Chapter XVIII. A Noble Gift
 

The pace at which the party started soon slackened, for neither Albert nor Hal Carter could maintain it. However, it was not long before they heard the sentry challenge:

"Who go there?"

"Sir Albert De Courcy and Sir Edgar Ormskirk escaped from Ypres," Edgar answered.

"Stand where you are till I call the sergeant," the man said, and shouted "Sergeant!" at the top of his voice. In five minutes a sergeant and two men-at-arms came up.

"Hurry, sergeant, I pray you," Edgar said. "We have swum three ditches, and my companions, being weakened by their wounds, are well-nigh perished."

"Come on," the sergeant said, "it is clear at any rate that you are Englishmen." He had brought a torch with him, and as they came up looked at them narrowly, then he saluted. "I know you, Sir Edgar, disguised as you are. I was fighting behind you on the wall five weeks since, and had it not been for the strength of your arm, I should have returned no more to England."

"How is Sir Hugh Calverley?" Edgar asked, as they hurried towards the camp.

"His wounds are mending fast," the sergeant said, "and he went out of his tent to-day for the first time. I saw him myself."

A quarter of an hour's walking brought them to the tent occupied by Sir Hugh and his followers. A light was still burning there, and they heard voices within.

"May we enter?" Edgar said, as he slightly opened the flap of the tent.

"Surely, that must be the voice of Sir Edgar Ormskirk!" Sir Hugh exclaimed.

"It is I, sure enough, and with me is Sir Albert De Courcy and my brave man-at-arms."

As he spoke he stepped into the tent. Two knights were there, and they and Sir Hugh advanced with outstretched hands to meet the new-comers.

"Welcome back, welcome back!" Sir Hugh exclaimed, in a tone of emotion. "My brave knights, I and my two comrades here have to thank you for our lives, for, although in truth I know naught about it, I have heard from Sir Thomas Vokes and Sir Tristram Montford how you brought the band to our assistance, and how you kept the enemy at bay, while this good fellow of yours bore me down the ladder on his shoulder; while from those who escaped afterwards we heard how you both, with but two or three others, kept the foe back, and gave time for the rest to jump from the walls or slide down the ladders. But your faces are blue, and your teeth chattering!"

"We have had to swim three ditches, and the ice having formed pretty thickly, it was no child's work."

"First, do you each drain a goblet of wine," Sir Hugh said, "and then to your tent. All your things are untouched. Knights, will you go with them and rub them down till their skin glows, and then wrap them up in blankets?" He called, and two servants came in. "Heat three bottles of wine in a bowl with plenty of spices," he said, "and carry it to these knights' tent, and take a portion to the tent of their men-at-arms for the use of this good fellow. See that your comrades rub you down," he said to Hal. "They will be glad indeed to see you back; for, although we heard from a prisoner that the two knights were alive, we knew not whether any others had been taken with them. Tell Hawkins to light two torches at once and fix them in the knights' tent, and put two others in that of the men- at-arms. Mind, Sir Edgar, once between the blankets, you stay there till morning. Your story will keep until then."

After throwing off their wet clothes, and being rubbed down until they glowed, Edgar and Albert were soon covered up in blankets, and after drinking the hot spiced wine, soon fell asleep. In the morning they related their story to Sir Hugh Calverley and the other two knights.

"'Tis Sir Edgar who should tell the tale," Albert said, "for indeed I know but little about it from the time I saw you lowered over the wall. Things went well with us for a time; we were joined by more men, and were strong enough to divide into two parties, Edgar going to the right while I went to the left. We cleared the wall for some distance, and methinks had there been ladders, so that we could have been helped more quickly, the town would have been won, but the enemy were reinforced more quickly than we were, and we began to lose ground. Then came a body of knights who beat us back till we were close to the point where the ladders were set. Then a knight made at me with a mace. I saw his arms raised, and after that I knew nothing more."

"The last man who jumped from the wall, Sir Albert, told us that he saw that you were down and that Sir Edgar and one of his men-at-arms were fighting like demons over you. Now, Sir Edgar, tell us how the matter ended."

"We made a shift to keep them back, Sir Hugh, for some five minutes, when one of the French knights offered to give us terms of surrender on ransom, and seeing no use in fighting longer when the matter could only have terminated one way, I surrendered."

