Beatrix of Clare
by John Reed Scott
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[Frontispiece: The Countess raised her hand and pointed at him.]









Copyright, 1907, by John Reed Scott

Published May, 1907





Cover Art

The Countess raised her hand and pointed at him . . . Frontispiece

The Duke fastened his eyes upon the young knight's face.

He struck him a swinging right arm blow that sent him plunging among the rushes on the floor.




Two archers stepped out into the path,—shafts notched and bows up.

"A word with your worship," said one.

The Knight whirled around.

"A word with your worship," greeted him from the rear.

He glanced quickly to each side.

"A word with your worship," met him there.

He shrugged his shoulders and sat down on the limb of a fallen tree. Resistance was quite useless, with no weapon save a dagger, and no armor but silk and velvet.

"The unanimity of your desires does me much honor," he said; "pray proceed."

The leader lowered his bow.

"It is a great pleasure to meet you, Sir Aymer de Lacy," said he, "and particularly to be received so graciously."

"You know me?"

"We saw you arrive yesterday—but there were so many with you we hesitated to ask a quiet word aside."

The Knight smiled. "It is unfortunate—I assure you my talk would have been much more interesting then."

"In that case it is we who are the losers."

De Lacy looked him over carefully.

"Pardieu, man," said he, "your language shames your business."

The outlaw bowed with sweeping grace.

"My thanks, my lord, my deepest thanks." He unstrung his bow and leaned upon the stave; a fine figure in forest green and velvet bonnet, a black mask over eyes and nose, a generous mouth and strong chin below it. "Will your worship favor me with your dagger?" he said.

The Knight tossed it to him.

"Thank you . . . a handsome bit of craftsmanship . . . these stones are true ones, n'est ce pas?"

"If they are not, I was cheated in the price," De Lacy laughed.

The other examined it critically.

"Methinks you were not cheated," he said, and drew it through his belt. "And would your lordship also permit me a closer view of the fine gold chain that hangs around your neck?"

De Lacy took it off and flung it over.

"It I will warrant true," he said.

The outlaw weighed the links in his hand, then bit one testingly.

"So will I," said he, and dropped the chain in his pouch.

"And the ring with the ruby—it is a ruby, is it not?—may I also examine it? . . . I am very fond of rubies. . . Thank you; you are most obliging. . . It seems to be an especially fine stone—and worth . . . how many rose nobles would you say, my lord?"

"I am truly sorry I cannot aid you there," De Lacy answered; "being neither a merchant nor a robber, I have never reckoned its value."

The other smiled. "Of course, by 'merchant,' your worship has no reference to my good comrades nor myself."

"None whatever, I assure you."

"Thank you; I did not think you would be so discourteous. . . But touching money reminds me that doubtless there is some such about you—perhaps you will permit me to count it for you."

The Knight drew out a handful of coins. "Will you have them one by one or all together?" he asked.

"All together; on the turf beside you, if you please. . . Thank you. . . And do you know, Sir Aymer, I am vastly taken with the short gown of velvet and sable—you brought it from France, I assume; the fashion smacks of the Continent. I would like much to have your opinion as to how it looks on me—we are rather of a size, I take it—though I shall have to forego the pleasure of the opinion until another day. . . And now that I can see your doublet, I am enamoured also of it—will you lend it to me for a little while? Truly, my lord, I mind never to have seen a handsomer, or one that caught my fancy more."

De Lacy looked again at the archers and their ready bows.

"St. Denis, fellow," he said, "leave me enough clothes to return to the castle."

"God forbid," exclaimed the bandit, "that I should put a gallant gentleman to any such embarrassment—but you must admit it were a shame to have gown and doublet and yet no bonnet to match them. . ."

The Knight took it off and sent it spinning toward him.

"Note the feather," he said. "It is rarely long and heavy."

"I observed that yesterday," was the merry response.

"Is there anything else about me you care for?" De Lacy asked.

"Nothing—unless you could give me your rarely generous disposition. Methinks I never met a more obliging gentleman."

The Knight arose. "Then, as I am already overdue at Windsor, I shall give you good morning."

The archer raised his hand.

"I am sorry, my lord, but we must impose a trifle further on your good nature and ask you to remain here a while," and he nodded to the man beside him, who drew a thin rope from his pouch and came forward.

De Lacy started back—the leveled arrows met him on every side.

"You would not bind me!" he exclaimed.

The outlaw bowed again.

"It grieves me to the heart to do it, but we have pressing business elsewhere and must provide against pursuit. Some one will, I hope, chance upon you before night. . . Proceed, James—yonder beech will answer."

The Knight laughed.

"I thank you for the hope," he said—and, throwing his body into the blow, smashed the rogue with the rope straight on the chin-point, and leaping over him closed with the leader.

It was done so quickly and in such positions that the others dared not shoot lest they strike either James or their chief—but the struggle was only for a moment; for they sprang in and dragged the Knight away, and whipped the rope about his arms.

"Marry," exclaimed the leader, brushing the dirt from his clothes, "I am sorry they did not let us have the wrestle out—though you are a quick hitter, my lord, and powerful strong in the arms. I wager you showed James more stars than he ever knew existed."

James, still dazed, was struggling to get up, and one of the others gave him a hand.

"By St. Hubert," he growled, rubbing his head in pain and scowling at De Lacy, "if there be more I have no wish to see them."

In the fight De Lacy's forearm had struck the point of his own dagger, where it protruded below the brigand's belt, and the blood was scarleting the white sleeve of his tunic.

The leader came over and bared the wound.

"It is a clean gash, my lord," he said, "but will need a bandage." He drew a bow-cord around the arm above the elbow; then, "With your permission," carefully cut away the sleeve and deftly bound up the hurt.

De Lacy watched him curiously.

"You are a charming outlaw," he observed; "a skillful surgeon—and I fancy, if you so cared, you could claim a gentle birth."

The man stepped back and looked him in the eyes a moment.

"If I remove the bonds, will you give me your Knightly word to remain here, speaking to no one until . . . the sun has passed the topmost branch of yonder oak?"

The Knight bowed.

"That I will, and thank you for the courtesy."

At a nod the rope was loosed, and the next instant the outlaws had vanished in the forest—but De Lacy's cloak lay at his feet, flung there by the chief himself.

"St. Denis!" De Lacy marveled, "has Robin Hood returned to the flesh?"

Then he looked at the sun, and resumed his seat on the fallen tree.

"A pretty mess," he mused—"a stranger in England—my first day at Windsor and the jest of the castle. . . Stripped like a jowly tradesman . . . taken like a cooing babe . . . purseless . . . daggerless . . . bonnetless . . . doubletless—aye, naked, but for an outlaw's generosity . . . cut by my own weapon"—he held up his hand and looked at the abraded knuckles—"and that is all the credit I have to show—the mark of a caitiff's chin. . . Methinks I am fit only for the company of children."

He glanced again at the sun—it seemed not to have moved at all—then sat in moody silence; the wound was smarting now, and he frowned at it every time it gave an extra twinge. . . Would the sun never move? . . . He got up and paced back and forth, his eyes on the oak at every turn—truly that tree was growing higher every minute—or the sun was sinking. . . Not that he was in haste to return to Windsor. . . There would be a fine tale to tell there—no need to speed to it—it would speed to him quite soon enough. . . . But to get away from the accursed place—anywhere . . . back to Windsor even . . . what if some one found him here in this plight—and he not allowed to speak—unable to explain—dumb as that oak. . . Would the sun never move! The wound was stinging sharply, and the arm above the cord was turning black and swelling fast—the pressure must come off. He felt for his dagger; then flung out an imprecation, and tried to tear the cord asunder with his teeth. It was quite futile; it was sunk now so deep in the flesh he could not seize it—and the knots were drawn too tight to loose. . . Would the sun never move!

He fell to searching for a stone—a small one with an edge that could reach in and rasp the deer-hide cord apart—but vainly; though he tried many, only to leave his arm torn and bleeding. . . Yet at last the sun had moved—it was up among the thinner branches.

Of a sudden, back in the forest rose the deep bay of a mastiff . . . and presently again—and nearer . . . and a third time—and still nearer . . . and then down the path came the great tawny dog, tail arched forward, head up—and behind him a bay horse, a woman in the saddle.

"Down, Rollo, down!" she cried, as the mastiff sprang ahead. . . "Beside me, sir!" and the dog whirled instantly and obeyed.

De Lacy bethought himself of his cloak, and hurrying to where it lay he tried to fling it around his shoulders, but with only one hand and his haste he managed badly and it slipped off and fell to the ground. As he seized it again the horse halted behind him.

"You are wounded, sir," she said; "permit me to aid you."

He turned slowly, bowing as he did so—he dared not speak—then glanced up, and almost spoke in sheer amazement, as he beheld the slender figure in green velvet—the sweet, bow-shaped mouth, the high-bred, sensitive nose, the rounded chin, the tiny ear, the soft, deep grey eyes, and, crowning all, the great rolls of the auburn hair that sunbeams spin to gold.

"Come, sir," said she, "I stopped to aid you, not to be stared at."

De Lacy flushed and made to speak, then checked himself, and with another bow held up his arm and motioned for her to cut the cord.

"Merciful Mother!" she exclaimed, and severed it with a touch of her bodkin.

The blood flooded fiercely forward and the wound began to bleed afresh.

