copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
HOW ALLEYNE WON HIS PLACE IN AN HONORABLE GUILD.
WHILST the prince's council was sitting, Alleyne and Ford had remained in
the outer hall, where they were soon surrounded by a noisy group of young
Englishmen of their own rank, all eager to hear the latest news from England.
"How is it with the old man at Windsor?" asked one.
"And how with the good Queen Philippa?"
"And how with Dame Alice Perrers?" cried a third.
"The devil take your tongue, Wat!" shouted a tall young man,
seizing the last speaker by the collar and giving him an admonitory shake.
"The prince would take your head off for those words."
"By God's coif! Wat would miss it but little," said another.
"It is as empty as a beggar's wallet."
"As empty as an English squire, coz," cried the first speaker.
"What a devil has become of the maitre-destables and his sewers? They have
not put forth the trestles yet."
"Mon Dieu! if a man could eat himself into knighthood, Humphrey, you
had been a banneret at the least," observed another, amid a burst of
"And if you could drink yourself in, old leather-head, you had been
first baron of the realm," cried the aggrieved Humphrey. "But how of
England, my lads of Loring?"
"I take it," said Ford, "that it is much as it was when
you were there last, save that perchance there is a little less noise
"And why less noise, young Solomon?"
"Ah, that is for your wit to discover."
"Pardieu! here is a paladin come over, with the Hampshire mud still
sticking to his shoes. He means that the noise is less for our being out of the
"They are very quick in these parts," said Ford, turning to
"How are we to take this, sir?" asked the ruffling squire.
"You may take it as it comes," said Ford carelessly.
"Here is pertness!" cried the other.
"Sir, I honor your truthfulness," said Ford.
"Stint it, Humphrey," said the tall squire, with a burst of
laughter. "You will have
little credit from this gentleman, I perceive.
Tongues are sharp in Hampshire, sir."
"Hum! we may prove that. In
two days' time is the vepres du tournoi, when we may see if your lance is as
quick as your wit."
"All very well, Roger Harcomb," cried a burly, bullnecked young
man, whose square shoulders and massive limbs told of exceptional personal
strength. "You pass too
lightly over the matter. We are not to be so easily overcrowed. The Lord Loring hath given his proofs; but we know nothing of
his squires, save that one of them hath a railing tongue. And how of you, young sir?" bringing his heavy hand down
on Alleyne's shoulder.
"And what of me, young sir?"
"Ma foi! this is my lady's page come over.
Your cheek will be browner and your hand harder ere you see your mother
"If my hand is not hard, it is ready."
"Ready? Ready for what? For the hem of my lady's train?"
"Ready to chastise insolence, sir," cried Alleyne with hashing
"Sweet little coz!" answered the burly squire.
"Such a dainty color! Such
a mellow voice! Eyes of a bashful
maid, and hair like a three years' babe! Voila!"
He passed his thick fingers roughly through the youth's crisp golden
"You seek to force a quarrel, sir," said the young man, white
"And what then?"
"Why, you do it like a country boor, and not like a gentle squire.
Hast been ill bred and as ill taught.
I serve a master who could show you how such things should he done."
"And how would he do it, O pink of squires?"
"He would neither be loud nor would he be unmannerly, but rather
more gentle than is his wont. He
would say, 'Sir, I should take it as an honor to do some small deed of arms
against you, not for mine own glory or advancement, but rather for the fame of
my lady and for the upholding of chivalry.'
Then he would draw his glove, thus, and throw it on the ground; or, if he
had cause to think that he had to deal with a churl, he might throw it in his
face--as I do now!"
A buzz of excitement went up from the knot of squires as Alleyne, his
gentle nature turned by this causeless attack into fiery resolution, dashed his
glove with all his strength into the sneering face of his antagonist.
From all parts of the hall squires and pages came running, until a dense,
swaying crowd surrounded the disputants.
"Your life for this!" said the bully, with a face which was
distorted with rage.
"If you can take it," returned Alleyne.
"Good lad!" whispered Ford.
"Stick to it close as wax."
"I shall see justice," cried Newbury, Sir Oliver's silent
"You brought it upon yourself, John Tranter," said the tall
squire, who had been addressed as Roger Harcomb.
"You must ever plague the new-comers.
