The repulse was but momentary

A DESOLATED homestead in a valley among the northern hills gave Croquart
and his prisoners shelter the same night. The house, built of unfaced
stone and thatched with straw and heather, had been plundered by some of
Bamborough’s English, whose passion for thoroughness in their thieving
moved them to burn what they could not carry.

Croquart rode into the grass-grown yard, where all the byres and
out-houses had been destroyed by fire, nothing but a few charred posts
rising above the weeds and nettles. The Fleming dismounted, after
sounding his horn to see whether any of the farm folk still loitered
about the place. They found the house itself to be full of filth, for
the birds had roosted on the rafters, and the English used it as a
stable, the droppings from their horses rotting upon the floor. It held
nothing but the hall, a cellar, and the goodman’s parlor under the
western gable—the last room being a little more cleanly than the hall,
its single window, with the shutter broken, looking down upon the
orchard. Pears and apples piled up their bloom above the rank splendor
of the grass—a sea of snow flecked and shaded with rose and green. To
the east of the orchard a great pool shimmered in the sunlight, its
waters dusted with blown petals from the trees.

Tinteniac was so stiff and sore with his wounds after the day’s ride
that Croquart had to help him from his horse. The Fleming, who had
examined the house, took Tinteniac in his arms, and carried him to the
upper room, where there was some mouldy straw piled in a corner. He laid
Tinteniac on the straw, having made a show of his great strength by
carrying a man taller than himself with the ease that he would have
carried a child of five. Croquart had recovered his self-complacency
since his skirmish with Tiphaïne in the morning, and she had had nothing
to charge him with save with his insufferable boasting.

Tinteniac was so utterly weary that he had not sufficient mind-force
left in him to resent his being treated as a dead weight for the
exhibition of the Fleming’s strength. He drew a deep breath of relief
when he felt his body sink into the straw—too faint to care whether the
bed was one of swan’s-down or of dung. In five minutes he was fast
asleep.

Harduin had watered the horses and stabled them in the hall, lit a fire,
and slung the cooking-pot over a couple of forked sticks. In a little
hovel at the end of the orchard Croquart had found some clean straw, and
carried a truss into the goodman’s parlor to make Tiphaïne a bed. She
met him with a finger on her lip, and pointed to Tinteniac, whose tired
body drank in sleep as a dry soil drinks in rain. How much alone she
was, how wholly at the Fleming’s mercy, she only realized as she watched
him spread the straw in a far corner of the room.

“You will sleep softly enough,” he said, turning on his knees, and
looking at her with an expression of the eyes she did not trust.

“It is not likely that I shall sleep,” and she moved aside towards the
window.

“No bedfellow, eh?” And he got up with a chuckle, leaving her alone with
the wounded man upon the straw.

Presently he returned with a pitcher full of water, some brown bread,
and a few olives. He set them down on a rough bench by the window, and
loitered foolishly at the door.

“I trust madame has forgotten the quarrel we had this morning?”

“I am ready to forget it, Messire Croquart.”

“Thanks,” and he gave her an impudent bow, “we shall be better friends
before we reach Morlaix.”

When he had gone she closed the door on him, and found to her delight
the wooden bar that was used in lieu of a latch. The staples were firm
in the oak posts, yet not so firm that she could abandon her distrust.
The rough bench at the window, a cup of water, olives, and bread; with
such comforts she was content, so long as the door parted Croquart and
herself. While Tinteniac slept she watched the sun sink low behind the
woods that broke like green waves upon the bosoms of the hills. Below
her lay the orchard trees, smothering the old house with beauty under
the benisons of eve. Swallows were skimming over the still waters of the
pond, and the mist in the meadows covered the sheeted gold of May.

In the dirty cobwebbed hall Croquart was making his plans for the coming
night. The house door, studded with iron nails, lay wrenched from its
hinges in the yard, and through the open windows the birds and bats
could come and go. Croquart, sitting on a saddle by the fire, his sword
across his thighs, called Harduin to him, and offered him the same bribe
as he had given Tête Bois the night before.

“Well, my friend, are you in a hurry to desert?”

The fellow fidgeted under the Fleming’s eyes.

“Come, let us understand each other; I have a mind to be generous. Will
you stand by Croquart the Fleming or follow Tête Bois, who preferred a
ring to a thousand crowns?”

