"Then it is his uncle who hath brought him?" asked Joan.
"Yes," replied Edward, "he himself brought him to the hall, and even had the presumption to claim the protection for him that I pledged to his father, when I deemed far otherwise of this young Eustace."
"What account does he give of the length of time that he has spent on the road?" asked the Princess.
"Ay, there is the strangest part of the tale," said Fulk Clarenham, with a sneer, "since he left the poor simple men at Lynwood believing that he was coming at full speed to seek my Lord the Prince's protection for the child, a convenient excuse for eluding the inquiries of justice into his brawls at the funeral, as well as for the rents which he carried off with him; but somewhat inconsistent when it is not for five months that he makes his appearance at Bordeaux, and then in the society of a band of routiers."
"It shall be inquired into," said the Prince.
"Nay, nay, my Lord," said Fulk, "may I pray you of your royal goodness to press the matter no further. He is still young, and it were a pity to cast dishonour on a name which has hitherto been honourable. Since my young cousin is safe, I would desire no more, save to guard him from his future machinations. For his brother's sake, my Lord, I would plead with you."
"Little did I think such things of him," said the Prince, "when I laid knighthood on his shoulder in the battle-field of Navaretta; yet I remember even then old Chandos chid me for over-hastiness. Poor old Chandos, he has a rough tongue, but a true heart!"
"And, under favour, I would say," answered Clarenham, "that it might have been those early-won honours that turned the head of such a mere youth, so entirely without guidance, or rather, with the guidance of that dissolute Squire, who, I grieve to observe, still haunts his footsteps. Knighthood, with nought to maintain it, is, in truth, a snare."
"Well, I am weary of the subject," said the Prince, leaning back in his chair. "The boy is safe, and, as you say, Fulk, that is all that is of importance. Call hither the troubadour that was in the hall at noon. I would have your opinion of his lay," he added, turning to his wife.
The indignation may be imagined with which Arthur listened to this conversation, as he stood on the spot to which Edward had signed to him to advance, when he presented him to the Princess. He longed ardently to break in with an angry refutation of the slanders cast on his uncle, but he was too well trained in the rules of chivalry, to say nothing of the awful respect with which he regarded the Prince, to attempt to utter a word, and he could only edge himself as far away as was possible from Clarenham, and cast at him glances of angry reproach.
His uneasy movements were interpreted as signs of fatigue and impatience of restraint by one of the ladies, who was sitting at no great distance, a very beautiful and graceful maiden, the Lady Maude Holland, daughter to the Princess of Wales, by her first marriage; and she kindly held out her hand to him, saying, "Come hither, my pretty page. You have not learnt to stand stiff and straight, like one of the supporters of a coat-of-arms. Come hither, and let me lead you to company better suited to your years."
Arthur came willingly, as there was no more to hear about his uncle; and besides, it was away from the hateful Clarenham. She led him across the hall to a tall arched doorway, opening upon a wide and beautiful garden, filled with the plants and shrubs of the south of France, and sloping gently down to the broad expanse of the blue waves of the Garonne. She looked round on all sides, and seeing no one, made a few steps forward on the greensward, then called aloud, "Thomas!" no answer, "Edward! Harry of Lancaster!" but still her clear silvery voice was unheeded, until a servant came from some other part of the building, and, bowing, awaited her orders. "Where are Lord Edward and the rest?" she asked.
"Gone forth," the servant believed, "to ride on the open space near St. Ursula's Convent."
"None left at home?"
"None, noble Lady."
"None," repeated Lady Maude, "save the little Lord Richard, whose baby company your pageship would hardly esteem. You must try to endure the quietness of the lady's chamber, unless you would wish to be at once introduced to the grave master of the Damoiseaux."
At this moment Arthur's eye fell upon a lady who had just emerged from a long shady alley, up which she had been slowly walking, and the bright look of recognition which lighted up his face, was so different from the shy and constrained expression he had hitherto worn, that Lady Maude remarked it, and following his gaze, said, "Lady Agnes de Clarenham? Ah yes, she is of kin to you. Let us go meet her." Then, as they approached, she said, "Here, Agnes, I have brought you a young cousin of yours, whom the Prince has just conducted into my mother's chamber, where he bore so rueful a countenance that I grew pitiful enough to come forth on a bootless errand after his fellow Damoiseaux, who, it seems, are all out riding. So I shall even leave him to you, for there is a troubadour in the hall, whose lay I greatly long to hear."
Away tripped Lady Maude, well pleased to be free from the burthen her good-nature had imposed on her.
"Arthur," exclaimed Agnes, "what joy to see you! Is your uncle here?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "but oh, Cousin Agnes! if you had been by to hear the foul slanders which Sir Fulk has been telling the Prince—oh, Agnes! you would disown him for your brother."
"Arthur," said Agnes, with a voice almost of anguish, "how could he—why did he tarry so long on the road?"
"How could we come on when the Duke of Brittany himself said it was certain death or captivity? We were forced to wait for an escort. And now, Agnes, think of your brother saying that Uncle Eustace carried off the rents of Lynwood, when every man in the Castle could swear it was only the money Father Cyril had in keeping for his inheritance."
"Alas!" said Agnes.
"And the Prince will believe it—the Prince looks coldly on him already, and my uncle loves the Prince like his own life. Oh, he will be ready to die with grief! Agnes! Agnes! what is to be done? But you don't believe it!" he proceeded, seeing that she was weeping bitterly. "You do not believe it—you promised you never would! Oh say you do not believe it!"
"I do not, Arthur; I never believed half they said of him; but oh, that long delay was a sore trial to my confidence, and cruelly confirmed their tales."
"And think of Fulk, too, hindering the Prince from inquiring, because he says he would spare my uncle for my father's sake, when the truth is, he only fears that the blackness of his own designs should be seen! And Gaston, too, he slandered. Oh, Agnes! Agnes! that there should be such wickedness, and we able to do nought!"
"Nought but weep and pray!" said Agnes. "And yet I can bear it better now that you are here. Your presence refutes the worst accusation, and removes a heavy weight from my mind."
"You distrust him too! I cannot love you if you do."
"Never, never! I only feared some evil had befallen you, and grieved to see the use made of your absence. Your coming should make my heart light again."
"Shall I often see you, Cousin Agnes? for there is none else in this wide Castle that I shall care for."
"Oh yes, Arthur, there are full twenty pages little older than yourself—Lord Thomas Holland, the Prince's stepson, brother to the lady that led you to me; little Piers de Greilly, nephew to the Captal de Buch; young Lord Henry of Lancaster; and the little Prince Edward himself. You will have no lack of merry playmates."
"Ah, but to whom can I talk of my blessed mother and of Uncle Eustace, and of Lynwood Keep, and poor old Blanc Etoile, that I promised Ralph I would bear in mind?"
"Well, Arthur," said Agnes, cheerfully, "it is the pages' duty to wait on the ladies in hall and bower, and the ladies' office to teach them all courtly manners, and hear them read and say the Credo and Ave. You shall be my own especial page and servant. Is it agreed?"
"Oh yes," said the boy. "I wonder if the master of the Damoiseaux is as strict as that lady said, and I wonder when I shall see Uncle Eustace again."
If Arthur Lynwood felt desolate when he left his uncle's side, it was not otherwise with Sir Eustace as he lost sight of the child, who had so long been his charge, and who repaid his anxiety with such confiding affection. The coveted fame, favour, and distinction seemed likewise to have deserted him. The Prince's coldness hung heavily on him, and as he cast his eyes along the ranks of familiar faces, not one friendly look cheered him. His greetings were returned with coldness, and a grave haughty courtesy was the sole welcome. Chafed and mortified, he made a sign to Gaston, and they were soon in the street once more.
"Coward clown!" burst forth Gaston at once. "Would that I could send all his grinning teeth down the false throat of him!"
"Whose? What mean you?"
"Whose but that sulky recreant, Ashton? He has done well to obtain knighthood, or I would beat him within an inch of his life with my halbert, and if he dared challenge me, slay him as I would a carrion crown! He a Knight! Thanks to his acres and to Lord Pembroke!"
"Patience, patience, Gaston—I have not yet heard of what he accuses me."
"No! he has learnt policy—he saith it not openly! He would deny it, as did his Esquire when I taxed him with it! Would that you could not tell a letter! Sir Eustace, of your favour let me burn every one of your vile books."
"My innocent friends! Nay, nay, Gaston—they are too knightly to merit such measure. Then it is the old accusation of witchcraft, I suppose. So I was in league with the Castilian witch and her cats, was I?"
"Ay; and her broom-stick or her cats wafted you to Lynwood, where you suddenly stood in the midst of the mourners, borne into the hall on a howling blast! How I got there, I am sorry to say, the craven declared not, lest I should give him the lie at once!"
"But surely, such a tale is too absurd and vulgar to deceive our noble Prince."
"Oh, there is another version for his ears. This is only for the lower sort, who might not have thought the worse of you for kidnapping your nephew, vowing his mother should remain unburied till he was in your hands, and carrying off all his rents."
"That is Clarenham's slander."
"And credited by the Prince? Oh! little did I think the hand which laid knighthood on my shoulder should repent the boon that it gave!" exclaimed Eustace, with a burst of sorrow rather than anger.
"Do you not challenge the traitor at once?"
"I trow not, unless he speaks the charge to my face. Father Cyril declared that any outbreak on my part would damage our cause in the eyes of the Chancellor; we must bide our time. Since Arthur is safe, I will bear my own burden. I am guiltless in this matter, and I trust that the blessing of Heaven on my deeds shall restore a name, obscured, but not tarnished."
The resolution to forbear was tested, for time passed on without vindicating him. With such art had the toils of his enemies been spread, that no opening was left him for demanding an explanation. The calumnies could only be brought home to the lowest retainers of Clarenham and Ashton, and the only result of the zealous refutation by the followers of Sir Eustace was a brawl between John Ingram and a yeoman of Clarenham's, ending in their spending a week in the custody of the Provost Marshal.
