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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Lances of Lynwood By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15663

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

Two years had passed since the fight of Navaretta, when Sir Eustace Lynwood received, by the hands of a Knight newly arrived from England, a letter from Father Cyril, praying him to return home as soon as possible, since his sister-in-law, Dame Eleanor, was very sick, and desired to see him upon matters on which more could not be disclosed by letter.

Easily obtaining permission to leave Bordeaux, he travelled safely through France, and crossing from Brittany, at length found himself once more in Somersetshire. It was late, and fast growing dark, when he rode through Bruton; but, eager to arrive, he pushed on, though twilight had fast faded into night, and heavy clouds, laden with brief but violent showers, were drifting across the face of the moon. On they rode, in silence, save for Gaston's execrations of the English climate, and the plashing of the horses' feet in the miry tracks, along which, in many places, the water was rushing in torrents.

At length they were descending the long low hill, or rather undulation, leading to the wooded vale of Lynwood, and the bright lights of the Keep began to gleam like stars in the darkness-stars indeed to the eager eyes of the young Knight, who gazed upon them long and affectionately, as he felt himself once more at home. "I wonder," said he, "to see the light strongest towards the east end of the Castle! I knew not that the altar lights in the chapel could be seen so far!" Then riding on more quickly, and approaching more nearly, he soon lost sight of them behind the walls, and descending the last little rising ground, the lofty mass of building rose huge and black before him.

He wound his bugle and rode towards the gate, but at the moment he expected to cross the drawbridge, Ferragus suddenly backed, and he perceived that it was raised. "This is some strange chance!" said he, renewing the summons, but in vain, for the echoes of the surrounding woods were the only reply. "Ralph must indeed be deaf!" said he.

"Let him be stone deaf," said Gaston; "he is not the sole inhabitant of the Castle. Try them again, Sir Eustace."

"Hark!-methought I heard the opening of the hall door!" said Eustace. "No! What can have befallen them?"

"My teeth are chattering with cold," said Gaston, "and the horses will be ruined with standing still in the driving rain. Cannot we betake ourselves to the village hostel, and in the morning reproach them with their churlishness?"

"I must be certified that there is nothing amiss," said Sir Eustace, springing from his saddle; "I can cross the moat on one of the supports of the bridge."

"Have with you then, Sir Knight," said Gaston, also leaping to the ground, while Eustace cautiously advanced along the narrow frame of wood on which the drawbridge had rested, slippery with the wet, and rendered still more perilous by the darkness. Gaston followed, balancing himself with some difficulty, and at last they safely reached the other side. Eustace tried the heavy gates, but found them fastened on the inside with a ponderous wooden bar. "Most strange!" muttered he; "yet come on, Gaston, I can find an entrance, unless old Ralph be more on the alert than I expect."

Creeping along between the walls and the moat, till they had reached the opposite side of the Keep, Eustace stopped at a low doorway; a slight click was heard, as of a latch yielding to his hand, the door opened, and he led the way up a stone staircase in the thickness of the wall, warning his follower now and then of a broken step. After a long steep ascent, Gaston heard another door open, and though still in total darkness, perceived that they had gained a wider space. "The passage from the hall to the chapel," whispered the Knight, and feeling by the wall, they crept along, until a buzz of voices reached their ears, and light gleamed beneath a heavy dark curtain which closed the passage. Pausing for an instant, they heard a voice tremulous with fear and eagerness: "It was himself! tall plume, bright armour! the very crosslet on his breast could be seen in the moonlight! Oh! it was Sir Reginald himself, and the wild young French Squire that fell with him in Spain!"

There was a suppressed exclamation of horror, and a sound of crowding together, and at that moment, Eustace, drawing aside the curtain, advanced into the light, and was greeted by a frightful shriek, which made him at first repent of having alarmed his sister, but the next glance showed him that her place was empty, and a thrill of dismay made him stand speechless and motionless, as he perceived that the curtain he grasped was black, and the hall completely hung with the same colour.

The servants remained huddled in terror round the hearth, and the pause was first broken by a fair-faced boy, who, breaking from the trembling circle, came forward, and in a quivering tone said, "Sir, are you my father's spirit?"

Gaston's laugh came strangely on the scene, but Eustace, bending down, and holding out his hand, said, "I am your uncle Eustace, Arthur. Where is your mother?"

Arthur, with a wild cry of joy, sprung to his neck, and hid his face on his shoulder; and at the same moment old Ralph, with uplifted hands, cried, "Blessing on the Saints that my young Lord is safe, and that mine eyes have seen you once again."

