"Let him go," he said briefly; and there was that in the tone that caused the astonished old man to loose his hold, and stand gazing in awe and amaze at the youthful face, kindling with its strange look of resolve and authoritative power.
It seemed as though the possessed boy felt the power himself; for though his open eyes took in no answering impression from the scenes around him, his arms fell suddenly to his side. The struggles ceased, he made no attempt to move; whilst Raymond laid the crucifix against his brow, and said in a low voice:
"In the Name of the Holy Son of God, in the Name of the Blessed Jesus, I forbid you to go. Awake from that unhallowed sleep! Call upon the Name of all names. He will hear you — He will save you."
His eyes were fixed upon the trembling boy; his face was shining with the light of his own implicit faith; his strong will braced itself to the fulfilment of the task set him to do. Confident that what the Father bid him accomplish, that he could and must fulfil, Raymond did indeed resemble some pictured saint on painted window, engaged in conflict with the Evil One; and when with a sudden start and cry the boy woke suddenly to the sense of passing things, perhaps it was small wonder that he sank at Raymond's feet, clasping him round the knees and sobbing wildly his broken and incoherent words:
"O blessed Saint George — blessed and glorious victor! thou hast come to me a second time to strengthen and to save. Ah, leave me not! To thee I give myself; help, O help me to escape out of this snare, which is more cruel than that of death itself! I will serve thee ever, blessed saint. I will be thine in life and death! Only fight my battle with the devil and his host, and take me for thine own for ever and ever."
Raymond kindly lifted him up, and laid him upon the bed again.
"I am no saint," he said, a little shamefacedly; "I am but a youth like thyself. Thou must not pray to me. But I will help thee all I may, and perchance some day, when this yoke be broken from off thy neck, we will ride forth into the world together, and do some service there for those who are yet oppressed and in darkness."
"I will follow thee to the world's end, be thou who thou mayest!" exclaimed the boy ecstatically, clasping his thin hands together, whilst a look of infinite peace came into his weary eyes. "If thou wouldest watch beside my bed, then might I sleep in peace. He will not dare to come nigh me; his messengers must stand afar off, fearing to approach when they see by whom I am guarded."
It was plainly useless to try to disabuse Roger of the impression that his visitor was other than a supernatural one, and Raymond saw that with the boy's mind so enfeebled and unhinged he had better let him think what he would. He simply held the crucifix over him once again, and said, with a calm authority that surprised even himself:
"Trust not in me, nor in any Saint however holy. In the Name of the Blessed Jesus alone put thy faith. Speak the prayer His lips have taught, and then sleep, and fear nothing."
With hands locked together, and a wonderful look of rest upon his face, Roger repeated after Raymond the long-unused Paternoster which he had never dared to speak beneath the unhallowed roof of his master at Basildene. With the old sense of restful confidence in prayer came at once the old untroubled sleep of the little child; and when Raymond at last looked up from his own devotions at the bedside, it was to see that Roger had fallen into the tranquil slumber that is the truest restorer of health, and that Father Paul was standing on the opposite side of the bed, regarding him with a very gentle yet a very penetrating and authoritative gaze. He bent his head once more as if to demand a blessing, and the Father laid a hand upon his head, and said, in grave, full tones:
"Peace be with thee, my son."
That was all. There was no comment upon what had passed; and after partaking of a simple meal, Raymond was advised to retire to rest himself after his long night's ride, and glad enough was he of the sleep that speedily came to him.
All the next day he was occupied with Gaston, who had many charges to undertake for John; and only when his brother had gone was he free to take up his place at John's bedside, and be once again his nurse, companion, and fellow student.
Roger still occupied the bed in the same room where he had first been laid. A low fever of a nature little understood had fastened upon him, and he still fell frequently into those strange unnatural trances which were looked upon by the brothers of the order as due to purely satanic agency. What Father Paul thought about them none ever knew, and none dared to ask.
Father Paul was a man who had lived in the world till past the meridian of life. He was reported to have travelled much, to have seen many lands and many things, and to have been in his youth a reckless and evil liver. Some even believed him to have committed some great crime; but none rightly knew his history, and his present sanctity and power and holiness were never doubted. A single look into that stern, worn, powerful face, with the coal-black eyes gleaming in their deep sockets, was enough to convince the onlooker that the man was intensely, even terribly in earnest. His was the leading spirit in that small and austere community, and he began at once to exercise a strong influence upon each of the three youths so unexpectedly thrown across his path.
This influence was the greatest at first over Raymond, in whom he appeared to take an almost paternal interest; and the strange warfare that they waged together over the mental malady of the unhappy Roger drew them still closer together.
Certainly for many long weeks it seemed as though the boy were labouring under some demoniacal possession, and Raymond fully believed that such was indeed the case. Often it seemed as though no power could restrain him from at least the attempt to return to the tyrant whom he believed to be summoning him back. Possibly much of the strange malady from which he was suffering might be due to physical causes — overstrained nerves, and even an unconscious and morbid craving after that very hypnotic condition (as it would now be termed) which had really reduced him to his present pitiable state; but to Raymond it appeared to proceed entirely from some spiritual possession, and in helping the unhappy boy to resist and conquer the voice of the tempter, his own faith and strength of spirit were marvellously strengthened; whilst Roger continued to regard him in the light of a guardian angel, and followed him about like a veritable shadow.
Father Paul watched the two youths with a keen and observant interest. It was by his command that Raymond was always summoned or roused from sleep whenever the access of nervous terror fell upon Roger and he strove to obey the summoning voice. He would watch with quiet intensity the struggle between the wills of the two lads, and mark, with a faint smile upon his thin lips, the triumph invariably attained by Raymond, and his growing and increasing faith in the power of the Name he invoked in his aid. Seldom indeed had he himself to come to the aid of the boy. He never did so unless Roger's paroxysm lasted long enough to try Raymond's strength to the verge of exhaustion, and this was very seldom.
The calm smile in the Father's eyes, and his quiet words of commendation, "Well done, my son!" were reward sufficient for Raymond even when his strength had been most severely tasked; and as little by little he and his charge came to know the monk better, and to receive from him from time to time words of teaching, admonition, or encouragement, they found themselves growing more and more dominated by his strong will and personality, more eager day by day to please him, more anxious to win the rare smile that occasionally flashed across the austere face and illuminated it like a gleam of sunshine.
John felt almost the same sense of fascination as Raymond, and was by no means impatient of the tardy convalescence that kept him so long a prisoner beneath the walls of the small religious house. He would indeed have fain tarried longer yet, but that his father sent a retinue of servants at length to bring him home again.
But Raymond did not go with him. His work for Roger was not yet done, and warmly attached as he was to John, his heart was still more centred upon Father Paul. Besides, no mention was made of him in the letter that accompanied the summons home. His brother was he knew not where, and his duty lay with Roger, who looked to him as to a saviour and protector.
There was no thought of Roger's leaving the retreat he had found in his hour of need. He scarce dared put foot outside the quiet cloistered quadrangle behind whose gates and walls he alone felt safe. Besides, his father lay slowly dying in the hospital hard by. It seemed as though the very joy of having his son restored to him had been too much for his enfeebled frame after the long strain of grief that had gone before. The process of decay might be slow, but it was sure, and all knew that the old man would ere long die. He had no desire for life, if only his boy were safe; and to Raymond he presented a pathetic petition that he would guard and cherish him, and save him from that terrible possession which had well-nigh been his ruin body and soul.
To Raymond it seemed indeed as if this soul had been given him, and he passed his word with a solemnity that brought great comfort to the dying man.
An incident which had occurred shortly before had added to Raymond's sense of responsibility with regard to Roger, and had shown him likewise that a new peril menaced his own path in life, though of personal danger the courageous boy thought little.
One day, some six weeks after his admission to the Monastery, and shortly before John's departure thence, Roger had been strangely uneasy and depressed for many hours. It was no return of the trance-like state in which he was not master of his own words and actions. Those attacks had almost ceased, and he had been rapidly gaining in strength in consequence. This depression and restless uneasiness was something new and strange. Raymond did not know what it might forebode, but he tried to dissipate it by cheerful talk, and Roger did his best to fight against it, though without much success.
"Some evil presence is near!" he exclaimed suddenly; "I know it — I feel it! I ever felt this sick shuddering when those wicked men approached me. Methinks that one of them must even now be nigh at hand. Can they take me hence? Do I indeed belong to them? O save me — help me! Give me not up to their power!"
His agitation became so violent, that it was a relief to Raymond that Father Paul at this moment appeared; and as this phase in Roger's state was something new, and did not partake of the nature of any spiritual possession, he dismissed Raymond with a smile, bidding him go out for one of the brief wanderings in the woods that were at once pleasant and necessary for him, whilst he himself remained beside Roger, soothing his nameless terrors and assuring him that no power in the land, not even that of the King himself, would be strong enough to force from the keeping of the Church any person who had sought Sanctuary beneath her shadow.
Meantime Raymond went forth, as he was wont to do, into the beech wood that lay behind the home of the monks. It was a very beautiful place at all times; never more so than when the first tender green of coming summer was clothing the giant trees, and the primroses and wood sorrel were carpeting the ground, which was yet brown with the fallen leaves of the past autumn. The slanting sunbeams were quivering through the gnarled tree trunks, and the birds were singing rapturously overhead, as Raymond bent his steps along the trodden path which led to the nearest village; but he suddenly stopped short with a start of surprise on encountering the intent gaze of a pair of fierce black eyes, and finding himself face to face with a stranger he had never seen in his life before.
