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The Lances of Lynwood By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 18445

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The house of Lynwood had long been famed for loyalty, which had often cost them dear, since their neighbours, the Lords of Clarenham, never failed to take advantage of the ascendency of the popular party, and make encroachments on their privileges and possessions.

Thus when Sir Hugo Lynwood, the old Crusader, was made prisoner by Simon de Montfort's party at Lewes, he was treated with great severity, in order to obtain from him a recognition of the feudal superiority of the Clarenhams; and though the success of the royal party at Evesham occasioned his liberation, his possessions were greatly diminished. Nor had the turmoils of the reign of Edward II. failed to leave their traces on the fortunes of the Lynwoods. Sir Henry, father of the present Knight, was a staunch adherent of the unfortunate monarch, and even joined the hapless Edmund, Earl of Kent, in the rising in which that Prince was entrapped after the murder of his brother. On this occasion, it was only Sir Henry's hasty flight that preserved his life, and his lands were granted to the Baron Simon de Clarenham by the young Edward III., then under the dominion of his mother Isabel, and Roger Mortimer; but when at length the King had freed himself from their trammels, the whole county of Somerset rose to expel the intruders from Lynwood Keep, and reinstate its true master. Nor did Simon de Clarenham make much resistance, for well knowing that an appeal to the King would occasion and instant revocation of the grant, he judged it advisable to allow it to sleep for the present.

Sir Henry Lynwood, therefore, lived and died unmolested. His eldest son, Reginald, was early sent to the Royal Camp, where he soon distinguished himself, and gained the favour and friendship of the gallant Prince of Wales. The feud with the Clarenhams seemed to be completely extinguished, when Reginald, chiefly by the influence of the Prince, succeeded in obtaining the hand of a lady of that family, the daughter of a brave Knight slain in the wars in Brittany.

Since this time, both the Baron de Clarenham and his son, Sir Fulk, had been on good terms with the Knight of Lynwood, and the connection had been drawn still closer by the Baron's second marriage with the Lady Muriel de la Poer, a near relative of Sir Reginald's mother. Many a time had Dame Eleanor Lynwood ridden to Clarenham castle, under the escort of her young brother-in-law, to whom such a change from the lonely old Keep afforded no small delight.

Eustace, the only one of Sir Henry's younger children who survived the rough nursing or the over-nursing, whichever it might be, that thinned in former days the families of nobles and gentleman, might as well, in the opinion of almost all, have rested beneath a quaint little image of his infant figure, in brass, in the vaults of the little Norman chapel; for he was a puny, ailing child, apt to scandalize his father and brother, and their warlike retainers, by being scared at the dazzling helm and nodding crest, and preferring the seat at this mother's feet, the fairy tale of the old nurse, the song of the minstrel, or the book of the Priest, to horse and hound, or even to the sight of the martial sports of the tilt-yard.

The last five years had, however, wrought a great change in him; he began to outgrow the delicacy of his constitution, and with it, to shake off his timidity of disposition. A diligent perusal of the romances of chivalry filled him with emulation, and he had applied himself ardently to all knightly exercises, looking with great eagerness to the time when he might appear in the Prince's court. He had invested it with all the glory of the Round Table and of the Paladins; and though he knew he must not look for Merlin or the Siege Perilous, the men themselves were in his fancy Rolands and Tristrems, and he scarcely dared to hope he could ever be fit to make one of them, with all his diligent attention to old Ralph's instructions.

Some of Ralph's manoeuvres were indeed rather antiquated, and afforded much amusement to Gaston d'Aubricour, who was never weary of teasing the old seneschal with descriptions of the changes in the fashion of weapons, tourneys, and machines, and especially delighted in histories of the marvellous effects of gunpowder. Ralph would shake his head, vow that it would soon put an end to all true chivalry, and walk off to furbish his favourite cross-bow, with many a murmured reflection on the folly of quitting good old plans, and especially on that of his master, who must needs bring home a gibing Gascon, when honest English Squires were not scarce.

