Chapter XI. An Invitation
 

Edgar laughed heartily at his father's account of the success of his defence of the house. Then he said: "I hope, father, that distorted accounts of the affair may not get you into trouble with the Church."

"I have no fear of that, Edgar. I had shown the prior my preparations, and he approved of them heartily, being a man of much broader intelligence than is common. Indeed, he begged of me a pot of my shining paste, and with it painted the stone crucifix over the abbey gateway. And it was well that he did so, for last night some men came out from Dartford with intent to plunder the priory of its deeds and muniments, but on seeing the glowing crucifix, they went off in fear and trembling, and the villagers were saying this morning that the priory had been protected by a miracle, while you see in my case they attribute it to the work of the devil. And now, Edgar, tell me all that has befallen you since you went away."

Edgar related the various adventures that had happened.

When he had concluded, his father said: "Truly, Edgar, you have been fortunate indeed, which is another way of saying that you have skilfully grasped the opportunities that presented themselves. The man who bemoans ill-fortune is the man too apathetic, too unready, or too cowardly to grasp opportunity. The man who is called fortunate is, on the other hand, he who never lets a chance slip by, who is cool, resolute, and determined. During the time that you have been away you have made friends of two wealthy merchants, and have rendered them both high services; you have also as greatly benefited our neighbour, Sir Ralph De Courcy, and have placed your foot so firmly on the ladder, that 'tis your own fault if you do not rise high. And now, what think you of doing?"

"I have the intention of staying at home for a while, father. There will be troubles for a time, but I care not to take part in the hunting down of these poor peasants north of the river, who, unlike these fellows, were well content when the king offered them the charter granting their demands, and retired peacefully to their homes. So I would rather remain here quietly until I have a chance of drawing sword in a foreign war, either against the French or the Scots."

"I think that you are right; and, moreover, although you have proved your manhood against men, you can hardly, when with an army, be regarded as more than a young esquire till another year or two have gone over your head."

Two days later, finding that all was now perfectly quiet, and that there was no probability whatever of a renewal of the troubles, Sir Ralph went up to London with the city knight and his company. They had ridden over on the previous day to call upon Mr. Ormskirk to thank him for the services that Edgar had rendered them, and upon which they entered in much fuller detail than Edgar had allowed himself. In return he gave them a description of the defence of his house, in which Sir Robert was greatly interested, going down into the laboratory and examining the luminous paint and its effect upon the skull.

"It is a goodly device," he said, "and though I myself have, during my visit to Italy, come to believe but little in the superstitions that are held by the mass of the people, I own that my courage would have been grievously shaken if I had encountered suddenly that gibbering head. How long does the effect last?"

"Three or four days. I believe that it is a sort of slow combustion which, although it has no sensible heat, gradually consumes the particles that give rise to it. It may be that further researches will lead to a discovery by which the light might be made permanent, and in that case the invention would be a useful one. I have, however, no time to follow it up, being engaged in more serious matters, and regard this as a mere relaxation from more important work."

"And yet, methinks," the merchant said, "that were men of science, like yourself, to devote themselves to such discoveries, instead of searching for the secrets that always evade them, they might do good service to mankind. Look at this discovery of Friar Bacon's. So far, I grant that it has led to nothing, but I can see that in the future the explosive power of this powder will be turned to diverse uses besides those of machines for battering down walls. Were this light of yours made permanent it would do away with the necessity for burning lamps indoors. What could be more beautiful than a hall with its ceilings, rafters, walls, and pillars all glowing as if in the moonlight? For methinks the light resembles that of the moon rather than any other."

"Were I a young man I would take up such matters, Sir Robert, for I believe with you that the time might be more usefully spent; but 'tis too late now. 'Tis not when one's prime is past that men can embark in a fresh course or lay aside the work for which they have laboured for so many years."