"The bandage needs adjusting—come," and slipping from saddle she tossed the rein to the dog and went over to the fallen tree. "Sit down," she ordered.

With a smile De Lacy obeyed; as yet she did not seem to note his silence. And it was very pleasant indeed—the touch of her slim fingers on his bare arm—the perfume of her hair as she bent over the work—the quick upward glance at times of her grey eyes questioning if she hurt him. He was sorry now there were not a dozen wounds for her to dress.

"There, that will suffice until you get proper attendance," she said, tying the last knot and tucking under the ends.

He took her hand and bowing would have kissed it; but she drew it away sharply and turned to her horse. Then she stopped and looked at him in sudden recollection.

"Parbleu, man, where is your tongue?" she demanded. "You had one last night."

Where she had seen him he did not know; he had not seen her—and it only tangled the matter the more, for now she would know he was not dumb. But how to explain?

He smiled and bowed.

"That is the sixth time I have got a bow when a word was due," she said. "There may be a language of genuflections, but I do not know it."

He bowed again.

"Seven," she counted; "the perfect number—stop with it."

He put his hand to his lips and shook his head in negation—then pointed to the sun and the tree, and shook his head again—then once more to the sun and slowly upward to the top of the tree, and nodded in affirmation.

She watched him with a puzzled frown.

"Are you trying to tell me why you do not speak?" she asked.

He nodded eagerly.

"Tell me again" . . . and she studied his motions carefully. . . "The sun and the tree—and the sun and the tree again . . . is that your meaning? . . . Ah! . . . the top of the tree . . . I think I am beginning to understand. . . . Where is your doublet?"

De Lacy pointed into the forest.

"And your bonnet? . . . with your doublet? . . . and your dagger? . . . gone with the others? . . . you mean your ring? and it went with them, too? . . . yes, yes—I see now—outlaws, and your wound got in the struggle." . . . She turned toward the tree. . . "Ah! I have it:—you are paroled to silence until the sun has risen above the highest branch . . . what? . . . and also must remain here until then? . . . I see—it was that or die . . . no? . . . Oh! that or be bound? . . . well, truly the knaves were wondrous courteous!" . . . She studied De Lacy's face a moment—then sat down. "Would you like company?" she asked.

Would he like company! Her company!

She laughed gayly—though a bit of color touched her cheek.

"Thank you," she said, "I can read your countenance better than your bows."

Then suddenly his face grew grave and he motioned no.

"Yes, and I can understand that, too," she smiled, "and thank you for it. It may be a trifle uncommon to sit here in the depths of Windsor forest with a man I never met . . . never even saw until last night . . . and who has never spoken a single word to me . . . yet" (glancing at the sun) "the time is not long and . . . the path is rarely traveled."

He smiled—but the concern lingered in his eyes and he shook his head questioningly.

"Nay, sir, do you not see your very urging me to go proves me safe in staying?"

He hesitated, still doubtful—then threw himself on the turf at her feet.

"I suppose it is for me to do the talking," she observed.

And as she talked he fell to watching the sun in her hair—the play of her lips—the light in her eyes. . . . Never before would he have believed that grey could be so deep and tender; or that a mouth could be so tantalizing; or the curve of a cheek so sweet; or ruddy tresses so alluring. . . . And her voice—was there ever such another!—soft, low, clear, like silver bells at twilight out at sea.

And in the watching he lost her words, nor nodded when he should—until, at length, she sprang up and went over to her horse. And when in sharp contrition he followed after to apologize, she met him with a laugh and gracious gesture—then pointed to the sun.

"The parole is lifted," she said. "Will you put me up?"

With his sound arm he swung her into saddle—and with Rollo in advance and him beside her they went slowly back to Windsor. And now he did the talking—telling first the story of the outlaws.

When the towers of the huge castle showed afar through the trees, De Lacy halted.

"Would you deem me rude if I went no further with you?" he asked.

She smiled kindly. "On the contrary, I would deem you very wise."

"I care not to proclaim my adventure with the outlaws. It would make me a merry jest in the hall."

"I understand—and yet, wounded and without bonnet or doublet, you will not pass unnoted; an explanation will be obligatory."

"The wound is easy," he said; "my own dagger made it, you remember—but the doublet and bonnet, particularly the doublet, are bothersome."

She looked at him with quick decision.

"I will manage that," she said; "your squire shall bring both to you here."

De Lacy's face lighted with sudden pleasure, and he put out his hand toward hers—then drew it sharply back and bowed.

"Still bowing?" she said naively.

"I have no words to speak my gratitude," he said.

"And I no ears that wish to hear them, if you had," she laughed. "This morning you have had much trouble—I much pleasure—the scales are balanced—the accounts canceled. We will forget it all. Never will I mention it to you—nor you to me—nor either to another. When we meet again it will be as though to-day had never been. . . Nay, sir, it must be so. You have been unfortunate, I unconventional—it is best for both we start afresh."

"But am I not even to know your name?" he protested.

She shook her head. "Not even that, now, and I ask your word not to seek to know it—until we meet again."

"You have it," said he, "until we meet again—to-morrow."

She smiled vaguely. "It will be a far to-morrow . . . good-bye, my lord," and rode away—then turned. "Wait for your squire," she called.

"And for to-morrow," he cried.

But she made no answer, and with a wave of her hand was gone, the dog leaping in front of her and baying loud with joy.



But the morrow brought no maid, nor a fortnight of morrows—she had vanished; and seek as he might at Windsor or through the Tower he could not find her. Had he been privileged to inquire the quest would have been ended by a word—but she herself had closed his lips to questions.

Then the mighty Edward died, and all was confusion in the Court; and what with the funeral, the goings and the comings, the plottings and the intrigues, De Lacy was in a maze. The boy King was at Ludlow with Rivers, and it was Nobility against Queen and Woodville until he came for his crowning. And in the turmoil De Lacy was forced to cease, for the nonce, the pursuit of ruddy tresses and grey eyes, and choose where he would stand. And presently that choice sent him riding into the North—bearing a message to the man in distant Pontefract, upon whom, at that moment, all England was waiting and who, as yet, had made no move, Richard of Gloucester.

The day was far spent, and before a fireplace in his private apartments Richard sat alone, in heavy meditation. The pale, clean-shaven, youthful face, with its beautiful mouth and straight Norman nose, and the short, slender figure in its mantle and doublet of black velvet furred with ermine, rich under tunic of white satin, tight-fitting hose of silk, and dark brown hair hanging bushy to the shoulders, would have been almost effeminate but for the massively majestic forehead and the fierce black eyes—brilliant, compelling, stern, proud—that flashed forth the mighty soul within.

Although he had just passed his thirtieth year, yet his fame was as wide as the domain of chivalry, and his name a thing to conjure with in England. Born in an age when almost as children men of rank and station were called upon to take their sires' place, Richard had been famed for his wisdom and statecraft before the years when the period of youth is now presumed to begin. At the age of eighteen he had led the flower of the Yorkist army at the great battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and not the dauntless Edward himself, then in the heyday of his prowess, was more to be feared than the slight boy who swept with inconceivable fury through the Lancastrian line, carrying death on his lance-point and making the Boar of Gloucester forever famous in English heraldry. And since then his hauberk had scarce been off his back, and while his royal brother was dallying in a life of indulgence amid the dissipations of his Court, the brave and resolute Richard was leading his armies, administering his governments, and preserving order on the Marches of the Border.

Presently there was a sharp knock on the door and a page entered.

"Well?" demanded the Duke abruptly.

"May it please you, my lord," said the boy; "a messenger of importance who desires immediate audience."

Richard frowned slightly.

"Whose badge does he wear?" he asked.

"No one's, my lord, but the fashion of his armor savors of the Court. He bade me announce him as Sir Aymer de Lacy."

"The name, boy, is better recommendation than any fashion. Admit him."

De Lacy crossed to the center of the apartment with easy grace, and after a deep obeisance stood erect and silent facing the Duke, who eyed him critically. A trifle over the average height and rather slender, and clad in complete mail except for the bascinet which he carried in his hand, there was something in his appearance and bearing that impressed even the warlike Richard. His dark hair hung in curls to his gorget. His hauberk of polished steel was but partially concealed by the jupon of azure silk emblazoned with a silver stag trippant; his cuissarts and greaves glistened in the firelight, and his long sollerets bore on their heels the golden spurs of his rank. Around his waist was a broad belt wrought in gold, and from it, almost in front, hung a great two-handed sword whose point reached to within a few inches of the floor.

"You are welcome," said Gloucester. "A De Lacy should ever find a ready greeting at Pontefract. Of what branch of the family are you?"

"One far removed from that which built this fortress, most noble Duke," returned the Knight, with a peculiarly soft accent. "My own ancestor was but distantly connected with the last great Earl of Lincoln whom the First Edward loved so well."

"I do not recall your name among those who fought for either York or Lancaster. Did your family wear the White Rose or the Red?"

"Neither," said De Lacy. "Providence removed my sire ere the fray began aright and when I was but a child in arms. When Your Grace won fame at Tewkesbury I had but turned my thirteenth year."

"Where is your family seat?"

"At Gaillard Castle in the shire of Leicester, close by the River Weak—or at least it stood there when last I saw it. It is ten long years since I crossed its drawbridge and not twelve months of my life have been spent within its walls."

"Your accent smacks of a Southern sun," said the Duke.

