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- Saint George for England - 30/47 -

King Phillip began at once to take measures for the relief of Calais, and made immense efforts again to put a great army in the field. He endeavoured by all means in his power to gain fresh allies. The young Count of Flanders, who, at the death of his father at Cressy, was sixteen years of age, was naturally even more hostile to the English than the late prince had been, and he strove to win over his subjects to the French alliance, while Phillip made them magnificent offers if they would join him. The Flemings, however, remained stanch to the English alliance, and held their prince in duresse until he at last consented to marry the daughter of Edward. A week before the date fixed for the nuptials, however, he managed to escape from the vigilance of his guards when out hawking, and fled to the court of France.

In Scotland Phillip was more successful, and David Bruce, instead of employing the time given him by the absence of Edward with his armies in driving out the English garrisons from the strong places they still held in Scotland, raised an army of 50,000 men and marched across the border into England plundering and ravaging. Queen Philippa, however, raising an army, marched against him, and the Scotch were completely defeated at Neville's Cross, 15,000 being killed and their king himself taken prisoner.

Walter's conduct at the battle of Cressy gained him still further the favour of the Black Prince. The valour with which he had fought was conspicuous even on a field where all fought gallantly, and the prince felt that more than once he would have been smitten down had not Walter's sword interposed. Ralph too had fought with reckless bravery, and many French knights and gentlemen had gone down before the tremendous blows of his heavy mace, against which the stoutest armour availed nothing. After the battle the prince offered to make him an esquire in spite of the absence of gentle blood in his veins, but Ralph declined the honour.

"An it please you, Sir Prince," he said, "but I should feel more comfortable among the men-at-arms, my fellows. In the day of battle I trust that I should do no discredit to my squirehood, but at other times I should feel woefully out of my element, and should find nought for my hands to do, therefore if it so pleases your Royal Highness, I would far rather remain a simple man-at-arms.

Ralph did not, however, refuse the heavy purse which the prince gave him, although indeed he, as well as all the soldiers, was well supplied with money, so great were the spoils which the army had gathered in its march before Cressy, and which they now swept off in their raids among the northern provinces of France.

One evening Walter was returning from a banquet at the pavilion of the Prince of Wales, with Ralph as usual following at a little distance, when from a corner of the street a man darted suddenly out and struck a dagger with all his force between his shoulders. Well was it for Walter that he had taken Geoffrey's advice, and had never laid aside the shirt of mail, night or day. Fine as was its temper, two or three links of the outer fold were broken, but the point did not penetrate the second fold, and the dagger snapped in the hand of the striker. The force of the sudden blow, however, hurled Walter to the ground. With a loud cry Ralph rushed forward. The man instantly fled. Ralph pursued him but a short distance and then hastened back to Walter.

"Are you hurt, Sir Walter?" he exclaimed.

"In no way, Ralph, thanks to my shirt of mail. Well, indeed, was it for me that I was wearing it, or I should assuredly have been a dead man. I had almost begun to forget that I was a threatened man; but I shall be on guard for the future."

"I wish I had followed the fellow," Ralph said. "I would not have slain him could I have helped it, but would have left it for the hangman to extort from him the name of his employer; but, in truth, he struck so hard, and you fell so straight before the blow, that I feared the mail had given way, and that you were sorely wounded if not killed. You have oft told me that I was over-careful of you, but you see that I was not careful enough, however, you may be assured that if another attempt be made those who attempt it shall not get off scot free. Do you think of laying a complaint before the provost against him you suspect?"

"It would be useless, Ralph. We may have suspicion of the man from whom the blow came, but have no manner of proof. It might have been done by any ruffian camp- follower who struck the blow only with the hope of carrying off my chain and purse. The camp swarms with such fellows, and we have no clue which could lead to his detection, unless," he added, stooping and picking a piece of steel which lay at his feet, "this broken dagger may some day furnish us with one. No; we will say nought about it. Sir James Carnegie is not now in camp, having left a week since on business in England. We exchange no words when we meet, but I heard that he had been called away. Fortunately the young prince likes him not, and I therefore have seldom occasion to meet him. I have no doubt that he credits me with the disfavour in which he is held by the prince; but I have never even mentioned his name before him, and the prince's misliking is but the feeling which a noble and generous heart has, as though by instinct, against one who is false and treacherous. At the same time we must grant that this traitor knight is a bold and fearless man-at-arms; he fought well at La Blanche Tache and Cressy, and he is much liked and trusted by my lord of Northampton, in whose following he mostly rides; 'tis a pity that one so brave should have so foul and treacherous a heart. Here we are at my hut, and you can sleep soundly tonight, Ralph, for there is little fear that the fellow, who has failed tonight, will repeat his attempt for some time. He thinks, no doubt, that he has killed me, for with a blow so strongly struck he would scarcely have felt the snapping of the weapon, and is likely enough already on board one of the ships which ply to and fro from England on his way to acquaint his employer that I am removed from his path."