"And which, even if made, might bring more woe than good upon the world," Sir Robert said. "Where would be the value of gold if other metals could at will be transformed into it? When first produced, it might enable monarchs to raise huge armies to wage war against their neighbours; but, after a time, its use would become common. Gold would lose its value, and men would come to think less of it than of iron, for it is not so strong nor so fitted for weapons or for tools; and then some other and rarer metal would take its place, and alchemists would begin their work again in discovering another philosopher's stone that would transmute other metals into the more valuable one."

Mr. Ormskirk was silent. "I think, Sir Robert," he said, at last, "that we alchemists do not work solely for the good of mankind, nor give a thought to the consequences that might follow the finding of the philosopher's stone. We dream of immortality, that our name shall pass down through all ages as that of the man who first conquered the secret of nature and made the great discovery that so many thousands of others have sought for in vain."

"It is assuredly an ambition as worthy as many others," Sir Robert said, thoughtfully. "A knight would be ready to risk his life a thousand times in order to gain the reputation of being one of the foremost knights of Europe. A king would wring the last penny from his subjects for a rich monument that will, he thinks, carry down his name to all time; and doubtless the discovery of a secret that has baffled research for hundreds of years, is at least as worthy an ambition as these--far more laudable, indeed, since it can be carried out without inflicting woes upon others. And now farewell, Mr. Ormskirk. I trust that your son will always remember that in me he has a friend ready to do aught in his power for him. I am but a simple citizen of London, but I have correspondents in well-nigh every city in Europe, and can give him introductions that may be valuable wheresoever he goes, and I shall be grieved indeed if he does not avail himself of my good-will and gratitude."

Three days later Sir Ralph returned to St. Alwyth from London with his dame and Aline. For some weeks time passed quietly and pleasantly to Edgar. The intimacy between the two houses became even closer than before, and Sir Ralph's report of Edgar's doings in London caused him to be frequently invited to the houses of all the well-to-do people in the neighbourhood. In the meantime the insurrection had been finally crushed. The commissioners in various parts of the country were trying and executing all who had taken any lead in the movement, and until a general amnesty was passed, two months later, every peasant lived in hourly dread of his life. They had gained nothing by the movement from which they had hoped so much, and for a while, indeed, their position was worse than it had ever been before.

In time, however, as the remembrance of the insurrection died out, it bore its fruits, and although there was no specific law passed abolishing serfdom, the result was arrived at insensibly. Privileges were granted, and these privileges became customs with all the effect of the law, and almost without their knowing it, the people became possessed of the rights for which their fathers had in vain taken up arms. Three weeks after Edgar's return from London a royal commission came down to Dartford, and the authorities of the town and others were called upon to name the leaders of the insurgents.

Sir Ralph, who was one of those summoned, said that he was altogether unable to give any information. He had been away when the first outbreak took place. On his return he found his castle besieged, but having with him fifty stout men-at-arms, he attacked and pursued the insurgents, and nearly five hundred of them were slain. But fighting, as he did, with his vizor down, and having, for a time, as much as he could do to defend himself, he had recognized no one, and indeed, so far as he knew, he did not see one among the rioters with whose face he was acquainted.

Two days later, as Edgar was riding back from Sir Ralph's castle, he came suddenly upon a man at a cross-road. He was one of the villagers.

"Well, Master Ormskirk," he said, folding his arms, "you can kill me if you will, and it will be best so, for if you do not I shall live but the life of a hunted dog, and sooner or later fall into their hands."

"Why should I kill you, Carter? I have naught against you."

"Then it was not you who denounced me as one of those who fought against you at De Courcy's castle?"

"Not I, assuredly. I have had no communication whatever with the commissioners, nor did I know that you were one of those we encountered there."

"Someone has given my name," the man said, moodily. "I suppose it was some of those at Dartford, for it is true enough that I joined the Tyler the day he slew the collector. I thought that he had done rightfully, and it may be that, like a fool, I have exhorted others to join him to win our charter of rights, I thought it was to be got honestly, that no harm was to be done to any man; but when we got to London, and I saw that the Tyler and others intended to slay many persons of high rank and to burn and destroy, I was seized with horror, and made my way back. When the others returned I was fool enough to let myself be persuaded to join in the attack on Sir Ralph's castle; and for that and the speeches, it seems that I am to be tried and hung. You had best run me through, Master Ormskirk, and have done with it; I would rather that than be hung like a dog."