Very different was the state of the old Keep of Lynwood from the quiet, almost deserted condition, in which it had been left so long, now that the Knight had again taken his wonted place amongst the gentry of the county. Entertainments were exchanged with his neighbours, hunting and hawking matches, and all the sports of the tilt-yard, followed each other in quick succession, and the summer passed merrily away. Merrily, that is to say, with Sir Reginald, whose stirring life in camp and court had left him but few and short intervals for enjoying his home and the society of his wife; with Eleanor, who, relieved from long anxiety, began to recover the spirits and health which had nearly failed her; and with Eustace, to whom the arrival of his brother and his followers brought a continued course of novelty and delight; but less joyously with the Knight's followers, who regretted more and more the gay court of Bordeaux, and grew impatient at the prospect of spending a tedious winter in a peaceful English castle.

Their anticipation of weariness, and the contrary expectations of Sir Reginald, were destined to be equally disappointed: for two months had not passed since his return before a summons arrived, or, more properly speaking, an invitation to the trusty and well-beloved Sir Reginald Lynwood to join the forces which the Duke of Lancaster was assembling at Southampton, the Prince of Wales having promised to assist King Pedro of Castile in recovering the kingdom from which he had been driven by his brother Enrique of Trastamare.

Sir Reginald could not do otherwise than prepare with alacrity to obey the call of his beloved Prince, though he marvelled that Edward should draw his sword in the cause of such a monster of cruelty, and he was more reluctant than ever before to leave his home. He even promised his sorrowful Eleanor that this should be the last time he would leave her. "I will but bestow Eustace in some honourable household, where he may be trained in knightly lore-that of Chandos, perchance, or some other of the leaders who hold the good old strict rule; find good masters for my honest men-at-arms; break one more lance with Du Guesclin; and take to rule my vassals, till my fields, and be the honest old country Knight my father was before me. Said I well, Dame Eleanor?"

Eleanor smiled, but the next moment sighed and drooped her head, while a tear fell on the blue silk with which she was embroidering the crosslet on his pennon. Sir Reginald might have said somewhat to cheer her, but at that instant little Arthur darted into the hall with news that the armourer was come from Taunton, with two mules, loaded with a store of goodly helmets, swords, and corselets, which he was displaying in the court.

The Knight immediately walked forth into the court, where all had been activity and eagerness ever since the arrival of the summons, the smith hammering ceaselessly in his forge, yet without fulfilling half the order continually shouted in his ears; Gaston d'Aubricour and Ralph Penrose directing from morning to night, in contradiction of each other, the one always laughing, the other always grumbling; the men-at-arms and retainers some obeying orders, others being scolded, the steel clanging, hammers ringing without intermission. Most of the party, such at least as could leave their employment without a sharp reprimand from one or the other of the contending authorities, the Seneschal and the Squire, were gathered round the steps, where the armourer was displaying, with many an encomium, his bundles of lances, his real Toledo blades, and his helmets of the choicest fashion. Gaston d'Aubricour and Ralph were disputing respecting a certain suit of armour, which the latter disapproved, because it had no guards for the knees, while the former contended that the only use for such protections was to disable a man from walking, and nearly from standing when once unhorsed.

"In my day, Master d'Aubricour, it was not the custom for a brave man-at-arms to look to being unhorsed; but times are changed."

"Ay, that they are, Master Penrose, for in our day we do not give ourselves over the moment we are down, and lie closed up in our shells like great land tortoises turned on their backs, waiting till some one is good enough to find his way through our shell with the misericorde."

"Peace, peace, Gaston," said the Knight. "If we acquit ourselves as well as our fathers, we shall have little to be ashamed of. What think you of this man's gear?"