"But where, oh! where is my sister?" again demanded Eustace, as his eye met that of Father Cyril, who, summoned by the screams of the servants, had just entered the hall.

"My son," replied the good Father, solemnly, "your sister is where the wicked may trouble her no more. It is three days now since she departed from this world of sorrow."

"Oh, had she but lived to see this day," said Ralph Penrose, "her cares would have been over!"

"Her prayers are answered," said Father Cyril. "Come with me, my son Eustace, if you would take a last look of her who loved and trusted you so well."

Eustace followed him to the chamber where the Lady Eleanor Lynwood lay extended on her bed. Her features were pinched and sharpened, and bore traces of her long, wasting sufferings, but they still looked lovely, though awful in their perfect calmness. Eustace knelt and recited the accustomed prayers, and then stood gazing on the serene face, with a full heart, and gathering tears in his eyes, for he had loved the gentle Eleanor with the trusting affection of a younger brother. He thought of that joyous time, the first brilliant day of his lonely childhood, when the gay bridal cavalcade came sweeping down the hill, and he, half in pleasure, half in shyness, was led forth by his mother to greet the fair young bride of his brother. How had she brightened the dull old Keep, and given, as it were, a new existence to himself, a dreamy, solitary boy-how patiently and affectionately had she tended his mother, and how pleasant were the long evenings when she had unwearily listened to his beloved romances, and his visions of surpassing achievements of his own! No wonder that he wept for her as a brother would weep for an elder sister.

Father Cyril, well pleased to perceive that the kindly tenderness of his heart was still untouched by his intercourse with the world, let him gaze on for some time in silence, then laying his hand on his arm said, "She is in peace. Mourn not that her sorrows are at an end, her tears wiped away, but prepare to fulfil her last wishes, those prayers in answer to which, as I fully believe, the Saints have sent you at the very moment of greatest need."

"Her last wishes?" said Eustace. "They shall be fulfilled to the utmost as long as I have life or breath! Oh! had I but come in time to hear them from herself, and give her my own pledge."

"Grieve not that her trust was not brought down to aught of earth," said Father Cyril. "She trusted in Heaven, and died

in the sure belief that her child would be guarded; and lo, his protector is come, if, as I well believe, my son Eustace, you are not changed from the boy who bade us farewell three years ago."

"If I am changed, it is not in my love for home, and for all who dwell there," said Eustace, "or rather, I love them better than before. Little did I dream what a meeting awaited me!" Again there was a long pause, which Eustace at length broke by saying, "What is the need you spoke of? What danger do you fear?"

"This is no scene for dwelling on the evil deeds of wicked men otherwise than to pray for them," said the Priest; "but return with me to the hall, and you shall hear."

Eustace lingered a few moments longer, before, heaving a deep sigh he returned to the hall, where he found Gaston and Ingram, just come in from attending to the horses, and Ralph hurrying the servants in setting out an ample meal for the travellers.

"My good old friend," said Eustace, holding out his hand as he entered, "I have not greeted you aright. You must throw the blame on the tidings that took from me all other thought, Ralph; for never was there face which I was more rejoiced to see.

"It was the blame of our own reception of you, Sir Eustace," said old Penrose. "I could tear my hair to think that you should have met with no better welcome than barred gates and owlet shrieks; but did you but know how wildly your bugle-blast rose upon our ear, while we sat over the fire well-nigh distraught with sorrow, you would not marvel that we deemed that the spirit of our good Knight might be borne upon the moaning wind."

"Yet," said Arthur, "I knew the note, and would have gone to the turret window, but that Mistress Cicely held me fast; and when they sent Jocelyn to look, the cowardly knave brought back the tale which you broke short."

"Boast not, Master Arthur," said Gaston; "you believed in our ghostship as fully as any of them."

"But met us manfully," said Eustace. "But why all these precautions? Why the drawbridge raised? That could scarce be against a ghost."

"Alas! Sir Eustace, there are bodily foes abroad!" said Ralph. "By your leave, Master d'Aubricour," as Gaston was about to assist his Knight in unfastening his armour, "none shall lay a hand near Sir Eustace but myself on this first night of his return; thanks be to St. Dunstan that he has come!" Eustace stood patiently for several minutes while the old man fumbled with his armour, and presently came the exclamation, "A plague on these new-fangled clasps which a man cannot undo for his life! 'Twas this low corselet that was the death of good Sir Reginald. I always said that no good would come of these fashions!"

