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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Lances of Lynwood By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 16727

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Leonard Ashton was awakened the next morning by the light of the rising sun streaming in where the curtain of the tent had been raised to admit the fresh dewy morning air. The sunbeams fell on the hair and face of Eustace as he leant over Gaston, who lay stretched on the couch, and faintly spoke: "I tell you it is more. Such fever as this would not be caused by this trifling cut. There is sickness abroad in the camp, and why should it not be my turn as well as another man's. Take care of yourself, Sir Eustace."

No sooner did Leonard understand the sense of these words, than he sprang up, rushed out of the tent, and never rested till he thought himself at a safe distance, when he shouted to Eustace to come to him.

"Has he got this fever on him?" exclaimed he, as Eustace approached.

"He is very ill at ease," replied Eustace, "but to my mind it is caused by yesterday's fatigue and heat, added to the wine which he would drink."

"It is the fever, I say," replied Ashton; "I am sure it is. Come away, Eustace, or we shall all be infected."

"I cannot leave him," said Eustace.

"What? You do not mean to peril yourself by going near him?" said Ashton.

"I think not that there is peril in so doing," answered Eustace; "and even if there were, I could not leave him in sickness, after all his kindness to me and patience with my inexperience."

"He is no brother nor cousin to us," said Leonard. "I see not why we should endanger our lives for a stranger. I will not, for my own part; and, as your old friend and comrade, I would entreat you not."

These were kinder words than Eustace had heard from Ashton since the beginning of his jealousy, and he answered, as he thought they were meant, in a friendly tone, "Thanks, Leonard, but I cannot look on Gaston d'Aubricour as a stranger; and had I fewer causes for attachment to him, I could not leave my post."

"Only you do not expect me to do the same," said Leonard; "my father sent me here to gain honour and wealth, not to be poisoned with the breath of a man in a fever."

"Assuredly not," said Eustace. "I will arrange matters so that you shall no longer sleep in our tent. But let me ask of you, Leonard, what was the meaning of your conduct of yesterday?"

"You may ask yourself," said Leonard, sullenly; "it is plain enough, methinks."

"Have a care, Leonard. Remember that my brother's authority is given to me."

"Much good may it do you," said Leonard; "but that is nothing to me. I am no vassal of yours, to come at your call. I have my own friends, and am not going to stay in this infected part of the camp with men who keep a fever among them. Give me but my sword and mantle from the tent, and I will trouble you no more."

"Wait, Leonard, I will take all measures for your safety; but remember that I am answerable to the Prince for my brother's followers."

"Answer for your own serfs," retorted Leonard, who had nearly succeeded in working himself into a passion. "My father might be willing to grace Sir Reginald by letting me follow him, but by his death I am my own man, and not to move at your beck and call, because the Prince laid his sword on your shoulder. Knave Jasper," he called to one of the men-at-arms, "bring my sword and cloak from the tent; I enter it no more."

"I know not how far you may be bound to me," said Eustace, "and must inquire from some elder Knight, but I fear that your breaking from me may be attended with evil effects to your name and fame."

Leonard had put on his dogged expression, and would not listen. He had already set his mind on joining le Borgne Basque, and leaving the service which his own envious service rendered galling; and the panic excited in his mind by Gaston's illness determined him to depart without loss of time, or listening to the representations which he could not answer. He turned his back on Eustace, and busied himself with the fastenings of his sword, which had by this time been brought to him. Even yet Eustace was not rebuffed. "One more hint, Leonard. From what I am told, there is more peril to thy health in revelry than in the neighbourhood of poor Gaston. If you will quit one who wishes you well, take heed to your ways."

Still the discourteous Squire made no reply, and walked off in all the dignity of ill-humour. The young Knight, who really had a warm feeling of affection for him, stood looking after him with a sigh, and then returned to his patient, whom he found in an uneasy sleep. After a few moments' consideration, he summoned old Guy to take the part of nurse, and walked to the tent of Sir Richard Ferrars, to ask his counsel.

The old Knight, who was standing at the door of his tent, examining into some hurt which his steed had received the day before, kindly and cordially greeted Eustace on his approach. "I am glad you are not above taking advice," he said, "as many a youth might be after such fresh honours."

"I feel but too glad to find some one who will bestow advice on me," said Eustace; and he proceeded to explain his difficulties with regard to Leonard Ashton.

"Let him go! and a good riddance," said Sir Richard; "half your cares go with him."

"Yet I am unwilling not to attempt to hinder my old comrade from running to ruin."

"You have quite enough on your own hands already," said the old Knight; "he would do far more harm in your troop than out of it, and try your patience every hour."

"He is my old playfellow," said Eustace, still dissatisfied.