"My mother was of a French house, and to her own land she took me when my father died;" and, observing the Duke glance at his spurs, he added: "It was from France's Constable that I received the accolade."

"Then right well did you deserve it; St. Pol gave no unearned honors."

"I was favored much beyond my deserts," De Lacy replied, although his face flushed at a compliment from the renowned Gloucester.

"Your modesty but proves your merit," returned the Duke. . . "And now your message. From whom come you?"

"From the Duke of Buckingham, my lord," said De Lacy; and the keen look that accompanied the words did not escape the Prince. But De Lacy did not know the man before whom he stood, else would he have wasted no energy in any such attempt. As well try to read the visage of a granite cliff as to discover the thoughts of Richard Plantagenet from the expression of his face. And if the royal Duke were in aught concerned as to the communication of the powerful Buckingham, there was no evidence of it in his voice or in the eminently courteous and appropriate question as he instantly responded:

"How did you leave His Grace and where?"

"He was most hearty when we parted at Gloucester; he for his castle of Brecknock and I for Pontefract."

"He had been in London?"

"Yes, my lord, since before King Edward's demise."

"Then are his letters very welcome."

"Your pardon, sir," said De Lacy, "but I bear no letters;" and as Richard regarded him in sharp interrogation he added: "My message is by word of mouth."

"And why," said the Duke in the same calm tone he had employed throughout the conversation, "should I credit your story, seeing that I neither know you nor recall your silver trippant stag among the present devices of our land."

"My bearing," returned De Lacy tranquilly, "comes to me from my mother's family, of which she was the heiress, and on English battlefield it has never shone. And unless this ring attest the authority of my message it must be unsaid," and drawing from his finger a broad gold band, in which was set a great flat emerald with a swan exquisitely cut on its face, he handed it to the Duke.

Richard examined it for a moment, then returned it with a smile.

"You are sufficiently accredited," he said. "I will hear your message. What said Stafford?"

"The Duke of Buckingham," replied Aymer, "sends to the Duke of Gloucester his most humble greeting and his very sincere condolence upon the death of Your Grace's great brother and sire."

"Pass over the formalities, Sir Aymer," interrupted the Duke curtly. "It was scarce for them you rode from London to Pontefract."

Aymer bowed. "Buckingham's message was in these words: 'Tell the Duke of Gloucester to hasten to London without delay. I have conferred with the Lords Howard, Hastings, and Stanley, and we are of the one mind that he must be Lord Protector. Tell him we pledge to him our whole support if he will give us his countenance in this crucial struggle against the Woodvilles.'"

"Did he say nothing as to the present status of the situation?" inquired Gloucester quietly. "I am far from Court and know little of its happenings."

"With them, my lord, I am fully acquainted," said De Lacy, "both from my own observation and by the Duke himself."

"How stands the matter, then?"

"Rather favorable to the Queen's faction than otherwise. The King's coronation has been fixed for the first Lord's Day of the coming month and His Majesty is to be escorted from Ludlow by two thousand men. The Marquis of Dorset has seized the treasure in the Tower and Sir Edward Woodville has been tampering with the navy, and methinks not without result. The Queen and the whole family are catering to the populace and spare no effort to win their favor. Only action sharp and sudden will enable the Barons to prevail."

For a moment Gloucester made no response, but sat with his head bent upon his bosom, as was his habit when in thought. Presently he said:

"How do you know that the King's escort will number two thousand?"

"The Council so fixed it, and very much against the wishes of the Queen."

"She wanted more, I doubt not," said the Duke meditatively.

"She long held that less than five thousand would not be fitting the dignity of a King."

Gloucester looked up with a trace of a smile around his eyes.

"Will the Earl of Rivers accompany his nephew?" he asked.

"It was so reported to His Grace of Buckingham; and further, also, that they would not start from Ludlow until the feast of St. George had passed."

"Did Stafford advise no plan in case I fell in with his desires?"

"None. The lords will follow whatever course you fix. All that they urge is haste."

"How long does Buckingham remain at Brecknock?"

"Until he receive word from you—or failing in that, until there be but time sufficient to reach London for the coronation."

"Was it his purpose that you should carry my answer?"

"Nay, my lord Duke," said De Lacy. "Here ends my mission for Buckingham. It was but as friend for friend that I bore this message. I am not of his household nor was it his business that brought me here."

"What brought you to Pontefract then, Sir Knight?" said Richard sternly. "As Buckingham's messenger you have received due honor; that aside, your name alone commends you."

"I sought Pontefract," De Lacy replied, "for the single purpose of tendering my sword to the Duke of Gloucester, hoping in his service to brighten the dimmed lustre of my House."

Not for an instant did the searching eyes of Richard leave the young Knight's face.

"Why do you prefer the Boar of Gloucester to the Stafford Knot? Buckingham is most puissant."

"A De Lacy, my lord," answered Aymer proudly, "follows none but Plantagenet."

"Bravely spoken," said Gloucester, suddenly dropping his stern air, "and worthy of the great name you bear. I accept your sword. Nay, kneel not, sir; Richard Plantagenet deems himself most fortunate to have you at his side."

At that moment the arras was drawn aside and a young and slender woman entered. Her gown was black, unrelieved by any color, save the girdle of gold; her face was almost flawless in its symmetry; her complexion was of a wondrous whiteness; and her eyes, of the deepest blue, soft and melting, and shaded by lashes long and heavy, were of the sort that bespeak the utmost confidence and know no guile. She hesitated as she saw De Lacy and was about to withdraw when the Duke glanced around.

"Nay, sweetheart," said he, rising and going toward her; "do not retire. . . . Sir Aymer de Lacy, I present you to the Duchess of Gloucester."

De Lacy advanced and sinking upon one knee touched his lips to the hand she extended to him.

"Surely, Sir Knight," she said, in a voice whose sweetness struck even his Southern-bred ear, "a De Lacy should ever be welcome in the halls of Pontefract."

"Your words, most gracious lady," answered Aymer, "are almost those used by my lord, the Duke, and to a wanderer's heart they are very grateful."

"You are an errant, then; a Sir Guy or Sir Lancelot," said the Duchess.

"Nay. Only a poor and simple Knight whose highest honor is that he may henceforth follow the banner of your great husband."

"Then must hauberk sit easy as velvet doublet or I know not my lord," and she smiled at Richard.

"Do not," said he, "give to Sir Aymer the notion that he has nothing but hard blows before him—although, indeed, he rode hither on scarce a peaceful mission, since he bears from Stafford and the Nobility the tender of the Protectorship and the insistence that I proceed to London without delay."

As he spoke the face of the Duchess suddenly became grave, and stepping swiftly to his side she put her hand upon his arm.

"You will not go, Richard?" she begged.

"Why, sweetheart, what ails you? Why should a journey to London and a possible exchange of blows alarm you?"

"It is not the journey, dear," she answered. "Many a time have you taken it; and, for the blows, did I not speed you to the Scottish war? Yet I have a foreboding—nay, smile not, my lord!—that upon your course in this matter hangs not only your own fate, but the fate of Plantagenet as well. Accept it not," taking his hand and speaking with deep entreaty; "the Protectorship can add nothing to Richard of Gloucester, and it may work not only your doom but that of the great House of Anjou."

"Nay, Anne, you are ill, surely," said Richard, putting his arm around her. "What has put such uncanny notions into your mind?"

"I do not know; yet I implore you to humor me in this. . . . You have not already despatched an answer to Buckingham?" she suddenly demanded.

"No—not yet," then turned sharply to De Lacy. "It seems, Sir Aymer, that you are to be admitted to my confidence as well as to Stafford's. So be it, for I trust you. Yet, believe me, it is well sometimes to forget."

De Lacy bowed low, saying simply, "I have forgotten."

"Forgive me, Richard," said the Duchess. "My heart so ruled my head that I quite lost myself."

The Duke took her hand and pressed it affectionately. "Think no more now of the matter; we will consider it to-morrow."

"And you will make no decision until then?"

"None, by St. Paul!" and striking the bell he ordered the page to summon the Duchess' lady-in-waiting.

In a moment she appeared: a slender figure in dark blue velvet, with ruddy tresses and deep grey eyes—the maid of Windsor Forest.

De Lacy caught his breath and stood staring, like one bereft of sense, until the dropping of the arras hid her from his sight. Then he saw Gloucester regarding him with a smile.

"You are not the first," he observed, "nor, I warrant, will you be the last."

"Her name?" said the Knight so eagerly the Duke smiled again.

"She is Beatrix de Beaumont, in her own right Countess of Clare, and save our own dear spouse no sweeter woman lives."

"In truth do I believe it; else has God sent a plague upon the Nobles of England.'"

"If disappointed love and blasted hopes can be so reckoned," said Richard with a shrug, "then does many a fair lord suffer from the disease. See that you do not become affected also."

"Nay, my lord Duke," replied De Lacy; "I know better than to allow a poor Knight's mind to dwell upon the charms of a great heiress—and she the Countess of Clare."

"Pardieu!" said Gloucester; "be not so humble. Your birth is equal to her own; it was only for your peace of mind I cautioned you."



On quitting the Duke, De Lacy dispatched a page for his squire and was then conducted to his quarters on the floor above.