"I shall do nothing of the kind, Carter. I have known you for years as an honest, and a hard-working fellow. Here are a couple of crowns with which you can make your way to London."

"'Tis no good, sir. I hear that there are parties of men on every road, and that orders have been given in every township to arrest all passers- by, and to detain them if they have not proper papers with them. Well, I can die better than some, for I lost my wife last Christmas, and have no children; so if you won't do my business for me I will go straight back to Dartford and give myself up."

"No, no, Carter. Do you go into that wood, and remain there till nightfall; then come to our house and knock at the gate, and you can shelter there as long as you like. As you know, there are few indeed who come there, and if I get you a servitor's suit, assuredly none of our visitors would recognize you, and as for the village folk, you have but to keep out of their way when they come with wood, meat, and other matters. It may not be for long, for 'tis like that I shall be going to the wars soon, and when I do so I will take you with me as my man-at-arms. Moreover, it is probable that when the commissioners have sat for a time, and executed all the prominent leaders of this rioting, there will be an amnesty passed. What do you say to that?"

"I say, God bless you, sir! I know well enough that I deserve everything that has befallen me, for of a surety the murders that were done in London have so disgraced our cause that no one has a right to look for mercy. However, sir, if you are willing to give me such shelter as you say, I will serve you well and faithfully, and will right willingly imperil the last drop of my blood in your service."

"Then it is agreed, Carter. Come soon after nightfall. I am sure that my father will approve of what I am doing, and should the worst come to the worst, and you be discovered, he would be able to say truly that he knew not that you were wanted for your share in the matter, for, indeed, he takes but small notice of what is passing without. Now you had better be off at once to hiding before anyone else comes along."

"Father," Edgar said, when he returned, "I have taken on an additional servitor in the house. He will cost you naught but his food while he is here, and he will ride with me as my man-at-arms if I go abroad. He is a stout fellow, and I beg that you will ask me no questions concerning him, and will take him simply on my recommendation. He will not stir out of the house at present, but you may make him of use in your laboratory if you can."

"I think that I understand, Edgar. After a business like that which is just over, vengeance often strikes blindly, and 'tis enough for me that you declare him to be honest, and that you have known him for some time."

"Andrew," Edgar said to the old servitor after he had left his father, "I know that you are no gossip, and that in the matter of which I am going to speak to you I can rely upon your discretion. I have taken on a stout fellow, who will follow me to the wars as a man-at-arms. It may be that you will know him when you see him; indeed, I doubt not that you will do so. It is good for him at present that he should not stir beyond the walls, and he will, indeed, remain indoors all day. There are a good many others like him, who just at present will be keeping quiet, and you may be sure that I should not befriend the man were it not that I feel certain he has had no hand in the evil deeds performed by others."

"I understand, young master, and you may trust me to keep my lips sealed. I hear that a score have been hung during the last three days, and though I am no upholder of rioters, methinks that now they have had a bitter lesson. The courts might have been content with punishing only those who took a part in the murders and burnings in London. The rest were but poor foolish knaves, who knew no better, and who were led astray by the preachings of some of these Jack Priests and other troublers of the peace."

"Think you that it would be best to speak to old Anna?"

"Not a bit, Master Ormskirk. Save to go to mass, she never stirs beyond the house, and she is so deaf that you have to shout into her ear to make her hear the smallest thing. I will simply say to her that you have got a man-at-arms to go with you to the wars, and that until you leave he is to remain here in the house. You did not tell me whether I was to take your horse round to the stable."

"No; I am going to ride into Dartford now, to get the man some apparel suited to his station here."

Edgar returned in an hour, bringing with him a servitor's suit. As soon as Hal Carter arrived, Edgar himself opened the gate to him.

