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When news of this came to Bordeaux, the Black Prince would remain idle no longer; but set forth with two thousand lances and six thousand archers on another huge foray through Limousin, La Marche, Auvergne, and Berry; purposing to push forward till he met his cousin Lancaster in Normandy. Working their will on the country, as they had done aforetime, the English marched on without let or hindrance, till Vierzon was stormed, and three famous barons of France had rendered themselves to Edward's mercy, and the walls of Romorantin could hold out no longer against the battering-engines and showers of Greek fire. But no further dared the invaders advance; for here they had certain news that the misery of his unhappy subjects, the waste of his realm, and the damage of his honour, had at last fairly roused King John, who was even then marching down from Chartres, with an army more than sufficient to encompass and crush his enemy. The Black Prince was too great a captain to press daring to fool-hardiness; so he wheeled in his tracks at once, and turned to the south-west, intending to waste Poitou on his return, as he had wasted all the country betwixt the Garonne and Loire.
But this was not so to be. Many times before, and since, have men come to honour unwillingly or unawares; but seldom, surely, hath such good chance befallen soldier, as that which suffered Edward nct to pass on his way in peace. King John, in the eagerness of his wrath and the confidence of his power, had made better speed than could have been reckoned on. Day by day, unknown to each other, the distance was lessened betwixt the armies; till, on the seventeenth day of September, Eustace de Ribeaumont and his scouts, riding through the wooded heaths on the banks of Vienne, came suddenly on the English rearguard.
That same night the Black Prince knew that he was fairly in the toils; and must needs give battle, at such disadvantage of arms as hath seldom been recorded-since the three hundred held Thermopyle against the hordes of the Persians.
THERE are histories-very trite and old-of which the world does not easily grow weary; and chiefest among such, are those which record
how the stronger battalions were forced to humble themselves before the aristarchy of disciplined valour. Wherefore, it may be well worth while to look back, and see what was adoing around Poitiers on a certain Sabbath morning, five hundred years agone.
More than a league afield, from within ten furlongs of the city gates stretched the French encampment. Never since Philippe of Valois marched out of Amiens to raise Calais leaguer, had so gallant a host mustered under the Fleur-de-lis; far and wide around the Royal standard-like forest-trees around the tall king-oak-were reared the banners of puissant crown-vassals, and pennons uncounted; and, when the forces were set in battle-array that morning, John the Good reviewed twenty thousand lances, and twice that number of meaner degree.
About two miles from the French lines the Black Prince had entrenched himself; taking-as behoved so wise a captain-all possible vantage of ground, which rose thereabouts into a steep acclivity, clothed towards the lower part with brushwood and vineyards, to which there was but one access-a deep narrow lane. In truth, though the quarry was fairly harboured, certain skilful hunters deemed that it might be neither safe nor easy to force him in his lair; and even King John was not so overweening in his confidence as wholly to slight Eustace de Ribeaumont's warning. After careful espial thus spoke the valiant knight, who won the palm of valour on Calais causeway
"Sire, we have observed the English; and they may amount to nigh two thousand men-at-arms, four thousand archers, and fifteen hundred footmen; so can they scarce muster more than one battalion. Nevertheless, they have posted themselves strongly and warily. The single road for attack lies through a lane, so strait that scarcely can four ride through it abreast; and the hedges on either hand are lined with their archers. At the end of this, amidst vines and thorns, where no horsemen may keep order, are posted their men-at-arms on foot; before these again is drawn up a great body of their archers in shape of a harrow; so that it will be no easy matter to come at them."
King John's brows were overcast. He was none of those who can bear thwarting or disappointment meekly: but he could not choose but hearken, and further constrained himself to ask counsel from his trusty captain. Thus De Ribeaumont made answer—
"Sire, if ye will be ruled by me, ye will attack on foot; sending forward before your vanguard some three hundred choice gens d'armes, excellently mounted, who shall break, if it be possible, the body of
archers whereof I spake. Then shall your main battalion advance; and coming hand to hand with the English, give the best account of them they may. Such is my poor counsel; and if any man know a shrewder, let him speak it forth in God's name."
The King answered-"Thus shall it be." And, then calling to his marshals, John of Clermont and Arnold D'Andreghen, began after the aforesaid fashion to set the battle in array.