Tossing his gauntlets and bascinet upon the high bed that stood in the corner near the door, he crossed to the small deep window and swung back the sash. Below him lay the broad bailey, that at this hour was alive with the servitors and retainers of the Duke. Before the dwellings against the inner wall children were playing, and through the fading light of the April afternoon rose a medley of sounds. From the direction of the distant gateway sounded the ring of steel-shod hoofs, and presently a body of horsemen cantered across the stone pavement and drew rein before the keep. A gruff command followed, and just as the rank was broken and the soldiery dispersed the sweet tones of the bell of All Saints' Chapel came floating over the walls.

The Knight crossed himself instinctively, and then, leaning on the ledge, his thoughts turned to his family's past and to why he, though of the blood of one of the Conqueror's favorite Barons, was a stranger in England.

The main branch of the House of Lacy, once so powerful in Britain, had become extinct almost two centuries before; and although Sir Aymer's ancestor had borne an honorable part in the wars of the Third Edward yet, like Chandos, he was content to remain a simple banneret. When the Second Richard went down before his usurping cousin, the then head of the family had stood, to the last, true to his rightful King; and hence it was small wonder that to Sir Richard de Lacy the atmosphere of the Court of the new Monarch was not agreeable. When Henry of Monmouth brought France again under English rule, Sir Richard rode no more to the wars; and the heir being but an infant, his retainers were mustered under a stranger's banner. During the later struggles of Bedford and of Warwick to retain the fast relaxing hold of England upon the domains beyond the Channel, the then Baron had done his devoir full knightly, but it is not in a losing struggle that families win advancement, and, to the last Lancastrian King, Sir Edward de Lacy was not known. Then came the Wars of the Roses and, ere Aymer's sire could bind the White Rose to his helmet, a sudden illness stilled his hand in death; and thus, again, had the House lost an opportunity to rise in fame and power. Much honor had Sir Aymer won in the recent small wars and constant fightings of the Continent, and in the right of his mother's family he might have aspired to high rank at the French Court; but Louis, "the Fell," was not a warrior's King, nor had long residence in a foreign clime bred in Sir Aymer forgetfulness of the land of his birth.

And so, at length, he had furled his pennon, and followed by his faithful squire and a few of his retainers he sought the English Court. And with him went the solemn purpose either to restore the once great name he bore to its place among the chivalry of England or to let it perish utterly with him. Within a few weeks of his arrival, Edward's sudden death occurred, and he had been quick to appreciate that his opportunity lay with Gloucester in the North. A friendship formed with the Duke of Buckingham some years previous in Paris, and which had been renewed in London, had stood him in good stead; for being acquainted with De Lacy's purpose of seeking Pontefract, Stafford had to his great satisfaction made him his confidential messenger in the very matter which was then so near to Richard's heart.

The entry of the squire broke in on the Knight's thoughts, and he turned from the window.

"Make haste, Giles," said he, "and get me out of this steel."

With the skill of long practice it was quickly done; and removing the suit of thin yellow leather worn under the harness, De Lacy donned a doublet and short gown of black velvet, and then, throwing himself upon the bed, he awaited the summons to the evening meal.

Meanwhile, the squire had laid aside his own armor and stood forth in his leather suit that was creased and soiled by the iron weight.

Giles Dauvrey was no fledgling whose apprenticeship had begun among the dainty pages of my lady's bower. A Gascon, and lowly born, he was a simple man-at-arms when, in a small affray on the Italian border, he had chanced to ward from Sir Aymer de Lacy's head the battle-axe that, falling on him from behind, must else have cleft him to the gorget. The young Knight had thereupon obtained the man's transfer to his own following and—becoming assured of his bravery and martial fitness—he had made him his squire when, a few months later, an Italian cross-bolt had wrought a vacancy in the post. Stocky in build, wonderfully quick and thoroughly trained in arms, he also had the rare faculty of executing an order without the slightest evasion, and could be trusted in any emergency either of discretion or valor. Right often had the two stood side by side in the press of skirmish and the rush of battle,—for they had ever sought the locality of strife—and there had come to be little choice for the foeman between the accomplished axe-play of the master and the sweeping blows of the sturdy squire. And as among the veteran soldiery of the French-Italian borders no name stood higher than De Lacy, so also was no wearer of the silver spurs more respected than he who bore the banner of the Trippant Stag.

"It is a great fortress, Giles," said the Knight. "Never have I seen a stronger."

"Marry, no; nor one, I ween, wherein the discipline was sterner. Are all castles in this land of yours, my lord, so conducted?"

"All wherein the Duke of Gloucester holds command."

"Of a truth, then," said Dauvrey, "the tales I have heard of this Prince are not so wide of the clout."

"What were the tales?"

"They were many and various, yet I gathered that he was a great warrior and fit to be a ruler of men."

"And you gathered truly," returned De Lacy. "He is the best soldier and shrewdest man in all this island Kingdom."

"How looks he to the eye, my lord?"

"You may judge that for yourself; observe him at the evening meal. Here comes the summons."

A step came rapidly up the stairs and a page halted at the half-opened doorway.

"His Grace requests that Sir Aymer de Lacy join him in the great hall," he said.

The Knight arose and flung his short cloak about him.

"Lead on," he ordered; "we follow."

When they entered the hall the Duke was already seated on the dais, surrounded by the officers of his household. On the right, De Lacy recognized Sir Robert Wallingford, to whom, as Constable of Pontefract, he had been conducted upon his arrival; but the others he was not able to identify, although, of course, he knew by reputation several who should be among them. The chair on Richard's left was unoccupied, and he motioned for De Lacy to take it.

"Sit you here," he said. . . . "Gentlemen, I present Sir Aymer de Lacy. He is fresh from London and, I doubt not, can give you much news of the Court and Capital."

All arose and bowed to De Lacy, who bowed back at them.

"My knowledge, such as it is," said he, "is freely yours. Yet as I was only a few weeks in London my budget may be very meagre. But if you will ask, I will gladly tell you what I know."

And they did not hesitate to ask, and he was kept busy answering questions upon every conceivable subject, from the details of the funeral of the dead King to the fashion of the latest gown. Indeed it was not until the meal was almost over that he had an opportunity for a word aside to the Duke.

"May I ask Your Grace the name of the fair-haired man yonder?" he said.

"I cry pardon," Richard exclaimed. "I forgot you were a stranger in England. He is my Chamberlain, Sir William Catesby. . . The black-moustached Knight with the scar on his forehead, who has just put down his wine glass, is Sir Richard Ratcliffe. . . The elderly man beside him with the gray hair and ruddy countenance is Sir Robert Brackenbury. . . The one with the thin, dark face and broad shoulders is Lord Darby of Roxford.—The rest are younger men and of less prominence. . . The one beside Darby is Sir Ralph de Wilton, next to him is Sir James Dacre, and on Dacre's left is Sir Henry de Vivonne."

He pushed back his chair and arose.

"Gentlemen," said he, "you are excused from further attendance." Then he called to De Wilton.

"Sir Ralph," he said, "Sir Aymer de Lacy is of the Household. Give him some idea of his duties, and then sponsor him in Her Grace's presence chamber."

And Aymer liked De Wilton on the instant, with his courteous manner and frank, gracious smile, and for an hour or more they sat in pleasant conversation. Then Sir Ralph was summoned to the Duke, and De Lacy, postponing, perforce, his presentation to the Duchess' household until the morrow, went for a stroll on the ramparts.

Night had settled down; the sky was clear and through the cool, crisp air the stars were shining brightly. The turmoil in the bailey had subsided, but from the quarters of the soldiery rose the hum of voices that now and then swelled out into the chorus of some drinking or fighting song. There were lights in many of the dwellings where lived the married members of the permanent garrison, and from them ever and anon came the shrill tones of some shrewish, woman scolding her children or berating her lord and master. For a while Sir Aymer paced the great wide wall, reflecting upon what had occurred since he came to Pontefract and the matters he had learned from De Wilton. But through it all a woman's face kept with him and led his thoughts awry, and presently he turned aside and leaned upon the parapet.

He had found her—and by accident; and had lost her the same instant. Beatrix of Clare, the greatest heiress in England, was not for him—a wanderer and a stranger. She had warned him plainly that day in Windsor Forest—though he, not knowing her, had missed the point till now. He might not presume to speak to her until properly presented—nor even then to refer to what had passed or so much as intimate that they had met before. . . And yet had not Gloucester himself bade him be not so humble—that his birth was equal to her own? Why should he not aspire . . . why not seek her favor . . . what more favorable conditions would he ever know than now? How extraordinary it was that she should be in Pontefract—the length of England from where he saw her last. Surely the Fates were kind to him! And had she recognized him? No, for she had not even given him a glance. He had thought to meet her in the presence chamber this very night; and now—he must wait until the morrow. Yet the morrow was sure . . . and then he would see again that sweet face, those ruddy tresses and grey eyes . . . would hear that silvery voice. . .

Hark! he heard it now.

"Why so abstracted, sir?" it seemed to say.

He stood quite still—would it come again?

St. Denis! there it was!

"Is she so far away, Sir Ralph?" it asked.

Sir Ralph! What had Sir Ralph to do with this music?

There came a soft laugh and a touch of a hand on his shoulder.

He whirled around—and stared in wonder at the woman of his dream.

"Oh!" she said. "Oh! I thought you were Sir Ralph de Wilton . . . the night is dark—pray, forgive me."

De Lacy bowed low.

"I am Sir Ralph de Wilton," he said.

The Countess smiled.

"You are very good," she said, and moved away.

"May not Sir Ralph walk with you?" De Lacy asked.