Had there been any tournament or like sport at Bordeaux, Eustace could have asserted his place, and challenged the attention of the court; but the state of the Prince's health prevented such spectacles; nor had he any opportunity of acquiring honour by his deeds in arms. No army took the field on either side, and the war was chiefly carried on by expeditions for the siege or relief of frontier castles; and here his unusual rank as Knight Banneret stood in his way, since it was contrary to etiquette for him to put himself under the command of a Knight Bachelor. He was condemned therefore to a weary life of inaction, the more galling, because his poverty made it necessary to seek maintenance as formerly at the Prince's table, where he was daily reminded, by the altered demeanour of his acquaintance, of the unjust suspicions beneath which he laboured. He had hoped that a dismissal from his post in the Prince's band would give him the much-desired opportunity of claiming a hearing, but he was permitted to receive his pay and allowance as usual, and seemed completely overlooked. It was well that Gaston's gay temper could not easily be saddened by their circumstances, and his high spirits and constant attachment often cheered his Knight in their lonely evenings. Eustace had more than once striven to persuade him to forsake his failing fortunes; but to this the faithful Squire would never consent, vowing that he was as deeply implicated in all their accusations as Sir Eustace himself; and who would wish to engage a fellow-servant of the black cats! There were two others whom Eustace would fain believe still confided in his truth and honour, his nephew Arthur, and Lady Agnes de Clarenham; but he never saw them, and often his heart sank at the thought of the impression that the universal belief might make on the minds of both. And to add to his depression, a rumour prevailed throughout Bordeaux that the Baron of Clarenham had promised his sister's hand to Sir Leonard Ashton.
Nearly a year had passed since Eustace had left England, and his situation continued unchanged. Perhaps the Prince regarded him with additional displeasure, since news had arrived that Sir Richard Ferrars had made application to the Duke of Lancaster to interest the King in the cause of the guardianship; for there was, at this time, a strong jealousy, in the mind of the Prince, of the mighty power and influence of John of Gaunt, which he already feared might be used to the disadvantage of his young sons.
The cause was, at length, decided, and a letter from good Father Cyril conveyed to Eustace the intelligence that the Chancellor, William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, having given due weight to Sir Reginald's dying words and Lady Lynwood's testament, had pronounced Sir Eustace Lynwood the sole guardian of the person and estate of his nephew, and authorized all the arrangements he had made on his departure.
Affairs altogether began to wear a brighter aspect. The first indignation against Sir Eustace had subsided, and he was treated, in general, with indifference rather than marked scorn. The gallant old Chandos was again on better terms with the Prince, and, coming to Bordeaux, made two or three expeditions, in which Eustace volunteered to join, and gained some favourable, though slight, notice from the old Knight. Fulk Clarenham, too, having received from the Prince the government of Perigord, was seldom at court, and no active enemy appeared to be at work against him.
Agnes de Clarenham, always retiring and pensive, and seldom sought out by those who admired gayer damsels, was sitting apart in the embrasure of a window, whence, through an opening in the trees of the garden, she could catch a distant glimpse of the blue waters of the river where it joined the sea, which separated her from her native land, and from her who had ever been as a mother to her. She was so lost in thought, that she scarce heard a step approaching, till the unwelcome sound of "Fair greeting to you, Lady Agnes" caused her to look up and behold the still more unwelcome form of Sir Leonard Ashton. To escape from him was the first idea, for his clownish manners, always unpleasant to her, had become doubly so, since he had presumed upon her brother's favour to offer to her addresses from which she saw no escape; and with a brief reply of "Thanks for your courtesy, Sir Knight," she was about to rise and mingle with the rest of the party, when he proceeded, bluntly, "Lady Agnes, will you do me a favour?"
"I know of no favour in my power," said she.
"Nay," he said, "it is easily done, and it is as much to your brother as to myself. It is a letter which, methinks, Fulk would not have read out of the family, of which I may call myself one," and he gave a sort of smirk at Agnes;—"but he writes so crabbedly, that I, for one, cannot read two lines,—and I would not willingly give it to a clerk, who might be less secret. So methought, as 'twas the Baron's affair, I would even bring it here, and profit by your Convent-breeding, Lady Agnes."
Agnes took the letter, and began to read:—
"For the hand of the Right Noble and Worshipful Knight, Sir Leonard Ashton, at the court of my Lord the Prince of Wales, these:—
"Fair Sir, and brother-in-arms—I hereby do you to wit, that the affair whereof we spoke goes well. Both my Lord of Pembroke, and Sir John Chandos, readily undertook to move the Prince to grant the Banneret you wot of the government of the Castle, and as he hath never forgotten the love he once bore to his brother, he will the more easily be persuaded. Of the garrison we are sure, and all that is now needful is, that the one-eyed Squire, whereof you spoke to me, should receive warning before he arrives at the Castle.
"Tell him to choose his time, and manage matters so that there may be no putting to ransom. He will understand my meaning.
"Greeting you well, therefore, "Fulk, Baron of Clarenham."
"What means this?" exclaimed Agnes, as a tissue of treachery opened before her eyes.
"Ay, that you may say," said Leonard, his slow brain only fixed upon Fulk's involved sentences, and utterly unconscious of the horror expressed in her tone. "How is a man to understand what he would have me to do? Send to Le Borgne Basque at Chateau Norbelle? Is that it? Read it to me once again, Lady, for the love of the Saints. What am I to tell Le Borgne Basque? No putting to ransom, doth he say? He might be secure enough for that matter—Eustace Lynwood is little like to ransom himself."
"But what mean you?" said Agnes, eagerly hoping that she had done her brother injustice in her first horrible thought. "Sir Eustace Lynwood, if you spake of him, is no prisoner, but is here at Bordeaux."
"He shall not long be so," said Leonard. "Heard you not this very noon that the Prince bestows on him the government of Chateau Norbelle on the marches of Gascony? Well, that is the matter treated of in this letter. Let me see, let me see, how was it to be? Yes, that is it! It is Le Borgne Basque who is Seneschal. Ay, true, that I know,—and 'twas he who was to admit Clisson's men."
"Admit Clisson's men!"
"Ay—'tis one of those Castles built by the old Paladin, Renaud de Montauban, that Eustace used to talk about. I ween he did not know of this trick that will be played on himself—and all of them have, they say, certain secret passages leading through the vaults into the Castle. Le Borgne Basque knows them all, for he has served much in those parts, and Fulk placed him as Seneschal for the very purpose."
"For the purpose of admitting Clisson's men? Do I understand you right, Sir Knight, or do my ears play me false?"
"Yes, I speak right. Do you not see, Lady Agnes, it is the only way to free your house of this stumbling-block—this beggarly upstart Eustace—who, as long as he lives, will never acknowledge Fulk's rights, and would bring up his nephew to the same pride."
"And is it possible, Sir Leonard, that brother of mine, and belted Knight, should devise so foul a scheme of treachery! Oh, unsay it again! Let me believe it was my own folly that conjured up so monstrous a thought!"
"Ay, that is the way with women," said Leonard; "they never look at the sense of the matter. Why, this Eustace, what terms should be kept with him, who has dealings with the Evil One? and—"
"I will neither hear a noble Knight maligned, nor suffer him to be betrayed," interrupted Agnes. "I have listened to you too long, Sir Leonard Ashton, and will stain my ears no longer. I thank you, however, for having given me such warning as to enable me to traverse them."
"What will you do?" asked Leonard, with a look of impotent anger.
"Appeal instantly to the Prince. Tell him the use that is made of his Castles, and the falsehoods told him of his most true-hearted Knight!" and Agnes, with glancing eyes, was already rising for the purpose, forgetting, in her eager indignation, all that must follow, when Leonard, muttering "What madness possessed me to tell her!" stood full before her, saying, gloomily, "Do so, Lady, if you choose to ruin your brother!" The timid girl stood appalled, as the horrible consequences of such an accusation arose before her.
That same day Eustace was summoned to the Prince's presence.
"Sir Eustace Lynwood," said Edward, gravely, "I hear you have served the King well beneath the banner of Sir John Chandos. Your friends have wrought with me to give you occasion to prove yourself worthy of your spurs, and I have determined to confer on you the government of my Chateau of Norbelle, on the frontier of Gascony, trusting to find you a true and faithful governor and Castellane."
"I trust, my Lord, that you have never had occasion to deem less honourably of me," said Eustace; and his clear open eye and brow courted rather than shunned the keen look of scrutiny that the Prince fixed upon him. His heart leapt at the hope that the time for inquiry was come, but the Prince in another moment sank his eyes again, with more, however, of the weary impatience of illness than of actual displeasure, and merely replied, "Kneel down, then, Sir Knight, and take the oaths of fidelity."
Eustace obeyed, hardly able to suppress a sigh at the disappointment of his hopes.
"You will receive the necessary orders and supplies from Sir John Chandos, and from the Treasurer," said Edward, in a tone that intimated the conclusion of the conference; and Eustace quitted his presence, scarce knowing whether to be rejoiced or dissatisfied.
The former, Gaston certainly was. "I have often been heartily weary of garrison duty," said he, "but never can I be more weary of aught, than of being looked upon askance by half the men I meet. And we may sometimes hear the lark sing too, as well as the mouse squeak, Sir Eustace. I know every pass of my native county, and the herds of Languedoc shall pay toll to us."
Sir John Chandos, as Constable of Aquitaine, gave him the requisite orders and information. The fortifications, he said, were in good condition, and the garrison already numerous; but a sum of money was allotted to him in order to increase their numbers as much as he should deem advisable, since it was not improbable that he might have to sustain a siege, as Oliver de Clisson was threatening that part of the frontier. Four days were allowed for his preparations, after which he was to depart for his government.
Eustace was well pleased with all that he heard, and returned to his lodging, where, in the evening twilight, he was deeply engaged in consultation with Gaston, on the number of followers to be raised, when a light step was heard hastily approaching, and Arthur, darting into the room, flung himself on his neck, exclaiming, "Uncle! uncle! go not to this Castle!"
"Arthur, what brings you here? What means this? No foolish frolic, no escape from punishment, I trust?" said Eustace, holding him at some little distance, and fixing his eyes on him intently.
"No, uncle, no! On the word of a true Knight's son," said the boy, stammering, in his eagerness, "believe me, trust me, dear uncle—and go not to this fearful Castle. It is a trap—a snare laid to be your death, by the foulest treachery!"
"Silence, Arthur!" said the Knight, sternly. "Know you not what treason you speak? Some trick has been played on your simplicity, and yet you—child as you are—should as soon think shame of your own father as of the Prince, the very soul of honour."
"Oh, it is not the Prince: he knows nought of it; it is those double traitors, the Baron of Clarenham and Sir Leonard Ashton, who have worked upon him and deceived him."
"Oh, ho!" said Gaston. "The story now begins to wear some semblance of probability."
Arthur turned, looking perplexed. "Master d'Aubricour," said he, "I forgot that you were here. This is a secret which should have been for my uncle's ears alone."
