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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Lances of Lynwood By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 24267

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

In the early morning, Sir Eustace and his few followers were in their saddles, little Arthur riding between his uncle and Gaston. The chief part of the day was spent on the journey. They dined, to Arthur's glee, on provisions they had brought with them, seated on a green bank near a stream, and at evening found themselves at the door of a large hostel, its open porch covered by a vine.

The host and his attendants ran out at first to meet them with alacrity, but, on seeing them, appeared disappointed. And as the Knight, dismounting, ordered supper and bed, the host replied that he could indeed engage to find food, and to accommodate their steeds, but that the whole of the inn had been secured on behalf of two noble ladies and their train, who were each moment expected.

"Be it so," said Eustace; "a truss of hay beside our horses, or a settle by the fire, is all we need. Here is a taste already of a warrior's life for you, Arthur."

The boy was delighted, certain that to sleep beside his pony was far more delightful, as well as more manly, than to rest in his bed, like a lady at home.

As this was arranged, a sound of horses' feet approached, and a band of men-at-arms rode up to the door. Arthur started and seized his uncle's hand as he recognized the Clarenham colours and badge, uttering an exclamation of dismay. "Never fear, Arthur," said Eustace, "they come from the way opposite to ours. It is not pursuit. See, it is an escort-there are ladies among them."

"Four!" said Arthur. "Uncle, that tall dame in black must be the Lady Muriel. And surely the white veil tied with rose-colour belongs to kind Cousin Agnes."

"True! These are no Clarenhams to guard against," said Eustace to his Squire, who looked ready for action. "Lady Muriel, the step-mother of the Baron and his sister, is my godmother, and, by birth, a Lynwood."

Then stepping forward, he assisted the elder lady to dismount; she returned his courtesy by a slight inclination, as to a stranger, but her companion, who had lightly sprung to the ground, no sooner perceived him than she exclaimed, "Eustace!" then laying her hand on Lady Muriel's arm, "Mother, it is Sir Eustace Lynwood."

"Ha! my gallant godson!" said the Baroness, greeting him cordially. "Well met, brave youth! No wonder in that knightly figure I did not know my kinswoman's little page. How does my gentle niece, Eleanor?"

"Alack! then you have not heard the tidings?" said Eustace.

"We heard long since she was sick with grief," said Lady Muriel, much alarmed. "What mean you? Is she worse? You weep-surely she still lives!"

"Ah! honoured dame, we come even now from laying her in her grave. Here is her orphan boy."

Young Agnes could not restrain a cry of grief and horror, and trying to repress her weeping till it should be without so many witnesses, Lady Muriel and her bower-woman led her to their apartments in the inn. Eustace was greatly affected by her grief. She had often accompanied her step-mother on visits to Lynwood Keep in the peaceful days of their childhood; she had loved no sport better than to sit listening to his romantic discourses of chivalry, and had found in the shy, delicate, dreamy boy, something congenial to her own quiet nature; and, in short, when Eustace indulged in a vision, Agnes was ever the lady of it, the pale slight Agnes, with no beauty save her large soft brown eyes, that seemed to follow and take in every fancy or thought of his. Agnes was looked down on,-her father thought she would do him little honour,-her brother cared not for her; save for her step-mother she would have met with little fostering attention, and when Eustace saw her set aside and disregarded, his heart had bounded with the thought that when he should lay his trophies at her feet, Agnes would be honoured for his sake. But Eustace's honours had been barren, and he could only look back with a sad heart to the fancies of his youth, when he had deemed Knight-errantry might win the lady of his love.

Eleanor had been one of the few who had known and loved the damsel of Clarenham, and had encouraged her to lay aside her timidity. Agnes wept for her as a sister, and still could hardly restrain her sobs, when Eustace and his nephew were invited to the presence of the ladies to narrate their melancholy tale.

Many tears were shed, and caresses lavished upon the orphan. The ladies asked his destination, and on hearing that he was to be taken to the Prince's court at Bordeaux, Agnes said, "We, too, are bound to the Prince's court. I am to journey thither with Fulk. Were it not better for Arthur to travel with us? Most carefully would we guard him. It would spare him many a hardship, for which he is scarce old enough; and his company would be a solace, almost a protection to me. My pretty playfellow, will you be my travelling companion?"

