gazing with great vacant eyes at two horsemen who
were spurring it down the long white road which dipped and curved
away back to where the towers and pinnacles beneath the flat-topped
hill marked the old town of Winchester.

Of the riders one was young, graceful, and fair, clad in plain
doublet and hosen of blue Brussels cloth, which served to show
his active and well-knit figure. A flat velvet cap was drawn
forward to keep the glare from his eyes, and he rode with lips
compressed and anxious face, as one who has much care upon his
mind. Young as he was, and peaceful as was his dress, the dainty
golden spurs which twinkled upon his heels proclaimed his
knighthood, while a long seam upon his brow and a scar upon his
temple gave a manly grace to his refined and delicate
countenance. His comrade was a large, red-headed man upon a
great black horse, with a huge canvas bag slung from his
saddle-bow, which jingled and clinked with every movement of his
steed. His broad, brown face was lighted up by a continual
smile, and he looked slowly from side to side with eyes which
twinkled and shone with delight. Well might John rejoice, for
was he not back in his native Hampshire, had he not Don Diego's
five thousand crowns rasping against his knee, and above all was
he not himself squire now to Sir Alleyne Edricson, the young
Socman of Minstead lately knighted by the sword of the Black
Prince himself, and esteemed by the whole army as one of the most
rising of the soldiers of England.

For the last stand of the Company had been told throughout
Christendom wherever a brave deed of arms was loved, and honors
had flowed in upon the few who had survived it. For two months
Alleyne had wavered betwixt death and life, with a broken rib and
a shattered head; yet youth and strength and a cleanly life were
all upon his side, and he awoke from his long delirium to find
that the war was over, that the Spaniards and their allies had
been crushed at Navaretta, and that the prince had himself heard
the tale of his ride for succor and had come in person to his
bedside to touch his shoulder with his sword and to insure that
so brave and true a man should die, if he could not live, within
the order of chivalry. The instant that he could set foot to
ground Alleyne had started in search of his lord, but no word
could he hear of him, dead or alive, and he had come home now
sad-hearted, in the hope of raising money upon his estates and so
starting upon his quest once more. Landing at London, he had
hurried on with a mind full of care, for he had heard no word
from Hampshire since the short note which had announced his
brother's death.

"By the rood!" cried John, looking around him exultantly, "where
have we seen since we left such noble cows, such fleecy sheep,
grass so green, or a man so drunk as yonder rogue who lies in the
gap of the hedge?"

"Ah, John," Alleyne answered wearily, "it is well for you, but I
never thought that my home-coming would be so sad a one. My
heart is heavy for my dear lord and for Aylward, and I know not
how I may break the news to the Lady Mary and to the Lady Maude,
if they have not yet had tidings of it."

John gave a groan which made the horses shy. "It is indeed a
black business," said he. "But be not sad, for I shall give half
these crowns to my old mother, and half will I add to the money
which you may have, and so we shall buy that yellow cog wherein
we sailed to Bordeaux, and in it we shall go forth and seek Sir
Nigel."

Alleyne smiled, but shook his head. "Were he alive we should
have had word of him ere now," said he. "But what is this town
before us?"

"Why, it is Romsey!" cried John. "See the tower of the old gray
church, and the long stretch of the nunnery. But here sits a
very holy man, and I shall give him a crown for his prayers."

Three large stones formed a rough cot by the roadside, and beside
it, basking in the sun, sat the hermit, with clay-colored face,
dull eyes, and long withered hands. With crossed ankles and
sunken head, he sat as though all his life had passed out of
him, with the beads slipping slowly through his thin, yellow
fingers. Behind him lay the narrow cell, clay-floored and damp,
comfortless, profitless and sordid. Beyond it there lay amid
the trees the wattle-and-daub hut of a laborer, the door open,
and the single room exposed to the view. The man ruddy and
yellow-haired, stood leaning upon the spade wherewith he had
been at work upon the garden patch. From behind him came the
ripple of a happy woman's laughter, and two young urchins darted
forth from the hut, bare-legged and towsy, while the mother,
stepping out, laid her hand upon her husband's arm and watched
the gambols of the children. The hermit frowned at the untoward
noise which broke upon his prayers, but his brow relaxed as he
looked upon the broad silver piece which John held out to him.

