Page images
PDF
EPUB

wot, our court shall be a sober, melancholy one enow, and such in all points as shall do no force to my dull humour.'

The Damosel looked up and faintly smiled, though she sighed therewith.

“Some few weeks since," she said, “ I had been right joyful at this ; but of late my Lord of Derby and his train have well-nigh ceased to come hither."

“Of a truth, less fellowship hath there been latterly betwixt that noble prince and those of France than might be desired—a foul shame fall on those whose base slanders have caused the mischief!-though doubt not but this cloud shall pass over shortly. But leaving this, come we to the business that brought me hither, to speak with thee as thy guardian, not less than as thy friend and brother to bid thee farewell, ere I depart for Bretaigne, for which parts the earl purposes to set forth to-morrow. Rumour speaks of thee, dear maiden, as of one for whose favour many are sighing; and this can I well credit; for, of a surety, not more natural is for water to run or fire to burn, than for thou to be loved. Now, my sweet sister, would thy brother ask of thee, in all reverence, if there be not some one of these courtly bachelors, with honest heart and wealth to keep thee fittingly, to whom thou mayest, by my lips, vouchsafe the grace thy bashfulness suffers not thine own to accord ?

Now methinks the answer to such question should be short and simple enow; for which cause, haply, was it that to none beside those two was it ever clearly known what was spoken of the maiden in reply, nor yet what discourse followed thereupon: only that in some half hour after the knight was seen to issue forth into the court where his horses were in waiting, with step as light and as joyous as the gayest gallant of the Louvre--and with the Damosel's scarf about his left arm.

CHAPTER XXIX.

A CHANCE OF LORDS IN MANY PLACES.-THE SUIT OF MANY HEIRS

FOR MALTHORPE MANOR.

He who ceases to show his face at the court, is speedily lost to remembrance there; and so found at this season the noble Earl of Derby, whose name, since his late strangeness, had been so wholly disused in the royal palaces of Paris, that most of the persons therein marvelled at his reappearance (as at one long departed), when he sought audience of the king and princes, to take his leave, ere he set out for Bretaigne, on a visit to his near kinsman, the duke. And no sooner wa; he gone, than he was forgotten by the greater part, as if he had never been; the rather, when many days and weeks sped away, and he came not again to Paris. If by chance any spoke of him, they said that, out of doubt, he had got harbourage at Nantes, or Ermine, until better times should fall out for him—and in short space all had left off to speak or think of him in any wise.

One true heart was there indeed, within the Hotel de Nesle, that gave many a thought and prayer, both early and late, to that noble prince and his fortunes, for the sake of him who shared therein ; the Damosel Avis-who made herself goodly amends for his lack of certain news of Sir John Ashtoft, hy picturing to her mind's eye without ceasing, both sleeping and waking, all manner of prosperous adventures and chances that might, by good hap, betide him. Yet this, her pleasant pastime, notwithstanding, she was at whiles not a little uneasy at heart, as time wore on, and still nothing was known concerning either him or the English earl.

Thus went matters until the last days of July—the king and his uncles still tarrying all in Paris, by reason of certain treaties carrying on for healing the long strifes in the church—when tidings were brought to that city, by travelling merchants from Bruges, of some strange and terrible event that had befallen in England, though the exact manner thereof was not so perfectly known; some saying, that King Richard had been set upon and murdered by traitors at Bristolothers, that the Londoners had taken arms, and shut up the king and queen in different monasteries—and others again, that they were about to call over the Earl of Derby to head them.

All these stories were for one while rife only amongst the meaner sort of people, both because of the low degree of such as first brought and related them, and also, that any rumours in disparagement of King Richard were quickly discountenanced by the court, on account of the alliance with him. But amongst the commonalty, they passed from mouth to mouth in fire-hot haste, until there were few who doubted but that some mischance had happened, and such as should not easily be remedied.

It was whilst May Avis was yet discoursing and marvelling over these tidings with Gillian, who had just gained them from Gauchet, that she was sent for with all speed to her lady's closet; where she found Madame de Berry, with an open letter before her; and in act to take his leave, an ecclesiastic, whom the maiden discerned as he passed her, for Father Ambrose, the good monk, who had been formerly the companion of her journey from Charlewode to Hampton.

"Avis, my child," said the duchess, holding out the letter, “I have joyful news for thee, though truly, less than welcome to myself. That noble prelate, thy lord, with many fair and courteous excuses for the somewhat hasty summons, earnestly prays me by this letter, for the sake of thy great and lasting profit, to send thee without delay, in charge of yonder worthy monk, to England.”

