Chapter 12 HOW ALLEYNE LEARNED MORE THAN HE COULD TEACH.
And now there came a time of stir and bustle, of furbishing of arms and clan_f hammer from all the southland counties. Fast spread the tidings from thorp_o thorpe and from castle to castle, that the old game was afoot once more, and the lions and lilies to be in the field with the early spring. Great new_his for that fierce old country, whose trade for a generation had been war, her exports archers and her imports prisoners. For six years her sons ha_hafed under an unwonted peace. Now they flew to their arms as to thei_irthright. The old soldiers of Crecy, of Nogent, and of Poictiers were gla_o think that they might hear the war-trumpet once more, and gladder stil_ere the hot youth who had chafed for years under the martial tales of thei_ires. To pierce the great mountains of the south, to fight the tamers of th_iery Moors, to follow the greatest captain of the age, to find sunn_ornfields and vineyards, when the marches of Picardy and Normandy were a_are and bleak as the Jedburgh forests—here was a golden prospect for a rac_f warriors. From sea to sea there was stringing of bows in the cottage an_lang of steel in the castle.
Nor did it take long for every stronghold to pour forth its cavalry, and ever_amlet its footmen. Through the late autumn and the early winter every roa_nd country lane resounded with nakir and trumpet, with the neigh of the war- horse and the clatter of marching men. From the Wrekin in the Welsh marches t_he Cotswolds in the west or Butser in the south, there was no hill-top fro_hich the peasant might not have seen the bright shimmer of arms, the toss an_lutter of plume and of pensil. From bye-path, from woodland clearing, or fro_inding moor-side track these little rivulets of steel united in the large_oads to form a broader stream, growing ever fuller and larger as i_pproached the nearest or most commodious seaport. And there all day, and da_fter day, there was bustle and crowding and labor, while the great ship_oaded up, and one after the other spread their white pinions and darted of_o the open sea, amid the clash of cymbals and rolling of drums and lust_houts of those who went and of those who waited. From Orwell to the Dar_here was no port which did not send forth its little fleet, gay with streame_nd bunting, as for a joyous festival. Thus in the season of the waning day_he might of England put forth on to the waters.
In the ancient and populous county of Hampshire there was no lack of leader_r of soldiers for a service which promised either honor or profit. In th_orth the Saracen's head of the Brocas and the scarlet fish of the De Roche_ere waving over a strong body of archers from Holt, Woolmer, and Harewoo_orests. De Borhunte was up in the east, and Sir John de Montague in the west.
Sir Luke de Ponynges, Sir Thomas West, Sir Maurice de Bruin, Sir Arthu_ipscombe, Sir Walter Ramsey, and stout Sir Oliver Buttesthorn were al_arching south with levies from Andover, Arlesford, Odiham and Winchester, while from Sussex came Sir John Clinton, Sir Thomas Cheyne, and Sir Joh_allislee, with a troop of picked men-at-arms, making for their port a_outhampton. Greatest of all the musters, however, was that of Twynham Castle, for the name and the fame of Sir Nigel Loring drew towards him the keenest an_oldest spirits, all eager to serve under so valiant a leader. Archers fro_he New Forest and the Forest of Bere, billmen from the pleasant country whic_s watered by the Stour, the Avon, and the Itchen, young cavaliers from th_ncient Hampshire houses, all were pushing for Christchurch to take servic_nder the banner of the five scarlet roses.
And now, could Sir Nigel have shown the bachelles of land which the laws o_ank required, he might well have cut his forked pennon into a square banner, and taken such a following into the field as would have supported the dignit_f a banneret. But poverty was heavy upon him, his land was scant, his coffer_mpty, and the very castle which covered him the holding of another. Sore wa_is heart when he saw rare bowmen and war-hardened spearmen turned away fro_is gates, for the lack of the money which might equip and pay them. Yet th_etter which Aylward had brought him gave him powers which he was not slow t_se. In it Sir Claude Latour, the Gascon lieutenant of the White Company, assured him that there remained in his keeping enough to fit out a hundre_rchers and twenty men-at-arms, which, joined to the three hundred vetera_ompanions already in France, would make a force which any leader might b_roud to command. Carefully and sagaciously the veteran knight chose out hi_en from the swarm of volunteers. Many an anxious consultation he held wit_lack Simon, Sam Aylward, and other of his more experienced followers, as t_ho should come and who should stay. By All Saints' day, however ere the las_eaves had fluttered to earth in the Wilverley and Holmesley glades, he ha_illed up his full numbers, and mustered under his banner as stout a followin_f Hampshire foresters as ever twanged their war-bows. Twenty men-at-arms, too, well mounted and equipped, formed the cavalry of the party, while youn_eter Terlake of Fareham, and Walter Ford of Botley, the martial sons o_artial sires, came at their own cost to wait upon Sir Nigel and to share wit_lleyne Edricson the duties of his squireship.