"I would go with you, Cousin Agnes, for you are kind and gentle, and I love you well; but a brave Knight's son must learn to rough it; and besides, I would not go with Sir Fulk, your brother, for he is a false and cruel Knight, who persecuted my blessed mother to the very death."

"Can this be? O speak, Eustace!" said Agnes. "What means the boy? Hath Fulk shown himself other than a loving kinsman?"

The Baroness, who understood her step-son's character better than did his young sister, and who was informed of the old enmity between the two houses, felt considerable anxiety as to what they were now to hear; when Eustace, beginning, "Ah, Lady, I grieve twice in the day to sadden your heart; yet since so much has been said, it were best to relate the whole truth," proceeded to tell what had passed respecting the wardship of young Arthur. Agnes's eyes filled with burning tears of indignation. "O dear Lady Mother!" cried she, "take me back to our Convent! How can I meet my brother! How conceal my anger and my shame!"

"This is far worse than even I feared," said Lady Muriel. "I knew Fulk to be unscrupulous and grasping, but I did not think him capable of such foul oppression. For you, my sweet Agnes-would that I could prevail on him to leave you in the safe arms of the cloister-but, alas! I have no right to detain you from a brother's guardianship."

"I dreaded this journey much before," said Agnes; "but now, even my trust in Fulk is gone; I shall see round me no one in whom to place confidence. Alas! alas!"

"Nay, fair Agnes," said Eustace, "he will surely be a kind brother to thee-he cannot be otherwise."

"How love and trust when there is no esteem? Oh, Mother, Mother! this is loneliness indeed! In that strange, courtly throng, who will protect and shelter me?"

"There is an Arm-" began the Baroness.

"Yes, noble Lady, there is one arm," eagerly exclaimed Eustace, "that would only deem itself too much honoured if it could be raised in your service."

"I spoke of no arm of flesh," said Lady Muriel, reprovingly-and Eustace hung his head abashed. "I spake of the Guardian who will never be wanting to the orphan."

There was a silence, first broken by Eustace. "One thing there is, that I would fain ask of your goodness," said he: "many a false tale, many a foul slander, will be spoken of me, and many may give heed to them; but let that be as it will, they shall not render my heart heavy while I can still believe that you give no ear to them."

"Sir Eustace," said the Lady of Clarenham, "I have known you from childhood, and it would go hard with me to believe aught dishonourable of the pupil of Sir Reginald and of Eleanor."

"Yes, Sir Eustace," added Agnes, "it would break my heart to distrust you; for then I must needs believe that faith, truth, and honour had left the world."

"And now," said Lady Muriel, who thought the conversation had been sufficiently tender to fulfil all the requirements of the connection of families, and of their old companionship, "now, Agnes, we must take leave of our kind kinsman, since, doubtless, he will desire to renew his journey early to-morrow."

Eustace took the hint, and bent his knee to kiss the hands which were extended to him by the two ladies; then left the room, feeling, among all the clouds which darkened his path, one clear bright ray to warm and gladden his heart. Agnes trusted his truth, Agnes would be at Bordeaux,-he might see her, and she would hear of his deeds.

Agnes, while she wept over her kinswoman's death and her brother's faults, rejoiced in having met her old playfellow, and found him as noble a Knight as her fancy had often pictured him; and in the meanwhile, the good old Lady Muriel sighed to herself, and shook her head at the thought of the sorrows which an attachment would surely cause to these two young creatures.

It was early in the morning that Eustace summoned his nephew from the couch which one of the Clarenham retainers had yielded him, and, mounting their horses, they renewed their journey towards the coast.

Without further adventure, the Lances of Lynwood, as Arthur still chose to call their little party, safely arrived at Rennes, the capital of Brittany, where Jean de Montford held his court. Here they met the tidings that Charles V. had summoned the Prince of Wales to appear at his court, to answer an appeal made against him to the sovereign by the vassals of the Duchy of Aquitaine. Edward's answer was, that he would appear indeed, but that it should be in full armour, with ten thousand Knights and Squires at his back; and the war had already been renewed.