Then he related the good treatment they had met with at the hands of Sir Robert De Beaulieu, and the manner in which he had enabled them to escape the fury of the rabble of Ypres, and had sent them away free from ransom.

"It was well done, indeed, of him," Sir Hugh said, warmly. "Truly a courteous and knightly action. And so you have both given your pledge to fight no more in this campaign. By St. George, I should not be ill-pleased if someone would put me under a similar pledge, for I tell you that I am heartily sick of it. Never did so disordered an army start from England. An army led by bishops and priests is something strange. Bishops have before now ridden often in battle, but never before did they assume command. Methinks when I go home that I will ask the king to give me the direction of Westminster Monastery and Abbey; at any rate I could not make a worse hand of it than the Bishop of Norwich is doing of this. And you say that De Beaulieu promised to send your armour on the first opportunity. That is, indeed, a generous action, for the armour of a prisoner is always the property of his captor, and your armour is of great value. I would that we could do something to show the good knight that we appreciate his generosity."

"We have our chains," Edgar said. "Of course we did not carry them about us when we should have to fight, and they are very heavy and of the finest workmanship. These would we gladly send to him, would we not, Albert, in token of our gratitude? Though, costly as they are, they are of much less value than the armour."

"I would gladly add something of my own account," Sir Hugh said, "seeing that you are in my train, and one does not like to be surpassed by a foreign knight. As to the matter of the ransom, that does not trouble me, and indeed, seeing that you surrendered to him, and that he felt that he could not give protection, and you had to risk your lives in getting away, it was but reasonable that he should remit it, but in the matter of the armour the case is different. I will add to your chains a reliquary which was presented to me by Pedro of Castile when I saved his life in the fight at Najarra. He told me that it contained a nail of the true cross, and that it was brought to Spain by a Spaniard of royal blood who was a knight commander of the Temple.

"I do not know how far this is true, for as one gets older one loses faith in these monkish stories of reliquaries. However, the casket is set with gems of value, and there is with it a parchment setting forth its history; at any rate it is a gift that is worthy of even a prince's acceptance. I will send it to him as a token that Sir Hugh Calverley recognizes his chivalrous behaviour to the knights who were captured while covering his carriage from the ramparts of Ypres, and, therefore, sends this gift to him in all honour and courtesy, together with the gold chains of the knights themselves. We shall not have long to wait. There are fights well- nigh every day, and when these are over there is a truce of an hour to carry off the wounded and dead."

The young knights thanked Sir Hugh for thus generously supplementing their own offering in return for their armour, but he waved it aside.

"You saved my life," he said; "or at any rate you saved me from capture, and had I fallen into their hands methinks that I should have had to pay a far heavier ransom before they let me out again."

Two days later there was heavy fighting again and much loss on both sides. It ceased as usual without any advantage being won by the besiegers. The fighting ended soon after mid-day, and at one o'clock the trumpet sounded a truce. Sir Hugh mounted, with his two knights, saying to Edgar: "It were perhaps best that you should not ride with me. 'Tis likely that the townsmen still think that you are in Beaulieu's house, and were it known that you had escaped it might bring trouble upon him and the two knights who aided your escape from the wall."

He took with him a pursuivant and trumpeter, and, riding through the English and Flemish men-at-arms, who were already engaged in carrying away the dead and wounded, he rode up to within a short distance of the wall, then the pursuivant and trumpeter advanced to the edge of the moat, and the latter blew a loud blast.

In a short time a knight appeared on the wall, and the pursuivant cried in a loud voice:

"Sir Hugh Calverley, a valiant and puissant knight of England, desires speech with Sir Robert De Beaulieu, a brave and gentle knight of Flanders."

"I am Sir Robert De Beaulieu. Pray tell Sir Hugh Calverley to do me the courtesy to wait for me a quarter of an hour, and I will then issue forth and speak to him."

At the end of that time Sir Robert rode out, and crossed the bridge which had been lowered across the ditch for the passage of the soldiers engaged in collecting the dead. He was followed by two esquires and four men-at- arms, the latter bearing something behind them on their horses. The two knights saluted each other courteously, and Sir Hugh introduced his two companions to Sir Robert.