"Strip off those clothes, and put on this suit; it were best that you be not seen in your ordinary attire. However, you can trust old Andrew, and as to Anna, there is little chance of her recognizing you, and I don't suppose she as much as knows that there has been trouble in the land."

A month later a mounted messenger brought Edgar a letter--it was the first that he had ever received. Telling the man to alight, and calling Carter to take his horse, he led the man into the kitchen and told Anna to give him some food. He then opened the letter. It ran as follows:

To Master Edgar Ormskirk, with hearty greeting,

Be it known to you, good friend, that having wound up my business affairs, I am about to start for Flanders, and shall, in the first place, go to Ghent, having a mission from those in authority at Court here to carry out in that city. It would greatly please me if you would accompany me. The times are troubled in Flanders, as you doubtless know, and you would see much to interest you; and, moreover, as at present there is naught doing in England, save the trying and executing of malefactors, you could spend your time better in seeing somewhat of a foreign country than in resting quietly at St. Alwyth. I need not say that the trip will put you to no cost, and that by accepting, you will give pleasure to my wife and daughter, as well as to myself.

Yours in friendship,

NICHOLAS VAN VOORDEN.

P.S.--I am writing at the same time to Master De Courcy, who, I hope, will also accompany me.

Edgar went down at once to his father's laboratory and handed him the letter. Mr. Ormskirk read it.

"It is a hearty invitation, Edgar," he said, "and after the kindness of the Fleming in presenting you with that splendid suit of armour, you can scarce refuse it; but, indeed, in any case, I should be glad for you to accompany him to Flanders. The Flemings are mostly our allies against France, and it would be well for you to pass some time among them, to learn as much as you can of their language, and to acquaint yourself with their customs. Their towns are virtually independent republics, like those of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. The power lies wholly in the hands of the democracy, and rough fellows are they. The nobles have little or no influence, save in the country districts. The Flemings are at present on ill terms with France, seeing that they, like us, support Pope Urban, while the French, Spaniards, and others hold to Pope Clement.

"Possibly neither may care very much which pope gets the mastery, but it makes a convenient bone of contention, and so is useful to neighbours on bad terms with each other. Go, by all means. You had best write a reply at once, and hand it to the messenger. Have you heard yet whether he has been to the De Courcy's castle?"

"I did not ask him, father, for I did not read the letter until I had handed him over to Anna to get some food in the kitchen. I will go and ask him now, and if he has not yet gone there I will ride with him. 'Tis a cross-road, and he might have difficulty in finding it; besides, perhaps if I tell Sir Ralph that I am going, it may influence him to let Albert go also."

He went down to the kitchen and found that the messenger had not yet been to the castle. Telling him that he would go with him and act as his guide, and would be ready to start in a quarter of an hour, Edgar sat down to write to the Fleming. It was the first time that he had ever indited a letter, and it took him longer than he expected. When he went down, the messenger was already standing by his horse, while Carter was walking Edgar's up and down.

Albert and Aline were at the castle gate as they rode up.

"We were in the pleasaunce when we saw you coming, Edgar. We did not expect you until to-morrow."

"I have come over with a messenger, who is the bearer of a letter to you."

"You mean to my father, I suppose?"

"No, indeed; it is for yourself, and I have had a similar one. I have written an answer, and I hope you will write one in the same strain."

"Who can it be from?" Aline said, as Albert took out his dagger and cut the silk that held the roll.

"It is from our good friend, Mynheer Van Voorden," Edgar said. "He is just leaving for Flanders, and has written to ask Albert and myself to accompany him thither."

"And I suppose that you have accepted," Aline said, pettishly.

"Yes, indeed; my father thinks that it will be very good for me to see something of foreign countries, and especially Flanders. As there is nothing doing here now, I am wasting my time, and doubtless in the great Flemish cities I shall be able to find masters who can teach me many things with the sword."

"And how are we going to get on without you, I should like to know?" she asked, indignantly, "especially if you are going to take Albert away too."

"Albert will decide for himself--at least Sir Ralph will decide for him, Mistress Aline."

