Edgar the Ready 15
“But why should—-?”
“To save Sir John’s honour. Didst not feel as though even death were
better than his dishonour a moment agone when the heralds cried his name
in vain? Hurrah–I could cry aloud to think that that vile Sir Gervaise
will not gain a bloodless victory! But yet–after all–surely he cannot
fail to conquer one who is but an esquire?”
Gertrude answered not, and both maidens sat still and held their breaths
as the stirring scenes passed before their gaze.
It was observed by more than one that on the sudden entry of his
antagonist Sir Gervaise showed signs of excitement. He seemed agitated
and shook–with gusts of anger, those who noticed it supposed–and for
some moments his charger reared and backed unmanageably, as though
sharing his master’s fierce emotions.
After a moment or two, however, the knight regained control over his
steed, and with cruel jabs of the spur urged him back into position. The
charger had been celebrated in the past for its unusual power and
strength, and to this fact the reputation of Sir Gervaise was in a great
measure due. It had now, however, passed its prime, and De Maupas could
no longer count upon its excellence giving him the advantage of his
Edgar had profited by the moments occupied by Sir Gervaise in regaining
the mastery over his steed, and had settled down quietly into position.
His thoughts had flown back to the sacrifice his father had made to save
Sir John at Sluys, and he resolved that he would be as ready as his
father to lay down his life, if necessary, in this his own moment of
call. Firmly grasping his lance, he fixed his eyes warily upon his
adversary through his vizor slits. Horse and man seemed as steady and
immovable as a rock, in striking contrast to Sir Gervaise, who fidgeted
with his weapons and seemed impatient during the trying pause before the
onset sounded: “_Laissez aller_”.
With the speed of arrows the steel-clad warriors crashed together in the
middle of the lists. Each man aimed his lance at the centre of his
opponent’s shield, and both struck fair and true. The impact hurled the
chargers violently back upon their haunches and forced their riders
backwards to the limit of endurance, while their stout ash lances were
bent and split from end to end! De Maupas, for the moment, kept his
seat successfully, but his horse, pawing the air and snorting
frantically, struggled in vain to regain its balance, and presently
rolled over ignominiously upon the ground. Edgar, on the other hand,
though the shock had been just as severe, managed, by dint of voice and
spur, to aid his steed’s recovery, and in a few seconds it was on its
feet, with its rider ready for the foe.
Disentangling himself from his horse’s trappings, Sir Gervaise drew
sword, and, furious at his undignified mischance, sprang towards his
adversary, thirsting to retrieve his fallen fortunes.
[Illustration: “SIR GERVAISE SPRANG TOWARDS HIS ADVERSARY, THIRSTING
TO RETRIEVE HIS FALLEN FORTUNES”]
Disdaining to meet him at any advantage, Edgar flung away the fragments
of his lance, seized Sir John’s heavy battleaxe, and slipped lightly
from the saddle. Scarce had he faced Sir Gervaise when the furious
knight was upon him with sword up-raised. Knowing that his battleaxe
was almost useless for defence, Edgar heeded not the blow, but,
half-turning, swung his own heavy weapon sideways at his opponent’s
head. The knight’s blow fell first with a stroke that bit deep into
Edgar’s casque, but before De Maupas could spring back out of reach, the
axe stroke smote him on the side of his helmet with a weight and
momentum that sent him crashing headlong to the ground.
A dull roar of applause arose from the whole circle of the lists.
Dropping his axe, Edgar snatched his dagger from his belt and sprang
towards the fallen man. Kneeling upon his chest he cried aloud:
“Yield thee vanquished, Sir Gervaise de Maupas!” Then in a low voice,
but in tones thrilling with resolve, he went on, “_Tell me where Sir
John if, or thy life is forfeit!_”
There was no response.
“Desist, Sir John,” cried one of the marshals of the lists, hurriedly
approaching, “he is stunned, if not dead. Thou art acknowledged
victor–retire while we see to the stricken man.”
Heavy with disappointment at being thwarted at the moment when he hoped
all might be won, Edgar mechanically mounted and rode slowly round the
lists. The air still rang with the plaudits of the spectators, and, as
he passed along, loud cries reached him, some, wishing to do him the
more honour, calling upon him to unhelm.
Fearing that his refusal at least to lower his vizor might cause some
adverse comment, Edgar dropped it an inch or so and left it, hoping that
it might be thought that the blow his headpiece had received had damaged
the hinges of his vizor. With a final salute, first to the earl and then
to the Wolsingham ladies, he rode dully from the lists. The cheers of
the spectators fell on deaf ears, for though he had defeated Sir
Gervaise and upheld Sir John’s honour, he felt that he was still as far
as ever from solving the mystery of his master’s disappearance.