Yet, even after the enrolment, there was much to be done ere the party coul_roceed upon its way. For armor, swords, and lances, there was no need to tak_uch forethought, for they were to be had both better and cheaper in Bordeau_han in England. With the long-bow, however, it was different. Yew stave_ndeed might be got in Spain, but it was well to take enough and to spare wit_hem. Then three spare cords should be carried for each bow, with a grea_tore of arrow-heads, besides the brigandines of chain mail, the wadded stee_aps, and the brassarts or arm-guards, which were the proper equipment of th_rcher. Above all, the women for miles round were hard at work cutting th_hite surcoats which were the badge of the Company, and adorning them with th_ed lion of St. George upon the centre of the breast. When all was complete_nd the muster called in the castle yard the oldest soldier of the French war_as fain to confess that he had never looked upon a better equipped or mor_arlike body of men, from the old knight with his silk jupon, sitting hi_reat black war-horse in the front of them, to Hordle John, the giant recruit, who leaned carelessly upon a huge black bow-stave in the rear. Of the si_core, fully half had seen service before, while a fair sprinkling were me_ho had followed the wars all their lives, and had a hand in those battle_hich had made the whole world ring with the fame and the wonder of the islan_nfantry.
Six long weeks were taken in these preparations, and it was close on Martinma_re all was ready for a start. Nigh two months had Alleyne Edricson been i_astle Twynham—months which were fated to turn the whole current of his life, to divert it from that dark and lonely bourne towards which it tended, and t_uide it into freer and more sunlit channels. Already he had learned to bles_is father for that wise provision which had made him seek to know the worl_re he had ventured to renounce it.
For it was a different place from that which he had pictured—very differen_rom that which he had heard described when the master of the novices hel_orth to his charges upon the ravening wolves who lurked for them beyond th_eaceful folds of Beaulieu. There was cruelty in it, doubtless, and lust an_in and sorrow; but were there not virtues to atone, robust positive virtue_hich did not shrink from temptation, which held their own in all the roug_lasts of the work-a-day world? How colorless by contrast appeared th_inlessness which came from inability to sin, the conquest which was attaine_y flying from the enemy! Monk-bred as he was, Alleyne had native shrewdnes_nd a mind which was young enough to form new conclusions and to outgrow ol_nes. He could not fail to see that the men with whom he was thrown i_ontact, rough-tongued, fierce and quarrelsome as they were, were yet o_eeper nature and of more service in the world than the ox-eyed brethren wh_ose and ate and slept from year's end to year's end in their own narrow, stagnant circle of existence. Abbot Berghersh was a good man, but how was h_etter than this kindly knight, who lived as simple a life, held as lofty an_nflexible an ideal of duty, and did with all his fearless heart whatever cam_o his hand to do? In turning from the service of the one to that of th_ther, Alleyne could not feel that he was lowering his aims in life. True tha_is gentle and thoughtful nature recoiled from the grim work of war, yet i_hose days of martial orders and militant brotherhoods there was no gulf fixe_etwixt the priest and the soldier. The man of God and the man of the swor_ight without scandal be united in the same individual. Why then should he, _ere clerk, have scruples when so fair a chance lay in his way of carrying ou_he spirit as well as the letter of his father's provision. Much struggle i_ost him, anxious spirit-questionings and midnight prayings, with many a doub_nd a misgiving; but the issue was that ere he had been three days in Castl_wynham he had taken service under Sir Nigel, and had accepted horse an_arness, the same to be paid for out of his share of the profits of th_xpedition. Henceforth for seven hours a day he strove in the tilt-yard t_ualify himself to be a worthy squire to so worthy a knight. Young, supple an_ctive, with all the pent energies from years of pure and healthy living, i_as not long before he could manage his horse and his weapon well enough t_arn an approving nod from critical men-at-arms, or to hold his own agains_erlake and Ford, his fellow-servitors.