But it were shame if this went further. The lad hath shown a proper
"But a blow! a blow!" cried several of the older squires.
"There must be a finish to this."
"Nay; Tranter first laid hand upon his head," said Harcomb.
"How say you, Tranter? The
matter may rest where it stands?"
"My name is known in these parts," said Tranter, proudly,
"I can let pass what might leave a stain upon another.
Let him pick up his glove and say that he has done amiss."
"I would see him in the claws of the devil first," whispered
"You hear, young sir?" said the peacemaker. "Our
friend will overlook the matter if you do but say that you have acted in heat
"I cannot say that," answered Alleyne.
"It is our custom, young sir, when new squires come amongst us from
England, to test them in some such way. Bethink
you that if a man have a destrier or a new lance he will ever try it in time of
peace, lest in days of need it may fail him.
How much more then is it proper to test those who are our comrades in
"I would draw out if it may honorably be done," murmured
Norbury in Alleyne's ear. "The man is a noted swordsman and far above your
Edricson came, however, of that sturdy Saxon blood which is very slowly
heated, but once up not easily to be cooled.
The hint of danger which Norbury threw out was the one thing needed to
harden his resolution.
"I came here at the back of my master," he said, "and I
looked on every man here as an Englishman and a friend.
This gentleman hath shown me a rough welcome, and if I have answered him
in the same spirit he has but himself to thank.
I will pick the glove up; but, certes, I shall abide what I have done
unless he first crave my pardon for what he hath said and done."
Tranter shrugged his shoulders. "You
have done what you could to save him, Harcomb," said he.
"We had best settle at once."
"So say I," cried Alleyne.
"The council will not break up until the banquet," remarked a
gray-haired squire. "You have a clear two hours."
"And the place?"
"The tilting-yard is empty at this hour."
"Nay; it must not be within the grounds of the court, or it may go
hard with all concerned if it come to the ears of the prince."
"But there is a quiet spot near the river," said one youth.
"We have but to pass through the abbey grounds, along the armory
wall, past the church of St. Remi, and so down the Rue des Apotres."
"En avant, then!" cried Tranter shortly, and the whole assembly
flocked out into the open air, save only those whom the special orders of their
masters held to their posts. These
unfortunates crowded to the small casements, and craned their necks after the
throng as far as they could catch a glimpse of them.
Close to the banks of the Garonne there lay a little tract of green
sward, with the high wall of a prior's garden upon one side and an orchard with
a thick bristle of leafless apple-trees upon the other.
The river ran deep and swift up to the steep bank; but there were few
boats upon it, and the ships were moored far out in the centre of the stream.
Here the two combatants drew their swords and threw off their doublets,
for neither had any defensive armor. The
duello with its stately etiquette had not yet come into vogue, but rough and
sudden encounters were as common as they must ever be when hot-headed youth goes
abroad with a weapon strapped to its waist.
In such combats, as well as in the more formal sports of the
tilting-yard, Tranter had won a name for strength and dexterity which had caused
Norbury to utter his well-meant warning. On
the other hand, Alleyne had used his weapons in constant exercise and practice
for every day for many months, and being by nature quick of eye and prompt of
hand, he might pass now as no mean swordsman.
A strangely opposed pair they appeared as they approached each other:
Tranter dark and stout and stiff, with hairy chest and corded arms, Alleyne a
model of comeliness and grace, with his golden hair and his skin as fair as a
woman's. An unequal fight it seemed to most; but there were a few, and
they the most experienced, who saw something in the youth's steady gray eye and
wary step which left the issue open to doubt.
"Hold, sirs, hold!" cried Norbury, ere a blow had been struck.
"This gentleman hath a two-handed sword, a good foot longer than that of
"Take mine, Alleyne," said Ford.
"Nay, friends," he answered, "I understand the weight and
balance of mine own. To work, sir,
for our lord may need us at the abbey!"
Tranter's great sword was indeed a mighty vantage in his favor. He stood
with his feet close together, his knees bent outwards, ready for a dash inwards
or a spring out. The weapon he held straight up in front of him with blade
erect, so that he might either bring it down with a swinging blow, or by a turn
of the heavy blade he might guard his own head and body. A further protection lay in the broad and powerful guard
which crossed the hilt, and which was furnished with a deep and narrow notch, in
which an expert swordsman might catch his foeman's blade, and by a quick turn of
his wrist might snap it across. Alleyne,
on the other hand, must trust for his defence to his quick eye and active
foot--for his sword, though keen as a whetstone could make it, was of a light
and graceful build with a narrow, sloping pommel and a tapering steel.