"Is it so?" said Gaston; "then I will leave the room, if it please you and the Knight—though methought I was scarce small enough to be so easily overlooked; and having heard the half—"
"You had best hear the whole," said Arthur. "Uncle Eustace, what think you?"
"I know not what to think, Arthur. You must be your own judge."
Arthur's young brow wore a look of deep thought; at last he said, "Do not go then, Gaston. If I have done wrong, I must bear the blame, and, be it as it may, my uncle needs must tell you all that I may tell him."
"Let us hear, then," said Eustace.
"Well, then," said Arthur, who had by this time collected himself, "you must know that this Chateau Norbelle is one of those built by that famous Paladin, the chief of freebooters, Sir Renaud de Montauban, of whom you have told me so many tales. Now all of these have secret passages in the vaults communicating with the outer country."
"The boy is right," said Gaston; "I have seen one of them in the Castle of Montauban itself."
"Then it seems," proceeded Arthur, "that this Castle hath hitherto been in the keeping of a certain one-eyed Seneschal, a great friend and comrade of Sir Leonard Ashton—"
"Le Borgne Basque!" exclaimed both Knight and Squire, looking at each other in amaze.
"True, true," said Arthur. "Now you believe me. Well, the enemy being in the neighbourhood, it was thought right to increase the garrison, and place it under the command of a Knight, and these cowardly traitors have wrought with my Lord of Pembroke and Sir John Chandos to induce the Prince to give you this post—it being their intention that this wicked Seneschal and his equally wicked garrison should admit Sir Oliver de Clisson, the butcher of Bretagne himself, through the secret passage. And, uncle," said the boy, pressing Eustace's hand, while tears of indignation sprang to his eyes, "the letter expressly said there was to be no putting to ransom. Oh, Uncle Eustace, go not to this Castle!"
"And how came you by this knowledge?" asked the Knight.
"That I may never tell," said Arthur.
"By no means which might not beseem the son of a brave man?" said Eustace.
"Mistrust me not so foully," said the boy. "I know it from a sure hand, and there is not dishonour, save on the part of those villain traitors. Oh, promise me, fair uncle, not to put yourself in their hands!"
"Arthur, I have taken the oaths to the Prince as Castellane. I cannot go back from my duty, nor give up its defence for any cause whatsoever."
"There would be only one way of avoiding it," said Eustace, "and you must yourself say, Arthur, whether that is open to me. To go to the Prince, and tell him openly what use is made of his Castles, and impeach the villains of their treachery."
"That cannot be," said Arthur, shaking his head sadly—"it is contrary to the pledge I gave for you and for myself. But go not, go not, uncle. Remember, uncle, if you will not take thought for yourself, that you are all that is left me—all that stands between me and that wicked Clarenham.—Gaston, persuade him."
"Gaston would never persuade me to disgrace my spurs for the sake of danger," replied Eustace. "Have you no better learnt the laws of chivalry in the Prince's household, Arthur? Besides, remember old Ralph's proverb, 'Fore-warned is fore-armed.' Think you not that Gaston, and honest Ingram, and I may not be a match for a dozen cowardly traitors? Besides which, see here the gold allotted me to raise more men, with which I will obtain some honest hearts for my defence—and it will go hard with me if I cannot find Sir Renaud's secret door."
"Then, if you will go, uncle, take, take me with you—I could, at least, watch the door; and I know how to hit a mark with a cross-bow as well as Lord Harry of Lancaster himself."
"Take you, Master Arthur? What! steal away the Prince's page that I have been at such pains to bring hither, and carry him to a nest of traitors! Why, it would be the very way to justify Clarenham's own falsehoods."
"And of the blackest are they!" said Arthur. "Think, uncle, of my standing by to hear him breathing his poison to the Prince, and the preventing him from searching to find out the truth, by pretending a regard for my father's name, and your character. Oh that our noble Prince should be deluded by such a recreant, and think scorn of such a Knight as you!"
"I trust yet to prove to him that it is a delusion," said Eustace. "Many a Knight at twenty-two has yet to make his name and fame. Mine, thanks to Du Guesclin and the Prince himself, is already made, and though clouded for a time, with the grace of our Lady and of St. Eustace, I will yet clear it; so, Arthur, be not downcast for me, but think what Father Cyril hath taught concerning evil report and good report. But tell me, how came you hither?"
"She—that is, the person that warned me—let me down from the window upon the head of the great gurgoyle, and from thence I scrambled down by the vines on the wall, ran through the court without being seen by the Squires and grooms, and found my way to the bridge, where happily I met John Ingram, who brought me hither."
"She?" repeated Gaston, with a sly look in his black eyes.
"I have said too much," said Arthur, colouring deeply; "I pray you to forget."
"Forget!" proceeded the Squire, "that is sooner said than done. We shall rack our brains to guess what lady can—"
"Hush, Gaston," said Eustace, as his nephew looked at him imploringly, "tempt not the boy. And you, Arthur, must return to the palace immediately."
"Oh, uncle!" said the boy, "may I not stay with you this one night? It is eight weary months since I have ever seen you, save by peering down through the tall balusters of the Princess's balcony, when the Knights were going to dinner in the hall, and I hoped you would keep me with you at least one night. See how late and dark it is—the Castle gates will be closed by this time."
"It does indeed rejoice my heart to have you beside me, fair nephew," said Eustace, "and yet I know not how to favour such an escape as this, even for such a cause."
"I never broke out of bounds before," said Arthur, "and never will, though Lord Harry and Lord Thomas Holland have more than once asked me to join them."
"Then," said the Knight, "since it is, as you say, too late to rouse the palace, I will take you back in my hand to-morrow morn, see the master of the Damoiseaux, and pray him to excuse you for coming to see me ere my departure."
"Yes, that will be all well," said Arthur; "I could, to be sure, find the corner where Lord Harry has loosened the stones, and get in by the pages' window, ere old Master Michael is awake in the morn; but I think such doings are more like those of a fox than of a brave boy, and though I should be well punished, I will walk in at the door, and hold up my head boldly."
"Shall you be punished then?" said Gaston. "Is your old master of the Damoiseaux very severe?"
"He has not been so hitherto with me," said Arthur: "he scolds me for little, save what you too are displeased with, Master d'Aubricour, because I cannot bring my mouth to speak your language in your own fashion. It is Lord Harry that chiefly falls under his displeasure. But punished now I shall assuredly be, unless Uncle Eustace can work wonders."
"I will see what may be done, Arthur," said Eustace. "And now, have you supped?"
The evening passed off very happily to the little page, who, quite reassured by his uncle's consolations, only thought of the delight of being with one who seemed to supply to him the place at once of an elder brother and of a father.
Early the next morning, Eustace walked with him to the palace. Just before he reached it, he made this inquiry, "Arthur, do you often see the Lady Agnes de Clarenham?"
"Oh, yes, I am with her almost every afternoon. She hears me read, she helps me with my French words, and teaches me courtly manners. I am her own page and servant—but, here we are. This is the door that leads to the room of Master Michael de Sancy, the master of the Damoiseaux."
The next few days were spent in taking precautions against the danger intimated by the mysterious message. Gaston gathered together a few of the ancient Lances of Lynwood, who were glad to enlist under the blue crosslet, and these, with some men-at-arms, who had recently come to Bordeaux to seek employment, formed a body with whom Eustace trusted to be able to keep the disaffected in check. Through vineyards and over gently swelling hills did their course lead them, till, on the evening of the second day's journey, the view to the south was shut in by more lofty and bolder peaks, rising gradually towards the Pyrenees, and on the summit of a rock overhanging a small rapid stream appeared the tall and massive towers of a Castle, surmounted by the broad red cross of St. George, and which their guide pronounced to be the Chateau Norbelle.
"A noble eyrie!" said Eustace, looking up and measuring it with his eye. "Too noble to be sacrificed to the snaring of one poor Knight."
"Shame that such a knightly building should serve for such a nest of traitors!" said Gaston. "Saving treachery, a dozen boys could keep it against a royal host, provided they had half the spirit of your little nephew."
"Let us summon the said traitors," said Eustace, blowing a blast on his bugle. The gates were thrown wide open, the drawbridge lowered, and beneath the portcullis stood the Seneschal, his bunch of keys at his girdle. Both Eustace and Gaston cast searching glances upon him, and his aspect made them for a moment doubt the truth of the warning. A patch covered the lost eye, his moustache was shaved, his hair appeared many shades lighter, as well as his beard, which had been carefully trimmed, and altogether the obsequious Seneschal presented a strong contrast to the dissolute reckless man-at-arms. The Knight debated with himself, whether to let him perceive that he was recognized; and deciding to watch his conduct, he asked by what name to address him.
"Thibault Sanchez," replied Le Borgne Basque, giving his real name, which he might safely do, as it was not known to above two men in the whole Duchy of Aquitaine. "Thibault Sanchez, so please you, noble Sir, a poor Squire from the mountains, who hath seen some few battles and combats in his day, but never one equal to the fight of Najara, where your deeds of prowess—"
"My deeds of prowess, Sir Seneschal, had better rest in silence until our horses have been disposed of, and I have made the rounds of the Castle before the light fails us."
"So late, Sir Knight! and after a long and weary journey? Surely you will drink a cup of wine, and take a night's rest first, relying on me, who, though I be a plain man, trust I understand somewhat of the duties of mine office."
"I sleep not until I have learnt what is committed to my charge," replied the Knight. "Lead the way, Master Sanchez."
"Ah! there is what it is to have a Knight of fame," cried Le Borgne Basque. "What vigilance! what earnestness! Ah, this will be, as I told my comrades even now, the very school of chivalry, the pride of the country."
They had by this time crossed the narrow court, and passing beneath a second portcullised door defended on either side by high battlement walls, nearly double as thick as the steps themselves were wide. At the head was an arched door, heavily studded with nails, and opening into the Castle hall, a gloomy, vaulted room, its loop-hole windows, in their mighty depth of wall, affording little light. A large wood fire was burning in the hearth, and its flame cast a bright red light on some suits of armour that were hung at one end of the hall, as well as on some benches, and a long table in the midst, where were placed some trenchers, drinking horns, and a flask or two of wine.
"A drop of wine, noble Knight," said the Seneschal. "Take a cup to recruit you after your journey, and wash the dust from your throat."
