Chapter XIV. Civil War

Edgar and Albert came up with the force after an hour-and-a-half's riding, and found it halted some four miles from Bruges. The news that the English knights had discovered a store of flour had passed quickly through the ranks, and they were loudly cheered as they rode in.

"Truly you have rendered us a vast service," Van Artevelde said, as they joined him, "for it will not be needful to break in this evening upon our scanty store, and this is of vital importance, since we must perforce wait until the earl and the men of Bruges come out to attack us. Your men said that it was some fifteen sacks of flour that you had found?"

"About that, sir. There were ten full, and under the millstones was a great bin holding, I should say, half as much more. Moreover, we have ridden far over the country, and have gathered up twelve head of cattle, four horses, and a score of sheep. These are following us, and will give meat enough for a good meal to-day all round, and maybe something to spare, and to-morrow I trust that we may bring in some more."

A murmur of satisfaction broke from the four or five burghers with Van Artevelde.

"This is a good beginning, indeed, of our adventure," the latter said, "and greatly are we beholden to these knights. They have dispelled the apprehension I had that if the people of Bruges deferred their attack for a couple of days they might find us so weakened with hunger as to be unable to show any front against them."

Two hours later the animals arrived, and were handed over to the company of the butchers' guild, who proceeded at once to cut them up. They were then distributed among the various companies, with orders that but half was to be eaten that night and the rest kept for the morrow. In the meantime men had been sent on to some of the deserted villages, and had returned with doors, shutters, broken furniture, and beams, and fires were speedily lighted. Before the meat was ready half of those who had remained at the mill arrived laden with bread, and said that the rest would be up in two hours. For the first time for weeks the Ghentois enjoyed a hearty meal, and as Van Artevelde, with the young knights and burghers with him, went round on foot among the men, they were greeted with loud cheers and shouts of satisfaction.

The next day the force remained where it had halted. The two knights and the men-at-arms scoured the country again for some miles round, and drove in before them twenty-two head of cattle, and these sufficed, with what had remained over, to furnish food for the day and to leave enough for the troops to break their fast in the morning.

So deserted was the country that it was not until the next morning early that the news reached the earl that the men of Ghent had come out against him. Rejoicing that they should thus have placed themselves in his power, he sent out three knights to reconnoitre their position and bring an account of their numbers. After breakfast Philip Van Artevelde had moved his followers a short distance away from their halting-ground and taken up a position near to a small hill, where he addressed them.

Some friars and clergy who were with the force celebrated mass at various points, and then confessed the troops and exhorted them to keep up their courage, telling them that small forces had, with the help of God, frequently defeated large ones, and as all had been done that was possible to obtain peace but without avail, He would surely help them against these enemies who sought to destroy them utterly. Then they prepared for battle. Each man carried with him a long and sharp stake, as was their custom, in the same fashion as did the English archers, and they gathered in a square and set a hedge of these stakes round them. The enemy's knights had ridden near them without being interfered with, for the Ghentois wished nothing better than that the smallness of their numbers should be clearly seen.

After they had ridden off, Van Artevelde, confident that their report would suffice to bring out the earl with his people, now ordered that the wine and bread brought out with them, which had hitherto been untouched, should be served out. The men then sat down and quietly awaited the attack. As Van Artevelde had hoped, the message taken back by the knights as to his strength and position was sufficient to induce the earl to give battle at once, as he feared that they might change their mind and retreat. The alarm-bells called all the citizens to arms. They fell in with their companies, and marched out forty thousand strong, including the knights and men-at-arms of the earl. The citizens of Bruges, delighted at the thought that the opportunity for levelling their haughty rival to the dust had now arrived, marched on, until they reached the edge of a pond in front of the position of the Ghentois.

Van Artevelde had placed the whole of the men with guns in the front rank, with the strictest orders that no shot was to be fired until the order was given. Waiting until the enemy had gathered in great masses, Van Artevelde gave the word, and the three hundred guns, many of these being wall- pieces, were fired at once, doing great destruction. The sun was behind the Ghentois, and its direct rays, and those reflected from the pond, rendered it difficult for the men of Bruges to see what their foes were doing, and observing the great confusion from the effect of the volley, the men of Ghent, with a mighty cheer, pulled up their stakes, and rushing round the ends of the pond, fell upon their enemies with fury.

