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Title: A March on London: Being a Story of Wat Tyler's Insurrection
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: "EDGAR STRUCK HIM A BUFFET ON THE FACE WHICH SENT HIM
REELING BACKWARDS."]



A MARCH ON LONDON BEING A STORY OF WAT TYLER'S INSURRECTION

BY G. A. HENTY



PREFACE


The events that took place during the latter half of the fourteenth
century and the first half of the fifteenth are known to us far better
than those preceding or following them, owing to the fact that three
great chroniclers, Froissart, Monstrelet, and Holinshed, have recounted
the events with a fulness of detail that leaves nothing to be desired.
The uprising of the Commons, as they called themselves--that is to say,
chiefly the folk who were still kept in a state of serfdom in the reign
of Richard II.--was in itself justifiable. Although serfdom in England
was never carried to the extent that prevailed on the Continent, the
serfs suffered from grievous disabilities. A certain portion of their
time had to be devoted to the work of their feudal lord. They
themselves were forbidden to buy or sell at public markets or fairs.
They were bound to the soil, and could not, except under special
circumstances, leave it.

Above all, they felt that they were not free men, and were not even
deemed worthy to fight in the wars of their country. Attempts have been
made to represent the rising as the result of Wickliffe's attack upon
the Church, but there seems to be very small foundation for the
assertion. Undoubtedly many of the lower class of clergy, discontented
with their position, did their best to inflame the minds of the
peasants, but as the rising extended over a very large part of England,
and the people were far too ignorant to understand, and far too much
irritated by their own grievances to care for the condition of the
Church, it may be taken that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury
and many other priests simply because they regarded them as being
wealthy, and so slew them as they slew other people of substance. Had
it been otherwise, the Church would not have been wholly ignored in the
demands that they set before the king, but some allusion would have
been made for the need of reforms in that direction.

The troubles in Flanders are of interest to Englishmen, since there was
for many years an alliance, more or less close, between our king and
some of the great Flemish cities. Indeed, from the time when the first
Von Artevelde was murdered because he proposed that the Black Prince
should be accepted as ruler of Flanders, to the day upon which
Napoleon's power was broken forever at Waterloo, Flanders has been the
theatre of almost incessant turmoil and strife, in which Germans and
Dutchmen, Spaniards, Englishmen, and Frenchmen have fought out their
quarrels.

G. A. HENTY.



CONTENTS


    I. TROUBLED TIMES

   II. A FENCING BOUT

  III. WAT TYLER

   IV. IN LONDON

    V. A RESCUE

   VI. A CITY MERCHANT

  VII. DEATH TO THE FLEMINGS!

 VIII. A COMBAT IN THE TOWER

   IX. DEATH OF THE TYLER

    X. A FIGHT IN THE OPEN

   XI. AN INVITATION

  XII. THE TROUBLES IN FLANDERS

 XIII. A STARVING TOWN

  XIV. CIVIL WAR

   XV. A CRUSHING DEFEAT

  XVI. A WAR OF THE CHURCH

 XVII. PRISONERS

XVIII. A NOBLE GIFT

  XIX. WELL SETTLED



ILLUSTRATIONS


"EDGAR STRUCK HIM A BUFFET ON THE FACE WHICH SENT HIM REELING
BACKWARDS."

EDGAR TALKS MATTERS OVER WITH THE PRIOR OF ST. ALWYTH.

"IN A MOMENT EDGAR'S SWORD FELL ON THE RUFFIAN'S WRIST."

THE LORD MAYOR STABS WAT THE TYLER IN PRESENCE OF THE BOY-KING.

EDGAR AND ALBERT ARE KNIGHTED BY KING RICHARD.

THE TWO YOUNG KNIGHTS CHARGE DOWN UPON THE PANIC-STRICKEN CROWD.

SIR EDGAR AT LAST SURRENDERS TO SIR ROBERT DE BEAULIEU.

THE PRISONERS MAKE THEIR ESCAPE OVER THE ROOFS OF YPRES.



A MARCH ON LONDON



CHAPTER I

TROUBLED TIMES


"And what do you think of it all, good Father?"

"'Tis a difficult question, my son, and I am glad that it is one that
wiser heads than mine will have to solve."

"But they don't seem to try to solve it; things get worse and worse.
The king is but a lad, no older than myself, and he is in the hands of
others. It seems to me a sin and a shame that things should go on as
they are at present. My father also thinks so."

The speaker was a boy of some sixteen years old. He was walking with
the prior in the garden of the little convent of St. Alwyth, four miles
from the town of Dartford. Edgar Ormskirk was the son of a scholar. The
latter, a man of independent means, who had always had a preference for
study and investigation rather than for taking part in active pursuits,
had, since the death of his young wife, a year after the birth of his
son, retired altogether from the world and devoted himself to study. He
had given up his comfortable home, standing on the heights of
Highgate--that being in too close proximity to London to enable him to
enjoy the seclusion that he desired--and had retired to a small estate
near Dartford.

Educated at Oxford, he had gone to Padua at his father's death, which
happened just as he left the university, and had remained at that seat
of learning for five years. There he had spent the whole of his income
in the purchase of manuscripts. The next two years were passed at
Bologna and Pisa, and he there collected a library such as few
gentlemen of his time possessed. Then Mr. Ormskirk had returned to
England and settled at Highgate, and two years later married the
daughter of a neighbouring gentleman, choosing her rather because he
felt that he needed someone to keep his house in order, than from any
of the feeling that usually accompanies such unions. In time, however,
he had come to love her, and her loss was a very heavy blow to him. It
was the void that he felt in his home as much as his desire for
solitude, that induced him to leave Highgate and settle in the country.

Here, at least, he had no fear of intrusive neighbours, or other
interruptions to his studies. The news from London seldom reached his
ears, and he was enabled to devote himself entirely to his experiments.
Like many other learned men of his age, it was to chemistry that he
chiefly turned his attention. His library comprised the works of almost
every known writer on the subject, and he hoped that he might gain an
immortal reputation by discovering one or both of the great secrets
then sought for--the elixir of life, or the philosopher's stone that
would convert all things into gold. It was not that he himself had any
desire for a long life, still less did he yearn for more wealth than he
possessed, but he fondly believed that these discoveries would
ameliorate the condition of mankind.

He did not see that if gold was as plentiful as the commonest metal it
would cease to be more valuable than others, or that the boon of a long
life would not add to the happiness of mankind. For some years he gave
little thought to his son, who was left to such care as the old
housekeeper and the still older man-servant chose to bestow upon him,
and who, in consequence, was left altogether to follow the dictates of
his own fancy. The child, therefore, lived almost entirely in the open
air, played, tussled, and fought with boys of his own age in the
village, and grew up healthy, sturdy, and active. His father scarcely
took any heed of his existence until the prior of the Convent of St.
Alwyth one day called upon him.

"What are you going to do with your boy, Mr. Ormskirk?" he asked.

"My boy?" the student repeated in tones of surprise. "Oh, yes; Edgar,
of course. What am I going to do with him? Well, I have never thought
about it. Does he want anything? My housekeeper always sees to that. Do
you think that he wants a nurse?"

"A nurse, Mr. Ormskirk!" the Prior said with a smile. "A nurse would
have a hard time with him. Do you know what his age is?"

"Four or five years old, I suppose."

"Nearly double that. He is nine."

"Impossible!" Mr. Ormskirk said. "Why, it is only the other day that he
was a baby."

"It is eight years since that time; he is now a sturdy lad, and if
there is any mischief in the village he is sure to be in it. Why, it
was but three days ago that Friar Anselmo caught him, soon after
daybreak, fishing in the Convent pool with two of the village lads. The
friar gave them a sound trouncing, and would have given one to your
son, too, had it not been for the respect that we all feel for you. It
is high time, Mr. Ormskirk, that he was broken of his wild ways and
received an education suited to his station."

"Quite so, quite so. I own that I have thought but little about him,
for indeed 'tis rarely that I see him, and save that at times his
racket in the house sorely disturbs my studies, I have well-nigh
forgotten all about him. Yes, yes; it is, of course, high time that he
began his education, so that if I should die before I have completed my
discoveries he may take up my work."

The Prior smiled quietly at the thought of the sturdy, dirty-faced boy
working among crucibles and retorts. However, he only said:

"Do you think of undertaking his education yourself?"

"By no means," Mr. Ormskirk said, hastily. "It would be impossible for
me to find time at present, but when he has completed his studies I
should then take him in hand myself, make him my companion and
assistant, and teach him all that is known of science."

"But in the meantime?"

"In the meantime? Yes, I suppose something must be done. I might get
him a tutor, but that would be a great disturbance to me. I might send
him up to the monastery at Westminster, where the sons of many
gentlemen are taught."

"I doubt whether the training, or rather want of training, that he has
had would fit him for Westminster," the Prior said, quietly. "There is
another plan that perhaps might be more suitable for him. One of our
brethren is a scholar, and already three or four of the sons of the
gentry in the neighbourhood come to him for three hours or so a day.
Our convent is a poor one, and the fees he receives are a welcome
addition to our means."

"Excellent!" Mr. Ormskirk said, delighted at the difficulty being taken
off his shoulders, "It would be the very thing."

"Then perhaps you will speak to the boy, and lay your orders upon him,"
the Prior said. "He was in the village as I passed by, and I brought
him up here, very much against his will I admit. Then I gave him in
charge on arrival to your servitor, knowing that otherwise the young
varlet would slip off again as soon as my back was turned. Perhaps you
will send for him."

Mr. Ormskirk rang a bell. The housekeeper entered.

"Where is Andrew?" he asked.

"He is looking after Master Edgar, sir. His reverence told him to do
so, and he dare not leave him for a moment or he would be off again."

"Tell Andrew to bring him in here."

A minute later the old servant entered with the boy. Edgar was in a
dishevelled condition, the result of several struggles with Andrew. His
face was begrimed with dirt, his clothes were torn and untidy. His
father looked at him in grave surprise. It was not that he had not seen
him before, for occasionally he had noticed him going across the
garden, but though his eyes had observed him, his mental vision had not
in any way taken him in, his thoughts being intent upon the work that
he had reluctantly left to take a hurried meal.

"Tut, tut, tut!" he murmured to himself, "and this is my son. Well,
well, I suppose he is not to be blamed; it is my own fault for being so
heedless of him. This is bad, Edgar," he said, "and yet it is my own
fault rather than thine, and I am thankful that the good prior has
brought your condition before me before it is too late. There must be
no more of this. Your appearance is disgraceful both to yourself and
me--to me because you are in rags, to yourself because you are dirty. I
had never dreamt of this. Henceforth all must be changed. You must be
clothed as befits the son of a gentleman, you must be taught as it is
right for the son of a scholar to be, and you must bear in mind that
some day you will become a gentleman yourself, and I trust a learned
one. I have arranged with the good prior here that you shall go every
day to the monastery to be instructed for three hours by one of his
monks. In future you will take your meals with me, and I will see that
your attire is in order, and that you go decent as befits your station.
What hours is he to attend, Prior?"

"From nine till twelve."

"You hear--from nine to twelve. In the afternoon I will procure a
teacher for you in arms. In these days every gentleman must learn the
use of his weapons. I, myself, although most peacefully inclined, have
more than once been forced, when abroad, to use them. A man who cannot
do so becomes the butt of fools, and loses his self-respect."

"I shall like that, sir," Edgar said, eagerly. "I can play at
quarter-staff now with any boy of my size in the village."

"Well, there must be no more of that," his father said. "Up to the
present you have been but a child, but it is time now that you should
cease to consort with village boys and prepare for another station in
life. They may be good boys--I know naught about them--but they are not
fit associates for you. I am not blaming you," he said more kindly as
he saw the boy's face fall. "It was natural that you, having no
associates of your own rank, should make friends where you could find
them. I trust that it has done you no harm. Well, Prior, this day week
the boy shall come to you. I must get befitting clothes for him, or the
other pupils will think that he is the son of a hedge tinker."

An hour later Andrew was despatched to Dartford in a cart hired in the
village, with orders to bring back with him a tailor, also to inquire
as to who was considered the best teacher of arms in the town, and to
engage him to come up for an hour every afternoon to instruct Edgar.

Seven years had passed since that time, and the rough and unkempt boy
had grown into a tall young fellow, who had done fair credit to his
teacher at the convent, and had profited to the full by the teaching of
the old soldier who had been his instructor in arms. His father had,
unconsciously, been also a good teacher to him. He had, with a great
effort, broken through the habits to which he had been so long wedded.
A young waiting-maid now assisted the housekeeper. The meals were no
longer hastily snatched and often eaten standing, but were decently
served in order, and occupied a considerable time, the greater portion
of which was spent in pleasant chat either upon the scenes which Mr.
Ormskirk had witnessed abroad, or in talk on the subjects the boy was
studying; sometimes also upon Mr. Ormskirk's researches and the hopes
he entertained from them; and as Edgar grew older, upon the ordinary
topics of the day, the grievances caused by the heavy taxation, the
troubles of the time and the course of events that had led to them;
for, although very ignorant of contemporary matters, Mr. Ormskirk was
well acquainted with the history of the country up to the time when he
had first gone abroad.

The recluse was surprised at the interest he himself came to feel in
these conversations. While endeavouring to open his son's mind he
opened his own, and although when Edgar was not present he pursued his
researches as assiduously as before, he was no longer lost in fits of
abstraction, and would even occasionally walk down to the village when
Edgar went to school in order to continue the conversation upon which
they were engaged. Edgar on his part soon ceased to regard his father
as a stranger, and his admiration for his store of information and
learning served as a stimulant to his studies, for which his previous
life had given him but little liking.

For the last two years, however, his father had seen with regret that
there was but little hope of making a profound scholar of him, and that
unless he himself could discover the solution of the problems that
still eluded him, there was little chance of it being found by his
successor.

Once roused, he had the good sense to see that it was not in such a
life that Edgar was likely to find success, and he wisely abandoned the
idea of pressing a task upon him that he saw was unfitted to the boy's
nature. The energy with which Edgar worked with his instructors in
arms--who had been already twice changed, so as to give him a greater
opportunity of attaining skill with his weapons--and the interest with
which the lad listened to tales of adventure, showed the direction in
which his bent lay. For the last two years his father had frequently
read to him the records of Sir Walter Manny and other chroniclers of
war and warlike adventure, and impressed upon him the virtues necessary
to render a man at once a great soldier and a great man.

"If, my boy," he said, "you should some day go to Court and mingle in
public affairs, above all things keep yourself clear of any party.
Those who cling to a party may rise with its success, but such rises
are ever followed by reverses; then comes great suffering to those upon
the fallen side. The duty of an English gentleman is simple: he must
work for his country, regardless altogether of personal interest. Such
a man may never rise to high rank, but he will be respected. Personal
honours are little to be desired; it is upon those who stand higher
than their neighbours that the blow falls the heaviest; while the rank
and file may escape unscathed, it is the nobles and the leaders whose
heads fall upon the block. I think that there are troubles in store for
England. The Duke of Gloucester overshadows the boy king, but as the
latter grows older he will probably shake off his tutelage, though it
may be at the cost of a civil war.

"Then, too, there are the exactions of the tax-gatherers. Some day the
people will rise against them as they did in France at the time of the
Jacquerie, and as they have done again and again in Flanders. At
present the condition of the common people, who are but villeins and
serfs, is well-nigh unbearable. Altogether the future seems to me to be
dark. I confess that, being a student, the storm when it bursts will
affect me but slightly, but as it is clear to me that this is not the
life that you will choose it may affect you greatly; for, however
little you may wish it, if civil strife comes, you, like everyone else,
may be involved in it. In such an event, Edgar, act as your conscience
dictates. There is always much to be said for both sides of any
question, and it cannot but be so in this. I wish to lay no stress on
you in any way. You cannot make a good monk out of a man who longs to
be a man-at-arms, nor a warrior of a weakling who longs for the shelter
of a cloister.

"Let, however, each man strive to do his best in the line he has chosen
for himself. A good monk is as worthy of admiration as a good
man-at-arms. I would fain have seen you a great scholar, but as it is
clear that this is out of the question, seeing that your nature does
not incline to study, I would that you should become a brave knight. It
was with that view when I sent you to be instructed at the convent I
also gave you an instructor in arms, so that, whichever way your
inclinations might finally point, you should be properly fitted for it."

At fifteen all lessons were given up, Edgar having by that time learnt
as much as was considered necessary in those days. He continued his
exercises with his weapons, but without any strong idea that beyond
defence against personal attacks they would be of any use to him. The
army was not in those days a career. When the king had need of a force
to fight in France or to carry fire and sword into Scotland, the levies
were called out, the nobles and barons supplied their contingent, and
archers and men-at-arms were enrolled and paid by the king. The levies,
however, were only liable to service for a restricted time, and beyond
their personal retainers the barons in time followed the royal example
of hiring men-at-arms and archers for the campaign; these being partly
paid from the royal treasury, and partly from their own revenue.

At the end of the campaign, however, the army speedily dispersed, each
man returning to his former avocation; save therefore for the
retainers, who formed the garrisons of the castles of the nobles, there
was no military career such as that which came into existence with the
formation of standing armies. Nevertheless, there was honour and rank
to be won in the foreign wars, and it was to these the young men of
gentle blood looked to make their way. But since the death of the Black
Prince matters had been quiet abroad, and unless for those who were
attached to the households of powerful nobles there was, for the
present, no avenue towards distinction.

Edgar had been talking these matters over with the Prior of St. Alwyth,
who had taken a great fancy to him, and with whom he had, since he had
given up his work at the convent, frequently had long conversations.
They were engaged in one of these when this narrative begins:

"I quite agree with your father," the Prior continued. "Were there a
just and strong government, the mass of the people might bear their
present position. It seems to us as natural that the serfs should be
transferred with the land as if they were herds of cattle, for such is
the rule throughout Europe as well as here, and one sees that there are
great difficulties in the way of making any alteration in this state of
things. See you, were men free to wander as they chose over the land
instead of working at their vocations, the country would be full of
vagrants who, for want of other means for a living, would soon become
robbers. Then, too, very many would flock to the towns, and so far from
bettering their condition, would find themselves worse off than before,
for there would be more people than work could be found for.

[Illustration: EDGAR TALKS MATTERS OVER WITH THE PRIOR OF ST. ALWYTH.]

"So long as each was called upon only to pay his fifteenth to the
king's treasury they were contented enough, but now they are called
upon for a tenth as well as a fifteenth, and often this is greatly
exceeded by the rapacity of the tax-collectors. Other burdens are put
upon them, and altogether men are becoming desperate. Then, too, the
cessation of the wars with France has brought back to the country
numbers of disbanded soldiers who, having got out of the way of honest
work and lost the habits of labour, are discontented and restless. All
this adds to the danger. We who live in the country see these things,
but the king and nobles either know nothing of them or treat them with
contempt, well knowing that a few hundred men-at-arms can scatter a
multitude of unarmed serfs."

"And would you give freedom to the serfs, good Father?"

"I say not that I would give them absolute freedom, but I would grant
them a charter giving them far greater rights than at present. A
fifteenth of their labour is as much as they should be called upon to
pay, and when the king's necessities render it needful that further
money should be raised, the burden should only be laid upon the backs
of those who can afford to pay it. I hear that there is much wild talk,
and that the doctrines of Wickliffe have done grievous harm. I say not,
my son, that there are not abuses in the Church as well as elsewhere;
but these pestilent doctrines lead men to disregard all authority, and
to view their natural masters as oppressors. I hear that seditious talk
is uttered openly in the villages throughout the country; that there
are men who would fain persuade the ignorant that all above them are
drones who live on the proceeds of their labour--as if indeed every
man, however high in rank, had not his share of labour and care--I
fear, then, that if there should be a rising of the peasantry we may
have such scenes as those that took place during the Jacquerie in
France, and that many who would, were things different, be in favour of
giving more extended rights to the people, will be forced to take a
side against them."

"I can hardly think that they would take up arms, Father. They must
know that they could not withstand a charge of armour-clad knights and
men-at-arms."

"Unhappily, my son, the masses do not think. They believe what it
pleases them to believe, and what the men who go about stirring up
sedition tell them. I foresee that in the end they will suffer
horribly, but before the end comes they may commit every sort of
outrage. They may sack monasteries and murder the monks, for we are
also looked upon as drones. They may attack and destroy the houses of
the better class, and even the castles of the smaller nobles. They may
even capture London and lay it in ashes, but the thought that after
they had done these things a terrible vengeance would be taken, and
their lot would be harder than before, would never occur to them. Take
your own house for instance--what resistance could it offer to a fierce
mob of peasants?"

"None," Edgar admitted. "But why should they attack it?"

The Prior was silent.

"I know what you mean, good Father," Edgar said, after a pause. "They
say that my father is a magician, because he stirs not abroad, but
spends his time on his researches. I remember when I was a small boy,
and the lads of the village wished to anger me, they would shout out,
'Here is the magician's son,' and I had many a fight in consequence."

"Just so, Edgar; the ignorant always hate that which they cannot
understand; so Friar Bacon was persecuted, and accused of dabbling in
magic when he was making discoveries useful to mankind. I say not that
they will do any great harm when they first rise, for it cannot be said
that the serfs here are so hardly treated as they were in France, where
their lords had power of life and death over them, and could slay them
like cattle if they chose, none interfering. Hence the hatred was so
deep that in the very first outbreak the peasants fell upon the nobles
and massacred them and their families.

"Here there is no such feeling. It is against the government that taxes
them so heavily that their anger is directed, and I fear that this new
poll-tax that has been ordered will drive them to extremities. I have
news that across the river in Essex the people of some places have not
only refused to pay, but have forcibly driven away the tax-gatherers,
and when these things once begin, there is no saying how they are going
to end. However, if there is trouble, I think not that at first we
shall be in any danger here, but if they have success at first their
pretensions will grow. They will inflame themselves. The love of
plunder will take the place of their reasonable objections to
over-taxation, and seeing that they have but to stretch out their hands
to take what they desire, plunder and rapine will become general."

As Edgar walked back home he felt that there was much truth in the
Prior's remarks. He himself had heard many things said among the
villagers which showed that their patience was well-nigh at an end.
Although, since he began his studies, he had no time to keep up his
former close connection with the village, he had always been on
friendly terms with his old playmates, and they talked far more freely
with him than they would do to anyone else of gentle blood. Once or
twice he had, from a spirit of adventure, gone with them to meetings
that were held after dark in a quiet spot near Dartford, and listened
to the talk of strangers from Gravesend and other places. He knew
himself how heavily the taxation pressed upon the people, and his
sympathies were wholly with them. There had been nothing said even by
the most violent of the speakers to offend him. The protests were
against the exactions of the tax-gatherers, the extravagance of the
court, and the hardship that men should be serfs on the land.

Once they had been addressed by a secular priest from the other side of
the river, who had asserted that all men were born equal and had equal
rights. This sentiment had been loudly applauded, but he himself had
sense enough to see that it was contrary to fact, and that men were not
born equal. One was the son of a noble, the other of a serf. One child
was a cripple and a weakling from its birth, another strong and lusty.
One was well-nigh a fool, and another clear-headed. It seemed to him
that there were and must be differences.

Many of the secular clergy were among the foremost in stirring up the
people. They themselves smarted under their disabilities. For the most
part they were what were called hedge priests, men of but little or no
education, looked down upon by the regular clergy, and almost wholly
dependant on the contributions of their hearers. They resented the
difference between themselves and the richly endowed clergy and
religious houses, and denounced the priests and monks as drones who
sucked the life-blood of the country.

This was the last gathering at which Edgar had been present. He had
been both shocked and offended at the preaching. What was the name of
the priest he knew not, nor did the villagers, but he went by the name
of Jack Straw, and was, Edgar thought, a dangerous fellow. The lad had
no objection to his abuse of the tax-gatherers, or to his complaints of
the extravagance of the court, but this man's denunciation of the monks
and clergy at once shocked and angered him. Edgar's intercourse with
the villagers had removed some of the prejudices generally felt by his
class, but in other respects he naturally felt as did others of his
station, and he resolved to go to no more meetings.

After taking his meal with his father, Edgar mounted the horse that the
latter had bought for him, and rode over to the house of one of his
friends.

The number of those who had, like himself, been taught by the monk of
St. Alwyth had increased somewhat, and there were, when he left, six
other lads there. Three of these were intended for the Church. All were
sons of neighbouring landowners, and it was to visit Albert de Courcy,
the son of Sir Ralph de Courcy, that Edgar was now riding. Albert and
he had been special friends. They were about the same age, but of very
different dispositions. The difference between their characters was
perhaps the chief attraction that had drawn them to each other. Albert
was gentle in disposition, his health was not good, and he had been a
weakly child. His father, who was a stout knight, regarded him with
slight favour, and had acceded willingly to his desire to enter the
Church, feeling that he would never make a good fighter.

Edgar, on the contrary, was tall and strongly built, and had never
known a day's illness. He was somewhat grave in manner, for the
companionship of his father and the character of their conversations
had made him older and more thoughtful than most lads of his age. He
was eager for adventure, and burned for an opportunity to distinguish
himself, while his enthusiasm for noble exploits and great commanders
interested his quiet friend, who had the power of admiring things that
he could not hope to imitate. In him, alone of his school-fellows, did
Edgar find any sympathy with his own feelings as to the condition of
the people. Henry Nevil laughed to scorn Edgar's advocacy of their
cause. Richard Clairvaux more than once quarrelled with him seriously,
and on one or two occasions they almost betook themselves to their
swords. The other three, who were of less spirit, took no part in these
arguments, saying that these things did not concern them, being matters
for the king and his ministers, and of no interest whatever to them.

In other respects Edgar was popular with them all. His strength and his
skill in arms gave him an authority that even Richard Clairvaux
acknowledged in his cooler moments. Edgar visited at the houses of all
their fathers, his father encouraging him to do so, as he thought that
association with his equals would be a great advantage to him. As far
as manners were concerned, however, the others, with the exception of
Albert de Courcy, who did not need it, gained more than he did, for Mr.
Ormskirk had, during his long residence at foreign universities and his
close connection with professors, acquired a certain foreign
courtliness of bearing that was in strong contrast to the rough
bluffness of speech and manner that characterized the English of that
period, and had some share in rendering them so unpopular upon the
Continent, where, although their strength and fighting power made them
respected, they were regarded as island bears, and their manners were a
standing jest among the frivolous nobles of the Court of France.

At the house of Sir Ralph de Courcy Edgar was a special favourite. Lady
de Courcy was fond of him because her son was never tired of singing
his praises, and because she saw that his friendship was really a
benefit to the somewhat dreamy boy. Aline, a girl of fourteen, regarded
him with admiration; she was deeply attached to her brother, and
believed implicitly his assertion that Edgar would some day become a
valiant knight; while Sir Ralph himself liked him both for the courtesy
of his bearing and the firmness and steadiness of his character, which
had, he saw, a very beneficial influence over that of Albert. Sir Ralph
was now content that the latter should enter the Church, but he was
unwilling that his son should become what he called a mere shaveling,
and desired that he should attain power and position in his profession.

The lack of ambition and energy in his son were a grievance to him
almost as great as his lack of physical powers, and he saw that
although, so far there was still an absence of ambition, yet the boy
had gained firmness and decision from the influence of his friend, and
that he was far more likely to attain eminence in the Church than he
had been before. He was himself surprised that the son of a man whose
pursuits he despised should have attained such proficiency with his
weapons--a matter which he had learned, when one day he had tried his
skill with Edgar in a bout with swords--and he recognized that with his
gifts of manner, strength and enthusiasm for deeds of arms, he was
likely one day to make a name for himself.

Whenever, therefore, Edgar rode over to Sir Ralph's he was certain of a
hearty welcome from all. As to the lad's opinions as to the condition
of the peasantry--opinions which he would have scouted as monstrous on
the part of a gentleman--Sir Ralph knew nothing, Albert having been
wise enough to remain silent on the subject, the custom of the times
being wholly opposed to anything like a free expression of opinion on
any subject from a lad to his elders.

"It is quite a time since you were here last, Master Ormskirk," Lady De
Courcy said when he entered. "Albert so often goes up for a talk with
you when he has finished his studies at the monastery that you are
forgetting us here."

"I crave your pardon, Mistress De Courcy," Edgar said; "but, indeed, I
have been working hard, for my father has obtained for me a good master
for the sword--a Frenchman skilled in many devices of which my English
teachers were wholly ignorant. He has been teaching some of the young
nobles in London, and my father, hearing of his skill, has had him down
here, at a heavy cost, for the last month, as he was for the moment
without engagements in London. It was but yesterday that he returned.
Naturally, I have desired to make the utmost of the opportunity, and
most of my time has been spent in the fencing-room."

"And have you gained much by his instruction?" Sir Ralph asked.

"I hope so, Sir Ralph. I have tried my best, and he has been good
enough to commend me warmly, and even told my father that I was the
aptest pupil that he had."

"I will try a bout with you presently," the knight said. "It is nigh
two years since we had one together, and my arm is growing stiff for
want of practice, though every day I endeavour to keep myself in order
for any opportunity or chance that may occur, by practising against an
imaginary foe by hammering with a mace at a corn-sack swinging from a
beam. Methinks I hit it as hard as of old, but in truth I know but
little of the tricks of these Frenchmen. They availed nothing at
Poictiers against our crushing downright blows. Still, I would gladly
see what their tricks are like."



CHAPTER II

A FENCING BOUT


After he had talked for a short time with Mistress De Courcy, Edgar
went to the fencing-room with Sir Ralph, and they there put on helmets
and quilted leather jerkins, with chains sewn on at the shoulders.

"Now, you are to do your best," Sir Ralph said, as he handed a sword to
Edgar, and took one himself.

So long as they played gently Edgar had all the advantage.

"You have learned your tricks well," Sir Ralph said, good-temperedly,
"and, in truth, your quick returns puzzle me greatly, and I admit that
were we both unprotected I should have no chance with you, but let us
see what you could do were we fighting in earnest," and he took down a
couple of suits of complete body armour from the wall.

Albert, who was looking on, fastened the buckles for both of them.

"Ah, you know how the straps go," Sir Ralph said, in a tone of
satisfaction. "Well, it is something to know that, even if you don't
know what to do with it when you have got it on. Now, Master Edgar,
have at you."

Edgar stood on the defence, but, strong as his arm was from constant
exercise, he had some difficulty to save his head from the sweeping
blows that Sir Ralph rained upon it.

"By my faith, young fellow," Sir Ralph said as, after three or four
minutes, he drew back breathless from his exertions, "your muscles seem
to be made of iron, and you are fit to hold your own in a serious
_mêlée_. You were wrong not to strike, for I know that more than once
there was an opening had you been quick."

Edgar was well aware of the fact, but he had not taken advantage of it,
for he felt that at his age it was best to abstain from trying to gain
a success that could not be pleasant for the good knight.

"Well, well, we will fight no more," the latter said.

When Albert had unbuckled his father's armour and hung it up, Edgar
said: "Now, Albert, let us have a bout."

The lad coloured hotly, and the knight burst into a hearty laugh.

"You might as soon challenge my daughter Aline. Well, put on the
jerkin, Albert; it were well that you should feel what a poor creature
a man is who has never had a sword in his hand."

Albert silently obeyed his father's orders and stood up facing Edgar.
They were about the same height, though Albert looked slim and delicate
by the side of his friend.

"By St. George!" his father exclaimed, "you do not take up a bad
posture, Albert. You have looked at Edgar often enough at his exercises
to see how you ought to place yourself. I have never seen you look so
manly since the day you were born. Now, strike in."

Sir Ralph's surprise at his son's attitude grew to amazement as the
swords clashed together, and he saw that, although Edgar was not
putting out his full strength and skill, his son, instead of being
scarce able, as he had expected, to raise the heavy sword, not only
showed considerable skill, but even managed to parry some of the tricks
of the weapon to which he himself had fallen a victim.

"Stop, stop!" he said, at last. "Am I dreaming, or has someone else
taken the place of my son? Take off your helmet. It is indeed Albert!"
he said, as they uncovered. "What magic is this?"

"It is a little surprise that we have prepared for you, Sir Ralph,"
Edgar said, "and I trust that you will not be displeased. Two years ago
I persuaded Albert that there was no reason why even a priest should
not have a firm hand and a steady eye, and that this would help him to
overcome his nervousness, and would make him strong in body as well as
in arm. Since that time he has practised with me almost daily after he
had finished his studies at St. Alwyth, and my masters have done their
best for him. Though, of course, he has not my strength, as he lacks
the practice I have had, he has gained wonderfully of late, and would
in a few years match me in skill, for what he wants in strength he
makes up in activity."

"Master Ormskirk," the knight said, "I am beholden to you more than I
can express. His mother and I have observed during the last two years
that he has gained greatly in health and has widened out in the
shoulders. I understand now how it has come about. We have never
questioned him about it; indeed, I should as soon have thought of
asking him whether he had made up his mind to become king, as whether
he had begun to use a sword. Why, I see that you have taught him
already some of the tricks that you have just learnt."

"I have not had time to instruct him in many of them, Sir Ralph, but I
showed him one or two, and he acquired them so quickly that in another
month I have no doubt he will know them as well as I do."

"By St. George, you have done wonders, Edgar. As for you, Albert, I am
as pleased as if I had heard that the king had made me an earl. Truly,
indeed, did Master Ormskirk tell you that it would do you good to learn
to use a sword. 'Tis not a priest's weapon--although many a priest and
bishop have ridden to battle before now--but it has improved your
health and given you ten years more life than you would be likely to
have had without it. It seemed to me strange that any son of my house
should be ignorant as to how to use a sword, and now I consider that
that which seemed to me almost a disgrace is removed. Knows your mother
aught of this?"

"No, sir. When I began I feared that my resolution would soon fade; and
indeed it would have done so had not Edgar constantly encouraged me and
held me to it, though indeed at first it so fatigued me that I could
scarce walk home."

"That I can well understand, my lad. Now you shall come and tell your
mother. I have news for you, dame, that will in no small degree
astonish you," he said, as, followed by the two lads, he returned to
the room where she was sitting. "In the first place, young Master
Ormskirk has proved himself a better man than I with the sword."

"Say not so, I pray you, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "In skill with the
French tricks I may have had the better of you, but with a mace you
would have dashed my brains out, as I could not have guarded my head
against the blows that you could have struck with it."

"Not just yet, perhaps," the knight said; "but when you get your full
strength you could assuredly do so. He will be a famous knight some
day, dame. But that is not the most surprising piece of news. What
would you say were I to tell you that this weakling of ours, although
far from approaching the skill and strength of his friend, is yet able
to wield a heavy sword manfully and skilfully?"

"I should say that either you were dreaming, or that I was, Sir Ralph."

"Well, I do say so in wide-awake earnest. Master Ormskirk has been his
instructor, and for the last two years the lad has been learning of him
and of his masters. That accounts for the change that we have noticed
in his health and bearing. Faith, he used to go along with stooping
neck, like a girl who has outgrown her strength. Now he carries himself
well, and his health of late has left naught to be desired. It was for
that that his friend invited him to exercise himself with the sword;
and indeed his recipe has done wonders. His voice has gained strength,
and though it still has a girlish ring about it, he speaks more firmly
and assuredly than he used to do."

"That is indeed wonderful news, Sir Ralph, and I rejoice to hear it.
Master Ormskirk, we are indeed beholden to you. For at one time I
doubted whether Albert would ever live to grow into a man; and of late
I have been gladdened at seeing so great a change in him, though I
dreamed not of the cause."

Aline had stood open-mouthed while her father was speaking, and now
stole up to Albert's side.

"I am pleased, brother," she said. "May I tell them now what happened
the other day with the black bull, you charged me to say nothing about?"

"What is this about the black bull, Aline?" her father said, as he
caught the words.

"It was naught, sir," Albert replied, colouring, "save that the black
bull in the lower meadow ran at us, and I frightened him away."

"No, no, father," the girl broke in, "it was not that at all. We were
walking through the meadow together when the black bull ran at us.
Albert said to me, 'Run, run, Aline!' and I did run as hard as I could;
but I looked back for some time as I ran, being greatly terrified as to
what would come to Albert. He stood still. The bull lowered his head
and rushed at him. Then he sprang aside just as I expected to see him
tossed into the air, caught hold of the bull's tail as it went past him
and held on till the bull was close to the fence, and then he let go
and scrambled over, while the bull went bellowing down the field."

"Well done, well done!" Sir Ralph said. "Why, Albert, it seems
marvellous that you should be doing such things; that black bull is a
formidable beast, and the strongest man, if unarmed, might well feel
discomposed if he saw him coming rushing at him. I will wager that if
you had not had that practice with the sword, you would not have had
the quickness of thought that enabled you to get out of the scrape. You
might have stood between the bull and your sister, but if you had done
so you would only have been tossed, and perhaps gored or trampled to
death afterwards. I will have the beast killed, or otherwise he will be
doing mischief. There are not many who pass through the field, still I
don't want to have any of my tenants killed.

"Well, Master Ormskirk, both my wife and I feel grateful to you for
what you have done for Albert. There are the makings of a man in him
now, let him take up what trade he will. I don't say much, boy, it is
not my way; but if you ever want a friend, whether it be at court or
camp, you can rely upon me to do as much for you as I would for one of
my own; maybe more, for I deem that a man cannot well ask for favours
for those of his own blood, but he can speak a good word, and even urge
his suit for one who is no kin to him. So far as I understand, you have
not made up your mind in what path you will embark."

"No, Sir Ralph, for at present, although we can scarce be said to be at
peace with the French, we are not fighting with them. Had it been so I
would willingly have joined the train of some brave knight raising a
force for service there. There is ever fighting in the North, but with
the Scots it is but a war of skirmishes, and not as it was in Edward's
reign. Moreover, by what my father says, there seems no reason for
harrying Scotland far and near, and the fighting at present is scarce
of a nature in which much credit is to be gained."

"You might enter the household of some powerful noble, lad."

"My father spoke to me of that, Sir Ralph, but told me that he would
rather that I were with some simple knight than with a great noble, for
that in the rivalries between these there might be troubles come upon
the land, and maybe even civil strife; that one who might hold his head
highest of all one day might on the morrow have it struck off with the
executioner's axe, and that at any rate it were best at present to live
quietly and see how matters went before taking any step that would bind
me to the fortunes of one man more than another."

"Your father speaks wisely. 'Tis not often that men who live in books,
and spend their time in pouring over mouldy parchments, and in
well-nigh suffocating themselves with stinking fumes have common sense
in worldly matters. But when I have conversed with your father, I have
always found that, although he takes not much interest in public
affairs at present, he is marvellously well versed in our history, and
can give illustrations in support of what he says. Well, whenever the
time comes that he thinks it good for you to leave his fireside and
venture out into the world, you have but to come to me, and I will, so
far as is in my power, further your designs."

"I thank you most heartily, Sir Ralph, and glad am I to have been of
service to Albert, who has been almost as a brother to me since we
first met at St. Alwyth."

"I would go over and see your father, and have a talk with him about
you, but I ride to London to-morrow, and may be forced to tarry there
for some time. When I return I will wait upon him and have a talk as to
his plans for you. Now, I doubt not, you would all rather be wandering
about the garden than sitting here with us, so we will detain you no
longer."

"Albert, I am very angry with you and Master Ormskirk that you did not
take me into your counsel and tell me about your learning to use the
sword," Aline said, later on, as they watched Edgar ride away through
the gateway of the castle. "I call it very unkind of you both."

"We had not thought of being unkind, Aline," Albert said, quietly.
"When we began I did not feel sure that either my strength or my
resolution would suffice to carry me through, and indeed it was at
first very painful work for me, having never before taken any strong
exercise, and often I would have given it up from the pain and fatigue
that it caused me, had not Edgar urged me to persevere, saying that in
time I should feel neither pain nor weariness. Therefore, at first I
said nothing to you, knowing that it would disappoint you did I give it
up, and then when my arm gained strength, and Edgar encouraged me by
praising my progress, and I began to hope that I might yet come to be
strong and gain skill with the weapon, I kept it back in order that I
might, as I have done to-day, have the pleasure of surprising you, as
well as my father, by showing that I was not so great a milksop as you
had rightly deemed me."

"I never thought that you were a milksop, Albert," his sister said,
indignantly. "I knew that you were not strong, and was sorry for it,
but it was much nicer for me that you should be content to walk and
ride with me, and to take interest in things that I like, instead of
being like Henry Nevil or Richard Clairvaux, who are always talking and
thinking of nothing but how they would go to the wars, and what they
would do there."

"There was no need that I should do that, Aline. Edgar is a much better
swordsman than either of them, and knows much more, and is much more
likely to be a famous knight some day than either Nevil or Clairvaux,
but I am certain that you do not hear him talk about it."

"No, Edgar is nice, too," the girl said, frankly, "and very strong. Do
you not remember how he carried me home more than two miles, when a
year ago I fell down when I was out with you, and sprained my ankle.
And now, Albert, perhaps some day you will get so strong that you may
not think of going into the Church and shutting yourself up all your
life in a cloister, but may come to be famous too."

"I have not thought of that, Aline," he said, gravely. "If ever I did
change my mind, it would be that I might always be with Edgar and be
great friends with him, all through our lives, just as we are now."

Sir Ralph and his wife were at the time discussing the same topic. "It
may yet be, Agatha, that, after all, the boy may give up this thought
of being a churchman. I have never said a word against it hitherto,
because it seemed to me that he was fit for nothing else, but now that
one sees that he has spirit, and has, thanks to his friend, acquired a
taste for arms, and has a strength I never dreamt he possessed, the
matter is changed. I say not yet that he is like to become a famous
knight, but it needs not that every one should be able to swing a heavy
mace and hold his own in a _mêlée_. There are many posts at court where
one who is discreet and long-headed may hold his own, and gain honour,
so that he be not a mere feeble weakling who can be roughly pushed to
the wall by every blusterer."

"I would ask him no question concerning it, Sir Ralph," his wife said.
"It may be as you say, but methinks that it will be more likely that he
will turn to it if you ask him no questions, but leave him to think it
out for himself. The lad Edgar has great influence over him, and will
assuredly use it for good. As for myself, it would be no such great
grief were Albert to enter the Church as it would be to you, though I,
too, would prefer that he should not be lost to us, and would rather
that he went to Court and played his part there. I believe that he has
talent. The prior of St. Alwyth said that he and young Ormskirk were by
far his most promising pupils; of course, the latter has now ceased to
study with him, having learned as much as is necessary for a gentleman
to know if he be not intended for the Church. Albert is well aware what
your wishes are, and that if you have said naught against his taking up
that profession, it was but because you deemed him fit for no other.
Now, you will see that, having done so much, he may well do more, and
it may be that in time he may himself speak to you and tell you that he
has changed his mind on the matter."

"Perhaps it would be best so, dame, and I have good hope that it will
be as you say. I care not much for the Court, where Lancaster and
Gloucester overshadow the king. Still, a man can play his part there;
though I would not that he should attach himself to Lancaster's faction
or to Gloucester's, for both are ambitious, and it will be a struggle
between them for supremacy. If he goes he shall go as a king's man.
Richard, as he grows up, will resent the tutelage in which he is held,
but will not be able to shake it off, and he will need men he can rely
upon--prudent and good advisers, the nearer to his own age the better,
and it may well be that Albert would be like to gain rank and honour
more quickly in this way than by doughty deeds in the field. It is good
that each man should stick to his last. As for me, I would rather delve
as a peasant than mix in the intrigues of a Court. But there must be
courtiers as well as fighters, and I say not aught against them.

"The boy with his quiet voice, and his habit of going about making
little more noise than a cat, is far better suited for such a life than
I with my rough speech and fiery temper. For his manner he has also
much to thank young Ormskirk. Edgar caught it from his father, who,
though a strange man according to my thinking, is yet a singularly
courteous gentleman, and Albert has taken it from his friend. Well,
wife, I shall put this down as one of my fortunate days, for never have
I heard better news than that which Albert gave me this afternoon."

When Edgar returned home he told his father what had taken place.

"I thought that Sir Ralph would be mightily pleased some day when he
heard that his son had been so zealously working here with you, and I
too was glad to see it. I am altogether without influence to push your
fortunes. Learning I can give you, but I scarce know a man at Court,
for while I lived at Highgate I seldom went abroad, and save for a
visit now and then from some scholar anxious to consult me, scarce a
being entered my house. Therefore, beyond relating to you such matters
of history as it were well for you to know, and by telling you of the
deeds of Caesar and other great commanders, I could do naught for you."

"You have done a great deal for me, father. You have taught me more of
military matters, and of the history of this country, and of France and
Italy, than can be known to most people, and will assuredly be of much
advantage to me in the future."

"That may be so, Edgar, but the great thing is to make the first start,
and here I could in no way aid you. I have often wondered how this
matter could be brought about, and now you have obtained a powerful
friend; for although Sir Ralph De Courcy is but a simple knight, with
no great heritage, his wife is a daughter of Lord Talbot, and he
himself is one of the most valiant of the nobles and knights who fought
so stoutly in France and Spain, and as such is known to, and respected
by, all those who bore a part in those wars. He therefore can do for
you the service that of all others is the most necessary.

"The king himself is well aware that he was one of the knights in whom
the Black Prince, his father, had the fullest confidence, and to whom
he owed his life more than once in the thick of a _mêlée_. Thus, then,
when the time comes, he will be able to secure for you a post in the
following of some brave leader. I would rather that it were so than in
the household of any great noble, who would assuredly take one side or
other in the factions of the Court. You are too young for this as yet,
being too old to be a page, too young for an esquire, and must
therefore wait until you are old enough to enter service either as an
esquire or as one of the retinue of a military leader."

"I would rather be an esquire and ride to battle to win my spurs. I
should not care to become a knight simply because I was the owner of so
many acres of land, but should wish to be knighted for service in the
field."

"So would I also, Edgar. My holding here is large enough to entitle me
to the rank of knight did I choose to take it up, but indeed it would
be with me as it is with many others, an empty title. Holding land
enough for a knight's fee, I should of course be bound to send so many
men into the field were I called upon to do so, and should send you as
my substitute if the call should not come until you are two or three
years older; but in this way you would be less likely to gain
opportunities for winning honour than if you formed part of the
following of some well-known knight. Were a call to come you could go
with few better than Sir Ralph, who would be sure to be in the thick of
it. But if it comes not ere long, he may think himself too old to take
the field, and his contingent would doubtless be led by some knight as
his substitute."

"I think not, father, that Sir Ralph is likely to regard himself as
lying on the shelf for some time to come; he is still a very strong
man, and he would chafe like a caged eagle were there blows to be
struck in France, and he unable to share in them."

Four days later a man who had been down to the town returned with a
budget of news. Edgar happened to be at the door when he rode past.

"What is the news, Master Clement?" he said, for he saw that the man
looked excited and alarmed.

"There be bad news, young master, mighty bad news. Thou knowest how in
Essex men have refused to pay the poll-tax, but there has been naught
of that on this side of the river as yet, though there is sore
grumbling, seeing that the tax-collectors are not content with drawing
the tax from those of proper age, but often demand payments for boys
and girls, who, as they might see, are still under fourteen. It
happened so to-day at Dartford. One of the tax-collectors went to the
house of Wat the Tyler. His wife had the money for his tax and hers,
but the man insolently demanded tax for the daughter, who is but a girl
of twelve; and when her mother protested that the child was two years
short of the age, he offered so gross an insult to the girl that she
and her mother screamed out. A neighbour ran with the news to Wat, who
was at his work on the roof of a house near, and he, being full of
wrath thereat, ran hastily home, and entering smote the man so heavily
on the head with a hammer he carried, that he killed him on the spot.

"The collectors' knaves would have seized Wat, but the neighbours ran
in and drove them from the town with blows. The whole place is in a
ferment. Many have arms in their hands, and are declaring that they
will submit no more to the exactions, and will fight rather than pay,
for that their lives are of little value to them if they are to be
ground to the earth by these leeches. The Fleming traders in the town
have hidden away, for in their present humour the mob might well fall
upon them and kill them."

It was against the Flemings indeed that the feelings of the country
people ran highest. This tax was not, as usual, collected by the royal
officers, but by men hired by the Flemish traders settled in England.
The proceeds of it had been bestowed upon several young nobles,
intimates of the king. These had borrowed money from the Flemings on
the security of the tax; the amount that it was likely to produce had
been considerably overrated, and the result was that the Flemings,
finding that they would be heavy losers by the transaction, ordered
their collectors to gather in as much as possible. These obeyed the
instructions, rendering by their conduct the exaction of the poll-tax
even more unpopular than it would have been had it been collected by
the royal officers, who would have been content with the sum that could
be legally demanded.

"This is serious news," Edgar said, gravely, "and I fear that much
trouble may come of it. Doubtless the tax-collector misbehaved himself
grossly, but his employers will take no heed of that, and will lay
complaints before the king of the slaying of one of their servants and
of the assault upon others by a mob of Dartford, so that erelong we
shall be having a troop of men-at-arms sent hither to punish the town."

"Ay, young master, but not being of Dartford I should not care so much
for that; but there are hot spirits elsewhere, and there are many who
would be like to take up arms as well as the men at Dartford, and to
resist all attacks; then the trouble would spread, and there is no
saying how far it may grow."

"True enough, Clement; well, we may hope that when men's minds become
calmer the people of Dartford will think it best to offer to pay a fine
in order to escape bloodshed."

"It may be so," the man said, shaking his head, "though I doubt it.
There has been too much preaching of sedition. I say not that the
people have not many and real grievances, but the way to right them is
not by the taking up of arms, but by petition to the crown and
parliament."

He rode on, and Edgar, going in to his father, told him what he had
heard from Clement.

"'Tis what I feared," Mr. Ormskirk said. "The English are a patient
race, and not given, as are those of foreign nations, to sudden bursts
of rage. So long as the taxation was legal they would pay, however
hardly it pressed them, but when it comes to demanding money for
children under the age, and to insulting them, it is pushing matters
too far, and I fear with you, Edgar, that the trouble will spread. I am
sorry for these people, for however loudly they may talk and however
valiant they may be, they can assuredly offer but a weak resistance to
a strong body of men-at-arms, and they will but make their case worse
by taking up arms.

"History shows that mobs are seldom able to maintain a struggle against
authority. Just at first success may attend them, but as soon as those
who govern recover from their first surprise they are not long before
they put down the movement. I am sorry, not only for the men
themselves, but for others who, like myself, altogether disapprove of
any rising. Just at first the mob may obey its leaders and act with
moderation; but they are like wild beasts--the sight of blood maddens
them--and if this rising should become a serious one, you will see that
there will be burnings and ravagings. Heads will be smitten off, and
after slaying those they consider the chief culprits, they will turn
against all in a better condition than themselves.

"The last time Sir Ralph De Courcy was over here he told me that the
priest they called Jack Straw and many others were, he heard, not only
preaching sedition against the government, but the seizure of the goods
of the wealthy, the confiscation of the estates of the monasteries, and
the division of the wealth of the rich. A nice programme, and just the
one that would be acceptable to men without a penny in their pockets.
Sir Ralph said that he would give much if he, with half a dozen
men-at-arms, could light upon a meeting of these people, when he would
give them a lesson that would silence their saucy tongues for a long
time to come. I told him I was glad that he had not the opportunity,
for that methought it would do more harm than good. 'You won't think
so,' he said, 'when there is a mob of these rascals thundering at your
door, and resolved to make a bonfire of your precious manuscripts and
to throw you into the midst of it.' 'I have no doubt,' I replied, 'that
at such a time I should welcome the news of the arrival of you and the
men-at-arms, but I have no store of goods that would attract their
cupidity.' 'No,' the knight said, 'but you know that among the common
people you are accounted a magician, because you are wiser than they
are.'

"'I know that,' I replied; 'it is the same in all countries. The
credulous mob think that a scholar, although he may spend his life in
trying to make a discovery that will be of inestimable value to them,
is a magician and in league with the devil. However, although not a
fighting man, I may possess means of defence that are to the full as
serviceable as swords and battle-axes. I have long foreseen that should
trouble arise, the villagers of St. Alwyth would be like enough to
raise the cry of magician, and to take that opportunity of ridding
themselves of one they vaguely fear, and many months ago I made some
preparations to meet such a storm and to show them that a magician is
not altogether defenceless, and that the compounds in his power are
well-nigh as dangerous as they believe, only not in the same way.'

"'Well, I hope that you will find it so if there is any trouble; but I
recommend you, if you hear that there is any talk in the village of
making an assault upon you that you send a messenger to me straightway,
and you may be sure that ere an hour has passed I will be here with
half a dozen stout fellows who will drive this rabble before them like
sheep.'

"'I thank you much for the offer, Sir Ralph, and will bear it in mind
should there be an occasion, but I think that I may be able to manage
without need for bloodshed. You are a vastly more formidable enemy than
I am, but I imagine that they have a greater respect for my supposed
magical powers than they have for the weight of your arm, heavy though
it be.'

"'Perhaps it is so, my friend,' Sir Ralph said, grimly, 'for they have
not felt its full weight yet, though I own that I myself would rather
meet the bravest knight in battle than raise my hand against a man whom
I believed to be possessed of magical powers.'

"I laughed, and said that so far as I knew no such powers existed.
'Your magicians are but chemists,' I said. 'Their object of search is
the Elixir of Life or the Philosopher's Stone; they may be powerful for
good, but they are assuredly powerless for evil.'

"'But surely you believe in the power of sorcery?' he said. 'All men
know that there are sorcerers who can command the powers of the air and
bring terrible misfortunes down on those that oppose them.'

"'I do not believe that there are men who possess such powers,' I said.
'There are knaves who may pretend to have such powers, but it is only
to gain money from the credulous. In all my reading I have never come
upon a single instance of any man who has really exercised such powers,
nor do I believe that such powers exist. Men have at all times believed
in portents, and even a Roman army would turn back were it on the march
against an enemy, if a hare ran across the road they were following; I
say not that there may not be something in such portents, though even
of this I have doubts. Still, like dreams, they may be sent to warn us,
but assuredly man has naught to do with their occurrence, and I would,
were I not a peaceful man, draw my sword as readily against the most
famous enchanter as against any other man of the same strength and
skill, with his weapon.'

"I could see that the good knight was shocked at the light way in which
I spoke of magicians; and, indeed, the power of superstition over men,
otherwise sensible, is wonderful. However, he took his leave without
saying more than that he and the men-at-arms would be ready if I sent
for them."



CHAPTER III

WAT TYLER


That evening Mr. Ormskirk continued the subject of his talk of the
afternoon.

"You looked surprised, Edgar, when I said that I told Sir Ralph I had
made some preparations for defence, and that some of the compounds in
my laboratory are as dangerous as the common people regard them,
although that danger has naught to do with any magical property. You
must know that many substances, while wholly innocent in themselves,
are capable of dealing wide destruction when they are mixed together;
for example, saltpetre, charcoal, and sulphur, which, as Friar Bacon
discovered, make, when mixed together, a powder whose explosive power
is well-nigh beyond belief, and which is now coming into use as a
destructive agent in war. Many other compounds can be produced of
explosive nature, some indeed of such powerful and sudden action that
we dare not even make experiments with them.

"Many other strange things have been discovered, some of which may seem
useless at present, but may, upon further experiments on their
properties, turn out of value to man. Such a substance I discovered two
years ago. I was experimenting upon bones, and endeavouring to
ascertain whether a powder might not be procured which, when mixed with
other substances, would produce unexpected results. After calcining the
bones, I treated the white ash with various acids and alkaloids, and
with fire and water, returning again and again to the trials when I had
time. While conducting these experiments, I found that there was
certainly some substance present with whose nature I was altogether
unacquainted.

"One evening, going into the laboratory after dark, I observed with
astonishment what looked like a lambent flame upon the table. In my
alarm I ran forward to put it out, but found that there was no heat in
it; lighting my lamp I could no longer see it, but on the table I found
a few grains of the stuff I had been experimenting on. Turning out the
lamp the light was again visible, and after much thought I concluded
that it was similar to the light given by the little creatures called
glowworms, and which in its turn somewhat resembles the light that can
be seen at times in a pile of decaying fish. I tried many experiments,
but as nothing came of them I gave them up, not seeing that any use
could come of a fire that gave out no heat. I produced a powder,
however, that when rubbed on any substance, became luminous in the
dark, presenting an appearance strange and sufficiently alarming to the
ignorant.

"Thinking the matter over some time ago, I took a little of this powder
from the phial in which I had stored it away, and, moistening it,
rubbed it on the wall in the form of circles, triangles, and other
signs. I did this just before it became dark. As the moisture dried,
these figures gradually assumed a luminous appearance. I saw the use to
which this could be put in awing a mob, and, setting to work, made a
large supply of this powder."

"How long does it retain its light, father?"

"That is uncertain. For some hours in a darkened room, the light
gradually growing fainter, but if a bright day follows, the figures
stand out on the following night as brightly as before; while if the
day is dull they show up but faintly at night. I see not that any use
can come of such a thing, for the light is at all times too faint to be
used for reading unless the page is held quite close to it. Come
downstairs with me and I will show you the head of one of the old Roman
statues that was dug up near Rochester, and which I bought for a few
pence last year."

They went down into the laboratory. The light was burning. "There you
see, Edgar, I have painted this head with the stuff, and now you can
see nothing more unusual than if it had been daubed with whitewash. Now
I will extinguish the lamp."

Prepared as he was, Edgar nevertheless stepped back with an exclamation
of surprise and almost awe. The head stood out in the darkness with
startling distinctness. It had the effect of being bathed in moonlight,
although much more brilliant than even the light of the full moon. It
seemed to him, indeed, almost as if a faint wavering light played
around it, giving the stern face of the old Roman a sardonic and evil
expression.

"You can touch it, Edgar, but you will see that there is not the
slightest warmth."

"It is wonderful, father."

"Yes, it is a strange thing; but is, so far as I can see, of no use
save as a wonder, and it is just one of those wonders that to most
people would seem to be magical. I showed it a short time ago to the
prior, having explained to him beforehand how I had discovered it. He
is above the superstitions of folks in general, and knowing that I
could have no motive in deceiving him, was much interested; but he said
to me, 'This is one of the things that were best concealed. I can quite
understand that there are many things in nature of which we are
ignorant. I know that what you say of decayed fish sometimes giving out
light like this is perfectly true, and everyone knows that the
glowworms, when the weather is damp, light up the banks and fields,
although no heat can be felt. Doubtless in your researches on bones you
have discovered some substance akin to that which causes the light in
those cases, but you would never persuade the vulgar of this.

"'Nay, there are even churchmen and prelates who would view it as
magic. Therefore, my friend, seeing that, as you say, the powder is not
likely to be of any use to man, I should say that it were best that you
destroy it, for if whispers of it got abroad you might well be accused
of dealing in magic. All knowledge of things beyond them is magic to
the ignorant. Roger Bacon was treated as a magician, and I doubt not
that this will ever be the case with all those who are more learned
than their fellow-men. Therefore my advice to you is, burn the stuff
and say naught about it.'

"I did not take his advice, Edgar, for it seemed to me that it might
well be used to awe any unruly mob that might come hither at night to
attack me. I have made an experiment that, though I believe not in the
supernatural, would have frightened me had I seen it without knowing
anything of its nature. You know that old skull that was dug up out of
the garden last month, I have hung the lower jaw on wires so that it
can be moved, and have to-day painted it, and now I will blow out the
light again, and then take it from the cupboard."

A moment later the room was in darkness, and then an exclamation of
surprise and almost terror rose from Edgar. In front of him there was a
gibbering skull, the lower jaw wagging up and down, as if engaging in
noiseless laughter, It was much more brilliant than the stone head had
been, and a lambent flame played round it.

"What think ye of that, Edgar?"

"It is ghastly, sir, horrible!"

"It is not a pleasant object," his father said, quietly, as he struck
the tinder and again lighted the lamp. "I fancy, Edgar, that if a mob
of people were to break down the door and find themselves confronted by
that object they would fly in terror."

"Assuredly they would, father; they would not stop running this side of
Dartford. Even though I expected it, the sight sent a shiver through
me, and my teeth well-nigh chattered. But this would only avail in case
of a night attack."

"It would avail something even in daylight, Edgar. These downstairs
rooms have but little light, and that little I intend to block up by
nailing boards inside, and by hanging sacks over them outside. Then if
I place the skull in the passage, those who sought me in my laboratory
would be brought to a standstill. But there are other means. I have
buried jars filled with Friar Bacon's powder round the house, with
trains by which they can be fired. At present the common people know
little of guns, and methinks that the explosion of two or three of
these jars would send them about their business, I have other devices
which it is not necessary to enter upon, but which would be effective,
therefore you need have little fear that any mob will gain entrance
here, and you may be sure that after a repulse they would be very loath
to touch the place again."

"Yes, father, but they might bring accusation against you of
witchcraft."

