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
* * * * *
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
“I understand, my lord.”
* * * * *
“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
“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.