"More shame for him," said Sir Richard; "waste not another thought on so cross-grained a slip, who, as I have already feared, might prove a stumbling-block to you, so young in command as you are. Let him get sick of his chosen associates, and no better hap can befall him. And for yourself, what shall you do with this sick Squire?"

"What can I do, save to give the best attendance I may?"

"Nay, I am not the man to gainsay it. 'Tis no more than you ought. And yet-" He surveyed the young Knight's slender form and slightly moulded limbs, his cheeks pale with watching and the oppressive heat of the night, and the heavy appearance of the eyelids that shaded his dark blue thoughtful eyes. "Is your health good, young man?"

"As good as that of other men," said Eustace.

"Men!" said Sir Richard; "boys, you mean! But be a man, since you will, only take as good care of yourself as consists with duty. I had rather have you safe than a dozen of these black-visaged Gascons."

Eustace further waited to mention to Sir Richard his untoward encounter with Sir John Chandos, and to beg him to explain it to the old Baron.

"I will," said Sir Richard; "and don't take old Chandos's uncourtliness too much to heart, young Eustace. He means you no ill. Do your duty, and he will own it in time."

Eustace thanked the old Knight, and with spirits somewhat cheered, returned to his tent, there to devote himself to the service of his sick Squire. The report that the fever was in his tent made most persons willing to avoid him, and he met little interruption in his cares. Of Leonard, all that he heard was from a man-at-arms, who made his appearance in his tent to demand Master Ashton's arms, horse, and other property, he having entered the service of Sir William Felton; and Eustace was too much engaged with his own cares to make further inquiry after him.

For a day or two Gaston d'Aubricour's fever ran very high, and just when its violence was beginning to diminish, a fresh access was occasioned by the journey from Burgos to Valladolid, whither he was carried in a litter, when the army, by Pedro's desire, marched thither to await his promised subsidy. The unwholesome climate was of most pernicious effect to the whole of the English army, and in especial to the Black Prince, who there laid the foundation of the disorder which destroyed his health. Week after week passed on, each adding heat to the summer, and increasing the long roll of sick and dying in the camp, while Gaston still lay, languid and feeble by day, and fevered by night; there were other patients among the men-at-arms, requiring scarcely less care; and the young Knight himself, though, owing to his temperate habits, he had escaped the prevailing sickness, was looking thin and careworn with the numerous troubles and anxieties that were pressing on him.

Still he ha

d actually lost not one of his men, and after the first week or two, began to have more confidence in himself, and to feel his place as their commander more than he would have done had Gaston been able to assist him. At last his trusty Squire began slowly to recover, though nightly returns of fever still kept him very weak.

"The Pyrenean breezes would make me another man," said he, one evening, when Eustace had helped him to the front of the tent, where he might enjoy the coolness which began to succeed the sultry heat of the day.

"I hear," said Eustace, "that we are to return as soon as the Prince can be moved. He is weary of waiting till this dog of a Spaniard will perform his contract."

"By my faith," said d'Aubricour, "I believe the butcherly rogue means to cancel his debts by the death of all his creditors. I would give my share of the pay, were it twenty times more, for one gust of the mountain air of my own hills."

"Which way lies your home, Gaston?" asked Eustace. "Near the pass by which we crossed?"

"No; more to the west. My home, call you it? You would marvel to see what it is now. A shattered, fire-scathed keep; the wolf's den in earnest, it may be. It is all that is left of the Castle d'Albricorte."

"How?" exclaimed Eustace. "What brought this desolation?"

"Heard you never my story?" said Gaston. "Mayhap not. You are fresh in the camp, and it is no recent news, nor do men question much whence their comrades come. Well, Albricorte was always a noted house for courage, and my father, Baron Beranger, not a whit behind his ancestors. He called himself a liegeman of England, because England was farthest off, and least likely to give him any trouble, and made war with all his neighbours in his own fashion. Rare was the prey that the old Black Wolf of the Pyrenees was wont to bring up to his lair, and right merry were the feastings there. Well I do remember how my father and brothers used to sound their horns as a token that they did not come empty-handed, and then, panting up the steep path, would come a rich merchant, whose ransom filled our purses half a year after, or a Knight, whose glittering armour made him a double prize, or-"

"What! you were actually-"

"Freebooters, after the fashion of our own Quatre fils Aymon," answered Gaston, composedly. "Yes, Beranger d'Albricorte was the terror of all around, and little was the chance that aught would pursue him to his den. So there I grew up, as well beseemed the cub of such a wolf, racing through the old halls at my will."

"Your mother?" asked Eustace.