She stopped and with head half turned looked at him thoughtfully.

"Yes, if he wish," she answered.

For a space they walked in silence; she with head averted. . . Presently she laughed.

"Silence is new in Sir Ralph," she said.

"He was waiting leave to speak."

"And that is newer still."

"You like the new?" he asked audaciously.

"Oh! it is variety for the moment"—with the faintest lift of the chin—"though doubtless it would get tiresome in time."

"Let us enjoy the moment then," said he. "I was thinking of you when you came."

"I regret, Sir Ralph, I may not be equally flattering."

"So does Sir Ralph."

"Though I will admit my thoughts were of a man."

"He shall have my gage at sunrise."

She shook her head. "They were not worth it—only idle curiosity concerning a new member of the Household I noticed in the Duke's chamber this afternoon." . . . She became interested in her cloak. "I do not now even recall his name," she added negligently.

De Lacy smiled and looked at the stars.

Presently she shot a quick glance up at him.

"Did you not meet him at the evening meal, Sir Ralph?"

"He was there—on the Duke's left," De Lacy answered carelessly.

"And his name?"

"De Lacy—-Aymer de Lacy."

"A good North of England name," she commented.

"Aye, it once ran with Clare in Yorkshire," he answered.

"The Clares are done," said she, and sighed a bit.

"And the flower of them all bloomed last," he added gravely.

But she put the words aside.

"Do not be foolish, Sir Ralph. You know I dislike compliments. Tell me about this Sir Aymer de Lacy—I never heard of him at Court."

"He has lived all his life in France."

"Patriotic, truly!" with a shrug.

"As to that," said the Knight, "it is fit that he should answer for himself, and not through Sir Ralph de Wilton; though either Richard of Gloucester entirely ignored the point or else he was quite satisfied."

She laughed. "Then it is not for me to raise it; so tell me why he came to Pontefract."

"To take service with the Duke, I fancy—and methinks he has already found one more reason for staying than for coming."

"The Duke is reason enough for a soldier who wants a man for a master," she said. Then suddenly faced about. "Let us hasten—I fear I have overstayed my time."

As they rounded a bastion near the keep they encountered Lord Darby.

"Ah, Beatrix, well met," he said, offering his arm and nodding carelessly to De Lacy. "Her Grace desires you."

"Did she send you for me?" the Countess asked, ignoring his arm and hurrying on—and De Lacy noting it, kept beside her.

Lord Darby forced a smile. "Not exactly; I volunteered to go for you."

"You are very kind," she said rather tartly; "a moment longer and you would have been saved the trouble."

Darby's smile failed completely and he made no answer.

In the doorway the Countess halted—and gave De Lacy her hand.

"I thank you for the walk," she said, as he bowed over it; then a merry gleam came in her eyes—"Good night, Sir . . . Aymer."



"Women are queer creatures," De Wilton remarked, as he turned away from the window and sat down beside De Lacy, who having just completed his first tour of duty in the Household as Knight-in-waiting was still lounging in the antechamber.

"It seems to me," said Aymer, "I have heard that idea advanced once before in France—or maybe it was in Italy."

"Doubtless—but the present proof of it is yonder," De Wilton answered, nodding toward the window. "The Countess has just gone for a ride with Darby."

De Lacy looked up from the dagger he was idly polishing on his doublet sleeve.

"And the proof in particular is what?" he asked. "Her costume, her horse, or her escort?"

"I gave her the horse," said De Wilton.

"That absolves the horse, and as it could not be the costume, it must be . . ."

De Wilton brought his fist down on the bancal with a smash.

"Darby—and may the Devil fly away with him! . . . Oh! it is not jealousy," catching Aymer's quick glance. "We were children together at her father's castle, and she is like a sister to me."

"And so, as usual, ignores a brother's advice touching her suitors?" De Lacy observed.

"Touching only this one."

"Then you should feel flattered."

"I offered no advice as to any other."

Aymer sheathed the dagger and adjusted his cloak.

"I suppose," said he, "one may assume you are not over-fond of Darby."

De Wilton nodded. "That you may—and yet if you were to ask my reasons I could give none, save a thorough detestation."

"And the Countess has asked for the reason?"

"Many times."

De Lacy laughed. "I see," he said. "Now tell me about this Darby—I think you mentioned he was not of the Household."

"Thank Heaven, no—or I would not be of it. He has some power in the West Riding, and came by special summons of the Duke. But that business ended two days ago—it is the Countess that holds him now."

"Well," said De Lacy, "I, too, would linger if it meant a ride with the Countess of Clare and the favor that implies."

"Oh, as to that, he is favored no more than a dozen others. What irks me is that she favors him at all."

"What would you say if I, too, tried for a smile?" De Lacy asked.

De Wilton ran his eyes very deliberately over the handsome figure beside him.

"That you will win it," he said, "and may be more than one—and the chains that trail behind. . . Beware, the chains are very heavy."

De Lacy shook his head. "Strong they may be—strong as life—but heavy, never."

Sir Ralph looked at him in wondering surprise—then clapped him on the shoulder.

"French skies and French blood! Pardieu, man, go in and show this Darby and the others how the game is played."

"But the chains———"

"Wrap them about her also. And by Heaven, why not?—the last of the Lacys and the last of the Clares. St. George, it would be like old times in Merry England."

"Nay, Sir Ralph," said Aymer, laying his hand upon the other's arm, "your words are quite too flattering. I must be content with the smile."

De Wilton raised his eyebrows. "You brought the chains across the Channel with you?"

De Lacy arose. "No, but maybe I have found them since."

Suddenly De Wilton laughed. "My mind surely is getting weak," he said. "I clean forgot you had never seen the Countess."

"Oh, yes, I have—on the wall last night."

"Was it possible you were near when Darby found her?"

"I was with her."

"With her!" said De Wilton incredulously. "Surely you do not mean it."

De Lacy's face straightened. "Be a little more explicit, please," he said.

"Tut, man, I meant no offence," was the good-natured answer. "You do not understand the matter. The Countess never walks alone on the ramparts after dark with any man save the Duke and me."

"St. Denis, I forgot. It was you she walked with," said Aymer.

De Wilton stared at him. "Are you quite sane?" he asked.

De Lacy linked his arm within the other's. "Come over to the window and I will tell you how, last night, Sir Ralph de Wilton chanced to walk with the Countess of Clare on the ramparts of Pontefract."

"And I suppose then it was you, and not I, who talked with the Duchess in her presence chamber all the time the Countess of Clare was gone."

"No, I was on the ramparts, too," De Lacy answered. "Listen—here is the tale."

"Good!" exclaimed De Wilton at the end. "She punished Darby well—I wish I could have seen it; and it cut him to the raw, for all his suave indifference." Suddenly he struck the wall sharply. "And yet—she rides with him to-day. St. George! We are back where we started. Women are queer creatures!"

Just then Sir James Dacre stopped at the corridor door.

"Who is for a ride?" he asked.

"I am," said De Lacy, "if Sir Ralph will excuse me."

De Wilton nodded. "Go, by all means; it was good of you to keep me company even for a moment."

"I might venture to guess," said Dacre, as they cantered across the bailey toward the gate, "that that black of yours was never foaled in England."

"I got Selim in Spain," De Lacy answered, "and with him the story that he came from the stables of the Soldan of Granada—but of that I cannot vouch—nor do I care," patting the shining shoulder; "he is my good friend and companion, and he has never failed me."

Dacre looked at the small head, with its bright, full, kind eye, broad forehead, tapered muzzle, thin, sensitive nostrils and ears; at the arched neck, the deep chest, the rather short barrel, the narrow waist, powerful flanks, and sinewy, springy, slender legs.

"He is beautiful," he said. "Methinks I never saw so perfect a horse."

"And his intelligence is in kind," said Aymer. "He has many accomplishments, but the one most satisfactory to me is the way he understands my voice. . . Observe———"

He dropped the reins over the pommel, and at the word, Selim, without touch of knee or shift of bit, went through all the gaits and facings, ending with the most difficult of all—the seven artificial movements of the horse.

Sir James Dacre's rather cold face warmed with admiration and he reined over and stroked the black's soft muzzle.

"You are a wonder, Selim," he said. "Your equal is not in the Kingdom; though, in a short dash, the Countess' bay mare might put you to your speed."

"Very likely," said Aymer, "but I will wager there is none in England can beat him from the Solway to Land's End."

Dacre smiled—"I would rather share the bet than take it."

Then the talk led to the horses of France and Spain, and thence to the life there in general, for Sir James had never crossed the Channel, and he plied his companion with questions. And so they jogged along in pleasant converse, and De Lacy saw that the reserved and quiet Dacre was in fact as sincere and good-hearted as the generously impulsive De Wilton. And he warmed to them both; for he had anticipated cold looks, hatred, and jealousy, such as under like conditions he would have met with on the Continent.

And as they rode there came a faint hail from the front—and thrice repeated. The track at that point led through a wood and was straight away for half a mile, then it swung to the left. Just near the turn were two horsemen; and the rearmost, when he saw his cry had been heard, waved his hat and gesticulated violently toward the other, who was several lengths in front. Both were coming at top speed.

Sir James Dacre puckered his eyes and peered ahead.

"My sight is rather poor," he said, "but from yonder fellow's motions, I take it he wants us to stop the other—an escape doubtless."

Just then the one in the lead shot through a patch of sunlight and both Knights cried out.