"It is all very well to say that, but you know perfectly well that Albert will be wanting to go if you are going, and that Sir Ralph will not say no, if you and he both want it."

"Well, you would wish us to become accomplished knights some day, and assuredly, as all say, that is a thing better learned abroad than in England."

"I am quite satisfied with you as you are," she replied, "and I call it a downright shame. I thought, anyhow, I was going to have you both here until some great war broke out, and here you are running away for your amusement. It is all very well for you to contend that you think it may do you good, but it is just for change and excitement that you want to go."

By this time Albert had finished reading the letter.

"That will be splendid," he said. "I have always thought that I should like to see the great Flemish cities. Why, what is the matter, Aline?" he broke off, seeing tears in his sister's eyes.

"Is it not natural that I should feel sorry at the thought of your going away? We have to stay all our lives at home, while you wander about, either fighting or looking for danger wherever it pleases you."

"I don't think that it is quite fair myself, Aline, but I did not have anything to do with regulating our manners and customs; besides, it is not certain yet that my father will let me go."

They had by this time reached the spot where Sir Ralph was watching a party of masons engaged in heightening the parapet of the wall, as the experience of the last fight showed that it did not afford sufficient protection to its defenders.

"Well, Albert, what is your news?" he said, as he saw by their faces that something unusual had happened.

"A letter from Mynheer Van Voorden to ask me to accompany him to Flanders, whither he is about to sail. He has asked Edgar too, and his father has consented."

"Read me the letter, Albert. 'Tis a fair offer," he said, when Albert came to the end, "and pleases me much. I had spoken but yesterday with your mother, saying that it was high time you were out in the world, the only difficulty being with whom to place you. There are many knights of my acquaintance who would gladly enough take you as esquire, but it is so difficult to choose. It might be that, from some cause or other, your lord might not go to the wars; unless, of course, it were a levy of all the royal forces, and then it would be both grief to you and me that I had not put you with another lord under whom you might have had a better opportunity.

"But this settles the difficulty. By the time you come back there may be some chance of your seeing service under our own flag. Lancaster has just made a three years' truce with the Scots, and it may be that he will now make preparations in earnest to sail with an array to conquer his kingdom in Spain. That would be an enterprise in which an aspirant for knighthood might well desire to take part. The Spaniards are courtly knights and brave fellows, and there is like to be hard fighting. This invitation is a timely one. Foreign travel is a part of the education of a knight, and in Flanders there are always factions, intrigues, and troubles. Then there is a French side and an English side, and the French side is further split up by the Flemings inclining rather to Burgundy than to the Valois. Why, this is better than that gift of armour, and it was a lucky day indeed for you when you went to his daughter's aid. Faith, such a piece of luck never fell in my way."

"Shall I go and write the letter at once, father?"

"There is no hurry, Albert. The messenger must have ridden from town to- day, and as he went first to Master Ormskirk's, that would lengthen his journey by three or four miles, therefore man and horse need rest, and it were best, I should think, that he sleep here to-night, and be off betimes in the morning. It would be dark before he reached the city, and the roads are not safe riding after nightfall; besides, it can make no difference to Van Voorden whether he gets the answer to-night or by ten o'clock to- morrow morning."

Dame Agatha did not, as Aline had somewhat hoped, say a word to persuade Sir Ralph to keep Albert longer at home. She looked wistfully at the lad as the knight told her of the invitation that had come, and at his hearty pleasure thereat, but she only said: "I am sorely unwilling to part with you, Albert, but I know that it is best for you to be entering the world, and that I could not expect to have you many months longer. Your father and I were agreeing on that yesterday. A knight cannot remain by a fireside, and it is a comfort to me that this first absence of yours should be with the good Flemish merchant, and I like much also his wife and daughter, who were most kind to us when we tarried with them in London when your father was away. I would far rather you were with him, than in the train of some lord, bound for the wars. I am glad, too, that your good friend Edgar is going with you. Altogether, it is better than anything I had thought of, and though I cannot part with you without a sigh, I can feel that the parting might well have been much more painful. What say you, Aline?"