Harduin, who had already stolen the rings from Tinteniac’s dead
esquires, appeared even more greedy than the Gascon.

“When shall I finger the money, captain?”

“At Morlaix.”

“Call it a bargain.”

“And easily earned, eh? Keep guard in the orchard near the Sieur de
Tinteniac’s window.”

Harduin nodded.

“The house shall be my affair. Whistle if you see anything strange.”

“Right, captain.”

And taking his spear and shield with him, he went out into the orchard
to keep watch.

About midnight Tinteniac awoke, and turned on his straw with the
confused thoughts of a man whose surroundings are strange to him.
Tiphaïne, seated by the window, where the moonlight streamed in upon the
floor, went to him quietly, and knelt down by the bed.

“You have slept well,” and she felt his forehead; “there is food here if
you are hungry.”

“Asleep! Selfish devil that I am! You must be tired to death.”

“No, I am not tired.”

He looked at her steadily, propping himself upon one arm. Sleep had
cooled the fever in him, freshened his brain, and strengthened the
beating of his heart. The room lit by the moonlight, the perfumed
coolness of the night, the white face of the woman by the bed, filled
him with a sense of strangeness and of mystery.

“It is my turn to watch.” And he touched her arm, thrilling, man of
forty that he was, at Tiphaïne’s nearness to him in the moonlight.

“There is no need for it; I have barred the door.”

“And Croquart?”

She did not tell him of her great distrust.

“Croquart has left us as man and wife. I have too much to think about to
wish to sleep.”

Tinteniac sank back on his straw, watching her as she brought him the
water-pot, bread, and olives.

“I am afraid I am a broken reed,” he said, with the smile of a man
contented to be ministered to by a woman’s hands.

“You must gain strength, sire, for both our sakes.”

“Yes, true.”

“Therefore, you must sleep again.”

“I would rather talk.”

“We can talk to-morrow.”

“Have we not changed our parts? Well, I will obey your orders.”

And in half an hour his breathing showed that he had forgotten the world
and such subtleties as the glimmer of moonlight on a woman’s hair.

Tiphaïne had returned to her seat by the window, her sense of loneliness
increased now that Tinteniac was asleep. The night, with all its
infinite uncertainty, its vague sounds and distorted shadows, filled her
with restlessness and with those imaginings that people the world with
half-seen shapes. The bravest of us are but great children when a wind
blows the boughs against the window at midnight, and the moon, that
magician of the skies, brings back the childhood of the race, when man
trembled before Nature, filling the forest, the desert, and the marsh
with goblin creatures born out of his own vivid brain.

Before Tiphaïne at her window stood the orchard trees, pillars of ebony
spreading into carved canopies of whitest marble, each chisel-mark
perfect as from the touch of a god. The deep grass looked black as water
in a well, the wooded slopes of the silent valley steepled with a
thousand shimmering spires. Under an apple-tree stood Croquart’s
sentinel, leaning lazily against the trunk, the moonlight sifting
through the apple bloom and dappling his harness with silver burrs.
Tiphaïne had discovered Harduin there, and knew that he had been set
there to watch the window. Twice she saw Croquart enter the orchard to
assure himself that Harduin was awake at his post.

An hour later she heard the Fleming mount the stairs, stealthily and
with the deliberation of a man fearing to wake a household as he creeps
to an intrigue. She could hear his breathing as he stood and listened,
while the rats scuffled and squeaked under the wood-work of the floor.
His hand tried the door, shaking it cautiously with tentative clickings
of the wooden latch. Tiphaïne thanked God for the good oak-bar that gave
Messire Croquart the lie for once. He turned at last and went back to
the hall, where she could hear him swearing and throwing wood upon the
fire. There would be no thought of sleep for the mock wife that night.

Now whether Tiphaïne was very quick of hearing, or whether the tension
of her distrust had turned up the sensitiveness of her ears, she heard
some sound in the moonlit orchard that seemed lost upon Harduin as he
leaned against his tree. The noise resembled the faint “tuff—tuff” of a
sheep cropping at short grass. Sometimes it ceased, only to commence
again, nearer and more distinct to her than before. Tiphaïne strained
her ears and her conjectures to set a cause to the approaching sound.
She wondered that Harduin had not heard it, and judged that his bassinet
might make him harder of hearing than herself.