Never seen? No; and yet he knew the man perfectly, and felt that he changed colour as he stood gazing upon the handsome malevolent face that was singularly repulsive despite its regular features and bold beauty. In a moment he recollected where he had seen those very lineaments portrayed with vivid accuracy, even to the sinister smile and the gleam in the coal-black eyes.
Roger possessed a gift of face drawing that would in these days make the fortune of any portrait painter. He had many times drawn with a piece of rough charcoal pictures of the monks as he saw them in the refectory, the refined and hollow face of John, and the keen and powerful countenance of Father Paul. So had he also portrayed for Raymond the features of the two Sanghursts, father and son. The youth knew perfectly the faces of both; and as he stopped short, gazing at this stranger with wide-open eyes, he knew in a moment that Roger's malevolent foe was nigh at hand, and that the sensitive and morbidly acute faculties of the boy had warned him of the fact, when he could by no possibility have known it by any other means.
Sanghurst stood looking intently at this bright-faced boy, a smile on his lips, a frown in his eyes.
"Methinks thou comest from the Monastery hard by?" he questioned smoothly. "Canst tell me if there be shelter there for a weary traveller this night?"
"For a poor and weary traveller perchance there might be," answered the boy, with a gleam in his eye not lost upon his interlocutor; "but it is no house of entertainment for the rich and prosperous. Those are sent onwards to the Benedictine Brothers, some two miles south from this. Father Paul opens not his gates save to the sick, the sorrowful, the needy. Shall I put you in the way of the other house, Sir? Methinks it would suit you better than any place which calls Father Paul its head."
The gaze bent upon the boy was searching and distinctly hostile. As the dialogue proceeded, the look of malevolence gradually deepened upon the face of the stranger, till it might have made a timid heart quail.
"How then came John de Brocas to tarry there so long? For aught I know he may be there yet. By what right is he a guest beneath this so hospitable roof?"
"He was sick nigh to the death when he craved admittance," answered Raymond briefly. "He —"
"He had aided and abetted the flight from his true masters of a servant boy bound over to them lawfully and fast. If he thinks to deceive Peter Sanghurst or if you do either, boy that you are, though with the hardihood of a man and the recklessness of a fool — you little know with whom you have to deal. It was you — you who broke into our house — I know not how, but some day I shall know — and stole away with one you fondly hope to hold against my power. Boy, I warn you fairly: none ever makes of Peter Sanghurst an enemy but he bitterly, bitterly rues the day. I give you one chance of averting the doom which else will fall upon you. Give back the boy. Lure him out hither some day when I am waiting to seize him. Place him once again in my hands, and your rash act shall be forgiven. You have the power to do this. Be advised, and accept my terms. The Sanghursts never forgive. Refuse, and the day will come when you will so long to have done my bidding now, that you would even sell your soul to undo the deed which has brought my enmity upon you. Now choose. Will you deliver up the boy, or —"
"Never!" answered Raymond, with flashing eyes, not even waiting to hear the alternative. "I fear you not. I know you, and I defy you. I will this moment to Father Paul, to warn him of your approach. The gates will be closed, and you will be denied all entrance. You may strive as you will, but your victim has taken Sanctuary, and not all the powers of the world or the devil you serve can prevail against the walls of that haven of refuge. Go back whence you came, or stay and do your worst. We fear you not. The Holy Saints and the Blessed Jesus are our protectors and defenders. You have tried in vain your foul spells. You have seen what their power is against that which is from above. Go, and repent your evil ways ere it be too late. You threaten me with your vengeance; have you ever thought of that vengeance of God which awaits those who defy His laws and invoke the powers of darkness? My trust is in Him; wherefore I fear you not. Do then your worst. Magnify yourself as you will. Your fate will be like that of the blaspheming giant of Gath who defied the power of the living God and fell before the sling and the stone of the shepherd boy."
And without waiting to hear the answer which was hurled at him with all the fury of an execration, Raymond turned and sped back to the Monastery, not in any physical fear of the present vengeance of his foe, but anxious to warn the keeper of the gate of the close proximity of one who was so deadly a foe to Father Paul's protege.
Not a word of this adventure ever reached Roger's ears, and indeed Raymond thought little of it after the next few weeks had passed without farther molestation from the foe. The old woodman died. Roger, though sincerely mourning his father, was too happy in returning health and strength to be over-much cast down. His mind and body were alike growing stronger. He was never permitted to speak of the past, nor of the abominations of his prison house. Father Paul had from the first bidden the boy to forget, or at least to strive to forget, all that had passed there, and never let his thoughts or his words dwell upon it. Raymond, despite an occasional access of boyish curiosity, ever kept this warning in mind, and never sought to discover what Roger had done or had suffered beneath the roof of Basildene. And so soon as the boy had recovered some measure of health, both he and Raymond were regularly instructed by Father Paul in such branches of learning as were likely to be of most service to them in days to come.
Whether or not he hoped that they would embrace the religious life they never knew. He never dropped a hint as to his desires on that point, and they never asked him. They were happy in their quiet home. All the brothers were kind to them, and the Father was an object of loving veneration which bordered on adoration.
Two years slipped thus away so fast that it seemed scarce possible to believe how time had fled by. Save that they had grown much both in body and mind, the boys would have thought it had been months, not years, they had spent in that peaceful retreat.
The break to that quiet life came with a mission which was entrusted by His Holiness himself to Father Paul, and which involved a journey to Rome. With the thought of travel there came to Raymond's mind a longing after his own home and the familiar faces of his childhood. The Father was going to take the route across the sea to Bordeaux, for he had a mission to fulfil there first. Why might not he go with him and see his foster-mother and Father Anselm again? He spoke his wish timidly, but it was kindly and favourably heard; and before the spring green had begun to clothe the trees, Father Paul, together with Raymond and his shadow Roger, had set foot once more upon the soil of France.
CHAPTER XII. ON THE WAR PATH
"Raymond! Is it — can it be thou?"
"Gaston! I should scarce have known thee!"
The twin brothers stood facing one another within the walls of Caen, grasping each other warmly by the hand, their eyes shining with delight as they looked each other well over from head to foot, a vivid happiness beaming over each handsome face. It was more than two years since they had parted — parted in the quiet cloister of the Cistercian Brotherhood; now they met again amid scenes of plunder and rapine: for the English King had just discovered, within the archives of the city his sword had taken, a treaty drawn up many years before, agreeing that its inhabitants should join with the King of France for the invasion of England; and in his rage at the discovery, he had given over the town to plunder, and would even have had the inhabitants massacred in cold blood, had not Geoffrey of Harcourt restrained his fury by wise and merciful counsel. But the order for universal pillage was not recalled, and the soldiers were freebooting to their hearts' content all over the ill-fated city.
Raymond had seen sights and had heard sounds as he had pressed through those streets that day in search of his brother that had wrung his soul with indignation and wonder. Where was the vaunted chivalry of its greatest champion, if such scenes could be enacted almost under his very eyes? Were they not true, those lessons Father Paul had slowly and quietly instilled into his mind, that not chivalry, but a true and living Christianity, could alone withhold the natural man from deeds of cruelty and rapacity when the hot blood was stirred by the fierce exultation of battle and victory, and the lust of conquest had gained the mastery over his spirit?
The hot July sun was beating down upon the great square where were situated those buildings of which the King and the Prince and their immediate followers had taken temporary possession. The brothers stood together beneath the shadow of a lofty wall. Cries and shouts from the surrounding streets told tales of the work being done there; but that work had carried off almost all the soldiers, and the twins were virtually alone in the place, save for the tall and slight youth who stood a few paces off, and was plainly acting in the capacity of Raymond's servant.
"I thought I should find thee here, Gaston," said his brother, with fond affection in his tones. "I knew that thou wouldst be with the King at such a time; and when I entered within the walls of this city, I said in my heart that my Gaston would have no hand in such scenes as those I was forced to witness as I passed along."
Gaston's brow darkened slightly, but he strove to laugh it off.
"Nay, thou must not fall foul of our great and mighty King for what thou hast seen today. In truth I like it not myself; but what would you? The men were furious when they heard of yon treaty; and the King's fierce anger was greatly kindled. The order went forth, and when pillage once begins no man may tell where it will end. War is a glorious pastime, but there must ever be drawbacks. Sure thine own philosophy has taught thee that much since thou hast turned to a man of letters. But tell me of thyself, Raymond. I am hungry for news. For myself, thou mayest guess what has been my life, an thou knowest how these past two years have been spent — wars and rumours of wars, fruitless negotiations, and journeys and marches for little gain. I am glad enough that we have shaken hands with peace and bid her adieu for a while. She can be a false and treacherous friend, and well pleased am I that the bloody banner of true warfare is unfurled at last. England is athirst for some great victory, for some gallant feat of arms which shall reward her for the burdens she has to pay to support our good soldiers. For his people's sake, as well as for his own honour, the King must strike some great blow ere he returns home and we who follow the Prince have sworn to follow him to the death and win our spurs at his side.
"Brother, say that thou wilt join our ranks. Thou hast not forgotten our old dreams? Thou hast not turned monk or friar?"