Tranter well knew his advantage and lost no time in putting it to use.
As his opponent walked towards him he suddenly bounded forward and sent
in a whistling cut which would have severed the other in twain had he not sprung
lightly back from it. So close was
it that the point ripped a gash in the jutting edge of his linen cyclas.
Quick as a panther, Alleyne sprang in with a thrust, but Tranter, who was
as active as he was strong, had already recovered himself and turned it aside
with a movement of his heavy blade. Again
he whizzed in a blow which made the spectators hold their breath, and again
Alleyne very quickly and swiftly slipped from under it, and sent back two
lightning thrusts which the other could scarce parry.
So close were they to each other that Alleyne had no time to spring back
from the next cut, which beat down his sword and grazed his forehead, sending
the blood streaming into his eyes and down his cheeks. He sprang out beyond
sword sweep, and the pair stood breathing heavily, while the crowd of young
squires buzzed their applause.
"Bravely struck on both sides!" cried Roger Harcomb.
"You have both won honor from this meeting, and it would be sin and
shame to let it go further."
"You have done enough, Edricson," said Norbury.
"You have carried yourself well," cried several of the older
"For my part, I have no wish to slay this young man," said
Tranter, wiping his heated brow.
"Does this gentleman crave my pardon for having used me
despitefully?" asked Alleyne.
"Nay, not I."
"Then stand on your guard, sir!"
With a clatter and dash the two blades met once more, Alleyne pressing in
so as to keep within the full sweep of the heavy blade, while Tranter as
continually sprang back to have space for one of his fatal cuts.
A three- parts-parried blow drew blood from Alleyne's left shoulder, but
at the same moment he wounded Tranter slightly upon the thigh. Next instant,
however, his blade had slipped into the fatal notch, there was a sharp cracking
sound with a tinkling upon the ground, and he found a splintered piece of steel
fifteen inches long was all that remained to him of his weapon.
"Your life is in my hands!" cried Tranter, with a bitter smile.
"Nay, nay, he makes submission!" broke in several squires.
Another sword!" cried Ford.
"Nay, sir," said Harcomb, "that is not the custom."
"Throw down your hilt, Edricson," cried Norbury.
"Never!" said Alleyne. "Do
you crave my pardon, sir?"
"You are mad to ask it."
"Then on guard again!" cried the young squire, and sprang in
with a fire and a fury which more than made up for the shortness of his weapon.
It had not escaped him that his opponent was breathing in short, hoarse
gasps, like a man who is dizzy with fatigue.
Now was the time for the purer living and the more agile limb to show
their value. Back and back gave
Tranter, ever seeking time for a last cut.
On and on came Alleyne, his jagged point now at his foeman's face, now at
his throat, now at his chest, still stabbing and thrusting to pass the line of
steel which covered him. Yet his
experienced foeman knew well that such efforts could not be long sustained. Let him relax for one instant, and his death-blow had come.
Relax he must! Flesh and blood could not stand the strain.
Already the thrusts were less fierce, the foot less ready, although there
was no abatement of the spirit in the steady gray eyes.
Tranter, cunning and wary from years of fighting, knew that his chance
had come. He brushed aside the
frail weapon which was opposed to him, whirled up his great blade, sprang back
to get the fairer sweep--and vanished into the waters of the Garonne.
So intent had the squires, both combatants and spectators, been on the
matter in hand, that all thought of the steep bank and swift still stream had
gone from their minds. It was not until Tranter, giving back before the other's
fiery rush, was upon the very brink, that a general cry warned him of his
danger. That last spring, which he
hoped would have brought the fight to a bloody end, carried him clear of the
edge, and he found himself in an instant eight feet deep in the ice-cold stream.
Once and twice his gasping face and clutching fingers broke up through
the still green water, sweeping outwards in the swirl of the current. In vain
were sword-sheaths, apple-branches and belts linked together thrown out to him
by his companions. Alleyne had
dropped his shattered sword and was standing, trembling in every limb, with his
rage all changed in an instant to pity. For
the third time the drowning man came to the surface, his hands full of green
slimy water-plants, his eyes turned in despair to the shore.