But were there no other considerations which swayed him from the cloister_owards the world? So complex is the human spirit that it can itself scarc_iscern the deep springs which impel it to action. Yet to Alleyne had bee_pened now a side of life of which he had been as innocent as a child, but on_hich was of such deep import that it could not fail to influence him i_hoosing his path. A woman, in monkish precepts, had been the embodiment an_oncentration of what was dangerous and evil—a focus whence spread all tha_as to be dreaded and avoided. So defiling was their presence that a tru_istercian might not raise his eyes to their face or touch their finger-tip_nder ban of church and fear of deadly sin. Yet here, day after day for a_our after nones, and for an hour before vespers, he found himself in clos_ommunion with three maidens, all young, all fair, and all therefore doubl_angerous from the monkish standpoint. Yet he found that in their presence h_as conscious of a quick sympathy, a pleasant ease, a ready response to al_hat was most gentle and best in himself, which filled his soul with a vagu_nd new-found joy.
And yet the Lady Maude Loring was no easy pupil to handle. An older and mor_orld-wise man might have been puzzled by her varying moods, her sudde_rejudices, her quick resentment at all constraint and authority. Did _ubject interest her, was there space in it for either romance or imagination, she would fly through it with her subtle, active mind, leaving her two fellow- students and even her teacher toiling behind her. On the other hand, wer_here dull patience needed with steady toil and strain of memory, no singl_act could by any driving be fixed in her mind. Alleyne might talk to her o_he stories of old gods and heroes, of gallant deeds and lofty aims, or h_ight hold forth upon moon and stars, and let his fancy wander over the hidde_ecrets of the universe, and he would have a rapt listener with flushed cheek_nd eloquent eyes, who could repeat after him the very words which had falle_rom his lips. But when it came to almagest and astrolabe, the counting o_igures and reckoning of epicycles, away would go her thoughts to horse an_ound, and a vacant eye and listless face would warn the teacher that he ha_ost his hold upon his scholar. Then he had but to bring out the old romanc_ook from the priory, with befingered cover of sheepskin and gold letters upo_ purple ground, to entice her wayward mind back to the paths of learning.
At times, too, when the wild fit was upon her, she would break into pertnes_nd rebel openly against Alleyne's gentle firmness. Yet he would jog quietl_n with his teachings, taking no heed to her mutiny, until suddenly she woul_e conquered by his patience, and break into self-revilings a hundred time_tronger than her fault demanded. It chanced however that, on one of thes_ornings when the evil mood was upon her, Agatha the young tire-woman, thinking to please her mistress, began also to toss her head and make tar_ejoinder to the teacher's questions. In an instant the Lady Maude had turne_pon her two blazing eyes and a face which was blanched with anger.
"You would dare!" said she. "You would dare!" The frightened tire-woman trie_o excuse herself. "But my fair lady," she stammered, "what have I done? _ave said no more than I heard."
"You would dare!" repeated the lady in a choking voice. "You, a graceles_aggage, a foolish lack-brain, with no thought above the hemming of shifts.
And he so kindly and hendy and long-suffering! You would—ha, you may well fle_he room!"
She had spoken with a rising voice, and a clasping and opening of her lon_hite fingers, so that it was no marvel that ere the speech was over th_kirts of Agatha were whisking round the door and the click of her sobs to b_eard dying swiftly away down the corridor.
Alleyne stared open-eyed at this tigress who had sprung so suddenly to hi_escue. "There is no need for such anger," he said mildly. "The maid's word_ave done me no scath. It is you yourself who have erred."
"I know it," she cried, "I am a most wicked woman. But it is bad enough tha_ne should misuse you. Ma foi! I will see that there is not a second one."
"Nay, nay, no one has misused me," he answered. "But the fault lies in you_ot and bitter words. You have called her a baggage and a lack-brain, and _now not what."
"And you are he who taught me to speak the truth," she cried. "Now I hav_poken it, and yet I cannot please you. Lack-brain she is, and lack-brain _hall call her."
Such was a sample of the sudden janglings which marred the peace of tha_ittle class. As the weeks passed, however, they became fewer and les_iolent, as Alleyne's firm and constant nature gained sway and influence ove_he Lady Maude. And yet, sooth to say, there were times when he had to as_imself whether it was not the Lady Maude who was gaining sway and influenc_ver him. If she were changing, so was he. In drawing her up from the world, he was day by day being himself dragged down towards it. In vain he strove an_easoned with himself as to the madness of letting his mind rest upon Si_igel's daughter. What was he—a younger son, a penniless clerk, a squir_nable to pay for his own harness—that he should dare to raise his eyes to th_airest maid in Hampshire? So spake reason; but, in spite of all, her voic_as ever in his ears and her image in his heart. Stronger than reason, stronger than cloister teachings, stronger than all that might hold him back, was that old, old tyrant who will brook no rival in the kingdom of youth.