A suggestion of movement, a vague sheen in the grass showed in the
moonlight under the apple-trees, as of something crawling towards the
house. Slowly, noiselessly, a figure rose from the grass behind the
trunk of the tree against which Croquart’s sentinel was leaning. There
was a sudden darting forward of the stooping figure, a flinging out of a
pair of arms, a curious choking cry, a short struggle. Tiphaïne saw
Harduin drop his spear, writhe and twist like a man with a rope knotted
about his neck. In the moonlight she could see the violent contortions
of his body, his hands tearing at something that seemed to grip his
throat, his feet scraping and kicking at the soft turf. The man’s
struggle reminded her of a toy she had had as a child, a little wooden
manikin, whose legs and arms flew into grotesque attitudes on the
pulling of a string. Before she realized what had happened, Harduin’s
muscles relaxed, his hands dropped, and he hung against the trunk of the
tree like a man nailed there through the throat. The body slid slowly to
earth, doubled upon itself, was seized and heaved up over the shoulders
of the other, and carried away into the deeps of the orchard.

A shudder of superstitious terror passed through Tiphaïne. It had been
done so swiftly, with such unhuman silence, that Harduin might have been
pounced upon by some ogre out of the woods. The patch of grass under the
apple-tree fascinated her; her eyes remained fixed on it, her heart
going at a gallop, the blood drumming in her ears. With a sudden flash
of intuition she remembered Tête Bois’s disappearance the preceding
night, and the way the man Guymon had been stricken down over the bodies
of the dead esquires. Some grim and inexorable spirit seemed tracking
Croquart through the woods, a fierce shadow that seized its prey under
cover of the night.

She lifted her head suddenly with a quick-drawn breath of eagerness and
fear. Something was moving in the orchard, for she heard the same
peculiar sound that had heralded its first coming. A faint glimmer of
harness under the white boughs, and a figure drew out of the mists of
the night and halted under the tree where Harduin had stood a few
minutes ago. A half-luminous band ran from the man’s breast to the rank
grass, the long blade of a sword like a beam of moonlight slanting
through a chink in a shuttered window at night. The figure remained
motionless, leaning upon the sword, as though it stood on guard in the
orchard and waited for the dawn.

BERTRAND kept watch in his black harness under the apple-tree, knowing
that his time would come when Croquart should find him there, an enemy
in Harduin’s place. Whether it was the last night-watch he would ever
keep, Bertrand du Guesclin could not tell. He knew Croquart’s great
strength and the little mercy he might expect from him; he knew that he
was to match himself against a man who had never taken a beating in
single combat. Bertrand put the chances of victory and defeat beyond the
pale of thought. He was to fight Croquart for his head and for the two
prisoners pent up in the ruined house. For his own life Bertrand had no
particular greed. He would kill Croquart or be killed himself.

Cool, calm-eyed, firm at the mouth, he watched the night pass and the
dawn come up out of the broadening east. He saw the color kindle on the
apple-trees, the wet grass flash and glitter at his feet, the dim woods
smoking with their silvery mists. He heard the birds begin in the great
orchard, thrush and robin, blackbird and starling, piping and chattering
as the sky grew bright.

“Bide by it! bide by it!” sang a thrush in the tree above his head.

“Thanks, my brown fellow,” he said, with a grim smile; “wait and see
whether Bertrand du Guesclin runs away.”

He stretched his arms and the muscles of his chest and shoulders,
tossing his sword from hand to hand. The flash of the steel seemed
reflected to him for the moment from the narrow window of the solar in
the western gable. Bertrand stood still. He had seen the white oval of a
face framed by the inward darkness of the room, as though some one
watched him without wishing to be seen. He knew that it was Tiphaïne by
the faint gleam of her coiled hair. How coldly she would be looking at
him with those eyes of hers, taking him for Croquart’s man, a shabby
fellow who fought for hire. His carcass and his destiny could concern
her little.

“Hallo, a whistle! Now, Brother Croquart, let us get to work.”

He whipped round, closed his visor, and looked quickly to the buckles of
his harness, and to see that his dagger was loose in its sheath. His
shield, that he had hung on a bough of the apple-tree, dipped down and
changed the fruit bough for his arm. The taut grip of the strap gave
Bertrand a kind of comfort. He had two friends left him, his battered
shield and his old sword.

