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The Lances of Lynwood By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 24408

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


If Arthur Lynwood felt desolate when he left his uncle's side, it was not otherwise with Sir Eustace as he lost sight of the child, who had so long been his charge, and who repaid his anxiety with such confiding affection. The coveted fame, favour, and distinction seemed likewise to have deserted him. The Prince's coldness hung heavily on him, and as he cast his eyes along the ranks of familiar faces, not one friendly look cheered him. His greetings were returned with coldness, and a grave haughty courtesy was the sole welcome. Chafed and mortified, he made a sign to Gaston, and they were soon in the street once more.

"Coward clown!" burst forth Gaston at once. "Would that I could send all his grinning teeth down the false throat of him!"

"Whose? What mean you?"

"Whose but that sulky recreant, Ashton? He has done well to obtain knighthood, or I would beat him within an inch of his life with my halbert, and if he dared challenge me, slay him as I would a carrion crown! He a Knight! Thanks to his acres and to Lord Pembroke!"

"Patience, patience, Gaston-I have not yet heard of what he accuses me."

"No! he has learnt policy-he saith it not openly! He would deny it, as did his Esquire when I taxed him with it! Would that you could not tell a letter! Sir Eustace, of your favour let me burn every one of your vile books."

"My innocent friends! Nay, nay, Gaston-they are too knightly to merit such measure. Then it is the old accusation of witchcraft, I suppose. So I was in league with the Castilian witch and her cats, was I?"

"Ay; and her broom-stick or her cats wafted you to Lynwood, where you suddenly stood in the midst of the mourners, borne into the hall on a howling blast! How I got there, I am sorry to say, the craven declared not, lest I should give him the lie at once!"

"But surely, such a tale is too absurd and vulgar to deceive our noble Prince."

"Oh, there is another version for his ears. This is only for the lower sort, who might not have thought the worse of you for kidnapping your nephew, vowing his mother should remain unburied till he was in your hands, and carrying off all his rents."

"That is Clarenham's slander."

"Yes."

"And credited by the Prince? Oh! little did I think the hand which laid knighthood on my shoulder should repent the boon that it gave!" exclaimed Eustace, with a burst of sorrow rather than anger.

"Do you not challenge the traitor at once?"

"I trow not, unless he speaks the charge to my face. Father Cyril declared that any outbreak on my part would damage our cause in the eyes of the Chancellor; we must bide our time. Since Arthur is safe, I will bear my own burden. I am guiltless in this matter, and I trust that the blessing of Heaven on my deeds shall restore a name, obscured, but not tarnished."

The resolution to forbear was tested, for time passed on without vindicating him. With such art had the toils of his enemies been spread, that no opening was left him for demanding an explanation. The calumnies could only be brought home to the lowest retainers of Clarenham and Ashton, and the only result of the zealous refutation by the followers of Sir Eustace was a brawl between John Ingram and a yeoman of Clarenham's, ending in their spending a week in the custody of the Provost Marshal.

Had there been any tournament or like sport at Bordeaux, Eustace could have asserted his place, and challenged the attention of the court; but the state of the Prince's health prevented such spectacles; nor had he any opportunity of acquiring honour by his deeds in arms. No army took the field on either side, and the war was chiefly carried on by expeditions for the siege or relief of frontier castles; and here his unusual rank as Knight Banneret stood in his way, since it was contrary to etiquette for him to put himself under the command of a Knight Bachelor. He was condemned therefore to a weary life of inaction, the more galling, because his poverty made it necessary to seek maintenance as formerly at the Prince's table, where he was daily reminded, by the altered demeanour of his acquaintance, of the unjust suspicions beneath which he laboured. He had hoped that a dismissal from his post in the Prince's band would give him the much-desired opportunity of claiming a hearing, but he was permitted to receive his pay and allowance as usual, and seemed completely overlooked. It was well that Gaston's gay temper could not easily be saddened by their circumstances, and his high spirits and constant attachment often cheered his Knight in their lonely evenings. Eustace had more than once striven to persuade him to forsake his failing fortunes; but to this the faithful Squire would never consent, vowing that he was as deeply implicated in all their accusations as Sir Eustace himself; and who would wish to engage a fellow-servant of the black cats! There were two others whom Eustace would fain believe still confided in his truth and honour, his nephew Arthur, and Lady Agnes de Clarenham; but he never saw them, and often his heart sank at the thought of the impression that the universal belief might make on the minds of both. And to add to his depression, a rumour prevailed throughout Bordeaux that the Baron of Clarenham had promised his sister's hand to Sir Leonard Ashton.