"I admit that there is that danger, but the prior here has long taken
an interest in my investigations, and can testify for me that these are
but scientific products, and have naught to do with magic. Besides, if
there is a rising of the common people, the king and nobles will be in
no mood to listen to complaints against those who have thwarted the
attacks of the rioters."

"No doubt that would be so, father; still, for myself, I would rather
charge them, sword in hand, with a band of stout fellows behind me."

"But we have not got the stout fellows, Edgar; and for myself, even if
we had them, I would prefer to set these poor knaves running without
doing harm to them rather than to slay and maim, for their attack would
be made in their ignorance, and in their hatred of those above them.
They have been goaded by oppression into taking up arms, and the fault
rests upon others rather than upon the poor people."

The next morning, however, Edgar went round to the tenants, of whom
there were fifteen. They had heard of the affair at Dartford, which
was, of course, in everyone's mouth, and their sympathies were wholly
with the rioters.

"I think as you do," Edgar said to one of them. "The exactions of the
tax-gatherers are indeed beyond all bearing, and if the people do but
rise to demand fair treatment and their just rights as men, I should
wish them success; but I fear that evil counsels will carry them far
beyond this, and that they may attack the houses and castles of the
gentry, although these may be in no way the authors of their troubles.
I am sure that my father has oppressed no one."

"That he has not, Master Edgar. He is as good a lord as one could
desire. He exacts no dues beyond his rights; and indeed if there be
trouble or sickness he presses no one beyond his means. We have not
been called upon for service for many years, and if the Dartford men
should come hither to attack him they will find that they have to
reckon with us."

"That is what I have come for," Edgar said. "Should you hear of any
intention to attack the well-to-do, I would have you hold yourselves in
readiness to gather at the house, and to aid in its defence. My father
has means of his own for discomfiting any that may come against him;
but as these may fail, it would be well that there should be a body of
men ready to repel an attack."

"You can rely upon us, master, but I say not that you can do so on our
men. These are serfs, and their sympathies will be all with the
rioters. I do not think they would fight against us, but I fear they
would not venture their lives against those of their own class."

"That is more than could be expected; but if you yourselves come, it
will, I think, be sufficient. I have no fear that these men will in the
first place interfere with the gentry. Their first impulse will be to
obtain redress for their wrongs; but they have bad advisers, and many
will join them for the sake of plunder. When this once begins others
will take part with them in the matter, and there is no saying what may
come of it."

"Well, you can depend upon us, at any rate, master. You will have but
to ring the bell and all within hearing will run, arms in hand, to
defend the house, and we shall, I hope, have time enough to gather
there before the mob arrives."

"I doubt not that you will. I shall engage a trusty man to go down to
the town and watch what is going on, and we are sure to have notice of
any such movement. But as I have said, I think not that there is any
chance of their beginning in such a way; it will be only after they
have encountered the troops, and blood has been shed."

Having gone the round of the tenants, Edgar rode down to Dartford. On
the way he passed many men going in the same direction. Almost all of
them were armed with staves, pikes, axes, or bows, and he saw that the
country people had only been waiting for some act that would serve as a
signal for revolt, in order to gather as their fellows in Essex had
already begun to do. He found the streets of the town crowded with
people; some were excited and noisy, but the mass had a serious and
determined air that showed they were resolved upon going through with
the work that had been begun. In many places groups of men were
assembled in open spaces, listening to the talk of others standing on
tables or barrels that had been brought for the purpose.

Their speeches were all to the same point, and Edgar saw that they were
the result of a previous agreement.

"Men of Kent!" one exclaimed, "the day has come when you have to prove
that you are men, and not mere beasts of burden, to be trodden under
foot. You all know how we are oppressed, how illegal exactions are
demanded of us, and how, as soon as one is paid, some fresh tax is
heaped on us. What are we? Men without a voice, men whom the government
regard as merely beings from whom money is to be wrung. Nor is this
all. 'Tis not enough that we must starve in order that our oppressors
may roll in wealth, may scatter it lavishly as they choose, and indulge
in every luxury and in every pleasure. No. The hounds sent among us to
wring the last penny from us now take to insulting our wives and
daughters, and at last our patience is at an end.

"We have news this morning from all the country round that the people
are with us, and before long tens of thousands of the men of Kent will
be in arms. Our course is resolved upon. We and the men of Essex will
march on London, and woe be to those who try to bar our way. All shall
be done orderly and with discretion. We war only against the
government, and to obtain our rights. Already our demands have been
drawn up, and unless these are granted we will not be content. These
are what we ask: _first_, the total abolition of slavery for ourselves
and our children for ever; _second_, the reduction of the rent of good
land to 4_d_. the acre; _third_, the full liberty of buying and selling
like other men in fairs and markets; _fourth_, a general pardon for all
past offences."

The recital of these demands was received with a shout of approval.

"This and nothing less will we be content with," he went on. "There are
some of the king's advisers who had best not fall into our hands, for
if they do their lives will pay the penalty for their evil deeds. But
upon one thing we are determined: there shall be no plundering. Our
cause is a just one, and for that we are ready to fight. But should any
join us with the intention of turning this movement to their private
advantage, and of plunder and robbery, we warn them that such will not
be permitted, and any man caught plundering will at once be hung. They
may call us rioters; they may try and persuade the king that we are
disloyal subjects, though this is not the case. One thing they shall
not say of us, that we are a band of robbers and thieves. By to-night
we shall be joined by all true men of the neighbourhood, and will then
march to Gravesend, where our fellows have already risen and are in
arms; thence we go to Rochester and deliver those of our brethren who
have been thrown into prison because they could not pay the unjust
taxes. That done, we will go straight to London and demand from the
king himself a charter granting the four points we demand. Wat the
Tyler has been chosen our leader. He has struck the first blow, and as
a man of courage and energy there is no fear of his betraying us,
seeing that he has already put his head into a noose. Now shout for the
charter, for the king, and for the commons of England."

Such was the tenor of all the speeches, and they were everywhere
received with loud cheers. As Edgar rode down the main street on his
way home he heard shouting, and a brawny, powerful man came along,
surrounded by a mob of cheering men. He looked at Edgar steadily, and
stepped in front of his horse.

"You are the son of the man at St. Alwyth," he said. "I have seen you
in the streets before. What think you of what we are doing? I have
heard of you attending meetings there."

"I think that you have been cruelly wronged," Edgar answered, quietly,
"and that the four points that you demand are just and right. I wish
you good fortune in obtaining them, and I trust that it will be done
peacefully and without opposition."

"Whether peacefully or not, we are determined that they shall be
obtained. If it be needful, we will burn down London and kill every man
of rank who falls into our hands, and force our way into the king's
presence. We will have justice!"

"If you do so you will be wrong," Edgar said, calmly; "and moreover,
instead of benefiting your cause you will damage it. Your demands are
just, and it will be to the interest of no man to gainsay them. Even
the nobles must see that the land will gain strength were all men free
and ready to bear arms in its defence; and save for the article about
the price of land, as to which I am in no way a judge, I see not that
any man will be a penny the poorer; but if, on the other hand, such
deeds as those you speak of were committed, you would set the nobles
throughout the land against you, you would defeat your own good
objects, and would in the end bring destruction upon yourselves; so
that instead of bettering your position you would be worse than before."

"And do you doubt," the man exclaimed, with a scowling brow, "that the
commons of England could, if they wished, sweep away these accursed
nobles and their followers?"

"Were the commons of England united, well armed, and disciplined, they
could doubtless do so," Edgar replied, quietly. "I know not whether you
are united, but certainly you are neither armed nor disciplined. We saw
how little an undisciplined mass, even if well armed, can do against
trained troops, when a few thousands of English soldiers defeated nigh
twenty times their number at Poictiers. And I say that against a force
of steel-clad knights and men-at-arms any number of men, however brave,
if armed as these are, could make no stand. It would not be a
battle--it would be a slaughter; therefore, while wishing you well, and
admitting the full justice of your demands, I would say that it were
best for your own sakes, and for the sakes of those who love you, that
you should conduct yourselves peaceably, so as to show all men that no
harm can arise from granting you the charter you ask for, and in giving
you all the rights and privileges of free men."

There was a murmur of approval from many of those standing round. The
Tyler, who had made a step forward, looked back angrily and would have
spoken, but the man next to him whispered something in his ear. Without
saying more he walked on, while Edgar touched his horse with his heel
and proceeded on his way.

Although his father no doubt heard him ride up to the house, he did not
ascend from his laboratory until his usual time, for although, since
the prior had called his attention to his son's condition, he had, when
not at work, done all in his power to make the boy happy, and had even
given up two hours every evening to him, at all other times he was
absorbed in his work to the exclusion of aught else.

"You have been down into the town?" he asked Edgar, as they seated
themselves at the table.

"Yes, father; and whatever may happen afterwards, there is no fear of
any trouble at present. The speeches of almost all the men were quiet
and reasonable. They urged that serfdom should be abolished, free right
of markets given, the price of good land to be not over four pennies an
acre, that all past offences should be pardoned; beyond this they did
not go. Indeed, they declared that everything must be done peacefully
and in order, and that any man caught plundering should be hung
forthwith. By the applause that followed, these are evidently the
sentiments of the great mass of the peasants, but I fear there are some
of them--Wat the Tyler at their head--who will go much farther. At
present, however, they will disguise their real sentiments, but it
seems to me the march on London that they threaten will be far from
peaceable. In the first place, they are going to Gravesend, and,
joining those gathered there, will then march to Rochester, free all
those who have been thrown in prison for non-payment of the tax, and
then march on London."

"It must end in disaster, Edgar; for if they obtain what they desire
from the king--which they may do, seeing that his uncles are all away,
and it will be difficult to raise any force of a sudden that would
suffice to defeat them--what will they gain by it? Doubtless, as soon
as Gloucester and Lancaster arrive in London, the charter will be
annulled, and possibly the leaders of the malcontents punished for
their share in the matter. Still, I say not that even so, the movement
will not have done good. The nobles have enough on their hands with
their own quarrels and jealousies, and seeing that the continuance of
serfdom is likely to give rise to troubles that may be more serious
than this hasty and ill-considered movement, they may be content to
grant whatever is asked, in order to make an end to troubles of this
kind. The English are not like the peasants of other countries--so far,
at least, as I have seen them. The feeling of independence is very
strong among them, and there is none of the obsequious deference that
the serfs in Italy and France pay to their masters."

The next morning Albert De Courcy rode into St. Alwyth.

"Why, Albert," Edgar said, as he went out to the door, on seeing him
approach, "have you got a holiday to-day?"

"I have a holiday for some time, Edgar. I have received a message from
my father saying that he deems it well that I should at once escort my
mother and Aline to London, for he has heard of this trouble at
Dartford, and as the king has asked him to remain at Court at present,
he would fain have mother, Aline, and me with him. Old Hubert is to
take command of the castle, and to bid the tenantry be ready to come in
for its defence should trouble threaten. But this is not all; he has
spoken to the king of you, praising both your swordsmanship and the
benefit that I have derived from your teaching, and Richard desired him
to send for you and to present you to him."

"It is kind indeed of Sir Ralph," Edgar exclaimed, warmly, "and I will
assuredly take advantage of his goodness, although undeserved. This is
indeed a splendid opportunity for me. When do you start?"

"We shall leave at ten. I heard as I came along that the peasants
marched at daybreak this morning to Gravesend, therefore there is no
fear of our crossing their path."

"I must run down and speak to my father. It is no small thing that he
will allow to disturb him at his work, but methinks that he will not
mind upon such an occasion."

In five minutes Mr. Ormskirk came up into the hall with Edgar.

"My son has told me, Master De Courcy, of the great kindness that your
father has done to him. I would, indeed, say no word to hinder his
going with you. 'Tis an opportunity the like of which may never occur
to him again. It is only on account of the troubles with the peasants
that he dislikes to go away at this moment, but I deem not that any
trouble will come of it here; and I can myself, as he knows, cope with
them should they attempt aught against this house, therefore I bade him
not to let that matter enter his mind, but to prepare himself at once
to ride with you up to town, so that you can rely upon his being at the
castle at the hour appointed."

"Then, with your permission, I will ride off at once, Mr. Ormskirk, for
I also have preparations to make, having started at once on the arrival
of my father's messenger."

As soon as he had gone, Mr. Ormskirk went up to his chamber and
returned in a minute or two. "Here, Edgar, is a purse with money for
your needs. The first thing you must do when you reach London is to
procure suitable garments for your presentation to the king. Your
clothes are well enough for a country gentleman, but are in no way fit
for Court. I need not say to you, do not choose over-gay colours, for I
know that your tastes do not lie in that direction. I don't wish you to
become a courtier, Edgar; for, though it is an excellent thing to be
introduced at Court and to be known to high personages there, that is
an altogether different thing from being a hanger-on of the Court.
Those who do naught but bask in a king's favour are seldom men of real
merit. They have to play their part and curry favour. They are looked
down upon by the really great; while, should they attain a marked place
in the king's favour they are regarded with jealousy and enmity, and
sooner or later are sure to fall.

"You cannot but remember the fate that befell the queen's favourites
when Edward threw off his tutelage and took the reins of power into his
own hands. Such is ever the fate of favourites; neither nobles nor the
commonalty love upstarts, and more than one will, I foresee, erelong
draw upon themselves the enmity of the king's uncles and other nobles
for the influence they have gained over the mind of the young king. I
should wish you, then, to make as many acquaintances as you can, for
none can say who may be of use to you at one time or another; but keep
yourself aloof from all close intimacies. It may be that, in after
years, you may find it well-nigh impossible to keep aloof from all
parties in the state, but do so as long as you are able, until you can
discern clearly who are true patriots and who are actuated only by
their own selfish ambition, bearing in mind always that you are a
simple gentleman, desirous when an English army enters the field
against a foreign foe, to play your part manfully and with honour, and
to gain your reputation as a soldier and not as a frequenter of Courts."

"I will bear your instructions in mind, father, and indeed they accord
with what you before said to me, and which I determined to make a guide
to my conduct."

"Now you had better see to the packing of your valise. It will not be
necessary for you to take many things, as you can equip yourself in
London."

An hour later, Edgar, after bidding farewell to his father, mounted his
horse. "I shall look to see you back again in two or three weeks at the
longest," Mr. Ormskirk said; "it is better to come home, even if you go
again shortly, though it may be that you will have no occasion for
another visit to town for some time to come. If Sir Ralph would keep
you longer it were best to make some excuse to return. I know that
there are many at Court but little older than yourself, for the king,
being as yet scarcely fifteen, naturally likes to surround himself with
those who are not greatly older, and who have the same love for
pleasure and gaiety, but such associates will do you no good, though I
say not that a little of it might not be of advantage, seeing that you
are somewhat more grave than is natural at your age, owing to the life
that you have led here with me. Young De Courcy--although I have
greatly encouraged your companionship with him, for he is a very
pleasant and agreeable young gentleman--is too gentle, and lacking in
high spirits, which has increased, rather than diminished, your
tendency to silence, and a little companionship with more ardour would
not be amiss. You must remember that a cheerful spirit that enables a
man to support hardship and fatigue lightly, and to animate his
soldiers by his example, is one of the most important characteristics
of a leader of men."

Edgar arrived at the castle of the De Courcys a few minutes before ten.
Some horses were already standing at the door. He did not go in,
deeming that he might be in the way, but sent in word to Lady De Courcy
that he was there and at her service. In a few minutes she came out,
accompanied by her son and Aline.

"I am glad to have so good an escort, Master Ormskirk," she said,
smiling; "for after what Sir Ralph told me I feel that I can safely
entrust myself to your care."

"I will assuredly do my best, lady," he said, "but I trust that there
will be no occasion to draw a sword. I deem that most of those who make
the roads unsafe will have gone off to join the Tyler and his band,
thinking that opportunities for plunder are sure to present themselves;
but, at any rate, as you take, I see, two men-at-arms with you, it is
unlikely that anyone will venture to molest us."

He assisted Lady De Courcy and her daughter to their saddles, and the
party soon rode off, followed by the two men-at-arms.

"Do you purpose to make the journey in a single day?" Edgar asked.

"Assuredly. Aline and I are both accustomed to ride on horseback, and
the journey is not too far to be done before the evening falls,
especially as it will be for one day's journey only; the roads are
good, the day fine, and there will be no occasion to ride at speed.
Why, it is but some seventeen or eighteen miles, and you must think but
poorly of our horsemanship if you think we cannot traverse such a
distance."

So they travelled on, the horses sometimes going at an amble, sometimes
dropping into a walk. As they proceeded they met several little parties
of men hurrying along, armed with pikes, clubs, or farming implements.
These passed without speaking, and seemed to be much more fearful that
they might be interfered with than desirous of interfering with others.

"They are miserable-looking varlets," Dame De Courcy said,
disdainfully. "Our two men-at-arms would be a match for a score of
them."

"I doubt not that they would," Albert agreed, "though methinks that a
blow with one of those flails would make a head ring even under a steel
casque."

"I doubt whether they would think of anything but running away,
Albert," Edgar said. "I am sorry for the poor fellows; they have great
grievances, but I fear they are not setting about the righting of them
the best way. I hope that no great ill may befall them."

"But surely these people have not your sympathy, Master Ormskirk?" Lady
De Courcy said, in some surprise.

"I have seen enough of them to be sorry for them," Edgar said. "Their
life is of the hardest. They live mostly on black bread, and are
thankful enough when they can get enough of it. To heavily tax men such
as these is to drive them to despair, and that without producing the
gain expected, for it is in most cases simply impossible for them to
pay the taxes demanded. It seems to me that a poll-tax is, of all
others, the worst, since it takes into no account the differences of
station and wealth--to the rich the impost is trifling, to the poor it
is crushing. It seems to me too that it is not only wrong, but stupid,
to maintain serfdom. The men and their families must be fed, and a
small money payment would not add greatly to the cost of their
services, and indeed would be gained in the additional value of their
labour.

"When men are kept as serfs, they work as serfs--I mean to say they
work unwillingly and slowly, while, had they the sense of being free,
and of having the same rights as others, they would labour more
cheerfully. Moreover, it would double the strength of the force that
the king and his nobles could place in the field. I am not speaking
upon my own judgment, but from what I have learned from my father."

They had no sudden attack to fear from lurking foes, for an act of
Edward the First was still in force, by which every highway leading
from one market-town to another was always to be kept clear, for two
hundred feet on each side, of every ditch, tree, or bush in which a man
might lurk to do harm; while, as any ill that happened to travellers
was made payable by the township in which it occurred, there was a
strong personal interest on the part of the inhabitants to suppress
plundering bands in their neighbourhood. Both Edgar and Albert rode in
partial armour, with steel caps and breast-pieces, it being an
ordinance that all of gentle blood when travelling should do so, and
they carried swords by their sides, and light axes at their saddle-bows.

It was but a little past three o'clock when they crossed London Bridge
and then made for the Tower, near which Sir Ralph was lodged.



CHAPTER IV

IN LONDON


"I am glad indeed to see you, my young swordsman," Sir Ralph, who was
waiting at the door to receive them, said to Edgar after he had greeted
his wife and children. "This affair at Dartford threatens to be more
serious than I expected. I was on the point of starting for home when I
heard of the trouble, and should have done so had not the king asked me
to remain here, seeing that at present his uncles and many other nobles
are absent, and that, as he was pleased to say, my advice and sword
might be useful to him should the trouble grow serious. When,
therefore, we received news that all that part of Kent was in a blaze,
I sent out a messenger to you, dame, to come hither to me. What is the
latest news?"

"Master Ormskirk can best tell you, Sir Ralph, seeing that he was
himself yesterday in Dartford and learned something of their
intentions."

Edgar then recounted what he had seen and heard in the streets of
Dartford.

"Your account tallies with the news that came here but an hour since,
namely, that a crowd of men were marching towards Rochester; a panic
prevails in that town, and the wise heads have sent off this messenger,
as if, forsooth, an army could be got together and sent down to their
aid before these rioters reach the place."

"I am glad to come up, husband," Lady De Courcy said. "'Tis some time
since I was in town, and I would fain see what people are wearing, for
the fashions change so rapidly that if one is away from town six months
one finds that everyone stares, as if one had come from a barbarous
country."

"I was afraid of that when I wrote to you," Sir Ralph laughed, "and
felt that your coming up would cause me to open my purse widely; but,
indeed, in this case you are not far wrong, for there has been a great
change in the fashions both of men and women in the last year. The
young king is fond of brave attire, and loves to see those around him
brightly arrayed, and indeed it seems to me that money is spent
over-lavishly, and that it were cheaper for a man to build him a new
castle than to buy him suits of new raiment for himself and his wife.
The men at Court all dress in such tightly fitting garments, that, for
my part, I wonder how they get into them."

"And the women, husband?"

"Oh, as to that I say nothing; you must use your own eyes in that
matter. However, just at present men's thoughts are too much occupied
by these troubles in Essex and Kent to think much of feasting and
entertainments, and it will be well to wait to see what comes of it
before deciding on making new purchases."

"Is there any chance of trouble in the city, father?" Albert asked.

"I know not, lad. The better class of citizens are assuredly opposed to
those who make these troubles, although they have often shown that they
can make troubles themselves when they think that their privileges are
assailed; still, as they know that their booths are likely to be
ransacked, were bands of rioters to obtain possession of the town, they
will doubtless give us any aid in their power. But the matter does not
depend upon them; there are ever in great towns a majority composed of
the craftsmen, the butchers, and others, together with all the lower
rabble, who are ready to join in tumults and seditions; and like
enough, if the rioters come here, they will take part with them, while
the burgesses will be only too glad to put up their shutters and do or
say naught that would give the mob an excuse for breaking into their
magazines.

"Would that Lancaster were here with a thousand or so of men-at-arms,"
he went on, gloomily; "there is no one at the Court who can take
command. The king this morning asked me if I would undertake the
defence of the palace; but I said to him: 'I am but a simple knight,
your Majesty, and neither the young lords of the Court nor the citizens
would pay any heed to my orders; moreover, I am not one of those whose
head is good to plan matters. I would die in your Majesty's service,
and would warrant that many of your enemies would go down before I did.
I could set a host in battle array, were there a host here; but as to
what course to follow, or how it were best to behave at such a pinch,
are matters beyond me. As to these, it were best that your Majesty took
counsel with those whom the Duke of Lancaster has appointed, and to
whom such business appertains.

"'If you will give me orders I will carry them out, even if I am bade
to defend London Bridge with but half a dozen men-at-arms, and at such
work I might do as well as another; but as to counsel I have none to
give, save that were I in your place I would issue a proclamation to
these knaves saying that you would hold no parley with men having arms
in their hands, but that if they would peacefully disperse you would
order that a commission be appointed to examine into their complaints,
and that any ills that proved to be justified should be righted, but
that if forced you will give nothing, and that if they advance against
London their blood must be on their own heads.

"'Should they still come on I would shut myself up in the Tower, which
has a good garrison, and where you may well hold out against all the
rascaldom of the country until your barons can raise their levies and
come to your assistance. Still, it may well be, your Majesty, that
these fellows will think better of it, and may, after all, disperse
again to their homes. I pray you, take no heed of my words, but refer
the matter to those accustomed to deal with affairs of state. The noble
prince, your father, knew that he could lay his orders on me, and that
I would carry them out to the utmost of my strength. If he said to me,
"Lead a party, Sir Ralph, to attack that bridge," I gave no thought as
to whether the defences were too strong to be carried or not; or if he
entrusted the command of a post to me, and said, "Defend it against all
odds until I come to your assistance," he knew that it would be done,
but more than that I never pretended to; and I deem not that, as I have
grown older, I know more of such matters than I did when I was in the
prime of my strength.'"

"And what said his Majesty, Sir Ralph?"

"He laughed and said that I was the first he had known who was not
ready to give him advice, and that he would that all were as chary of
so doing as I was. When I told him this morning that I had sent for you
and my son and daughter, as I misliked leaving you in the centre of
these troubles, he offered apartments in the Tower, but I said that,
with his permission, I would remain lodged here, for that, seeing his
lady mother was away, I thought that you would prefer this lodging, as
there is here a fair garden where you and Aline can walk undisturbed,
to the Tower, which is full of armed men, young gallants, and others."

"It will indeed be more pleasant, Sir Ralph, for in the Tower Aline
could never venture from my side, and there would be neither peace nor
quietness."

The city had already stretched beyond the walls, and on the rising
ground between it and the Tower, and on the rise behind the latter,
extending to some distance east, many houses had been built. Some of
these were the property of nobles and officials of the Court, while
others had been built by citizens who let them to persons of degree,
who only came occasionally to Court on business or pleasure. The house
in which Sir Ralph had taken up his lodging was the property of a
trader who, when the house was not let to one needing it all, resided
there himself as a protection to the property it contained against
robbers or ill-doers, often letting one or more rooms to those who
needed not the whole house. Thus Sir Ralph was enabled to obtain good
accommodation for his family.

"The first thing to be done," he went on, "is to take the lads to a
tailor's to obtain clothes more suitable than those they wear."

"I was going to ask you if you would be good enough to do so, Sir
Ralph," Edgar said. "My father has furnished me with money for the
purpose."

"That is well," the knight said, "though indeed it would have mattered
not if he had not done so, for I had intended that you and Albert
should have garments of similar fashion at my cost, seeing how much I
owe to you."

"Indeed, Sir Ralph, such obligation as there is, is far more than
discharged by your kindness in speaking of me to the king and offering
to present me to him; indeed, I am ashamed that what was a pleasure to
me, and was done from the love I bear your son, should be regarded as
worthy of thanks, much less as an obligation."

"Cannot we come with you also?" Lady De Courcy said. "From what you say
we must need garments to the full as much as the boys; besides, this is
Aline's first visit to town. We saw but little as we rode through, and
we would fain look at the shops and see the finery before I make my
choice."

"So be it, wife; indeed, I had not intended that you should stay
behind."

It was but a quarter of a mile's walk to Aldersgate, and as they
reached East Chepe, the young people found infinite amusement in gazing
at the goods in the traders' booths, and in watching the throng in the
street. It was late in the afternoon now, and many of the citizens'
wives and daughters were abroad. These were dressed for the most part
in costly materials of sober hues, and Dame Matilda noted that a great
change had taken place since she had last been in London, not only in
the fashion, but in the costliness of the material; for with the death
of the old king and the accession of a young one fond of gaiety and
rich dresses, the spirit of extravagance had spread rapidly among all
classes. With these were citizens, of whom the elder ones clung to the
older fashions, while even the young men still displayed a sobriety in
their costumes that contrasted strongly with the brilliancy of several
groups of young courtiers. These sauntered along the streets, passing
remarks upon all who passed, and casting looks of admiration at some of
the pretty daughters of the citizens.

Among all these moved craftsmen and apprentices, the former taking to
their employers work they had finished at home, the latter carrying
messages, hurrying nimbly through the crowd, or exchanging saucy
remarks with each other, for which they were sometimes sharply rebuked
by their elders. From East Chepe the party passed on through Chepe to
St. Paul's, and then having chosen the shop at which they could make
their purchases the ladies entered a trader's booth, while Sir Ralph
went in with the two lads to another hard by.

"What can I serve you with, sir knight?"

"I require two suits for my son and this gentleman, his friend," Sir
Ralph said. "I desire clothes befitting a presentation to the king, and
wish them to be of the fashion, but not extravagantly so."

At the trader's orders his apprentices showed numerous samples, most of
them light and bright in colour.

"I want something more sober in hue," the knight said. "These are well
enough for men with long purses, and who can afford ample provision of
garments, but they would show every spot and stain, and would soon be
past wearing; besides, although doubtless such as are mostly used at
Court, they would be useful for that only, for in the country they
would be far too conspicuous for wear."

Other goods were brought down, and Edgar's eye at once fixed upon a
rich maroon. Sir Ralph took longer before he made his choice for
Albert, but finally fixed upon a somewhat light blue, which well suited
the lad's fair complexion and light golden hair. While they were
choosing, the mercer had sent into his neighbour, a tailor, who now
measured them. The goods were of satin, and both suits were to be made
in precisely similar fashion, namely, a close-fitting tunic reaching
down only to the hips. They had loose hanging sleeves, lined with white
silk, which was turned over and scolloped; the hose, which were of the
same colour as the doublets, were tight fitting.

The caps were to match the dresses in colour. They were turned up at
the brim, resembling in shape those still worn in Spain. As the matter
was pressing, the tailor promised that both suits should be ready by
the following evening.

It took the ladies longer to make their purchases, and it was some time
before they issued out from the mantua makers, when the dame informed
her husband that she had chosen white satin for Aline's bodice, which
was to be tight fitting, in the fashion, and trimmed round the bottom
and neck with white fur, while the skirt was of lilac and of the same
material. For herself, she had chosen a purple robe reaching below the
knees, with white skirt, both being of satin. The caps, which were
closely fitting to the head, were of the same material, and of light
yellow for herself and lilac for Aline.

"We shall have to economize, my lady," Sir Ralph laughed. "'Tis well
that I am too old for foppery."

"That is all very well, Sir Ralph, but you must remember that you had a
new suit the last time you were in London, and have not worn it from
then till now, and I will warrant me that it cost well-nigh as much as
Aline's garments or mine."

While waiting for the ladies, two sword-belts had been bought for the
lads, Edgar's being embroidered with gold thread, Albert's with silver.

"Now, boys, I think that you will do," Sir Ralph said. "You may not be
able to compete with some of those young peacocks of the Court, but you
will make a sufficiently brave show, and need not feel envious of the
best of them."

When the shopping was completed they returned to their lodgings. Here
they partook of a meal, after which Sir Ralph went to the Tower, while
his wife and daughter, fatigued by their day's journey, speedily betook
themselves to their beds. The lads sat talking for some time over the
events of the day.

"I fear, Edgar," Albert said, presently, "that from my father choosing
for me so light a coloured suit, instead of a graver hue like that
which you selected, he has hopes that I shall not go into the Church
after all."

"Well, why should you, Albert? You are gaining in strength, and I doubt
not that you will yet grow into a strong man. Of course as long as you
were weak and delicate, and, as it seemed, would never be able to bear
the weight of armour, it was but natural that he should regard a life
in the Church as one that was best fitted for you, and that you
yourself would be perfectly willing to follow that profession, but now
it is wholly different; besides, even if at present you may not wish,
as I do, to be a soldier, you may well become a wise councillor, and
hold high position at Court. There are few young nobles, indeed, who
have so much education as you, and surely such a life would be better
than burying yourself in a cloister."

Albert was silent for some time. "Do you really think, Edgar," he said,
at last, "that I shall be ever able to bear arms with credit? To become
a councillor, one must needs be a courtier, and I am sure that a life
at Court would suit me no better than it would suit you, therefore that
thought I must put aside. My tastes are all for a quiet life in the
country, and you know I could be very happy living at home as I have
done from my childhood. But if I am to be in the world I must bear my
part, and if needs be follow the king to battle, and unless I could do
my duty manfully I would rather follow out the life I thought must be
mine, and enter the Church. I should like, most of all, to be able to
be always with you, Edgar, and to fight by your side. We have long been
like brothers. I know that you will win rank and fame, and though I
have no ambition for myself I should glory in your success, and be well
content with your friendship as my share in it."

"That, you may be sure, you will always have, Albert, and as to your
plan, I see not why you should not carry it out. In war time you and I
could ride together, and in peace you could live at the castle, which
is so close to St. Alwyth that we can ride over and visit each other
daily when I am there, which mayhap would not be very often, for when
England and France are at peace, and there is no trouble between us and
Scotland, I may join some noble leader of free-lances in the service of
an Italian or German prince. Such, when there is peace at home, is the
best avenue for fame and distinction."

"I cannot say yet what I may feel as I gain strength and skill in arms,
but it may be that even there I may be your companion should strength
and health permit it."

"That indeed would be good--so good that I can scarce yet believe that
it can be so, although there is no reason to the contrary. It has for
years been a grief to me to know that our paths lay so far apart, and
that the time must soon be coming when we should be separated, and for
ever. It was with some faint hope that exercise might bring more colour
to your cheeks, and that with strength and skill in arms might come
thoughts of another life than that of the cloister, that I first urged
you to let me teach you the use of arms. That hope has grown gradually
since I found how much you benefited by the exercise, and acquired a
strength of arm that I had hardly hoped for.

"Moreover, Albert, you cannot but be proud of the name your father and
those before him have won by their gallant deeds, but if you went into
the Church it would no longer appear in the roll of the knights of
England. It would be ill indeed that a line of knights, who have so
well played their part on every battle-field since your ancestor came
over with the Conqueror, should become extinct."

"I had never thought of that before, Edgar," Albert said, after a long
pause. "You see, for years I have looked forward to entering the Church
as a matter settled for me by nature. I had no enthusiasm for it, but
it seemed there was no other place for me. Of late, since I have gained
health and strength, I have seen that possibly it might be otherwise.
At first I struggled against the idea and deemed it the suggestion of
the Evil One, but it has grown in spite of me, although I never allowed
myself fully to entertain it, until I saw the joy with which my father
perceived that I was not altogether the weakling that he had deemed me.

"Since then I have thought of it incessantly, but until now have been
unable to come to any decision. On the one hand I should please my
father, and at the same time satisfy the desire that has of late sprung
up for a more stirring life than that of the Church, and should be able
to remain your comrade. On the other hand, I have always regarded the
Church as my vocation, and did not like to go back from it, and
moreover, although stronger than of old, I thought that I might never
attain such health and strength as might render me a worthy knight, and
feared that when tried I should be found wanting. Thus I have wavered,
and knew not which way my inclinations drew me most strongly, but I
never thought of what you have just said, that if I were to enter the
Church our line would come to an end. However, there is no occasion
definitely to settle for another year yet, but I will tell my father
to-morrow that if at the end of that time he deems that I have so far
continued to gain in strength that he may consider me not unworthy to
represent our name in the field, I shall be ready to submit myself to
his wishes, while, upon the other hand, should he think me, as before,
better fitted for the Church. I will enter it at once."

"I am glad, indeed, to hear you say so, Albert. I think that there is
no reason to doubt that you will continue to gain strength, and will
prove worthy of your name."

Accordingly, the next morning Albert asked his father to accompany him
into the garden, and there detailed to him the conversation that he had
had with Edgar, and its result.

"Glad indeed am I, Albert, that this should have come about," the
knight said, laying his hand on the lad's shoulder. "What your friend
said to you has often been in my mind. It was a sore thought, my son.
There have ever been De Courcys on the battle-roll of England since our
ancestor fought at Hastings; and I might well feel grieved at the
thought that it might possibly appear there no more, and the pleasure
that you have given me is more than I can express. I will not allow
myself to fear that, now you have made so fair a start, you will fail
to gather fresh strength and vigour, and I will wager that you will
bear our banner as forward in the fight as those who have gone before
you.

"I blame myself deeply that I have misjudged you so long. Had I
encouraged, instead of slighting, you, you might long since have begun
to gain strength, and might early have commenced the exercises that are
so essential to form a good knight. In future, I will do all I can to
make up for lost time. As far as swordsmanship goes, you can have no
better instructor than your friend. I myself will train you in knightly
exercises on horseback--to vault into the saddle and to throw yourself
off when a horse is going at full speed, to use your lance and carry
off a ring; but I will take care not to press you beyond your strength,
and not to weary you with over-long work. My effort will be to increase
your store of strength and not to draw unduly upon it; and I will
warrant me that if you improve as rapidly under my tuition as you have
under that of Master Edgar, before a year is up I shall be able to
place you in the train of some noble knight without a fear that you
will prove yourself inferior to others of your own age."

Going into the house again when the morning meal was served, Sir Ralph
said:

"There is bad news as to the rioters in Kent, lads. Last night I heard
that a message had arrived, saying that they had entered Rochester,
broken open the jail, and released not only those held there for
non-payment of taxes, but malefactors; that they had been joined by the
rabble of the town, had slain several notaries and lawyers, and torn up
all parchments, deeds, and registers; had maltreated some of the
clergy, broken open cellars and drunk the wine, and that from thence
they intended to march to Maidstone and then to Canterbury, raising the
country as they went."

"This should at least give us time for preparations, Sir Ralph."

"So I pointed out last night," the knight replied; "but who is to make
the preparations? A proclamation was drawn up by the council, warning
all to return to their homes on pain of punishment, and promising an
inquiry into grievances. It is to be scattered broadcast through Kent
and Essex, but it is likely to have no effect. The men know well enough
that they have rendered themselves liable to punishment, and as they
were ready to run that risk when they first took up arms, it is not
likely that they will be frightened at the threat now when they find
none to oppose them, and that their numbers grow from day to day.
Seeing that time is likely to do little for us, I would rather they had
marched straight on to London; they would then have arrived here in
more sober mood; but now that they have begun to slay and to drink,
they will get fiercer and more lawless every day, and as their numbers
increase so will their demands."

Day by day more and more serious news came in. Canterbury was occupied
by the rebels, and they declared their intention of slaying the
archbishop, but he had left before they had arrived. There they
committed many excesses, executed three rich citizens, opened the
prisons, killed all lawyers, and burned all deeds and registers as they
had done at Rochester, and kept the whole place in a state of terror
while they remained, which they did while the stores of wine remained
unexhausted.

"Why should they be so bitter against lawyers, and why should they
destroy deeds and registers, father?" Albert asked.

"It can be but for one reason, Albert. The great part of them have
small plots of land, an acre or two, or perhaps more, on terms of
villeinage, paying so much in kind or money, and their desire is to
destroy all deeds and documents in order that they may henceforth pay
no rent, claiming the land for themselves, and defying those from whom
they hold it to show their titles as lords of the soil. There must be
some shrewd knaves among them. This Wat the Tyler and the men of the
towns can care naught for such matters; but they suffer those who have
an interest in the matter to do as they choose. They know that their
deeds have so far committed them that they will not dare to draw back,
and must follow Wat's leadership implicitly. You will see erelong that
from murdering lawyers they will take to murdering lords."

"If the council here is taking no steps to summon the knights of the
shire and the feudal lords to hasten hither with their levies and
retainers, how do they think to arrest the course of the ill-doers?"
Edgar asked.

"Their opinion is that the king has but to ride out and meet the
rebels, and that they will all, on seeing him, fall on their knees and
crave pardon, whereupon he will promise to redress their grievances,
and they will disperse to their homes. I have no such hope. Is it
likely that they will quietly go home, having once worked themselves up
to fight for what they call their rights, and with the thought of
taking vengeance on those they consider their enemies, and of unlimited
drinking and feasting, and, on the part of some, of rich plunder in
London, when they see that there is no one to prevent their taking this
satisfaction? Nothing but force will avail, and though something might
be done that way, it is more difficult than it looks.

"The knights of the shire could hardly raise their levies, for most of
those who would be called out are already with the mob, and of the
others few would venture to answer to the summons. When they returned
they might find their houses burned and their families slain. You see
we know not how far this fire may spread. We hear that both in Suffolk
and Hertfordshire men are assembling and parties marching away to join
those of Essex. In truth, lads, the thing is far more formidable than I
deemed it at first, for they say that two hundred thousand men will
march on London."

"But in the French Jacquerie there were as many as that, Sir Ralph, and
yet they were put down."

"They were so, but only after they had done vast damage. Besides, lad,
your English villein differs from your French serf. An Englishman, of
whatever rank, holds by what he considers his rights, and is ready to
fight for them. Our archers have proved that the commonalty are as
brave as the knights, and though badly armed, this rascaldom may fight
sturdily. The French peasant has no rights, and is a chattel, that his
lord may dispose of as he chooses. As long as they met with no
opposition all who fell into their hands were destroyed, and the
castles ravaged and plundered, the peasants behaving like a pack of mad
wolves. Our fellows are of sterner stuff, and they will have a mind to
fight, if it be but to show that they can fight as well as their
betters. Plunder is certainly not their first object, and it is
probable that whatever may be done that way will be the work of the
scum of the towns, who will join them solely with that object.

"I doubt whether less than five thousand men-at-arms and archers would
be able to show face to such an array as is said to be approaching,
especially as there will be many archers among them who, although not
to compare with those who fought at Poictiers, are yet capable of using
their weapons with effect. I see no prospect of gathering such a force,
and the matter is all the worse, as the rascaldom of London will be
with them, and we shall have these to keep in order, as well as cope
with those in the field. Besides, one must remember that in a matter
like this we cannot fully depend on any force that we may gather. The
archers and men-at-arms would be drawn largely from the same class as
the better portion of these rioters, and would be slack in fighting
against them. Certainly, those of the home counties could not be
depended upon, and possibly even in the garrison of the Tower itself
there may be many who cannot be trusted. The place, if well held,
should stand out for months, but I am by no means sure that it will do
so when the time comes. I shall certainly raise my voice against the
king abiding here. He with his friends could ride away without
difficulty, if he leaves before the place is beleaguered."

"I suppose you will take my mother and sister into the Tower, father,
should the mob come hither?"

"That I know not, nor can I say until I see the temper of the garrison
when these rioters approach."

On the day after the new clothes arrived, Sir Ralph took his son and
Edgar to the castle and presented them to the king.

"This is my son, your Majesty, of whom I spoke to you. I am happy to
say that I think he will some day be able to follow you to battle as I
followed the noble prince your father; for he has now resolved, should
his health remain good, to take up the profession of arms."

"I am glad to hear it," the young king said, "for indeed 'tis more
suited to the son of a valiant knight like yourself, Sir Ralph, than
that of the Church, excellent though that may be for those who have
inclinations for it. He seems to me a fair young gentleman, and one
whom it would please me to see often at Court."

"This, your Majesty, is Master Edgar Ormskirk, a young gentleman of
good family, but his father has not, although holding more than a
knight's feu, taken up that rank, his tastes being wholly turned
towards learning, he being a distinguished scholar, having passed
through our own university at Oxford, and those of Padua and Pisa. He
is one of my most esteemed friends. Master Edgar, as I told you, is
greatly skilled for his years in the use of the sword, to which he has
long devoted himself with great ardour. It is to him my son is indebted
for having gained health and strength, together with more skill in the
sword than I had ever looked for from him. I beg to recommend him
highly to your Majesty's favour, and can answer for his worth, as well
as for his strength and skill."

"You could have no better recommendation, Master Ormskirk," the young
king said, pleasantly, "and I trust that although your father cares not
for knighthood, you will have an opportunity of gaining that honour for
yourself."

"I should value it, if won fairly, your Majesty, as the greatest honour
I could gain. It is not that my father holds the honour more lightly
than I do, but I know that 'tis his opinion that if given merely for
possession of land 'tis but an accident of birth, but that if the
reward of bravery, 'tis an honour that is of the highest, and one that,
were it not that his thoughts are wholly turned towards scholarship and
to discovering the secrets of nature, he himself would gladly have
attained."

"Methinks that he is right," the king said. "In the time when every
landowner held his feu on condition of knightly service rendered
whenever called upon, it was well that he should be called a knight,
such being the term of military command; but now that many are allowed
to provide substitutes, methinks that it is an error to give the title
to stay-at-homes. I shall be glad, young sir, to see you also at Court,
though, methinks," he added, with a smile, "that you have inherited
some of your father's sobriety of nature, and will hold our pleasures
at small price."

"I thank your Majesty for your kindness," Edgar said, bowing; "but
indeed I should not presume to judge amusements as frivolous because I
myself might be unused to them; but in truth two years ago I studied at
the convent of St. Alwyth, and my spare time then and most of my time
since has been so occupied by my exercises in arms that I have had but
small opportunity for learning the ways of Courts, but I hope to do so,
seeing that a good knight should bear himself as well at Court as in
the field."

"You will have small opportunity now," the king said, rather dolefully.
"Our royal mother is absent, and our talk is all of riots and troubles,
and none seem even to think of pleasure."

After leaving the king Sir Ralph presented his son and Edgar to Sir
Michael de la Pole, who held high office; Robert de Vere, one of the
king's special favourites; and several other young nobles, who all
received them kindly for the sake of Sir Ralph.



CHAPTER V

A RESCUE


"Perhaps, boys, you could hardly have been introduced at Court better
than by myself," the knight said, as they returned to the lodgings.
"There are men much more highly placed, many more influential than I
am, but for that very reason I can be friends with all. The king's
mother is always most courteous to me, because I was the friend of the
Black Prince, her husband; and she has taught her son that, whatever
might come, he could rely upon my fidelity to his person. On the other
hand, no one has reason either to dislike or fear me. I am a simple
knight, longing most to be at home, and at the Court as seldom as may
be; besides, I hold myself aloof from both parties in the state, for
you must know that the Court is composed of two factions.

"The one is that of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle of the
king. He is greatly ambitious; some men even say that he would fain
himself be king, but this I believe not; yet I am sure that he would
like to rule in the name of the king. He has a powerful party, having
with him the Duke of Gloucester, his brother, and other great nobles.
On the other hand, he is ill-liked by the people, and they say at
Canterbury the rioters made every man they met swear to obey the king
and commons--by which they meant themselves--never to accept a king
bearing the name of John, and to oppose Lancaster and Gloucester.

"The king's mother has surrounded him with a number of men who, being
for the most part of obscure birth, have no sympathy with John of
Gaunt's faction, and oppose it in every way.

"Doubtless the majority of these are well fitted for the office that
they hold, but unfortunately there are some amongst them, for the most
part young and with pleasant manners and handsome faces, whom the king
makes his favourites. This again is well-nigh as bad as that John of
Gaunt should have all the power in his own hands, for the people love
not king's favourites, and although the rabble at present talk much of
all men being equal, and rail against the nobles, yet at bottom the
English people are inclined towards those of good birth, and a king's
favourite is all the more detested if he lacks this quality. England,
however, would not fare badly were John of Gaunt its master; he is a
great warrior, and well-nigh equal in bravery to the Black Prince. It
is true that he is haughty and arrogant; but upon the other hand, he is
prudent and sagacious, and although he might rule England harshly, he
would rule it wisely.

"However, I hold myself aloof altogether from state matters, and I
trust that you will strive to do so. I would fain see the king take all
power into his own hands as soon as he gets somewhat older; but if he
must be ruled, I would prefer that it was by a great Englishman of
royal blood rather than by favourites, whose only merits are a fair
face, a gallant manner, and a smooth tongue, and who are sure not only
to become unpopular themselves, but to render the king himself
unpopular. It is for this reason that I journey so seldom to London,
and desire that you should also hold yourself aloof from the Court. I
could not be here without taking one side or the other. It cannot be
long, however, before the king becomes impatient of his tutelage by the
dukes, and we shall then see how matters go.

"It will be time enough then for you to frequent the Court, though it
were better even then that you should do as I did, and leave such
matters to those whom it concerns and content yourself with doing
service to England in the field. From my friendship for the Black
Prince I, of course, know John of Gaunt well, and should there be, as
seems likely, fierce fighting in France or in Spain--for, as you know,
the duke has a claim to the crown of Castile--I will cross the water
with you and present you to the duke, and place you in the train of
some of his knights, comrades of mine, but who are still young enough
to keep the field, while I shall only take up arms again in the event
of the king leading another great army into France."

The two friends spent much of their time in wandering about the streets
of London. To them all seemed peaceable and orderly; indeed, they kept
in the main thoroughfares where the better class of citizens were to be
seen, and knew little of those who lived in the lower haunts, issuing
out seldom in the daylight, but making the streets a danger for
peaceable folks after nightfall.

Upon one occasion, however, they took boat at Westminster and were
rowed to Richmond. They had ill-chosen the occasion, knowing nothing of
the hours of the tide, and so returned against it. It was therefore
eight o'clock when they reached the Stairs, and already growing dark.
They knew that orders had been given that the gates were to be closed
to all at eight, lest some of the great bodies of rioters should
approach suddenly and enter the city.

The watermen, wearied by their long row, refused to carry them any
further. There was nothing for it but to walk round the walls and so
return to their lodging. The moon was shining brightly, and it seemed
to them as they started that it would be a pleasant walk. They followed
the Strand, where on the right stood many houses of the nobles, and the
great palace of John of Gaunt at the Savoy, in which, after the battle
of Poictiers, the captive king of France had been lodged.

Turning off to the left some short distance before they reached the
city wall, they held their way round the north side of the city. London
had already overflowed its boundary, and although in some places fields
still stretched up to the foot of the walls, in others, especially
where the roads led from the gates, a large population had established
themselves. These were principally of a poorer class, who not only
saved rent from being outside the boundary of the city, but were free
from the somewhat strict surveillance exercised by its authorities.

They were just crossing the road leading north from Aldersgate when
they heard a scream and a clashing of swords a short distance away.

"Come, Albert, some evil deed is being done!" Edgar exclaimed, and,
drawing his sword, ran at the top of his speed in the direction of the
sound, accompanied by Albert. They soon arrived at the top of a street
leading off the main road. A short distance down it a number of men
were engaged in conflict; two of these, hearing the footsteps, turned
round, and with a savage oath, seeing that the new-comers were but
lads, fell upon them, thinking to cut them down without difficulty.
Their over-confidence proved their ruin. Edgar caught the descending
blow on his sword, close up to the hilt, and as his opponent raised his
arm to repeat the stroke, ran him through the body.

"Do you want help, Albert?" Edgar cried, as the man fell.

"No, I think that I can manage him," Albert said, quietly, and a moment
later slashed his opponent deeply across the cheek. The fellow turned
and took to his heels, roaring lustily. One of the other men, who was
stooping over a prostrate figure, with his dagger raised, paused for a
moment to look round on hearing the howl of his comrade, and as he did
so Edgar's sword fell on his wrist with such force that hand and dagger
both fell to the ground. The remaining ruffian, who was roughly
endeavouring to stifle the shrieks of a young girl, seeing himself
alone with two adversaries, also darted off and plunged into a narrow
alley a few yards away.

Edgar paid no more attention to them, but exclaimed to the girl: "Cease
your cries, I pray you, maiden, and help me to see what has happened to
your companion. I trust that he is unharmed, and that we have arrived
in time to prevent those villains from carrying out their intentions."
He stooped over the fallen man. "Are you hurt badly, sir?" he asked.
The answer was an effort on the part of the person he addressed to rise.

"I am hurt, but I think not sorely." He was unable for the moment to
rise, for the man whom Edgar last struck lay across him. Edgar at once
hauled the moaning wretch off him, and held out his hand to the other,
who grasped it with more heartiness than he had expected, and rose
without difficulty to his feet.

"Where is my daughter?" he exclaimed.

[Illustration: "IN A MOMENT EDGAR'S SWORD FELL ON THE RUFFIAN'S WRIST."]

"She is here and unhurt, I trust," Albert replied. "The villain
released her and ran off, and I saw her figure sway, and ran forward
just in time to save her from falling. I think she has but swooned."

"Thanks be to the saints!" the stranger exclaimed. "Gentlemen, I cannot
thank you at present for the service that you have rendered me, but of
that I will speak later. Know you any place where you can take my
child?"

"We are strangers, sir; but there should surely be some hostelry near
where travellers could put up outside the walls."

The noise of the combat had aroused some of the neighbours, and on
inquiry Edgar ascertained that there was an inn but a short distance
away.

"Let me carry the maid, Albert. Her weight would be naught to me."

Albert gladly relinquished his charge, whose dead weight hanging on his
arms was already trying him. Edgar raised her across his shoulder.

"Albert," he said, "I know you have a piece of thin cord in your
pocket. I pray you twist it round that man's arm as hard as you can
pull it, and fasten it tightly. I have shorn off his hand, and he would
very speedily bleed to death. If you staunch the wound he may last till
his comrades come back, as they doubtless will after we have left; they
will carry him away and maybe save his life. He is a villainous
ruffian, no doubt, but 'tis enough for me that I have one death on my
hands to-night."

"He is dead already," Albert said, as he leant over the man and placed
his hand on his heart. "He must have been wounded by the traveller
before we came up."

"Well, it cannot be helped," Edgar replied, as he walked on with his
burden.

"Did you see aught, kind sirs," their companion said, "of a servitor
with three horses?"

"Nothing whatever," Albert answered, "though methought I heard horses'
hoofs going down the road as we ran along; but I paid small attention
to them, thinking only of arriving in time to save someone from being
maltreated."

"I believe that he was in league with the robbers," the man said.
"But," and his voice faltered, "give me your arm, I pray you. My wound
is deeper than I thought, and my head swims."

Albert with difficulty assisted the man to the entrance of the
hostelry, for at each step he leant more heavily upon him. The door was
shut, but the light from the casement showed that those within had not
yet retired to bed. Edgar struck on the door loudly with the handle of
his dagger.

"Who is it that knocks?"

"Gentlemen, with a wounded man, who, with his daughter, have been beset
by knaves within a hundred yards of your door."

Some bolts were undrawn after some little delay, and a man appeared,
having a sword in his hand, with two servitors behind him similarly
armed.

"We are quiet people, my host," Edgar said. "Stand not on questioning.
Suffice that there is a wounded man who is spent from loss of blood,
and a young maid who has swooned from terror."

There was a tone of command in Edgar's voice, and the host, seeing that
he had to do with persons of quality, murmured excuses on the ground
that the neighbourhood was a rough one.

"You need hardly have told us that," Edgar said. "Our plight speaks for
itself. Call your wife, I pray you, or female servants; they will know
what to do to bring the young maid to herself. But tell her to let the
girl know as soon as she opens her eyes that her father is alive, and
is, I trust, not seriously wounded."

The landlord called, and a buxom woman came out from a room behind. Her
husband hastily told her what was required.

"Carry her in here, sir, I pray you," the woman said. "I will speedily
bring her round."

Edgar followed her into the room that she had left, which was a
kitchen, and laid her down on a settle. Two maids who were standing
there uttered exclamations of surprise and pity as the girl was carried
in.

"Hold your tongues, wenches, and do not make a noise! Margaret, fetch
me cold water, and do you, Elizabeth, help me to unlace the young
lady's bodice," for the light in the kitchen enabled her to see at once
that the girl was well dressed.

As soon as Edgar had laid her down, he hurried out of the kitchen,
moving his arm uneasily as he did so, having discovered to his surprise
that the weight of an insensible girl, though but some fourteen years
old, was much more than he had dreamt of. In a parlour in front he
found Albert and the landlord cutting off the doublet of the wounded
man, so as to get at his shoulder, where a great patch of blood showed
the location of the wound. He was some forty years old; his dress was
quiet but of good quality, and Edgar judged him to be a London trader.
His face was very white, but he was perfectly sensible. One of the
servitors ran in with a cup of wine. The wounded man was able to lift
it to his lips and to empty it at a draught.

"That is better!" he murmured, and then he did not speak again until
the landlord, with considerable skill, bandaged up the shoulder.

"You have had a narrow escape," he said. "There is a sword-thrust just
below your collar-bone. An inch or two lower and it would have gone
hard with you; a little more to the left and it would have pierced your
throat."

"It was a dagger wound," the man said. "I was knocked down by a blow
from a sword which fell full on my head, but luckily I had iron hoops
in my cap. One man knelt upon me, and endeavoured to strike me through
the throat. I fought so hard that one of his comrades came to his
assistance, and I thought that the end had come, when he sprung
suddenly up. The other attempted more furiously than before to finish
me, but striking almost blindly he twice missed me altogether, and the
third time, by a sudden twist, I took a blow on my shoulder that would
otherwise have pierced my throat. When he raised his dagger again
something flashed. I saw his hand with the dagger he held in it drop
off, and then the man himself fell on me, and I was like to be stifled
with his weight, when my preserver hauled him off me."

"It were best not to talk further," the landlord said. "I have rooms
fortunately vacant, and it were well that you retired at once."

"I will do that as soon as you have given me something to eat,
landlord. Anything will do, but I am grievously hungry."

"I have a cold capon in the house," the landlord said.

"You will have to cater for three, for doubtless these gentlemen need
supper as much as I do."

"I thank you, sir, but we are very late already, and our friends will
have become alarmed; therefore, with your leave, we will, as soon as we
hear that your daughter has recovered, go on our way."

"That I can tell you at once," the landlady said, entering. "Your
daughter has recovered, sir, and would come to you, but I begged her to
wait until my husband had done dressing your wound."

"Then we will say good-night, sir. We will call to-morrow morning to
see how you are getting on," and without waiting for further words,
they at once went out and continued their way at a brisk pace.

"Let me congratulate you, Albert," Edgar said, warmly. "In good faith
no old soldier could have been cooler than you were. You spoke as
quietly as if it were a lesson that you had to finish before starting
for home, instead of a villainous cut-throat to put an end to. What did
you to him?"

"I but laid his cheek open, Edgar, and that at once let out his blood
and his courage, and he ran off bellowing like a bull. He knew naught
of swordsmanship, as I felt directly our blades crossed. I knew that I
had but to guard a sweeping blow or two, and that I should then find an
opening; but you of course did much better, for you killed two of the
villains."

"I did it hastily and with scarce a thought," Edgar said. "My eye
caught the flash of the dagger, and I knew that if the man was to be
saved at all there was not a moment to lose; I therefore parried the
first blow he dealt me, and ran him through with my return. Then I had
just time to chop the other villain's hand off as he was about to
repeat his stroke. The ruffian you wounded caused the other to look
round and pause for a moment. Had it been otherwise the traveller would
have been a dead man before I had time to strike. I wonder who the
wounded man is? He looked like a London trader. I wonder how he got
into so sore a plight? But, doubtless, we shall hear in the morning."

The episode had taken only a few minutes, but it was nigh half-past
nine before they reached home.

"What freak is this?" Sir Ralph said, angrily, when they entered. "Your
mother has been anxious about you for the last two hours, and I myself
was beginning to think that some ill must have befallen you. Why, what
has happened to you, Albert, there is blood on your doublet?"

"'Tis not my own, sir," the lad said, quietly. "I regret that we are so
late, but it was scarcely our fault. You told us that we could take
boat at Westminster and row to Richmond. This we did, but the tide was
against us coming back, and though the men rowed hard, the Abbey bell
was striking eight as we landed at Westminster; therefore, knowing that
the city gates would be shut, we had to make a tour round the walls."

"Then, as you say, Albert, you were not to blame in the matter. But
what about the blood with which, as I see, Edgar is even more deeply
stained than you are? Have you been in a brawl?"

"We have, sir; but here, I am sure, you will not blame us when you know
the circumstances. As we crossed the road running from Aldersgate
Street to the north we heard screams and the clashing of swords;
deeming, and as it turned out rightly, that some traveller like
ourselves was being attacked by cut-throats, we ran on, and presently
came up to the spot where four ruffians were attacking a single man who
had with him a young girl, whose screams had first called our
attention, Edgar ran one through the body, smote off the hand of
another who was endeavouring to stab the fallen traveller, and the
other ran away."

"And what was your share of it?" his father asked, sternly.

"His share was an excellent one, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "Two of the
ruffians ran at us as we came up. One, who attacked me, was but a poor
swordsman, and I ran him through at the first thrust. I then paused a
moment to ask Albert if he required aid, and he answered, as quietly as
he is now speaking, 'No, I think that I can manage him.' I had no time
to say more, for I saw that a moment's delay would endanger the life of
the traveller. Just as I reached him I heard a yell of pain, and knew
that Albert had done his work. That howl saved the traveller's life.
The man who was kneeling on him looked round for a moment before
delivering his blow, which gave me time to smite him across the wrist.
The blood you see was caused by dragging him off the traveller."

"By our lady!" Sir Ralph exclaimed, "but you have begun well, lads.
That you would do so, Edgar, was a matter beyond doubt, but that Albert
should stand up so well and so coolly in his first fight surprises me
indeed. I had no doubt of your courage, lad. 'Tis rare indeed for one
of good blood to lack courage, but had you been nervous and flurried
the first time you were called upon to play the part of a man, it would
have seemed to me but natural; now it gladdens me indeed to know that
even in your first essay you should have thus shown that you possess
nerve and coolness as well as courage. Anyone can rush into a fight and
deal blows right and left, but it is far more rare to find one who, in
his very first trial at arms, can keep his head clear, and be able to
reply to a question, as Edgar says you did, in a calm and even voice.
Now, tell me, who was this man to whose aid you arrived just at the
nick of time?"

"He looked like a London trader, father, and was some forty years old;
but it was hard to tell, for by the time we got him to the hostelry he
was well-nigh spent and scarce able to crawl along, even with my help."

"He was wounded, then?"

"Stabbed with a dagger, father, just under the collar-bone. He must
have made a stout resistance, for we heard the clashing of swords for
some time as we ran, and when he was struck down he struggled so hard
that in spite of the efforts of two of his assailants they failed to
slay him. As soon as his wounds were bandaged we left him to the care
of the landlord, and hurried off without thinking to ask his name, or
of giving him ours, but we promised to return to see him to-morrow
morning."

"And what became of the daughter?"

"She swooned, sir, when all was over, and Edgar carried her to the
hostelry."

"'Tis good. You have both entered well upon the profession of arms, and
have achieved an adventure worthy of knights. Now to bed. Your mother
retired long ago, but I know that she will not sleep until she has
heard of your safe return and of this adventure that you have gone
through."