"There lies the image of our past and of our future," cried
Alleyne, as they rode on upon their way. "Now, which is better,
to till God's earth, to have happy faces round one's knee, and to
love and be loved, or to sit forever moaning over one's own soul,
like a mother over a sick babe?"

"I know not about that," said John, "for it casts a great cloud
over me when I think of such matters. But I know that my crown
was well spent, for the man had the look of a very holy person.
As to the other, there was nought holy about him that I could
see, and it would be cheaper for me to pray for myself than to
give a crown to one who spent his days in digging for lettuces."

Ere Alleyne could answer there swung round the curve of the road
a lady's carriage drawn by three horses abreast with a postilion
upon the outer one. Very fine and rich it was, with beams
painted and gilt, wheels and spokes carved in strange figures,
and over all an arched cover of red and white tapestry.
Beneath its shade there sat a stout and elderly lady in a pink
cote-hardie, leaning back among a pile of cushions, and plucking
out her eyebrows with a small pair of silver tweezers. None
could seem more safe and secure and at her ease than this lady,
yet here also was a symbol of human life, for in an instant, even
as Alleyne reined aside to let the carriage pass, a wheel flew
out from among its fellows, and over it all toppled--carving,
tapestry and gilt--in one wild heap, with the horses plunging,
the postilion shouting, and the lady screaming from within. In
an instant Alleyne and John were on foot, and had lifted her
forth all in a shake with fear, but little the worse for her
mischance.

"Now woe worth me!" she cried, "and ill fall on Michael Easover
of Romsey! for I told him that the pin was loose, and yet he must
needs gainsay me, like the foolish daffe that he is."

"I trust that you have taken no hurt, my fair lady," said
Alleyne, conducting her to the bank, upon which John had already
placed a cushion.

"Nay, I have had no scath, though I have lost my silver tweezers.
Now, lack-a-day! did God ever put breath into such a fool as
Michael Easover of Romsey? But I am much beholden to you, gentle
sirs. Soldiers ye are, as one may readily see. I am myself a
soldier's daughter," she added, casting a somewhat languishing
glance at John, "and my heart ever goes out to a brave man."

"We are indeed fresh from Spain," quoth Alleyne.

"From Spain, say you? Ah! it was an ill and sorry thing that so
many should throw away the lives that Heaven gave them. In
sooth, it is bad for those who fall, but worse for those who bide
behind. I have but now bid farewell to one who hath lost all in
this cruel war."

"And how that, lady?"

"She is a young damsel of these parts, and she goes now into a
nunnery. Alack! it is not a year since she was the fairest maid
from Avon to Itchen, and now it was more than I could abide to
wait at Romsey Nunnery to see her put the white veil upon her
face, for she was made for a wife and not for the cloister. Did
you ever, gentle sir, hear of a body of men called `The White
Company' over yonder?"

"Surely so," cried both the comrades.

"Her father was the leader of it, and her lover served under him
as squire. News hath come that not one of the Company was left
alive, and so, poor lamb, she hath----"

"Lady!" cried Alleyne, with catching breath, "is it the Lady
Maude Loring of whom you speak?"

"It is, in sooth."

"Maude! And in a nunnery! Did, then, the thought of her
father's death so move her?"

"Her father!" cried the lady, smiling. "Nay; Maude is a good
daughter, but I think it was this young golden-haired squire of
whom I have heard who has made her turn her back upon the world."

"And I stand talking here!" cried Alleyne wildly. "Come, John,
come!"

Rushing to his horse, he swung himself into the saddle, and was
off down the road in a rolling cloud of dust as fast as his good
steed could bear him.

