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- A Knight of the White Cross - 4/72 -
love, ride with me to the West, where Queen Margaret will speedily land, if indeed she has not landed already, or take sanctuary here with the boy?"
"I will go with you," she said. "I would vastly rather do so."
"I will tell you more on the road," he said. "There is no time to be lost now."
The woman of the house was called, and at once set her son to saddle the other horse and to give a feed to that of the knight. Dame Tresham busied herself with packing the saddlebags while her husband partook of a hasty meal; and ten minutes after his arrival they set off, Gervaise riding behind his father, while the latter led the horse on which his wife was mounted. A thick mist hung over the country.
"This mist told against us in the battle, wife, for as we advanced our forces fell into confusion, and more than once friend attacked friend, believing that he was an enemy. However, it has proved an advantage to us now, for it has enabled great numbers to escape who might otherwise have been followed and cut down. I was very fortunate. I had left my horse at a little farmhouse two miles in the rear of our camp, and in the fog had but small hope of finding it; but soon after leaving the battlefield, I came upon a rustic hurrying in the same direction as myself, and upon questioning him it turned out that he was a hand on the very farm at which I had left the horse. He had, with two or three others, stolen out after midnight to see the battle, and was now making his way home again, having seen indeed but little, but having learned from fugitives that we had been defeated. He guided me to the farmhouse, which otherwise I should assuredly never have reached. His master was favourable to our party, and let the man take one of the cart horses, on which he rode as my guide until he had placed me upon the high road to St. Albans, and I was then able to gallop on at full speed."
"And Warwick and his brother Montague are both killed?"
"Both. The great Earl will make and unmake no more kings. He has been a curse to England, with his boundless ambition, his vast possessions, and his readiness to change sides and to embroil the country in civil war for purely personal ends. The great nobles are a curse to the country, wife. They are, it is true, a check upon kingly ill doing and oppression; but were they, with their great arrays of retainers and feudal followers, out of the way, methinks that the citizens and yeomen would be able to hold their own against any king."
"Was the battle a hard fought one?"
"I know but little of what passed, except near the standard of Warwick himself. There the fighting was fierce indeed, for it was against the Earl that the king finally directed his chief onslaught. Doubtless he was actuated both by a deep personal resentment against the Earl for the part he had played and the humiliation he had inflicted upon him, and also by the knowledge that a defeat of Warwick personally would be the heaviest blow that he could inflict upon the cause of Lancaster."
"Then do you think the cause is lost?"
"I say not that. Pembroke has a strong force in Wales, and if the West rises, and Queen Margaret on landing can join him, we may yet prevail; but I fear that the news of the field of Barnet will deter many from joining us. Men may risk lands and lives for a cause which seems to offer a fair prospect of success, but they can hardly be blamed for holding back when they see that the chances are all against them. Moreover, as a Frenchwoman, it cannot be denied that Margaret has never been popular in England, and her arrival here, aided by French gold and surrounded by Frenchmen, will tell against her with the country people. I went as far as I could on the day before I left Amboise, urging her on no account to come hither until matters were settled. It would have been infinitely better had the young prince come alone, and landed in the West without a single follower. The people would have admired his trust in them, and would, I am sure, have gathered strongly round his banner. However, we must still hope for the best. Fortune was against us today: it may be with us next time we give battle. And with parties so equally divided throughout the country a signal victory would bring such vast numbers to our banners that Edward would again find it necessary to cross the seas."
CHAPTER II THE BATTLE OF TEWKESBURY
Riding fast, Sir Thomas Tresham crossed the Thames at Reading before any news of the battle of Barnet had arrived there. On the third day after leaving St. Albans he reached Westbury, and there heard that the news had been received of the queen's landing at Plymouth on the very day on which her friends had been defeated at Barnet, and that she had already been joined by the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Devon, and others, and that Exeter had been named as the point of rendezvous for her friends. As the Lancastrians were in the majority in Wiltshire and Somerset, there was no longer any fear of arrest by partisans of York, and after resting for a day Sir Thomas Tresham rode quietly on to Exeter, where the queen had already arrived.
The battle of Barnet had not, in reality, greatly weakened the Lancastrian cause. The Earl of Warwick was so detested by the adherents of the Red Rose that comparatively few of them had joined him, and the fight was rather between the two sections of Yorkists than between York and Lancaster. The Earl's death had broken up his party, and York and Lancaster were now face to face with each other, without his disturbing influence on either side. Among those who had joined the queen was Tresham's great friend, the Grand Prior of St. John's. Sir Thomas took up his lodgings in the house where he had established himself. The queen was greatly pleased at the arrival of Dame Tresham, and at her earnest request the latter shared her apartments, while Gervaise remained with his father.