Highly gratified at the knight's commendation, the lads went up to
their room.

"Putting aside the saving of life," Albert said, "I am right glad that
we have gone through this adventure. 'Tis true that I had decided upon
yielding to my father's wishes and taking up the career of arms, but I
had grievous doubts as to whether I should not shame myself and him in
my first encounter. I thought of that as I ran forward with you, but as
soon as the ruffian advanced against me, I felt with joy that my hand
was as steady as when I stood opposite you. It was a good cause in
which I was to fight, and as soon as our swords crossed I felt how
different it was to standing up against you, and that the ruffian knew
little of sword-play. Twice I saw an opening for a straight thrust, but
I had no desire to kill him, and waited until I could slash him across
the face, and it needed but a few passes before I saw the opportunity."

When Dame Agatha came down in the morning she tenderly kissed Albert.

"My boy," she said, "I never said aught at the time, when it seemed
that you were never like to grow strong enough to lay lance in rest or
wield battle-axe, to show you that I regretted that you were not able
to follow the profession of arms, as those of your race have ever done.
I felt that it was hard enough for you, and therefore tried my best to
reconcile you to the thought of becoming a priest; but now that all
that has changed, and you have shown that you will be a brave and
gallant knight, I can tell you that it gives me as great a joy as it
does your father. The Church is a high and holy profession, but at
present, as the preaching of Wickliffe has made manifest to
all--although I do not hold with all he says, and deem that he carries
it too far--I feel that until many of these abuses are rectified 'tis
not a profession that I should, had I the choice, wish my son to enter.
I am glad, Albert, too, that your sword should have been drawn for the
first time on behalf of persons attacked by cut-throats, and in saving
life. God bless you, my boy, and give you strength ever so to draw it
in defence of the oppressed, and for the honour of your country."

Aline was exuberant in her pleasure. She was fondly attached to her
brother, and that he would be lost to her as a priest had been a source
of sorrow ever since she had been old enough to understand that it
would be so.

As soon as the morning meal was over, the two lads started for the
scene of the previous evening's fight. The road from Aldersgate, with
cars rolling in with loads of flour and other provisions, and with many
travellers and foot passengers of all sorts passing along, presented a
very different appearance to that which it had worn on the evening
before. People were going in and out of the hostelries for their
morning draught of ale, and all looked bright and cheerful. The day was
fine, and the air brisk. On entering, the landlord at once came up to
them.

"Your friend is in the room where we dressed his wounds, sirs. He is
doing well, and methinks will make a good cure. His daughter is with
him. They have but lately risen, and are breaking their fast. He will
be glad to see you, and was mightily vexed last night that we let you
leave without asking your names."

"He was not in a condition for talking last night, what with the loss
of blood and the smart of his wound and the suddenness of the affray.
'Tis not strange that he should not have thought of it; and indeed we
ourselves did not ask his name, for we were pressed for time, and had
to hurry away."

It was evident, indeed, as they entered, that things were going well
with the wounded man, who was talking merrily to his daughter.

"Ah, sirs," he said, rising at once to his feet, "glad indeed am I that
you have come, and that I can now thank you for the great service you
rendered last night to myself and my daughter. First let me know to
whom I am indebted for our lives?"

"This gentleman," Edgar said, "is Albert, son of Sir Ralph De Courcy.
My name is Edgar Ormskirk. I pray you, speak not of gratitude. We are
glad, indeed, to have been able to render service to you and to your
daughter. We hope some day to become knights, and it is a real pleasure
to us to have been able to draw a sword in earnest for the first time,
in so good a cause. But, indeed, there is little occasion for
glorification, seeing that the fellows were but rough cut-throats, more
accustomed, I fancy, to the use of the dagger than of the sword."

"Do not belittle the action, Master Ormskirk," the other said,
courteously. "It was a brave deed, for, if I may say so, you are but
little more than boys, to pit yourselves against four rascals of this
kind. There are few in your place would have ventured upon it. The
landlord tells me that two dead bodies were found this morning, and
they are those of well-known cut-throats and law-breakers, who would
have long since been brought to justice, had it not been that there was
no means of proving they were responsible for the many murders that
have been committed during the last few months on peaceful travellers
and others. A search has already been made of their haunts, and as it
is found that two others who generally consorted with them are missing,
and as much blood was found in the hovel they occupied, no doubt one of
them was severely wounded."

"His cheek was laid open by my friend," Edgar said. "He could have
slain him had he so chosen, but being as yet unused to strife and
gentler hearted than I am, he contented himself by slashing his face."

"And did the other two fall to your sword, Mr. Ormskirk?"

"Yes; I saw that you were in sore peril, and so ran one through at the
first thrust; and then seeing that my friend was well able to hold his
own, came on to your aid. Before I reached you, Albert had struck his
blow, and the howl that the villain gave did more towards the saving of
your life than my sword, for your assailant paused in the very act of
striking to see what had befallen his comrade, and therefore gave me
time to deliver a blow on his wrist."

"As yet, gentlemen, you do not know my name. I am Robert Gaiton, and
belong to the Guild of Mercers. I carry on trade with Venice and Genoa
in silk and Eastern goods. This is my daughter Ursula."

The friends bowed, and the girl made a deep reverence. "Ah, sirs," she
said, "I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your succour. When you
came running up it appeared to me that Heaven had sent two angels to
help us, when it seemed that naught could save our lives."

"It was your scream, even more than the clashing of swords, that
brought us to your aid, Madame Ursula."

"Ursula, without the madame," her father said. "She is the daughter of
a plain citizen, and all unused to titles, save from my apprentice
boys."

"I cannot think why the ruffian who held her," Edgar said, "did not
stop her screams with a dagger-thrust. He must have been of a much
milder sort than his comrades."

"It may have been that," the trader said, "but it seems to me more
likely that they intended to carry her off and hold her to ransom. I
dare say that you are surprised at my being abroad with my daughter so
late, but I believe now that it was a preconcerted plot. It was but ten
days before I left London, three weeks since, that I hired a new man.
He had papers which showed that he came from Chelmsford, was an honest
fellow, and accustomed to the care of horses. I doubt not his
credentials were stolen. However, I engaged him, seeing that he
appeared just the man I wanted. We journeyed down to Norwich without
adventure. There I settled my business with some traders whom I supply
with goods, and then journeyed back, stopping always at towns and
always before nightfall, as I had a considerable amount of money in my
saddle-bags.

"All went well until we started for town yesterday morning. I was
detained somewhat late on business, and then instead of finding the
horses ready as I had ordered, it was nigh half an hour before they
were brought round. We had not ridden very far when my horse fell dead
lame, and I had to mount my servant's horse and let him lead the other,
and it took us two hours to go five miles into St. Albans. As we went,
I thought that, putting the first delay with the horse falling lame,
this might be a plot to keep me from reaching London before the gates
were shut, and while the horse's shoe was being taken off I slipped the
bags of gold into my pouch, and going into the hostelry to get
refreshments for Ursula and myself, I handed them to the host, and
begged him to hold them for me until I sent for them. I further asked
him to give me other bags of the same size, for I doubted not that my
servant was in alliance with these thieves. He had doubtless observed
me take the bags out, and I was the more confirmed in my suspicions as
I noticed how he watched me when I mounted again.

"'What ailed the horse?' I asked the farrier.

"'Either the horse has picked up a nail on the road, master, or belike
some knave has driven one in.'

"Then we rode on. I still hoped to pass the gates before they were
closed, but the horse went lamely, and we were three miles away when I
heard the city bells strike the hour. Still I hoped that they might
open the gate for me when I gave my name, which is indifferently well
known in the city, but the men at the gate were ignorant of it, and
said that without an order from the lord mayor or one of the sheriffs
they could open the gate to no man, for that since the country troubles
had began, the orders were most strict. It happened that I had not been
out through Aldersgate for two years past, but I had heard that an
hostelry had been built for the accommodation of travellers who had
arrived too late to pass the gates, or others who preferred to sojourn
outside the walls. I knew not its position, and asking my knave where
it was he said that he knew not.

"We then rode back. Presently I saw two men standing at the corner of
that street where we were attacked. I said to them, 'Where is the
King's Head hostelry?' ''Tis but a house or two down here,' one of them
said. 'The stables are a short way along this road. My comrade will
show your man the way.' 'We may as well alight here, Ursula,' I said.
It had been a long ride for her, and she was tired with sitting so long
on the pillion behind me. ''Tis but three houses down; we may as well
walk that distance. Reuben, do you bring round the valises when you
have seen the horses stabled and attended to.' I jumped down and lifted
Ursula off the horse, and went down the street. I had gone but a short
distance when I saw that the locality was scarcely one where a man of
sense would build a hostelry.

"'Which is the house?' I asked, sharply. 'The very next door,' the man
said. I had stupidly forgotten the suspicions that had been roused at
the commencement of the day, and I stepped on. 'This is no hostelry,' I
said, when I got to the house. In reply he gave a short whistle, and
three fellows, who had been hiding in the shadow of a doorway opposite,
ran out, sword in hand. Seeing that I had been trapped, I pushed Ursula
into the doorway and stood on my guard. For a short time I kept them at
bay, Ursula screaming wildly the while. Then two of them rushed
together at me. One struck down my guard, and then smote me on the
head, and with such force, that, although the steel lining to my bonnet
saved me from being killed, it brought me to the ground. Then, as I
told you, one of the fellows threw himself upon me and tried to stab
me, but, although confused with the blow, I had still my senses, and
struggled with him fiercely, grasping his wrist.

"Then the second one came to his aid, and with a blow from the pommel
of his sword numbed my hand, and forced me to quit my hold. Then the
other made three stabs at me, a third wounded me slightly, and together
they would have finished me had you not come up. My horses were found
on the road this morning, with the valises cut open. It must have been
a rare disappointment to the rascals, for, save a suit of mine and some
garments of my daughter's, there was naught in them. I should like to
have seen the villain's face when he opened the money bags and found
the trick that I had played him. He had best never show his face in
London, for if I catch him he will dance at the end of a rope. And now,
sirs, with your permission, I will repair to my home, for my wound
smarts sorely, and I must have it dressed by a leech, who will pour in
some unguents to allay the pain. My wife, too, will be growing anxious,
for I had written to her that we should return last night, and it is
not often that I do not keep tryst. I pray you, gentlemen, do me the
honour of calling at my house to-morrow at noon and partaking of a meal
with us. I shall, of course, as soon as the leech gives me permission,
wait upon Sir Ralph De Courcy to thank him for the service you have
rendered me. I pray you to give me his address."

The invitation was cordially accepted, and, having given him directions
by which their lodgings could be found, the two friends took their
leave and returned home.



CHAPTER VI

A CITY MERCHANT


"Assuredly it is well that you should go," Sir Ralph said, when his son
had repeated the conversation they had had with the trader. "I know not
the name, for indeed I know scarce one among the citizens; but if he
trades with Venice and Genoa direct he must be a man of repute and
standing. It is always well to make friends; and some of these city
traders could buy up a score of us poor knights. They are not men who
make a display of wealth, and by their attire you cannot tell one from
another, but upon grand occasions, such as the accession or marriage of
a monarch, they can make a brave show, and can spend sums upon masques
and feastings that would well-nigh pay a king's ransom. After a great
victory they will set the public conduits running with wine, and every
varlet in the city can sit down at banquets prepared for them and eat
and drink his fill. It is useful to have friends among such men. They
are as proud in their way as are the greatest of our nobles, and they
have more than once boldly withstood the will of our kings, and have
ever got the best of the dispute."

"What shall we put on, sir," Albert asked his father the next morning,
"for this visit to Master Gaiton?"

"You had better put on your best suits," the knight said; "it will show
that you have respect for him as a citizen, and indeed the dresses are
far less showy than many of those I see worn by some of the young
nobles in the streets."

"And what is the young lady like?" Aline asked her brother.

"Methinks she is something like you, Aline, and is about the same age
and height; her tresses are somewhat darker than yours; methinks she is
somewhat graver and more staid than you are, as I suppose befits a
maiden of the city."

"I don't think that you could judge much about that, Albert," his
mother said, "seeing that, naturally, the poor girl was grievously
shaken by the events of the evening before, and would, moreover, say
but little when her father was conversing with two strangers. What
thought you of her, Edgar?"

"I scarce noticed her, my lady, for I was talking with her father, and
so far as I remember she did not open her lips after being introduced
to us. I did not notice the resemblance to your daughter that Albert
speaks of, but she seemed to me a fair young maid, who looked not, I
own, so heavy as she felt when I carried her."

"That is very uncourteous, Master Edgar," Dame Agatha laughed; "a good
knight should hold the weight of a lady to be as light as that of a
down pillow."

"Then I fear that I shall never be a true knight," Edgar said, with a
smile. "I have heard tales of knights carrying damsels across their
shoulder and outstripping the pursuit of caitiffs, from whom she had
escaped. I indeed had believed them, but assuredly either those tales
are false or I have but a small share of the strength of which I
believed myself to be possessed; for, in truth, my arm and shoulder
ached by the time I reached the hostelry more than it has ever done
after an hour's practice with the mace."

"Well, stand not talking," Sir Ralph said; "it is time for you to
change your suits, for these London citizens are, I have heard, precise
as to their time, and the merchant would deem it a slight did you not
arrive a few minutes before the stroke of the hour."

As soon as they came into Chepe they asked a citizen if he could direct
them to the house of Master Robert Gaiton.

"That can I," he said, "and so methinks could every boy and man in the
city. Turn to the right; his house stands in a courtyard facing the
Guildhall, and is indeed next door to the hall in the left-hand corner."

The house was a large one, each storey, as usual, projecting over the
one below it. Some apprentices were just putting up the shutters to the
shop, for at noon most of the booths were closed, as at that hour there
were no customers, and the assistants and apprentices all took their
meal together. There was a private entrance to the house, and Edgar
knocked at the door with the hilt of his dagger. A minute later a
serving-man opened it.

"Is Master Robert Gaiton within?" Albert asked. "He is, we believe,
expecting us."

"I have his orders to conduct you upstairs, sirs."

The staircase was broad and handsome, and, to the lads' surprise, was
covered with an Eastern carpet. At the top of the stairs the merchant
himself was awaiting them.

"Welcome to my house, gentlemen," he said; "the house that would have
been the abode of mourning and woe to-day, had it not been for your
bravery."

The merchant was dressed in very different attire to that in which he
had travelled. He wore a doublet of brown satin, and hose of the same
material and colour; on his shoulders was a robe of Genoa velvet with a
collar, and trimming down the front of brown fur, such as the boys had
never before seen. Over his neck was a heavy gold chain, which they
judged to be a sign of office. The landing was large and square, with
richly carved oak panelling, and, like the stairs, it was carpeted with
a thick Eastern rug. Taking their hands, he led them through an open
door into a large withdrawing-room. Its walls were panelled in a
similar manner to those of the landing, but the carpet was deeper and
richer. Several splendid armoires or cabinets similarly carved stood
against the walls, and in these were gold and silver cups exquisitely
chased, salt-cellars, and other silver ware.

The chairs were all in harmony with the room, the seats being of green
embossed velvet, and curtains of the same material and hue, with an
edging of gold embroidery, hung at the windows. But the lads' eyes
could not take in all these matters at once, being fixed upon the lady
who rose from her chair to meet them. She was some thirty-five years
old, and of singular sweetness of face. There was but little about her
of the stiffness that they had expected to find in the wife of a London
citizen. She was dressed in a loose robe of purple silk, with costly
lace at the neck and sleeves. By her side stood Ursula, who was
dressed, as became her age, in lighter colours, which, in cut and
material, resembled those of Aline's new attire.

"Dear sirs," she said, as her husband presented the visitors to her,
"with what words can I thank you for the service that you have rendered
me. But for you I should have been widowed and childless to-day!"

"It was but a chance, Mistress Gaiton," Edgar said. "We saw a stranger
in danger of his life from cut-throats, and as honest men should do, we
went to his succour. We are glad, indeed, to have been able to render
your husband such service, but it was only such an action as a soldier
performs when he strikes in to rescue a comrade surrounded by the
enemy, or carries off a wounded man who may be altogether a stranger to
him."

"That may be true from your point of view," the merchant said, "but
just as the man-at-arms rescued from a circle of foes, or the wounded
man carried off the field would assuredly feel gratitude to him who has
saved him, so do we feel gratitude to you, and naught that you can say
will lessen our feeling towards you both. And now let us to the table."

He opened a door leading into another apartment. Edgar glanced at
Albert, and as he saw the latter was looking at Ursula, he offered his
hand to Dame Gaiton. Albert, with a little start, did the same to the
girl. The merchant held aside the hangings of the door and then
followed them into the room where the table was laid. It was similar to
the room they had left, save that the floor was polished instead of
being carpeted. The table was laid with a damask cloth of snowy
whiteness and of a fineness of quality such as neither of the lads had
ever seen before. The napkins were of similar make. A great silver
ornament in the shape of a Venetian galley stood in the centre of the
table, flanked by two vases of the same metal filled with flowers. The
plates were of oriental porcelain, a contrast indeed to the rough
earthenware in general use; the spoons were of gold.

The meats were carved at a side table, and cut into such pieces that
there was little occasion for the use of the dagger-shaped knives
placed for the use of each. Forks were unknown in Europe until nearly
three centuries later, the food being carried to the mouth by the aid
of a piece of bread, just as it is still eaten in the East, the spoon
being only used for soups and sweetmeats. Two servitors, attired in
doublets of red and green cloth, waited. The wine was poured into
goblets of Venetian glass; and after several meats had been served
round, the lads were surprised at fresh plates being handed to them for
the sweetmeats. Before these were put upon the table, a gold bowl with
perfumed water was handed round, and all dipped their fingers in this,
wiping them on their napkins.

"Truly, Mistress Gaiton," Albert said, courteously, "it seems to me
that instead of coming to Court we country folk should come to the city
to learn how to live. All this is as strange to me as if I had gone to
some far land, by the side of whose people we were as barbarians."

"My husband has been frequently in Italy," she replied, "and he is much
enamoured of their mode of life, which he says is strangely in advance
of ours. Most of what you see here he has either brought with him
thence, or had it sent over to him, or it has been made here from
drawings prepared for him for the purpose. The carving of the wood-work
is a copy of that in a palace at Genoa; the furniture came by sea from
Venice; the gold and silver work is English, for although my husband
says that the Italians are great masters in such work and in advance of
our own, he holds that English gold and silversmiths can turn out work
equal to all but the very best, and he therefore thinks it but right to
give employment to London craftsmen. The drapery is far in advance of
anything that can be made here; as to the hangings and carpets,
although brought from Genoa or Florence, they are all from Eastern
looms."

"'Tis strange," the merchant added, "how far we are in most things
behind the Continent--in all matters save fighting, and, I may say, the
condition of the common people. Look at our garments. Save in the
matter of coarse fabrics, nigh everything comes from abroad. The finest
cloths come from Flanders; the silks, satins, and velvets from Italy.
Our gold work is made from Italian models; our finest arms come from
Milan and Spain; our best brass work from Italy. Maybe some day we
shall make all these things for ourselves. Then, too, our people--not
only those of the lowest class--are more rude and boorish in their
manners; they drink more heavily, and eat more coarsely. An English
banquet is plentiful, I own, but it lacks the elegance and luxury of
one abroad, and save in the matter of joints, there is no comparison
between the cooking. Except in the weaving of the roughest linen, we
are incomparably behind Flanders, France, or Italy, and although I have
striven somewhat to bring my surroundings up to the level of the
civilization abroad, the house is but as a hovel compared with the
palaces of the Venetian and Genoese merchants, or the rich traders of
Flanders and Paris."

"Truly, these must be magnificent indeed," Edgar said, "if they so far
surpass yours. I have never even thought of anything so comfortable and
handsome as your rooms. I say naught of those in my father's house, for
he is a scholar, and so that he can work in peace among his books and
in his laboratory he cares naught for aught else; but it is the same in
other houses that I have visited; they seem bare and cheerless by the
side of yours. I have always heard that the houses of the merchants of
London were far more comfortable than the castles of great nobles, but
I hardly conceived how great the difference was."

"They are built for different purposes," the merchant said. "The
castles are designed wholly with an eye to defence. All is of stone,
since that will not burn; the windows are mere slits, designed to shoot
from, rather than to give light. We traders, upon the other hand, have
not to spend our money on bands of armed retainers. We have our city
walls, and each man is a soldier if needs be. Then our intercourse with
foreign merchants and our visits to the Continent show us what others
are doing, and how vastly their houses are ahead of ours in point of
luxury and equipment. We have no show to keep up; and, at any rate,
when we go abroad it is neither our custom nor that of the Flemish
merchants to vie with the nobility in splendour of apparel or the
multitude of retainers and followers. Thus, you see, we can afford to
have our homes comfortable."

"May I ask, Master Gaiton, if your robe and chain are badges of
office?" Albert asked.

"Yes; I have the honour of being an alderman."

Albert looked surprised. "I thought, sir, that the aldermen were aged
men."

"Not always," the merchant said, with a smile, "though generally that
is the case. The aldermen are chosen by the votes of the Common Council
of each ward, and that choice generally falls upon one whom they deem
will worthily represent them, or upon one who shows the most devotion
to the interests of the ward and city. My father was a prominent
citizen before me, and I early learned from him to take an interest in
the affairs of the city. It chanced that, when on the accession of the
young king the Duke of Lancaster would have infringed some of our
rights and privileges, I was one of the speakers at a meeting of the
citizens, and being younger and perhaps more outspoken than others, I
came to be looked upon as one of the champions of the city, and thus,
without any merit of my own, was elected to represent my ward when a
vacancy occurred shortly afterwards."

"My husband scarce does himself justice, Master De Courcy," the
trader's wife said, "for it was not only because of his championship of
the city's rights, but as one of the richest and most enterprising of
our merchants, and because he spends his wealth worthily, giving large
gifts to many charities, and being always foremost in every work for
the benefit of the citizens. Maybe, too, the fact that he was one of
the eight citizens who jousted at the tournament, given at the king's
accession, against the nobles of the Court, and who overthrew his
adversary, had also something to do with his election."

"Nay, nay, wife! these are private affairs that are of little interest
to our guests, and you speak with partiality."

"At any rate, sir," Edgar said, courteously, "the fact that you so bore
yourself in the tournament suffices to explain how it was that you were
able to keep those cut-throats at bay until just before we arrived at
the spot."

"We are peaceful men in the city," the merchant said, "but we know that
if we are to maintain our rights, and to give such aid as behoves us to
our king in his foreign wars, we need knowledge as much as others how
to bear arms. Every apprentice as well as every free man throughout the
city has to practise at the butts, and to learn to use sword and
dagger. I myself was naturally well instructed; and as my father was
wealthy, there were always two or three good horses in his stables, and
I learned to couch a lance and sit firm in the saddle. As at Hastings
and Poictiers, the contingent of the city has ever been held to bear
itself as well as the best; and although we do not, like most men,
always go about the street with swords in our belts, we can all use
them if needs be. Strangely enough, it is your trading communities that
are most given to fighting. Look at Venice and Genoa, Milan and Pisa,
Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges, and to go further back, Carthage and Tyre.
And even among us, look at the men of Sandwich and Fowey in Cornwall;
they are traders, but still more they are fighters; they are ever
harassing the ships of France, and making raids on the French coast."

"I see that it is as you say," Edgar said, "though I have never thought
of it before. Somehow one comes to think of the citizens of great towns
as being above all things peaceful."

"The difference between them and your knights is, that the latter are
always ready to fight for honour and glory, and often from the pure
love of fighting. We do not want to fight, but are ready to do so for
our rights and perhaps for our interests, but at bottom I believe that
there is little difference between the classes. Perhaps if we
understood each other better we should join more closely together. We
are necessary to each other; we have the honour of England equally at
heart. The knights and nobles do most of our fighting for us, while we,
on our part, import or produce everything they need beyond the common
necessities of life; both of us are interested in checking the undue
exercise of kingly authority; and if they supply the greater part of
the force with which we carry on the war with France, assuredly it is
we who find the greater part of the money for the expenses, while we
get no share of the spoils of battle."

"Have you any sisters, Master De Courcy?" the merchant's wife asked,
presently.

"I have but one; she is just about the same age as your daughter, and
methinks there is a strong likeness between them. She and my mother are
both here, having been sent for by my father on the news of the
troubles in our neighbourhood."

"In that case, wife," the merchant said, "it were seemly that you and
Ursula accompany me to-morrow when I go to pay my respects to Sir Ralph
De Courcy."

After dinner was over the merchant took his guests into a small room
adjoining that in which they had dined.

"Friends," he said, "we London merchants are accustomed to express our
gratitude not only by words but by deeds. At present, methinks, seeing
that, as you have told me, you have not yet launched out into the
world, there is naught that you need; but this may not be so always,
for none can tell what fortune may befall him. I only say that any
service I can possibly render you at any time, you have but to ask me.
I am a rich man, and, having no son, my daughter is my only heir. Had
your estate been different and your taste turned towards trade, I could
have put you in the way of becoming like myself, foreign merchants; but
even in your own profession of arms I may be of assistance.

"Should you go to the war later on and wish to take a strong following
with you, you have but to come to me and say how much it will cost to
arm and equip them and I will forthwith defray it, and my pleasure in
doing so will be greater than yours in being able to follow the king
with a goodly array of fighting men. One thing, at least, you must
permit me to do when the time comes that you are to make your first
essay in arms: it will be my pleasure and pride to furnish you with
horse, arms, and armour. This, however, is a small matter. What I
really wish you to believe is that under all circumstances--and one
cannot say what will happen during the present troubles--you can rely
upon me absolutely."

"We thank you most heartily, sir," Edgar said, "and should the time
come when, as you say, circumstances may occur in which we can take
advantage of your most generous offers, we will do so."

"That is well and loyally said," the merchant replied, "and I shall
hold you to it. You will remember that, by so doing, it will be you who
confer the favour and not I, for my wife and I will always be uneasy in
our minds until we can do something at least towards proving our
gratitude for the service that you have rendered."

A few minutes later, after taking leave of the merchant's wife and
daughter, the two friends left the house.

"Truly we have been royally entertained, Edgar. What luxury and
comfort, and yet everything quiet and in good taste. The apartments of
the king himself are cold and bare in comparison. I felt half inclined
to embrace his offer and to declare that I would fain become a trader
like himself."

Edgar laughed, "Who ever heard of such a thing as the son of a valiant
knight going into trade? Why the bare thought of such a thing would
make Sir Ralph's hair stand on end. You would even shock your gentle
mother."

"But why should it, Edgar? In Italy the nobles are traders, and no one
thinks it a dishonour. Why should not a peaceful trade be held in as
high esteem as fighting?"

"That I cannot say, Albert," Edgar replied, more seriously; "but
whatever may be the case in Venice, it assuredly is not so here. It may
be that some day when we reach as high a civilization as Genoa and
Venice possess, trade may here be viewed as it is there--as honourable
for even those of the highest birth. Surely commerce requires far more
brains and wisdom than the dealing of blows, and the merchants of
Venice can fight as earnestly as they can trade. Still, no one man can
stand against public opinion, and until trade comes to be generally
viewed as being as honourable a calling as that of war, men of gentle
blood will not enter upon it; and you must remember, Albert, that it is
but the exceptions who can gain such wealth as that of our host to-day,
and that had you gone into the house of one of the many who can only
earn a subsistence from it, you would not have been so entertained.
But, of course, you are not serious, Albert."

"Not serious in thinking of being a trader, Edgar, though methinks the
life would suit me well; but quite serious in not seeing why knights
and nobles should look down upon traders."

"There I quite agree with you; but as my father said to me, 'You must
not think, Edgar, that you can set yourself up and judge others
according to your own ideas.' We were especially speaking then of the
freeing of the serfs and the bettering of their condition. 'These
things,' he said, 'will come assuredly when the general opinion is ripe
for them, but those who first advocate changes are ever looked upon as
dreamers, if not as seditious and dangerous persons, and to force on a
thing before the world is fit for it is to do harm rather than good.
Theoretically, there is as much to be said for the views of the priest
Jack Straw and other agitators, as for those of Wickcliffe; but their
opinions will at first bring persecution and maybe death to those who
hold them. These peasants will rise in arms, and will, when the affair
is over--should they escape with their lives--find their condition even
worse than before; while the followers of Wickcliffe will have the
whole power of the Church against them, and may suffer persecution and
even death, besides being often viewed with grave disfavour even by
their families for taking up with strange doctrines.'"

"No doubt that is so, Edgar, but I wish I lived in days when it were
not deemed necessary that one of gentle blood should be either a
fighting man or a priest."

In the time of Richard II. it was not considered in any way
misdemeaning to receive a present for services rendered--a chain of
gold, arms and armour, and even purses of money were so received with
as little hesitation as were ransoms for prisoners taken in battle.
Therefore Sir Ralph expressed himself as much pleased when he heard of
the merchant's promise to present their military outfit to the two
lads, and of his proffer of other services.

"By St. George," he said, "such good fortune never befell me, although
I have been fighting since my youth. I have, it is true, earned many a
heavy ransom from prisoners taken in battle, but that was a matter of
business. The gold chain I wear was a present from the Black Prince,
and I do not say that I have not received some presents in my time from
merchants whose property I have rescued from marauders, or to whom I
have rendered other service. Still, I know not of any one piece of good
fortune that equals yours, and truly I myself have no small
satisfaction in it, for I have wondered sometimes where the sums would
have come from to furnish Albert with suitable armour and horse, which
he must have if he is to ride in the train of a noble. In truth, I
shall be glad to see this merchant of yours, and maybe his daughter
will be a nice companion for Aline, who, not having her own pursuits
here, finds it, methinks, dull. Just at present the Court has other
things to think of besides pleasure."

On the following day the visit was paid, and afforded pleasure to all
parties. The knight was pleased with the manners of the merchant, who,
owing to his visit to Italy, had little of the formal gravity of his
craft, while there was a heartiness and straightforwardness in his
speech that well suited the bluff knight. The ladies were no less
pleased with each other, and Dame Agatha found herself, to her
surprise, chatting with her visitors on terms of equality, and
discoursing on dress and fashion, the doings of the Court and life in
the city, as if she had known her for years. At her mother's suggestion
Aline went with Ursula into the garden, and from time to time their
merry laughter could be heard through the open window.

"I hope that you will allow your daughter to come and see mine
sometimes," the dame said, as her guest rose to leave. "When at home
the girl has her horse and dogs, her garden, and her household duties
to occupy her. Here she has naught to do save to sit and embroider, and
to have a girl friend would be a great pleasure to her."

"Ursula will be very glad to do so, and I trust that you will allow
your daughter sometimes to come to us. I will always send her back
under good escort."

Every day rendered the political situation more serious. The Kentish
rising daily assumed larger proportions, and was swollen by a great
number of the Essex men, who crossed the river and joined them; and one
morning the news came that a hundred thousand men were gathered on
Blackheath, the Kentish men having been joined not only by those of
Essex, but by many from Sussex, Herts, Cambridge, Suffolk, and Norfolk.
These were not under one chief leader, but the men from each locality
had their own captain. These were Wat the Tyler, William Raw, Jack
Sheppard, Tom Milner, and Hob Carter.

"Things are coming to a pass indeed," Sir Ralph said, angrily, as he
returned from the Tower late one afternoon. "What think you, this
rabble has had the insolence to stop the king's mother, as with her
retinue she was journeying hither. Methought that there was not an
Englishman who did not hold the widow of the Black Prince in honour,
and yet the scurvy knaves stopped her. It is true that they shouted a
greeting to her, but they would not let her pass until she had
consented to kiss some of their unwashed faces. And, in faith, seeing
that her life would have been in danger did she refuse, she was forced
to consent to this humiliation.

"By St. George, it makes my blood boil to think of it; and here, while
such things are going on, we are doing naught. Even the city does not
call out its bands, nor is there any preparation made to meet the
storm. All profess to believe that these fellows mean no harm, and will
be put off with a few soft words, forgetful of what happened in France
when the peasants rose, and that these rascals have already put to
death some score of judges, lawyers, and wealthy people. However, when
the princess arrived with the news, even the king's councillors
concluded that something must be clone, and I am to ride, with five
other knights, at six to-morrow morning, to Blackheath, to ask these
rascals, in the name of the king, what it is that they would have, and
to promise them that their requests shall be carefully considered."

At nine the next morning the knight returned.

"What news, Sir Ralph?" Dame Agatha asked, as he entered. "How have you
sped with your mission?"

"In truth, we have not sped at all. The pestilent knaves refused to
have aught to say to us, but bade us return and tell the king that it
was with him that they would have speech, and that it was altogether
useless his sending out others to talk for him; he himself must come.
'Tis past all bearing. Never did I see such a gathering of ragged
rascals; not one of them, I verily believe, has as much as washed his
face since they started from home. I scarce thought that all England
could have turned out such a gathering. Let me have some bread and
wine, and such meat as you have ready. There is to be a council in half
an hour, and I must be there. There is no saying what advice some of
these poor-spirited courtiers may give."

"What will be your counsel, Sir Ralph?"

"My counsel will be that the king should mount with what knights he may
have, and a couple of score of men-at-arms, and should ride to Oxford,
send out summonses to his nobles to gather there with their vassals,
and then come and talk with these rebels, and in such fashion as they
could best understand. They may have grievances, but this is not the
way to urge them, by gathering in arms, murdering numbers of honourable
men, insulting the king's mother, burning deeds and records, and now
demanding that the king himself should wait on their scurvy majesties.
Yet I know that there will be some of these time-servers round the king
who will advise him to intrust himself to these rascals who have
insulted his mother.

"By my faith, were there but a couple of score of my old companions
here, we would don our armour, mount our warhorses, and ride at them.
It may be that we should be slain, but before that came about we would
make such slaughter of them that they would think twice before they
took another step towards London."

"It was as I expected," the knight said, when he returned from the
council. "The majority were in favour of the king yielding to these
knaves and placing himself in their power, but the archbishop of
Canterbury, and Hales the treasurer, and I, withstood them so hotly
that the king yielded to us, but not until I had charged them with
treachery, and with wishing to imperil the king's life for the safety
of their own skins. De Vere and I might have come to blows had it not
been for the king's presence."

"Then what was the final decision of the council, Sir Ralph?" his wife
asked.

"It was a sort of compromise," the knight said. "One which pleased me
not, but which at any rate will save the king from insult. He will send
a messenger to-day to them saying that he will proceed to-morrow in his
barge to Rotherhithe, and will there hold converse with them. He
intends not to disembark, but to parley with them from the boat, and he
will, at least in that way, be safe from assault. I hear that another
great body of the Essex, Herts, Norfolk, and Suffolk rebels have
arrived on the bank opposite Greenwich, and that it is their purpose,
while those of Blackheath enter the city from Southwark, to march
straight hitherwards, so that we shall be altogether encompassed by
them."

"But the citizens will surely never let them cross the bridge?"

"I know not," the knight said, gloomily. "The lord mayor had audience
with the king this morning, and confessed to him that, although he and
all the better class of citizens would gladly oppose the rioters to the
last, and suffer none to enter the walls, that great numbers of the
lower class were in favour of these fellows, and that it might be that
they would altogether get the better of them, and make common cause
with the rabble. Many of these people have been out to Blackheath; some
have stayed there with the mob, while others have brought back news of
their doings. Among the rabble on Blackheath are many hedge priests;
notably, I hear, one John Ball, a pestilent knave, who preaches treason
to them, and tells them that as all men are equal, so all the goods of
those of the better class should be divided among those having nothing,
a doctrine which pleases the rascals mightily."

The next day, accordingly, the king went down with some of his
councillors to Rotherhithe. A vast crowd lined both banks of the river,
and saluted him with such yells and shouts, that those with him,
fearing the people might put off in boats and attack him, bade the
rowers turn the boat's head and make up the river again; and,
fortunately, the tide being just on the turn, they were thus able to
keep their course in the middle of the river, and so escape any arrows
that might otherwise have been shot at them.



CHAPTER VII

DEATH TO THE FLEMINGS!


That morning Aline had gone early to the city at the invitation of
Mistress Gaiton to spend the day with Ursula, under the escort of her
brother and Edgar. They were to have fetched her before dusk, but early
in the afternoon Richard Gaiton himself brought her back.

"I am sorry to bring your daughter back so early," he said to Dame
Agatha, "but I had news that after the king turned back this morning,
the leaders of the rebels have been haranguing them, telling them that
it was clearly useless to put any trust in promises, or to hope that
redress could be obtained from the king, who was surrounded by evil
councillors, and that, since they would not allow him to trust himself
among the people, the people must take the matter into their own hands.
They had remained quiet long enough; now was the time that they should
show their strength. The rabble shouted loudly, 'Let us to London!
Death to the council! Death to the rich!' and having gathered under
their leaders, they started to march for Southwark. As there is no
saying what may come of the matter, methought that it were best to
bring the young lady back again."

"I thank you," Dame Agatha said; "'tis indeed better that we should be
together. This morning my lord was saying that if these knaves marched
upon London, he had decided that we should move into the Tower."

"It were indeed best, madam. There is no saying what may happen when
these fellows become inflamed with wine and begin to taste the sweets
of plunder. We ourselves feel ashamed that we are not in a position to
inarch out with the city force, and to maintain the law against this
rabble; but it is clear to us that the majority are on the other side.
They have taken into their heads that if these fellows gain rights and
privileges for themselves, the city may also gain fresh rights. Many of
the serving-men, the craftsmen, and even the apprentices have friends
and relations among these people, for most of them belong to the
counties round London.

"There are others better placed who not only sympathize, as I myself
do, with the natural desire of the country people to be free from
serfdom, but who favour the cause because they think that were all the
people free to carry arms it would check the power both of the king and
nobles. So it comes that the city is divided in itself; and in this
strait, when all should show a front against rebellion, we are
powerless to do aught. Even among those who talk the loudest against
the rabble, there are many, I fear, who send them secret encouragement,
and this not because they care aught for their grievances, but because
the people are set against the Flemings, who are ill-liked by many of
the merchants as being rivals in trade, and who have in their hands the
greater portion of the dealings, both with Flanders and the Low
Country; and indeed, though I see that in the long run we shall benefit
greatly by this foreign trade, I quite perceive that the privileges
that our king has given to the Flemings in order to win their good-will
and assistance against France, do for the present cause disadvantage
and harm to many of the traders of London."

"'Tis a troubled time," Dame Agatha said, "and 'tis hard to see what is
for the best. However, in the Tower assuredly we shall be safe."

"I hope so," the merchant said, gravely.

"Surely you cannot doubt it, Master Gaiton?" Dame Agatha said in
surprise.

"I hear that the rabble are openly saying that the men-at-arms and
archers will not act against them. It maybe but empty boasting, but
there may be something in it. The men are almost all enlisted from
Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Hertford, and I have heard report that there
is sore discontent among them because their pay is greatly in arrear,
owing to the extravagance of the Court. It were well, perhaps, that you
should mention this to Sir Ralph, and, above all, I pray you to
remember, madam, that so long as my house stands, so long will it be a
refuge to which you and yours may betake yourselves in case of danger
here. I say not that it is safer than elsewhere, for there is no saying
against whom the rage of the rabble may be directed."

Sir Ralph came home late in the afternoon. He was gloomy and depressed.

"Things are going but badly, wife," he said. "Verily, were it not for
the duty I owe to the king, we would take horse and ride to Kingston,
and there cross the river and journey round so as to avoid these
fellows, and get to our home and wait there and see what comes of this,
and should they attack us, fight to the end. It seems to me that all
have lost their heads--one gives one counsel, and one gives another.
Never did I see such faint hearts. The lord mayor has been with the
king. He speaks bravely as far as he himself and the better class of
citizens are concerned, but they are overborne by the commonalty, who
favour the rabble partly because they hope to gain by the disorder, and
partly because the leaders of the rabble declare that they will slay
all the council, and, above all, the Duke of Lancaster, against whom
many in the city, as well as in the country, have a deep grudge."

"What counsel did you give, husband?"

"I asked the king to give me the command of half the men-at-arms and
archers, and that I would march them through the city across London
Bridge, close the gates there, and defend them alike against the rabble
on the farther side and that of the city until help could be gathered.
The king himself was willing that this should be so, but the council
said that were I to do this, the gatherings from Essex, Hertford,
Suffolk, and Cambridge would march hither and be joined by the rabble
of the city, and so attack the Tower, being all the more furious at
what they would deem a breach of their privileges by my taking
possession of the gates; and so nothing was done. Have you looked out
of the windows across the river? If not, do so."

Lady Agatha crossed the room and gazed out. From several points in
Southwark columns of smoke mingled with flames were ascending.

"What is it, Ralph?"

"It is the rabble, who are plundering Southwark, and, as I hear, have
broke open the prisons of the Marshalsea and King's Bench. The
malefactors there have joined them; and this has been done without a
stroke being smitten in defence. Where are the boys?"

"They went into the city with Aline this morning, and have not
returned. Ah! here they are coming through the gate."

"Well, Albert, what news have you?" Sir Ralph asked his son as they
entered.

"The city is in an uproar, father; most of the shops have closed. There
are gatherings in the streets, and though the lord mayor and Robert
Gaiton and many of the better class have been haranguing them, they
refuse to disperse to their homes. Robert Gaiton took us into the
Guildhall, where many of the most worshipful citizens were assembled,
discussing the matter and what is to be done, but they have no force at
their command. The Flemings are in great fear. Some have betaken
themselves to the churches, where they hope that their lives may be
respected, but without, as it seems to me, any good warrant; for, as
the rabble at Canterbury did not respect even the cathedral, it is not
likely that they will hold churches here as sanctuary. Robert Gaiton
advised us that if we entered the city to-morrow we should not show
ourselves in our present apparel, for he says that if the rabble enter,
they may fall foul of any whose dresses would show them to belong to
the Court, and he has given us two sober citizen suits, in which he
said we should be able to move about without fear of molestation."

"Things have come to a nice pass, indeed," Sir Ralph grumbled, "when
the son of a knight cannot walk with safety in the streets of London.
Still, Gaiton is doubtless right."

"You will not let the boys enter the city surely, Sir Ralph?" Dame
Agatha said, anxiously.

"I do not say so, dame. The lads are going to be soldiers, and it were
well that they became used to scenes of tumult. Moreover, they may
bring us news of what is doing there that may help us. I have obtained
the use of a chamber in the Tower for you and Aline. My place, of
course, will be by the king's side; and maybe the reports that the boys
will bring us of the doings in the city may be useful. Is it your wish,
lads, to go into the city?"

"With your permission, sir, we would gladly do so. There will be much
to see, and, it may be, to learn."

"That is so. Above all, take to heart the lesson that it is dangerous
to grant aught to force; and that if the rabble be suffered to become,
even for an hour, the masters, they will soon become as wild beasts. It
was so in France, and it will be so wherever, by the weakness of the
authorities, the mob is allowed to raise its head and to deem itself
master of everything. All this evil has been brought about by the
cowardice of the garrison of Rochester Castle. Had they done their duty
they could have defended the place for weeks against those knaves, even
if not strong enough to have sallied out and defeated them in the open,
but the fellows seem to have inspired everyone with terror; and in
faith, whatever befalls, it will be mainly the fault of those who
should at the first outbreak have gathered themselves together to make
a stand against this unarmed rabble, for it might at that time have
been crushed by a single charge.

"I take blame to myself now, that instead of summoning you hither, I
did not hasten home as soon as I heard of the doings at Dartford,
gather a score of my neighbours with their retainers, and give battle
to the mob. There were comparatively few at that time, and they had not
gained confidence in themselves. And even if we had deemed them too
strong to attack in the field, we might have thrown ourselves into
Rochester and aided the garrison to hold the castle. I have seen
troubles in Flanders, and have learnt how formidable the mob may become
when it has once tasted blood; and it is well that you should both
learn that, even when the commonalty have just grounds for complaint,
they must not be allowed to threaten the security of the realm by armed
rebellion.

"Would that the Black Prince were here instead of the Boy King, we
should then have very different measures taken. Even if the king's
mother had spirit and courage, the counsels of those men who surround
the king would be overborne; but she was so alarmed, as she well might
be, at her meeting with the rabble on Blackheath, that the spirit she
once had seems to have quite departed, and she is all in favour of
granting them what they will."

Later on Sir Ralph again went to the Tower and shortly returned. "Put
on your cloaks and hoods at once," he said to his wife. "The Essex and
Hertford men have arrived on the north side of the city and may be here
in the morning, and it will be then too late to retire to the Tower. I
will give you a quarter of an hour to pack up your belongings. The men
will carry them for you. As to you, boys, you can safely remain here
until daybreak, then put on your citizen dresses and make your way
quietly into the city, as soon as the gates are open. Put them over
your own clothes. I charge you to take no part in any street fray; but
if the better class of citizens make a stand, throw off your citizen
clothes and join them and strike for the king and country, for
assuredly England would be ruined were the rabble to have their way."

In a quarter of an hour the ladies were ready; and their Court suits
and those of Albert and Edgar had been packed. The men-at-arms took up
the valises, and, followed by them, Sir Ralph, his wife, and daughter
made for the Tower.

In the morning as soon as they knew that the gates would be open the
two boys attired themselves in the citizen suits, and, buckling on
their swords, left the house. As soon as they entered the city they
found that the streets were already filled with people. It was Corpus
Christi, at that time kept as a general holiday, and, regardless of the
troubles, many were flocking out to enjoy a holiday in the country. The
boys had debated whether they should first go to the merchant's, but
they agreed not to do so, as he would probably be in consultation with
the authorities, and would be fully occupied without having them to
attend to.

As they advanced farther it was easy to see that there was another
element besides that of the holiday-makers abroad. Bands of men
carrying heavy staves, and many of them with swords at their belts,
were hurrying in the direction of the bridge, and Edgar and Albert took
the same direction. The bridge itself was crowded, partly with
holiday-makers and partly with armed men, while the windows of the
houses were occupied by spectators, who were looking down with evident
apprehension at what was about to take place. Gradually making their
way forward the two friends reached the other end. Here there was a
group of citizens on horseback. Among them was the lord mayor, William
Walworth, and many of the aldermen, Robert Gaiton among them. The mob
were shouting, "Open the gates!" The uproar was great, but on the mayor
holding up his hand there was silence.

"Fellow-citizens," he said, "know ye not what has been done by these
men at Southwark? Not content with plundering and ill-treating the
inhabitants, breaking open the cellars and besotting themselves with
liquor, they have opened the doors of the prisons, and have been joined
by the malefactors held there. Assuredly if they enter the city they
will behave in like manner here; therefore the gates cannot be opened."

A man stepped forward from the mob and replied:

"It has always been the custom for the gates to be opened, and for the
citizens to go out to the fields to enjoy themselves on a holiday, and
we will have it so now whether you like it or not."

Then the uproar was renewed, swords and staves were raised menacingly,
and cries raised of "Death to the lord mayor!" "Death to all who would
interfere with our liberties!" The mayor took counsel with those around
him. It was manifestly impossible that some twenty or thirty men could
successfully oppose an infuriated mob, and it was certain that they
would all lose their lives were they to do so, and that without avail.
Accordingly the mayor again held up his hand for silence, and said:

"We cannot oppose your will, seeing that you are many and that we are
few; therefore, if you wish it, we must open the gates, but many of you
will regret ere many days have passed the part that you have taken in
this matter."

So saying, he and those with him drew aside. With a shout of triumph
the mob rushed to the gates, removed the bars and opened them, and then
poured out, shouting and cheering, into Southwark.

While the dispute had been going on the two friends had quietly made
their way almost to the front line.

"What had we best do, Edgar?"

"We had best keep quiet," the latter said; "this is but a street broil,
against which your father charged us to take no part. It would not be a
fight, but a massacre. Had these gentlemen been in armour, they might
have sold their lives dearly, and perchance have fought their way
through, but seeing that they have but on their civic gowns they can
make no effectual resistance."

As soon as the gates were open they stood back in a doorway until the
first rush of the crowd had ceased; then they followed the horsemen
across the bridge again, and took their stand at the end of Gracechurch
Street to see what would follow. In a short time they saw the
holiday-makers come pouring back over the bridge in evident terror, and
close on their heels were a great mob. At their head, on horseback,
rode Wat Tyler and three or four other leaders. Behind them followed a
disorderly crowd, brandishing their weapons. Many of these were drunk,
their clothes being stained deeply by the wine from the casks they had
broached. Among them were many of the men who had been released from
prison.

As they poured over the bridge, some broke off from the column and
began to harangue the citizens, saying that these had as much to
complain of as they had, seeing how they were taxed for the
extravagancies of the Court and the expense of foreign wars, and that
now was the time for all honest men to rise against their oppressors.
Many of the lower class joined their ranks. None ventured to enter into
dispute with them. Some of the mob were dressed in ecclesiastical robes
which they had taken from the churches. These as they went shouted
blasphemous parodies on the mass. The leaders evidently had a fixed
purpose in their minds, for upon reaching Cheapside they turned west.

"It is sad to think that these fellows should disgrace the cause for
which they took up arms," Edgar said to his companion. "They had
grounds for complaint when they first rose. I then felt some sympathy
for them, but now they are intoxicated with their success. Look at Wat
the Tyler. I believed he was an honest workman, and, as all said, a
clever one. I do not blame him that in his wrath he slew the man who
had insulted his daughter; but look at him now--he rides as if he were
a king. He is puffed up with his own importance, and looks round upon
the citizens as if he were their lord and master. He has stolen some
armour on his way, and deems that he cuts a knightly figure. Let us go
by the quiet streets and see what is their object."

The whole of the rioters moved down Cheapside by St. Paul's, and then
to the Temple. So far they offered no wrong to anyone. They sallied out
through the gates and continued on their way until they reached the
Savoy, the splendid palace of the Duke of Lancaster, which was said to
be the fairest and most richly furnished of any in the kingdom. With
shouts of triumph they broke into it and scattered through the rooms,
smashing the furniture and destroying everything they could lay hands
upon. Some made for the cellars, where they speedily intoxicated
themselves. Loud shouts were raised that nothing was to be taken. The
silver vessels and jewels were smashed, and then carried down to the
Thames and thrown into it.

In a short time flames burst out in several parts of the palace. One
man was noticed by another as he thrust a silver cup into his dress. He
was at once denounced and seized, and was without further ado hurled
into the flames.

The fire spread rapidly. The crowd surrounded the palace, shouting,
yelling, and dancing in their triumph over the destruction that they
had wrought. Upwards of thirty of the drunkards were unable to escape,
and were imprisoned in the cellars. Their shouts for help were heard
for seven days, but none came to their assistance, for the ruins of the
house had fallen over them, and they all perished. Thence the crowd
went to the Temple, where they burnt all the houses occupied by
lawyers, with all their books and documents, and then proceeded to the
house of the Knights of St. John, a splendid building but lately
erected. This also they fired, and so great was its extent that it
burned for seven days.

The next morning twenty thousand of them marched to Highbury, the great
manor-house of which belonged to the Order of St. John, and this and
the buildings around it were all destroyed by fire.

After seeing the destruction of the Temple, Edgar and Albert went back
to Cheapside. The streets were almost deserted. The better class of
citizens had all shut themselves up in their houses and every door was
closed. On knocking at the door of the mercer the two friends were
admitted. The alderman had just returned from a gathering of the city
authorities. They told him what they had witnessed.

"It passes all bounds," he said, "and yet there is naught that we can
do to put a stop to it. For myself I have counselled that proclamation
shall be made that all honest citizens shall gather, with arms in their
hands, at the Guildhall, and that we should beg the king to give us
some assistance in men-at-arms and archers, and that we should then
give battle to the rabble. But I found few of my opinion. All were
thinking of the safety of their families and goods, and said that were
we defeated, as we well might be, seeing how great are their numbers,
they would pillage and slay as they chose. Whereas, if we give them no
pretence for molesting us, it might be that they would do no harm to
private persons, but would content themselves with carrying out their
original designs of obtaining a charter from the king.

"In faith it is cowardly counsel, and yet, as with the forces from the
north and south there must be fully two hundred thousand rebels, I own
that there is some reason in such advice. If the king with his knights
and nobles and his garrison at the Tower would but sally out and set us
an example, be sure that he would be joined by the law-abiding
citizens, but as he doeth naught in this strait, I see not that
peaceful citizens are called upon to take the whole brunt of it upon
their own shoulders. However, I have little hope that the rioters will
content themselves with destroying palaces and attacking lawyers. What
you tell me of the execution of one of their number, who stole a silver
cup, shows that the bulk of them are at present really desirous only of
redress of grievances, but they will soon pass beyond this. The
jail-birds will set an example of plunder and murder, and unless help
comes before long, all London will be sacked. My men and apprentices
are already engaged in carrying down to the cellars all my richest
wares. The approach is by a trap-door, with a great stone over it in
the yard, and it will, I hope, escape their search.

"Of one thing you may be sure, that as soon as the king shows himself,
and it is seen that he is in danger, there will be no hanging back, but
we shall join him with what force we can. I think not that he can have
aid from without, for we hear that the country people have everywhere
risen, and that from Winchester in the south, to Scarborough in the
north, they have taken up arms, and that the nobles are everywhere shut
up in their castles, so they, being cut off from each other, are in no
position to gather a force that could bring aid to the king. You can
tell your good father what I say, and that all depends upon the
attitude of the king. If he comes to us with his knights and men we
will join him; if he comes not, and we learn that he is in danger, we
will do what we can, but that must depend much upon how the rebels
comport themselves."

The two lads went to the Tower, but the gates were closed and the
drawbridge pulled up, and they therefore returned to their lodging,
where they passed the night. On the following day they returned into
the city; there the rioters had already began their work. Thirty
Flemings, who had taken refuge in the churches, were dragged from the
altar and were beheaded, thirty-two others were seized in the vintry
and also slain. Then parties broke into all the houses where the
Flemings lived, and such as had not fled in disguise were killed, and
their houses pillaged. All through the day the streets were in an
uproar. Every man the rebels met was seized and questioned.

"Who are you for?" Such as answered "The king and commons" were allowed
to go unmolested, others were killed. The two friends had several
narrow escapes. Fortunately Edgar had learned the watchword at Dartford
and readily replied, and they were allowed to pass on. They were
traversing Bread Street when they heard a scream behind them, and a
girl came flying along, pursued by a large number of the rioters,
headed by a man in the dress of a clerk. She reached the door of a
handsome house close to them, but before she could open it the leader
of the party ran up and roughly seized her. Edgar struck him a buffet
on the face which sent him reeling backwards.

With shouts of fury the crowd rushed up just as the door opened. Edgar
and Albert stepped back into the doorway, while the girl ran upstairs.

"How, now, my masters," Edgar said as he drew his sword, "is this the
way to secure your rights and liberties, by attacking women in the
streets? Shame on you! Do you call yourselves Englishmen?"

"They are Flemings!" the man whom Edgar had struck shouted out.

"Well, sir, I should say that you were a Fleming yourself, by your
speech," Edgar said.

"I am but a clerk," the man said. "He who lives here is one of the
Flemings who bought the taxes, and has been grinding down the people,
of whom I am one."

"The people must be badly off, indeed," Edgar said, contemptuously, "if
they need to have such a cur as you on their side."

But his words were drowned by the furious shouts of the crowd, "Death
to the Flemings!" and a rush was made at the door, headed by the clerk,
who struck savagely at Edgar. The latter parried the stroke, and thrust
the man through the throat. With a yell of rage the crowd now strove
furiously to enter, but the position of the two lads standing back a
couple of feet from the entrance rendered it impossible for more than
two or three to attack them at once, and the clubs and rough weapons
were no match for the swords. Nevertheless, although five or six of
their opponents fell, the weight of numbers pressed the friends back to
the staircase, where they again made a stand.

For five minutes the conflict raged. The boys had both received several
blows, for the weight of the heavy weapons sometimes beat down their
guard; but they still fought on, retiring a step or two up the stair
when hardly pressed, and occasionally making dashes down upon their
assailants, slaying the foremost, and hurling the others backwards.
Presently the girl ran down again to them.

"All are in safety," she said. "Run upstairs when you can. Where you
see me standing at a door run in and lock it on the inside."

"One more rush, Albert, and then upstairs."

With a shout Edgar threw himself upon a man who had raised a heavy
pole-axe, and cut the fellow down. Then, as the man fell, Edgar flung
himself on him, and hurled him against those behind, while Albert at
the same moment ran an opponent through the body. Then, turning, they
sprang up the stairs. On the landing above the girl was standing at an
open door. They ran in and closed it, and then piled articles of
furniture against it.

"There is no occasion for that," she said; "this way."

The room was heavily panelled, and one of the panels was standing open.
They followed her into this.

"Push it back," she said; "it is too heavy for me." The panel was
indeed of great weight, the wood being backed with brick, the whole ran
on rollers, but Edgar had no difficulty in closing it.

"Thank God, and you, gentlemen, that we are in safety. The keenest eye
could not see that the panel opens, and, being backed with brick, it
gives no hollow sound when struck. They will search in vain for it."

Taking a lamp from the ground, she led the way down a narrow flight of
stairs. By the depth to which they descended Edgar judged when they
reached the bottom that they must be below the level of the cellars.
She opened a door, and entered an apartment some twenty feet square. It
was lighted by four candles standing on a table. In one corner a woman
lay on a pallet; two women servants, sobbing with terror and
excitement, stood beside her, while a tall, elderly man rose to meet
them.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I don't know how to thank you. You must think it
cowardly that I did not descend to share your peril; but it was
necessary that I should go to the storey above that you reached to
bring down my wife, who, as you see, is grievously sick. Her two maids
were very nearly distraught with terror, and, if left to themselves,
would never have carried their mistress below. Having had some
experience of popular tumults in Bruges, my native town, I had this
hiding-place constructed when I first came here twenty years ago. Now,
to whom am I indebted for our safety?"

Edgar introduced his companion and himself.

"Then you are not, as would seem by your attire, merchants like myself?"

"No, sir. We but put on this attire over our own in order to be able to
traverse the streets without interruption. May I ask how it is that
your daughter was alone and unattended in the streets?"

"She was not unattended. She had with her my servant, a Flemish lad,
who has but recently come over. He speaks no English, and not knowing
the tongue, could not be sent out alone. My wife was taken worse this
morning, and the leech not having sent the medicine he promised, my
daughter, thinking that there could be no danger to a young girl, went
to get it, and as the servant was dressed in English fashion, and would
not be called upon to speak, I thought that she could pass unnoticed
did they fall in with any party of the rioters."

"So we should have done, father," the girl said, "had we not met a band
headed by Nicholas Bierstadt."

"The villain!" the merchant exclaimed. "So it was he who led the party
here. When these troubles are over I will see that he obtains his
deserts."

"He has obtained them already, sir," Edgar said, "for I slew the knave
at the first thrust."

"He was my clerk, the son of a man of some influence at Bruges. He was
well recommended to me, and came over here to learn the business and
the language, with the intention of going into trade for himself. It
was not long before I came to dislike his ways, and when, a fortnight
since, he asked me for the hand of my daughter, I repulsed him, telling
him that in the first place, she was too young to think of marriage,
and that, in the second, I liked him not, and would never give my
consent to her having him, and lastly, that she liked him as little as
I did. He answered insolently, and I then expelled him from the house,
when he threatened me that I should erelong regret my conduct. I gave
the fellow no further thought, and did not know where he bestowed
himself. Doubtless he was waiting to see whether this rabble would
reach London and what would come of it, and when they entered doubtless
he endeavoured to gratify his hatred by leading some of them hither.
And now, Joanna, tell me what befell you."

"We went safely to the leech's, father, and I got the medicine from
him. He made many apologies, but said that he had heard so much of the
doings of the rioters that he thought it best to stay indoors, and of
course he had not heard that mother was taken worse. We had come
half-way back when we fell in with a party of the rioters. Methinks
they would have said naught, but Bierstadt, whom I had not noticed,
suddenly grasped me by the arm, saying, 'This is the daughter of the
Fleming to whose house I am taking you, one of the chief oppressors of
the poor.' Johann struck him in the face, and as he loosened his hold
of me I darted away. Looking back, I saw Johann on the ground, and the
mob round him were hacking at him with their weapons. This gave me a
start, and I ran, but just as I reached the door Bierstadt overtook and
seized me; then this gentleman, who was passing, struck him a stout
buffet in the face, and without waiting to see more I hastened to give
you the alarm."

"Providence surely sent you to the spot, gentlemen," the Fleming said;
"here we are absolutely safe. During the last two days I have brought
down a provision of food, wine, and water sufficient to last us for a
month, and long before that methinks this rascaldom will have been
suppressed."

"There is no doubt of that, sir; my only fear is that when they cannot
discover where you are concealed, they will fire the house."