The men of Bruges, who had anticipated no resistance, and had marched out in the full belief that the Ghentois would lay down their arms and crave for mercy as soon as they appeared, were seized with a panic. The two young knights, with their four men-at-arms, had placed themselves at the head of the foot-men, and, dashing among the citizens, hewed their way through them, followed closely by the shouting Ghentois. Numbers of the men of Bruges were slain with sword, axe, and pike. The others threw away their arms and fled, hotly pursued by their foes. Louis of Flanders, who, by a charge with his knights and men-at-arms, might well have remedied the matter, now showed that he was as cowardly as he was cruel, drew off with them, and, without striking a single blow, he himself and some forty men galloped to Bruges. The rest of his knights and followers scattered in all directions.

Great numbers of the flying citizens were killed in the pursuit. It was now dark; the earl on arriving had ordered the gate by which he entered to be closed, and had set twenty men there. Thus the retreat of the citizens into the town was prevented, and many were slaughtered. In consequence, the rest fled to other gates, where they were admitted, but with them rushed in their pursuers. Philip Van Artevelde begged the two English knights to each take a strong party, and to proceed round the walls in different directions, seizing all the gates, and setting a strong guard on them, that none should enter or leave; and then, with the main body of his following, he marched without opposition to the market-place.

The earl, when he found that the town was lost and the gates closed, disguised himself, and found shelter for the night in a loft in the house of a poor woman. Van Artevelde had issued the strictest orders that he was on no account to be injured, but was, when found, to be brought at once to him, so that he might be taken to Ghent, and there obliged to make a peace that would assure to the city all its privileges, and give rest and tranquillity to the country. In spite, however, of the most rigid search, the earl was not found; but the forty knights and men-at-arms who had entered with him were all captured and killed. No harm whatever was done to any of the inhabitants of Bruges, or to any foreign merchants or others residing there.


On the following night the Earl of Flanders managed to effect his escape in disguise. That day being Sunday the men of Ghent repaired to the cathedral, where they had solemn mass celebrated, and a thanksgiving for their victory and for their relief from their sore strait. The young knights were not present, for as soon as the city was captured, Van Artevelde said to them:

"Brave knights, to you it is chiefly due that we are masters here to-day, instead of being men exhausted, without hope, and at the mercy of our enemies. It was you who found and brought us food, and so enabled us to hold out for two days, and to meet the enemy strong and in good heart. Then, too, I marked how you clove a way for our men to follow you through the ranks of the foe, spreading death and dismay among them. Sirs, to you, then, I give the honour of bearing the news to Ghent. I have ordered that fresh horses shall be brought you from the prince's stable. Councillor Moens will ride with you to act as spokesman; but before starting, take, I pray you, a goblet of wine and some bread. It were well that you took your men-at-arms with you, for you might be beset on the road by some of the people who did not succeed in entering the gates, or by some of the cowardly knights who stood by and saw the citizens being defeated without laying lance in rest to aid them. Fresh horses shall be prepared for your men also, and they shall sup before they start. There is no lack of food here."

Much gratified at the mission intrusted to them, the young knights at once ordered their men-at-arms to prepare for the ride.

"When you have supped," Albert said, "see that you stuff your saddle-bags and ours with food for Van Voorden's household first, and then for those who most need it."

The meals were soon eaten. As they were about to mount Van Artevelde said to them:

"There will be no lack of provisions to-morrow, for in two hours a great train of waggons, loaded with provisions, will start under a strong guard, and to-morrow at daybreak herds of cattle will be brought in and driven there; you may be sure also that the rivers will be open as soon as the news is known, for none will now venture to interfere with those bringing food into Ghent."

The councillor was ready, and in a few minutes they had passed out of the city, and were galloping along the road to Ghent, just as the bell of the cathedral tolled the hour often. Two hours later, without having once checked the speed of their horses, they heard the bells ringing midnight in Ghent. In ten minutes they approached the gate, and were challenged from the walls.

"I am the Councillor Moens," the knights' companion shouted. "I come from Philip Van Artevelde with good news. We have defeated the enemy and captured Bruges."