May Avis replied but by casting herself at the feet of her royal lady; for this sudden and unlooked-for news, had caused her a hurry and confusion of thought that left her without power to answer.

“Of a truth, my poor Avis," said the duchess, as she bent down her swan-like neck, to kiss the brow of the maiden, "had this noble Lord Prior of thiné but urged his suit on the score of worldly interest I had forth with denied it, and told him, that Jane of Berry yields not to him or any, in will or in might, to profit thee-neither is it her wont to resign to others the charge she hath once taken upon herself. But if I read his scroll aright, there is at this time a knot in thy fortunes, that may not be tied, save in thine own land. In so many words,

Avis, without whom long have I guessed that riches and honours should be little worth to thee, who cannot be wrought with to remove his fealty from England; as none knows better than my lord of Berry, who, at my suit, urged him, and that more than once, through the Count Dauphin, to become true liegeman of France. And in good faith, Avis mine, had I devised for thee well nigh as brave a bridal as we made for my cousin of Beaucaire—and yet better, an office for thee, and for thy gentle young knight likewise, that should assure to me thy company for all time to come. But since heaven hath willed otherwise, it remains but to give thee free and gracious licence to depart; and to send thee hence without hindrance of a day, in such honourable fashion as befits both my love, and thy own desert.”

That right royal and gracious lady failed in no point of her promise; nor was it later than prime of the ensuing day, when Avis Forde, laden with rich gifts, such as might well make the dower of a maiden of higher degree, took her leave of Madame de Berry, not without tears on either part; and set forth on her way from Paris to Rouen, in such fair array, as showed that she was set no less store by in England than in France. For not only had the Lord Gilbert sent over for her guard, old Gerveis and the good monk, but also the steward of Charlewode, with two stout yeomen of the household; and as many more, with a gentleman usher of the duke's retinue, attended on her by special command of Madame de Berry. So that with these, her own 'squire Gauvain, and Sir Gauchet, who would by no means be left behind, she travelled in such state as had not misbecome any noble dame or damosel; and thus passed she on by easy journeys, through that pleasant country of Normandy, arriving without misadventure, at Harfleur on the afternoon of the third day.

But here, no sooner had they entered the gates, than they found all in tumult and confusion within; and the townsfolk running to and fro in the streets, crying and shouting in various-wise--not a few calling out at sight of them, “Death to the English traitors!”—a sound that quickly drew thitherward a throng of people, who began to close in upon the Damosel and her company, with looks and gestures that menaced no light peril. Whereupon, the French 'squire, a man of counsel and prudence, pushed quickly through the press, commanding them, in a loud voice, to clear the way in the Duke of Berry's name; by which means, without further hindrance, they gained the harbour, where they incontinently discovered the cause of all the confusion and clamour.

This was no other than the landing, some two hours before, of the Lady of Coucy, the governess of the young queen of England, who had been sent away, with more haste than reverence, by those who were now masters in that realm ;-bringing with her true tidings that Richard of Bourdeaux was deposed, and captive in the Tower of London, and the Earl of Derby proclaimed as King Henry the Fourth.

By good hap, the English ship that had brought over this noble lady and her retinue, yet lay there at anchor within the river; and the Damosel, tarrying but to take courteous leave of her French squierie (which she did with many thanks and seemly presents after the degree of each), embarked in all haste with the remainder of her train; and

forthwith making sail, steered straight for Hampton, where they arrived safely in few hours, after a prosperous voyage, though not without many a sad remembrance on the part of May Avis and Gillian, of the fearful adventure they once had passed through on those seas.

So soon as their horses were landed, they mounted, and set forth toward Winchester, Gauchet first praying the Damosel, of her condescension, to suffer an old man, his former gossip, and now come from pilgrimage beyond seas, to travel for greater safety, in her retinue, as far as London—a suit, that being readily granted, the pilgrim accordingly joined the route, riding with his friend Sir Gauchet, alway at humble distance behind the rest of the company.

It may be thought that May Avis had not tarried thus long to enquire after each and every one at Charlewode and Malthorpe, and all that had befallen in her home since she had left it.