"Nay, or I should not now be here," answered Raymond. "No, Gaston, I have forgotten naught of the old dream; and I too have seen fighting in the south, where the King of France has mustered his greatest strength. For we believed the Roy Outremer would land at Bordeaux and march to the help of my Lord Derby, who is waging war against the Count of Lille Jourdaine and the Duke of Bourbon in and around Gascony. And, Gaston, the Sieur de Navailles has joined the French side, and is fighting in the van of the foe. He has long played a double game, watching and waiting till victory seems secure for either one King or the other. Now, having seen the huge force mustered by the King of France in the south, he seems to have resolved that the victory must remain with him, and has cast in his lot against the English cause. So, Brother, if the great Edward wins his battles, and drives from his own fair territories the invading hosts of France, it may be that the Sieur do Navailles may be deprived of his ill-gotten lands and castles; and then, if thou hast won thy spurs —"
Raymond paused, and Gaston's eyes flashed at the thought. But he had learned, even in these two years, something of the lesson of patience, and was now less confident of winning fame and fortune at one stroke than he had been when he had made his first step along the path that he believed would lead him by leaps and bounds to the desired haven.
"Then thou hast been there? Hast thou seen the old places — the old faces? Truly I have longed to visit Sauveterre once more; but all our plans are changed, and now men speak of naught but pressing on for Calais. Where hast thou come from?"
"From the old home, Gaston, where for three months I and Roger have been. What! dost thou not know Roger again? In truth, he looks vastly different from what he did when thou sawest him last. We are brothers in arms now, albeit he likes to call himself my servant. We have never been parted since the day we snatched him from that evil place within the walls of Basildene. We have been in safe shelter at the mill. Honest Jean and Margot had the warmest welcome for us, and Father Anselm gave us holy words of welcome. Everything there is as when we left. Scarce could I believe that nigh upon three years will soon have fled since we quitted its safe shelter. But I could not stay without thee, Brother. I have greatly longed to look upon thy face again. I knew that thou wert with the King, and I looked that this meeting should have been at Bordeaux. But when news was brought that the English ships had changed their course and were to land their soldiers in the north, I could tarry no longer, and we have ridden hard through the land northward to find thee here. Tell me, why this sudden change of plan? Surely the King will not let his fair province of Gascony be wrested from his hand without striking a blow in its defence in person?"
Gaston laughed a proud, confident laugh.
"Thou needst scarce ask such a question, Raymond; little canst thou know the temper of our King an thou thinkest for a moment such a thing as that. But methinks we may strike a harder blow here in the north against the treacherous French monarch than ever we could in the south, where his preparations are made to receive us. Here no man is ready. We march unopposed on a victorious career. The army is far away in the south; the King has but a small force with him in Paris. Brave Geoffrey of Harcourt, by whose advice we have turned our course and landed here at La Hague, has counselled us to march upon Calais and gain possession of that pirate city. With the very key of France in our hands, what may not England accomplish? Wherefore our march is to be upon Calais, and methinks there will be glory and honour to be won ore this campaign closes!"
And, indeed, for a brief space it did seem as though King Edward's progress was to be one of unchecked victory; for he had already routed the French King's Constable, sent to try to save Caen; had taken and pillaged that city, and had marched unopposed through Carbon, Lisieux, and Louviers to Rouen, leaving terrible devastation behind, as the soldiers seized upon everything in the way of food from the hapless inhabitants, though not repeating the scenes which had disgraced the English colours at Caen.
But at Rouen came the first of those checks which in time became so vexatious and even perilous to the English army. The French, in great alarm, had realized that something must be done to check Edward's victorious career; and as it was plain that if he turned his steps northward there would be no chance of opposing him, their aim and object was to pen him as far in the south as possible, so that the army in Gascony, perhaps, or failing that the new one mustering rapidly round the King in Paris, might close in upon the alien army and cut them to pieces by sheer force of numbers, before they could reach the coast and their ships. So Philip, recovering from his first panic, sent orders that all the bridges between Rouen and Paris should be broken down; and when Edward reached the former city, intending to cross there to the north side of the Seine, he found only the broken piers and arches of the bridge left standing, and the wide, turbid waters of the great river barring his further progress.
Irritated and annoyed, but not really alarmed as yet, the English King turned his steps eastward toward Paris, still resolved to cross by the first bridge found standing. But each in turn had been broken down; and the only retaliation he could inflict upon the people who were thwarting and striving to entangle him in a net, was to burn the towns through which he passed; Pont de l'Arche, Vernon, and Verneuil, until he arrived at last at Poissy, only a few miles from Paris, to find the bridge there likewise broken down, whilst messengers kept arriving from all sides warning him that a far mightier host was gathering around Philip than he had with him, and advising instant retreat along the course by which he had come.
But Edward well knew that retreat was impossible. He had so exhausted the country and exasperated its inhabitants by his recent march and its attendant ravages, that it would be impossible to find food for his soldiers there again, even if the people did not rise up in arms against them. Rather would he face the French foe, however superior to his own force, in open fight, than turn his back upon them in so cowardly a fashion.
Meantime, as Philip did not move, he set to work with his soldiers to repair the bridge, sending out detachments of his army to harass and alarm the inhabitants of Paris, ravaging the country up and down, and burning St. Germain, St. Cloud, and Montjoie.
These expeditions, so perilous and so singularly successful, were just of the kind to delight the eager spirits of the camp, and keep enthusiasm up to a high pitch. Why Philip suffered these ravages, when his army already far outnumbered that of the English, and why the French permitted their foes to repair and cross the bridge at Poissy without stirring a finger to hinder them, are questions more easily asked than answered. Possibly the knowledge that the Somme still lay between their enemies and the sea, and that the same difficulties with regard to the bridges was to be found there, kept the French army secure still of final victory. Possibly they thought that, hemmed in between the two great rivers, the army of Edward would be so well caught in a trap that they need not bestir themselves to consummate the final scene of the drama. At any rate, Philip remained inactive, save that his army was rapidly augmenting from all sides; whilst the English finished their bridge and marched northward, only opposed by a large body of troops sent out from Amiens to meet them, over which they obtained an easy victory.
Nevertheless the position of the English was becoming exceedingly critical, and their march certainly partook something of the nature of a retreat, little as they themselves appeared to be aware of the fact. Philip with his host was advancing from behind, the great river Somme lay before them, all its bridges either broken down or so well fortified as to be practically impassable; and though their allies in Flanders had raised the siege of Bovines in order to march to the assistance of the English King, there appeared small chance of their effecting a junction in time to be of any use.
At Airaines a pause was made in order to try to discover some bridge or ford by which the river might be passed. But Philip's work had been so well done that not a whole bridge could anywhere be found; and the French army was pressing so hard upon the English that in the end they had to break up their camp in the greatest haste, leaving their cooked provisions and tables ready spread for their foes to benefit by. They themselves hastened on to Abbeville, keeping slightly to the west of the town so as to avoid provoking attack, and be nearer to the coast, though as no English ships could be looked for in the river's mouth, the seacoast was of small service to them.
Such is the brief outline of the facts of Edward's well-known march in this campaign, destined to become so famous. The individual action of our Gascon twins must now be told in greater detail.
Their reunion after so long a separation had been a source of keen delight to both the brothers. Each had developed in a different direction, and instead of being shadows the one of the other as in old days, they were now drawn together by the force of contrast. Gaston was above all else a soldier, with a soldier's high spirit, love of adventure, and almost reckless courage. He fairly worshipped the King and the Prince, and was high in favour with the youthful Edward, whose first campaign this was. Raymond, whilst imbued with the same high courage, though of a loftier kind, in that it was as much spiritual as physical, and with much of the chivalrous love of adventure so common to the gallant youths of that age, was far more thoughtful, well instructed, and far-seeing than his brother. He looked to the larger issues of life. He was not carried away by wild enthusiasm. He could love, and yet see faults. He could throw in his lot with a cause, and ardently strive for the victory, and yet know all the while that there were flaws in that same cause, and admit with sorrow, yet firm truthfulness, that in this world no cause is ever altogether pure, altogether just. He was not of the stuff of which hot partisans are made. He had a spirit in advance of his times, and the chances were that he would never rise to the same measure of success as his brother. For those who try to keep a stainless name in times of strife, bloodshed, and hostile jealousy, seldom escape without making bitter enemies, and suffer the penalty that will ever attend upon those who strive after a higher ideal than is accepted by the world at large.
But if growing apart in character, the bond of warm love was but drawn closer by the sense that each possessed gifts denied to the other. Raymond found in Gaston the most charming and enlivening comrade and friend. Gaston began unconsciously to look up to his brother, and to feel that in him was a power possessed by few of those by whom he was surrounded, and to which he could turn for counsel and help if ever the time should come when he felt the need of either.
