Arthur, brushing off the tears, of which he was much ashamed, looked at the old Knight in transport.
"Thanks, Chandos," said the Prince; "I would commit the matter to none so willingly as to you, though I scarce would have asked it, considering you were not quite so prompt on a late occasion."
"My Lord of Pembroke will allow, however, that I did come in time," said Sir John. "It was his own presumption and foolhardiness that got him into the scrape, and he was none the worse for the lesson he received. But this young fellow seems to have met with this mischance by no fault of his own; and I am willing to see him righted; for he is a good lad as well as a brave, as far as I have known him."
"How came the tidings?" asked the Prince. "Did not one of you boys say somewhat of a man-at-arms?"
"Yes, my Lord," said Arthur; "John Ingram, my uncle's own yeoman, has come upon Brigliador with all speed. I sent him to the guard-room, where he now waits in case you would see him."
"Ay," said old Chandos, "a man would have some assurance that he is not going on a fool's errand. Let us have him here, my Lord."
"Cause him to be summoned," said the Prince to Arthur.
"And at the same time," said Chandos, "send for my Squire, Henry Neville, to the ante-chamber. The men may get on their armour in the meantime."
In a few minutes John Ingram made his appearance, the dust not yet wiped from his armour, his hair hanging is disordered masses over his forehead, and his jaws not completely resting from the mastication of a huge piece of pasty. His tale, though confused, could not be for an instant doubted, as he told of the situation in which he had left Chateau Norbelle and its Castellane, "The best man could wish to live under. Well, he hath forgiven me, and given me his hand upon it."
"Forgiven thee—for what?" said the Prince.
"Ah! my Lord, I may speak of treason, but I am one of the traitors myself! Did not the good Knight leave me in charge to make my rounds constantly in the Castle, while he slept after his long watching? and lo, there comes that wily rascal, the Seneschal, Sanchez, with his ''Tis a cold night, friend John; the Knight wakes thee up early; come down to the buttery, and crack a cup of sack in all friendliness!' Down then go I, oaf that I was, thinking that, may be, our Knight was over strict and harsh, and pulled the reins so tight, that a poor man-at-arms must needs get a little diversion now and then—as the proverb says, 'when the cat's away, the mice may play.' But it was drugged, my Lord, else when would one cup of spiced wine have so overcome me that I knew nought till I hear Master d'Aubricour shouting treason in the courtyard like one frantic? But the Knight has forgiven me, and I have sworn to our blessed Lady of Taunton, and St. Joseph of Glastonbury, that not a draught of wine, spiced or unspiced, shall again cross my lips."
"A wholesome vow," said the Prince; "and her is a token to make thee remember it,"—and he placed in the hand of the yeoman a chain of some value. "Go to the guard-room, where you shall be well entertained till such time as we need thee again, as we may, if you have been, as you say, long in Sir Eustace Lynwood's service. But what now? Hast more to say?"
"I would say—so please you, my Lord—that I pray you but to let me ride back to Chateau Norbelle with this honourable Knight, for I owe all service to Sir Eustace, nor could I rest till I know how it fares with him."
"As you will, good fellow," said the Prince; "and you, Chandos, come with me to my chamber—I would speak with you before you depart."
"My Lord," said Arthur, "would you but grant me one boon—to go with Sir John to Chateau Norbelle?"
"You too? You would almost make me think you all drawn by witchcraft to this Castle!" But Arthur's eagerness extorted a consent, and he rode off amid Sir John Chandos's troop, boldly enough at first, but by and by so sleepily, that, as night advanced, Sir John ordered him to be placed in front of a trooper, and he soon lost all perception of the rough rapid pace at which they travelled. It was broad day when he was awakened by a halt, and the first thing he heard was, "There is St. George's pennon still safe!"
He sat upright, gazed eagerly forwards, and beheld a tall dark tower rising by the bank of a stream at some distance. "Chateau Norbelle?" he asked.
"Oh, ho! my little page," said Chandos. "You are alive again, are you? Ay, Chateau Norbelle it is—and we are in time it seems! But let us have you on your own steed again. And let us see—if Oliver be there himself, we shall have sharp work. Ay, keep you by the side of the old master leech there—he will be sure to keep out of peril. Now—close in—lances in rest—bows bent. Forward banner!"
Arthur, by no means approving of the companionship assigned him, contrived to wedge in his pony a little in the rear of Sir John's two Squires, as the whole squadron rode down the slope of the hill, and up the ascent on which the Castle stood. Loud cries and shrieks from within began to strike their ears—the clash of arms—all the tumult of attack and defence raging fearfully high and wild.
"Ho, ho! friend Oliver!—we have you in a trap!" said old Chandos, in high glee, as he drew up close without the walls. "Neville, guard the gates!"
He signed to about half his band to remain without, and cut off the retreat of the enemy. The Jew doctor chose his post in their rear, close to the Castle moat—but not so Arthur. Unnoticed and forgotten, he still kept close behind the Squire, who rode alongside of Sir John Chandos, as he crossed the drawbridge. The Castle gate was open, and showed a wild confused mass of struggling men and flashing arms. It was the last, most furious onset, when Clisson, enraged by the long resistance of so weak a garrison, was concentrating his strength in one effort, and, in the excitement of the assault, he had failed to remark that his sentinels had transgressed his orders, and mingled with the crowd, who were striving, by force of numbers, to overwhelm the small troop of defenders of the bartizan.