Great had been the rejoicing amid the Romsey nuns when the Lady
Maude Loring had craved admission into their order--for was she
not sole child and heiress of the old knight, with farms and
fiefs which she could bring to the great nunnery? Long and
earnest had been the talks of the gaunt lady abbess, in which she
had conjured the young novice to turn forever from the world, and
to rest her bruised heart under the broad and peaceful shelter of
the church. And now, when all was settled, and when abbess and
lady superior had had their will, it was but fitting that some
pomp and show should mark the glad occasion. Hence was it that
the good burghers of Romsey were all in the streets, that gay
flags and flowers brightened the path from the nunnery to the
church, and that a long procession wound up to the old arched
door leading up the bride to these spiritual nuptials. There was
lay-sister Agatha with the high gold crucifix, and the three
incense-bearers, and the two-and-twenty garbed in white, who cast
flowers upon either side of them and sang sweetly the while.
Then, with four attendants, came the novice, her drooping head
wreathed with white blossoms, and, behind, the abbess and her
council of older nuns, who were already counting in their minds
whether their own bailiff could manage the farms of Twynham, or
whether a reeve would be needed beneath him, to draw the utmost
from these new possessions which this young novice was about to
bring them.

But alas! for plots and plans when love and youth and nature,
and above all, fortune are arrayed against them. Who is this
travel-stained youth who dares to ride so madly through the lines
of staring burghers? Why does he fling himself from his horse
and stare so strangely about him? See how he has rushed through
the incense-bearers, thrust aside lay-sister Agatha, scattered the
two-and-twenty damosels who sang so sweetly--and he stands before
the novice with his hands out-stretched, and his face shining,
and the light of love in his gray eyes. Her foot is on the very
lintel of the church, and yet he bars the way--and she, she
thinks no more of the wise words and holy rede of the lady
abbess, but she hath given a sobbing cry and hath fallen forward
with his arms around her drooping body and her wet cheek upon his
breast. A sorry sight this for the gaunt abbess, an ill lesson
too for the stainless two-and-twenty who have ever been taught
that the way of nature is the way of sin. But Maude and Alleyne
care little for this. A dank, cold air comes out from the black
arch before them. Without, the sun shines bright and the birds
are singing amid the ivy on the drooping beeches. Their choice
is made, and they turn away hand-in-hand, with their backs to the
darkness and their faces to the light.

Very quiet was the wedding in the old priory church at
Christchurch, where Father Christopher read the service, and
there were few to see save the Lady Loring and John, and a dozen
bowmen from the castle. The Lady of Twynham had drooped and
pined for weary months, so that her face was harsher and less
comely than before, yet she still hoped on, for her lord had come
through so many dangers that she could scarce believe that he
might be stricken down at last. It had been her wish to start
for Spain and to search for him, but Alleyne had persuaded her
to let him go in her place. There was much to look after, now
that the lands of Minstead were joined to those of Twynham, and
Alleyne had promised her that if she would but bide with his wife
he would never come back to Hampshire again until he had gained
some news, good or ill, of her lord and lover.

The yellow cog had been engaged, with Goodwin Hawtayne in
command, and a month after the wedding Alleyne rode down to
Bucklershard to see if she had come round yet from Southampton.
On the way he passed the fishing village of Pitt's Deep, and
marked that a little creyer or brig was tacking off the land, as
though about to anchor there. On his way back, as he rode
towards the village, he saw that she had indeed anchored, and
that many boats were round her, bearing cargo to the shore.

