Edgar the Ready 16

Edgar the Ready 16

“Very well, Baulch,” he said sternly after a pause, “thy neck may rest

at peace on thy shoulders for a space, while thou art finding out who it

was that masqueraded as Sir John. Find out, I say, find out! Dare to

bungle a second time, and the gallows that gape for thee shall have thee



With trembling lips the man hastily promised to find out the truth.


Nodding carelessly, Sir Gervaise went on to talk of other matters.

There could be no doubt that his confidence in the ascendancy he had

obtained over the man was not misjudged. The man was obviously under a

spell, mastered by a hidden terror so great that all else was completely

swallowed up.


* * * * *


It was noon the following day when the man again made his appearance and

requested Arnaud to tell Sir Gervaise that James Baulch craved a few

minutes’ further speech. Arnaud complied, though from the __EXPRESSION__ of

his face it might have been inferred that the desire to kick the man was

the feeling uppermost in his mind.


“Well, Baulch?” growled the knight, who still reclined upon a couch, and

whose temper seemed in no way improved by his night’s rest. “Hast news

to tell? If not ’twill be the worse for thee.”


“I have news, my lord–strange news. Whether ’twill please thee or not,

I cannot say, but—-“


“Peace, knave! Tell thy news and madden me not with thy thoughts of

what pleases me.”


“’Twas Edgar Wintour fought with thee in the lists,” blurted out the man

hurriedly. “I have heard words let fall that make the matter clear.”


“Edgar Wintour–and who is Edgar Wintour?” cried the knight with savage



“He is Sir John’s esquire.”


The look that came into the knight’s face made Baulch regret the success

of his enquiries. De Maupas gasped, grew even paler than before, and

clutched convulsively at the couch on which he lay. Then a sudden

passion seemed to galvanize him into activity and he rose to his feet

almost with a bound.


“What!” he thundered. “Dare ye tell me that—-?”


But his strength was unequal to the effort, and clutching at his

bandages with both hands, as though his head were about to split in

twain, he sank slowly and painfully back upon the couch.


“A pretty debt I owe the boy if thy tale is true,” he muttered at last

in a changed voice. “Art sure of thy facts?”


“Sure, my lord. I saw him mounted upon Sir John’s charger early this

morning, and the way he rode made me think at once of the spring and

fire of thine adversary yesterday. Then I heard some words let drop by

one Matthew, a man-at-arms of Sir John, and I knew ’twas so.”


“So that was what was in his mind when he gave me that strange look

yesterday,” muttered De Maupas to himself. “It was on my lips to demand

an explanation. Would I had done so! I might have forced the quarrel

then and there with the advantage on my side, mailed and ready for a

conflict as I was.”


“Canst not let the good earl know of the trick he played?” said the man

presently. “Surely he would punish him for daring so to dupe the

marshals of the lists?”


“Be silent, fool! Dost think I want all the world to know that I, a

knight, was beaten by an unfledged esquire? See to it that no word of

it is breathed by thee.”


For some time Sir Gervaise remained silent, staring viciously at the

ground the while. The __EXPRESSION__ on his face was not good to see, and

it might have been as well had Edgar Wintour been there to see it.


“Baulch,” said the knight at last, “Baulch, I gave thee money for Sir

John Chartris–alive. I offer thee double the sum for this Edgar

Wintour–dead. Dost understand?”


The tone of the knight’s voice was low and measured, but the __EXPRESSION__

of his face was so deadly that the blackest rage would have seemed less

implacable. Baulch seemed to have no great stomach for the task put to

him, but one furtive look at the knight’s face was sufficient, and he

answered hastily:


“I understand, my lord.”


“Then begone.”


* * * * *


“Couldst hear no more than that, Peter? Nothing save a few words of

angry reproach against the man when De Maupas’s voice rang highest?”


“No, sir. I could get no nearer, for De Maupas’s esquire, Arnaud, paced

to and fro outside, doubtless by his master’s orders. Most of the time

the two spake only of the tournament, though once I feel sure they

talked of Sir John, but they dropped their voices and only formless

words reached my ears.”


“Ah! Then I fear it behoves us to find out,” cried Edgar in a decided

tone. “We cannot afford to go on like this, Peter. The Wolsingham

ladies are becoming most anxious, and if we cannot soon get news, we

must acquaint the earl of the truth and implore his aid, though I fear

it will bring us little comfort. Ye say ye know where this man Baulch



“Yes, he lives at a low inn in the lowest and most rascally quarter of

the town.”


“Good! ’Tis the better for our purpose. At nightfall, Peter, I must

visit this inn, and see what stratagem or the sword will accomplish.