"So this is the young Knight of St. John," the prior said, on the evening of the arrival of Sir Thomas. "I would, Tresham, that I were at present at Rhodes, doing battle with the infidels, rather than engaged in this warfare against Englishmen and fellow Christians."
"I can well understand that," Sir Thomas said.
"I could not hold aloof here, Tresham. The vows of our Order by no means hinder us from taking part in the affairs of our own country. The rule of the Order is indeed against it, but the rule is constantly broken. Were it otherwise there could be no commanderies in this or any other country; we should have, on entering the Order, to abandon our nationality, and to form part of one community in the East. The Order is true to its oaths. We cannot defend the Holy Sepulchre, for that, for the present, is hopelessly lost; but we can and do wage war with the infidel. For this funds are necessary as well as swords, and our commanderies throughout Europe supply the funds by which the struggle is maintained, and, when it is needed, send out contingents to help those fighting in the East. It was from the neglect of this cardinal point that the Templars fell. Their commanderies amassed wealth and wide possessions, but unlike us the knights abstained altogether from fulfilling their vows, and ceased to resist the infidel. Therefore they were suppressed, and, with the general approval of Europe, a portion of their possessions was handed over to the knights of St. John. However, as I understand, it is your wish that as soon as the boy comes of age to wield arms he shall go to Rhodes and become an active member of the Order. This is indeed the rule with all neophytes, but having served a certain time they are then permitted to return and join one of the commanderies in their native countries."
"I do not wish that for Gervaise," his father said; "at least, I wish him to remain at Rhodes until all the civil troubles are absolutely at an end here. My life has been ruined by them. Loving retirement and quiet, and longing for nothing so much as a life among my tenantry, I have almost from a boy been actively engaged in warfare or have been away as an exile. Here every one of gentle blood has been more or less mixed up in these civil broils. To few of us does it personally matter whether a member of the House of York or Lancaster sits on the throne, and yet we have been almost compelled to take sides with one or the other; and now, in my middle age I am on the eve of another battle in which I risk my life and fortune. If we win I gain naught but the satisfaction of seeing young Edward made King of England. If we lose I am going into exile again, or I may leave my wife a widow, and my child penniless."
"It is too true, Tresham; and as I am as likely to fall as you are, the child might be left without a protector as well as fatherless. However, against that I will provide. I will write a letter to Peter D'Aubusson, who is the real governor of Rhodes, for the Grand Master Orsini is so old that his rule is little more than nominal. At his death D'Aubusson is certain to be elected Grand Master. He is a dear friend of mine. We entered the Order the same year, and were comrades in many a fight with the Moslems, and I am quite sure that when I tell him that it is my last request of him, he will, in memory of our long friendship, appoint your son as one of the Grand Master's pages. As you know, no one, however high his rank, is accepted as a novice before the age of sixteen. After a year's probation he is received into the body of the Order as a professed knight, and must go out and serve for a time in Rhodes. After three years of active service he must reside two more at the convent, and can then be made a commander. There is but one exception to the rule -- namely, that the pages of the grand master are entitled to the privilege of admission at the age of twelve, so that they become professed knights at thirteen. Your son is now but nine, you say, and we must remember that D'Aubusson is not yet Grand Master, and Orsini may live for some years yet. D'Aubusson, however, can doubtless get him to appoint the boy as one of his pages. But, in any case, there are three years yet to be passed before he can go out. Doubtless these he will spend under his mother's care; but as it is as well to provide against everything, I will furnish your dame with a letter to the knight who will probably succeed me as Grand Prior of the English langue, asking him to see to the care and education of the boy up to the time when he can proceed to Rhodes. We may hope, my dear Tresham, that there will be no occasion to use such documents, and that you and I may both be able personally to watch over his career. Still, it is as well to take every precaution. I shall, of course, give D'Aubusson full particulars about you, your vow, and your wishes."
"I thank you greatly, old friend," Sir Thomas said. "It has taken a load off my mind. I shall leave him here with his mother when we march forward, and bid her, if ill befalls me, cross again to France, and then to keep Gervaise with her until she can bring herself to part with him. She has her jewels and a considerable
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