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SKETCHES OF CHARACTERS OF THE MIDDLE AGES.
No. V.—THE CHATELAINE.
The knight's new follower failed not to make his promise good, knowing, as it was evident he did, even before the sun set, every foot of the country through which their route lay to the Chateau de Verneuil; but when the daylight had quite faded from the face of the world, and the last faint reflection of the vanished rays had ceased to tinge the fleecy night-clouds, it became more and more apparent how perfectly he was acquainted with every turn and winding of the devious roads, which traversed those wild tracts of moor, morass, and forest ; for he never paused, nor doubted, at the carrefours, or intersections of some six or eight long avenues, cut through the wide expanse of underwood, with here and there a giant tree which for the most part covered that part of the country; but led the way at a sharp steady trot, wheeling his horse to this hand or to that, with the decided confidence of a man acquainted thoroughly with his direction, and with the nature of the ground. More than one large strong brook, and several rivulets, crossed their path ; offering, in one or two cases, considerable obstacles to their proceeding; but Giles Ivernois never hesitated even for a moment, but either leaped them boldly, or plunged into their well-known fords undaunted. At about nine o'clock of the evening they halted at a small wayside tavern embosomed in the deep woodlands, and built, as it would seem, for the convenience of belated hunters, in honor of whom it rejoiced in the name and effigy of" the Bald-faced Stag.” This solitary house, or hovel rather, for although neat and even picturesque in appearance, it was in size but a very cottage, the last on this side the hamlet of Verneuil, as the manat-arms informed his lord, was situated something more than seven leagues from Brussels, and not above eight miles at farthest from the small castle toward which they were speeding.
“The road is good henceforward, Beau Sire," replied the trooper, in answer to a question from the baron “better than any we have seen yet, this side Brussels; the country hereabout lies over limestone ; and for the most part it is under tillage ; our horses fresh and fleet, we may right easily be there within the hour."
"Dismount, then, all,” cried Hugues, “for we shall need each spark of fire that we can keep alight in their keen spirits. Ermold, see that ye get a stoup or two of red wine, and bathe
their pastern joints and fetlocks. Have me some dozen slices of raw beef, or venison better - if there be any in the house — cut thin, and wrap in each slice of meat one of the cordial balls of choice medicaments I bade you bring from Tankerville. Give one to every destrier, see them rubbed clean and warm, then feed them with bread steeped in red wine, and they shall be in spirits for the road, or e'er an hour be flown — and livelier, I warrant them, than when we rode forth from the city gates.”
The young esquire responded by a bow only, but Giles Ivernois, the elder man-at-arms, made answer, relying on his skill in horseflesh. “Under your favor, my good lord, a clove of garlic pounded with a handful of ginger were added well to the red wine. I would, though, we had here some of that English drink they call brown beer, or ale; bread steeped in that is the most hearty food, and sovereign'st thing for jaded steeds I ever saw or heard of ; - they brew it out of barley, Beau Sire !"
“Ha! and what knowest thou, good fellow, of England or of English liquors ?" asked the knight, laughing at the trooper's freedom.
“So please you, I heard tell of it the first, from an old equerry, who rode erewhile with Richard of the Lion Heart. I met with him in Guienne, many a winter since. He called himself a Yorkshireman, though ; - where Yorkshire lies I know not, were I to hang for it; but I do know, he was the cunningest and skilfullest with horses of any man I ever did consort with. He had store of wise saws, and wondrous remedies, and some of them I have remembered ever since ; this being one of them, I proved it once in the black forest, when I was chased three days, with thirty lances, by the bad lord of Hohen-Zollern. They brew beer there, right potent, Beau Sire- and Heaven be blessed for it, and the three holy kings of Cologne! I laid it to the ale, and the old Yorkshire equerry, that I eseaped them ; for I fed my good beast at every halting-place with rye bread soaked in that black beer; and, may I never drain a flagon any more, if he became not so fond of it, that he would drink a stoup oopseyes, like a stanch toper!"
“I doubt it not, I doubt it not at all,” replied de Coucy; " but as we shall find neither English ale, nor yet black German beer, here in the forest, we must make red wine do for it; and hark
ye, Giles and Francon, though the beer suit the horses better, I doubt not but the men will find the grape-juice full as pleasant."
“Never fear, good my lord," returned the soldier;"never fear; we will do all your biddings to the utmost; and be in time to garrison the chateau, and save the bright young ladye, and beat
Vol. X., No. XLV.-32
the villain routiers !” and with the words, he followed his companions to the stable, whither they had already led the horses; while Hugues, who for the last three days had tasted little rest, entered the inn to seek such brief refreshment as mine host of the Bald-faced Stag might offer. Short, however, was the period which he devoted to repose ; for ere an hour had passed, he and his men were in their saddles and in rapid motion, with their good horses not recruited only, but fuller, as the knight had augured, of spirit and high fire, than when they had started on their journey some six hours before ; during which time they had carried each a tall and powerful cavalier sheathed in so ponderous armor, that he weighed thirty stone at the least reckoning,
The moon had risen, too, during their halt; and the roads proving, as Giles had predicted, firm and in good condition, they rattled on at a brisk pace, keeping their steeds, however, hard in hand, with all their harness jingling merrily, and their bright weapons flashing like diamonds in the misty moonlight: A quarter of an hour brought them into the open country, widely extended in rich plains, dotted with clusters of lofty forest-trees, and bordered by soft sloping hills feathered with hanging woods and many a waving coppice. No villages were visible, however, in the glimmering light, nor did the summit of a single steeple glitter out from the tufted tree-tops ; a few poor huts, dwellings of the degraded, wretched serfs, who tilled, hereditary bondsmen, the vast demesnes of their proud feudal lords, tending rich herds the flesh of which was never to be tasted by their famished children, and pressing the rich grapes never to glad their hearts with their joy-giving vintage; a few poor huts they passed, surrounded with styes in long ranges, or, in some instances, with large folds, for the swine or sheep, which their inhabitants were forced to guard at peril of their lives; but not another sign of human life did they encounter. Suddenly, after they had ridden between six and seven miles, and were just entering again a tract of forest land, the deep loud clang of a heavy bell came booming on the night wind, pealing from some unseen clocktower the last hour before midnight.
