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its uttermost on his seasoned brain. It was after some trouble and loud knocking that they gained admittance; for the "Spur," as of old, was an inn of fair repute, and harboured few lodgers but such as kept decent hours. Whilst they waited under the dark porch, Ralph had leisure to recall how he had last lingered there; and the current of his thoughts may be guessed from the words that broke from him half aloud.

"Dead-in the Pest-year, too. 'Twas too dainty a morsel for the plague pit."

Once before dawn he started from sleep, fancying that a low voice whispered in his ear-"So may all the saints have you in their keeping.' And not without a twinge of reproach, he remembered that through all these years, save when Marguerite de Hacquemont's kiss was laid on his brow, no lips had touched him so pure as the poor gleemaiden's.

Early on the morrow the knight and his squire were in saddle, and Ralph had pledged his host in a stirrup-cup-a stranger, though; for he who ruled some time at the "Spur," slept, this many a day, in St. Olave's churchyard, and made such good speed along the Kentish highway, that they laid that night at Tunbridge. You may guess whither they were bound.

On the morning, when Ralph Fitzwarenne was cut adrift from his home once and for all, he averred that his father should never again-save at his own express desire-look on his face whether in life or death. It was one of those rash vows that, perchance, are better broken than kept; but there was no fear or no hope that it should ever be broken now. Thus much the Free Companion had learned, the night before, in conversation with the armourer. True that desire for his return had never been expressly spoken; yet from the tidings Lanyon brought back, Ralph could guess at the longing that had filled Simon Dynevor's desolate heart, after that the dispensation of God left him wifeless and childless. That was a sour, saturnine face of his father's; yet once, at least, he had seen it soften towards him and now, as there rose against the sky-line the wooded ridge that bounded the demesnes of Bever, Brakespeare was oppressed, for the first time since he crossed it last, with a vague misgiving that it had been better if he had not come back so late.

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A Dynevor was still Lord of Bever; for it chanced that one of that house-not near of kin to the last possessor- had done good service in the French and Scots wars; and King Edward, rather than disturb an ancient name, waved the Crown's right to the lapsed fief.

Those two rode on moodily and silently, till, at a certain point where the road ran through a wooded hollow, Brakespeare drew rein, glancing over his shoulder at his esquire.

"Dost thou remember?"

"Ay, right well, my Lord "-Lanyon made answer "Just here, the good Abbot Hildebrand bestowed on me the blessing that your worship would have none of, and a broad gold piece to boot. God rest his soul! say I. That same bezant did enfranchise us both when we stood in sore need of ransom."

Ralph bent his brow.

"Sayest thou God rest his soul' at venture, or hast thou heard aught lately concerning that same priest ?"

"No later than yesternight at Tunbridge "-the esquire replied. "He died scarce a year since, it seems. They were speaking of his grand funeral, and of the dole made for him through all the country side. He was hugely missed-not alone for his large charities --but because of late he ever withstood the King and his councillors with great boldness, when it was question of grinding down the Commons."

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Ralph turned his horse's head away with an impatient thrust of the spur. The lapse of five-and-twenty years, and the memory that he owed his life to the dead man's intercession, had not taught him so far to forget the wrong wrought whilst he was yet unborn, as to say -Amen-to the benison on Abbot Hildebrand's soul. But within a furlong, the knight checked his hackney to a foots-pace again, as if he were loath to hurry past the old familiar places. Yon oak to the left still towered above the woodland, tall and bare, as when he brought down with the cross-bow he could scarce lift to his shoulder, the raven perched on the topmost withered limb. On that knoll on the verge the forest-ground he first blooded Fay, the sleuth-brache, at deerhow proud he was of her, when he saw her stoop her black muzzle to the tainted soil, and never lift it from the trail till she sprang at the throat of the great hart—not so sorely wounded, but that he could stand bravely at bay. In that meadow he rode his first gallop alone on Philip Kemeys' charger; and he remembered how, on that tiltground, nearer yet to the castle wall, he had felt his veins tingling, when a saddle was first emptied by his lance. He had sent away steeds enow riderless since then, God wot, and perchance might do the same for many more; but that hot, proud flush he never would feel again.

The sun was setting as they rode into the little hamlet of Bever,

and drew up before the modest roadside hostel, that seldom, if ever, had housed guest above yeoman's degree; but the Free Companion was not apt to quarrel with his lodging or his fare, and refreshed himself quite contentedly with what they were pleased to set before him. Nor was the esquire a whit more dainty. When supper was ended, Ralph inquired after one Gillian, sometime wife of one of Sir Simon Dynevor's foresters.

"Her goodman is long dead"—the ale-wife answered-" and Dame Gillian is well-nigh doting; but she dwells in her old cottage, and is as well cared for as if she were franklin's widow, forsooth! Her foster-child-Ralph Fitzwarenne, we used to call him-hath won an earldom, they say, beyond the seas, and sent her long ago more gold crowns than she will live to spend."

So Ralph strode away alone through the twilight, leaving Lanyon to dispose of his time as seemed to him good.

Bright gleams of firelight shot through the window of Dame Gillian's cottage, though the evening was warm; and there was the sound of a fresh young voice, chanting one of the low monotonous ballads with which nurses are wont to soothe children to sleep. When the knight knocked softly, the chanting ceased. In a second or two the latch was lifted from within; the door half opened cautiously, and a voice, half mirthful, half pettish, spoke from behind it. "How now! Robin. What fooling is this? Thou art a full hour too soon. Thou may'st not enter, nor may I stir forth, for the grand

dame hath scarce begun to doze."

