« ZurückWeiter »
of whom the other was but the tool and hireling. The condottieri cared not a jot whence their wage came, if the tale was full, and the metal rang true: so on the present occasion they took it— grumbling, as a matter of course-and went their way, to turn their Ishmaelitish hands against every one who might be safely laid under tribute, now that peace was concluded betwixt Florence and Pisa.
Thenceforward began for Ralph Brakespeare a life more evil and unknightly than any he had yet led. If the Freebooters that Hawkwood commanded were not as merciless in rapine as those who followed Werner -self-styled "The enemy of God"—yet their exactions and outrages were sufficient to wring a cry from all the country betwixt Arno and Lake Trasimene; till at last the Siennese, goaded beyond endurance, turned to bay. It was even such a battle, as when the shepherd lad went forth with sling and stone to fight with the harnessed champion of Gath; and once again the right triumphed over the unright, and against odds of strength and skill: Hawkwood-if not utterly routedwas forced to give ground, and retire for a while into the neighbouring territory. But there again he found his path beset with thorns-and sharp ones to boot-no other than the German lances who had lately taken hire with Perugia. These, with the civic militia at their back, soon took the field; and the White Company met with a second reverse-heavier than that which had befallen them before Sienna.
It was now that Hawkwood's great strategic talent came really into play. No mere chief of condottieri could have kept the bands of discipline and mutual interest unstrained, that held together six thousand marauders, more dangerous under defeat than after victory, and prone to mutiny at the least check on their license. It was a hard and anxious time, not only for the famous captain himself, but for his subalterns in command. Those three years counted for ten in ageing Ralph Brakespeare; before they were ended, there were deeper lines in his face, and more silver streaks in his brown beard, than were warranted by two score summers. He was not so much discouraged by ill luck-indeed, at times he thought that he and his comrades scarcely merited better-but he was heartily sick of the life he led; and would have turned his back upon Italy long before, had he not held it shame to leave in time of sore strait an ancient brother-inarms, who had stood by himself in adversity; for all debts, save this one, were cancelled long ago, and Brakespeare was free to go whither he would. Those two were excellent friends now, and there was small
danger of their being divided by difference of opinion; for Hawkwood took no man into his counsel, and preferred bearing the whole burden of ill success on his own shoulders, to sharing his authority, even in name. Patiently and warily-exacting from the country through which he moved, or where he tarried, only such contributions as were sufficient amply to maintain his spears-he bided his time, till he felt himself strong enough once more to adventure himself on a stricken field. The tide of fortune had turned thenceforward, up to the day when all Florence came to see him laid in a sumptuous tomb, once only could any have boasted that they had seen John Hawkwood's back.
In the spring of 1367, he marched into the territory of Sienna ; and again-not despairing, but flushed with the memory of their last success-the citizens came forth to meet him. This time heaven helped not the weaker battalions. The first onset of the condottieri bore down all before it, and the overthrow of the Siennese was so complete, that the pursuit and slaughter were carried to the foot of the hill that the city crowns. Whilst the terror of his victory was still fresh, Hawkwood marched forward on Perugia. The German lances were no longer to the fore, and the bridge of San Gianni saw the defeat of Conchiano bloodily avenged. For the next two years Hawkwood's company lived at free quarters in the territory of Sienna and Perugia-none daring to molest them, or to withhold what they pleased to require. Then they took service again under a new master.
It soon ap
Barnabo Visconti, casting about his keen eyes in search of the properest instrument to carry out his large and crafty designs, found none so likely as the English captain. It was, indeed, the custom of that politic prince to pension the chiefs of the adventurers-even when he did not require their active service-so as to insure, at least, that their arms were not turned against himself. Having now taken Hawkwood into full pay, he sent him to raise the siege of Minciato, now invested by the Florentines, from whom the town had revolted. peared that Visconti had neither chosen unwisely, nor wasted his wages. Hawkwood stood aloof, provoking the enemy and eluding battle, till they waxed wroth and rash, so that they were fain to engage on any terms; and, being drawn into an ambush, were routed with great slaughter and shame. Thus the siege of San Minciato was raised; and, that the town afterwards fell into the hands of the Florentines was no fault of Hawkwood's, but of treachery within the walls. Nevertheless, in this service the English captain abode not long.
Barnabo's promises were better than his pay, and the insults of young Ambrosio Visconti were hard to brook. So, in the following year, he listened readily enough to the proffers of Cardinal Biturcense, Pope Gregory's legate, and ranged himself under the Holy Gonfalon against his late master.
Here two paths-which, for over twenty years, had run side by side-divided for ever and aye. The very morning that Hawkwood announced to his spears that they served the Pope now, instead of Visconti, Brakespeare craved speech with him alone.
"I blame not what thou hast done," Ralph said. "Thy brain is wiser than mine, and thy conscience, I dare swear, every whit as tender. Nevertheless, thou goest this day farther than I care to follow. I have run up no score with Mother Church that I wot of, since we cried quits down there in Bourgogne; but I will not take her pay, nor blunt sword in her cause. So I am come to say farewell ere I ride back again, and see what is adoing beyond Alps. Good luck go with thee, whether thou fightest for Pope, or Prince, or Kaiser; and may men deal with thee, even as thou hast dealt with me."