In rushed Chandos, shouting his war-cry!—In dashed his stout warriors, and loud and fierce pealed forth "St. George! St George!" drowning the now feebler note of "Montjoie, St. Denis!" and fearful were the shrieks of horror and of pain that rose mingled with it. Hemmed in, attacked in front and rear, their retreat cut off, the French looked in vain for escape; some went down beneath the tremendous charge of the English, some cried for mercy, and surrendered as prisoners. Oliver de Clisson himself, seeing that all was lost, swinging round his head his heavy battle-axe, opened for himself a way, and, with a few followers, broke through the men whom Chandos had left outside, and, cutting down a groom who was holding it, captured one of his led horses, on which he rode off at his leisure, confident in his own gigantic strength.
So little resistance had been offered, that Arthur's bold advance had involved him in little danger; he was borne onwards, and only was conscious of a frightful tumult, where all seemed to be striking and crushing together. At last, there was something of a lull; the cries of mercy, and offers to surrender, alone were heard. Arthur found his pony standing still, and himself pressed hither and thither by the crowd, from which he knew not how to escape.
Above these various sounds he heard an opening door—there was a press forward, which carried him with it. The heavy doors, shivered here and there by Clisson's axe, had been thrown wide open; but the crowd closed in—he saw no more. He threw himself from his pony, struggled forwards, and at last, emerging between the arms of two tall men, he beheld Sir John Chandos dismounting from his war-horse, which was held by a grim, bloody, dusty figure in broken armour, whose length of limb, and the crisp, black, curled hair that showed through the shattered helmet, proved that it could be no other than Gaston d'Aubricour.
Arthur darted forwards, his heart upon his lips; but neither Knight nor Squire had eye or ear for him; they were hastily exchanging queries about—he knew not what—they were not of his uncle; and, borne on by his impatience, he hurried past them up the narrow stone stair. More than one corpse—a ghastly sight—lay on the steps, but he hastened on; half a dozen men were standing on the stones at the top, all, like Gaston, dusty and gory, and leaning on their weapons, or on the wall, as if exhausted. They were looking intently at the court, and gave no heed to the boy, as he ran on into the hall. Two men lay there groaning before the fire. Arthur stood and looked round, hesitating whether to ask them for his uncle; but, perceiving the spiral stairs, quickly ascended. Far and far up he wound, till he came to a low-browed arch; he paused, and saw a large vaulted room, through the loop-hole window of which shone a yellow stream of golden sunshine. There was a low bed in one corner, and on it lay a motionless form. On tiptoe, and with a throbbing heart, the boy approached; he saw the face—it was ghastly pale. He stood transfixed—could it be?—yes, it must still be, his own Uncle Eustace.
It was still very early, and the narrow line of sky seen from the turret window was gilded by the bright pale-green light of morning, when Sir Eustace awoke. All around was perfectly still, and he could have believed himself waking merely from a dream of tumult and disturbance, but for his feelings of pain and weakness. At some little distance lay, on a softly-dressed sheepskin, the oriental figure of the Jewish mediciner, and, at the foot of his own bed, the unexpected form of little Arthur reclined, half sitting, half lying, with his head resting on his crossed arms, and his long curls floating over them. All was a riddle to his misty remembrance, clouded by weakness; and, in vague uncertain recollections and conjectures, the time rolled away, till the sounds of awakening and calls of the warders within the Castle betokened that it was occupied by no small number of persons. Still Arthur slept on, and Eustace abstained from the slightest movement that could disturb him, till a step stole quietly to the door, and Gaston's head was seen cautiously and anxiously looking in. Eustace, raising his hand, beckoned him, and made a sign of silence.
"How is with you, Sir Eustace? It must needs be better. I see a light in your eye once more."
"I am another man since yesterday, Gaston; but be careful—see there."
"Little fear of breaking such sleep as that," said Gaston. "'Tis a noble-hearted little fellow, and if matters go better with us henceforth, it will be his work."
"What is become of Clisson?"
"He was riding off headlong when Master Henry Neville last beheld him, gaining thereby a sound rating from old Chandos."
"Sir John Chandos here?"
"Fast asleep in your own carved chair, with his feet on the oaken settle."
"Sir John Chandos!" again exclaimed Eustace.
"Even so. All thanks to the brave young damoiseau who—"
Here Gaston's ardour had the effect of awakening the doctor, who immediately began to grumble at his patient's admitting visitors without permission. By the time he had examined Eustace's wounds and pronounced him to be progressing favourably, the whole Castle was up and awake, and Arthur, against his will, was sent down to attend on Sir John Chandos at breakfast, when scarce satisfied that his uncle could speak to him.
In process of time he came up to announce a visit from Chandos himself, and close on his steps followed the stalwart old warrior. Pausing at the door, he looked around him, struck with the aspect of the dungeon-like apartment, still more rugged in the morning light than in the evening gloom—the bare rough walls, an arrow sticking between the stones immediately above the Knight's head, the want of furniture, the Knight's own mantle and that of Gaston both called into requisition to protect him from the damp chill night air, their bright hues and rich embroidery contrasting with the squalid appearance of all around, as, indeed, did the noble though pale features of the wounded man himself, and the graceful attire and shining hair of the fair young boy who stood over him. But Sir John beheld all with no dissatisfaction.
