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HOW SIR NIGEL WROTE TO TWYNHAM CASTLE.
ON the morning after the jousting, when Alleyne Edricson went, as was his
custom, into his master's chamber to wait upon him in his dressing and to curl
his hair, he found him already up and very busily at work.
He sat at a table by the window, a deerhound on one side of him and a
lurcher on the other, his feet tucked away under the trestle on which he sat,
and his tongue in his cheek, with the air of a man who is much perplexed. A
sheet of vellum lay upon the board in front of him, and he held a pen in his
hand, with which he had been scribbling in a rude schoolboy hand. So many were
the blots, however, and so numerous the scratches and erasures, that he had at
last given it up in despair, and sat with his single uncovered eye cocked
upwards at the ceiling, as one who waits upon inspiration.
"By Saint Paul!" he cried, as Alleyne entered, "you are
the man who will stand by me in this matter.
I have been in sore need of you, Alleyne."
"God be with you, my fair lord!" the squire answered.
"I trust that you have taken no hurt from all that you have gone
"Nay; I feel the fresher for it, Alleyne.
It has eased my joints, which were somewhat stiff from these years of
peace. I trust, Alleyne, that thou
didst very carefully note and mark the bearing and carriage of this knight of
France; for it is time, now when you are young, that you should see all that is
best, and mould your own actions in accordance.
This was a man from whom much honor might be gained, and I have seldom
met any one for whom I have conceived so much love and esteem. Could I but learn
his name, I should send you to him with my cartel, that we might have further
occasion to watch his goodly feats of arms."
"It is said, my fair lord, that none know his name save
only the Lord Chandos, and that he is under vow not to speak it.
So ran the gossip at the squires' table."
"Be he who he might, he was a very hardy gentleman.
But I have a task here, Alleyne, which is harder to me than aught that
was set before me yesterday."
"Can I help you, my lord?"
"That indeed you can. I
have been writing my greetings to my sweet wife; for I hear that a messenger
goes from the prince to Southampton within the week, and he would gladly take a
packet for me. I pray you, Alleyne, to cast your eyes upon what I have
written, and see it they are such words as my lady will understand.
My fingers, as you can see, are more used to iron and leather than to the
drawing of strokes and turning of letters.
What then? Is there aught
amiss, that you should stare so?"
"It is this first word, my lord.
In what tongue were you pleased to write?"
"In English; for my lady talks it more than she doth French.
"Yet this is no English word, my sweet lord.
Here are four t's and never a letter betwixt them."
"By St. Paul! it seemed strange to my eye when I wrote it," said Sir
Nigel. "They bristle up
together like a clump of lances. We
must break their ranks and set them farther apart.
The word is 'that.' Now I will read it to you, Alleyne, and you shall
write it out fair; for we leave Bordeaux this day, and it would be great joy to
me to think that the Lady Loring had word from me."
Alleyne sat down as ordered, with a pen in his hand and a fresh sheet of
parchment before him, while Sir Nigel slowly spelled out his letter, running his
forefinger on from word to word.
"That my heart is with thee, my dear sweeting, is what thine own
heart will assure thee of. All is
well with us here, save that Pepin hath the mange on his back, and Pommers hath
scarce yet got clear of his stiffness from being four days on ship-board, and
the more so because the sea was very high, and we were like to founder on
account of a hole in her side, which was made by a stone cast at us by certain
sea-rovers, who may the saints have in their keeping, for they have gone from
amongst us, as has young Terlake, and two-score mariners and archers, who would
be the more welcome here as there is like to be a very fine war, with much honor
and all hopes of advancement, for which I go to gather my Company together, who
are now at Montaubon, where they pillage and destroy; yet I hope that, by God's
help, I may be able to show that I am their master, even as, my sweet lady, I am
"How of that, Alleyne?" continued Sir Nigel, blinking at his
squire, with an expression of some pride upon his face.
"Have I not told her all that hath befallen us?"
"You have said much, my fair lord; and yet, if I may say so, it is
somewhat crowded together, so that my Lady Loring can, mayhap, scarce follow it.
Were it in shorter periods----"
"Nay, it boots me not how you marshal them, as long as they are all
there at the muster. Let my lady have the words, and she will place them in such
order as pleases her best. But I
would have you add what it would please her to know."
"That will I," said Alleyne, blithely, and bent to the task.
"My fair lady and mistress," he wrote, "God hath had us in
His keeping, and my lord is well and in good cheer.
He hath won much honor at the jousting before the prince, when he alone
was able to make it good against a very valiant man from France.
Touching the moneys, there is enough and to spare until we reach
Montaubon. Herewith, my fair lady,
I send my humble regards, entreating you that you will give the same to your
daughter, the Lady Maude. May the
holy saints have you both in their keeping is ever the prayer of thy servant,
"That is very fairly set forth," said Sir Nigel, nodding his
bald head as each sentence was read to him.
"And for thyself, Alleyne, if there be any dear friend to whom you
would fain give greeting, I can send it for thee within this packet."
"There is none," said Alleyne, sadly.
"Have you no kinsfolk, then?"
"None, save my brother."
"Ha! I had forgotten that there was ill blood betwixt you. But are
there none in all England who love thee?"
"None that I dare say so."
"And none whom you love?"
"Nay, I will not say that," said Alleyne.
