Edgar the Ready 11

Edgar the Ready 11

“I speak of far viler things than those, things too of more recent

date–things that, could I but prove them, would send thee hotfoot to a

felon’s cell.”


Sir Gervaise ground his teeth as he glanced uneasily from Sir John to

his esquire.


“Darest thou make such shameful allegations against me openly? Darest

thou speak out boldly to the earl, or must thou, like a baseborn coward,

hint darkly and secretly against mine honour?”


“Thou well knowest I can prove nothing, Sir Gervaise, until I prove it

on thy body. Wilt meet me in single combat _à outrance_?”


“I will. And I swear to punish thee. The earl purposes a tourney when

he doth enter Bordeaux. Then thy chance will come unless thou hast

thought better of it. Ha! Ha! Perchance when the time cometh, Sir

John Chartris may not be so eager to meet Sir Gervaise de Maupas face to

face and lance to lance in a fight to the death?”


“Thou wilt see. At Bordeaux I will challenge thee publicly, and thou

wilt be compelled to answer for thy ill deeds with lance, sword, and



With a smile which seemed to Edgar one of malicious triumph, Sir

Gervaise turned on his heel and sauntered slowly away. Sir John looked

after him for a minute with a frowning face which showed plainly how

deeply his anger had been stirred. Then he turned to Edgar and said:


“I would not miss meeting Sir Gervaise for all I possess, Edgar. What I

fear most, however, is that he may find some pretext for avoiding a

conflict, so do thou make it public that at the earl’s tourney Sir John

Chartris will issue a challenge to Sir Gervaise de Maupas to a combat _à

outrance_. Thus only, when all are agog with expectation, can we be sure

that he will not disappoint us.”


“I will see to it, Sir John. I will make the encounter so public that

it will be hard indeed for De Maupas to find a way out with honour.”


The next day the whole of the expeditionary force embarked, and sail was

set for the south of France. Edgar was kept very busy, for Sir John,

who was often in attendance on the Earl of Derby, left in his hands all

the arrangements for the accommodation of the Wolsingham ladies and

their maids on shore and afloat, the victualling of the Wolsingham

men-at-arms and their horses during the voyage, and the responsibility

of seeing to the general comfort and wellbeing of the whole of the



He carried out his many duties, however, with a thoroughness that soon

earned him the respect and affection of all concerned, except perhaps of

the ladies, who may have missed the gallantries of Aymery and Roland and

have found Edgar’s directness not altogether to their liking. Certainly

the lady Beatrice more than once rallied him severely upon a devotion to

duty that scarce, she said, permitted him to smile at a merry thrust.


But Edgar lightly passed the matter off, for he was indeed far too

absorbed in the coming campaign to care to take the place of either

Aymery or Roland. The mention of a tourney, too, had given him much

food for thought. It seemed possible that some place might be found for

esquires in the proceedings, and might not he as well as his master

figure in the conflicts? Full of the idea, and dreading lest he might

be getting somewhat out of practice with the sword–for since he had

been esquire to Sir John he had been so busy that he had had fewer

opportunities for practising than formerly–Edgar set Peter to make

enquiries and to find out if any men-at-arms or esquires of especial

note for skill with weapons were accompanying the expedition.


After a voyage swift and pleasant, though quite devoid of incident, the

fleet arrived at Bayonne, where the earl’s force landed and marched

along the coast to Bordeaux. Here the army encamped, and, having joined

forces with the available troops of the province, mustered quite a

goodly array. To Sir John’s stern delight, it was not long before the

Earl of Derby proposed a tournament, with the object of interesting the

townspeople in the campaign and of strengthening the warlike spirit of

his men in readiness for active operations. His proposals were received

with general acclamation, and, a date being fixed, the arrangements

proceeded with the greatest speed and enthusiasm.


From the first day of his arrival at the camp Edgar had put into

operation his scheme for obtaining useful practice, and several old

campaigners among both the English and Gascon forces had been induced by

offers of sundry good cheer to venture a bout with the eager esquire.

Most of the men he found were hardly up to their reputations, but from

some he was able to glean useful knowledge of yet more varied modes of

attack and defence. At the same time the practices served excellently

to keep him in perfect trim and fitness.


The reward for this diligence came when it was presently announced that

the tourney would open with a contest of esquires before the more

serious work of the day was entered upon.