In Raymond's presence others as well as Gaston began to curb some of that bold freedom of speech which has always characterized the stormy career of the soldier. Those who so curbed themselves scarce knew why they did so. It was seldom that Raymond spoke any word of rebuke or admonition, and if he did it was only to some youth younger than himself. But there was something in the direct grave look of his eyes, and in the pure steadfastness of his expression, which gave to his aspect a touch of saintliness quickly felt by those about him. For in those days men, in spite of many and great faults, were not ashamed of their religion. Much superstition might be mingled with their beliefs, corruption and impurity were creeping within the fold of the Church, darkness and ignorance prevailed to an extent which it is hard in these times to realize; yet with all this against them, men were deeply and truly loyal to their faith. It had not entered into their minds that a deep and firm faith in God was a thing of which to be ashamed; that to trust in special providence was childish folly; to receive absolution upon the eve of some great and perilous undertaking a mere empty form, or a device of cunning priestcraft. It has been the work of a more "enlightened" age to discover all this. In olden times — those despised days of worn-out superstition — men yet believed fully and faithfully in their God, and in His beneficent care of His children. Raymond, then, with his saint-like face and his reputation of piety, together with the story of his residence beneath the care of Father Paul, quickly obtained a certain reputation of his own that made him something of a power; and Gaston felt proud to go about with his brother at his side, and hear the comments passed upon that brother by the comrades he had made in the past years.
During the exciting march through the hostile country Gaston and Raymond had known much more of the feeling of the people than their comrades. The French tongue was familiar to them, and though they did not speak it as readily as English or their Gascon dialect, they had always known it from childhood, and never had any difficulty in making themselves understood. Despite their English sympathies and their loyalty to England's King, they felt much natural compassion for the harried and distracted victims of Edward's hostile march; and many little acts of protective kindness had been shown by both the brothers (generally at Raymond's instigation) towards some feeble or miserable person who might otherwise have been left in absolute destitution. These small acts of kindness won them goodwill wherever they went, and also assisted them to understand the words and ways of the people as they would scarcely have done without.
Then, as in all countries and all times the old proverb holds good that one good turn deserves another, they picked up here and there several valuable hints, and none more valuable than the knowledge that somewhere below Abbeville, between that town and the sea, was a tidal ford that could be crossed twice in the twelve hours by those who knew where to seek it. Thus whilst the King's Marshals were riding up and down the river banks, vainly seeking some bridge over which the hard-pressed army could pass, the twin brothers carefully pursued their way down the stream, looking everywhere for the white stone bottom which they had been told marked the spot where the water was fordable.
But the tide was rolling in deep and strong, and they could see nothing. Still cautiously pursuing their way — cautiously because upon the opposite bank of the river they saw a large gathering of archers and footmen all belonging to the enemy — they lighted presently upon a peasant varlet cutting willow wands not far from the river's brink. The boys entered into talk with him, and Raymond's kindly questioning soon elicited the information that the man's name was Gobin Agace, that he was a poor man with little hope of being anything else all his days, and that he knew the river as well as any man in the realm.
"Then," said Raymond, "thou needest be poor no longer; for if thou wilt come with us to the camp of the English King a short league away, and lead him and his army to the ford of the Blanche Tache which lies not far from here, he will make thee rich for life, and thou wilt be prosperous all thy days."
"If the King of France do not follow and cut off my head," said the man doubtfully, though his eyes glistened at the prospect of such easily-won wealth.
"By holy St. Anthony, thou needst not fear that!" cried Gaston. "Our great King can protect thee and keep thee from all harm. See here, good knave: it will be far better for thee to win this great reward than for us, who have no such dire need of the King's gold. If thou wilt not aid us, we must e'en find the place ourselves; but as time presses we will gladly lead thee to the King, and let him reward thee for thy good service. So answer speedily yea or nay, for we may not linger longer whilst thou debatest the matter in that slow mind of thine."
"Then I will e'en go with you, fair sirs," answered the fellow, who was in no mind to let the reward slip through his fingers; and within an hour Gaston and Raymond led before the King the peasant varlet who held the key of the position in his hands.
Every hour was bringing fresh messages of warning. The French King was in pursuit of his flying foe (as he chose to consider him), and though he felt so certain of having him in a trap that he did not hasten as he might have done, there was no knowing when the van of the French army would be upon them; and the moment that the King heard of this ford, and was assured by the peasant that at certain states of the tide twelve men abreast could ford it, the water reaching only to the knee, he broke up his camp at an hour's notice, and with Gobin Agace at his side proceeded in person to the water's edge, the flower of his army crowding to the spot beside him, whilst the mass of his troops formed in rank behind, ready to press forward the moment the water should be fordable.
Night had fallen before the trumpets had sounded, warning the soldiers of the breaking up of the camp. All night long they had been working, and then marching to the fordable spot: but now the tide was rolling in again; and worse than that, the English saw upon the opposite shore a compact band of twelve hundred men — Genoese archers and picked cavalry — posted there by the now vigilant Philip, ready to oppose their passage if they should chance upon the ford.
"Knights and gentlemen," said the King, as he sat his fine charger and looked round upon the gallant muster around him, "shall we be daunted by the opposing foe? They are but a handful, and we know the coward temper of yon Italian crossbowmen. Who will be the first to lead the charge, and ride on to victory?"
A hundred eager voices shouted a reply. The enthusiasm spread from rank to rank. Foremost of those beside the water's edge stood Oliver and Bernard de Brocas; and when at last the ebb came, and the word was given to advance, they were amongst the first who dashed into the shallow water, whilst Gaston and his brother, though unable to press into the foremost rank, were not far behind.
Thick and fast fell round them the bolts of the crossbows; but far thicker and more deadly were the long shafts of the English archers, which discomfited the foreign banners and sent them flying hither and thither. In vain did their brave leader, Godemar de Fay, strive to rally them and dispute the passage of the main body of the army, even when the horsemen had passed across. Edward's splendid cavalry rode hither and thither, charging again and again into the wavering band. Quickly the Genoese hirelings flung away their bows and ran for their lives; whilst the English army, with shouts of triumph, steadily advanced across the ford in the first quivering light of the dawning day, and looked back to see the banners of Philip of France advancing upon them, whilst a few stragglers and some horses were actually seized by the soldiers of that monarch.
"Now God and St. George be praised!" cried Edward, as he watched the approach of the foe, who had so nearly trapped him upon ground which would have given every advantage to the French and none to his own army. "Methinks had our good brother but pressed on a day's march faster, it would have gone hard with us to save the honour of England. Now I stand on mine own ground. Now will I fight at my ease. There is bread for my soldiers. They shall rest ere they be called upon to fight. Let Philip do his worst! We will be ready with an English welcome when he comes. Let his host outnumber ours by three to one, as men say it does, shall we be afraid to meet him in fair field, and show him what English chivalry may accomplish?"
A tumultuous cheer was answer enough. The whole of the English army now stood upon the north bank of the Somme, watching, with shouts of triumph and gestures of defiance, the futile efforts of the French to plunge over the ford. The tide was again flowing. The water was deep and rapid. In a moment they knew themselves to be too late, and a few well-aimed shafts from English longbows showed them how futile was now any effort in pursuit of the foe who had eluded them.
Sullenly and with many menacing gestures, that were replied to by shouts of derisive laughter from the English soldiers, the French army turned hack towards Abbeville, where they could cross the river at their leisure by the bridge which had been strongly fortified against Edward. Careless confidence had lost Philip the advantage he might have gained through clever generalship; he was now to see what he could do by force of arms when he and Edward should stand face to face in their opposing hosts in the open field of battle.
CHAPTER XIII. WINNING HIS SPURS.
"Tomorrow, good comrades in arms, we will show yon laggard King of what stuff English chivalry is made!" cried the young Prince of Wales, as he rose to his feet and held a bumper of wine high above his head. "We have our spurs to win, and tomorrow shall be our chance. Here is to the victory of the English arms! May the mighty St. George fight upon our side, and bring us with glory and honour through the day!"
Every guest at the Prince's table had leaped to his feet. Swords were unsheathed and waved in wild enthusiasm, and a shout went up that was like one of triumph, as with one voice the guests around the Prince's table drained their cups to the victory of the English cause, shouting with one voice, as if formulating a battle cry:
"St. George and the Prince! St. George and the Prince!"
In the English camp that night there were elation and revelry; not the wild carousing that too often in those days preceded a battle and left the soldiers unfit for duty, but a cheerful partaking of good and sufficient food before the night's rest and ease which the King had resolved upon for his whole army, in preparation for the battle that could scarce be delayed longer than the morrow.
It was early on Thursday morning, the twenty-fourth day of August, that the ford of the Blanche Tache had been crossed. Thursday and Friday had been spent by the English in skirmishing about in search of provisions, of which great abundance had been found, and in deciding upon the disposition of their troops in a favourable position for meeting the advance of the French.
The King had selected some wooded and rising ground in the vicinity of the then obscure little village of Crecy. Then having made all his arrangements with skill and foresight, and having ordered that his men should be provided with ample cheer, and should rest quietly during the night, he himself gave a grand banquet to the leaders of his army; and the young Prince of Wales followed his father's example by inviting to his own quarters some score of bold and congenial spirits amongst the youthful gentlemen who followed his father's banner, to pass the time with them in joyous feasting, and to lay plans for the glory of the coming day.
It is difficult in these modern days to realize how young were some amongst those who took part in the great battles of the past. The Black Prince, as he was afterwards called from the sombre hue of the armour he wore, was not yet fifteen when the Battle of Crecy was fought; and when the King had summoned his bold subjects to follow him to the war, he had called upon all knights and gentlemen between the ages of sixteen and twenty to join themselves to him for this campaign in France. Lads who would now be reckoned as mere schoolboys were then doughty warriors winning their spurs in battle; and some of the most brilliant charges of those chivalrous days were led and carried through mainly by striplings scarce twenty years old. Inured from infancy to hardy sports, and trained to arms to the exclusion almost of all other training, these bold sons of England certainly proved equal to the demands made upon them. True, they were often skilfully generalled by older men, but the young ones held their own in prowess in the field; and child as the Prince of Wales would now be considered, the right flank of the army was to be led by him upon the morrow; and though the Earls of Warwick and Hereford and other trusty veterans were with him, his was the command, and to him were they to look.
