Abbildungen der Seite

terial he may count in case of need. Since the warfare had grown desultory, the country was not so sorely drained of its youth and manhood; and amongst the peasantry there were not a few roughhewn stocks that might easily be trimmed into soldierly shape. The choicest of these-allured, partly by large pay, partly by their seigneur's great renown in arms-were easily persuaded to enter his immediate service. Once in the castle, the training of such went on rapidly; so its garrison soon became more formidable than that of many fortresses thrice as important.

Hawk and hound, too, Brakespeare followed keenly as ever, though he was fain to follow them alone; for, since her father's death, the Lady Odille had never felt strong enough to go far a-field. One way or another, he usually found himself in saddle in early morning, and was rarely home much before sundown. He was perfectly content if his wife showed any interest-to do her justice, she generally did-in the sport or business of the day; and in the seventh heaven, if she could be persuaded, after supper, to take up her lute and sing to him some ditty-were it ever so sad.

Sometimes, but rarely, Gualtier de Marsan would take his turn at the viol. Sickness had left heavy traces on the esquire; and his strength seemed to return very slowly. It was with difficulty he forced himself to take needful food and drink, and he was equal to no exercise; so it was no marvel if his cheeks still continued hollow and wan, and if the dark circles under his wistful eyes passed not away. Though he and Lady Odille were thrown perforce much into each other's company, they spoke but seldom-so far as any knew-and then, concerning the most trivial matters. They would sit for hours in the presence-chamber-Odille in the great oriel, Gualtier in the recess of a distant window-gazing out wearily, with listless eyes, that marked not a feature of the landscape betwixt them and the distant hills.

The household was made up of ancient retainers, and others born in the family service; simple, God-fearing folk as a rule; part of whose creed it was to honour their masters, and to speak no evil of dignities. Even the spearmen, who had come from beyond Alps-at first from policy, or awe of Brakespeare's anger, afterwards from habit-had fallen into the same quiet, hum-drum ways; and in their drink carried themselves decently; snoring over their liquor if they chanced to take a cup too much, instead of wrangling or rowing over it as heretofore. The battered, weather-beaten soudards had begun to value aright the

comforts of chimney-corner and roof-bield; and had lost all taste for the perilous excitement of foray or bivouac. They waxed lusty, too, on much sleep and large provender; though Ralph was but in jest, when he called them sometimes "fat, lazy, knaves," there was more truth in the words than he wist of. All things considered, it was scarce likely that any of Hacquemont would trouble themselves to spy upon their chatelaine, much less to cavil at her ways. Nevertheless, one man there watched the aspect of matters with growing discontent.

Under Lanyon's rough exterior there were hidden-as may have been seen in the course of this chronicle-certain sparks of intelligence and shrewd common sense. Moreover, his wits were quickened by the incitement that all others there lacked: he loved from the very bottom of his heart the master he had followed so long through foul and fair weather; and he cared for no other created thing. Day by day he grew more sombre and taciturn-shunning the companionship of his gossip the warder; and repelling all social advances from others. The routiers grumbled to each other that their comrade had waxed proud of stomach in his old age, and prone to stand on his dignity as bodysquire to the lord of Hacquemont. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lanyon thought just as humbly of his own merits, and was just as little likely to exact more respect from others than is due from man to man, as he was on the morning when he followed Ralph out of Sir Simon Dynevor's presence. But he was weighed down by suspicions he could not away with-by a secret that was none of his own seeking, of which he could not unburthen himself.

Thoroughly dauntless by nature, and hardened by incessant training -the esquire would have faced almost any peril to which mortal flesh is liable, without the quickening of a pulse or the quivering of a nerve. From one thing he would have shrunk, as a girl might shrink from the first sight of bloodshed. That thing was-the hinting to Sir Ralph Brakespeare a doubt of his wife's purity. So he kept silencegrowling under his breath, grinding his teeth, and snarling on occasion like a chafed wolf; and there was the wolfish glare in his small keen eyes as they lighted on De Marsan, towards whom his manner was at times blunt, even to rudeness. These signs of his dislike could scarce always have escaped the object thereof; but if Gualtier noticed, he did not seem to heed them. When the other's bearing was unusually churlish, the younger esquire would open his great sad eyes a little, with a look of languid wonder, and let the lids droop again as he fell

back into his reverie. Graver matters, clearly, were busying his thoughts than an old routier's fits of evil temper.

All this while, Philippe de Hacquemont's prophecies seemed drawing nearer and nearer to their fulfilment.

When the message came to Windsor from the faithful Poitevins beleagured in Thouars, after one long fit of despondency, King Edward rose up in ire; and swore a great oath, that long before the day appointed-failing his rescue-for the town's surrender, he would succour them with such an armament as never yet had set foot on the shores of France. Thus far Ralph Brakespeare, too, had been right in in his auguries. The arrière-ban went through every nook and corner of England, from the Tweed to the Tamar; and drew together four thousand lances and twenty thousand archers; for whom four hundred transports waited in Southampton Water.