The intelligence added to Eustace's desire to be at Bordeaux, but he could not venture through the enemy's country without exposing himself to death or captivity; and even within the confines of Brittany itself, Duke John, though bound by gratitude and affection to the alliance of the King, who had won for him his ducal coronet, was unable to control the enmity which his subjects bore to the English, and assured the Knight that a safe-conduct from him would only occasion his being robbed and murdered in secret, instead of being taken a prisoner in fair fight and put to ransom.

If Eustace had been alone with his staunch followers, he would have trusted to their good swords and swift steeds; but to place Arthur in such perils would be but to justify Fulk's accusations; and there was no alternative but to accept the offer made to him by Jean de Montford, for the sake of his Duchess, a daughter of Edward III., to remain a guest at his court until the arrival of a sufficient party of English Knights, who were sure to be attracted by the news of the war.

No less than two months was he obliged to wait, during which both he and Gaston chafed grievously under their forced captivity; but at length he learnt that a band of Free Companions had arrived at Rennes, on their way to offer their service to the Prince of Wales; accordingly he set forth, and after some interval found himself once more in the domains of the house of Plantagenet.

It was late in the evening when he rode through the gates of Bordeaux, and sought the abode of the good old Gascon merchant, where he had always lodged. He met with a ready welcome, and inquiring into the most recent news of the town, learnt that the Prince was considered to be slightly improved in health; but that no word was spoken of the army taking the field, and the war was chiefly carried on by the siege of Castles. He asked for Sir John Chandos, and was told that high words had passed between him and the Prince respecting a hearth-tax, and that since he had returned to his government, and seldom or never appeared at the council board. It was the Earl of Pembroke who was all-powerful there. And here the old Gascon wandered into lamentable complaints of the aforesaid hearth-tax, from which Eustace could scarcely recall him to answer whether the English Baron de Clarenham had arrived at Bordeaux. He had come, and with as splendid a train as ever was beheld, and was in high favour at court.

This was no pleasing intelligence, but Eustace determined to go the next day to present his nephew to the Prince immediately after the noontide meal, when

it was the wont of the Plantagenet Princes to throw their halls open to their subjects.

Accordingly, leading Arthur by the hand, and attended by Gaston, he made his appearance in the hall just as the banquet was concluded, but ere the Knights had dispersed. Many well-known faces were there, but as he advanced up the space between the two long tables, he was amazed at meeting scarce one friendly glance of recognition; some looked unwilling to seem to know him, and returned his salutation with distant coldness; others gazed at the window, or were intent on their wine, and of these was Leonard Ashton, whom to his surprise he saw seated among the Knights.

Thus he passed on until he had nearly reached the dais where dined the Prince and the personages of the most exalted rank. Here he paused as his anxious gaze fell upon the Prince, and marked his countenance and mien-alas! how changed! He sat in his richly-carved chair, wrapped in a velvet mantle, which, even on that bright day of a southern spring, he drew closer round him with a shuddering chilliness. His elbow rested on the arm of his chair, and his wasted cheek leant on his hand-the long thin fingers of which showed white and transparent as a lady's; his eyes were bent on the ground, and a look of suffering or of moody thought hung over the whole of that face, once full of free and open cheerfulness. Tears filled Eustace's eyes as he beheld that wreck of manhood and thought of that bright day of hope and gladness when his brother had presented him to the Prince.

As he hesitated to advance, the Prince, raising his eyes, encountered that earnest and sorrowful gaze, but only responding by a stern glance of displeasure. Eustace, however, stepped forward, and bending one knee, said, "My Lord, I come to report myself as returned to your service, and at the same time to crave for my nephew the protection you were graciously pleased to promise him."

"It is well, Sir Eustace Lynwood," said Edward, coldly, and with a movement of his head, as if to dismiss him from his presence; "and you, boy, come hither," he added as Arthur, seeing his uncle rise and retreat a few steps, was following his example. "I loved your father well," he said, laying his hand on the boy's bright wavy hair, "and you shall find in me a steady friend as long as you prove yourself not unworthy of the name you bear."