In process of time, Eustace was disencumbered of his heavy armour; but when he stood before him in his plain dress of chamois leather, old Ralph shook his head, disappointed that he had not attained the height or the breadth of the stalwart figures of his father and brother, but was still slight and delicate looking. The golden spurs and the sword of Du Guesclin, however, rejoiced the old man's heart, and touching them almost reverentially, he placed the large arm-chair at the head of the table, and began eagerly to invite him to eat.

Eustace was too sorrowful and too anxious to be inclined for food, and long before his followers had finished their meal, he turned from the table, and asked for an account of what had befallen in his absence; for there was at that time no more idea of privacy in conversation than such as was afforded by the comparative seclusion of the party round the hearth, consisting of the Knight, his arm around his little nephew, who was leaning fondly against him; of Father Cyril, of Gaston, and old Ralph, in his wonted nook, his elbow on his knee, and his chin on his hand, feasting his eyes with the features of his beloved pupil. In answer to the query, "Who is the enemy you fear?" there was but one answer, given in different tones, "The Lord de Clarenham!"

"Ha!" cried Eustace, "it was justly then that your father, Arthur, bade me beware of him when he committed you to my charge on the battle-field of Navaretta."

"Did he so?" exclaimed Father Cyril. "Did he commit the boy to your guardianship? Formally and before witnesses?"

"I can testify to it, good Father," said Gaston. "Ay! and you, Ingram, must have been within hearing-to say nothing of Du Guesclin."

"And Leonard Ashton," said Ingram.

"It is well," said Father Cyril; "he will be here to-morrow to be confronted with Clarenham. It is the personal wardship that is of chief importance, and dwelt most on my Lady's mind."

"Clarenham lays claim then to the guardianship?" asked Eustace.

Father Cyril proceeded with a narrative, the substance of which was as follows:-Simon de Clarenham, as has been mentioned, had obtained from King Edward, in the days of the power of Isabel and Mortimer, a grant of the manor of Lynwood, but on the fall of the wicked Queen, the rightful owner had been reinstated, without, however, any formal revocation of the unjust grant. Knowing it would cost but a word of Sir Reginald to obtain its recall, both Simon and Fulk de Clarenham had done their best to make him forget its existence; but no sooner did the news of his death reach England, than Fulk began to take an ungenerous advantage of the weakness of his heir. He sent a summons for the dues paid by vassals to their Lord on a new succession, and on Eleanor's indignant refusal, followed it up by a further claim to the wardship of the person of Arthur himself, both in right of his alleged feudal superiority, and as the next of kin who was of full age. Again was his demand refused, and shortly after Lady Lynwood's alarms were brought to a height by an attempt on his part to waylay her son and carry him off by force, whilst riding in the neighbourhood of the Castle. The plot had failed, by the fidelity of the villagers of Lynwood, but the shock to the lady had increased the progress of the decay of her health, already undermined by grief. She never again trusted her son beyond the Castle walls; she trembled whenever he was out of her sight, and many an hour did she spend kneeling before the altar in the chapel. On her brother-in-law, Sir Eustace, her chief hope was fixed; on him she depended for bringing Arthur's case before the King, and, above all, for protecting him from the attacks of the enemy of his family, rendered so much more dangerous by his relationship. She did not believe that actual violence to Arthur's person was intended, but Fulk's house had of late become such an abode of misrule, that his mother and sister had been obliged to leave it for a Convent, and the tales of the lawlessness which there prevailed were such that she would have dreaded nothing more for her son than a residence there, even if Fulk had no interest in oppressing him.

That Eustace should return to take charge of his nephew before her death was her chief earthly wish, and when she found herself rapidly sinking, and the hope of its fulfilment lessening, she obtained a promise from Father Cyril that he would conduct the boy to the Abbey of Glastonbury, and there obtain from the Abbot protection for him until his uncle should return, or the machinations of Fulk be defeated by an appeal to the King.

This was accordingly Father Cyril's intention. It was unavoidable that Fulk, the near kinsman of the deceased, should be present at the funeral, but Father Cyril had intended to keep Arthur within the sanctuary of the chapel until he could depart under the care of twelve monks of Glastonbury, who were coming in the stead of the Abbot-he being, unfortunately, indisposed. Sir Philip Ashton had likewise been invited, in the hope that his presence might prove a check upon Clarenham.

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