Her noble lord, the Prior, was well in health, though sorely troubled had he been with the misgovernment of the last reign; which had come to such a pass, that the courts of justice were shut up, the great lords in prison or banished, trade was wholly at an end, and the land full of robbery and murder from one end to the other. Of all which mischiefs the country round Malthorpe had sustained its full share, at the hands of that villain Anselm, and his lord the grim knight, who were now, however, like to abye dearly enow their former wickednessthe last being forced to fly, with a price set on his head, and his lands forfeited, and in the hands of King Henry's officers. As for the Lady de Hacquingay, nothing was known certainly of her, since she had been driven from the Manor place,-together with her aunt, Madame Pauncefort, who was once more in her grace, and dwelling with her.

As the Damosel continued her journey, she lacked not full proof how things had gone of late in the kingdom; for though King Henry had studied both night and day to remedy all disorders, and restore peace and quietness, yet time had not hitherto sufficed for this; and there were still to be met with on the highways, troops of evil-looking men, with weapons of all kinds in their hands, who fiercely scanned her retinue as they passed, as if deliberating which side might be the stronger. And not seldom, encountered they likewise large bands, well-armed, and arrayed under the pennon of some great baron on King Henry's part; who were making search after the lords and knights of the faction of the Earls of Huntingdon and Rutland, both taken and beheaded some few years before. Howbeit, from these last found they no annoy, save haply rude speech or question on first meeting, which was evermore silenced by the name of the Lord Gilbert Nevil.

Thus fared they through the journey, until noon of the second day, when, having passed Basingstoke, they left the road to London, and made across the country to the right, ferrying over the Thames at Chertsey, with intent to arrive that same night at Eltham palace, where was the Lord Prior, in waiting upon the king. But as they were about to enter the town of Kingston-upon-Thames, they found themselves staid perforce by one of those armed companies, who had halted just before on the inner side of the gate, in the midst of so great a throng of men, women, and children, that not for life or death could any have made way through them. Nor was it long ere the voyagers learned that the cause of all this coil was the bringing in of a rebel knight by the men-at-arms and archers; which captive, being long since condemned by law, was in that very stound about to suffer his penalty.

May Avis, on hearing this, shrank down in dismay, with her head on the very mane of her palfrey, entreating to be taken into some house at hand, until this ghastly sight were over; but those rude men only stared or laughed in reply; and at length one, espying the habit of the monk at her side, began to call to his fellows, that here was the very wight they were seeking, without more ado. And scantly were the words spoken, than the people fell back on either hand, the archers lustily buffetting them with bows and staves to make way; and two, taking the bridles of the Damosel and the friar, led them forward by the road thus cleared, until they found themselves in an open space in the centre of the men-at-arms. Here they descried a butcher's block, and beside it a brawny churl, to whom, questionless, it belonged, with arms bared, and poll-axe raised, as he were about to fell an ox; whilst in front of them, on his knees, and with hands fast bound behind his back, was a tall man, clad in the tattered shreds of a rich and costly dress.

The Damosel waxed faint and sick at heart, for she was not slow to divine the meaning of what she beheld ; and in no wise was her compassion for the prisoner abated, when, lifting his head at the noise they made, the wind blew aside his grey hair, and she plainly discovered the visage of Sir Lance de Hacquingay.

Whether he too knew her she tarried not to learn, but enwrapped her head in her veil, and pressed her hands yet more closely on her ears, as she heard one of those who had brought them there calling to the monk to do his office, and make short shrift, as the varlet was already mounted and in waiting to ride with the head to London. What next followed she knew not, save that first a heavy blow, and after that a shout rang faintly in her ears; and when she adventured to look up, glad was she to see that the people had now rushed in and filled the space between her and where the fearful sight yet lay.

" Lady, we must hence ere the press thickens," said a voice in her ear; and, starting as out of a sleep, she turned her palfrey and followed the speaker, who was the steward of Charlewode; but ere he could guide her out of the square, they were again stayed by two men in fierce dispute, of whom one that stood with his back to them was stoutly clamouring for his right to the price set on the head of the dead Sir Lance; which the other, who was chief 'squire with the men-at-arms, as stoutly withstood ; swearing that such reward was proffered to those who should take the knight in fair and open field, not for his own mates in treason who might betray him.

"Room, room, make way, my fair sirs," said Master Nicholas, the steward, essaying as he spake to thrust between this pair.

“And who art thou, in the fiend's name?" said the 'squire, whose rough humour was no way softened by the angry debate on hand.

“So please you, Nicholas of Malthorpe, a poor servant of the Lord Prior of Charlewode.”

« PreviousContinue »