A long ride in full armour beneath the sun of Gascony made this no unacceptable proposal, but the probability that the wine might be drugged had been contemplated by Eustace, who had not only resolved to abstain himself, but had exacted the same promise from d'Aubricour, sorely against his will.
"We will spare your flasks till a time of need," said Eustace, only accepting the basin of fair water presented to him to lave his hands. "And now to the walls," he added, after he had filled a cup with water from the pitcher and refreshed himself with it. Gaston followed his example, not without a wistful look at the wine, and Sanchez was obliged to lead the way up a long flight of spiral steps to two other vaulted apartments, one over the other—the lower destined for the sleeping chamber of the Knight and his Squire, the higher for such of the men-at-arms as could not find accommodation in the hall, or in the offices below. Above this they came out on the lead-covered roof, surrounded with a high crenellated stone parapet, where two or three warders were stationed. Still higher rose one small octagonal watch-tower, on the summit of which was planted a spear bearing St. George's pennon, and by its side Sir Eustace now placed his own.
This done, Eustace could not help standing for a few moments to look forth upon the glorious expanse of country beneath him—the rich fields and fair vineyards spreading far away to the west and north, with towns and villages here and there rising among them; while far away to the east, among higher hills, lay the French town of Carcassonne, a white mass, just discernible by the light of the setting sun; and the south was bounded by the peaks of the Pyrenees, amongst which lay all Eustace's brightest recollections of novelty, adventure, and hopes of glory.
Descending the stairs once more, after traversing the hall, they found themselves in the kitchen, where a large supper was preparing. Here, too, was the buttery, some other small chambers fit for storehouses, and some stalls for horses, all protected by the great bartizan at the foot of the stairs, which was capable of being defended even after the outer court was won. By the time the new-comers had made themselves acquainted with these localities, the evening was fast closing in, and Sanchez pronounced that the Knight's survey was concluded in good time for supper.
"I have not yet seen the vaults," said Eustace.
"The vaults, Sir Knight! what would you see there, save a few rusted chains, and some whitened bones, that have been there ever since the days of the Count de Montfort and the heretic Albigenses! They say that their accursed spirits haunt the place."
"I have heard," returned Sir Eustace, "that these Castles of Gascony are said to have secret passages communicating with their vaults, and I would willingly satisfy my own eyes that we are exposed to no such peril here."
"Nay, not a man in the Castle will enter those vaults after sunset, Sir Knight. The Albigenses, Sir Eustace!"
"I will take the risk alone," said Eustace. "Hand me a torch there!"
Gaston took another, and Thibault Sanchez, seeing them so resolute, chose to be of the party. The torches shed their red glare over the stone arches on which the Castle rested, and there was a chill damp air and earthy smell, which made both Knight and Squire shudder and start. No sooner had they entered than Thibault, trembling exclaimed, in a tone of horror, "There! there! O blessed Lady, protect us!"
"Where?" asked Eustace, scarce able to defend himself from an impression of terror.
"'Tis gone—yet methought I saw it again.—There! look yonder, Sir Knight—something white fluttering behind that column!"
Gaston crossed himself, and turned pale; but Eustace had settled his nerves. "A truce with these vain follies, Master Seneschal," said he, sternly. "Those who know Le Borgne Basque cannot believe his fears, either of saints or demons, to be other than assumed."
No ghost could have startled the Seneschal of the Chateau Norbelle as much as this sobriquet. He fell back, and subsided into complete silence, as he meditated whether it were best to confess the plot, and throw himself upon Sir Eustace's mercy, or whether he could hope that this was merely a chance recognition. He inclined to the latter belief when he observed that the Knight was at fault respecting the secret passage, searching in vain through every part of the vault, and twice passing over the very spot. The third time, however, it so chanced that his spur rung against something of metal, and he called for Gaston to hold his torch lower. The light fell not only upon an iron ring, but upon a guard which evidently covered a key-hole.
Sanchez, after in vain professing great amazement, and perfect ignorance of any such entrance, gave up his bunch of keys, protesting that there was nothing there which could unlock the mysterious door: but the Knight had another method. "Look you, Master Sanchez," said he, "it may be, as you say, that this door hath not been unclosed for hundreds of years, notwithstanding I see traces in the dust as if it had been raised of late. I shall, however, sleep more securely if convinced that it is an impossibility to lift it. Go, therefore, Gaston, and call half a dozen of the men, to bring each of them the heaviest stone they can find from that heap I saw prepared for a mangonel in the court-yard."
"Oh, excellent!" exclaimed Gaston, "and yet, Sir Eustace—"
There he stopped, but it was evident that he was reluctant to leave his master alone with this villain. Eustace replied by drawing his good sword, and giving him a fearless smile, as he planted his foot upon the trap-door; and fixing his gaze upon Le Borgne Basque, made him feel that this was no moment for treachery.
Gaston sped fast out of the dungeon, and, in brief space, made his appearance at the head of the men-at-arms, some bearing torches, others labouring under the weight of the huge stones, which, as he rightly thought, they were far more inclined to heave at Sir Eustace's head than to place in the spot he pointed out. They were, however, compelled to obey, and, with unwilling hands, built up such a pile upon the secret door, that it could not be lifted from beneath without gigantic strength, and a noise which would re-echo through the Castle. This done, Sir Eustace watched them all out of the vault himself, closed the door, locked it, and announced to the Seneschal his intention of relieving him for the future from the care of the keys. Still watching him closely, he ascended to the hall, and gave the signal for the supper, which shortly made its appearance.
Thibault Sanchez, who laid claim to some share of gentle blood, was permitted to enjoy the place of honour together with Sir Eustace and d'Aubricour—the rather that it gave them a better opportunity of keeping their eye upon him.
There was an evident attempt, on the part of the garrison, to engage their new comrades in a carouse in honour of their arrival, but this was brought to an abrupt conclusion by Sir Eustace, who, in a tone which admitted no reply, ordered the wine flasks to the buttery, and the men, some to their posts and others to their beds. Ingram walked off, muttering his discontent; and great was the ill-will excited amongst, not only the original garrison, but the new-comers from Bordeaux, who, from their lairs of straw, lamented the day when they took service with so severe and rigid a Knight, and compared his discipline with that of his brother, Sir Reginald, who, strict as he might be, never grudged a poor man-at-arms a little merriment. "But as to this Knight, one might as well serve a Cistercian monk!"
As to Le Borgne Basque, he betook himself to the buttery; and there, in an undertone of great terror, began to mutter to his friend and ally, Tristan de la Fleche, "It is all over with us! He is a wizard! Sir Leonard Ashton was right—oaf as he was; I never believed him before; but what, save enchantment, could have enabled him to recognize me under this disguise, or how could he have gone straight to yonder door?"
"Think you not that he had some warning?" asked Tristan.
"Impossible, save from Clarenham, or from Ashton himself; and, dolt as he is, I trow he has sense enough to keep his own counsel. He has not forgotten the day when he saw this dainty young sprig rise up in his golden spurs before his eyes. I know how it is! It is with him as it was with the Lord of Corasse!"
"How was that, Thibault?"
"Why, you must know that Raymond de Corasse had helped himself to the tithes of a certain Church in Catalonia, whereby the Priest who claimed them said to him, 'Know that I will send thee a champion that thou wilt be more afraid of than thou hast hitherto been of me.' Three months after, each night, in the Castle of Corasse, began such turmoil as never was known; raps at every door, and especially that of the Knight—as if all the goblins in fairy-land had been let loose. The Knight lay silent all one night; but the next, when the rioting was renewed as loud as ever, he leapt out of his bed, and bawled out, 'Who is it at this hour thus knocks at my chamber door?' He was answered, 'It is I.' 'And who sends thee hither?' asked the Knight. 'The Clerk of Catalonia, whom thou hast much wronged. I will never leave thee quiet until thou hast rendered him a just account.' 'What art thou called,' said the Knight, 'who art so good a messenger?' 'Orthon is my name.' But it fell out otherwise from the Clerk's intentions, for Orthon had taken a liking to the Knight, and promised to serve him rather than the Clerk—engaging never to disturb the Castle—for, indeed, he had no power to do ill to any. Often did he come to the Knight's bed by night, and pull the pillow from under his head—"
"What was he like?" asked Tristan.
"The Lord de Corasse could not tell; he only heard him—he never saw aught; for Orthon only came by night, and, having wakened him, would begin by saying, 'he was come from England, Hungary, or elsewhere,' and telling all the news of the place."
"And what think you was he?"
"That was what our Lord, the Count de Foix, would fain have known, when he had much marveled at the tidings that were brought him by the Lord de Corasse, and had heard of the strange messenger who brought them. He entreated the Knight to desire Orthon to show himself in his own proper form—and then, having seen, to describe him.
"So at night, when Orthon came again, and plucked away the pillow, the Knight asked him from whence he came? 'From Prague, in Bohemia,' answered Orthon. 'How far is it?'—'Sixty days' journey.' 'Hast thou returned thence in so short a time?'—'I travel as fast as the wind, or faster.' 'What! hast thou got wings?'—'Oh, no.' 'How, then, canst thou fly so fast?'—'That is no business of yours!' 'No,' said the Knight—'I should like exceedingly to see what form thou hast.'—'That concerns you not,' replied Orthon; 'be satisfied that you hear me.' 'I should love thee better had I seen thee,' said the Knight,—whereupon Orthon promised that the first thing he should see to-morrow, on quitting his bed, should be no other than himself."
"Ha! then, I wager that he saw one of the black cats that played round young Ashton's bed."
"Nay, the Knight's lady would not rise all day lest she should see Orthon; but the Knight, leaping up in the morning, looked about, but could see nothing unusual. At night, when Orthon came, he reproached him for not having shown himself, as he had promised. 'I have,' replied Orthon. 'I say No,' said the Knight. 'What! you saw nothing when you leapt out of bed?'—'Yes,' said the Lord de Corasse, after having considered awhile, 'I saw two straws, which were turning and playing together on the floor.' 'That was myself,' said Orthon.
"The Knight now desired importunately that Orthon would show himself in his own true shape. Orthon told him that it might lead to his being forced to quit his service—but he persisted, and Orthon promised to show himself when first the Knight should leave his chamber in the morning. Therefore, as soon as he was dressed, the Knight went to a window overlooking the court, and there he beheld nothing but a large lean sow, so poor, that she seemed nothing but skin and bone, with long hanging ears, all spotted, and a thin sharp-pointed snout. The Lord de Corasse called to his servants to set the dogs on the ill-favoured creature, and kill it; but, as the kennel was opened, the sow vanished away, and was never seen afterwards. Then the Lord de Corasse returned pensive to his chamber, fearing that the sow had indeed been Orthon!—and truly Orthon never returned more to his bed-side. Within a year, the Knight was dead!"
