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- A March on London - 40/56 -
the ranks of the foe, spreading death and dismay among them. Sirs, to you, then, I give the honour of bearing the news to Ghent. I have ordered that fresh horses shall be brought you from the prince's stable. Councillor Moens will ride with you to act as spokesman; but before starting, take, I pray you, a goblet of wine and some bread. It were well that you took your men-at-arms with you, for you might be beset on the road by some of the people who did not succeed in entering the gates, or by some of the cowardly knights who stood by and saw the citizens being defeated without laying lance in rest to aid them. Fresh horses shall be prepared for your men also, and they shall sup before they start. There is no lack of food here."
Much gratified at the mission intrusted to them, the young knights at once ordered their men-at-arms to prepare for the ride.
"When you have supped," Albert said, "see that you stuff your saddle-bags and ours with food for Van Voorden's household first, and then for those who most need it."
The meals were soon eaten. As they were about to mount Van Artevelde said to them:
"There will be no lack of provisions to-morrow, for in two hours a great train of waggons, loaded with provisions, will start under a strong guard, and to-morrow at daybreak herds of cattle will be brought in and driven there; you may be sure also that the rivers will be open as soon as the news is known, for none will now venture to interfere with those bringing food into Ghent."
The councillor was ready, and in a few minutes they had passed out of the city, and were galloping along the road to Ghent, just as the bell of the cathedral tolled the hour often. Two hours later, without having once checked the speed of their horses, they heard the bells ringing midnight in Ghent. In ten minutes they approached the gate, and were challenged from the walls.
"I am the Councillor Moens," the knights' companion shouted. "I come from Philip Van Artevelde with good news. We have defeated the enemy and captured Bruges."
There was a shout of delight from the walls, and in a minute the drawbridge was lowered and the great gate opened. The councillor rode straight to the town-hall. The doors were open, and numbers of the citizens were still gathered there. Moens did not wait to speak to them, but, running into the belfry, ordered the men there to ring their most joyous peal. The poor fellows had been lying about, trying to deaden their hunger by sleep, but at the order they leapt to their feet, seized the ropes, and Ghent was electrified by hearing the triumphal peal bursting out in the stillness of the night.
In the meantime those in the hall had crowded round the young knights and their followers, but these, beyond saying that the news was good, waited until Moens' return. It was but a minute, and he at once shouted:
"The enemy have been beaten! We have taken Bruges! By the morning food will be here!"
Now from every belfry in the city the notes from the town-hall had been taken up, the clanging of the bells roused every sleeper, and the whole town poured into the street shouting wildly, for though they knew not yet what had happened, it was clear that some great news had arrived. All the councillors and the principal citizens had made for the town-hall, which was speedily thronged. Moens took his place with the two young knights upon the raised platform at the end, and lifted his hand for silence. The excited multitude were instantly still, and those near the doors closed them, to keep out the sound of the bells. Then Moens, speaking at the top of his voice that all might hear him, said: "I am now but the mouthpiece of these English knights, to whom Van Artevelde has given the honour of bearing the news to you, but since they are ignorant of our language I have come with them as interpreter. First, then, we have met the army of Bruges and the earl, forty thousand strong; we have defeated them with great slaughter, and with but small loss to ourselves."
A mighty shout rose from the crowd, and it was some minutes before the speaker could continue.
"Following on the heels of our flying foes, we entered the city, and Bruges is ours."
Another shout, as enthusiastic as the first, again interrupted him.
"A great train of waggons filled with wine and provisions was to start at midnight, and will be here to-morrow morning at daybreak. Herds will be driven in, and dispatched at once. By to-morrow night, therefore, the famine will be at an end, and every man, woman, and child in Ghent will be able to eat their fill."
Those at the door shouted the glad news to the multitude in the square, and a roar like that of the sea answered, and echoed the shouts in the hall.
"Tell us more, tell us more!" the men cried, when the uproar ceased. "We have seven or eight hours to wait for food; tell us all about it."
"I will tell you first, citizens, why I am speaking to you in the name of these English knights, and why they have been chosen to have the honour of bringing these good tidings hither."
He then told them how, the force being without horsemen, and bound to keep straight along by the road, the two knights had volunteered to ride out to see if any hostile force was approaching, and also to endeavour to find provisions.