Hawkwood was bitterly vexed, and something angered; but he was too wise to try persuasion when the other's purpose was set, and too proud, perchance, to use entreaty; so, with kind and courteous adieus, and a gift of a rich jewel, he let his ancient comrade depart. Ere night those two had gripped hands for the last time; and before dawn Sir Ralph Brakespeare rode westwards out of Bologna, with Lanyon and five others in his train.
The aspect of things in France during the last eight years had greatly changed. Some names of note were borne no longer on the muster-roll of either army, and others had arisen destined to be yet more famous. Henry of Lancaster's sword, that had never yet had time to gather rust, hung idle now over his tomb in Leicester chancel. King John, a prisoner again by his own free-will, had eaten away his generous heart in Savoy Palace; and prelates and peers, who had set him at naught while living, flocked to do honour to his bones when they were laid near those of his father, under St. Denis's altar. Charles the Wise was each day proving himself more worthy of his title and inheritance; better advisers, too, and more fortunate if not more valorous soldiers, were around him than those who had served his father. The war-cry, "St. Yves Guesclin," had been heard often and loudly since it rang out in the streets of Mantes; and nobles who awhile ago would not have glanced aside as the poor Breton knight
passed by, veiled bonnet now, in presence of the Constable, first of Castile, then of France.
Sharp work had been going on beyond the Pyrenees, wherein almost all the worthies of King Edward's wars took part. It is well known how Pedro the Cruel-having taxed the patience of all men to the uttermost, till the Church laid him under her anathema, and not a Spaniard would draw sword in his defence when Henry of Transtamare ousted him from his throne-by the help of Edward of Wales, was set up once thereon, and permitted to do a little more of the devil's work. Surely in an evil hour the Black Prince opened his ears to the whine of the crippled leopard, and shut them against the advice of the wise counsellors and valiant knights who besought him to hold his hand. Thenceforward, his own life began to darken so drearily, that some scarce remembered the glories of its dawning and its noon. Fair fortune in the field abode with him to the last; scarcely at Crecy or Poictiers was achieved a victory more complete than at Niajarra; and the hand that clove right to the centre of the Breton battalion, and received Bertrand du Guesclin's sword, could scarce be said to have lost its strength or cunning. But the Black Prince soon grew sick of the caprice, and cruelty, and falsehood of the tyrant whom he was not ashamed to champion, and wended back his way discontentedly across the Pyrenees; perchance he was not greatly grieved when, a while after, the news came that Henry the Bastard reigned over Castile unquestioned, having avenged the blood of Blanche of Bourbon at the cost of fratricide. Edward's frank and generous nature was so hardened and embittered now, that neither conscience, nor the pangs of the dire malady he brought with him from Spain, warned him to forbear oppression. The vassals of Aquitaine had suffered sorely, before the last burden of the fouage tax caused them to wax restive, and carry their complaints before Charles the Wise. If the pretext on which the English King first took up arms were light and flimsy, those of the second armament were more shadowy still; and a subtler casuist than Simon Tibbald might have been puzzled to gloss over stern facts, so as to make his sovereign appear in this matter void of offence.
He of Toulouse, and the other preachers who thundered forth anathemas and promises from all French pulpits, had easier text to work upon. They spared not to improve the occasion; claiming as a mere right the help of heaven, whose hand, they said, was already laid heavily on their most terrible enemy. The seed fell on fertile
ground. The memories of Crecy and Poictiers were faded now and dim. Few of the credulous and eager ears that listened now, had heard the whistle of clothyard shafts; or, if they had heard, it had been as the patter of a summer shower, instead of the rush of storm-rain. Men had confidence, too, in their new ruler, knowing him to be not only bold, but cool and capable, and generous without being prodigal ; whether mercenaries were to be hired, or munitions provided, he would have value for every coin in his full treasury; and Charles had been for years past husbanding his crown revenues.
In truth, this second war began with evil omen and auspice to the Red Cross. In the very first year thereof a sore gap, that never could be filled, was made in the roll of English worthies. In a mere skirmish on the bridge of Lussac, the spear of a Breton squire sped straighter to its mark than the best lances of France had done on fifty stricken fields. An hour later John Chandos lay a-dying; and the moan made in Mortemer was prolonged throughout Guienne and Aquitaine, and taken up in England from the Welsh Marches to the Scottish Border; and many voices echoed the words of the Black Prince when the news were brought to Bordeaux :
"God help us, then! We have lost all on the hither side of the seas!"
A pompous epitaph would ill have served the strong, simple champion: over his tomb only these words were written :—
Je, Jehan Chandault, des Anglois capitaine,
Au rois Francois, tant a pied qu'a cheval,
L'an mil trois cens avec soixante-neuf.
Sorrow and bodily anguish only made the Black Prince more hard and bitter. The first year of the war was marked by a deed that would have brought dishonour on an holier cause. There was sharp provocation. Edward had ever held the Bishop of Limoges in great trust and honour, and bestowed on him great favour: when the town revolted it was but natural that he should be sorely angered. He swore his great oath-saith Jehan Froissart-which he never had yet broken-" by his father's soul "-that he would set hand