As he reached the door of his tent, Matthew and Peter came running up,
their faces wreathed with smiles at their young master’s victory.
“Aid me to strip off this armour,” cried Edgar, the moment he had
entered the tent, “and remember that Sir John is gone–gone upon the
visit to Faucigny Castle, in the lands of the lady Beatrice, that he has
had all along in mind. He gained the earl’s permission some time since,
as he told me himself. Thus at least we gain some precious days in
which to continue our enquiries.”
“Pardon, Master Edgar,” cried Peter, suddenly stopping, “with thy
permission I will hie me to Sir Gervaise’s tent. It may well be that
this is a time when it might advantage us to keep close watch upon those
“Go, Peter. His esquire will be bringing him back in a few minutes. He
is but stunned. Listen for what thou canst hear. Who knows but that a
few chance words may tell us all?”
Waiting for no more, Peter sped off upon his errand, and when, a
half-hour later, Sir Gervaise was carried into his tent, he was snugly
ensconced beneath a pile of horse’s trappings at the very door.
*News of Sir John*
The dusk of evening was falling as Sir Gervaise raised himself from the
couch upon which he had been restlessly tossing ever since he had been
carried in. His head was swathed in bandages, and the light of the
single lamp showed a face pale beneath its sunburn, in which a pair of
fierce black eyes burned with an unnatural brightness.
“I have waited in suspense long enough,” he muttered to himself. Then,
in a louder key, he called to his esquire who was in attendance upon
“Arnaud, I have business that I must transact this night. Fetch me
hither, then, the varlet James Baulch, and then betake thyself to thy
tent. Stay, first fill up my cup, for my head still throbs consumedly
from the blow that trickster Chartris gave me.”
The esquire obeyed, and in a minute the wounded knight was alone. Freed
from the restraint of his esquire’s presence, Sir Gervaise groaned aloud
with the pain of his bruised and swollen head, and muttered savagely to
himself what sounded like threats and imprecations against his
successful foe and also the varlet James, who seemed somehow to have
incurred his especial displeasure.
Presently the man arrived escorted by the esquire, who seemed to look
somewhat askance at his charge. He glanced significantly at his master
as he was about to leave the tent, and, interpreting the look, the
knight cried as he scowled savagely at the man: “Yes, Arnaud, remain
outside within call. I may require thy services.”
Arnaud bowed and retired, and the knight, raising himself, not without
difficulty, into a sitting posture and placing a dagger ready to his
hand, beckoned the man to approach.
“So thou hast played me false, James Baulch, murderer and vagabond?” he
cried in a voice thick with rage. “Thou, whom I have but to lift a
finger to consign to the gibbet–thou hast dared to lie to me.”
The man cowered before the knight’s pallid face and gleaming eyes.
“There is some mistake,” he stammered, “I—-“
“Aye–thou art right,” cried the knight savagely, “’tis the mistake I
made when, with a trumped-up tale, I snatched thee from the sheriff’s
men. I had better have let thee hang and moulder–but ’tis not yet too
late. The arm of the law is strong and swift even in Gascony, and on
the word of a knight thy shrift—-“
“My lord! My lord!” cried the man, grovelling in terror on the floor.
“I swear there is some mistake. With mine own eyes at dawn this morning
I saw Sir John, bound and helpless, lying at the bottom of a wagon. I
rode straight hither, and he who fought with thee must be some other.
My lord, it must be so.”
“Bah! Scoundrel! That is but a tale–another lie–to save thy wretched
neck from the gallows.”
“It is not–it is not!” almost shrieked the man. “Didst not mark–but
thou wert senseless–has not, then, thine esquire told thee that he who
fought as Sir John did not drop his vizor even when he saluted the
“Say’st thou so?” cried the knight, startled. “Strange!” he went on,
muttering to himself. “I seemed to feel a difference as he entered the
lists. Both horse and man seemed doubly full of fire, while Sir John
always rode heavily.”
“Yes, yes,” cried the man eagerly. “It was noticed by others. I heard
two men say that Sir John was riding lighter in the saddle than he used
“Can this be the explanation?” went on De Maupas, still speaking half to
himself. “I never thought of such a daring ruse being played upon me.
Who can the man be? Doubtless one of Sir John’s friends–but who?
’Twill be the worse for him an I find out the truth,” he ended darkly,
clenching his teeth with suppressed rage.
“Give me leave to find out the knight’s name, my lord,” interrupted
Baulch in an eager voice.
Sir Gervaise for a minute or two made no reply, but gazed at his
accomplice with so gloomy and menacing a look that the man literally shook with fear.