"Ah! poor lady! I remember her not. She died when I was a babe, and all I know of her was from an old hag, the only woman in the Castle, to whom the charge of me was left. My mother was a noble Navarrese damsel whom my father saw at a tourney, seized, and bore away as she was returning from the festival. Poor lady! our grim Castle must have been a sad exchange from her green valleys-and the more, that they say she was soon to have wedded the Lord of Montagudo, the victor of that tourney. The Montagudos had us in bitter feud ever after, and my father always looked like a thunderstorm if their name was spoken. They say she used to wander on the old battlements like a ghost, ever growing thinner and whiter, and scarce seemed to joy even in her babes, but would only weep over them. That angered the Black Wolf, and there were chidings which made matters little better, till at last the poor lady pined away, and died while I was still an infant."

"A sad tale," said Eustace.

"Ay! I used to weep at it, when the old crone who nursed me would tell it over as I sat by her side in the evening. See, here is holy relic that my mother wore round her neck, and my nurse hung round mine. It has never been parted from me. So I grew up to the years of pagehood, which came early with me, and forth I went on my first foray with the rest of them. But as we rode joyously home with our prey before us, a band of full a hundred and fifty men-at-arms set on us in the forest. Our brave thirty-down they went on all side. I remember the tumult, the heavy mace uplifted, and my father's shield thrust over me. I can well-nigh hear his voice saying, 'Flinch not, Gaston, my brave wolf-cub!' But then came a fall, man and horse together, and I went down stunned, and knew no more till a voice over me said, 'That whelp is stirring-another sword-thrust!' But another replied, 'He bears the features of Alienor, I cannot slay him.'"

"It was your mother's lover?"

"Montagudo? Even so; and I was about to beg for mercy, but, at my first movement, the other fellow's sword struck me back senseless once more, and when I recovered my wits, all was still, and the moonlight showed me where I was. And a fair scene to waken to! A score of dark shapes hung on the trees-our trusty men-at-arms-and my own head was resting on my dead father's breast. Us they had spared from hanging-our gentle blood did us that service; but my father and my three brethren all were stone dead. The Count de Bearn had sworn to put an end to the ravages of the Black Wolf, and, joining with the Montagudos, had done the work, like traitor villains as they were."

"And yourself, Gaston?"

"I was not so badly wounded but that I could soon rise to my feet-but where should I go? I turned towards the Castle, but the Bearnese had been there before me, and I saw flames bursting from every window. I was weak and wounded, and sank down, bleeding and bewailing, till my senses left me; and I should have died, but for two Benedictines journeying for the service of their Convent. The good brethren were in fear for their bags in going through the Black Wolf's country, but they had pity on me; they brought me to myself, and when they had heard my tale, they turned aside to give Christian burial to my father and brothers. They were holy men, those monks, and, for their sakes, I have spared the cowl ever since. They tended me nearly as well as you have done, and brought me to their Convent, where they would fain have made a monk of me, but the wolf was too strong in me, and, ere a month was passed, I had been so refractory a pupil, that they were right glad to open the Convent gates. I walked forth to seek my fortune, without a denier, with nothing but the sword I had taken from my father's hand, and borne with me, much against the good men's will. I meant to seek service with any one who would avenge me on the Count de Bearn. One night I slept on the hill-side, one day I fasted, the next I fell in with Sir Perduccas d'Albret's troop. I had seen him in my father's company. He heard my tale, saw me a strong, spirited lad, and knew a d'Aubricour would be no discredit to his free lances. So he took me as his page, and thence-but the tale would be long-I became what you see me."

"And you have never seen your own Castle again?"

"But once. D'Albret laughed when I called on him to revenge me on the Count de Bearn, and bade me bide my time till I met him in battle. As to my heritage, there was no hope for that. Once, when I had just broken with Sir Nele Loring, and left his troop, and times were hard with me, I took my horse and rode to Albricorte, but there was nought but the bare mountain, and the walls black with fire. There was, indeed, a wretched shepherd and his wife, who trembled and looked dismayed when they found that one of the Albricortes still lived; but I could get nothing from them, unless I had taken a sheep before me on the saddle; so I rode off again to seek some fresh service, and, by good hap, lit on Sir Reginald just as old Harwood was dead. All I have from my father is my name, my shield, and an arm that I trust has disgraced neither."

"No, indeed. Yours is a strange history, Gaston; such as we dream not of in our peaceful land. Homeless, friendless, I know not how you can be thus gay spirited?"

"A light heart finds its way through the world the easiest," said Gaston, smiling. "I have nothing to lose, and no sorrows to waste time on. But are you not going forth this cool evening, Sir Eustace? you spoke of seeking fresh tidings of the Prince."

Eustace accordingly walked forth, attended by his yeoman, John Ingram; but all he could learn was, that Edward had sent a remonstrance to the King of Castile on the delay of the subsidy.

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