Nearly a year had passed since Eustace had left England, and his situation continued unchanged. Perhaps the Prince regarded him with additional displeasure, since news had arrived that Sir Richard Ferrars had made application to the Duke of Lancaster to interest the King in the cause of the guardianship; for there was, at this time, a strong jealousy, in the mind of the Prince, of the mighty power and influence of John of Gaunt, which he already feared might be used to the disadvantage of his young sons.

The cause was, at length, decided, and a letter from good Father Cyril conveyed to Eustace the intelligence that the Chancellor, William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, having given due weight to Sir Reginald's dying words and Lady Lynwood's testament, had pronounced Sir Eustace Lynwood the sole guardian of the person and estate of his nephew, and authorized all the arrangements he had made on his departure.

Affairs altogether began to wear a brighter aspect. The first indignation against Sir Eustace had subsided, and he was treated, in general, with indifference rather than marked scorn. The gallant old Chandos was again on better terms with the Prince, and, coming to Bordeaux, made two or three expeditions, in which Eustace volunteered to join, and gained some favourable, though slight, notice from the old Knight. Fulk Clarenham, too, having received from the Prince the government of Perigord, was seldom at court, and no active enemy appeared to be at work against him.

Agnes de Clarenham, always retiring and pensive, and seldom sought out by those who admired gayer damsels, was sitting apart in the embrasure of a window, whence, through an opening in the trees of the garden, she could catch a distant glimpse of the blue waters of the river where it joined the sea, which separated her from her native land, and from her who had ever been as a mother to her. She was so lost in thought, that she scarce heard a step approaching, till the unwelcome sound of "Fair greeting to you, Lady Agnes" caused her to look up and behold the still more unwelcome form of Sir Leonard Ashton. To escape from him was the first idea, for his clownish manners, always unpleasant to her, had become doubly so, since he had presumed upon her brother's favour to offer to her addresses from which she saw no escape; and with a brief reply of "Thanks for your courtesy, Sir Knight," she was about to rise and mingle with the rest of the party, when he proceeded, bluntly, "Lady Agnes, will you do me a favour?"

"I know of no favour in my power," said she.

"Nay," he said, "it is easily done, and it is as much to your brother as to myself. It is a letter which, methinks, Fulk would not have read out of the family, of which I may call myself one," and he gave a sort of smirk at Agnes;-"but he writes so crabbedly, that I, for one, cannot read two lines,-and I would not willingly give it to a clerk, who might be less secret. So methought, as 'twas the Baron's affair, I would even bring it here, and profit by your Convent-breeding, Lady Agnes."

Agnes took the letter, and began to read:-

"For the hand of the Right Noble and Worshipful Knight, Sir Leonard Ashton, at the court of my Lord the Prince of Wales, these:-

"Fair Sir, and brother-in-arms-I hereby do you to wit, that the affair whereof we spoke goes well. Both my Lord of Pembroke, and Sir John Chandos, readily undertook to move the Prince to grant the Banneret you wot of the government of the Castle, and as he hath never forgotten the love he once bore to his brother, he will the more easily be persuaded. Of the garrison we are sure, and all that is now needful is, that the one-eyed Squire, whereof you spoke to me, should receive warning before he arrives at the Castle.

"Tell him to choose his time, and manage matters so that there may be no putting to ransom. He will understand my meaning.

"Greeting you well, therefore,

"Fulk, Baron of Clarenham."

"What means this?" exclaimed Agnes, as a tissue of treachery opened before her eyes.

"Ay, that you may say," said Leonard, his slow brain only fixed upon Fulk's involved sentences, and utterly unconscious of the horror expressed in her tone. "How is a man to understand what he would have me to do? Send to Le Borgne Basque at Chateau Norbelle? Is that it? Read it to me once again, Lady, for the love of the Saints. What am I to tell Le Borgne Basque? No putting to ransom, doth he say? He might be secure enough for that matter-Eustace Lynwood is little like to ransom himself."

