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a gag—then utter silence. And the Prior's voice, so hoarse and changed that none would have known it, said
"Devil or no devil, I can endure no more of this. Set her loose : see you not she has fainted ? And clothe her decently again, in
When Ralph looked once more, the three monks had resumed their seats, and were conferring in an undertone. At last the Prior spoke aloud to the scribe :
"Jehan; write that we, the sworn judges here present-to wit, Aldobrand, Prior of the Order of St. Benedict at La Meilleraye ; Ignatius, Sub-prior; and Paul, Almoner of that same house--have heard the testimony urged against the woman of loose life called La Mauricaulde, dwelling for six years past at the manoir of Vergerac, suspected on good ground of dealing with the Evil One, or of actual possession by a familiar spirit. Furthermore, that, having failed in bringing to full confession the said accused, we did, in our presence, cause to be applied the extreme torture of the question, and that the accused swooned thereunder without having given intelligible word or sign. Wherefore we, the said justiciaries-not deeming that our powers extend even unto death-have judged it better to proceed no further; but to send the said prisoner, under a safe escort, to Agen, there to be dealt with as it shall seem fit to our Lord the Bishop, High Justiciary of this province. Whereto we set our several hands and seals."
Whilst this was being completed, low moans were heard in the recess, and one of the questionnaires came forward.
"The prisoner hath revived, Monseigneur. How is it your pleasure she shall be dealt with ?"
"See her well guarded to her cell"-the Prior answered-" and let Brother Cyril, the mediciner, attend her there. She must needs find strength for travel ere noon to-morrow. It were better that thou, Brother Ignace, should see to this, and, perforce, thou must ride with the escort to Agen. As for me, I will to my chamber; for I feel so strangely ill at ease, that, lacking fresh air and a cup of wine, I fear to swoon."
Ralph Brakespeare had seen and heard enough. He did not wait to watch the half-fainting figure carried away by the gaolers; but strode back swiftly through the garden till he came under the window of his chamber. There, not trusting himself to speak, he motioned to Lanyon to stoop; and, setting his foot on the esquire's broad shoulders, swung himself through the lattice: then he let down his sword-belt, and
with it drew up Lanyon after him. When they were both within, said Ralph in a whisper
"Tarry thou here, and watch or sleep if thou wilt. I go to speak with Sir John Hawkwood."
RALPH PAYS A MIDNIGHT VISIT TO HAWKWOOD.
THE sights and sounds that wrought so potently on Brakespeare and his esquire had, it seemed, in no wise affected those who rested above; for all was perfectly still there, till Ralph laid his hand on the latch. But before he raised it, Hawkwood's quick imperious tones were heard from within.
"Curzon! Peter Curzon! up with thee, and see who tries the
When Ralph entered, the knight sat upright on his couch, with his sheathed sword across his knee: he guessed at once that a visit at such an hour was not for naught, and bade his esquire withdraw, and keep watch without. There was no lack of light in the chamber; for a mortier burned there, beside the one that Ralph carried; and Hawkwood scanned his comrade's face intently, till the door was closed on them.
“What ails thee, man? Art sickening of fever or ague? I had thought thee proof against such fits."
Whilst Brakespeare told very briefly and simply what he had seen and heard, the other's countenance changed from anxiety to indifference; and he even smiled slightly as he made answer
"Certes, 'tis barbarous cruelty; for the girl, I doubt not, is no worse than many another bonne gouge. Yet I see not how it can be hindered; nor, in plain truth, how it concerns thee or me."
Brakespeare bit his under lip sharply, for the other's coolness chafed rather than calmed his heated blood.
"Under your pleasure "-he said "it concerns me thus far. Knowing the road that they must travel, it will be easy to catch them in ambushment. 'Tis not unlikely that the girl may be taken out of their hands, at cost of a few dry blows; monks and their following are cattle quickly cowed; but, whether or nay, the holy men shall not play out their sport without speaking three words with me."
Hawkwood bent his brows in evident perplexity and vexation. Thoroughly independent by nature, and hardened by training, he thought no more of danger, when it was worth his while to incur it, than of the daily bread he ate; but of gratuitous risk he had a virtuous horror. Yet he had not lived so long in Ralph Brakespeare's company, without discovering that the other was ill to turn from his purpose· whether good or evil-when it was once set. They were on equal terms too, now; and, despite his vantage of years and experience, he could only counsel, not command.
"Under my pleasure—that hath little to do with it, I trow," he said, in some bitterness. "Thou knowest not what a hornet's nest thou art bringing about thine ears; nor what venom lies in priestly stings and all to save a ribaude's slender wrists from straining. Nevertheless, I may not cross thy fancy: thou art sober enough as a rule, God wot; neither can I forget, it was much such a quarrel that brought us first together. How many spears wilt thou need, to help thee in this mad freak?"
"Eight will well suffice, besides my body-esquire," Ralph answered. 'If they travel with stronger escort than is like, we can make light work of such rascaille, taken unawares, at odds of three to one. I doubt not, but we shall overtake thee ere thou comest to the night's halt, without having blunted a sword blade. None the less do I thank thee heartily, for not having withstood me in this matter."