Sir Nigel shook his head and laughed softly to himself, "I see how
it is with you," he said. "Have
I not noted your frequent sighs and vacant eye?
Is she fair?"
"She is indeed," cried Alleyne from his heart, all tingling at
this sudden turn of the talk.
"As an angel."
"And yet she loves you not?"
"Nay, I cannot say that she loves another."
"Then you have hopes?"
"I could not live else."
"Then must you strive to be worthy of her love.
Be brave and pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so,
whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to be honored by
a maiden's love, which is, in sooth, the highest guerdon which a true knight can
"Indeed, my lord, I do so strive," said Alleyne; "but she
is so sweet, so dainty, and of so noble a spirit, that I fear me that I shall
never be worthy of her."
"By thinking so you become worthy.
Is she then of noble birth?"
"She is, my lord," faltered Alleyne.
"Of a knightly house?"
"Have a care, Alleyne, have a care!" said Sir Nigel, kindly.
"The higher the steed the greater the fall.
Hawk not at that which may be beyond thy flight."
"My lord, I know little of the ways and usages of the world,"
cried Alleyne, "but I would fain ask your rede upon the matter. You have
known my father and my kin: is not my family one of good standing and
"Beyond all question."
"And yet you warn me that I must not place my love too high."
"Were Minstead yours, Alleyne, then, by St. Paul!
I cannot think that any family in the land would not be proud to take you
among them, seeing that you come of so old a strain.
But while the Socman lives----Ha, by my soul!" if this is not Sir
Oliver's step I am the more mistaken."
As he spoke, a heavy footfall was heard without, and the portly knight
flung open the door and strode into the room.
"Why, my little coz," said he, "I have come across to tell
you that I live above the barber's in the Rue de la Tour, and that there is a
venison pasty in the oven and two flasks of the right vintage on the table.
By St. James! a blind man might find the place, for one has but to get in
the wind from it, and follow the savory smell.
Put on your cloak, then, and come, for Sir Walter Hewett and Sir Robert
Briquet, with one or two others, are awaiting us."
"Nay, Oliver, I cannot be with you, for I must to Montaubon this
"To Montaubon? But I
have heard that your Company is to come with my forty Winchester rascals to
"If you will take charge of them, Oliver.
For I will go to Montaubon with none save my two squires and two archers.
Then, when I have found the rest of my Company I shall lead them to Dax.
We set forth this morning."
"Then I must back to my pasty," said Sir Oliver.
"You will find us at Dax, I doubt not, unless the prince throw me
into prison, for he is very wroth against me."
"And why, Oliver?"
"Pardieu! because I have sent my cartel, gauntlet, and defiance to
Sir John Chandos and to Sir William Felton."
"To Chandos? In God's name, Oliver, why have you done this?"
"Because he and the other have used me despitefully."
"Because they have passed me over in choosing those who should joust
for England. Yourself and Audley I
could pass, coz, for you are mature men; but who are Wake, and Percy, and
Beauchamp? By my soul! I was prodding for my food into a camp-kettle when they were
howling for their pap. Is a man of
my weight and substance to be thrown aside for the first three half-grown lads
who have learned the trick of the tilt-yard? But hark ye, coz, I think of
sending my cartel also to the prince."
"Oliver! Oliver! You are
"Not I, i' faith! I
care not a denier whether he be prince or no.
By Saint James! I see that
your squire's eyes are starting from his head like a trussed crab.
Well, friend, we are all three men of Hampshire, and not lightly to be
"Has he jeered at you than?"
"Pardieu! yes, 'Old Sir Oliver's heart is still stout,' said one of
his court. 'Else had it been out of
keeping with the rest of him,' quoth the prince.
'And his arm is strong,' said another. 'So is the backbone of his horse,'
quoth the prince. This very day I
will send him my cartel and defiance."
"Nay, nay, my dear Oliver," said Sir Nigel, laying his hand
upon his angry friend's arm. "There
is naught in this, for it was but saying that you were a strong and robust man,
who had need of a good destrier. And
as to Chandos and Felton, bethink you that if when you yourself were young the
older lances had ever been preferred, how would you then have had the chance to
earn the good name and fame which you now bear? You do not ride as light as you
did, Oliver, and I ride lighter by the weight of my hair, but it would be an ill
thing if in the evening of our lives we showed that our hearts were less true
and loyal than of old. If such a
knight as Sir Oliver Buttesthorn may turn against his own prince for the sake of
a light word, then where are we to look for steadfast faith and constancy?"
"Ah! my dear little coz, it is easy to sit in the sunshine and
preach to the man in the shadow. Yet
you could ever win me over to your side with that soft voice of yours.
Let us think no more of it then. But,
holy Mother! I had forgot the
pasty, and it will be as scorched as Judas Iscariot!
Come, Nigel, lest the foul fiend get the better of me again."
"For one hour, then; for we march at mid-day.
Tell Aylward, Alleyne, that he is to come with me to Montaubon, and to
choose one archer for his comrade. The
rest will to Dax when the prince starts, which will be before the feast of the
Epiphany. Have Pommers ready at mid-day with my sycamore lance, and
place my harness on the sumpter mule."
With these brief directions, the two old soldiers strode off together,
while Alleyne hastened to get all in order for their journey.
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