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- A March on London - 5/56 -

given you ten years more life than you would be likely to have had without it. It seemed to me strange that any son of my house should be ignorant as to how to use a sword, and now I consider that that which seemed to me almost a disgrace is removed. Knows your mother aught of this?"

"No, sir. When I began I feared that my resolution would soon fade; and indeed it would have done so had not Edgar constantly encouraged me and held me to it, though indeed at first it so fatigued me that I could scarce walk home."

"That I can well understand, my lad. Now you shall come and tell your mother. I have news for you, dame, that will in no small degree astonish you," he said, as, followed by the two lads, he returned to the room where she was sitting. "In the first place, young Master Ormskirk has proved himself a better man than I with the sword."

"Say not so, I pray you, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "In skill with the French tricks I may have had the better of you, but with a mace you would have dashed my brains out, as I could not have guarded my head against the blows that you could have struck with it."

"Not just yet, perhaps," the knight said; "but when you get your full strength you could assuredly do so. He will be a famous knight some day, dame. But that is not the most surprising piece of news. What would you say were I to tell you that this weakling of ours, although far from approaching the skill and strength of his friend, is yet able to wield a heavy sword manfully and skilfully?"

"I should say that either you were dreaming, or that I was, Sir Ralph."

"Well, I do say so in wide-awake earnest. Master Ormskirk has been his instructor, and for the last two years the lad has been learning of him and of his masters. That accounts for the change that we have noticed in his health and bearing. Faith, he used to go along with stooping neck, like a girl who has outgrown her strength. Now he carries himself well, and his health of late has left naught to be desired. It was for that that his friend invited him to exercise himself with the sword; and indeed his recipe has done wonders. His voice has gained strength, and though it still has a girlish ring about it, he speaks more firmly and assuredly than he used to do."

"That is indeed wonderful news, Sir Ralph, and I rejoice to hear it. Master Ormskirk, we are indeed beholden to you. For at one time I doubted whether Albert would ever live to grow into a man; and of late I have been gladdened at seeing so great a change in him, though I dreamed not of the cause."

Aline had stood open-mouthed while her father was speaking, and now stole up to Albert's side.

"I am pleased, brother," she said. "May I tell them now what happened the other day with the black bull, you charged me to say nothing about?"

"What is this about the black bull, Aline?" her father said, as he caught the words.

"It was naught, sir," Albert replied, colouring, "save that the black bull in the lower meadow ran at us, and I frightened him away."

"No, no, father," the girl broke in, "it was not that at all. We were walking through the meadow together when the black bull ran at us. Albert said to me, 'Run, run, Aline!' and I did run as hard as I could; but I looked back for some time as I ran, being greatly terrified as to what would come to Albert. He stood still. The bull lowered his head and rushed at him. Then he sprang aside just as I expected to see him tossed into the air, caught hold of the bull's tail as it went past him and held on till the bull was close to the fence, and then he let go and scrambled over, while the bull went bellowing down the field."

"Well done, well done!" Sir Ralph said. "Why, Albert, it seems marvellous that you should be doing such things; that black bull is a formidable beast, and the strongest man, if unarmed, might well feel discomposed if he saw him coming rushing at him. I will wager that if you had not had that practice with the sword, you would not have had the quickness of thought that enabled you to get out of the scrape. You might have stood between the bull and your sister, but if you had done so you would only have been tossed, and perhaps gored or trampled to death afterwards. I will have the beast killed, or otherwise he will be doing mischief. There are not many who pass through the field, still I don't want to have any of my tenants killed.

"Well, Master Ormskirk, both my wife and I feel grateful to you for what you have done for Albert. There are the makings of a man in him now, let him take up what trade he will. I don't say much, boy, it is not my way; but if you ever want a friend, whether it be at court or camp, you can rely upon me to do as much for you as I would for one of my own; maybe more, for I deem that a man cannot well ask for favours for those of his own blood, but he can speak a good word, and even urge his suit for one who is no kin to him. So far as I understand, you have not made up your mind in what path you will embark."

"No, Sir Ralph, for at present, although we can scarce be said to be at peace with the French, we are not fighting with them. Had it been so I would willingly have joined the train of some brave knight raising a force for service there. There is ever fighting in the North, but with the Scots it is but a war of skirmishes, and not as it was in Edward's reign. Moreover, by what my father says, there seems no reason for harrying Scotland far and near, and the fighting at present is scarce of a nature in which much credit is to be gained."

"You might enter the household of some powerful noble, lad."