"A woman!" said De Lacy.

"The Countess!" exclaimed Dacre. "What may it mean?"

"She went riding with Lord Darby shortly after mid-day," said Aymer.

"And that is Darby," added Dacre, as the sun hit the second horseman. "Pardieu! I do not understand—it cannot be she is fleeing from him."

They drew rein, and watched the approaching pair.

"Well, if she is, she is succeeding," Aymer observed. "She is gaining on him at every jump. St. Denis! how that horse of hers can run!"

"It is Wilda, the bay mare I spoke of. But see, Darby still waves. What in Heaven's name ails the man? Can it be the mare has bolted?"

De Lacy shook his head. "The Countess is making no effort to control her; the reins are hanging loose."

Then they heard the first faint beat of the hoofs, growing louder and louder, and presently with it Darby's cry:

"Stop her! Stop her!"

"Maybe, my lord," said De Lacy, leaning forward, his eyes intent upon the Countess; "if the lady wish it she will signal."

Two hundred yards away now came Wilda running at terrific speed, but straight and true. Suddenly De Lacy swung Selim around.

"It is a runaway," he called to Dacre, "the reins are useless." And even as he said it the Countess told him the same by a motion of her hand.

A moment more and she swept between them; but beside her went the black, leap for leap with the bay. Then Aymer saw the trouble—the bit had broken in the bar, tearing the mouth badly, and from each cheek-strap dangled a useless half, which striking the frightened mare on the muzzle kept driving her to top speed.

The Countess gave De Lacy a quick smile.

"I am trying to enjoy it," she said, "but I think I am dreadfully frightened."

Aymer glanced at the road—it was straight and level for another four hundred yards, then it disappeared, and he remembered it pitched sharply forward in a rough and twisting descent. Whatever he did must be done quickly—no horse ever foaled could carry its rider down that declivity at such a speed.

"Death waits yonder," he said, pointing to the brow of the hill. "I must lift you to my saddle. Will you risk it?"

She hesitated; then suddenly loosed her foot from the stirrup.

"I am ready," she said—and smiled again.

De Lacy dropped his reins.

"Closer, Selim, closer," he commanded.

The black; drew over until his master's boot was pressing the Countess's saddle girth.

"When I give the word," said De Lacy, "free yourself from the pommel and catch me around the neck."

The Countess nodded. "I understand," she said, and gave a quick look forward. The hill was getting very near.

He reached over and wound his right arm about her slender waist. "Now!" he said sharply.

For a second the Countess hung in the air between the plunging horses; then the bay shot ahead alone—and she rested safely across De Lacy's saddle, his arms about her and hers about his neck.

Of his own accord the black had instantly slackened speed, and now at the word he stopped, and the Countess dropped lightly to the ground.

"How can I ever thank you?" she said, giving Sir Aymer her hand.

"By not trying to," he answered, dismounting and kissing her fingers almost reverently. "Fortune has already blessed me over much."

She turned to Selim, who was standing quietly beside his master.

"I may at least thank you, you beauty," she said, and kissed his soft black muzzle.

De Lacy smiled. "Never before have I wished I were a horse," he said.

A bit of color flashed into her cheeks and she busied herself in twisting into place a roll of ruddy hair that had been shaken from its fastenings. It took an unusual time, it seemed, and just as she finished Sir James Dacre rode up.

"I claim a share in the rescue," he said gayly, and gave the Countess her hat, that had been lost when she changed horses. Then silently he held out his hand to De Lacy; and afterward he petted the black and whispered in his ear. And Selim answered by a playful nip, then rubbed his nose against his master's palm.

At that moment Lord Darby dashed up, his horse blown, its sides bloody with rowelling and flecked with foam.

"Thank God, Countess," he exclaimed, "you are not injured."

"Not so much as scratched, thanks to Sir Aymer de Lacy."

"Aye, Sir Aymer, it was cleverly done," said Darby; "a neater rescue methinks I never saw."

De Lacy bowed. "Whatever credit there may be, belongs solely to Selim," he said. "But for his speed and intelligence I had never reached the Countess." Then he led the black forward. "And he asks the honor of carrying her back to Pontefract."

"Not so," Darby interrupted; "that is my privilege," and he swung his own horse around.

The Countess was struggling with her hat.

"But Wilda," she protested.

"Is at the castle now, if she made the hill in safety," said Dacre, watching the scene with the glint of a smile.

The Countess still hesitated—and Darby stepped confidently forward and dropped his hand to put her up.

"Come, my lady," he said.

De Lacy made no move, nor spoke, but his eyes never left the Countess's face. And she, if she felt any irritation at the awkward situation so foolishly forced by Darby, concealed it completely and punished him with a smiling face.

"You may put me on Selim, Lord Darby," she said. "He has carried me part way home, and since he wishes it he shall carry me all the way."

Darby's dark face flushed and for a moment he drew back his hand in refusal—then quickly offered it again. But the delay lost him the favor; for De Lacy, seeing the opportunity, instantly presented his own palm, and the Countess accepted it, and he swung her to his saddle.

Then she looked at Darby. "If you are very good," she said, with a little laugh, "you may put me down at the castle."

And Darby laughed, too. "But you must give me time," he replied. "I am not so nimble as Selim's master."

And so they made their way back to Pontefract, De Lacy walking beside the Countess, and Lord Darby and Sir James Dacre following on horseback just behind. Wilda had evidently got down the hill unhurt; in the soft earth at its foot the deep marks of her running hoofs were very evident; and a little way from the castle they came upon her, calmly browsing beside the track. She had lost her bridle and her fright was quite gone—for she answered to the Countess's call, and permitted De Lacy to put a strap around her neck and make her captive.

As they crossed the drawbridge the Duke of Gloucester was standing near the gate tower and he called Lord Darby to him—and Dacre offering to take Wilda to the stables, Sir Aymer and the Countess were left to go on alone to the keep. As they drew up at the entrance, and the Countess shifted position in the saddle, she dropped her kerchief; De Lacy secured it and put it in his doublet, then reached up to lift her down.

She shook her head.

"The kerchief first," she said, with calm finality.

There was no mistaking the tone, and without a word he gave it to her. She slowly tucked it in her bodice, looking the while toward the gate.

"I thought Lord Darby was to put me down," she said, and giving De Lacy a dazzling smile—"but if you care to act as his substitute, I suppose you may. . . Good-bye, Selim." She gathered up her skirt and moved toward the steps. On the bottom one she turned. "Do you not think, Sir Aymer, it is about time for you to be presented?" she asked—then ran quickly up the stairs and through the doorway.



St. George's day was dropping into night. Since early morning the castle had been busy in the various ceremonies with which mediaeval England observed the feast of her patron Saint; the garrison had been paraded and inspected; the archers had shot for a gold bugle, and the men-at-arms had striven for a great two-handed sword; there had been races on foot and on horseback, and feats of strength and wrestling bouts; and the Duke himself had presided at the sports and distributed the prizes.

It was almost sundown when the last contest was over and the great crowd of spectators that had congregated within the outer bailey began to disperse. Richard had dismissed his attendants, with the exception of Ratcliffe, and leaning on the latter's arm he sauntered slowly across the stone-paved courtyard toward the keep.

"Methinks," said De Wilton, as he and De Lacy followed at some distance, "that the order we have so long expected must come to-morrow. And I, for one, shall be well content; it is many a long day since I saw London."

"Why so certain of to-morrow?" De Lacy asked.

"Because if His Grace intend to be present at the coronation, he may dally here no longer. . . Say you not so, Dacre?" as the latter joined them.

"Verily, yes," said Dacre, "and I have already directed my squire to prepare for the journey. Marry! it will be a joyous time in London."

"It is long since there was a peaceful crowning in fair England," observed De Lacy, "and I shall be glad indeed to see the pomp."

"It may not equal the splendors you have seen in France," remarked Dacre, "but there will be a goodly show nevertheless; something rather brighter than Yorkshire hills or Scottish heather."

"I have no quarrel with the heather," replied De Wilton, "but the hills are . . . well, not—so soft as the cheeks and eyes of the dames of the Court."

"In sooth," said De Lacy, "I am with you in that. To me a pretty face was ever more attractive than a granite crag."

"Both are handy in their places," said Dacre with a shrug. "Yet, Pasque Dieu! of the two it were not hard to choose the trustier."

"Go to!" exclaimed De Wilton; "it was not a gallant speech. You will have to mend your mind in London."

"Nay, Sir Ralph, my words, perhaps, but scarce my mind."

"It is the same thing there," De Wilton laughed.

At that moment the Master of Horse suddenly left the Duke and turned toward the stables.

"Busk yourselves for the road, fair sirs," he called, as he passed. "We march after matins to-morrow."

The news spread like the wind through the castle, but it occasioned neither confusion nor even bustle. The personal following of Richard of Gloucester were selected from veteran soldiers who were ever ready. They had but to don harness and mount horse when the route was sounded; and they could have ridden across the drawbridge at sundown, just as readily as the next morning.

In the antechamber that evening there was much discussion by the younger Knights as to the Duke's probable course; would he head the Nobility; would he aim for the Protectorship; would he remain quiescent and let the Woodvilles control? Those older in his service, however, were content to bide patiently the future, for long since had they learned the folly of trying to forecast the purposes of their silent leader.

And Sir Ralph de Wilton and Sir Henry de Vivonne were hot in the argument when Sir James Dacre arose and clapped De Lacy on the shoulder.