Hawkwood was too politic to mar a concession once made by after-sullenness. So he answered quite cheerfully
"Enough said. Only I trust thou dost not purpose to carry with thee the wench, after thou hast rescued her. 'Twould be evil ensample for our soudards, who are ever fond of such baggage."
Ralph laughed, in spite of himself. "Fear me not: rescue once wrought, we go our several ways. The bird is well able to shift for herself, I dare swear, despite her gay plumage: when her wings are free, she will not be lightly limed again."
"That is well”-Hawkwood answered. "Now, betake thee to thy couch again, and sleep or wake as thou wilt. But I see not wherefore I should lose my rest, because thou art moon-stricken: our trumpets will sound at dawn, and we will order this matter as we ride."
So they parted; and Brakespeare, after confiding his plan tɔ Lanyon, to the other's huge contentment, cast himself on his pallet. But day broke, without either having accomplished more than a brief feverish doze.
If the time seemed long to certain of the Free Companions, till they were fairly in saddle, the monks were not less eager to be rid of their guests; and the Prior himself deigned to come forth to speed their departure, though the hour was before Prime. Hawkwood took his leave with due acknowledgment; but Brakespeare kept aloof, feigning to busy himself with inspection of accoutrements, and such matters. He could not bring himself to interchange even the forms of courtesy with any one who had countenanced last night's loathsome work; albeit, the object of his special aversion-the Sub-prior-was not in presence.
So the lances filed out two abreast, and moved eastward along the right bank of the Garonne. The road never diverged far from the river, though it followed not all its windings; and led through an undulating country, evidently naturally fertile, though at that remote period there was far less of tilth than woodland. They might have ridden some three leagues or so, when they reached a spot so exactly suited for ambush, that, after interchange of glances, both the leaders drew bridle. There was forest ground both to front and rear; and the summer foliage of the hazels and hornbeams fringing the glade was so thick that no eyes, unless specially watchful, would be likely to detect the glimmer of armour ten fathoms from the road; whilst the branches of the undergrowth were not so strongly tangled but that a barded destrier might easily burst through.
Up to this point, none save Lanyon and Hawkwood guessed at Brakespeare's purpose. But, so soon as they had halted, that knight moved back to the centre of the column, so that all might hear; and spake thus
"I would have you all to wit, that the work I am now setting about is of mine own choosing, and such as Sir John Hawkwood, my brotherin-arms-though he willeth not to hinder it-doth in no wise countenance or approve. Also, I needs must aver, that from the same there is to be reaped no great profit or honour. Briefly, it is mine intent to lie in ambushment here till there shall pass a company from the moustier, where we lay last night, conveying to Agen a woman, falsely, I believe, accused of sorcery; who hath been already grievously tormented, and will there be barbarously done to death. It is no light matter, some will think, to balk churchmen of their will. But the burden, whether
of sin or shame, I take on mine own shoulders. Those who bide with me shall risk no more than a brief brush with the escort; scarce enough, perchance, to stay the stomachs of such as are gluttons of hard blows. Beyond myself, and this, my esquire, eight spears will suffice; but I enforce none to such duty, neither shall any serve me for naught. Each and every one who stands this day at my back, shall receive beyond his usual wage ten silver crowns; which, should harm befal me, Sir John Hawkwood will see discharged. Let such as mine offer pleases, make answer."
There arose a clamour of many voices, scarce kept within bounds by habits of discipline. There were but few in that godless company, who would not have broken sanctuary for less guerdon than was now proffered; furthermore, such a passage of arms was the very pastime for which they had been wearying; and, above all, Sir Ralph Brakespeare was a special favourite. So, nearly every man there volunteered his service; such as kept silence being either older or wiser than their fellows, or more immediately attached to Hawkwood's own person. Quickly and seemingly at hap-hazard, so as to offend none, yet with real regard to the character of each-Brakespeare made his choice; and after a few more words exchanged between the leaders, the main body moved forward, whilst the ambush proceeded to ensconce themselves. They left the road some rods further on, so that, when they were posted, the brushwood in their front, for some distance beyond either flank, was undisturbed.
The time dragged on wearily as is its wont when eyes and ears are on the strain. But, a little before noon, sound of voices and tramp of hoofs came nearer and nearer, till the foremost riders were fairly within the glade. Ralph had certainly undervalued both their numbers and their quality. The wealthy Benedictines of La Raoul could afford to pay their retainers handsomely: if the weapons and harness of the escort were scarce bright enough to please a critical eye, there were amongst them some solid veterans, able to hold their own with ordinary troopers. First came some dozen mounted spearmen, and about the same number of arbalestriers on foot; then two Benedictine monks ; some little distance in the rear, so as to be just out of their ear-shot, rode Ignace, the Sub-prior-his bridle-rein fastened by a cord to that of the mule on which sat a veiled woman, whose wrists were bound; and six more armed horsemen brought up the rear.
Step by step, so cautiously that the brushwood rustled no more than might have been accounted for by the summer breeze, Ralph