“There! there! Beau Sire, we are in time; that is the bancloche of the chateau ; when we shall pass the second turn, we shall be in the hamlet!”
"Ha !" cried the baron ; "on! then, on! we have no time to lose, for all it is not midnight.”
The road swept down a little sandy pitch, at the foot of which ran a clear brawling trout-stream, wheeled short to the left hand, and having crossed the stream by a steep one-arched bridge of
brick, scaled the ascent on the opposite side, and winding abruptly to the right—the dark evergreen pine-trees, which clothed the banks of the gulley, scattering off diverse-burst out into the little plain, whereon were clustered, round a small rustic chapel, some twenty tidy-looking cottages with cultivated stripes of garden ground before the doors, and several orchards interspersed with apple-trees, and a few vines trained upon latticed screens; the whole presenting a calm and gentle picture of peaceful and domestic comfort. Scarcely a bowshot beyond these, its base and outer wall concealed from the road by the close foliage of the still verdant orchards, rose the gray weather-beaten tower of the keep, a tall square building, with a steep flagged roof, and projecting battlement, having a circular bartizan at every angle, with a high flag-staff rising from the ridge of the main dongeon. A loud vociferous barking was set up by a dozen deep-mouthed mastiffs as the little band of de Coucy rode clanging and clattering round the hamlet, and many a male and female head were thrust out of the latticed casements to note the character of the intruders, and were as speedily withdrawn, reassured by the appearance of the baron, clad in his splendid surcoat. Within five minutes they had cleared the village and its scattered shrubbery, and stood before the barbican of the chateau, in full view of its slight defences. It was indeed a place of but little strength, as Giles Ivernois had stated; yet the knight readily perceived that his new man-at-arms had somewhat underrated its capabilities of defence; for the moat was not only broad, but very deep, hewn out of the solid limestone rock, which lay beneath the soil at a few inches' depth, and the external wall, though not high, was very strong, and built so close upon the verge of the fosse, that it was quite impossible to effect a lodgment at its base. The corps de logis was, moreover, evidently framed with a view to stout defence, being built in a hollow square, with all the windows looking inward, crenelled and looped on the exterior for shot of arbalast and long-bow, with the tall dongeon-keep in the centre of the square, a citadel and last strong-hold, commanding all the outworks. So absolute, it would seem, was the security of the inmates, that no sentinel kept watch upon the barbican, no warder on the massy-more; nor that alone! for all the clanging sounds of the plate armor, and the thick trampling of the destriers, and all the baying of the watchdogs had failed to rouse one sleeper of the castle's guard.
After he had sat something longer than a minute, silently overlooking the defences of the place, the knight of Tankerville lifted his bugle to his lips, and wound a long keen challenge, which, to
ears practised in the science of mots and enséanzies of ancient houses, would have conveyed the information that the head of the bold de Coucies demanded entrance at the gates. Once, twice, however, nay, three times was that keen call repeated, ere it found any ears to mark it; and when, at length, the tardy warder did deign arouse him from his slumbers, he also blew a challenge, so heedless was he, or so ignorant of his accustomed duties. Before, however, the shrill flourish of his trumpets had ceased to wake the slumbering echoes, de Coucy shouted loudly, "Ho! warder, up portcullis! unbar your gates, and down with your pont levis ! Open to a good friend and loyal,-'tis I—I, Hugues de Coucy!"
“I dare not for my life, Beau Sire; nor could I if I dared—The keys are with the Chatelaine !"
“Then wake her, sirrah, and that speedily. Tell her the knight of Tankerville beseeches, of her courtesy, that she will presently admit him, with but three comrades, for reasons he will show hereafter !"
“'Twere of no use, Beau Sire,” returned the warder ;“ the Sieur de Floris is abroad, and our fair ladye bideth since in strict seclusion."
“Dally not, slave, with me," shouted de Coucy, shaking his fist angrily at the man, who now showed himself half armed upon the esplanade above the barbican-“Dally not, slave, with me; but do
my bidding! else, by the Lord that liveth, I will break in perforce, and hang thee from the pinnacle to feed the ravens of Verneuil.”
What reply would have come from the warder cannot be known; for ere he could reply, the blaze of several torches was visible upon the ramparts, and in a few moments Hugues might clearly see upon the gate-house, over against the barbican, a female figure, wrapped in a hooded mantle, furred deeply with rich ermine, with several armed attendants, and an old gray-haired seneschal beside her.
Low bowed Hugies de Coucy, till the plumes of his waving crest were mingled in strange contrast with the long thin mane of his coal-black charger; and when he raised himself from that deep obeisance, he spoke with a voice rich, and clear, and manly, yet soft the while, and soothing as the tones of the southern lute.
I pray you,” he said, “ beautiful and gentle ladye, I pray you, of your courtesy and charity, open your gates to me; who, for so gentle deed, will ever rest your debtor, Hugues de Coucy, baron and count of Tankerville."
"Sorry am I, Sir Knight," replied the ladye, "sorry am I, and very loath to answer, but my good lord of Floris hath ridden these