Their glance fell upon Alleyne, and he could not withstand the mute
appeal which he read in them. In an
instant he, too, was in the Garonne, striking out with powerful strokes for his
Yet the current was swift and strong, and, good swimmer as he was, it was
no easy task which Alleyne had set himself.
To clutch at Tranter and to seize him by the hair was the work of a few
seconds, but to hold his head above water and to make their way out of the
current was another matter. For a hundred strokes he did not seem to gain an inch.
Then at last, amid a shout of joy and praise from the bank, they slowly
drew clear into more stagnant water, at the instant that a rope, made of a dozen
sword-belts linked together by the buckles, was thrown by Ford into their very
hands. Three pulls from eager arms,
and the two combatants, dripping and pale, were dragged up the bank, and lay
panting upon the grass.
John Tranter was the first to come to himself, for although he had been
longer in the water, he had done nothing during that fierce battle with the
current. He staggered to his feet
and looked down upon his rescuer, who had raised himself upon his elbow, and was
smiling faintly at the buzz of congratulation and of praise which broke from the
squires around him.
"I am much beholden to you, sir," said Tranter, though in no
very friendly voice. "Certes, I should have been in the river now but for
you, for I was born in Warwickshire, which is but a dry county, and there are
few who swim in those parts."
"I ask no thanks," Alleyne answered shortly.
"Give me your hand to rise, Ford."
"The river has been my enemy," said Tranter, "but it hath
been a good friend to you, for it has saved your life this day."
"That is as it may be," returned Alleyne.
"But all is now well over," quoth Harcomb, "and no scath
come of it, which is more than I had at one time hoped for.
Our young friend here hath very fairly and honestly earned his right to
be craftsman of the Honorable Guild of the Squires of Bordeaux. Here is your
"Alas for my poor sword which lies at the bottom of the
Garonne!" said the squire.
"Here is your pourpoint, Edricson," cried Norbury.
"Throw it over your shoulders, that you may have at least one dry
"And now away back to the abbey!" said several.
"One moment, sirs," cried Alleyne, who was leaning on Ford's
shoulder, with the broken sword, which he had picked up, still clutched in his
right hand. "My ears may be
somewhat dulled by the water, and perchance what has been said has escaped me,
but I have not yet heard this gentleman crave pardon for the insults which he
put upon me in the hall."
"What! do you still pursue the quarrel?" asked Trenter.
"And why not, sir? I am slow to take up such things, but once afoot
I shall follow it while I have life or breath."
"Ma foi! you have not too much of either, for you are as white as
marble," said Harcomb bluntly. "Take
my rede, sir, and let it drop, for you have come very well out from it."
"Nay," said Alleyne, "this quarrel is none of my making;
but, now that I am here, I swear to you that I shall never leave this spot until
I have that which I have come for: so ask my pardon, sir, or choose another
glaive and to it again."
The young squire was deadly white from his exertions, both on the land
and in the water. Soaking and
stained, with a smear of blood on his white shoulder and another on his brow,
there was still in his whole pose and set of face the trace of an inflexible
resolution. His opponent's duller
and more material mind quailed before the fire and intensity of a higher
"I had not thought that you had taken it so amiss," said he
awkwardly. "It was but such a
jest as we play upon each other, and, if you must have it so, I am sorry for
"Then I am sorry too," quoth Alleyne warmly, "and here is
my hand upon it."
"And the none-meat horn has blown three times," quoth Harcomb,
as they all streamed in chattering groups from the ground.
"I know not what the prince's maitre-de-cuisine will say or think.
By my troth! master Ford, your friend here is in need of a cup of wine,
for he hath drunk deeply of Garonne water.
I had not thought from his fair face that he had stood to this matter so
"Faith," said Ford, "this air of Bordeaux hath turned our
turtle- dove into a game-cock. A
milder or more courteous youth never came out of Hampshire."
"His master also, as I understand, is a very mild and courteous
gentleman," remarked Harcomb; "yet I do not think that they are either
of them men with whom it is very safe to trifle."
Click here to continue to the next chapter of The White Company