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still James of Audley held his place as chiefest of the English worthies, till, from weariness and loss of blood, he could no longer sit in the saddle, and his esquires drew him by main force out of the mellay; for all the French, that had not fled with Normandy and Orleans, were fairly engaged; and Warwick and Suffolk could barely hold their own against the battalion commanded by King John in person.
Surely Charles Martel himself, when, centuries before, he met the Saracen on nearly the same ground, though he fought with better fortune, fought not more gallantly. The King and all around him were on foot, and round that one spot swirled the main eddy of the battle; and still John swayed his great battle-axe, never dreaming, as it seemed, of surrender, though foes grew thicker and friends thinner about him every instant, and though the reddest blood of France was flowing at his feet. For Bourbon, Athens, Chalons, and Beaujeu were down; and Eustace de Ribeaumont cloven to the brain-pan, through the chaplet of pearls; and out of Geoffrey de Chargny's cold hand the banner of France had fallen. But the strength, even of despair, must needs have an ending; moreover, the press was so close that it became scarce possible to wield weapon: so John did at last yield. His cousin of Wales, for whom he cried in his distress, was far out of hearing; and Denis de Morbecque, an exiled knight of Artois, had the honour of the surrender. Not long after, Warwick and Cobham came up to disperse the wrangling crowd, and to lead the prisoner, with all due honour, before Edward; who, when he saw the day was fairly won, after discomfiting the Germans, had waited to slake his own thirst, and to see to the staunching of James of Audley's wounds.
Thus was achieved this notable victory; wherein the flower of French chivalry was cut down like grass before the scythe, and prisoners were taken outnumbering their captors twofold. It is not hard to fancy what wassail prevailed throughout that night on the plain of Maupertuis; in the pavilion, where the conqueror waited duteously on the vanquished King, consoling him the while with such kind and gracious words as moved some who heard them to weeping; in the tents, where knights and esquires made merry; and under green boughs, where stout yeomen made amends for their three days' fast on rich cates and wines.
Hawkwood himself was moved beyond his wonted staid sobriety. Setting aside his share of booty, he had acquired prisoners enow to make him wealthy with their ransoms beyond his hopes; indeed, in
the general panic, chroniclers say, five or six knights or esquires would yield themselves to a common English archer. Yet none of Hawkwood's prisoners matched in importance the knight vanquished by Ralph Brakespeare. The esquire could scarcely refrain from showing surprise, when Yvon de Montigni proferred for his freedom four thousand crowns, to be paid at Bordeaux by Christmas-tide. But he was thrice as joyful, when on the morrow he was bidden to kneel amongst a score of others, and, at the hands of the Black Prince himself, received the accolade.
Cautiously and slowly, cumbered with the pleasant burden of freshgotten wealth, the English host moved southwards; and, neither molesting nor molested, passed through Poitou and Saintonge, till they crossed the Garonne, and found jubilant welcome at Bordeaux. Not a few of all ranks obtained furlough there; and crossed the seas for England, there to bestow safely their booty and treasure. Amongst these, neither Brakespeare nor Hawkwood was numbered; but the first-named sent Lanyon,-now regularly attached to his person as body-squire,-to bear a message to his father, and gold enough to keep Gillian, his foster-mother, in comfort thenceforth, should she live to five score.
The meanest archer who fought at Poitiers found himself courted and honoured, in some degree, by the quiet people at home; and Lanyon, when he reached Bever, was no worse treated than his fellows. Cicely, the tanner's blue-eyed daughter, a buxom matron now, looked somewhat disdainfully on the stalwart smith, whom she had been till now content to honour; and long afterwards, in domestic squabbles, was apt to be severe on the lubbards who were content to spend their strength in forging iron for better men to wield.
Sir Simon Dynevor's dreary face lighted up for an instant, as he broke the seal of his son's missive; but it grew darker and drearier than ever before he had read it through: the letter said no word of return; and he guessed rightly it was meant for an absolutely final farewell.
Whilst Lanyon abode at Bever, he was daily summoned into the knight's presence, and questioned till he had told all, even to the minutest incident, that had befallen his master; and at his departure after no long tarrying-for the esquire was evidently uneasy on English ground-he bore away not only ample guerdon for himself, but a gold chain-an heir-loom of the Dynevors-which Sir Simon prayed Ralph Brakespeare to wear for his sake.
RALPH AND LANYON WITNESS A TRIAL FOR SORCERY.
ALL that winter at Bordeaux was one long carnival; and French gold flowed like water through the rough hands that had fought so well to win it; but Ralph Brakespeare wasted neither his health nor his substance in such riotous fashion-nay, in some respects, he bore himself more soberly than heretofore. Mere vulgar debauchery seemed to have less temptation for him than ever; and, if Marguerite de Hacquemont's last gift was not a perfect safeguard against sin, it was at least never defiled by touch of ribaudes' fingers, or mocked at by drunken soudards. Ralph was found in John Hawkwood's company nearly as often as before their positions were changed; and those two acting in concert, with the aid of an established reputation and ample bounty, soon contrived to gather round their pennors no insignificant following of lances. It was, indeed, the nucleus of one of those Free Companies which, ere long, acquired such a terrible reputation throughout central and western Europe. For the better understanding of these matters, it may be worth while to glance at the aspect of the times, and the condition of France.