"But what mean you?" said Agnes, eagerly hoping that she had done her brother injustice in her first horrible thought. "Sir Eustace Lynwood, if you spake of him, is no prisoner, but is here at Bordeaux."

"He shall not long be so," said Leonard. "Heard you not this very noon that the Prince bestows on him the government of Chateau Norbelle on the marches of Gascony? Well, that is the matter treated of in this letter. Let me see, let me see, how was it to be? Yes, that is it! It is Le Borgne Basque who is Seneschal. Ay, true, that I know,-and 'twas he who was to admit Clisson's men."

"Admit Clisson's men!"

"Ay-'tis one of those Castles built by the old Paladin, Renaud de Montauban, that Eustace used to talk about. I ween he did not know of this trick that will be played on himself-and all of them have, they say, certain secret passages leading through the vaults into the Castle. Le Borgne Basque knows them all, for he has served much in those parts, and Fulk placed him as Seneschal for the very purpose."

"For the purpose of admitting Clisson's men? Do I understand you right, Sir Knight, or do my ears play me false?"

"Yes, I speak right. Do you not see, Lady Agnes, it is the only way to free your house of this stumbling-block-this beggarly upstart Eustace-who, as long as he lives, will never acknowledge Fulk's rights, and would bring up his nephew to the same pride."

"And is it possible, Sir Leonard, that brother of mine, and belted Knight, should devise so foul a scheme of treachery! Oh, unsay it again! Let me believe it was my own folly that conjured up so monstrous a thought!"

"Ay, that is the way with women," said Leonard; "they never look at the sense of the matter. Why, this Eustace, what terms should be kept with him, who has dealings with the Evil One? and-"

"I will neither hear a noble Knight maligned, nor suffer him to be betrayed," interrupted Agnes. "I have listened to you too long, Sir Leonard Ashton, and will stain my ears no longer. I thank you, however, for having given me such warning as to enable me to traverse them."

"What will you do?" asked Leonard, with a look of impotent anger.

"Appeal instantly to the Prince. Tell him the use that is made of his Castles, and the falsehoods told him of his most true-hearted Knight!" and Agnes, with g

lancing eyes, was already rising for the purpose, forgetting, in her eager indignation, all that must follow, when Leonard, muttering "What madness possessed me to tell her!" stood full before her, saying, gloomily, "Do so, Lady, if you choose to ruin your brother!" The timid girl stood appalled, as the horrible consequences of such an accusation arose before her.

That same day Eustace was summoned to the Prince's presence.

"Sir Eustace Lynwood," said Edward, gravely, "I hear you have served the King well beneath the banner of Sir John Chandos. Your friends have wrought with me to give you occasion to prove yourself worthy of your spurs, and I have determined to confer on you the government of my Chateau of Norbelle, on the frontier of Gascony, trusting to find you a true and faithful governor and Castellane."

"I trust, my Lord, that you have never had occasion to deem less honourably of me," said Eustace; and his clear open eye and brow courted rather than shunned the keen look of scrutiny that the Prince fixed upon him. His heart leapt at the hope that the time for inquiry was come, but the Prince in another moment sank his eyes again, with more, however, of the weary impatience of illness than of actual displeasure, and merely replied, "Kneel down, then, Sir Knight, and take the oaths of fidelity."

Eustace obeyed, hardly able to suppress a sigh at the disappointment of his hopes.

"You will receive the necessary orders and supplies from Sir John Chandos, and from the Treasurer," said Edward, in a tone that intimated the conclusion of the conference; and Eustace quitted his presence, scarce knowing whether to be rejoiced or dissatisfied.

The former, Gaston certainly was. "I have often been heartily weary of garrison duty," said he, "but never can I be more weary of aught, than of being looked upon askance by half the men I meet. And we may sometimes hear the lark sing too, as well as the mouse squeak, Sir Eustace. I know every pass of my native county, and the herds of Languedoc shall pay toll to us."

Sir John Chandos, as Constable of Aquitaine, gave him the requisite orders and information. The fortifications, he said, were in good condition, and the garrison already numerous; but a sum of money was allotted to him in order to increase their numbers as much as he should deem advisable, since it was not improbable that he might have to sustain a siege, as Oliver de Clisson was threatening that part of the frontier. Four days were allowed for his preparations, after which he was to depart for his government.