"Against that I have provided," the Fleming said. He opened the door.
"See you that stone slab, above a foot in thickness; it looks solid,
but it is not. It is worked by a counterpoise, and when it is lowered,"
and touching a spring, it began to descend, thus closing the stairway,
"not only would it baffle them did they find the entrance above, but it
would prevent any fire reaching here. The staircase is of stone, and
above us is a strongly arched cellar, which would resist were the whole
house to fall upon it."



CHAPTER VIII

A COMBAT IN THE TOWER


"I see that you are safe against fire, sir," Edgar said, when the stone
slab had descended and they had closed the door behind it; "but were
the walls of the house to fall in you might be buried here, as I hear
many drunken wretches were yesterday in the cellars of the Savoy."

"I have means of escape," the merchant said, going to the other side of
the apartment, where there was a massive iron door, which they had not
before noticed. "Here," he said, "is a passage leading under the
street; at the end it ascends, and is closed at the top by a massive
panel in the hall of the house opposite. When I took this house a
compatriot lived there, and it was with his consent that I made the
passage, which might be useful in case of need, to him as well as to
me. He returned to Flanders three years since, and the house has been
occupied by an English trader, who knows naught of the passage, so
that, at will, I can sally out by that way."

"And how is your dame, sir?" Albert asked. "I trust that she is none
the worse for her transport here."

"I trust not, young sir; she swooned as I brought her down, but I at
once poured some cordial between her lips, and when she opened her
eyes, just before you came down, I assured her that we were all safe,
and that there was no cause for the least fear; thereupon she closed
her eyes again, and is, methinks, asleep. When she wakes I shall give
her the medicine that my daughter brought. I trust that she will
erelong recover. Her attack was doubtless brought on by the news that
we received yesterday of the murder of so many of our countrymen. We
had already talked of taking refuge here, but deemed not that there was
any pressing need of haste, for the front door is a very strong one,
and could have resisted any attacks long enough to give us ample time
to retire here."

"How do you manage to breathe here, sir, now that the stone slab is
down and the door closed? I see not how you obtain air."

"For that I made provision at the time it was built. Here are two
shafts, six inches square; this one runs up into the chimney of the
kitchen and draws up the air from here; the other goes up to a grating
in the outer wall of the house in the yard behind. It looks as if made
for giving ventilation under the floors or to the cellar, and through
this the air comes down to take the place of that drawn upwards by the
heat of the chimney."

"And now, Mynheer Van Voorden," for such they had learned was the
Fleming's name, "as there is a way of escape, we shall be glad to use
it."

"I pray you do not think of doing so at present," the Fleming said. "We
know not yet whether the evil-doers have cleared off, and methinks it
is not likely that they will have gone yet. First they will search high
and low for us, then they will demolish the furniture, and take all
they deem worth carrying; then, doubtless, they will quench their
thirst in the cellar above, and lastly they will fire the house,
thinking that although they cannot find us, they will burn us with it.
They will wait some time outside to see if we appear at one of the
windows, and not until the roof has fallen in will they be sure that we
have perished. Moreover, you cannot well appear in the streets for the
present in that attire, for you might well be recognized and denounced.
First of all, let me persuade you to take such poor refreshments as I
can offer you."

"Thanks, sir; of that we shall be glad, for 'tis now past noon, and we
have had but a loaf we bought at a baker's as we entered the city."

The Fleming gave orders to the servant, and they speedily had a
snow-white cloth of the finest damask on the table, and placed on it a
service of silver dishes.

"'Tis well that I had my plate brought down here yesterday," the
merchant said, smiling, "though it hardly consorts well with the fare
that I have to offer you. To-morrow, should you pay us a visit, you
will find us better prepared, for, as you see, we have a fireplace at
the bottom of the flue opening into the kitchen chimney. This was done,
not only that we might have warmth, and be able, if need be, to cook
here, but to increase the draught upwards, and so bring down more air
from the other flue."

The lads, however, found that there was no need for apology, for there
were upon the dishes two chickens, a raised pasty large enough for a
dozen people, and a variety of sweets and conserves. The wine, too, was
superb. They made a hearty meal. When they had finished, the Fleming
said: "Now we will go upstairs; there is a peephole in the carving of
the panel, and we can see how matters stand."

Opening the door, they pushed up the massive stone. As they ascended
the stairs they smelt smoke, which grew thicker at each step.

"We need go no further, sirs; the house is clearly on fire, and smoke
has made its way through the peephole that I spoke of."

They waited for another half hour, and then they heard a heavy crash on
the other side of the stone barrier.

"The roof has doubtless fallen in or one of the walls," Van Voorden
said. "There is, be sure, a mob gathered to watch the flames, but in
another half hour it will have gone elsewhere; still, I should advise
you to wait until nightfall."

They saw that this would be prudent, for their attire would certainly
render them obnoxious to the rioters. They were, however, impatient to
be off and see what was being done. The Fleming's wife was still
sleeping soundly, and her husband said that he was convinced that the
crisis was passed, and that she would now recover. The Fleming asked
them many questions about themselves, and where they could be found.
They told them where they were at present lodging, but said they
thought that as soon as the present troubles were over they should
return to their home in the country.

"I myself shall be returning to Flanders, sirs. I have talked of it
many times these last five years, and after this outburst it will be
long before any of my people will be able to feel that they are safe in
London. Had it not been that the populace are as much masters in Bruges
as they are here, I should have gone long ago.

"There is, indeed, no change for the better there, but I shall settle
in Brussels or Louvain, where I can live in peace and quiet."

At the end of half an hour Edgar said: "I think that they must have
cleared off by this time. When we sally out, do you, Albert, go one
way, and I will go another. There is naught in our dress to distinguish
us from other citizens, and methinks that most of those who would have
known us again are lying under the ruins above."

They had, on first arriving below, washed the blood from their faces,
and bathed their wounds, which were by no means of a serious character.
The Fleming agreed with them that, if they separated, there would be no
great danger of their being recognized. After taking farewell of the
girl, who had all this time been sitting silently by her mother's
bedside, they passed through the iron door, preceded by the Fleming
carrying a lamp. After passing through the passage they went up a long
flight of narrow steps until their course was arrested by a wooden
panel. The Fleming applied first his eye and then his ear to a tiny
peephole.

"Everything is quiet," he said; then touched a spring, pushed the panel
open a short distance, and looked out.

"All is clear; you have but to open the door and go out."

He pushed the panel farther back, pressed the lads' hands as they went
out, and then closed the entrance behind them. There was but a single
bolt to undraw; then they opened the door and stepped into the street,
Edgar waiting for half a minute to let Albert get well away before he
went out.

The front wall of the opposite house, having fallen inward, quickly
smothered the fire, and although a light smoke, mingled with tongues of
flame, rose from the ruin, the place had ceased to have any attraction
for the mob, who had wandered away to look for more exciting amusement
elsewhere.

Scenes of this kind were being enacted throughout the city. Already the
restriction against plundering was disregarded, and although the men
from the counties still abstained from robbery, the released prisoners
from the jail and the denizens of the slums of the city had no such
scruples, and the houses of the Flemings were everywhere sacked and
plundered. The two friends met again at Aldgate. When they reached
Tower Hill, it was, they found, occupied by a dense throng of people,
who beleaguered the Tower and refused to allow any provisions to be
taken in, or any person to issue out.

"What had best be done, Edgar? So menacing is the appearance of the
rabble that methinks this attire would be as much out of place among
them as would our own."

"I agree with you there, Albert, and yet I know not what we are to do.
What we need is either a craftsman's dress or that of a countryman, but
I see not how the one or the other is to be obtained. Assuredly nothing
is to be bought, save perhaps bread, for the rioters have ordered that
all bakers' shops are to stand open."

He stood for a minute thinking. "I tell you what we might do," he went
on. "Let us go back into Aldgate, and then down on to the wharf. There
are many country boats there, and we might buy what we need from the
sailors."

"That is a good idea indeed, Edgar."

In a quarter of an hour they were on the wharf. Many of the craft there
had no one on board, the men having gone either to join the rioters or
to look on at what had been done. The skipper of a large fishing-boat
was sitting on the wharf looking moodily down into his vessel.

"Are you the captain of that craft?" Edgar asked him.

"I used to think so," he said; "but just at present no one obeys
orders, as every Jack thinks that he is as good as his master. I ought
to have gone out with the morning's tide, but my men would not have it
so, and just at present they are the masters, not I. A murrain on such
doings, say I. I was with them when it was but a talk of rights and
privileges, but when it comes to burning houses and slaying peaceable
men, I, for one, will have naught to do with it."

"Captain," Edgar said, "I see that you are an honest man, and maybe you
will aid us. We find that there is peril in going about attired as we
are, for we aided a short time since in saving a Flemish family from
massacre by these fellows, and we need disguises. We want two
countrymen's suits--it matters not whether they be new or old. We are
ready to pay for them, but every shop is closed, and we have come down
to the wharves to find someone who will sell."

"There is no difficulty about that," the skipper said, rising from his
seat. "My own clothes would scarce fit you, but two of my crew are
somewhat of your size. Step on board, and I will overhaul their
lockers, and doubt not that I shall find something to serve your
purpose. They will not mind if they find that there is money sufficient
to buy them new ones. Indeed, there is no need for that, for if you
leave behind you the clothes you wear they will sell at Colchester for
enough to buy them two or three suits such as those you take."

There was in those days no distinctive dress worn by sailors. The
captain went down into the little cabin forward and opened two lockers.

"There," he said, "suit yourselves out of these. They are their best,
for they thought that aught would do for mixing up with the mob in the
city."

So saying he went on deck again. The citizen's clothes were soon
stripped off, and the lads dressed in those they took from the lockers,
and in a few minutes they rejoined the skipper, looking like two young
countrymen.

"That will do well," he said, with a laugh. "Hob and Bill would scarce
know their clothes again if they saw them on you. No, no," he added, as
Albert put his hand into his pouch, "there is no need for money, lads;
they will be mightily content with the clothes you have left. Well,
yes; I don't care if I do take a stoup of liquor. There is a tavern
over there where they keep as good ale as you can find anywhere about
here."

After drinking a pint of beer with the honest skipper, they again went
off to the Tower, and mingled in the crowd. It was easy to see that it
was composed of two different sections--the one quiet and orderly, the
men looking grave and somewhat anxious, as if feeling that it was a
perilous enterprise upon which they were embarked, although still bent
upon carrying it out; the other noisy and savage--the men from the
jails, the scum of Canterbury and Rochester, and the mob of the city.
Between these classes there was no sympathy, the one was bent only upon
achieving their deliverance from serfdom, the other was solely
influenced by a desire for plunder, and a thirst for the blood of those
obnoxious to them. Presently there was a loud shout from the crowd as
the drawbridge was lowered.

"Perhaps they are going to make a sally, Albert. If so, we had best
make off to our lodgings, throw off these garments, and appear in our
own."

"'Tis the king!" Albert exclaimed; "and see, there is De Vere, the Earl
of Kent, and other nobles riding behind him."

"Yes; and there is your father. The king and those with him are without
armour or arms; if they had seen as much as we have seen the last two
days, they would scarce trust themselves in such a garb."

A great shout arose as the boy king rode across the drawbridge. The
lads noticed that the shout proceeded from the men who had hitherto
been silent, and that the noisy portion of the crowd now held their
peace. The king held up his hand for silence.

"My friends," he said, in a loud, clear voice, "there is no room here
for conference. Follow me to Mile End Fields, and I will then hear what
you wish to say to me, and will do what I can to give you satisfaction."

A great shout arose, and as the king rode off, most of the country
people followed him. A great mob, however, still remained. These
consisted principally of Wat the Tyler's following, who had ever been
in the front in the doings that had taken place, together with the
released malefactors and the town rabble. A few minutes after the king
and his followers had left, there was a movement forward, and a moment
later, with loud shouts, they began to pour across the drawbridge.

"What madness is this?" Edgar exclaimed. "There are twelve hundred men
there, and yet no bow is bent. It must be treachery!"

"It may be that, Edgar; but more like, orders have been issued that
none should shoot at the rioters or do them any harm, for were there
any killed here it might cost the king his life."

"That may be it," Edgar muttered; "but come on, there is no saying what
may happen."

They were now near the drawbridge, for when a part of the gathering had
left to follow the king, they had taken advantage of it to press
forward towards the gates, and in a few minutes were inside the Tower.
All was in confusion. The men-at-arms and archers remained immovable on
the walls, while a crowd of well-nigh twenty thousand men poured into
the Tower with shouts of "Death to the archbishop! Death to the
treasurer!" Knowing their way better than others, Edgar and Albert ran
at full speed towards the royal apartments. Finding themselves in a
deserted passage they threw off their upper garments.

"Throw them in here," Edgar said, opening a door; "they may be useful
to us yet."

Finding the king's chamber empty, they ran into the princess's
apartment. The princess was sitting pale and trembling, surrounded by a
group of ladies, among whom was Dame Agatha. A few gentlemen were
gathered round. Just as the lads entered, Sir Robert Hales, the
treasurer, ran in.

"Madam," he said, "I beseech you order these gentlemen to sheathe their
swords. Resistance is impossible. There are thousands upon thousands of
these knaves, and were a sword drawn it would cost your life and that
of all within the Tower. They have no ill-will against you, as they
showed when you passed through them at Blackheath. I implore you, order
all to remain quiet whatever happens, and it were best that all save
your personal attendants dispersed to their apartments. Even the
semblance of resistance might excite these people to madness, and serve
as an excuse for the most atrocious deeds."

"Disperse, I pray you, knights and ladies," the princess said. "I
order--nay, I implore you, lose not a moment."

"Come," Dame Agatha said, firmly, taking hold of Aline's hand; "and do
you follow, my son, with Edgar."

They hurried along the passages, one of which was that by which the
lads had entered.

"Go on with them," Edgar said to his friend; "I will follow in a
moment. This is the room where we left our disguises."

Running in he gathered the clothes, made them into a rough bundle, and
then followed. He overtook his friends as they were mounting a
staircase which led to a room in one of the turrets. As they reached
the chamber, and the door closed behind them, Dame Agatha burst into
tears.

"I have been in such anxiety about you both!" she exclaimed.

"We have fared well, mother," Albert said; "but do you lose no moment
of time. We have disguises here. I pray you put on the commonest
garment that you have, you and Aline. If you can pass as servants of
the palace, we can conduct you safely out of the crowd."

Edgar ran up a narrow flight of stone stairs, at the top of which was a
trap-door. He forced back the bolts and lifted it.

"Bring up the clothes, Albert," he called down. "We will put them on
while the ladies are changing, and we can watch from this platform what
is doing without."

They soon slipped on the countrymen's clothes over their own, and then
looked out at the scene below. Every space between the buildings was
crowded by the mob shouting and yelling. The garrison still stood
immovable on the outer walls.

"You must be right, Albert. Even if there be some traitors among them
there must also be some true men, and never would they stand thus
impassive had not the strictest orders been laid upon them before the
king's departure."

In a minute or two they saw a number of men pour out, hauling along the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Robert Hales, the king's confessor, and
four other gentlemen. Then with exulting shouts they dragged their
prisoners to Tower Hill, and then forced them to kneel.

"They cannot be going to murder them!" Albert exclaimed with horror.

"That is surely their intent," Edgar said, sternly. "Would that we were
there with but a hundred men-at-arms. Assuredly there would be a stout
fight before they had their way."

"I cannot look on!" Albert exclaimed, hurrying to the other side of the
platform as a man armed with a heavy sword faced the prisoners.

Edgar did not move, but stood gazing with scowling brow and clenched
hand. Presently he turned.

"There is naught more to see, Albert. All are murdered! God assoil
their souls."

At this moment Dame Agatha called out from below that they were ready,
and they ran down at once into the chamber. Dame Agatha and her
daughter were both dressed in rough garments with hoods pulled over
their faces, and might well have passed unnoticed as being the wife and
daughter of some small trader, or superior domestics of the palace.
Just as they were about to start they heard an uproar on the stairs
below. The door had been already fastened.

"Best to open it," Edgar said; "they would but break it in."

Seven rough fellows, whose flushed faces showed that they had already
been drinking, rushed into the room.

"Who have we here?" one shouted roughly. "Two wenches and two country
lads. But what are all these fine clothes lying about; they must be
nobles in disguise. We must take them down to Tyler and hear what he
has to say to them. But, first of all, let us have a kiss or two. I
will begin with this young woman," and he rudely caught hold of Aline.

Edgar's sword flashed out, and with the hilt he struck the ruffian so
terrible a blow on the top of his head that he fell dead. An instant
later he ran another through the body, shouting to the ladies: "Quick!
to the platform above! Albert, guard the stairs after they pass. I will
hold this door. None of these fellows must go out alive."

Taken by surprise for a moment, the men made a rush at him. The nearest
was cut down with a sweeping blow that caught him on the neck, and
almost severed the head from his body. Albert had drawn his sword as
soon as he saw Edgar strike the first blow, and ran one of the men
through the body, then engaged another, who made at him fiercely, while
Dame Agatha and Aline sped up the steps. There were now but three foes
left. While one engaged with Albert and pressed him hotly, the other
two attacked Edgar, who was standing with his back to the door; but
they were no match for the young swordsman, who parried their blows
without difficulty, and brought them one after the other to the ground
just as Albert rid himself of his opponent.

"Bring the ladies down, Albert, quickly. We must be out of this before
anyone else comes."

Albert ran up. The two ladies were on their knees. "Quick, mother!
There is not a moment to be lost. It is all over, and you have to go
down as speedily as possible."

Dame Agatha passed through the scene of carnage without a shudder, for
she had more than once accompanied Sir Ralph abroad, and had witnessed
several battles and sieges, but Aline clung to Albert's arm, shuddering
and sobbing. Edgar stood at the door until they had passed out. He
closed it behind him, locked it on the outside, and threw the key
through a loophole on the stair. They met with no one until they
reached the lower part of the Tower, which the rioters were now
leaving, satisfied with the vengeance that they had taken upon the
archbishop and treasurer, whom they regarded as the authors of the
obnoxious poll-tax. The party were unquestioned as they issued out into
the yard and mingled with the mob. Here they gathered that the
princess, having been roughly kissed by some of those who first entered
her apartment, had swooned with terror, and that her attendants had
been permitted to carry her down and place her in a boat, and that she
had been taken across the river.

The rioters poured out across the drawbridge with almost as much haste
as they had pressed over to enter the Tower, anxious to be away before
the king's return, when he might turn against them the whole of the
garrison. Many had intoxicated themselves by the wine in the royal
cellars, and beyond a few rough jests nothing was said to the ladies,
who were supposed to be some of the royal servants now being escorted
to their country homes by their friends. As soon as possible Edgar and
Albert edged their way out of the crowd and soon reached the door of
their lodging. As soon as the garden gate closed behind them Aline
fainted. Edgar, who was walking beside her, caught her as she fell, and
carried her into the house, where he left her for a while in the care
of her mother.

The latter said before she closed the door: "Edgar, I charge you to go
back to the Tower and speak to my lord as he enters with the king. He
will be well-nigh distraught should he find that we are missing, and go
up to our chamber to look for us. Albert, do you remain here with us."

A quarter of an hour later she came down to her son.

"Aline has recovered her senses," she said, "but will have to lie quiet
for a time. Now tell me what has happened. Have any of the Court been
killed?"

Albert told her of the murder of the archbishop, the treasurer, and
their five companions.

"'Tis terrible!" she said, "and I can well understand that Edgar was so
maddened at the sight that when one of those half-drunken wretches
insulted Aline he could contain himself no longer. But it was a rash
act thus to engage seven men."

"Well, mother, if he had not smitten that man down I should have run
him through. My sword was half out when he did so. You would not have
had me stand by quietly and see you and Aline insulted by those
wretches. But, indeed, the odds were not so great, seeing that they
were but rabble of the town, and already half-drunk. Besides the man
that he smote down, Edgar killed four of them, while I had but two to
encounter, which was a fair division considering his strength and skill
compared with mine. No half measures would have been of any use after
that first blow was struck. It is certain that we should all have been
killed had one of them escaped to give the alarm."

"I am far from blaming you, Albert. My own blood boiled at the
indignity, and had I carried a dagger I believe that I should have
stabbed that fellow myself, though I had been slain a moment
afterwards."

Looking out from the gate Edgar saw that the mob had now melted away.
Throwing off his disguise, he proceeded to the Tower. Half an hour
later the king rode up at a furious pace, followed by all who had
ridden out with him save the king's half-brothers, the Earl of Kent and
Sir John Holland, who, knowing their own unpopularity, and alarmed for
their safety, put spurs to their horses and rode away. The king threw
himself from his horse at the entrance, at which Edgar was standing.

"Is the news that has reached me true," he asked him, "that the
princess, my mother, has been grossly insulted by this foul rabble, and
that the archbishop, treasurer, and others have been murdered?"

"It is quite true, your Majesty; the princess has been carried across
the river in a swoon; the bodies of the gentlemen murdered still lie on
the hill."

With an exclamation of grief and indignation the king ascended the
steps.

"What of my dame and daughter, Edgar?" the knight asked, as the king
turned away.

"They are both safe, and at their former lodging, Sir Ralph. Dame
Agatha sent me here to acquaint you where they were to be found; she
knew that you would be very anxious as to their safety."

"I thank her for the thought," the knight said, turning his horse's
head to go there. "Where have you and Albert been for the last two
days?"

"We have slept at the lodgings, Sir Ralph, and during the day have
traversed the city in sober clothes watching what has been done."

"Then you have seen scenes which must have made you almost ashamed of
being an Englishman," Sir Ralph said, angrily. "This has been a
disgraceful business. It was bad enough to destroy John of Gaunt's
palace; for, although I love not Lancaster greatly, it was an ornament
to London and full of costly treasures. For this, however, there was
some sort of excuse, but not so for the burning of the Temple, still
less for the destruction of the great house of the Knights of St. John,
and also the manor-house of the prior of the order. I hear to-day that
great numbers of Flemings have been slain, their houses pillaged, and
in some cases burnt. Now comes the crowning disgrace. That the Tower of
London, garrisoned by 1,200 men, and which ought to have defied for
weeks the whole rabbledom of England, should have opened its gates
without a blow being struck, and the garrison remained inert on the
walls while the king's mother was being grossly insulted, and the two
highest dignitaries of the state with others massacred is enough, by my
faith, to make one forswear arms, put on a hermit's dress and take to
the woods. Here we are!"

The knight's two retainers ran up to take his horse as he entered the
gateway; and, vaulting off, he hurried into the house.

"Why, Agatha, you are strangely pale! What has happened? I have not had
time yet to question Edgar, and, indeed, have been talking so fast
myself that he has had no chance of explaining how you and Aline
managed to get here. You came by water, I suppose, and so escaped that
crowd of knaves round the Tower?"

"No, Sir Ralph, we escaped under the protection of your son and this
brave youth. Had it not been for them we should surely have suffered
indignity and perhaps death."

"What! were they in the Tower? How got they there, wife?"

"I have had no time to ask questions yet, husband, having been
attending Aline, who fainted after bearing up bravely until we got
here. She has but a few minutes since come out of her swoon, and I have
stayed with her."

"Tell me what has happened, Albert," the knight said.

"We slept here last night, sir; and upon sallying out found the rioters
assembled round the Tower. We were clad in traders' dresses Master
Gaiton had given us; and seeing that there was no chance of entering
the Tower, while it would not have been safe to have mingled with the
mob in such an attire, we knew not what to do until Edgar suggested
that we might, if we went down to the wharf, obtain disguises from one
of the vessels lying there. We were fortunate, and exchanged our
citizen clothes for those of two sailor-men. Then we came back and
mingled in the crowd. We saw the drawbridge lowered, and the king ride
off with his company, followed by the more orderly portion of the
rioters. In a few minutes, headed by Wat the Tyler, those who remained
poured across the drawbridge and were masters of the place, not a blow
being struck in its defence.

"We made our way, by back passages known to us, to the princess's
apartments, where she, with several knights and ladies, among them my
mother and sister, were waiting to see what might come. Sir Robert
Hales rushed in and prayed that no resistance be offered, as this would
inflame the passions of the mob, and cost the lives of all within the
Tower. So the princess gave orders for all to leave her save her maids,
and to scatter to their own apartments, and remain quiet there. As soon
as we reached my mother's room we besought her to put on that sombre
dress, and prayed her similarly to attire Aline, so that they might
pass with us unnoticed through the crowd. While they were doing this we
went up to the platform above, and there witnessed the murder of the
archbishop, treasurer, and priest--at least, Edgar did so, for I could
not bring myself to witness so horrible a sight.

"In a short time my mother called that she and Aline were ready. We
were about to leave the room and hurry away, when suddenly seven rough
knaves, inflamed by wine, rushed in. The leader of them said that they
saw we were people of quality, and that he would take us down before
Wat the Tyler, who would know how to deal with us; but before doing so
he and his crew would give the ladies some kisses, and thereupon he
seized Aline roughly. I was in the act of drawing my sword, when Edgar
dealt him so terrible a blow with the hilt of his that the man fell
dead. Then there was a general fight. Edgar shouted to my mother and
Aline to run up the steps to the platform above, and to me to hold the
stairs, while he placed his back to the door.

"The combat lasted but a short time, for the fellows possessed no kind
of skill. In addition to the man that Edgar had first killed he slew
four others, while I killed the other two. Then mother and Aline came
down from the platform, descended the stairs, and mingled with the mob;
they were pouring out exulting in the mischief they had done, but
plainly anxious as to the consequences to themselves. We had no
difficulty in coming hither. By the remarks we heard, it is clear that
they took the ladies for two of the princess's tirewomen, and we their
friends who were going to escort them to their homes."

"Of a truth 'tis a brave tale, Albert!" the knight exclaimed, bringing
his hand down on the lad's shoulder with hearty approbation. "By my
faith, no knights in the realm could have managed the matter more
shrewdly and bravely. Well done, Albert; I am indeed proud of my son.
As for you, Edgar, you have added a fresh obligation to those I already
owe you. 'Tis a feat, indeed, for one of your age to slay five men
single-handed, even though they were inflamed by liquor. Now, wife,
what about Aline?"

"She is here to answer for herself," the girl said, as she entered the
room. "I am better, but still feel strangely weak. I could not lie
still when I knew that you were in the house. I take great shame to
myself, father. I thought I could be brave, in case of peril, as your
daughter should be, but instead of that I swooned like a village
maiden."

"You are not to be blamed. So long as there was danger you kept up,
and, in truth, it was danger that might well drive the blood from the
face of the bravest woman; for the sight of that chamber, after the
fight was over, must, in itself, have filled a maid of your age with
horror. Why, the princess herself swooned on vastly less occasion. No,
no, girl, I am well pleased with you; as for your mother, she had seen
such sights before, but it was a rough beginning for you, and I think
that you acted bravely and well."



CHAPTER IX

DEATH OF THE TYLER


"What befell the king, my lord?" said Edgar.

"As far as he was concerned all went well. A multitude accompanied him
to Mile End Fields, and then, on his demanding that they should frankly
tell him what were their grievances, they handed to him a parchment
containing the four points that have from the first been asked for, and
all of which are reasonable enough. The king, after reading them, told
them in a loud voice that he was willing to grant their desires, and
would forthwith issue a charter bestowing these four points on the
people. The rebels set up a great shout, and forthwith marched away in
their companies, the men of Herts, Cambridge, and Suffolk, and all
those of Essex who were there. Nothing could have been better. We knew
not that the Kentish men and some of the Essex bands, together with the
rabble of the city, had remained at the Tower, and it was only as we
rode back, believing that the trouble was all over, that we heard what
had happened."

"Will the king still grant the charter, father?" Albert asked.

"I know not. Everything has been changed by the conduct of these
fellows, and the murder of the archbishop, the lord treasurer, and
others, to say nothing of the insults to the king's mother, and the
insolence of the mob in making themselves masters of the Tower. But,
indeed, the king could not himself grant such a charter. It is a matter
that must be done both by king and parliament, and when the knights of
the shires and the representatives of the great towns meet, they will
be equally indisposed to grant concessions to men who have burned
palaces, destroyed all deeds and titles wheresoever they could find
them, killed every man of law on whom they could lay hands, and
throughout all England have risen against the lords of the soil.

"If the rabble could, whenever they had the fancy, rise in arms and
enforce any claim that they chose to propose, they would soon be
masters of all. It may be that erelong serfdom will cease, and I see
not why all men should not have the right of buying and selling in open
market. As to fixing the price of land, I think not that that can be
done, seeing that some land is vastly more fertile than others, and
that the land towns is of much greater value than elsewhere. But even
in my time there have been great changes, and the condition of the
serfs is very greatly improved, while the hardships they complain of,
and the heavy taxation, are not felt by serfs only, but are common to
all.

"However, although for a time I believe that these unlawful and riotous
doings will do harm rather than good, and assuredly all those who have
taken a leading part in them will be punished, yet in the end it will
be seen that it were best that these things that they now ask for
should be granted, and that England should be content, and all classes
stand together. Undoubtedly these fellows have shown that they can bite
as well as growl, and though they would always be put down in the end,
it might be only after great effort and much heavy fighting, and after
terrible misfortunes befalling, not only towns, but all throughout the
country who dwell in houses incapable of making a long defence.

"At present we may be sure that whatever the king may promise these
varlets, parliament will grant no such charter. I myself would not that
they should do so. It would be fatal to the peace of the land for the
commons, as they call themselves, to think that they have but to rise
in arms to frighten the king and government into granting whatsoever
they may demand. And now let us eat and drink, for indeed I am both
hungry and thirsty, and I doubt not that 'tis the same with you. I told
Jenkin, as I came in, to give us something to eat, it mattered not
what, so that it were done speedily. 'Tis well that I left the two men
here, otherwise we should have found an empty larder."

"That might well have been, father," Albert said, "for our hostess and
her servants all went away yesterday, thinking that it would be safer
in the city than here, but we told Hob and Jenkin always to keep a
store of food, since there was no saying when you would all return, and
that, at any rate, even were we out all day, Edgar and I might want
supper on our return, and a good meal before leaving in the morning."

"What have you both been doing since I saw you last?" the knight asked,
when the meal was finished.

Albert told how they had seen the mayor constrained to open the bridge
gates; how the Duke of Lancaster's palace at the Savoy had been burned,
and the houses in the Temple pillaged and fired; and how the Flemings
had been murdered in great numbers, and their houses sacked and in some
cases burned.

"In faith, I am glad I was not there," Sir Ralph said, "for I think not
that I could have kept my sword in its sheath, even though it had cost
me my life."

"You charged us to take no part in broils, father," Albert said, with a
smile, "and we felt, therefore, constrained to do nothing save on one
occasion."

"Ah! ah!" the knight exclaimed in evident satisfaction, "then you did
do something. I hope that you gave a lesson to one or more of these
villains. Now that I look at you closely, it seems to me that you use
your left arm but stiffly, Albert; and you have your hair cut away in
one place, Edgar, and a strip of plaster on it. I thought it was the
result of the fray in the Tower."

"No, sir, it was in the other matter. We each got some blows--some of
them pretty hard ones--but they were of no great consequence."

"How did it come about, Albert?"

Albert gave a full account of the fray, from the time they came to the
assistance of the Flemish girl until they escaped by the secret passage.

"By St. George, wife!" the knight said, "but these young esquires shame
us altogether. While the king's knights and courtiers, his garrison of
the Tower, and the worshipful citizens of London have not among them
struck one blow at this rabbledom, they must have disposed of fully a
score between them--seven, you say, in the Tower, and, I doubt not, a
good thirteen at the door and on the stair of this Fleming's house--and
to think that we considered this boy of ours fit for nothing else than
to become a priest. This is the second time since we came up here, a
fortnight since, that they have rescued a fair lady, to say nothing of
their fathers, and without counting the saving of yourself and Aline;
the sooner they are shipped off to France the better, or they will be
causing a dearth of his Majesty's subjects. I am proud of you, lads.
Who is this Fleming? Did you learn his name?"

"Yes, sir; it was Van Voorden."

"Say you so. It seems to me that you make choice of useful men upon
whom to bestow benefits. Master Robert Gaiton is, as I learn, one of
the leading citizens of London, a wealthy man, and one who in a few
years is like to be mayor; and now you have befriended Van Voorden, who
is the richest and most influential of the Flemish merchants in London.
It is to him that the chancellor goes when he desires to raise a loan
among the Flemings, and he always manages it without difficulty, he
himself, as they say, contributing no small share of it. He is one who
may be a good friend to you indeed, and who, should fortune take you to
the Low Country, could recommend you to the greatest merchants there."

"He will be out there himself, father. He told us that he had for some
little time been thinking of returning to Flanders, and that now he
should do so at once. How was it, father, that the men-at-arms did not
defend the Tower?"

"It was not altogether their fault. When it was determined that the
king should ride out and meet the mob, the most stringent orders were
given that on no account should the archers draw a bow upon the rabble.
It is true that there were doubts whether many of them were not at
heart with the people, which was not altogether unnatural, seeing that
they were drawn from the same class and from the same counties. Still,
doubtless, most of them would have proved true, and so long as they did
their duty the others could hardly have held back; but, in truth, this
had naught to do with the order, which was simply given to prevent a
broil between the garrison and the mob, for had some of the latter been
killed, it might have cost the king his life and the lives of all with
him.

"No one, however, thought for a moment that the rabble would have
attacked the Tower. We supposed, of course, that the drawbridge would
be raised as soon as we had passed over it, but whether the order was
not given for it or whether it was misunderstood I know not, but the
blunder has cost the lives of the archbishop, the lord treasurer, and
others, the insult to the princess, and the disgrace of the Tower
having been in the hands of this rascaldom. Well, I must be off there
and see what is going to be done."

The knight found that the king had already gone to visit his mother,
who had, after landing, been conveyed to a house called the Royal
Wardrobe, in Bayard's Castle Ward by the Thames, where he remained
until the next morning. While there he learned that Wat the Tyler and a
portion of the Kentish men had rejected contemptuously the charter with
which the men from the counties north of the Thames had been perfectly
satisfied, and which was all that they themselves had at first
demanded. Another was drawn up craving further concessions. This was
also rejected, as was a third.

"The king is going to mass at Westminster," the knight said, "and after
that he will ride round the city. I shall go myself to Westminster with
him, and you can both ride with me, for it may be that the king on his
way may be met by the rabble, which is composed of the worst and most
dangerous of all who have been out, for in addition to Tyler's own
following, there will be the prisoners released from all of the jails
and the scum of the city. We will ride in our armour. They say there
are still 20,000 of them, but even if the worst happens we may be able
to carry the king safely through them."

In the morning they took horse. The knight was in full armour; Edgar
and Albert were in body armour with steel caps. He skirted the walls of
the city and rode to Westminster. At the Abbey they found the lord
mayor and many of the leading citizens also in armour, they having come
to form an escort for the king. Richard arrived by water with several
knights and gentlemen who had accompanied him on his visit to his
mother. Mass was celebrated, and the king then paid his devotions
before a statue of the Virgin, which had the reputation of performing
many miracles, particularly in favour of English kings. After this he
mounted his horse and rode off with the barons, knights, and
citizens--in all some sixty persons.

"There they are," Sir Ralph said, as a great crowd were seen gathered
in West Smithfield. "I have some curiosity to see this knave Tyler. I
hear from one of the knights with the king that he had the insolence to
demand, in addition to all the concessions offered, that all forest
laws should be abolished, and that all warrens, waters, parks, and
woods should be made common land, so that all might fish in all waters,
hunt the deer in forests and parks, and the hare wherever they chose."

When they approached the rioters, the king checked his horse, and made
a sign that he would speak with them. Wat the Tyler at once rode
forward, telling his followers to stand fast until he gave the signal.

"The insolent varlet!" Sir Ralph muttered, grasping the hilt of his
sword; "see, he lifts not his cap to the king, but rides up as if he
were his equal!"

The Tyler, indeed, rode up until his horse's head touched the flank of
the king's horse, and he and Richard were knee to knee. Nothing could
exceed the insolence of his demeanour.

"King," he said, "do you see all these men here?"

"I see them," Richard replied. "Why dost thou ask?"

"Because," the Tyler said, "they are all at my will, sworn to do
whatsoever I shall bid them."

So threatening and insolent was his manner as he spoke, keeping his
hand on his sword, that the lord mayor, who was riding next to the
king, believed that he intended to do Richard harm, and drawing a short
sword, stabbed him in the throat. Wat the Tyler reeled on his horse,
and Ralph Standish, one of the king's esquires, thrust him through the
body, and he fell dead. A great shout arose from his followers, and
fitting their arrows to the strings of their bows they ran forward with
cries of vengeance. The knights and gentlemen drew their swords, but
Richard, signing to them not to advance, rode forward.

"What are you doing, my lieges?" he cried. "Wat the Tyler was a
traitor. I am your king, and I will be your captain and guide."

The mob stood irresolute. Although they had declared war against his
councillors, they had always professed loyalty to the boy king himself.
The king then rode back to his party.

"What had we best do now?" he asked the lord mayor.

"We had best make for the fields, sire," the latter said; "if they see
us attempt to retreat they will gain heart and courage and will rush
upon us, while if we advance we may gain a little time. Sir Robert
Knowles is gathering a force in the city, and I have issued an order
for all loyal citizens to join him; they will soon be with us, then we
shall put an end to the matter."

[Illustration: THE LORD MAYOR STABS WAT THE TYLER, IN PRESENCE OF THE
BOY-KING.]

Slowly the party proceeded onwards; the mob, silent and sullen, opened
a way for them to pass, and then followed close behind them. Deprived
of their leader they knew not what to do; and as no one else came
forward to take the command, they did nothing until the king reached
the open fields by Islington. As he did so, Sir Robert Knowles, with a
following of upwards of a thousand men, rode up from the city and
joined him. The mob at once took to flight, some running through the
corn-fields, while others threw away their bows and other weapons,
dropping upon their knees and crying for mercy.

"Shall I charge them, your Majesty? We will speedily make an end of the
affair altogether."

"No," Richard replied; "many of them are but poor varlets who have been
led astray. They are no longer dangerous, and we shall have time to
deal with their leaders later on."

It was with the greatest difficulty that Sir Robert and the citizens,
who were burning with a desire to avenge the dishonour thrown upon the
city by the doings of the rioters, were restrained from taking their
revenge upon them.

"Nay, nay, gentlemen," the king said, "they are unarmed and
defenceless, and it would be an ill deed to slay them unresistingly.
Rest content, I will see that due punishment is dealt out."

"The king is right," Sir Ralph said, as he sheathed his sword. "As long
as they stood in arms I would gladly have gone at them, but to cut them
down without resistance is a deed for which I have no stomach. It was a
courageous action of the young king, lads, thus to ride alone to that
angry crowd armed with bills and bows. Had one of them loosed an arrow
at him all would have shot, and naught could have saved his life, while
we ourselves would all have been in a perilous position. Well, there is
an end of the matter. The knaves will scarce cease running until they
reach their homes."

In the meantime the insurgents throughout the country had done but
little. The nobles shut themselves up in their castles, but the young
Bishop of Norwich armed his retainers, collected his friends, and
marched against the insurgents in Norfolk, Cambridge, and Huntingdon.
He surprised several bodies of peasants and utterly defeated them. The
prisoners taken were brought before him, and putting off the complete
armour which he wore, he heard the confession of his captives, gave
them absolution, and then sent them straight to the gibbet. With the
return of the peasants to their homes the gentlemen from the country
were able to come with their retainers to town, and Richard found
himself at the head of forty thousand men.

He at once annulled the charters that had been wrung from him, while
commissioners were sent throughout the country to arrest and try the
leaders of the insurrection, and some fifteen hundred men, including
all the leaders, were executed. The men of Essex alone took up arms
again, but were defeated with great loss, as was to be expected. When
parliament met they not only approved the annulment of the charters,
but declared that such charters were invalid without their consent, and
passed several stringent laws to deter the people from venturing upon
any repetition of the late acts. Later on, the commons presented
petitions calling for the redress of abuses in administration,
attributing this insurrection to the extortions of the tax-collectors,
and the venality and rapacity of judges and officers of the courts of
law.

On the day following the death of Wat the Tyler Sir Ralph told the lads
that the king desired to see them.

"He was good enough to ask me this morning how you had fared, and I
told him how you had rescued my dame and daughter, and also how you had
befriended Mynheer Van Voorden, and he at once asked me to bring you
again to him."

The king received them in private. "By St. George, gentlemen," he said,
"had all my knights and followers proved themselves as valiant as you,
we should have had no difficulty in dealing with these knaves. It seems
to me strange, indeed, that, while you are but a year older than
myself, you should have fought so valiantly, and killed so many of
these rioters."

"Your Majesty should hardly think that strange," Edgar said,
courteously, "seeing how you yourself performed a far more valiant
action, by riding up to twenty thousand angry men with bows drawn and
pikes pointed. I trembled, and felt well-nigh sick when I saw you thus
expose yourself to what seemed certain death. In our case the risk was
but small, for in the fray here we had to deal with men flushed with
wine, and knowing naught of the use of their weapons, and it was the
same thing in the house of the Fleming, where, moreover, we had the
advantage of ground."

The young king was evidently pleased at the compliment. "It seemed to
me that it was the only thing to do," he said, "and I had no time to
think of the danger. I have told Sir Ralph De Courcy that I would
gladly knight you both, in proof of my admiration for your courage; but
he has pointed out to me that you are as yet young, and that he would
prefer--and believed that you also would do so--to wait until you had
an opportunity of winning your spurs in combat with a foreign foe.
However, it is but deferred, and I promise you that as soon as you are
two years older, I will bestow knighthood upon you. I myself would
willingly," he added, with a smile, "have laid Van Voorden under an
obligation. He is a very Croesus, and I regard him as my banker, for he
is ever ready to open his money-bags, and to make me advances upon any
tax that may have been ordered. Have you seen him since the fray?"

"No, sire, we are going to him when we leave you, to tell him that
order is restored, and that he may now without danger leave his
hiding-place."

"Van Voorden is not the only merchant in London that my son and Master
Ormskirk have had the good fortune to aid since their arrival here,
your Majesty, for they rescued from an attack by robbers outside
Aldersgate Master Robert Gaiton, who is an alderman and a foreign
merchant. He had his daughter with him, and had the lads arrived a
minute later, the two would have been killed."

"I know him," the king said; "he was one of those who rode with the
lord mayor from Westminster with me. Please tell me all about it. I
love to hear of brave deeds."

Albert told the story of the rescue.

"It was well done indeed," the king said. "I would that I could ramble
about and act the knight-errant as you do. 'Tis tiresome to be in the
hands of councillors, who are ever impressing upon me that I must not
do this or that, as if I were a child. I would gladly have you here
about my person, but, as Sir Ralph has told me, you would fain, at any
rate for the present, devote yourselves to arms, I did not press the
matter, but be assured that at any time you will find in me a friend.
You have but to ask a boon, and whatsoever it is, if it be in my power,
I will grant it, and I hope that some day I shall find you settled at
Court, where," and he laughed, "it seems to me, that honours, if not
honour, are much more easily gained than in the battle-field."

Leaving the king's presence, the lads went into the city. Van Voorden
had showed them how the sliding panel might be opened from the outside.
Already the city had resumed its usual appearance, and the people were
going about their business. They therefore found the door of the house
opposite Van Voorden's standing open. Waiting until they saw that no
one was near, they entered, opened the sliding panel, and, closing it
carefully behind them, descended the stairs. On reaching the iron door
Edgar gave three knocks, the signal that they had arranged with the
Fleming. It was opened at once.

"Welcome, my friends," Van Voorden said, as they entered. "I have not
ventured out, thinking that it would be better to remain quiet for at
least a week, rather than run any risk. What news do you bring me?"

"Good news, sir," Edgar replied; "the insurrection is at an end, the
men of the northern counties have marched away, the Tyler has been
killed and his followers have fled, loyal gentlemen with their
retainers are coming in fast, all is quiet here, the shops are open,
and save for the ruins of burnt houses there are no signs of the evil
days that we have passed through."

"That is good news, indeed. My dame is better, but I shall be glad to
get her out into the light and air. I will sally out with you at once
and look for a lodging, where we may bestow ourselves until I have
wound up my affairs and am ready to start for Flanders."

This business was soon settled. The Fleming found a compatriot whose
house had escaped sack, but who had been so alarmed that he intended to
return home at once, until order was completely restored throughout the
country, and he decided to let his house as it stood to Van Voorden. As
a vessel was sailing that evening, he arranged to give up possession at
once.

"I will, with your permission," said Van Voorden, "fetch my wife and
daughter here forthwith. The former has so far recovered from her
malady that she will not need to be carried hither, but I want to get
her out from the hiding-place where she now is, for, in truth, in spite
of the precautions that were taken when it was built, the air is close
and heavy."

"By all means do so at once," the Fleming said. "There is plenty of
room in the house, for I embarked my wife and family ten days since,
and there is no one but myself and the servants here."

On the way Van Voorden had been warmly greeted by many acquaintances,
all of whom had believed him to have been killed by the rioters before
they fired his house, and on issuing out now he met Robert Gaiton.

"I am glad, indeed, to see you, Mynheer," the latter said. "I feared
that yon and yours had all perished."

"That we did not do so was owing to the valour of these gentlemen,
Master Robert; let me introduce them to you."

"I need no introduction," the merchant said, smiling, "for it is to
their valour also that I owe it that you see me here alive. If yon can
spare time to come and take your meal with me, which should be ready by
this time, I will tell you about it, and will hear from you also, how
they have done you a like service."

"I will do so gladly," Van Voorden said, "for they will not be
expecting me back for some time, as they would not deem that I could so
soon find a house for them to go to."

"Of course you will come too?" said Gaiton.

"With your permission we will decline your offer," Albert said. "My
father is detained at the Tower, and my mother and sister are alone,
and will be expecting us."

"Well, I will not press you. I do not suppose that you care about
having your good actions talked about."

"Truly, Master Robert, these young gentlemen have rendered us both rare
service," Van Voorden said, after he and Gaiton had both told their
stories. "I see not how I am to discharge any of my obligations to
them. If they had taken us both captives in war they would have put us
to ransom and we could have paid whatever was demanded, but in this
case we do not stand so."

"I feel that myself, Mynheer. A knight considers himself in no ways
lowered by taking ransom from a captive, or by receiving a purse of
gold from his sovereign. But his notions of honour will scarce admit of
his taking money for a service rendered. I have promised to fit them
out with arms, armour, and a war-horse when they go on service; but
beyond that, which is after all but a trifle to me, I see not what to
do."

"I am sorry that you have forestalled me," Van Voorden said, "for I had
thought of doing that myself. I may do them a service if they should
chance at any time to go to Flanders; but beyond that I see not that I
can do aught at present. Later on, when they become knights, and take
wives for themselves, I shall step in and buy estates for them to
support their rank, and methinks that they will not refuse the gift."

"I shall claim to take part with you in that matter," Robert Gaiton
said. "I cannot count guineas with you, but I am a flourishing man, and
as I have but one daughter to marry, I have no need for my money beyond
what is engaged in trade."

"Well, we won't quarrel over that," the Fleming replied. "However, for
the present it were best to say naught of our intentions. They are
noble lads. Edgar is the leading spirit, and, indeed, the other told
me, when they were waiting till it was safe for them to leave the
hiding-place, that he had been a very weakly lad, and had been intended
for the Church, but that Edgar had been a great friend of his, had
urged him to practise in arms, which so increased his strength that he
was, to his father's delight, able to abandon the idea. He said that
all he knew of arms he had acquired from Edgar, and that, while he was
still but an indifferent swordsman, his friend was wonderfully skilled
with his weapon, and fully a match for most men."

"That he has proved for both of our benefits," Robert Gaiton said. "In
truth, they are in all ways worthy youths. I have seen much of them
during the last few days, and like them greatly, irrespective of my
gratitude for what they did for me."

On the following day the king knighted the lord mayor, William
Walworth, Robert Gaiton, and five other aldermen who had ridden with
him, and granted an augmentation to the arms of the city, introducing a
short sword or dagger in the right quarter of the shield, in
remembrance of the deed by which the lord mayor had freed him from the
leader of the rioters.

Van Voorden called with Robert Gaiton upon Sir Ralph to thank him for
the services his son and Edgar had rendered him, and heard for the
first time how they had saved Dame Agatha and Aline from insult, and
had slain the seven rioters, of whom five had fallen to Edgar's sword.

"Truly a brave deed, and a prudent one," Sir Robert Gaiton said. "Once
begun, it was a matter of life and death that the business should be
carried out to the end."

"His Majesty has highly commended them," Sir Ralph said, "and would
fain have knighted them had they been a year or two older."

"I see not that age should have stood in the way," Van Voorden broke
in. "Of a surety no men could have done better, and as they have
behaved as true knights in all respects, methinks they deserve the
rank."

"I cannot say you nay there, though I am the father of one of them;
nevertheless, they can well wait for a couple of years. They have not
yet learned that the first duty of a knight is to obey, and it were
well they served under some brave captain, and learned how to receive
as well as give orders. To-morrow, gentlemen, I ride to St. Alwyth, for
news has come in that the Kentish rebels, as well as those of Essex,
are burning and slaying on their way to their homes, and I must go and
see to the safety of my castle. A force will march to-morrow morning to
deal with the Essex men."

"Then, Sir Ralph, I will ride with you," Sir Robert said. "I have
raised a troop of fifty men from my ward to join those the city is
gathering for the king's aid. They are stout fellows, and will, I
warrant, fight well; and they will do as good service for the king in
Kent as they would do in Essex."

"Nay; while thanking you for your offer, I cannot so trouble you, Sir
Robert."

"'Tis no trouble. On the contrary, after what your son did for me, it
will be a pleasure to lift some small share of the burden of obligation
from my shoulders, and if you will not let me ride with you, I shall go
down on my own account."

"I thank you heartily, Sir Robert, and assuredly will not refuse so
good an offer, for my men in the castle are scarce numerous enough to
make defence against a strong attack. I doubt not that all the serfs on
the estate have been in the Tyler's following, and my vassals would
scarce be enough, even if I could gather them, to make head against a
crowd."

"When do you start, Sir Ralph?"

"As soon as the gate at Aldgate is open I shall ride through it."

"Then I will be at the head of the bridge, awaiting you with my men."

"I am afraid that I cannot send a contingent, sir knight," Van Voorden
said, "for so many of my countrymen have been slaughtered that we could
scarce gather a company."

"Nay; I shall have enough with those our good friend will bring me.
With him by my side, and my son, and that stout swordsman, young Edgar,
and with fifty sturdy Londoners, who have always in their wars proved
themselves to be as good fighters as any in our armies, I would ride
through a host of the rabble."

"Will you be returning, Sir Ralph?"

"Yes; I leave my wife and daughter here, and as soon as matters are
settled, come back to fetch them."

"Then may I beg you to leave them with me?" the Fleming said,
earnestly. "They will hardly wish to go back to the Tower at present,
after their late experience of it. My wife and daughter will do their
best to make them comfortable."

"I accept your invitation for them thankfully," the knight replied.
"The Tower is already crowded, so many ladies and gentlemen have come
in during the last few days; nor do I like to leave them here without
protection."

"I thank you most heartily, sir knight. It will be a pleasure, indeed,
to my wife and daughter to have ladies with them, for indeed both are
somewhat shaken from what they have gone through. I will, if it pleases
you, be at the gate to-morrow if they will accompany you so far, and
will escort them to my house; or, should you prefer it, my wife will
come thither with me to take them back after they have had their
morning meal."

"Thanks, sir; but I will escort them myself and hand them over to you.
Will you kindly bring a servant with you to carry their valises, for I
had yesterday all their things removed from that room in the Tower, and
at the same time had the dead bodies of the rioters carried down and
thrown into the Thames."

"I wish that there was more that I could do," Van Voorden said to Sir
Robert Gaiton as they walked back to the city.

"I will tell you what you can do, Master Van Voorden. I had the
intention of doing it myself; but if you wish it I will relinquish it
to you. I marked as we rode two days since to Smithfield that our
friend's son and Master Edgar Ormskirk had but body armour and wore
steel caps, and I intended to buy this afternoon two complete suits for
them."

"I thank you greatly for your offer; it would be a relief to me to do
something for them. Know you about their size?"

"To within an inch, for I fitted them on two citizen suits. If you like
I will go with you to Master Armstrong's. He is accounted the best
armourer in the county, and provides no small share of the armour for
our knights and nobles."

"I know his name well," the Fleming said. "I shall be glad if you will
accompany me to choose them, for indeed I am but a poor judge of such
matters."

"I would fain have two suits of the best armour in your store, Master
Armstrong," Van Voorden said, as he entered the armourer's shop. "The
cost is a matter of no account, but I want the best, and I know that no
one can supply better than yourself. My friend, Sir Robert Gaiton, will
do the choosing for me."

The armourer bowed to the wealthy Fleming, who was well known to
everyone in the city.

"'Tis but a matter of size that I have to decide upon," the alderman
said, "See and get the suits somewhat large, for the gentlemen for whom
Mynheer Van Voorden intends them have not yet come to their full
stature."

The armourer led them to an inner room. "These are my best suits," he
said, pointing to a score of lay figures in armour ranged along the
wall. "They would soon get tarnished were they exposed to the fogs of
London. They are all of foreign make save these two, which, as you see,
are less ornamented than the rest. The others are all of Spanish or
Milanese workmanship. These two suits are my own make. Our craftsmen
are not so skilled in inlaying or ornamenting as the foreigners, but I
will guarantee the temper of the steel and its strength to keep out a
lance thrust, a cross-bow bolt, or a cloth-yard arrow against the best
of them."

"Methinks, Mynheer," the alderman said, "that if these suits are of the
right size they were better than the Italian or Spanish suits. In the
first place, these others would scarce be in keeping with two young men
who are not yet knights, seeing that they are such as would be worn by
wealthy nobles; in the next place, there is no saying how much the lads
may grow; and lastly, I have myself promised their father to present
them with a suit of armour when they obtain the rank of knighthood."

"So be it, then," the Fleming said. "If Master Armstrong guarantees the
suits equal in strength to the others I care not, and indeed there is
reason in what you say as to their fitness for the youths."

"Will you run a yard measure round the shoulders?" Sir Robert said. One
was forty inches, the other thirty-six.

"That will do well; one is bigger than the other, and the measurement
will give them an inch or two to spare. And now as to heights. The one
is five feet ten, the other an inch less; but this matters little,
seeing that another strip of steel can be added or one taken away from
the leg pieces without difficulty. I think that they will do
excellently well. And now, what is the price?"

It was a heavy one, for the armour was of exceptional make and strength
by reason of its temper, but was still light, the excellence of the
steel rendering it unnecessary to get anything like the weight of
ordinary armour.

Van Voorden made no attempt to bargain, but merely said, "Please send
them round at once to the Golden Fleece, in the Poultry, which was till
yesterday the abode of Master Nicholas Leyd, and also furnish me with
the bill by your messenger."

"My son will come," said the armourer, "with two men to carry the
armour, and in a quarter of an hour the suits shall be at your door."

"Send also, I pray you, swords and daggers of the finest temper with
each suit, and add the charge to the account."



CHAPTER X

A FIGHT IN THE OPEN


It was seven in the evening, and Sir Ralph and his family had just
finished their evening meal, when one of the retainers announced that
two porters had brought a letter and some goods from Mynheer Van
Voorden.

"Let them bring the goods in here," Sir Ralph said, "and then take them
into the kitchen and give them a tankard of ale and refreshment, and
keep them there till we have a letter ready for their master."

The party were surprised to see the bulky parcels brought in. One of
the men handed a letter addressed to Sir Ralph. "Go with my retainers,
my good fellows," the latter said, "and remain until I see what your
master says. Here, Albert, my scholarship is rusty; read what the
Fleming says; it may tell us what are in those crates."

"They are not for you, father," Aline, who had run across to look at
them, said; "one is for Albert and the other for Edgar."

The letter was as follows:--

"_To the good knight, Sir Ralph De Courcy, greeting--It seems to me
that, prone as your son and Master Edgar Ormskirk are to rush into
danger in order to aid and succour those in peril, it were but right
that they should be clad in armour suitable for such adventures, and
meet that such armour should be provided for them by one of those who
has benefited by their valour, whose life and that of his wife and
daughter have been preserved by them. Therefore I send them two suits
as the only token I can at present give them of my thankfulness and
gratitude. It is feeble testimony indeed, but none the less sincere. I
know well that the armour made by Master Armstrong could be borne by
none worthier, and trust that the swords will ever be used in the cause
of right and in the protection of the oppressed and the unfortunate._"

Aline clapped her hands joyfully as Albert finished reading the letter.

"A timely gift indeed," the knight said; "and one that does honour both
to the giver and those who receive it. Open the crates, lads, and let
us see what the worthy Fleming has sent us."

The casques were the first pieces that came to view. Albert carried his
to his father, while Aline placed Edgar's on the table in front of Dame
Agatha. The knight examined it carefully.

"I know the suit," he said, "for I was in the armourer's shop a week
before these troubles began, with the Earl of Suffolk, who had asked me
to go with him to choose a suit. This, and another like it, stood in
one corner, and mightily took my fancy, though others were there from
the master armourers of Milan and Toledo. These two suits were,
however, he thought, not as fine and ornamental as he should like;
indeed, they were scarce large enough for him, for he is well-nigh as
big as I am myself, and he chose a Milan suit, but Master Armstrong
said to me, 'I see you know a good piece of steel, sir knight, for
methinks those two suits are the best that I have ever forged, and I
would not part with them for less than the price of the very finest of
those inlaid ones. I have tried their strength in every way and am
proud of them, but it may be that I shall keep them here for some time
before I sell them. The foreign arms are now all the fashion, and those
who can afford the best would take the more showy of the foreign suits,
but I would not bate a penny in their price were these two suits to
stand in my shop as long as I live. Do you see that tiny mark?--you
need to look closely at it to make it out. That was made by a
cloth-yard arrow shot by an archer, who is reputed the strongest in the
city, and who carries a bow that few others can bend to its full; he
shot at a distance of five yards, and I doubt if among all those suits
you would find one that would have stood such a test without a deep
dint.' 'Tis a noble gift, lads, and the Fleming, whom I should hardly
take to be a judge of armour, must either have had a good adviser with
him, or he must have trusted himself wholly to Master Armstrong's
advice."

"'Tis like enough, father, that Sir Robert Gaiton may have gone with
him to choose them when they left us yesterday. I have heard him say
that though 'tis in the stuffs of Italy and the East that he chiefly
deals, that his agents abroad sometimes send him suits of the finest
Milan armour, swords of Damascus, and other such things, for which he
can always find purchasers among the nobles who deal with him. He
therefore would probably be a good judge."

By this time the crates were completely unpacked, and the armour, with
the swords and daggers, laid upon the table, where the two lads
surveyed them in silent admiration.

"Put them on," Sir Ralph said. "I know that you are longing to do so,
and it would be strange were you not. Do you buckle them on the lads,
dame. You have done me the service many a time, and it is right that
you should be the first to do it for Albert. Aline, do you wait upon
Edgar. As you are new to such work, your mother will show you how to do
it, but seeing that he has struck five mortal blows in your defence, it
is right that you should do him this service."

Aline coloured with pleasure. Her mother first instructed her how to
arm Edgar, and then herself buckled on Albert's harness. Their swords
were girt on, and the casques added last of all.

"They look two proper esquires, wife," the knight said; "and as we ride
to-morrow I shall make but a sorry show beside them."

"Ah, father," said Albert, "but your armour has many an honourable
mark, and it can be seen that, if it is not as bright as ours, 'tis in
battle that its lustre has been lost, while all can see that, bright as
our armour may be, it has not had the christening of battle."

"Well put!" his mother said, softly. "There was no more noble figure
than your father when I first buckled his armour on for him. It was a
new suit he had taken from a great French lord he had overthrown in
battle, and I was as proud of him as I now feel of you, for you have
shown yourself worthy of him, and though your arms are unmarked, 'tis
but because your battles were fought before you had them."

"We had hardly ventured to hope for this, dame," Sir Ralph said, with a
strange huskiness in his throat. "No knight could have begun a career
more creditably or more honourably. Three times has he fought--once on
behalf of you and Aline, twice for men and women in danger. In what
better causes could he have first fleshed his sword? Now, unbuckle him
at once, dame, that he may write in my name a letter of thanks to this
noble Fleming. I have not written a letter for years, and our friend
would scarce be able to decipher it were I to try." Then he went on, as
she removed Albert's casque: "There was good taste as well as judgment
in the purchase of those arms, Agatha. To me who knows what arms are,
they are superb, but to the ordinary eye they would seem no better than
those generally worn by knights or by esquires of good family; whereas,
had he bought one of these damascened suits it would at once have
attracted attention, and the lads would have been taken for great
nobles. I doubt not that guided the stout alderman in his choice. He is
a man of strong sense and sober taste, and had he not been born a
merchant he would have made a rare good fighter."