"Well, my brave young Sir," said he, advancing, "how is it with you this morning? You look cheerily; I trust we shall soon have you on horseback again."
"Thanks to the blessed Saints and to you, Sir John," replied Eustace. "I fear you fared ill last night for,"—and he looked round with a smile—"you see, I occupy the state bed-chamber."
"The better, Sir Eustace," said Chandos. "It does my heart good to see such a chamber as this—none of the tapestry and hangings which our young Knights nowadays fence themselves with, as if they kept out the foe—this is what it is meant for—a stronghold, and not a bower. I'll have my dainty young Master Neville up here, to see how a good Knight should be lodged."
"I fear he would scarce consider it as an example," said Eustace, smiling, "since all our simplicity would not have availed to protect us, but for your coming. We little dreamt to see this morning's light."
"True, but where should I look for a garrison to make such a defence as you and your Squire have done? When I saw the spot, and looked at the numbers, and heard how long you had held out, methought I was returned once more to the good old days of Calais. And here this youth of mine, not yet with his spurs, though I dare say full five years older than you, must needs look sour upon it, because he has to sleep on a settle for one night—and that, too, when he has let Oliver de Clisson slip through his fingers, without so much as a scratch taken or given on either side! It grieves my very soul to think on it! But all has gone to rack and ruin since the Prince has been unable to set the example."
"Is the Prince better in health?"
"Yes—so they say—but his looks tell another tale, and I never expect to see him on horseback again," said the old warrior, with a deep sigh. "But I have to do his bidding here, and have much to ask of you, Sir Eustace; and I do it the more willingly, that I rejoice to see a brave man righted."
"Has the Prince, then, commanded an inquiry into my conduct?" exclaimed Eustace, joyfully. "It is what I have ever most warmly desired."
"And know you whom you have to thank?" said Sire John. "That youngster who stands at your feet—'twas he that, with little Prince Edward, burst into the council, and let not another word be said till he had told your need, given Fulk Clarenham the lie direct, and challenged him to prove his words. Pray when is the defiance to be fought out, Sir Page?"
Arthur coloured crimson, and looked down; then raising his glowing face, said firmly, "To-morrow, if need were, Sir—for God would defend the right!"
"Roundly spoken, Master Page! But let not your early years be all talk, nothing worth."
"The same warning that you gave to me, Sir John," said Eustace.
"When you thought I looked coldly and churlishly on your new-won honours," said Sir John. "I own I thought the Prince was bestowing knighthood over lightly—and so do I say still, Sir Eustace. But I saw, afterwards, that you were not so easily uplifted as I had thought. I saw you as diligent in the study of all that was knightly as if your spurs were yet to earn, and I knew the Prince had a brave young servant in you."
"If he would have trusted me!" said Eustace.
"He hath been deceived by the flatterers who have gained his ear. It should not have been thus had I been at court; but things have been much against my counsel. It may be that I have been too plain spoken—forgetting that he is not the boy who used to be committed to my charge—it may be that he hath been over hasty—and yet, when I look on his changed mien and wasted face, I can scarce blame him, nor must you, Sir Eustace, though cruel injustice hath, I fear, been done you."
"I blame our glorious Prince!" exclaimed the young Knight. "I would as soon blame the sun in heaven because the clouds hide his face from me for a time!"
"The clouds are likely to be dispersed with a vengeance," said Chandos. "The confession of yonder mutinous traitors will clear you from all that your accusers have said, by proving their villainy and baseness!"
"How? Sanchez and his fellows? Have they surrendered?"
"Yes. They kept themselves shut up in Montfort's tower until they lost all hope of relief from their friends without; then, being in fear of starvation, they were forced to surrender, and came forth, praying that their lives might be spared. I, as you may suppose, would as lief have spared the life of a wolf, and the halters were already round their necks, when your dark-visaged Squire prayed me to attempt to gain a confession from them; and, sure enough, they told a marvellous tale:—that Clarenham had placed them here to deliver you up to the enemy, whom they were to admit by a secret passage—and that they would have done it, long since, save that you and your Squire not only discovered the passage, but showed such vigilance, and so frustrated all their plans, that they firmly believed that you held commerce with the foul fiend. Did you, in truth, suspect their treachery?"
"Yes," replied Eustace, looking at Arthur. "The recognition of Le Borgne Basque in the Seneschal would have been sufficient to set us on our guard."
"But the passage?" asked Sir John, "what knowledge had you of that? for they vow that you could never have discovered it but by art magic."
"We found it by long and diligent search."
"And what led you to search, Sir Eustace? I you can clear up the matter, it will be the better for you; for this accusation of witchcraft will hang to you like a burr—the more, perhaps, as you are somewhat of a scholar!"
"It was I who warned him of it, Sir Knight," said Arthur, stepping forward.
"You, young Page!" exclaimed Sir John. "Are you jesting? Ha! then you must have, page-like, been eaves-dropping!—I should scarce have thought it of you."
"Oh, uncle!" exclaimed Arthur, in great distress, "you do not believe me capable of aught so unknightly? Do but say that you, at least, trust my word, when I say that I learnt their plots by no means unbecoming the son of Sir Reginald Lynwood."
"I believe you fully, Arthur," replied his uncle; "the more, that I should have been the last person to whom you would have brought information gained in such a fashion."