"That I could pick up a better suit for half the price at old Battista,

the Lombard's at Bordeaux; nevertheless, since young Eustace would be the show of the camp if he appeared there provided in Ralph's fashion, it may be as well to see whether there be any reasonableness in this old knave."

Before the question was decided, the trampling of horses was heard, and there rode into the court an elderly man, whose dress and bearing showed him to be of consideration, accompanied by a youth of eighteen or nineteen, and attended by two servants. Sir Reginald and his brother immediately stepped forward to receive them.

"Sir Philip Ashton," said the former, "how is it with you? This is friendly in you to come and bid us farewell."

"I grieve that it should be farewell, Sir Reginald," said the old Knight, dismounting whilst Eustace held his stirrup; "our country can ill spare such men as you. Thanks, my young friend Eustace. See, Leonard, what good training will do for an Esquire; Eustace has already caught that air and courteous demeanour that cannot be learnt here among us poor Knights of Somerset."

This was to his son, who, with a short abrupt reply to the good-natured greeting of Sir Reginald, had scrambled down from his saddle, and stood fixing his large gray eyes upon Gaston, whose tall active figure and lively dark countenance seemed to afford him an inexhaustible subject of study. The Squire was presented by name to Sir Philip, received a polite compliment, and replying with a bow, turned to the youth with the ready courtesy of one willing to relieve the shyness of an awkward stranger. "We were but now discussing the merit between damasked steel and chain mail, what opinion do you bring to aid us?" A renewed stare, an inarticulate muttering, and Master Leonard turned away and almost hid his face in the mane of his horse, whilst his father attempted to make up for his incivility by a whole torrent of opinions, to which Gaston listened with the outward submission due from a Squire, but with frequent glances, accompanied by a tendency to elevate shoulder or eyebrow, which Eustace understood full well to convey that the old gentleman knew nothing whatever on the subject.

This concluded, Sir Philip went to pay his respects to the Lady of Lynwood, and then, as the hour of noon had arrived, all partook of the meal, which was served in the hall, the Squires waiting on the Knights and the Lady before themselves sitting down to table.

It was the influence of dinner that first unchained the silent tongue of Leonard Ashton, when he found himself seated next to his old acquaintance, Eustace Lynwood, out of hearing of those whose presence inspired him with shyness, and the clatter of knives and trenchers drowning his voice.

"So your brother has let you bear sword after all. How like you the trade? Better than poring over crabbed parchments, I trow. But guess you why we are here to-day? My father says that I must take service with some honourable Knight, and see somewhat of the world. He spoke long of the Lord de Clarenham, because his favour would be well in the county; but at last he has fixed on your brother, because he may do somewhat for me with the Prince."

"Then you are going with us to Bordeaux?" exclaimed Eustace, eagerly.

"Ay, truly."

"Nay, but that is a right joyful hearing!" said Eustace. "Old friends should be brethren in arms."

"But, Eustace," said young Ashton, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, "I like not that outlandish Squire, so tall and black. Men say he is a Moor-a worshipper of Mahound."

Eustace laughed heartily at this report, and assured his friend that, though he had heard his brother often give his Squire in jest his nom de guerre of Gaston le Maure, yet d'Aubricour was a gallant gentleman of Gascony. But still Leonard was not satisfied. "Had ever man born in Christian land such flashing black eyes and white teeth? And is not he horribly fierce and strict?"

"Never was man of kinder heart and blither temper."

"Then you think that he will not be sharp with us? 'More straight in your saddle!' 'lance lower!' 'head higher;' that is what has been ringing in my ears from morning till night of late, sometimes enforced by a sharp blow on the shoulders. Is it not so with you?"

"Oh, old Penrose took all that trouble off their hands long ago. Gaston is the gentlest of tutors compared with him."

"I hope so!" sighed Leonard; "my very bones ache with the tutoring I get from my father at home. And, Eustace, resolve me this-"

"Hush, do not you see that Father Cyril is about to pronounce the Grace-. There-now must I go and serve your father with the grace-cup, but I will be with you anon."