And yet it was a surprise and a shock to himself to find how deeply she ha_ntered into his life; how completely those vague ambitions and yearning_hich had filled his spiritual nature centred themselves now upon this thin_f earth. He had scarce dared to face the change which had come upon him, whe_ few sudden chance words showed it all up hard and clear, like a lightnin_lash in the darkness.
He had ridden over to Poole, one November day, with his fellow-squire, Pete_erlake, in quest of certain yew-staves from Wat Swathling, the Dorsetshir_rmorer. The day for their departure had almost come, and the two youth_purred it over the lonely downs at the top of their speed on their homewar_ourse, for evening had fallen and there was much to be done. Peter was _ard, wiry, brown faced, country-bred lad who looked on the coming war as th_choolboy looks on his holidays. This day, however, he had been sombre an_ute, with scarce a word a mile to bestow upon his comrade.
"Tell me Alleyne Edricson," he broke out, suddenly, as they clattered alon_he winding track which leads over the Bournemouth hills, "has it not seeme_o you that of late the Lady Maude is paler and more silent than is her wont?"
"It may be so," the other answered shortly.
"And would rather sit distrait by her oriel than ride gayly to the chase as o_ld. Methinks, Alleyne, it is this learning which you have taught her that ha_aken all the life and sap from her. It is more than she can master, like _eavy spear to a light rider."
"Her lady-mother has so ordered it," said Alleyne.
"By our Lady! and withouten disrespect," quoth Terlake, "it is in my mind tha_er lady-mother is more fitted to lead a company to a storming than to hav_he upbringing of this tender and milk-white maid. Hark ye, lad Alleyne, t_hat I never told man or woman yet. I love the fair Lady Maude, and would giv_he last drop of my heart's blood to serve her." He spoke with a gaspin_oice, and his face flushed crimson in the moonlight.
Alleyne said nothing, but his heart seemed to turn to a lump of ice in hi_osom.
"My father has broad acres," the other continued, "from Fareham Creek to th_lope of the Portsdown Hill. There is filling of granges, hewing of wood, malting of grain, and herding of sheep as much as heart could wish, and I th_nly son. Sure am I that Sir Nigel would be blithe at such a match."
"But how of the lady?" asked Alleyne, with dry lips.
"Ah, lad, there lies my trouble. It is a toss of the head and a droop of th_yes if I say one word of what is in my mind. 'Twere as easy to woo the snow- dame that we shaped last winter in our castle yard. I did but ask he_esternight for her green veil, that I might bear it as a token or lambrequi_pon my helm; but she flashed out at me that she kept it for a better man, an_hen all in a breath asked pardon for that she had spoke so rudely. Yet sh_ould not take back the words either, nor would she grant the veil. Has i_eemed to thee, Alleyne, that she loves any one?"
"Nay, I cannot say," said Alleyne, with a wild throb of sudden hope in hi_eart.
"I have thought so, and yet I cannot name the man. Indeed, save myself, an_alter Ford, and you, who are half a clerk, and Father Christopher of th_riory, and Bertrand the page, who is there whom she sees?"
"I cannot tell," quoth Alleyne shortly; and the two squires rode on again, each intent upon his own thoughts.
Next day at morning lesson the teacher observed that his pupil was indee_ooking pale and jaded, with listless eyes and a weary manner. He was heavy- hearted to note the grievous change in her.
"Your mistress, I fear, is ill, Agatha," he said to the tire-woman, when th_ady Maude had sought her chamber.
The maid looked aslant at him with laughing eyes. "It is not an illness tha_ills," quoth she.
"Pray God not!" he cried. "But tell me, Agatha, what it is that ails her?"
"Methinks that I could lay my hand upon another who is smitten with the sam_rouble," said she, with the same sidelong look. "Canst not give a name to it, and thou so skilled in leech-craft?"
"Nay, save that she seems aweary."
"Well, bethink you that it is but three days ere you will all be gone, an_astle Twynham be as dull as the Priory. Is there not enough there to cloud _ady's brow?"
"In sooth, yes," he answered; "I had forgot that she is about to lose he_ather."
"Her father!" cried the tire-woman, with a little trill of laughter. "O_imple, simple!" And she was off down the passage like arrow from bow, whil_lleyne stood gazing after her, betwixt hope and doubt, scarce daring to pu_aith in the meaning which seemed to underlie her words.