"The latter seemed hopeless," the councillor went on. "Every village had long since been deserted, and no living soul met the eye on the plain. They had been gone but three hours when one of their men-at-arms rode in, asking that all the bakers should be sent forward at once, for that, in a mill less than two miles from the road, they had discovered fifteen sacks of flour left behind. The bakers started at once with five hundred men to bring on the bread as fast as it was baked to the spot where we were to halt.
"This was not all, for, later on, the knights with some of the men joined us at the camp with sufficient cattle, sheep, and horses, that the knights had found straying, to give every man a meal that night, and one the following morning. The next day they drove in a few more, and so it was not until to-day that we touched the store we took with us. It was the food that saved us. Had we been forced to eat our scanty supply that first night, we should have been fasting for well-nigh forty-eight hours, and when the earl, with his knights and men-at-arms and the townsmen of Bruges, in all forty thousand men, marched out to meet us, what chance would five thousand famished men have had against them? As it was, the food we got did wonders for us; and every man seemed to have regained his full strength and courage. When they came nigh to us we poured in one volley with all our guns, which put them into confusion. The sun was in their eyes, and almost before they knew that we had moved, we were upon them.
"These two knights and their four men-at-arms flung themselves into the crowd and opened the way for our footmen, and in five minutes the fight was over. It may be that many of the craftsmen of Bruges were there unwillingly, and that these were among the first to throw down their arms and fly. However it was, in five minutes the whole force was in full flight. The earl's knights and their men-at-arms struck not a single blow, but seeming panic-struck, scattered and fled in all directions, the earl and forty men alone gaining Bruges. There they closed the gate against the fugitives, but these fled to other gates, and so hotly did we pursue them that we entered mixed up with them.
"Van Artevelde committed to the two English knights the task of seizing all the gates, and of setting a guard to prevent any man from leaving, while the rest of us under him pushed forward to the market-place. There was no resistance. Thousands of the men had fallen in the battle and flight. Thousands had failed to enter the gates. All who did so were utterly panic-stricken and terrified. Thus the five thousand men you sent out have defeated forty thousand, and have captured Bruges, and I verily believe that not more than a score have fallen. Methinks, my friends, you will all agree with me that your governor has done well to give these knights the honour of carrying the good news to Ghent."
A mighty shout answered the question. The crowd rushed upon the two young knights, each anxious to speak to them, and praise them. With difficulty the councillor, aided by some of his colleagues, surrounded them, and made a way to a small door at the end of the platform. Once beyond the building, they hurried along by-streets to Van Voorden's house, to where, on entering the hall, they had charged the men-at-arms at once to take the horses, to hand over as much of the provisions as were needed for the immediate wants of the household, and then to carry the rest to the nuns of a convent hard by--for these were, they knew, reduced to the direst straits before the expedition started.
"Welcome back, welcome back!" the Fleming exclaimed, as they entered, and the words were repeated by wife and daughter. "Your men-at-arms told my wife what had happened, and I myself heard it from the lower end of the town-hall, where I arrived just as Moens began to speak. I saw you escape from the platform, and hurried off, but have only this instant arrived. The crush was so great in the square that it was difficult to make my way through it, but forgive us if we say nothing further until we have eaten that food upon the table, for indeed we have had but one regular meal since you left the town. Tell me first, though, for all were too excited to ask Moens the question--has the earl been captured?"
"He had not, up to the moment when we left. The strictest search is being made for him. It is known that he must be somewhere in the town, for he and a party, not knowing that Van Artevelde was in the market-place, well- nigh fell into his hands, and he certainly could not have got through any of the gates before we had closed them and had placed a strong guard over them. Van Artevelde has given strict orders that he is to be taken uninjured, and he purposes to bring him here, and to make him sign a peace with us."
"I trust that he will be caught," Van Voorden said; "but as for the peace, I should have no faith in it, for be sure that as soon as he is once free again he would repudiate it, and would at once set to work to gather, with the aid of Burgundy, a force with which he could renew the war, wipe out the disgrace that has befallen him, and take revenge upon the city that inflicted it. Now, let us to supper."
"We will but look on," Albert said, with a smile. "We supped at Bruges at half-past nine, but it will be a pleasure indeed to see you eat it."
"We must not eat much," the merchant said to his wife and daughter. "Let us take a little now, and to-morrow we can do better. It might injure us to give rein to our appetite after well-nigh starving for the last two days."
As soon as the meal was eaten all sallied out into the streets, the young knights first laying aside their armour, as they did not wish to attract attention. The bells were still ringing out with joyous clamour; at every house flags, carpets, and curtains had been hung out; torches were fixed
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