A bow-shot from Pitt's Deep there was an inn a little back from
the road, very large and wide-spread, with a great green bush
hung upon a pole from one of the upper windows. At this window
he marked, as he rode up, that a man was seated who appeared to
be craning his neck in his direction. Alleyne was still looking
up at him, when a woman came rushing from the open door of the
inn, and made as though she would climb a tree, looking back the
while with a laughing face. Wondering what these doings might
mean, Alleyne tied his horse to a tree, and was walking amid the
trunks towards the inn, when there shot from the entrance a
second woman who made also for the trees. Close at her heels
came a burly, brown-faced man, who leaned against the door-post
and laughed loudly with his hand to his side, "Ah, mes belles!"
he cried, "and is it thus you treat me? Ah, mes petites! I
swear by these finger-bones that I would not hurt a hair of your
pretty heads; but I have been among the black paynim, and, by my
hilt! it does me good to look at your English cheeks. Come,
drink a stoup of muscadine with me, mes anges, for my heart is
warm to be among ye again."

At the sight of the man Alleyne had stood staring, but at the
sound of his voice such a thrill of joy bubbled up in his heart
that he had to bite his lip to keep himself from shouting
outright. But a deeper pleasure yet was in store. Even as he
looked, the window above was pushed outwards, and the voice of
the man whom he had seen there came out from it. "Aylward,"
cried the voice, "I have seen just now a very worthy person come
down the road, though my eyes could scarce discern whether he
carried coat-armor. I pray you to wait upon him and tell him
that a very humble knight of England abides here, so that if he
be in need of advancement, or have any small vow upon his soul,
or desire to exalt his lady, I may help him to accomplish it."

Aylward at this order came shuffling forward amid the trees, and
in an instant the two men were clinging in each other's arms,
laughing and shouting and patting each other in their delight;
while old Sir Nigel came running with his sword, under the
impression that some small bickering had broken out, only to
embrace and be embraced himself, until all three were hoarse with
their questions and outcries and congratulations.

On their journey home through the woods Alleyne learnt their
wondrous story: how, when Sir Nigel came to his senses, he with
his fellow-captive had been hurried to the coast, and conveyed by
sea to their captor's castle; how upon the way they had been
taken by a Barbary rover, and how they exchanged their light
captivity for a seat on a galley bench and hard labor at the
pirate's oars; how, in the port at Barbary, Sir Nigel had slain
the Moorish captain, and had swum with Aylward to a small coaster
which they had taken, and so made their way to England with a
rich cargo to reward them for their toils. All this Alleyne
listened to, until the dark keep of Twynham towered above them
in the gloaming, and they saw the red sun lying athwart the
rippling Avon. No need to speak of the glad hearts at Twynham
Castle that night, nor of the rich offerings from out that
Moorish cargo which found their way to the chapel of Father
Christopher.

Sir Nigel Loring lived for many years, full of honor and laden
with every blessing. He rode no more to the wars, but he found
his way to every jousting within thirty miles; and the Hampshire
youth treasured it as the highest honor when a word of praise
fell from him as to their management of their horses, or their
breaking of their lances. So he lived and so he died, the most
revered and the happiest man in all his native shire.

For Sir Alleyne Edricson and for his beautiful bride the future
had also naught but what was good. Twice he fought in France,
and came back each time laden with honors. A high place at court
was given to him, and he spent many years at Windsor under the
second Richard and the fourth Henry--where he received the honor
of the Garter, and won the name of being a brave soldier, a
true-hearted gentleman, and a great lover and patron of every
art and science which refines or ennobles life.

As to John, he took unto himself a village maid, and settled in
Lyndhurst, where his five thousand crowns made him the richest
franklin for many miles around. For many years he drank his ale
every night at the "Pied Merlin," which was now kept by his
friend Aylward, who had wedded the good widow to whom he had
committed his plunder. The strong men and the bowmen of the
country round used to drop in there of an evening to wrestle a
fall with John or to shoot a round with Aylward; but, though a
silver shilling was to be the prize of the victory, it has never
been reported that any man earned much money in that fashion. So
they lived, these men, in their own lusty, cheery fashion--rude
and rough, but honest, kindly and true. Let us thank God if we
have outgrown their vices. Let us pray to God that we may ever
hold their virtues. The sky may darken, and the clouds may
gather, and again the day may come when Britain may have sore
need of her children, on whatever shore of the sea they be found.
Shall they not muster at her call?






 


Back to Full Books