Round the corner of the house came Croquart, his bassinet half laced,
his scabbard bumping against his legs, the creases in his red surcoat
showing that he had been asleep. He saw the man leaning lazily against
the tree, and promptly cursed him for not answering his whistle.

“Harduin, blockhead, water the horses!”

The sentinel moved never an inch.

“Hallo, there, hallo, have you got maggots in your brain?”

Croquart’s hail might have cheered on a troop of horse in the thick of a
charge home. He came striding through the grass, with his fingers
twitching, a buffet tingling in the muscles of his arm.

“Hallo, you deaf fool—”

His mouth was open, the lips a red oval, empty for the instant of more
words. It was not Harduin under the tree, but the man in the black
harness who had stricken down Guymon in the woods. Croquart looked
staggered, like some fat grandee charged in the pit of the stomach by a
small boy’s head.

The repulse was but momentary. He leaped full six feet from where he
stood, sweeping his gadded fist forward with good intent for the
stranger’s head. Bertrand, every muscle on the alert, was quicker far
than Croquart. The Fleming’s fist smashed the bark from the tree,
leaving him bloody knuckles despite his glove.

“Good-day, Brother Croquart”—and a sword came to the salute—“they have
offered five thousand crowns for your head at Josselin.”

The Fleming began tying the laces of his bassinet.

“And who are you, sir, that you are such a fool to think of earning the
Sieur de Beaumanoir’s money?”

“I am a Breton, Brother Croquart, and that is the reason why I am going
to have your head.”

TINTENIAC was still asleep upon his straw, nor did Tiphaïne wake him,
but stood at the window and watched the drama that was taking shape
under the apple boughs. The man in the black harness was leaning on his
sword, waiting for Croquart, whose fingers fumbled at the laces of his
bassinet. There was something familiar to Tiphaïne in this attitude of
his, the attitude of a man whose heart beat steadily and whose eyes were
quick and on the alert.

Croquart’s sword was out. He looked at the window where Tiphaïne stood,
and guessed by her face that she did not wish him great success.

“Guard, Breton.”

They sprang to it with great good-will, Bertrand keeping careful guard,
and never shifting his eyes from the Fleming’s face. He had learned his
lesson off by heart, to let Croquart think that he had an easy bargain
and that a few heavy blows would end the tussle. The butcher-boy of
Flanders fell to the trick; he had met so few men who could match him in
arms that he had grown rash in his methods, forgetting that guile is
often more deadly than muscle and address. He had seen that Bertrand was
a head shorter than himself; he soon suspected that he was clumsy, and
not the master of his sword.

Bertrand gave ground, puffing and laboring like a man hard pressed. He
let the Fleming’s blows rattle about his body harness, half parrying
them with a concealed adroitness, continually retreating, or dodging to
right and left. He was playing for an opening in Croquart’s attack,
luring him into rashness, tempting him to hammer at him without thought
of a dangerous counter in return. Croquart would soon stretch himself
for the _coup de grâce_, thinking his man tired, and that he had trifled
with him over-long.

Still Bertrand bided his time. He faltered suddenly, made a pretended
stumble, tempted Croquart with an unguarded flank. Down came the
Fleming’s open blow, given with the rash vigor of a man imagining the
victim at his mercy. Bertrand bent from it like a supple osier, rallied,
and struck out with a swiftness that caught Messire Croquart off his
balance and off his guard. Steel met steel on the vambrace of the
Fleming’s sword-arm. Tiphaïne had a vision of a lopped limb swinging by
its tendons, of a falling sword, of a second blow heaved home on the
Fleming’s thigh.

The loss of his right hand sent Croquart mad. He picked up the fallen
sword, and flew at Bertrand like any Baersark, the one lust left in him
to wound, to mutilate, and to kill.

The din of their fighting had wakened Tinteniac, and he had dragged
himself from the straw to join Tiphaïne at the window. They stood
shoulder to shoulder, silent, and half awed by the fury of these two
men, who neither desired nor craved for mercy. Tinteniac had seen such
battles before, but to the woman there was something horrible and
repulsive in its animal frenzy, a reversion to the brutal past, when the
lusts of man made him an ape or a bull. She shuddered at Croquart’s
dangling hand, and at the mad biting of his breath as he lashed at
Bertrand with his sword. Shocked by the brute violence, the physical
distortions of the scene, she turned back into the room, unwilling to
watch the ordeal to the end.