"Come along," he said. "These two gentlemen are vastly entertaining, doubtless, but I am for the presence chamber to make my adieux."

The Lady Mary Percy was reading aloud Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" when they were announced, but she quickly laid aside the heavy tome, and the Duchess paused in her embroidery and greeted them with a smile.

"I have seen nothing of you since you saved the Countess," she said, giving each a hand to kiss, "and I owe you both a heavy payment."

"And which, then, does Your Grace rate the higher: the Countess or her hat?" Dacre asked.

"I do not quite understand," said she.

"Sir Aymer de Lacy saved the Countess, and I saved the hat," he explained.

"And what did Lord Darby save?" the Lady Mary asked pertly.

Dacre smiled placidly.

"Nothing—not even his temper; the Countess saved that for him," he answered; and every one laughed—even the Duchess; though she shook her head at him, the while, in mock reproof.

"That forfeits your share of the reward," she said; then turned to De Lacy. "Some time, Sir Aymer, I must have a gallop beside the wonderful Selim."

De Lacy bowed low. "Why not on him?" he asked.

"Well, perhaps—when we all are together again."

"In London—or at Windsor?"

A faint shade of concern came into her eyes, and De Lacy's thoughts instantly recurred to the scene in the Duke's chamber the day he arrived.

"At Windsor, let us hope; the roads are charming there," she said, and then she resumed her embroidery.

"Be seated, sirs," she commanded.

"Come hither, Sir Aymer de Lacy," called the Lady Mary, who was sitting beside the Countess of Clare. . . "It just occurred to me to-day that I heard of you a year or so ago from a friend in France."

"It seems to me," said De Lacy, taking the low stool at her feet, "that I have a sure quarrel with your memory, either because it is laggard or because it is not."

"And which do you think it is?" she asked.

"I might guess the better if I knew your friend's name."


"Half the women of France are Maries."

"You were then at Blois."

"At the Court, you mean?"

She nodded. "And but lately returned from an expedition into Navarre."

De Lacy shook his head. "I cannot guess."

She gave him a knowing smile. "Who of the Princess Margaret's maids, think you, it might have been?"

"It might have been any one of three," he said, "but I will guess Mademoiselle d'Artois."

"At last! At last! . . . How rapidly your mind works under pressure. I wonder, sir, if you will remember us so promptly a year hence."

"Suppose we wait and see," De Lacy answered, and tried to catch the Countess' eye, but failed. Indeed, save for a quick smile of greeting when he joined them, she had given him not a single glance, but had kept her head bent over her needle.

Lady Mary drew down her pretty mouth. "If you can forget Marie d'Artois so soon, what chance have we?" she asked.

"But I have not forgotten her; we were quite too good friends for that."

"And she was quite too fascinating," the Lady Mary laughed.

"Aye, and quite too beautiful."

"Goodness, Beatrix, listen to the man," she exclaimed. "He has the bad taste to praise one woman, to another."

The Countess looked up. "Sir Aymer was lauding Mademoiselle d'Artois to me, last night," she said.

"Can it be, Lady Mary," De Lacy asked, "you do not know that two months since, Marie d'Artois was wedded to the Duc de Boiselle?"

For a moment Lady Mary was taken aback; then she laughed gayly and arose.

"I will leave you to discuss the other two Maries," she said, and moved away. . . "Perhaps they, too, are married," she added, over her shoulder.

De Lacy looked after her contemplatively.

"I wonder," said he, "why the Lady Mary Percy resents my preferring you to her."

"Do you?" the Countess asked—then held up her hand. "Stop, sir, you may not answer—I did but jest."

"And may I not answer . . . in jest?" leaning toward her.

She shook her head. "No, sir, you may not; and if you attempt it, I shall leave you instantly."

"Pardieu!" said he; "you are the most alluringly tantalizing woman I have ever known. The evening of the ride you would scarce look at me, but talked with Lord Darby all the time."

"He was making his farewells; he left the following morning."

De Lacy laughed. "Two hours of farewells! Doubtless, you were delegated to receive them for the Household."

The Countess was busy with her needle. "He seemed to wish it so," she said.

"And the next evening, when I asked you to walk on the wall, you well nigh froze me with the chill of your refusal."

"And will do so again to—Sir Aymer de Lacy."

"And the following morning, at the first asking, you rode with me for leagues."

She flashed a smile at him. "And may do the same again."

"And yet that very evening, when by accident I touched your hand, you turned your back upon me and ignored me for a day."

"And will do the same again," she answered calmly.

"And the next evening you talked with me for hours."

"And am ready to do the same to-night. You, too, may take your farewell of the entire suite through me—unless, of course, you have tired of my foolish vagaries."

"Methinks I am quite satisfied to be classed with Lord Darby in the matter of farewells; and as for the vagaries, they may be tantalizing but, believe me, they are far more winning."

She held up a cautioning finger.

"I prefer your arraignment to your compliments," she said. "Methinks I told you once before of my dislike for flattery."

"That was to Sir Ralph de Wilton . . . the night you walked with him on the wall."

"True, so it was," she laughed; "but you were there and heard it."

He casually picked up a skein of silk that had slipped to the floor, but finding her eyes upon him gave it to her straightway.

"Why not walk now on the ramparts with Sir Ralph?" he asked very low and earnestly.

For an instant she seemed to hesitate; then she looked at him and shook her head.

"I may not," she said. "I have promised the evening to Sir Aymer de Lacy . . . for two hours of farewells."

But the two hours were very brief, indeed; for almost immediately De Vivonne and De Wilton arrived, and shortly thereafter came Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Sir Robert Brackenbury, and the talk became general. And presently Richard himself entered; and when he withdrew the Duchess went with him and the gathering broke up; and De Lacy got no more than a casual word of farewell from the Countess.

In the morning all was activity. The bailey resounded with the stamp of hoofs, the neighing of horses, and the rattle of armor, as the three hundred and more men-at-arms assembled before the keep, awaiting the order to fall in. The under officers stood apart conversing, but glancing, ever and anon, toward the main stairway in anticipation of the coming of the Duke or one of his suite. Presently the dark face of Ratcliffe appeared at the door; and after a quick glance about he waved his hand. Instantly the blare of the trumpet lifted every man into saddle; and in another moment, that which seemed but a confused mass had disentangled itself and swung into a square of glittering steel, over which the morning sunbeams rippled in waves of silver as the horses moved in restlessness.

De Lacy was standing before the entrance, watching the soldiery, when a page hurriedly summoned him to the Duke.

He found Gloucester in the lower hall, booted and spurred for the road, and pacing slowly back and forth, his head upon his breast. He was dressed entirely in black, and his heavy cloak, lined with fur, lay on a near-by bancal. He carried his gauntlets in his right hand, and every step or two would strike them sharply against the top of his high boot. Catesby, Brackenbury and Ratcliffe were gathered a bit apart, talking in low tones. They glanced up when De Lacy appeared, and as he halted just within the doorway, waiting for the Duke to address him, Brackenbury spoke:

"My lord, Sir Aymer de Lacy is here."

Richard wheeled abruptly. "Come hither," he said, and led the way toward the window. "Do you know the country or people in the region of Kirkstall Abbey?"

"No, my lord," said De Lacy. "I have never been north of Pontefract."

"Then you are the one for the purpose. A dozen men-at-arms have been detailed for you; take them and proceed direct to Craigston Castle and deliver to Sir John de Bury this letter. I ride to York to-day and South to-morrow. If you hasten, you can rejoin me at Nottingham. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, my lord."

"Then away. Come, gentlemen!" and the Duke walked briskly to the stairway.

As he came within view of those in the courtyard, there arose a mighty shout that echoed from the walls and keep. Gloucester's calm face relaxed in a slight smile and he waved his hand in response. Then scarce touching his foot to the stirrup which Catesby held he leaped into saddle. The trumpet rang out, and the horsemen, breaking from square into column, filed out of the courtyard and across the outer bailey.

Gloucester had tarried, meanwhile, to speak a final word to Sir Robert Wallingford; and when he had finished, the last clatter of hoofs on the drawbridge had ceased. As the Constable stepped back with a farewell salute, Richard's quick eye discerned the face of the Duchess at an upper window. Swinging his charger in a demi-volte, he doffed bonnet and flung her a kiss with his finger tips.

"Au revoir, amante," he called.

She smiled sweetly upon him and answered his kiss; then stood watching him as he rode rapidly away, followed by his attendant Knights, until the dark arch of the distant gateway hid him from her sight.

A few moments later Sir Aymer de Lacy came riding across the courtyard with his escort. He had changed his suit of velvet for one of steel; for being ignorant both of the country into which he was about to travel and of what manner of adventure might lie before him, he had deemed it well to have something more than silken doublet between his heart and a cloth-yard shaft. His visor was raised, and as he passed the keep, he looked up at every window. All were deserted, however, and he was about to turn away when, suddenly, a casement swung open and the Countess of Clare appeared in the stone-framed opening.

"Au revoir," she cried, and waved her kerchief.

Then by some mischance the bit of lace slipped from her fingers and floated slowly downward. She made a quick grasp for it, but it had sunk beyond her reach. A puff of wind spread it wide and carried it out toward De Lacy. He watched it as it dropped, bringing Selim almost to a stand to keep beneath it, and at length it rested upon his extended hand.

