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THE summer days are ended;
No voice of bird now ripples
But in my happy bosom
The soul of Music sings.
A world of gathered sunshine
THE FORTUNES OF A FREE LANCE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF GUY LIVINGSTONE," ETC., ETC.
HOW SIR RALPH BRAKESPEARE WAS MADE WELCOME IN ENGLAND.
No hindrance befel Brakespeare and his squire on their journey to Bordeaux. Whilst in garrison there long ago, Ralph had had acquaintance with diverse merchants and burghers of the better class. With one of these he bestowed their horses and harness; for he was minded to land in England in the guise of a peaceful traveller, bearing no outward signs of his profession or estate, beyond estoc and dagger and golden spurs.
The communication between Bordeaux and Southampton, if not so rapid, was nearly as constant then as now-a-days. The breeze blew steady from the south-east, and the galliot on which they embarked was a moderately-swift sailer, and staggered along under press of sail-at fair speed-oven through the rollers of the Biscayan Bay. On the fifth morning, they were slipping along under the lee of the Wight, and anchored safely in port before noon. The knight had left the chief part of his worldly wealth at Hacquemont; but the leathern belts, which both he and his follower wore under their doublets, were well stuffed with bezants and golden crowns. So, with little delay or difficulty, they provided themselves in Southampton town with two stout hackneys, and a pack-horse to carry their mails; and a three days' ride brought them to Southwark without distressing their cattle.
Fully a quarter of a century had passed away, since those two rode last through Kentish Street; yet not a feature of the place seemed changed. The heavy gables and hanging eaves of the houses on either side looked not a whit more weather-beaten; the window-panes of horn or glass not a whit duskier with dust or grime. The same hideous shapes of beggary, sickness, and decrepitude beset the travellers-croaking or screeching for alms; the same ill-favoured
faces of cut-purse or bravo, peered out at the tavern doorways; and there, on the right, abode-a trifle more faint and blurred, perchance, but still plain for the passer-by to read-the legend
John Brakespeare, Armourer.
Out of the low-browed forge, as before, broad red gleams shot athwart the roadway; and, as before, there rang out from within, in a certain rude rhythm, the chime of hammered steel. Ralph felt halfdisappointed when, as he drew bridle, there came forward-not the burly figure he had first seen there, but another man; younger, taller, and slighter; yet, withal, bearing so strong a stamp of family resemblance that the knight framed his first question accordingly.
"Good youth: I would fain inquire concerning your father, who sometime traded here. It is five-and-twenty years since he and I foregathered, and our acquaintance was but brief; yet I would fain hear that he lives and thrives."
After a quick downward glance at the rider's spurs, the artisan doffed his bonnet.
"I thank your knightly worship"-he said, in a round, mellow voice, very like the one that Ralph remembered—“ my father yet lives, in marvellous good health, considering his years. He hath long been highly reputed among our burgesses, and is greatly trusted in our Ward: good sooth, the matters of Common Council need at times wise and wary handling. Nevertheless, not seldom he cometh amongst us here in the forge for brief exercise or pastime; and, if he see any of our 'prentices slack, he will still doff furred gown and show them how to wield forehammer. Hath your worship any commands for my father? He is now within, and above stairs."
"Under your favour "—the knight replied-" I will presently visit
So, flinging his bridle to Lanyon, he dismounted.
May I know who thus honours our poor house?" the young armourer asked, as he went first up the dark, creaking stair.
"Thou shalt know anon "-Ralph replied, sinking his voice"though the honour is not worth the naming. But I would fain see, if my likeness hath wholly passed from thy father's memory. Let me, pray thee, enter first.”
John Brakespeare was sitting alone, poring over some parchments by the light of an oil lamp, for twilight was fast closing in. His crisp, short hair, and strong beard, were both more white than grey
but there was little change in the hale ruddy cheeks, the moist merry eyes, and the ready pleasant smile. His frame had waxed somewhat heavy and corpulent; but-draped in a full dark robe-it was not devoid of a certain portly dignity. He rose slowly to his feet, peering under his hand into the half-darkness at the further end of the low-browed chamber. Before the burgess could speak, Ralph strode forward and stood within the circle of the lamplight.