As soon as Albert's harness was taken off he sat down and wrote, in his
fair clerkly hand, a letter of the warmest thanks on the part of Sir
Ralph, Edgar, and himself to Van Voorden. After this had been sent off,
the swords and daggers were examined and admired, Sir Ralph declaring
the former to be of the finest Toledo steel and the latter to come from
Damascus. Edgar had said little, but he was even more delighted with
his new acquisition than Albert. To have a good suit of armour had been
his greatest ambition, but his father was by no means wealthy, and he
had thought that his only chance of obtaining such a suit would be to
overthrow some French noble in battle.

The next morning they were up betimes, and mounted a few minutes before
the hour at which the city gates would be opened. Sir Ralph and his
dame rode first, Aline took her place between her brother and Edgar,
the latter keeping a watchful eye over her horse, which was fresh after
six or seven days' idleness. The two retainers rode behind, having the
ladies' valises strapped behind them. The city churches rang out the
hour when they were within a hundred yards of the gate, and as this
opened, Van Voorden, with his daughter behind him on a pillion, rode
out to meet them, followed by two mounted men.

"That is thoughtful and courteous of him, dame," the knight said. "He
might well have come alone; but it is kindly of him as well as
courteous to bring his daughter."

As the party met, the Fleming bowed deeply to Lady Agatha.

"I have brought my daughter with me," he said, "in that I might
introduce her to you, and that she might assure you, in her mother's
name, of the pleasure your visit will give her."

"'Tis kind and courteous of you, Mynheer Van Voorden," Dame Agatha
said, as, leaning over, she shook his daughter's hand.

"My mother bade me say that she is impatiently waiting your coming, and
that your visit will give her the greatest pleasure--and yours also,
Mistress Aline," she added, as the girl rode up, "and I am sure that it
will give me great pleasure too."

Joanna Van Voorden was some two years older than Aline. Both were fair,
but of a different type, for while Aline's hair was golden, the
Joanna's was of a tawny red. Even making allowance for the difference
in age, she was of a heavier build than the English girl, and gave
signs of growing up into a stately woman.

"And now, Master Van Voorden," the knight said, as the latter turned
his horse, and they proceeded on their way, "I must repeat in person
what I said in my letter, how deeply obliged we are to you for the
superb suits of armour you sent last night to my son and his friend."

"Speak not of it again, I pray you," the merchant said. "I owe them a
debt of gratitude that I never can hope to repay, and the harness was
indeed but a slight token of it. I can only hope that some day I may
have an opportunity of more worthily testifying my gratitude. We shall
scarcely be able to lodge you, lady," he went on, turning to Dame
Agatha, "as I could have done in my house at Bread Street, for the one
I have hired, although comfortable enough, is much less commodious;
still, I doubt not that you will find your rooms more comfortable than
those you occupied in the Tower, for indeed, as yet, even English
palaces, stately though they be, have not the comforts that we Flemings
have come to regard as necessaries."

"So I have understood, sir, but I think that some of our city merchants
cannot be far behind you, judging from what my daughter has told me of
the abode of Sir Robert Gaiton."

"No; many of the London traders are in this respect far better housed
than any of the nobles with whose castles I am acquainted, and Sir
Robert has, in Italy and elsewhere, had opportunities of seeing how the
merchant princes there live. I have known him for some years. He is one
of the foremost men in the city; he has broad and liberal ideas, and
none of the jealousy of us Flemings that is so common among the
citizens, although my countrymen more directly rival him in his trade
than they do many others who grumble at us, though they are in no way
injured by our trading."

So they chatted until they reached the spot where the knight required
to turn off towards the bridge. There was a moment's pause, the valises
were transferred to the saddles of the Van Voorden's followers, while
adieux were exchanged. Then the Fleming's party turned to the right,
while the knight, Edgar, Albert, and the two retainers trotted down at
a smart pace to the bridge. Here Sir Robert Gaiton, in full armour,
with fifty stout men-at-arms, were awaiting them.

"Good morrow, Sir Ralph, and you, young sirs," Sir Robert said, as they
rode up. "Let me congratulate you on your armour, which becomes you
mightily."

"And for which," Sir Ralph put in, "I think we have somewhat to thank
you for choosing."

"Yes; I went with Van Voorden to Master Armstrong's, not so much to
choose the harness as to give my opinion as to the size required, and
these suits greatly took my fancy. The armourer guaranteed their
temper, and they were, as it seemed to me, about the right size; for
although just at first they may be somewhat roomy, 'tis a matter that a
few months will mend.

"Are they comfortable, Edgar?" he added.

"I suppose as much so as any armour can be, Sir Robert; but 'tis the
first time I have worn such things, and they seem to me marvellously to
confine me, and with the vizor down I should feel well-nigh stifled in
my casque, and as if fighting in the dark."

"You will get accustomed to it in a short time. I know that when I
began to be known in the city, and found that I must, like others of
the better class of citizens, ride in full armour when occasion
offered, I felt just as you do. Perhaps more so, for I was some seven
or eight years older, and less accustomed to changes, but even now I
would far rather fight with my vizor up, save that one must have its
protection when arrows or cross-bow bolts are flying; but as against
other knights I would always keep it up; the helm itself and the
cheek-pieces cover no small part of the face, and naught but a straight
thrust could harm one, and I think I could trust my sword to ward that
off. However, I have never yet had occasion to try. I have had more
than one encounter with Eastern and African pirates during my voyages,
but I have never taken my helmet with me on such journeys, and have not
suffered by its loss."

By this time they were across the bridge, and, proceeding at a sharp
trot, until beyond the boundaries of Southwark, they broke into a
gallop. When, after going at this pace for three or four miles, they
reined their horses into a walk, Sir Ralph said, "Albert, if it likes
you, you can remove your helmet and carry it on your saddle-bow."

"Thanks, father; indeed I was well-nigh reeling in my saddle with heat.
Edgar, will you take yours off?"

"No, thank you, I have got to get accustomed to it, and may as well do
so now as at any other time." Under their helmet both wore a small
velvet cap. "You are looking quite pale, Albert," Edgar went on, as his
friend unhelmed.

"It is not everyone who is made of iron, as you are," Albert laughed.
"You must make allowances for me. In another year or two I hope that I
too shall be able to bear the weight of all these things without
feeling them; but you must remember that it is not two years since I
began hard exercise, while you have been at it since your childhood."

"I don't forget it, Albert, and I wonder at you daily."

At Greenwich they heard many tales as to the damage committed by the
peasants on their homeward way. Houses had been sacked and burnt, and
many persons of substance killed.

"The king ought to have let us charge the fellows," Sir Ralph said, as
they went forward again. "When men find that they get off without
punishment for misdeeds, they will recommence them as soon as the
danger is past. One lesson would have made itself felt over the whole
land. I heard last night that there was news that many manors and the
houses of men of law have been destroyed in Essex, and that the rioters
have beheaded the Lord Chief-Justice of England, Sir John of Cambridge,
and the Prior of St. Edmondsbury, and set tip their heads on poles in
the market-place of Bury, and have destroyed all the charters and
documents of the town. We shall have great trouble before order is
restored, whereas had we charged the rioters of Kent, who are the worst
of all, the others would have been cowed when they heard of the
slaughter. By our lady, we will give these fellows a rough lesson if we
find them besieging our castle."

"Is it a strong place, Sir Ralph?"

"No. With a fair garrison it could easily repel any assault by such
fellows as these, but it could not stand for a day against an attack by
a strong body of men-at-arms, even if they were unprovided with
machines."

When within five miles of the castle they obtained sure news that it
was attacked by some two thousand of the rioters, but that so far as
was known it was still holding out.

"Shall we gallop on, Sir Ralph?" the alderman asked.

"Nay, we will rather go more slowly than before, so that our horses may
be in good wind when they arrive. We shall need all their strength, for
we may have to charge through them two or three times before they break
and run, and then we will pursue and cut them up as long as the horses
have breath. These fellows must have a lesson, or we shall never be
able to dwell in peace and quiet."

When within half a mile of the castle they saw that the flag was still
flying above it, and knew that they had arrived in time. Then Albert
put on his helmet again, and the two lads followed the example of Sir
Ralph and the alderman, and lowered their vizors, for, as the knight
said, "Though some of the knaves threw away their bows at Smithfield,
many of the others took them away." On reaching a field near the
castle, they could see that a fierce fight was going on. The rioters
had procured ladders, and were striving to climb the walls, while a
small party of armed men were defending the battlement.

"By St. Mary, we are but just in time!" the knight said. "We four will
ride in front. Sir Robert, will you bid your men form in two lines and
follow us, one line twenty yards behind the other. Bid them all keep
together in their rank, the second line closing up with the first if
the fellows make a stout resistance, but above all things they must
keep in their order, and follow close behind us."

The alderman raised his voice, and repeated the orders to the men.

"The reports as to the rascals' numbers were about right," Sir Ralph
said. "Now, boys, do you keep between us, and leave a space of some
three yards between each horse, so as to give each man room to swing
his sword. Now, Sir Robert, let us have at them."

Going slowly at first, they increased their speed to a fierce gallop as
they neared the mass of rioters. They had been noticed now. The men on
the ladders hastily climbed down again; confused orders were heard, and
many were seen separating themselves from the main body and flying. The
mass of the rioters, however, held their ground, seeing how small was
the number of their opponents. A flight of arrows was shot when they
were some sixty yards distant, but as all were bending forward in their
saddles, and the arrows were shot in haste, most of them fell harmless;
three or four of the horses were struck, and plunged violently from the
pain, but still kept on with the others. With a shout the party fell
upon the rioters, the weight of the riders and horses throwing great
numbers to the ground, while the knights and their followers hewed
right and left with their swords.

The bravest spirits had thrown themselves in front, and once the troops
had cut their way through these, but little resistance was met with
beyond, the peasants seeking only to get out of their way. As soon as
they were through the crowd they turned again, and in the same order as
before, charged the mob, with the same success. As they drew up and
again turned, Sir Ralph ordered them to charge this time in single line.

"They are becoming utterly disheartened now," he said, "and we shall
sweep a wider path."

This time when they drew up they saw that the crowd had broken up, and
the rioters were flying filled with dismay through the fields.

"Chase and slay!" Sir Ralph shouted, raising his vizor that his voice
might reach all; "give no quarter; the business must be ended once and
for all."

Edgar and Albert both threw up their vizors--there was no fear of
arrows now, and both felt half stifled. There was no longer any order
kept, and the horsemen followed the fugitives in all directions. The
two lads kept together so as to be able to give each other assistance
should any stand be made. None, however, was attempted; the greater
portion of the rioters had thrown away their arms, and when overtaken
they raised cries, for mercy.

"You gave none to the Flemings," the lads shouted in return, infuriated
by the scenes that they had witnessed in London; and for an hour they
followed the fugitives, sparing none who came within reach of their
swords.

"We have done enough now," Albert exclaimed at last; "I am fairly
spent, and can scarce lift my sword."

"My horse is spent, but not my strength," Edgar said, as he reined up.
"Well, we have avenged the Flemings, and have done something towards
paying these fellows for their insults to the princess. Now let us wend
our way back; I must say good-bye to Sir Ralph and the sturdy alderman,
and will then ride home and see how my father has fared. I have little
fear that any harm has befallen him, for his magic would frighten the
rioters even more than our swords. Well, our armour has stood us in
good stead, Albert. When we charged the first time I was several times
struck with bill-hook and pike, and more than one arrow shivered on my
breast-piece, but I found that the blows all fell harmless, and after
that I wasted no pains in defending myself, but simply struck
straightforward blows at my opponents."

"I found the same, Edgar; the weapons glanced off the armour as a stone
would fly from a sheet of strong ice."

For a while they rode slowly to give their horses time to recover wind.
When they had done so, they rode more rapidly, and, keeping a straight
line--they had before ridden a devious course in pursuit--they arrived
in an hour at the castle. Here they found that most of the horsemen had
already returned. Two hundred bodies lay dead on the ground over which
they had charged so often; and when notes were compared they calculated
that no less than five hundred of the rioters had been slain.

"I think we shall hear no more of rioting in this neighbourhood," Sir
Ralph said, grimly. "If the king had but taken my advice and ridden out
to Blackheath with his knights and half the garrison of the Tower, and
with such aid as the loyal citizens would have furnished him, he and
the city would have been spared the humiliation that they have
suffered. One blow struck in time will save the need of twenty struck
afterwards. Had we but killed a thousand on Blackheath it would have
spared us the trouble of slaying perhaps ten times that number now;
would have saved the lives of many honourable gentlemen throughout the
country, to say nothing of the damage that has been wrought in London.
So you are riding home, Edgar? You are right, lad; I trust you will
find all quiet there."

"Would you like twenty of my men to ride with you?" the alderman asked.

"No, thank you, Sir Robert; my father, who, as I told you, is a man of
science, has prepared sundry devices, any one of which would terrify
these peasants out of their wits; and if they have troubled him, which
is like enough, I will warrant that he has given them as great a scare
as we have given these fellows to-day."

"At any rate, Edgar, you had best take a fresh horse. Yours has done a
good day's work, indeed; and it is just as well that you should
bestride an animal that can carry you off gaily should you fall in with
another party. There are half a dozen in the stalls. I don't suppose
they have been out since we have been away; besides, methinks that
after such hot work as we have been doing a cup of wine will do us all
good."

Edgar, therefore, rode into the castle, and while he was taking a cup
of wine and a hasty meal in the hall, Sir Ralph's servitors changed his
saddle to a fresh horse, and the lad then started for home. Confident
as he felt, it was still a great satisfaction to him to see that no
signs of violence were visible as he approached the house. The door in
the gate was indeed closed, contrary to usual custom.

Dismounting, he rung the bell. A small grille in the door opened, then
the servitor's head appeared.

"Now then, Andrew, what are you staring at? Why don't you open the
gate?"

"I was not sure that it was yourself, Master Edgar. In that grand
helmet I did not at first make you out. Well, I am glad that you have
come back safely, young master, for we heard of parlous doings in
London."

"Yes, I have come back all right. I hope that everything has gone on
well here."

"Ay, ay, sir; we had a bit of trouble, but, bless you, the master sent
them running, most scared out of their senses." And the man burst into
a fit of laughter.

"Here, take the horse, Andrew; I must go in to see him."

"Hulloa! hulloa!" Mr. Ormskirk exclaimed; "is this really my son?"

"It is, father; and right glad am I to see you safe and well. I told
Sir Ralph that I felt sure you would be able to hold your own here;
still, I was very pleased when I saw that the gate stood uninjured, and
that there were no signs of attack."

"Has Sir Ralph come back?" Mr. Ormskirk asked; "and knows he that the
rabble are besieging his castle?"

"Were besieging, father; for with us came a worthy city knight with a
troop of fifty stout men; and we have given the rioters such a lesson
that methinks there will be no more rioting in this part of Kent, for
from four to five hundred of them have been slain, and I believe all
the rest are still running!"

"It was a lesson much needed, Edgar, for after their doings in London
these fellows would never have been quiet, had they not been roughly
taught that they are but like a flock of sheep before the charge of
men-at-arms.

"But whence this armour, my son? Truly it is a goodly suit. My coffer
is so low that I know not how I shall make shift to pay for it."

"It is a gift, father, and Albert has one like it. 'Tis of the finest
steel, and is, as you see, all undinted, though it has had many a
shrewd blow from arrow, bill-hook, and pike in to-day's fight. But the
story is a long one to tell, and I pray you, before I begin it, to let
me know how matters have fared here, for I hear from Andrew that you
have not been left entirely alone."

Mr. Ormskirk smiled. "No, I had a goodly company three days ago. Some
hundred of men from Dartford joined, I am sorry to say, by a good share
of those at the village, came round here in the evening with the
intent, as they were good enough to say, of roasting the witchman in
his bed. Andrew had brought me news of their intentions, so I was ready
for them. I had gone out and had painted on the door, with that stuff I
told you of, the rough figure of a skeleton holding a dart in his hand.
It was of the same colour as the door, so that it did not show in the
daylight. Then I fixed along on the top of the wall a number of
coloured lights that I had seen in use in Italy on fête days, and of
which I learned the composition. I had, as I told you before, placed
cases of Friar Bacon's powder round the house, and had laid trains to
them by which they could be fired from within the wall.

"Had it been dark when they came the skeleton and that skull would have
sufficed; but it wanted still an hour before these devices would be of
use. I made them out in the distance, and thought that something else
would be needed. Therefore I got that Eastern gong that I purchased as
a curiosity at Genoa, and lighted a fire in the courtyard. As soon as
they approached I threw pitch into the fire, making thereby a great
column of smoke, and set Andrew to beat the gong furiously, telling him
to shout and yell as he pleased. Then I went to an upper window to
observe the effect. The crowd had halted some fifty yards away and
stood open-mouthed gazing at the place, and indeed it was no wonder
that such ignorant men were scared, for truly the yelling of Andrew and
the noise of the gong were enough to frighten anyone who knew not what
it meant.

"For some time it seemed to me that they would depart without venturing
farther, but some of the bolder spirits plucked up courage and went
about among the others shouting that no true Kentish man would be
frightened by a noise that meant nothing, they had but to break down
the door and they would soon put an end to it. However, the night began
to fall before they got fairly in motion, and I went down and prepared
to fire the powder should it be needful, and besides I hoisted the
skull above the parapet over the gate. Thinking that the light of the
phosphorus might not show up well a short distance away, I placed in
addition some red fire in the skull. I then got on the wall, and sat
down where I could peep out without being seen. Shouting a great deal
to encourage each other, they came on until within a few paces of the
gate. Then I heard a sudden cry, and those in front pushed back and
stood staring at the door as if bewitched; then all ran away some
distance. After much talk they came forward again, timidly pointing to
the figure as they advanced.

"This was now, doubtless, plain enough to be well made out fifty yards
away. There they came to a halt again. Then I called out to Andrew to
light the fire in the skull, and set the jaw wagging, having so
balanced it, that having been once set going it would wag for two or
three minutes before it stopped. Then he ran one way with a brand from
the fire, and I the other, and twelve green fires burst out. There was
a yell of horror when the skull was made out The alarm was doubtless
heightened by the green fire, they having never seen such a thing
before, and they started to run wildly off. To hasten their flight I
ran down and fired four of the powder cases, which exploded with a
noise that might have been heard at Dartford.

"After that Andrew and I went quietly to bed, sure that not another
soul would venture to attack the house. Andrew went into the village in
the morning. He found that some of the men had been well-nigh killed by
fright. All sorts of tales were told of great blazing skeletons that
dashed out from the gate with dart in hand, and of a skull that
breathed out red fire from a blazing mouth, and grinned and gibbered at
them. As to the noises and the ghastly green fire, none could account
for them, and I do believe that there is not a villager who would
approach within a quarter of a mile of the house after dark, on any
condition."



CHAPTER XI

AN INVITATION


Edgar laughed heartily at his father's account of the success of his
defence of the house. Then he said: "I hope, father, that distorted
accounts of the affair may not get you into trouble with the Church."

"I have no fear of that, Edgar. I had shown the prior my preparations,
and he approved of them heartily, being a man of much broader
intelligence than is common. Indeed, he begged of me a pot of my
shining paste, and with it painted the stone crucifix over the abbey
gateway. And it was well that he did so, for last night some men came
out from Dartford with intent to plunder the priory of its deeds and
muniments, but on seeing the glowing crucifix, they went off in fear
and trembling, and the villagers were saying this morning that the
priory had been protected by a miracle, while you see in my case they
attribute it to the work of the devil. And now, Edgar, tell me all that
has befallen you since you went away."

Edgar related the various adventures that had happened.

When he had concluded, his father said: "Truly, Edgar, you have been
fortunate indeed, which is another way of saying that you have
skilfully grasped the opportunities that presented themselves. The man
who bemoans ill-fortune is the man too apathetic, too unready, or too
cowardly to grasp opportunity. The man who is called fortunate is, on
the other hand, he who never lets a chance slip by, who is cool,
resolute, and determined. During the time that you have been away you
have made friends of two wealthy merchants, and have rendered them both
high services; you have also as greatly benefited our neighbour, Sir
Ralph De Courcy, and have placed your foot so firmly on the ladder,
that 'tis your own fault if you do not rise high. And now, what think
you of doing?"

"I have the intention of staying at home for a while, father. There
will be troubles for a time, but I care not to take part in the hunting
down of these poor peasants north of the river, who, unlike these
fellows, were well content when the king offered them the charter
granting their demands, and retired peacefully to their homes. So I
would rather remain here quietly until I have a chance of drawing sword
in a foreign war, either against the French or the Scots."

"I think that you are right; and, moreover, although you have proved
your manhood against men, you can hardly, when with an army, be
regarded as more than a young esquire till another year or two have
gone over your head."

Two days later, finding that all was now perfectly quiet, and that
there was no probability whatever of a renewal of the troubles, Sir
Ralph went up to London with the city knight and his company. They had
ridden over on the previous day to call upon Mr. Ormskirk to thank him
for the services that Edgar had rendered them, and upon which they
entered in much fuller detail than Edgar had allowed himself. In return
he gave them a description of the defence of his house, in which Sir
Robert was greatly interested, going down into the laboratory and
examining the luminous paint and its effect upon the skull.

"It is a goodly device," he said, "and though I myself have, during my
visit to Italy, come to believe but little in the superstitions that
are held by the mass of the people, I own that my courage would have
been grievously shaken if I had encountered suddenly that gibbering
head. How long does the effect last?"

"Three or four days. I believe that it is a sort of slow combustion
which, although it has no sensible heat, gradually consumes the
particles that give rise to it. It may be that further researches will
lead to a discovery by which the light might be made permanent, and in
that case the invention would be a useful one. I have, however, no time
to follow it up, being engaged in more serious matters, and regard this
as a mere relaxation from more important work."

"And yet, methinks," the merchant said, "that were men of science, like
yourself, to devote themselves to such discoveries, instead of
searching for the secrets that always evade them, they might do good
service to mankind. Look at this discovery of Friar Bacon's. So far, I
grant that it has led to nothing, but I can see that in the future the
explosive power of this powder will be turned to diverse uses besides
those of machines for battering down walls. Were this light of yours
made permanent it would do away with the necessity for burning lamps
indoors. What could be more beautiful than a hall with its ceilings,
rafters, walls, and pillars all glowing as if in the moonlight? For
methinks the light resembles that of the moon rather than any other."

"Were I a young man I would take up such matters, Sir Robert, for I
believe with you that the time might be more usefully spent; but 'tis
too late now. 'Tis not when one's prime is past that men can embark in
a fresh course or lay aside the work for which they have laboured for
so many years."

"And which, even if made, might bring more woe than good upon the
world," Sir Robert said. "Where would be the value of gold if other
metals could at will be transformed into it? When first produced, it
might enable monarchs to raise huge armies to wage war against their
neighbours; but, after a time, its use would become common. Gold would
lose its value, and men would come to think less of it than of iron,
for it is not so strong nor so fitted for weapons or for tools; and
then some other and rarer metal would take its place, and alchemists
would begin their work again in discovering another philosopher's stone
that would transmute other metals into the more valuable one."

Mr. Ormskirk was silent. "I think, Sir Robert," he said, at last, "that
we alchemists do not work solely for the good of mankind, nor give a
thought to the consequences that might follow the finding of the
philosopher's stone. We dream of immortality, that our name shall pass
down through all ages as that of the man who first conquered the secret
of nature and made the great discovery that so many thousands of others
have sought for in vain."

"It is assuredly an ambition as worthy as many others," Sir Robert
said, thoughtfully. "A knight would be ready to risk his life a
thousand times in order to gain the reputation of being one of the
foremost knights of Europe. A king would wring the last penny from his
subjects for a rich monument that will, he thinks, carry down his name
to all time; and doubtless the discovery of a secret that has baffled
research for hundreds of years, is at least as worthy an ambition as
these--far more laudable, indeed, since it can be carried out without
inflicting woes upon others. And now farewell, Mr. Ormskirk. I trust
that your son will always remember that in me he has a friend ready to
do aught in his power for him. I am but a simple citizen of London, but
I have correspondents in well-nigh every city in Europe, and can give
him introductions that may be valuable wheresoever he goes, and I shall
be grieved indeed if he does not avail himself of my good-will and
gratitude."

Three days later Sir Ralph returned to St. Alwyth from London with his
dame and Aline. For some weeks time passed quietly and pleasantly to
Edgar. The intimacy between the two houses became even closer than
before, and Sir Ralph's report of Edgar's doings in London caused him
to be frequently invited to the houses of all the well-to-do people in
the neighbourhood. In the meantime the insurrection had been finally
crushed. The commissioners in various parts of the country were trying
and executing all who had taken any lead in the movement, and until a
general amnesty was passed, two months later, every peasant lived in
hourly dread of his life. They had gained nothing by the movement from
which they had hoped so much, and for a while, indeed, their position
was worse than it had ever been before.

In time, however, as the remembrance of the insurrection died out, it
bore its fruits, and although there was no specific law passed
abolishing serfdom, the result was arrived at insensibly. Privileges
were granted, and these privileges became customs with all the effect
of the law, and almost without their knowing it, the people became
possessed of the rights for which their fathers had in vain taken up
arms. Three weeks after Edgar's return from London a royal commission
came down to Dartford, and the authorities of the town and others were
called upon to name the leaders of the insurgents.

Sir Ralph, who was one of those summoned, said that he was altogether
unable to give any information. He had been away when the first
outbreak took place. On his return he found his castle besieged, but
having with him fifty stout men-at-arms, he attacked and pursued the
insurgents, and nearly five hundred of them were slain. But fighting,
as he did, with his vizor down, and having, for a time, as much as he
could do to defend himself, he had recognized no one, and indeed, so
far as he knew, he did not see one among the rioters with whose face he
was acquainted.

Two days later, as Edgar was riding back from Sir Ralph's castle, he
came suddenly upon a man at a cross-road. He was one of the villagers.

"Well, Master Ormskirk," he said, folding his arms, "you can kill me if
you will, and it will be best so, for if you do not I shall live but
the life of a hunted dog, and sooner or later fall into their hands."

"Why should I kill you, Carter? I have naught against you."

"Then it was not you who denounced me as one of those who fought
against you at De Courcy's castle?"

"Not I, assuredly. I have had no communication whatever with the
commissioners, nor did I know that you were one of those we encountered
there."

"Someone has given my name," the man said, moodily. "I suppose it was
some of those at Dartford, for it is true enough that I joined the
Tyler the day he slew the collector. I thought that he had done
rightfully, and it may be that, like a fool, I have exhorted others to
join him to win our charter of rights, I thought it was to be got
honestly, that no harm was to be done to any man; but when we got to
London, and I saw that the Tyler and others intended to slay many
persons of high rank and to burn and destroy, I was seized with horror,
and made my way back. When the others returned I was fool enough to let
myself be persuaded to join in the attack on Sir Ralph's castle; and
for that and the speeches, it seems that I am to be tried and hung. You
had best run me through, Master Ormskirk, and have done with it; I
would rather that than be hung like a dog."

"I shall do nothing of the kind, Carter. I have known you for years as
an honest, and a hard-working fellow. Here are a couple of crowns with
which you can make your way to London."

"'Tis no good, sir. I hear that there are parties of men on every road,
and that orders have been given in every township to arrest all
passers-by, and to detain them if they have not proper papers with
them. Well, I can die better than some, for I lost my wife last
Christmas, and have no children; so if you won't do my business for me
I will go straight back to Dartford and give myself up."

"No, no, Carter. Do you go into that wood, and remain there till
nightfall; then come to our house and knock at the gate, and you can
shelter there as long as you like. As you know, there are few indeed
who come there, and if I get you a servitor's suit, assuredly none of
our visitors would recognize you, and as for the village folk, you have
but to keep out of their way when they come with wood, meat, and other
matters. It may not be for long, for 'tis like that I shall be going to
the wars soon, and when I do so I will take you with me as my
man-at-arms. Moreover, it is probable that when the commissioners have
sat for a time, and executed all the prominent leaders of this rioting,
there will be an amnesty passed. What do you say to that?"

"I say, God bless you, sir! I know well enough that I deserve
everything that has befallen me, for of a surety the murders that were
done in London have so disgraced our cause that no one has a right to
look for mercy. However, sir, if you are willing to give me such
shelter as you say, I will serve you well and faithfully, and will
right willingly imperil the last drop of my blood in your service."

"Then it is agreed, Carter. Come soon after nightfall. I am sure that
my father will approve of what I am doing, and should the worst come to
the worst, and you be discovered, he would be able to say truly that he
knew not that you were wanted for your share in the matter, for,
indeed, he takes but small notice of what is passing without. Now you
had better be off at once to hiding before anyone else comes along."

"Father," Edgar said, when he returned, "I have taken on an additional
servitor in the house. He will cost you naught but his food while he is
here, and he will ride with me as my man-at-arms if I go abroad. He is
a stout fellow, and I beg that you will ask me no questions concerning
him, and will take him simply on my recommendation. He will not stir
out of the house at present, but you may make him of use in your
laboratory if you can."

"I think that I understand, Edgar. After a business like that which is
just over, vengeance often strikes blindly, and 'tis enough for me that
you declare him to be honest, and that you have known him for some
time."

"Andrew," Edgar said to the old servitor after he had left his father,
"I know that you are no gossip, and that in the matter of which I am
going to speak to you I can rely upon your discretion. I have taken on
a stout fellow, who will follow me to the wars as a man-at-arms. It may
be that you will know him when you see him; indeed, I doubt not that
you will do so. It is good for him at present that he should not stir
beyond the walls, and he will, indeed, remain indoors all day. There
are a good many others like him, who just at present will be keeping
quiet, and you may be sure that I should not befriend the man were it
not that I feel certain he has had no hand in the evil deeds performed
by others."

"I understand, young master, and you may trust me to keep my lips
sealed. I hear that a score have been hung during the last three days,
and though I am no upholder of rioters, methinks that now they have had
a bitter lesson. The courts might have been content with punishing only
those who took a part in the murders and burnings in London. The rest
were but poor foolish knaves, who knew no better, and who were led
astray by the preachings of some of these Jack Priests and other
troublers of the peace."

"Think you that it would be best to speak to old Anna?"

"Not a bit, Master Ormskirk. Save to go to mass, she never stirs beyond
the house, and she is so deaf that you have to shout into her ear to
make her hear the smallest thing. I will simply say to her that you
have got a man-at-arms to go with you to the wars, and that until you
leave he is to remain here in the house. You did not tell me whether I
was to take your horse round to the stable."

"No; I am going to ride into Dartford now, to get the man some apparel
suited to his station here."

Edgar returned in an hour, bringing with him a servitor's suit. As soon
as Hal Carter arrived, Edgar himself opened the gate to him.

"Strip off those clothes, and put on this suit; it were best that you
be not seen in your ordinary attire. However, you can trust old Andrew,
and as to Anna, there is little chance of her recognizing you, and I
don't suppose she as much as knows that there has been trouble in the
land."

A month later a mounted messenger brought Edgar a letter--it was the
first that he had ever received. Telling the man to alight, and calling
Carter to take his horse, he led the man into the kitchen and told Anna
to give him some food. He then opened the letter. It ran as follows:

_To Master Edgar Ormskirk, with hearty greeting,_

_Be it known to you, good friend, that having wound up my business
affairs, I am about to start for Flanders, and shall, in the first
place, go to Ghent, having a mission from those in authority at Court
here to carry out in that city. It would greatly please me if you would
accompany me. The times are troubled in Flanders, as you doubtless
know, and you would see much to interest you; and, moreover, as at
present there is naught doing in England, save the trying and executing
of malefactors, you could spend your time better in seeing somewhat of
a foreign country than in resting quietly at St. Alwyth. I need not say
that the trip will put you to no cost, and that by accepting, you will
give pleasure to my wife and daughter, as well as to myself._

_Yours in friendship,_

_NICHOLAS VAN VOORDEN._

_P.S.--I am writing at the same time to Master De Courcy, who, I hope,
will also accompany me._

Edgar went down at once to his father's laboratory and handed him the
letter. Mr. Ormskirk read it.

"It is a hearty invitation, Edgar," he said, "and after the kindness of
the Fleming in presenting you with that splendid suit of armour, you
can scarce refuse it; but, indeed, in any case, I should be glad for
you to accompany him to Flanders. The Flemings are mostly our allies
against France, and it would be well for you to pass some time among
them, to learn as much as you can of their language, and to acquaint
yourself with their customs. Their towns are virtually independent
republics, like those of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. The power lies
wholly in the hands of the democracy, and rough fellows are they. The
nobles have little or no influence, save in the country districts. The
Flemings are at present on ill terms with France, seeing that they,
like us, support Pope Urban, while the French, Spaniards, and others
hold to Pope Clement.

"Possibly neither may care very much which pope gets the mastery, but
it makes a convenient bone of contention, and so is useful to
neighbours on bad terms with each other. Go, by all means. You had best
write a reply at once, and hand it to the messenger. Have you heard yet
whether he has been to the De Courcy's castle?"

"I did not ask him, father, for I did not read the letter until I had
handed him over to Anna to get some food in the kitchen. I will go and
ask him now, and if he has not yet gone there I will ride with him.
'Tis a cross-road, and he might have difficulty in finding it; besides,
perhaps if I tell Sir Ralph that I am going, it may influence him to
let Albert go also."

He went down to the kitchen and found that the messenger had not yet
been to the castle. Telling him that he would go with him and act as
his guide, and would be ready to start in a quarter of an hour, Edgar
sat down to write to the Fleming. It was the first time that he had
ever indited a letter, and it took him longer than he expected. When he
went down, the messenger was already standing by his horse, while
Carter was walking Edgar's up and down.

Albert and Aline were at the castle gate as they rode up.

"We were in the pleasaunce when we saw you coming, Edgar. We did not
expect you until to-morrow."

"I have come over with a messenger, who is the bearer of a letter to
you."

"You mean to my father, I suppose?"

"No, indeed; it is for yourself, and I have had a similar one. I have
written an answer, and I hope you will write one in the same strain."

"Who can it be from?" Aline said, as Albert took out his dagger and cut
the silk that held the roll.

"It is from our good friend, Mynheer Van Voorden," Edgar said. "He is
just leaving for Flanders, and has written to ask Albert and myself to
accompany him thither."

"And I suppose that you have accepted," Aline said, pettishly.

"Yes, indeed; my father thinks that it will be very good for me to see
something of foreign countries, and especially Flanders. As there is
nothing doing here now, I am wasting my time, and doubtless in the
great Flemish cities I shall be able to find masters who can teach me
many things with the sword."

"And how are we going to get on without you, I should like to know?"
she asked, indignantly, "especially if you are going to take Albert
away too."

"Albert will decide for himself--at least Sir Ralph will decide for
him, Mistress Aline."

"It is all very well to say that, but you know perfectly well that
Albert will be wanting to go if you are going, and that Sir Ralph will
not say no, if you and he both want it."

"Well, you would wish us to become accomplished knights some day, and
assuredly, as all say, that is a thing better learned abroad than in
England."

"I am quite satisfied with you as you are," she replied, "and I call it
a downright shame. I thought, anyhow, I was going to have you both here
until some great war broke out, and here you are running away for your
amusement. It is all very well for you to contend that you think it may
do you good, but it is just for change and excitement that you want to
go."

By this time Albert had finished reading the letter.

"That will be splendid," he said. "I have always thought that I should
like to see the great Flemish cities. Why, what is the matter, Aline?"
he broke off, seeing tears in his sister's eyes.

"Is it not natural that I should feel sorry at the thought of your
going away? We have to stay all our lives at home, while you wander
about, either fighting or looking for danger wherever it pleases you."

"I don't think that it is quite fair myself, Aline, but I did not have
anything to do with regulating our manners and customs; besides, it is
not certain yet that my father will let me go."

They had by this time reached the spot where Sir Ralph was watching a
party of masons engaged in heightening the parapet of the wall, as the
experience of the last fight showed that it did not afford sufficient
protection to its defenders.

"Well, Albert, what is your news?" he said, as he saw by their faces
that something unusual had happened.

"A letter from Mynheer Van Voorden to ask me to accompany him to
Flanders, whither he is about to sail. He has asked Edgar too, and his
father has consented."

"Read me the letter, Albert. 'Tis a fair offer," he said, when Albert
came to the end, "and pleases me much. I had spoken but yesterday with
your mother, saying that it was high time you were out in the world,
the only difficulty being with whom to place you. There are many
knights of my acquaintance who would gladly enough take you as esquire,
but it is so difficult to choose. It might be that, from some cause or
other, your lord might not go to the wars; unless, of course, it were a
levy of all the royal forces, and then it would be both grief to you
and me that I had not put you with another lord under whom you might
have had a better opportunity.

"But this settles the difficulty. By the time you come back there may
be some chance of your seeing service under our own flag. Lancaster has
just made a three years' truce with the Scots, and it may be that he
will now make preparations in earnest to sail with an array to conquer
his kingdom in Spain. That would be an enterprise in which an aspirant
for knighthood might well desire to take part. The Spaniards are
courtly knights and brave fellows, and there is like to be hard
fighting. This invitation is a timely one. Foreign travel is a part of
the education of a knight, and in Flanders there are always factions,
intrigues, and troubles. Then there is a French side and an English
side, and the French side is further split up by the Flemings inclining
rather to Burgundy than to the Valois. Why, this is better than that
gift of armour, and it was a lucky day indeed for you when you went to
his daughter's aid. Faith, such a piece of luck never fell in my way."

"Shall I go and write the letter at once, father?"

"There is no hurry, Albert. The messenger must have ridden from town
to-day, and as he went first to Master Ormskirk's, that would lengthen
his journey by three or four miles, therefore man and horse need rest,
and it were best, I should think, that he sleep here to-night, and be
off betimes in the morning. It would be dark before he reached the
city, and the roads are not safe riding after nightfall; besides, it
can make no difference to Van Voorden whether he gets the answer
to-night or by ten o'clock to-morrow morning."

Dame Agatha did not, as Aline had somewhat hoped, say a word to
persuade Sir Ralph to keep Albert longer at home. She looked wistfully
at the lad as the knight told her of the invitation that had come, and
at his hearty pleasure thereat, but she only said: "I am sorely
unwilling to part with you, Albert, but I know that it is best for you
to be entering the world, and that I could not expect to have you many
months longer. Your father and I were agreeing on that yesterday. A
knight cannot remain by a fireside, and it is a comfort to me that this
first absence of yours should be with the good Flemish merchant, and I
like much also his wife and daughter, who were most kind to us when we
tarried with them in London when your father was away. I would far
rather you were with him, than in the train of some lord, bound for the
wars. I am glad, too, that your good friend Edgar is going with you.
Altogether, it is better than anything I had thought of, and though I
cannot part with you without a sigh, I can feel that the parting might
well have been much more painful. What say you, Aline?"

"I knew, as you say, mother, that it was certain that Albert would have
to leave us, but I did not think that it would be so soon. It is very
hateful, and I shall miss him dreadfully."

"Yes, my dear, but you must remember it was so I felt the many times
that your father went to the war. It is so with the wife of every
knight and noble in the land. And not only these, but also the wives of
the men-at-arms and archers, and it will be yours when you too have a
lord. Men risk their lives in battle; women stay at home and mind their
castles. We each have our tasks. You know the lines that the priest
John Ball used, they say, as a text for his harangues to the crowds,
_When Adam delved and Eve span_. You see, one did the rough part of the
toil, the other sat at home and did what was needful there, and so it
has been ever since. You know how you shared our feelings of delight
that your brother had grown stronger, and would be able to take his own
part, as his fathers had done before him, to become a brave and valiant
knight, and assuredly it is not for you to repine now that a fair
opportunity offers for him to prepare for his career."

"I was wrong, mother," Aline said, penitently. "I was very cross and
ill-behaved, but it came suddenly upon me, and it seemed to me hard
that Albert and Edgar should both seem delighted at what pained me so
much. Forgive me, Albert."

"There is nothing to forgive, dear. Of course I understand your feeling
that it will be hard for us to part, when we have been so much
together. I shall be very sorry to leave you, but I am sure you will
agree with me that it is less hard to do so now than it would have been
if I had been going to be shut up in a convent to prepare for entering
the Church, as we once thought would be the case."

"I should think so," the girl said. "This will be nothing to it. Then
you would have been going out of our lives; now we shall have an
interest in all you do, and you will often be coming back to us; there
will be that to look forward to. Well, you won't hear me say another
word of grumbling until you have gone. And when are you to go?"

"To-morrow or next day," her father said. "Mynheer Van Voorden says, 'I
am about to start,' which may mean three days or six. It will need a
whole day for your mother and the maids to see to Albert's clothes, and
that all is decent and in order. To-day is Monday, and I think that if
we say that Albert will arrive there on Thursday by noon it will do
very well. Will you be ready by that time, Edgar?"

"Easily enough, Sir Ralph; for, indeed, as we have no maid, my clothes
need but little preparation. I wear them until they are worn out, and
then get new ones; and I doubt not that I shall be able to replenish my
wardrobe to-morrow at Dartford."

Well pleased to find that Albert was to accompany him, Edgar rode home.
As he passed in at the gates, Hal Carter ran up to him. "Master tells
me that you are going away, Master Edgar. Are you going to take me with
you?"

"Not this time, Hal. I am going to Flanders as a guest of a Flemish
gentleman, and I could not therefore take a man-at-arms with me;
besides, as you know naught of the language, you would be altogether
useless there. But do not think that I shall not fulfil my promise.
This is but a short absence, and when I return I shall enter the train
of some warlike knight or other, and then you shall go with me, never
fear."

"Thank you, sir. 'Tis strange to me to be pent up here; not that I have
aught in the world to complain of; your father is most kind to me, and
I do hope that I am of some use to him."

"Yes, my father has told me several times how useful you were to him in
washing out his apparatus and cleaning his crucibles and getting his
fires going in readiness. He wonders now how he got on so long without
a helper, and will be sorry when the time comes for you to go with me.
Indeed he said, but two days ago, that when you went he should
certainly look for someone to fill your place."

"So long as he feels that, Master Edgar, I shall be willing enough to
stay, but it seemed to me that I was doing but small service in return
for meat and drink and shelter. I should feel that I was getting fat
and lazy, were it not that I swing a battle-axe every day for an hour,
as you bade me."

"Look through your apparel, Edgar," his father said that evening, "and
see what you lack. To-morrow morning I will give you moneys wherewith
you can repair deficiencies. The suits you got in London will suffice
you for the present, but as winter approaches you must get yourself
cloth garments, and these can be purchased more cheaply in Flanders
than here. Of course, I know not how long your stay there may be; that
must depend upon your host. It would be well if, at the end of a month,
you should speak about returning, then you will see by his manner
whether he really wishes you to make a longer stay or not. Methinks,
however, that it is likely he will like you to stay with him until the
spring if there is no matter of importance for which you would wish to
return. I am sure that he feels very earnestly how much he owes to you,
and is desirous of doing you real service; and to my thinking he can do
it in no better manner than by giving you six months in Flanders."

Accordingly, three days later, the two friends again rode to London.
Each was followed by a man on horseback leading a sumpter-horse
carrying the baggage; and Hal Carter was much pleased when he was told
that he was to perform this service. Both, for the convenience of
carriage, wore their body-armour and arm-pieces, the helmets and
greaves being carried with their baggage. On their arrival they were
most cordially received by Van Voorden and his family, and found that
they were to start on Saturday. On the following morning the lads went
to the Tower to pay their respects to the king.

"Be sure you do not neglect that," Sir Ralph had said; "the king is
mightily well disposed to you, as I told you. I had related to him in
full the affairs in which you took part in London, and on my return
after the fight here, I, of course, told him the incidents of the
battle, and he said, 'If all my knights had borne themselves as well as
your son and his friend, I should not have been in so sore a strait. I
should be glad to have them about my person now; but I can well
understand that you wish your son to make a name for himself as a
valiant knight, and that for a time I must curb my desire.'"

The king received them very graciously. "Sir Ralph and you did good
work in dispersing that Kentish rabble, and doing with one blow what it
has taken six weeks to accomplish in Essex and Hertford. So you are
going to Flanders? You will see there what has come of allowing the
rabble to get the mastery. But of a truth the knaves of Ghent and
Bruges are of very different mettle to those here, and fight as stoutly
as many men-at-arms."

"'Tis true, your Majesty," Edgar said, "but not because they are
stouter men, for those we defeated so easily down in Kent are of the
same mettle as our archers and men-at-arms who fought so stoutly at
Cressy and Poictiers, but they have no leading and no discipline. They
know, too, that against mail-clad men they are powerless; but if they
were freemen, and called out on your Majesty's service, they would
fight as well as did their forefathers."

"You are in favour, then, of granting them freedom?"

"It seems to me that it would strengthen your Majesty's power, and
would add considerably to the force that you could put in the field,
and would make the people happier and more contented. Living down among
them as we do, one cannot but see that 'tis hard on men that they may
not go to open market, but must work for such wages as their lords may
choose to give them, and be viewed as men of no account, whereas they
are as strong and able to work as others."

"You may be right," the young king said, "but you see, my councillors
think otherwise, and I am not yet rightly my own master. In one matter,
however, I can have my way, and that is in dispensing honours. You know
what I said to you before you went hence, that, young as you were, I
would fain knight you for the valiant work that you had done. Since
then you have done me good service, as well as the realm, by having,
with Sir Ralph De Courcy and Sir Robert Gaiton, defeated a great body
of the Kentish rebels, who were the worst and most violent of all,
though there were with you but fifty men-at-arms. This is truly
knightly service, and their defeat drove all rioters in that part to
their homes, whereas, had they not been so beaten, there might have
been much more trouble, and many worthy men might have been slain by
them.

[Illustration: EDGAR AND ALBERT ARE KNIGHTED BY KING RICHARD.]

"Moreover, as you are going to Flanders with our good friend Mynheer
Van Voorden, who is in a way charged with a mission from us, it is well
that you should travel as knights. It will give you more influence, and
may aid him to further my object. Therefore, I am sure, that all here
who know how stoutly you have wielded your swords, and how you gave aid
and rescue to the worshipful Mynheer Van Voorden and his family, to
stout Sir Robert Gaiton, Dame De Courcy and her daughter, and how you
bore yourselves in the fight down in Kent, will agree with me that you
have right well won the honour."

Then, drawing his sword, he touched each slightly on the shoulder:

"Rise, Sir Albert De Courcy, and Sir Edgar Ormskirk."

As the lads rose they were warmly congratulated by several of the
nobles and knights standing round.

"I will not detain you," the king said, a short time later. "Doubtless
you have many preparations to make for your voyage. I hope that things
will fare well with you in Flanders. Bear in mind that if you draw
sword for Mynheer Van Voorden you are doing it for England."



CHAPTER XII

THE TROUBLES IN FLANDERS


On re-entering the city gates they first went to an armourer's, where
they purchased and buckled on some gilded spurs.

"Truly, Albert, I can scarce believe our good fortune," Edgar said, as
they left the shop. "It seems marvellous that though we have not served
as esquires, we should yet at seventeen be dubbed knights by the king."

"You have well deserved it, Edgar; as for me, I have but done my best
to second you."

"And a very good best it was, Albert," Edgar laughed. "'Tis true that
in the skirmish outside Aldersgate I might have managed by myself, but
in the Fleming's affair and in the Tower I should have fared hardly
indeed had it not been for your help. I fancy that we have the Fleming
to thank for this good fortune. You see he had already told the king
that we were to accompany him, and perhaps he may have pointed out to
him that it might be to the advantage of his mission that we should be
made knights. He has great influence with the Court, seeing that he has
frequently supplied the royal needs with money. First let us visit our
good friend Sir Robert Gaiton."

The knight received them most warmly. "I heard from Van Voorden that
you were going to Flanders with him. You are like to see stirring
events, for Ghent has long been in insurrection against the Count of
Flanders, and things are likely to come to a head erelong. Ah, and what
do I see--gold spurs! Then the king has knighted you. That is well,
indeed, and I congratulate you most heartily. I tell you that I felt
some shame that I, who had not even drawn a sword, should have been
knighted, while you two, who had fought like paladins, had not yet your
spurs, and I was glad that I had an opportunity, down in Kent, of
showing that I was not a mere carpet knight."

"'Tis for that affair that the king said he knighted us, Sir Robert,"
Edgar said. "The other matters were private ventures, though against
the king's enemies; but that was a battle in the field, and the success
put an end to rioting down there."

"I shall not forget my promise about the knightly armour," the merchant
said, "but methinks that it were best to wait for a while. The armour
the Fleming bought you is as good as could be made, but doubtless you
will outgrow it, so it would be best for me to delay for two or three
years. It is not likely that you will have much to do with courtly
ceremonies before then, and when you get to twenty, by which time you
will have your full height, if not your full width, I will furnish you
with suits with which you could ride with Richard when surrounded by
his proudest nobles and best knights."

"We thank you, indeed, Sir Robert, and it would be much better so. The
first shine is not off our armour at present, and it would be cumbrous
to carry a second suit with us, therefore we would much rather that you
postponed your gift."

He now went with them into the ladies' room. "Dame and daughter," he
said, "I have to present to you Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir Albert De
Courcy, whom his Majesty has been pleased this morning to raise to the
honour of knighthood, which has been well won by their own merits and
bravery."

The dame gave an exclamation of pleasure and her daughter clapped her
hands.

"'Tis well deserved, indeed," the former exclaimed, "and I wish them
all good fortune with their new dignity. How much we owe them, Robert."

"That do we," the merchant said, heartily.

"I am pleased," the girl said, coming forward and frankly shaking hands
with both.

"I can scarce credit our good fortune, Mistress Ursula," Albert said.
"'Tis but a few months since I deemed that I was unfit for martial
exercise, and that there was naught for me but to enter the Church, and
now, thanks entirely to Edgar and to good luck, I am already a knight;
'tis well-nigh past belief. That meeting with you and your father was
the beginning of our great fortune."

"That was a terrible night," the girl said, with a little shudder at
the recollection. "Heaven surely sent you to our aid."

While they were talking, Sir Robert said a word apart to his wife, and
left the room. He presently returned with a small coffer, which he
handed to her.

"It seems to me, young knights," she said, "that your equipment is
incomplete without a knightly chain. My husband, I know, is going to
give you armour for war; it is for us to give you an ornament for
Court. These are the work of Genoese goldsmiths, and I now, in the name
of my daughter and myself, and as a small token of the gratitude that
we owe you, bestow these upon you."

So saying she placed round their necks two heavy gold chains of the
finest workmanship. Both expressed their thanks in suitable terms.

"When do you sail?" the merchant asked Edgar.

"To-morrow morning," he replied, "and the ship will unmoor at noon. We
will come to say farewell to you in the morning."

Mynheer Van Voorden and his family were no less delighted than Sir
Robert Gaiton at the honour that had befallen them.

"Methinks, Mynheer," Edgar said, "that 'tis to you that we in part owe
the honour the king has bestowed on us, for he said that as you had a
mission from him it would be well that we should have the rank of
knighthood."

"I may have said as much to the king," Van Voorden admitted, "but it
was not until Richard had himself said that he intended at the first
opportunity to knight you both. On that I spoke, and pointed out that
the presence of two English knights with me would add weight to my
words. On which he gladly assented, saying that it had before been his
intention to do so ere you left London, had not Sir Ralph said it would
be better for you to earn it in the field; but as, since that time, you
had fought in a stiff battle, and done good service to the realm by
putting down the insurgents in Kent, who had been the foremost in the
troubles here, he would do so at once.

"I think now that it were well you should each take a man-at-arms with
you--a knight should not ride unattended. When we get across there I
will hire two Flemings, who speak English, to ride with your men. You
will need them to interpret for you, and they can aid your men to look
after your horses and armour. If the two fellows here start at once for
your homes, the others can be back in the morning."

"One of them is the man I should take with me," Edgar said. "I promised
him that he should ride behind me as soon as occasion offered. He has
no horse, but I doubt not that I shall be able to purchase one out
there."

"I will see to that," Van Voorden said, "and to his armour. Do not
trouble yourself about it in any way. And now about your man, Sir
Albert?"

"I will ask my father to choose a good fellow for me, and one who has
armour and a horse."

"Then it were best to lose no time. There is pen and parchment on that
table. Doubtless you will both wish to write to tell your fathers of
the honour that the king has bestowed upon you."

Both at once sat down and wrote a short letter. Edgar, after telling
his father that he had been knighted, said:

"_Mynheer Van Voorden says it will be as well if we each take a
man-at-arms with us, so I shall, with your permission, take Hal Carter,
as I had arranged with you to do so when I went to the wars. He is a
stout fellow, and will, I am sure, be a faithful one. I hope that you
will find no difficulty in replacing him._"

Sir Ralph himself arrived at the house the next morning. "I could not
let you go without coming to congratulate you both on the honour that
has befallen you. It might have been well that it should have come a
little later, but doubtless it will be of advantage to you in Flanders,
and should there be fighting between Ghent and the earl you will be
more free to choose your own place in battle, and to perform such
journeys and adventures as may seem good to you as knights, than you
would be as private gentlemen, or esquires, following no leader, and
having no rank or standing save that of gentlemen who have come over as
friends of Mynheer Van Voorden.

"Your mother is greatly pleased, and as for Aline, she would fain have
ridden hither with me, but as I intend to return this afternoon, and as
she saw you both but two days since, I thought it best that she should
stay at home. I have brought up with me John Lance. I thought that he
was the one who would suit you best. In some respects the other is the
more experienced and might be of more value were you going on a
campaign, but he is somewhat given to the ale-jug, so I thought it best
to bring Lance, who is a stout fellow, and can wield his sword well. He
is civil and well-spoken, and as I have told him he is to obey your
orders just the same as if they were mine, I believe that you will have
little trouble with him. His arms and armour are in good condition, and
he has been furnished with a fresh suit out of the chest.

"I saw your father, Edgar, late yesterday evening. I myself took over
your letter to him. He said that whatever a man's calling may be, it is
well that he should go into it with all his heart, and that since you
have taken to arms, it is well indeed that you should so soon have
distinguished yourself as to be deemed worthy of knighthood. He said
that he would get another to take the place of the man you keep with
you, and he wishes you God-speed in Flanders."

At eleven o'clock, Van Voorden, his wife and daughter, mounted,
together with Edgar, Albert, and their two men-at-arms; both the latter
were in body armour, with steel caps; the Fleming had secured a strong
and serviceable horse for Hal. His own servants had gone on an hour
before with three carts carrying the baggage; Sir Ralph accompanied
them across London Bridge to Rotherhithe, where the barque was lying
alongside a wharf. The horses were first taken on board, and placed in
stalls on deck. These Van Voorden had had erected so that the horses
should suffer no injury in case they encountered rough weather. As soon
as the animals were secured in their places, Sir Ralph said good-bye to
them all, the hawsers were thrown off, and the vessel dropped out into
the tide, the baggage having been lowered into the hold before they
came down.

There were no other passengers, the Fleming having secured all the
accommodation for his party. There were two small cabins in the stern,
one of which was set apart for the merchant's wife and daughter, the
other for their two maids. The cabin where they sat and took their
meals was used by the merchant and the two young knights as a
sleeping-place. The Fleming's four men-servants and the two men-at-arms
slept in a portion of the hold under the stern cabins. The wind was
favourable, and although speed was not the strong point of the ship,
she made a quick passage, and forty-eight hours after starting they
entered the port of Sluys.

"Will you tell us, Mynheer," Edgar said, as they sailed quietly down
the Thames, "how it comes about that Ghent is at war with the Earl of
Flanders, for it is well that we should have some knowledge of the
matter before we get into the midst of it."

"'Tis well, indeed, that it should be so, Edgar. The matter began in a
quarrel between two men, John Lyon and Gilbert Mahew. Lyon was a crafty
and politic man, and was held in great favour by the earl. There was a
citizen who had seriously displeased Louis, and at his request John
Lyon made a quarrel with him and killed him. The matter caused great
anger among the burgesses, and Lyon had to leave the city, and went and
dwelt at Douay, living in great state there for three years, at the
earl's expense. At the end of that time the earl used all the influence
he possessed at Ghent, and obtained a pardon for Lyon, and the
restoration of his property, that had been forfeited for his crime,
and, moreover, made him chief ruler of all the ships and mariners.

"This caused great displeasure to many, not only in Ghent but in all
Flanders. Mahew, who, with his seven brothers, was the leading man
among the mariners, and between whose family and that of Lyon there was
a long-standing feud, went presently to the earl and told him that if
things were properly managed and certain taxes put on the shipping, the
earl would derive a large annual sum from it, and the earl directed
Lyon to carry this out. But owing to the general opposition among the
mariners, which was craftily managed by Mahew's brothers, Lyon was
unable to carry the earl's orders into effect. Gilbert Mahew then went
to the earl and said that if he were appointed in Lyon's place he would
carry the thing out. This was done, and Mahew, from his influence with
the mariners, and by giving many presents to persons at the earl's
Court, gained high favour, and used his power to injure Lyon.

"The latter, however, kept quiet, and bided his time. This came when
the people of Bruges, who had long desired to make a canal--which would
take away most of the water of the river Lys for their benefit--but who
had never been able to do so, owing to the opposition offered by Ghent,
now set a great number of men upon this work. This caused a great
agitation in Ghent, especially among mariners, who feared that if the
river Lys were lowered their shipping trade would be much injured. Then
people began to say that if Lyon had remained their governor in Ghent
the people of Bruges would never have ventured on such action. Many of
them went secretly to Lyon to sound him on the matter. He advised them
that they had best revive the old custom of wearing white hoods, and
that they should then choose a governor whom they would obey.

"In a few days a great number of white hoods appeared in the streets,
and a popular meeting was held. John Lyon was elected leader, and with
two hundred companies marched from Ghent to attack the pioneers digging
the channel. These, on hearing that a great force from Ghent was
marching against them, hastily retired. John Lyon and his force
returned home, and the former again resumed his position as a quiet
trader. The White Hoods, however, dominated the town. In a short time
some of them demanded that a mariner, who was a burgess of Ghent, and
who was confined in the earl's prison at Eccloo, should be liberated,
as, according to the franchise of the city, no burgess could be tried
save by its Courts.

"This trouble Lyon carefully fostered, and as the new and heavy dues
injured the trade of Ghent, his party increased rapidly. In public,
however, he always spoke moderately, remaining quietly in his house,
and never going out except with an escort of two or three hundred of
the White Hoods. An embassy was sent to the earl to ask that the rights
of the city should be respected. The earl answered them mildly, ordered
the prisoner to be given up to them, and promised to respect the
franchise of the city, but at the same time asked that the wearing of
white hoods should be discontinued. Lyon, however, persuaded the White
Hoods not to accede to this request, saying that it was the White Hoods
that had wrung those concessions from the earl, and that if they
disappeared from the streets, the franchise would be speedily abolished.

"In this Lyon was right, and he at once set to work to organize the
White Hoods, dividing them into companies, and appointing a captain to
each hundred men; a lieutenant to fifty; and a sub-officer to ten. In a
short time the Bailie of Ghent, with two hundred horse, rode into the
city, the earl having agreed with Gilbert Mahew that John Lyon and
several other leaders should be carried off and beheaded. As soon as
the bailie arrived at the market-place he was joined by the Mahews and
their adherents. The White Hoods at once gathered at John Lyon's house,
and he set out for the market-house with four hundred men. These were
joined by many others as they went. As soon as they appeared, the
Mahews, with their party, fled. Then the White Hoods rushed upon the
bailie, unhorsed and slew him, and tore the earl's banner to pieces.
His men-at-arms, seeing how strong and furious were the townsmen, at
once turned their horses and rode away.

"A search was then made for the Mahews, but they had fled from the town
and ridden away to join the earl. Their houses were all sacked and
destroyed. The White Hoods were now undisturbed masters of the place;
most of the rich burgesses, however, were much grieved at what had
taken place. A great council was held, and twelve of their number went
to the earl to beg for pardon for the town. The earl received them
sternly, but at their humble prayer promised to spare the city and to
punish only the chief offenders. While they were away, however, Lyon
called an assembly of the citizens in a field outside the town. Ten
thousand armed men gathered there, and they at once sacked and burnt
the palace of Andrehon, which was the earl's favourite residence, and a
very stately pile.

"The earl, on hearing the news, called the burgesses, who were still
with him, and sent them back to Ghent with a message to the town that
they should have neither peace nor treaty until he had struck off the
heads of all those whom he chose. John Lyon began the war by marching
to Bruges, which, being wholly unprepared, was forced to admit him and
his men, and to agree to an alliance with Ghent. He then marched to
Damme, where he was taken ill, and died, not without strong suspicion
of having been poisoned. The people of Ghent sent a strong force to
Ypres. The knights and men-at-arms of the garrison refused to admit
them, but the craftsmen of the town rose in favour of Ghent, slew five
of the knights, and opened the gates. The men of the allied cities then
tried to attack Tormonde, where the earl was, but were unable to take
it; they afterwards besieged Oudenarde. The Duke of Burgundy, however,
interposed, and peace was agreed upon, on condition that the earl
should pardon all and come to live in Ghent. The earl kept his promise
so far as to go there, but he only stayed four days and then left the
town.