"I am glad, indeed," the latter said to Calverley, "thus to have the opportunity of meeting one of the most famous knights in Europe. My men- at-arms are bearers of the armour of Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir Albert De Courcy, who are, I believe, knights riding in your train. I promised them that I would send the armour on the first opportunity, and am glad indeed that the occasion has come so speedily."

He and Sir Hugh had both dismounted after saluting each other, and the latter held out his mailed hand to the Fleming.

"Sir Robert De Beaulieu," he said, "I have heard of you as a brave and honourable knight, and you have in this matter proved yourself to be a chivalrous and generous one in thus rendering up the spoil fairly won by you, without ransom; but it is not our custom to be outdone in generosity. The armour is of no ordinary value, and, as these knights of mine were made prisoners while covering my removal when insensible and helpless, I feel that the debt is mine as well as theirs. They have begged me to give you these two chains, both, as you see, of value, and of the best Italian work. To these I add, as a token of my esteem for you, this casket, which was given to me by Don Pedro of Spain when I rode with the Black Prince to aid him in his struggle with Don Henry. As you will see by the parchment attached to the casket, it contains a nail of the true cross, brought from Palestine by a Spanish grandee who was knight commander of the Spanish branch of the Knights Templar. I pray you to accept it, not as part of the ransom for my knights' armour, but as a proof of my esteem for one who has shown himself a flower of knightly courtesy."

"It would be churlish, Sir Hugh Calverley, for me to refuse so noble a gift thus courteously tendered. I shall prize it beyond any in my possession, not only for its own value and holiness, but as the gift of so noble and famous a knight. As to the chains, I pray you to return them to your brave young knights. Never did I see men who bore themselves more gallantly, and Sir Edgar, especially, withstood with honour a score of us for some time, and at last he yielded, not because he was conquered, but to save further bloodshed. They are young, and may, like enough, some day be again made prisoners. In that case they may find the chains, which are of singular beauty, of value to them; therefore, I pray you, hand them back to them again as a token of how warmly I appreciate their bravery and conduct."

"Right gladly will I do so. As you put it in that way, Sir Robert, they will appreciate the gift as much as I do, and, as you say, maybe the chains will be useful to them some day, for they are not of those who battle for spoil, and, like myself, have refused all share in that which the army has taken in Flanders, holding that we had no cause of dispute with your people, and that our assault upon them was unfairly and unjustly made."

After some more compliments had been exchanged, the two knights grasped each other's hands courteously, remounted, and then saluting again, rode off. While the conversation had been going on, Sir Robert's men-at-arms had handed over the armour to the three retainers who had ridden behind Sir Hugh and his two knights.

Edgar and Albert were delighted at regaining their armour. It would have been impossible for them to have replaced the harness by similar suits, and, moreover, they felt that they would have been humiliated had they, on their return to England, been obliged to confess to Sir Robert Gaiton that they had lost the splendid presents that he had given them. They were less pleased at the return of their chains, but Sir Hugh assured them that it would be an act of discourtesy were they to send them back to De Beaulieu.

There was now nothing to detain them longer in the camp, and taking leave of Sir Hugh, they started the next morning, with Hal Carter and the other surviving retainers, and rode by easy stages to Gravelines, where they took ship for Dover. Instead of riding directly home, they journeyed to London, as they were bearers of a letter from Sir Hugh Calverley to the council, and one also to the king. The latter received them with marked pleasure.

"What! back from the wars, sir knights?" he said, as they handed him Sir Hugh's letter. "Surely Calverley might have chosen as his messengers some whose swords could have been better spared."

"We were chosen, your Majesty, because we had the misfortune to be taken prisoners at Ypres, and it was a condition of our release that we should take no further part in the campaign, and as we were returning in consequence, Sir Hugh committed to us this letter to yourself, and one to the council."

"Prisoners!" the king said, with a laugh; "that you had got yourselves killed would not have surprised me, but that you should surrender never entered my mind."

The two young knights coloured.

"It cannot be said that Sir Albert surrendered," Edgar said, "seeing that he was insensible from his wounds. As for myself, your Majesty, as I and one of my men-at-arms stood alone on the walls of Ypres surrounded by foes, I trust that your Majesty will see that it was wiser for me to yield, and so to have the opportunity of fighting again some day under your royal banner, than to give away my life uselessly."