There was a shout of delight from the walls, and in a minute the drawbridge was lowered and the great gate opened. The councillor rode straight to the town-hall. The doors were open, and numbers of the citizens were still gathered there. Moens did not wait to speak to them, but, running into the belfry, ordered the men there to ring their most joyous peal. The poor fellows had been lying about, trying to deaden their hunger by sleep, but at the order they leapt to their feet, seized the ropes, and Ghent was electrified by hearing the triumphal peal bursting out in the stillness of the night.

In the meantime those in the hall had crowded round the young knights and their followers, but these, beyond saying that the news was good, waited until Moens' return. It was but a minute, and he at once shouted:

"The enemy have been beaten! We have taken Bruges! By the morning food will be here!"

Now from every belfry in the city the notes from the town-hall had been taken up, the clanging of the bells roused every sleeper, and the whole town poured into the street shouting wildly, for though they knew not yet what had happened, it was clear that some great news had arrived. All the councillors and the principal citizens had made for the town-hall, which was speedily thronged. Moens took his place with the two young knights upon the raised platform at the end, and lifted his hand for silence. The excited multitude were instantly still, and those near the doors closed them, to keep out the sound of the bells. Then Moens, speaking at the top of his voice that all might hear him, said: "I am now but the mouthpiece of these English knights, to whom Van Artevelde has given the honour of bearing the news to you, but since they are ignorant of our language I have come with them as interpreter. First, then, we have met the army of Bruges and the earl, forty thousand strong; we have defeated them with great slaughter, and with but small loss to ourselves."

A mighty shout rose from the crowd, and it was some minutes before the speaker could continue.

"Following on the heels of our flying foes, we entered the city, and Bruges is ours."

Another shout, as enthusiastic as the first, again interrupted him.

"A great train of waggons filled with wine and provisions was to start at midnight, and will be here to-morrow morning at daybreak. Herds will be driven in, and dispatched at once. By to-morrow night, therefore, the famine will be at an end, and every man, woman, and child in Ghent will be able to eat their fill."

Those at the door shouted the glad news to the multitude in the square, and a roar like that of the sea answered, and echoed the shouts in the hall.

"Tell us more, tell us more!" the men cried, when the uproar ceased. "We have seven or eight hours to wait for food; tell us all about it."

"I will tell you first, citizens, why I am speaking to you in the name of these English knights, and why they have been chosen to have the honour of bringing these good tidings hither."

He then told them how, the force being without horsemen, and bound to keep straight along by the road, the two knights had volunteered to ride out to see if any hostile force was approaching, and also to endeavour to find provisions.

"The latter seemed hopeless," the councillor went on. "Every village had long since been deserted, and no living soul met the eye on the plain. They had been gone but three hours when one of their men-at-arms rode in, asking that all the bakers should be sent forward at once, for that, in a mill less than two miles from the road, they had discovered fifteen sacks of flour left behind. The bakers started at once with five hundred men to bring on the bread as fast as it was baked to the spot where we were to halt.

"This was not all, for, later on, the knights with some of the men joined us at the camp with sufficient cattle, sheep, and horses, that the knights had found straying, to give every man a meal that night, and one the following morning. The next day they drove in a few more, and so it was not until to-day that we touched the store we took with us. It was the food that saved us. Had we been forced to eat our scanty supply that first night, we should have been fasting for well-nigh forty-eight hours, and when the earl, with his knights and men-at-arms and the townsmen of Bruges, in all forty thousand men, marched out to meet us, what chance would five thousand famished men have had against them? As it was, the food we got did wonders for us; and every man seemed to have regained his full strength and courage. When they came nigh to us we poured in one volley with all our guns, which put them into confusion. The sun was in their eyes, and almost before they knew that we had moved, we were upon them.

"These two knights and their four men-at-arms flung themselves into the crowd and opened the way for our footmen, and in five minutes the fight was over. It may be that many of the craftsmen of Bruges were there unwillingly, and that these were among the first to throw down their arms and fly. However it was, in five minutes the whole force was in full flight. The earl's knights and their men-at-arms struck not a single blow, but seeming panic-struck, scattered and fled in all directions, the earl and forty men alone gaining Bruges. There they closed the gate against the fugitives, but these fled to other gates, and so hotly did we pursue them that we entered mixed up with them.