The next morning Walter mentioned to the Black Prince the venture which had befallen him, and the narrow escape he had had of his life. The prince was extremely exasperated, and gave orders that an inquisition should be made through the camp, and that all men found there not being able to give a good account of themselves as having reasonable and lawful calling there should be forthwith put on board ship and sent to England. He questioned Walter closely whether he deemed that the attack was for the purpose of plunder only, or whether he had any reason to believe that he had private enemies.

"There is a knight who is evilly disposed toward me, your highness," Walter said; "but seeing that I have no proof whatever that he had a hand in this affair, however strongly I may suspect it, I would fain, with your leave, avoid mentioning his name."

"But think you that there is any knight in this camp capable of so foul an action?"

"I have had proofs, your highness, that he is capable of such an act; but in this matter my tongue is tied, as the wrong he attempted was not against myself, but against others who have so far forgiven him that they would fain the matter should drop. He owes me ill-will, seeing that I am aware of his conduct, and that it was my intervention which caused his schemes to fail. Should this attempt against me be repeated it can scarce be the effect of chance, but would show premeditated design, and I would then, both in defence of my own life, and because I think that such deeds should not go unpunished, not hesitate to name him to you, and if proof be wanting to defy him to open combat."

"I regret, Sir Walter, that your scruples should hinder you from at once denouncing him; but seeing how grave a matter it is to charge a knight with so foul a crime, I will not lay stress upon you; but be assured that should any repetition of the attempt be made I shall take the matter in hand, and will see that this caitiff knight receives his desserts.

A short time afterwards Walter accompanied the prince in an excursion which he made with a portion of the army, sweeping the French provinces as far as the river Somme. Upon their way back they passed through the village of Pres, hard by which stood a small castle. It was situated some forty miles from Calais, and standing upon rising ground, it commanded a very extensive view over the country.

"What say you, Sir Walter?" the prince said to the young knight who was riding near him. "That castle would make a good advanced post, and a messenger riding in could bring news of any large movements of the enemy." Walter assented. "Then, Sir Walter, I name you chatelain. I shall be sorry to lose your good company; but the post is one of peril, and I know that you are ever longing to distinguish yourself. Take forty men-at-arms and sixty archers. With that force you may make shift to resist any attack until help reaches you from camp. You may be sure that I shall not be slack in spurring to your rescue should you be assailed."

Walter received the proposal with delight. He was weary of the monotony of life in New Town, and this post in which vigilance and activity would be required was just to his taste; so, taking the force named by the prince, with a store of provision, he drew off from the column and entered the castle.


Walter's first step on assuming the command was to examine thoroughly into the capabilities of defence of the place, to see that the well was in good order, and the supply of water ample, and to send out a foraging party, which, driving in a number of beasts and some cart-loads of forage, would supply his garrison for some time. The castle he found was less strong than it looked. The walls were lightly built, and were incapable of withstanding any heavy battering. The moat was dry, and the flanking towers badly placed, and affording little protection to the faces of the walls; however, the extent of the defences was small, and Walter felt confident that with the force at his command he could resist any sudden attack, unless made in overwhelming force, so that all the faces of the wall could be assaulted at the same time. He had a large number of great stones brought in to pile against the gate, while others were brought into the central keep, similarly to defend the door should the outer wall be carried. He appointed Ralph as his lieutenant, and every day, leaving him in charge of the castle, rode through the country for many miles round, with twenty men-at- arms, to convince himself that no considerable force of the enemy were approaching. These reconnaissances were not without some danger and excitement, for several times bodies of the country people, armed with scythes, axes, and staves, tried to intercept them on their return to the castle, and once or twice Walter and his men had to fight their way through their opponents. Contrary to the custom of the times, Walter gave orders to his men not to slay any when resistance had ceased.

"They are but doing what we ourselves should do did French garrisons hold our castles at home, and I deem them in no way to be blamed for the efforts which they make to slay us. In self-defence, of course, we must do our best, and must kill in order that we may not ourselves be slain; but when they are once routed, let them go to their homes. Poor people, the miseries which this war has brought upon them are great, and there is no wonder that they hate us."

This leniency on Walter's part was not without good effect. When the country people found that the garrison of the castle of Pres did not carry fire and sword through the villages around, that they took only sufficient for their needs, and behaved with courtesy to all, their animosity to a

Saint George for England - 30/47

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