"My father spoke to me of that, Sir Ralph, but told me that he would rather that I were with some simple knight than with a great noble, for that in the rivalries between these there might be troubles come upon the land, and maybe even civil strife; that one who might hold his head highest of all one day might on the morrow have it struck off with the executioner's axe, and that at any rate it were best at present to live quietly and see how matters went before taking any step that would bind me to the fortunes of one man more than another."

"Your father speaks wisely. 'Tis not often that men who live in books, and spend their time in pouring over mouldy parchments, and in well-nigh suffocating themselves with stinking fumes have common sense in worldly matters. But when I have conversed with your father, I have always found that, although he takes not much interest in public affairs at present, he is marvellously well versed in our history, and can give illustrations in support of what he says. Well, whenever the time comes that he thinks it good for you to leave his fireside and venture out into the world, you have but to come to me, and I will, so far as is in my power, further your designs."

"I thank you most heartily, Sir Ralph, and glad am I to have been of service to Albert, who has been almost as a brother to me since we first met at St. Alwyth."

"I would go over and see your father, and have a talk with him about you, but I ride to London to-morrow, and may be forced to tarry there for some time. When I return I will wait upon him and have a talk as to his plans for you. Now, I doubt not, you would all rather be wandering about the garden than sitting here with us, so we will detain you no longer."

"Albert, I am very angry with you and Master Ormskirk that you did not take me into your counsel and tell me about your learning to use the sword," Aline said, later on, as they watched Edgar ride away through the gateway of the castle. "I call it very unkind of you both."

"We had not thought of being unkind, Aline," Albert said, quietly. "When we began I did not feel sure that either my strength or my resolution would suffice to carry me through, and indeed it was at first very painful work for me, having never before taken any strong exercise, and often I would have given it up from the pain and fatigue that it caused me, had not Edgar urged me to persevere, saying that in time I should feel neither pain nor weariness. Therefore, at first I said nothing to you, knowing that it would disappoint you did I give it up, and then when my arm gained strength, and Edgar encouraged me by praising my progress, and I began to hope that I might yet come to be strong and gain skill with the weapon, I kept it back in order that I might, as I have done to-day, have the pleasure of surprising you, as well as my father, by showing that I was not so great a milksop as you had rightly deemed me."

"I never thought that you were a milksop, Albert," his sister said, indignantly. "I knew that you were not strong, and was sorry for it, but it was much nicer for me that you should be content to walk and ride with me, and to take interest in things that I like, instead of being like Henry Nevil or Richard Clairvaux, who are always talking and thinking of nothing but how they would go to the wars, and what they would do there."

"There was no need that I should do that, Aline. Edgar is a much better swordsman than either of them, and knows much more, and is much more likely to be a famous knight some day than either Nevil or Clairvaux, but I am certain that you do not hear him talk about it."

"No, Edgar is nice, too," the girl said, frankly, "and very strong. Do you not remember how he carried me home more than two miles, when a year ago I fell down when I was out with you, and sprained my ankle. And now, Albert, perhaps some day you will get so strong that you may not think of going into the Church and shutting yourself up all your life in a cloister, but may come to be famous too."

"I have not thought of that, Aline," he said, gravely. "If ever I did change my mind, it would be that I might always be with Edgar and be great friends with him, all through our lives, just as we are now."

Sir Ralph and his wife were at the time discussing the same topic. "It may yet be, Agatha, that, after all, the boy may give up this thought of being a churchman. I have never said a word against it hitherto, because it seemed to me that he was fit for nothing else, but now that one sees that he has spirit, and has, thanks to his friend, acquired a taste for arms, and has a strength I never dreamt he possessed, the matter is changed. I say not yet that he is like to become a famous knight, but it needs not that every one should be able to swing a heavy mace and hold his own in a _mle_. There are many posts at court where one who is discreet and long- headed may hold his own, and gain honour, so that he be not a mere feeble weakling who can be roughly pushed to the wall by every blusterer."

"I would ask him no question concerning it, Sir Ralph," his wife said. "It may be as you say, but methinks that it will be more likely that he will turn to it if you ask him no questions, but leave him to think it out for himself. The lad Edgar has great influence over him, and will assuredly use it for good. As for myself, it would be no such great grief were Albert to enter the Church as it would be to you, though I, too, would prefer that he should not be lost to us, and would rather that he went to Court and played his part there. I believe that he has talent. The prior of St. Alwyth said that he and young Ormskirk were by far his most promising pupils; of course, the latter has now ceased to study with him, having learned as much as is necessary for a gentleman to know if he be not intended for the Church. Albert is well aware what your wishes are, and that if you have said naught against his taking up that profession, it was but because you deemed him fit for no other. Now, you will see that,

A March on London - 5/56

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