"Van Artevelde committed to the two English knights the task of seizing all the gates, and of setting a guard to prevent any man from leaving, while the rest of us under him pushed forward to the market-place. There was no resistance. Thousands of the men had fallen in the battle and flight. Thousands had failed to enter the gates. All who did so were utterly panic-stricken and terrified. Thus the five thousand men you sent out have defeated forty thousand, and have captured Bruges, and I verily believe that not more than a score have fallen. Methinks, my friends, you will all agree with me that your governor has done well to give these knights the honour of carrying the good news to Ghent."

A mighty shout answered the question. The crowd rushed upon the two young knights, each anxious to speak to them, and praise them. With difficulty the councillor, aided by some of his colleagues, surrounded them, and made a way to a small door at the end of the platform. Once beyond the building, they hurried along by-streets to Van Voorden's house, to where, on entering the hall, they had charged the men-at-arms at once to take the horses, to hand over as much of the provisions as were needed for the immediate wants of the household, and then to carry the rest to the nuns of a convent hard by--for these were, they knew, reduced to the direst straits before the expedition started.

"Welcome back, welcome back!" the Fleming exclaimed, as they entered, and the words were repeated by wife and daughter. "Your men-at-arms told my wife what had happened, and I myself heard it from the lower end of the town-hall, where I arrived just as Moens began to speak. I saw you escape from the platform, and hurried off, but have only this instant arrived. The crush was so great in the square that it was difficult to make my way through it, but forgive us if we say nothing further until we have eaten that food upon the table, for indeed we have had but one regular meal since you left the town. Tell me first, though, for all were too excited to ask Moens the question--has the earl been captured?"

"He had not, up to the moment when we left. The strictest search is being made for him. It is known that he must be somewhere in the town, for he and a party, not knowing that Van Artevelde was in the market-place, well- nigh fell into his hands, and he certainly could not have got through any of the gates before we had closed them and had placed a strong guard over them. Van Artevelde has given strict orders that he is to be taken uninjured, and he purposes to bring him here, and to make him sign a peace with us."

"I trust that he will be caught," Van Voorden said; "but as for the peace, I should have no faith in it, for be sure that as soon as he is once free again he would repudiate it, and would at once set to work to gather, with the aid of Burgundy, a force with which he could renew the war, wipe out the disgrace that has befallen him, and take revenge upon the city that inflicted it. Now, let us to supper."

"We will but look on," Albert said, with a smile. "We supped at Bruges at half-past nine, but it will be a pleasure indeed to see you eat it."

"We must not eat much," the merchant said to his wife and daughter. "Let us take a little now, and to-morrow we can do better. It might injure us to give rein to our appetite after well-nigh starving for the last two days."

As soon as the meal was eaten all sallied out into the streets, the young knights first laying aside their armour, as they did not wish to attract attention. The bells were still ringing out with joyous clamour; at every house flags, carpets, and curtains had been hung out; torches were fixed to every balcony, and great bonfires had been lighted in the middle of the streets, and in the open spaces and markets. The people were well-nigh delirious with joy; strangers shook hands and embraced in the streets; men and women forgot their weakness and hunger, though many were so feeble but an hour before that they could scarcely drag themselves along. The cathedral and churches were all lighted up and crowded with worshippers, thanking God for having preserved them in their hour of greatest need.

"Then, in truth, Sir Edgar," the Fleming said, as they went along, "the people of Bruges showed themselves to be but a cowardly rabble, and the fighting was poor indeed."

"It could scarce be called fighting at all," Edgar said. "A few blows from halbert and bill, and a few thrusts of the pike struck my armour as I charged among them, but after that, it was but a matter of cutting down fugitives. The rabble down in Kent fought with far greater courage, for we had to charge through and through them several times before they broke. I doubt not that very many were outside Bruges against their wills; they had not dared disobey the summons to arms. It was a panic, and a strange one. They had doubtless made up their minds that when we saw their multitude, we should surrender without a blow being struck. The sudden discharge of the guns shook them, and at our first charge they bolted away panic- struck. The strangest part of the affair was that the earl, who had a strong following of knights and men-at-arms, made no effort to retrieve the battle. Had they but charged down upon our flank when we had become disordered in the pursuit, they could have overthrown us without difficulty.

"How it came about that they did not do so is more than I can say. It is clear that the earl showed himself to be a great coward, and his disgrace this day is far greater than that of the burghers of Bruges, since he and his party fled without the loss of a single drop of blood, while thousands of the citizens have lost their lives."