"Is it true, think you, Sanchez?"
"True! why, man, I have seen the Chateau de Corasse, seven leagues from Orthes!"
"And what think you was Orthon?"
"It is not for me to say; but, you see, there are some who stand fair in men's eyes, who have strange means of gaining intelligence! It will be a merit to weigh down a score of rifled Priests, if we can but circumvent a wizard such as this!"
"But he has brought his books! I saw that broad-faced Englishman carry up a whole pile of them," cried Tristan, turning pale. "With his books he will be enough to conjure us all into apes!"
"Now or never," said Sanchez, encouragingly.
"When all is still, I will go round and waken our comrades, while you creep forth by the hole beneath the bartizan, and warn Clisson that the secret passage is nought, but that when he sees a light in old Montfort's turret—"
Tristan suddenly trod on his foot, as a sign of silence, as a step descended the stairs, and Sir Eustace stood before them.
"You appear to be agreeably employed, gentlemen," said he, glancing at the stoup of wine which was before them; "but my orders are as precise as Norman William's. No lights in this Castle, save my own, after eight o'clock. To your beds, gentlemen, and a good night to you!" He was still fully armed, so that it was unsafe to attack him. And he saw them up the spiral stairs that led from the hall, and watched them enter the narrow dens that served them as sleeping rooms, where many a curse was uttered on the watchfulness of the wizard Knight. At the turn of midnight, Le Borgne Basque crept forth, in some hope that there might be an opportunity of fulfilling his designs, and earning the reward promised him both by Clarenham and the French. But he had not descended far before a red gleam of torchlight was seen on the dark stairs, and, ere he could retreat, the black head and dark eyes of Gaston appeared, glancing with mischievous amusement, as he said, in his gay voice, "You are on the alert, my old comrade. You have not forgotten your former habits when in command here. But Sir Eustace intrusts the care of changing the guard to none but me; so I will not trouble you to disturb yourself another night." And the baffled miscreant retreated.
In this manner passed day after day, in a tacit yet perpetual war between the Knight and the garrison. Not a step could be taken, scarce a word spoken, without some instant reminder that either Sir Eustace or Gaston was on the watch. On the borders of the enemy's country, there was so much reason for vigilance, that the garrison could not reasonably complain of the services required of them; the perpetual watch, and numerous guards; the occupations which Knight and Squire seemed never weary of devising for the purpose of keeping them separate, and their instant prohibition of any attempt at the riotous festivity which was their only consolation for the want of active exercises. They grew heartily weary, and fiercely impatient of restraint, and though the firm, calm, steady strictness of the Knight was far preferable to the rude familiarity and furious passions of many a Castellane, there were many of the men-at-arms who, though not actually engaged in the conspiracy, were impatient of what they called his haughtiness and rigidity. These men were mercenaries from different parts of France, accustomed to a lawless life, and caring little or nothing whatever whether it were beneath the standard of King Charles or King Edward that they acquired pay and plunder. The Englishmen were, of course, devoted to their King and Prince, and though at times unruly, were completely to be depended upon. Yet, while owning Sir Eustace to be a brave, gallant, and kind-hearted Knight, there were times when even they felt a shudder of dread and almost of hatred pass over them, when tales were told of the supernatural powers he was supposed to possess; when Leonard Ashton's adventure with the cats was narrated, or the story of his sudden arrival at Lynwood Keep on the night before the lady's funeral. His own immediate attendants might repel the charge with honest indignation, but many a stout warrior slunk off in terror to bed from the sight of Sir Eustace, turning the pages of one of his heavy books by the light of the hall fire, and saw in each poor bat that flitted about within the damp depths of the vaulted chambers the familiar spirit which brought him exact intelligence of all that passed at Bordeaux, at Paris, or in London. Nay, if he only turned his eyes on the ground, he was thought to be looking for the twisting straws.
There was a village at some distance from the Chateau Norbelle, the inhabitants of which were required to furnish it with provisions. The Castellane, by paying just prices, and preventing his men from treating the peasants in the cruel and exacting manner to which they were accustomed, had gained their good-will. Prompt intelligence of the proceedings of the French army was always brought to him, and he was thus informed that a large treasure was on its way from Bayonne to Carcasonne, being the subsidy promised by Enrique, King of Castile, to his allies, Bertrand du Guesclin and Oliver de Clisson.
It became the duty of the English to intercept these supplies, and Eustace knew that he should incur censure should he allow the occasion to pass. But how divide his garrison? Which of the men-at-arms could be relied on? After consultation with d'Aubricour, it was determined that he himself should remain with John Ingram and a sufficient number of English to keep the traitors in check, while Gaston went forth in command of the party, who were certain to fight with a good will where spoil was the object. They would be absent at least two nights, since the pass of the Pyrenees, where they intended to lie in ambush, was at a considerable distance, nor was the time of the arrival of the convoy absolutely certain.
The expedition proved completely successful, and on the morning of the third day the rising sun beheld Gaston d'Aubricour riding triumphantly at the head of his little band, in the midst of which was a long line of heavily-laden baggage mules. The towers of Chateau Norbelle appeared in his view, when suddenly with a cry of amazement he perceived that the pennon of St. George and the banner of Lynwood were both absent from the Keep. He could scarcely believe his eyes, but forcing his horse onward with furious impetuosity to obtain a nearer view, he discovered that it was indeed true.
"The miscreants!" he shouted. "Oh, my Knight, my Knight!" and turning to the men who followed him, he exclaimed, "There is yet hope! Will you see our trust betrayed, our noble Knight foully murdered and delivered to his enemies, or will ye strike a bold stroke in his defence? He who is not dead to honour, follow me!"
There was a postern, of which Eustace had given Gaston the key, on his departure, and thither the faithful Squire hastened, without looking back to see whether he was followed by many or few—in fact, rather ready to die with Sir Eustace than hoping to rescue him. The ten Englishmen and some eight Frenchmen, infected by the desperation of his manner, followed him closely as he rushed up the slope, dashed through the moat, and in another moment, opening the door, burst into the court. There stood a party of the garrison, upon whom he rushed with a shout of "Death, death to the traitor!" Gaston's arm did the work of three, as he hewed down the villains, who, surprised and discomfited, made feeble resistance. Who they were, or how many, he saw not, he cared not, but struck right and left, till the piteous cries for mercy, in familiar tones, made some impression, and he paused, as did his companions, while, in a tone of rage and anguish, he demanded, "Where is Sir Eustace?"
"Ah! Master d'Aubricour, 'twas not me, 'twas the traitor, Sanchez—'twas Tristan," was the answer. "Oh, mercy, for our blessed Lady's sake!"
"No mercy, dogs! till ye have shown me Sir Eustace in life and limb."
"Alas! alas! Master d'Aubricour!" This cry arose from some of the English; and Gaston, springing towards the bartizan, beheld the senseless form of his beloved Knight lying stretched in a pool of his own blood! Pouring out lamentations in the passionate terms of the South, tearing his hair at having been beguiled into leaving the Castle, and vowing the most desperate vengeance against Clarenham and his accomplices, he lifted his master from the ground, and, as he did so, he fancied he felt a slight movement of the chest, and a faint moan fell upon his ear.
What recked Gaston that the Castle was but half taken, that enemies were around on every side? He saw only, heard only, thought only, of Sir Eustace! What was life or death, prosperity or adversity, save as shared with him! He lifted the Knight in his arms, and, hurrying up the stone steps, placed him on his couch.
"Bring water! bring wine!" he shouted as he crossed the hall. A horse-boy followed with a pitcher of water, and Gaston, unfastening the collar of his doublet, raised his head, held his face towards the air, and deluged it with water, entreating him to look up and speak.
A few long painful gasps, and the eyes were half unclosed, while a scarce audible voice said, "Gaston! is it thou? I deemed it was over!" and then the eyes closed again. Gaston's heart was lightened at having heard that voice once more, even had that word been his last—and answering, "Ay, truly, Sir Knight, all is well so you will but look up," he succeed in pouring a little water into his mouth.
He was interrupted by several of the men-at-arms, who came trooping up to the door, looking anxiously at the wounded Knight, while the foremost said, "Master Gaston, here is gear which must be looked to. Thibault Sanchez and half a dozen more have drawn together in Montfort's tower, and swear they will not come forth till we have promised their lives."
"Give them no such pledge!—Hang without mercy!" cried another voice from behind. "Did not I myself hear the traitorous villains send off Tristan de la Fleche to bear the news to Carcassonne? We shall have the butcher of Bretagne at our throats before another hour is over."
"Cowardly traitor!" cried Gaston. "Wherefore didst thou not cut the throat of the caitiff, and make in to the rescue of the Knight?"
"Why, Master d'Aubricour, the deed was done ere I was well awake, and when it was done, and could not be undone, and we were but four men to a dozen, what could a poor groom do? But you had better look to yourself; for it is true as the legends of the saints, that Tristan is gone to Carcassonne, riding full speed on the Knight's own black charger!"
The news seemed to have greater effect in restoring Eustace than any of Gaston's attentions. He again opened his eyes, and made an effort to raise his head, as he said, almost instinctively, "Secure the gates! Warders, to your posts!"
The men stood amazed; and Eustace, rallying, looked around him, and perceived the state of the case. "Said you they had sent to summon the enemy?" said he.
"Martin said so," replied Gaston, "and I fear it is but too true."
"Not a moment to be lost!" said Eustace. "Give me some wine!" and he spoke in a stronger voice, "How many of you are true to King Edward and to the Prince? All who will not fight to the death in their cause have free leave to quit this Castle; but, first, a message must be sent to Bordeaux."
"True, Sir Eustace, but on whom can we rely?" asked Gaston.
"Alas! I fear my faithful Ingram must be slain," said the Knight, "else this could never have been. Know you aught of him?" he added, looking anxiously at the men.
The answer was a call from one of the men: "Here, John, don't stand there grunting like a hog; the Knight is asking for you, don't you hear?"
A slight scuffle was heard, and in a few seconds the broad figure of Ingram shouldered through the midst of the men-at-arms. He came, almost like a man in a dream, to the middle of the room, and there, suddenly dropping upon his knees, he clasped his hands, exclaiming, "I, John Ingram, hereby solemnly vow to our blessed Lady of Taunton, and St. Joseph of Glastonbury, that never more will I drink sack, or wine or any other sort or kind, spiced or unspiced, on holiday or common day, by day or night. So help me, our blessed Lady and St. Joseph."