"Assuredly, assuredly," the young king said, hastily. "I did but jest, Sir Edgar, for I know that so long as a chance of victory remained, you would not lower your sword. However, let me see what the stout knight says. I know already that he does not approve of the way in which the war is being carried on; and, indeed, had we thought that the headstrong bishop would have disregarded Sir Hugh's counsel and embroiled us with the Flemings, whom we regard as our allies, we should not have placed him at the head of the army, for though it is but, as the bishop maintains, a church army, and not an English army, Europe will assuredly hold us responsible for its doings."

He cut with his dagger the silk that bound the roll of parchment together.

The king read the letter carefully, and when he concluded said:

"Truly, young sirs, you have borne yourselves right gallantly and well; Sir Hugh Calverley speaks strongly indeed in your favour, and says that he owes his freedom if not his life to you. And now, tell me, think you that Ypres will be taken?"

"I fear not, your Majesty," Edgar said. "I thought that the siege of Oudenarde was worse conducted than anything I had ever read of, but the siege of Ypres is to the full as faulty. The place is strong and stoutly defended, and it can only be taken by regular works erected against it and machines placed to batter a breach. Nothing of this sort has been attempted. The troops march valiantly against the walls, but they throw away their lives in vain; and if, as is said, the French king is marching to its assistance with a strong army, there will be naught for us but to retreat to the ports unless strong aid arrives from England."

"But the bishop has some eight thousand Englishmen and twenty thousand Ghentois," the king said. "Surely we might fight and win, as our grandfathers did at Crecy."

"Yes, sire; but the English army at Crecy was commanded by a king, and was composed of good fighting men, with a great number of knights and nobles to lead them. The army in Flanders is commanded by a bishop, and there are many of the men who have gone over for the sake of plunder, and they will make but a poor stand in battle."

"My uncle of Lancaster has gathered a large force, and is ready to cross over to their aid," the king said.

"So we have heard by the way, sire, and if he joins the bishop all may be well, for his authority would be paramount, but at present he has not crossed, and unless he arrives before the King of France, things will assuredly go badly with the bishop."

"I have no doubt that Sir Hugh has set forth these matters in his letter to the council," the king said, "but assuredly Lancaster should be there in time. And now, tell me how you made your escape from Ypres."

Edgar related the circumstances.

"Your captor was an honourable gentleman," the king said, "and it is well that you escaped, for these Flemish burghers are masterful men and might well have murdered you. I must now to the council; I have summoned it to assemble. Have you been home yet?"

"No, sire. Our first duty was to bring you the letters, but, with your permission, we shall ride down into Kent tomorrow."

"Do you know that your friend Van Voorden has again returned to London? He found that he could do naught in Flanders, which at present is wholly at the orders of the King of France."

They rode first to Sir Robert Gaiton's house, where, as always, they were welcomed most warmly, and Albert narrated their adventures in Flanders, and how they still owned the armour he had given them.

After staying there for some time they went to the house where Van Voorden was lodging, having obtained his address from Sir Robert Gaiton. They had not seen him since they had parted from him in Ghent, a year before.

"I thought you intended to settle in Flanders, Mynheer," Edgar said, after the first greetings were over.

"I hoped to do so, and after I left Antwerp I went to Louvain and took a house there, but when the King of France defeated and killed Van Artevelde, and all Flanders save Ghent came under his power, the country was no longer safe for me. It was known, of course, that I was for many years here, and that I had done all in my power to effect a league between Ghent and England, so three months ago I crossed hither, leaving my wife and daughter at Louvain. I stopped for a short time at Ghent, and had much to do with bringing it about that Ghent should send an army to assist the English; but I fear that the doings of the bishop's troops--the sacking of towns by them--has so set the Flemings against England that there is no hope of a general alliance being made with Flanders.

"There were other things for which I wished to come over. I had hoped to return before this, but matters seem to be going on but badly, and if the King of France and his army defeat or drive out the bishop, his power will be greater than ever in Flanders, and in that case I shall send for my wife and daughter to come over again, and establish myself here finally."