Leonard put his elbow on the table, mumbling to himself, "And these of Eustace's be the courtly manners my father would have me learn; they cost a great deal too much trouble!"

The meal over, Eustace took Leonard into the court to visit the horses and inspect the new armour. They were joined by Gaston, who took upon himself to reply to the question which Leonard wished to have resolved, namely, what they were to do in Castile, by persuading him to believe that Enrique of Trastamare was a giant twenty feet high, who rode a griffin of proportionate dimensions, and led an army whose heads grew under their shoulders.

In the meantime, Sir Philip Ashton was, with many polite speeches, entering upon the business of his visit, which was to request Sir Reginald to admit his son into his train as an Esquire. The Knight of Lynwood, though not very desirous of this addition to his followers, could not well refuse him, in consideration of the alliance which had long subsisted between the two houses; but he mentioned his own purpose of quitting the Prince's court as soon as the present expedition should be concluded.

"That," said Sir Philip, softly, "will scarce be likely. Such Knights as Sir Reginald Lynwood are not so easily allowed to hide themselves in obscurity. The Prince of Wales knows too well the value of his right-hand counsellor."

"Nay, Sir Philip," said Sir Reginald, laughing, "that is rather too fine a term for a rough soldier, who never was called into counsel at all, except for the arraying a battle. It would take far sharper wits than mine, or, indeed, I suspect, than any that we have at Bordeaux, to meet the wiles of Charles of France. No, unless the Royal Banner be abroad in the field, you may look to see me here before another year is out."

"I shall hope it may be otherwise, for my boy's sake," said Sir Philip. "But be that as it may, his fame will be secured by his going forth for the first time with such a leader as yourself. The example and friendship of your brother will also be of the utmost service. Your chief Squire too-so perfect in all chivalrous training, and a foreigner-who better could be found to train a poor Somersetshire clown for the Prince's Gascon court?"

"Why, for that matter," interrupted Sir Reginald, whose patience would seldom serve his to the end of one of his neighbour's harangues, "it may be honest to tell you that though Gaston is a kindly-tempered fellow, and of right knightly bearing, his life has been none of the most steady. I took up with him a couple of years since, when poor old Humfrey Harwood was slain at Auray, and I knew not where to turn for a Squire. Save for a few wild freaks now and then, he has done right well, though I sometimes marvelled at his choosing to endure my strict household. He obeys my orders, and has made himself well liked by the men, and I willingly trust Eustace with him, since the boy is of a grave clerkly sort of turn, and under my own eye; but it is for you to do as you will with your son."

"Is he of honourable birth?" asked Sir Philip.

"At least he bears coat armour," answered Reginald. "His shield is gules, a wolf passant, or, and I have heard strange tales of his father, Beranger d'Aubricour, the Black Wolf of the Pyrenees, as he was called, one of the robber noblesse of the Navarrese border; but I have little time for such matters, and they do not dwell in my mind. If I find a man does his duty in my service, I care not whence he comes, nor what his forefathers may have been. I listen to no such idle tales; but I thought it best to warn you that I answer not for all the comrades your son may find in my troop."

"Many thanks, noble Sir Reginald; under such care as yours he cannot fail to prosper; I am secure of his welfare in your hands. One word more, Sir Reginald, I pray you. You are all-powerful with Prince Edward. My poor boy's advancement is in your hand. One word in his favour to the Prince-a hint of the following I could send his pennon-"

"Sir Philip," said Reginald, "you overrate my influence, and underrate the Prince's judgment, if you imagine aught save personal merit would weigh with him. Your son shall have every opportunity of deserving his notice, but whether it be favourable or not must depend on himself. If you desire more, you must not seek it of me."

Sir Philip protested that this was all he wished, and after reiterating his thanks, took his leave, promising that Leonard should be at Lynwood Keep on the next Monday, the day fixed for Sir Reginald's departure.

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