"And how was it gained?" asked Sir John.
"That," said the boy, "is a secret I am bound never to disclose."
"Strange, passing strange," repeated the old Knight, shaking his head. "Clarenham and Ashton would scarce have taken any into their councils who would warn you. And you will or can tell no more?"
"No more," replied the boy. "I was bidden secretly to warn my uncle of the entrance to the vaults, and of the treachery of this villain garrison. I did so, and he who says aught dishonourable of him or of me lies in his throat."
"Can you read this riddle, Sir Eustace?" asked Chandos, looking rather suspiciously at the very faint glow which mantled in the white cheek of the wounded Knight.
"I know nothing but what he has told you, Sir John," replied he.
"Nor guess aught?" said Sir John; "but perhaps that is scarce a fair query; and I will to the rest of my business, though it is scarce needed—only I would have the Prince see the full extent of the falsehoods with which he has been gulled." And he then proceeded to inquire into the circumstances of Lady Eleanor's funeral, the brawling, the violent abstraction of Arthur, and of a considerable portion of his property, and the long delay, which had given his enemies so much opportunity to blacken his character. Eustace explained all fully to the satisfaction of Chandos, and appealed to numerous witnesses.
"That is well," said the old Knight. "We shall have it all clear as daylight;—and the only wonder is, that the Prince could be so long deceived by such monstrous falsehoods. Let me see—your right to the wardship is established?"
"Yes; it hath been so decided by the Bishop of Winchester."
"And let me tell you, Sir Eustace, you did yourself little good by getting the interest of the Duke of Lancaster. Methought it still further prejudiced the Prince."
"It was justice that I sought, not favour," said Eustace.
"The knightly view," said Sir John; "and it was more the work of your friends than yourself; but I never loved that young John of Lancaster, and still less since he hath seemed willing to make a party for himself. I trow he hath given the Prince a distrust of all uncles. Ha! little varlet!" added he, as he met Arthur's eyes—"if you can keep one secret, keep another, or, still better, forget what I have said. Understandest thou?"
"I will answer for him," said Eustace.
"And now," said Chandos, "I must be on my way back; for that expedition to Bescancon must be looked to. But what is to be done with the boy?"
"Oh, I remain here," cried Arthur, eagerly. "The Prince consented. Oh, I pray of you let me stay here."
"In this dismal old Castle, Arthur," said Eustace, "apart from all your playmates? It will not be like home, remember; for scarce ever will you be able to go beyond the walls—and with me lying here, and Gaston always occupied, you will find it weary work."
"Not with you, Uncle Eustace! I shall sit by you, and tend you, and read to you. It is so long since I have been with you! Oh, send me not away! I care for no playmate—for nothing in the wide world, as for you!"
"Well, let him e'en stay," said Sir John; "it will be a better training for him than among the gilded little varlets who are cockered up among Princess Joan's ladies."
The two Knights had next to arrange some matters respecting the garrison; Sir John leaving a sufficient number of men to secure the castle in case of a second attack. He was somewhat inclined to leave Master Henry Neville to command them; but consideration for Eustace and Gaston induced him to spare the young gentleman a sojourn which he would have regarded as so far from enviable. Nor was the leech more desirous of a lengthened stay with a patient whom he suspected to be unable to requite him for the discomfort which he might endure in his service. He therefore pronounced Sir Eustace to stand in no further need of his attentions; and recommending rest, and providing him with good store of remedies, he saddled his mule to accompany Sir John Chandos.
The old Commander took his leave, with many kind wishes for Sir Eustace's speedy recovery, and promises that he should ere long hear from Bordeaux. In ten minutes more Arthur, standing at the window, announced that the troop was riding off, with Clisson's pennon borne among them in triumph, and Sanchez and his accomplices, with their hands tied, and their feet fastened together beneath the bodies of their horses.
Four or five weeks had passed away since Sir John Chandos had quitted the Chateau Norbelle.
The Knight had nearly recovered his full strength, but still wore his broken arm in a scarf, when, one evening, as he was sitting on the battlements, delighting the ears of Arthur and of Gaston with an interminable romance of chivalry, three or four horseman, bearing the colours and badges of the Black Prince, were descried riding towards the Castle. Knight, Squire, and Page instantly descended to the courtyard, which, in short space, was entered by the messengers, the principal of whom, an elderly man-at-arms, respectfully saluted the Knight, and delivered to him a parchment scroll, tied with silk of scarlet and blue, supporting the heavy seal of the Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine, and addressed to the hands of the honourable Knight Banneret Sir Eustace Lynwood, Castellane of the Chateau Norbelle. This document bore the signature of Edward himself, and contained his mandate to Eustace, to come immediately to his court at Bordeaux, leaving the command of the Chateau Norbelle to the bearer.
The old man-at-arms was closely questioned all the evening respecting the state of the court, but he could give little information. Sir John Chandos was at Bordeaux, and had daily attended the council, to which the Prince was devoting more attention than usual; a vessel had also arrived bearing letters from England to the Prince; this was all the information that could be obtained.
The next morning Eustace, with Gaston, Arthur, and Ingram, all full of expectation, and delighted at the change from the gloomy solitary old Castle, were all posting on their way back to Bordeaux. They slept at an hostel about twelve miles from the town, first, however, by desire of the Prince's messengers, sending Ingram on to announce their speedy arrival, and about ten in the morning rode into town.
