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The manner and tone of the speech were somewhat austere; but the youth felt it was kindly meant; so he promised obedience cheerfully, and rode off with a gladder heart under his breastplate than had throbbed there for many a day.

Some half-league or so from the spot where Hawkwood had halted, the sand-hills trended inwards from the coast, breaking up the ground into low irregular hillocks, through which wound a single track, beaten down and worn by broad-wheeled wains, in many places sunken feet below the surface of the soil. Here Ralph judged it best to post himself; for beyond this the country grew flat and open again, and an armed man would have far to ride before he found other chance of cover. So he dismounted, and leaving Lanyon with the horses in the hollow-way-where they were perfectly concealed— couched down himself under the crest of a sand-hillock, whence he had far view around-bare-headed, lest the eye of some wandering scout should catch the glitter of his bascinet. There he lay hour after hour, till weary disappointment replaced the hopeful excitement with which he had set forth and glancing towards the west, where the clouds were reddening already, he began to listen for the note of recall which he knew Hawkwood's trumpets would sound before sundown. Suddenly, as he gazed mechanically back in the direction where he had watched, his heart stood still for an instant, then leapt up with a fierce joy.

Above a stunted thicket of alders and willows that fringed the track some two furlongs off, came the sparkle of spear-heads, and a second later a broader glimmer of steel; as a knight, fully caparisoned, with pennon on his lance, appeared, followed by another horseman, whom, even at that distance Ralph's keen eye made out to be more lightly harnessed. With a mighty effort the youth mastered his impatience, and lay quite still till he was certain that the pair were not forerunners of a more numerous enemy; a long sigh of relief broke from his lips as he withdrew his head cautiously, only rising to his feet when he was well under cover of the sand-hill. Lanyon, roused from a half doze by the rattle of harness, knew by the other's look that something was afoot, before he crouched down to catch the hurried whisper.

"Now, our Blessed Lady be praised! They come straight hitherwards; and we have leave to deal with them as we list, sith they are but two against two."

The yeoman's grey eyes flashed eagerly, though he uttered never a

word; and a faint reflection on his broad, bluff features of the battlelight gleaming on the Norman's face showed that his slower Saxon bloed was fairly stirred.

Some few yards from the spot where they stood, the roadway turned a sharp corner, and then ran on quite straight and level for near a hundred yards, between banks, on either side, about stirruphigh; here, too, the ground was tolerably sound, though sandy. At this angle Ralph took post, with vizor down, and his lance at the carry; having Lanyon some yards to his rear. Ere they had waited three minutes, there came through the still evening air a smothered clash of steel, and the low clear notes of a mellow voice, chanting a virelay, in the musical langue d'Oc; and the foremost rider came into view round the opposite angle of the road to that where Brakespeare sat. He reined up abruptly when he saw his path barred in front. If surprised, he was in no wise disconcerted by the presence of an enemy; but trolled out the last line of the verse he was singing to the full as gaily as he had begun it.

The knight's vizor was up, and Ralph was struck by the beauty of his face, enhanced by the soft, rich colouring peculiar to the south of France. The perfect workmanship of his armour made it, perhaps, seem lighter than it really was; yet, with its fanciful graving and ornament, it appeared more fitted for tournay or pageant than the rough usage of a mélée. Round his neck was slung a triangular shield, the bearings of which were somewhat defaced, like the blazonry of his surcoat. The brown Limousin, which he bestrode, though lacking not power in its fine sinewy limbs, looked somewhat light and small compared to Ralph's great roan destrere. His helmet was not a plain bascinet or camail, but rather moulded in tilting shape, bearing both crest and plume; and under the crest was twined securely a long hawking-glove, curiously wrought with silk and seed pearls, that must have been worn only by a delicate woman's hand.

Ralph brought his lance down quickly from the carry to the rest; but the French knight kept his own pennoncelle pointed upwards, and waved his hand, in token that he wished to parley. There was an easy grace in the gesture that made the youth half ashamed of his own eagerness, as he recovered his weapon, and, raising his own vizor, advanced to meet the other, who had already ridden some paces


"Beau sire”—the stranger began, in good Norman-French, when he was fairly within ear-shot-" before we come to mortal arbitrement,

may I crave of your courtesy to answer me two brief questions? First, I would know how far is this spot from the English camp, from which doubtless you have lately sallied forth ?"