In the spring of 1357, the Black Prince sailed for England with his state prisoner; having pacified his greedy Gascons with many florins and more fair words, besides committing the province in his absence to four of their great barons. All this while the Dauphin was in Paris; making head, as best he could, against the sore troubles that visited him. He was marvellously patient, politic, and persevering for his years, and might even then have, not inaptly, been surnamed "the Wise;" yet it was weary work for such young hands to steer so great a ship through such troublous waters. The three States-General, on their meeting, instead of seeking to stay up the tottering sovereignty, sought to wring concessions from its weakness, clamouring not only for redress of injuries and lightening of burdens, but also for the punishment of alleged misdoers. Neither were the walls of Créve-coeur not thick enough to prevent the arch-plotter, who lay in durance there, from fomenting disloyalty. Even before his escape, each measure of sedition might have been traced to Charles of Navarre; and Provost Marcel, his pupil and tool, was not long behind his master either in insolence or ambition. There was a brief cheering gleam, when Raoul de Renneval and the knights of Artois
encountered Godefroi de Harcourt near Coutances, and routing him utterly, brought away that valiant rebel's head: then the darkness gathered again. In Paris all was discord and broil, till anarchy came to its climax on the day when the Palais de Justice was stormed by Marcel and his Blue-caps, and the Dauphin's robe was sprinkled with the blood of his marshals. But, though all the horizon looked threatening, there was a tempest just then rising over the rim, compared to which all other troubles were as spring-showers to the hurricane.
The peasantry of France were becoming maddened with misery. Ten following years had been years of famine; for none cared to cast in seed that should be trampled, ere it grew ripe, by English horsehoofs, or to press grapes for wine to slake the thirst of Free Companion or forayer; and all this while their lords relaxed not one jot of tyranny, requiring the full tale of bricks, though not a straw-blade was left in the land. Furthermore, with hatred there had of late mingled some germs of contempt: if the villein had no love, he had, perchance, less respect for the baron, who was forward enough to back his bailiff with the strong hand, but rode fast to the rear when his king was beset at Poitiers. And so came the Jacquerie.
The deeds enacted in that awful time, from the recital of which the good Canon Froissart shrank, concern us not: it was chiefly in the northern provinces that the pest raged; and its infection spread not far south of the Loire. How the spirit of partisanship for a while was forgotten-how Flanders and Hainault rode side by side with Picardy and Artois to their vengeance-how Charles the Wise showed himself not more relentless against the murderous ravishers than Charles of Navarre-how Gaston de Foix and the Captal de Buch, returning from the German crusade, couched their lances against a foe fouler than the Moslem, under the walls of Meaux-how, from dawning till the sun was low, the carnage went on, till the lanes round Marne were choked with corpses, and every meadow-nook outside was heaped with deadhow the stillness of utter desolation settled down at length on the nakedness of the land-all these things are matter for a world's history, not for such a chronicle as ours.
After Stephen Marcel paid for fresh treachery with his life, Paris had once more sullenly returned to her allegiance; and the first act of the States-General, meeting there under the presidency of the Dauphin, was to disallow the treaty signed by John in captivity. So once more Picardy, Champagne, Lorraine, and Burgundy felt the scourge, whilst King Edward marched through the unhappy country at the head of a
mightier host than had ever yet followed him; till he became weary of wasting; and, half from policy, half from superstition-for, say the annals, his vow to our Lady of Chartres was made in the midst of hail and thunder-he consented at Bretigny to terms of peace.
During the last few months, whilst a form of truce still endured, it must not be supposed that the restless spirits in the south-west kept themselves peaceably within bounds. Even before the Free Companions drew together in formidable armaments, not a few essayed adventures, for their own profit or pleasure, on a smaller or larger scale.
In the garrison at Bordeaux there had arisen some heart-burning and jealousy; for the Black Prince's lieutenants were too apt to favour their own countrymen, and on slight encouragement Gascons will wax overweening. Amongst the malcontents, albeit they showed no sign thereof, were Hawkwood and Brakespeare. Though neither murmured nor showed outward discontent, the state of things pleased neither; and one summer day, with scant ceremony or leavetaking-for even then the leaders of companies such as theirs were beginning to act independently-they marched out of Bordeaux; under pretext of checking certain marauders on the French side, who were, in truth, beginning to be troublesome some score of leagues higher up the Garonne.
Whatsoever was their real purpose, it suited not therewith that they should abide in towns or large hamlets; so they rode steadily forward through Carillac, Macaire, and La Raoul till, on the second night, they came to a Benedictine convent, a dependence of the huge monastery in the last-named town, and sought shelter there. such guests the Prior feared to be otherwise than hospitable; so he received them, with great show of alacrity; and, after some contrivance, room was found for both men and horses within the walls.
From youth upwards, as you know, Brakespeare had cherished scant love or reverence for hood or cowl; and in his present quarters he felt strangely ill at ease. Indeed, at the evening meal he bore himself so gloomily-not to say sullenly-that Hawkwood, who seldom concerned himself with others' humour, marvelled thereat, and at last was fain to ask the cause. But Ralph replied, curtly, that "Nothing ailed him; only that he had more mind for sleep than for meat or drink;" and so betook himself to his chamber, whither Lanyon, who was to share it, soon followed. They were lodged immediately under