There was evidently some grand spectacle at hand, for the Bordelais, gentle and simple, in holiday habits, were proceeding in the direction of the palace; but the Knight and his attendants had no time to wait for inquiries, and pressed on with the stream to the gates of the courtyard, where they found warders placed, to keep back the dense throng of people. At the mention of Sir Eustace's name they readily and respectfully admitted him and his companions into the court.
"Ha!" cried Gaston, "what means this? is there a tilt towards? This reminds me of the good old days, ere the Prince fell ill. The lists, the galleries, the ladies, the Prince's own chair of state, too! Oh, Sir Eustace, I could tear my hair that you cannot yet use your sword arm!"
"Can it be a challenge on the part of Fulk?" said Eustace, "or a reply to yours, Arthur? Yet that can hardly be. And see, there is no barrier in the midst, only a huge block. What can be intended?"
"I do not see Agnes among the ladies in the galleries," said Arthur, looking up as eagerly, and more openly, than his uncle was doing. "And oh, here comes the Princess,—yes, and Lord Edward and little Lord Richard with her! And here is the Prince himself leaning on the Earl of Cambridge! Uncle Eustace, Lord Edward is beckoning to me! May I run to him?"
"Come with me, since I must present myself," said Eustace, dismounting, as one of the Prince's Squires held his horse.
"And, oh! who is yonder dark-browed dwarfish Knight at the Prince's right hand?" cried Arthur.
Eustace could scarcely believe his eyes, as he looked where the boy pointed.
The royal party were now seated in full array on their raised platform; the Prince upon his chair of state, with more brightness in his eye and of vigour in his movements than when Eustace had last seen him; and at his side sat his wife,—her features still retaining the majestic beauty of Joan Plantagenet, the Fair Maid of Kent—but worn and faded with anxiety. She watched her princely Lord with an eye full of care, and could scarcely spare attention for the lovely child who clung to her side, and whose brilliantly fair complexion, wavy flaxen hair, high brow, and perfectly formed though infantine features, already promised that remarkable beauty which distinguished the countenance of Richard II. On the other side of the Prince sat his sister-in-law, the Countess of Cambridge, a Spanish Infanta; and her husband, Edmund, afterwards Duke of York, was beside the Princess of Wales. But more wonderful than all, among them stood the Constable of France. The two boys, Prince Edward and his cousin Henry of Lancaster, were stationed as pages on each side of the Princess, but as their play-fellow, Arthur, advanced with his uncle, they both sprang down the steps of the gallery to meet him, and each took a hand. Edward, however, first bethinking himself of the respect which, Prince as he was, he owed to a belted Knight, made his reverence to Sir Eustace, who, at a sign from the Prince of Wales, mounted the steps and bent his knee to the ground before him.
"Nay, Sir Eustace," said the Prince, bending forward, "it is rather I who should kneel to you for pardon; I have used you ill, Eustace, and, I fear me, transgressed the pledge which I gave to your brother on the plain of Navaretta."
"Oh, say not so, my gracious liege," said Eustace, as tears gathered in his eyes,—"it was but that your noble ear was deceived by the slanders of my foes!"
"True, Sir Eustace—yet, once, Edward of England would not have heard a slanderous tale against one of his well-proved Knights without sifting it well. But I am not as once I was—sickness hath unnerved me, and, I fear me, hath often led me to permit what may have dimmed my fame. Who would have dared to tell me that I should suffer my castles to be made into traps for my faithful Knights? And now, Sir Eustace, that I am about to repair my injustice towards you, let me feel, as a man whose account for this world must ere long be closed, that I have your forgiveness."
The Prince took the hand of the young Knight, who struggled hard with his emotion. "And here is another friend," he added—"a firmer friend, though foe, than you have found some others."
"Well met, my chivalrous godson," said the Constable du Guesclin, holding out his hand. "I rejoice that my neighbour, Oliver, did not put an end to your faits d'armes."
"I marvel—," Eustace hardly found words between wonder and condolence. The Prince caught the import of his hesitating sentences.
"He thinks you a prisoner, Sir Bertrand," he said. "No, Sir Eustace, Messire le Connetable is captive only in his good-will to you. I wrote, to pray him to send me his witness to those last words of your brother, since you had ever appealed to him, and he replied by an offer, which does us too much honour, to become our guest."
"I am no scribe, apart from my fairy Dame Tiphaine," said Du Guesclin, abruptly. "It cost me less pains to ride hither,—besides that I longed to renew my old English acquaintances, and see justice done to you, fair godson."
"Ha! Sir Bertrand, thou recreant!—so no other spell drew thee hither? Thou hast no gallantry even for such an occasion as this!" said a gay voice.
"How should the ill-favoured Knight deal in gallantries?" said Du Guesclin, turning. "Here is one far fitter for your Grace's eyes."
"And you, discourteous Constable, were keeping him for you own behoof, when all my maidens have been speaking for weeks of no name but the Knight of the beleaguered Castle!"
And Eustace had to kiss the fair hand of the Princess of Wales.
In the meantime, the three boys were whispering together. "It is all well, all gloriously well, is it not, Arthur, as I told you?" said Edward. "I knew my father would settle all in his own noble fashion."
