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HOW ALLEYNE LEARNED MORE THAN HE COULD TEACH.
AND now there came a time of stir and bustle, of furbishing of arms and
clang of hammer from all the southland counties.
Fast spread the tidings from thorpe to 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
news this 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 had chafed under an unwonted peace.
Now they flew to their arms as to their birthright. The old soldiers of Crecy, of Nogent, and of Poictiers were
glad to think that they might hear the war-trumpet once more, and gladder still
were the hot youth who had chafed for years under the martial tales of their
sires. To pierce the great
mountains of the south, to fight the tawners of the fiery Moors, to follow the
greatest captain of the age, to find sunny cornfields and vineyards, when the
marches of Picardy and Normandy were as rare and bleak as the Jedburgh
forests--here was a golden prospect for a race of warriors.
From sea to sea there was stringing of bows in the cottage and clang of
steel in the castle.
Nor did it take long for every stronghold to pour forth its cavalry, and
every hamlet its footmen. Through the late autumn and the early winter every road and
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 to the Cotswolds in the west or Butser in the
south, there was no hill-top from which the peasant might not have seen the
bright shimmer of arms, the toss and flutter of plume and of pensil. From
bye-path, from woodland clearing, or from winding moor-side track these little
rivulets of steel united in the larger roads to form a broader stream, growing
ever fuller and larger as it approached the nearest or most commodious seaport.
And there all day, and day after day, there was bustle and crowding and
labor, while the great ships loaded up, and one after the other spread their
white pinions and darted off to the open sea, amid the clash of cymbals and
rolling of drums and lusty shouts of those who went and of those who waited.
From Orwell to the Dart there was no port which did not send forth its
little fleet, gay with streamer and bunting, as for a joyous festival.
Thus in the season of the waning days the might of England put forth on
to the waters.
In the ancient and populous county of Hampshire there was no lack of
leaders or of soldiers for a service which promised either honor or profit.
In the north the Saracen's head of the Brocas and the scarlet fish of the
De Roches were waving over a strong body of archers from Holt, Woolmer, and
Harewood forests. 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 Arthur
Lipscombe, Sir Walter Ramsey, and stout Sir Oliver Buttesthorn were all marching
south with levies from Andover, Arlesford, Odiham and Winchester, while from
Sussex came Sir John Clinton, Sir Thomas Cheyne, and Sir John Fallislee, with a
troop of picked men-at-arms, making for their port at Southampton.
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 and boldest
spirits, all eager to serve under so valiant a leader.
Archers from the New Forest and the Forest of Bere, billmen from the
pleasant country which is watered by the Stour, the Avon, and the Itchen, young
cavaliers from the ancient Hampshire houses, all were pushing for Christchurch
to take service under the banner of the five scarlet roses.
And now, could Sir Nigel have shown the bachelles of land which the laws
of rank 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 dignity of
But poverty was heavy upon him, his land was scant, his coffers empty,
and the very castle which covered him the holding of another.
Sore was his heart when he saw rare bowmen and war- hardened spearmen
turned away from his gates, for the lack of the money which might equip and pay
them. Yet the letter which Aylward
had brought him gave him powers which he was not slow to use.
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 hundred
archers and twenty men-at-arms, which, joined to the three hundred veteran
companions already in France, would make a force which any leader might be proud
to command. Carefully and sagaciously the veteran knight chose out his men from
the swarm of volunteers. Many an
anxious consultation he held with Black Simon, Sam Aylward, and other of his
more experienced followers, as to who should come and who should stay. By All
Saints' day, however ere the last leaves had fluttered to earth in the Wilverley
and Holmesley glades, he had filled up his full numbers, and mustered under his
banner as stout a following of Hampshire foresters as ever twanged their
war-bows. Twenty men-at-arms, too,
well mounted and equipped, formed the cavalry of the party, while young Peter
Terlake of Fareham, and Walter Ford of Botley, the martial sons of martial
sires, came at their own cost to wait upon Sir Nigel and to share with Alleyne
Edricson the duties of his squireship.
Yet, even after the enrolment, there was much to be done ere the party
could proceed upon its way. For
armor, swords, and lances, there was no need to take much forethought, for they
were to be had both better and cheaper in Bordeaux than in England.
With the long-bow, however, it was different.
Yew staves indeed might be got in Spain, but it was well to take enough
and to spare with them. Then three
spare cords should be carried for each bow, with a great store of arrow-heads,
besides the brigandines of chain mail, the wadded steel caps, and the brassarts
or arm- guards, which were the proper equipment of the archer.
Above all, the women for miles round were hard at work cutting the white
surcoats which were the badge of the Company, and adorning them with the red
lion of St. George upon the centre of the breast.