Soon she heard a hoarse cry from Tinteniac. The men had closed and gone
to earth, and were struggling together in the long grass. Croquart was
losing blood and strength, and in such a death-grapple under the trees
the cunning of the wrestler gave Bertrand the advantage. Though the
lighter man, he was tougher and more sinewy than the Fleming, and fit in
the matter of condition as a lean hound who has worked for his food.

“By God, he has the fellow down!”

Tinteniac was biting his lips in his excitement, and shivering like a
dog on leash waiting to be let loose upon the quarry. Bertrand, with a
twist of the leg and a hug of the Fleming’s body, had turned Croquart
under him and won the upper hand. The Breton’s fist flew to his poniard.
Croquart, who knew the meaning of the act, kicked like a mad horse,
twisting and turning under Bertrand’s body. With a heave of the arm he
rolled half over, and, lifting Bertrand, struggled to his knees. Before
he could shake the Breton off the misericord was splitting the plates of
his gorget. Croquart, with a great cry, fell forward upon his face,
dragging Bertrand with him into the grass, as a sinking ship drags down
the enemy it has grappled hulk to hulk. Slowly the black figure
disentangled itself from the red, rose up, and leaned for a moment
against the trunk of a tree.

“An end to Croquart!”

The words came from Tinteniac in a half whisper, but Tiphaïne heard them
where she stood in the deep shadow against the wall.

Croquart dead! And she seemed to feel the great breath of gratitude the
Breton folk would draw for such a death. Guymon, Tête Bois, Harduin, and
the Fleming, all had fallen to the sword of this one man who had dogged
them through the woods past Loudeac. Tinteniac had taken his shield, and
was holding it from the window so that the hero of the orchard should
see the blazonings. Tiphaïne still leaned against the wall, watching
Tinteniac and the blur of green woodland and blue sky above his head.

Bertrand was bending over Croquart and unlacing the bassinet that still
bore the fox’s brush. He saw Tiphaïne’s face beside Tinteniac at the
window. Her presence did not hinder him, but rather urged him to
despatch the work in hand.

“Sieur de Tinteniac,” he shouted, “make me one promise and I give you
back your liberty.”

The aristocrat made the man in the black harness a very flattering bow.

“The conqueror of Croquart can ask what he pleases.”

Bertrand, with Tiphaïne’s face looking down on him like lost love’s face
out of heaven, broke the laces of Croquart’s bassinet.

“Sire”—and his voice needed no disguising—“I ask you and madame, your
wife, not to leave that room till I have made an end.”

Tinteniac gave the promise, turning with a smile to Tiphaïne, who
promised nothing.

“Granted, sir. And in return, will you trust us with your name?”

Bertrand had turned his back on them and was bending over the body.

“Sire, you ask me what I cannot answer.”

“We will hold it sacred.”

Bertrand shook his head.

Tinteniac pressed him no further, and Bertrand, forcing off Croquart’s
bassinet, broke away the plates of the gorget from the bleeding throat.
Picking up his poniard he slit the Fleming’s surcoat from breast to
knee, dragged it from the body, and spread the stuff upon the grass. Two
sharp sweeps of the sword served to sever the neck. The dead thing was
wrapped up in the red surcoat, and the ends of the cloth knotted
together.

Tinteniac watched all this from the window, mystified in measure as to
what the man in the black harness purposed next. He had not noticed that
Tiphaïne had left him, had lifted the bar from the staples, and was
hurrying down the stone stairway into the hall.

Bertrand ran the blade of his sword under the knotted ends of the
surcoat, slung it over his shoulder like a bundle, and picked up his
shield. He gave a last look at the window, saluted Tinteniac, and
marched off briskly into the orchard. His black harness had already
disappeared beyond the apple-trees before Tiphaïne’s gray gown swept the
grass.

She looked round her with a slight knitting of the brows, seeing only
Tinteniac at the window, the white domes of the trees, and the headless
body in its gaudy harness lying prone in the long grass.

“Where?” and her eyes questioned Tinteniac, who stroked his chin and
appeared puzzled.

“Our Breton champion has left us with our liberty.”

“Gone?”

“Like a beggar with a bundle. Let the man alone. He has his reasons and
the advantage of us.”