But it was Heaven's will that the unlucky monarch should not be spared a single sorrow in the aftertime. Keenest surely of all the torments that beset the ruined gamester, is the remembrance that the heavy stake lay once utterly at his mercy; had he not, in blindness or rashness, cast the chance away.
The trumpets were almost ready to sound, when there rode down from Poitiers in haste a large and motley company; wherein neither pomp of church nor war was lacking; for cross and pillar glittered in the front of many lances. It was the Cardinal Talleyrand de Perigord—that great house bred diplomatists even then-who, with his brother of Capoccio, came to make a last effort at reconciliation. Neither was King John at first averse to listen to such overture. And all that day the peacemakers rode to and fro, striving, as became their office, to avert blood-shedding. The Black Prince must have known himself in sore strait, before he thought of setting his hand to such conditions as these--to surrender all French towns and castles that he held; to give up without ransom all his prisoners; and to make cath that for seven years he would not draw sword against King John. But even to these terms the other would in no wise consent; and the last concession that could be wrung from him was to the effect, that only on the absolute surrender of the Prince and one hundred of his knights, might the rest pass out free. So the day wore away till eventide, when it was known to either host that they might rest on their arms till dawning.
A marvellous contrast would one have seen, who could have looked down on the several encampments. Round the pavilion of fair red silk, wherein King John lay, were clustered many others scarce less superb; plate and jewels, rich furs, gorgeous panoplies, and golden ornaments were as rife, as though the great vassals had mustered for the crowning or the wedding of their king; and the rich wines and meats would have beseemed a court-banquet at the Louvre. The very beasts on which they rode were as full of lustihood as their lords; and more than one pampered destrier sniffed disdainfully at provender that would have been a boon indeed to the lean
flanked English chargers; for in that other entrenchment forage was cruelly short, both for horses and men, and long travel, no less than short rations, had begun to tell woefully. No marvel if the Prince's heart was heavy, as reckoning up that night, every lance, spear, and bow under his command, he counted less than thousand men.
But in such times of trial natures like his show their brightest side. Taking their pleasure sadly, and too reserved to invite the sympathy of their fellows, in the summer-glow of prosperity, they win much esteem, but little love; many adherents, but few friends: like the Alpine plants that thrive best on the verge of eternal snows, they show their softest colours when all the horizon is dark and fraught with storm. So far as we can judge from the rough sketching of his chroniclers, a very singular instance of this temperament was found in Edward of Wales. A soldier to the marrow of his bones, he never breathed freely in the luscious, courtly atmosphere; and-affecting neither austerity nor seclusion-took scant delight in pageant or pastime furthermore, it is averred, he was a very pattern of chastity. Fair Joan of Kent, though they were wedded at the last, found, perchance, rather a loyal husband than an ardent wooer. When the light of battle was not shining on his face, we fancy it grave and passionless, as it looks up at us from the Canterbury tomb; touched, too, by that half-melancholy, half-meditative shadow, which—betokening no ill-health-is oftenest found, say physiognomists, in such as shall die young.
But if such an one can count few familiar friends, and fewer boon companions, it will be seen, when peril grows urgent, that he has known how to secure the whole trust and love of his soldiery. On the morrow morning, when the last negotiations had failed, and the mediator had departed in discomfiture, there was not one, perchance, of all the ten thousand, but felt his heart wax warm at the hearing of that famous oration-so simple, and earnest, and fitting the time.
"Now, sirs, though we be but a small company, as in regard to the puissance of our enemy, let us not be abashed therefore. For the victory lieth not in multitude of people, but where as God will send it. If it chance that the day shall be ours, we shall be the most honoured of all in this world. If we die in our right quarrel, I have the king, my father, and brothers; also, ye have good friends and kinsmen: these shall avenge us. Therefore, I require you, for God's sake, to do your devoirs this day. Also, by His grace and Saint George's, I trust well to bear myself as a good knight."
England to America.
A CHRISTMAS GREETING.
A GREETING! 'Tis the feast of Yule,
To thee, Republic of the West.
The holly that our England weaves,
Our mothers crooned the same old songs,
The poets of our land are thine
Thy kindred looked on Shakespeare's face;
And songs of nobler tone than mine
Have told the glories of our race.
We fought together in old days,
One blazon shining on each shield;
And sang together hymns of praise
When stout hearts in the "Mayflower" went
To found an England o'er the sea,
The old land rested well content
That such a gallant child should be.