"What said the master of the Damoiseaux?" asked Arthur, as the sight of that severe functionary revived certain half-forgotten terrors.
"Oh, he, the old crab-stock!" said Henry,—"he looked sour enough at first; but Edward kept your counsel well, till you were safe at a good distance from Bordeaux; and then, though he said somewhat of complaining to my Lord the Prince, it was too late to mend it. And when Sir John Chandos came back, and bade him be content, he vowed you were enough to spoil a whole host of pages; but did not we all wish some of our uncles would get themselves betrayed?"
"But what means all this preparation?" asked Arthur—"these lists! Oh, surely, there is not to be a tourney, which I have so longed to see!"
"No," said Edward, "that cannot be, my mother says, while my father is so weakly and ill. But there are the trumpets! you will soon see what will befall."
And, with a loud blast of trumpets, the gorgeously arrayed heralds rode into the court, followed by a guard of halberdiers, in the midst of whom rode a Knight in bright armour, his visor closed, but his shield and crest marking the Baron of Clarenham.
When the trumpets had ceased, and the procession reached the centre of the lists, they halted, and drew up in order,—the principal herald, Aquitaine, immediately in front of the Prince. After another short clear trumpet-blast, Aquitaine unrolled a parchment, and, in a loud voice, proclaimed the confession of Fulk, Baron of Clarenham, of his foul and unknightly conduct, in attempting to betray the person of the good Knight and true, Eustace Lynwood, Knight Banneret, with that of his Esquire, Gaston d'Aubricour, and of certain other trusty and well-beloved subjects of his liege Lord, King Edward of England, together with the fortalice, called Chateau Norbelle, in the county of Gascogne, appertaining to my Lord Edward, Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine, into the hands of the enemy—having for that purpose tampered with and seduced Thibault Sanchez, Seneschal of the Castle, Tristan de la Fleche, and certain others, who, having confessed their crime, have received their deserts, by being hung on a gallows—upon which same gallows it was decreed by the authority of the Prince, Duke and Governor of Aquitaine, that the shield of Fulk de Clarenham should be hung—he himself being degraded from the honours and privileges of knighthood, of which he had proved himself unworthy—and his lands forfeited to the King, to be disposed of at his pleasure.
Clarenham was then compelled to dismount from his horse, and to, first one foot, and then the other, upon the block, where a broad red-faced cook, raising his cleaver, cut off the golden spurs. Sir John Chandos, as Constable of Aquitaine, then came forward, and, taking the shield from the arm of Clarenham, gave it, reversed, into the hands of one of the heralds, who carried it away. The belt, another token of knighthood, was next unbuckled, and Chandos, taking the sword, broke it in three pieces across his knee, saying, "Lie there, dishonoured steel!" and throwing it down by the spurs. Lastly, the helmet, with the baronial bars across the visor, was removed, and thrown to the ground, leaving visible the dark countenance, where the paleness of shame and the flush of rage alternated.
"And now, away with the traitor, away with the recreant Knight! out upon him!" cried in a loud voice Sir John Chandos, while the shout was taken up by a deafening multitude of voices—in the midst of which the degraded Knight and landless Baron made his way to the gate, and, as he passed out, a redoubled storm of shouts and yells arose from without.
"Out upon the traitor!" cried Harry of Lancaster with the loudest. "Away with him! But, Edward, and you too, Arthur, why shout you not? Hate you not traitors and treason?"
"I would not join my voice with the rabble," said Edward, "and it makes me sad to see knighthood fallen. What say you, Arthur?"
"Alas! he is my mother's kinsman," said Arthur, "and I loved his name for her sake as for that of Agnes too. Where is Agnes?"
"In the Convent of the Benedictine nuns," said Edward. "But in your ear, Arthur, what say you to our plan that she shall be heiress of her brother's lands, on condition of her wedding—guess whom?"
"Not mine uncle! Oh, Lord Edward, is it really so? How rejoiced old Ralph would be!"
"Speak not of it, Arthur—it was my mother who told me, when Agnes craved permission to go to the Convent, and I feared she would become one of those black-veiled nuns, and I should never see her more."
"Where is my uncle?" asked Arthur, gazing round. "I thought he was standing by the Lady Princess's chair—"
"He went to speak to Sir John Chandos but now," said Prince Henry, "but I see him not. Mark! what a lull in the sounds without!"
In fact, the various cries of execration which had assailed Fulk Clarenham on his exit from the gates of the Castle, after sounding more and more violent for some minutes, had suddenly died away almost into stillness—and the cause was one little guessed at within the court. The unhappy Fulk was moving onwards, almost as in a dream, without aim or object, other than to seek a refuge from the thousand eyes that marked his disgrace, and the tongues that upbraided him with it; but, in leaving the court, he entered upon a scene where danger, as well as disgrace, was to be apprehended. The rabble of the town, ever pleased at the fall of one whose station was higher than their own, mindful of unpaid debts, and harsh and scornful demeanour, and, as natives, rejoiced at the misfortune of a foreigner, all joined in one cry of—"Away with the recreant Englishman!—down with him!—down with him!" Every hand was armed with a stone, and brief would have been Fulk's space for repentance, had not the cry in its savage tones struck upon the ear of Eustace as he stood in the lists, receiving the congratulations of Sir John Chandos and of other Knights, who, with changed demeanour, came to greet the favoured hero.