"God save you,
Master Brakespeare "-he said. "Have you never a greeting for an old friend ?"
Long and anxiously the other gazed in the speaker's face before he made answer.
"I-I crave your worship's pardon "-he said, hesitatingly; "the accent of your voice seemeth not altogether strange to mine ears; yet I mind not that mine eyes have ever before rested on your face."
Ralph laughed, half sadly, half in mirth at the other's evident bewilderment.
"Ay, is it so? Now I, for my part, have been jostled to and fro through many lands, and have seen and heard some strange things; yet heard I never of stranger bargain than was struck in yon street below, five-and-twenty years agone, when a wayfaring youth asked thee for no less a boon than the loan of thy good name, and thou wert rash enough to trust him therewith. Wilt thou not pledge me now, in one poor cup of wine, in requital for the stoup we two drained together that night, under the sign of the 'Spur ?" "
The old armourer's eyes opened wide and bright in amazement, joyful recognition, as he held forth two brown, brawny hands, which the next instant, were gripped heartily in Ralph Brakespeare's.
"Wittol that I was! These weary parchments must needs have dazed my sight. Surely, surely, noble sir, I remember all as though it were yester-even-the poor gleemaiden's dance-God sain her, and others who died in the Great Plague !—and the stark wrestling bout wherein the foreign ruffler's curls gat a soiling; and your service-taking under Sir John Hawkwood; and all our pleasant discourse together. We have had word of you since, trust me; we have had word of you. We had a brave carouse-had we not, son Dickon?—the day when the news came hitherward, that our noble prince had himself graced you with the accolade on Poitiers field. Ay, and after that, Harry Gauntlett (his father lives hard by), brought home from Bordeaux such a strange tale as even I, who had seen your sinews proven, could scarce believe; albeit he had it, so he swore, from eye-witnesses:
how, in some French castle, you held a stair-head with your single blade, slaying outright two famous swordsmen, and keeping the Italian we wot of, and a score more, at bay, till help came, and the devil gat his own. And how, thereby, a noble family was saved from murder and worse. Afterward we heard that you had ridden beyond Alps with Sir John Hawkwood's spears; and since then-naught."
The same cloud that had come over Brakespeare's countenance when Odille de Champrecourt spoke of his recent past, crossed it again, though lighter in shade.
"Thou hast heard enough, good friend "-he answered, curtly; "and all the best news. Of what hath been done in these last years I care not greatly to speak. Nevertheless, at supper to-night, if it pleases thee to play the host, thou shalt listen till thou art aweary. If, when thou hast heard all, thou judgest that I have brought thy name to no discredit-it is well."
The armourer had fallen back a pace or two; and there was something of deference, if not of constraint, in his manner, as if he half repented the freedom of his first greeting.
"I looked for no less an honour"-he said. "Truly it grieves me that I may not crave your worship to tarry wholly under my roof; but, since Dickon here is wived, we have never a guest-chamber. I wot you travels not alone; and I trust your body-squire, at least, will taste of our cheer to-night. My son will take good heed he lacks nothing."
"Thou art scarce like to remember him who holds my bridle below"-Brakespeare replied: "These dozen years past he carries my pennon."
But John Brakespeare, it seemed, had not forgotten the Kentishman: bustling down to the doorway, more nimbly than might have been looked for from his weight and years, he bestowed on the esquire a welcome more familiar, if not heartier, than that with which he had received the knight.
Long and pleasant talk ensued that evening both above and below stair; but, as it turned all on matters which have already been set forth in this chronicle, it need not be recorded. There was no stint of good wine either. Though Sir Ralph Brakespeare rarely, if ever, broke the temperate habits of his early youth, his follower was less abstemious; when, on the stroke of midnight, the squire followed his master towards their hostel, the solemnity of his gait, and an increased stolidity of manner, showed that strong liquor had wrought