Scarce one of the names then famous in our realm for valour, wisdom, power, or pure lineage, was absent from that muster-roll. The Black Prince roused himself from the apathy of long sickness; and-having first set his house in order, and disposed all things for his son's succession-dragged himself on shipboard; though his shrunken limbs were scarce fit to bear harness. And the great armament set forth.

But the stars, in their courses, fought against King Edward. For nine weary weeks the fleet did battle with wind and waves; weltering to and fro-sometimes within sight of Breton cliffs, sometimes driven far back again to the westward-but never fairly weathering Ouissant Isle ; much less nearing Rochelle, the port for which they were bound. At the last provision began to fail; and King Edward was fain to put about, and steer again for his own land; crying out-so the chroniclers say-in the bitterness of his discomfiture

"Never was King who had drawn sword so seldom, and yet proved so stubborn a foe, as Charles of France."

So those in Thouars were left to their fate; which was soon decided, in this wise.

About the time of the sailing of the English fleet, Thomas Felton, Seneschal of Bordeaux, and Archibald de Grailly, uncle of the Captal de Buch, had mustered some three hundred lances; who marched northwards to Niort, and found there encamped many, both of Gascony and Bretagne: the united forces made up a formidable army. From these captains word was sent to Thouars, that of King Edward's presence in person there now seemed faint hope; but that they, at any

rate, were willing to strike in and aid to the uttermost of their power. Then ensued in Thouars sharp debate-albeit it was debate of one against many-for stout John de Parthenay stood well nigh alone in his sentence; "that, whether their suzerain came to the rescue or no, it behoved them to fight it out to the last." The others alleged, with much show of reason; that by the terms of their covenant-failing succour from England by some one of the royal blood-they were bounden to render the town, and once more to pledge fealty to France.

The voice of the many prevailed. On the eve of Michaelmas Day, those who watched from the towers saw the flaunt of many pennons; but amongst them the standard of England was not found. They were the ensigns of a great host-led by the Dukes of Berry, Bourbon, Burgundy, and Du Guesclin-coming to claim fulfilment of their contract. On the next day, the Lilies floated again, over nearly the last stronghold of England in Poitou.

Thenceforward the tide of warfare seems never to have turned. The great Constable roved hither and thither, with a thousand lances at his back; reducing one after another all such towns and castles as still maintained a show of fealty to the Red Cross. John of Montfort himself-faithful in either fortune to the ally who had loaded him with benefits-was forced to flee from his duchy of Brittany to seek refuge beyond seas. And soon it came to pass, that Charles the Wise could fairly call his own, all the territory lying betwixt Seine and Garonne.

Now of all these things, Ralph, Seigneur of Hacquemont, was duly informed by scouts or otherwise. He lay too far inland to be within reach of summons when Grailly and Felton mustered their lances at Bordeaux; so that he had not been forced as yet to declare himself for either side but he wist right well, that the question could not be staved off much longer. Indeed, it was seldom absent from his mind now. His inclination still set the other way; yet he was cool and wary enough to recognize that open rebellion might soon become absolute madness-nay, that even delay might be dangerous.

Whilst he thus halted betwixt two opinions, the autumn came round in which Thouars fell.



ON a certain October morning, the Lord of Hacquemont's horses waited without the barbican. Most indeed, in the castle, thought their lord had already ridden forth; but Ralph had suddenly be thought him of some repairs needed in divers parts of the walls and battlements; and, as he was to ride near where the masons dwelt, he determined to visit these before getting to saddle. Looking at the state of his defences, and remembering how soon they might be needed, brought his thoughts naturally into the channel in which they had run often of late. He soon fell a-musing earnestly; and, scarce knowing what he did, entered one of the small jutting tourelles, and sat down there. The weather was close and sultry; and the halfdrowse into which deep reveries often merge, was stealing over him, when he was roused by the sound of voices, drawing nearer and nearer till they came close. It was manifest the speakers had halted; and were leaning over the battlements within a pace or two of Ralph's shoulder. The entrance to the tourelle was so narrow that noneunless standing exactly in front-would guess at the presence of any withinside.

Never once, since the night he passed at the convent of La Melleuraye, had the Free Companion played the eaves-dropper. His first impulse now was to rise and discover himself instantly; but the words that smote his ear chained him where he sat-motionless and helpless as one over whose sleeping head a Hand of Glory has been waved. They were uttered in the soft, rich tones of Gualtier de Marsan.

"Nay, dear and gentle lady; make not, for very pity's sake, my task harder than I have set it to myself. Well ye wot, that if ye forbid me to depart I needs must tarry here-whatsoever the agony I shall abye. If it please you to drain my heart's blood slowly, I begrudge not, God knoweth, a drop thereof. Nevertheless, once again I say-Have mercy, and bid me go forth."

There was a sound as of a smothered sob; then another voice spoke. The listener within knew it very well. It had sung him to sleep many years ago, when the fever of his sore wound made him restless; it had spoken the words of troth-plight, without faltering, before the

« ZurückWeiter »