"The peace was of very short continuance, for some relations of the
bailie and some other knights took forty ships on the river, put out
the eyes of the sailors, and sent them into Ghent, in return for which
a strong body marched out from Ghent, surprised Oudenarde, and stayed
there a month, during which time they hewed down the gates and made a
breach in the walls by destroying two towers. After the men of Ghent
had left Oudenarde the earl went there and repaired the damage they had
done, and then marched to Ypres and beheaded many of those who had
risen against him, and had slain his knights. In the meantime Ghent
prepared for the war by sacking and destroying all the houses of the
gentry in the country round the city.

"Several battles were fought, and in these the White Hoods had the
worst of it, for although they fought stoutly they were greatly
outnumbered. Bruges and Damme opened their gates to the earl, and Ghent
was left without an ally. Then Peter De Bois, who was now the chief of
the White Hoods, seeing that many of the townsmen were sorely
discouraged by their want of success, went to Philip Van Artevelde (the
son of Jacob Van Artevelde, who was murdered by the townsfolk for
making an alliance with England) and persuaded him to come forward as
the leader of the people. On his doing so Philip was at once accepted
by the White Hoods. Two of the leaders of the party of peace were at
once murdered. As his father had been a great man and an excellent
ruler, Philip was joyfully accepted by the whole population, and was
given almost arbitrary power.

"Since that time," went on Van Voorden, "Ghent has been straitly
besieged, and had it not been that they sent out a strong force, who
bought large supplies at Brussels and at Liege, and managed to convey
them back to the city, most of the inhabitants would have died from
hunger.

"So matters stand at present. The mission with which I am charged at
present is to see Van Artevelde, and to find out whether he, like his
father Jacob, is well disposed towards the English, and if so, to
promise that some aid shall be sent to him."

"And what are your own thoughts on the matter, Mynheer?"

"As to Ghent, I say nothing," the merchant replied. "The population
have ever been rough and turbulent, swayed by agitators, and tyrannized
over by the craftsmen; but I can well see that it is for the interest
of England that Ghent should be upheld, for these troubles in Flanders
greatly disturb both the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, whose
interests never run together. Again, I see that the independence of
Ghent, Bruges, and other large towns is for the good of Flanders, since
were it not for that, the country would be but an appanage of Burgundy
or France. Heavy imposts would be laid upon the people, their
franchises abolished, and the trade greatly injured; and it would
therefore be a sore misfortune for the country were the Earl of
Flanders to crush Ghent, for did he do so he could work his will in all
the other towns.

"These, you see, are something like your city of London; they exist and
flourish owing to the rights they have gained. They curbed the power of
the nobles, and have built up great wealth and power for themselves.
Their merchants have the revenues of princes, and carry on a great
trade with all countries. You see how readily the earl fell in with
Mahew's suggestion, and laid heavy taxes on the shipping of Ghent. In
the same way, were he supreme master, he and his lords could similarly
tax the trade of other towns of Flanders, to the great benefit of the
merchants of foreign countries. Thus, you see, as a Fleming I should
wish to see Ghent--although I love not the turbulent town--preserved
from the destruction that would surely fall upon it were the earl to
capture it. Why, at Ypres, not only did he kill many thousands of the
citizens in an ambush, but when he entered the town, he beheaded
well-nigh six hundred of the citizens. If he did that at Ypres, which
had offended comparatively little, what would he do to Ghent, which has
killed his bailie, sacked and burned his palace, defied his authority,
and holds out against all his force?"

"Thank you very much, Mynheer; I knew but little of the matter before,
and I am glad to be so thoroughly informed in it. I see it is the same
there as it was in London when the rioters came thither; the better
class were overborne by the baser. Had it not been for the death of Wat
the Tyler, and the dispersal of his rabble, it is likely that every
trader's house in London would have been pillaged and all the better
class murdered, as were the Flemings."

As soon as the vessel drew alongside the wharf at Sluys, a Flemish
trader came on board. He was a correspondent of Van Voorden's, and to
him the merchant had written, asking him to secure lodgings for him and
his party for a day or two. Van Voorden was well known to him, for the
merchant had occasion to cross to Flanders three or four times every
year, and his correspondent often came over to London. After greeting
the merchant, his wife and daughter, he said:

"I was in much fear for you, Van Voorden, when I heard the reports of
the wild doings of the rabble in London, and how they specially
directed their fury against our people, and killed very many worthy
merchants. You have said in your letters to me that you had been in
some danger, but that, as you would see me shortly, you would not write
at length."

"I will tell you of it anon, Rochter. First, how about the lodging?"

"As to that, there is no difficulty. It would be strange indeed were
you to go elsewhere than to my house, which you have always used
hitherto when you passed through."

"Yes: when I was alone. Now I have my wife and daughter, and these two
young English knights, to say nothing of the maids and the men-at-arms."

"We can take them all without difficulty. As you know, the house is a
large one, and there are but my wife and myself and my daughter Marie.
There is the room you always occupy for yourself and madame, a bed has
been put up in Marie's room for your daughter, the large room over it
will be allotted to these gentlemen, your maids can sleep with ours,
and there is a large room in the attic for your servants and the
knights' men."

"So be it," Van Voorden said, "and it will be far more pleasant to be
with you and your good wife than in a strange place. How about the
horses, of which we have six?"

"The accommodation I have for them is small, but I have arranged with a
friend for the disposal of the horses in his stables, which are
commodious, and of which he makes but little use."

The house of Mynheer Rochter surprised the young knights by its size.
It was massively and strongly built, and apparently there was no
pressure for room, as was the case in the busy streets of London. The
hall was of great size, panelled with a dark wood, and with a flooring
so smooth and polished that both knights narrowly escaped falling, on
stepping on it for the first time. A great staircase led to the family
apartments upstairs. The main room would have held four of either those
of Van Voorden or Sir Robert Gaiton in London, and the rest of the
house was on the same scale. All was dark, massive, and rich, with an
air of great comfort. The furniture and floors were polished until they
reflected the light from the casements, and heavy rugs and carpets were
stretched in front of the fire-places and windows, and at other points
where the family were accustomed to sit.

There were heavy curtains to the windows, and others before the doors,
so that all draught should be cut off. Although not so handsome as the
rooms of the two merchants in London, everything was so substantial,
well kept, and comfortable, that the two friends were greatly struck by
it. It was now October, and great wood fires blazed in the hall below
and in all the upstairs rooms, and these quite dispelled any air of
gloom that might otherwise have been caused by the darkness of the
furniture.

"Truly, Edgar," Albert said, in a low tone, while the ladies were
talking together, "I think that I shall change my vocation once again,
abandon the cutting of throats, and establish myself as a Flemish
merchant."

"It would be years before you could acquire the necessary knowledge,"
Edgar laughed, "to say nothing of the capital required for the
business; but truly the comfort of this house is wonderful, and it is
clear to me that, although we Englishmen have learned to fight, we are
mightily behind others in the art of making our lives comfortable."

Before the meal was served the friends went upstairs to their room,
took off the rough clothes in which they had travelled, and apparelled
themselves in the plainest of their two suits. When dinner was
announced they went into a room leading from that in which they had
before been. As the numbers were equal, the four gentlemen each offered
his hand to a lady, and led her to the table. It was almost dark now,
and the room was lighted with many wax candles, which were novelties to
the young knights. Tallow candles had indeed come into partial use at
the beginning of the century, but they had never seen wax used, save on
occasions of great ceremony in the churches. It was now for the first
time that Frau Rochter obtained a fair view of the faces of her guests.

"You are young indeed, gentlemen, are you not, to have attained the
rank of knighthood?" she said; "but I believe that in England 'tis a
title that goes with the land."

"It is so," Van Voorden said, before either of the young knights could
reply; "but in this case it has been won by distinguished bravery, for
which King Richard himself bestowed knighthood upon them. No one can
testify to their bravery more strongly than ourselves, for it was
thanks alone to them that my life certainly, and probably those of my
wife and daughter, were preserved on that evil day in London," and as
the meal proceeded he gave a full narrative of the manner in which they
had defended his house while his wife was removed from her sick-bed and
carried down to the hiding-place below. "It was not only for this
single act of bravery that they received knighthood. Young though they
are, they saved the life of a worshipful London citizen--who has since
himself become a knight--when he had fallen into the hands of a party
of robbers. When the Tower was in the hands of the rioters, they,
without assistance, killed seven men who had entered the ladies'
chamber; and, lastly, they rode, with two knights and fifty
men-at-arms, at a mob consisting of some two thousand of the worst of
the rebels, and entirely defeated them with the loss of five hundred,
and it was for this last act that they were knighted."

"Mynheer Van Voorden omits to say," Edgar added, "that it was largely
to his own good offices that we owe the honour."

"I said nothing to the king but what was true and just," the merchant
replied; "and he told me that he had already determined to promote you
on the first opportunity; indeed, even had I not spoken I believe that
he would have done so before we left London."

"I am sure that they deserved it if it had only been for what they did
for us," his daughter said, warmly. "Several times, while you were
getting mother down the stairs, I ran out to the landing and looked
down at the fight. It was terrible to see all the fierce faces, and the
blows that were struck with pole-axe and halbert, and a marvel that two
young men should so firmly hold their ground against such odds."

"We all owe them our lives assuredly," Madame Van Voorden said. "Had it
not been for them, undoubtedly I should have died that day. I was very
near to death as it was, and had I seen my husband slaughtered before
my eyes, it would have needed no blow of knife to have finished me."



CHAPTER XIII

A STARVING TOWN


Many of the leading citizens, hearing of Van Voorden's arrival, called
in the course of the evening. The conversation, of course, turned upon
the state of public affairs in Flanders; and Van Voorden inquired
particularly as to the feeling in Bruges, and the sides taken by
leading citizens there.

"That is difficult to say," one of the merchants replied. "Bruges has
always been a rival to Ghent, and there has been little good-will
between the cities. The lower class are undoubtedly in favour of Ghent;
but among the traders and principal families the feeling is the other
way. Were Ghent in a position to head a national movement with a fair
chance of success, no doubt Bruges would go with her, for she would
fear that, should it be successful, she would suffer from the
domination of Ghent. At present, however, the latter is in a strait,
the rivers are blockaded by the earl's ships, and the town is sorely
pressed by famine. After the vengeance taken by the earl on the places
that, at the commencement of the trouble, threw in their lot with
Ghent, she can expect no aid until she shows herself capable of again
defeating the prince's army."

"Of course, at present I know but little how matters stand," Van
Voorden said. "I have been so long settled in England that I have
hardly kept myself informed of affairs here. I am thinking now of
making Flanders my home again, but I would not do so if the land is
like to be torn by civil war; I shall, therefore, make it my business
to sojourn for a time in many of the large towns, and so to learn the
general feeling throughout the country towards the earl, and to find
out what prospect there is of the present trouble coming to a speedy
end. France, Burgundy, or even England may interfere in the matter if
they see a prospect of gain by it, and in that case the fighting might
become general."

"Is the feeling of England in favour of Ghent?" one of the burghers
asked, anxiously.

"So far I have heard but little on the matter. The English have had
troubles of their own, and have had but little time to cast their eyes
abroad. Nevertheless, if the struggle continues, they may remember that
a Van Artevelde was their stout ally, and that Ghent, after his murder,
again submitted itself to them. There is, too, the bond of sympathy
that Flanders accepts the same pope as England, and that in aiding her
they aid the pope's cause, and strike a blow at France, with whom they
are always at daggers drawn. Therefore, methinks more unlikely things
have happened than that; if France gives aid to the earl, the English
may strike in for Ghent."

"I trust not," one of the burghers said, earnestly, "for Sluys might
well be the landing point for an English expedition, and then the first
brunt of the war would fall upon us."

"I say not that there is much chance of such a thing," Van Voorden
said; "I was but mentioning the complication that might arise if Ghent
is able to prolong the struggle."

On the following morning the party started from Sluys. They made a good
show, for Van Voorden had the evening before engaged two mounted men,
well-armed, to ride with the young knights as men-at-arms. Behind the
merchant and his party came the two maids and the four retainers who
had accompanied them from England. These carried swords and daggers,
but no defensive armour. Behind were the two English men-at-arms and
the two freshly taken on, all wearing breast-and back-pieces and steel
caps. They tarried but a day or two at Bruges, Van Voorden finding that
among the burgesses the trade animosity against Ghent overpowered any
feeling of patriotism, and moreover it was felt that the success of
that town would give such encouragement to the democracy elsewhere that
every city would become the scene of riot and civil strife.

They learnt that, unless they fell in with one of the parties that was
stationed to prevent strong forces of foragers issuing from Ghent to
drive in cattle, they would find no difficulty in entering the town,
for the citizens had shown themselves such stout fighters, that the
earl, believing that the city must fall by famine, had drawn off the
greater portion of his army. Travelling by easy stages, the party
approached the town on the second evening. Soon after they started that
morning they came upon a body of the troops of the Earl of Flanders.
The officer in command rode up to the merchant and asked him for his
name and his object in going to Ghent, and also who were the two
knights with him. As soon as Van Voorden mentioned his name, and said
that he had for many years been established in London, the officer at
once recognized it.

"I am well acquainted with your name as one of the foremost among our
countrymen at King Richard's Court, and that you have several times
acted as our representative when complaints have been made of injury to
Flemish traders by English adventurers, but I must still ask, what do
you propose doing at Ghent?"

"I am over here for a time with my wife and daughter, and am paying
visits to friends and business correspondents in the various towns, and
it may be that if these troubles come to an end I may retire from
business altogether and settle down here. These knights have done me a
signal service, having saved the lives of myself and daughter during
the riots in London; therefore I have asked of them the courtesy to
ride with me through Flanders. Having a desire to visit foreign
countries, they accepted my invitation."

"Adieu, then, Master Van Voorden. I know that you are a man of
influence among the merchants, and trust that you will do your best to
persuade the stiff-necked burghers of Ghent to submit themselves to
their lord."

"Methinks, from what I hear," the merchant replied, "that if it
depended upon the burgesses and traders there would be a speedy end to
these troubles, but they are overborne by the demagogues of the
craftsmen."

"That is true enough," the officer replied. "Numbers of the richer
burgesses have long since left Ghent, and many have established
themselves in trade in other cities where there was better chance of
doing their business in peace and quiet."

The party now rode on, and without further interruption arrived at
Ghent. They put up for the night at a hostelry, but in the morning the
merchant had no difficulty in hiring the use of a house for a month,
for many of the better class houses were standing empty. Then he called
on several of the leading burgesses, some of whom were known to him
personally, and had long and earnest talk with them upon the situation.

Late in the afternoon he sent a letter to Philip Van Artevelde, saying
that he had just arrived from England, and would be glad to have a
private parley with him. An answer was received from Van Artevelde
saying that he would call that evening upon him, as it would be more
easy to have quiet speech together there than if he visited him at his
official residence. At eight o'clock Van Artevelde arrived. He was
wrapped in a cloak, and gave no name, simply saying to the retainer who
opened the door that he was there by appointment with his master. Van
Voorden received him alone. They had met on two or three occasions
previously, and saluted each other cordially.

"I think it best that we should meet quietly," the merchant said, as
they shook hands. "I know the Ghentois, how greedily they swallow every
rumour, how they magnify the smallest things, and how they rage if
their desires are not gratified, and give themselves wholly up to the
demagogues. 'Tis for that reason that I think it well that you have
come to see me privately.

"I have no official mission to you, but I am charged by King Richard,
or rather by his council--when they heard that I was coming over here
on my private affairs--to find out in the first place how things really
stand here; and secondly, to learn your own opinion and thoughts on the
matters in hand."

By this time they had seated themselves by the fire.

"The position is grievous enough in that we are straitened for food,"
was the reply; "indeed, although we have of late been fortunate in
obtaining supplies, the pressure cannot be borne. Of one thing you may
be sure, Ghent will not tamely be starved out. If we cannot obtain fair
terms, every man will arm himself and sally out, and, it need be, we
will sweep the whole country clear of its flocks and herds, and bring
in such stores as we want from all quarters, carrying our arms to the
gates of Brussels and Malines in one direction, to Lisle in another,
and to Ypres and Dixmuide south of the Lys. Earl though he be, Louis
cannot bar every road to us, nor forever keep up a force sufficient to
withstand us. Already the feudal lords have kept their levies under
arms far beyond the time they have a right to require them, but this
cannot go on. War costs us no more than peace, and whenever we will we
can march with 20,000 men in any direction that may please us. As to
defending ourselves against assault, I have no fear whatever. Thus,
then, so long as Ghent chooses she can maintain the war." He put an
emphasis on the last words.

"That means, I take it," the merchant said, "as long as the people are
willing to go on fasting."

"That is so. There is a sore pinch; food is distributed gratuitously;
for, as all trade is stopped, there is little work to be had. So long
as they could live in idleness, obtain enough food, and a small sum
paid daily, there were no signs of discontent; and there is still
plenty of money in the coffers, for the goods and estates of many who
have fled, and who are known to be favourable to the earl, have been
confiscated, but money cannot provide food. Thus, it seems to me that,
save for the lack of food, matters could go on as at present. But if
fair terms cannot be obtained, the people will demand to be led against
their enemy. We shall lead them, but what will come after that I cannot
say.

"As you doubtless know, I am here by no choice of my own. I had naught
to do with the rising of Ghent, or what has been done hitherto, but
when Lyon died and the leaders who succeeded him were killed, they sent
to me to be their governor. For a time I refused, but I was overborne.
I was living quietly and peaceably on my estates, with no love for
strife; but it was pointed out that I alone could unite the factions,
that many of the better classes of citizens, who held aloof from the
demagogues of the streets, would feel confidence in me, that my name
would carry weight, and that other cities might make alliance with me
when they would have naught to say to butchers and skinners and such
like, and that possibly the earl would be more likely to grant terms to
me than to those whom he considers as the rabble. I took up the
position reluctantly, but, having taken it up, I shall not lay it down.
Like enough it will cost me my life, as it cost the life of Jacob Van
Artevelde before me, but it may be that aid will come from some
unexpected quarter."

"That is the next point. Do you look for aid from France?"

"France is never to be relied upon," Artevelde replied, gloomily. "The
Valois has, of course, made us vague promises, but all he cares for is
that the war should go on, so that, if he and Burgundy come to blows,
Flanders can give no aid to the duke. I have no hope in that quarter.
Of late, however, Burgundy and Berry have prevailed in his councils,
and we hear that he has decided to join the duke against us. We have
sent, as doubtless you know, to the King of England, to ask him to ally
himself with us."

"'Tis concerning that matter he has charged me. It was known when I
left England that Burgundy had promised his aid to the earl, but naught
was known of France joining in. The king is well disposed towards you,
but his council hold that, so long as Ghent stands alone, England can
make no alliance with her, for she would have to fight, not only
Burgundy and France, but the rest of Flanders. But if Ghent makes
herself master of Flanders, England will gladly ally herself with you,
and will send troops and money."

"'Tis reasonable," Artevelde said, "and we will bestir ourselves. I
myself have done all that is possible to obtain peace, and in three
days I am going, with twelve of the principal citizens, to Bruges,
where the earl arrived yesterday. We shall offer to submit ourselves to
his mercy if he will have pity on the city. If he demands the entire
mastership we shall fight in earnest. If he will content himself with
taking our lives, we are ready to give them for the sake of the city.
We know that we have a strong body of friends in every town, and should
it come to blows, methinks it is not improbable that all Flanders will
join, and if we are supported by England, we may well hope to withstand
both France and Burgundy."

"I have two young English knights with me, Van Artevelde; they are
young, but have already shown themselves capable of deeds of the
greatest bravery. During the late riots in London they defended my
house against a mob many hundreds strong, and so gave time for myself,
my wife, and daughter to gain a place of hiding; they did many other
brave feats, and so distinguished themselves that, though very young,
the king has knighted them. I invited them to accompany me hither, in
order that they might see service, and I would fain commend them
greatly to you. The fact that they are English knights would be of
advantage to you, seeing that it will, in the eyes of the people, be
taken as a proof that the sympathy of England is with us, and should
there be fighting, or any occasion for the use of brave men, you can
rely upon them to do their utmost."

"I will gladly accept their services, Van Voorden, and, as you say, the
people will certainly draw a good augury from their presence."

The merchant left the room, and returned in a minute with the two young
knights.

"These are the gentlemen of whom I have spoken to you, Van Artevelde,"
he said, "Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir Albert De Courcy, both very
valiant gentlemen, and high in the esteem of King Richard."

"I greet you gladly, sir knights," Van Artevelde said, "both for your
own sakes and for that of Mynheer Van Voorden, my worthy friend, who
has presented you, and right glad shall I be if you will aid us in this
sore strait into which we have fallen."

"I fear that our aid will not be of much avail to you, sir," Edgar
said, "but such service as we can render we will right willingly give.
I shall be glad to see service for the first time under one bearing the
name of the great man who lost his life because he was so firm an ally
of England."

"At present, gentlemen, things have not come to a crisis here, and for
a few days I must ask your patience; by that time we shall know how
matters are to go. If it be war, gladly, indeed, will I have you ride
with me in the field."

Two days later Philip Van Artevelde rode away with the twelve citizens,
who, like himself, went to offer their lives for the sake of the city.
The scene was an affecting one, and crowds of haggard men and
half-starved women filled the streets. Most of them were in tears, and
all prayed aloud that Heaven would soften the earl's heart and suffer
them to come back unharmed to the city. Three days later they returned.
As they rode through the streets all could see that their news was bad,
and that they had returned because the earl had refused to accept them
as sacrifices for the rest. An enormous crowd gathered in front of the
town-hall, and in a few minutes Van Artevelde and his companions
appeared on the balcony.

There was a dead hush among the multitude. They felt that life or death
hung on his words. He told them that the count had refused altogether
to accept twelve lives as ransom for the city, and that he would give
no terms save that he would become its master and would execute all
such as were found to have taken part in the rebellion against him.

A despairing moan rose from the square below.

"Fellow citizens," Van Artevelde went on, "there is now but one of two
things for us to do. The one is to shut our gates, retire to our
houses, and there die either by famine or by such other means as each
may choose. The other way is, that every man capable of bearing arms
shall muster, that we shall march to Bruges, and there either perish
under the lances of his knights, or conquer and drive him headlong from
the land. Which choose ye, my friends?"

A mighty shout arose: "We will fight!"

"You have chosen well," Van Artevelde said. "Have we not before now
defeated forces of men-at-arms superior in numbers to ourselves? Are we
less brave than our fathers? Shall we not fight as stoutly when we know
that we leave famishing wives and children behind who look to us to
bring them back food? Return to your homes! A double ration of bread
shall be served out from the magazines to all. Two hours before
daybreak we will muster in our companies, and an hour later start for
Bruges."

Among those who shouted loudest, "We will fight!" were the two young
knights. They had, as soon as it was known that Van Artevelde and his
party had entered the town, gone with Van Voorden to the house of a
friend of his in the great square. They heard with indignation the
refusal of the Earl of Flanders to accept the noble sacrifice offered
by the twelve burgesses, who had followed the example of the Governor
of Calais and its leading citizens in offering their lives as a
sacrifice for the rest. They had met, however, with a less generous
foe, whose terms would, if accepted, have placed the life and property
of every citizen of Ghent at his mercy. What that was likely to be had
been shown at Ypres. Now the young knights felt indeed that the cause
was a righteous one, and that they could draw their swords for Ghent
with the conviction that by so doing they were fighting to save its
people from massacre.

"By heavens!" Van Voorden exclaimed, "were I but younger I too would go
out with the Ghentois to battle. I care but little myself as to the
rights of the quarrel, though methinks that Ghent is right in resisting
the oppressive taxes which, contrary to their franchise, the earl has
laid on the city. But that is nothing. One has but to look upon the
faces of the crowd to feel one's blood boil at the strait to which
their lord, instead of fighting them boldly, has, like a coward,
reduced them by famine. But now when I hear that he has refused the
prayer for mercy, refused to stay his vengeance, or to content himself
with the heads of the noblest of the citizens offered to him, but
instead would deluge the streets with blood, I would march with them as
to a crusade. I will presently see Van Artevelde if but for a moment,
tell him that you will ride with him, and ask where you shall take your
station."

Late that evening Van Voorden returned. "I have been present at the
council," he said. "The gates will not be open to-morrow, but on
Thursday five thousand men will set out early."

"But five thousand is a small number," Edgar said, "to march against
Bruges, a city as large as this, and having there the earl, and no
doubt a strong body of his own troops."

"That is true; but most of the men are so weakened that it is thought
that it will be best to take but a small number of the strongest and
most capable. They will carry with them the three hundred hand guns.
What little provision there is must be divided; half will go with those
who march, the other half will be kept for those here to sustain life
until news comes how matters have fared in the field."

"But with only five thousand men, without machines for the siege, they
can never hope to storm the walls of Bruges. It would be a feat that as
many veteran soldiers might well hesitate to undertake."

"They have no thought of doing so. It has been agreed that this would
be impossible, but the force will camp near the city, and seeing the
smallness of their number, the people of Bruges will surely sally out
and attack them. Then they will do their best for victory, and if they
beat the enemy our men will follow on their rear hotly and enter the
city."

"'Tis a bold plan," Edgar said; "but at least there seems some hope of
success, which no other plan, methinks, could give. At any rate we two
will do our best, and being well fed and well armed may hope to be able
to cut our way out of the _mêlée_ if all should be lost. We fight for
honour and from good-will. But this is not a case in which we would die
rather than turn bridle, as it would be were we fighting under the
banner of England and the command of the king."

"Quite so, Edgar; I agree with you entirely," the merchant said. "You
have not come to this country to die in the defence of Ghent. You came
hither to do, if occasion offers, some knightly deeds, and feeling pity
for the starving people here you offer them knightly aid, and will
fight for them as long as there is a chance that fighting may avail
them, but beyond that it would be folly indeed to go; and when you see
the day hopelessly lost, you and your men-at-arms may well try to make
your way out of the crowd of combatants, and to ride whither you will.
I say not to return here, for that would indeed be an act of folly,
since Ghent will have to surrender at once, and without conditions, as
soon as the news comes that the battle is lost. Therefore your best
plan would be to ride for Sluys, and there take ship again. As for me,
I shall wait until news comes and then ride for Liege, and remain there
with friends quietly until we see what the upshot of the affair is
likely to be."

During the day preparations were made for the expedition. Five thousand
of those best able to carry arms were chosen, but the store of
provisions was so small that there were but five cartloads of biscuit
and two tuns of wine for those who went, and a like quantity for the
sustenance of those who stayed. The young knights were to ride in the
train of Van Artevelde himself. In the morning the merchant had asked
them what colours they would wear, for, so far, they had not provided
themselves with scarves.

"You should have scarves, and knightly plumes also," he said, "and, if
you carry lances, pennons; but as you say that you shall fight with
sword, that matter can stand over. Tell me what colours you choose, and
I will see that you have them."

Albert answered that he should carry his father's colours, namely, a
red sash, and red and blue plumes. Edgar replied that he had never
thought about it, but that he would choose white and red plumes, and a
scarf of the same colour. These the merchant purchased in the
afternoon, and his wife and daughter fastened the plumes in their
helmets. At the appointed hour in the morning they clad themselves in
full armour, and when they went down they found the merchant's wife and
daughter were already afoot, and these fastened the scarves over their
shoulders. On going down to the courtyard they found, to their
surprise, that their two horses both carried armour on the chest, body,
and head.

"It is right that you should go to battle in knightly fashion," the
merchant said, "and I have provided you with what is necessary. Indeed,
that is no more than is due. I brought you out here, and involved you
in this business, and 'tis but right that I should see that you are
protected as far as may be from harm."

The reins were supplemented by steel chains, so that the riders should
not be left powerless were the leather cut by a sweeping blow. When
they mounted, the merchant himself went with them to the spot where Van
Artevelde's following were to assemble. The two men-at-arms, in high
spirits at the thought of a fight, rode behind them, together with the
two Van Voorden had engaged at Sluys, both of whom were able to speak a
certain amount of English.

"If you are unhorsed, comrade," one of them said to Hal Carter, "and in
an extremity, remember that the cry for mercy is '_Misericorde_.'"

"By my faith," Hal replied, "'tis little likely that they will get that
cry from me; as long as I can fight I will fight, when I can fight no
longer they can slay me. Still, it is as well that I should know the
word, as I should not like to kill any poor wretch who asks for
quarter."

They found Van Artevelde already at the place of assembly. He greeted
the young knights most cordially.

"Your presence here," he said, "will be invaluable to me. The word will
soon go round to our host that you are English knights, and it will be
held as a token that England is with us."

They waited half an hour, and then Van Voorden bade them adieu, as the
cavalcade moved forward. Already the greater part of the armed men had
moved out from the city, each band having assembled in its own quarter,
and moved through the gates as soon as its number was complete. The
instructions had been that each company, as it issued from the gates,
was to follow the road to Bruges, and as soon as the sun rose it was to
halt, when they were all to form up and move in order. Van Artevelde
introduced the young knights to many of those who rode with him, as
having lately arrived from England, and as being willing to take part
in a battle for so good a cause.

The road was broad and wide, but the cavalcade rode in single file, so
as to pass without difficulty the masses of marching men. Just as the
sun rose they reached the head of the column. A halt was called; the
country was flat, and the companies were now formed on a front half a
mile wide, so that they could march at once faster and in an orderly
body, as it was possible that some spy might have sent the news of
their coming to Bruges, and they might be attacked on their way. There
were no horses, save those of Van Artevelde and his immediate
followers, the seven carts being dragged by men. As the march
proceeded, Edgar and Albert requested Van Artevelde to give them leave
to ride with their four men across the country, and to take with them a
score of the most active foot-men.

"It will be hard," they said, "if we cannot come across a few cattle,
sheep, or horses, or some sacks of flour, which would mightily help us.
If we keep ahead of the main body we may, too, come by surprise on some
of the farm-houses, and shall be able to send back news to you should
there be any armed force approaching."

"By all means do so, and thanks for the offer."

Artevelde gave orders at once that twenty men of the company next to
him should proceed as rapidly as they could ahead with the English
knights, and should hold themselves under their command.

"We will go on, good fellows," Edgar said to them; "if we meet with a
force too strong for us we shall ride back, but if we can capture aught
in the way of food we will wait until you come up and leave it in your
charge to hold until the others arrive."

Riding on fast the friends were soon two miles ahead of the main body.
The villages on the road were found to be completely deserted, the
people having removed weeks before; for lying, as they did, between the
rival cities, they were likely to suffer at the hands of both. The
party soon turned off and made across the country. Here and there a few
animals could be seen over the flat expanse. Presently they came upon a
mill; the water of the canal that turned its wheel was running to
waste, and the place was evidently deserted.

"Hew down the door, Hal," Edgar said to his follower.

"That will I right willingly, my lord, for, in truth, I begin to feel
well-nigh as hungry as those of Ghent. We have had good lodgings, and
the beasts have fared well on hay, but had it not been for the food we
brought from the last halting-place, verily I believe that we should
not have had a bite from the time we entered the place five days ago to
now."

"We have been in almost as bad a plight, Hal. It was well indeed that
we filled up our panniers, in the knowledge that there was little to be
obtained in Ghent; though in truth we knew not that the pressure of
want was so great."

A few strokes with the heavy axe Hal carried at his saddlebow stove in
the door, and they entered.

The interior of the mill was in great confusion, and by the manner in
which things were thrown about, it was evident that it had been
deserted in great haste, and probably some months before, when the
fighting was going on hotly. "Look round, lads!" Edgar exclaimed. "They
may well have left something behind when they fled so suddenly."

A shout was raised when the men-at-arms entered the next chamber. In
one corner stood ten sacks of flour, and the bin, into which the flour
ran from the stones, was half full, and contained enough to fill five
or six others. One of the Flemish men-at-arms was at once ordered to
ride back at full speed to the road to intercept the twenty foot-men.
These were to be directed to come at once to take charge of the mill,
and the messenger was then to ride on till he met Van Artevelde, and to
beg him to send forward as many bakers as there might be among his
following, and to inform him that there was flour enough to furnish a
loaf for every man in the force. As soon as the foot-men arrived, Edgar
and Albert set them to work. The three men had already collected a
quantity of wood and lighted the fire in a great oven that they had
found, and from which it was evident that the miller was also a baker,
and supplied the villagers round them. The two knights, with their
followers, again started on horseback, and after four hours' riding,
returned with twelve cattle, four horses, and a score of sheep they had
found grazing masterless over the country. By this time fifty bakers
were at work, and five hundred men were sitting down round the mill
waiting to carry the loaves, when baked, to the army. The animals were
given over to the charge of ten of these men, who were ordered to drive
them after the army until this halted. The young knights and their
men-at-arms then rode away.



CHAPTER XIV

CIVIL WAR


Edgar and Albert came up with the force after an hour-and-a-half's
riding, and found it halted some four miles from Bruges. The news that
the English knights had discovered a store of flour had passed quickly
through the ranks, and they were loudly cheered as they rode in.

"Truly you have rendered us a vast service," Van Artevelde said, as
they joined him, "for it will not be needful to break in this evening
upon our scanty store, and this is of vital importance, since we must
perforce wait until the earl and the men of Bruges come out to attack
us. Your men said that it was some fifteen sacks of flour that you had
found?"

"About that, sir. There were ten full, and under the millstones was a
great bin holding, I should say, half as much more. Moreover, we have
ridden far over the country, and have gathered up twelve head of
cattle, four horses, and a score of sheep. These are following us, and
will give meat enough for a good meal to-day all round, and maybe
something to spare, and to-morrow I trust that we may bring in some
more."

A murmur of satisfaction broke from the four or five burghers with Van
Artevelde.

"This is a good beginning, indeed, of our adventure," the latter said,
"and greatly are we beholden to these knights. They have dispelled the
apprehension I had that if the people of Bruges deferred their attack
for a couple of days they might find us so weakened with hunger as to
be unable to show any front against them."

Two hours later the animals arrived, and were handed over to the
company of the butchers' guild, who proceeded at once to cut them up.
They were then distributed among the various companies, with orders
that but half was to be eaten that night and the rest kept for the
morrow. In the meantime men had been sent on to some of the deserted
villages, and had returned with doors, shutters, broken furniture, and
beams, and fires were speedily lighted. Before the meat was ready half
of those who had remained at the mill arrived laden with bread, and
said that the rest would be up in two hours. For the first time for
weeks the Ghentois enjoyed a hearty meal, and as Van Artevelde, with
the young knights and burghers with him, went round on foot among the
men, they were greeted with loud cheers and shouts of satisfaction.

The next day the force remained where it had halted. The two knights
and the men-at-arms scoured the country again for some miles round, and
drove in before them twenty-two head of cattle, and these sufficed,
with what had remained over, to furnish food for the day and to leave
enough for the troops to break their fast in the morning.

So deserted was the country that it was not until the next morning
early that the news reached the earl that the men of Ghent had come out
against him. Rejoicing that they should thus have placed themselves in
his power, he sent out three knights to reconnoitre their position and
bring an account of their numbers. After breakfast Philip Van Artevelde
had moved his followers a short distance away from their halting-ground
and taken up a position near to a small hill, where he addressed them.

Some friars and clergy who were with the force celebrated mass at
various points, and then confessed the troops and exhorted them to keep
up their courage, telling them that small forces had, with the help of
God, frequently defeated large ones, and as all had been done that was
possible to obtain peace but without avail, He would surely help them
against these enemies who sought to destroy them utterly. Then they
prepared for battle. Each man carried with him a long and sharp stake,
as was their custom, in the same fashion as did the English archers,
and they gathered in a square and set a hedge of these stakes round
them. The enemy's knights had ridden near them without being interfered
with, for the Ghentois wished nothing better than that the smallness of
their numbers should be clearly seen.

After they had ridden off, Van Artevelde, confident that their report
would suffice to bring out the earl with his people, now ordered that
the wine and bread brought out with them, which had hitherto been
untouched, should be served out. The men then sat down and quietly
awaited the attack. As Van Artevelde had hoped, the message taken back
by the knights as to his strength and position was sufficient to induce
the earl to give battle at once, as he feared that they might change
their mind and retreat. The alarm-bells called all the citizens to
arms. They fell in with their companies, and marched out forty thousand
strong, including the knights and men-at-arms of the earl. The citizens
of Bruges, delighted at the thought that the opportunity for levelling
their haughty rival to the dust had now arrived, marched on, until they
reached the edge of a pond in front of the position of the Ghentois.

Van Artevelde had placed the whole of the men with guns in the front
rank, with the strictest orders that no shot was to be fired until the
order was given. Waiting until the enemy had gathered in great masses,
Van Artevelde gave the word, and the three hundred guns, many of these
being wall-pieces, were fired at once, doing great destruction. The sun
was behind the Ghentois, and its direct rays, and those reflected from
the pond, rendered it difficult for the men of Bruges to see what their
foes were doing, and observing the great confusion from the effect of
the volley, the men of Ghent, with a mighty cheer, pulled up their
stakes, and rushing round the ends of the pond, fell upon their enemies
with fury.

The men of Bruges, who had anticipated no resistance, and had marched
out in the full belief that the Ghentois would lay down their arms and
crave for mercy as soon as they appeared, were seized with a panic. The
two young knights, with their four men-at-arms, had placed themselves
at the head of the foot-men, and, dashing among the citizens, hewed
their way through them, followed closely by the shouting Ghentois.
Numbers of the men of Bruges were slain with sword, axe, and pike. The
others threw away their arms and fled, hotly pursued by their foes.
Louis of Flanders, who, by a charge with his knights and men-at-arms,
might well have remedied the matter, now showed that he was as cowardly
as he was cruel, drew off with them, and, without striking a single
blow, he himself and some forty men galloped to Bruges. The rest of his
knights and followers scattered in all directions.

Great numbers of the flying citizens were killed in the pursuit. It was
now dark; the earl on arriving had ordered the gate by which he entered
to be closed, and had set twenty men there. Thus the retreat of the
citizens into the town was prevented, and many were slaughtered. In
consequence, the rest fled to other gates, where they were admitted,
but with them rushed in their pursuers. Philip Van Artevelde begged the
two English knights to each take a strong party, and to proceed round
the walls in different directions, seizing all the gates, and setting a
strong guard on them, that none should enter or leave; and then, with
the main body of his following, he marched without opposition to the
market-place.

The earl, when he found that the town was lost and the gates closed,
disguised himself, and found shelter for the night in a loft in the
house of a poor woman. Van Artevelde had issued the strictest orders
that he was on no account to be injured, but was, when found, to be
brought at once to him, so that he might be taken to Ghent, and there
obliged to make a peace that would assure to the city all its
privileges, and give rest and tranquillity to the country. In spite,
however, of the most rigid search, the earl was not found; but the
forty knights and men-at-arms who had entered with him were all
captured and killed. No harm whatever was done to any of the
inhabitants of Bruges, or to any foreign merchants or others residing
there.

[Illustration: THE TWO YOUNG KNIGHTS CHARGE DOWN UPON THE
PANIC-STRICKEN CROWD.]

On the following night the Earl of Flanders managed to effect his
escape in disguise. That day being Sunday the men of Ghent repaired to
the cathedral, where they had solemn mass celebrated, and a
thanksgiving for their victory and for their relief from their sore
strait. The young knights were not present, for as soon as the city was
captured, Van Artevelde said to them:

"Brave knights, to you it is chiefly due that we are masters here
to-day, instead of being men exhausted, without hope, and at the mercy
of our enemies. It was you who found and brought us food, and so
enabled us to hold out for two days, and to meet the enemy strong and
in good heart. Then, too, I marked how you clove a way for our men to
follow you through the ranks of the foe, spreading death and dismay
among them. Sirs, to you, then, I give the honour of bearing the news
to Ghent. I have ordered that fresh horses shall be brought you from
the prince's stable. Councillor Moens will ride with you to act as
spokesman; but before starting, take, I pray you, a goblet of wine and
some bread. It were well that you took your men-at-arms with you, for
you might be beset on the road by some of the people who did not
succeed in entering the gates, or by some of the cowardly knights who
stood by and saw the citizens being defeated without laying lance in
rest to aid them. Fresh horses shall be prepared for your men also, and
they shall sup before they start. There is no lack of food here."

Much gratified at the mission intrusted to them, the young knights at
once ordered their men-at-arms to prepare for the ride.

"When you have supped," Albert said, "see that you stuff your
saddle-bags and ours with food for Van Voorden's household first, and
then for those who most need it."

The meals were soon eaten. As they were about to mount Van Artevelde
said to them:

"There will be no lack of provisions to-morrow, for in two hours a
great train of waggons, loaded with provisions, will start under a
strong guard, and to-morrow at daybreak herds of cattle will be brought
in and driven there; you may be sure also that the rivers will be open
as soon as the news is known, for none will now venture to interfere
with those bringing food into Ghent."

The councillor was ready, and in a few minutes they had passed out of
the city, and were galloping along the road to Ghent, just as the bell
of the cathedral tolled the hour often. Two hours later, without having
once checked the speed of their horses, they heard the bells ringing
midnight in Ghent. In ten minutes they approached the gate, and were
challenged from the walls.

"I am the Councillor Moens," the knights' companion shouted. "I come
from Philip Van Artevelde with good news. We have defeated the enemy
and captured Bruges."

There was a shout of delight from the walls, and in a minute the
drawbridge was lowered and the great gate opened. The councillor rode
straight to the town-hall. The doors were open, and numbers of the
citizens were still gathered there. Moens did not wait to speak to
them, but, running into the belfry, ordered the men there to ring their
most joyous peal. The poor fellows had been lying about, trying to
deaden their hunger by sleep, but at the order they leapt to their
feet, seized the ropes, and Ghent was electrified by hearing the
triumphal peal bursting out in the stillness of the night.

In the meantime those in the hall had crowded round the young knights
and their followers, but these, beyond saying that the news was good,
waited until Moens' return. It was but a minute, and he at once shouted:

"The enemy have been beaten! We have taken Bruges! By the morning food
will be here!"

Now from every belfry in the city the notes from the town-hall had been
taken up, the clanging of the bells roused every sleeper, and the whole
town poured into the street shouting wildly, for though they knew not
yet what had happened, it was clear that some great news had arrived.
All the councillors and the principal citizens had made for the
town-hall, which was speedily thronged. Moens took his place with the
two young knights upon the raised platform at the end, and lifted his
hand for silence. The excited multitude were instantly still, and those
near the doors closed them, to keep out the sound of the bells. Then
Moens, speaking at the top of his voice that all might hear him, said:
"I am now but the mouthpiece of these English knights, to whom Van
Artevelde has given the honour of bearing the news to you, but since
they are ignorant of our language I have come with them as interpreter.
First, then, we have met the army of Bruges and the earl, forty
thousand strong; we have defeated them with great slaughter, and with
but small loss to ourselves."

A mighty shout rose from the crowd, and it was some minutes before the
speaker could continue.

"Following on the heels of our flying foes, we entered the city, and
Bruges is ours."

Another shout, as enthusiastic as the first, again interrupted him.

"A great train of waggons filled with wine and provisions was to start
at midnight, and will be here to-morrow morning at daybreak. Herds will
be driven in, and dispatched at once. By to-morrow night, therefore,
the famine will be at an end, and every man, woman, and child in Ghent
will be able to eat their fill."

Those at the door shouted the glad news to the multitude in the square,
and a roar like that of the sea answered, and echoed the shouts in the
hall.

"Tell us more, tell us more!" the men cried, when the uproar ceased.
"We have seven or eight hours to wait for food; tell us all about it."

"I will tell you first, citizens, why I am speaking to you in the name
of these English knights, and why they have been chosen to have the
honour of bringing these good tidings hither."

He then told them how, the force being without horsemen, and bound to
keep straight along by the road, the two knights had volunteered to
ride out to see if any hostile force was approaching, and also to
endeavour to find provisions.

"The latter seemed hopeless," the councillor went on. "Every village
had long since been deserted, and no living soul met the eye on the
plain. They had been gone but three hours when one of their men-at-arms
rode in, asking that all the bakers should be sent forward at once, for
that, in a mill less than two miles from the road, they had discovered
fifteen sacks of flour left behind. The bakers started at once with
five hundred men to bring on the bread as fast as it was baked to the
spot where we were to halt.

"This was not all, for, later on, the knights with some of the men
joined us at the camp with sufficient cattle, sheep, and horses, that
the knights had found straying, to give every man a meal that night,
and one the following morning. The next day they drove in a few more,
and so it was not until to-day that we touched the store we took with
us. It was the food that saved us. Had we been forced to eat our scanty
supply that first night, we should have been fasting for well-nigh
forty-eight hours, and when the earl, with his knights and men-at-arms
and the townsmen of Bruges, in all forty thousand men, marched out to
meet us, what chance would five thousand famished men have had against
them? As it was, the food we got did wonders for us; and every man
seemed to have regained his full strength and courage. When they came
nigh to us we poured in one volley with all our guns, which put them
into confusion. The sun was in their eyes, and almost before they knew
that we had moved, we were upon them.

"These two knights and their four men-at-arms flung themselves into the
crowd and opened the way for our footmen, and in five minutes the fight
was over. It may be that many of the craftsmen of Bruges were there
unwillingly, and that these were among the first to throw down their
arms and fly. However it was, in five minutes the whole force was in
full flight. The earl's knights and their men-at-arms struck not a
single blow, but seeming panic-struck, scattered and fled in all
directions, the earl and forty men alone gaining Bruges. There they
closed the gate against the fugitives, but these fled to other gates,
and so hotly did we pursue them that we entered mixed up with them.

"Van Artevelde committed to the two English knights the task of seizing
all the gates, and of setting a guard to prevent any man from leaving,
while the rest of us under him pushed forward to the market-place.
There was no resistance. Thousands of the men had fallen in the battle
and flight. Thousands had failed to enter the gates. All who did so
were utterly panic-stricken and terrified. Thus the five thousand men
you sent out have defeated forty thousand, and have captured Bruges,
and I verily believe that not more than a score have fallen. Methinks,
my friends, you will all agree with me that your governor has done well
to give these knights the honour of carrying the good news to Ghent."

A mighty shout answered the question. The crowd rushed upon the two
young knights, each anxious to speak to them, and praise them. With
difficulty the councillor, aided by some of his colleagues, surrounded
them, and made a way to a small door at the end of the platform. Once
beyond the building, they hurried along by-streets to Van Voorden's
house, to where, on entering the hall, they had charged the men-at-arms
at once to take the horses, to hand over as much of the provisions as
were needed for the immediate wants of the household, and then to carry
the rest to the nuns of a convent hard by--for these were, they knew,
reduced to the direst straits before the expedition started.

"Welcome back, welcome back!" the Fleming exclaimed, as they entered,
and the words were repeated by wife and daughter. "Your men-at-arms
told my wife what had happened, and I myself heard it from the lower
end of the town-hall, where I arrived just as Moens began to speak. I
saw you escape from the platform, and hurried off, but have only this
instant arrived. The crush was so great in the square that it was
difficult to make my way through it, but forgive us if we say nothing
further until we have eaten that food upon the table, for indeed we
have had but one regular meal since you left the town. Tell me first,
though, for all were too excited to ask Moens the question--has the
earl been captured?"

"He had not, up to the moment when we left. The strictest search is
being made for him. It is known that he must be somewhere in the town,
for he and a party, not knowing that Van Artevelde was in the
market-place, well-nigh fell into his hands, and he certainly could not
have got through any of the gates before we had closed them and had
placed a strong guard over them. Van Artevelde has given strict orders
that he is to be taken uninjured, and he purposes to bring him here,
and to make him sign a peace with us."

"I trust that he will be caught," Van Voorden said; "but as for the
peace, I should have no faith in it, for be sure that as soon as he is
once free again he would repudiate it, and would at once set to work to
gather, with the aid of Burgundy, a force with which he could renew the
war, wipe out the disgrace that has befallen him, and take revenge upon
the city that inflicted it. Now, let us to supper."

"We will but look on," Albert said, with a smile. "We supped at Bruges
at half-past nine, but it will be a pleasure indeed to see you eat it."

"We must not eat much," the merchant said to his wife and daughter.
"Let us take a little now, and to-morrow we can do better. It might
injure us to give rein to our appetite after well-nigh starving for the
last two days."

As soon as the meal was eaten all sallied out into the streets, the
young knights first laying aside their armour, as they did not wish to
attract attention. The bells were still ringing out with joyous
clamour; at every house flags, carpets, and curtains had been hung out;
torches were fixed to every balcony, and great bonfires had been
lighted in the middle of the streets, and in the open spaces and
markets. The people were well-nigh delirious with joy; strangers shook
hands and embraced in the streets; men and women forgot their weakness
and hunger, though many were so feeble but an hour before that they
could scarcely drag themselves along. The cathedral and churches were
all lighted up and crowded with worshippers, thanking God for having
preserved them in their hour of greatest need.

"Then, in truth, Sir Edgar," the Fleming said, as they went along, "the
people of Bruges showed themselves to be but a cowardly rabble, and the
fighting was poor indeed."

"It could scarce be called fighting at all," Edgar said. "A few blows
from halbert and bill, and a few thrusts of the pike struck my armour
as I charged among them, but after that, it was but a matter of cutting
down fugitives. The rabble down in Kent fought with far greater
courage, for we had to charge through and through them several times
before they broke. I doubt not that very many were outside Bruges
against their wills; they had not dared disobey the summons to arms. It
was a panic, and a strange one. They had doubtless made up their minds
that when we saw their multitude, we should surrender without a blow
being struck. The sudden discharge of the guns shook them, and at our
first charge they bolted away panic-struck. The strangest part of the
affair was that the earl, who had a strong following of knights and
men-at-arms, made no effort to retrieve the battle. Had they but
charged down upon our flank when we had become disordered in the
pursuit, they could have overthrown us without difficulty.

"How it came about that they did not do so is more than I can say. It
is clear that the earl showed himself to be a great coward, and his
disgrace this day is far greater than that of the burghers of Bruges,
since he and his party fled without the loss of a single drop of blood,
while thousands of the citizens have lost their lives."

"'Tis good that he so behaved," Van Voorden said. "The story that he so
deserted the men of Bruges, who went to fight in his quarrel, will
speedily be known throughout Flanders, and that, with the news of our
great victory, will bring many cities to our side. I trust that Van
Artevelde will treat Bruges with leniency."

"He has already issued a proclamation that none of the small craftsmen
of Bruges shall be injured, but exception is made in the case of the
four guilds that have always been foremost against Ghent; members of
which are to be killed when found."

"'Tis a pity, but one can scarce blame him. And now, my friends, that
we have seen Ghent on this wonderful night, it will be well that we get
home to bed. My wife and daughter are still weak from fasting, and I
myself feel the strain. As to you, you have done a heavy day's work
indeed, especially having to carry the weight of your armour."

The young knights were indeed glad to throw themselves upon their
pallets. They slept soundly until awakened by a fresh outburst of the
bells. They sat up; daylight was beginning to break.

"'Tis the train of provisions," Edgar said. "We may as well go out and
see the sight, and give such aid as we can to the council, for the
famishing people may well be too eager to await the proper division of
the food."

In a few days there was an abundance of everything in Ghent, for Damme
and Sluys opened their gates at once. In the former there were vast
cellars of wine, of which 6,000 tuns were sent by ships and carts to
Ghent, while at Sluys there was a vast quantity of corn and meal in the
ships and storehouses of foreign merchants. All this was bought and
paid for at fair prices and sent to the city. Besides food and wine,
Ghent received much valuable spoil. All the gold and silver vessels of
the earl were captured at Bruges, with much treasure, and a great store
of gold and jewels was taken at his palace at Male, near Bruges.

Philip Van Artevelde at once sent messages to all the towns of Flanders
summoning them to send the keys of their gates to Ghent, and to
acknowledge her supremacy. The news of the victory had caused great
exultation in most of these cities, and with the exception of
Oudenarde, all sent deputations at once to Ghent to congratulate her,
and to promise to support her in all things. In the meantime the gates
and a portion of the wall of Bruges had been beaten down, and five
hundred of the burgesses were taken to Ghent as hostages. The young
knights remained quietly there until Philip Van Artevelde returned. He
was received with frantic enthusiasm. He had assumed the title of
Regent of Flanders, and now assumed a state and pomp far greater than
that which the earl himself had held. He had an immense income, for not
only were his private estates large, but a sort of tribute was paid by
all the towns of Flanders, and Ghent for a time presented a scene of
gaiety and splendour equal to that of any capital in Europe.

Siege was presently laid to Oudenarde, where the garrison had been
strongly reinforced by a large party of men-at-arms and cross-bowmen,
sent by the earl. Every city in Flanders sent a contingent of fighting
men to join those of Ghent, and no less than a hundred thousand men
were assembled outside Oudenarde. Thither went the two young friends as
soon as the siege began. They had come out to see fighting and not
feasting, and they had lost the society of Van Voorden, he having been
requested by Van Artevelde to return to England, to conclude a treaty
between her and Ghent. Flanders was indeed master of itself, for the
earl was a fugitive at the Court of his son-in-law, the Duke of
Burgundy, who was endeavouring to induce France to join him against
Flanders.

For a time he failed, for the king was much better disposed to the
Flemings than he was to the earl, but when, some time later, Charles
died, and Burgundy became all-powerful with the young king, his
successor, France also prepared to take the field against Flanders.
Thus a close alliance between the latter and England became of great
importance to both, and had it not been for the extreme unpopularity of
the Duke of Lancaster and his brother Gloucester, the course of events
might have been changed. For war with France was always popular in
England, and the necessary supplies would at once have been voted by
parliament had it not been thought that when an army was raised
Lancaster would, instead of warring with France, use it for furthering
his own claims in Spain. Many English knights, however, came over on
their own account to aid the Flemings, and no less than two hundred
archers at Calais quietly left the town, with the acquiescence, if not
with the encouragement, of the authorities, to take service with Van
Artevelde.

One day, the two friends returned to camp after being away for some
time watching what was going on. On entering their tent, Albert, who
was the first to enter, gave a shout of surprise and pleasure. Edgar
pushed in to see what could have thus excited his friend, and so moved
him from his usual quiet manner. He, too, was equally surprised, and
almost equally pleased, when he saw Albert standing with his hand
clasped in that of his father.

"I thought that I should surprise you," Sir Ralph said, "by coming over
both to see this great gathering, and also to have a look at you. We
heard of your doings from Van Voorden. He was good enough, after his
first interview with the king and council, to ride down to tell us how
it fared with you, and it gave us no small pleasure, as you may well
suppose, to hear that you had already gained so much credit, and that
you both were well in health, I went back to town with him, and stayed
three weeks there. There was much talk in the council. All were well
content that there should be an alliance with the Flemings, but it
seems to me there is not much chance of an English army taking the
field to help them at present.

"The king is altogether taken up with his marriage, and is thinking
much more of fêtes and pageants than of war. Then 'tis doubtful whether
the commons would grant the large sum required. The present is a bad
time; the rebellion has cost much money, and what with the destruction
of property, with the fields standing untilled, and the expenses of the
Court, which are very heavy, in truth the people have reasonable cause
for grumbling thereat. Then, again, if an army were sent to Flanders,
Lancaster would most surely have the command, and you know how much he
is hated, and, I may say, feared. Naught will persuade men that he has
not designs upon the crown. For this I can see no warrant, but
assuredly he loves power, and he and Gloucester overshadow the king.

"Then, again, his wishes are, certainly, to lead a great army into
Spain, and he would oppose money being spent on operations in Flanders.
Thus, I fear, our alliance is like to be but of little use to Ghent or
Flanders. Were but the Black Prince or his father upon the throne
things would be different indeed, and we should have a stout army here
before many weeks are over. We of the old time feel it hard indeed to
see England playing so poor a part. There is another reason, moreover,
why our barons do not press matters on. In the first place, they are
jealous of the influence that the king's favourites have with him, and
that those who, by rank and age, should be his councillors meet with
but a poor reception when they come to Court.

"But methinks that even these things hinder much less than the conduct
of the people of Ghent. Since Bruges was captured there have been, as
you know, parties going through the land as far as the frontiers of
France, plundering and destroying all the houses and castles of the
knights and nobles, under the complaint that they were favourable to
the earl, but in truth chiefly because these knaves hate those of
gentle blood and are greedy of plunder. Our nobles deem it--and
methinks that they have some reason for doing so--to be a business
something like that which we have had in England, save that with us it
was the country people, while here it is those of the towns who would
fain pull down and destroy all those above them in station. Certainly,
their acts are not like to win the friendship and assistance of our
English nobles and knights."

"Indeed, I see that, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "At first we were greatly
in favour of Ghent, seeing that they were in a desperate strait and
that all reasonable terms were refused them, but of late we have not
been so warm in their cause. Van Artevelde himself is assuredly honest
and desirous of doing what is right, but methinks he does wrong in
keeping up the state of a king and bearing himself towards all those of
the other cities of Flanders as if Ghent were their conqueror, and
laying heavy taxes upon them, while he himself is swayed by the
councils of the most violent of the demagogues of Ghent."

"But now tell me--how goes on the siege?"

"It goes not on at all. Oudenarde is a strong place; it is defended by
many broad ditches, and has a garrison of knights and men-at-arms of
the earl, who, as we know, take upon themselves all the defence,
knowing that there are men in the town who would fain surrender, and
fearing that these would throw open the gates to us, or give us such
aid as they could, were there a chance. Still more, the siege goes on
but slowly, or rather we may say goes on not at all, for want of a
leader. Van Artevelde himself knows nothing whatever of the business of
war, nor do any of those about him.

"The men of the towns will all fight bravely in a pitched field, as
they have often shown, but as to laying a siege, they know naught of
it, and it seems to us that the matter might go on for a year and yet
be no nearer its end. They are far more occupied in making ordinances
and collecting contributions, and in doing all they can for the honour
and glory of Ghent, than in thinking of taking Oudenarde, which,
indeed, when captured, would be of no great consequence to them."

Sir Ralph nodded. "Methinks you are right, Edgar. I arrived here just
as you went out this morning, and hearing from your men that you were
not like to return till midday, I have ridden round to see what was
being done, and to my surprise saw that, in the three months since this
great host sat down before Oudenarde, naught of any use whatever has
been accomplished. With such an army, if Flanders wishes to maintain
her freedom, she should have summoned Burgundy to abstain from giving
aid to the earl, and on his refusal should have marched with her whole
force against him, captured some of his great towns, and met his host
in a fair field. Methinks you two are doing no good to yourselves here,
and that it will be just as well for you both to go back to England for
a time, until you see how matters shape themselves."



CHAPTER XV

A CRUSHING DEFEAT


The two young knights were both pleased to hear Sir Ralph's counsel,
for they themselves had several times talked the matter over together,
and agreed that there was little prospect of aught being done for many
months. They felt that they were but wasting their time remaining
before Oudenarde, where they were frequently offended by the
overbearing manner of the Ghentois, who, on the strength of their
defeat of the people of Bruges, considered themselves to be invincible.
They had, during the four months that they had been in Flanders,
learned enough of the language to make themselves easily understood.
They had paid visits to Brussels and other places of importance, and
were likely to learn nothing from the events of the siege, which, they
could already see, was not going to be attended with success.

It was their first absence from home, and in the lack of all adventure
and excitement, they would be glad to be back again. Therefore, after
remaining three days, which only confirmed Sir Ralph in his view, they
took leave of Van Artevelde, saying that they hoped to rejoin him as
soon as there was any prospect of active service, and, riding to Sluys,
took ship with their followers. At Sir Ralph's suggestion they retained
in their train the two Flemings, whom they had found stout and useful
fellows.

"Are you glad to go home again, Hal?" Sir Edgar said.

"Well, master, I should not be glad were there aught doing here, though
now that they have granted a pardon to all concerned in Wat the Tyler's
business, I can show my face without fear. But it has been a dull time.
Except just for a score of blows in that business with the Bruges
people there has been naught to do since we came over, except to groom
the horses and polish the armour. One might as well have been driving a
cart at St. Alwyth as moping about this camp."

"Perhaps there will be more stirring times when we come back again,
Hal. Burgundy is arming, and it is like enough that France may join
him, and in that case there will be fighting enough even to satisfy
you; but we may have a few months at home before that is likely to take
place."

The knights were landed at Gravesend, and their road lay together as
far as St. Alwyth. It was late in the afternoon, and Sir Ralph and
Albert rode straight home, telling Edgar that they should expect to see
him in the morning. Edgar found his father going on just as usual. He
received his son with pleasure, but without surprise, as Sir Ralph had
called before he left, and had said that if he found that naught was
doing at Oudenarde, he would recommend his own son and Edgar to return
home for a while.