"It is not Robin "-Brakespeare answered, smiling despite his heaviness of mood; "neither is my visit to thee, fair maiden; but rather to the reverend person who, it seems, sleeps not yet."

The girl started back with a suppressed cry, and nearly thrust-to the door. But, somehow, the deep, stern voice reassured rather than alarmed her; so she peered forth again, this time revealing a pretty blonde head, and a merry, mischievous face, lit up by arch blue eyes.

"Save you, gentle stranger "-she said-" for I guess you gentle, unknown, even as you guessed me fair, unseen. What is your errand to my grand-dame? I fear me you will scarce get speech with her to-night. She wanders much of late, even in talk with her gossips and me, and is specially cross-grained at her wakings."

"Nevertheless, under your leave, I will make essay"-the knight replied, as he bowed his head and doffed his barret-cap on enteringfor the doorway was not built for visitors of his stature. The girl

gave a shy upward glance as she made way for him to pass; a certain awe tempering her admiration of the stranger's tall martial figure and stately bearing.

"Suffer me to arouse her "-she whispered-"'twill be best so." But the caution was needless; for, just then, the figure in the armedchair by the hearth stirred, and a cracked, piping voice cried querulously

"How now, Janet! What new freak is this, thou arrant gillflirt? When thou art not gadding abroad, thou art ever contriving mischief at home. Can I not close mine eyes, but thou must be chattering with one of thy losel sweethearts? Thy father shall take order with thee when he cometh home."

"Hush, hush, grannam!" the girl said, hastily. "Shame not thyself, and me, with such words; 'tis no sweetheart of mine, but a gallant gentleman come to visit thee. Stay; I will get more light."

And as she stooped over the blaze, candle in hand, the rose on her cheek flushed to peony. The old woman stirred in her chair more uneasily than before, with the quick suspicious terror of dotage.

"What have I to do with gentlefolk?" she grumbled. “JanetJanet, I say-come nearer to me. This visit bodes us no good: let him tell his errand quickly or begone."

The girl set the candle on the mantelspike; and glanced up once again at Brakespeare rather, it seemed, in apology than in inquiry.

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'Nay, dame"-the knight answered very gently;-"I mean no harm, God wot, to thee or thine. I thought 'twould please thee to hear tidings of one thou hast not seen these many, many years; I mean Ralph Fitzwarenne.

The crone began to mumble under her breath; at last she muttered aloud

"Warenne? Ay, ay, I mind the name, for sure-a brave house. I served them as long as any were left to serve; but old Sir Hugh— he who was slain, along with my goodman, up away in the north—was the last of the race; for his shrewish sister counts for naught. My poor lady Maude-ay, ay, I remember-she had died ere that in child-bed. And Ralph Fitzwarenne-he was her son-for sure I remember him well enough, and with good cause; 'twas ever a stubborn child, and waxed harder to rule as he grew older. He would scarce come to good, I fear me. He died long ago beyond the seas."

"Be not wroth, noble sir"—the girl broke in, timidly; for Ralph's brow was bent like one in anger or pain. "She wanders sadly, as I told you; specially when speaking of old times."

"Nay "—he answered-"I am not like to be wroth. She nursed me; and I have rested my head on her knee, many and many a time, when there was no other to whom I might make moan. Mother Gillian, hast thou not a kiss to spare for thy foster-son-not one kind word for Ralph Fitzwarenne ?"

He knelt by the armed-chair as he spoke, and his deep strong voice shook like a woman's, whilst he gazed up pleadingly into the withered old face that, for a while, gave no answering sign. At last the dim eyes lighted up with a startled gleam, as, leaning forward, the beldame thrust the speaker back with all the strength of her lean, shaking hand. “Thou!—thou Ralph Fitzwarenne ?" she cried. Nay, nay, the dead come not back in such gallant guise. He died-died long ago." "How knowest thou that ?"-Ralph asked, drooping his head despondingly. This was the single hearth in England, where he had hoped to meet with real welcome. Such a welcome as it was!

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"I heard it, for sure"-she said, shivering and chattering her teeth; "or I dreamed it. Ay, ay, I dreamed it thrice; and morning dreams come ever true."

He rose to his feet with a long, weary sigh; and turned toward Janet, who stood gazing on him with wide blue eyes and red lips parted-much as a Provençale peasant-wench might have gazed on Roland the Paladin. "Canst thou not persuade her ?”

The girl roused herself with a start; and, leaning over her granddame, began to soothe and scold her alternately, like a fractious child. "Art not ashamed "-she said at last, "thus to entreat the noble gentleman on whose bounty thou hast lived so long?"

The crone raised herself up; and once more her eyes gleamed, but this time with the light of avarice.

"Ay, ay, 'twas a brave largesse, and a timely"--she muttered, "but 'tis well nigh spent. Had yon tall stranger been Master Ralph, or had he brought sure tidings concerning him, he would scarce have come empty-handed."

The girl's cheek flushed brighter than ever with honest shame; and she wrung her hands-very small and white they were for a forester's daughter-despairingly.

"Nay, vex not thyself, my child"-the knight said softly-" 'tis not her fault, poor soul. I had liever have found thy grandame in her grave than thus sorely changed. So kindly and cheery she used to be-but God's will be done. Here, dame, I will cumber thee with my presence no longer. If thou wilt not believe in the presence of Ralph

NO. X,

47

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