In spite of the awe with which Arthur felt his head pressed by that royal hand, in spite of his reverence for the hero and the Prince, he raised his eyes and looked upon the face of the Prince with an earnest, pleading, almost upbraiding gaze, as if, child as he was, he deprecated the favour, which so evidently marked the slight shown to his uncle. But the Prince did not heed him, and rising from his chair, said, "Thine arm, Clarenham. Let us to the Princess, and present her new page. Follow me, boy."

With a wistful look at his uncle, standing alone on the step of the dais, Arthur reluctantly followed the Prince as, leaning on Clarenham's arm, he left the hall, and, crossing a gallery, entered a large apartment. At one end was a canopy embroidered with the arms and badges of the heir of England, and beneath it were two chairs of state, one of which was occupied by Joan Plantagenet, Princess of Wales, once the Fair Maid of Kent, and though now long past her youth, still showing traces of beauty befitting the lady for whom her royal cousin had displayed such love and constancy.

As her husband entered, she rose, and looking anxiously at him, while she came forward to meet him, inquired whether he felt fatigued. "No, my fair dame," replied the Prince, "I came but to present you your new page; the young cousin, respecting whose safety my Lord de Clarenham hath been so much in anxiety."

"Then it is his uncle who hath brought him?" asked Joan.

"Yes," replied Edward, "he himself brought him to the hall, and even had the presumption to claim the protection for him that I pledged to his father, when I deemed far otherwise of this young Eustace."

"What account does he give of the length of time that he has spent on the road?" asked the Princess.

"Ay, there is the strangest part of the tale," said Fulk Clarenham, with a sneer, "since he left the poor simple men at Lynwood believing that he was coming at full speed to seek my Lord the Prince's protection for the child, a convenient excuse for eluding the inquiries of justice into his brawls at the funeral, as well as for the rents which he carried off with him; but somewhat inconsistent when it is not for five months that he makes his appearance at Bordeaux, and then in the society of a band of routiers."

"It shall be inquired into," said the Prince.

"Nay, nay, my Lord," said Fulk, "may I pray you of your royal goodness to press the matter no further. He is still young, and it were a pity to cast dishonour on a name which has hitherto been honourable. Since my young cousin is safe, I would desire no more, save to guard him from his future machinations. For his brother's sake, my Lord, I would plead with you."

"Little did I think such things of him," said the Prince, "when I laid knighthood on his shoulder in the battle-field of Navaretta; yet I remember even then old Chandos chid me for over-hastiness. Poor old Chandos, he has a rough tongue, but a true heart!"

"And, under favour, I would say," answered Clarenham, "that it might have been those early-won honours that turned the head of such a mere youth, so entirely without guidance, or rather, with the guidance of that dissolute Squire, who, I grieve to observe, still haunts his footsteps. Knighthood, with nought to maintain it, is, in truth, a snare."

"Well, I am weary of the subject," said the Prince, leaning back in his chair. "The boy is safe, and, as you say, Fulk, that is all that is of importance. Call hither the troubadour that was in the hall at noon. I would have your opinion of his lay," he added, turning to his wife.

The indignation may be imagined with which Arthur listened to this conversation, as he stood on the spot to which Edward had signed to him to advance, when he presented him to the Princess. He longed ardently to break in with an angry refutation of the slanders cast on his uncle, but he was too well trained in the rules of chivalry, to say nothing of the awful respect with which he regarded the Prince, to attempt to utter a word, and he could only edge himself as far away as was possible from Clarenham, and cast at him glances of angry reproach.

His uneasy movements were interpreted as signs of fatigue and impatience of restraint by one of the ladies, who was sitting at no great distance, a very beautiful and graceful maiden, the Lady Maude Holland, daughter to the Princess of Wales, by her first marriage; and she kindly held out her hand to him, saying, "Come hither, my pretty page. You have not learnt to stand stiff and straight, like one of the supporters of a coat-of-arms. Come hither, and let me lead you to company better suited to your years."

Arthur came willingly, as there was no more to hear about his uncle; and besides, it was away from the hateful Clarenham. She led him across the hall to a tall arched doorway, opening upon a wide and beautiful garden, filled with the plants and shrubs of the south of France, and sloping gently down to the broad expanse of the blue waves of the Garonne. She looked round on all sides, and seeing no one, made a few steps forward on the greensward, then called aloud, "Thomas!" no answer, "Edward! Harry of Lancaster!" but still her clear silvery voice was unheeded, until a servant came from some other part of the building, and, bowing, awaited her orders. "Where are Lord Edward and the rest?" she asked.