"I claim my favor, fair Countess," he called, and wound it round the crest of his helmet—then loosened rein and dashed away.



For a space Sir Aymer rode alone at the head of the column without even casting a glance behind or addressing a word to his squire. Presently the road forked and turning half around in his saddle, he inquired: "Which leads to Kirkstall Abbey?"

"The straightaway one, my lord; the other would carry you back to Wakefield," said the elderly under-officer, whose hair, where it had strayed from under his casquetel, was silvered, and across whose weather-beaten face, from chin to temple, ran a bright red scar.

"The battlefield?"

"The same, sir."

"Ride beside me," said De Lacy. "Did you fight at Wakefield?"

"I did, fair sir—it was a bloody field."

"The Duke of York died that day."

"Aye, sir—I stood not ten feet from him when he fell. He was a brave knight, and our own Gloucester much resembles him in countenance."

"You have seen many battles, my man?"

"Since the first St. Albans I have missed scarce one. It is a trade that came into the family with my grandsire's sire."

"And do your children follow it, as well?"

"Not so, my lord. Raynor Royk has none to succeed him. And by your leave it is small matter. In a few years there will be but scant work for my calling in this land. England has seen her last warrior King—unless———"

"Unless what?" said De Lacy.

The old retainer glanced shrewdly at his young leader; then answered with apparent carelessness.

"Unless Richard of Gloucester should wear the crown."

De Lacy looked at him sharply.

"Small likelihood of that, my man," said he. "Edward left a goodly family."

"In truth yes, my lord," was the answer. "Yet there would be more joy among the soldiers in the North if Gloucester were our King."

Doubtless the speech merited rebuke,—it was over near to treason,—but the man was honest in his devotion to the Duke, and likely meant no particular disrespect to the young Edward. So De Lacy let it pass, but straightway changed the subject.

"Do you know Craigston Castle?" he asked.

"Most thoroughly."

"Where is it?"

"On the North bank of the Wharfe, a short three leagues beyond Kirkstall Abbey."

"And the Abbey?"

"Five leagues or more from Pontefract."

"A proper distance—we can taste the good monks' hospitality and still make Craigston before night. Is this the Aire I see shining ahead?"

"The same; the ford is easy."

De Lacy nodded; and the veteran taking that as his dismissal drew back and resumed his place in the column.

The nones bell had already sounded some little time when they drew rein before the lodge of the great Cistercian Abbey. The gates were closed, but the wicket was open and at it was the rotund face of the brother who served as porter.

"Be so kind, worthy monk, as to say to your superior that a Knight and his attendants crave refreshment ere they travel further," said De Lacy.

"Enter, fair lord," returned the porter, swinging back the gates. "Bid your men repair to the buttery yonder, while I conduct your worship to the holy father."

They found the Abbot pacing the gravel path between the cloister and the church, with his chancellor at his side. His cowl was thrown back and the white gown of his Order, which hung full to his feet, was fastened close to the throat. His face was pale, and the well-cut features and the small hands betokened his gentle birth. He was, possibly, about fifty years of age, but his step and bearing were as easy as De Lacy's own.

"Benedicite, my son," said he, as the Knight bent head to the uplifted hand, "you are welcome, and just in time to join us at the noonday meal."

"It was to ask refreshment for myself and my men that I halted, and your reverence has in kindness anticipated me," said De Lacy.

The Abbot turned to the porter: "Brother James," he said, "see that all are provided for and that the horses have a full allowance of grain.—And now, there sounds the horn for us. Sir———"

"Aymer de Lacy," filled in the Knight.

"A goodly name, my son; and one dear to Yorkshire hereabouts, although, now, near forgotten. Have you seen Pontefract?"

"I quit it but this morning."

"In sooth!" said the Abbot, with sudden interest. "And is His Grace of Gloucester still in presence there?"

"He left shortly before I did."

"For London?"

"Nay, methinks I heard he rode to York," replied De Lacy, who had learned enough on the Continent of the ways of churchmen not to tell them all he knew.

"To York!" said the Abbot in some surprise. "How many men did he take with him?"

"I was not present when the Duke departed and I did not see his following," returned Aymer.

The Abbot's keen eyes tried to read behind the answer, but evidently without success, for his next remark was: "I do not recall your face, Sir Aymer, among the many Knights who have traversed these parts."

"Your memory is entirely trustworthy," said De Lacy. "I came from France but lately, and have never seen this section until to-day."

"Fare you not to the coronation?"

"In truth, yes, your reverence; Deo volente."

"Then must you soon turn bridle; London lies to the South, my son," said the Abbot, with a smile.

De Lacy laughed. "Never fear—I shall be there—Deo volente."

"You have learned the Christian virtue of humility, at all events," said the priest, as they entered the hall, where the monks were already seated around the long tables, awaiting the coming of the Abbot. Upon his appearance they all arose and remained standing while the Chancellor droned a Latin blessing. Then he took his carved chair at the smaller table on the dais, with the Knight beside him, and the repast began. During the meal, the Abbot made no effort to obtain his guest's destination or mission, but discussed matters of general import. He, himself, contrary to the usual habits of the monks of his day, ate but little, and when De Lacy had finished he withdrew with him.

"You are anxious to be on your way," he said, "and I will not detain you. These roads are scarce pleasant after night-fall."

In the courtyard the men-at-arms were drawn up awaiting the order to mount.

"Verily, you ride well attended, my son. The roads need not bother you," said the Abbot, as he ran his eyes over the array. . . "Methinks I have seen your face before," looking hard at Raynor Royk.

"Like as not, your reverence," said the old retainer calmly; "I am no stranger in Yorkshire."

At that moment Dauvrey led the Knight's horse forward, and Aymer turned to the monk before he could address another question to Raynor.

"I am much beholden, my lord Abbot, for your kindly entertainment and I hope some day I may requite it. Farewell."

"Farewell, my son," returned the monk. "May the peace of the Holy Benedict rest upon you."

He watched them until the last horseman had clattered through the gateway, then turned away.

"My mitre on it, they are Gloucester's men," he muttered.

When they had quit the Abbey, De Lacy again summoned Raynor Royk and questioned him regarding the Abbot of Kirkstall. The old soldier, like the majority of his fellows who made fighting a business, had a contemptuous indifference to the clerical class. A blessing or a curse was alike of little consequence to men who feared neither God, man, nor Devil, and who would as readily strip a sleek priest as a good, fat merchant. Raynor's words were blunt and to the point. He knew nothing of the Abbot except through the gossip of the camp and guard-room, and that made him a cadet of a noble family of the South of England, who for some unknown reason had, in early manhood, suddenly laid aside his sword and shield and assumed Holy Orders. He had been the Abbot of Kirkstall for many years, and it was understood had great power and influence in the Church; though he, himself, rarely went beyond the limits of his own domain. He was, however, regarded as an intriguing, political priest, of Lancastrian inclination, but shrewd enough to trim successfully to whatever faction might be in power.

Two of the remaining leagues had been covered, and they were within a mile or so of the Wharfe when, rounding a sharp turn, they came upon a scene that brought every man's sword from its sheath. The narrow road, at this point, was through a dense forest of oaks and beeches that crowded to the very edge of the track and formed an arch over it. The trees grew close together, and the branches were so interlocked that the sunlight penetrated with difficulty; and though the day was still far from spent, yet, here, the shadows had already begun to lengthen into an early twilight. Some two hundred yards down this road was a group of figures that swayed, now this way, now that, in the broil of conflict, while from it came the clash of steel. In the road was the dead body of a horse, and, upon either side of it, lay two men who would never draw weapon again. The one had been split almost to the nose by a single downright blow, and the other had been pierced through the throat by a thrust of the point.

At a little distance, with his back against a tree and defending himself vigorously from the assault of half a dozen men, stood a tall and elderly Knight. He was not in armor, except for a light corselet of steel, and already he had been more than once slightly wounded. His bonnet had been lost in the melee, and his grey hair was smudged with blood along the temple. Two more men were dead at his feet, and for the moment the others hesitated to press in and end the fight. That huge sword could make short work of at least another pair of them before the hands that held it would relax, and the uncertainty as to which would be the victims stayed their rush. Suddenly the Knight leaped forward, cut down the one nearest him, and was back to the tree before the others had recovered from their surprise. Then with a roar of anger they flung themselves upon him, and the struggle began anew. In their rage and impetuosity, however, they fought without method, and the Knight was able for a short interval, by skilful play, to sweep aside their points and to parry their blows. But it forced him to fight wholly on the defensive, and his age and wounds left no doubt as to the ultimate result. His arm grew tired, and the grip on his sword hilt weakened. . . His enemies pressed him closer and closer. . . A blow got past his guard and pierced his thigh. He had strength for only one more stroke; and he gathered it for a final rush and balanced himself for the opportunity. So fierce was the conflict that no one noticed the approach of De Lacy until, with a shout of "Au secours!" he rode down upon them. He had out-stripped all his escort, except his squire, and even he was several lengths behind. Taken by surprise, the assailants hesitated a moment, and so lost their only opportunity for escape. With a sweep of his long sword he shore a head clean from its shoulders, another man went down before his horse's rush; and then, swinging in a demi-volte, he split a third through collar-bone and deep into the breast. Meanwhile, the old Knight had slain one and Giles Dauvrey had stopped the flight of another. But one escaped, and he, in the confusion, had darted into the forest and was quickly lost amid its shadows.

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