“And yet—”

Tinteniac laughed.

“The woman in you is inquisitive,” he said.

Tiphaïne went a few steps nearer to Croquart’s body. It seemed difficult
to believe that this lifeless, weltering thing had raised in her but an
hour ago all the passionate hatred that great love of her home land
could inspire. Now that it was mere carrion she conceived a scornful
pity for the thing as she recalled the man’s arrogance, his bombast, his
supreme and coarse self-adoration. Truly this was the proper rounding of
such a life, to be bred a butcher, fattened with the blood of a noble
province, and left a mere carcass for the crows and wolves. She turned
from Croquart’s body with a sigh half of pity, half of disgust.

Tinteniac watched her from the window, his mind moved by the same
reflections, the religious instinct in him pointing a moral. In the
distance he had seen a figure on a horse pass through the morning mists
in the meadows and vanish into the sun-touched woods.

“Our Breton has gone,” and he lifted up his shield, “I would have given
half that ransom to have had a glimpse of his face.”

Tiphaïne looked at him with eyes that mused.

“Why should he have deserted us?”

“I am no reader of riddles. And our plans? What are they to be?”

“I am thinking of your wounds,” she answered.

“They are nothing. This fellow has given me new strength. Shall we still
say, ‘to Josselin’?”

“Thanks, sire. I remember that I have the truth to tell.”

NOT a league from the Breton homestead, where Croquart the Fleming had
made his end, the gyron of Geoffroi Dubois, vert, a bend between two
buckles argent, came dancing along the road from Loudeac. With Dubois
were Carro de Bodegat and some score more who had sworn on the crosses
of their swords to overtake Croquart before he could find sanctuary with
an English garrison in the west. By luck they had struck upon his trail
near Loudeac where the fox’s brush and the red surcoat had been seen,
and recognized; and at Loudeac, also, Dubois had found Tinteniac’s
men-at-arms and the La Bellière servants, ready to affirm on oath that
the Fleming could muster at least a hundred men. Dubois and his
gentlemen had wasted no time scouring the country towards Morlaix, and
doubtless they would have won the credit of taking the Fleming’s head
had not the man in the black harness been more forward in the adventure.

Geoffroi Dubois and Carro de Bodegat were pushing on with their troop at
a brisk trot that morning, when the very fellow who had cheated them of
the prize loomed up against the sky-line, on the crest of a moor. The
morning sun shone in Bertrand’s eyes, and he was seen by Dubois’s men
before he caught the flutter of their pennons down in the hollow where
the moorland touched the woods. Half a dozen riders had broken away to
right and left, and were cantering over the heather to make a capture
certain.

Bertrand showed no concern at the measures taken to secure the pleasure
of a parley with him. He reined in his horse to a walk, and approached
Dubois’s troop, reading their pennons and the devices upon their
shields. If the green gyron of Dubois did not please him hugely, the
tawny and blue of De Bodegat’s pennon was even less welcome to
Bertrand’s eyes. These two Breton knights had been no friends to him in
the Montfort wars. Dubois was a man jealous for his dignity, a good
hater, and not over magnanimous or honest where his own interests were
concerned. Carro de Bodegat had a grudge against Du Guesclin, an old
wound, and an unpaid score. They would be ready to throw the
troth-breaking at Mivoie in his face, the more so he thought now that he
had forestalled them in the taking of Croquart’s head.

Bertrand, on his raw-boned horse, looked for all the world like a needy
free lance riding from town to town in search of hire. The green gyron
came to a halt on a hillock, Dubois, gentleman of distinction that he
was, refusing to drag his dignity aside to catechise a fellow who made
so indifferent a show. The humble rush-light should approach the
baronial torch, and Bertrand, knowing Dubois’s nature, kept his visor
down, and prepared to be hectored by the noble.

“Hallo, my man, you are on the road early.”

Bertrand saluted the Breton gentlemen as their tall spears gathered
about him like the striding masts of as many ships. He had the red
bundle before him on the saddle, and answered Dubois in broad Breton
patois, posing as the common soldier in search of pay.

“God’s grace to you, sire, I ride towards Josselin; they tell me men are
needed under the Marshal’s banner.”

Dubois studied him with the leisurely impertinence of a great lord
criticising the patched clothes of a servant.

“So you go to Josselin, my little fellow, eh? Have you had news
hereabouts of Croquart the Fleming?”