Tell me how I may find it, and then be off and get me some peasant’s

clothing, old and soiled with use, and have it ready an hour or two

before the gates are closed.”


At the time appointed Peter produced a bundle of clothing, and Edgar was

soon well disguised as a young countryman on a visit to the town to make

his purchases. The clothing was somewhat malodorous, but as this added

considerably to the realistic effect, Edgar recked little of that. His

own sword was far too well made and well finished to be taken, so Peter

obtained for him the least pretentious amongst those carried by Sir

John’s men-at-arms. This was buckled on in an awkward and clumsy manner,

so as to give as unwarlike an air to a warlike weapon as possible.


Foreseeing the possibility of a fight in a locality of such unsavoury

reputation, Edgar took the precaution to don his light flexible shirt of

steel mail before putting on the peasant’s garments, and to have a

dagger concealed beneath his clothes ready to hand in case of an attack

too sudden and at too close quarters to allow him to draw his sword.


It was a few minutes short of the hour at which the gates of the city

closed when, as a peasant, he rapped loudly at the door of a low-lying,

rambling, single-story structure overlooking the river Garonne. The

street was in complete darkness, save for the dim light emitted through

the shuttered windows of one or two of the hovels and crazy dwellings

which huddled together along each side of the narrow roadway.


After a short delay the door opened, and one of the most

villainous-looking men Edgar had ever set eyes on made his appearance.


“What seek ye?” he enquired, peering suspiciously first at the newcomer

and then over his shoulder, as though to find out whether he was alone.


“Some of thy good cheer, landlord. I was seeking another inn which a

neighbour of mine speaks well of, but lost my way, and a man I chanced

upon by good hap outside sent me to thee. Give me sup of thy best; I

have money and can pay,” and Edgar, assuming an air of pride and

importance, flaunted a handful of coins under the man’s eyes.


“Thou shalt have it, noble sir,” cried the landlord, with a leer which

was meant to encourage his guest, and he led the way into a long room,

bare of furniture save for a couple of tables and some rough benches.

The room was fairly lofty, but numbers of smoked hams and other objects

hanging from the rafters made it appear low and gloomy. Half a dozen

men, amongst whom Edgar was quick to discern James Baulch, lounged upon

the benches drinking and dicing.


Edgar took stock of his surroundings as the landlord led him to the end

of the room farthest from the other occupants, and, fetching a chair

from a side room and carefully placing it in position at the table,

invited his guest to take a seat.


In a few minutes some food, rough and unpalatable, was brought, and

Edgar made shift to eat it, as though with a good appetite. Then he

leaned back in his chair, and, half-shutting his eyes, pretended to be

nearly asleep. He hoped that most of the men would soon leave, and that

he might have an opportunity of accosting Baulch alone or of following

him to his room, wherever that might be.


Presently he missed one of the men, and shortly after the others broke

into a rough drinking song. Edgar then realized, with something of a

shock, that instead of being the pursuer he was now the pursued. It was

not the mere withdrawal of one of the men that made him think this, but

the quiet, stealthy manner in which the man must have left, and the way

in which the other men began their song simultaneously, as though at a

signal. It almost seemed that the song was intended to cloak something,

perhaps the arrival of a further band of ruffians. Edgar began to

regret that he had exhibited his money so freely–or could it be that

Baulch had seen through his disguise?


A slight rustling noise close to him attracted his attention, and giving

up the pretence of being nearly asleep, he opened his eyes wide and

looked warily about him. The men had stopped their song, and were

gazing in his direction with an air of covert expectation. Something

was going on–that much was clear as noonday. Another slight rustle,

and Edgar looked quickly above him into the blackness beyond the hams

and other objects hanging from the rafters. He was just in time to

catch a glimpse of something as it dropped down over his head. It was a



Before he had time to spring to his feet and fling it off his shoulders,

it was drawn tightly round his neck with a quick jerk, and he was lifted

almost off his feet. The peril was extreme, and realizing in a flash

that only the most desperate exertions could save him, Edgar grasped the

rope above the slip knot with his left hand, while with his right he

drew his dagger and reached up to cut the rope, straining on tiptoe to

get a purchase.


Suddenly a trapdoor, upon which his chair had evidently been placed,

gave way beneath his feet, and the whole of his weight fell upon his

left arm. Choking, half-strangled, with eyes starting from his head,

Edgar strove to cut the rope with his dagger. One stroke, feeble from

his straining position and reeling brain–a second stroke–then a third,

into which all his remaining strength was put–and like a stone he fell half-fainting through the trapdoor into a cellar below.

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