Chapter 18 HOW SIR NIGEL LORING PUT A PATCH UPON HIS EYE.
It was on the morning of Friday, the eight-and-twentieth day of November, tw_ays before the feast of St. Andrew, that the cog and her two prisoners, afte_ weary tacking up the Gironde and the Garonne, dropped anchor at last i_ront of the noble city of Bordeaux. With wonder and admiration, Alleyne, leaning over the bulwarks, gazed at the forest of masts, the swarm of boat_arting hither and thither on the bosom of the broad curving stream, and th_ray crescent-shaped city which stretched with many a tower and minaret alon_he western shore. Never had he in his quiet life seen so great a town, no_as there in the whole of England, save London alone, one which might match i_n size or in wealth. Here came the merchandise of all the fair countrie_hich are watered by the Garonne and the Dordogne—the cloths of the south, th_kins of Guienne, the wines of the Medoc—to be borne away to Hull, Exeter, Dartmouth, Bristol or Chester, in exchange for the wools and woolfels o_ngland. Here too dwelt those famous smelters and welders who had made th_ordeaux steel the most trusty upon earth, and could give a temper to lance o_o sword which might mean dear life to its owner. Alleyne could see the smok_f their forges reeking up in the clear morning air. The storm had died dow_ow to a gentle breeze, which wafted to his ears the long-drawn stirrin_ugle-calls which sounded from the ancient ramparts.
"Hola, mon petit!" said Aylward, coming up to where he stood. "Thou art _quire now, and like enough to win the golden spurs, while I am still th_aster-bowman, and master-bowman I shall bide. I dare scarce wag my tongue s_reely with you as when we tramped together past Wilverley Chase, else I migh_e your guide now, for indeed I know every house in Bordeaux as a friar know_he beads on his rosary."
"Nay, Aylward," said Alleyne, laying his hand upon the sleeve of hi_ompanion's frayed jerkin, "you cannot think me so thrall as to throw aside a_ld friend because I have had some small share of good fortune. I take i_nkind that you should have thought such evil of me."
"Nay, mon gar. 'Twas but a flight shot to see if the wind blew steady, thoug_ were a rogue to doubt it."
"Why, had I not met you, Aylward, at the Lynhurst inn, who can say where I ha_ow been! Certes, I had not gone to Twynham Castle, nor become squire to Si_igel, nor met——" He paused abruptly and flushed to his hair, but the bowma_as too busy with his own thoughts to notice his young companion'_mbarrassment.
"It was a good hostel, that of the 'Pied Merlin,'" he remarked. "By my te_inger bones! when I hang bow on nail and change my brigandine for a tunic, _ight do worse than take over the dame and her business."
"I thought," said Alleyne, "that you were betrothed to some one a_hristchurch."
"To three," Aylward answered moodily, "to three. I fear I may not go back t_hristchurch. I might chance to see hotter service in Hampshire than I hav_ver done in Gascony. But mark you now yonder lofty turret in the centre, which stands back from the river and hath a broad banner upon the summit. Se_he rising sun flashes full upon it and sparkles on the golden lions. 'Tis th_oyal banner of England, crossed by the prince's label. There he dwells in th_bbey of St. Andrew, where he hath kept his court these years back. Beside i_s the minster of the same saint, who hath the town under his very specia_are."
"And how of yon gray turret on the left?"
"'Tis the fane of St. Michael, as that upon the right is of St. Remi. There, too, above the poop of yonder nief, you see the towers of Saint Croix and o_ey Berland. Mark also the mighty ramparts which are pierced by the thre_ater-gates, and sixteen others to the landward side."
"And how is it, good Aylward, that there comes so much music from the town? _eem to hear a hundred trumpets, all calling in chorus."
"It would be strange else, seeing that all the great lords of England and o_ascony are within the walls, and each would have his trumpeter blow as lou_s his neighbor, lest it might be thought that his dignity had been abated. M_oi! they make as much louster as a Scotch army, where every man fills himsel_ith girdle-cakes, and sits up all night to blow upon the toodle-pipe. See al_long the banks how the pages water the horses, and there beyond the town ho_hey gallop them over the plain! For every horse you see a belted knight hat_erbergage in the town, for, as I learn, the men-at-arms and archers hav_lready gone forward to Dax."
"I trust, Aylward," said Sir Nigel, coming upon deck, "that the men are read_or the land. Go tell them that the boats will be for them within the hour."
The archer raised his hand in salute, and hastened forward. In the meantim_ir Oliver had followed his brother knight, and the two paced the poo_ogether, Sir Nigel in his plum-colored velvet suit with flat cap of the same, adorned in front with the Lady Loring's glove and girt round with a curlin_strich feather. The lusty knight, on the other hand, was clad in the ver_atest mode, with cote-hardie, doublet, pourpoint, court-pie, and paltock o_live-green, picked out with pink and jagged at the edges. A red chaperon o_ap, with long hanging cornette, sat daintily on the back of his black-curle_ead, while his gold-hued shoes were twisted up _a la poulaine_ , as thoug_he toes were shooting forth a tendril which might hope in time to entwin_tself around his massive leg.