On taking leave of them he handed a wooden box to each, saying:

"I pray you not to open these until you reach home."

The next day Edgar and Albert rode down into Kent. Great was the surprise that their presence excited when they arrived at De Courcy's castle. Aline ran down into the courtyard and embraced her brother warmly, and then, as was the custom, held up her cheek to be kissed by Edgar.

"What, tired of the wars already?" she said, laughing. "Or have you killed all your enemies? or how is it that you are here?"

"We have been prisoners, Aline," her brother said, "and have been bound to take no farther part in the war."

"Prisoners!" she repeated; "you are joking with me, Albert. Surely you and Edgar would never have surrendered unharmed?"

"Nor did we, Aline. I was cut down and stunned by the blow of a mace, and was lying insensible."

"And what was Edgar doing?" she asked, looking reproachfully at him.

"Edgar was not near me when I was struck down, Aline, but no sooner did I fall than he, with his man-at-arms, Hal Carter, stood over me and kept at bay a host of knights and soldiers, and slew so many that they were glad at last to give him terms of surrender."

The girl's face flushed, and she would have spoken had not Sir Ralph and her mother at that moment issued from the door.

"Why! what brings you home, lads?" Sir Ralph asked, heartily.

"They have been taken prisoners, father," Aline interposed, "and Albert has been wounded, and they have both been obliged to give their parole not to serve again through the war."

"That is bad news indeed," the knight said. "It means another farm gone, and perhaps two, to pay for Albert's ransom. However, it is the fortune of war. Now come in and tell us all about it; but doubtless you are both hungry, and the matter will keep till you have dined. The meal is already on the table. You are not looking much the worse for your wounds, Albert," his father went on as they seated themselves at table.

"I have been healed of them for the last month, father. I was brought down by the blow of a mace, which would have finished me had it not been for the good work put into my helmet by the Milanese armourer. Also I had a wound on the neck, but fortunately it was not very deep."

"And did you come out of it scatheless, Edgar?"

"Nearly scatheless, for I knew not that I had been wounded until the fight was over, and it was but a pike thrust that entered at the shoulder-joint and cut the flesh thence to the neck. It was but an affair of a bandage and a bit of plaster. The only one seriously hurt was Hal Carter--it was some three weeks before he began to mend. He had half a dozen wounds. Another of my men was killed and two of Albert's."

"Now let us hear all about it," Sir Ralph said when the meal was over; "that you bore yourselves well I have no doubt, but I would fain hear the details of the matter."

Albert told the whole story of the assault and the escape, interrupted by Edgar, who protested that Albert was always belittling his own doings, and giving him credit when everything had been done equally by them both.

"You blame Albert unjustly, Edgar," Sir Ralph said when the story was concluded. "Albert has behaved well, but he has neither your strength, your skill, nor your quickness. It was you who thought of carrying the broken ladder to another spot, and so taking the besieged on the wall by surprise, and you were the first to mount it. It was you who, when you saw that the case had become altogether hopeless, ordered the soldiers to save themselves, while you held the enemy at bay. Albert would like enough have been killed, had you not so stoutly defended him that they gave terms of surrender to you both. You, again, had the idea of making your escape along the roofs, and took the lead in it. There is all credit due to Albert that he well seconded you, but it was you who led. Again, it is probable that neither he nor your man-at-arms would have been able to cross those half-frozen ditches, had you not first broken the ice for them and then dragged them over. You have done wonders for Albert, but you could not accomplish miracles. You have transformed him from a weakling into a brave young knight, of whom I am proud, but you cannot give him your strength or your quickness. If you go on as you have began, Edgar, you will become a famous captain. He will remain, and will be content to remain, your companion and lieutenant. What have you in those boxes that were strapped behind your saddles?"

"I know not, Sir Ralph," Albert said. "They were given to us by Mynheer Van Voorden, and he charged us not to open them until we arrived here."

"It is a mystery, then!" Aline exclaimed. "Let us send for them and open them at once. I am glad one of the boxes was not given to me to take care of, for I am afraid I should never have had the patience to wait until I arrived here before opening it."

Sir Ralph ordered the boxes to be brought in. "They are light enough," he said, "and I should judge from their weight that they contain papers of some sort. Open yours first, Albert."