"Hard upon three leagues, as I should guess"-3rakespeare answered, with a look of some surprise.

"Not near enough by half"-the Frenchman muttered, biting his handsome lip. "Unless worse chance befall him, Raoul hath gotten within sight of the trenches ere now. So I am constrained to ask further, do ye two hold this pass alone, or are there other of your lances near in force ?"

Brakespeare hesitated, doubting whether he were right thus to parley with an enemy; but something in the French knight's manner forbade suspicion of treachery. So he answered after a while

"It is even so. There are none of our folk that I wot of nearer than half a league, where Sir John Hawkwood, whom I follow, halts with the residue of his lances."

The other smiled, as though well pleased.

"It is as I thought, then. And now, beau sire, lest my questions appear to you unseemly, I have you to wit that yester-even I, Loys de Chastelnaye, did devise, with Raoul de Mericourt, my brother-in-arms, concerning certain matters which, in fair Provence, are judged only in the court of love; and, in all amity, there was great debate betwixt us; so that at the last we agreed to ride forth this day-each with a single esquire-and, unless put back by a force of four at the least, to prove which of us could carry his lady's gage closest to Calais gates. 'Las, my destrier cast a shoe, and with sore trouble, after hours' seeking, did we light on a smith; for you brave English have frightened Jean Picard, till he hath become shy as a field-rat. Wherefore if, as I guess from your bearing, ye purpose not to yield me passage peaceably, it is needful that I pass on in your despite. This place, too, is marvellously well fitted for running a course. But, good youth, under thy favour, I had rather than a hundred crowns that thy spurs, if not golden, had been silver at the least; for perchance thou hast had scant tournay practice, and so can little honour accrue to me from the encounter. If thus it be with thee, avow it frankly. Lo, I will forego the lance, and engage with mace and sword."

Brakespeare's temper was rising fast under the Frenchman's selfconfidence and easy condescension; but he curbed it, and answered very calmly.

"This is no tilt-yard, where none can joust unless of lineage

approved by the heralds; and in these times none can say how soon he shall change the metal of his spurs. Beau sire, your nobility must e'en abase itself to contend with one of my degree; for an' ye were wing to turn bridle, I, for my part, am not willing to let you go in be I have better skill with my weapon than ye pc. It may deem. So, set on and spare not, looking for the like measure from me."

The Frenchman's face never lost its gay good humour, as he bowed his head courteously.

"I am fitly reproved "-he said-" for I spake over presumptuously. De pardieu, all true men are equal under shield. Let us take ground speedily; for the light is waning fast, and one of us will have a moonlight ride. Call on your patron saint when ye are ready to do your devoir, and I will answer with the name of my fair lady. Marguerite, ma Marguerite!"

Long afterwards, Ralph Brakespeare remembered how lovingly the speaker's lips lingered over that last word as though-all familiar as it must have been-they were loath to let it pass. Within a few moments each had regained his own station. The Frenchman, seeing that his adversary bore no shield, drew off his own, and handed it to his esquire, saying something the while with a light laugh; Ralph, too, as he clasped his vizor and settled himself firmer in the saddle, driving his feet well home in the sautoirs, found time to say some hurried words over his shoulder to his follower, who was in a state of unwonted excitement.

"Honest Will, I trust well to lower yonder gay plume; for I have vantage in weight if not in skill; but, if it be otherwise, since I purpose not to take mercy, thy tarrying here will naught avail. So I charge thee, in such case, to hie thee back to Sir John Hawkwood at speed; and tell him that I thanked him heartily for this chance of approving myself, though it pleased God that I should fail."

Then Ralph Brakespeare laid lance in rest; and getting his horse well in hand, cried lustily, "St. George Guienne!" and drove the sharp rowels in; clear and mellow through the still air, came the answering war-cry, "Marguerite, ma Marguerite!" The dust flew far and wide under the savage plunge of the roan destrere and bound of the swifter Limousin; and just about midway the two hurtled together.

At the first shock both horses sunk on their haunches, but one only recovered himself. The Limousin, fairly overborne, rolled over sideways and backwards, till he lay helpless athwart the roadway,

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