The contest of honour between Sir John Chartris and Sir Gervaise de

Maupas was fixed for the afternoon, immediately after the contest

between knights on foot. By general consent this encounter was regarded

as the most important and interesting of the whole tourney, partly

because of the well-established reputations of the two knights, but more

especially because the bad blood existing between them made it certain

that the encounter would be fought out to the bitter end.


Some three days before the date fixed for the tourney, Peter drew Edgar



“I fear there is something afoot, Master Edgar, that bodeth ill for



“Oh, and what is that, Peter?”


“There have been two men of hangdog looks haunting this end of the camp

for several days. As thou know’st, I have lived in the midst of

cutthroats and ruffians and know something of their ways, and methinks

these men are seeking an opportunity to plunder.”


“But to plunder whom?”


“Sir John, I fear. Know’st thou if he hath brought much money or

valuables with him?”


“I have not heard of it, and if _I_ know not I see not how others can

have learned it.”


“Then I must be mistaken. It is doubtless some other knight they wish

to rob, for that they are after something of the sort I am wellnigh



Suddenly Edgar recollected what Sir John had told him of the attempt

upon his life which had, he thought, been planned by Sir Gervaise. It

seemed improbable that De Maupas would again make such an attempt,

especially as he would so soon have ample opportunity for revenge in the

encounter in the lists. Still, it would be well that no stone should be

left unturned that might affect his master’s safety.


“After all, Peter, keep a close watch upon these men. Though their evil

designs may not be directed against us, I would still frustrate them an

we can. Keep an eye upon them without being thyself seen, and find out

whether they have any friends within the camp.”


“I will, sir;” and Peter limped off with the air of one setting about a

task especially congenial to him.


Nothing, however, occurred in any way suspicious until the very eve of

the tournament. By that time everything in connection with the

arrangements had been settled, and the esquires of the English army had

been rendered wild with excitement at the news that the proceedings

would be opened by a mêlée between seven esquires chosen from amongst

their number and a like number selected from among their Gascon allies.


Originally this spectacular encounter had been intended for knights,

but, fearing that the victory of either side might lead to jealousy and

hinder the harmonious working of the two branches of his army, the Earl

of Derby prohibited the engagement in the form proposed, and substituted

for it a general mêlée in which the members of the two competing bodies

were drawn promiscuously from amongst the knights of both nations.


The projectors of the original scheme, however, unwilling to abandon

their proposal altogether, urged that the objections brought against it

hardly applied to a contest amongst esquires. To this the earl

assented, and it was finally arranged that in the esquires’ mêlée the

two sides should be drawn from amongst the English and Gascon troops

respectively. The news was received with acclamation, and it soon

became abundantly evident that, although the contest was one for

esquires only, its unusual character had invested it with much more than

the usual interest.


On the English side some thirty of the better-known esquires were

quickly selected, and invited to compete among themselves for the honour

of representing their nation in the coming contest. Edgar was one of

those invited to compete, and, doing well in all his encounters,

eventually found himself one of the seven chosen representatives of the

squirehood of the English army.


Scarcely had he had time to receive the congratulations of his friends

upon his good fortune, and to indulge in pleasant dreams of the stirring

encounters and ultimate victory that he confidently believed awaited his

side, before an event happened that drove the whole thing from his mind

almost as completely as though it had never been even mooted.


It has already been observed that it was not until the very eve of the

tournament that Edgar had any suspicions that aught was in any way amiss

with Sir John or his affairs. He was in his tent at the time, about to

retire for the night somewhat earlier than usual, in anticipation of the

trying ordeal of the morrow, when someone tapped at the canvas.


“Enter,” responded Edgar.


Peter entered, and from his heaving chest and anxious face Edgar saw at

once that something had happened.


“What is it, Peter?” he cried quickly.


“The ladies Gertrude and Beatrice have sent me hither to enquire whether

aught hath been seen of Sir John. He hath not yet returned, though he

was expected long since. As thou know’st, he always sups with them at

their inn in the town before he returns to the camp for the night.”


“I know. So he hath not yet returned? He went for his usual ride about

the countryside this afternoon, and, not seeing him more, I thought he

must be in the town with the ladies. What can have occurred to keep



“Dost think those evilly-disposed men have had aught to do with it,

Master Edgar?”


The same thought had occurred to Edgar, but, dreading it, he had tried

to put it away from him. It came back with the force of a blow when he

found that the same idea had struck Peter.


“It may be so, Peter,” he replied reluctantly. “I hope it may only be

that he hath been detained–perchance because his horse hath cast a

shoe–but I cannot help a feeling of dread lest it be that those men

have had something to do with it. Didst ever find out aught concerning them?”

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