No wonder then that the comrades who had marched with him through these last hazardous days, and who had been with and about him for many months — some of them for years — should rally round him now with the keenest enthusiasm. The De Brocas brothers were there — Oliver and Bernard (John had not left England to follow the fortunes of the war) — as well as Gaston and his brother, whose return had been warmly welcomed by the Prince. He had heard about the rescue of the woodman's son, and had been greatly interested and taken by Raymond and his story. Student though he might be by nature, Raymond was as eager as any for the fight that was to come. He had caught the spirit of the warlike King's camp, and his blood was on fire to strike a blow at the foe who had so long harassed and thwarted them.
And it was not all rioting and feasting in the camp that night. The soldiers supped well and settled to rest; but the King, when his guests had departed, went to his oratory and spent the night upon his knees, his prayer being less for himself than for his gallant boy; less for victory than that England's honour might be upheld, and that whatever was the issue of the day, this might be preserved stainless in the sight of God and man.
Then very early in the morning, whilst almost all the camp slept, the King was joined by his son, the Prince being followed by Raymond, who had also kept vigil upon his knees that night, and they, with some half score of devout spirits, heard mass and received the Sacrament; whilst a little later on the monks and priests were busy hearing the confessions of the greater part of the soldiers, who after receiving the priestly absolution went into battle with a loftier courage than before.
When this had been done and still the French army appeared not, the King gave orders that the men should be served with something to eat and drink, after which they might sit down at their ease to wait till their adversaries appeared.
Meantime the French were having anything but a comfortable time of it. They had remained inactive in Abbeville for the whole of Friday as well as the preceding Thursday, after they had retreated thither from the ford where the English had given them the slip; and on Saturday they were marched off none too well fed, to meet their English foes.
Philip was so confident that his immense superiority in numbers was certain to give him the victory, that he thought little of the comfort of his men, the consequence being that they grew jaded and weary with the long hot march taken in an ill-fed state; and his own marshals at last very earnestly entreated their lord to call a halt for rest and refreshment before the troops engaged in battle, or else the men would fight at a terrible disadvantage.
Philip consented to this, and a halt was called, which was obeyed by the ranks in front; but those behind, eager to fall upon the English, and confident of easy victory, declined to wait, and went steadily forward, shouting "Kill! kill!" as they went, till all the alleys became filled up and choked. The press from behind urged forward the men in front, and the army moved on perforce once again, though now no longer in order, but in a confused and unmanageable mass.
Just as they came in sight of the English line of battle a heavy tempest of thunder and rain came upon them. The clouds seemed to discharge themselves upon the French host, and those birds of evil omen, the ravens, flew screaming overhead, throwing many men into paroxysms of terror who would never have blenched before the drawn blade of an armed foe.
Worse than this, the rain wet and slackened the strings of the Genoese crossbowmen, who marched in the foremost rank; and hungry and weary as they were, this last misfortune seemed to put the finishing touch to their discomfiture. Hireling soldiers, whose hearts are not in the cause, have been the curse of many a battlefield; and though these Genoese advanced with a great shouting against the foe, as though hoping to affright them by their noise, they did little enough except shout, till their cries were changed to those of agony and terror as their ineffectual shower of bolts was answered by a perfect hail of shafts from the English archers' dreaded longbows, whilst the sun shining full into their dazzled eyes rendered ineffectual any farther attempt on their part to shoot straight at the foe. The hired archers turned and fled, and throwing into confusion the horsemen behind who were eager to charge and break the ranks of the English archers, the luckless men were mown down ruthlessly by their infuriated allies, whose wrath was burning against them now that they had proved not only useless but a serious hindrance.
This was by no means a promising beginning for the French; but still, with their overwhelming superiority of numbers, they had plenty of confidence left; and the English, though greatly encouraged by the breaking and havoc in the ranks of the foe, were by no means recklessly confident that the day was theirs.
Presumably the English King, who with the reserves was posted upon the highest ground at some distance behind the two wings, had the best view of the battle. The left wing, commanded by the Earls of Northampton and Arundel, occupied the stronger position, being protected on their left by the little river Maye. The young Prince was in the position of the greatest danger; and as he and his companions stood in their ranks, watching the onset of the battle with parted lips, and breath that came and went with excitement, they began to see that upon them and their men the brunt of the day would fall.
It had been the King's command that the battle should be fought on foot by the English, probably owing to the wooded and uncertain nature of the ground, else his far-famed cavalry would hardly have been dismounted. The Prince then stood still in his place, gazing with kindling eyes at the confusion in the ranks of the foe, till the glint of a blood-red banner in their ranks caught his eye, and he cried aloud to his men,
"The oriflamme! the oriflamme, good comrades! See ye that, and know ye what it means when the King of France unfurls it? It is a signal that no lives will be spared, no quarter granted to the foe. If we go not on to victory, we march every man to his death!"
A shout that was like a cheer was the response of the gallant little band who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Prince, and the word being passed from mouth to mouth was received everywhere with like courageous enthusiasm, so that the cheer went ringing down from line to line, and hearts beat high and hand grasped sword ever harder and faster as the tide of battle rolled onward, until the word was given and the trumpets sounded the advance.
"Keep by my side and the Prince's, Raymond," breathed Gaston, as slowly and steadily they pressed down the hill towards the spot where the French horse under the Count of Alencon were charging splendidly into the ranks of the archers and splitting the harrow into which they had been formed by Edward's order into two divisions. The Count of Flanders likewise, knowing that the King's son was in this half of the battle, called on his men to follow him, and with a fine company of Germans and Savoyards made for the spot where the young Prince was gallantly fighting, and cheering on his men to stand firm for the honour of England.
Shoulder to shoulder, fearless and dauntless, stood the little band of gallant knights and gentlemen who formed the bodyguard of the Prince. Again and again had the horsemen charged them; but the soldiers threw themselves beneath the horses of the foe and stabbed them through the body, so that hundreds of gallant French knights were overthrown and slain ere they well knew what had befallen them. But in the press and the heat of battle it was hard to say how the tide would turn. The commanders of the left wing of the English, the Earls of Northampton and Arundel, were forcing their way inch by inch to reach the Prince's side and divert from his immediate neighbourhood the whole stress of the opposing force now concentred there. They could see that the Prince was still unharmed, fighting with the gallantry of his soldier race. But the odds for the moment were heavily against him; and they despatched a messenger to the King, who remained with the reserves, begging him to go to the assistance of the Prince. Ere the messenger returned, they had fought their own way into the melee, and had joined issue with the gallant youth, who, fearless and full of spirit, was encouraging his men alike by the boldness of his demeanour and by his shouts of encouragement and praise, though his breath was coming thick and fast, and the drops of exhaustion stood upon his brow.
"Fear not, sweet Prince," cried Arundel, raising his voice so that all who were near could hear: "we have sent word to your Royal Sire of the stress of the battle round you, and he will soon be here himself with the help that shall enable us to rout this rebel host;" and he turned his eyes somewhat anxiously towards the height where the King and his company still remained motionless.
But a messenger was spurring back through the open ground which lay between the reserves and the right wing where such hot work was going on. He made straight for the spot where the Prince was fighting, and both the Earls turned eagerly towards him.
"What said the King?" they asked quickly. "When will he be with us?"
"He asked," replied the messenger, "whether the Prince were killed or wounded; and when I told him nay, but in a hard passage of arms wherein he needed his Sire's help, the King folded his arms and turned away, saying, 'Let the boy win his spurs; for I will that the glory of this day be his, and not mine.'"
As those words were spoken it seemed as if new life were infused into the young Prince himself and all those who surrounded him. A ringing cheer rose from all their throats. They formed once again under their young leader, and charged the enemy with a fury that nothing was able to resist. The horsemen were forced hack the way they had come. The Counts who had led them boldly and well were unhorsed and slain. Dismay and terror fell upon the breaking ranks of the French, and they turned and fled; whilst the excited and triumphant young Prince pursued them with shouts of exultation and triumph, till he found himself with his few most faithful followers in the midst of the flying but hostile ranks some little distance away from the English army.
"Sweet Prince, beware! have a care how you adventure your life thus in the enemy's ranks," whispered Raymond in his ear, he alone keeping a cool head in the midst of so much that was exciting. "See, here come some score of horsemen who know thee and would fain cut off thy retreat. Let us here make a stand and receive the charge, else shall we all be overthrown together."
This cautious counsel came only just in time. Young Edward looked round to see that his reckless bravery had placed him for the moment in imminent peril; but he had all the courage of his race, and his heart quailed not for an instant. Giving the word to his comrades to form a compact square, he placed himself where the onset was like to be the fiercest; nor was there time for his companions to interfere to place him in a position of greater safety.
With a great shout of rage and triumph the band of horsemen, who had recognized the person of the Prince, now rushed upon him, resolved either to carry him off a prisoner or leave him lying dead upon the field, so that the English might have little joy in their victory. So fierce was the attack that the Prince was borne to the ground; and the Battle of Crecy might have been a dark instead of a bright page in England's history, but for the gallantry of a little band of Welshmen headed by Richard de Beaumont, the bearer of the banner portraying the great red dragon of Merlin, which had floated all day over the bold Welsh contingent.