When all was completed and the muster called in the castle yard the
oldest soldier of the French wars was fain to confess that he had never looked
upon a better equipped or more warlike body of men, from the old knight with his
silk jupon, sitting his great 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 six score, fully half had seen service before, while a
fair sprinkling were men who had followed the wars all their lives, and had a
hand in those battles which had made the whole world ring with the fame and the
wonder of the island infantry.
Six long weeks were taken in these preparations, and it was close on
Martinmas ere all was ready for a start. Nigh
two months had Alleyne Edricson been in Castle 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 to guide it into freer and more sunlit
channels. Already he had learned to
bless his father for that wise provision which had made him seek to know the
world ere he had ventured to renounce it.
For it was a different place from that which he had pictured -- very
different from that which he had heard described when the master of the novices
held forth to his charges upon she ravening wolves who lurked for them beyond
the peaceful folds of Beaulicu. There was cruelty in it, doubtless, and lust and
sin and sorrow; but were there not virtues to atone, robust positive virtues
which did not shrink from temptation, which held their own in all the rough
blasts of the work-a-day world? How colorless by contrast appeared the
sinlessness which came from inability to sin, the conquest which was attained by
flying from the enemy! Monk-bred as he was, Alleyne had native shrewdness and a
mind which was young enough to form new conclusions and to outgrow old ones.
He could not fail to see that the men with whom he was thrown in contact,
rough-tongued, fierce and quarrelsome as they were, were yet of deeper nature
and of more service in the world than the ox-eyed brethren who rose 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 he better than this kindly knight, who lived as simple a
life, held as lofty and inflexible an ideal of duty, and did with all his
fearless heart whatever came to his hand to do? In turning from the service of
the one to that of the other, Alleyne could not feel that he was lowering his
aims in life. True that his gentle
and thoughtful nature recoiled from the grim work of war, yet in those days of
martial orders and militant brotherhoods there was no gulf fixed betwixt the
priest and the soldier. The man of
God and the man of the sword might without scandal be united in the same
individual. Why then should he, a
mere clerk, have scruples when so fair a chance lay in his way of carrying out
the spirit as well as the letter of his father's provision.
Much struggle it cost him, anxious spirit-questionings and midnight
prayings, with many a doubt and a misgiving; but the issue was that ere he had
been three days in Castle Twynham he had taken service under Sir Nigel, and had
accepted horse and harness, the same to be paid for out of his share of the
profits of the expedition. Henceforth for seven hours a day he strove in the
tilt-yard to qualify himself to be a worthy squire to so worthy a knight. Young,
supple and active, with all the pent energies from years of pure and healthy
living, it was not long before he could manage his horse and his weapon well
enough to earn an approving nod from critical men-at-arms, or to hold his own
against Terlake and Ford, his fellow-servitors.
But were there no other considerations which swayed him from the
cloisters towards the world? So complex is the human spirit that it can itself
scarce discern the deep springs which impel it to action.
Yet to Alleyne had been opened now a side of life of which he had been as
innocent as a child, but one which was of such deep import that it could not
fail to influence him in choosing his path.
A woman, in monkish precepts, had been the embodiment and concentration
of what was dangerous and evil--a focus whence spread all that was to be dreaded
and avoided. So defiling was their presence that a true Cistercian might
not raise his eyes to their face or touch their finger-tips under ban of church
and fear of deadly sin. Yet here,
day after day for an hour after nones, and for an hour before vespers, he found
himself in close communion with three maidens, all young, all fair, and all
therefore doubly dangerous from the monkish standpoint.
Yet he found that in their presence he was conscious of a quick sympathy,
a pleasant ease, a ready response to all that was most gentle and best in
himself, which filled his soul with a vague and new-found joy.
And yet the Lady Maude Loring was no easy pupil to handle.
An older and more world-wise man might have been puzzled by her varying
moods, her sudden prejudices, her quick resentment at all constraint and
authority. Did a subject 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, were there dull patience needed with steady toil and strain of
memory, no single fact could by any driving be fixed in her mind. Alleyne might talk to her of the stories of old gods and
heroes, of gallant deeds and lofty aims, or he might hold forth upon moon and
stars, and let his fancy wander over the hidden secrets of the universe, and he
would have a wrapt listener with flushed cheeks and eloquent eyes, who could
repeat after him the very words which had fallen from his lips.
But when it came to almagest and astrolabe, the counting of figures and
reckoning of epicycles, away would go her thoughts to horse and hound, and a
vacant eye and listless face would warn the teacher that he had lost his hold
upon his scholar. Then he had but
to bring out the old romance book from the priory, with befingered cover of
sheepskin and gold letters upon a 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
pertness and rebel openly against Alleyne's gentle firmness. Yet he would jog
quietly on with his teachings, taking no heed to her mutiny, until suddenly she
would be conquered by his patience, and break into self-revilings a hundred
times stronger than her fault demanded. It
chanced however that, on one of these mornings 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 tart rejoinder to the teacher's questions.