"Stand up, John, and let us know if you are in your senses," said Gaston, angrily; "we have no time for fooleries. Let us know whether you have been knave, traitor, or fool; for one or other you must have been, to be standing here sound and safe."
"You are right, Sir Squire," said Ingram, covering his face with his hands. "I would I were ten feet underground ere I had seen this day;" and he groaned aloud.
"You have been deceived by their arts," said Eustace. "That I can well believe; but that you should be a traitor, never, my trusty John!"
"Blessings on you for the word, Sir Eustace!" cried the yeoman, while tears fell down his rough cheeks. "Oh! all the wine in the world may be burnt to the very dregs ere I again let a drop cross my lips! but it was drugged, Sir Eustace, it was drugged—that will I aver to my dying day."
"I believe it," said Eustace; "but we must not wait to hear your tale, John. You must take horse and ride with all speed to Bordeaux. One of you go and prepare a horse—"
"Take Brigliador!" said Gaston; "he is the swiftest. Poor fellow! well that I spared him from our journey amid the mountain passes."
"Then," proceeded Eustace, "bear the news of our case—that we have been betrayed—that Clisson will be on us immediately—that we will do all that man can do to hold out till succour can come, which I pray the Prince to send us."
"Take care to whom he addresses himself," said Gaston. "To some our strait will be welcome news."
"True," said Eustace. "Do thy best to see Sir John Chandos, or, if he be not at the court, prefer thy suit to the Prince himself—to any save the Earl of Pembroke. Or if thou couldst see little Arthur, it might be best of all. Dost understand my orders, John?"
"Ay, Sir," said Ingram, shaking his great head, while the tears still flowed down his cheeks; "but to see you in this case!"
"Think not of that, kind John," said Eustace; "death must come sooner or later, and a sword-cut is the end for a Knight."
"You will not, shall not die, Sir Eustace!" cried Gaston. "Your wounds—"
"I know not, Gaston; but the point is now, not of saving my life, but the Castle. Speed, speed, Ingram! Tell the Prince, if this Castle be taken, it opens the way to Bordeaux itself. Tell him how many brave men it contains, and say to him that I pray him not to deem that Eustace Lynwood hath disgraced his knighthood. Tell Arthur, too, to bear me sometimes in mind, and never forget the line he comes of. Fare thee well, good John!"
"Let me but hear that I have your forgiveness, Sir Knight."
"You have it, as freely as I hope for mercy. One thing more: should you see Leonard Ashton, let him know that I bear him no ill-will, and pray him not to leave the fair fame of his old comrade foully stained. Farewell: here is my hand—do not take it as scorn that it is my left—my right I cannot move—"
The yeoman still stood in a sort of trance, gazing at him, as if unable to tear himself away.
"See him off, Gaston," said the Knight; "then have the walls properly manned—all is in your hands."
Gaston obeyed, hurrying him to the gate, and giving him more hope of Sir Eustace's recovery than he felt; for he knew that nothing but the prospect of saving him was likely to inspire the yeoman with either speed or pertinacity enough to be of use. He fondly patted Brigliador, who turned his neck in amaze at finding it was not his master who mounted him, and having watched them for a moment, he turned to look round the court, which was empty, save for the bodies of those whom he had slain in his furious onset. He next repaired to the hall, where he found the greater part of the men loitering about and exchanging different reports of strange events which had taken place:—"He can't be a wizard, for certain," said one, "or he never would be in this case, unless his bargain was up."
"It were shame not to stand by him now in the face of the enemy," said another. "How bold he spoke, weak and wounded as he was!"
"He is of the old English stock," said a third,—"a brave, stout-hearted young Knight."
"Well spoken, old Simon Silverlocks," said Gaston, entering. "I doubt where you would find another such within the wide realm of France."
"He is brave enough, that no man doubts," answered Simon, "but somewhat of the strictest, especially considering his years. Sir Reginald was nothing to him."
"Was it not time to be strict when there was such a nest of treachery within the Castle?" said Gaston. "We knew that murderous miscreant of a Basque, and had we not kept well on our guard against him, you, Master Simon, would long since have been hanging as high from Montfort's tower as I trust soon to see him."
"But how knew you him, Master d'Aubricour? that is the question," said old Simon with a very solemn face of awe.
"How? why by means of somewhat sharper eyes than you seem to possess. I have no time to bandy words—all I come to ask is, will you do the duty of honest men or not? If not, away with you, and I and the Knight will abide here till it pleases Messire Oliver, the butcher, to practice his trade on us. I remember, if some of the Lances of Lynwood do not, a certain camp at Valladolid, when some of us might have been ill off had he not stood by our beds of sickness; nor will I easily desert that pennon which was so gallantly made a banner."
These were remembrances to stir the hearts of the ancient Lances of Lynwood, and there was a cry among them of, "We will never turn our backs on it! Lynwood for ever!"
"Right, mine old comrades. Our walls are strong; our hearts are stronger; three days, and aid must come from Bordeaux. The traitors are captives, and we know to whom to trust; for ye, of English birth, and ye, my countrymen, who made in so boldly to the rescue, ye will not fail at this pinch, and see a brave and noble Knight yielded to a pack of cowardly murderers."
"Never! never! We will stand by him to the last drop of our blood," they replied; for the sight of the brave wounded Knight, as well as the example of Gaston's earnestness and devotion, had had a powerful effect, and they unanimously joined the Squire in a solemn pledge to defend both Castle and Knight to the last extremity.
"Then up with the good old banner!" said Gaston, "and let us give Messire Oliver such a reception as he will be little prepared for." He then gave some hasty directions, appointed old Silverlocks, a skilled and tried warrior, to take the place of Seneschal for the time, and to superintend the arrangements; and sending two men to guard the entrance of Montfort's tower, where Sanchez and his accomplices had shut themselves up, he returned to the Castellane's chamber.
Never was there an apartment more desolate. Chateau Norbelle was built more to be defended than to be inhabited, and the rooms were rather so much inclosed space than places intended for comfort. The walls were of unhewn stone, and, as well as the roof, thickly tapestried with cobwebs,—the narrow loophole which admitted light was unglazed,—and there was nothing in the whole chamber that could be called furniture, save the two rude pallets which served the Knight and Squire for beds, and a chest which had been forced open and rifled by the mutineers. They had carried off Eustace's beloved books, to burn them in the court as instruments of sorcery, and a few garments it had likewise contained lay scattered about the room. Gaston hastened to the side of his beloved Knight, almost dreading, from his silence and stillness, to find him expiring. But he was only faint and exhausted, and when Gaston raised him, and began to examine his wounds, he looked up, saying, "Thanks, thanks, kind Gaston! but waste not your time here. The Castle! the Castle!"
"What care I for the Castle compared to your life!" said Gaston.
"For my honour and your own," said Eustace, fixing his eyes on his Squire's face. "Gaston, I fear you," he added, stretching out his hand and grasping that of d'Aubricour; "if you survive, you will forget the duty you owe the King, for the purpose of avenging me upon Clarenham. If ever you have loved me, Gaston, give me your solemn promise that this shall not be."
"It was the purpose for which I should have lived," said Gaston.
"You resign it?" said Eustace, still retaining his hold of his hand. "You touch not one of my wounds till you have given me your oath."
"I swear it, then," said Gaston, "since you will ever have your own way, and I do it the rather that Messire Oliver de Clisson will probably save me the pain of keeping the pledge."
"You have taken all measures for defence?"
"Yes. The men-at-arms, such as are left, may be trusted, and have all taken an oath to stand by us, which I do not think they will readily break. The rest either made off with the baggage-mules, or were slain when we broke in to your rescue, or are shut up with Le Borgne Basque in Montfort's tower. I have sent the men to their posts, put them under Silverlock's orders, and told him to come to me for directions."
Eustace at last resigned himself into the Squire's hands. A broken arm, a ghastly-looking cut on the head, and a deep thrust with a poniard in the breast, seemed the most serious of the injuries he had received; but there were numerous lesser gashes and stabs which had occasioned a great effusion of blood, and he had been considerably bruised by his fall.
Gaston could attempt nothing but applying some ointment, sold by a Jew at Bordeaux as an infallible cure for all wounds and bruises; and, having done all he could for the comfort of his patient, quitted him to attend to the defence of the Castle.
His first visit was to Montfort's tower, one of the four flanking the main body of the Castle.
"Well, Master Thibault Sanchez, or, if you like it better, Le Borgne Basque," cried he, "thank you for saving us some trouble. You have found yourself a convenient prison there, and I hope you are at your ease."
"We shall see how you are at your ease, Master Gaston le Maure," retorted Sanchez from the depths of the tower, "when another Borgne shall make his appearance, and string you up as a traitor to King Charles, your liege lord."
"Le Borgne Basque talking of traitors and such gear!" returned Gaston; "but he will tell a different tale when the succours come from the Prince."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Thibault, "a little bird whispered in mine ear that you may look long for succour from Bordeaux."
This was, in a great measure, Gaston's own conviction; but he only replied the more vehemently that it could not fail, since neither Knights nor Castles were so lightly parted with, and that he trusted soon to have the satisfaction of seeing the inhabitants of the tower receive the reward of their treachery.
Thus they parted—Thibault, perfectly well satisfied to remain where he was, since he had little doubt that Oliver de Clisson's speedy arrival would set him at liberty, and turn the tables upon Gaston; and Gaston, glad that, since he could not at present have the satisfaction of hanging him, he was in a place where he could do no mischief, and whence he could not escape.
Now the warder on the watch-tower blew a blast, and every eye was turned towards the eastern part of the country, where, in the direction of Carcassonne, was to be seen a thick cloud of dust, from which, in due time, were visible the flashes of armour, and the points of weapons. Gaston, having given his orders, and quickened the activity of each man in his small garrison, hurried down to bear the tidings to Sir Eustace, and to array himself in his own brightest helmet and gayest surcoat.
Ascending again to the battlements, he could see the enemy approaching, could distinguish the banner of Clisson, and count the long array of men-at-arms and crossbow-men as they pursued their way through the bright green landscape, now half hidden by a rising ground, now slowly winding from its summit.