Flinging this banner over the prostrate form of the Prince, the brave soldier called on his men to charge the horses and cut them down. This they did in the way before mentioned — throwing themselves underneath and stabbing them through the heart. So their riders, finding even this last effort futile, joined in the headlong flight of their compatriots; and the Prince's faithful attendants crowded round him to raise him up again, greatly rejoicing to find that though breathless and confused by the shock of his fall, he was none the worse for his overthrow, and was quickly able to thank the brave Welshmen who had so opportunely come to the rescue of him and his comrades.
"Now, we will back to the ranks and find my father," said the Prince, when he had spoken his courteous thanks and looked round about to see if his comrades had suffered more than himself.
One or two had received slight wounds, and Raymond was leaning upon Gaston's shoulder looking white and shaken; but he quickly recovered, and declared himself only bruised and breathless, and still holding fast to Gaston's arm, followed the Prince up the hill amongst the heaps of dying and dead.
Gaston was flushed with his exertions, and in his heart was room for nothing but pride and joy in the glorious victory just achieved. But whilst Raymond looked around him as he slowly moved, suffering more bodily pain than he wished his brother to know, his heart felt bruised and crushed like his body, and a sudden sense of the vanity of human life and ambition came suddenly upon him, so much so that he scarce knew whether he was in the flesh or in the spirit as he moved slowly and quietly onwards.
Everywhere he saw before him the bodies of men who but a few short hours ago had been full of strong vitality, instinct with the same passions of hatred and loyalty as had animated their own ranks that day. How strange it seemed to look into those dead faces now, and wonder what those freed spirits thought of those same passions that had been raging within them but a few short hours before! Did it seem to them, as it almost seemed to him, that in all the world around there was nothing of moment enough to arouse such tumult of passion and strife; that only the things eternal the things that pass not away were worthy to be greatly sought after and longed for?
But his reverie was quickly interrupted by an exclamation from Gaston.
"See, Brother, the King! the King He is coming to meet his son, and his nobles with him!"
It was a sight not soon to be forgotten, that meeting between the warlike Edward and his bold young son, after the splendid triumph just achieved by the gallant boy. The King embraced the Prince with tears of joyful pride in his eyes, whilst the nobles standing round the King shouted aloud at the sight, and the soldiers made the welkin ring with their lusty English cheers.
Young Edward had received knighthood at his father's hand upon landing on the shores of France, though truly it was this day's fighting which had won him his spurs. But as the King was resolved to mark the occasion by some rewards to those who had stood by his gallant boy in the thick of the press, he quickly picked out from the cluster of noble youths who stood behind their young leader some six of gentle blood and known bravery, and thereupon dubbed them knights upon the bloody battlefield. Amongst those thus singled out for such honourable notice were the two sons of the King's Master of the Horse, Oliver and Bernard de Brocas, the latter of whom was destined to be the Prince's chosen and trusted comrade through many another warlike campaign.
Gladly and proudly did the royal boy stand by and see the reward of valour thus bestowed upon his chosen comrades of the day; but he seemed scarce satisfied by all that was done. His eye wandered quickly over the little knot grouped upon the knoll around the King, and then his glance travelling yet farther to the remoter outskirts, he suddenly detached himself from the centre group, and ran quickly down the hillside till he reached the spot where the twin brothers were standing watching the scene with vivid interest, Raymond still leaning rather heavily upon his brother's arm.
"Nay now, why tarry ye here?" eagerly questioned the Prince. "Sure ye were amongst the most steadfast and fearless in the fight today.
"Good Raymond, but for thy quick eye and timely word of warning, we had been fallen upon and scattered unawares, and perhaps had been cut to pieces, ere we knew that we were vanquished rather than victors. My father is even now bestowing upon my gallant comrades the reward their good swords have won for them. Come, and let me present you twain to him; for sure in all the gallant band that fought by my side none were more worthy of knighthood than you. Come, and that quickly!"
A quick flush crossed Gaston's cheek as the guerdon so dear to the heart of the soldier was thus thrust upon him; but a whisper in his ear held him back.
"Gaston, we have no name; we cannot receive knighthood without revealing all. Has the time yet come to speak? Of that thou shalt be the judge. I will follow thy wishes in this as in all else."
For a moment Gaston stood debating with himself. Then the counsel of prudence prevailed over that of youthful ambition. How were he and his brother worthily to support the offered rank? Even did they make known their true parentage, that would not put money in their purses; and to be poor dependents upon the bounty of relatives who had rejected their mother and driven forth their father to seek his fortune as he could, was as repugnant to Gaston's pride now as it had been two years before.
"Sweet Prince," he answered, after this brief pause for thought, "we have but done our duty today, and knighthood is far too great a reward for our poor merits. Sure it has been honour and glory enough to fight by your side, and win this gallant day. We are but poor youths, without home or friends. How could we receive a reward which we could not worthily wear? A penniless knight without servant or esquire would cut but a sorry figure. Nay then, sweet Prince, let it be enough for us this day to have won these gracious words at your lips. It may be when fair fortune has smiled upon us, and we are no longer poor and nameless, that we will come to you to crave the boon you have graciously offered this day. We will remain for the nonce in our present state, but will ever look forward to the day when some other glorious victory may be won, and when we may come to our Prince for that reward which today we may not receive at his hands."
"So be it," answered the Prince, his face, which had clouded over with regret a few moments earlier, lighting up again at these latter words. "Be assured I will not forget you, nor the services ye have done me this day. I too in days to come shall have knighthood to bestow upon those who have earned the right to wear it. Fear not that Edward ever will forget. Whenever the day comes that shall bring you thus to me for the reward so nobly earned today, that reward shall be yours. The King's son has promised it."
CHAPTER XIV. WINTER DAYS.
"Nephew John, I have brought thee a companion to share thy winter's solitude."
John de Brocas, who was in his old and favourite retreat — his Rector-uncle's great library — rose to his feet with a start at hearing the familiar voice of Master Bernard (whom he believed to be far away in France), and found himself face to face not with his cheery uncle alone, but with a tall, white, hollow-eyed youth, upon whose weary face a smile of delighted recognition was shining, whilst a thin hand was eagerly advanced in welcome.
"Raymond!" exclaimed John, with a look that spoke volumes of welcome.
"Good mine uncle, welcome at all times, thou art doubly welcome in such company as this. But I had not looked to see you in merry England again for long. Men say that Calais is closely besieged by the King, and methought he had need of thee and my father likewise whilst the campaign across the water lasted."
"True, lad, the King has need of those he graciously dubs his trusty counsellors; and I have but come hither for a short while. The King is full of anxiety about this outbreak of the hardy Scots, which has been so gallantly frustrated at Neville's Cross by our gracious Queen, worthy to be the mate of the world's greatest warrior. I am come hither charged with much business in this matter, and so soon as all is accomplished I am desired to bring the Queen to join her royal spouse before the walls of Calais. It is not long that I may linger here. I have but a few short hours to set mine own affairs in order. But thinking I should be like to find thee here, Nephew John, as the autumn weather in low-lying Windsor generally drives thee forth from thence, I hastened hither to bring to thee a companion for thy winter's loneliness. Methinks thou hast known and loved him before. Treat him as a cousin and a friend. He will tell thee all his story at his leisure."
The slight stress laid upon the word "cousin" by the prelate caused John to glance quickly and curiously at Raymond, who answered by a slight smile. Just at that moment there was no time for explanations. Master Bernard engrossed the whole of John's time and attention, being eager to learn from that young man every detail of the campaign in the north which had reached his ears. And John, who took a wide and intelligent interest in all the passing affairs of the day, and from his position was able to learn much of what went on in the world, sat beside his uncle at the hastily-spread board, and told all the leading facts of the brief and triumphant campaign in terse and soldier-like fashion.
Meantime Raymond sat at ease in the corner of a deep settle beside the fire, leaning back against the soft fur rug which draped it, unable to eat through very weariness, but eagerly interested in all the news his uncle was hearing from John.
Master Bernard had to push on to London that night. He and his companion had landed at Southampton the previous day, and had taken Guildford upon their way to the capital. There Raymond was to remain under the kindly care of John; and as soon as the Rector had set off with fresh horses and his own retinue of servants, his nephew turned eagerly back to the hall, where his cousin was still resting, and taking him warmly by the hands, gazed into his face with a glance of the most friendly and affectionate solicitude.
"Good my cousin, I have scarce had time to bid thee welcome yet, but I do so now with all my heart. It is as a cousin I am to receive and treat thee? What meant my good uncle by that? Hast thou told him what I myself know? Methought he spoke like one with a purpose."
"Yes, it is true that he knows," answered Raymond; "but he counsels us to keep our secret awhile longer. He thinks, as does Gaston, that we were wiser first to win our way to greater fame and fortune than mere boys can hope to do, and then to stand revealed as those sprung from a noble line. How came he to know? That I will tell thee when I am something rested. But I am so weary with our journey that I scarce know how to frame my thoughts in fitting words. Yet I am glad to see thy face again, good John. I have been wearying long for a sight of thee."
"Thou art indeed sadly changed thyself, my cousin," said John. "In truth, men who go to these wars go with their lives in their hands. Was it on the glorious field of Crecy that thou receivedst some hurt? Sure thou hast been sore wounded. But thou shalt tell me all thy tale anon, when thou art something rested and refreshed."