"Well, sir knight," Mr. Ormskirk said, smiling, "I have not yet
congratulated you on your honour, but, believe me, I was right glad
when I heard the news. You have had but little fighting, I hear."

"None at all, father, for the affair near Bruges could scarcely be
called fighting. It was as naught to the fight we had down here before
we went away; save for that, I have not drawn sword. I have returned
home somewhat richer, for Van Artevelde gave Albert and myself rich
presents as our share of the spoil taken there."

"You have grown nigh two inches," Mr. Ormskirk said, as Edgar laid
aside his armour.

"I have done little else but eat and sleep, ride for an hour or two
every day, and practise arms other two hours with Albert, for indeed
there were few among the Flemings who knew aught of the matter save to
strike a downright blow. They are sturdy fellows and strong, and can
doubtless fight well side by side in a pitched battle, but they can
scarce be called men-at-arms, seeing that they but takedown their
weapons when these are required, and hang them up again until there is
fresh occasion for their use. So that I have doubtless grown a bit,
having nothing else to do."

"And for how long are you home, Edgar?"

"That I know not, father. Sir Ralph will go up with us to London next
week. He says that it will be well we should present ourselves at
Court, but after that we shall do nothing until affairs change in
Flanders, or till a force goes from here to their aid."

Edgar rode over to the De Courcys' place the next morning, and received
a warm welcome.

Four days later they rode to town with Sir Ralph. The king received
them with much favour.

"Philip Van Artevelde sent me by Master Van Voorden a most favourable
report of you," he said, "and told me that he was mightily beholden to
you for his victory over the men of Bruges, for that had it not been
for your collecting supplies for his men, they would have been too
famished to have given battle, and that you led the charge into the
midst of their ranks. I was pleased to find that my knights had borne
themselves so well. And how goes on the siege of Oudenarde?"

"It can scarcely be called a siege, your Majesty," Edgar said; "there
are a few skirmishes, but beyond that naught is done. If your Majesty
would but send them out a good knight with skill in such matters they
might take Oudenarde in ten days. As it is, 'tis like to extend to the
length of the siege of Troy, unless the Burgundians come to its relief."

"I could send them a good knight, for I have plenty of them, but would
they obey him?"

"Methinks not, sire," Edgar replied, frankly. "Just at present they are
so content with themselves that they would assuredly accept no foreign
leader, and have indeed but small respect for their own."

The king laughed. "What thought you of them, Sir Ralph?"

"'Tis what might be looked for, your Majesty. It is an army of
bourgeois and craftsmen, stout fellows who could doubtless defend their
walls against an attack, or might fight stoutly shoulder to shoulder,
but they have an over-weening conceit in themselves, and deem that all
that is necessary in war is to carry a pike or a pole-axe and use it
stoutly. A party of children would do as well, or better, were they set
to besiege a town. Leadership there is none. Parties go out to skirmish
with the garrison; a few lives are lost, and then they return, well
content with themselves. 'Tis a mockery of war!"

The king asked them many questions about the state of things in
Flanders, to which they replied frankly that Flanders was united at
present, and that they thought that--with five thousand English archers
and as many men-at-arms under a commander of such station as would give
him authority not only over his own troops but over the Flemings--they
might be able to resist the attacks of Burgundy, or even of Burgundy
allied with France; but that by themselves, without military leaders,
they feared that matters would go ill with the Flemings.

The king bade the two friends come to the Court that evening; and when
they did so he presented them to the young queen, speaking of them in
very high terms.

"They were," he said, "the only men who did their duty on that day when
the rioters invaded the Tower during our absence, killing with their
own hands seven men who invaded the apartment of Lady De Courcy, and
carrying her and her daughter safely through the crowd. Had all done
their duty but a tenth part as well, the disgrace this rabble brought
upon us would never have occurred, and the lives of my trusty
councillors would have been saved."

"The king has already told me of your exploit here, and of other deeds
as notable done by you; and Mynheer Van Voorden also spoke to me of the
service you rendered him," the queen said, graciously, "but I had
scarcely looked to see the heroes of these stories such young knights."

She spoke to them for some time, while the king's favourites looked on,
somewhat ill-pleased at such graciousness being shown to the
new-comers. The haughty De Vere, who had just been created Duke of
Dublin, and who was about to start to undertake the governorship of
Ireland, spoke in a sneering tone to a young noble standing next to
him. Sir Ralph happened to overhear him, and touched him on the
shoulder.

"My lord duke," he said, "methinks you need not grudge the honour that
has fallen to those two young knights; you yourself have achieved far
greater honour, and that without, so far as I know, ever having drawn
your sword. But it were best that, if you have aught to say against
them, you should say it in their hearing, when, I warrant me, either of
them would gladly give you an opportunity of proving your valour. Your
skill, indeed, would be needed, since I would wager either of them to
spit you like a fly within five minutes; or should you consider them
too young for so great a noble to cross swords with, I myself would
gladly take up their quarrel."

The favourite flushed hotly, and for a moment hesitated. "I have no
quarrel with them, Sir Ralph De Courcy," he said, after a short
hesitation. "My words were addressed to a friend here."

"You spoke loud enough for me to hear, my lord duke, and should know
that such words so spoken are an insult."

"They were not meant as such, Sir Ralph."

"Then, sir, I will give you my advice to hold your tongue more under
government. Those young knights have earned royal favour not by soft
words or mincing ways, but by their swords; and it were best in future
that any remarks you may wish to make concerning them, should be either
in strict privacy or openly and in their hearing."

So saying, he turned his back on the disconcerted young courtier, who
shortly afterwards left the royal presence overcome by chagrin and
confusion, for the knight's words had been heard by several standing
round, and more than one malicious smile had been exchanged among his
rivals for Court favour.

De Vere had a fair share of bravery, but the reports of the singular
feats of swordsmanship by the young knights convinced him that he would
have but small chance with either of them in a duel. Even if he came
well out of it there would be but small credit indeed to him in
overcoming a young knight who had not yet reached manhood, while, if
worsted, it would be a fatal blow to his reputation. That evening he
had a private interview with the king, and requested leave to start the
next day to take up his new governorship. Sir Ralph related the
incident to the lads as they returned to the hostelry where they had
taken up their lodging.

"It was a heavy blow for his pride," he said. "I think not that he is a
coward. The De Veres come of a good stock, but he saw that such a duel
would do him great harm. The king himself, if he learned its cause, as
he must have done, would have been greatly displeased, and the queen
equally so, and there would have been no credit to him had he wounded
you; while if he had been wounded, it would have been deemed a disgrace
that he, the Duke of Dublin and Governor of Ireland, should have been
worsted by so young a knight; therefore, I blame him not for refusing
to accept the challenge I offered him, and it will make him soberer and
more careful of his speech in future. It was a lesson he needly
greatly, for I have often heard him among his companions using insolent
remarks concerning men who were in every respect his superiors, save
that they stood not so high in the favour of the king."

They remained a week in London, attending the Court regularly and
improving their acquaintance with many whom they had met there in the
troubled times. There was scarce a day that they did not spend some
time at the house of Sir Robert Gaiton, Albert especially being always
ready with some pretext for a visit there. Van Voorden had left London,
sailing thence on the very day before they had arrived at Gravesend.

The summer passed quietly. Oudenarde still held out, and indeed no
serious attack had been made upon it. Van Artevelde had sent a
messenger to the King of France, begging him to mediate between the
Flemings and the Duke of Burgundy, but the king had thrown the
messenger into prison without returning answer, and in the autumn had
summoned his levies to aid the duke in the invasion of Flanders. Seeing
that fighting in earnest was likely to commence shortly, the knights
took ship with their followers early in October, and after a fair
voyage landed at Sluys and rode to Oudenarde. A formal alliance had by
this time been made between the two countries, but no steps had been
taken towards gathering an army in England. The two knights were,
however, very cordially received by Van Artevelde.

"You have arrived just in time to ride with me to-morrow," he said. "I
am going to see that all has been done to prevent the French from
crossing the river. All the bridges have been broken save those at
Comines and Warneton, and Peter De Bois is appointed to hold the one,
and Peter De Winter the other."

The following morning some twenty horsemen started with Van Artevelde
and rode to Ghent, and thence followed the bank of the Lys. Most of the
bridges had been completely destroyed, and those at Comines and
Warneton had both been so broken up that a handful of men at either
could keep it against an army.

"We may feel safe, I think, sir knights," Van Artevelde said to his
friends when they brought their tour of inspection to an end on the
second day after starting.

"Assuredly we are safe against the French crossing by the bridges,"
Edgar said, "but should they find boats they may cross where they
please."

"I have ordered every boat to be brought over to this side of the
river, Sir Edgar, and a number of men have, by my orders, been engaged
in doing so."

"Doubtless, sir. I have kept a look-out the whole distance and have not
seen one boat on the other side of the stream; but there are numerous
channels and canals by which the country folk bring down their produce;
and however sharp the search may be, some boats may have escaped
notice. Even a sunken one, that might seem wholly useless, could be
raised and roughly repaired, and in a few trips could bring a number of
men across under shadow of night. So far as I have read, it is rarely
that an army has failed to find means of some kind for crossing a
river."

But Philip Van Artevelde was not now, as he had been a year before,
ready to take hints from others, and he simply replied, carelessly, "I
have no doubt that my orders have been strictly carried out, sir
knight," and rode forward again.

"I don't think things will go well with us, Albert," Edgar said. "With
a general who knows nothing whatever of warfare, an army without
officers, and tradesmen against men-at-arms, the look-out is not good.
Van Artevelde ought to have had horsemen scattered over on the other
side of the river, who would have brought us exact news as to the point
against which the main body of the French is marching. They ought to
have a man posted every two hundred yards along the river bank for
fifteen miles above and below that point, then I should have four
bodies of five thousand men each posted at equal distances three miles
behind the river, so that one of these could march with all haste to
the spot where they learned that the French were attempting to cross,
and could arrive there long before enough of the enemy had made a
passage, to withstand their onslaught.

"I will wager that the Lys will not arrest the passage of the French
for twenty-four hours. Were Peter De Bois a reasonable man, I would ask
leave of Van Artevelde to ride and take up our post with him, but he is
an arrogant and ignorant fellow with whom I should quarrel before I had
been in his camp an hour."

Two days passed quietly at Oudenarde, then the news came that the enemy
had passed the Lys at Comines. Seeing that the bridge could not be
crossed, the French army had halted. Some of the knights went down to
the river, and after a search discovered some boats, in which they
passed over with four hundred men-at-arms before nightfall, unperceived
by the Flemings. They then marched towards Comines, hoping that the
Flemings would leave their strong position near the head of the bridge
to give battle, in which case they doubted not that the constable would
find means so far to repair the bridge that the passage could begin.

Peter De Bois, however, was not to be tempted to leave his position,
and the French had to remain all night on the marshy ground without
food for themselves or their horses. In the morning, however, the
Fleming, fearing that others might cross and reinforce the party,
marched out against them. The knights and men-at-arms met them so
stoutly that in a very short time the Flemings took to flight. The
French at once set to work to repair the bridge, and by nightfall a
great portion of the army had crossed. The weather was very wet and
stormy, and the French army had suffered much.

There were besides Edgar and Albert some other English knights in the
camp, and these gathered together as soon as the news came, and talked
over what in their opinion had best be done.

"I think," said Sir James Pinder, a knight who had seen much service on
many stricken fields, "it would be best to remain where we are, and to
throw up fortifications behind which we can fight to better advantage,
while the French cavalry would be able to do but little against us. The
French troops must be worn out with marching, and with the terrible
weather; they will find it difficult to procure food, and might even
abstain altogether from coming against us, while, from what I see of
this rabble, they may fight bravely, but they will never be able to
withstand the shock of the French knights and men-at-arms. 'Tis like
the French will be three or four days before they come hither, and by
that time, with fifty thousand men to work at them, we should have
works so strong and high that we could fearlessly meet them. Moreover,
the threescore English archers who still remain would be able to gall
them as they pressed forward, whereas in a pitched battle they would
not be numerous enough to avail anything."

The other six knights all agreed with Sir James, who then said, "I hear
that Van Artevelde has summoned his leaders to consult them as to the
best course. I will go across and tell them what in our opinion had
better be done."

He returned in half an hour. "'Tis hopeless," he said, shrugging his
shoulders. "These Flemings are as obstinate as they are ignorant; not
one of those present agreed with my proposal. Many, indeed, broke into
rude laughter, and so I left them."

After crossing the Lys the French came to Ypres, and on the same day
the Flemings broke up their camp before Oudenarde and marched, fifty
thousand strong, to Courtray. On the following day they moved forward
to ground which Van Artevelde and his counsellors deemed good for
fighting. Behind them was a hill, a dyke was on one wing, and a grove
of wood was on the other. The French were camped at Rosbecque, some
four miles away. That evening Van Artevelde invited all the principal
men and officers to sup with him, and gave them instructions for the
morrow. He said that he was not sorry that no large force of Englishmen
had come to their aid, for had they done so they would assuredly have
had the credit of the victory. He also gave orders that no prisoners
should be taken save the king himself, whom they would bring to Ghent
and instruct in the Flemish language.

A false alarm roused the camp at midnight, and although it proved to be
ill-founded, the Flemings were so uneasy at the thought that they might
be attacked unawares, that great fires were lighted and meat cooked and
wine drunk until an hour before daylight, when they arranged themselves
in order of battle and also occupied a heath beyond the wood. A large
dyke ran across in front of them, and behind them the ground was
covered by small bushes. Philip Van Artevelde was in the centre with
9,000 picked men of Ghent, whom he always kept near his person, as he
had but little faith in the goodwill of those from other towns.

Beyond these were the contingents of Alost and Grammont, of Courtray
and Bruges, Damme and Sluys. All were armed with maces, steel caps,
breast-pieces, and gauntlets of steel. Each carried a staff tipped with
iron; each company and craft had its own livery, and colours and
standards with the arms of their town. The morning was misty, and no
sign could be seen of the French. After a time the Flemings became
impatient, and determined to sally out to meet the enemy.

"It is just madness," Sir James said to the English knights, who, with
their followers, had gathered round him. "I had great hopes that, with
the dyke in their front to check the onrush of the French, they might
withstand all attacks and come out victors; now they are throwing away
their advantage, and going like sheep to the shearers. By my faith,
friends, 'tis well that our horses have rested of late, for we shall
need all their speed if we are to make our escape from this business."

As they moved forward in the mist they caught sight of some French
knights, who moved backwards and forwards along their front and then
rode away, doubtless to inform their countrymen that the Flemings were
advancing against them. In the French army were all the best knights
and leaders of France, and as soon as they heard that the Flemings were
advancing they divided into three bodies, the one carrying the royal
banner, which was to attack the Flemings in front; the two others were
to move on either side and fall upon their flanks. This arranged, they
moved forward with full confidence of victory.

The central division fell first upon the Flemings, but it was received
so roughly that it recoiled a little, and several good knights fell. In
a few minutes, however, the other two divisions attacked the Flemings'
flanks. The English knights, who were stationed on the right, seeing
what was coming, had in vain tried to get the companies on this side to
face round so as to oppose a front to the attack. The consequence was
that the weight of the attack fell entirely upon the extreme end of the
line, doubling it up and driving it in upon the centre, while the same
took place on the right. Thus in a very few minutes the Flemings were
driven into a helpless mass, inclosed on three sides, and so pressed
in, that those in front could scarce use their arms, many falling
stifled without having struck a blow.

The centre fought well, but their rough armour could not resist the
better tempered swords of the French knights, which cleft through the
iron caps as if they had been but leather, while the steel points of
the lances pierced breast-and back-piece. But chiefly the knights
fought with axes and heavy maces, beating the Flemings to the ground,
while their own armour protected them effectually from any blows in
return. The noise was tremendous. The shouts of the leaders were
unheard in the din of the blows of sword and mace on helm and steel
cap. Specially fierce was the French assault against the point where
Van Artevelde's banner flew. He himself had dismounted, and was
fighting in the front rank, and in the terrible _mêlée_ was, erelong,
struck down and trampled to death; and indeed to every man that fell by
the French weapons many were suffocated by the press, and on the French
side many valiant knights, after fighting their way into the thick of
the battle, met with a similar fate.

When the French division bore down on the right flank the seven English
knights with their men-at-arms had fallen back. Single-handed it would
have been madness had they attempted to charge against the solid line
of the French.

"Keep well back!" Sir James Pinder cried, "If we get mixed up with the
foot-men we shall be powerless. Let us bide our time, and deliver a
stroke where we see an opportunity."

They continued, therefore, to rein back, as the Flemings were doubled
up, powerless to give any aid, or to press forward towards the front
line.

"Didst ever see so fearful a sight?" Sir James said. "Sure never before
was so dense a mass. 'Tis like a sea raging round the edge of a black
rock, and eating it away piecemeal. Were there but five thousand
Flemings, they might do better; for now their very numbers prevent them
from using their arms. Ah, here is a party with whom we may deal," and
he pointed to a small body of French knights who were about to fall on
the rear of the Flemings. "Now, gentlemen, _St. George, St. George!_"

Putting spurs to their horses, the seven knights and their followers
dashed at the French. The latter were also mounted, unlike the majority
of their companions, who before attacking had dismounted, and handed
their horses to their pages. The party were fully double the strength
of the English, but the impetus of the charge broke their line, and in
a moment a fierce _mêlée_ began. Edgar and Albert fought side by side.
The former, as no missiles were flying, had thrown up his vizor, the
better to be able to see what was passing round him. He was fighting
with a battle-axe, for a sword was a comparatively poor weapon against
knightly armour. His three first opponents fell headlong, their helmets
crushed in under the tremendous blows he dealt them. Then warding off a
blow dealt at him, he turned swiftly and drove his horse at a French
knight who was on the point of striking at Albert with a mace while the
latter was engaged with another opponent.

The sudden shock rolled rider and horse over. He heard Hal Carter
shout, "Look out, Sir Edgar!" and forcing his horse to leap aside, he
struck off the head of a lance that would have caught him in the
gorget, and an instant later swept a French knight from his saddle. He
looked round. Three of his companions were already down, and although
many more of the French had fallen, the position was well-nigh
desperate.

"We must cut our way through," he shouted, "or we shall be lost. Let
all keep close together--forward!" and he and Albert, spurring their
horses, fell furiously upon the French opposed to them.

Their splendid armour now proved invaluable; sword blows fell harmless
on it, and lances glanced from its polished face. As he put spurs to
his horse Edgar had dropped his vizor down again, for he wanted to
strike now, and not to have to defend himself. With crushing blows he
hewed his way through his opponents. The other two English knights kept
close, and the men-at-arms fought as stoutly as their masters, until
the party emerged from among their assailants. As they did so the
knight next to Edgar reeled in his saddle. Edgar threw his arm round
him, and supported him until they had ridden a short distance. Then, as
they halted, he sprung from his horse and lowered him to the ground.

"Thanks," the knight murmured, as he opened his vizor. "But I am hurt
to death. Leave me here to die quietly, and look to yourselves. All is
lost."

Edgar saw that indeed his case was hopeless. A lance had pierced his
body, and had broken short off; a minute later he had breathed his
last. Edgar sprung upon his horse again, and looked round. Of the whole
of their retainers but four remained, and all of these were wounded.

"Art hurt, Albert?" he asked.

"Naught to speak of, but I am sorely bruised, and my head rings with
the blows I have had on my helmet."

"And you, Sir Eustace? I fear that you have fared less well."

"Wounded sorely," the English knight said. "But I can sit my horse, and
methinks that it were best to ride off at once, seeing the Flemings are
flying. We can assuredly do no good by remaining."

Edgar agreed. "Methinks that we had best ride for Sluys, and get there
before the news of the defeat."

As they rode off they looked back. Behind them were a host of flying
men, and many of them were throwing away their steel caps and armour to
run the more quickly. The battle had lasted only half an hour, but by
that time nine thousand Flemings had fallen, of whom more than half had
been suffocated by the press. The flight, however, was far more fatal
than the battle, for the French, as soon as the fight was won, mounted
their horses, and chased the Flemings so hotly that twenty-five
thousand were killed. The body of Van Artevelde was found after the
battle. It was without a wound, but was so trampled on as to be almost
unrecognizable. His body was taken and hung on a tree.

As they galloped off Edgar reined back to Hal Carter, who was one of
the survivors.

"I see that you are badly hurt, Hal. As soon as we get fairly away we
will halt, and I will bandage your wounds."

"They are of no great account, Sir Edgar. It was worth coming over from
England to take part in such a fray; the worst part of it was that it
did not last long enough."

"It lasted too long for many of us, Hal. You saved my life by that
warning shout you gave, for, most assuredly, I must have been borne
from my saddle had the blow struck me, unawares."

"It was a cowardly trick to charge a man when he was otherwise
engaged," Hal said. "But you paid him well for it, master; you fairly
crushed his helmet in."

Three miles on they halted in a wood to give the horses breathing time,
when those unhurt bandaged the wounds of the others. It was found that
Sir Eustace was so severely wounded that he could not go much farther,
and that two of the men-at-arms were in as bad a case; the third was a
Fleming.

"It were best to leave us here," Sir Eustace said. "We cannot ride much
farther."

"That we will not do," Edgar said. "Torhut is but four miles away. We
can ride at an easy pace, for the Flemings will make for Courtray and
Ghent, and the French will pursue in that direction. 'Tis not likely
that any will ride so far south as this."

"I have friends in Torhut," the Fleming said. "I come from that
neighbourhood, and I can bestow Sir Eustace, my master, in a place of
safety, and will look after him and these two who can go no farther."

"That will be well, indeed. Is it in the town itself?" Edgar asked.

"I have friends there, but an uncle of mine resides in a farm-house
three quarters of a mile from the town. We can get help and shelter
there."

"That would be safer, good fellow," Sir Eustace said. "I should not
care to enter a town now, for some who saw us come in might be willing
to gain favour with the French by saying where we were hidden.
Moreover, we should be detained and questioned as to the battle. I have
money wherewith to pay your uncle well for the pains to which he will
be put. Well, let us forward; the sooner we are in shelter the better."

They rode slowly now until they saw the steeple of Torhut, and then
turned off the road, and in half an hour came to a farm-house. The
Fleming had ridden on a short distance ahead.

"My uncle will take them in," he said. "He has a loft in the top of his
house, and can bestow them there safely, for none would be likely to
suspect its existence, even if they searched the house. My uncle is a
true Fleming, and would have taken them in without payment, but I say
not that he will refuse what my master may be willing to pay."

Ten minutes later, Edgar and Albert continued their way, followed now
by Hal Carter alone. The latter had washed the blood from his face and
armour, and had thrown a short cloak over his shoulders, so that they
could pass without its being suspected that they had taken part in a
desperate fray. After riding for some hours they stopped at a wayside
inn, and, avoiding Bruges, rode the next day into Sluys, where they
found a vessel sailing that evening for England. No rumour of the
disastrous battle of Rosebeque had, as yet, reached Sluys; but the two
young knights, calling upon the merchant who had entertained them at
their first landing, informed him of what had happened.

"'Tis well that it is so," he said, "for, in truth, the domination of
the craftsmen of Ghent and the other great cities would have been far
harder to bear than that of the earl, or of France, or of Burgundy.
Already the taxes and imposts are four times as heavy as those laid
upon us by the earl, and had they gained a victory these people would
soon have come to exercise a tyranny altogether beyond bearing. 'Tis
ever thus when the lower class gain dominion over the upper."



CHAPTER XVI

A WAR OF THE CHURCH


"You have been but a short time absent this voyage," Sir Ralph said as
his son and Edgar rode up to the castle.

"Truly we have been but a short time, father," Albert said, "but we
have seen much. Of course the news has not yet reached you, but the
army of Flanders has been utterly broken by the French. Whether Van
Artevelde was killed we know not, but of the fifty thousand men who
marched to battle, we doubt whether half ever returned to their homes."

"That was indeed a terrible defeat. And how bore you yourselves in the
battle?"

"It was rough work, though short, father. Five other English knights
were with us; four of these were killed, and one we left behind at a
farm, grievously wounded. Each of us had two men-at-arms, and of the
fourteen two were left behind wounded sorely, one remained in charge of
his master and them, and Edgar's man here is the only one who rode to
Sluys with us; the rest are dead. So, too, might we have been but for
the strength and temper of our armour."

"Did not the Flemings fight sturdily, then?"

"They fought sturdily for a time, but altogether without leader or
order. They took up a strong position, but impatient of an hour's
delay, marched from it to give battle, and being attacked on both
flanks, as well as in front, were driven into a close mass, so that few
could use their arms, and, were it only to find breathing space, they
had to fly."

"'Tis bad news, indeed. Had they prevailed, their alliance with us
would have brought about great things, for Artevelde would have put
Flanders under English protection, and between us we could have
withstood all the attacks of France and Burgundy."

"Think yon that Ghent will be taken, Edgar?"

"That I cannot say, Sir Ralph. However great their loss may be, the
Ghentois are like to make an obstinate defence, judging from the way in
which they withstood their earl with all Flanders at his back. They
will know that they have no mercy to expect if they yield, and I
believe that so long as there is a man left to wield arms the city will
hold out. As to the other towns of Flanders, they are as fickle as the
wind, and will all open their gates to the King of France, who, seeing
that it is by his power alone that Flanders has been taken, will
assuredly hold it as his own in the future."

"Now that you have returned, it would be well, Edgar, that you and my
son should practise with the lance. 'Tis a knightly weapon, and a
knight should at least know how to use it well. There is a piece of
ground but a quarter of a mile away that I have been looking at, and
find that it will make a good tilting-ground, and I will teach you all
that I know in the matter."

Edgar thankfully embraced the offer and, after going into the castle to
pay his respects to the dame and her daughter, went home with Hal
Carter, whose wounds were still sore.

The news that came from Flanders to England from time to time was bad.
It was first heard how terrible had been the slaughter of the Flemings
after the victory, and that in all thirty-four thousand had been
killed. Then the news came that Courtray, although it opened its gates
without resistance, had been first pillaged and then burnt, and that
Bruges had surrendered, but had been only spared from pillage by the
payment of a great sum of money. None of the other towns had offered
any resistance, but Ghent had shut her gates, and the French, deeming
that the operations of the siege would be too severe to be undertaken
in winter, had marched away, their return being hastened by the news of
an insurrection in France.

The king, however, had declared Flanders to be a portion of France, and
the Earl of Flanders had done homage to him as his liege lord. The news
of the merciless slaughter of the Flemings, and of the cruel treatment
of Courtray, aroused great indignation in England, which was increased
when it was heard that all the rich English merchants in Bruges had
been obliged to fly for their lives, and that all other Englishmen
found in the towns had been seized by the Earl of Flanders, and thrown
into prison, and their goods confiscated.

The young knights practised at tilting daily under the eye of Sir
Ralph, and at the end of three months could carry off rings skilfully,
and could couch their lances truly, whether at breast-piece or helm. It
was nigh two years since they had first ridden to London, and both had
grown tall and greatly widened. Edgar was still by far the taller and
stronger, and was now an exceptionally powerful young man. Albert was
of a fair strength and stature, and from his constant practice with
Edgar, had attained almost as great a skill with his weapons. When they
jousted they always used lighter spears than when they practised at the
ring, for in a charge, Edgar's weight and strength would have carried
Albert out of his saddle, and that with such force as might have caused
him serious injury; the lances therefore were made so slight as to
shiver at the shock.

"You are like to be employing your weapons to better advantage soon,"
Sir Ralph said one day on his return from London. "You know of the
rivalry between the two popes, and that we hold for Urban while France
champions Clement."

"Yes, sir," Edgar said; "but how is that likely to give occasion for us
to betake ourselves to arms again?"

"Urban is going to use us as his instrument against France and Spain. A
bull was received yesterday, of which copies have also been sent to all
the bishops, calling upon Richard to engage in a sort of Holy War to
this end. He has ordered that all church property throughout England
shall be taxed, and that the bishops shall exhort all persons to give
as much as they can afford for the same purpose. To all those who take
part in the war he gives absolution from all sins, and the same to
those who, staying at home, contribute to the Church's need.

"The sum of money thus raised, which, I doubt not, will be great, is to
be devoted partly to an expedition against France, and partly to one
under Lancaster against Spain. As it is a church war, the expedition to
France is to be led by a churchman, and Urban has chosen Sir Henry
Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, who, if you will remember, bore himself so
stoutly against the insurgents in his diocese, as the nominal leader.
The king has taken the matter up heartily, and many of the knights whom
I met at Court are also well content, seeing that the war is to be
conducted at the expense of the Church and not of themselves; and I
doubt not that a large number of knights and gentlemen will take part
in the expedition, which is of the nature of a crusade.

"More than that, I met an old friend, Sir Hugh Calverley, with whom I
have fought side by side a score of times, and whose name is, of
course, well known to you. He is minded also to go, partly because he
hates the French, and partly because of the pope's blessing and
absolution. Seeing that, I said to him, 'As you are going, Sir Hugh, I
pray you to do me a favour.'

"'There is no one I would more willingly oblige, old friend,' he said.

"'My son,' I went on, 'and a friend of his whom I regard almost as a
son, were knighted more than a year since, as you may have heard, for
their valiant conduct in the time of the troubles here.'

"'I have heard the story,' he said. 'It is well known to all at Court.'

"'Since then, Sir Hugh, they have been over in Flanders, where they
gained the approbation of Van Artevelde by their conduct, and fought
stoutly at the grievous battle of Rosbecque. But hitherto they have had
no knightly leader. They have gained such experience as they could by
themselves, but I would that they should campaign in the train of a
valiant and well-known knight like yourself, under whose eyes they
could gain distinction as well as a knowledge of military affairs.'

"'I will take them with me gladly,' he said. 'They must be young
knights of rare mettle, and even apart from my regard for you I should
be right glad to have them ride with me.'"

Both the young knights gave exclamations of pleasure. It was hard for a
knight unattached to the train of some well-known leader to rise to
distinction, and there was no English knight living who bore a higher
reputation than Sir Hugh Calverley, so that to ride under him would be
an honour indeed. But some months passed before the preparations were
complete. Throughout England the bishops and priests preached and
incited the people to what they considered a Holy War. The promises of
absolution of past and future sins were in proportion to the money
given. In the diocese of London alone, a tun full of gold and silver
was gathered, and by Lent the total amounted to what at that time was
the fabulous sum of 2,500,000 francs. Thomas, Bishop of London, and
brother to the Earl of Devonshire, was appointed by Urban to go with
the Duke of Lancaster to Spain, as chief captain, with two thousand
spears and four thousand archers, and half the money gathered was to be
spent on this expedition, and the other half on that of the Bishop of
Norwich.

The expeditions were to set out together, but one progressed far more
rapidly than the other. The Bishop of Norwich was very popular. He was
of ancient lineage, had personally shown great bravery, and was highly
esteemed. Upon the other hand, the Duke of Lancaster was hated. Thus
great numbers of knights and others enlisted eagerly under the bishop,
while very few were willing to take service under the duke. Five
hundred spearmen, and fifteen hundred men-at-arms and archers were soon
enrolled under the bishop's banner. A great number of priests, too,
followed the example of the bishop, threw aside the cassock and clad
themselves in armour to go to the war in the spirit of crusaders.

Great numbers passed over from Dover and Sandwich in parties to wait at
Calais for the arrival of their leaders. At Easter, the bishop, Sir
Hugh Calverley, and two of the principal knights attended the king and
his council, and swore to do their best to bring to an end the matter
on which they were engaged, and to war only against the supporters of
Clement. The king begged them to wait for a month at Calais, promising
that he would send them over many men-at-arms and archers, and Sir
William Beauchamp as marshal to the army. The bishop promised the king
to do this, and he and his party sailed from Dover and arrived at
Calais on April 23, 1383.

The young knights had gone up to town a month before by invitation of
Sir Robert Gaiton, and had stayed with him for a week. At the end of
that time he presented each of them with a superb suit of Milan steel,
richly inlaid with gold, and two fine war-horses.

"It is a gift that I have long promised you," he said. "I gave orders
to my agents in Italy a year since to spare neither time nor trouble to
obtain the best that the armourers of Milan could turn out. The horses
are of Yorkshire breed, and are warranted sound at every point."

"It is a princely present, Sir Robert," Edgar said, "and, indeed, a
most timely one, for truly we have well-nigh grown out of the other
suits, although when we got them it seemed to us that we should never
be able to fill them properly; but of late we have been forced to ease
the straps, and to leave spaces between the pieces, by which lance or
arrow might well find entrance."

Sir Ralph had gone up with them and introduced them to Sir Hugh, who
promised to give them two days' warning when they were to join him at
Sandwich or Dover. During this week Edgar for the most part went about
alone, Albert, at first to his surprise, and then to his amusement,
always making some pretext or other for not accompanying him, but
passing, as he found on his return, the greater portion of the time in
the house, in discourse, as he said, with Dame Gaiton, but as Edgar
shrewdly guessed, chiefly with Ursula, who, he found, obligingly kept
his friend company while the dame was engaged in her household duties.
It seemed to him, too, that on the ride back to St. Alwyth Albert was
unusually silent and depressed in spirits.

Edgar himself, however, experienced something of the same feeling when
he took his last farewell from the De Courcys before starting for
Dover. On this occasion each took with him four men-at-arms, stout
fellows, Albert's being picked men from among the De Courcy retainers,
while Hal Carter had selected his three mates from among the villagers,
and had, during the last three months, trained them assiduously in the
use of their arms.

"How long do you think that you are likely to be away, Edgar?" his
father asked, the evening before the party started.

"I cannot tell you, father, but I do not think that it will be long. If
the expedition had started six months ago, it would have arrived in
Flanders in time to have helped the Flemings, and with their aid the
French might have been driven flying over the frontier; but I cannot
see what two or three thousand men can do. We cannot fight the whole
strength of France by ourselves."

"It seems to me a hare-brained affair altogether," Mr. Ormskirk said;
"almost as mad, only in a different way, as the crusade of Peter the
Hermit. The Church has surely trouble enough in these days, what with
men like Wickliffe, who denounce her errors, and point out how far she
has fallen back from the simple ways of old times, what with the
impatience or indifference of no small part of the people, the pomp and
wasteful confusion of the prelates, and the laziness of the monks--she
has plenty of matters to look after without meddling in military
affairs.

"What would she say if a score of nobles were to take upon themselves
to tell her to set her house in order, to adopt reforms, and to throw
aside sloth and luxury; and yet the Church is stirring up a war, and
raising and paying an army of fighting men--and for what? To settle
which of two men shall be pope. The simple thing would be to hold a
high tournament, and to let Urban and Clement don armour and decide
between themselves, in fair fight, who should be pope. They might as
well do that as set other men to fight for them. I see not what good
can come of it, Edgar."

"Albert and myself are of the same opinion, father. Certainly with two
or three thousand men we can hardly expect to march to Paris and force
the King of France to declare for our pope. Still, we shall march in
good company, and shall both be proud to do so under the banner of so
distinguished a knight as Sir Hugh Calverley."

"I say naught against that, Edgar; but I would rather see you start
with him as knights-errant, willing at all times to couch a lance for
damsels in distress. The day has passed for crusades. Surely we have
had experience enough to see that solid advantages are not to be won by
religious enthusiasm. Men may be so inspired to deeds of wondrous
valour, but there is no instance of permanent good arising out of such
expeditions. As for this in which you are going to embark, it seems to
me to be the height of folly."

The next day the two young knights rode to Canterbury, and thence to
Dover. The following evening the Bishop of Norwich, with his train, Sir
Hugh Calverley, and other knights, arrived, and the next morning
embarked with their following and horses on board three ships, and
sailed to Calais. Those who had preceded them were already impatient to
take the field. The news that there was to be a further delay of a
month until Sir William Beauchamp with reinforcements should arrive,
caused much disappointment and vexation.

"'Tis unfortunate," Sir Hugh said, one evening a few days later to the
knights of his party, "that there are not more men here accustomed to
war, and who have learned that patience and obedience are as needful as
strong arms, if a campaign is to be carried out successfully. The
Bishop of Norwich is young and fiery, and he hath many like himself
round him, so that he frets openly at this delay. Moreover, Sir Thomas
Trivet and Sir William Helmon are too full of ardour to act with
discretion, and are ready enough to back up the bishop in his hot
desire to be doing something. I regret that this army is not, like the
army which fought at Crécy and Poictiers, composed of men well inured
to war, with a great number of good archers and led by experienced
warriors, instead of a hasty gathering of men, who have been fired by
the exhortations of the priests and the promises of the pope.

"We are but a small gathering. We may take some castles, and defeat the
forces that the nobles here gather against us, but more than that we
cannot do unless England arms in earnest. I foresaw this, and spoke to
the council when they prayed me to go with the bishop; but when they
pointed out that what I said made it all the more needful that one of
grave experience and years should go with him, and prayed me to accept
the office, I consented."

On the 4th of May the Bishop of Norwich took advantage of Sir Hugh's
absence--he having gone for two days to see a cousin who was commander
of Guines--to call the other leaders together, and said that it was
time they did some deed of arms, and rightly employed the money with
which the Church had furnished them. All agreed with him, and the
bishop then proposed that instead of entering France they should march
to Flanders, which was now a portion of France. To this Sir Thomas
Trivet and Sir William Helmon cordially agreed.

When Sir Hugh returned another council was called, and the matter was
laid before him. Sir Hugh opposed it altogether. In the first place,
they had given their word to the king to wait for a month for the
promised reinforcements; in the second place, they had not come over as
Englishmen to fight the French, but as followers of Pope Urban to fight
those of Clement, and the men of Flanders were, like themselves,
followers of Urban. The bishop answered him very hotly, and as the
other knights and all present agreed with the bishop, Sir Hugh
reluctantly gave way, and said that if they were determined upon going
to Flanders he would ride with them. Accordingly notice was given
through the town that the force would march the next morning. All
assembled at the order to the number of three thousand, and marched
from Calais to Gravelines.

No preparations for defence had been made there, for there was no war
between England and Flanders. However, the burghers defended the place
for a short time, and then withdrew, with their wives and families, to
the cathedral, which was a place of strength. Here they defended
themselves for two days. The church was then stormed, and all its
defenders put to the sword. The news excited the greatest surprise and
indignation in Flanders, and the earl at once sent two English knights
who were with him to Gravelines to protest, and with orders to obtain
from the bishop a safe-conduct to go to England to lay the matter
before the English king and his council.

When they arrived at Gravelines the bishop refused their request for a
safe-conduct, but told them to tell the earl that he was not warring
against Flanders, nor was his army an army of England, but of Pope
Urban, and that, although the greater portion of Flanders was Urbanist,
the Lord of Bar--in whose dominion Gravelines stood--was for Clement,
and so were his people. If he and they would acknowledge Pope Urban, he
would march away without doing damage and paying for all he took, but
unless they did so he would force them to submit. The people of Artois,
however, who were French rather than Flemings, took the matter in their
own hands, and twelve thousand men, under some knights from Nieuport
and other towns, marched to Dunkirk and then to Mardyck, a large
village not far from Gravelines.

Edgar and Albert had taken no part in the attack upon the cathedral,
but remained with Sir Hugh Calverley in the house that he occupied as
soon as resistance of the entry to the town had ended.

"On the field I will fight with the rest," he said, "but I will have no
hand in this matter. There has been no defiance sent to the Earl of
Flanders nor received from him, and 'tis not my habit to fight burghers
against whom we have no complaint, and who are but defending their
homes against us."

The two young knights were well pleased with this decision. It was an
age when quarter was but seldom given, and wholesale slaughters
followed battles, so that they had, naturally, the ideas common to the
time. Still, they both felt that this attack was wholly unprovoked and
altogether beyond the scope of the expedition, and were well pleased
that their leader would have naught to do with it. It was, however, a
different matter when they heard that an army twelve thousand strong
was coming out against them, and they were quite ready to take their
share in the fight.

While waiting at Gravelines several other knights had joined the army,
among them Sir Nicholas Clifton and Sir Hugh's cousin, the commander of
Guines, Sir Hugh Spencer, nephew of the bishop, and others.

The force consisted of six hundred mounted men, sixteen hundred
archers, and the rest foot-men. They found that the Flemings had fallen
back to Dunkirk, and had taken up a position in front of that town. The
bishop, on approaching them, sent forward a herald, to ask them whether
they were for Pope Urban or Clement, and that if they were for Urban he
had no quarrel with them. As soon, however, as the herald approached,
the Flemings fell upon him and killed him. This excited the most lively
indignation among the English, for among all civilized people the
person of a herald was held to be sacred.

The bishop and knights at once drew up the force in order of battle.
The men on foot were formed into a wedge. The archers were placed on
the two flanks of the unmounted men-at-arms, while the cavalry prepared
to charge as soon as opportunity offered. The army was preceded by the
standard of the Church. The trumpets on both sides sounded, and as they
came within range the English archers poured flights of arrows among
the Flemings. These advanced boldly to the attack of the foot-men.
Again and again the horsemen charged down upon them, but were unable to
break their solid lines, and for a time the battle was doubtful, but
the English archers decided the fate of the day. The Flemings, although
they resisted firmly the charge of the men-at-arms, were unable to
sustain the terrible and continuous rain of arrows, and their front
line fell back.

As soon as they did so the second line wavered and broke. Then the
bishop with his knights and men-at-arms charged furiously down upon
them, and the battle was over. The Flemings broke and fled in wild
disorder, but the English pursued them so hotly that they entered
Dunkirk with them. Here again and again they attempted to make a stand,
but speedily gave way before the onslaught of the English. No one
distinguished themselves in the battle more than did the priests and
monks who were fighting on the side of the bishop, and it was said
among the others that these must have mistaken their vocation, and that
had they entered the army instead of the Church they would have made
right valiant knights.

The English loss was four hundred, that of the Flemings was very much
heavier. There died, however, among them no knights or persons of
quality, for the rising was one of the people themselves, and as yet
the Earl of Flanders was waiting for the King of England's reply to the
message he had sent by the two knights from Sluys. The English,
however, considered that the absence of any horsemen or knights was due
to the fact that these remembered what terrible havoc had been made
among the chivalry of France at Crécy and Poictiers, and cared not to
expose themselves to that risk.



CHAPTER XVII

PRISONERS


After the capture of Dunkirk all the seaports as far as Sluys were
taken by the English, who then marched to Ypres, to which town they at
once laid siege, and were joined by twenty thousand men from Ghent.
Their own number had swollen considerably by the arrival from England
of many knights and men-at-arms, besides numbers of foot-men, attracted
as much by the news of the great spoil that had been captured in the
Flemish towns as by the exhortations and promises of the clergy.

Ypres had a numerous garrison, commanded by several knights of
experience. The works were very strong, and every assault was repulsed
with heavy loss. One of these was led by Sir Hugh Calverley. The force
crossed the ditches by throwing in great bundles of wood with which
each of the foot-men had been provided, and having reached the wall, in
spite of a hail of cross-bow bolts and arrows, ladders were planted,
and the leaders endeavoured to gain the ramparts. Sir Hugh Calverley
succeeded in obtaining a footing, but for a time he stood almost alone.
Two or three other knights, however, sprang up. Just as they did so one
of the ladders broke with the weight upon it, throwing all heavily to
the ground.

Edgar and Albert were with a party of archers who were keeping up a
rain of arrows. Seeing that the situation was bad they now ran forward,
followed by four of their men-at-arms, the others having charge of the
horses in the camp. A few more men-at-arms had gained the ramparts by
the time they arrived at the foot of the ladders, where numbers waited
to take their turns to ascend.

"There is not much broken off this one, Sir Edgar," Hal Carter said;
"not above three feet, I should say. We might make a shift to get up
with that."

"Pick it up, Hal, and bring it along a short distance. Possibly we may
be able to mount unobserved, for the fight is hot above, and the
attention of the enemy will be fixed there."

Followed by their own men-at-arms, and by a few others who saw what
their intentions were, they kept along at the foot of the wall until
they reached an angle some thirty yards away. Searching about they
found several stones that had been dislodged from the battlements
during the siege. With these they built up a platform, and raising the
ladder on this, they found that it reached to within a foot of the top.

"Now," Edgar said, "follow us as quickly as you can, but do not try the
ladder too heavily; it has broken once, so the wood cannot be
over-strong."

Then, followed closely by Albert and the men-at-arms, he ascended the
walls. So intent were the defenders upon the strife going on round Sir
Hugh Calverley that Edgar was not noticed until, putting his hands upon
the wall, he vaulted over it. He held his sword between his teeth, and
betaking himself to this fell so fiercely and suddenly upon the enemy,
that several were cut down and the rest recoiled so far that Albert and
the four men-at-arms were able to join him before the enemy rallied.
Every moment added to the strength of the party, and as soon as some
twenty had gathered behind him, Edgar flung himself upon the enemy with
a shout of "_St. George! St. George!_" and, in spite of the opposition
of the defenders, fought his way along the wall until he joined Sir
Hugh and the little group who were defending themselves against
tremendous odds.

Sir Hugh himself was seriously wounded. Two or three of his knights lay
dead beside him, and had it not been for the arrival of the
reinforcement the fight would speedily have terminated, for the English
were so penned up against the wall that there was no footing for more
to join them. The suddenness of the attack drove the enemy back some
little distance, and this enabled a score of those upon the ladders to
make their way onto the rampart.

"Bravely done!" Sir Hugh Calverley said, as he leant against the wall,
utterly exhausted by his efforts and loss of blood. A moment later he
would have fallen had not Albert sprung to his side.

"We must save Sir Hugh at all risks," he said to two of the knight's
companions, who were also wounded. "Will you, sir knights, aid in
lowering him down the ladder, and see that he is carried off? You have
done your share. It is our turn now, and we can at least hold the
rampart until he is in safety."

Leaning over, he shouted to the men on one of the ladders to descend
and leave the ladder clear, as Sir Hugh was to be lowered down.

"Methinks I can carry him, Sir Albert," Hal Carter said. "I have
carried two sacks of wheat on my shoulder before now, and methinks that
I can carry one knight and his armour."

He took his place on the ladder, and Sir Hugh was lowered to him, and
laying him on his shoulder Hal carried him safely down. The two wounded
knights followed, and then Hal sprang up the ladder again. While this
was being done Edgar and his party had been holding the enemy at bay.
Hal was followed by some of the men-at-arms, and others poured up by
the other ladders. Edgar saw that they were now strong enough to take
the offensive, and as the English numbered nearly a hundred, he fell
upon the enemy to the right, while Albert led another party to the left.

For some time the fury with which the English fought drove the enemy
before them on either hand. Every moment they were joined by fresh men,
who were now able to pour in a steady stream up the ladders. The enemy,
too, were harassed by the English archers, who, advancing to the edge
of the ditch, sent their shafts thick and fast among them. The town
bells were clanging fiercely, drums beating, and horns sounding as the
alarm spread that the besiegers had gained a footing on the walls, and
great numbers of the garrison could be seen pouring along the streets
leading to the threatened point.

Had there been more ladders, so that reinforcements could have arrived
more rapidly, the place might have been won. As it was, it was evident
that success was impossible. Edgar's party still gained ground slowly,
but he saw that Albert was being pressed backwards.

"Fall back, men!" he shouted, "slowly, and keeping your face to the
enemy. The odds are too heavy for us."

Foot by foot, fighting silently and obstinately, the English fell back
until their party joined that of Albert, at the spot where the wall had
been won. Their exulting foes pressed hotly upon them, but Edgar's
sword and the heavy long-handled mace wielded by Hal Carter did such
terrible execution that the rest were able to retreat in good order.

"Jump down, my men!" Edgar shouted. "You will break the ladders if you
try to go by them. The ground is but soft, and the wall of no great
height. Do not hurry. We will cover you and then follow."

Gradually the number of the party on the walls was lessened, as by
threes and fours they leapt down; while many, getting onto the ladders,
slipped rapidly to the ground. When there were but half a dozen left,
Hal suddenly exclaimed: "Sir Albert has fallen--wounded!"

Edgar freed himself from his opponent of the moment by a sweeping blow,
and then with a spring placed himself astride of his friend. Hal Carter
joined him. The rest of their followers remaining on the wall either
jumped over or were cut down. Fortunately Albert had fallen close to
the parapet, and his two defenders could not be attacked from behind.
For some minutes the fight continued, and then for a moment the enemy
drew back astonished at the manner in which two men kept them at bay;
then one of the assailants lowered his sword.

"Sir knight," he said, "you have done enough for honour. Never have I
seen a stouter fighter. I pray you, then, to surrender, on promise of
good treatment and fair terms of ransom to you, to the knight at your
feet, and to this stout man-at-arms. I am Sir Robert De Beaulieu."

"Then I yield to you," Edgar said. "I am Sir Edgar Ormskirk, and this
knight is my brother-in-arms, Sir Albert De Courcy. I yield in his name
and my own, and am glad that, as fortune has declared against us, it
should be to so good a knight as Sir Robert De Beaulieu that I
surrender my sword."

"Keep it, Sir Edgar, for never have I seen one better wielded. No small
damage, indeed, has it done us."

"The stout man-at-arms is my own retainer, and I prythee, sir knight,
suffer him to remain with us."

[Illustration: SIR EDGAR AT LAST SURRENDERS TO SIR ROBERT DE BEAULIEU.]

"Assuredly he shall do so."

As soon as the parley began Hal Carter laid down his weapon, and
kneeling beside Albert, unlaced his helmet.

"He lives, Sir Edgar!" he said; "he is but stunned, methinks, with the
blow of a mace, which has deeply dinted his casque, though, indeed, he
has other wounds."

By Sir Robert De Beaulieu's orders, four men now formed a litter with
their spears. Albert was laid on it, and Sir Robert, Edgar, and Hal
Carter walking in front, and half a score of men-at-arms accompanying
them, they made their way to a large house where the knight lodged. Sir
Robert had sent on for a leech to be in attendance, and he was there
when they arrived. Hal at once took off Albert's armour.

"'Tis well for him that this armour was good," Sir Robert said. "Had it
not been, it would have gone hard with him. It must be steel of proof
indeed, for I saw the blow struck, and there are but few helmets that
would not have been crushed by it."

"He has a deep gash near the neck," the leech said. "The lacings and
straps of the helmet and gorget must have been cut by a sharp sword,
and another blow has fallen on the same spot. Methinks he has dropped
as much from loss of blood as from the blow on the head."

Edgar had by this time taken off his own helmet. As soon as he did so,
Sir Robert De Beaulieu, who was somewhat grizzled with age, said:

"In truth, sir knight, you and your companion are young indeed to have
fought so doughtily as you have done to-day; you are young to be
knights, and yet you have shown a courage and a skill such as no knight
could have surpassed. We had thought the affair finished when that
stout knight, Sir Hugh Calverley, was down with two others, and but
three or four remained on their feet. Then suddenly your party burst
upon us, coming from we knew not where, and had you but been reinforced
more rapidly the town would have been lost."

Edgar made no reply, for at the moment Hal Carter leant heavily against
him.

"I can do no more, Sir Edgar," he murmured; "I am spent."

Edgar caught the brave fellow in his arms and supported him, while two
men-at-arms, who had assisted to carry Albert in, unstrapped Hal's
armour and gently laid him down on a couch. He was bleeding from half a
dozen wounds, and his face was pale and bloodless. Edgar knelt by his
side and raised his head.

"I will see to him, sir knight," the surgeon said. "I have bandaged
your comrade's injuries, and methinks that he will soon come round."

Then he examined Hal's wounds.

"He will do," he said. "Assuredly there are none of them that are
mortal; 'tis but loss of blood that ails him. I will but bandage them
hastily now, for there are many other cases waiting for me, and
methinks, sir, that you yourself need looking to."

"I am unhurt," Edgar said, in surprise.

"Your doublet is stained with blood from the shoulder to the wrist,"
Sir Robert said. "A spear-head has penetrated at the shoulder-joint and
torn a gash well-nigh to the neck. 'Tis well that it is not worse."

Two of his men-at-arms had by this time taken off Sir Robert's armour
also.

"You have ruined my helmet, Sir Edgar, and cut so deep a notch in it
that I know not how my head escaped. You have gashed a hole in my
gorget and dinted the armour in half a dozen places, and I failed to
make a single mark on yours. Never was I engaged with so good a
swordsman. I could scarcely believe my eyes when you lifted your vizor,
for it seemed to me that you must be in the prime of your manhood, and
possessed of strength altogether out of the common."

"I have practised a good deal," Edgar said, quietly, "having indeed
little else to do, so it is not surprising that my muscles are hard."

At the knight's order a servant now brought in two goblets of wine. Sir
Robert and Edgar then drank to each other, both draining the cups to
the bottom.

Albert was not long before he opened his eyes. He looked round in
wonder, and smiled faintly when he saw Edgar, who hastened to his side.

"We are out of luck this time, Albert; we are both prisoners. Still,
things might have been worse. You were struck down with a mace, but the
leech says that the wound on your head is of no great consequence, and
that you fainted rather from loss of blood from other gashes than from
the blow on the head. I have got off with a scratch on the shoulder.
Hal Carter, who fought like a tiger over your body, has come off worst,
having fully half a dozen wounds, but it was not before he had killed
at least twice as many of his assailants with that terrible mace of
his."

So far Edgar had spoken in English. He went on in French:

"This is the good knight, Sir Robert De Beaulieu, who is our captor,
and will hold us on ransom."

"You may congratulate yourself, Sir Albert," the knight said,
courteously, "that you had such stout defenders as your comrade here
and his man-at-arms, because for fully five minutes they held the whole
of us at bay, and so stoutly did they fight that we were all glad when
Sir Edgar yielded himself to me. Truly, between you, you have done us
ill service, for not only have you and your party killed a large number
of our men, but you have enabled Sir Hugh Calverley to be carried off,
and for so famous a captain we should have claimed a goodly ransom, and
it would have been an honour and glory to have taken so fearless a
knight. As it is, with the exception of yourselves, no single prisoner
has fallen into our hands, and methinks that in all there were not more
than ten or twelve in the storming party killed, while we must have
lost nigh a hundred. 'Tis the first time I have fought against the
English, and in truth you are doughty foemen. It was well that you came
into the land but some four or five thousand strong, for had you
brought an army you might have marched to Paris. Now, Sir Edgar, I will
show you your room."

He led the way along a broad corridor to a large room, the men-at-arms
carrying the couch on which Albert was lying.

"I should like to have my man-at-arms brought here also, Sir Robert,"
Edgar said. "He is a faithful fellow, and I have known him for years.
He speaks but little of any language but English, and will, methinks,
do better with my nursing than with any other."

In a fortnight Albert was quite convalescent, and Hal was rapidly
gaining strength. Three days after they had been taken prisoner Sir
Robert had said to Edgar:

"It will be best, Sir Edgar, that you should not go abroad in the
streets. The townsmen here, as in other towns in Flanders, are rough
fellows. They are, of course, suffering somewhat from the siege, and
they murmur that any prisoners should have been taken. They say that
your people showed no mercy at Gravelines and Dunkirk, which, methinks,
is true enough, and that none should be given here. Yesterday some of
their leaders came to the house where I was sitting in council with
other knights, and represented that all English prisoners should be put
to the sword at once. I pointed out to them that, for their own sakes,
as many prisoners should be taken as possible. We hope to defend the
town until succour comes, but were the English to capture it, and to
find that prisoners who had surrendered had been killed, no mercy would
be shown, but every man within the walls would be slain and the city
laid in ashes.

"To this they had no answer ready, and retired grumbling. But, in any
case, it were better that you did not show yourself in the street, for
a tumult might arise, and your life might be sacrificed before any of
us could come to your assistance."

"I thank you, Sir Robert, and will gladly take your advice. I have seen
somewhat of the townsmen of Ghent and Bruges, and know that, when the
fit seizes them, they are not to be restrained."

After that time Sir Robert De Beaulieu seldom left the house, and Edgar
found that the doors were kept closed, and that the knight's followers
and men-at-arms were also kept in the house. Several times he heard
shouts in the street of "Death to the English!"

He took his meals with the knight, while Albert and Hal were served in
their room. At the end of the week, however, Albert was able to join
the two knights, and a fortnight later Hal was again up and about.

"I fear, Sir Robert, that our presence here is a source of trouble to
you," Edgar said one day. "If it could be managed, we would gladly give
you our knightly word to send you our ransom at the first opportunity,
and not to serve in arms again until it is paid, if you would let us go
free."

"I would do so gladly, Sir Edgar, but I fear that it would be difficult
to manage. Both before and behind the house there are evidently men on
the watch to see that no one passes out. My own men-at-arms have been
stopped and questioned, and were you to issue out methinks that there
would, on the instant, be an uproar, for so great a crowd would gather
in a few minutes that even had you a strong guard you might be torn
from them. You see, though some eight of us knights and three hundred
men-at-arms were placed here to aid in the defence, we could do naught
without the assistance of the townsmen, who have on all occasions
fought stoutly. Were there to be a fray now, the safety of the town
would be compromised, for the craftsmen of all these towns are as
fickle as the wind. The men of Ypres fought by the side of those at
Ghent at one time, and when the Count of Flanders came here, great
numbers of the townspeople were executed. At present, why, I know not,
they are fighting stoutly for the count, while the men of Ghent are
with the besiegers; but were there to be troubles between them and us,
they might tomorrow open their gates to the English."

"That I can quite believe, Sir Robert. I can only say that we are in
your hands, and are ready to pursue any course that you may think best,
either to stay here quietly and take the risk of what may come of it or
endeavour to escape in disguise if so it could be managed."

"I would that it could be managed, for the matter is causing us grave
anxiety. My comrades are, of course, all with me, and hold, that even
if it comes to a struggle with the mob, the lives of prisoners who have
surrendered on ransom must be defended. I suggested that we should hold
counsel here, that two should remain, and that you should sally out
with the others, but our faces are all so well known in the town that
there would be little chance indeed of your passing undetected."

"Think you, Sir Robert, that we could pass along the roofs, enter a
casement a few houses along, and then make our way out in disguise?"

"It would be well-nigh impossible. The roofs are all so sloping that no
one could maintain a footing upon them."

"When it gets dusk I will, with your permission, Sir Robert, go up to
one of the attics and take a look out."

"By all means do so. Escape in that manner would certainly be the best
way out of the dilemma, though I much fear that it cannot be done."

When it became so dark that while he could take a view round, his
figure could not be recognized at a short distance, Edgar, with Albert
and Hal, went up to the top of the house, and the former got out of the
highest of the dormer windows, and, standing on the sill, looked out.
The roof was indeed so steep that it would be impossible to obtain a
footing upon it. Its ridge was some twenty feet above the window. The
houses were of varying heights, some being as much as thirty feet lower
than others. Still it seemed to Edgar that it would not be very
difficult to make their way along if they were provided with ropes.
Descending, he told Sir Robert the result of their investigations.

"It would," he said, "be very desirable, if possible, to come down into
some house which was either uninhabited, or where the people were
friendly. Still that would not be absolutely necessary, as we might
hope to make our way down to the door unperceived."

"There is one house which is empty," Sir Robert said, "for the owner
left the town with his family before the siege began, he having another
place of business at Liege, He was an old man, and was therefore
permitted to leave; for he could have been no good for the defence, and
there would, with his family and servants, have been ten mouths more to
feed had he remained. It is the sixth house along, I think, but I will
see when I go out. Once in the street and away from here, there would
be no difficulty. I would meet you a short distance away, and go with
you to the walls, from which you could lower yourself down. One or two
of my comrades would give their aid, for, naturally, all would be
pleased that you should escape, and so put an end to this cause of feud
between us and the townsmen. You would, of course, require some rope;
that I can easily procure for you."

"We shall want several lengths, Sir Robert, and two or three stout
grapnels. We shall also want a strong chisel for forcing open a
casement."

"All these you shall have; one of my men shall fetch them to-morrow."

On the following day the ropes and grapnels were brought in, and Sir
Robert, who had been out, ascertained that he had been correct, and
that the empty house was indeed the sixth from that he occupied. "I
have been speaking with two of my comrades," he said, "and they will be
with me at ten o'clock to-night at the end of the street that faces the
house through which you will descend. I shall accompany you to the foot
of the walls. The citizens are on guard there at night, and if they ask
questions, as they may well do, my comrades will say that you are
bearers of a message to the King of France to pray him to hasten to our
aid. I shall not myself go up on to the walls, for were I to do so
suspicion might fall upon me. Should you be interrupted as you go along
the street to meet us, give a call and we will run to your assistance."

"And now as to our ransom, Sir Robert?" Edgar went on.

"Trouble not yourselves about it," he replied; "you are but young
knights, and 'tis a pleasure to me to have been of service to two such
valiant young gentlemen. Moreover, I consider that I have no right to a
ransom, since, instead of letting you go free to obtain it, or holding
you in honourable captivity until it is sent to you, you are obliged to
risk your lives, as you assuredly will do, by climbing along those
roofs to obtain your liberty; therefore, we will say nothing about it.
It may be that some day you will be able to treat leniently some young
Flemish or French knight whom you may make captive. As to your armour,
I see not how you can carry it away with you, for you will have to swim
the ditches; but the first time that there is a flag of truce exchanged
I will send it out to you, or should there be no such opportunity, I
will, when the siege is over, forward it by the hands of some merchant
trading with England, to any address that you may give me there."