At last they came to the foot of the slope. Gaston had already marked the start and pause, which showed when they first recognized the English standard; and there was another stop, while they ranged themselves in order, and, after a moment's interval, a man-at-arms rode forward towards the postern door, looked earnestly at it, and called "Sanchez!"
"Shoot him dead!" said Gaston to an English crossbow-man who stood beside him; "it is the villain Tristan, on poor Ferragus."
The arblast twanged, and Tristan fell, while poor Ferragus, after starting violently, trotted round to the well-known gate, and stood there neighing. "Poor fellow!" said Gaston, "art calling Brigliador? I would I knew he had sped well."
The French, dismayed by the reception of their guide, held back; but presently a pursuivant came forward from their ranks, and, after his trumpet had been sounded, summoned, in the name of the good Knight, Messire Oliver de Clisson, the garrison of Chateau Norbelle to surrender it into his hands, as thereto commissioned by his grace, Charles, King of France.
The garrison replied by another trumpet, and Gaston, standing forth upon the battlements, over the gateway, demanded to speak with Sir Oliver de Clisson, and to have safe-conduct to and from the open space at the foot of the slope. This being granted, the drawbridge was lowered, and the portcullis raised. Ferragus entered, and went straight to his own stall; and Gaston d'Aubricour came forth in complete armour, and was conducted by the pursuivant to the leader of the troop. Sir Oliver de Clisson, as he sat on horseback with the visor of his helmet raised, had little or nothing of the appearance of the courteous Knight of the period. His features were not, perhaps, originally as harsh and ill-formed as those of his compeer, Bertrand du Guesclin, but there was a want of the frank open expression and courteous demeanour which so well suited the high chivalrous temper of the great Constable of France. They were dark and stern, and the loss of an eye, which had been put out by an arrow, rendered him still more hard-favoured. He was, in fact, a man soured by early injuries—his father had been treacherously put to death by King John of France, when Duke of Normandy, and his brother had been murdered by an Englishman—his native Brittany was torn by dissensions and divisions—and his youth had been passed in bloodshed and violence. He had now attained the deserved fame of being the second Knight in France, honourable and loyal as regarded his King, but harsh, rigid, cruel, of an unlovable temper, which made him in after years a mark for plots and conspiracies; and the vindictive temper of the Celtic race leading him to avenge the death of his brother upon every Englishman who fell into his hands.
"So, Sir Squire!" exclaimed he, in his harsh voice, "what excuse do you come to make for slaying my messenger ere he had time to deliver his charge?"
"I own him as no messenger," returned Gaston. "He was a renegade traitor from our own Castle, seeking his accomplice in villainy!"
"Well, speak on," said Oliver, to whom the death of a man-at-arms was a matter of slight importance. "Art thou come to deliver up the Castle to its rightful lord?"
"No, Messire Oliver," replied Gaston. "I come to bring the reply of the Castellane, Sir Eustace Lynwood, that he will hold out the Castle to the last extremity against all and each of your attacks."
"Sir Eustace Lynwood? What means this, Master Squire? Yonder knave declared he was dead!"
"Hear me, Sir Oliver de Clisson," said Gaston. "Sir Eustace Lynwood hath a pair of mortal foes at the Prince's court, who prevailed on a part of the garrison to yield him into your hands. In my absence, they in part succeeded. By the negligence of a drunken groom they were enabled to fall upon him in his sleep, and, as they deemed, had murdered him. I, returning with the rest of the garrison, was enabled to rescue him, and deliver the Castle, where he now lies—alive, indeed, but desperately wounded. Now, I call upon you, Sir Oliver, to judge, whether it be the part of a true and honourable Knight to become partner of such miscreants, and to take advantage of so foul a web of treachery?"
"This may be a fine tale for the ears of younger knights-errant, Sir Squire," was the reply of Clisson. "For my part though I am no lover of treason, I may not let the King's service be stayed by scruples. For yourself, Sir Squire, I make you a fair offer. You are, by your tongue and countenance, a Gascon—a liegeman born of King Charles of France. To you, and to every other man of French birth, I offer to enter his service, or to depart whither it may please you, with arms and baggage, so you will place the Castle in our hands—and leave us to work our will of the island dogs it contains!"
"Thanks, Sir Oliver, for such a boon as I would not vouchsafe to stoop to pick up, were it thrown at my feet!"
"Well and good, Sir Squire," said Clisson, rather pleased at the bold reply. "We understand each other. Fare thee well."
And Gaston walked back to the Castle, muttering to himself, "Had it been but the will of the Saints to have sent Du Guesclin hither, then would Sir Eustace have been as safe and free as in Lynwood Keep itself! But what matters it? If he dies of his wounds, what good would my life do me, save to avenge him—and from that he has debarred me. So, grim Oliver, do thy worst!—Ha!" as he entered the Castle—"down portcullis—up drawbridge! Archers, bend your bows! Martin, stones for the mangonel!"
Nor was the assault long delayed. Clisson's men only waited to secure their horses and prepare their ladders, and the attack was made on every side.
It was well and manfully resisted. Bravely did the little garrison struggle with the numbers that poured against them on every side, and the day wore away in the desperate conflict.
Sir Eustace heard the loud cries of "Montjoie St. Denis! Clisson!" on the one side, and the "St. George for Merry England! A Lynwood!" with which his own party replied; he heard the thundering of heavy stones, the rush of combatants, the cries of victory or defeat. Sometimes his whole being seemed in the fight; he clenched his teeth, he shouted his war-cry, tried to raise himself and lift his powerless arm; then returned again to the consciousness of his condition, clasped either the rosary or the crucifix, and turned his soul to fervent prayer; then, again, the strange wild cries without confounded themselves into one maddening noise on his feverish ear, or, in the confusion of his weakened faculties, he would, as it were, believe himself to be his brother dying on the field of Navaretta, and scarce be able to rouse himself to a feeling of his own identity.
So passed the day—and twilight was fast deepening into night, when the cries, a short time since more furious than ever, and nearer and more exulting on the part of the French, at length subsided, and finally died away; the trampling steps of the men-at-arms could be heard in the hall below, and Gaston himself came up with hasty step, undid his helmet, and, wiping his brow, threw himself on the ground with his back against the chest, saying, "Well, we have done our devoir, at any rate! Poor Brigliador! I am glad he has a kind master in Ingram!"
"Have they won the court?" asked Eustace. "I thought I heard their shouts within it."
"Ay! Even so. How could we guard such an extent of wall with barely five and twenty men? Old Silverlocks and Jaques de l'Eure are slain Martin badly wounded, and we all forced back into the inner court, after doing all it was in a man to do."
"I heard your voice, bold and cheerful as ever, above the tumult," said Eustace. "But the inner court is fit for a long defence—that staircase parapet, where so few can attack at once."
"Ay," said Gaston, "it was that and the darkness that stopped them. There I can detain them long enough to give the chance of the succours, so those knaves below do not fail in spirit—and they know well enough what chance they have from yon grim-visaged Breton! But as to those succours, I no more expect them than I do to see the Prince at their head! A hundred to one that he never hears of our need, or, if he should, that Pembroke and Clarenham do not delay the troops till too late."
"And there will be the loss of the most important castle, and the most faithful and kindest heart!" said Eustace. "But go, Gaston—food and rest you must need after this long day's fight—and the defences must be looked to, and the men cheered!"
"Yes," said Gaston, slowly rising, and bending over the Knight; "but is there nought I can do for you, Sir Eustace?"
"Nought, save to replenish my cup of water. It is well for me that the enemy have not cut us off from the Castle well."
Gaston's supper did not occupy him long. He was soon again in Eustace's room, talking over his plan of defence for the next day; but with little, if any, hope that it would be other than his last struggle. At last, wearied out with the exertions of that day and the preceding, he listened to Eustace's persuasions, and, removing the more cumbrous portions of his armour, threw himself on his bed, and, in a moment, his regular breathings announced that he was sound asleep.
It was in the pale early light of dawn that he awoke, and, starting up while still half asleep, exclaimed, "Sir Eustace, are you there? I should have relieved guard long since!" Then, as he recalled his situation, "I had forgot! How is it with you, Sir Eustace? Have you slept?"
"No," said Eustace. "I have not lost an hour of this last night I shall ever see. It will soon be over now—the sun is already reddening the sky; and so, Gaston, ends our long true-hearted affection. Little did I think it would bring thee to thy death in the prime of they strength and manhood!" and he looked mournfully on the lofty stature and vigorous form of the Squire, as he stood over him.
"For that, Sir Eustace, there is little cause to grieve. I have been a wanderer, friendless and homeless, throughout my life; and save for yourself, and, perhaps, poor little Arthur's kind heart, where is one who would cast a second thought on me, beyond, perhaps, saying, 'He was a brave and faithful Squire!' But little, little did I think, when I saw your spurs so nobly won, that this was to be the end of it—that you were to die, defamed and reviled, in an obscure den, and by the foul treachery of—"
"Speak not of that, Gaston," said Eustace. "I have dwelt on it in the long hours of the night, and I have schooled my mind to bear it. Those with whom we shall soon be, know that if I have sinned in many points, yet I am guiltless in that whereof they accuse me—and, for the rest, there are, at least, two who will think no shame of Eustace Lynwood. And now, if there is yet time, Gaston, since no Priest is at hand, I would pray thee to do me the last favour of hearing the confession of my sins."
And Gaston kneeling down, the Knight and Squire, according to the custom of warriors in extremity, confessed to each other, with the crucifix raised between them. Eustace then, with his weak and failing voice, repeated several prayers and psalms appropriate to the occasion, in which Gaston joined with hearty devotion. By this time, a slight stir was heard within the Castle; and Gaston, rising from his knees, went to the loophole, which commanded a view of the court, where the French had taken up their quarters for the night in some of the outbuildings—and the lion rampant of Clisson was waving in triumph on the gateway tower.
"All silent there," said he; "but I must go to rouse our knaves in time to meet the first onset." And, as he clasped on his armour, he continued, "All that is in the power of man will we do! Rest assured, Sir Eustace, they reach you not save through my body; and let your prayers be with me. One embrace, Sir Eustace, and we meet no more—"
"In this world." Eustace concluded the sentence, as Gaston hung over him, and his tears dropped on his face. "Farewell, most faithful and most true-hearted! Go, I command thee! Think not on me—think on thy duty—and good angels will be around us both. Farewell, farewell."