"Once more, Sir Oliver," said Sir Nigel, looking shorewards with sparklin_yes, "do we find ourselves at the gate of honor, the door which hath so ofte_ed us to all that is knightly and worthy. There flies the prince's banner, and it would be well that we haste ashore and pay our obeisance to him. Th_oats already swarm from the bank."
"There is a goodly hostel near the west gate, which is famed for the stewin_f spiced pullets," remarked Sir Oliver. "We might take the edge of our hunge_ff ere we seek the prince, for though his tables are gay with damask an_ilver he is no trencherman himself, and hath no sympathy for those who ar_is betters."
"His betters before the tranchoir, lad. Sniff not treason where none is meant.
I have seen him smile in his quiet way because I had looked for the fourt_ime towards the carving squire. And indeed to watch him dallying with _ittle gobbet of bread, or sipping his cup of thrice-watered wine, is enoug_o make a man feel shame at his own hunger. Yet war and glory, my good friend, though well enough in their way, will not serve to tighten such a belt a_lasps my waist."
"How read you that coat which hangs over yonder galley, Alleyne?" asked Si_igel.
"Argent, a bend vert between cotises dancette gules."
"It is a northern coat. I have seen it in the train of the Percies. From th_hields, there is not one of these vessels which hath not knight or baro_board. I would mine eyes were better. How read you this upon the left?"
"Argent and azure, a barry wavy of six."
"Ha, it is the sign of the Wiltshire Stourtons! And there beyond I see the re_nd silver of the Worsleys of Apuldercombe, who like myself are of Hampshir_ineage. Close behind us is the moline cross of the gallant William Molyneux, and beside it the bloody chevrons of the Norfork Woodhouses, with the amulet_f the Musgraves of Westmoreland. By St. Paul! it would be a very strang_hing if so noble a company were to gather without some notable deed of arm_rising from it. And here is our boat, Sir Oliver, so it seems best to me tha_e should go to the abbey with our squires, leaving Master Hawtayne to hav_is own way in the unloading."
The horses both of knights and squires were speedily lowered into a broa_ighter, and reached the shore almost as soon as their masters. Sir Nigel ben_is knee devoutly as he put foot on land, and taking a small black patch fro_is bosom he bound it tightly over his left eye.
"May the blessed George and the memory of my sweet lady-love raise high m_eart!" quoth he. "And as a token I vow that I will not take this patch fro_y eye until I have seen something of this country of Spain, and done such _mall deed as it lies in me to do. And this I swear upon the cross of my swor_nd upon the glove of my lady."
"In truth, you take me back twenty years, Nigel," quoth Sir Oliver, as the_ounted and rode slowly through the water-gate. "After Cadsand, I deem tha_he French thought that we were an army of the blind, for there was scarce _an who had not closed an eye for the greater love and honor of his lady. Ye_t goes hard with you that you should darken one side, when with both open yo_an scarce tell a horse from a mule. In truth, friend, I think that you ste_ver the line of reason in this matter."
"Sir Oliver Buttesthorn," said the little knight shortly, "I would have you t_nderstand that, blind as I am, I can yet see the path of honor very clearly, and that that is the road upon which I do not crave another man's guidance."
"By my soul," said Sir Oliver, "you are as tart as verjuice this morning! I_ou are bent upon a quarrel with me I must leave you to your humor and dro_nto the 'Tete d'Or' here, for I marked a varlet pass the door who bare _moking dish, which had, methought, a most excellent smell."
"Nenny, nenny," cried his comrade, laying his hand upon his knee; "we hav_nown each other over long to fall out, Oliver, like two raw pages at thei_irst epreuves. You must come with me first to the prince, and then back t_he hostel; though sure I am that it would grieve his heart that any gentl_avalier should turn from his board to a common tavern. But is not that m_ord Delewar who waves to us? Ha! my fair lord, God and Our Lady be with you!
And there is Sir Robert Cheney. Good-morrow, Robert! I am right glad to se_ou."
The two knights walked their horses abreast, while Alleyne and Ford, with Joh_orbury, who was squire to Sir Oliver, kept some paces behind them, _pear's-length in front of Black Simon and of the Winchester guidon-bearer.
Norbury, a lean, silent man, had been to those parts before, and sat his hors_ith a rigid neck; but the two young squires gazed eagerly to right or left, and plucked each other's sleeves to call attention to the many strange thing_n every side of them.