Eustace was well pleased with all that he heard, and returned to his lodging, where, in the evening twilight, he was deeply engaged in consultation with Gaston, on the number of followers to be raised, when a light step was heard hastily approaching, and Arthur, darting into the room, flung himself on his neck, exclaiming, "Uncle! uncle! go not to this Castle!"

"Arthur, what brings you here? What means this? No foolish frolic, no escape from punishment, I trust?" said Eustace, holding him at some little distance, and fixing his eyes on him intently.

"No, uncle, no! On the word of a true Knight's son," said the boy, stammering, in his eagerness, "believe me, trust me, dear uncle-and go not to this fearful Castle. It is a trap-a snare laid to be your death, by the foulest treachery!"

"Silence, Arthur!" said the Knight, sternly. "Know you not what treason you speak? Some trick has been played on your simplicity, and yet you-child as you are-should as soon think shame of your own father as of the Prince, the very soul of honour."

"Oh, it is not the Prince: he knows nought of it; it is those double traitors, the Baron of Clarenham and Sir Leonard Ashton, who have worked upon him and deceived him."

"Oh, ho!" said Gaston. "The story now begins to wear some semblance of probability."

Arthur turned, looking perplexed. "Master d'Aubricour," said he, "I forgot that you were here. This is a secret which should have been for my uncle's ears alone."

"Is it so?" said Gaston; "then I will leave the room, if it please you and the Knight-though methought I was scarce small enough to be so easily overlooked; and having heard the half-"

"You had best hear the whole," said Arthur. "Uncle Eustace, what think you?"

"I know not what to think, Arthur. You must be your own judge."

Arthur's young brow wore a look of deep thought; at last he said, "Do not go then, Gaston. If I have done wrong, I must bear the blame, and, be it as it may, my uncle needs must tell you all that I may tell him."

"Let us hear, then," said Eustace.

"Well, then," said Arthur, who had by this time collected himself, "you must know that this Chateau Norbelle is one of those built by that famous Paladin, the chief of freebooters, Sir Renaud de Montauban, of whom you have told me so many tales. Now all of these have secret passages in the vaults communicating with the outer country."

"The boy is right," said Gaston; "I have seen one of them in the Castle of Montauban itself."

"Then it seems," proceeded Arthur, "that this Castle hath hitherto been in the keeping of a certain one-eyed Seneschal, a great friend and comrade of Sir Leonard Ashton-"

"Le Borgne Basque!" exclaimed both Knight and Squire, looking at each other in amaze.

"True, true," said Arthur. "Now you believe me. Well, the enemy being in the neighbourhood, it was thought right to increase the garrison, and place it under the command of a Knight, and these cowardly traitors have wrought with my Lord of Pembroke and Sir John Chandos to induce the Prince to give you this post-it being their intention that this wicked Seneschal and his equally wicked garrison should admit Sir Oliver de Clisson, the butcher of Bretagne himself, through the secret passage. And, uncle," said the boy, pressing Eustace's hand, while tears of indignation sprang to his eyes, "the letter expressly said there was to be no putting to ransom. Oh, Uncle Eustace, go not to this Castle!"

"And how came you by this knowledge?" asked the Knight.

"That I may never tell," said Arthur.

"By no means which might not beseem the son of a brave man?" said Eustace.

"Mistrust me not so foully," said the boy. "I know it from a sure hand, and there is not dishonour, save on the part of those villain traitors. Oh, promise me, fair uncle, not to put yourself in their hands!"

"Arthur, I have taken the oaths to the Prince as Castellane. I cannot go back from my duty, nor give up its defence for any cause whatsoever."

"Alas! alas!"

"There would be only one way of avoiding it," said Eustace, "and you must yourself say, Arthur, whether that is open to me. To go to the Prince, and tell him openly what use is made of his Castles, and impeach the villains of their treachery."

"That cannot be," said Arthur, shaking his head sadly-"it is contrary to the pledge I gave for you and for myself. But go not, go not, uncle. Remember, uncle, if you will not take thought for yourself, that you are all that is left me-all that stands between me and that wicked Clarenham.-Gaston, persuade him."