"Gone forth," the servant believed, "to ride on the open space near St. Ursula's Convent."

"None left at home?"

"None, noble Lady."

"None," repeated Lady Maude, "save the little Lord Richard, whose baby company your pageship would hardly esteem. You must try to endure the quietness of the lady's chamber, unless you would wish to be at once introduced to the grave master of the Damoiseaux."

At this moment Arthur's eye fell upon a lady who had just emerged from a long shady alley, up which she had been slowly walking, and the bright look of recognition which lighted up his face, was so different from the shy and constrained expression he had hitherto worn, that Lady Maude remarked it, and following his gaze, said, "Lady Agnes de Clarenham? Ah yes, she is of kin to you. Let us go meet her." Then, as they approached, she said, "Here, Agnes, I have brought you a young cousin of yours, whom the Prince has just conducted into my mother's chamber, where he bore so rueful a countenance that I grew pitiful enough to come forth on a bootless errand after his fellow Damoiseaux, who, it seems, are all out riding. So I shall even leave him to you, for there is a troubadour in the hall, whose lay I greatly long to hear."

Away tripped Lady Maude, well pleased to be free from the burthen her good-nature had imposed on her.

"Arthur," exclaimed Agnes, "what joy to see you! Is your uncle here?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "but oh, Cousin Agnes! if you had been by to hear the foul slanders which Sir Fulk has been telling the Prince-oh, Agnes! you would disown him for your brother."

"Arthur," said Agnes, with a voice almost of anguish, "how could he-why did he tarry so long on the road?"

"How could we come on when the Duke of Brittany himself said it was certain death or captivity? We were forced to wait for an escort. And now, Agnes, think of your brother saying that Uncle Eustace carried off the rents of Lynwood, when every man in the Castle could swear it was only the money Father Cyril had in keeping for his inheritance."

"Alas!" said Agnes.

"And the Prince will believe it-the Prince looks coldly on him already, and my uncle loves the Prince like his own life. Oh, he will be ready to die with grief! Agnes! Agnes! what is to be done? But you don't believe it!" he proceeded, seeing that she was weeping bitterly. "You do not believe it-you promised you never would! Oh say you do not believe it!"

"I do not, Arthur; I never believed half they said of him; but oh, that long delay was a sore trial to my confidence, and cruelly confirmed their tales."

"And think of Fulk, too, hindering the Prince from inquiring, because he says he would spare my uncle for my father's sake, when the truth is, he only fears that the blackness of his own designs should be seen! And Gaston, too, he slandered. Oh, Agnes! Agnes! that there should be such wickedness, and we able to do nought!"

"Nought but weep and pray!" said Agnes. "And yet I can bear it better now that you are here. Your presence refutes the worst accusation, and removes a heavy weight from my mind."

"You distrust him too! I cannot love you if you do."

"Never, never! I only feared some evil had befallen you, and grieved to see the use made of your absence. Your coming should make my heart light again."

"Shall I often see you, Cousin Agnes? for there is none else in this wide Castle that I shall care for."

"Oh yes, Arthur, there are full twenty pages little older than yourself-Lord Thomas Holland, the Prince's stepson, brother to the lady that led you to me; little Piers de Greilly, nephew to the Captal de Buch; young Lord Henry of Lancaster; and the little Prince Edward himself. You will have no lack of merry playmates."

"Ah, but to whom can I talk of my blessed mother and of Uncle Eustace, and of Lynwood Keep, and poor old Blanc Etoile, that I promised Ralph I would bear in mind?"

"Well, Arthur," said Agnes, cheerfully, "it is the pages' duty to wait on the ladies in hall and bower, and the ladies' office to teach them all courtly manners, and hear them read and say the Credo and Ave. You shall be my own especial page and servant. Is it agreed?"

"Oh yes," said the boy. "I wonder if the master of the Damoiseaux is as strict as that lady said, and I wonder when I shall see Uncle Eustace again."

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