"'Tis good that he so behaved," Van Voorden said. "The story that he so deserted the men of Bruges, who went to fight in his quarrel, will speedily be known throughout Flanders, and that, with the news of our great victory, will bring many cities to our side. I trust that Van Artevelde will treat Bruges with leniency."

"He has already issued a proclamation that none of the small craftsmen of Bruges shall be injured, but exception is made in the case of the four guilds that have always been foremost against Ghent; members of which are to be killed when found."

"'Tis a pity, but one can scarce blame him. And now, my friends, that we have seen Ghent on this wonderful night, it will be well that we get home to bed. My wife and daughter are still weak from fasting, and I myself feel the strain. As to you, you have done a heavy day's work indeed, especially having to carry the weight of your armour."

The young knights were indeed glad to throw themselves upon their pallets. They slept soundly until awakened by a fresh outburst of the bells. They sat up; daylight was beginning to break.

"'Tis the train of provisions," Edgar said. "We may as well go out and see the sight, and give such aid as we can to the council, for the famishing people may well be too eager to await the proper division of the food."

In a few days there was an abundance of everything in Ghent, for Damme and Sluys opened their gates at once. In the former there were vast cellars of wine, of which 6,000 tuns were sent by ships and carts to Ghent, while at Sluys there was a vast quantity of corn and meal in the ships and storehouses of foreign merchants. All this was bought and paid for at fair prices and sent to the city. Besides food and wine, Ghent received much valuable spoil. All the gold and silver vessels of the earl were captured at Bruges, with much treasure, and a great store of gold and jewels was taken at his palace at Male, near Bruges.

Philip Van Artevelde at once sent messages to all the towns of Flanders summoning them to send the keys of their gates to Ghent, and to acknowledge her supremacy. The news of the victory had caused great exultation in most of these cities, and with the exception of Oudenarde, all sent deputations at once to Ghent to congratulate her, and to promise to support her in all things. In the meantime the gates and a portion of the wall of Bruges had been beaten down, and five hundred of the burgesses were taken to Ghent as hostages. The young knights remained quietly there until Philip Van Artevelde returned. He was received with frantic enthusiasm. He had assumed the title of Regent of Flanders, and now assumed a state and pomp far greater than that which the earl himself had held. He had an immense income, for not only were his private estates large, but a sort of tribute was paid by all the towns of Flanders, and Ghent for a time presented a scene of gaiety and splendour equal to that of any capital in Europe.

Siege was presently laid to Oudenarde, where the garrison had been strongly reinforced by a large party of men-at-arms and cross-bowmen, sent by the earl. Every city in Flanders sent a contingent of fighting men to join those of Ghent, and no less than a hundred thousand men were assembled outside Oudenarde. Thither went the two young friends as soon as the siege began. They had come out to see fighting and not feasting, and they had lost the society of Van Voorden, he having been requested by Van Artevelde to return to England, to conclude a treaty between her and Ghent. Flanders was indeed master of itself, for the earl was a fugitive at the Court of his son-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy, who was endeavouring to induce France to join him against Flanders.

For a time he failed, for the king was much better disposed to the Flemings than he was to the earl, but when, some time later, Charles died, and Burgundy became all-powerful with the young king, his successor, France also prepared to take the field against Flanders. Thus a close alliance between the latter and England became of great importance to both, and had it not been for the extreme unpopularity of the Duke of Lancaster and his brother Gloucester, the course of events might have been changed. For war with France was always popular in England, and the necessary supplies would at once have been voted by parliament had it not been thought that when an army was raised Lancaster would, instead of warring with France, use it for furthering his own claims in Spain. Many English knights, however, came over on their own account to aid the Flemings, and no less than two hundred archers at Calais quietly left the town, with the acquiescence, if not with the encouragement, of the authorities, to take service with Van Artevelde.

One day, the two friends returned to camp after being away for some time watching what was going on. On entering their tent, Albert, who was the first to enter, gave a shout of surprise and pleasure. Edgar pushed in to see what could have thus excited his friend, and so moved him from his usual quiet manner. He, too, was equally surprised, and almost equally pleased, when he saw Albert standing with his hand clasped in that of his father.