The tale was told that same evening, when, after Raymond had slept for a few hours and had been able then to partake of some food, he felt, in part at least, recovered from the fatigues of the long ride from the coast, and could recline at ease beside the glowing fire, and talk to John of all that had befallen him since they had parted two and a half years before.
The account of the victory at Crecy was eagerly listened to, and also that of the subsequent march upon Calais, when the King of France, choosing to consider the campaign at an end, had disbanded both his armies, leaving the victorious King of England to build unmolested a new town about Calais, in which his soldiers could live through the winter in ease and plenty, and complete the blockade both by sea and land undisturbed by hostile demonstrations.
"It seems to me," said Raymond, "that did our great Edward wish to make good his claim on the crown of France, he has only to march straight upon Paris and demand coronation there. When after the victory at Crecy and the subsequent triumphs I have told you of, over band after band of troops all going to the support of Philip, we could have marched unopposed through the length and breadth of the land, none daring to oppose us, the soldiers all thought that Paris, not Calais, would be the next halting place.
"What thinkest thou, good John? Thou knowest much of the true mind of the King. Why, after so glorious a victory, does he not make himself master of all France?"
John smiled his thoughtful smile.
"Verily because our King is statesman as well as soldier; and though he boldly advances a claim on the crown of France, to give the better colour to his feats of arms against its King, he knows that he could not rule so vast an empire as that of France and England together would be, and that his trusty subjects at home would soon grow jealous and discontented were they to find themselves relegated to the second place, whilst their mighty Edward took up his abode in his larger and more turbulent kingdom of France. England rejoices in snatching portions of territory from the French monarch, in holding off his grasping hand from those portions of France that lawfully belong to our great King. She will support him joyfully through a series of victories that bring spoil and glory to her soldiers; but jealousy would soon arise did she think that her King was like to regard France as his home rather than England, that England was to be drained of her gold and her best men to keep under control the unwieldy possession she had won but could never peacefully hold. Methinks the King and his best counsellors know this well, and content themselves with their glorious feats of arms which stir the blood and gratify the pride of all loyal subjects.
"But now, I pray thee, tell me of thyself; for thou hast sadly altered since we parted last. What has befallen thee in these wars? and where is thy brother Gaston, whom thou wentest forth to seek? and where the faithful Roger, whose name thou hast spoken many times before?"
"I have left them together in the camp before Calais," answered Raymond. "Roger would fain have come with me, but I thought it not well that he should place himself so near his ancient foes and masters, even though I trow the spell has been snapped once and for ever. He loves Gaston only second to me, and was persuaded at length to stay with him. I, too, would have stayed likewise, but they said the winter's cold would kill me, and I could no longer bear arms or serve in the ranks. So I was fain to leave them and come to England with our uncle. And the thought of spending the winter months with thee and with the books made amends for all I left behind beneath the walls of Calais."
"What ails thee then, Raymond? Is it some unhealed wound?"
The youth shook his head.
"Nay, I have no wound. It was some hurt I got in that last melee on the field of Crecy, when the Prince nearly lost his life just as the day was won. I was hurled to the ground and trampled upon. Methought for many long minutes that I should never rise again. But for days afterwards I knew not that the hurt was aught to think about or care for. It pained me to move or breathe, but I thought the pain would pass, and heeded it but little. We rode gaily enough to the walls of Calais, and we set about building a second city without its walls (when the governor refused to surrender it into our hands), which the King has been pleased to call Newtown the Bold. I strove to work with the rest, thinking that the pain I suffered would abate by active toil, and liking not to speak of it when many who had received grievous wounds were to be seen lending willing service in the task set us. But there came a day when I could no more. I could scarce creep to the tent which Gaston, Roger, and I shared together; and then I can remember naught but the agony of a terrible pain that never left me night or day, and I only longed that I might die and so find rest."
"Ah, poor lad, I too have known that wish," said John. "Doubtless it was some grave inflammation of the hidden tissues of the body from the which you so grievously suffered. And how came it that our uncle found you out? He is a notable leech, as many men have found ere now. Was it as such that he then came to thee?"
"Yes, truly; and our generous and kindly Prince sent him. He heard through Gaston of the strait I was in, and forthwith begged our uncle to come and visit me. John, dost thou know that Gaston and I each wear about our neck the halves of a charm our mother hung there in our infancy? It is a ring of gold, each complete in itself, yet which may be so joined together as to form one circlet with the two halves of the medallion joined in one;" and Raymond pulled forth from within his doublet a small circlet of gold curiously chased, with a half medallion bearing certain characters inscribed upon it.
John examined it curiously, and said it was of Eastern workmanship.
"I know not how that may be. I know not its history," answered Raymond; "but Gaston tells me that when our uncle saw the ring about my neck he seemed greatly moved, and asked quickly how it came there. Gaston told him it was hung there by our mother, and showed his own half, and how they fitted together. At that our uncle seemed yet more moved; and after he had done what he could to ease my pain, he left me with Roger, and bid Gaston follow him to his own tent. There he told him the history of that ring, and how for many generations it had been in the De Brocas family, its last owner having been the Arnald de Brocas who had quarrelled with his kindred, and had died ere the dispute had been righted. Seeing that it was useless to hide the matter longer, Gaston told our uncle all; and he listened kindly and with sympathy to the tale. At the first he seemed as if he would have told your father all the story likewise, and have had us owned before the world. But either Gaston's reluctance to proclaim ourselves before we had won our way to fortune, or else his own uncertainty as to how your father would take the news, held him silent; and he said we were perchance right and wise to keep our secret. He added that to reveal ourselves, though it might gain us friends, would also raise up many bitter and powerful enemies. The Sieur de Navailles in the south, who by joining the French King's standard had already made himself a mark for Edward's just displeasure when the time should come for revenging himself upon those treacherous subjects in Gascony, would be certain to hold in especial abhorrence any De Brocas who would be like to cast longing eyes upon the domain he had so long ruled over; whilst in England the fierce and revengeful Sanghursts would have small scruple in seeking the destruction of any persons who would rise to dispute their hold on Basildene. The King's time and thought were too much engrossed in great matters of the state to give him leisure to concern himself with private affairs. Let the youths then remain as they were for the present, serving under his banner, high in favour with the youthful Prince, and like to win fame and honour and wealth through the victorious war about to be waged in France. When that war had triumphantly ended, and the King was rewarding those whose faithful service had gained him the day, then might the time come for the brothers of Basildene to make themselves known, and plead for their own again."
"I trow he is in the right," said John, "and I am glad that he knows all himself. So would he take the more interest in you, good Raymond; and thus it was, I take it, that he brought you to England himself when he came hither."
"Ay, truly his kindness was great; and after he knew all, I was moved to better quarters, and a prince could not have been better treated. But it was long before I could stand upon my own feet, and save for the hope of seeing you once again, I would gladly have been spared the journey to England. But the sea passage was favourable, and gave me strength, though the wind from the east blew so strong that we could not make the harbour of Dover, and were forced to beat westward along the coast till we reached the friendly port of Southampton. Then we took horse and rode hither, and glad am I to be at the journey's end. But our uncle tells me that in a few short weeks I shall be sound and whole again, and before the winter ends I may hope to join my brother beneath the King's banner."
"I hope it will be so," answered John; "and if rest is what thou needest for thy recovery, it will not be lacking to thee here. It is well that the sword is not the only weapon thou lovest, but that the quill and the lore of the wise of the earth have attractions for thee likewise."
It quickly seemed to Raymond as if the incidents of that stirring campaign had been but part and parcel of a fevered dream. He was disposed to believe that he had never quitted the retreat of his uncle's roof, and took up his old studies with John with the greatest zest. John found him marvellously advanced since the days they had studied together before. His two years with Father Paul in the Brotherhood had wonderfully enlarged his mind and extended his field of vision. It was a delight to both cousins to exchange ideas, and learn from one another; and the time fled by only too fast, each day marked by a steady though imperceptible improvement in Raymond's state of health, as his fine constitution triumphed over the serious nature of the injury received.
Although he often thought of Basildene, he made no attempt to see the place. The winter cold had set in with severity; John had little disposition to face it, and quiet and rest were far more congenial to him than any form of activity or amusement. John believed that the Sanghursts were still there, engaged in their mysterious experiments that savoured so strongly of magic. But after hearing of Raymond's bold defiance of the implacable Peter in the forest near to the Brotherhood, John was by no means desirous that the fact of Raymond's residence at the Rectory of St. Nicholas should become known at Basildene. Without sharing to the full the fears of the country people with regard to the occult powers of the father and son in that lonely house, John believed them to be as cruel and unscrupulous a pair as ever lived, even in those half-civilized times. He therefore charged his servants to say nothing of Raymond's visit, and hoped that it would not reach the ears of the Sanghursts.
But there was another person towards whom Raymond's fancy had sometime strayed during the years of his absence from Guildford, and this person he was unaccountably shy of naming even to John, though he would have been quite unable to allege a reason for his reticence.