Gaston, for the first time in his life, felt himself unable to speak. He crossed the room with slow and lingering step; then, with a great effort, dashed out at the door, closing his visor as he did so, and, after a short interval, during which he seemed to have stopped on the stairs, Eustace could hear his gay bold tones, calling, "Up! up! my merry men, all! Let not the French dogs find the wolf asleep in his den. They will find our inner bartizan a hard stone for their teeth—and it will be our own fault, if they crack it before the coming of our brave comrades from Bordeaux!"
The open space beyond the walls of Bordeaux presented a bright and lively scene. It was here that the pages of the Black Prince were wont to exercise those sports and pastimes for which the court of the palace scarce offered sufficient space, or which were too noisy for the neighbourhood of the ladies, and of the invalid Prince.
Of noble and often of princely birth were all who entered that school of chivalry, and, for the most part, the fine open countenances, noble bearing, and well-made figures of the boys, testified their high descent, as completely as the armorial bearings embroidered on the back and front of their short kirtles. Many different provinces had sent their noblest to be there trained in the service of the bravest Knights and Princes. There, besides the brown-haired, fair-skinned English boy, was the quick fiery Welsh child, who owned an especial allegiance to the Prince; the broad blue-eyed Fleming, whose parents rejoiced in the fame of the son of Philippa of Hainault; the pert, lively Gascon, and the swarthy Navarrese mountaineer—all brought together in close and ever-changing contrast of countenance, habits, and character.
Of all the merry groups scattered through that wide green space, the most interesting was one formed by three boys, who stood beneath a tree, a little from the rest. The two eldest might be from ten to eleven years old, the third two or three years younger, and his delicate features, fair pale complexion, and slender limbs, made him appear too weak and childish for such active sports as the rest were engaged in, but that the lordly glance of his clear blue eye, his firm tread, and the noble carriage of his shapely head, had in them something of command, which attracted notice even before the exceeding beauty of his perfectly moulded face, and long waving curls of golden hair.
So like him, that they might have passed for brothers, was one of the elder boys, who stood near—there was the same high white brow, proud lip, regular features, and bright eye; but the complexion, though naturally fair, was tanned to a healthy brown where exposed to the sun; the frame was far stronger and more robust; and the glance of the eye had more in it of pride and impatience, than of calm command so remarkable in the little one. The three boys were standing in consultation over an arrow which they had just discovered, stuck deep in the ground.
"'Tis my arrow, that I shot over the mark on Monday," said the elder.
"Nay, Harry," said the younger boy, "that cannot be; for remember Thomas Holland said your arrow would frighten the good nuns of St. Ursula in their garden."
"It must be mine," persisted Harry—"for none of you all can shoot as far."
"Yes, English Arthur can," said the little boy. "He shot a whole cloth-yard beyond you the day—"
"Well, never mind, Edward," said Harry, sharply—"who cares for arrows?—weapons for clowns, and not for Princes!"
"Nay, not so, Lord Harry," interrupted the third boy: "I have heard my uncle say, many a time, that England's archery is half her strength—and how it was our archers at the battle of Crecy—"
"I know all that—how the men of Genoa had wet bow-strings, and ours dry ones," said Henry; "but they were peasants, after all!"
"Ay; but a King of England should know how to praise and value his good yeomen."
Henry turned on his heel, and, saying, "Well, let the arrow be whose it will, I care not for it," walked off.
"Do you know why Harry of Lancaster goes, Arthur?" said Edward, smiling.
"No, my Lord," replied Arthur.
"He cannot bear to hear aught of King of England," was the answer. "If you love me, good Arthur, vex him not with speaking of it."
"Father Cyril would say, he ought to learn content with the rank where he was born," said Arthur.
"Father Cyril, again!" said Prince Edward. "You cannot live a day without speaking of him, and of your uncle."
"I do not speak of them so much now," said Arthur, colouring, "It is only you, Lord Edward, who never make game of me for doing so—though, I trow, I have taught Pierre de Greilly to let my uncle's name alone."
"Truly, you did so," said Edward, laughing, "and he has scarce yet lost his black eye. But I love to hear your tales, Arthur, of that quiet Castle, and the old Blanc Etoile, and your uncle, who taught you to ride. Sit down here on the grass, and tell me more. But what are you staring at so fixedly? At the poor jaded horse, that yonder man-at-arms is urging on so painfully?"
"'Tis—No, it is not—Yes, 'tis Brigliador, and John Ingram himself," cried Arthur. "Oh, my uncle! my uncle!" And, in one moment, he had bounded across the ditch, which fenced in their exercising ground, and had rushed to meet Ingram. "Oh, John!" exclaimed he, breathlessly, "have they done it? Oh, tell me of Uncle Eustace! Is he alive?"
"Master Arthur!" exclaimed Ingram, stopping his wearied horse.
"Oh, tell me, Ingram," reiterated Arthur, "is my uncle safe?"
"He is alive, Master Arthur—that is, he was when I came away, but as sore wounded as ever I saw a Knight. And the butcher of Brittany is upon them by this time! And here I am sent to ask succours—and I know no more whom to address myself, than the cock at the top of Lynwood steeple!"
"But what has chanced, John?—make haste, and tell me."
And John, in his own awkward and confused style, narrated how he had been entrapped by Sanchez, and the consequences of his excess. "But," said he, "I have vowed to our Lady of Taunton, and St. Joseph of Glastonbury, that never again—"
Arthur had covered his face with his hands, and gave way to tears of indignation and grief, as he felt his helplessness. But one hand was kindly withdrawn, and a gentle voice said, "Weep not, Arthur, but come with me, and my father will send relief to the Castle, and save your uncle."
"You here, Lord Edward?" exclaimed Arthur, who had not perceived that the Prince had followed him. "Oh yes, thanks, thanks! None but the Prince can save him. Oh, let me see him myself, and that instantly!"
"Then, let us come," said Edward, still holding Arthur's hand.
Arthur set off at such a pace, as to press the little Prince into a breathless trot by his side; but he, too, was all eagerness, and scorned to complain. They proceeded without interruption to the court of the palace. Edward, leading the way, hastened to his mother's apartments. He threw open the door, looked in, and, saying to Arthur, "He must be in the council chamber," cut short an exclamation of Lady Maude Holland, by shutting the door, and running down a long gallery to an ante-chamber, where were several persons waiting for an audience, and two warders, with halberts erect, standing on guard outside a closed door.
"The Prince is in council, my Lord."
Edward drew up his head, and, waving them aside with a gesture that became the heir of England, said, "I take it upon myself." He then opened the door, and, still holding Arthur fast by the hand, led him into the chamber where the Prince of Wales sat in consultation.
There was a pause of amazement as the two boys advanced to the high carved chair on which the Prince was seated—and Edward exclaimed, "Father, save Arthur's uncle!"
"What means this, Edward?" demanded the Prince of Wales, somewhat sternly. "Go to your mother, boy—we cannot hear you now, and—"
"I cannot go, father," replied the child, "till you have promised to save Arthur's uncle! He is wounded!—the traitors have wounded him!—and the French will take the Castle, and he will be slain! And Arthur loves him so much!"
"Come here, Edward," said the Prince, remarking the flushed cheek and tearful eye of his son, "and tell me what this means."
Edward obeyed, but without loosing his hold of his young friend's hand. "The man-at-arms is come, all heat and dust, on the poor drooping, jaded steed—and he said, the Knight would be slain, and the Castle taken, unless you would send him relief. It is Arthur's uncle that he loves so well."
"Arthur's uncle?" repeated the Prince—and, turning his eyes on the suppliant figure, he said, "Arthur Lynwood! Speak, boy."
"Oh, my Lord," said Arthur, commanding his voice with difficulty, "I would only pray you to send succour to my uncle at Chateau Norbelle, and save him from being murdered by Oliver de Clisson."
It was a voice which boded little good to Arthur's suit that now spoke. "If it be Sir Eustace Lynwood, at Chateau Norbelle, of whom the young Prince speaks, he can scarce be in any strait, since the garrison is more than sufficient."
The little page started to his feet, and, regarding the speaker with flashing eyes, exclaimed, "Hearken not to him, my Lord Prince! He is the cause of all the treachery!—he is the ruin and destruction of my uncle;—he has deceived you with his falsehoods!—and now he would be his death!"
"How now, my young cousin!" said Clarenham, in a most irritating tone of indifference—"you forget in what presence you are."
"I do not," replied Arthur, fiercely. "Before the Prince, Fulk Clarenham, I declare you a false traitor!—and, if you dare deny it, there lies my gloves!"
Fulk only replied by a scornful laugh, and, addressing the Prince, said, "May I pray of your Grace not to be over severe with my young malapert relation."
The Captal de Buch spoke: "You do not know what an adversary you have provoked, Fulk! The other day, I met my nephew, little Pierre, with an eye as black as the patch we used to wear in our young days of knight-errantry. 'What wars have you been in, Master Pierre?' I asked. It was English Arthur who had fought with him, for mocking at his talking of nothing but his uncle. But you need not colour, and look so abashed, little Englishman!—I bear no more malice than I hope Pierre does—I only wish I had as bold a champion! I remember thine uncle, if he is the youth to whom the Constable surrendered at Navaretta, and of whom we made so much."
"Too much then, and too little afterwards," said old Sir John Chandos.
"You do not know all, Chandos," said the Prince.
"You do not yourself know all, my Lord," said Arthur, turning eagerly. "Lord de Clarenham has deceived you, and led you to imagine that my uncle wished ill to me, and wanted to gain my lands; whereas it is he himself who wants to have me in his hands to bend me to his will. It is he who has placed traitors in Chateau Norbelle to slay my uncle and deliver him to the enemy; they have already wounded him almost to death"—here Arthur's lips quivered, and he could hardly restrain a burst of tears—"and they have sent for Sir Oliver de Clisson, the butcher. Gaston will hold out as long as they can, but if you will not send succours, my Lord, he will—will be slain; and kind Gaston too;" and Arthur, unable to control himself any longer, covered his face with his hands, and gave way to a silent suppressed agony of sobs and tears.
"Cheer thee, my boy," said the Prince, kindly; "we will see to thine uncle." Then, looking at his nobles, he continued, "It seems that these varlets will allow us no more peace; and since there does in truth appear to be a Knight and Castle in jeopardy, one of you had, perhaps, better go with a small band, and clear up this mystery. If it be as the boy saith, Lynwood hath had foul wrong."
"I care not if I be the one to go, my Lord," said Chandos; "my men are aver kept in readiness, and a night's gallop will do the lazy knaves all the good in the world."