"I thought that I should surprise you," Sir Ralph said, "by coming over both to see this great gathering, and also to have a look at you. We heard of your doings from Van Voorden. He was good enough, after his first interview with the king and council, to ride down to tell us how it fared with you, and it gave us no small pleasure, as you may well suppose, to hear that you had already gained so much credit, and that you both were well in health, I went back to town with him, and stayed three weeks there. There was much talk in the council. All were well content that there should be an alliance with the Flemings, but it seems to me there is not much chance of an English army taking the field to help them at present.

"The king is altogether taken up with his marriage, and is thinking much more of fetes and pageants than of war. Then 'tis doubtful whether the commons would grant the large sum required. The present is a bad time; the rebellion has cost much money, and what with the destruction of property, with the fields standing untilled, and the expenses of the Court, which are very heavy, in truth the people have reasonable cause for grumbling thereat. Then, again, if an army were sent to Flanders, Lancaster would most surely have the command, and you know how much he is hated, and, I may say, feared. Naught will persuade men that he has not designs upon the crown. For this I can see no warrant, but assuredly he loves power, and he and Gloucester overshadow the king.

"Then, again, his wishes are, certainly, to lead a great army into Spain, and he would oppose money being spent on operations in Flanders. Thus, I fear, our alliance is like to be but of little use to Ghent or Flanders. Were but the Black Prince or his father upon the throne things would be different indeed, and we should have a stout army here before many weeks are over. We of the old time feel it hard indeed to see England playing so poor a part. There is another reason, moreover, why our barons do not press matters on. In the first place, they are jealous of the influence that the king's favourites have with him, and that those who, by rank and age, should be his councillors meet with but a poor reception when they come to Court.

"But methinks that even these things hinder much less than the conduct of the people of Ghent. Since Bruges was captured there have been, as you know, parties going through the land as far as the frontiers of France, plundering and destroying all the houses and castles of the knights and nobles, under the complaint that they were favourable to the earl, but in truth chiefly because these knaves hate those of gentle blood and are greedy of plunder. Our nobles deem it--and methinks that they have some reason for doing so--to be a business something like that which we have had in England, save that with us it was the country people, while here it is those of the towns who would fain pull down and destroy all those above them in station. Certainly, their acts are not like to win the friendship and assistance of our English nobles and knights."

"Indeed, I see that, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "At first we were greatly in favour of Ghent, seeing that they were in a desperate strait and that all reasonable terms were refused them, but of late we have not been so warm in their cause. Van Artevelde himself is assuredly honest and desirous of doing what is right, but methinks he does wrong in keeping up the state of a king and bearing himself towards all those of the other cities of Flanders as if Ghent were their conqueror, and laying heavy taxes upon them, while he himself is swayed by the councils of the most violent of the demagogues of Ghent."

"But now tell me--how goes on the siege?"

"It goes not on at all. Oudenarde is a strong place; it is defended by many broad ditches, and has a garrison of knights and men-at-arms of the earl, who, as we know, take upon themselves all the defence, knowing that there are men in the town who would fain surrender, and fearing that these would throw open the gates to us, or give us such aid as they could, were there a chance. Still more, the siege goes on but slowly, or rather we may say goes on not at all, for want of a leader. Van Artevelde himself knows nothing whatever of the business of war, nor do any of those about him.

"The men of the towns will all fight bravely in a pitched field, as they have often shown, but as to laying a siege, they know naught of it, and it seems to us that the matter might go on for a year and yet be no nearer its end. They are far more occupied in making ordinances and collecting contributions, and in doing all they can for the honour and glory of Ghent, than in thinking of taking Oudenarde, which, indeed, when captured, would be of no great consequence to them."

Sir Ralph nodded. "Methinks you are right, Edgar. I arrived here just as you went out this morning, and hearing from your men that you were not like to return till midday, I have ridden round to see what was being done, and to my surprise saw that, in the three months since this great host sat down before Oudenarde, naught of any use whatever has been accomplished. With such an army, if Flanders wishes to maintain her freedom, she should have summoned Burgundy to abstain from giving aid to the earl, and on his refusal should have marched with her whole force against him, captured some of his great towns, and met his host in a fair field. Methinks you two are doing no good to yourselves here, and that it will be just as well for you both to go back to England for a time, until you see how matters shape themselves."