"See to the brave stalls!" cried Alleyne. "See to the noble armor set forth, and the costly taffeta—and oh, Ford, see to where the scrivener sits with th_igments and the ink-horns, and the rolls of sheepskin as white as th_eaulieu napery! Saw man ever the like before?"
"Nay, man, there are finer stalls in Cheapside," answered Ford, whose fathe_ad taken him to London on occasion of one of the Smithfield joustings. "_ave seen a silversmith's booth there which would serve to buy either side o_his street. But mark these houses, Alleyne, how they thrust forth upon th_op. And see to the coats-of-arms at every window, and banner or pensil on th_oof."
"And the churches!" cried Alleyne. "The Priory at Christ church was a nobl_ile, but it was cold and bare, methinks, by one of these, with thei_rettings, and their carvings, and their traceries, as though some great ivy- plant of stone had curled and wantoned over the walls."
"And hark to the speech of the folk!" said Ford. "Was ever such a hissing an_lacking? I wonder that they have not wit to learn English now that they hav_ome under the English crown. By Richard of Hampole! there are fair face_mongst them. See the wench with the brown whimple! Out on you, Alleyne, tha_ou would rather gaze upon dead stone than on living flesh!"
It was little wonder that the richness and ornament, not only of church and o_tall, but of every private house as well, should have impressed itself upo_he young squires. The town was now at the height of its fortunes. Besides it_rade and its armorers, other causes had combined to pour wealth into it. War, which had wrought evil upon so many fair cities around, had brought nought bu_ood to this one. As her French sisters decayed she increased, for here, fro_orth, and from east, and from south, came the plunder to be sold and th_ansom money to be spent. Through all her sixteen landward gates there had se_or many years a double tide of empty-handed soldiers hurrying Francewards, and of enriched and laden bands who brought their spoils home. The prince'_ourt, too, with its swarm of noble barons and wealthy knights, many of whom, in imitation of their master, had brought their ladies and their children fro_ngland, all helped to swell the coffers of the burghers. Now, with this fres_nflux of noblemen and cavaliers, food and lodging were scarce to be had, an_he prince was hurrying forward his forces to Dax in Gascony to relieve th_vercrowding of his capital.
In front of the minster and abbey of St. Andrew's was a large square crowde_ith priests, soldiers, women, friars, and burghers, who made it their commo_entre for sight-seeing and gossip. Amid the knot of noisy and gesticulatin_ownsfolk, many small parties of mounted knights and squires threaded thei_ay towards the prince's quarters, where the huge iron-clamped doors wer_hrown back to show that he held audience within. Two-score archers stoo_bout the gateway, and beat back from time to time with their bow-staves th_nquisitive and chattering crowd who swarmed round the portal. Two knights i_ull armor, with lances raised and closed visors, sat their horses on eithe_ide, while in the centre, with two pages to tend upon him, there stood _oble-faced man in flowing purple gown, who pricked off upon a sheet o_archment the style and title of each applicant, marshalling them in their du_rder, and giving to each the place and facility which his rank demanded. Hi_ong white beard and searching eyes imparted to him an air of masterfu_ignity, which was increased by his tabardlike vesture and the heraldic barre_ap with triple plume which bespoke his office.
"It is Sir William de Pakington, the prince's own herald and scrivener,"
whispered Sir Nigel, as they pulled up amid the line of knights who waite_dmission. "Ill fares it with the man who would venture to deceive him. H_ath by rote the name of every knight of France or of England; and all th_ree of his family, with his kinships, coat-armor, marriages, augmentations, abatements, and I know not what beside. We may leave our horses here with th_arlets, and push forward with our squires."
Following Sir Nigel's counsel, they pressed on upon foot until they were clos_o the prince's secretary, who was in high debate with a young and foppis_night, who was bent upon making his way past him.
"Mackworth!" said the king-at-arms. "It is in my mind, young sir, that yo_ave not been presented before."
"Nay, it is but a day since I set foot in Bordeaux, but I feared lest th_rince should think it strange that I had not waited upon him."
"The prince hath other things to think upon," quoth Sir William de Pakington;
"but if you be a Mackworth you must be a Mackworth of Normanton, and indeed _ee now that your coat is sable and ermine."
"I am a Mackworth of Normanton," the other answered, with some uneasiness o_anner.
"Then you must be Sir Stephen Mackworth, for I learn that when old Sir Gu_ied he came in for the arms and the name, the war-cry and the profit."
"Sir Stephen is my elder brother, and I am Arthur, the second son," said th_outh.
"In sooth and in sooth!" cried the king-at-arms with scornful eyes. "And pray, sir second son, where is the cadency mark which should mark your rank. Dar_ou to wear your brother's coat without the crescent which should stamp you a_is cadet. Away to your lodgings, and come not nigh the prince until th_rmorer hath placed the true charge upon your shield." As the youth withdre_n confusion, Sir William's keen eye singled out the five red roses from ami_he overlapping shields and cloud of pennons which faced him.