The two young knights thanked Sir Robert De Beaulieu most cordially for
his kindness to them, and at his request gave him their word not to
serve again during the campaign. This, indeed, they were by no means
sorry to do, for they had keenly felt the slight paid to Sir Hugh
Calverley by the haughty bishop in acting altogether contrary to his
advice. They also had been thoroughly disgusted by the massacre at
Gravelines, and the sack of so many towns against which England had no
cause for complaint.

In the afternoon Sir Robert brought three doublets and caps for them to
put over their own clothes, so that they could pass as citizens. They
employed some time in wrapping strips of cloth round the grapnels, so
that these would fall noiselessly onto the tiles.

At nine o'clock Sir Robert said good-bye to them and went out; and half
an hour later they ascended to the upper story. They were well provided
with ropes, and had made all their arrangements. Edgar was the first to
fasten a rope round his body, and while this was held by his companions
he was to get out on the window-sill and throw a grapnel over the ridge
and pull himself up by the rope attached to it.

The others were to fasten the rope round their bodies at distances of
twenty feet apart, so that if one slipped down the others could check
him. Edgar took off his shoes and tied them round his neck, and then
stood out on the window-sill, and threw the grapnel over the ridge of
the roof; then he drew the rope in until he found that the hook caught
on the ridge.

"That is all right," he said to his comrades. "Now keep a firm hold on
the rope, but let it gradually out as I climb; if you hear me slipping
draw it in rapidly so as to stop me as I come past the window. But
there is no fear of that unless the hook gives way."

Then he swung himself up to the roof of the dormer window and proceeded
to haul himself by the rope up the steep incline, helping himself as
much as possible with his feet and knees. He was heartily glad when he
gained the ridge, and had thus accomplished the most dangerous part of
the work. He was able now to fix the grapnel firmly, and sitting
astride of the roof, he called down that he was ready. It was easier
work for Albert to follow him. Not only was the latter certain that the
grapnel was safely fixed, but Edgar, pulling upon the rope, was enabled
to give him a good deal of assistance. In two or three minutes Hal
Carter joined them.

"In faith, master," he said, panting, "I had not deemed that so much of
my strength had gone from me. If it had not been for the help you gave
me I doubt if I could have climbed up that rope."

They now made their way along to the end of the roof. The grapnel was
fixed, and Edgar slid down the rope to the next roof, which was some
fifteen feet below them. They did not attempt to free the grapnel,
fearing that in its fall it might make a clatter; they therefore used
another to mount to the next house, which was as high as that which
they had left. There was but a difference of four feet in the height of
the next, and they had not to use the grapnel again until they reached
the sixth house, which was ten feet below that next to it.

[Illustration: THE PRISONERS MAKE THEIR ESCAPE OVER THE ROOFS OF YPRES.]

There was light enough to enable them to make out the position of the
dormer window below them, and fixing the grapnel, Edgar, aided by his
companions lowering him, made his way down beside it, and knelt upon
the sill, his companions keeping a steady strain upon the rope. With
his chisel he had but little difficulty in prising open the casement.
His companions were not long in joining him. Once inside the house they
made their way with great caution. They had no means of striking a
light, and were forced to grope about with their swords in front of
them to prevent their touching any piece of furniture, till at last
they discovered the door. It was not fastened, and passing through,
and, as before, feeling the floor carefully as they went, they
presently found the head of the stairs.

After this it was comparatively easy work, though a stoppage was
necessary at each landing. At last, to their satisfaction, they found
themselves in a flagged passage, and knew that they were on the ground
floor. They made their way along the passage, and soon reached the
door. It was locked with so massive a fastening that it would have been
difficult to unfasten it from the outside; but with the aid of the
chisel they had but little difficulty in forcing back the lock. They
paused for a minute to listen, as a passer-by might have been startled
by the sound of the bolts being shot in an empty house. All was quiet,
however, and, opening the door cautiously, Edgar stepped out.

"The street is all clear," he said; "except half a dozen fellows
watching in front of the house we have left, there is not a soul in
sight." The others joined him, closing the door silently behind them.
They had not put on their shoes again, so with noiseless steps they
crossed the street and turned up the one that had been indicated by Sir
Robert. After going a few paces they stopped, put on their shoes, and
then walked boldly along. When they reached the end of the street three
figures came out from a deep doorway to meet them.

"Is all well?" one asked.

This was the signal that had been agreed upon.

"All is well, Sir Robert. We have escaped without any difficulty or
aught going wrong."

"The saints be praised!" the knight ejaculated. "These with me are Sir
Oliver Drafurn and Sir François Regnault."

"Right glad we are, knights," one of them said, "that we can assist in
giving you your freedom. A foul shame indeed would it have been had two
such gallant fighters been massacred by this rascally mob, after
yielding themselves to a knight."

"Truly, sirs, we are greatly beholden to you," Edgar replied, "and
trust that an occasion may occur in which we may repay to some of your
countrymen the great service you are now rendering us."

They had gone but a short distance further when the door of a tavern
opened and twelve or fifteen half-drunken soldiers poured out.

"Whom have we here?" one of them shouted. "Faith, if they are burghers
they must pay for being thus late in the streets."

"Silence, knaves," Sir François Regnault said, sternly. "What mean ye
by this roystering? Disperse to your quarters at once, or by St. James,
some of you shall hang in the morning, as a lesson to others that the
burgesses of Ypres are not to be insulted by drunken revellers."

As by this time the speaker had moved on into the light that streamed
through the open door, the soldier saw at once that it was a knight,
and, muttering excuses, went hastily down the street. No one else was
encountered until they reached the foot of the wall. Here Sir Robert
took a hearty farewell of them. The two knights first mounted the steps
to the wall.

As they reached the top a sentry close by challenged.

"France," Sir Oliver replied; "and, hark ye, make no noise. I am Sir
Oliver Drafurn, and I am here with Sir François Regnault to pass three
messengers over the wall, bearers of important dispatches. We do not
wish the news to get abroad, so take your halbert and march up and
down."

Hal Carter had brought one of the ropes, twisted round him for the
purpose.

"You are on the side facing the English camp," Sir Oliver said. "Those
are the lights that you see ahead. You will have three ditches to swim,
and will find it cold work, but there is no other way for it."

After giving hearty thanks to the knights, the three were lowered, one
at a time, and the rope was then dropped down. It was a good deal
longer than was necessary for descending the wall, but Edgar, rather to
the surprise of the others, had chosen it for the purpose. The first
ditch was but ten yards away; it was some thirty feet across.

"Now," Edgar said, "I will cross first. I am much the strongest, for
neither of you has fully recovered his strength. The water will be icy
cold, therefore I will swim across first, and do you, when I am over,
each hold to the rope and I will pull you across."

Short as was the distance the work was trying, for the night was
bitterly cold, and the ditches would have been frozen hard, were it not
that twice a day the besieged went out and broke the ice, which had now
began to bind again. At last, however, Edgar got across.

"Do you take the rope, Albert, and let Hal hold on by you, for the
passage I have made is but narrow."

A few strong pulls on Edgar's part brought them across.

"It is well," he said, as they climbed out, "that the knights promised
to go one each way, to tell the watchers on the walls to take no heed
of any sounds that they might hear of breaking ice, for that those
leaving the town were doing so by their authority."

The two other ditches were crossed in the same way, but the work was
more difficult, as the besieged only broke the ice of these once a day.

"We should never have got across without your aid, Edgar," Albert said.
"I could scarce hold on to the rope. My hands are dead, and I feel as
if I were frozen to the bone."

"Let us run for a bit, Albert, to warm our blood. Another quarter of a
mile and we shall be challenged by our sentries."



CHAPTER XVIII

A NOBLE GIFT


The pace at which the party started soon slackened, for neither Albert
nor Hal Carter could maintain it. However, it was not long before they
heard the sentry challenge:

"Who go there?"

"Sir Albert De Courcy and Sir Edgar Ormskirk escaped from Ypres," Edgar
answered.

"Stand where you are till I call the sergeant," the man said, and
shouted "Sergeant!" at the top of his voice. In five minutes a sergeant
and two men-at-arms came up.

"Hurry, sergeant, I pray you," Edgar said. "We have swum three ditches,
and my companions, being weakened by their wounds, are well-nigh
perished."

"Come on," the sergeant said, "it is clear at any rate that you are
Englishmen." He had brought a torch with him, and as they came up
looked at them narrowly, then he saluted. "I know you, Sir Edgar,
disguised as you are. I was fighting behind you on the wall five weeks
since, and had it not been for the strength of your arm, I should have
returned no more to England."

"How is Sir Hugh Calverley?" Edgar asked, as they hurried towards the
camp.

"His wounds are mending fast," the sergeant said, "and he went out of
his tent to-day for the first time. I saw him myself."

A quarter of an hour's walking brought them to the tent occupied by Sir
Hugh and his followers. A light was still burning there, and they heard
voices within.

"May we enter?" Edgar said, as he slightly opened the flap of the tent.

"Surely, that must be the voice of Sir Edgar Ormskirk!" Sir Hugh
exclaimed.

"It is I, sure enough, and with me is Sir Albert De Courcy and my brave
man-at-arms."

As he spoke he stepped into the tent. Two knights were there, and they
and Sir Hugh advanced with outstretched hands to meet the new-comers.

"Welcome back, welcome back!" Sir Hugh exclaimed, in a tone of emotion.
"My brave knights, I and my two comrades here have to thank you for our
lives, for, although in truth I know naught about it, I have heard from
Sir Thomas Vokes and Sir Tristram Montford how you brought the band to
our assistance, and how you kept the enemy at bay, while this good
fellow of yours bore me down the ladder on his shoulder; while from
those who escaped afterwards we heard how you both, with but two or
three others, kept the foe back, and gave time for the rest to jump
from the walls or slide down the ladders. But your faces are blue, and
your teeth chattering!"

"We have had to swim three ditches, and the ice having formed pretty
thickly, it was no child's work."

"First, do you each drain a goblet of wine," Sir Hugh said, "and then
to your tent. All your things are untouched. Knights, will you go with
them and rub them down till their skin glows, and then wrap them up in
blankets?" He called, and two servants came in. "Heat three bottles of
wine in a bowl with plenty of spices," he said, "and carry it to these
knights' tent, and take a portion to the tent of their men-at-arms for
the use of this good fellow. See that your comrades rub you down," he
said to Hal. "They will be glad indeed to see you back; for, although
we heard from a prisoner that the two knights were alive, we knew not
whether any others had been taken with them. Tell Hawkins to light two
torches at once and fix them in the knights' tent, and put two others
in that of the men-at-arms. Mind, Sir Edgar, once between the blankets,
you stay there till morning. Your story will keep until then."

After throwing off their wet clothes, and being rubbed down until they
glowed, Edgar and Albert were soon covered up in blankets, and after
drinking the hot spiced wine, soon fell asleep. In the morning they
related their story to Sir Hugh Calverley and the other two knights.

"'Tis Sir Edgar who should tell the tale," Albert said, "for indeed I
know but little about it from the time I saw you lowered over the wall.
Things went well with us for a time; we were joined by more men, and
were strong enough to divide into two parties, Edgar going to the right
while I went to the left. We cleared the wall for some distance, and
methinks had there been ladders, so that we could have been helped more
quickly, the town would have been won, but the enemy were reinforced
more quickly than we were, and we began to lose ground. Then came a
body of knights who beat us back till we were close to the point where
the ladders were set. Then a knight made at me with a mace. I saw his
arms raised, and after that I knew nothing more."

"The last man who jumped from the wall, Sir Albert, told us that he saw
that you were down and that Sir Edgar and one of his men-at-arms were
fighting like demons over you. Now, Sir Edgar, tell us how the matter
ended."

"We made a shift to keep them back, Sir Hugh, for some five minutes,
when one of the French knights offered to give us terms of surrender on
ransom, and seeing no use in fighting longer when the matter could only
have terminated one way, I surrendered."

Then he related the good treatment they had met with at the hands of
Sir Robert De Beaulieu, and the manner in which he had enabled them to
escape the fury of the rabble of Ypres, and had sent them away free
from ransom.

"It was well done, indeed, of him," Sir Hugh said, warmly. "Truly a
courteous and knightly action. And so you have both given your pledge
to fight no more in this campaign. By St. George, I should not be
ill-pleased if someone would put me under a similar pledge, for I tell
you that I am heartily sick of it. Never did so disordered an army
start from England. An army led by bishops and priests is something
strange. Bishops have before now ridden often in battle, but never
before did they assume command. Methinks when I go home that I will ask
the king to give me the direction of Westminster Monastery and Abbey;
at any rate I could not make a worse hand of it than the Bishop of
Norwich is doing of this. And you say that De Beaulieu promised to send
your armour on the first opportunity. That is, indeed, a generous
action, for the armour of a prisoner is always the property of his
captor, and your armour is of great value. I would that we could do
something to show the good knight that we appreciate his generosity."

"We have our chains," Edgar said. "Of course we did not carry them
about us when we should have to fight, and they are very heavy and of
the finest workmanship. These would we gladly send to him, would we
not, Albert, in token of our gratitude? Though, costly as they are,
they are of much less value than the armour."

"I would gladly add something of my own account," Sir Hugh said,
"seeing that you are in my train, and one does not like to be surpassed
by a foreign knight. As to the matter of the ransom, that does not
trouble me, and indeed, seeing that you surrendered to him, and that he
felt that he could not give protection, and you had to risk your lives
in getting away, it was but reasonable that he should remit it, but in
the matter of the armour the case is different. I will add to your
chains a reliquary which was presented to me by Pedro of Castile when I
saved his life in the fight at Najarra. He told me that it contained a
nail of the true cross, and that it was brought to Spain by a Spaniard
of royal blood who was a knight commander of the Temple.

"I do not know how far this is true, for as one gets older one loses
faith in these monkish stories of reliquaries. However, the casket is
set with gems of value, and there is with it a parchment setting forth
its history; at any rate it is a gift that is worthy of even a prince's
acceptance. I will send it to him as a token that Sir Hugh Calverley
recognizes his chivalrous behaviour to the knights who were captured
while covering his carriage from the ramparts of Ypres, and, therefore,
sends this gift to him in all honour and courtesy, together with the
gold chains of the knights themselves. We shall not have long to wait.
There are fights well-nigh every day, and when these are over there is
a truce of an hour to carry off the wounded and dead."

The young knights thanked Sir Hugh for thus generously supplementing
their own offering in return for their armour, but he waved it aside.

"You saved my life," he said; "or at any rate you saved me from
capture, and had I fallen into their hands methinks that I should have
had to pay a far heavier ransom before they let me out again."

Two days later there was heavy fighting again and much loss on both
sides. It ceased as usual without any advantage being won by the
besiegers. The fighting ended soon after mid-day, and at one o'clock
the trumpet sounded a truce. Sir Hugh mounted, with his two knights,
saying to Edgar: "It were perhaps best that you should not ride with
me. 'Tis likely that the townsmen still think that you are in
Beaulieu's house, and were it known that you had escaped it might bring
trouble upon him and the two knights who aided your escape from the
wall."

He took with him a pursuivant and trumpeter, and, riding through the
English and Flemish men-at-arms, who were already engaged in carrying
away the dead and wounded, he rode up to within a short distance of the
wall, then the pursuivant and trumpeter advanced to the edge of the
moat, and the latter blew a loud blast.

In a short time a knight appeared on the wall, and the pursuivant cried
in a loud voice:

"Sir Hugh Calverley, a valiant and puissant knight of England, desires
speech with Sir Robert De Beaulieu, a brave and gentle knight of
Flanders."

"I am Sir Robert De Beaulieu. Pray tell Sir Hugh Calverley to do me the
courtesy to wait for me a quarter of an hour, and I will then issue
forth and speak to him."

At the end of that time Sir Robert rode out, and crossed the bridge
which had been lowered across the ditch for the passage of the soldiers
engaged in collecting the dead. He was followed by two esquires and
four men-at-arms, the latter bearing something behind them on their
horses. The two knights saluted each other courteously, and Sir Hugh
introduced his two companions to Sir Robert.

"I am glad, indeed," the latter said to Calverley, "thus to have the
opportunity of meeting one of the most famous knights in Europe. My
men-at-arms are bearers of the armour of Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir
Albert De Courcy, who are, I believe, knights riding in your train. I
promised them that I would send the armour on the first opportunity,
and am glad indeed that the occasion has come so speedily."

He and Sir Hugh had both dismounted after saluting each other, and the
latter held out his mailed hand to the Fleming.

"Sir Robert De Beaulieu," he said, "I have heard of you as a brave and
honourable knight, and you have in this matter proved yourself to be a
chivalrous and generous one in thus rendering up the spoil fairly won
by you, without ransom; but it is not our custom to be outdone in
generosity. The armour is of no ordinary value, and, as these knights
of mine were made prisoners while covering my removal when insensible
and helpless, I feel that the debt is mine as well as theirs. They have
begged me to give you these two chains, both, as you see, of value, and
of the best Italian work. To these I add, as a token of my esteem for
you, this casket, which was given to me by Don Pedro of Spain when I
rode with the Black Prince to aid him in his struggle with Don Henry.
As you will see by the parchment attached to the casket, it contains a
nail of the true cross, brought from Palestine by a Spanish grandee who
was knight commander of the Spanish branch of the Knights Templar. I
pray you to accept it, not as part of the ransom for my knights'
armour, but as a proof of my esteem for one who has shown himself a
flower of knightly courtesy."

"It would be churlish, Sir Hugh Calverley, for me to refuse so noble a
gift thus courteously tendered. I shall prize it beyond any in my
possession, not only for its own value and holiness, but as the gift of
so noble and famous a knight. As to the chains, I pray you to return
them to your brave young knights. Never did I see men who bore
themselves more gallantly, and Sir Edgar, especially, withstood with
honour a score of us for some time, and at last he yielded, not because
he was conquered, but to save further bloodshed. They are young, and
may, like enough, some day be again made prisoners. In that case they
may find the chains, which are of singular beauty, of value to them;
therefore, I pray you, hand them back to them again as a token of how
warmly I appreciate their bravery and conduct."

"Right gladly will I do so. As you put it in that way, Sir Robert, they
will appreciate the gift as much as I do, and, as you say, maybe the
chains will be useful to them some day, for they are not of those who
battle for spoil, and, like myself, have refused all share in that
which the army has taken in Flanders, holding that we had no cause of
dispute with your people, and that our assault upon them was unfairly
and unjustly made."

After some more compliments had been exchanged, the two knights grasped
each other's hands courteously, remounted, and then saluting again,
rode off. While the conversation had been going on, Sir Robert's
men-at-arms had handed over the armour to the three retainers who had
ridden behind Sir Hugh and his two knights.

Edgar and Albert were delighted at regaining their armour. It would
have been impossible for them to have replaced the harness by similar
suits, and, moreover, they felt that they would have been humiliated
had they, on their return to England, been obliged to confess to Sir
Robert Gaiton that they had lost the splendid presents that he had
given them. They were less pleased at the return of their chains, but
Sir Hugh assured them that it would be an act of discourtesy were they
to send them back to De Beaulieu.

There was now nothing to detain them longer in the camp, and taking
leave of Sir Hugh, they started the next morning, with Hal Carter and
the other surviving retainers, and rode by easy stages to Gravelines,
where they took ship for Dover. Instead of riding directly home, they
journeyed to London, as they were bearers of a letter from Sir Hugh
Calverley to the council, and one also to the king. The latter received
them with marked pleasure.

"What! back from the wars, sir knights?" he said, as they handed him
Sir Hugh's letter. "Surely Calverley might have chosen as his
messengers some whose swords could have been better spared."

"We were chosen, your Majesty, because we had the misfortune to be
taken prisoners at Ypres, and it was a condition of our release that we
should take no further part in the campaign, and as we were returning
in consequence, Sir Hugh committed to us this letter to yourself, and
one to the council."

"Prisoners!" the king said, with a laugh; "that you had got yourselves
killed would not have surprised me, but that you should surrender never
entered my mind."

The two young knights coloured.

"It cannot be said that Sir Albert surrendered," Edgar said, "seeing
that he was insensible from his wounds. As for myself, your Majesty, as
I and one of my men-at-arms stood alone on the walls of Ypres
surrounded by foes, I trust that your Majesty will see that it was
wiser for me to yield, and so to have the opportunity of fighting again
some day under your royal banner, than to give away my life uselessly."

"Assuredly, assuredly," the young king said, hastily. "I did but jest,
Sir Edgar, for I know that so long as a chance of victory remained, you
would not lower your sword. However, let me see what the stout knight
says. I know already that he does not approve of the way in which the
war is being carried on; and, indeed, had we thought that the
headstrong bishop would have disregarded Sir Hugh's counsel and
embroiled us with the Flemings, whom we regard as our allies, we should
not have placed him at the head of the army, for though it is but, as
the bishop maintains, a church army, and not an English army, Europe
will assuredly hold us responsible for its doings."

He cut with his dagger the silk that bound the roll of parchment
together.

The king read the letter carefully, and when he concluded said:

"Truly, young sirs, you have borne yourselves right gallantly and well;
Sir Hugh Calverley speaks strongly indeed in your favour, and says that
he owes his freedom if not his life to you. And now, tell me, think you
that Ypres will be taken?"

"I fear not, your Majesty," Edgar said. "I thought that the siege of
Oudenarde was worse conducted than anything I had ever read of, but the
siege of Ypres is to the full as faulty. The place is strong and
stoutly defended, and it can only be taken by regular works erected
against it and machines placed to batter a breach. Nothing of this sort
has been attempted. The troops march valiantly against the walls, but
they throw away their lives in vain; and if, as is said, the French
king is marching to its assistance with a strong army, there will be
naught for us but to retreat to the ports unless strong aid arrives
from England."

"But the bishop has some eight thousand Englishmen and twenty thousand
Ghentois," the king said. "Surely we might fight and win, as our
grandfathers did at Crécy."

"Yes, sire; but the English army at Crécy was commanded by a king, and
was composed of good fighting men, with a great number of knights and
nobles to lead them. The army in Flanders is commanded by a bishop, and
there are many of the men who have gone over for the sake of plunder,
and they will make but a poor stand in battle."

"My uncle of Lancaster has gathered a large force, and is ready to
cross over to their aid," the king said.

"So we have heard by the way, sire, and if he joins the bishop all may
be well, for his authority would be paramount, but at present he has
not crossed, and unless he arrives before the King of France, things
will assuredly go badly with the bishop."

"I have no doubt that Sir Hugh has set forth these matters in his
letter to the council," the king said, "but assuredly Lancaster should
be there in time. And now, tell me how you made your escape from Ypres."

Edgar related the circumstances.

"Your captor was an honourable gentleman," the king said, "and it is
well that you escaped, for these Flemish burghers are masterful men and
might well have murdered you. I must now to the council; I have
summoned it to assemble. Have you been home yet?"

"No, sire. Our first duty was to bring you the letters, but, with your
permission, we shall ride down into Kent tomorrow."

"Do you know that your friend Van Voorden has again returned to London?
He found that he could do naught in Flanders, which at present is
wholly at the orders of the King of France."

They rode first to Sir Robert Gaiton's house, where, as always, they
were welcomed most warmly, and Albert narrated their adventures in
Flanders, and how they still owned the armour he had given them.

After staying there for some time they went to the house where Van
Voorden was lodging, having obtained his address from Sir Robert
Gaiton. They had not seen him since they had parted from him in Ghent,
a year before.

"I thought you intended to settle in Flanders, Mynheer," Edgar said,
after the first greetings were over.

"I hoped to do so, and after I left Antwerp I went to Louvain and took
a house there, but when the King of France defeated and killed Van
Artevelde, and all Flanders save Ghent came under his power, the
country was no longer safe for me. It was known, of course, that I was
for many years here, and that I had done all in my power to effect a
league between Ghent and England, so three months ago I crossed hither,
leaving my wife and daughter at Louvain. I stopped for a short time at
Ghent, and had much to do with bringing it about that Ghent should send
an army to assist the English; but I fear that the doings of the
bishop's troops--the sacking of towns by them--has so set the Flemings
against England that there is no hope of a general alliance being made
with Flanders.

"There were other things for which I wished to come over. I had hoped
to return before this, but matters seem to be going on but badly, and
if the King of France and his army defeat or drive out the bishop, his
power will be greater than ever in Flanders, and in that case I shall
send for my wife and daughter to come over again, and establish myself
here finally."

On taking leave of them he handed a wooden box to each, saying:

"I pray you not to open these until you reach home."

The next day Edgar and Albert rode down into Kent. Great was the
surprise that their presence excited when they arrived at De Courcy's
castle. Aline ran down into the courtyard and embraced her brother
warmly, and then, as was the custom, held up her cheek to be kissed by
Edgar.

"What, tired of the wars already?" she said, laughing. "Or have you
killed all your enemies? or how is it that you are here?"

"We have been prisoners, Aline," her brother said, "and have been bound
to take no farther part in the war."

"Prisoners!" she repeated; "you are joking with me, Albert. Surely you
and Edgar would never have surrendered unharmed?"

"Nor did we, Aline. I was cut down and stunned by the blow of a mace,
and was lying insensible."

"And what was Edgar doing?" she asked, looking reproachfully at him.

"Edgar was not near me when I was struck down, Aline, but no sooner did
I fall than he, with his man-at-arms, Hal Carter, stood over me and
kept at bay a host of knights and soldiers, and slew so many that they
were glad at last to give him terms of surrender."

The girl's face flushed, and she would have spoken had not Sir Ralph
and her mother at that moment issued from the door.

"Why! what brings you home, lads?" Sir Ralph asked, heartily.

"They have been taken prisoners, father," Aline interposed, "and Albert
has been wounded, and they have both been obliged to give their parole
not to serve again through the war."

"That is bad news indeed," the knight said. "It means another farm
gone, and perhaps two, to pay for Albert's ransom. However, it is the
fortune of war. Now come in and tell us all about it; but doubtless you
are both hungry, and the matter will keep till you have dined. The meal
is already on the table. You are not looking much the worse for your
wounds, Albert," his father went on as they seated themselves at table.

"I have been healed of them for the last month, father. I was brought
down by the blow of a mace, which would have finished me had it not
been for the good work put into my helmet by the Milanese armourer.
Also I had a wound on the neck, but fortunately it was not very deep."

"And did you come out of it scatheless, Edgar?"

"Nearly scatheless, for I knew not that I had been wounded until the
fight was over, and it was but a pike thrust that entered at the
shoulder-joint and cut the flesh thence to the neck. It was but an
affair of a bandage and a bit of plaster. The only one seriously hurt
was Hal Carter--it was some three weeks before he began to mend. He had
half a dozen wounds. Another of my men was killed and two of Albert's."

"Now let us hear all about it," Sir Ralph said when the meal was over;
"that you bore yourselves well I have no doubt, but I would fain hear
the details of the matter."

Albert told the whole story of the assault and the escape, interrupted
by Edgar, who protested that Albert was always belittling his own
doings, and giving him credit when everything had been done equally by
them both.

"You blame Albert unjustly, Edgar," Sir Ralph said when the story was
concluded. "Albert has behaved well, but he has neither your strength,
your skill, nor your quickness. It was you who thought of carrying the
broken ladder to another spot, and so taking the besieged on the wall
by surprise, and you were the first to mount it. It was you who, when
you saw that the case had become altogether hopeless, ordered the
soldiers to save themselves, while you held the enemy at bay. Albert
would like enough have been killed, had you not so stoutly defended him
that they gave terms of surrender to you both. You, again, had the idea
of making your escape along the roofs, and took the lead in it. There
is all credit due to Albert that he well seconded you, but it was you
who led. Again, it is probable that neither he nor your man-at-arms
would have been able to cross those half-frozen ditches, had you not
first broken the ice for them and then dragged them over. You have done
wonders for Albert, but you could not accomplish miracles. You have
transformed him from a weakling into a brave young knight, of whom I am
proud, but you cannot give him your strength or your quickness. If you
go on as you have began, Edgar, you will become a famous captain. He
will remain, and will be content to remain, your companion and
lieutenant. What have you in those boxes that were strapped behind your
saddles?"

"I know not, Sir Ralph," Albert said. "They were given to us by Mynheer
Van Voorden, and he charged us not to open them until we arrived here."

"It is a mystery, then!" Aline exclaimed. "Let us send for them and
open them at once. I am glad one of the boxes was not given to me to
take care of, for I am afraid I should never have had the patience to
wait until I arrived here before opening it."

Sir Ralph ordered the boxes to be brought in. "They are light enough,"
he said, "and I should judge from their weight that they contain papers
of some sort. Open yours first, Albert."

They were fastened by three skeins of silk, the Fleming's seal being
affixed to the knots.

"Cut them, Albert!" Aline exclaimed, as her brother proceeded to break
the seals and untie the knots.

"No, no," he said; "silk is not to be picked up on the wayside, and it
will be little trouble to undo them."

Indeed, in a minute he had unfastened the knots and raised the lid. At
the top lay a piece of paper, on which was written, _A slight testimony
of gratitude for inestimable services rendered to yours gratefully,
John Van Voorden_. Underneath was a roll of parchment.

"What have we here?" Sir Ralph said. Albert ran his eye over the
crabbed black-letter writing, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Now, then, Albert," Aline exclaimed, impatiently, "don't keep it all
to yourself. We are burning to know what it is all about!"

Albert made no reply, but continued to read. "It is an assignment to
me," he said, at last, in a low and agitated voice, "of the lands,
castle, messuages, tenements, etc., of Cliffe."

Sir Ralph leapt to his feet. "A princely gift, Albert! The lands are
four times as large as mine, and as I have heard, a fair castle has
been rising there for months past. Art sure that there is no mistake?"

"There can be no mistake in the deed, father; but can I accept such a
gift at the hands of the Fleming?"

"That you can, my son, and without any hesitation. Van Voorden is known
to be the richest Fleming in England. He has on various occasions lent
vast sums to the king and council, and noble as the gift is, it is one
that he can doubtless well afford. You have saved the lives of himself,
his wife, and daughter, and he may well feel grateful. He told me when
he gave you that suit of armour that it was no recognition of what he
felt he owed you, and that he hoped in the future to discharge the debt
more worthily. Now, Edgar, let us see what is in your box."

Edgar had been quietly untying the knots of the silk, and the box was
already open. The words on the top were similar to those in Albert's
box.

"Please read it, Albert," he said, handing over the parchment. "You can
decipher the characters better than I can." Albert read it through to
himself.

"'Tis similar to mine," he said, "and assigns you the land, manors, the
castle, and all rights and privileges thereto appertaining of the
hundred of Hoo."

"Bravo, bravo!" Sir Ralph exclaimed. "Another noble gift, and fully
equal to that of Albert. This Fleming is a very prince. I congratulate
you, Edgar, with all my heart. I had heard that Sir John Evesham had
sold his estates, which comprise the whole hundred of Hoo, a year
since, in order to live at Court, but none seemed to know who was the
purchaser. I heard, too, that a large number of men had been employed
in building a castle on the heights looking down the Medway past Upnor
to Chatham. Why, lads, if you ever win to the rank of knight banneret,
you will have land enough to support the dignity, and to take the field
with two or three knights and a fair following of men-at-arms in your
train. I have gained good sums for the ransom of prisoners, but I never
had the luck to save the life of a Flemish merchant and his family."

"It seems well-nigh impossible," Edgar said.

"You must remember, Edgar, that these rich Flemings are the bankers of
half the princes in Europe. You, who have been in their houses, know
that they live in comfort and luxury such as none of our nobles
possess. They could find the money for a king's ransom, or pay
beforehand the taxes of a country. If a king can grant estates like
these to his favourites, and not only the king, but many of our nobles
can do so, it is not strange that one of the richest of these Flemings
should make such gifts to those who have saved his life without feeling
that he has in any way overpaid the service."

"I must be riding on now," Edgar said, "to carry this wonderful news to
my father."

While they had been dining, Hal Carter had been getting a hearty meal
in the kitchen, where he and Albert's two retainers were surrounded by
all the men-at-arms, who were anxious to hear the details of the
expedition. When Edgar sent down for his horse, Sir Ralph went down
with him to the courtyard, and as Hal brought the horses round, the old
knight put his hand upon his shoulder.

"My brave fellow," he said, "I have heard how you stood with your
master across my son's body, and how doughtily you fought. Do not
forget that I am your debtor, but for the present I can only say that I
thank you for the part you played."

"It would have been strange, indeed, Sir Ralph, had I not hit my
hardest, for my own life depended upon it, and it was not like that I
should draw back a foot when Sir Albert, whom I love only next to my
master, was lying there; but, indeed, it was a right merry fight, the
only one that came up to my expectations of what a stiffly fought
_mêlée_ would be. I would not have missed it for anything."



CHAPTER XIX

WELL SETTLED


"Well, well, well," Mr. Ormskirk exclaimed when Edgar brought the story
of all that had happened since he had been away to an end, "indeed you
surprise me. I know that many knights fit out parties and go to the
wars, not so much for honour and glory as for the spoils and ransoms
they may gain, and that after Crécy and Poictiers, there was not a
single soldier but came back laden with booty and with rich jewels,
gold chains, and costly armour, gathered from the host of French nobles
who fell on those fields; while knights who were fortunate enough to
capture counts, earls, or princes, gained ransoms that enabled them to
purchase estates, and live without occasion to go further to the wars
during their lives. But I never thought that you would benefit by such
a chance. As it is to my mind more honourable to save life than to take
it, I rejoice that you have come to your fortune, not by the slaying of
enemies, but by the saving the lives of a man, his wife, and daughter,
who are rich enough to reward you.

"Assuredly, if a man like Mynheer Van Voorden had fallen into the hands
of the Count of Flanders, the latter would have extracted from him, as
the price of his freedom, a sum many times larger than that which he
has expended on the purchase of these two estates, and the building of
the castles. Well, Edgar, I congratulate you heartily. You can now ride
to the wars when the king's banner is spread to the winds, and do your
duty to your country, but there will be no occasion for you to become a
mere knight adventurer--a class I detest, ever ready to sell their
swords to the highest bidder, and to kill men, against whom they have
no cause of complaint, as indifferently as a butcher would strike down
a bullock with a pole-axe.

"Between these men and those who fight simply in the wars of their own
country, the gulf is a wide one, as wide as that betwixt a faithful
house-dog and a roving wolf. When are you going to receive your new
acquisition, or are you intending to ride first to London to thank the
Fleming for his noble gift?"

"Assuredly, we should have first ridden to London, father, but we each
found in the bottom of our boxes a short letter which we had at first
overlooked. The letters were the same, save for our names. Mine ran:--

"'_Dear Sir Edgar,_

"'_It has given me very great pleasure to prepare this little surprise
for you. I pray you, do not mar it in any way by returning me thanks.
The gift is as naught in comparison with the service rendered. I am
proceeding to the North to-morrow on business with Earl Percy, and
shall not return for some weeks. When we meet next, I pray you, let
there be no word of thanks concerning this affair, for I consider
myself still greatly your debtor. You will find an agent of mine at
your castle. He has been there some time, has made the acquaintance of
all the vassals and others, and will introduce you to them as their
lord. He has my instructions either to remain there to manage your
affairs for six months, or for any less time you may choose. But
methinks you will do well to keep him for that time, as he is a good
man of business, and you will need such an one until you have mastered
all the details, and can take matters entirely in your own hands._'

"So you see, father, we shall be free to start to-morrow. Sir Ralph,
Lady De Courcy, and Mistress Aline will ride with us, and I trust that
you will come also. We shall first go to Cliffe, which will be on our
road, and, indeed, I believe that for some distance Albert's lands join
mine. Then we shall go on to my castle--it sounds absurd, doesn't it,
father?--and doubtless we shall be able to stay in Hoo, or if not, 'tis
but two or three miles to Stroud, where we are sure to find good
lodging."

"I should like to ride with you, Edgar, but it is years since I have
bestridden a horse."

"We shall ride but slowly, father, for Dame De Courcy loves not for her
palfrey to go beyond a walk. If you like you could bestride Hal
Carter's horse, which is a strong and steady animal, and he can walk
alongside, so as to be ready to catch the rein if it be needed. He will
be very glad to go, for the honest fellow is in the highest delight at
the news of my good fortune."

"I think that I could do that, Edgar, yet I will not go by Cliffe, but
straight to Hoo. I can then travel as I like, and shall not have to
join in talk with Dame De Courcy nor the others, nor feel that my bad
horsemanship makes me a jest."

"Very well, father, perhaps that would be the pleasantest way for you."

"If I get there before you, Edgar, I shall stop at a tavern in the main
street of Hoo. There is sure to be one there; and will rest until you
come along. If Hal Carter learns that you have passed through before my
arrival, I will come straight on to the castle."

Accordingly, early the next morning, Mr. Ormskirk started with Hal, and
Edgar, after seeing them fairly on their way, rode over to the De
Courcys'. All were in readiness for the start.

"Is not Mr. Ormskirk coming with us?" Dame De Courcy asked. "Recluse
though he is, I thought he would surely tear himself from his books on
such an occasion."

"He has done so, dame, and is already on the road to Hoo, under the
charge of Hal Carter. 'Tis so many years since he has bestridden a
horse that he said that he should be ill at ease riding with such a
party, and that he would therefore go on quietly, with Hal walking
beside him, and would join us when we came to Hoo."

They mounted at once. Dame De Courcy rode on a pillion behind Sir
Ralph. Aline bestrode--for side-saddles had not yet come into use--her
own pony. Two retainers followed, one leading a sumpter horse, with two
panniers well filled with provisions and wine, together with some
women's gear, in case the weather should turn bad, and a change be
required at the halting-place for the night. They started briskly, and
Edgar was glad that his father had gone on alone; the pace would have
sorely discomposed him. Alternately walking and going at a canter they
arrived in three hours at Cliffe.

"There is your castle, Albert!" Aline exclaimed. "It seems well-nigh,
if not quite, finished, and is strongly posted on that hill,
overlooking the whole country from Dartford to Sheerness. You will need
a chatelaine before long, brother mine."

Albert laughed, but coloured a little.

"Time enough to think of that, Aline."

"Nay, I am in earnest. Many are betrothed, if not married, long before
they attain your age."

"I may say the same to you, Aline. 'Tis the fashion now for girls to be
betrothed between twelve and fourteen. I have been wandering about and
fighting and have had no time to think of love-making."

Aline shrugged her shoulders. "You had better ask Sir Ralph and my
mother for their views about me, Albert. It is not for a maid to make
her own marriage, but a valiant knight like yourself can manage your
own affairs, Methought perhaps that you would have to tell us that the
Fleming's fair daughter was to assist you in the management of the
castle that her father has given you."

"Joanna Van Voorden!" Albert exclaimed, indignantly, while Edgar burst
into laughter; "why, she is well-nigh as big as her mother already, and
promises to be far bigger. Thank you, Aline; if the castle and estate
had been offered me on the condition that I married her, I would have
had none of them."

"Well, sir, shall I make another guess?" Aline asked, mischievously.

"No, no, Aline," Albert said, hastily. "No more guessing, if you
please."

They had by this time approached the castle. "Look, father!" Aline
exclaimed, clapping her hands; "they must have been on the watch for
us. See! they are raising a flag on that staff on the turret, and see,
there are your arms blazoned on it."

"'Tis a goodly castle for its size," the knight said, as he drew rein
and turned his horse so that his dame might get a better view of it.
"There is a dry moat, which is lined with stonework. The walls are not
very high, but they are well defended by those flanking towers, and the
place could stand any sudden assault. I should say that it was about
the same strength as our own. So far as I can see, the other
arrangements are quite different. There is no keep, and it seems to me
that the house is built rather for comfort than for defence; the
windows are large, and it looks more like a Flemish house built within
a castle wall than an English place of strength. Now let us ride on,"
and they pressed their horses forward. The gates were thrown open when
they approached within a hundred yards; the drawbridge over the moat
had been already lowered.

"Ride you first, Albert," Sir Ralph said; "you are lord of the place."

As they came to the head of the drawbridge, a middle-aged man of grave
aspect, dressed in the garb of a citizen, appeared at the gate, and six
men-at-arms, in steel caps and body armour, armed with pike and sword,
drew up behind him.

The man bowed deeply to Albert. "Welcome to Cliffe Castle, sir knight,"
he said. "I am Nicholas Hocht, and have, by the orders of my master,
Mynheer Van Voorden, been here for the last year to superintend the
building of this castle, and in carrying out his other commands
respecting it, with further orders to remain here, should you desire
it, for the further space of six months as your steward. I received a
message from him yesterday, saying that possibly you would be here
to-day, and I must, therefore, have everything in readiness for you.
The warning was somewhat short, but I have done my best, and I trust
that you will pardon any shortcomings."

"I am much beholden to you, Master Hocht," Albert said. "You have done
well, indeed, for a fairer castle and one better placed no one could
desire."

The men-at-arms saluted as he rode on. Entering the gate, they were
able to see the house itself. It was, as Sir Ralph had said, rather a
Flemish house than a knightly castle; the lower range of windows were
small and heavily barred, but above there were large casements, pointed
roofs, and projecting gables. It had an air of comfort and brightness.
On the top of the broad steps leading to the great door were four
retainers, all similarly attired in doublets of russet cloth and orange
hose. As soon as the party alighted they ascended the steps, led by the
steward. When they entered the great hall a general exclamation of
surprise broke from them.

They had expected to see bare walls and every sign of the place having
only just left the builders' hands; instead of this everything was
complete, the massive oak beams and panels of the ceilings were
varnished, the walls were wainscoted, the oak floor highly polished;
Eastern rugs lay here and there upon it, carved benches ran along the
sides, and a large banqueting table stood in the centre; rich curtains
hung by the window, and a huge fire was piled on the hearth.

"Why, this is a work of enchantment, Master Hocht," Dame Agatha said.

"I have had but little to do with it, lady," the steward replied. "The
woodwork was all made in London, to my master's orders, and I had but
to superintend its being placed in position."

He led them from room to room, their surprise and delight continually
increasing; all were furnished richly in the Flemish style with
cabinets, tables, settees, and armoires. There were hangings to the
windows and rugs on the floors; everything was ready for habitation,
the linen presses were full of table-cloths and napkins and sheets. The
beds were ready for sleeping in, with their great bags of soft
feathers, their thick blankets and silken coverlets. These more than
anything else excited the dame's admiration. Never had she seen beds
approaching these in softness and daintiness.

"With the exception of the furniture in the hall," Master Hocht
explained, "everything has come direct from Flanders, having been
selected by Mynheer Van Voorden himself, and sent by sea to Gravesend."

After having inspected the whole of the house they returned to the
hall. Here the table had been spread. A silver skewer, to act as a
fork, an article then unknown in England, was placed before each, and
an admirable repast was served, the steward himself officiating as
carver, while the four servitors carried the platters, which were of
fine Flemish ware, to the guests. Albert had begged his father to take
the head of the table, but the latter refused positively. He sat on one
side of his son and his dame on the other. Fish of several kinds,
meats, and poultry were served. All cut up their meat with their
daggers, and carried it to their mouths on the point of the skewer.

Albert and Edgar had learned the use of them in Flanders. Lady Agatha
and Aline said that they were charming, but Sir Ralph declared that he
greatly preferred using his fingers. After the meal was concluded,
water was brought round in a silver bowl, with a damask napkin for them
to wipe their fingers on.

"The wine is excellent," Sir Ralph said. "You can scarcely have
purchased this at Cliffe or Gravesend."

"It is from the cellar, Sir Ralph, which is well stocked with the wines
of France and Spain."

"Truly, Albert," Dame Agatha said, "this is not a castle; it is a
veritable enchanted palace. Mynheer Van Voorden is like one of the good
genii the Saracens believe in, who can, at will, summon up from the
ground a vast palace, ready built and furnished. I trust that it will
not at once vanish as soon as we leave it. Were it to do so I should
scarcely be more surprised than I have been at its splendour and
comfort."

"Do you tarry here to-night, Sir Albert?" the steward asked, as they
rose from the table.

"No, we are going to take horse at once and ride to Hoo."

"Will you take the men-at-arms with you? They have horses in the
stables."

"Not to-day," Albert said. "We are a family party, and travelling
quietly."

As they rode into the street of Hoo, Mr. Ormskirk came out of a tavern,
where he had been resting. After greeting the ladies and Sir Ralph, he
said, "I had begun to think that you must have changed your minds, and
that you were not coming hither to-day. I expected you three hours ago."

"We have been viewing the marvels of an enchanted castle, Mr.
Ormskirk," Dame Agatha said. "We will not tell you about them, for
doubtless you will see others like them here, and it would be a pity
for me to prepare you for what you are to see."

The castle was indeed in all respects an almost exact duplicate to that
of Cliffe. They were received as before by the Flemish steward. There
were the same number of men-at-arms and servitors, and the fittings and
furnishings were as perfect as those of Cliffe. After going over it,
Edgar drew Sir Ralph aside.

"Sir Ralph," he said, "the castle, perfect as it is, still lacks one
thing--a mistress. I have long hoped that the time would some day come
that I should ask you for the hand of Mistress Aline, but though I have
been fortunate, and have won rank and some distinction, I was but a
landless knight, and in no position to ask for your daughter's hand.
That obstacle has now been removed, and I pray you to give her to me. I
love her very truly. My thoughts have never wandered for a moment from
her, and I trust that I shall be able to make her happy. Unless the
banner of England is hoisted I shall go no more to the wars."

"I am in no way surprised at your request, Edgar," the knight said;
"and, indeed, for the past two years my dame and I have talked this
over, and hoped that it might be. I have during the past year had more
than one request for her hand, but have refused them, for her mother
told me she believed that Aline's fancy has long inclined towards you."

He called Dame Agatha to join him, and on hearing Edgar's request, she
heartily concurred with the knight.

"Nothing could please us better," she said. "We have long regarded you
almost as our son, and we need have no fear that Aline will thwart our
wishes and yours. Have you spoken to your father?"

"I spoke to him last night, lady, and told him what my hopes have long
been, and that Van Voorden's noble gift now rendered it possible for me
to speak; that it might be some time before it could be more than a
betrothal, since, although I had rank and land, I was still without
money to enable me to make the castle comfortable for her abode. Now
that, owing to the Fleming's generosity, this difficulty is also
removed, I hope that you will not think it necessary that our marriage
should be delayed."

"I see no reason at all," Sir Ralph said. "Here is everything ready for
her, and no noble in England could offer so comfortable a home to his
bride. The castle lacks a mistress, and the sooner it has one the
better. Therefore, you can take her as soon as her mother can get her
ready."

They now joined Albert, Aline, and Mr. Ormskirk, who had mounted to the
top of one of the turrets and were admiring the view.

"'Tis a fair home," Sir Ralph said.

"It is indeed, father."

"What say you to becoming its mistress, daughter? Sir Edgar has asked
for your hand, and has gained mine and your mother's hearty consent.
What say you?"

The girl coloured up to her forehead as her father spoke. "I am ready
to obey your orders, father," she said, in a low tone, "the more so as
my heart goes wholly with them."

"Take her, Edgar. 'Tis not often that a young knight gains castle, and
land, and bride in twenty-four hours. May your good luck continue all
your life."

"You have robbed me of my chatelaine, Edgar," Albert said, after the
first congratulations were over. "Aline had half promised to come and
keep house for me for the present."

"You must follow Edgar's example," Sir Ralph said. "Who is it to be,
lad?"

"I had intended to speak to you shortly, father, but as you ask me I
will do so at once. I have seen no one whom I could love so well as
Mistress Ursula, daughter of Sir Robert Gaiton, and methinks that I am
not indifferent to her."

"She is a fair maid," Sir Ralph said, "and her father is a right good
fellow, though but a city knight. Still, others of higher rank than
yourself have married in the city, and as Sir Robert has no other
children, and is said to be one of the wealthiest of the London
citizens, she will doubtless come to you better dowered than will
Aline, for, as Edgar knows, my estates bring me in scarcely enough to
keep up my castle and to lay by sufficient to place my retainers in the
field should the king call on me for service. So be it then, my son. As
we have settled to sleep here to-night, it will be to-morrow afternoon
before we get home. The next day I will ride with you to London, and
will ask Sir Robert for his daughter's hand for you."

Not the least happy of the party at the castle was Hal Carter. He
passed the afternoon in walking, sometimes round the walls, sometimes
going out and making a circuit of the moat, or walking away short
distances to obtain views of the castle from various points. The news
that his master and Aline De Courcy would shortly be married raised his
delight to the highest pitch, for it pointed to an early occupation of
the castle. The thought that he, Hal Carter, was to be the captain of
the men-at-arms in a castle like this seemed to him a huge joke. It was
but two years before that he had been hunted as a rioter, and would
have been executed if caught. That so famous a leader as Sir Hugh
Calverley should have praised him greatly, and that he was now to have
men under his command, seemed to him as wonderful a thing as that his
master, whom he had known as a young boy, should stand high in the
king's favour, and should be lord of a castle and a wide estate.

"Of course, father," Edgar said, as early the next morning he took a
turn upon the battlements with him, "you will leave St. Alwyth and come
here?"

"I don't think that I could do that, Edgar," Mr. Ormskirk said,
doubtfully.

"You will find it very lonely there, father; and, of course, we can fit
you up a laboratory here, and you can go on just the same way as you
did at home."

"I do not see that I shall be more lonely than I have been for the last
two years, Edgar, and, indeed, as you know, even when you were at home
I lived very much my own life, and only saw you at meals and for an
hour or so of an evening; therefore, your being established here will
make but little difference in my life, and, indeed, whenever I feel
lonely I can ride over here for a day or two. I thank you all the same,
Edgar; but, at any rate, for the present I will continue to live at St.
Alwyth. I have the good prior, who often comes in for a talk with me in
the evening, and makes me heartily welcome should I, as I do sometimes,
go to the monastery for an hour after sunset. Sir Ralph never passes my
door on his way down to Dartford without dismounting and coming in. I
am happy in my own life, and as long as I have health and strength
shall hope to continue it. Should my interest in my work flag, or when
I feel that I am getting too old for useful work, which will, I trust,
be not for many years yet, I will then gladly come and end my days
here."

So the matter was left for the time, and although Edgar more than once
tried to shake his father's determination, and Aline added her
persuasions to his, he failed to alter Mr. Ormskirk's resolution. Sir
Ralph and Albert returned from London after staying there for a few
days. Sir Robert Gaiton had consented willingly to his daughter's
marriage with Albert, and had announced his intention of giving her a
dowry greater than that which most nobles could have bestowed on a
daughter. The king had expressed very great satisfaction at hearing of
the gift Master Van Voorden had bestowed on the young knights, and took
great interest in their approaching marriages.

"They will then have enough land for a knight banneret's feu," he said;
"that pleases me much. I should, on the report of Sir Hugh Calverley,
have appointed them to that rank, but at present there are no estates
in my gift, and I waited till some might fall in before I appointed
them. Now, however, there is no further need for delay, and I will
order the patent appointing them to be made out at once, for they can
now, if called upon for service, take the field with the proper
following of their rank. Has Sir Edgar adopted any cognizance? Of
course your son will take yours."

"I don't think that he has ever so much as thought of it, sire."

"I will talk it over with my heralds," the king said, "and see if we
can fix upon something appropriate, and that is not carried by any
noble or knight. When will the weddings be?"

"In two months' time, sire. Sir Robert Gaiton and his dame asked for
that time. My son will, of course, be married in London, and will be
wed in St. Paul's, I have not yet thought about my daughter's marriage,
but it will doubtless be at the chapel in the castle."

"'Tis a pity that they could not be married together here, Sir Ralph."

"I believe that my daughter's tastes and those of Sir Edgar would
incline to a quiet wedding, with just our neighbours and friends, and
doubtless Albert's would also lie that way; but in this matter Sir
Robert must, of course, carry out the arrangements as he wishes; and as
an alderman and like to be lord mayor in two years he would wish to
make a brave show on the occasion."

Before the time for the weddings approached came the news that things
had gone badly in Flanders. At the approach of the French army a
council was held among the leaders, and it was agreed that the allied
army could not fight with any hope of success against it. Accordingly,
the men of Ghent retired to their own city, and the English marched
with great haste to the coast and shut themselves up in Bruckburg,
while the bishop himself galloped as far as Bergues. Bruckburg
surrendered on the arrival of the French army, all the English being
permitted to embark with the great spoil that had been taken. Sir Hugh
Calverley, whose advice throughout had been always disregarded, had
ridden to Gravelines with his small body of men-at-arms and thence took
ship to England. The bishop, on his arrival home, was, with the knights
who had been his councillors, very badly received; for it was held that
by their conduct and ignorance of affairs, and by the manner in which
they had behaved in Flanders, they had brought great discredit upon
England.

Sir Hugh Calverley, on the other hand, was received with honour, it
being well known that all that had been done had been contrary to his
advice, and that had this been followed the event would have turned out
very differently. The people at large, however, considered that the
blame for the ill ending of the expedition was due entirely to the
delay on the part of the Duke of Lancaster in crossing over with the
army under him. It was known that he had been altogether opposed to the
expedition, which had prevented the one he desired from sailing to
Spain, and that he was minded to bring ruin upon it by delaying, under
many false pretences, from crossing to France. He had been extremely
unpopular before, but this added very greatly to the ill-feeling with
which he was regarded.

But, in truth, the bishop's expedition failed from its own weakness. In
no case could an army so collected and led have effected any great
thing; but the headstrong folly and arrogance of the bishop, and his
unprovoked attack upon the Flemings, precipitated matters, and the
scornful neglect of all the counsel tendered by the veteran knight who
accompanied the expedition, rendered it a shameful disaster.

The marriage of Sir Edgar with Aline was celebrated a fortnight before
that of the bride's brother. The ceremony took place at the castle of
the De Courcys, and was attended only by neighbours and friends, and by
Sir Robert Gaiton, who rode down from town and presented the bride with
a superb casket of jewels.

On the following day Sir Edgar with his wife rode to his castle at Hoo,
where for the first time his banner, with the cognizance chosen by the
king, a very simple one, being a sword with the words "_For King and
Honour_," was hoisted at their approach, while the banneret denoting
Edgar's new rank flew from another tower. The number of the men-at-arms
had been increased to ten, and great was Hal Carter's pride as he took
his place in front of them and saluted as Sir Edgar rode in. Ten days
later they started for London to attend Albert's wedding; which was
celebrated with much pomp in St. Paul's, the king himself and most of
the nobles of the Court being present.

Neither of the two young knights ever rode to the wars again, for in
King Richard's time the royal banner was never again raised in France;
and yet they were not without a share of fighting. Many depredations
were committed along the coasts and at the mouths of rivers by French
freebooters and lawless people, and the castles of Hoo and Cliffe were
well placed for preventing such incursions by men landing anywhere in
the Hundred, either from the Medway or the Thames. There was no fear of
such marauders sailing up the Medway past Hoo, for Upnor Castle barred
the way, and indeed Rochester was too large a place, defended as it was
by its castle, to be attacked by such pirates, but below Hoo a landing
could be effected anywhere, and boats with a few hands on board could
row up the creeks in the marshes, pounce upon a quiet hamlet, carry off
anything of value, and set the place on fire.

Such incursions had been carried far up the Thames and great damage
done, but as the ships of Fowey and other places were equally busy
damaging French commerce and ravaging their sea-coast, no complaints
could be made to France even during the very brief period when there
was a truce between the two countries. Not only from across the Channel
did these marauders come, but from the islands of Friesland and
Zeeland, where the inhabitants--hardy sailors to a man--were lawless
and uncontrolled. After having suffered several times from these
pirates, and been moved by the constant complaints of their tenants,
Edgar and Albert went up to town and laid the matter before the king
and council, pointing out that these attacks were becoming more
frequent and general all along the coast, and praying that measures
might be adopted for putting a stop to them.

"But what do you propose should be done, sir knights?" the king asked.

"I would suggest, your Majesty, that either a few fast ships should be
placed at various points, such as the mouth of the Medway, Harwich,
Dover, Hastings, and Southampton, that might keep a watch for these
pirates, or else that some of your vassals round the coast should be
appointed to keep forces of some strength always under arms, just as
the Percys are at all times in readiness to repel the incursions of the
Scots; but should you and the council think this too weighty a plan, we
would pray you to order better protection for the Thames. It was but
the other day some pirates burnt six ships in Dartford Creek, and if
they carry on these ravages unpunished, they may grow bolder and will
be sailing higher still, and may cause an enormous loss to your
merchants by setting fire to the vessels at the wharves, or to those
anchored out in the stream."

"The matter would be serious, assuredly," the king said, "and would
cause so great a trouble to the citizens of London that it would be
well that some means should be taken to prevent it. I will talk the
matter over with the council, sir knights, and will let you know in an
hour's time whether we can do aught in the matter."

When the young knights returned, the king said:

"There is a royal manor at Bromley at present vacant; 'tis of the value
of fifty-six pounds a year. This we will hand over to you jointly, upon
your undertaking to keep thirty men-at-arms fully equipped and ready
for service, each of you; and also that each of you shall maintain, at
the spots which may seem to you the most advisable, a galley with oars,
in which you can put out and attack these pirates."

Edgar begged permission to consult with his friend.

"You see, Albert, we have already each of us ten men-at-arms, and the
revenue of the manor should well-nigh, if not quite, pay the expenses
of the others. As to the galleys, we could keep them in the little
creek between Cliffe and Graves-end. It would give us employment, and
should we ever be called upon to take the field, the sixty men-at-arms
will make a good beginning for the force we should gather."

Albert assented, and, returning, they informed the council that they
were ready to undertake the charge of keeping thirty men-at-arms each,
always in readiness for service, and for fighting the pirates by land
or water. Returning home, preparations were speedily made, and the men
enrolled and drilled. A watch-tower was raised on an eminence that was
visible from both castles, and a look-out place also erected at the
mouth of the Medway. This was some sixty feet high. A great cresset was
placed at the summit ready for firing, and an arrangement made with the
tenants, on whose land it stood, that a man should be on watch night
and day. His duty would be to keep a vigilant eye on the river, and to
light the beacon if any suspicions vessels were seen coming up. The
smoke by day or the fire at night could be seen at both castles, and by
a pre-arranged system signals could then be exchanged between Edgar and
Albert by means of the watch-tower on the hill.

Albert had two large and fast galleys constructed, for his wife's dowry
enabled him to spend money more freely than Edgar. They had a good many
encounters with the freebooters. Two or three times strong parties that
had landed from ships were attacked by the garrisons of both castles,
joined by the tenantry near, and were driven to the boats with heavy
loss.

Once the beacon from the mouth of the Medway signalled that three ships
had entered the mouth of that river. Edgar signalled to Cliffe, and
when at ten o'clock the French landed just below Hoo, thinking to make
an easy capture of the village, and, perhaps, even to carry the castle
by surprise, they were allowed to ascend the hill undisturbed, and were
then attacked by the sixty men-at-arms, led by the two knights,
together with a number of villagers and countrymen armed with bows and
bills. Although superior in numbers the French were driven down the
hill with great slaughter. Only a few succeeded in regaining their
ships; but the tide had not yet turned, and there was little wind.
Boats were obtained at Upnor, the vessels boarded, and all on board put
to the sword.

Three or four sharp engagements also took place between the galleys and
the pirates ascending the Thames, and at various times rich prizes that
the pirates had taken higher up the river were recovered from them; so
that in time the depredations greatly abated, and the city of London
presented the two knights with costly swords and a vote of thanks for
the great services they had rendered to the city, and to those trading
with it.

They were both too happy in their homes to care to go often to Court,
but they viewed with pain the increasing unpopularity of the king,
brought about by his reckless extravagance, his life of pleasure, and
the manner in which he allowed himself to be dominated by unworthy
favourites. Van Voorden, who had permanently settled in England, often
came down with his wife and daughter to stay for a few days with them,
and declared that he had never laid out money so well as that which had
established two such happy households. The last few years of Mr.
Ormskirk's life were spent at Hoo, where he still dabbled a little in
his former occupation, but never succeeded in finding the elixir he had
laboured so long to discover. On the departure of the Flemish steward,
Hal Carter was appointed to the post, with the understanding that if
his lord should ever ride to battle, he was to revert to the command of
the men-at-arms. Hal was ignorant of figures, but he had a young
assistant given him to manage this part of the work, and his honesty,
his acquaintance with farming, and his devotion to his master, made up
for any deficiency on that score. Both knights sent contingents under
their sons to fight at Agincourt, and were only prevented from taking
the field themselves by the entreaties of their wives and daughters,
and by the thought that it would be as well to give their sons the
opportunity of distinguishing themselves, as they themselves had done,
in their early youth.

THE END.





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