They were fastened by three skeins of silk, the Fleming's seal being affixed to the knots.

"Cut them, Albert!" Aline exclaimed, as her brother proceeded to break the seals and untie the knots.

"No, no," he said; "silk is not to be picked up on the wayside, and it will be little trouble to undo them."

Indeed, in a minute he had unfastened the knots and raised the lid. At the top lay a piece of paper, on which was written, A slight testimony of gratitude for inestimable services rendered to yours gratefully, John Van Voorden. Underneath was a roll of parchment.

"What have we here?" Sir Ralph said. Albert ran his eye over the crabbed black-letter writing, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Now, then, Albert," Aline exclaimed, impatiently, "don't keep it all to yourself. We are burning to know what it is all about!"

Albert made no reply, but continued to read. "It is an assignment to me," he said, at last, in a low and agitated voice, "of the lands, castle, messuages, tenements, etc., of Cliffe."

Sir Ralph leapt to his feet. "A princely gift, Albert! The lands are four times as large as mine, and as I have heard, a fair castle has been rising there for months past. Art sure that there is no mistake?"

"There can be no mistake in the deed, father; but can I accept such a gift at the hands of the Fleming?"

"That you can, my son, and without any hesitation. Van Voorden is known to be the richest Fleming in England. He has on various occasions lent vast sums to the king and council, and noble as the gift is, it is one that he can doubtless well afford. You have saved the lives of himself, his wife, and daughter, and he may well feel grateful. He told me when he gave you that suit of armour that it was no recognition of what he felt he owed you, and that he hoped in the future to discharge the debt more worthily. Now, Edgar, let us see what is in your box."

Edgar had been quietly untying the knots of the silk, and the box was already open. The words on the top were similar to those in Albert's box.

"Please read it, Albert," he said, handing over the parchment. "You can decipher the characters better than I can." Albert read it through to himself.

"'Tis similar to mine," he said, "and assigns you the land, manors, the castle, and all rights and privileges thereto appertaining of the hundred of Hoo."

"Bravo, bravo!" Sir Ralph exclaimed. "Another noble gift, and fully equal to that of Albert. This Fleming is a very prince. I congratulate you, Edgar, with all my heart. I had heard that Sir John Evesham had sold his estates, which comprise the whole hundred of Hoo, a year since, in order to live at Court, but none seemed to know who was the purchaser. I heard, too, that a large number of men had been employed in building a castle on the heights looking down the Medway past Upnor to Chatham. Why, lads, if you ever win to the rank of knight banneret, you will have land enough to support the dignity, and to take the field with two or three knights and a fair following of men-at-arms in your train. I have gained good sums for the ransom of prisoners, but I never had the luck to save the life of a Flemish merchant and his family."

"It seems well-nigh impossible," Edgar said.

"You must remember, Edgar, that these rich Flemings are the bankers of half the princes in Europe. You, who have been in their houses, know that they live in comfort and luxury such as none of our nobles possess. They could find the money for a king's ransom, or pay beforehand the taxes of a country. If a king can grant estates like these to his favourites, and not only the king, but many of our nobles can do so, it is not strange that one of the richest of these Flemings should make such gifts to those who have saved his life without feeling that he has in any way overpaid the service."

"I must be riding on now," Edgar said, "to carry this wonderful news to my father."

While they had been dining, Hal Carter had been getting a hearty meal in the kitchen, where he and Albert's two retainers were surrounded by all the men-at-arms, who were anxious to hear the details of the expedition. When Edgar sent down for his horse, Sir Ralph went down with him to the courtyard, and as Hal brought the horses round, the old knight put his hand upon his shoulder.

"My brave fellow," he said, "I have heard how you stood with your master across my son's body, and how doughtily you fought. Do not forget that I am your debtor, but for the present I can only say that I thank you for the part you played."

"It would have been strange, indeed, Sir Ralph, had I not hit my hardest, for my own life depended upon it, and it was not like that I should draw back a foot when Sir Albert, whom I love only next to my master, was lying there; but, indeed, it was a right merry fight, the only one that came up to my expectations of what a stiffly fought melee would be. I would not have missed it for anything."