In an instant the Lady Maude had turned upon her two blazing eyes and a
face which was blanched with anger.
"You would dare!" said she.
"You would dare!" The frightened tire-woman tried to excuse
herself. "But my fair
lady," she stammered, "what have I done? I have said no more than I
"You would dare!" repeated the lady in a choking voice.
"You, a graceless baggage, 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 flee the
She had spoken with a rising voice, and a clasping and opening of her
long white fingers, so that it was no marvel that ere the speech was over the
skirts of Agatha were whisking round the door and the click of her sobs to be
heard dying swiftly away down the corridor.
Alleyne stared open-eyed at this tigress who had sprung so suddenly to
his rescue. "There is no need
for such anger," he said mildly. "The
maid's words have 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 that one 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 your hot and bitter words.
You have called her a baggage and a lack-brain, and I know not
"And you are he who taught me to speak the truth," she cried.
"Now I have spoken it, and yet I cannot please you.
Lack-brain she is, and lack-brain I shall call her."
Such was a sample of the sudden janglings which marred the peace of that
little class. As the weeks passed,
however, they became fewer and less violent, as Alleyne's firm and constant
nature gained sway and influence over the Lady Maude.
And yet, sooth to say, there were times when he had to ask himself
whether it was not the Lady Maude who was gaining sway and influence over 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 and reasoned with himself as to the madness of
letting his mind rest upon Sir Nigel's daughter.
What was he--a younger son, a penniless clerk, a squire unable to pay for
his own harness--that he should dare to raise his eyes to the fairest maid in
Hampshire? So spake reason; but, in spite of all, her voice was 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
had entered into his life; how completely those vague ambitions and yearnings
which had filled his spiritual nature centred themselves now upon this thing of
earth. He had scarce dared to face
the change which had come upon him, when a few sudden chance words showed it all
up hard and clear, like a lightning flash in the darkness.
He had ridden over to Poole, one November day, with his fellow- squire,
Peter Terlake, in quest of certain yew-staves from Wat Swathling, the
Dorsetshire armorer. The day for
their departure had almost come, and the two youths spurred it over the lonely
downs at the top of their speed on their homeward course, for evening had fallen
and there was much to be done. Peter was a hard, wiry, brown faced, country-bred lad who
looked on the coming war as the schoolboy looks on his holidays This day,
however, he had been sombre and mute, with scarce a word a mile to bestow upon
"Tell me Alleyne Edricson," he broke out, suddenly, as they
clattered along the winding track which leads over the Bournemouth hills,
"has it not seemed to 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 of old. Methinks, Alleyne,
it is this learning which you have taught her that has taken all the life and
sap from her. It is more than she can master, like a heavy spear to a light
"Her lady-mother has so ordered it," said Alleyne.
"By our Lady! and withouten disrespect," quoth Terlake,
"it is in my mind that her lady-mother is more fitted to lead a company to
a storming than to have the upbringing of this tender and milk- white maid.
Hark ye, lad Alleyne, to what I never told man or woman yet. I love the fair Lady Maude, and would give the last drop of
my heart's blood to serve her. He
spoke with a gasping voice, and his face flushed crimson in the moonlight.
Alleyne said nothing, but his heart seemed to turn to a lump of ice in
"My father has broad acres," the other continued, "from
Fareham Creek to the slope 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 the only 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 the eyes 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 her yesternight for her green veil, that I might bear it as a token or
lambrequin upon my helm; but she flashed out at me that she kept it for a better
man, and then all in a breath asked pardon for that she had spoke so rudely.
Yet she would not take back the words either, nor would she grant the
veil. Has it seemed to thee,
Alleyne, that she loves any one?"
"Nay, I cannot say," said Alleyne, with a wild throb of sudden
hope in his heart.
"I have thought so, and yet I cannot name the man.
Indeed, gave myself, and Walter Ford, and you, who are half a clerk, and
Father Christopher of the Priory, and Bertrand the page, who is there whom she
"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 indeed
looking 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 the Lady Maude had sought her chamber.
The maid looked aslant at him with laughing eyes.
"It is not an illness that kills," 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 same trouble," 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, and Castle Twynham be as dull as the Priory.
Is there not enough there to cloud a lady's brow?"
"In sooth, yes," he answered; "I had forgot that she is
about to lose her father."
"Her father!" cried the tire-woman, with a little trill of
laughter. "Oh simple,
simple!" And she was off down
the passage like arrow from bow, while Alleyne stood gazing after her, betwixt
hope and doubt, scarce daring to put faith in the meaning which seemed to
underlie her words.
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