Bertrand looked stupidly at Dubois’s green plume.

“Croquart! To be sure, sire, Croquart is dead.”

“How! Croquart dead!”

There was a slight swaying of the spears like the swaying of tall
ash-trees in a wind.

“Sire, if it please you I saw Croquart’s body lying unburied in the
orchard of a farm-house not three miles farther west.”

Dubois was not pleased; nor were De Bodegat and the rest.

“Be careful, my friend, how you tamper with the truth. How did you know
that it was Croquart you saw dead?”

Bertrand did not hesitate.

“Sire, by the fox’s brush.”

“Yes.”

“And the ugliness of the Fleming’s face.”

Carro de Bodegat, tempted to quarrel with the nature of the news, leaned
towards Dubois, and pointed out the red bundle Bertrand carried on his
saddle.

“I’ll swear the fellow is playing tricks with us.”

“Well, try him.”

“Let him open that bundle.”

Carro de Bodegat’s sharp eyes had picked out the gold thread-work on the
scarlet cloth, and a patch of purplish ooze on the under side thereof.

“Friend, do you carry your food there?”

“Where, sir?”

“There, in that bundle.”

Bertrand held the thing up by its knotted ends.

“Devil take it, the cider bottle has had a knock!”

Bodegat pouted his lips, and sniffed.

“Do you carry your brown bread in ciclaton and your cider bottles in
silk?” he asked.

“God’s mercy, sirs, what’s there to quarrel with in the stuff?”

Dubois exchanged a glance with Bodegat.

“Let us see what you have in that cloth.”

Bertrand made a show of hesitation.

“Open it, I say.”

“But, sirs—”

“Open it, or—” and at a sign from Dubois half a dozen spears were
slanted at Bertrand’s body.

Persuaded, he fumbled at the knots, flung out his arm suddenly, holding
the surcoat by a corner.

“Have your way, Messire Geoffroi Dubois. Look and see whether this is
Croquart’s head.”

That which but an hour ago had held the conscious soul of a man was
tossed from the red surcoat at the feet of Dubois’s horse. The beast
reared and backed some paces. Twenty figures were craning forward in
their saddles to get a glimpse of the thing that had half hidden itself
in a clump of heather.

Carro de Bodegat was the first to earth. He threw his bridle to a
trooper, and, picking up the Fleming’s head by the hair, looked at the
face, with its closed lids and gaping mouth, and, turning with a sharp,
inarticulate cry, held up the head before Dubois.

“It is Croquart’s.”

“Should I not know it?”

“Who killed him?”

“Bertrand du Guesclin.”

Bodegat turned sharply on the man in the black harness.

“And you?”

“I am Bertrand du Guesclin, Messire Carro de Bodegat. Has my face
changed since I fought with you at Quimperlé?”

He put up his visor and let Dubois and the Bretons see his face. Many of
them knew him; but there was no comradely cheering, no out-stretching of
the hand.

Dubois had touched Bodegat on the shoulder with his spear, and they were
speaking together in low tones, glancing from time to time at the man
who had robbed them of Croquart’s head. Bertrand liked neither their
looks nor their whisperings; the hedge of spears about his horse raised
his impatience and filled him with distrust.

“Messire Dubois, I am waiting for that head.”

The pair ignored him, and still chattered together, their faces nearly
touching, like a pair of lovers poking confidences into each other’s
ears. Bertrand was spreading the red surcoat for the return of Croquart
the Fleming’s head, watching the two whisperers with gathering
impatience.

“We make a virtue of waiting,” he said to the three Bretons nearest to
him; “these two gentlemen seem very enamoured of each other’s tongues.”

Dubois’s figure straightened suddenly in the saddle. Carro de Bodegat
turned, with an unpleasant smirk hovering about his mouth.

“Messire Bertrand du Guesclin, we have not finished with you yet.”

“So!”

“There is a matter which concerns us all.”

“Messire, I ask you to give me back that head.”

“Gentlemen, close round; I order you to arrest a traitor.”

Bertrand’s hand went to his sword. Carro de Bodegat had already seized
his bridle.

“Bertrand du Guesclin, surrender.”