"They will murder him," exclaimed Eustace; and breaking from his new friends, he made his way to the gate, and hurried into the town, just as Fulk had fallen to the ground, struck by a heavy stone hurled by the hand of no other than John Ingram. He rushed forward amid the hail of stones, and, as he lifted Clarenham's head, called out, "How is this! Brave men of Bordeaux, would you become murderers! Is this like honourable men, to triumph over the fallen!"
They held back in amazement for a second; then, as Eustace knelt by him and tried to recall his consciousness, murmurs arose, "Why interferes he with our affairs? He is English," and they all held together. "Another of the purse-proud English, who pay no debts, and ruin the poor Bordelais." "His blood we will have, if we cannot have his money. Away, Master Knight, be not so busy about the traitor, if you would not partake his fate."
Eustace looked up as the stones were uplifted, and more than one Free Companion had drawn his sword. "Hold," he exclaimed in a clear full-toned voice that filled every ear. "Hold! I am Eustace Lynwood, the Castellane of Chateau Norbelle!"
There was an instant silence. Every one pressed forward to see him, whose recent adventures had made him an object of much interest and curiosity, and the attention of the crowd was entirely diverted from the former unhappy subject of their pursuit. Whispers passed of "Noble Knight! flower of chivalry! how generous and Christian-like he bends over his enemy! Nay, if he revenge not himself, what right have we? And see, his arm is still in a scarf from the treachery of those villains! Well, I would yet give yon ruffian his desert."
By this time Eustace having observed Ingram among the crowd, summoned him to his side, and at the same time courteously craving the aid of one of the by-standers (who, of course, though collectively lions, were individually lambs), succeeded in conveying Clarenham, whose senses had so far returned that he was able to rise with their assistance, to the door of a monastery chapel, the porch of which opened upon the street.
"Holy Fathers," said Eustace, "I crave the protection of the Church for an unhappy, and, I trust, a penitent man, praying you will tend him well to aid and relief alike of body and soul, until you hear from me again."
With these words he quitted the chapel before his late enemy had sufficiently recovered his faculties to recognize his preserver.
Leonard Ashton, for whom Eustace inquired, had, it appeared, saved himself by making full confession, and had been sent home, in deep disgrace, though spared public dishonour.
It was some few days after these events that the presence of Lady Agnes de Clarenham was requested in the parlour of her nunnery, which was some miles distant from Bordeaux, by a person who, as the porteress informed her, was the bearer of a message from the Princess of Wales. She descended accordingly, but her surprise was great on beholding, instead of one of the female attendants of her mistress as she had expected, the slender figure of the young Knight with whom she had last parted at the hostelry.
Her first feeling was not one of kindness towards him. Agnes had indeed grieved and felt indignant when she saw him oppressed and in danger from her brother's treachery, but, in these days of favour, she could not regard with complacency the cause of her brother's ruin, and of the disgrace of her house. She started, and would have retreated, but that he prevented, by saying, in a tone which had in it more of sorrow than of any other feeling, "Lady Agnes, I pray you to hear me—for you have much to forgive."
"Forgive! Nay, Sir Eustace, it is you who have so much to forgive my unhappy house! Oh, can you," she added, as the countenance and manner recalling long past days made her forget her displeasure, "can you tell me where the wretched one has shrouded his head from the shame which even I cannot but confess he has merited?"
"I heard of the Bar—of your brother this very morn," said Eustace, "from one of the good brethren of the Convent where he has taken shelter, the Convent of the Augustine friars of St. Mary; they spoke of him as amended in health, and, though sorely dejected, returning, they hoped, to a better spirit.'
"Thanks, Sir Eustace, even so do I hope and pray it may be—since repentance is the only good which can yet be his. But tell me, Sir Eustace—for vague rumours only reach us in this lonely cell—was it true that the populace pursued the fallen one with clamours, and might even have slain him, but for his rescue by a gallant Knight, who braved their utmost fury?"
"It was even so, Lady," said Eustace, with some embarrassment.
"Oh! who was that noblest of Knights, that I may name him in my most fervent prayers? who has that strongest claim on the gratitude of the broken-hearted sister?"
"Nay, Lady, it was but common duty, the mere mercy of a Christian man, who could not see a fellow-creature die such a death, without attempting to save him."
"Oh, Sir Eustace! it is not like your former self to deny the greatness of a noble deed! I will not be robbed of my gratitude! Tell me the name of that most noble of men!"
He half smiled, then looking down, and colouring deeply: "Do you remember, Lady Agnes, the Knight whom you bound by a promise, that in case of the triumph of his cause—"
"Eustace, Eustace! Oh, I should have known that nothing was too great and high for you, that you would not disparage the nobleness of any other than yourself. Oh, how shall I ever render you my thanks! After such cruel treachery as that from which you have, and, I fear me, are still suffering! Alas! alas! that I should be forced to use such harsh words of my own brother!"
"I trust you may still be comforted, Lady," said Eustace. "From what the good Fathers tell me, there is hope that Fulk may yet be an altered man, and when the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which he has vowed, is concluded, may return in a holy temper."
"Return; but whither should he return?" said Agnes, in a broken, despondent tone,—"landless, homeless, desolate, outcast, what shelter is open to him? For if the porteress's tale spoke truth, his lands and manors are forfeited to the King."
"They are so, in truth; but there is one way, Agnes, in which they may still be restored to their true owner."