But fortune favoured him in this as in other matters, for on entering the library one day after a short stroll around the Rector's garden, he found himself face to face with a radiant young creature dressed in the picturesque riding gear of the day, who turned to him with a beaming smile as she cried:
"Ah! I have been hearing of thee and of thy prowess, my fair young sir. My good brother Alexander, who has followed the King's banner, would gladly have been in thy place on the day of Crecy. Thou and thy brother were amongst that gallant little band who fought around the Prince and bore him off the field unhurt. Did not I say of thee that thou wouldst quickly win thy knighthood's spurs? And thou mightest already have been a belted knight if thy prudence and thy modesty had not been greater than thine ambition. Is it not so?"
Raymond's face glowed like a child's beneath the praises of Mistress Joan Vavasour, and the light of her bright eyes seemed fairly to dazzle him. John came to the rescue by telling Raymond's own version of the story; and then he eagerly asked Joan of herself and what had become of her these past years, for he had seldom seen her, and knew not where she was living nor what she was doing — knew not even if she were wedded, nor if Peter Sanghurst's suit were at an end or had been crowned by success.
At the sound of that name the girl's face darkened quickly, and a spark of fire gleamed in her eyes.
"Talk not of him," she said; "I would that he were dead! Have I not said that I would never wed him, that I would die first? Fair fortune hath befriended me in this thing. Thou knowest perchance that my father and brother have been following the King's banner of late, first in Flanders and then in France. My mother and I meantime have not been residing at Woodcrych, but in London, whither all news of the war is first known, and where travellers from the spot are like to come. We are here but for a short space, to spend the merry Yuletide season with my mother's brother, who lives, as thou knowest, within the town of Guildford. After that we return once more to London, there to await the return of my father and brother. Alexander, in truth, has once visited us, but has returned to the siege of Calais, hoping to be amongst those who will reap plenteous spoil when the city is given over to plunder, as Caen was given. Of the Sanghursts, I thank my kindly saints, I have heard naught all this while. My mother loved them not, albeit she was always entreating me in nowise to thwart or gainsay my father. I cannot but hope that these long months of absence will have gone far to break the spell that those evil men seemed to cast about him. Be that as it may, I myself have grown from a child to a woman, and I say now, as I said then, that no power in the world shall induce me to give my hand in marriage to Peter Sanghurst. I will die first!"
The girl threw back her handsome head, and her great eyes glowed and flashed. Raymond looked at her with a beating heart, feeling once more that mysterious kindling of the soul which he could not understand, and yet of which he had been before in the presence of Joan so keenly conscious. She appeared to him to be far older than himself, though in reality he was a few months the senior; for at eighteen a girl is always older in mind than a boy, and Joan's superb physique helped to give to her the appearance of a more advanced age than was really hers. Just then, too, Raymond, though grown to his full height, which was stately enough, was white and thin and enfeebled. He felt like a mere stripling, and it never occurred to him that the many glances bent upon him by the flashing eyes of the queenly maiden were glances of admiration, interest, and romantic approval. To her the pale, silent youth, with the saint-like face and the steadfast, luminous eyes, was in truth a very /preux chevalier/ amongst men. She had seen something too much of those knights of flesh and blood and nothing else, who could fight gallantly and well, but who knew nothing of the deeper and truer chivalry of the days of mythical romance in which her own ardent fancies loved to stray. Feats of arms she delighted in truly with the bold spirit of her soldier race; but she wanted something more than mere bravery in the field. It was not physical courage alone that made Sir Galahad her favourite of all King Arthur's knights. Ah no! There was another quest than that of personal glory which every true knight was bound to seek. Yet how many of them felt this and understood the truer, deeper meaning of chivalry? She knew, she felt, that Raymond did; and as she turned her palfrey's steps homeward when the twilight began to fall that cold December day, it was with her favourite Sir Galahad that her mind was engrossed, and to him she gave a pale, thin face, with firm, sweet lines and deep-set dreamy eyes — eyes that looked as though they had never quailed before the face of foe, and which yet saw far into the unseen mysteries of life, and which would keep their sweet steadfastness even to the end.
As for Raymond, an unwonted restlessness came over him at this time. He was growing stronger and better. Moderate exercise was recommended as beneficial, and almost every day during the bright hours of the forenoon his steps were turned towards the town of Guildford, lying hard by his uncle's Rectory house. Scarce a day passed but what he was rewarded by a chance encounter with Mistress Joan — either a glimpse of her at a window, or a smile from her bright eyes as she passed him upon her snow-white palfrey; or sometimes he would have the good hap to meet her upon foot, attended by her nurse, or some couple of stout retainers, if her walk had been in any wise extended; and then she would pause and bring him to her side by a look, and inquire after his own health and that of John, who seldom stirred out in the bitter cold of winter. Then he would ask and obtain her permission to accompany her as far as the gate of her own home — the place where she was staying; and though he never advanced beyond the gate — for she knew not what her relatives might say to these encounters with a gallant without money and without lands — they were red-letter days in the calendar of two young lives, and were strong factors moulding their future lives, little as either knew it at the time.
Had either the radiant maiden or the knightly youth had eyes for any but the other, they might have observed that these encounters, now of almost daily occurrence, were not unheeded by at least one evil-faced watcher. The servants who attended Mistress Joan were all devoted to her, and kept their own counsel, whatever they might think, and Raymond's fame as one of the heroes of Crecy had already gone far and wide, and won him great regard in and about the walls of his uncle's home; but there was another watcher of Mistress Joan's movements who took a vastly different view of the little idyll playing itself out between the youth and the maiden, and this watcher was none other than the evil and vengeful Peter Sanghurst the younger.
Once as Raymond turned away, after watching Joan's graceful, stately figure vanish up the avenue which led to her uncle's house, he suddenly encountered the intensely malevolent glance of a pair of coal-black eyes, and found himself most unexpectedly face to face with the same man who had once confronted him in the forest and had demanded the restitution of the boy Roger.
"You again!" hissed out between his teeth the dark-browed man. "You again daring to stand in my path to thwart me! Have a care how you provoke me too far. My day is coming! Think you that I threaten in vain? Go on then in your blind folly and hardihood! But remember that I can read the future. I can see the day when you, a miserable crushed worm, will be wholly and solely in my power; when you will be mine mine to do with what I will, none hindering or gainsaying me. Take heed then how you provoke me to vengeance; for the vengeance of the Sanghurst can be what thou dreamest not of now. Thwart me, defy me, and the hour will come when for every pang of rage and jealousy I have known thou shalt suffer things of which thou hast no conception now, and none shall be able to rescue thee from my hand. Yon maiden is mine — mine — mine! Her will I wed, and none other. Strive as thou wilt, thou wilt never pluck her from my hand. Thou wilt but draw down upon thine own head a fearful fate, and she too shall suffer bitterly if thou failest to heed my words."
And with a look of hatred and fury that seemed indeed to have something positively devilish in it, Sanghurst turned and strode away, leaving Raymond to make what he could of the vindictive threats launched at him. Had this man, in truth, some occult power of which none else had the secret; or was it but an idle boast, uttered with the view of terrifying one who was but a boy in years?
Raymond knew not, could not form a guess; but his was a nature not prone to coward fears. He resolved to go home and take counsel with his good cousin John.
CHAPTER XV. THE DOUBLE SURRENDER.
On a burning day in July, nearly a year from the time of their parting, the twin brothers met once more in the camp before Calais, where they had parted the previous autumn. Raymond had been long in throwing off the effect of the severe injuries which had nearly cost him his life after the Battle of Crecy; but thanks to the rest and care that had been his in his uncle's house, he had entirely recovered. Though not quite so tall nor so broad-shouldered and muscular as Gaston, who was in truth a very prince amongst men, he was in his own way quite as striking, being very tall, and as upright as a dart, slight and graceful, though no longer attenuated, and above all retaining that peculiar depth and purity of expression which had long seemed to mark him out somewhat from his fellow men, and which had only intensified during the year that had banished him from the stirring life of the camp.
"Why, Brother," said Gaston, as he held the slim white hands in his vise-like clasp, and gazed hungrily into the face he had last seen so wan and white, "I had scarce dared to hope to see thee again in the camp of the King after the evil hap that befell thee here before; but right glad am I to welcome thee hither before the final act of this great drama, for methinks the city cannot long hold out against the famine within and our bold soldiers without the walls. Thou hast done well to come hither to take thy part in the final triumph, and reap thy share of the spoil, albeit thou lookest more like a youthful St. George upon a church window than a veritable knight of flesh and blood, despite the grip of thy fingers, which is well-nigh as strong as my own."
"I will gladly take my share in any valorous feat of arms that may be undertaken for the honour of England and of England's King. But I would sooner fight with warriors who are not half starved to start with. Say not men that scarce a dog or a cat remains alive in the city, and that unless the citizens prey one upon the other, all must shortly perish?"
"Yea, in very truth that is so; for, as perchance thou hast heard, a vessel was sighted leaving Calais harbour but a few short days ago, and being hotly pursued, was seen to drop a packet overboard. That packet at ebb tide was found tied to an anchor, and being brought to the King and by him opened, was found to contain those very words addressed to the King of France by the governor of the city, praying him to come speedily to the rescue of his fortress if he wished to save it from the enemy's hand. Our bold King having first read it, sent it on posthaste to his brother of France, crying shame upon him to leave his gallant subjects thus to perish with hunger. Methinks that message will shame yon laggard monarch into action. How he has been content to idle away the year, with the foe besieging the key of his kingdom, I know not. But it is a warm welcome he shall get if he comes to the relief of Calais. We are as ready to receive him here as we were a year ago on the field of Crecy!"