"I knew, as you say, mother, that it was certain that Albert would have to leave us, but I did not think that it would be so soon. It is very hateful, and I shall miss him dreadfully."

"Yes, my dear, but you must remember it was so I felt the many times that your father went to the war. It is so with the wife of every knight and noble in the land. And not only these, but also the wives of the men-at- arms and archers, and it will be yours when you too have a lord. Men risk their lives in battle; women stay at home and mind their castles. We each have our tasks. You know the lines that the priest John Ball used, they say, as a text for his harangues to the crowds, When Adam delved and Eve span. You see, one did the rough part of the toil, the other sat at home and did what was needful there, and so it has been ever since. You know how you shared our feelings of delight that your brother had grown stronger, and would be able to take his own part, as his fathers had done before him, to become a brave and valiant knight, and assuredly it is not for you to repine now that a fair opportunity offers for him to prepare for his career."

"I was wrong, mother," Aline said, penitently. "I was very cross and ill- behaved, but it came suddenly upon me, and it seemed to me hard that Albert and Edgar should both seem delighted at what pained me so much. Forgive me, Albert."

"There is nothing to forgive, dear. Of course I understand your feeling that it will be hard for us to part, when we have been so much together. I shall be very sorry to leave you, but I am sure you will agree with me that it is less hard to do so now than it would have been if I had been going to be shut up in a convent to prepare for entering the Church, as we once thought would be the case."

"I should think so," the girl said. "This will be nothing to it. Then you would have been going out of our lives; now we shall have an interest in all you do, and you will often be coming back to us; there will be that to look forward to. Well, you won't hear me say another word of grumbling until you have gone. And when are you to go?"

"To-morrow or next day," her father said. "Mynheer Van Voorden says, 'I am about to start,' which may mean three days or six. It will need a whole day for your mother and the maids to see to Albert's clothes, and that all is decent and in order. To-day is Monday, and I think that if we say that Albert will arrive there on Thursday by noon it will do very well. Will you be ready by that time, Edgar?"

"Easily enough, Sir Ralph; for, indeed, as we have no maid, my clothes need but little preparation. I wear them until they are worn out, and then get new ones; and I doubt not that I shall be able to replenish my wardrobe to-morrow at Dartford."

Well pleased to find that Albert was to accompany him, Edgar rode home. As he passed in at the gates, Hal Carter ran up to him. "Master tells me that you are going away, Master Edgar. Are you going to take me with you?"

"Not this time, Hal. I am going to Flanders as a guest of a Flemish gentleman, and I could not therefore take a man-at-arms with me; besides, as you know naught of the language, you would be altogether useless there. But do not think that I shall not fulfil my promise. This is but a short absence, and when I return I shall enter the train of some warlike knight or other, and then you shall go with me, never fear."

"Thank you, sir. 'Tis strange to me to be pent up here; not that I have aught in the world to complain of; your father is most kind to me, and I do hope that I am of some use to him."

"Yes, my father has told me several times how useful you were to him in washing out his apparatus and cleaning his crucibles and getting his fires going in readiness. He wonders now how he got on so long without a helper, and will be sorry when the time comes for you to go with me. Indeed he said, but two days ago, that when you went he should certainly look for someone to fill your place."

"So long as he feels that, Master Edgar, I shall be willing enough to stay, but it seemed to me that I was doing but small service in return for meat and drink and shelter. I should feel that I was getting fat and lazy, were it not that I swing a battle-axe every day for an hour, as you bade me."

"Look through your apparel, Edgar," his father said that evening, "and see what you lack. To-morrow morning I will give you moneys wherewith you can repair deficiencies. The suits you got in London will suffice you for the present, but as winter approaches you must get yourself cloth garments, and these can be purchased more cheaply in Flanders than here. Of course, I know not how long your stay there may be; that must depend upon your host. It would be well if, at the end of a month, you should speak about returning, then you will see by his manner whether he really wishes you to make a longer stay or not. Methinks, however, that it is likely he will like you to stay with him until the spring if there is no matter of importance for which you would wish to return. I am sure that he feels very earnestly how much he owes to you, and is desirous of doing you real service; and to my thinking he can do it in no better manner than by giving you six months in Flanders."