"How so? What mean you, Sir Eustace?"
"Agnes, I would not have broken upon your sorrow by speaking thus abruptly, but that the Prince's, or rather the King's desire was urgent, that the matter should be determined without loss of time. To you, in all justice, does he will that the castles and manors of Clarenham should descend, but on one condition."
Agnes raised her eyes, and, while she slowly shook her head, looked anxiously at him as he paused in considerable embarrassment.
"On condition that you, Lady Agnes, should permit the King and Prince to dispose of your fair hand in marriage."
Agnes gave a slight cry, and leant against the grate of the parlour. "Oh, that may never be, and—but how advantageth that poor Fulk?"
"Because, Lady Agnes—because it is to me that they would grant that hand which I have so long loved passionately and hopelessly. Agnes, it was not willingly, but at the command of the Prince, that I came hither with a suit which must seem to you most strangely timed, from one who has been the most unwilling cause of so much misery to you, whom, from earliest years, he has ever loved more than his own life. I know, too, that you cannot endure to rise on the ruin of your brother, nor could I bear to feel that I was living on the lands of a kinsman and neighbour whose overthrow I had wrought. But see you not, that jointly we can do what we never could do separately, that, the condition fulfilled, we could kneel before King Edward, and entreat for the pardon and restoration of Fulk, which, to such prayers, he would surely grant?"
Agnes' tears were gathering fast, and she spoke in a broken voice, as she said, "Eustace, you are the most generous of Knights," and then, ashamed of having said so much, covered her face with her veil and turned away. Eustace stood watching her, with his soul in his eyes; but before either had summoned courage to break the silence, the porteress came hurrying in, "Good lack! good lack! if ever my eyes saw the like—here is the Princess of Wales herself at the gate, and all her train—where is sister Katherine? where is the mother abbess? Alas, alas! that nought should be ready to receive her! Oh, and I have mislaid the key of the great gate!" While the good woman was bustling on in her career, Eustace had time to say, "Yea, Agnes, the Princess is come, in case you hear my suit favourably, to conduct you back to Bordeaux. Think of a true and devoted heart, think of Fulk ere you decide!" As he spoke, the whole train of black-veiled nuns came sweeping into the parlour, whence Agnes hastily escaped to collect her thoughts during the few instants before she could be summoned to attend the Princess, while Eustace walked into the Convent court, which was by this time filled by the gay party which accompanied the Princess.
Agnes quickly gained her cell, and sank down on her bed to make the most of the minutes that might be her own. Never, probably, had lady shorter time in which to decide, or did it seem more impossible to come to a resolution; but Agnes had known Eustace all her life, had never met one whom she thought his equal, found him raised a thousand-fold in her estimation by the events of the day, and could not bear to think of disappointing the hopes which had lighted up that bright eye and animated that whole face.
Then, too, why by her act completely ruin her brother? The thoughts flashed through her mind in rapid succession, and she did not rise with much reluctance when called to meet the Princess, though longing for more time, which after all would but have enabled her to harass herself more.
"Well, my gentle Agnes," said the Princess, "what say you? Come you back to the court, where my boys are wearing for their playfellow? Hasten, then sweet maiden, for I promised little Edward to bring you back, and I know not how to face his wrath if you come not."
Agnes, still almost dreaming, offered no opposition, but allowed her dress to be arranged, took leave of the abbess and her nuns, and shortly found herself, she scarcely knew how, mounted on her palfrey in the Princess's train, with Sir Eustace Lynwood at her side.
And old Ralph Penrose was one of the happiest of mankind, when he beheld his pupil return the first Knight in the county—the honoured of the Prince.
For the next seven years the Clarenham vassals rejoiced in the gentle, noble, and firm rule of their new Lord and Lady; yet it was remarked, with some surprise, that the title of Baron of Clarenham was dropped, and that Sir Eustace and Dame Agnes Lynwood, instead of living at their principal Castle, took up their abode at a small manor which had descended to the lady from her mother, while the Castle was placed under the charge of Gaston d'Aubricour, beneath whose care the fortifications assumed a more modern character, and the garrison learnt the newest fashions of handling their weapons.
At the end of that time Sir Eustace and his Lady travelled to the court, where, alas! of all the royal party who had rejoiced at their marriage, they found only the Young King Richard II. and his mother, the Princess Joanna, once the Fair Maid of Kent, but now sadly aged by time and sorrow, who received kindly, though tearfully, those who reminded her of those last bright days of her life at Bordeaux, and readily promised to forward their request at the council, "where, alas!" she said, shaking her head, "Lord Henry of Lancaster, now Earl of Bolingbroke, too often loved to oppose her and her son."
No one at the council could refuse, thought the amazement of all was great, when the request was made known that King Richard would be pleased to reinstate in his titles, lands, and manors, Fulk, late Baron of Clarenham, in consideration of his good services to Christendom, rendered on the coast of Africa under the banner of the Knights of St. John, whose Grand Master attested his courage and faithfulness.
Soon Clarenham Castle opened its gates to receive its humbled, repentant, and much-changed Lord, who was welcomed by all the gentle blood in the county—at the head of whom rode Sir Eustace with his Squire, and his nephew Arthur, now a gallant young man, only waiting the summons, promised him by the Princess, to receive knighthood at the same time as his royal master, Richard II.