"Ha!" he cried, "there are charges here which are above counterfeit. The rose_f Loring and the boar's head of Buttesthorn may stand back in peace, but b_y faith! they are not to be held back in war. Welcome, Sir Oliver, Sir Nigel!
Chandos will be glad to his very heart-roots when he sees you. This way, m_air sirs. Your squires are doubtless worthy the fame of their masters. Dow_his passage, Sir Oliver! Edricson! Ha! one of the old strain of Hampshir_dricsons, I doubt not. And Ford, they are of a south Saxon stock, and of goo_epute. There are Norburys in Cheshire and in Wiltshire, and also, as I hav_eard, upon the borders. So, my fair sirs, and I shall see that you ar_hortly admitted."
He had finished his professional commentary by flinging open a folding door, and ushering the party into a broad hall, which was filled with a great numbe_f people who were waiting, like themselves, for an audience. The room wa_ery spacious, lighted on one side by three arched and mullioned windows, while opposite was a huge fireplace in which a pile of faggots was blazin_errily. Many of the company had crowded round the flames, for the weather wa_itterly cold; but the two knights seated themselves upon a bancal, with thei_quires standing behind them. Looking down the room, Alleyne marked that bot_loor and ceiling were of the richest oak, the latter spanned by twelv_rching beams, which were adorned at either end by the lilies and the lions o_he royal arms. On the further side was a small door, on each side of whic_tood men-at-arms. From time to time an elderly man in black with rounde_houlders and a long white wand in his hand came softly forth from this inne_oom, and beckoned to one or other of the company, who doffed cap and followe_im.
The two knights were deep in talk, when Alleyne became aware of a remarkabl_ndividual who was walking round the room in their direction. As he passe_ach knot of cavaliers every head turned to look after him, and it wa_vident, from the bows and respectful salutations on all sides, that th_nterest which he excited was not due merely to his strange persona_ppearance. He was tall and straight as a lance, though of a great age, fo_is hair, which curled from under his velvet cap of maintenance, was as whit_s the new-fallen snow. Yet, from the swing of his stride and the spring o_is step, it was clear that he had not yet lost the fire and activity of hi_outh. His fierce hawk-like face was clean shaven like that of a priest, sav_or a long thin wisp of white moustache which drooped down half way to hi_houlder. That he had been handsome might be easily judged from his hig_quiline nose and clear-cut chin; but his features had been so distorted b_he seams and scars of old wounds, and by the loss of one eye which had bee_orn from the socket, that there was little left to remind one of the dashin_oung knight who had been fifty years ago the fairest as well as the boldes_f the English chivalry. Yet what knight was there in that hall of St.
Andrew's who would not have gladly laid down youth, beauty, and all that h_ossessed to win the fame of this man? For who could be named with Chandos, the stainless knight, the wise councillor, the valiant warrior, the hero o_recy, of Winchelsea, of Poictiers, of Auray, and of as many other battles a_here were years to his life?
"Ha, my little heart of gold!" he cried, darting forward suddenly and throwin_is arms round Sir Nigel. "I heard that you were here and have been seekin_ou."
"My fair and dear lord," said the knight, returning the warrior's embrace, "_ave indeed come back to you, for where else shall I go that I may learn to b_ gentle and a hardy knight?"
"By my troth!" said Chandos with a smile, "it is very fitting that we shoul_e companions, Nigel, for since you have tied up one of your eyes, and I hav_ad the mischance to lose one of mine, we have but a pair between us. Ah, Si_liver! you were on the blind side of me and I saw you not. A wise woman hat_ade prophecy that this blind side will one day be the death of me. We shal_o in to the prince anon; but in truth he hath much upon his hands, for wha_ith Pedro, and the King of Majorca, and the King of Navarre, who is no tw_ays of the same mind, and the Gascon barons who are all chaffering for term_ike so many hucksters, he hath an uneasy part to play. But how left you th_ady Loring?"
"She was well, my fair lord, and sent her service and greetings to you."
"I am ever her knight and slave. And your journey, I trust that it wa_leasant?"
"As heart could wish. We had sight of two rover galleys, and even came to hav_ome slight bickering with them."
"Ever in luck's way, Nigel!" quoth Sir John. "We must hear the tale anon. Bu_ deem it best that ye should leave your squires and come with me, for, howsoe'er pressed the prince may be, I am very sure that he would be loth t_eep two old comrades-in-arms upon the further side of the door. Follow clos_ehind me, and I will forestall old Sir William, though I can scarce promis_o roll forth your style and rank as is his wont." So saying, he led the wa_o the inner chamber, the two companions treading close at his heels, an_odding to right and left as they caught sight of familiar faces among th_rowd.