"Gaston would never persuade me to disgrace my spurs for the sake of danger," replied Eustace. "Have you no better learnt the laws of chivalry in the Prince's household, Arthur? Besides, remember old Ralph's proverb, 'Fore-warned is fore-armed.' Think you not that Gaston, and honest Ingram, and I may not be a match for a dozen cowardly traitors? Besides which, see here the gold allotted me to raise more men, with which I will obtain some honest hearts for my defence-and it will go hard with me if I cannot find Sir Renaud's secret door."

"Then, if you will go, uncle, take, take me with you-I could, at least, watch the door; and I know how to hit a mark with a cross-bow as well as Lord Harry of Lancaster himself."

"Take you, Master Arthur? What! steal away the Prince's page that I have been at such pains to bring hither, and carry him to a nest of traitors! Why, it would be the very way to justify Clarenham's own falsehoods."

"And of the blackest are they!" said Arthur. "Think, uncle, of my standing by to hear him breathing his poison to the Prince, and the preventing him from searching to find out the truth, by pretending a regard for my father's name, and your character. Oh that our noble Prince should be deluded by such a recreant, and think scorn of such a Knight as you!"

"I trust yet to prove to him that it is a delusion," said Eustace. "Many a Knight at twenty-two has yet to make his name and fame. Mine, thanks to Du Guesclin and the Prince himself, is already made, and though clouded for a time, with the grace of our Lady and of St. Eustace, I will yet clear it; so, Arthur, be not downcast for me, but think what Father Cyril hath taught concerning evil report and good report. But tell me, how came you hither?"

"She-that is, the person that warned me-let me down from the window upon the head of the great gurgoyle, and from thence I scrambled down by the vines on the wall, ran through the court without being seen by the Squires and grooms, and found my way to the bridge, where happily I met John Ingram, who brought me hither."

"She?" repeated Gaston, with a sly look in his black eyes.

"I have said too much," said Arthur, colouring deeply; "I pray you to forget."

"Forget!" proceeded the Squire, "that is sooner said than done. We shall rack our brains to guess what lady can-"

"Hush, Gaston," said Eustace, as his nephew looked at him imploringly, "tempt not the boy. And you, Arthur, must return to the palace immediately."

"Oh, uncle!" said the boy, "may I not stay with you this one night? It is eight weary months since I have ever seen you, save by peering down through the tall balusters of the Princess's balcony, when the Knights were going to dinner in the hall, and I hoped you would keep me with you at least one night. See how late and dark it is-the Castle gates will be closed by this time."

"It does indeed rejoice my heart to have you beside me, fair nephew," said Eustace, "and yet I know not how to favour such an escape as this, even for such a cause."

"I never broke out of bounds before," said Arthur, "and never will, though Lord Harry and Lord Thomas Holland have more than once asked me to join them."

"Then," said the Knight, "since it is, as you say, too late to rouse the palace, I will take you back in my hand to-morrow morn, see the master of the Damoiseaux, and pray him to excuse you for coming to see me ere my departure."

"Yes, that will be all well," said Arthur; "I could, to be sure, find the corner where Lord Harry has loosened the stones, and get in by the pages' window, ere old Master Michael is awake in the morn; but I think such doings are more like those of a fox than of a brave boy, and though I should be well punished, I will walk in at the door, and hold up my head boldly."

"Shall you be punished then?" said Gaston. "Is your old master of the Damoiseaux very severe?"

"He has not been so hitherto with me," said Arthur: "he scolds me for little, save what you too are displeased with, Master d'Aubricour, because I cannot bring my mouth to speak your language in your own fashion. It is Lord Harry that chiefly falls under his displeasure. But punished now I shall assuredly be, unless Uncle Eustace can work wonders."

"I will see what may be done, Arthur," said Eustace. "And now, have you supped?"

The evening passed off very happily to the little page, who, quite reassured by his uncle's consolations, only thought of the delight of being with one who seemed to supply to him the place at once of an elder brother and of a father.

Early the next morning, Eustace walked with him to the palace. Just before he reached it, he made this inquiry, "Arthur, do you often see the Lady Agnes de Clarenham?"

"Oh, yes, I am with her almost every afternoon. She hears me read, she helps me with my French words, and teaches me courtly manners. I am her own page and servant-but, here we are. This is the door that leads to the room of Master Michael de Sancy, the master of the Damoiseaux."

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