“Surrender! In God’s name, no!” and he struck at Bodegat with his fist,
broke loose, and made a plunge forward to be free. Half a dozen men
closed round him like Saracen galleys about a sturdy ship. His sword was
struck down, the shaft of a spear thrust between the hind legs of his
horse, bringing the beast to earth, with Bertrand pinned by the right
knee. Before he could break loose De Bodegat and four others heaped
themselves on him and soon had him helpless and flat upon his back.

“Off, fools!—I surrender.”

“Let him up, sirs!” and Dubois bent forward in the saddle, still holding
Croquart’s head by the hair.

The men rose from him, and Bertrand, sullen and angry, scrambled slowly
to his feet.

“Which of you calls me a traitor?” and he swung round and looked from
man to man. “Answer me; I am to be heard. You, De Bodegat? By Heaven,
you have not the courage!”

Dubois’s mounted figure, haughty and splendid with its opulence of armor
and sweeping plume, moved forward and overtopped Bertrand with an air of
towering and seigniorial strength.

“Messire du Guesclin, what of the Oak of Mivoie?”

Dubois’s horse overshadowed him, but Bertrand held his ground.

“Well, what of Mivoie?”

“You broke troth, sir.”

“And if I did?”

“You stand to be judged by any two of those whom you deserted; so run
the Marshal’s orders. As for this head—well, it is Croquart’s, and it
has been noised abroad that you were Croquart’s man.”

“I Croquart’s man! By Heaven, a lie!”

His sturdy scorn flew full in the face of Geoffroi Dubois. It was then
that Carro de Bodegat stood forward, precise, courteous, and insolently
suave.

“By your leave, gentlemen, I will ask Messire Bertrand du Guesclin a few
questions.”

“Ask on.” And Bertrand held his head high and squared his shoulders.

“Come, sweet sir, why should we quarrel? You were not at Mivoie; good;
and why?”

Bertrand looked Bodegat straight in the face.

“That is my affair.”

“You will not answer?”

“No.”

“Then we can conclude the reason—some slight sickness, a seductive soul
in a tavern on the road. But wait, you have been at Pontivy, eh, with
the Fleming’s men?”

Bertrand felt the coils of Bodegat’s cunning, but he was far too
stubborn to slip through them with a lie.

“True; I was at Pontivy. Does that make me Croquart’s man?”

Bodegat smiled and gave a shrug of the shoulders.

“Oh, we had our spies there, messire; we are not fools. But bear with
me; another question: Why have you beaten out the eagle from your
shield?”

Bertrand’s sturdy figure quivered under the unruffled insolence of
Bodegat’s pleased cleverness.

“That also is my affair.”

“Of course; these gentlemen will understand. You choose to ride abroad
unrecognized. And, doubtless, messire, you were at the fight before
Josselin town?”

Bertrand bent his head.

“You did not fight for us.”

“I fought for neither side.”

Bodegat and the listeners laughed aloud.

“Messire du Guesclin, you are a prudent soldier. And yet you had heard
that Beaumanoir had offered five thousand crowns for the Fleming’s
head.”

“I had heard it.”

“Five thousand crowns, good money, for striking off a Fleming’s head,
perhaps while he was asleep.”

This last taunt brought Bertrand’s patience down. He sprang at Bodegat,
only to be dragged back and to find a couple of spear-points at his
throat.

“Messire Carro de Bodegat”—and he grappled with his wrath and conquered
it—“these words of yours shall not be writ in sand. Ask the Sieur de
Tinteniac whether Croquart the Fleming was murdered in his sleep.”

Bodegat bowed.

“The Sieur de Tinteniac and the Vicomte de Bellière’s daughter—the Lady
Tiphaïne—where are they?”

“Where Croquart’s body lies.”

“And they know that Bertrand du Guesclin killed him?”

“No, messire, they do not.”

Bodegat made a pitying gesture with his hands. There was a grim yet
ironical exchange of confidences among the esquires and troopers. Carro
de Bodegat had entangled Bertrand in what appeared to them a web of
treachery, greed, and double-dealing. They showed no surprise when
Dubois ordered Du Guesclin’s hands to be bound behind his back, that he
should be set upon his horse, and his feet tied under the beast’s belly.

He suffered the shame of it without a murmur, ignoring the derision and
looking steadily at Croquart’s head, that Dubois still carried.

“Forward, gentlemen!”

And, getting to horse, they pushed on for the homestead where Croquart
and his prisoners had passed the night.