Accordingly, three days later, the two friends again rode to London. Each was followed by a man on horseback leading a sumpter-horse carrying the baggage; and Hal Carter was much pleased when he was told that he was to perform this service. Both, for the convenience of carriage, wore their body-armour and arm-pieces, the helmets and greaves being carried with their baggage. On their arrival they were most cordially received by Van Voorden and his family, and found that they were to start on Saturday. On the following morning the lads went to the Tower to pay their respects to the king.

"Be sure you do not neglect that," Sir Ralph had said; "the king is mightily well disposed to you, as I told you. I had related to him in full the affairs in which you took part in London, and on my return after the fight here, I, of course, told him the incidents of the battle, and he said, 'If all my knights had borne themselves as well as your son and his friend, I should not have been in so sore a strait. I should be glad to have them about my person now; but I can well understand that you wish your son to make a name for himself as a valiant knight, and that for a time I must curb my desire.'"

The king received them very graciously. "Sir Ralph and you did good work in dispersing that Kentish rabble, and doing with one blow what it has taken six weeks to accomplish in Essex and Hertford. So you are going to Flanders? You will see there what has come of allowing the rabble to get the mastery. But of a truth the knaves of Ghent and Bruges are of very different mettle to those here, and fight as stoutly as many men-at-arms."

"'Tis true, your Majesty," Edgar said, "but not because they are stouter men, for those we defeated so easily down in Kent are of the same mettle as our archers and men-at-arms who fought so stoutly at Cressy and Poictiers, but they have no leading and no discipline. They know, too, that against mail-clad men they are powerless; but if they were freemen, and called out on your Majesty's service, they would fight as well as did their forefathers."

"You are in favour, then, of granting them freedom?"

"It seems to me that it would strengthen your Majesty's power, and would add considerably to the force that you could put in the field, and would make the people happier and more contented. Living down among them as we do, one cannot but see that 'tis hard on men that they may not go to open market, but must work for such wages as their lords may choose to give them, and be viewed as men of no account, whereas they are as strong and able to work as others."

"You may be right," the young king said, "but you see, my councillors think otherwise, and I am not yet rightly my own master. In one matter, however, I can have my way, and that is in dispensing honours. You know what I said to you before you went hence, that, young as you were, I would fain knight you for the valiant work that you had done. Since then you have done me good service, as well as the realm, by having, with Sir Ralph De Courcy and Sir Robert Gaiton, defeated a great body of the Kentish rebels, who were the worst and most violent of all, though there were with you but fifty men-at-arms. This is truly knightly service, and their defeat drove all rioters in that part to their homes, whereas, had they not been so beaten, there might have been much more trouble, and many worthy men might have been slain by them.

[Illustration: EDGAR AND ALBERT ARE KNIGHTED BY KING RICHARD.]

"Moreover, as you are going to Flanders with our good friend Mynheer Van Voorden, who is in a way charged with a mission from us, it is well that you should travel as knights. It will give you more influence, and may aid him to further my object. Therefore, I am sure, that all here who know how stoutly you have wielded your swords, and how you gave aid and rescue to the worshipful Mynheer Van Voorden and his family, to stout Sir Robert Gaiton, Dame De Courcy and her daughter, and how you bore yourselves in the fight down in Kent, will agree with me that you have right well won the honour."

Then, drawing his sword, he touched each slightly on the shoulder:

"Rise, Sir Albert De Courcy, and Sir Edgar Ormskirk."

As the lads rose they were warmly congratulated by several of the nobles and knights standing round.

"I will not detain you," the king said, a short time later. "Doubtless you have many preparations to make for your voyage. I hope that things will fare well with you in Flanders. Bear in mind that if you draw sword for Mynheer Van Voorden you are doing it for England."